A Ceremony of the Nankhts was only celebrated once in a Queen’s lifetime. A day of offerings and celebration in honor of their patrons with a lavish ball when the moon rose. It was a little unusual that Fere’s Queendom would be hosting another so soon after her mother’s death, but the moon-watchers had called for it to happen as soon as the winter cycle allowed it to. Fere was almost happy that her sister required every ball to be masked, otherwise she would have long grown tired of seeing the same faces at every celebratory occasion.
This Ceremony would be different than her mother’s. Fere would be meeting all of her subjects and conversing with them, for the first time since she was a child. She had spent most of her young life on the battlefield with her mother, while Viah had spent her own youth in the castle with their Bui, her seer gifts had come early and she had always been easily overwhelmed.
The masks were essential for Viah’s safety, to prevent her gifts from being exposed or triggered by the sheer number of people she would be required to speak and interact with. She would also being wearing the gloves Fere had requested from the royal glove maker. Fere sighed as she saw at herself in the big looking glass against her wall. Her dress, large enough to keep her legs warm and to hide as many weapons as she might desire tonight, was made to look like Nankht Sari’s own coronation dress. Her patron saint had chosen the design well, and Fere had hoped that her own rule would go as smoothly as hers did, but with the approaching skirmishes on their border, she had started doubting that the peace her mother had fought for would last longer than her first year.
Fere tucked her favorite pair of knives, the iron and silver ones her mother had given her in their first battle together, into the slip of her dress and put her own mask onto her face. The elaborate silver thing covered the left side of her face, mirror shards and cold metal rested there as she let the magic form it to her face. She picked up the small silk hand gloves the glove-maker had left sitting on the armchair beside the looking glass and slipped them on. Her sister’s gloves were much thicker than hers are, as they needed to prevent skin to skin contact, hers were just for show.
Fere looked at herself one last time in the looking glass, making sure all of her knives were hidden from sight, the ones in the pockets of her dress, the ones strapped to her thighs, and the two small throwing knives she received at her coronation hidden in her bun. Her offering for Nanhkt Sari’s altar is tucked into the loose ankle, the first knife she crafted, and would be burned in the middle of the night to honor her patron Nanhkt.
The large door to her inner room creaked open. “Fere, are you ready?”
Her younger sister’s voice was soft but raspy. Her arms were covered by the long gloves and sleeves from her dress. Her short silver cape draped down her body and her small matching silver mask covered both of her eyes.
Fere smiled. “As ready as I’m ever going to be.”
Viah smiled back and stretched her hand out. Fere had once hoped that her Ceremony night would be peaceful, but she doubted that now. Regardless, this would be the most peaceful night she and her sister had in a year. After her mother’s death, the power struggle in their family for the throne had been hard, but Fere had won over her brothers and cousins. Her sister had fought too, only enough to be deemed unfit and taken under Fere’s wing, to stay in the castle under protective guard until she died. They had agreed on this plan before her mother had even passed, the same night their Bui had. Fere would not let her sister be killed or taken by their brothers, so she had become their country’s ruthless queen, the one who sought glory and pride in the death of her family.
The people loved her.
Fere took her sister’s arm and led her into the hallway where three guards, dressed in the official midnight blue of their country, the very same color of Fere’s dress, and stood. All five of them made their way to the ballroom, where Fere’s advisor waited.
Her advisor had been one of the daughters of her mother’s friends, one of her many soldier friends that Fere had made nice with when they had been training. She didn’t trust the younger girl much, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She didn’t trust her mother’s council either, she knew they had been routing for her elder brother to kill her. Fere trusted only her sister and only with basic information. Fere made decisions on her own for her country, it was what her mother had done too.
The guards moved in front of the two girls to stand at the double doors and the advisor opened them and announced the pair to their people.
“Her Majesty, Queen Ferelith, and Her Royal Highness, Princess Neviah!” The advisor’s voice boomed in the cold ballroom. The people clapped. Fere could see some of the Ladies and Lords in front of her, along with the council members, but she would spend the night talking with the people in town and outside of it, the wolf trainers and port owners, who she would need on her good side if she wanted to rule effectively.
