A/N: Just in case you missed it the first time, this is a sequel to Tears of the Sun. You really need to read that for this to make sense. This picks up right where that story left off.
1: The quiet before …
Light shimmered through the curtains, breaking up the darkness of the room and the quiet of the room was interrupted shortly after by small mewling noises. A lump buried underneath a pile of heavy, colorful blankets began moving. Wiggling upwards toward the head of the immense bed, a mass of wild red and black hair popped up. Two foxlike ears twitched, cropping up from the gravity-defying mane. A cream-colored, female face was revealed as a long yawn escaped her.
"Morning already?" she complained through the yawn. She was one of the very few of her kind that would be awake in the light of dawn. But, she tended to adjust her schedule much easier depending on where she was.
She smacked her lips together while pushing herself up on her muscular, thick arms. She rolled her shoulders, working out some of the stiffness there. Just as she was about to roll out of bed, arms reached out and stopped her.
"Xol, stay," a whispered plea came from her bedmate.
Xol turned over to pay her mate proper attention. She smiled immediately when she took in the sight of her lover. She doubted that there was a more beautiful image than that of Princess Ileana Angelika Fleurizan with her rich, chocolate skin on display and her shiny ebony hair falling halfway over her face as she tried to remain asleep. She was essentially the secret ruler of the country of Fleuriza and soon her hectic day would start, but Xol's day should be starting already.
"Should train," Xol muttered, her voice gravelly from sleep. She needed to make sure that she stayed fit and powerful to protect her mate as well as their close friends.
"No, stay, beloved. When you leave, it gets cold," Ileana complained in a whisper. Her eyes were still closed and her arms tightened around her small lover.
Xol smiled and settled back down in the bed. She could not say no to the taller woman, no matter what. She moved closer to Ileana and wrapped her arms around the princess, reveling in their nude forms pressing together. Xol purred as gentle fingers ran up and down her back. She returned the favor by caressing Ileana's soft sides. The action earned her a tender kiss.
"May I rest my head on your shoulder, beloved?" Ileana requested in a low tone.
"You never need ask," Xol replied.
Ileana smiled as she put her head on Xol's shoulder. It always started with a head on the shoulder and quickly turned to Ileana half-lying on Xol; that morning was no different. Xol just kept her arms around her mate, inhaling the wonderful scent of the princess' hair. The aroma was enough to carry her off to sleep again.
Light now poured into the large bedroom, letting Ileana know that it was time to rise. She was loath to leave the warm, purring body beneath her. The early morning was her favorite time of day just for this reason. She was certain that she could live the life of a pauper and still be content if she could wake up next to Xol. The sight of her beloved always eased her soul. The sound of Xol's drowsy mewling were enough to relax her no matter the circumstances.
"My most precious flower," Ileana whispered before pressing light kisses along Xol's pale jawline. The soft mews from Xol became louder with each kiss.
"This is the best way to wake up," Xol muttered as she pulled her mate closer to her.
"I agree, which is why you should always stay in bed with me until it is a decent time to rise. I wish the whole day was like this."
"Too bad you have responsibilities," Xol said quite seriously.
"It is a shame." Ileana sighed and rested her chin on Xol's shoulder. Xol tilted her head so that they could look each other in the eye. A gentle smile curled onto Ileana's full, inviting lips. "I would leave this all behind for you, you know that?"
"I'd never ask such a thing of you. Your brother needs you and your country needs you. I understand that. I understand it a lot more than I did before," Xol replied while tracing gentle circles on Ileana's shoulder.
"Do you miss your tribe? Being their leader? Looking out for them?" Ileana asked curiously. Xol had been exiled from the tribe she led because she was mated to Ileana. Apparently, daijinn did not appreciate any of their kind being with a human.
Xol was silent for a long moment. "In some ways, I do, but just as you, I would and did leave it all behind. You have roots here. I didn't have that, so it was even easier for me to do. Besides, I knew from the very second I took that role that the moment I saw you again, I'd lose it all because I'd want you. I couldn't have both and there was no contest as to what I would choose."
Ileana's smile widened. "You certainly know how to make a girl feel loved. She walks away from ruling an entire tribe and says it was not even a choice." She pushed herself up slightly and gave her beloved a kiss on the lips.
"It wasn't," Xol insisted.
