33: Power struggle
Three days after the baby was born, Ileana and Xol called the shamans to the palace for them to conduct the naming ceremony. Two days after the daijinn naming ceremony, their little girl would be tested by the royal alchemist to prove that she was Xol's daughter. Then, two days after that their daughter would go through a Chuachinese formal acceptance rite to show that she was a member of Chuachinese society and the royal family. After that, the couple could have their little girl all to themselves … well, themselves and their closest family members.
The naming ceremony was held in the garden; if they were in a tribe, it would have been done in the woods. The baby was dressed in a deerskin dress with teal beads, one of many gifts from the town of Xol. Ileana held her close while Xol held Ileana close. They had a few guests outside of their immediate circle, but not many. A few loyal Councilmembers, like Councilwoman Julia were allowed in. A few daijinn had been invited, like Rai and Ro had been allowed to come. Ileana believed that she needed to put her jealousy of Ro behind her since Ro had helped and continued to help not just her community, but the country as a whole.
La, Ha, and Lee set up what they would need for the ceremony. Most of the things were hidden away in jars, so no one could see what they had. La lit two sticks of incense and began praying in the daijinn language. She waved the incenses in a circular motion around the baby and then the parents, who did not expect it, but did not flinch. La continued to pray and touched each of their foreheads with her thumb. The baby cooed as if La had hit a button to make her do so.
Lee stepped up, praying also. He held a cup of water and mixed it with a small container of sweet smelling oil. He then rubbed the water on the baby's face, causing her to squirm and fuss. Ileana held into her tightly and Lee was suddenly done.
Ha was last and her praying was much louder than her cohorts. From one jar, she poured more oil onto her hand and from another she poured what looked like ashes. They sparked when her hands rubbed together and the audience gasped. Ileana and Xol stood still, trusting the shaman. Ha's chants became louder still as her hands glided over the baby and it looked like flames came off of the child. The audience gasped again while the baby giggled. Ha could not help smiling as she washed her hands with another jar then dipped her finger in black paint. She traced over the baby's moon mark on her forehead and made the symbol for the child's right cheek. Everyone gasped again and they were awed when both symbols glowed. Even the shamans' eyes went wide from that display.
"Highness, Little goddess, you may present your child to everyone and tell them her name," Ha instructed them.
The grinning parents turned to everyone. "Thank you all for coming. We would like to meet our daughter, Xi Olga Bakunarius," Xol announced.
The audience cheered, even though Miss Olga seemed to have gone into shock. While she knew the baby's name was Xi, she had no idea that they would put her name into the heir's name as well. They wanted it to be a surprise for her. While Miss Olga had not been very kind to Xol until recently, she had looked out for Ileana through out her life and to Xol that mattered more than anything else in the world. Miss Olga deserved the honor as far as Xol was concerned.
Once the baby's name was announced, they had a small feast for their guests. Xi mostly slept through it, even though it was rather noisy. She showed signs of being deaf, like a daijinn child, even though she had human ears. Ileana was not worried about it; Yan told her that she should worry if it did not change within a month.
"Granddaughter," Lucia requested as she came up behind her daughter.
"She is asleep, Mother," Ileana informed Lucia as she passed the baby to her.
"It matters not to me. I must get her before Olga makes it through the crowd. Everyone wants to know what she did to warrant having the heir named after her. Thankfully, Viktor and the others are scared to hold her because she is so small. Fry was halted by the shamans, who insist that she go through the rites of the Elders," Lucia reported.
"Oh, dear God, how is she not screaming yet?" Ileana chuckled.
"I think she has come to accept the role thanks to Xi-Xi," Lucia remarked and she kissed the baby's unpainted cheek. Xi cooed and snuggled into her grandmother.
"Xi-Xi? I do not think you want her other mother hearing the nickname."
"Why? Xol should have seen that coming. Xi-Xi is too adorable to pass up."
"I called her that right after Xol named her and she swore I was insulting the moon god. Xi is the female equivalent to Xin to the daijinn. I am sure she will change her mind if we all start doing, though. I think Xi-Xi is adorable, too."
Lucia stepped away with the infant as Councilmembers came over to congratulate the Queen. Of course, the congratulations did not last long and immediately shifted to questions of Xi's paternity. Ileana sighed.
"She is Xol's child. The alchemist will be doing the tests to prove it in a few days. You may all direct questions toward him," Ileana told them.
That did not stop the string of questions. Ileana sighed, but remained where she was. She spotted her wife in a crowd of daijinn and noticed that they were all smiles and pats on the back for Xol. If only the Council could be that way.
