Chapter 05,  Chapter Section

Chapter 5: I: Vivaen

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Chapter 5: Mazna

Section I

Vivaen– Place: The Helit Sea, Near Qemassen

The woman who’d been Vivaen all her life, and who’d now be Princess Bree forevermore, gazed across the waves at the heat-blurred coastline of her future prison, sweltering in the fine furs and heavy jewels the queen had forced upon her. Queen Eaflied stood beside her, sweat beading on her forehead but no sign on her handsome face that she was concerned at all about the fraudulence of her daughter.

Vivaen of Back Alleys would wed the noble Prince Ashtaroth, future King of Qemassen, and save her native Feislands from Lorar, whether she wanted to or not.

She’d become sick with fever the day after she’d taken on the mantle of the doomed princess, but what the gods had refused Queen Eaflied the first time, they’d granted the next. The princess was spared a second death, even as the real Bree’s body bloated beneath the waves of the Helit Sea.

A coastal wind rippled through Vivaen’s braided black hair, tugging hopefully at loose strands, as though it yearned for her freedom as much as she did. The breeze was cooling, a slight reprieve from the sun’s angry glare. She’d known it would be hot along the southern shore, but sailors’ stories hadn’t prepared her for the way the brightness chipped at her skull like a chisel.

At home in Atlin, the people worshiped the sun as a life-giver, but in Qemassen it must be worshiped from fear. The goddess Skaetha could hump the sun up the arse with her wintry spear, and she could hump Eaflied right alongside it for having forced Vivaen into these sweaty clothes.

You must look a princess, Eaflied had counselled as she’d frantically started letting out her dead daughter’s dresses to accommodate Vivaen’s adult body. The Massenqine will not be impressed otherwise.

At least Eaflied was suffering beside her.

Like Vivaen, Eaflied’s dress was slit at the shoulders, loose-fitting and held together by intricate brooches. The base fabric of Eaflied’s gown was a rich purple, a colour not often found in the Feislands, worn today as a show of reverence for the valuable purple trade along the southern Helit. Vivaen herself had suggested the dye, though she was robed in bright green, with blue and orange trim around the neckline and hem. Both of them wore heavy, metal and leather belts to cinch the waists of their linen dresses, and both were cloaked in mink pelts with silver and gold bands about their wrists.

Vivaen had never looked or felt so fine as this, her hair pleated at the front, the back left to hang long and loose all the way to her waist. Eaflied had brushed Vivaen’s hair last night until it shone like a black, sea-polished stone, scenting her with musky imported perfume. She might have enjoyed the fussing, but for what it presaged. The tender hands that had reminded Vivaen of her own long-dead mother were better likened to those of a cook, dressing a hog for roasting.

And roast they both would.

“Could we remove the furs, at least? It’ll be hours before we’ve docked.” A bead of sweat dripped down Vivaen’s forehead and was netted by her lashes. She wrinkled her nose and wiped off what felt like a second skin’s worth of sweat. If she found herself disgusting, what would this trumped up prince think?

Eaflied pursed her lips. She grumbled something unintelligible, but reached for the pins securing the mink in place. She slipped the fur from her cloak like it was a sacred object.

Vivaen hastily did the same, though with considerably less reverence. The air caressing her shoulders was like the first dip beneath the waves at the height of summer, but then the bright sun sizzled at her skin.

Maybe it had been preferable beneath the cloak.

Eaflied smoothed her hand over the rail as gulls keened above them and sailors called directions to the rowers below. “I’ve paid the crew to transport your dowry to the palace if need be, though King Eshmunen will likely send his own once they’ve spotted us,” said Eaflied, more to herself, it seemed, than to Vivaen. “We should have brought more men, but I suppose they would have died with the others.” Eaflied’s mind was clearly overrun with the tasks she’d set herself. She’d been this way since her daughter had died. Best to leave her to it.

The queen nattered on for a good while, making no attempt to engage Vivaen in genuine conversation. As they rounded the first of the two small islands that sheltered Qemassen from the Helit’s waves, Eaflied was still scattering her words to the wind. The queen pointed at the sheer cliffs of the larger of the two islands. “They call this one Tarefsa Tithmeseti. The smaller island behind is Tarefsa Qusirai.” The words sounded practiced coming from Eaflied’s mouth.