"I'm sure it was not. They did not seem very fond of you," the princess recalled with a slight frown. It upsetting to think that people her love had helped disliked Xol for whatever reason.
"They weren't. Most of them resented me and the way I led the tribe. Those that didn't resent me for that hated me because I was so small and yet the most powerful of them. And, of course, there were those that hated me for the fact that they knew that I loved you more than life itself. They knew I would destroy them all if I needed to protect you."
Ileana nodded. "That is their fault for the way they chose their leaders," she stated since Xol's tribe had chosen their chiefs based on who won a fight. "Do you worry about them?"
"I do. I know it's been a year and I should just put them out of my mind, as Yu, Kwen, and Mei keep insisting, but it's hard. I was their leader and I feel like I did a good job of it. I'm not sure if anyone else could do the job that I did. I'm not sure anyone even wants to do it the way that I did it."
Ileana nodded again. "I know how you feel, as you well know. Thank you for standing by me, not just then, but even now."
"I have no choice but to stand by you. You are my sun, my moon, my goddess. I would do anything for you, Ileana." It was Xol's turn to initiate a kiss, giving the princess a gentle peck on the mouth.
"Would you? Then will you bathe with me this morning?" Ileana inquired with a coy smile and a flirtatious batting of her eyelashes. More often than not, they did not have a morning bath together because Xol would be going through her training regiment, so Ileana would take advantage of their time together.
Xol laughed. "Why don't you ask me to do something hard? Trust me, it's not a burden to sit with you in hot water and clean every inch of your beautiful body."
"Then we should get to that. It is going to be a long day and I want to stretch out my morning with you for as long as possible."
Xol nodded in agreement and smiled because of the desire. They exchanged several slow, long kisses before finally making their way out of bed. Ileana quickly reached for her robe to protect her from the cold, but Xol did not seem to feel the breeze and stood there in all of her naked glory. Her long, slender, feline-like tail even swayed in a relaxed behind her. Ileana had to stare as her much shorter lover yawned and stretched, showing off her stocky form and all of her cut muscles. Her "goddess marks," as Xol's clansmen called her tattoo, was on all full display, too.
The black tribal lines that showed the daijinn sun goddess blessed Xol ran up and down the right side of her torso. It had spread over her back and chest and was now making a path down her leg. They often wondered if it would then go to the left side of her body when there was no space left on the right. Ileana's own tattoo, her "mate marks" as Xol's tribesmen dubbed it, was continuing to grow little by little across her back.
"Let's go before you catch cold parading around in your birthday suit," Ileana teased.
Xol smiled and rushed over to her mate, who led the small daijinn into the adjacent bathroom. There was already hot water in it with bubbles, softeners, and other indulgences, as there was every morning. Miss Olga, the princess' most loyal and trusted servant, always made sure the little things were taken care of for Ileana.
Xol stepped into the water in the ground level bathtub while Ileana took off her robe. The daijinn reached out to help her mate into the tub. They settled with Ileana sitting on one of the steps and Xol in front of her. For a few minutes, they just sat there and appreciated being close to each other. They did not have much time to lounge, though.
"You want me to wash your hair now or wait until tonight?" Ileana asked, scratching her lover's pointed ear.
Xol purred in a low tone. "You can do it now. I know you like doing it and I like your fingers in my hair."
Ileana smiled and proceeded to wash her lover's mixed colored mane, which drew out plenty more purrs. Xol returned the favor and then they washed each other's bodies. One of the best things about bathing together, as far as Xol was concerned, was that if left them smelling alike. With the same scents clinging to them, it was like they were together all day, even if by some wild circumstance they had to part ways.
With that washing done, they exited the bath and Xol dressed in rather plain clothing, as she did everyday; a pair of navy colored slacks and white shirt. Ileana's outfits were much more complicated, but Xol typically helped as did Miss Olga. Ileana dressed in Fleurizan tradition with long gown, a corset underneath, and a short vest across chest. The vest she always chose to wear open because the rest of clothing was tied so tightly. Usually, Xol would make sure the ties were loose, but Miss Olga often tied everything as if she were trying to break the laces. She always insisted that Ileana look like a proper young woman, even if she was not one; by her actions, she certainly was not one.
