Chapter One

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The bright reds and whites of the Noruzian royal family had always been a beautiful thing to Kolen but now he donned his formal attire gingerly. At thirty-two he was to take on a loathsome duty for the sake of his people: marriage. It wasn’t so much the thought of being married as it was the thought of his future wife which Kolen detested for while everyone sang the praises of Arre’s beauty they had little to say on her temperament, which was sour at its most gracious. She was a spoilt child, despite her twenty-nine years. A girl hung up on her father’s power with little more to her than looks and station. Kolen hated her with fibres of his being he didn’t know he had… and today marked the beginning of their lives as husband and wife.
Certainly, marrying the daughter of the Grand Cleric had its benefits. It would silence the treasonous zealots of Lastri for a time, at least. It would solidify the alliance’s relationship with the clergy of The Island Temple. And when they produced children it would provide the Noruzian royal family an heir to the throne. Kolen kept his mind on those things as he made his way from his chambers to the main hall.
Lastrian decorators had been busy the entire week, preparing the palace to receive the Grand Cleric and his daughter. They had replaced every carpet and curtain in the palace with specially-crafted creations from their home country, adorned the railings of each flight of stairs with wreaths of sweet-smelling flowers and appeared to have polished every surface until you could see your reflection in it. “The gift of beauty”, the Lastrian ambassador had said. Kolen was sure there was some sort of offence meant in that statement but his mother had smiled graciously and fawned dutifully over each new piece of décor. She was a born statesman, Kolen thought, and he worried that when his time came to lead he’d not quite live up to the standard she’d set.
The Fassi, masters of agriculture and farming, were to prepare the wedding feast, which would last for three days. Their chefs had brought with them hundreds of cows, pigs, sheep and goats for slaughter along with countless barrels of Fassi wine, inarguably the best on the continent. There was an especially large number of barrels of peach wine, which was a favourite in the royal court. Kolen had already enjoyed one barrel over the preceding week and was looking forward to drinking much more.
For their part, the militaristic people of Lethalis had sent hundreds of their best-trained soldiers to bolster the forces of the Noruzian royal guard for the duration of the feast, and to follow the new couple’s wedding procession on their tour of the continent. Kolen appreciated Lethalis’ gesture perhaps most of all, because they could scarcely afford to be sending such capable men on what would surely be an uneventful endeavour. Over the years Lethalis had supported Noruz most steadfastly. It was they who had borne the brunt of Dahrese aggression during the war and they who had been first to lend their voice to the Noruzian bid to be the capital of the alliance.
When he entered the main hall Kolen was greeted by his mother-Regent-General of the alliance-who was dressed in a brilliant, flowing deep red dress. She wore a white silk scarf tied in a neat bow around her neck and held her ceremonial golden staff in her left hand. She smiled warmly at him and Kolen felt his burden lifted for a brief moment. His marriage to Arre would bring the peace to the alliance which his mother had been seeking to establish for years now.
“Son,” she said softly and wrapped her arms around him. Kolen returned her embrace. She held him for a moment and then moved back, as if to inspect him. Kolen smiled sheepishly.
“How do I look?”
With a laugh his mother told him that the people could not ask for a finer Crown Prince. “Come now,” she added. “The Grand Cleric’s procession will be here soon.” Kolen’s smile disappeared and it seemed that his burden found him again. He felt tired suddenly, but breathed in deeply, plastered a smile on his face, and followed his mother out to the front courtyard. He repeated in his head that this would bring peace until he could no longer feel his stomach churning at the thought of the impending marriage.

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