Fere walked her sister to Lady Thili, the only Council member her mother had trusted, and left her there for the older woman to guide through the throng of manipulative, condescending Council members. Fere’s own duties were elsewhere.
By the time she saw her younger sister again, Fere had talked her way through many of the local traders and business owners, had met several children, and had run into two guards walking around the ballroom. She told Viah as much when she pulled her behind the pillar. Her people would assume she needed a breather, a warrior queen wasn’t used to interacting with people all night.
Viah slipped her glove off and touched the cold palm of her hand to Fere’s bare face. Viah’s eyes went white as she hissed in the old language before she yanked her hand away. Fere picked up a few words (fight, death, murder), but she had never studied the old language as extensively as her siblings did.
“There’s a plot for your murder,” Viah said, wiggling the glove back onto her hand.
“We knew this,” Fere said, brushing her own fingers against the pair of hidden knives.
“Tonight, there’s a plot tonight, and they are coming when the moon is at her highest,” Her sister slipped out from behind the pillar.
Viah’s visions were never wrong. Fere had seen too many play out exactly as her sister said to be in disbelief. There were always more details in the words she said, but this required a translator to be with her at all times, and only their family knew of her gift. There were rumors of a Brecca-cursed princess, of course, but Fere had done well to let these tales disperse until they were only a whisper every so often.
Fere waited until Viah was by Lady Thili again to step out. The people were tiring, the celebration would last only until high moon, a few minutes more. Fere glanced around the ballroom and saw a guard missing. There was never a guard missing. She looked for the guard’s partner, but they were nowhere to be found either. Just as she made to check on them, a knife pressed into her back and a gloved hand came around her mouth. Fere looked to the dial in the center and saw that the moon was at her highest. Viah was right again.
She twisted in the man’s grip and felt the knife tear the stitches in her dress. She pulled the pair of knives from the slips they were in and made to stab her attacker. The people around close enough to see gasped and stepped back. She and her attacker matched each other, blow for blow, until she knocked his knife from his hand. Someone was smart enough to kick it away from him.
Fere heard Lady Thili scream. She looked at where her throwing knife was pressed against the would-be assassin’s neck and pulled it away quickly to throw it into the masked man’s head. She watched him drop to the ground before making a grab at the assassin, but he was quicker than her, even injured. He ran up the stairs. Fere made to follow him, gathering her huge skirt and got up on the tables to reach the inner balcony when Lady Thili screamed again.
“The princess has been stabbed!” Fere missed a step but kept going. The Council would take care of her. “Help! A Healer!”
Fere watched the assassin reach the doors as she hiked herself up over the railing. He shoved them open as the Council member was still screaming.
“Your Majesty!” Fere stopped and looked at her sister below her. The wound was on her side, it had probably missed anything vital, but she was losing enough blood to show through her dress. She turned to watch the assassin jump off the balcony outside. Every soldier instinct in her screamed to follow him, exact her revenge, find out who had gotten so close to ending her life.
Instead, she jumped down off the balcony and rolled in her dress. She slide next to her sister and yanked the knife out of her ankle holder to cut her sister’s dress through. Her limited knowledge learned on the battlefield from healers in need of assistants was enough to pull the cape off Lady Thili and cut it into longs strips. She started wrapping Viah ribs as best as she could, putting pressure on the wound until a healer came along was the best option she could think of in the middle of the ballroom.
“It’s going to be alright,” Fere whispered as she wrapped the silver cloth with her bloodied hands. They weren’t shaking, which was more due to her battle training than anything else. In the past year, she had washed her brothers’ blood off her hands too many times, she would not let this be the same. “A healer will come, even if I must drag one from the tower myself.”
Viah smiled at her, face paler than it usually was. The knife had not hit anything too bad, but it was enough, and Fere swore she would find out who had planned this. “Everything will always be alright with you around.”