Aithera Atwood's crowning ceremony (Part 2)
| Arma announced her name as the crown was placed on her head. It was heavy and uncomfortable at first, but Aithera knew she would grow to live with it, and flourish under it. She sat on the throne, watching over each and every one of the nobles that filled the hall in front of her. The people of Zephyria were a divided bunch, clearly labelling themselves as Cedati, Norocan or Aripean. These were the old tribes before the unification of the nation and the wars. The Cedati believed in the technology of the Spirit Worlds, hoping to advance like they had. Yet they did not resent the Fay for their archaic ways. They were often paler in skin colour as their lives were often lived in the darkness of the cave systems, growing Omni and harvesting it.
They were the opposite of the Norocans, who lived in the City at the Top. The City intrigued Aithera more than Cedat because of their elusive and elitist ways. She had heard rumours from travellers of Noroca who told stories of bronzed skin, dyed wings and stylised hair. They believed in themselves as the last of the Ingerii. Aithera rolled her eyes thinking of their preaching ways. But as she surveyed the crowd, she could recognise them within moments. They stood out as muscled angels with tight clothes stretching over their bronzed pecs. She did admit they were beautiful, but in a sculpted fake sense.
Those from Aripi were what Aithera thought of as normal. They wore robes and cloth that fitted well. They came in all shapes and sizes, with different wing colours. They were by no means uniform but were a happy people with hopeful hearts. Aithera stood up and the crowd turned their gazes to her. The crown rubbed on her temples, but she would not let them see it irritate her. This was her chance to begin the unification she had wanted for the Wind Fay.
She walked over to the podium and grasped each side of it, her knuckles turning white. She took a moment before speaking to the crowd. "Thank each and every one of you for coming here today. My Father would be glad to see so many recognized and respected faces.
"My Father was both a hero and a King. He was part of the Flutura that skirmished in the War of the Seven with the Boscun Clans, even becoming grievously wounded when a boulder knocked him off his horse, breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder. He personally guarded the smaller villages that were under attack in the south of the Windy Mountains.
Aithera saw some of the heads nod at her Father's heroism. "Even when Haizea passed away, he continued fighting. Without an heir, without a family, Aether however was not alone. He had you. He had his friends, his comrades, his loyal Zephyrian subjects. Likewise, I hope that now that Aether has passed, your loyalties will pass to me.
She left the podium and stepped down towards the aisles of nobles watching her every move. "I am your Queen, first of my name, the Sacred Wind, Protector of the Windy Mountains and Leader of the Wind Fay. Yet by the laws of the Sacred Treaty, I am too young to rule. Only when I come of age in two years' time will I be able to lead you rightfully.
The tension in the room was palpable, as everyone knew what was to come next, and none of them would like it. "I am to choose one of the other Sacred as a Guardian. Many of you will see this as a problem yet-".
One of the Norocans stood out of his aisle, cutting Aithera's speech. He had dark grey hair and a sculpted body that was impressive for an aged man. "You mean to say that a Pietoni will lead us? A dirty land walker will lead us gerii? Brethren, do you not see the shame of this system we live under? We, Ingerii, do not need to bow to a Pietoni. Never will we bow to those that should bow to us." The man looked from each of his comrades, the Norocans nodding along with his words. Then he turned to Aithera. "My Queen, you come from both royal and angelic blood. Do not make the mistake of treating this topic lightly. You'll make an enemy of Noroca if you let this filth walk among us. We were meant to soar, my Queen, not kneel."
Aithera smiled at the fanatical. "What is your name, good citizen of Noroca?"
"Gwynfor of House Atwood-Noroca." He bowed slightly to Aithera.
She had heard of the Atwood-Noroca family, the ones that rule the City since the Atwoods left. They were blood related to the Atwoods, gaining their status and power from that. They changed their names to distinguish themselves from Aithera's bloodline. "Gwynfor, may I tell you why the option of a Guardian is not only the right choice, but a good choice for the Wind Fay?"
Gwynfor gritted his teeth but nodded. He couldn't out right disobey her without losing his status, and head, if Aithera felt like it. His interruption of her speech was enough to imprison him.
