Chapter six

Nyala felt like a prize horse on display. The Balvedarian queen and king seemed to be having some sort of private battle with her mother and father -who rarely made a public appearance, which warmed her her heart to know that he did so for her- and her guard, decked out in their best seemed to be fighting with Zolan's guard in a silent test of will. Only the one person she really needed wasn't there. Kei had come in looking highly amused and all too happy -which worried Nyala- and she hadn't seen hide more hair of Ari. Zolan placed a hand over hers lightly, a kind smile drifting to his lips before he spoke only loud enough for them to hear.
"Don't worry. As your madi of honor, I'm sure that she's simply trying to look her best."
Nyala gave an unladylike like snort at that, and sent him a sidelong, pitying glance.
"Believe me, the last person to ever care about their appearance would be Ari. In a room full of finery, she would probably wreak havoc until it's all rags."
She sighed, feeling not at all comfortable. Ellie, sweet girl that she was, gave her a worried look and gently patted her shoulder. The girl was beginning to act a lot like Ari, and Nyala soon realized that if the chit kept it up, she would probably end up as Ari's successor when all was said and done.
"Don't worry My Lady. Ari is fine, though her emotional state is probably far worse off then yours. I happened to pass by the room they were dressing her in on my way here, and I heard swords clashing. I'm sure that they eventually subdued her, but I can assure you, the wait will be well worth it."
At this startling revelation, she leaned in a whispered in a not-so whisper, her eyes dancing with mischief.
"I took a peek at the dress in question, and I must tell you, more then one head will turn."
Nyala suddenly felt worlds better, a beaming smile lighting her face. Ari hadn't worn a dress to any proper function since the night her mother had grown ill and passed her imposing title onto Ari's young shoulders. She suddenly decided that the wait would indeed be well worth it, even if it would be hard for those in the room to decide who deserved more glances. Nyala or Ari? Who could tell. She couldn't wait. Her own gown, made of light, airy silk and designed to drape over her in a way that was both revealing and modest. There were long slits at her hips, a good portion of her back showing, and both arms were bare. She didn't particularity like the soft cream color, but it seemed to work well on her.
The door to the far end of the room sprang open, and all heads turned to it expectantly. Ari and her little brother, whom rarely stirred out of doors in preference of writing great storied that thrilled young and old -he was quite the celebrity if she thought about it- were the only two missing. Her brother strut in first, looking dumbstruck and highly mortified. At only sixteen, the young man was a fine warrior, despite his lack of interest, and Nyala felt her own mischievous nature stir when Ellie blushed and sank down slightly.
Erro was wearing his family's crest as a silver pendant that clasped a a daring, flared cloak over his shoulders, and soft leathers that looked formal and appropriate for the function. However, what ever he had seen in the hall seemed to still leave him shocked, as when he sat down, he nearly tipped back, his face pale and his eyes set ahead of him. There was a rustle of material, and a collection of hissed, aggravated voices before movement brought her attention back to the doorway.
Ari stood there, looking as a stature might, glaring at something that they couldn't see in the hall way before she cats her cool gray eyes over the room and got a determined look on her face. Nyala could see why her brother had been so very shocked. Her dress, though formal in some ways, could also be called revealing in no uncertain terms. the bottom of the layered, silk gown floated around her hips loosely, and there was a slit in the middle of it from her ankle all the way to the middle of her thigh. The top, which was almost nonexistent, was simply two pieces of material hooked around her neck, draped over her breasts in a confining way, and held in place by several horizontal strips of beaded cloth. The material, a deep, endless midnight blue, looked like the star-lit sky when she started for the table, all grace and elegance, the silvery beads that were threaded through out making her look unearthly.
Nyala smirked, her eyes alight, before she said very loudly, for all to hear.
"Well, it does appear that you've bested me tonight. Don't think that I'll go easy on you tomorrow."
Ari scowled at her, the expression seeming softer then usual -because of the dress?- and Ellie scuttled from her seat at Nyala's side to make way for their leader. She looked just as amused as Nyala felt. The queen cleared her throat loudly, and the entire room seemed to return to life, though there was more then one side-long glance cast at them.
"You know Sister, I was beginning to worry. You were taking so long, I had almost feared that they had smited you with sewing needles or some such rubbish."
Ari didn't reply, her lips pressed together in a firm frown before she grasped her cup and took a long, deep gulp of the sweet, spiced wine the almost-in-laws had brought with them. She smiled, her eyes going around the room until they landed on Zolan, who only looked curious as he watched Ari, and the royal guard. More specifically, on General Keita. His blue eyes were trained on Ari with a fierce passion that she hadn't seen on him before, and his guard seemed to think that it was highly amusing. As did Nyala. She nudged Zolan slightly, feeling that he would want in on the little scheme she had just concocted, and he followed her gaze, a slow smile spreading over his face.
"Wife, I do believe that this is going to be a very comfortable marriage, and a beautiful partnership."
He announced silently, leaning in close so that no one would over hear. She smiled in return, her eyes returning to her prey, before she replied.
"As do I, Husband, as do I."