Vivaen smirked to herself, amused Eaflied would think to educate her. “The Serpent’s Tooth and the Serpent’s Scale,” she translated.

Eaflied stared distantly at the rock face, as though Vivaen’s words reached her only as whispers to a dreamer’s ear. Perhaps she was thinking on her real daughter, on what delight might have swept the fourteen-year-old up in its currents.

Vivaen hung her neck back as they sailed alongside the towering island that jutted, a nearly perfect cylinder, from the blue waves. Her man Ash had woven stories of Qemassen’s shores, of its colourful buildings, its palaces and statues, and paved streets. His tales hadn’t prepared her.

Tarefsa Tithmeseti towered at least three hundred feet high. A forest of cedars covered the island’s high cliffs, circling a tiered yellow watchtower. Every level of the tower was lined with gold statues that glinted blindingly where the light hit them, and water cascaded down its walls in elegant, controlled streams. Most wonderful of all was the huge, winged woman carved out of the cliff-face itself, as though she were leaping from the stone to dive into the sea. She was taller than the walls of Atlin’s hill fort, her wings stretching half as wide. In one taloned hand she gripped a circular object and in the other a peculiar looped cross with a wide, triangular base. Her eyes were strange, round, black things, painted to stare out at the sea in warning or in welcome.

Vivaen hesitated. Her man had told her a few tales of his people’s gods, but she couldn’t place this one. Her curiosity overcame her pride and eventually she spoke. “Who is she?”

Eaflied sighed. “A woman dressed up like a phoenix. The bird is the city’s symbol. She holds a pomegranate in one hand, and a symbol of their gods in the other.”

Vivaen thought she remembered about the phoenix. “But who’s the woman supposed to be?”

“How should I know? One of their goddesses, I expect, or a queen. Maybe she’s both. They worship their kings as gods, once they’re dead.” Eaflied smiled, clearly imagining herself as a trumped up Massenqa goddess.

Vivaen laughed at the idea of King Ossa’s haggard face immortalized in stone, greeting newcomers to Atlin. She’d used to think her city one of the greatest in the world, as big and busy as any other. But the closer they came to her future home, the larger she realized Qemassen’s network of buildings really was, and the grander its palaces. The hot, sticky air above the houses in the distance seethed with oil, undulating like the waves of the ocean below.

A shadow passed overhead—a moment of brief relief. When she craned her neck back to look, it turned out to be a bridge, linking the two islands. Tarefsa Qusirai was only half the height of its sister, but cedars covered this one as well. A strip of sandy beach curved along its southern face, with ships of all kinds docked along the shore. Men called to each other as they laboured over the boats. There were even some young men receiving what looked like swimming instruction.

The activity nearby was in direct contrast to the approaching vista of Qemassen, which appeared not to have much of a harbour at all. Impressive though they were, few ships lined the city’s lengthy pier, which ran parallel to the coastline. The entirety of the shore was protected by a defensive brick wall, which Vivaen had been told enclosed the whole settlement, with the exception of the farms and small villages that had grown up outside.

Yet Qemassen was known for its navy, famed across the Helit for its tradesmen and explorers. Her sailor must dock here often enough. She scanned the beach for him, but the sailors were too distant for her to make out their faces.

Ash. Ashtaroth. A common enough thing, for men to name their sons after royalty, hoping it would bring them like honour and prosperity.

Had Ashtaroth been prosperous? He’d looked it, with his silks and linens—his carefree smiles. He’d called himself a member of the tamqaru, some kind of merchant class. And as a merchant he could be anywhere at all on this vast ocean.

Beyond the islands the sky was vast, its brilliant blue blending into the azure of the sea—a match for the trim on Vivaen’s dress. The hilly city was a patchwork of colour, its flat roofs cutting across the horizon, piled atop each other like bricks. The lush fronds of green palms stretched their limbs past the edges of the city walls, even atop some of the buildings in what must be personal gardens. A few of the complexes were more elaborate, suggesting the homes of the wealthy, or perhaps temples.

The chief god is Abaal, she recited silently to herself. Abaal’s wife is Tanata. His brother, Molot, is the god of death.

Like Caern.

A full-bodied shiver rattled her, and for an instant she was pulled back into memory, and the Loralander pit with its hounds circling above her. The pit was far away from her now though, further even than her beloved Atlin. Caern reached for her all the same, using what lingered of her sickness to scratch at her. She swooned, dizzy suddenly from the heat, overwhelmed by the scale of the city in front of her, and the island behind. Her stomach rolled like a rock in her belly.

