Chapter 31 : Warmth
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Chapter 30 - Warmth
If there was such a thing as fate, it was cruel and merciless. There were times when it gives you joy and pain at the same time, and there were times when it induces only unbearable pain. Happiness one receives from it is just so fleeting; one wonders if it was merely the prelude to so great a suffering that one prefers death to life.
Time seemed to have frozen as he watched a pair of twin girls with hair as fair as snow race towards a woman with skin just as fair as them. He gazed at the joy on their young faces as they held on to her dress and received fond caresses upon their heads. She glanced at the group of visitors with disinterested eyes.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Sirius glimpsed the young handsome man, who had guided him from a plane beyond life to this very place and time, gracefully walked into the picture. He observed on him a small smile filled with apology, yet defiant were his heterochromatic eyes.
“Mother?” the burly guard next to her asked with a stunned look upon his face.
His eyes widened with further shock when he noticed the teen approaching them. He looked flabbergasted, turning his head between the boy and the woman and occasionally to the young girls beside her. Within seconds, his knees were on the ground and his head touching the hands that was placed flat on jade floor.
“Empress! Y-your Majesty! P-please forgive my insolence!” the words stumbled out of his mouth.
The boy chuckled lightly and turned to the panicking guard with a smile. “You must be new, not to recognize her without her formalwear. Relax, you were only doing your job.”
“Th-thank you, your Highness!” he stuttered.
Sei’ra sighed. “Please don’t call me that.”
The guard looked up in surprise. “B-but your highness is son to his and her Majesties.”
“Haven’t you been told anything?” Cyrus asked with some amusement as he and the group reached them. “Get up already. No such thing as bowing like that ‘round here.”
“General Atariac!” the guard exclaimed as he rose to his feet and gave salute to the blond.
“You must be with the new unit. Arrived here last week, eh?” When the soldier nodded, Cyrus quickly dismissed him back to his duties, slapping his back in an easy manner in the process.
Sirius had moved closer to the scene with the group, but had not made any further advancement since their arrival. He remained silent, observing her every action.
“Réatra,” he finally called the name he had not uttered aloud for so long.
Her cold eyes moved to glance at him. Upon her unchanging face, no trace of emotion could be found. It was as if she were no more than a statue of the person he once knew. A nod of greet was the only sign of recognition he received before she turned away.
“Mother,” Sei’ra interjected but never finished for his mother spoke.
“They are your guests,” she told him in a small yet stern voice and walked off with the twin girls by her side. “If you see your father at dinner, tell him I will see him in his office tomorrow.”
Her son only heaved a big sigh in response. Turning to his guests, he smiled an apology. “Come. It’s time for dinner. Let’s head to the dining hall.”
And to the dining hall they all went with a whispered remark from Cyrus to Sei’ra on his seeming forgiveness by his mother, to which the boy replied jokingly, “Please pray for my safety tonight” and a curiously calm smile upon his lips.
Harry kept a close eye on his godfather after the brief incident with the Empress. From Sirius’s reaction to the sight of her, he was absolutely certain this was the woman mentioned in his godfather’s short memoir.
Sirius looked dejected as Harry observed while they were being led to a side of the round hall. He took a moments respite from monitoring his godfather to look at his surroundings. Before him was a small wooden table that was low like a simple coffee table, but beautifully carved as if meant for viewing only. Beside it was a red plush cushion he supposed was for seating. There were hundreds of tables and cushions like his own, scattered in neat rows along the corner-less walls of the dining room. There were others there besides them. The various denizens and guests of palace filed in through the three entrances in groups to different sections of the chamber. The middle of the hall was left empty, but for what, Harry and co. were yet to be informed.
Soon, the whole hall was filled. Murmurs floated around the echoing hall as everyone chatted away in low voices. His friends, too, joined in a small chatter of their own with Cyrus as their main speaker in the conversations. Sei’ra had left them right after notifying them of an errand to run and apologizing for it. He promised to send them a guide in his place for the rest of the night and the next day before disappearing through one of the arches that led out of the hall.
