A stranger is coming to Dee Manor.
Princess Dela tightened plumb hands on her book of verse as she stared out of the irregularly cut panes of the great, decorative window that looked out onto the courtyard of Dee Manor. The road beyond was paved in expertly fitted stones and lined in little yellow and blue flowers. So familiar, and yet suddenly ominous.
"I don't understand," Dela said to her inferior friend, Lady Ril, and shifted her grip on her book of verse, squeezing and slackening each finger. "A Pureblood? Coming to Dee Manor?"
"Yes, Your Glory," Ril said gravely, composed in the face of extremity.
“But there aren’t a lot of those. I mean,” Dela gave a nervous laugh, "the Golden Emperor is the only Pureblood on Demora. I saw him once, you know, when I lived at the capital. So beautiful!" The memory raised a sigh of comfort in her heart.
"This Pureblood comes from space," Ril said. "From the court of Gelion."
Dela dropped her book of verse. Ril stooped to pick it up.
"I am sorry," Dela blurted.
"It is your Golden sensibilities," Ril reassured her as she handed the book back. Dela accepted it sheepishly, wishing those would not show so much. At one hundred and forty-five, her nobleborn companion showed signs of age comparable to a fifty-year old commoner. Dela was not only younger, but a highborn. If she felt faint, it was only because she was breathing in more deeply than she breathed out.
"Oh dear," Dela said, grasping at details of protocol. "I will have to speak up to a Pureblood. I have never had to, you know, since I was shown and named before the Emperor. What a glorious day that was!” Dela babbled only for the comfort of hearing herself talk. “My uncle Lond was still alive then and so dashing in his fleet uniform; and my family's dear matriarch -- " Dela broke off, disturbed by the hard set of Ril’s mouth. “What?” she asked.
Lady Ril took a moment to tone down the strength of her emotions. "I do not think," she said, fiercely, "that you ought to demean yourself by up-speaking to this Pureblood. The custom," she invoked the authority of a greater, brighter past, "is for Goldens to devalue baser blood by one rank. You should speak to him in peerage. Anything more would be flattering."
"Yes, I suppose," Dela admitted. She looked down at her hand, with its one slim ring and lacy cuff, and said in an anxious voice, "He is, I suppose, a Silver Demish Pureblood?"
"I am told," Ril said, and her lips tightened, "that he has black hair."
Dela gasped. Commoners might have any sort of coloring, but in a Sevolite—especially a highborn—black hair meant Vrellish blood. Dela squeezed her verse book for courage. The Vrellish were always the villains in her poems. They flew like fiends, killed for the joy of it, and behaved more lewdly than barnyard animals. Golden literature boasted princesses martyred by Vrellish lust and princes who resisted dark-haired sirens.
"But -- " Dela stumbled through novel feelings of fear for her home and her person, neither of which she had realized she valued so intimately. "is there such a thing, still, as a Vrellish Pureblood?"
“He is only part Vrellish,” Ril said, and paused. Her mouth firmed, then trembled before it relaxed enough to let her continue. "He is the grandson of The Sacrifice."
Dela staggered back two steps and sat down. The name, “Amel,” escaped her lips like a prayer. She felt a weight in her chest at the same time, and a wash of confusion that knotted the smooth, creamy skin of her brow.
The Sacrifice had been the daughter of the Golden Emperor, extorted from her people by the Silver Demish to marry one of their own, last Purebloods. She produced a son before she died of a broken heart, followed closely by her grieving mother. Both were keenly mourned by Demoran women. Demora's princes and lords preferred not to bring it up, since it was they who had declined to oppose the Silver Demish to their last ship in space and their last drop of blood on the challenge floor. The Emperor rarely showed himself after that. The Family of Light, eternal icons of the Golden Age, dwindled to one sputtering candle closed up in the palace for fear it, too, might go out.
"Amel," Ril soldiered on, merciless, "is the son of the monster-child who drained his mother's life, and lived to offend even the vulgar Gelack court with his cold heart."
"Yes, but...the grandson." Dela toyed with the possibility of a hope so large that it felt absurd for the words to be in her mouth. "What do we know about Amel? I mean, except for the black hair. And being lost in infancy and all. But that was months ago! I mean, it’s more than half a year since he was found, and since, well … there should be hope?"
Ril looked discouragingly hard hearted.
"He is descended of the Family of Light!" Dela pointed out.
"In flesh defiled by his Vrellish blodd," Ril said harshly. "Hope?” She shook her head. “The product of two wedded rapes? Raised on Gelion? Passing for sixteen years as a commoner? There is no hope." Her voice fell very low. "People say he is beautiful. But they say that his father was, too. We must not hope. The Family of Light has abandoned us, and will not suffer themselves to be reborn."
"No," Dela protested, her eyes filling up. “Please don't say dreadful things. Not now!”
Ril's face softened as she patted Dela's hand. "My poor princess. My poor innocent."
Lady Ril understood spiritual matters. Her pity was all the more formidable for that. But to live in a world without Light! Dela's heart rebelled. She rose in a rustle of layered skirts, afraid she would burst into tears.
"I want to be alone," she said.
"Of course, my dear Golden. My princess."
Dela quailed before the look of admiration on Lady Ril's plain, beloved face. Perhaps it seemed to Ril that every Golden Princess of the Emperor's court must partake in some small measure of the Family of Light’s ability to comfort and inspire through their love. But she was no substitute for what Ril said was lost! Her lineage was too weak, and her beauty much too flawed. She had even failed to keep her husband at home, at Dee Manor, with her supposedly Golden-standard of feminine charms.