“You can’t be cold?” Eaflied remarked.

“No.” Vivaen pressed her eyes closed, and when she opened them the world steadied around her. Caern was Vivaen’s worry, not Princess Bree’s. One blessing, at least. “Qemassen’s not like anything I imagined. I thought Atlin was a city, but it wasn’t.”

“Atlin is a city,” Eaflied reflected. “This is a monster.” She smiled conspiratorially at Vivaen.

For the first time since the queen had forced her to take the princess’s name, Vivaen was glad Eaflied would be staying with her in Qemassen.

They spent the remainder of the journey to shore in silence, save for the occasional exclamation of exhaustion or surprise. But when they reached the pier she’d seen earlier and the city walls stretched above her, she had to pin herself to the rail to keep herself steady.

“Gods,” she breathed.

Qemassen’s stone walls could keep giants out.

At fifty feet high, the wall that stood behind the tiny wooden pier was a perfectly flat sheet of stonework, no aperture that Vivaen could see.

There was a great bang as though someone had hit an enormous drum, and a sudden wave tilted the ship, rocking the vessel back. The scrape of stone against stone and the rumble of a massive wheel sheered the air, and the seamless wall became a set of massive doors, parting before them.

Vivaen averted her gaze, staring back out to sea. She’d let the spectacle of it enchant her, but it was a deadly enchantment. Those doors that opened for her now would shut, trapping her inside the city.

“Look at the harbour!” Eaflied tugged her sleeve, and Vivaen shook aside her fear to watch as the ship slowly sailed between the great doors.

A vast dockyard bustled to either side of a long canal. Sailors and merchants charged to and fro, what looked like soldiers patrolled in packs with frighteningly long spears pointed skyward. More strangers, at least at a glance, but even if Ashtaroth were here, it was so crowded that he’d be swallowed by the rabble. There was barely any point in such a search, when Princess Vivaen could hardly tumble with a common sailor, but it still pained to tear her attention away, as though in doing so she was setting aside the last promise of something that might be truly hers.

It pained, but it was necessary. Vivaen had always been a creature of necessity, and Ashtaroth had been little but a distracting ride to warm her winter bed. Today she would meet a different Ashtaroth—far more urgent to make him want her, make him love her if she could. Time and again she’d teased a man in Atlin to steal his purse. It couldn’t be so different to steal a heart, especially if it meant the difference between a gentle touch or a cruel one.

The door into Qemassen’s hidden world cranked closed behind them, trapping them within a city of marvels.

An artificial cove housing a shipyard dominated at the end of the docks, blocking the view of the shorter buildings behind it.

“Men couldn’t have built all this,” Vivaen said, the closer they approached that rounded shipyard with its sluice-ways and its stacked ships.

“But they did,” said Eaflied. “And the same men will help us force back the Lorai.” She reached for Vivaen’s hand and squeezed. Vivaen squeezed back.

The Massenqa at the docks were staring—at first Vivaen thought they must be watching her, but then she remembered they were riding a captured Lorai vessel. Such a sight might be unwelcome in Qemassen just now. Perhaps a Feislander ship would have been better, if less impressive.

Merchants unloaded cargo onto the shore and passengers were escorted away on the backs of strange, delicate horses, or lifted into the air in canopied transports. Men were bare-chested or wore loose, light garments, and everyone was garbed in linens of all colours and patterns. The splendours of the city almost distracted from the oppressive heat.

She tore her attention from the people below and watched silently as they slunk toward the shipyard, her heart a drum in her chest. Too much. It was all too much.

Inside the shipyard, what had to be thousands of vessels: triremes, merchant vessels, punts and even larger warships, were stabled like wooden horses inside rows and rows of slipways. Even more peculiar, the second story of the building revealed boats in the process of construction and repair. Man-made rivers cascaded into the round harbour from the second level of the complex, allowing ships to pass from one tier to another.

From the second story of the shipyard, a finished vessel slid out along a water-covered ramp, helped along by workers with wooden poles.

Vivaen wasn’t fool enough to test the Nynir’s fateful threads with predictions, but watching Qemassen unfold itself before her, she understood why men called Lorar brash for baiting such a beast.