Next, the lights dimmed until it was pitch dark. The voices died away. Anticipation was ripe in the air. Soft glows shown from some unseen source at the roof to the centre of the room. What was once an empty space now held a crouching figure of a slim woman, dressed in layers upon layers of silken cloth. The sound of drums reverberated around them in slow, deliberate beats as the woman unwound herself from her curl. The long cream coloured cloths fell from where they hung around her shoulders and limbs to the ground to reveal a lithe body, covered with a body hugging outfit around the top of her torso and her hips down to her ankles. She had chains of golden coins hanging at various places that clinked mesmerizingly with every tiny movement. Against the soft blue beams, her skin shown like snow in the moonlight. Her hair was as long and flowing like liquid silver. Her eyes opened to reveal ethereal grey-blue orbs. In Harry’s opinion, she was even more beautiful than the cold Empress they had encountered earlier.
The pace of the drum beats quickened and other instruments Harry didn’t recognize joined in to form a slow and hypnotic rhythm. She moved with the music, gracefully dancing with the long scarves floating around her as she stirred. As the music speeded, so did she. Both continued to accelerate until it seemed impossible for them to go any faster. And then, everything stopped. Everything was still for a moment. But that moment was soon over when a clap from the audience prompted a thunderous applaud from the whole room. The lights returned to whole hall and noise of senseless chatter returned once more.
The dancer bowed and smiled softly at the crowd. She looked around, and her smile widened when she spotted Harry’s group. She glided towards them in long strides, the scarves trailing behind her like fairy wings. Harry and his friends were both awestruck by her beauty in full light and surprised by her attentions to them. It was when Cyrus rose and went to embrace her that they realized her attention was on them specifically. She placed a tender kiss upon his cheek and turned to the group with curious eyes.
Cyrus introduced them to her one by one and then turned to the guests with a proud smile. “And this is my sister, Kamaria. Sirius, you remember her, don’t you?”
Sirius was momentarily brought out of his melancholy to greet the beauty, who in turn, gave him a hug and a kiss to the cheek before returning to her brother’s arm. Sirius seemed a bit surprise by the tender greet, though he mentioned nothing of it.
“You look well,” she spoke in a soft voice. “Sei’ra has told me about you.”
“He has?” Ron asked with a tone that told Hermione he was still in awe of her charms. Hermione frowned but said nothing.
Kamaria nodded. “He asked me to guide you around the city tomorrow.”
“So you’re our guide?” Gabrielle questioned, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
The fair haired woman only smiled softly at her curtness. “Yes. He will be with his mother tonight and tomorrow. And to your unsaid question, you and I can be considered kin.”
Gabrielle was somewhat taken aback by the statement. “How--?”
Kamaria laughed softly. “I’m an Empath. I can feel what you feel. Anyone with Peri blood are.”
“Peri?” Hermione took interest.
“A kind of Fae. Just like the Veela. So we are immune to your charms,” Kamaria explained with a smile.
His friends asked her questions as she took a seat among them, and she answered willingly to any inquiry that came her way. Harry sat back down at some distance to them, uninterested in the direction their conversation went. Sirius was sitting between them, like his godson, indifferent to the discussions. Harry turned his eyes away to gaze at the crowd being served their dinner and talking. At the far end, he observed the Emperor, neatened up in formal looking attire, in a serious discussion with some old men. At another part of the hall, he glimpsed the frowning face of Sei’rei, who looked like he wanted to be elsewhere as he sat there in silence. He finished his meal quickly and left the room without a word to anyone around him.
Other than that, dinner was a normal affair. With the siblings by their sides, no one approached them with any questions. The servants seemed to know who they were. Even if they didn’t, they never showed any signs of it. From Kamaria, they got even more answers than even Cyrus who seemed like he wanted to say, but couldn’t speak of certain affairs. On this, Harry pondered but a whisper from his left nearly startled him out of his seat.
“Still, you’ll get more answers from Cyrus and Riley than from Réatra.”
Harry swung his head to look at the tanned man seated next to him. He wasn’t there before. Harry hadn’t noticed when the stranger had moved there. He scrutinized the man who wore a decorated patch over his right eye, from his curly ginger locks to his hazel eyes. He had a large form that was shrouded in a sort of complicated attire that made him look extremely important. There was a small grin upon his lips as he watched Harry’s reaction.
