There were not always dragons in the Valley. In fact, just yesterday, it was empty except for woodland-prairie creatures like bunnies and deer. Now, however, the deer had evacuated, and the bunnies hid. The black dragons have been gathered here.
Tents and torches between and around them, growing less effective as first light brightened. Soon the sun would rise too. The last stars were winking out in the lighting sky overhead. The main movement of the valley was those on night watch. After that were the dragons themselves on flags and banners, waving or flapping slightly in the weak breeze. Lastly, artificial mystic movement was cast by shadows and flames, forming movement between hundreds, or perhaps closer to a thousand, tents.
Princess Halona had come up here, to the hilltop above their valley, just up from her own tent, merely to get her bearings back. She trembled and pulled her cloak closer. It was like she thought that fighting off the cool air would stop her trembling. Unlikely. Her shaking was more of a mixture of fear, uncertainty, and excitement moulded into restlessness than a cold shiver. Indeed, this was a day of fate.
She heard a sound and looked over, in the direction of her tent among a few others, and saw her husband approaching. Prince Thormon was a massive beastly man. His black armour with the silver and gold trimming outlining the black dragon was stunning on him. One of the enchantments on his breastplate also had the dragon shift on occasion. That along with typical battle-type spells. His regal cape was burgundy with a prominent black dragon on it too. The fringe of his cape was white with dozens of black dragons. Then there was his face. Over a horrendous scar on his right cheek and jaw, a black metal dragon rose fitted close to his face, making him fearsome in a different way. Perhaps noble or majestic? It was a way that gave her a different kind of trembling.
Even now, her senses swayed easily at his cold presence. Even though she trusted him, in her heart, a question always seized it to stop its beating: will this man kill me today? It was an absurd question; they had gone through so much. How come she still had to force herself to even out her breathing at his every approach?
“You are awake, my wife,” his deep voice was emotionless and resonating. It resembled a growl as much as a deep bass note. His dark hooded eyes gave away nothing either. His stern countenance rarely changed in their forced marriage of three years.
“Yes,” Princess Halona dipped her head to him as she curtsied, “I was unable to sleep, your highness.” She winced to herself. She disliked her formality; they should be closer than this! But it was so automatic. He still made her heart twist. She was intimidated by him. After a while, she would again get used to the pressure of him so close, like how one got used to standing on the edge of a cliff, then she would have a better chance of speaking more intimately.
“It is natural to be nervous on the eve before battle,” she looked up at his stern features; was he trying to comfort her? He was looking straight at the valley below them. Because he was on her left, most of what she could see was the scarred right side of his face covered in the black dragon she had designed. He had another scar there, too, one not covered. It was from his forehead in a vertical slit down to his right eye. If his eyes were not naturally so hooded, the weapon would have blinded that dark, clear eye. That was probably the intention behind that slash. Prince Thormon had a very unprincely past.
She wanted to speak, but her lips could not make a sound for long moments. “I believe in your victory, Dark Dragon of My Heart.” It was a name brought to her when she also created these black dragon symbols. It had been excruciatingly hard to say. She did not know if he would excuse it, hate it, accept it, or enjoy it. She struggled to say it for days and days, and when she finally did, he stared at her for a long time and then moved on as if she hadn’t said a thing. Princess Halona was relieved she wasn’t punished or condemned for it and decided not to use it anymore. Then, around a month or two after, he rigidly brought it up, “You called me a dragon of your heart.” She quickly apologized. “Am I no longer in your heart?” She was stunned and stammered as she tried to explain. He grew angry at her response and stormed away, refusing to see her for days.
At last, she got one of his only friends to step in on her behalf and speak to her terrifying husband for her. Only after that, she knew that he liked it. Princess Halona finally saw him and called to him, using that name and kneeling before him, “Please, Dark Dragon of My Heart, please do not abandon me! I will swear it again and again if you wish it. I am on your side. I will never betray you. You and I … we are fated to these ills, but we can face them together. So please do not turn away from me, Dark Dragon of My Heart.” She had been about to give up. She did not know how to live in this hostile place without a single ally.