"The Windy Mountains of Zephyria are cold and intolerable. The soil here is difficult to farm, the livestock are smaller, and the weather is tough year-round. We've stayed alive so far from the help of Cedat and the Omni farms, but that well will someday run dry. So, with those reasons, we've imported much of our stocks and supplies since the Sacred Allegiance. But with a Guardian, that can change.
Aithera turned to the number of Cedati in the hall. "Cedat is renowned for its production of Omni and its interest in technology. Yet we do not have the same advantages as other nations, such as the People of the Water in Ak'Quan or the Spirit Worlds. If we were to have a Guardian, we would have their knowledge, and knowledge is power.
She could see the beginning of the tide turning and held back a smile. She had the Cedati hooked. "The Guardian must act in the best interest of our people, but they will not have absolute power, but act as an advisor and authority on matters of relations. Any of the Aripean know of the hardship that hits our city. With a lack of food, we have major crises over hungry citizens and the extortionate prices of food brought from different nations. My Father often complained about the taxing of foods and in his condition, couldn't find a solution to the problem."
"Do you have a solution, my Queen?" One of the Aripeans asked.
"Each of the other Sacred will see this as an opportunity to gain authority and power. I will not deny you that. However, it gives us a bargaining chip to use over them. In order to really gain my approval, they'll have to come up with a solution to our problems, or in the very meantime, use food as a bartering system until such a solution has been worked out."
"I trust in your decision, my Queen." The Aripean smiled and bowed. A number of others, mainly Cedati or Aripean followed suit. However, the Norocans were unflinching in the cynicism.
"Thank you. Trust in my decision, but more so trust in me. I will not be fooled." Aithera spread out her wings fully, feeling the power course through them with her new title as the Sacred Wind. "Look at my wings. They are the largest in the whole Windy Mountains. I will show the Guardian my authority in these lands and take any knowledge or option that can help us survive. My mission is to unify and prosper. We need to unify ourselves in testing times. We should not be Cedati, Norocan and Aripean. We should be, and will be, Wind Fay, who will stand strong together. Believe in me, and remember, they can never change the direction of the wind. Only we can."
Aithera came eye to eye with Gwynfor, who still seemed displeased yet stayed silent. That was acceptance enough for Aithera. She returned to the throne as Arma explained the layout of the upcoming events.
"The Regent Picking shall happen within the next few days. Queen Aithera will meet the other Leaders in the Faerie Grove and from there the Trials will begin. The transition of the Regent will then follow within the months to come."
Aithera zoned out, her mind wandering towards the thought of picking a Guardian to overlook not only her city, but her whole nation. The idea was daunting, and surreal since Aithera had never even met someone from outside the Windy Mountains. The Coronation ended with a final flare of a decadent procession as they walked her out of the hall.
She thanked the scholars and the Fay-Ith for the ceremony and quickly left for her room. She opened the door and closed it behind her, sliding down to the ground against the door. She felt drained after the ceremony, and the topics were heavy on her mind. She did what she always did. She opened the window and stared out at Aripi below her. The Castle was on the highest peak of the mountain, with the city surrounding it as part of a fortress. The Winds were supposed to protect her people, an ancient force created by the very first Wind Fay.
Aithera opened her window and felt the cool gusts push back her hair and tug at her garments. She wore a long yellow dress, the one her Father had always loved. It held many memories for her, mainly ceremonial ones. She stripped down and redressed herself. She hung the yellow dress up beside the glass cased old battle halberd that belonged to her ancestors.
Aithera hoisted herself up onto the window. Peering over the edge, she looked down to the city below and further. She could see the mist over the Lower Lakes and the forests surrounding them.
"What are you planning, cousin?" He said, his voice wary.
"What do you want, cousin?" Aithera asked.
"Do you think this is the proper time for that?" He asked pulling her back from the edge.
"Of course, I do, Father would want me to."
"But what would the citizens think?" He asked.
"Why do you have to be sensible?" She asked, with an exaggerated frown. "Did you not listen to my speech?"
"I did." He said. "You were very charismatic. Strange how the girl and the Queen are two different people."
"I'm going to live life to the fullest, Govad." She said. "We must all be happy and I'm happy being silly as the girl and sensible as the Queen."
He pulled out of her grip, his hair was very different from her long golden stream, it was almost platinum. It was part of his charm, somehow, he stood out in a crowd with his hair almost white in colour.
