Wolfcry Page 21

"My generation has tasted peace, and I have faith that they will safeguard it. And I have faith that someday, when the past is further behind us and fear and hatred have been supplemented by understanding, the time will come when a wyvern can grace your palace.

"But that hour is not now." It was time to change everything. "We have tried to marry two worlds, but one cannot perform a marriage while both parties hold knives to each other's throats. One cannot sew two pieces of cloth together while both unravel. Let us heal. Let the land know peace."

I stared at the faces around me, and I announced, "As of this moment, I formally renounce my claim to both thrones, avian and serpiente."

I tried to avoid looking at my mother, but I could still see her sway, then lean against my father's tense form.

"I name Irene Cobriana's son, Salem, Arami, next to be Diente of the serpiente." I held out my hand to the cobra, and he stepped onto the dais, face composed so that his people would not be troubled.

I knew that he would have liked to argue with me, to shout and rail against my decision. He hid his emotions from the rest of his people, comforting them, his first sacrifice of self for the throne he had never expected to hold.

It would not be the last. This title I gave him was no gift.

He said softly, for my ears alone, "They need you, Oliza." I shook my head, but like him, I could not let our people see me breaking inside. "I've given them what I can. It's up to you now." Turning to the crowd, I continued, "And Sive Shardae, my mother's sister, shall rise as Tuuli Thea of the avians." She nodded as Salem helped her onto the dais. She was as externally composed as we were  -  as if we had planned this months before, and neither dissented. We needed to be in agreement in front of our people. They both knew that.

"I share blood with both of them," I concluded. "I am living proof that we can live without hatred. So I give you to yourselves and ask that you remember, and you teach your children, and they teach their children. Learn, trust, just..." I would have given them everything: all of me, all I had and all I was. Instead, all I could give them was my faith and desperate hope that they would  -

"Just try.

The future, my people... the future is all we have."

I stepped down from the dais, leaving Salem and Sive to address our  -  their people. My mother and father instantly came to my side.

Both looked as if they wanted to speak, but neither did at first.

"It was the only choice," I said.

My mother swallowed hard. "Oliza, I know how hard leadership can be, and how impossible the future seems sometimes, but  -  "

"Staying would have been easier; it's leaving them that will break my heart. But it would have been selfish to keep them. I can't give them what they need. Please, trust me." I drew a breath and added, "And even if you can't... Our people are going to be scared. I know that. They need to see that you believe in them. Sive and Salem are going to need your support. So, please, don't fight me. It's done."

"But what are you going to do?" my mother asked. There were tears in her eyes.

"I'm going to leave for a while, so Sive and Salem can show Wyvern's Court that it can survive and prosper without me. I'll be with friends." I thought of the Obsidian guild as I said it. They would take me in. "And I'll be with my mate." Betia had pushed through the crowd to reach me as my parents and I spoke, and now she took my hand. My mother closed her eyes a moment, speechless. Finally my father sighed. "Oliza, this isn't necessary. If you aren't ready, then  -  " I winced and said, "If you are referring to my leaving, it is necessary. I know that you may never understand it, but please, trust me. I am the daughter you raised, and I am doing what I must for the sake of our people." He started to argue, but I continued, "And if you are referring to Betia, you should be careful. I know you are upset, and shocked, but I love her. I won't have you treat her like she's some kind of excuse." My mother broke out of her paralysis. "That isn't what we... who we... Oliza, are you certain?"

"More certain than I have ever been about anything."

She started to speak again but then hugged me instead. She looked at Betia and said to me, "We love you, Oliza. And we trust you. We just  -  Good luck." My father nodded and seemed resigned when he said, "Treat her well, wolf." Betia and I walked through the market toward the edge of town in silence. I was barely aware of Salem, who spoke behind me to a crowd that was growing more and more restless, or of my people as they moved aside to let me pass. Some of them called my name, but I had to shake my head and keep walking. I saw several of my Wyverns  -

mine no longer, but performing one last duty  -  lining up to try to hold back the avians and serpents who were trying to follow me.

Suddenly Marus and Urban stood before me, side by side, as if they had planned this final vision of the world of which we had all once dreamed.

Marus started to speak, stopped and then drew a deep breath as if to compose himself. Urban said, "Oliza, I know we aren't perfect, but... don't give up on us. We can still  -  " I touched his face, silencing him before he made me cry. "I have all the faith in the world in you, both of you, all of you. If I was needed, I would never leave. If ever I am needed, I won't be far. I'm not abandoning you. Just... letting you spread your wings."

Urban smiled wryly. "But I don't have wings."

"I do," Marus offered, voice slightly choked. He gave up on the idea of reserve and hugged me. "We'll make you proud," he whispered. "Take care of yourself." Then it was Urban's turn. He kissed me on the cheek and smiled at Betia. "Take care of her, Betia. She's precious to us."