Far above her head, a white, cylindrical tower loomed at the shipyard’s centre, housing yet more vessels, and connected to the larger crescent by a web of covered bridges that lanced above the masts of the Lorai ship. A circle of painted statues stood atop the building’s roof, women with outstretched hands pointing out to sea.

The Qabira, goddesses of sailing.

Perhaps the Qabira had been watching over their vessel during the stormy weather. She hadn’t thought of it before, but the Massenqa priests must all be praying and sacrificing on Bree’s behalf. Would the blessings bought with their offerings transfer to an impostor as easily as had Vivaen’s name and possessions? Then again, if they’d been praying for Bree, they’d failed. Perhaps Vivaen ought to flee from such priests.

The ship rounded the tower and sailed past a second gateway. More docks and beaches stretched before them, seemingly endless until she took in the large party of men, women, and litters clustered before what must be the terminus of the canal.

Vivaen’s heart was an anchor in her chest. Whatever magic had charmed her faded to nothing in the manifest presence of her future. Vivaen might be a creature of necessity, but she didn’t welcome this particular need.

She glanced behind her at the people they’d passed by, hoping one last time for a glimpse of Ashtaroth, but finding only the interchangeable blur of unfamiliar faces.

Massenqa or not, her man was lost to her, just as she’d wanted all those months ago in Atlin, when she’d spurned him to spare her heart.

“Put your mink back on.” Eaflied reached for her own, though her arms were soaked with sweat.

Vivaen ignored her, staring uphill, past the gathered spectators and the vessel docked, toward what had to be the Massenqa palace on the Talefa hill. She’d never seen something so beautiful, so terrible. A tall, slender tower stood near to the complex’s centre—another watchtower, perhaps?

As the crew unloaded the chests baring the dowry of a dead woman to the king’s men waiting to meet an impostor.

Vivaen fidgeted with her hot metal bracelets atop her sleeves as she watched the sailors heft her new possessions onto the ground.

Eaflied slapped her wrist. “You’ll burn your fingers.”

She wanted to burn her fingers. The sting distracted her from everything else.

“Come on,” Eaflied whispered into Vivaen’s ear, more gentle, even motherly. She took Vivaen by the arm and all but tugged her from the railing toward the wood plank leading them to land.

Vivaen navigated it carefully, eyeing the water that sloshed in the gaps to either side of her, cycling through all her Massenqa words as if she might have forgotten the language while she ogled the Painted City.

The people standing before them were all strangers. She wasn’t sure why that came as a surprise, as though she’d expected her welcoming party to be composed of the few Massenqa faces she’d encountered over the years. The group was a mixture of men and women, young and old, nobles and slaves. Some weren’t Massenqa at all, at least not to look at.

As Vivaen’s feet touched solid ground, an exceedingly tall, black-haired man with olive skin stepped forward, bowing to them clumsily, and offering an oafish smile at odds with the occasion.

“King Eshmunen and his Semassenqa welcome Queen Eaflied et-Eaflaetha, and Princess Bree et-Eaflied to Qemassen’s shores.” The olive-skinned man stumbled as he attempted to pronounce Eaflied’s matronymic. “I am Dashel eq-Yeremi, companion to the crown prince, and son of the royal mahout.”

Dashel eq-Yeremi. The first of many names Vivaen would have to remember. She shuffled it away in her memory, waiting for Eaflied to speak before realizing the queen was waiting for Vivaen’s translation.

Eaflied sniffed derisively as Vivaen translated. “King Eshmunen couldn’t spare the time himself, I suppose, to meet his daughter-in-law and future mother of his grandchildren.”

If anyone had heard the queen, they didn’t let it slip, and Vivaen didn’t translate for them.

Even Vivaen knew enough to see it was insulting, but as she was used to being insulted she took the slight with more grace. “I am Bree et-Eaflied. Thank you for your welcome.” There was probably something else she was supposed to say, but who knew what. The air writhed with heat against her hands, her shoulders, her head. All she wanted was some shade, some water.

The Massenqa exchanged glances, dumbstruck like they’d never seen a Feislander before. Someone in the back of the crowd tittered. Vivaen scowled, about to demand they be taken to the king, when she realized the laugh was directed at the queen.

Eaflied had bent over behind her in distress.

A fine thing, to laugh at the queen of the Feislands, even if it was Eaflied’s own fault for swaddling herself in layers of wool.