"Come with me, Govad." She said, taking his hand and leading him to the window. She turned so the wind blowing through the window was to her back. "Race you," She said as she fell backwards. Her hair danced in the wind, her blonde locks covering her eyes as she twisted and turned, falling towards the city beneath her.
Aithera looked behind her as Govad fell into the sky. She watched his body tumble, spinning out of control until his wings exploded out of the back of his clothing. They were beautiful wings, with a slight golden pattern that resembled a wave in the ocean of feathers.
Aithera felt her own sprout out, ripping through the back of the yellow garments her father loved so dearly. It was a royal ability to hide her wings, one that Govad had too. A clear sign of his nobility and a strength in the case to call him an Atwood, and the heir to the throne. The winds howled as she soared above Aripi back into the dancing blue sky, racing with Govad through mountain rock buildings and gypsum stone cobbled streets. Her wings were longer than his because of her status as the Sacred Wind.
Aithera caught up with Govad just as they passed the limits of the City and headed down to the Lower Lakes through the forest. Aithera looked across at her cousin, Govad. He looked back at her determined to beat her in their race. Aithera stuck out her tongue at him as she passed him before descending into euphoric laughter. She believed there was nothing as powerful as flying through the mountain range where the Wind Fay lived. It was her favourite activity.
Aithera reached the cooling mists that percolated the forest edge near the Lakes. Swirling around branches, Aithera headed for the Lower Lake edge. She flew so low she was able to reach out her fingers and stroke the dewy grass below before she broke into the expansive waters of the Lake. As she sped up, she felt the spray of the water below touch her and her wings. She made for the small island in the middle of the Lake. As she landed on it, she felt her wings tuck back into her skin. Turning around she watched Govad finally land on the island, blue and out of breath.
"Loser..." She said before hugging him.
"That was an Aether classic!" He laughed. "I can't remember how many times he pushed me out of the window for my wings to open. I ruined my suit though."
The vial hanging around his neck peaked out. The pearlescent liquid inside glimmered.
"Your Omni-vial is showing, Govad." Aithera said, pointing to the liquid.
"Oh." He said, tucking it back under his clothing. An awkward silence fell between them. "Thanks."
"You've been to Cedat?" Aithera asked.
"No, they've halted production." Govad said. "Something about allowing the reserves to refill."
"Where did you get it?"
"Aether left it as a gift, to be used in emergencies only." They both sat in silence for a moment, feeling the absence of the soul that had left them. "He was a good man, Aithera. You'll do great as his successor." Govad touched her shoulder.
"Thank you, Govad." She said, hugging him again. She felt the tears tickle her lashes.
"Do you miss him?" He asked her before scrunching up his face. "Of course, you do..."
"Yeah, but he is with mother now." She smiled weakly.
"They're together again, and forever." Govad whispered.
"He's also with his sister, Haizea." Aithera said, looking up at her cousin.
"He is." Govad said. He rarely talked about his mother. "They are all together forever."
"We should get back." Aithera said, thinking of the time. Together they flew back to the City of the Winged in silence. She had dealt with her father's illness for a long time, but his death had still struck her deeply. He was such a kind and genuine ruler. Past tense. When she arrived back, Aithera found herself in a curious position. One part of her wanted to hide, as if she stayed in her room forever, she could pretend that her father was still in his study, working on something for the greater good of the Wind Fay. But that was her study now. The other part of her recognised the importance of her public person. Her private life must give way for the public life. She was a figurehead now, and that came first. She was a young mother to her nation, one that would be scrutinised by the others, picked apart for her nae leadership. She knew what she was getting into, but all she wanted to do was hide, and think of her father.
She lay face down on the bed and remembered leading the funeral of her father. She had made her way over to the Temple. She was followed by the Guard of Honour, led by Samir. She collected the casket as part of her duties, not only as a daughter but a successor. They flew over the city, and while she was tearful, she also felt the silence hush over the entire city. The citizens watched from below, some of them had lived to see Aether guard the casket of his predecessor and now watched as their beloved king made his last journey into the Wind. When they reached the Great Hall, the final farewell had begun. Aithera lifted up her hands and breathed. From deep in her being she felt the magic surge. It stretched around her fingers and caressed her toes and filled every cell of her body. "Farewell Father." She whispered before breathing out the power that resided inside of her. As the air left her lungs it changed into the particles of her people. The yellow powder floated, swirling with the currents in the room until it gathered shape.