General Keita didn't like the look that briefly passed between his muse and his future princess, but he could only watch them for so long before his attention was drawn back to the stubborn, reckless amazon woman that lead the royal guard. She suddenly didn't look as bad as he always thought. Her usually irritating was gone, replaced by a silent sort of sulk, and for the first time in nearly four days, he could actually think of her as a woman. She damn well looked the part at least.
His eyes again trailed over her, a quick scan that he hoped no one noticed, before he to indulged in a deep drink of the spiced wine. He definitely needed something to clear his foggy head.
'Damn women. Nothing good ever comes from them. How in the world a society controlled by women has lasted this long, I will never know.'
He mused, indulging further in some of the food on his plate. His guard were all casting him side long glances, and he scowled at them in return. Couldn't a man eat and not be the center of attention? There was again a silence when the current Sha'at queen cleared her throat.
"According to both our cultures traditions, the bride and grooms closest relations or friends are to start with toasts, and it has been agreed that our lovely Arista will be giving her condolences first."
The crowd clapped, the young boy that looked suspicously like the head of the amazon guard smiled a beaming smile at the woman, and Keita was temporarily caught off guard. Arista? Meaning her name wasn't really Ari? The woman in question scowled at the queen -was it him, or was that her response to everything?- before she stood gracefully. The crowd again quieted, and Ari waited until her glass was once again full. Then she spoke in soft, lulling tones that again -blast it!- drew him in.
"I suppose I should start by clearing the headway so there aren't any more rumors floating about. I do not want this wedding to happen."
She announced, her expression for the first time since they met, showing real emotion other then irritation or disgust. She looked incredibly sad. She continued non the less, ignoring his queens outraged squeak.
"After this wedding, I will have lost my best friend, my sister, probably the only person who knows me better then I know myself, to marriage. I will no longer be able to depend on, to know for a fact, that when I charge into battle, wherever it may be, her being there with me. As a married woman, and soon to be the queen, her life will be too precious for that. I don't want it to happen because I am afraid."
The crowd grew eerily quiet, all eyes, many of them wide with shock, trained on Ari intensely.
"I'm afraid that it will all be for nothing. That all of my sisters effort will go to waste. The countless hours, months even, that she planned this path to piece, will all be for nothing if neither of out cultures can mix. I'm afraid; but I also have hope. I know that Nyala will get what she wants. She always does, and that is the only reason why I can safely and honestly say that I wish her the best in this marriage. That I hope her many years of comfortable quarreling, warm nights, and a marriage blessed with happiness. If it were any one else, I would think it impossible. If only for Nyala's sake, I believe that these two will truly be happy."
With that, she tipped her glass back, downing the liquid in one gulp, then sat down heavily. Princess Nyala looked absolutely shocked, and a little bit teary, and the young man looked concerned as he stared at his relation. Zolan was the one that started the clapping, and other followed, though Keita's queen still looked upset. Keita himself didn't know what to say. She probably shouldn't have said what she had, but she had spoken from the heart, and she had meant every word. Their society seemed even more foggy to him, though he couldn't mule it over. Instead, he was passed the proverbial torch and expectant eyes turned to him.
He cast one last look at Ari, and their eyes locked. She looked as if she didn't know where else to stare, and he felt like he really shouldn't have downed that glass on wine. He nodded to her, feeling dizzy but refusing to let it show, then he stood slowly and took a deep breath raising his own glass. This was going to be one hell of a night.

Ari felt ready to puke. After the toasts had all been finalized, with her brother giving the last, and evoking both laughter and tears from Nyala -which had shocked many; her brother definitely had some sort of gift for getting to people- the real party had begun. Nyala and Zolan had, surprisingly, danced almost every dance, the only one that they didn't was when they danced with various members of the royal guard in a turn. Ari hadn't danced a single one, preferring to stay in the sidelines and watch.
General Kieta had danced once with Nyala's mother, under her request, as the king did not care for it and he was the only man of appropriate size, then he had retreated to the wall just a few feet from her. They hadn't spoken a single word, but maybe that was more because she couldn't get his toast or the look he had sent her out of her head. Stupid dress. She blamed her sudden female feelings on the stupid object entirely. Keita suddenly cleared his throat, and she almost jumped. When she glanced over, she was scowling at the glass door way that had been in between them, and he looked to her sheepishly.
"How do you open this?"
She flashed a brief smile before she slid along the wall and carefully shimmied the door open, and surprising enough, walked out with him. They both ended up leaning against the railing of the small balcony, which only fit three people if the people were the right size, and Keita seemed to be trying to stop himself from retching. She found herself laughing slightly.
"You do not look well. You don't usually drink, do you?"
She guessed, plucking up one of the rare flowers form the climbing vine that had twirled itself a little path on the railing. He shook his head, lightly where he had dropped it into his hands, then he peeked at her with a frown.
"Flowers don't grow in winter."
She laughed at him lightly, inhaling the scent then, after he had stood straight, carefully tucked in in between the broach that held his cloak in place and smiled up at him. She blamed the wine and the dress.
"Only in your kingdom."
She announced, tucking her hands over her chest and watching the dance through the glass. Nyala and Zolan seemed to be taking a break, and her friends eyes were scanning the room. Probably looking for Ari so that she could torture her. Keita suddenly stirred, looking a little rash but seeming not to care.
"Would you care for a turn?"
She was so shocked, the only thing she could do was nod slowly, not sure if she should be happy that they might get along after all, or if she should do the amazon thing and stomp on his foot. She decided to just go with it. Stupid wine. Stupid dress. Stupid party. He lead her out to the dance floor on the number, and she couldn't help the repressed smile that spread over her face when she caught sight of Nyala's expression. He was actually a very good dancer.