Aldrik entered from the far side of the room, descending a grand stair from the domed ceiling. The fire flared brighter as he made his entrance, arcing around him as though he was hand chosen by the Gods to be their leader.
The men and women who sat on the wooden risers along the outside of the room whispered. Their whispers traveled unhindered on the wind to her ears. How dare this Eastern commoner marry their Emperor? A smile carved into Vhalla’s lips. She’d let them have their words. No matter what she did, they would talk. Today was hers and Aldrik’s, and she wasn’t even going to let thoughts of others trouble her.
The Emperor paused for half a breath as their eyes met. It was silent acknowledgement of the precipice upon which they stood. They were the most unlikely of pairs who had travelled an extraordinarily unconventional path.
Vhalla wanted to run to him.
They met before Lord Ophain and the Crone, mirror images of each other. Vhalla’s dress was gold, trimmed and embroidered with suns in white. Aldrik’s clothes were white, lined with gold up along his trousers and at the top of his large cuffed sleeves.
There wasn’t a scrap of black on him, other than his raven hair. For the first time, Vhalla realized that by wearing white, he didn’t look like a sign of defeat. It didn’t look like a color he’d worn to appease his father. It didn’t look like something he was forcing himself to do for his people. It was as natural to him as the replica of the sun crown that was settled upon his brow.
Her father extended out her hand, and Vhalla’s palm practically leapt to meet Aldrik’s. Her fingers hooked around his, and he half pulled her a step. In a complete lack of form, Aldrik drew her knuckles to his lips, giving her a satisfied grin as he shocked the court. The rest of the world vanished for one blissful moment, and Vhalla savored the fact that she was indeed going to marry the man who had so claimed her heart.
Lord Ophain cleared his throat softly, pulling them both back to reality. The crowd wore looks of surprise, accompanied by whispers. Vhalla gave the tiniest of smiles when her eyes fell on Fritz, and he risked breaking his wrist with his frantic, not so subtle waving.
“It was here, upon this spot, where our last Emperor married our princess, my sister,” Lord Ophain began his opening remarks, addressing the crowd. “The West lives in the blood of the Empire, and our Emperor is one of our own. And, while unjoyful events have led him to being our Emperor so young, the circumstances of this world have seen him to our most sacred of halls for yet another Imperial union.
“I have long since born witness to the lines that connect our Emperor, Aldrik Ci’Dan Solaris, with the Lady Vhalla Yarl.” Lord Ophain’s focus rested upon them, and only them. He produced a scroll from his jacket pocket for emphasis. “It is with the blessing of the West, East, and North that this union will be the foundation upon which a harmonious Solaris Empire may be rebuilt.”
Vhalla followed the direction of Lord Ophain’s nod. Za and Sehra returned the motion. They had made it. The acknowledgement wasn’t lost on the other nobles in the room, and Vhalla contained a sigh of relief.
“Eons ago,” the head Crone began to speak, “the Father lived in a land of eternal night. It was in that darkness that he met the Mother. She was a brilliant star, a point of light that cut through the night like a sword of law and order. It was with her dazzling radiance that she brought the day.”
The Crone raised her wrinkled hands, and the fires that hovered above burned even brighter.
“The Mother could not live with the Father in that world of night, and he could not live in her world of day.” The Crone dropped her hands and motioned to the stone floor beneath them. “So they began to spin in an eternal dance, one where they could look upon each other from the beginning and until the end of days. In this dance, their children were born, and the first men walked upon the new earth.
“The Mother watches over our lives, bringing us life and joy. The Father watches over our timelessness, seeing us safely into the lands beyond.” The Crone produced a long red ribbon from within her sleeve. “From our births to our deaths, we are bound to the plans which they have laid. We walk the red lines they have given us.”
Vhalla resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably. She wondered what the Crone would say to someone who had changed their fate. Or if the very notion that fates could even be changed would be blasphemous. Vhalla wondered if, perhaps, just perhaps, Vi had been wrong from the start. If every last thing had been as Ophain said, the red lines of fate that the Mother had laid. After all, who could change things, like time and fate and futures, other than the Mother herself?
“By this, it is not for us to question those who are called to each other, just as it is no more our place to question those called to greatness. To do so would be an affront to the divine.” The Crone’s voice was powerful in its frailty. “From the highest nobility to the lowest of common, we are no different from each other in the Mother’s eyes. We are all threads in the same great weave.”
The Crone stepped forward. With gnarled fingers, purple veins spider webbing under the thin skin of their backs, she wrapped the red ribbon around Vhalla and Aldrik’s outstretched hands.
“Vhalla Yarl.” The faceless Crone turned to her. “May the Mother bless you with the greatness of her warmth.” She wrapped the ribbon again and turned to Aldrik. “Aldrik Ci’Dan Solaris, may the Father bless you with his resolution.”