Samir lifted up his spear and banged it off the ground. "To King Aether." He breathed out magic adding it to the stockpile in the air already. The room said their farewells to the king before each individual blew out magic of their own until it saturated the room, floated high above them, resembling the old King's happy and wrinkled face. The room stood in a moment of silence for their fallen leader before dispersing back into the City of the Winged. Aithera left the Grand Hall and moved swiftly up to her own room. She requested to see her Father again, but he was being prepared for the final farewell. Aithera knew the customs of her people, she remembered them all too well.
Aithera had kissed the body casket and blessed it according to the Wind Rituals. "Goodbye father, say hello to mother for me."
His basket was made from the finest weaver's material, attached to the large yellow balloons. They did not put their dead in fire, nor did they put them deep in the ground or sea. They put them back into the Wind that sculpted the first Wind Fay.
"Farewell King Aether." The Priestess said, looking over the casket. "The body shall now float up into the clouds, reaching the heavens above, delivering our King's soul to the Wind."
As she spoke the balloons were filled with the yellow magic that filled each of their lungs. There were thousands of them, all in a variety of sizes. The Priestess unfurled her wings and started singing. The wings fluttered and beat the Wind to the casket. It slid down the shoot and off the edge of the castle. It disappeared for a moment as the crowd held its silence.
As the moment passed the yellow balloons rose back up into their sight bringing the casket far into the skies as the wind caught it and lifted it into the air. The crowd cheered and shouted their farewells.
"May the Wind lift him up."
"May the Wind lift him up." The crowd echoed.
She changed into a nightgown. The Queen was finished for the night, and the girl Aithera was beyond tired. Yet she paced her room, her mind racing at the events that would lie ahead. She wished for her father's company, for his wisdom and experience.
He had grown ill in his final years. His mobility retired and he soon became bed-ridden, the after effects of over exerting himself during the war according to the doctors. Aithera had expected his demise would come soon, she could feel it in her inner being. Something told her about it. Maybe it was her mother, maybe it was the wind.
She opened the glass cabinet and touched the rough handle of the broken halberd. She lifted it out, her legs wobbling under the weight of such a weapon. She dropped it on the bed and climbed up beside it. Haizea was her idol, a woman who protected the whole city without ever seeking the attention for doing so. Aithera read along the metal blade that was stained with old blood.
Princess of the Wind,
Custodian of Aripi.
Yours forever, N."
Aithera had asked her father about Haizea, but he gave no answers. She was a mystery to all alive. No one seemed to have known her, yet someone had loved her. Govad's parentage troubled him greatly. Aithera replaced the halberd and retired to the bed, forcing herself to sleep as the questions swirled around her golden crowded head.
As the days passed, Aithera was told of the arrangements that were being made for their voyage down to the Faerie Grove where she would hold the Trails. Every Guardian had responded to her invitation.
The night before her voyage was the worst. Aithera could not sleep for both nerves and excitement kept her awake. Aithera opened the windows and dropped out of the castle, letting her wind catch her body and breathe through her hair. She opened her wings and flew high above the city.
She dropped to fly just above the roofs of the sleeping citizens. The wind was cold, but she didn't mind. She enjoyed it. It helped her settle her mind. She dropped to the wet ground in the middle of a park built for the children of Aripi. It was somewhere she often flew to when needing to clear her mind.
She heard the banging of the swinging seats in the night wind. She walked over to them and sat on the carved wood and pushed off the ground. The rope held onto the frame had begun to fray. She sighed out. "What should I do?" She asked the wind.
To her shock, a voice answered her. "Do what is necessary for your people."
Aithera looked behind her, and a young boy came into view. He wasn't much younger than her, if not the same age.
"Who are you?" She asked him.
"I am Bakar, noble son of a nobody, loyal servant of the newly appointed Queen Aithera." He knelt on one knee and smiled at her.
"You are cheeky." Aithera mused.
"One has to be when he has nothing else." Bakar mused. "Can I sit with you, my Queen?"
"You may." She said.
"Something is troubling you." He said.
"I do not know who to choose for my Guardian." Aithera spoke honestly. "If you were in my position, what would you do?"