Once Ileana was dressed, she went to her office to take care of the business of the country. Xol made it a point to stay close to her mate. They took breakfast while Ileana went over the notes of the day. Before they ate breakfast, Xol always inspecting everything carefully, especially sniffing all the things served to them.
"Is it all right?" Ileana asked, referring to their meals.
"Smells fine. I'm going to taste it, though," Xol replied and she took nibbles of each piece of food on Ileana's tray.
Part of their routine involved Xol inspecting Ileana's food; she also had one of her clansmen do the same for Viktor, Ileana's little brother and acting king. It was necessary as far as Xol was concerned because there had been no less than two attempts on her mate's life in the year that they had been reunited, and that did not count the incident with Garrick and his attempted coup. Both attempts had involved trying to poison the princess.
Some jealous nobles led the first assassination attempt. Ileana easily tracked them down after Xol saved her from biting into a very deadly supper. The nobles had taken advantage of the fact that human servants were now used in the castle's kitchens since Xol had freed all of the daijinn slaves. The humans were easily bribed and had no trouble putting toxins into her mate's meal. Little did they know that Xol and her very small band of daijinn could smell the poison before the food hit the table. Xol had been determined to slaughter the whole kitchen staff, but Ileana stopped her, knowing her beloved would regret such a wrathful decision eventually. Ileana and Viktor handled finding and punishing the conspirators.
The second attempt on Ileana's life had been much less sophisticated than the first. An assassin had entered the palace and hunted the princess. When he came upon her, he also came upon her beloved. Xol had cut his arm off with her bare, although burning, hand right after he drew a dagger. Adding more injury to his injury, Ileana had one of her short swords to his throat. Xol now never left her mate's side, just in case some fool tried for her life again.
"Do you want me to feed you while you work?" Xol asked once she was done with her check.
"You want to feed me, my little iris?" Ileana countered with a smirk.
"It would give me something to do," Xol answered with a happy smile. Her tail swayed slowly, which showed that it definitely would please her to feed her lover. Ileana was the only person that Xol was ever happy to be subservient with.
Ileana did not object and focused on her paperwork while Xol put a piece of sweet fruit to her lips. She took it into her mouth while reading through a financial statement. Sighing, she shook her head and began jotting down problems and possible solutions. Xol glanced down at the work, but did not say anything about it since she could not make sense of the documents anyway.
"This is just getting worse and worse," Ileana muttered before taking another bite of food.
"What's wrong?" Xol inquired with concern.
"The state's revenue. So many people are starting to cheat on paying taxes and they are bleeding the treasury dry. I have to get Viktor to do something."
"Will that do any good?"
Ileana only sighed; they both knew the answer to that. No matter the decree, Viktor could not enforce any law that he passed and neither royal sibling could do anything about that. While people were not quite as fast to dismiss Viktor as they were Ileana, they still did not respect him enough to follow anything that he tried to initiate. Viktor was only just a boy and most did not think that he knew what he was doing, anyway. They thought their point was proven because he took most of his advice from his sister and her servant. So, they did not find themselves inclined to obey his orders. One of the best examples of that was his attempt to outlaw slavery.
Viktor had tried to follow Xol's example and took it a step further. Where Xol had freed all of the daijinn slaves in the palace, Viktor had declared slavery in general to be illegal. It was a good try, but there was no way for him to enforce it and no citizen of Fleuriza followed it. Daijinn were still in chains, as well as some unfortunate humans. None of the royal guards that patrolled the city had arrested anyone and Viktor certainly could not wander the streets of the city to arrest anyone. He had work to do, despite his young age and decreasing desire to do said work.
"This is a mess. I am not sure where to begin correcting this without telling Viktor that it is time that he throw people in the dungeon," Ileana huffed, glaring down at the offensive documents.
"He wouldn't do that over taxes. He's too kindhearted," Xol pointed out.
"I know, I know. The country is going to go bankrupt if this continues. At this point, I am almost willing to let one of the more ambitious nobles just have the country. I would like to see a lord get us out of this mess," Ileana declared, slapping at the papers on her desk. She then felt a piece of cold melon at her lips and ate it.
"Calm down, my mate. You're doing a good job, especially with what you have to work with. Now, eat to keep your strength up and carry on. I'm here for you."