Then Prince Thormon reached down a hand to her. “You need not kneel and cry.” That was all he said. However, it was enough to get them through just one more rocky step in their relationship. One of many. Now, they were on the edge of a massive step, not just for them as a couple, but for all people of the Felrinn Empire. They were throwing a rebellion.
“You doubted they would come.”
Her throat was tight, “Yes, I was afraid. But, I am grateful they are here.”
He turned his attention to her. She was looking ahead but could tell at the edge of her vision. “I don’t want you to be afraid, Halona.”
She flinched and then looked up at him, his dark eyes seemed like they might devour her, but there was also warmth. Rarely seen warmth that made her heart flutter. His past made him cold, unsocial, and emotionless. Yet, it wasn’t wholly correct. Prince Thormon did care at times, sometimes profoundly. Sometimes she was unexpectedly astounded at how he would bury his face into her throat and hold her so tightly it was like he was going to break. Occasionally, she even wondered if he loved her.
“Thormon, Dark Dragon of,” he was suddenly pulling her in, swooping in like the dragon he was and heating her lips. She kissed him eagerly before he abruptly broke off. He looked past her, his eyes narrow, then he began to pull away. She looked over, one of the other tents was now opened, and the royal occupants were coming out. Princess Halona was set firmly on her feet again, and he pulled back to stand next to her. Her lips were still heated as she took a deep breath to compose herself.
The sun was coming up now, its pink-orange light setting everything ablaze. That blazing light was descending into the valley, igniting the valley of black dragons. Today everything would change. Would they blaze with the victory of a new day and a new reign? Or would they incinerate in agonizing defeat and eternal humiliation?
Princess Halona could hear the approach of the eldest prince of the empire and his wife. “Greetings, Prince Thormon,” they turned to face the couple. Prince Owen bowed just enough for a polite greeting, “Princess Halona.” Then, he repeated the bow to her and his wife, Princess Renata, imitated both bows. “We greet both of you this fateful morning.”
Prince Owen had slightly shaggy light brown hair, blazing red-orange curls in the dawn light. His eyes were a deep green, his skin fair, his body of a more average build. Next to Prince Thormon, Prince Owen seemed small and unassuming. On the other hand, Princess Renata was a tall, athletically built woman with milky-golden chocolate skin. Her hair was cinnamon kinks of immense volume, her eyes golden brown. She was foreign and exotic, a princess from some semi-distant kingdom on good terms with the Felrinn Empire. A place of golden sands and scarce water. One day, Princess Halona was sure they would make children with the cutest heads of curls; exceptional children.
Contrarywise, Princess Halona was from a place with warm summers, a large bay tying to a distant ocean, and frozen glacial winters. In the frigid winters, the saltwater bay would ice up, almost altogether freezing most winters. As if to match, Princess Halona’s skin was pale, just kissed with pink on her cheeks, her hair was dark with a golden touch, and her eyes were pale grey-blue, barely blue, complimenting the winter chill. Unlike Princess Renata’s family’s closeness with The Felrinn Empire, Princess Halona was a pawn. A princess of a broken country, forced into a political marriage by their conqueror.
Princess Halona nodded deeply to them, “We thank you for coming out, Prince Owen and Princess Renata. We are honoured that you chose to join us.”
“Oh, Honey Bird!” Princess Renata dropped all formality and stepped forward, capturing Princess Halona’s hands. “Of course, we would come.”
Prince Thormon cleared his throat loudly, “Despite that,” he spoke a little louder than he needed to, his growling voice a deep, harsh note, “thanks for coming. It means a lot to Halona, my wife,” he reached a palm between the women, “and to the others here today.”
Princess Halona was confused by the hand in front of her.
“Brother Thormon,” Prince Owen began speaking, “I will ride with you today,” Thormon’s hand opened and closed impatiently, “and will be just a few steps behind you.” Princess Renata seemed confused, too, “I may not be a skilled warrior like you,” Prince Owen was oblivious to the awkward situation, “but my sword and bow will be yours today.” Again, Thormon’s hand moved impatiently, “Just promise me one thing,” Prince Owen went on, stepping in to put a hand on one of Thormon’s shoulders, “Kill our father, the emperor and every one of our brothers who step in our way.”