“But I would recommend asking Kama more than those two. They belong to the Fillye Court, so there are things they are restricted from saying,” he continued in that deep resounding voice. Reaching a hand out, he introduced himself, “I’m Toma. You are?”
Harry took the dark hand and shook it firmly. “Harry. Harry Potter.”
“Ah,” Toma scratched his chin, “James and Lily’s son I presume.”
“You know my parents?”
“I was part of the group that crossed over for a visit two decades ago.”
“You went to our world?”
“Yes. Réatra was studying at Hogwarts. I was occasionally appointed with the task of carrying news and messages to her from here. There was one time she got hurt badly, but insisted on returning to Ireland, so some of us stayed with her until she got better. Her cousins were worried so they came along,” he explained while nodded at Cyrus and Kamaria.
“Cyrus and Kamaria are the Empress’s cousins?”
“Yes. There’s one more---Farsiris, but she’s not here in Ramsheire right now. The three of them are triplets, though they don’t seem like it.” When he saw Harry’s surprised face, he added, “Twins and triplets are rather common here in Naramyu. I used to be part of a set of twins myself, but my brother died a long time ago.”
“May I ask you something?” Harry began. “I found a diary that belonged to Sirius. From it, I gathered that he knew someone very well, but forgot all about her. He wrote that no one seemed to remember her but him, but even he can’t remember who exactly she was--- only that he remembered knowing her well. I suspect it was the Empress.”
Toma looked a bit troubled. “That is odd. If I remember correctly, no one should have remembered anything about Réatra or us.”
“Those many years ago, Réatra requested to return one last time before the final connection was cut. You know that the connection between our worlds were supposed to be completely cut, right?” When Harry nodded, he continued, “She was good friends with your parents, so she just wanted to see them one last time. And Sirius... well, he was very much attached to her. When we all left, we placed a spell on everyone to forget about us and her. It was to keep them all from looking for her and also, she knew it would be painful for them to remember her. How he managed to break part of the charm to remember her I have no idea. Perhaps the spell wasn’t strong enough to make his heart completely forget as his mind did.”
“Sir?” A lean man dressed in all black called Toma’s attention and whispered something into his hear. When Toma nodded, he disappeared into thin air.
“Wha-?” Harry stumbled at the sudden vanish.
Toma chuckled. “Sorry. They tend to do that without warning. That was turosh, a method of moving so fast it appears as if you disappear. There’s nothing magical about it.”
“I have to go. I’ve been just informed me of some interesting news.”
As he made to get up, Harry stopped him for a short moment. “Um, just out of curiosity, is everyone around here of high rank or something? Cyrus was called General Atariac.”
“Well, you are at the palace. Apart from the servants, everyone has some sort of high rank or business with them. Atariac is the honorary name for the Fifth Royal General of Naramyu---we have five in total. Kamaria is the Head of the Dancer’s Court. Regulus is assistant to the Head of the Healers and currently the best healer in Ramsheire.”
Toma smiled. “Head of the Quam-Nami--- espionage and interrogation division of Naramyu,” he informed the young man before performing turosh.
The city was bustling. It was like being at Diagon Alley again just before Hogwarts. There were shops and stalls everywhere. In the background, joyous music played over the cacophony of the crowd. The strange thing they found was that there was no form of money being exchanged for the services provided. When asked of this, Kamaria, who was their appointed guide for the day answered, “There is no monetary system in Naramyu. The previous Empress proposed it and the current Emperor finally abolished it some time ago with this new system in place.”
“Then you just work for free?”
“In exchange for a comfortable life and a secure place to live in. It’s complicated and it took nearly century for it to work properly. It’s very complicated and I don’t pretend to know how it works or how it even manages to survive. But the people are happy. They do what they love to do and in turn, they are cared for. For most like myself, it doesn’t matter how it works, so long as everyone is happy.”
Hermione nodded in agreement. “What-?” she began to ask but was cut short by a cry of panic.
Bodies were rushing away and it was soon revealed that a runaway carriage was heading their way. Kamaria pulled the nearest person away and the rest followed suit, but Gabrielle hand slipped Ginny’s grasp as she tripped over someone’s dropped shawl. The carriage was and its wild beasts were fast approaching and she could not get up in time to evade. She closed her eyes in grim anticipation of the mishap.
