Daughters of Man: Claiming a Princess
By Brenna Lyons
It's a tradition as old as recorded history.
The eldest prince chooses his bride from among the genetically strongest toddlers, and she is raised to be his princess. Though he doesn't believe a true bond can form between them that way, Sakkriel chooses an enchanting child that grows to be an exasperating young woman.
Now all he has to do is prove himself the god-descendant he is to claim her.
~From the Tenth Book of Sky~
And it came to pass that Sky was lonely. Watching the children he and World had created wasn’t enough. The young ones were close to World and revered her for her bounty, but they’d forgotten that Sky was also responsible for their creation.
“I will show myself,” he decided. “I will take one of the females to mate and sire young gods among them. My sons and daughters will take to the clouds on wings. In that way, they will be close to me.”
Sky watched and waited for the perfect woman to be his mate. At last, he found her.
Sakkri was fair and kind. Her smile charmed the beasts. She had hair feathers the color of sunlight and eyes the color of the coming sunset sky.
When she was a tiny, toddling child, he sent one of his loyal priests to her sire, King Rass, with word that Sky had claimed Sakkri as his bride.
In the blink of a god’s eye, she was a young woman. Sky went to her father in the form of a man and sought to take her as mate as he’d decreed. But Rass was a disbeliever of gods and their powers. In the intervening years, he’d promised Sakkri to another.
Rass set a seemingly impossible task. Sky had a single sa-sen to prove a claim on Sakkri without breaching her virgin body or alerting the king’s guards to his intents.
Rass should not have doubted a god.
Sky slipped unseen past Rass’s guards, night after night. Sakkri believed him at first to be an erotic dream and then accepted him as her lover. In time, she came to know him and love him. But Sky never breached her body. He spilled his potent seed at the entrance to her lush body and brought her to climax after climax.
Before the end of the allotted sa-sen, Sakkri fell ill, and healers were sent for. To Rass’s dismay, his daughter was bearing...but still virginal.
When pressed to name her lover, Sakkri could not, and her father was angry. He distrusted the tale she spun of the male who appeared—as if by magic—in her chamber every night, whether her chamber was locked or not and without being seen by the guards set to keep such a thing from happening.
Sensing that the moment was right, Sky appeared in Sakkri’s chamber. She pointed him out to her father and named him the only possible sire for the young one she carried. His claim proven—and any hope of marrying her to another while she carried Sky’s son extinguished—Rass grudgingly conceded Sky’s victory. Sky claimed his bride and spilled her blood on her white virgin’s sheets, before taking her to the castle he’d had built for her.
Over the years, their love grew. Sakkri bore Sky five sons and five daughters. All fully-winged, their young flew to greet Sky in the clouds, honoring both World and Sky as no Sakk had before them.
Sakkriel peered down at the dais from the royal box, bored beyond words. It was his third meeting and his first claim day. Already, he knew why his uncle had broken with tradition and taken an Earth match at a scandalously young age for a second son.
If anything is scandalous, it is this zadeki tradition. He was seventeen and just past the first advance of his pre-prime hungers. That meant it was time for him to choose the mate who would be raised to be his.
If he’d been born a second or third son, he’d simply choose which he wanted at thirty or more years of age. But Sakkriel was heir, and so his mate was to be raised for him from early childhood.
He’d met two Sakk-born females already. The first had been a very spoiled and obstinate child of five yans. The other was so shy, she’d spent the entire ‘meeting’ hiding her face in her sire’s cuzta. Neither had appealed to Sakkriel at all.
None of them will. They were babies. He was becoming a man. How could a bond possibly form between them?
The chilling thought that this would be a mating for show turned his stomach. Since it was a given no bond could form between them, what did it matter which he chose? All the young he met would be fully-winged and genetically superior in all ways. One was like any other.
Yet it did matter. He’d refused the first two, because Sakkriel couldn’t imagine spending a lifetime with either a shrew or someone who feared him. When he chose a mate, she would be special. Unique on all the world.
“What do you think of this one, Sakkriel?” his sire inquired.
His head still reeling from the internal argument, he focused on the match leading her winged young one up the stairs to the dais. The babe was younger than the others had been, certainly younger than three yans. Fully-winged female young conceived on a seed world usually came to Sakk with their mothers shortly after their second yan, but the trip could take up to five sa-sen.
This one could not have been much more than two yans, which meant she’d come from one of the closer seed worlds. Each high step was still a struggle for her tiny legs, and her chubby hand held tight to her dame’s.
What difference does her age make? Or her toddling steps? It didn’t, and yet he assessed every movement, searching for clues to her personality.
Though the young one should have been in a training cazta, hers was ankle-length to match her dame’s presentation dress. While Sakkriel watched, the babe tripped on the hem.