A new chill descended on them. Prince Thormon even lowered his hand and backed to shrug Prince Owen’s hand from his shoulder. “He’s no father to me.” The words were muttered. Then he spoke louder, “I will kill any of them who stand in my way. Let their blood be on my hands.”
“Thank you,” Owen dipped his head as Halona pulled her hands out of Renata’s grasp and shifted to stand next to her husband again. He seemed darker than usual, not in his features but in his impression.
“Thormon, my Dark Dragon, are you,” she didn’t get to finish because a galloping horse stole their attention. Sir Rowen reigned in his mighty horse, a blushing Princess Stella sitting sideways in front of him, leaning into him.
Sir Rowen shifted Princess Stella and hopped off his horse, bowing low, “I apologize for our lateness.” He temporarily returned his attention to his horse to help his wife off. As soon as she was on the ground, he made a click, and his horse bobbed its head and backed away. “We have come, your highness – no. Your majesty, Emperor Thormon Feislinger.” He bowed again. Princess Stella did too. Prince Owen and Princess Renata curtsied with them. Those nearby bowed too. Someone shouted, “ALL HAIL HIS MAJESTY, EMPEROR THORMON FEISLINGER, THE BLACK DRAGON!”
The valley below came alive. Soldiers who had been getting ready now stooping. Others springing out of or from behind tents bowing as well. So many, thousands of people, all bowing to her husband. It was so hard to believe this day had come. This day had been so impossible for so long. Especially three years ago. Princess Halona blinked away tears and stepped to the side to turn to bow to him too.
Three years earlier.
Princess Halona Eloise Radian looked into the full-sized, gold-tinged mirror at her reflection. This princess did not look like her anymore. Her maids fought tears and faked smiles as they made the last adjustments to her beaded, gold wedding dress and fastened the last of her dark locks into her ribboned bun. Already, her makeup was done, her eyes overly exorbitant in the style of Gofteen, her country. The dress, though, was a gift from her soon-to-be father-in-law. Unfortunately, it seemed very wrong even though it was made of beautiful gold silk, covered with intricate embroidery and topped with skillful purple and blue sheened pearl beads. Since the embroidery, mainly white and subtle pastels on the gold silk, also had deep blood red in splotches that looked more like the splatter of blood than skillful designs.
“The spatter of blood,” Princess Halona whispered softly to her reflection.
“Don’t say that, Princess!” one of the maids lectured as she tried to blink away excess moisture in her eyes, “It will bring back luck on such an auspicious day.”
“An auspicious day,” Princess Halona repeated in a soft whisper. “Yes, such a fortunate day. One mere days after thousands of our soldiers were killed like these spatters upon the dress I wear to a union to the one who caused those spatters. Oh, yes, the most promising of days.”
“Princess Halona!” They gasped collectively, and Halona looked away as tears were shed on their cheeks.
“Forgive me,” Princess Halona said softly, “I do not wish for the last time you attend to me to be one of sadness.” Halona drew in a ragged breath, meeting her barely-blue eyes in the mirror once more, “Besides, it is my wedding day, and the gold seems to compliment my complexion and dark hair.”
They voiced agreement with voices cracking with emotion. Princess Halona struggled to hide the lump in her throat that made it hard to breathe and speak. It was hard on each of them. Today would likely be the day of her humiliating death, yet no one could do anything about it.
The Felrinn Empire’s army led by “the beast” was an unstoppable force. In less than four years, that beast had already conquered the greater part of the continent. Six countries had utterly fallen to him by spring of this year. The army’s sights came on the central-eastern area where Gofteen was during the summer. At first, Princess Halona’s father desperately joined an alliance with two other kings; they sent a combined army to try to stop the empire invaders. Nearly two-thirds of their total forces had entered that midsummer battle, less than a tenth came back, and most of those were wounded. Annihilation. There was no better way to describe what happened to the super army of three kings.
