Of Silver and Beasts(5)

By: Trisha Wolfe

Their eyes follow my gaze. Lilly spots my mother and her amber eyes sadden. “Tell her I said hello.”

I nod, then work my way toward my mother. I push past two male protectors as they wave to me. “Good luck, Kal,” one of them—Byron—says.

“Thanks. You, too.” I smile, hoping he gets the placement he most wants. Though I’m not interested in finding a suitor—despite Lilly’s persistence—I’ve always treated the male protectors with respect. And Byron is one of the best. He deserves a high ranking.

Finally, I reach my mother. “What are you doing here?”

Her green eyes, which have dulled from their bright hue since her illness, light up. “I wouldn’t miss your promotion for anything,” she says. The deep-set wrinkles around her eyes crinkle as she smiles.

My chest aches, and I take a deep breath. “Where’s Emily?” I say low, glancing around. “You know you’re too sick to be—”

“Stop, Kal.” She waves her hand. “I’m not missing this. Now come here.” She extends her arms. I sigh and allow her to hug me and kiss my cheek. The soft, worn fabric of her jade tunic brushes against my neck. She pulls back. “Don’t forget to visit me on your leaves.” She coughs into her hand. “I’m not above storming the palace to check on my little girl.”

Mock-rolling my eyes, I give her the satisfaction of embarrassing me. “I promise.” I bring her into another tight hug, wondering how I’ll be able to do my duty while my thoughts will be constantly on her. “It’s not like I’m moving across the queendom. I’m literally right down the street.”

She smiles, and runs her thumb across my check as she inspects my face. Then she uses the sleeve of her tunic to polish the silver protector emblem of wings encircling the goddess sun on my uniform. “Alyah watch over you, Kaliope.”

At the use of my full name, something she only says when she’s extremely sentimental, I blink rapidly to clear my vision. I can’t let the other Nactue see me bawling like a little girl. They’re the fiercest women in all of Cavan. And now, I think proudly, I’m one of them.

My heart beats against my breastbone as I study her face. “Mom, please do everything Emily says.” I widen my eyes at her. “Promise you’ll take care of yourself.”

A sudden sadness fills her eyes, but then it’s quickly gone. “You have to stop worrying about me, Kal. You need to live your life.” Her eyes roam my face as if this will be the last time she’ll see it. “I will always be with you. No matter what. Now go.”

Hesitating a moment, I consider her words, but then see protectors moving to the front of the crowd. I have to trust that she’ll be all right. That Emily will take care of her, and that my salary will continue to provide enough to keep her in good health. I nod and give her a quick smile. “I’ll visit soon.”

Tugging the pleats of my cinched uniform straight, I make my way toward the front line of protectors. They’re positioned right below the dais where Empress Iana will give her address. I spot Lilly and Willa and push toward them, then stand next to Lilly at the end of the first row.

Willa leans forward and says around Lilly, “It’s great she could be here.”

I smile and give her a sure nod. What goes unsaid is that my father could not. That he never came to any of my functions even before he was committed. It reminds me of just how different my life is from theirs and most of the citizens of Cavan.

Proving further that my home life was not of the norm, Lilly waves to her parents across the swarming crowd. Her mother stands to the side of her father and a foot ahead of him, showing her dominance in their family.

Searching the crowd, I see the same display expressed in every family gathered here. It’s not a way to put men beneath women, or to declare us superior. It’s to show that Farrah has chosen the mother and wife to guard, protect, and govern those who she cares most for. It’s a symbol of a woman’s love and devotion to her family.

My parents never attended functions together, I fear, for this very display. My father is an oddity—his misogyny something I can’t place on his part. He didn’t grow up in Cavan, though. And he doesn’t speak of his homeland. But he never allowed my mother to be ahead of him in any public fashion.