The neigh-like growl of a large beast and a shadow over her made her open her eyes to find herself still in one piece, unharmed. Shielding her from the now still carriage and cowering steeds which pulled it was a massive four-legged creature, which stood majestically, stamping its hoofed front foot in a commanding manner at the beasts of the runaway coach. It was like nothing they’d seen, looking like a cross between a horse and a dragon with scaly wings folded at its sides. The long black mane on its tail and head swished about as it wagged its tail and shook its head impatiently to nudge its rider to notice it. The rider paid heed to neither the large beast’s whine nor its attention seeking movements. He was calmly scanning the crowd for any injured persons. He looked down at her with indifference. Gabrielle looked up at the stoic face which belonged to Sei’rei.
Before she could say any words of thanks, a stout man came running towards them, asking for their wellbeing, apologizing for the runaway carriage that was his careless mistake, and thanking the man on the beast for stopping his unruly steeds. As everyone fussed over her, checking her for any injuries, Sei’rei silently commanded his beast away and left the scene without anyone’s notice, except for Gabrielle’s.
“Wasn’t that Sei’rei just now?” Ginny suddenly remembered as everything returned to normal and the chaos more or less forgotten.
“It was,” Kama replied with a nod. “He patrols the city when his mother hasn’t anything for him to do.”
“So in this whole system, everyone has a job, right? What is his?” Ron interposed.
“He does miscellaneous tasks under the direct orders of the Empress. It could be anything from scouting the mountains to escorting missionaries and diplomats. He was the one escorting Amara yesterday. He’s also her private nurse sometimes.”
“So he’s something like a personal servant?” Ron huffed. “What kind of a mother-son relationship is that?”
“They’re not related.”
“What?” They all exclaimed with surprise.
“They’re not related,” she repeated. “No one but a handful of people knows of this. Because of some circumstances, everyone just assumed she bore them.”
“But they look a lot like the Emperor, so she’s their stepmother?” Ginny offered.
The fair haired maiden shook her head. “It’s more complicated than that. Yes, they are married, and yes, he is their birth father, but that’s not really how it is. It’s a long story.”
“How long could it be? Besides, we’ve got all day,” Ron rebutted.
Kamaria sighed and guided them to a small quite shop at a corner to sit. After she ordered food and drinks from the owner she began, “To explain the how it got to where it is now would mean explaining everything that had happened from the time before their birth. I trust you won't talk about this to anyone after this.”
When her orders arrived and their server out of earshot, she continued. “Naramyu has a system that empowers all its leaders through selection and election by the Trophillia Council. There are two Royal Courts overseen by two different members of the Council--- the Lillye Court, which trains our higher ranked soldiers, master artisans, master artists, master healers and many more like myself and Regulus, and the Fillye Court, also known as the grooming school for our top leaders. No matter of what age or race, people of talent will are tested and chosen to be part of the either Courts. It is through the Fillye Court that the Council selects our Generals, Head of the Healers, Science, and Special Militia Divisions, new Council members, and the Emperor and Empress. Upon the death of a leader, Fillye Court the respective members (or Children of the Fillye Court, as they’re often called) will be tested and chosen for the position. None of the leaders are allowed marriage and all emotional ties must be cut upon receiving their seats. The reason behind it is that on one cannot lead when clouded with obstructive emotions. The Emperor and Empress are an exception. Only when both rulers pass away will both take the reign and both will be wedded to one another, though there still will be no emotional ties between them.
During the reign of the previous rulers, there were five candidates for the Emperor’s seat and two for the Empress’s. The two female candidates were a Fox Spirit named Akawarashi, honoured as Lady Amaterasu, and a half-Peri named Réatra, honoured as Lady Kexiara. Long before their admittance to the Court, our grandmother had found Aka abandoned at Mt. Hawari and taken her under her wing, so when Réatra was born, they were raised together like sisters. The amusing thing about the two of them was, Aka had wanted Réatra to be Empress, while Réatra had wanted Aka to take the throne instead, but when the former Empress drew her final breath, Aka was chosen. Everyone had expected to be Réatra. Some suspected she had something to do with the final choice since she had been very keen on being passed over. However, before she could be crowned, the Drumarans launched a massive attack, and that was when everything went wrong.
