Chapter 5: Volatile Peace

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Chapter 5: Volatile Peace

The last high king of Vynam had no issue and died young. The civil war that erupted as a result had been brewing between the Vynam states for generations.

Ten years of bloodshed rent the land. And from the ashes, a new Vynam rose.

Thirty-six noble families ruled over the Vynam states. Each family Head had a chair in the Vynam council and while the governance of each territory was almost completely autonomous, all Vynam shared one constitution.

Vynam enjoyed a hundred years without a single war.

At least, not an open one.

I heard whispers about the dirty scuffles that were fought among the ruling families. A war of secrets in dark corners and spies watching from behind walls.

I didn't yet know the feud Dylana's father lost to have to give up his daughter into Cervi custody, but I had to find out.

Silver and amethyst? Not a chance. Lord Aspertin was hiding who Dylana really was in house Tvereman.

Who I really was.

It all began to come together. They didn't recognise her because she had just arrived. Taking Dylana to an execution as her first introduction to the north would be a message to her. Executions weren't a public affair in Desmelas. Tvereman nobles were strong believers in the Anpald gods. Killing of humans was only allowed on sacrificial basis. All executions were performed in the walled courtyards of temples, away from public eyes.

Having her stand outside the noble pen and watch an unmasking, it was meant to scare her.

She had probably even believed that my attack was part of it.

I clasped my hand over my mouth in the jostling carriage, my eyes stinging. Lady Afali looked up at me and smirked. She took a pleasure in her position. She enjoyed seeing my fear.

Good.

"Always tell them what they want to hear."

I tore my eyes away from her and looked out the window, keeping my palm over my mouth and allowing the tears to well in my eyes.

It wasn't hard to keep up the act. We had just exited Kelsei and were rounding the Darlpria Way that skirted the Thalmina hills.

Mist pooled in the leafy valley on our left and I saw the break in the road that led off to the hilltops.

If we went up the steep path that curved with hills, we would eventually find a sturdy, two story house built of pink Thelse stone. Attached to it was the wooden barn where vats and oak barrels stood in orderly rows, filling the air with the dizzying, sweet-sour odour of fermenting wine.

The grapevines hugged the hillside, enjoying the kiss of sunshine that only touched that side of the hill in all of Thalmina. When harvest season came round, we would lie on the hillside under the vines, filling woven baskets attached to ropes that Marin would hoist up when full.

It was slow work, crawling thus on the steep hillside from vine to vine. Charti and Lian, Mariala's twin boys, would always be hired to help. Even after my apprenticeship began, the mask-maker allowed me to come for the harvest.

The summer sun deepened the brown of my skin. The ache in my back and arms was welcomed after all those hours spent cutting fabric and melting precious metals in the workshop.

I experienced my first kiss under those vines.

The harvest season was past, but there would still be the few vines of black grapes my father had imported from Yurina that were harvested in autumn and were used to make a coveted wine so strong and aromatic a single, un-aged bottle could be sold for twelve gold dels.

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