"I'd eat as much as I'd want and choose the hottest girl." He laughed. "But I hear they don't even have wings..."
"You haven't travelled outside of the Windy Mountains?" Aithera asked.
"Nope. Haven't stepped foot out of Aripi."
"I love this city." Bakar said. "This is my home, and I never want to miss a minute here."
Aithera paused for a moment. She had never heard someone speak so highly of her city with truth lining their words. She had always planned on seeing as much of the world as she could. "Don't you find it hard? Living here is difficult."
"It is the difficulty that reaps the greater rewards." Bakar said.
"For a noble son of a nobody, you're educated." Aithera noticed the correct pronunciation in his words, the correct use of grammar.
"Orphaned to a master learner." He smiled weakly. "A good man with a hate for incorrectness."
"I hope the wind blows kindly in your direction." Aithera said, reaching out and touching his hand. His eyebrows raised as she touched him, and a redness rose in his cheeks. "Thank you, Bakar, noble son of a nobody."
"For giving me insight. What is your favourite thing about Aripi?" She asked.
"I love how the sun rises over the Windy Mountains and how it always shines on the temple so perfectly. I never miss the morning sunrise. I'll be at the temple with the Priestess and her attendants. I love the markets and how the Fay are always adapting to the wicked weather we have here. I love our forests and our birds. I love the castle and how it protects us like chicks under a mother bird's wings. I love flying in the sky and diving down through the clouds, and how that is the normal thing to do here."
"Thank you, Bakar." She said again. Aithera stood up and yawned. She was finally growing tired. "I hope I do right by you."
"You will, my Queen." He bowed again. "I have faith in you."
She smiled and unfurled her wings. He watched her as she headed back into the night sky and back to her bed in the castle.
As Aithera awoke on the day of her voyage, Govad knocked on her door. "Cousin, you'll be late for your own summoning." He shouted through the wood. She grabbed the bag she had for the journey and opened the door to Govad, clad in travellers' clothing and laden with bags.
"You aren't even wearing a suit." She said, shocked.
"We have to go. The guards are ready." He said, pulling her out of the room. "I'm your plus one on this adventure."
"Can you believe that we are going to the Faerie Grove?" She squeaked. "I bet it is so magical. Don't you think?"
"Your Father thought it was anyway." He said. "What I'm more interested in is seeing Nerida. They say she's the most beautiful woman in the whole of Sanctomia."
Aithera giggled. "Stop thinking about girls, cousin."
"But could she really be as beautiful as they say she is?"
"Are they all as different from us as they say they are?" Aithera said. She paused and looked uncomfortable. "I mean, I hear they don't have wings..."
"You were too young to remember Nurzhan?" Govad asked.
Aithera shook her head. "Nurzhan, the King of the Light?"
"He was friends with your father, allies in the War of the Sacred Seven. Nurzhan visited here just after his marriage, and ascension to the throne. They travelled every land receiving presents from each of the Sacred Seven."
"What did he look like?" Aithera asked.
"He had started to grow a beard, as pearly white as his teeth. His crown was so spectacular you couldn't look at it in the light for it shone so brightly it hurt your eyes. He was a burly man, with giant muscles and a sword made from the shiniest metal in the world."
"Wow." Aithera said.
"I'll never forget how he looked." Govad said, smiling at the memory. "They say all Lights are born with white hair and tanned skin."
"Really?" Aithera asked.
"-And their powers are white, not yellow like ours."
"Ready Princess?" Samir asked. He stuttered and grasped his forehead. "I apologise my majesty."
Aithera giggled. "Don't worry, I'm not used to it either."
Samir smiled. "Are you ready, Queen Aithera?"
There was a twenty-man guard for Aithera, who had chosen to fly there and not take a horse down the mountain and across the lands to the Faerie Grove. They formed a circle around Aithera, Govad and the other officials that were needed.
"Ready?" Samir shouted.
Wings unfurled in unison. The range of colour and length of each wingspan varied according to power. They jetted off across Aripi and Aithera could hear the cheers from the city below. They passed the limits of the city and dropped down to fly just above the forest. Aithera felt the wind under her wings and smiled. She was on her way to the Faerie Grove, and for the first time, Aithera would see outside of Aripi and the Lakes, which had been the furthest she had gone in her lifetime.