Those sent to lead the battle included Réatra, Aka, Arta, and Toma, whom you’ve met earlier. Their army was annihilated. The commanders were found unconscious for heavens knows how many days. Arta came back with nearly all his bones broken and an unstable state of mind. Toma lost his right eye and nearly all his blood. Réatra was poisoned and wounded in several places. Of the four that went, Aka never returned. Her body was never found.
None of the three knew what had happened to her. They had all been unconscious before they knew of what happened to anyone. The scouts that retrieved them suspected she’d been devoured by one of those beasts; they’d found many bodies with missing limbs and such, looking like something had bitten them off and swallowed them.”
The three young women were in silent tears as the men’s faces were grim with remorse even for the loss of the one they never knew. Kama paused to swallow the lump that had formed in her throat, but shed no tears. She closed her eyes and let a sigh off her chest as she took the moment’s respite from incurring what seemed to be painful memories.
“They recovered after months of intensive care, but none of them were ever the same. Toma became more solemn; he rarely joked around like he used to. Arta had constant nightmares, that would have sucked the life out of him if it weren’t for Tysra and everyone else. Réatra suffered the worst because of the loss of someone so dear to her. We are her cousins by blood, but Aka was the last of the ones she loved most. She went into a depressed state became no more than a lifeless shell.”
The story brought to Sirius’s mind a horrid image he had long forgotten, of a night that filled him with fright and sorrow where he had found a half-broken woman soaked in a pool of blood. Try as he might, he couldn’t push the image away. Instead, he attempted to divert his attention from the memory by focusing on the story being told.
“Arta finally mental state recovered enough for him to be eligible for the throne again. He had already been considered for the throne, but seeing his fast recovery from the ordeal made the Council’s deliberation into their choice. On the other hand, Réatra, despite her state, was crowned Empress because she was the only candidate left. A ‘dead’ Empress was still better than one a destructive one.
She would have stayed that way if it weren’t for the twins. The thing no one but selected few knew that Tysra and Arta were secretly lovers. When Tysra became pregnant with the twins remained permanently by Réatra’s side. Arta was the only one allowed near them and only because he was Tysra’s lover, father to the twins and Réatra’s husband by law.
Tysra didn’t survive the delivery. Arta, as Emperor, could not claim to have sons with a lover. By some miracle Réatra agreed to adopt them as her own. Raising them had somehow given life back to her, though she had gone permanently cold and emotionless except towards her children. No had ever seen her since her coronation, so when she returned to the court with a pair of twins that looked like miniatures of the Emperor, everyone but the few of us who knew simply assumed they were their children.
Years later, she came back from one of her battles with the girls and adopted them as her own children. All four of them are very close to her. Even the boys are closer to her than their own father. But still, they are their mother’s sons and as part of the family, they owed a debt to my grandmothers, and therefore, Réatra. Treated and cared for like sons, but bearing the duties of servants.
As for the way they are today, when they were five, Sei’rei vowed never to smile unless his mother did, and Sei’ra vowed to smile for the both of them. It makes us wonder if they will ever be relieved of those vows since Réatra seems to have forgotten how to smile.”
The story had put everyone’s thoughts to work and their sympathy in an active mode. No one asked any more questions during the rest of their tour of the majestic city. The story played over and over in Harry’s mind as the day progressed. Even well after dinner and into the dead of the night his thoughts revolved around the sad tale that surrounded the birth of Sei’ra and Sei’rei, and the Empress’s frosty nature. It kept him awake while his godfather and friends slept.
Feeling he would get no sleep from lying down and letting his thoughts run loose, he slipped on the robe the palace servants had provided and exited his room in silence. He wandered the dimly lit halls and greeted any guards he passed with a nod and smile, which they returned politely without question. They left him be, not in the least concerned that this foreign guest was meandering around the palace in the middle of the night. Giving up on why this was so, Harry continued to walk until he found himself out in one of the many gardens within the vast castle. After admiring the serenity of the moonlit grounds, he ventured further into it along the winding cobbled path provided. A long walk down the trail brought him to a small clearing that held at its centre a fountain made of stone, upon the edge of which sat an ethereal being, basking in the moonlight.