Ileana smiled at that sentence and did as she was told. The morning was spent quietly with Ileana working while Xol shadowboxed once breakfast was done. Every now and then a frustrated or disappointed sigh escaped the raven-haired princess, which made Xol's ears twitch. Tea and cake was served mid-morning, which Ileana had to all but beg Xol to drink. Over the years, Xol had found that she had not acquired a taste for the tea and cake that nobles of Fleuriza dined on as snacks. She had only recently screwed up enough courage to admit that she was not a fan of what was one of her mate's favorite foods.
"I still cannot believe you dislike the cake. I mean, the tea it took me some time to adjust to, but the cake?" Ileana sighed.
"I just … I don't know. It doesn't taste right to me. It's bitter," Xol tried to explain.
"It is all right, dearest rose. At least you will sit with me. I have appreciated that small gesture since childhood," Ileana replied with a smile. "It is hard to believe that this is a habit we have been able to keep for so many years."
Xol nodded. "I'm glad."
"I am also. It is also hard to believe that we have lived to adulthood. I am actually twenty one," Ileana chuckled. "I always imagined that Miss Olga would devour me bit by bit before I was ten."
Xol laughed. "I'm sure there are times she wanted to."
"I am sure there are times she still wants to. When she was training me with my machetes, I had always thought that it was front for her to slay me during a training event and call it an accident."
"I'm still surprised she's the one that taught you to fight. I never imagined her as a fighter."
Ileana nodded. "There are many layers to that woman we never saw as children. As it turns out, anyone who spends that amount of time around a member of the royal family must be a master of combat. That was actually rather good luck for me."
Xol did not dispute that and before she could say anything else, the door opened to reveal the woman that they were speaking on. Miss Olga was dressed as she always was, wearing her governess uniform, even though she was much more than that now. She had on a flowing dark blue dress to her ankles with a matching vest over a white shirt. The vest held the Fleurizan family crest. Her face was still as severe as both young women remembered. It was rare for the pale woman to smile and her ice blue eyes were always sharp behind her glasses. Her hair remained pulled into the tightest possible bun and her long nose added to the edgy look of the woman. She was carrying a lunch tray.
"Is it lunch already?" Ileana wondered aloud and she looked up at the clock. "We must have started on the tea late."
"You didn't notice it was cold?" Xol asked incredulously.
"No, I had not," Ileana admitted and then she turned her attention to her most loyal servant. "Miss Olga, I am surprised that you brought lunch. Usually, you can convince Mei to do it as she would love nothing more than an excuse to bother me and my precious iris."
Miss Olga shook her head as she placed the tray down. "She seems to be preoccupied with a book that you gave her."
Ileana smiled. "I had a feeling that would work. She and Kwen are such children when they have nothing to do."
"That's what I've been saying since I met them!" Xol laughed. Ileana had to smile more because she remembered there was a time when her beloved would not even talk in front of Miss Olga and now she was making almost loud declarations and laughing. It was such a vast improvement.
"Well, Mei is thankfully occupied. Fry has been keeping Kwen busy, so things have been quiet for the day. I also came because I need you to look at these documents and convince your brother to sign them," Miss Olga commented as she placed a folder on Ileana's desk.
"Execution warrants?" Ileana guessed. Those were the only items that her brother would almost never touch and she could not blame him. She had actually forged his signature on several of them to spare him. As a woman, Ileana had no right to govern, even if she was King Vladimir's oldest child. Her brother did not have the stomach for many matters of government so far and she was willing to concede that he might never. Yes, he was not even a teenage yet, but his personality was probably not going to change much as he got older. She was certain that his current experience would only sour his attitude toward governing when he was a grown man.
"Some property seizures also," Miss Olga replied.
"I can handle it."
"You will speak to him, though, right? He has to get used to this. Like it or not, he is the king's heir. Someday, he will have to carry out these orders without your hand guiding him," Miss Olga pointed out.
"I think when the time comes, Viktor will have his own style of rule. Some of those warrants were not meant for signing, so I am glad that he is not so ready to put someone to death. Father had many men sitting in the dungeons for little to no reason," Ileana argued.
"I am sure there was some reason, highness. Crossing the King is reason enough. His law must be obeyed and his word is law," Miss Olga reminded the princess.
Ileana nodded, knowing the words served as a warning that Miss Olga gave her almost daily. She understood and made sure it was always at the forefront of her mind. She had always had a problem with her father's word being law, but it was probably just her rebellious nature. She was not sure, but she was aware that by now almost every breath she took was disobeying her father's orders.
