The quiet rustle of dry parchment was a familiar sound as hungry hands shuffled through stacks of scrolls and books on a perpetual quest for information. Worn leather bindings surrendered their soothing musk to dusty layers of oxygen and oil left by tracing fingers and frequent review. Faded ink clung to aged fibers in eager anticipation of once more sharing advice. MaTisha Halqua did not need to read the records to know what they said. Liz made it a habit to read everything aloud.
“Teymir Soi explicitly warned against trusting Teymir Ira.” The intellectual guardian propped the book open and displayed it to validate her statement regarding the advice given by MaTisha’s mother. “I do not think it is wise to follow through with the request.”
The Thanmir had no doubt Liz was correct. The woman always made it a point to be correct.
“I understand her warning and I agree with you. However, I cannot hold Thanmir Aito responsible for the crimes of his mother.” MaTisha slipped her fingers around the long strands of her silver-blue hair, tucking them into a tie before looping them around and tying them again. Long hair was customary for elementals, though as a half-blood, wearing human clothing served the same purpose. Humans required a peculiar level of modesty and as a Thanmir, MaTisha obliged their customs. “In addition, I believe Thanmir Aito’s agitation is rising and he may begin to lash out against the people of the Halqua province. As their ruler, I cannot allow harm to come to them.”
Elementals were a peaceful race before humans came to Chikara. Humans were not responsible for the resulting animosity, but devastating repercussions arose when the two races mingled beyond the first conceived child.
The elemental father, Rin Lumenor, Teymir of the void clan, lost his power.
Rin created the niniers to restore his abilities, but tampering prevented use or destruction of the new solution. They were divided and distributed between the clans, forcing the other four Teymir to balance elemental aptitude with human blood to sustain a suitable environment for the niniers to exist. Each was tasked with giving birth to a half-human, half-elemental child, a Thanmir, to act as the ninier’s vessel.
News of twins drove Teymir Ira into a murderous rampage. She attempted to avert the impending loss of her power by taking the niniers. The house of Thanmir Suuri Embrathael fell first with the remaining fire clan soon to follow. Ira spared one, Teymir Evi, only to ensure the vital role of elemental host remained fulfilled. She would have continued her merciless killings had the late stages of her pregnancy not prevented it.
Liz and the other present guardians followed MaTisha as she left the reference room and made her way towards her personal weapons stash.
Jack shook his head. Chin length white hair fell across hazel eyes and was brushed aside by a thick fingered hand. “Ye may consider a better location for military reinforcements.” Leather arm bands strained as the combat guardian folded his arms, light bouncing off the steel throwing darts with his movements. A tailored leather vest accentuated his wide chest and powerful build. Dual swords and daggers hung on his hips. Intimidation was second nature to the towering man, laden with as much weaponry as muscles.
MaTisha touched the cylinder pendant hanging from her neck and whispered a prayer to the Drethamir, asking them to watch over her and her guardians. The Drethamir, creators of the elements, bound human guardians to teach, protect, and guide elementals born of mixed blood. Some humans thought it cruel, to override another’s will and reprogram their priorities in exchange for increased skill in their given field. Others expressed jealousy and contempt for those chosen to have an ageless life by the side of the ruler. MaTisha was thankful for her companions. An eternal life alone was not a life she desired.
“We do not aim to start a war.” MaTisha motioned for her cloak and waited as Nicholas brought it. Cool satin of the inner lining was smooth against the bare skin of her shoulder blades. The silk sash and leather band haltering her breasts did little to cover her back and sides. “He has stated he comes with only his guardians and Naomi’s reports prove this is true. If I approached with additional military backing, it could be considered an act of war.”
Nicholas pinned the cloak’s leather exterior at her neck. Scents of apples lingered on his hands from brewing his latest batch of flavored ale. Soft palms patted her cheek before smoothing away creases around her shoulders. Having lost his wife and infant daughter to the Embrathael province blazes, Nicholas loved her as if she were his own. The care guardian was a closer parental figure than either her elemental mother or deceased human father.
Soi left the mortal domain and returned to the Realm when MaTisha reached Althura, elemental maturity. Her father, like other humans selected to bear a mixed blood child, finished his days within the comfortable provisions of the Thanmir. His role was to give her life and nothing more. He attempted to interact during MaTisha’s early life, but elemental children developed faster than humans.
“Naomi’s reports also advise against the meeting, describing Thanmir Aito’s behavior as erratic,” Liz reminded MaTisha.
“He approaches without Kaio which is an act of trust.” Kaio Geotellus was Aito’s twin brother. He was also a jesper, a being with the ability to suppress elemental power. Jespers resulted from a full-blood elemental conceiving more than one child with a human. They were not a force to be taken lightly.
