Winter Passion Ch. 01bylostangelkira©
I know it's been a while since I've posted anything. Life had other things in mind for me. But now that things are going very well for me, I've been able to get back to writing. I plan to finish up on Paradise Threatened, and I'm also working on a few other projects that will be gracing this site soon, hopefully. For now, here's the first chapter of a new series, set in the same universe as my first story posted here, 'Red Hot Love'. I hope you enjoy.
"Niri! Supper time!" she heard her younger sister call from the back door.
"Coming, Anna!" Niri shouted back, plucking the last bunch of snowberries.
She hefted the heavy basket into her arms and carried it back to the modest one story farmhouse she lived in with her parents, grandfather and three younger siblings.
"Thank you, darling," her mother said as she came inside, handing off the basket to her mother to put into the cold pantry. Shutting the door behind her, Niri stomped her feet on the thick mat, dislodging the packed snow before taking them off and setting them aside. "Oh, and Xander is joining us for dinner. Such a charming young man...I'm surprised he hasn't asked to marry you."
"Xander's a good friend, nothing more," she told her mother as she helped set the table. "Besides, he's the son of a Lord. Lord of Berias, to be exact. I'm just a simple girl, the daughter of a farmer. He can have any lady he wants, one people will respect. Can we not talk about this now?"
"Of course," her mother said.
Hearing laughter from the living room, she walked in to see Xander come inside, grabbing up Anna and her little brother, Billy, before sitting on the couch, right beside her papa and grandpapa. She sat beside him, giving him a smile.
For being the son of a Lord, he was down to earth and humble. He was quite muscular and had the face of an angel, straw blonde hair falling to his shoulders. Xander had told them that his father had thought it would be good for Xander to come live with his aunt and uncle and help out on their farm. They'd met as kids and had been friends ever since. Though, Niri kind of wanted him to notice her as something other than a friend.
She didn't have much to offer in looks; she was fit and healthy, but in spite of the many diets and home concoctions, she couldn't slim down past a size 16. Her butt stuck out like a sore thumb because of her wide hips. Her face was well proportioned, but very plain, her dry, dull brown hair pulled back into a ponytail every day. She was nothing like the girls Xander courted; thin, elegant...beautiful.
There wasn't a single guy in the village that was even interested in courting her. Her dad had tried setting her up with sons of family friends, but none of them came back after the first date or declined because they had found fiancés. Sometimes she wished she lived across the ocean in Domacra, where the old traditions weren't so heavily enforced.
Because of the constant wars between the southernmost nations of Tetramia, many towns and cities were unable to keep electricity for more than a month or two at a time. And with the dragon flights owning most of the land, they were under their fairly strict rule. So many were killed in battle, arranged marriages were still very commonplace, couples her age starting families to keep their lines alive. There weren't many girls that complained about it, though.
The Sapphire dragon flight ruled these lands and their king had a law concerning unwed girls. Any who turned 20 and was neither promised to a man or married, would be summoned to the Great Dragon Shrine overlooking the town. There, a representative of the flight chosen by the king would look over each girl, and those chosen would be taken back to the Flight's keep and presented to the mighty dragon king. Those that were not chosen were considered cursed and banished from the village. So far, it had been nearly two months since her 20th birthday and no summons.
"Dinner's on the table," her mother called, pulling her from her thoughts.
Xander sat between her and her dad. Whenever he passed a dish to her, his hand would brush hers briefly. She couldn't stop blushing each time it happened, heat flooding her upon contact.
"You look great," Xander murmured to her, giving her a brief smile.
"Thank you," she replied politely, her face growing redder.
Nothing else was said during dinner and not long afterwards, Xander headed home. Barely ten minutes went by after he left when there was a knock at the door. A young courier was on the porch. He handed her a thick envelope and disappeared. Shutting the door, she opened it to find the one thing she was dreading; summons to the Dragon Shrine. She walked into the living room and handed her dad the letter. After looking it over, he stood up and hugged her tight.
"I'm sorry, dearest," he whispered to her. "I tried..."
"I know you did, dad," she told him. "I better get some sleep."
"Your mother and I will pray for you," he said as she pulled away from him to go upstairs.
Niri managed to get a couple hours of sleep, but she still felt exhausted. Her mother helped her get ready to be presented to the king's representative. She'd tried to talk her mother out of it, that there was no way she'd be chosen. Her mom ignored her pleas and continued to fuss over her. They finished just before sunrise. Her father took her into the village, ending up in a long train of vehicles heading for the shrine. Two priests led everyone in as they arrived, fathers standing behind their daughters in the gigantic main hall of the temple.