"I shall see you both at dinner then," Miss Olga said and she bowed to both of them before taking her leave.
The ladies nodded before going back to their own business and having their lunch. After lunch they exited the office, both holding stacks of the princess' work and relocated to the throne room. Ileana's little brother and acting king, Viktor, was slumped over on the throne, looking like a child playing dress up. The crown was still too large for his head, even with his full, lush raven hair, and it covered his eyes as he worked, not to mention it pushed his bangs into his face. He hated wearing it, but it was part of the monarch uniform.
Ileana and Xol eased in next to him with servants rushing over to get chairs for both women. Viktor rarely raised his voice, but he would scream and bark at anyone who dared disrespect his sister in his presence or his sister's "best friend." While the servants, advisers, and most people in the palace disliked Ileana and seemed to think Viktor was a weak king, they still did not want to anger King Vladimir's favorite child. There was always a feeling that the true king would rise from his sick bed and rain down Hell on anyone that hurt Viktor, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally.
The acting king's brown eyes were glued to a document, scanning it hard before giving up. "Sister, I do not understand this one," Viktor said, passing his sister a document.
"Looks like a trade agreement," Ileana replied as she studied it. Her brother was good with handling social issues, but could not make heads or tails of anything that involved money, business, or complicated legal matters. She could not blame him; he was only thirteen.
"You should have gotten it then," Viktor frowned slightly. It an adorable look of indignation that he got whenever he received misunderstood documents by accident. Like most people, Viktor did not enjoy recognizing the limits of his intelligence, but unlike most, he would easily admit to not understanding something.
"Sometimes, Miss Olga misses things as she is dividing the workload. She might have had Yu do this, also. He helps her with filing and his system is different from hers," Ileana explained.
Viktor nodded and the siblings worked in silence. Xol stood back, as if there was a fence between her and the pair. It was like that when they were working. Xol did not seem to want any part of governing Fleuriza, even though Ileana had tried early on to get her opinion on things. Xol just could not find it in her to care about the affairs of a country that called her and her kind dogs, used them as slaves and pets, and considered them to be lower than animals.
There were snacks in the late afternoon and dinner was served shortly after that. It was during the evening meal when their whole group got together. Ileana and Xol sat next to each other while Viktor sat at the head of the table. Kwen sat next to Xol. Miss Olga sat across from the princess and Fry, the Elder of Xol's tiny clan, sat next to her. Mei and Yu were next to them.
Conversation flowed from the group as they ate and shared bits of their day. It was during these times that Ileana saw glimpses of her "Rose." Xol was often quiet, observing discussions more than taking part of them. Everyone else was always chatty, especially Mei. She was even more so that night since Ileana had given her a book.
"I never realized how different religions are between humans and daijinn, especially here!" Mei declared with a broad grin. Her small ears, hidden underneath masses of flowing chocolate and honey colored hair, shifted because of her excitement and her fluffy mocha tail swayed, smacking into Yu, who did not seem to mind. Her champagne-colored eyes seemed to bubble like the liquid they were colored after.
"More nonsense?" Kwen grumbled with the typical hard frown on his tan face. He was massive still, and seemed even more so sitting next to the very short Xol. He recently got his wild black and blond mane cut, so he could spike it just the way he liked it, which made it hard to see his large black ears.
"I've been reading religious tales thanks to our chief's mate," Mei beamed, smiling at Ileana. "Thank you so much for sharing. I didn't know that you believed in a different god altogether than the one daijinn always assumed you did."
Ileana shook her head. "Not me personally. I have never been very religious." It was hard to believe in a god that deemed her less than any man alive, even the vilest sort, for the simple fact that she was a woman and designated her lover less than an animal and only good for slavery just for being a daijinn. There were so many other things about the Fleurizan god that bothered her that she had never even been able to pray to him, even as a child.
"Well, in general," Mei said and she would have gone on about the subject, if only Yu had not cut in.
"How goes your job, chief?" Yu asked with interest in his orange eyes and he was speaking to Ileana. Yu had grown somewhat wider over the year because the food in the palace was much richer and more plentiful than he had ever had. Even when Xol had led their tribe, they did not eat so well and that had been their tribe's golden age as far he was concerned. "I wish we could help out more, chief," he added with a sincere smile.