The uproar was immediate and intense. Males close to the dais shot forward, arms out to steady the young one or to catch her, should she slip off the edge of the stairs. The cynic in Sakkriel opined that they intended to try for the dame and set out to impress the claim maker with what devoted sires they would be to the young one the dame’s mate was expected to take on as his own child.
His tensing muscles called him a liar. She was a young female in danger. It was instinct for their males to protect females and young. The babe was both.
As if in confirmation of that fact, one of the males gathered a loop of her long cazta and secured it at her wrist, bringing the rest to her knees. He backed away from the stairs with a bow, letting the dame and child continue on their way.
With the cazta raised, Sakkriel could see the precise but unsteady little steps she took. There was something endearing about how a baby walked.
“Sakkriel?” his sire prodded him.
“What color are her eyes?” He wasn’t sure why he asked it, save that he’d always had a fondness for light eyes.
“Green,” the master claim maker offered promptly.
Sakkriel swallowed, his mouth inexplicably dry.
On the dais, the dame was speaking down to her babe, most likely counseling her to be still.
“Sakkriel?” his sire spoke up again.
“She is mine.” He pivoted on his heel and rushed down the stairs to the main floor, his personal guards in his wake.
The claim maker overseeing the ceremony waved the prize match toward the edge of the dais. It wasn’t his mate’s dame; she was the secondary prize of the claim day. The first was a short-flight female.
“A winged female,” the claim maker shouted out. He looked around at the crowd, meeting Sakkriel’s eyes. He paled a bit. The introduction ended that simply, and he waved the prize match back into line.
Her brow furrowed, but she complied.
A murmur of confusion and distress rose in the crowd. Males started searching for a cause for the delay. One by one, they noticed Sakkriel and fell silent. As he topped the dais, the loudest sound was the rustling of his mate’s little wings.
The claim priest offered a deep bow, and Sakkriel waved him off.
The young one didn’t notice him immediately. She was busy trying to free her wrist from the cazta, baring her training wrap in the process.
Sakkriel knelt, but he was still a head taller than she was. At last, she looked up at him, her green eyes wide and curious, her blond hair feathers arranged in presentation curls that matched her dame’s.
“What is her name?” he asked.
“Katia, Sakkriel,” her dame supplied.
The babe bounced on the balls of her feet. “Kat. Kat.” She smiled, revealing perfect little teeth.
He returned the smile. “Katia. It is a beautiful name.”
“My thanks, Sakkriel,” the dame breathed.
Sakkriel removed his Kieta and placed it around Katia’s neck. He leaned down, kissing one cheek and then the other as a sign of his claim on her. “Sakkri Katia,” he breathed, greeting her formally for the first time.
His heart hammered in excitement. He’d done it. He’d claimed her as his own.
Katia touched the Kieta with her tiny fingers. She smiled sweetly and rose on tiptoe to press a kiss to his lips.
It was an innocent move, and yet his errant body tightened. One of the palace widows was going to have a wild ride when he returned home.
“Tell me about the match,” Zebu intoned.
Sakkriel rose, his mind spinning pleasantly. Katia waved to him, and he reached a hand out, letting her grasp his fingers.
“Wingless, as you can plainly see, of a wingless pair. Yet she produced a fully-winged young one from a short-flight male. A quick catch. One of the first in her group. Her interests are in cooking, weaving, and painting.”
Zebu nodded. “I claim this female under rights of Sakk’s guard.”
Sakkriel stared at him, shocked beyond words. He knew one of the heir’s personal guards often chose to invoke the law when the chosen princess came from a seed world, but he’d never expected the master of his own guard to do it.
He has been with me since the cradle. What would life be like without Zebu?
The claim maker nodded his agreement and started entering information on the comm pad he held.
Zebu cleared his throat, and Sakkriel released Katia’s hand and stepped back. The huge, battle-hardened male scooped the babe up on one arm and wrapped the other around the dame. Katia stared at her new sire solemnly, then wrapped both miniature hands around his face and kissed his cheek with a pronounced smack of her dark lips.
The master general’s surprise would have been comical under other circumstances. After a moment, Zebu laughed. Katia clapped and kissed him a second time.
An inexplicable wave of jealousy washed over Sakkriel at that. Katia was his.
But Zebu will raise her. A traitorous rational voice in his mind opined that Katia would be safer with Zebu than she would be with any other sire on the planet.
He tipped his head in acceptance and did something he’d never thought would be hard for him. Sakkriel walked away, knowing full well he wouldn’t meet his mate again until she’d reached her adulthood. It was extremely difficult to do it. He looked back at her one last time.
Zebu guided his mate down the stairs, carrying Sakkri Katia. He was surrounded by a full squad of warrior priests, priests who would be responsible for Katia’s safety in the years to come.