Dashel hurried alongside Vivaen to drag Eaflied upright, and a slave poured a jug of water over a cloth, rushing toward them. The whole flock of nobles looked poised to descend on them.

Eaflied was conscious, and she groaned as they supported her between them. Vivaen unclasped the brooches holding the queen’s mink in place and slid them from her shoulders. She balled the fabric up at first, ready to toss it—clasps and all—into the canal, but a slave approached and took the fur from her with a bow.

“Sese,” said the slave.

Vivaen stared at Dashel, and he cocked his head at one of the litters.

“I can take her, Sese,” Dashel said.

“Tell him I can walk on my own,” said Eaflied, struggling to stand.

Vivaen did no such thing, but followed, carefully keeping her gaze from the faces of the other Massenqa.

Dashel sat Eaflied down inside the litter and called for water, and an ewer promptly appeared in the hands of another slave. Dashel tried to reach for the queen as she gulped it down, but she swatted his hands away, though she at least let the slave dab her forehead with the wetted cloth.

“Can you tell her to drink more slowly, Sese?” he asked Vivaen.

She sighed. “Eaflied, he says you need to slow down.”

Eaflied stopped only so she could spit water back onto the stones beneath her. “What does a stable hand know about water that the queen of the Feislands doesn’t?” She scoffed, but then heaved as though she might be sick.

Vivaen rubbed her arms.

“Are you sure you’re well, Sese?” Dashel asked Vivaen. “You’re swaying a bit. A lot.”

Swaying? Vivaen looked down at her feet. She felt perfectly fine.

“You should join her, Sese. It’s a long walk to the palace.” Dashel’s kindly face disarmed her, and she found herself nodding in acquiescence. Disoriented, she slid the curtain of the strange transport into place, frowning at Eaflied, who was lying back on her cushioned chair, eyes shut to everything.

When they were lifted up, Vivaen had to grip her armrests to stop from falling. She cringed as a cacophony of shrill, unfamiliar instruments played outside. She supposed all this finery was meant to impress them, but so far all Vivaen felt was out of place, like an oddity arriving off one of the merchant ships at home. The thought was bitter in her mouth.

She focused on Eaflied to keep from thinking about all the staring she could expect at the palace, from her betrothed. A few days ago she would have found the queen’s discomfort a delicious nastiness, but it seemed even oddities needed companionship, and Eaflied was as close as Vivaen had in this desert kingdom. It was laughable. At home, she’d had little need for close friendships, only convenient acquaintances. Now that she was untethered from Atlin’s docks, she sought someone to moor herself to.

The ride uphill was bumpy at its best and nauseating at its worst. Every so often Eaflied would moan, and Vivaen would offer her more water.

Dashel eq-Yeremi hadn’t been lying. The walk was long and arduous. Eventually though, the ruckus of the street died down, and the sound of the slaves’ footsteps sharpened, like they’d stepped indoors.

When the litter finally stopped, Vivaen took a deep breath and parted the curtains.

She was definitely inside. A vast hall filled with people had swallowed her litter whole. She retreated from the curtains, pulling them shut, heart racing, breathing rushed and strained. She reached for Eaflied, but the queen was sleeping soundly on her cushions. Even shaking Eaflied’s knee did nothing to rouse her.

Then Dashel called out the dead princess’s name to the Massenqa court.

Vivaen kicked the queen’s foot. It was Eaflied’s fault this was happening—the least she could do was stay awake for it.

Eaflied groaned, sitting up with the alertness of a drunkard. Dashel hauled the curtain open, forcing Vivaen to acknowledge the responsibility her country had shackled her with. She stepped out from her small sanctuary, arms shaking.

It was so silent in the hall that her footfalls echoed. The ceiling above her was taller than the highest buildings in Atlin, and still more courtiers observed her from a balcony overlooking the throne room floor. The hall was bigger than it needed to be. Was Eshmunen afraid of his own people? King Ossa and Queen Eaflied feasted with their men like family, the only barrier between them the table itself.

A wall of Massenqa faces crowded behind her, observing her with curiosity and hunger. Vivaen stared right back, hoping to wilt them.

“Come forward, child,” spoke a man’s hushed voice.

Vivaen narrowed her eyes at the three thrones in front of her, each of them raised on a dais to impress those knelt before them. But she was a princess now. What had she to fear from these people?