The princess had learned that under dajinn rules, she was addressed by the same title as Xol because she was Xol's mate. The tiny tribe viewed her just as they viewed Xol, even though she was human. She was their chief and they were her tribe, hers and Xol's tribe.
"Difficult and tiring as usual. It does not help that the King fell asleep on me," Ileana remarked, teasing her brother.
"I was not sleeping! I was merely resting my eyes!" he objected with a playful smile.
The group laughed. They stayed at the table long after the dinner was cleared. Before long, it was time to retire for the night. They broke apart once they made it to their deserted wing of the palace. Ileana and Xol returned to the princess' room where they bathed again; Xol got detailed attention because she worked out often through out the day to relieve boredom and to be prepared defend her mate. Once they were clean, Ileana put on her nightgown and had to force Xol into one.
"Why do I hafta wear this?" Xol pouted as she shoved the sleeves up to the long gown.
"Because I don't want you to get cold through out the night and possibly get sick," Ileana explained for the millionth time.
"But, we get right under the covers. How could I get cold?" Xol continued to pout. They slept under piles of blankets to protect against the chill.
"It could happen. Now, come along." Ileana led her lover to their bed and pulled back the covers. She helped Xol in, as she used to do when they were children. Once Xol was secure, the princess followed behind her.
Xol settled into the middle of the bed and Ileana then settled against her. They had learned early on after being reunited that while Ileana was the taller between them, she was lighter and could lie almost completely on top of Xol without bothering her. Xol, on the other hand, could only rest single body parts on Ileana, like her head or her arm, but not much more than that. Apparently, daijinn had very dense bodies and Ileana could feel every bit of it if Xol tried to lie partially on her.
"Will you sing to me?" Ileana requested as she tried to fight down a yawn.
Xol smiled; she only knew one song. The one thing that she remembered from her life before Ileana was a song her mother sang to her about the sun and the moon. Ileana often requested that she sing it when they cuddled for the night. Xol always complied, loving to have the one special memory to share with her mate. They both feel asleep to Xol's gentle hum.
Light invaded the room as it did every morning. Xol mewled as she attempted to get out of bed, but Ileana refused to let go of her. Xol settled in and knew that she would not be able to get up for her morning exercises. When the time came to get up, they went through their morning routine, but there was a hiccup in their habit. There was a knock at the door and Xol went to answer it, thinking it was one of her clansmen. Instead, it was a servant.
"I must speak with her Highness," the servant announced and barged past Xol into the room. She did not get far as Xol grabbed her arm in a crushing grip.
"What business do you have with her?" Xol growled.
"Beloved, you can let her go. She works for me," Ileana said as she poked her head out of the bathroom. She was fully dressed, but was fixing her hair.
Xol growled again, but she did as she was told and let the servant girl go. The servant rushed over to Ileana and the two dipped out of sight of Xol. The small daijinn was tempted to listen in on what was going on, but respected her mate's privacy. If it were something that she was meant to know, Ileana would tell her.
The meeting did not take too long. As the servant rushed out of the room, Ileana hurried out of the bathroom. Going by her lover, she went into the closet and pulled out what appeared to be packed bags. Xol arched an eyebrow as Ileana pulled out more packed bags.
"Whoa, Ileana, what's going on?" Xol inquired.
"We have to leave," Ileana stated as if it was a stone cold fact.
"What? Why?" Xol's forehead was wrinkled as her eyebrows curled up.
"Go get our tribe. I will get Miss Olga and Viktor will probably want to come along. I hope he will go along with this anyway. I hope he has something packed. Miss Olga should be since she was the one that gave me this plan in the first place," Ileana ranted.
Xol stepped in front of her moving mate and grabbed her into a gentle embrace. Golden eyes pled with the princess to stop for a moment, but Ileana looked like she was about to burst into tears as well as explode in answer. Xol was not sure what to make of the expression.
"Slow down, my moon. What is going on? Why must we leave?" the smaller woman begged.
"My father. He's awake and moving," Ileana answered in a grave tone. Xol felt her insides run cold for the first time in a long time as a hard frown settled on her face. Ileana fell against her and shivered. They were as good as dead.
Next time: the great escape … or so Ileana, Xol, and their tribe hopes.