Statues of dragons from each flight stood watch over the space, circling them all. There were twenty-five girls including Niri. As they got in line, the king's representative entered, in human form, wearing shimmering blue dragon scale armor, no doubt made from his own shed dragon skin. He and another, smaller male looked over each of them carefully. They whispered to one another for nearly twenty minutes, constantly looking at her. Everyone tensed when the representative cleared his throat.
"We've decided to take all of you," he said. "Take time to say goodbye. When you're done, please go through here."
He gestured to a door, taking up watch beside it. Niri was first through, having already said goodbye enough. The two males stared at her as she exited out onto a large terrace. It was shielded for the most part from the wind, but it was still quite cold. Ten minutes went by before the rest of the girls came out. When the last one came out onto the terrace, the representatives followed, shutting the door behind them.
As everyone turned to face them, they shifted into their dragon forms, the smaller of the two was maybe fifteen, sixteen feet tall when sitting and at least twice as long, the other was double that. The large dragon conjured up a large basket, setting it down in front of him. Everyone filed in, huddling together in the bottom of the container as the dragon picked them up in his forepaws as he slowly rose up into the air, the smaller male following.
"What do you think they'll do with us?" a waif of a girl asked nervously, shivering in spite of the heavy cloak around her.
"I've heard when the king chooses you, you become a part of his harem. And if you can't take him or you refuse, they serve you for dinner," another replied in a monotone voice, no doubt she was in shock.
"I've heard that they tie all the girls naked to slabs and every male in the flight mates with them until they become pregnant, in order to increase their numbers and take over the rest of the continent," another said through her tears.
Niri tried to huddle in closer, but the other girls backed away. Many of them glared at her.
"I don't get why they chose you," one of the prettiest girls from their village snapped, "You look absolutely atrocious, and clearly you have no self control."
"Maybe they thought she'd make a good snack," another girl said, causing everyone to bust out laughing.
"Or perhaps our transport has a thing for pigs," the first girl added, renewing the laughter.
Niri turned to face into a corner and curled into herself as best she could; both to keep warm and to keep the others from seeing her cry.
Hours passed one after another, everyone quiet as they kept each other warm. Niri ended up falling asleep in her corner for a while, waking up with a start when the basket touched down, everyone startled. As they stood and stretched, she noticed night had fallen, the stars amazingly bright.
The howling winds and bitter cold hit them hard as they got out of the basket, stepping out onto a cliff close to the top of a very steep, very icy mountain. Both dragons shifted back into their human forms and led them into the large cavern before them. Everyone was smart enough to keep quiet as they were led through the twisting maze of tunnels, moving deeper and deeper into the mountain.
At least thirty minutes had went by when their guides came to a stop in front of a pair of gargantuan solid wood doors, carvings of dragons in flight adorning them. The smaller male slipped in through a small door nearby and not long after, the huge doors were pulled open, swinging in. Their other guide started to lead them into the huge hall, scores and scores of dragons lounging along the walls and in alcoves running several feet up.
Seated on a pile of cushions against the very far wall, was the largest dragon Niri had ever seen. She'd seen a few of the Sapphire guards before, and none of them held a candle to the flight's King. He could easily hold all twenty-five girls in one paw, and probably still have room left. As they approached the king, the other dragons moved closer, curious about the new arrivals. Niri noticed a few pairs of dragons with young ones running around them or finding a perch somewhere on the adults.
"My lord!" the representative announced, bowing low when they reached the foot of his throne. Niri had the presence of mind to mimic him, knowing that she might live if she showed respect. "I have brought more maidens from Solara Village. I hope they are to your satisfaction."
"Well, let's have a look at them," the king said, his voice surprisingly soft for such a large creature.
Niri remained right where she was while the other girls moved back out of fear, leaving her directly in front of the king. She couldn't help but tremble as he lowered his head to the floor, looking at her from her eye level.
"Hmm...you're probably the first maiden sent here that isn't scared of me."
"With all due respect, Your Grace," she said, her voice shaking slightly, "I'm utterly terrified."
"Yet you show great courage in the face of your fear," he responded. "And great respect for me." He moved a little closer to her. "A friend of yours has told me about you. He was most definitely right about you."
*A friend?* she thought to herself.
Just as she was about to ask him who he was talking about, she noticed something lodged in between a few of the scales right between his eyes. It looked painful. Her concern taking over, she stepped closer to him, leaning on his snout.
"What are you....ungghh!" he grunted as she yanked out a long, thin, very sharp piece of stone out of his face.
Tossing it to the floor, she quickly ripped the sleeve of her dress and pressed it against the wound to stop the bleeding.
"So that's what was causing those migraines," he murmured, looking over the shard. "I've been miserable and in pain for months. Thank you."