Her black dress wrapped her body totally from neck to the stony floor at her feet, hugging her at the torso like a second skin. A loose robe of white, with embroidered gold blossoms, wrapped around body snugly. Even her fingers were gloved. Her head was once again covered with a scarf, so no trace of her hair could be seen. The pale skin upon her visage looked ghostly against the light of the blue moon. But it was those eyes of liquid gold that was most enthralling, as they turned to gaze at him.
He dared not to move as those golden orbs gazed at him in scrutiny. The moment was over before he knew it, and soon, he was beckoned with wave to approach her. He did so with some caution but found it unnecessary. She waited patiently until he was within an arm’s reach and gestured him to take a seat beside her. He obeyed without a word.
After a moment’s awkward silence, he opened his mouth to speak but was quieted by her outreached hand. He stiffened as her fingers reached the forehead where the scar he had received from Voldemort as a child rested. She touched it tenderly as her eyes closed momentarily. When they opened again, gone was the wintry gaze, replaced by a tenderness that warmed him to the core of his heart. There was still no smile upon her pallid lips, but the woman before him seemed no longer the cold Empress he had encountered the previous day.
“So she gave it to you,” she whispered wistfully. “And I was right in giving it to her...”
“I--- I’m sorry---” he began unsurely.
Her hand fell to his cheek. “You have her eyes.”
At this he unknowingly relaxed. There was not much he could say. He knew who she was talking about. When most saw him, they would immediately tell him how much he looked like his father before realizing that his eyes were more like his mother’s. This woman, however, seemed to notice them before all else.
She moved her palm away from his face and placed it upon his chest where his heart beat steadily. Here she closed her eyes again and settled into a serene disposition. All was silent except for the few crickets that chirped away to the bright night. When she opened them again there was something akin to a tiny smile upon her lips.
“And her heart,” and after a sigh, “but James’s jealousy.”
Her hand left him completely and returned to where the other rested upon her lap.
“You knew my parents?” he quietly asked.
She nodded slowly. “Lily was my best friend. Come.”
She rose and moved without waiting for him. He had no choice but to follow her. She into the row of trees that surrounded the garden and dodged about along a path he could not see. He kept close behind here, afraid that a tree between them would make him completely lose sight of her. After a moments walk around the maze of trees, they came to set of ancient stone stairs. She guided him down the steps that had been long weathered until they were smooth and round. At the end of the winding stairway, he found them upon an old-looking street lined with stalls and lit with lanterns. There were people there, enjoying the food and games provided at the various stands and the company of their companions. There was a relaxing atmosphere around them.
“There are people still around at this time?” he asked her with honest curiosity.
“These folk only sleep during the day. Two please,” she turned to request of a food vendor nearby.
The old man gave her a toothy grin and passed her two sticks of something he didn’t recognize. “I was wondering where you’d gone off to, ‘lady.”
She thanked him and handed one to Harry. He tasted it gingerly, but found it even more delicious than even his dinners at the royal palace. As he ate his snack, he mused on the reason behind her company. He watched her silently as she led him to various stalls to participate in the simple games each stall conducted. The people seemed to know her, though they gave no indication of knowing her rank.
As she guided him through the lantern-lit street, he observed the easiness he felt in her presence. There seemed to be a polar difference between his comfort in her company when she was the Empress and when she was simply her. Harry had never had a mother figure before, and the hint of motherly aura about her drew him to her.
“Your name?” she suddenly asked when they were walking along the cobbled street.
It caught him by surprise, but he soon remembered that they hadn’t been introduced properly. She only recognized him as the Potters’ son.
“Harry,” he answered after the surprise subsided.
She shook her head lightly and made a sound that seemed a mix between a huff and a sigh. “Your godfather named you,” she stated simply.
“How did you know?”
She didn’t answer. After a quiet moment, she asked him, “Do you know what your name means?”
He shook his head.
“Ruler of the home,” she told him in a poignant tone.
She placed a hand affectionately upon his head. Her palm was as cold as ice, but from her he received warmth that could not be felt from her skin.
Softly, she whispered, “It’s a good name to have.”
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