Photo via Visual Hunt
Rin stood behind her father, a hand on his shoulder. King Alaric, master of the Northern Kingdom, reached up absently from time to time and patted it. Rin was not pleased she’d been selected out of all of her father’s children to accompany him to the annual meeting of the rulers of the elemental kingdoms.
Tensions were running high between the frozen North and the fiery South again. The only thing preventing them from declaring war on each other was the fact that the rocky East and the windswept West blocked their way.
“There can be no peace between us unless Alaric gives us something of value to prove he intends to keep the treaty you’re offering,” Queen Keahi said, slamming her bony fist onto the table. Sparks flew from her fingers. “I see no reason why the South should give everything.”
“I never said it was all on you, Keahi,” King Fihr, ruler of the East, said. His rather bland expression showed he was used to her outbursts. Rin’s hand trembled. The Southern queen’s anger frightened her. Once again Alaric placed his hand over hers. “Alaric will be required to make payment in kind.”
“What do you want from the both of us?” Alaric asked.
“Keahi, we asked that you bring the son that was your favorite among your children excluding your heir,” Queen Tuuli said, her smile not reaching her watery gray eyes. “Alaric, we asked the same of you, save it be a daughter that came to this meeting.”
Rin shook as the words sank in. Alaric stiffened. “I will not give my son in marriage to that Northern slut,” Keahi screamed, leaping up and throwing her chair across the room.
“If you do not abide by the treaty we have laid out, then you leave us no choice but to invade the Inferno Realm,” Fihr said. “While Alaric doesn’t have the ability to deal with you, Tuuli and I do.”
“You’d side with him over me?” Keahi demanded.
“You are the one who instigated this hostility, Keahi,” Tuuli said. “Now, sign the treaty or witness the destruction of the Inferno Realm.”
Keahi turned to the young man she’d brought with her. “Pyrrhus, what do you have to say about this?”
Rin looked into the amber eyes of the man she was being forced to marry. They were far more innocent than she’d been led to believe she would see on anyone from the Inferno Realm. Flames flickered across his skin. He smiled. “I’ve heard of the intelligence of Princess Rin and I’d love to test it. If she is a scholar as I am, then I do believe we can at least pass our time reasonably well together,” he said. His voice held none of the crackling brokenness of his mother’s.
“Rin?” Alaric asked. “What do you say?”
Rin bit her lip. “I am a scholar, so I know unions such as this are not entirely without merit,” she said. “Nor are they as rare as they might seem. Peace is often won by bargains like this one.” She kept her eyes on Pyrrhus’ face. “If a place can be found where I won’t die because of the heat and he won’t because of the cold, then I will agree to this.”
“My requirements are the same,” Pyrrhus said. He held Rin’s gaze, almost challenging her. The fear subsided a little. If he was a scholar, perhaps they’d have something to talk about as they got to know each other. If they learned more about each other, there might be a chance they could become friends. A life beyond friendship was more than Rin could see at the moment, but she would allow herself to be open to anything.
“The decision has been made,” Fihr said. “Alaric, Keahi, sign the treaty. Rin, Pyrrhus, there is a valley deep within my domain near enough to the North that it holds the needed chill but is kept warm by hot springs run over the rocks and beneath the surface of the ground. There are specific areas where it is so hot that Rin, you would be wise not to enter. Just as there are places where you shouldn’t go, Pyrrhus.”
“You will be able to send messages out and ask for whatever you want, be it food, clothes, or even books, parchment, pens, furniture, and blankets,” Tuuli said. “The only thing you will not be allowed is contact with your families. Can you accept that?”
“I can,” Pyrrhus said.
“Rin, can you?” Tuuli asked. Rin swallowed hard and then nodded. Alaric and Keahi signed the treaty, Keahi fuming. Tuuli pulled the document over between herself and Fihr. “It’s done.” She motioned with her hand and four of her guards stepped forward. “Escort Their Highnesses to the waiting area. We will escort them to their new home shortly.” Rin gave her father one last, desperate hug before allowing herself to be led away.