After we had returned to the hall Rahmi and I were separated to be prepared for the binding ceremony. I whisked off to a massive chamber where the Queen and her attendants were waiting. They dressed me with smiles and laughter, fawning over my pale hair and skin and my ‘sky eyes’ as one servant called them. They wrapped me in a length of gold and white fabric and wove jewels into my hair. They painted my face with powders and my eyes with kohl and when they turned me to the mirror my eyes filled with tears nearly ruining the work they had put into making me ready for my wedding.
They thought it was because of the troubles in Ileria, because my parents had passed on into the shadow world and left me in charge of the kingdom. They were partly right, but that wasn’t all of it. I cried for the moments I knew would never be. I cried for the future yet to come; knowing that whatever happiness I was to have this evening wouldn’t last long. Not when I was bound to fulfill a quest so dark and twisted that the threat of losing myself was almost certain.
“You will be a fine ruler, Si’tareh. Do not worry, all will be well.” The Queen told me clutching my hand just as my own mother had done before she died.
An attendant handed me a vial. “For your nerves.”
When my procession entered the high-arched temple where the court and Prince Rahmi awaited, the liquid had done its trick. I still felt despair but it was glossed over with a sense of euphoria. As I walked down the petal-strewn path towards the altar, the bells sewn into my silk shoes jingled softly with each step. All around me flower petals fell from the ceiling where radiant bundles of oranges and pinks cascaded down like streams of bloomed lightning. Prince Rahmi stood at the front of the hall, his face beaming with love and pride. He reached a hand out to me as I neared him and in that moment there was peace in my heart.
The Priestess performed a simple wedding, much less elaborate than any I had known in my homeland. We were given a cup to drink from and made to swear of our faithfulness and love.
“Until my dying breath,” Rahmi told me as he handed me the cup.
I hoped the fear did not show through my eyes as I repeated the lines and drank the deep red wine.
The vows were ended with the braiding of a cord around our hands and I was kissed twice on each cheek by every member of the Royal family before Rahmi was allowed to seal the contract with a holy kiss on my lips.
“The Prince and Princess of Rajai, Heirs to the Great Kingdom and rulers of the Lands beyond the Sea.” The Priestess announced happily.
This brought forth shouts of joy and before I had a chance to take it all in we were put atop the customary wedding platforms and ushered out to the massive palace grounds where the feast of a lifetime awaited us.
Great pavilions of pure white silk covered the massive palace grounds as far as the eye could see. Paper lanterns had been strung up across dark wooden poles which set the grounds alight in a tangle of dancing colors. There were dozens of tables near every open tent overflowing platters of food. A seemingly endless line of servants were waiting near every table with the finest wines Rajai bottled. Inside each tent there were low cushioned couches for guests to lounge in and it seemed that the whole of Rajai had come to celebrate the wedding. As we were carried to the main tent, jubilant throngs of citizens would appear with garlands of flowers and toss them onto our platforms. Everywhere there was laughing and dancing and singing, as if this moment was the happiest in all their lives.
At the feasting table set up for the Prince and I, we were brought delicacy after delicacy. Succulent boar and brazed pheasant and flame-seared fish wrapped in banana leaf were brought before us one at a time. There were puddings and fruits and roasted vegetables of every kind and the most luscious desserts that I had ever seen. I nibbled here and there tasting much but swallowing little. Rahmi noticed but said nothing, only smiling and squeezing my hands and, when he could, stealing kisses when he thought no one was watching us. The only thing that I indulged in freely was wine.We feasted for several hours before a trumpet call went up and the grounds fell into a hush.
The Shah stood before his people and spoke as loud as he could for all to hear. I missed most of what he said, my mind was off in other places. My eyes bounced between Rahmi, his handsome face covered in fresh stubble and smiles, and the throngs of celebrants. They hung on every word from the Shah’s mouth but I only heard the end of his speech as he signaled for us to rise and leave the party.
“May they have our blessing before they leave. Safe travels to you both and may the Goddess protect you as you journey forth from here.”
The reaction was raucous, as most of the guests had been drunk since before the wedding. The men were particularly feisty, toasting to the Prince’s virility and the duty he would perform after we had settled in for the night. The women all seemed to have forgotten their jealousies for they too seemed to be happy that we were leaving. They tossed flowers into the air and danced in jubilation.
There was a moment when I thought that perhaps I would be able to stop what was coming. Maybe Rahmi and I would be able to live normal, happy lives. But as we were loaded in our carriage I saw my attendant climb into the servant’s carriage with a smirk on her face.
The Shah and Queen of Rajai bid us farewell as we set off on our three-month long honeymoon from the Rajaian capital to the Ilerian Isles. I knew our journey would not take us that far.
I couldn’t bear to look them in the eye as they kissed me goodbye.