There was one last person I needed to speak to. Nicias caught up with us just before the woods' edge.

For a moment, we regarded each other in silence.

"I understand," he said at last, quietly. "I hate it, but I understand."

"You may be the only person in Wyvern's Court who really does."

"People are going to be angry. Hurt."

"I know. I wish it wasn't so, but..."

"There's no other way," he finished for me. "I don't know all of what you've seen, but I've seen enough myself to understand. We'll manage; don't worry about us." He added,

"And I'll feel better knowing that you and your mate are taking care of each other." Tucked against Betia's side, I said, "Thank you for that, too. My parents were a little shocked."

"Your parents," Nicias said, "haven't heard the way you've talked about her. They haven't seen the way you look at her. I think I knew before you did."

"She was a little slow," Betia said, teasing. I started to defend myself  -  and then just kissed her instead. She was right.

Betia led once we were in the woods. I knew she would find our destination without difficulty. This was, after all, her realm of expertise.

I was not surprised when Velyo intercepted us. With an arrogant smirk, he said, "I listened to your little speech  -  quite heartwarming. It's nice to see that you can justify walking away from them to be with your fling."

I went rigid.

This time, Betia came to my defense. "He will never understand," she said. "He doesn't know what it means to sacrifice to protect your people."

Velyo's eyes were blue flames as he turned on her, clearly as furious as if she had struck him. "Do not speak to me about leadership. You turned down my offer when I would have made you queen of the Frektane. Is this what it takes to win your hand? A queen abandoning her throne? I should have had the pack hunt you down, before  -  " My fist met his jaw, hard enough to send him stumbling backward.

"Don't you ever threaten her," I snarled. "In fact, I think it would be best if you just left us alone."

He regained his balance, his hand going to his face.

"Abdication means I'm free to make my own choices, for myself," I pointed out. "It means my word isn't that of my courts. It's simply mine. Tempt me, and I'll dance this dance with you."

"So you're proposing what  -  to kill me?" Velyo asked. "You won your place as princess by birth, Wyvern, and you weren't strong enough to hold it. I won my right to rule through blood and my own strength. You have no chance of winning, but you want to try to challenge me for one of my own people?"

Fury rippled through me, and I leaned toward him. With my lips only an inch from his throat, I whispered, "You should know, Velyo, that a cobra's bite while you sleep will kill you before you can wake."

He jumped back from me, and I smiled, betraying a cobra's fangs. My eyes, normally a hawk's gold, had become a sea of blood marked only with slit pupils. He was caught in my gaze like a baby bird. Like prey.

I added, "And Velyo? Everyone sleeps sometimes."

Betia growled, on the verge of shifting into a more deadly form. Velyo looked back and forth between us, not quite managing to hide his fear.

Finally he stepped back.

"She's yours, Wyvern. Seems you two deserve each other." He shifted shape and loped away in his wolf form, with his fur bristling and his tail down. I turned to Betia and pulled her into my arms. "Thank you," I whispered. But Velyo's words still bothered me. How many people thought that I had abandoned all of Wyvern's Court just to follow my heart? It was a beautiful, romantic idea, but leadership left no such luxury. How could Betia respect me, respect us, if she thought

-

She shook her head. "I would have said no."

"What?"

"If you had wanted me despite what you needed to do," she said, "I would have said no. I am too Frektane"  -  she grimaced a little as she said it  -  "to love someone who would betray her duty. You are too Shardae Cobriana to love someone who would ask you to. And I love you. So ignore Velyo."

Wise words, very wise words.

We returned to the Obsidian guild, who took us in as friends and dancers without asking questions that I suspected they would quickly learn the answers to anyway. In the abandon of the evening, I performed blade dances and melos; after a long, lingering look at my mate, I performed the sensual harja for the first time. I danced sakkri of thanks and love and passion and freedom.

Betia shared myths and stories from her people and taught us songs she said were often sung on the cold nights. Her voice was a husky alto and blended with mine very well. When pressed, I shared some of the songs and stories of my mother's people, which the Obsidian guild had never heard.

As the dawn neared, I curled against my mate's side, listening to her heartbeat and enjoying her warmth. Sleepily we murmured of the future to each other. I did not know what the next days would hold, for me or for my world. The next night would be Namir-da, and the serpents would dance as they always had and they always would. Avian parents would whisper to each other about scandal in the knowing way that elders had; meanwhile, their children would sneak out to watch the rituals with wide eyes and fascinated minds.

I had to trust Salem, Sive and my parents to take care of Wyvern's Court. I had to trust Wyvern's Court to let them. I had not left them an easy path, but at least now they had one.

Toth

'savimak

Savirnak'toth

Sacrifice of love, sacrifice for love.

Fate is gentle and harsh; she gives and she takes.

Prev