"You're welcome," she told him with a smile as two attendants brought bandages. Niri taped a dressing into place, removing a couple of scales that were barely hanging on. He hissed a little, but he stayed still. "You're all set."
Out of the habit she developed when she tended to her siblings, she kissed the great blue dragon on the end of his snout. When she realized what she did, she stepped back, muttering her apologies. The king laughed, the bass rumble echoing throughout the cavern.
"There's nothing to be sorry for, young one!" he boomed, nudging her towards a seat near his throne. "Have a seat."
She did as she was told as he leaned over and examined the other girls, attendants having to hold them in place. He chose five girls to be taken to his chambers, the rest were to be kitchen help or housekeepers, unmated males given permission to court the women, stressing the fact that if they say no, it meant no. Once he'd assigned everyone else, he turned back to her.
"Could you please tell everyone your name?" he asked her.
Standing back up and her face breaking out into a heavy blush, she cleared her throat.
"My name is Niriana," she said loud enough for it to carry through the cavern. "But everyone just calls me Niri."
"Niri, I'm assigning you to the hatchery. You will tend to the eggs, care for the newborns until their parents come to retrieve them. Also, you'll help watch the children and help with their education." Everyone nearby gasped and started whispering excitedly. "No maiden has ever been given this honor because I've never trusted any of them with our precious young ones. But understand this; you ever betray my trust...I'll personally punish you, if not kill you."
"I wouldn't dream of it," she replied.
The king smiled. The other girls glared at her, clearly not happy with the special treatment she was getting.
"Good," he purred. "Attendants, please show the girls to their quarters so that they may rest. Food and drink will be brought as well. Tomorrow, you'll be shown around the Keep and the day after that, you will begin tending to your duties."
After another bow, Niri turned and followed the attendant, saying nothing and watching which way they went carefully in order to find her way when she was alone. A few turns and the attendant pushed open a door to a lavish room. It was decorated in deep blues and golds. The bed was large enough for her whole family to sleep comfortably and made with soft, cotton sheets. The carpet on the floor was soft to the touch. There were two other doors, one a closet, the other a bathroom.
"Food will be brought shortly," the attendant said, giving her a warm smile. "There are clothes in the closet that should fit you well. If not, use this." She handed her a smooth gold stone that filled her palm. "Squeeze it and one of us will come to help you. Good evening."
"Thank you," Niri said, moving over to the bed as the attendant shut the door behind her.
Setting the stone on the table, she sat down on the edge of the bed. It was just right for her; soft, but firm enough she wouldn't wake up with a sore back. Not five minutes went by when she heard arguing just outside her room. As she moved towards the door, she heard a male voice arguing with the female that had brought her here.
"Sire, you can't go in there," the attendant said, her voice muffled by the door.
Just as she was about to reach out and open the door, it was slammed open and Xander stormed into her room.
"Xander?!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"Did they hurt you?" he asked her, ignoring her question and looking her over. "Did they do anything to you? Damn it all, you weren't supposed to receive the summons."
"I'm fine," she told him, backing away from him. "Xander, what the hell are you doing here?"
He averted his eyes, looking at the floor. Realization dawned on her...there was only one way he could be here.
"You're one of them, aren't you?"
Sighing heavily, he finally met her eyes. She gasped when she saw that his formerly hazel eyes were a brilliant gold.
"Yes. My father is the chief advisor to the king," he answered as she sat herself on the bed. "My true full name is Xandarias Frostrider, Son of Marlos Frostrider. I'm so sorry that you had to find out this way."
"And when exactly were you going to tell me?!" she shouted at him. "I've known you since I was six and you couldn't trust me, your friend, with a secret like this?! What else have you been lying to me about, huh?! How old are you really? Hmm?!"
"Niri...I wanted to, but..."
"But what? What could keep you from telling me something like this? Out with it!"
"I love you," he blurted.
"Wow, I thought you were better than that, Xander," she said, tears coming to her eyes.
"But it's true," he replied, "I begged my father to not send you a summons. I told him how I felt about you. I don't know why he did this."
"At least you can see your family!" she shouted at him, "I've been taken away from mine, never to see them again. And you barge in here and drop all this on me and expect me to believe that you love me. Look at me; no one wanted me before. What makes now any different?"
"Go away, Xander. I can't stand to be near you right now."
He opened his mouth to say something else, but the look she gave him shut him up and he left without another word as an attendant brought food and drink. When she shut the door behind her, Niri sat at the table and dug in. She knew there wasn't one male here that would ever touch her, even Xander. No doubt he heard she was being summoned and pitied her. Pity wasn't love. When she finished off what was brought, she found a comfortable nightgown in the closet, used the bathroom, bathed and crawled in between the sheets. She cried herself to sleep.