9

Azriel took his place against the wall behind where Rhyshladlyn’s chair resided at the royal table at the far end of the main Hall, hands resting loosely wrapped around the hilts of his swords where they rested one at each hip, wings folded against his back and only slightly ruffled, mismatched eyes taking in the spread of food on the feast tables, the satisfied glow on some of the festival goers’ faces and lack of it on others. But most importantly he noticed that he had beaten his charge to the Hall despite Rhyshladlyn having left at best ten minutes before he did. And that more than the way Anislanzir was smiling at Azhuri while they sat conversing in hushed tones, unnerved and worried him. Where the hell could a pissed off newly awoken Qishir have gotten to?

Ero glanced over at him from where he stood behind Anis’ chair, chartreuse eyes full of the questions he couldn’t express outside of the single raised eyebrow. Azriel gave a barely perceptible shrug and minute shake of his head before looking back out over the crowd. No one had dug into the food yet as it was still being laid out upon the tables by the servants and because the guest of honor, Rhyshladlyn himself, was not yet present.

“Where is my second born?” Anislanzir asked, his voice drifting over the din to reach Azriel’s ears but the Anglëtinean did not look at him for he knew he was not being questioned solely by the tone. No doubt it was one of the first born children or Azhuri who was the recipient of that clipped baritone.

“He should be here soon, my Lord King,” Azhuri replied in that soft way of hers, voice a balm to even the most riled of individuals though it only ever seemed to incense the Lord King further once he was worked up.

“And you know this for fact do you, my dearest Queen?” Anislanzir said, tone holding the barest hint of malicious under the words, one that had Azriel clenching his jaw against the need to knock the Lord King to the floor with his bare fists.

“Aye, my Lord King,” Azhuri murmured, looking down and away, seeming to curl in on herself despite her posture never changing from ramrod straight spine and squared shoulders and extended neck, hands resting folded in her lap hidden from view by the table and the bright, multicolored cloth that covered it.

“You had best hope you are not wrong, my beloved Lady,” Anislanzir retorted before picking up his wine glass and taking a sip.

Minutes went by and still Rhyshladlyn had not arrived, the herald at the open doors shaking his head when the Lord King shot an annoyed glance his way. When the last bit of food for the feast had been laid upon the tables filling the Hall, squeezed between the support pillars that were thicker than ten men around, Anislanzir rose to his feet, hands lifted to bring a hush to Hall.

“It is with great displeasure that I must announce that my second born, Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn, is other–” the Lord King cut off mid-word as Rhyshladlyn strode through the doors to the Hall, wings in full view, eyes hardened glowing pools of orange flecked through with amber and ice blue lightning, “–is finally here just in time as always,” Anislanzir corrected after only a brief hesitation as Rhyshladlyn continued to walk across the Hall, eyes unblinking as they locked onto his father and didn’t stray, the banked fury and power that had doubled in the course of five hours since the Taking Ritual nearly palpable as it rippled around him. But despite this, Anislanzir did not comment nor miss a beat as he continued, hands still raised as he once more addressed the Hall at large:

“My brothers, my sisters, my blood, my people! The Old Ones have smiled upon us this night and accepted our offering to Them! Let us now rejoice in Their blessing and in the gift of my second born, Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn, who celebrates his 88th name day this night!” He smiled though anyone who knew how the Lord King truly was beneath his royal mask, how truly insane and dark he was, could tell that that smile did not reach his eyes and held a promise of punishment for making him look a fool before his people. “Let the feast begin!”

A cheer went up before the sound of clinking silverware and chatter erupted in its wake, a swell of noise that was innocent, and ignorant with that innocence, of what was about to happen once Rhyshladlyn reached the royal table.

“Rhyshladlyn,” Anislanzir hissed as soon as his second born was within earshot, “you are late, what have you to say for yourself?”

The smile Azriel’s charge gave the Lord King at that precise moment had even the battle hardened warriors that stood as personal guards for the royal family flinch and make motions of protection in accordance with their gods and beliefs. That smile was all parts darkness and spoke to the atrocities its owner was willing to impart upon whoever was on the receiving end of it. And to see Rhyshladlyn go from the carefree, pleasure-drenched male of merely an hour before to this was disconcerting and left Azriel with a sour taste in his mouth, one that made his wings twitch as his instincts started to whisper a warning that wasn’t fully formed yet.

“Oh, aye, fahmen, this one has quite a bit to say for mineself,” Rhyshladlyn replied, eyes flashing dangerously as he reached into his vest and withdrew a rolled piece of parchment from an inner pocket. “Did you know that each act of punishment is recorded in the Scrolls? Even those not specifically detailed to the Eighth Qishir’s record keepers?” Rhyshladlyn asked conversationally, unrolling the parchment with a deft flick of his wrist that would have had Azriel’s blood heating with memory if that smile wasn’t still contorting his charge’s face. “No?” Rhyshladlyn asked in the wake of his father’s silence. “Well, it is. Also, something I just learned as well — you see I was researching something that’s why I am late to my own birthday feast and I do apologize for that — is that any unrecorded punishment that leads to the removal of the wings belonging to a Dhaoine who is born to one or more of the winged races is punishable by the same act.” He gives a little shake of the scroll in his hand as though to emphasize that it holds the proof of the fact.