Aito wished to make MaTisha his mate. She had no personal qualm against the earthen Thanmir. Aito was a good man. However, there was too much at stake. Kaio’s jesper abilities could render her defenseless and she would not risk being so while in the presence of Ira, who still resided in the earth palace. Ira would not hesitate to kill MaTisha and take the ninier. Aito denied such threat, but MaTisha refused to trust the murdering Teymir.
MaTisha tightened the leather straps of a dagger sheath around her thigh. Her eyes swiveled upwards to meet Liz’s gaze. All of the guardians were taller than MaTisha. She was considered petite even for her own kind. “I believe it is time to put an end to Thanmir Aito’s obsession for me. It is clear my frequent declines to his mate requests are frustrating him. He will not cease badgering unless I either accept his proposal or select a mate of my choosing.” MaTisha tapped her fingers against her hips, her gaze shifting between the three. “I shall declare a mate and request Thanmir Aito to desist any further attempts at my hand.”
Liz went rigid, tension seeping into her facial features with blatant displeasure. It began with the flaring of her nostrils, followed with pursed lips. Her amber eyes would narrow into a beady glare next. It would not take long until her fingers tugged at the long brown braid hanging over her shoulder. “To select a mate would require you to have found someone of a suitable stature and prestige. I know many of the human nobility approached you with attempts to win your favor, however there has been no indication any of these men have met your standards to qualify as your mate.”
“My standards?” MaTisha let loose a deflated laugh. Liz was the one nitpicking over insignificant details, though MaTisha had to admit the human selection less than appealing. On the other hand, there was Thanmir Harim of the Aerwether province who offered himself as a potential to deter Aito’s advances. His offer was pure business as MaTisha knew he still loved first mate, Suuri, though she ended the relationship to pursue a human male. Harim would be a suitable mate. But he was not the one she had chosen.
Nicholas scratched his mustache with the tip of his thumb, attempting to hide the smile creeping onto his lips. His eyes crinkled at the edges. He had earned his wrinkles. Elementals and their guardians stop aging when the elemental reaches Althura, and that had been scores ago for MaTisha. Nicholas was the oldest member of her surrogate family, but he would never be old. “Would you care to enlighten us as to your choice, Thanmir MaTisha?” He knew full well whom she had chosen. They all did. And they each had their opinions of the man.
She contemplated the situation before selecting the staff from the weapons rack. It was the least threatening while still providing adequate defense. Polished white oak spun between her fingers, whipping around behind her, and coming to its final resting place beneath her right arm. She was ready. “I have selected Han.”
Liz flung her hands into the air with an exasperated cry. “Thanmir MaTisha, I must protest. We have been over this matter more than a dozen times on why Han is not a suitable mate. He is a servant. To choose him would add insult to injury to the nobility you have already turned away. Ignoring the human social classes will not sit well with the people. Not to mention Han’s promiscuous and lewd behavior towards every woman he lays eyes on. I doubt he can be trusted not to do anything inappropriate in a position as your mate.”
“Han be a fine selection, if nay better than any of the human nobility,” Jack growled in response to Liz’s lecture. If MaTisha were to compare those supporting Han and those opposing, Jack and Liz would be at opposite ends of the spectrum. It was the only topic where they possessed differing views. Jack developed a deep respect for the man over several annuals. Their friendship spawned from a rivalry incited when Jack was caught stealing from the palace. The one who thwarted his escape was Han.
“Your opinion is skewed by emotions since he is Naomi’s brother,” Liz shot back. “I am approaching this matter with logical observations for Thanmir MaTisha’s benefit.” Liz was a servant prior to receiving her mark as a child. She was still bitter about being sold to the palace by her father. He never looked back when he left. Han served as the outlet for much of her pent up resentment.
“Enough.” Jack and Liz fell silent at MaTisha’s tone. “Now is not the time to discuss Han’s suitability. He is at the meeting location with Naomi and able to fulfill the role should Thanmir Aito require further convincing.” She scanned the three faces, searching for any protests. Liz’s lips creased into a scowl at Jack’s smug expression. Nicholas rocked onto his heels, no longer bothering to hide his grin. Disregarding appearances or qualifications, Nicholas only hoped for MaTisha’s happiness.
Her eyes closed as she dropped to one knee. Smooth marble floor tiles were cool against her fingertips. A deep breath filled her lungs, clearing her mind. Casting seals required focus. The guardians’ hands on her shoulders were not felt through her concentration. She chanted a silent prayer to the Drethamir in a seal of transport. Colored ribbons sprang past her vision, one color to represent each of the five clans. Gold of the void clan circled her. Green of the earth clan embraced her. Gray of the air clan wrapped around her limbs. Red of the fire clan drew her in. And silver-blue, the water clan, carried her to her destination.