Eaflied finally stumbled from the litter, fumbling to untangle her hair from a curtain ring. Once free, she wobbled to Vivaen’s side and clasped her hand. Her face was red and puffy. They walked forward together, and Vivaen surveyed the three thrones.

And her heart might have stopped in her chest.

Her feet certainly did, as she stepped near enough to see past the glitter of the crown and jewellery to the face of the man beside the king. Eaflied nearly tripped as Vivaen stopped.

Sitting before her, disguised in elaborate dress, sat Ashtaroth, her handsome sailor, staring at her as though she’d struck him. His tight brown curls tapered around his neck, his deep brown eyes caught in a moment of displeasure. She didn’t like that look. It was not the look of a happy man.

Her skin was tight, her throat dry. In her shock it only barely registered that one of the people on the thrones was a woman.

“You . . . .” She couldn’t take her gaze from him. His lips were clamped shut, no sign of his swindler’s smile, no light in his eyes.

Why did he feel so slighted, when he’d lied worse than she had? She’d only been Vivaen then, not a princess at all. Ashtaroth truly was a prince, and not any prince, but Qemassen’s crown prince. He was the crown prince, and a liar just as she’d marked him that first night she’d taken him to her bed.

King Eshmunen coughed, jolting Vivaen out of her thoughts and back into the throne room. She bowed, shaking all the while, trying not to glare when she raised her head.

The severe-looking woman beside the king was looking Vivaen up and down with piercing eyes.

The king inclined his head, smiling. “It pleases me to unite our two great lands with the marriage of my beloved son Ashtaroth eq-Eshmunen to Bree et-Eaflied.”

Vivaen almost laughed. It was like something from a skald’s bitter story. Vivaen the chieftain’s daughter had become Bree the princess, and Bree the princess had struggled all the way here to find that her handsome sailor was the handsome prince she’d loathed to marry. She bit her lip, worrying the skin.

She hated him and she’d claw his eyes out the first chance she got.

A trio of slaves rushed forward from the shade beneath the balcony, scratching the floor with their slippers before playing a melody on some pipes. When it ended, the slaves shuffled back into darkness.

A young man approached from the shadows. Light from the massive windows behind Vivaen glanced off a gold crown atop his head and the gold-trimmed linen of a princely tunic. He was gaunt, with deep shadows beneath his eyes, and hair white as snowfall. His steps were nervous and unassuming, but he didn’t stop until he was standing in front of her. He stretched out his stringy arms, holding his hands before her, head downcast. She let go of Eaflied to accept what she assumed would be a hand clasp, but then he slipped his fingers between hers like a lover might.

A priest. He must be a priest, and this some ritual. There was something of Ashtaroth in his face. He could easily be a brother who’d joined the priesthood. And wasn’t Ashtaroth said to have a brother of some kind? She knew from Ash that there was a high priest of some kind. What did they call them again? Ashqens? No, the plural was Ashenqa. Did they truly plan to perform the marriage right here, now?

When at last the priest raised his head to look at her he blushed shyly, lips trembling.

King Eshmunen stood, smiling down at her. His face wasn’t unkind, yet her stomach churned with queasiness, though she couldn’t say why. Was this what happiness felt like? Was this her world without fear? If it was, it felt an awful lot like when she’d been sick on the boat.

“Princess Bree,” said the king. “I present to you my son, Ashtaroth, the crown prince of Qemassen.” He gestured at the scrawny man she’d taken for a priest.

Vivaen darted a look at the thrones. The man who’d told her his name was Ashtaroth wore a mask of stone.

How dare he, whoever he really was. The brother, he must be. The wrong brother.

Fuck him, then, and not in the way she’d thought to before.

The false Bree faced the real Ashtaroth, her mouth dry as a desert. The prince’s eyes danced with all the fire that’d died in her sailor’s. They were eyes she already knew could love her. She’d have no trouble wooing this one, as she’d so blithely thought to do back on the ship.

Fuck. Fuck all the gods. Fuck Skaetha and Caern and the Nynir with them.

Vivaen winced as she stared into the happy, loving eyes of her soon-to-be husband. She attempted a return smile, but her lip was trembling as much as his now, the sense of queasiness rising. She dug her nails into Ashtaroth’s arms to hold herself up. With her thoughts flowing free and frenzied, Vivaen bowed her head to him, and then she vomited all over the front of his tunic.

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