Her entire life Alaïs Ka’ahne had seen her mother afraid only twice: when her brother, Anis, fell off Twilight’s Bridge and into the Sparkling River at the age of 20 namedays and again when Alaïs had started to show signs of being born to the Qishir caste (only to later learn it was a misreading).
But those two times didn’t compare to when the Healer walked into the audience chamber of the Royal Family Suite of the Palace and announced to her father and mother that the reason her mother had been so sickly lately was because she is pregnant with twins yet again. Azhuri’s fear was palpable as it cascaded across the the chamber and painted the walls in frost and slung ice from the windowsills.
Alaïs looked at Anis, her own sharp blue eyes meeting the exact same pair in her brother’s face, both looking just as terrified as their mother because everyone in the Worlds knew that Ancients only had two children, one boy and one girl, never more. They would perform rituals in Atlanshïr to close the gates to their wombs after two children for a curse of sorts had plagued the Ancient race from time spoken that each female Ancient would only ever bear one boy and one girl, that any child beyond that would be born sickly and soon die after its first breath, not be born at all, or be born dead upon leaving its mother.
But Anislanzir, the Lord King of the Sinner Demons to whom Azhuri was wedded, did not believe in this curse and neither did he care overmuch for the safety of his beloved Queen; only that his race’s traditions determined that at least two sons must be born unto the Lord King, one to take the throne and another to act as heir-regent if the heir-apparent was for some reason unable to assume the crown to lead the race. And so Alaïs’ mother was not allowed to return to her people in Atlanshïr to close her womb after the birth of the twin heirs to the Sinner Demon throne.
“Can you tell yet what the genders are, Healer?” Anislanzir’s baritone voice rumbled out on a bark of sound that shattered the ice hanging precariously from the windowsills and melted the frost spreading rapidly up the walls. He paid no mind to the color that drained from his Queen’s face, to the way her magick swirled out and around her, the way her orange-amber eyes darkened to nearly black, how the air of the room became almost too-thick with the rich spice of her fear. All he cared for was knowing the gender of the twins in her womb…the very children who may prove to be her death-bringers.
The Healer, a feline Shiftkin, shook her head slowly, silver hair shimmering as the movement dislodged a few wisps from her braid. “It is too early to tell, my Lord King as my Lady Queen is merely six months along,”
Anislanzir’s gold eyes narrowed, his anger whipping out with a single focused burst of power that drew a line across the Healer’s face. “When my Anis and Alaïs were within their precious mother, we knew of their gender at the three month mark. Are you stating to me that you are too incompetent to determine what another Healer could months prior to the mark which my wife is currently in?”
The Healer swallowed audibly as the line on her cheek dripped blood slowly down to her jaw and dropped off from there onto the shoulder of the white tunic that served as part of her uniform. Shaking her head slowly, she bowed low, arms outstretched with her hands turned so the palms faced the floor in a mimication of the way Sinner Demons abased themselves with their wings.
“No, my Lord King. I am still not as experienced as the mid-wife Healers as it is not my specialty but I shall find one forthwith and fetch them here so that they may read the genders of your newest,” she said, voice shivering as she stayed like that, the back of her neck bared to a man who had held her in service to him without ever taking the time to learn the customs of her subrace of Shiftkin, never taking even the briefest of moments to learn that showing the back of one’s neck as she was in that moment was a sign of submission dealt only to one’s Alpha or Mate, of which he was neither.
“See that you do so with all haste, Healer Illyan,” Anislanzir said with a dismissive wave of his hand to the Healer who immediately scurried out of the chamber before turning his attention to Azhuri who by then had composed her features into something more ladylike and befitting her station as Queen. “My beloved Lady, this is good news! Why do you look so upset?”
Anis turned wide eyes to Alaïs who shook her head as minutely as possible. All three of them knew the trap inherent in the Lord King’s words but were powerless to know which trap it was and how to best avoid being cut down by it.
“My darling Lord, I am not upset merely shocked. I was not expecting the reason for my sickness of late to be something so simple and such a blessing at that,” Azhuri responded, the thick poshness of her accent a telling sign of her heritage and upbringing.
Anislanzir narrowed his eyes at the Ancient before breaking out into a smile that didn’t touch his eyes. If anyone was ever able to keep him from exploding in anger of any sort it was Azhuri. Gods be praised the royal family of the Ancient race was one of the most skilled in court diplomacy.
“Have you figured names yet?” He asked, plucking her wine glass off the lunch table between them all as she was no longer able to imbibe anything but the nutritional Ysborogh wine cultivated from the blood of the most powerful individuals belonging to the Qishir caste.
Azhuri gave him a demure smile that made her orange-amber eyes soften and her face light up with a soft glow but Alaïs knew as well as Anis that it was nearly as fake as the smile their father sported. “I was thinking Rhyshladlyn and Nhulynolyn for two boys,” her voice softened as she looked down at her flat belly, one hand gently pressing upon the fabric of her form-fitting dress, “as I feel it in my Self that they are boys. Strong, beautiful boys.”
“If you birth me two more sons, Azhuri my love, I will let you name them however you wish!”
The smile Azhuri turned to the Lord King of the Sinner Demons then was real, one of the few genuine ones she showed anymore in the political nightmare of a marriage she was stuck in, desperately trying to keep her living children safe from the horrors their father dealt upon Shiran City that surrounded the Palace, the heart of the Fènwa World where the majority of the Demon races resided, sitting surrounded by the Shiraniqi Desert in the Ilzhudae Province. For Azhuri knew what this City was, left overs from the Sacred Twenty-Three Cities, the Sanctuaries, made by the Greywalker race before their systematic exile and genocide over ten thousand years prior under Qishir Xhala Qinshi before Qishir Lulphé Akkensahn had taken over the Throne of the Seven Worlds; and it was with that knowledge that she fought hard to keep her children safe from the understanding of just how greatly their father had tainted the City.
Lunch continued on in the same strained silence all meals had between the members of the House of Ka’ahne, ending when Healer Illyan entered after a knock with a mid-wife Healer who read for the genders of the two within Azhuri’s womb, announcing happily that it was in fact two boys.
“Spread the news!” Anislanzir declared soon as the reading was concluded. “Tonight we shall celebrate the announcement of the upcoming birth of my sons Rhyshladlyn and Nhulynolyn!” The two Healers bowed and left to follow his orders. Then the Lord King knelt before his Queen, placing his hands upon her belly with a gentleness and care that he had not shown since they were courting before the betrothal between their races was written in stone to make their families allies in a political move that rather shocked the Worlds as a whole. “Come the Festival of the Flesh, I shall have two more sons, gifted to me from you, my beloved Lady.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Azhuri murmured, feeling the unmistakable sense of fate as it settled around her shoulders, orange-amber eyes falling to Anis and Alaïs, roving their features as though she sought to memorize them before the end came. For while it was a blessing that she was six months along with twin boys and there were no complications, she still had seven more months to go before giving birth and the likelihood of her race’s curse holding true was high enough that she feared leaving her living children, her firstborns, with two brothers to care for and protect with no knowledge of the literal nightmare that partook in creating them. And so she prayed to her mother’s mother’s Patron, a god whose name had not been uttered in well over ten thousand years and hoped that that prayer would be enough.
Nameless, if you still hear the Calls of Your bloodlines, please keep my children safe. Whate’er should happen to me, see that they are safe.