After that, Halona’s father, who was far from a warrior so had remained at home, sent gifts and pleas to both the beast’s army and to the capital of the Felrinn Empire, where the emperor commanding the invasion still resided. Princess Halona and many of her siblings lived in fear and shame over their father’s actions.
The other countries in the alliance fell. Their royal families were massacred, just as the beast had done to nearly every country he conquered. He barely established new figureheads and massive levies to the empire before moving on to the subsequent country in his gory rampage. Princess Halona, the second princess and third child of the throne, tried to stay strong as they all saw the inevitable end approaching. Soon that monster prince would come, and all of them would die. Running did no good. Other countries had tried that in the past, and their deaths were the most brutal and longsuffering, their countries the most decimated. At one point, their father, the king, even suggested it.
“Father,” Princess Halona was glad her older brother, Prince Reginald, spoke before she did, “please do not consider such action. Only the honourable royal families got to keep at least some of their lives.” Reginald was sixteen years old, just a year older than Halona, but he was wise.
Then, the most surprising thing happened, the emperor of Felrinn responded. He sent an order. “Dear King and Queen of Gofteen, The beastly monster prince shall marry your youngest princess of eligible age for marriage.” That was it. No promise of safety. Not even the name of the fearsome groom. The dress came with the order, “This is her wedding dress,” the messenger clarified, “a gift from his majesty the Emperor of Felrinn.”
The next day a message came from the beast’s army stating the wedding would be in two days. Princess Halona’s younger full sister was only nine years old. Lady Georgina’s daughters with the king were of younger marriageable ages, and they were considered princesses because of Lady Georgina’s wisdom. However, they were not daughters of the queen, one of the whoms to which the letter was addressed. Therefore, Princess Halona was suddenly thrust to her wedding day.
Had she still been alive, Lady Georgina would not have accepted this as joyfully as her own parents did. Lady Georgina was probably the one person of genuine love for them. All twelve royal children had treasured the royal mistress, but the queen didn’t. Nor had the queen shown much more than a cover-value love for her own five children. Whereas Lady Georgina was often with them, independently or in groups, teaching, modelling, defending and storytelling. Regrettably, she died almost two years ago. Her youngest son, only two at the time, cannot even remember her. Princess Halona had never forgiven her parents for Lady Georgina’s death, nor would she forgive them for being so happy to sell her off to a monster for a chance of being spared.
“I wish Lady Georgina were here.”
One of the maids, Cassie, looked at her with sad eyes. “She would be proud of how brave you are, Halona.” Then she smiled, “But that wouldn’t stop her from storming around, doing everything possible to prevent this marriage!” She laughed weakly, tears bursting from her eyes, “She wouldn’t have quit on you.” The last words were barely whispered before Cassie excused herself and hurried away, wiping her face on her sleeve before she dashed out of the servant’s entry.
The other maid also wavered, “I think you look quite beautiful, Princess Halona.”
Halona closed her eyes to strengthen her resolve, then she looked deeply into her reflection. Yes. There she was. A girl dressed as a woman, faking confidence, hanging onto the words of a deceased woman while preparing to become one herself. “Yes, yes, I do. You did great, Gendy; you may take a break. I need a minute or two alone.”
“As you wish, your highness.” Gendy bowed with a relieved expression and then strode to the servant’s door.
After she had gone, Halona reached forward and touched the mirror, feeling the warmth of magic, the spell that made one more observant and calm while looking into it. “I miss you, Lady Georgina, who gave me this fine mirror. I wish I could see you here. But, if these blood spurts of stitching are any indication, my mentor and truest mother, I will get to see you very soon.” Princess Halona leaned in and kissed the mirror lightly. Then, as she pulled away, the bells began chiming. It was time for her wedding.
About the author
Stability is good, but my life is ruled by changes. Recently moving from Alberta, Canada to Nontharburi, Thailand for near 3 years! I love traveling, reading manga, gardening and cooking. Ask me to tell you a story and I am in my element!