And suddenly Azriel is biting his tongue to keep from dropping his jaw. Rhyshladlyn had traveled to the Records Hall of the Eighth Palace and copied a Scroll bearing the laws regarding wing-removal as punishments and came back, all within the span of an hour? It was as impressive as it was terrifying because there were three modes of travel available to the Worlds: along the Lines which were the fastest but the speed of which one traveled them depended upon how powerful the traveler was; on foot or by riding a horse or other pack animal; and through a Gateway that was only allowed if one was World jumping with a permit signed and sealed by the Eighth Qishir, Lulphé Akkensahn, herself. And to his knowledge Rhyshladlyn did not possess a Gateway permit and neither was it possible for him to have made the journey on foot or by pack animal…so that meant he Line traveled and did so in the amount time needed to get to the Eighth Palace, find the Records Hall, find the Scroll he needed, copy it by hand, put the Scroll back, and then travel back all in an hour.

High Ones prevail me. He thought making his own sign of reverence to his gods as he kissed the tips of his left index and middle fingers, thumb pressed to the tips of his ring and pinky fingers.

“So, what this in essence means,” Rhyshladlyn continues, advancing on the royal feast table until his pelvis is pressed against the side opposite his father who is practically seething with barely contained rage, “is that under law, I can take your wings from you for removing mine without reporting the crime I supposedly committed and the punishment you deemed fit it.” With an angry snarl that was nearly entirely subvocal, the sound thundering along one’s bones and making one’s joints scream in pain even as the air in one’s lungs froze and breathing for all of an eye blink became impossible, Rhyshladlyn slammed the parchment down upon the table top, narrowly missing knocking over a jug of whine and upending a plate of carved turkey. “So if you ever cross me again, if you ever even look askance at my esteemed mother or threaten to remove the wings of my siblings, I will nail you to the wall of the Throne Room and pull your wings from your back by hand you worthless piece of shit.”

If a tone could kill, Azriel, and those along the royal table with him, had no doubt that Anislanzir would have dropped dead in his chair. Rhyshladlyn’s power swirled around the orange-amber eyed Dhaoine, hair whipping back and forth like an angry snake in that whirlwind, the plates and glasses and silverware on the royal table beginning to quake and jostle as that wind spread across the table as though it were reaching for the Lord King. But just as it began to make the laces on his tunic dance, it pulled back and settled and Rhyshladlyn’s smile softened suddenly, face relaxing into an easy and elated expression, wings folded up against his back, and all the aggression of a mere two seconds before gone. And had Azriel not been standing a mere five feet from the display of moments before he would never believe it had even happened.

“Many thanks, my dearest Lord Father, for this meal and for the celebration of my 88th name day,” Rhyshladlyn spoke, and Azriel jumped at the cheerfulness of that voice, a cheerfulness that didn’t sound as fake as he knew it had to be. Lifting a goblet of wine from the table, Rhyshladlyn turned to face the Hall that was now looking at him at having heard his voice carry across the space; no one looked surprised or shocked or terrified, no… they looked as if what Azriel and the rest had just witnessed coming from Rhyshladlyn towards Anislanzir had never happened. Which couldn’t be… could it? “Let us drink and eat and be merry this eve as the Old Ones have blessed us so!” Rhyshladlyn called to cheers of here! here! and long live Prince Rhyshladlyn Nhulynolyn! and took a drag from the goblet before turning back around to face the table and plunking it back onto the table cloth where he’d grabbed it up from its place to the right of his father’s main plate.

Without another word, Rhyshladlyn greeted his mother, brother, and sister in turn respectively and then walked around the table to take up his chair which Azriel barely remembered to pull out for him at the last second. As the second born settled into his seat and began to load up his plate, leaning over to speak with his sister who was whispering to him in hurried tones, clear blue eyes wide and face pale but a wide grin of pure amusement twisting her expressive mouth, Azriel looked over at Ero who was blinking owlishly at Rhyshladlyn’s back.

“My fellow…” Ero began, eyes moving to meet Azriel’s and the Anglëtinean could only imagine what his own expression looked like in that moment, no doubt a mirror image or near enough to it of Ero’s own one of shock and astonishment. “I think we may be in for a damned interesting year,” he finished at length, eyes having flitted back to Rhyshladlyn who sat cheerily talking with his sister around bites of carved turkey and smoked venison.

“Aye,” was all Azriel would reply with knowing that before dawn he needed to contact Qishir Lulphé because if Rhyshladlyn was a male Qishir and had suffered the cruel, unnecessary and illegal punishment of having at least one pair of wings removed by his father, Azriel had no doubt that Shiran City may very well see a struggle for power very soon.

Because if there was one thing Azriel was certain of after his nearly a thousand name days it was that once a Qishir was wronged, especially in such a way as Rhyshladlyn had been by Anislanzir, that Qishir had a thirst that only retribution could quench and nothing and no one would be able to keep that Qishir from achieving it.

And judging by the dark, furious looks Anislanzir was shooting down the table towards his second born, Azriel had no doubt in his mind that even if Rhyshladlyn had no immediate thirst or thought for getting the retribution he was rightfully due, Anislanzir was not going to give him a chance to develop one.

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