Exhaustion afflicted her muscles. The roar of rushing water replaced the quiet bustle of the palace. The air was thick and humid. Nicholas helped her to her feet with a gentle tug. She opened her eyes to tropical waterfalls pouring over the southern boundaries of her land, cascading into the forested terrain of the earth clan’s domain. Three people waited for her. The first was a woman with long ebony hair swirling down the front of a provocative leather dress. The woman gave a respectful nod of her head. “I am glad to see your safe arrival, Thanmir MaTisha.”
“Thank you, Naomi.” MaTisha dabbed the sweat from her brow left from the seal manipulation. “I trust no other predicaments have surfaced since I last heard from you?”
“None.” Naomi was MaTisha’s fourth and final guardian. Like Jack, she was a combat guardian. MaTisha was the only elemental to have more than three guardians. She assumed she had the extra guardian because she was born after the fire clan slaughter. Naomi Kade and her younger brother Han came to the palace prior to her birth, seeking refuge from the province fires. To see them now, one would be unable to tell Naomi was the elder. MaTisha suspected her mother interceded concerning Han, slowing his aging process and granting an extended life span. While MaTisha was not displeased with the result, the reasons for doing so were unfathomable. And if it were not her mother, then who? Soi refused to confirm or deny either way.
MaTisha’s gaze shifted to the two people still bowed before her and she indicated they were allowed to rise. Thanmir Harim encouraged MaTisha to pursue a relationship with Han, suggesting Han’s situation would work to her advantage. He would outlast other humans.
Han was first on his feet before extending his hand to the young female cook; his daughter by all appearances. Jebaliah’s mother died in childbirth and her biological father was impossible to locate. Naomi and Han raised her and the three were inseparable. MaTisha envied their closeness, but it would not be long before she could indulge herself with his company whenever and however she desired. “Han, I have something I wish to discuss with you.”
Han’s eyes glinted with humor and he gave a polite bow of his head. “As you wish, Thanmir MaTisha.”
His curly black hair was finger combed, disheveled and falling free against his forehead with full disregard to rules and opinions. It was one of the many qualities Liz hated about him. MaTisha noted he was going gray at the temples but had taken great care to keep his body conditioned despite his age. Loose linen sleeves tied at the elbow to reveal sculpted tan forearms. What lay beneath the rest of his shirt was even more desirable. Han swept closer, falling in line a step behind her as she moved away from the group. Sweet basil and rosemary bathed him like cologne. He was close enough for her to taste the mouthwatering scent on his skin. It was different from the usual fragrance of the gardens, but no less appealing.
Regardless of Liz’s opinion, Han was more than a simple servant. The Kades were once influential and powerful before the fires reduced the family to two orphans. Han took the initiative to educate himself. He trained with his sister and excelled in combative maneuvers. His wealth of herbal knowledge made him an invaluable resource to the infirmary. It was by choice that he remained a servant. He was offered and declined several prestigious positions, content to hide within the palace gardens. Had he only accepted one, Liz would have no grounds for complaint.
MaTisha licked her lips, fighting the dry cotton coating her mouth. Nervousness swelled in her chest and threatened her cool exterior. “Han, I have reason to believe Thanmir Aito arranged today’s meeting as another attempt at my hand.” The knot in her throat tightened, tied to her racing heart. “I would like to make a request of you.”
Han spread his hands before him, bowing at the waist in an offering of service. “Anything you desire, it will be my pleasure to provide, Thanmir MaTisha.”
He smiled when MaTisha’s cheeks flushed. Liz was right. Women thronged to his side for the tiniest nibble of his amorous nature. The guardian did everything within her power to ensure MaTisha steered clear of his charm. Han was the only vice withheld and it made MaTisha want him more. He was a loyal and devoted servant, but his private life was questionable. Despite his dissolute behavior, she clung to the hope he meant what he once said. He promised he would keep himself for her and her alone, and his heart would belong to no other. Unlike elementals, the promises of humans were unbinding and could not be trusted. Decades passed since that evening in the gardens. With as many women seen in and out of his arms, it was difficult to imagine her lingering memory was not just a romantic fantasy.
MaTisha pushed doubt from her mind. It was a matter of provincial security bringing her to this decision. At least that was what she was telling herself. She set her jaw and swallowed back the wave of fluster threatening to overtake her. “Han, will you be my mate?”