Seven days into her life and Xi Bakunarius was taken into the city to visit the Great Temple. Guards had to escort the carriage because people were practically mauling each other with the hope of seeing the country's heir. Some just wanted to glimpse the child, others wanted to know if she was a monster as they had heard. But, the guards kept them so far away that when the royal family exited the couch, all they could tell was that Ileana was clutching a small bundle close to her chest.
The Temple was packed with Councilmembers and nobles on one side and important daijinn on the other. This ceremony was a little more public than the naming ceremony. Xol wished that it could have been just as private and personal as the other. Crowds still bothered her. She hoped that Xi grew up with Ileana's ability to handle large groups of people.
Xi stared around the temple with wide, curious hazel eyes that were sprinkled with gold. She had been blind upon birth, but that faded within a couple of days. The deafness was still persistent, though. Her parents supposed that was for the best since she might have the hearing of a daijinn and the din created by the throngs of people outside the Temple definitely would have hurt her delicate ears.
The acceptance rite was only slightly longer than the naming ceremony. The priest and priestess did much more praying than the shamans had done. They sprinkled Xi with flowers and leaves. Xi's forehead was anointed with oil and ash and the priest actually seemed to try to rub away the baby's moon mark.
"Uh … that's part of her skin," Xol whispered to the priest.
"Oh!" He flushed pink, quite embarrassed. "Forgive me."
The parents smiled it off, especially since Xi did not even seem to notice. Xi was way more interested in the stained glass mural across from them. She only paid the priest and priestess mind as they hung a large, but lightweight golden and teal charm.
"For the protection from any evil that should come your way. The God's blessing shall keep them away, so that you may grow into a strong leader and take your rightful place in Chuachinese society, so that your parents may look upon you with pride and love forever, and so that the God will know that you appreciate the life given to you and all those around you. Go in peace, live with love, and protect everything dear to you," the priestess announced while the priest waved both of his hands over Xi.
The crowd clapped, which was the only way that Ileana, Xol, and the other daijinn in attendance knew the ceremony was over. Xi took the time to play with the charm gracing her neck. Of course there was a feast to follow and Xi seemed to think that meant nibbling on the charm given to her.
"No, Xi-Xi. If you are hungry, I will feed you," Ileana told the baby as she pulled the disc-shaped ornament. Before Ileana could find some place quiet to fulfill that promise, the royal alchemist decided it was time for him to inform that masses that were there what Ileana already knew.
"Excuse me, I know we are all having a good time speaking and mingling and celebrating the birth of the Queen and her Consort's first child. I was given permission to make this announcement here since so many of people who had questions are here," the alchemist said in a booming voice. He was a big man with a heavy tone, easy to hear from a great distance. "I tested Xi two days ago and as incredible as it is, the Consort is most assuredly her other parent. Our monarchs have indeed been blessed by the God to have a child together. We have a true heir to the crown!" he shouted with a grin.
The crowd cheered, even though most of them already knew that. The shamans had conducted the test for the daijinn and reported that Xi was definitely the child of both Ileana and Xol. They told the town, but also sent word to all of the daijinn towns and villages in the country. Daijinn all over Chuachin knew by now that the monarchs had been blessed and many were actually heading toward the capital to see the child that looked like both the Queen and Chief.
Ileana and Xol did not stay too long at the feast. Ileana tired too easy to remain and she wanted to feed Xi in some peace and quiet. The coach on the way home would do well, so they left. There were people still gathered outside of the Temple, wanting to see the baby, wanting to know what was going on. Ileana was not in the mood to accommodate them, too exhausted with the day. So, she pressed Xi close and allowed Xol to lead her into the carriage.
Days past and Xi was finally showing signs that she could definitely hear what was going on. She especially liked tracking Xol whenever the small daijinn purred for her. Ileana and Xol had practically locked themselves in their apartments with their daughter. The only people that came in were Lucia, Olga, Fry, Viktor, Yu, Mei, and Kwen. It was a nice little bubble that they both knew would not, could not last.
"Look at your little fingers. You're still so tiny," Xol cooed, letting Xi grab her finger. The small family was on their rather large bed. They had an elegant and decorated basket inside the closed off bed for Xi to sleep in, not trusting her to be far away from them just yet. The bed was more than large enough to fit the legless bassinet and still comfortably accommodate the royal couple.
Ileana snorted. "Tiny indeed. You try carrying her for ten months and tell me how tiny she is," she remarked. And Xi was quite big for a baby her age, as far as humans were concerned anyway. Yan had had the nerve to remark on how "small" Xi was when she was born. Ileana was beyond surprised that she could push out a child that size.
Xol chuckled and then purred into Xi's belly, earning wild giggles from the baby. Ileana had to smile as she watched them. Xi twisted and turned as Xol continued purring. The baby wanted to see where the sound was coming from. Everything was well and good until a servant burst into the room.
"Highnesses, there is some kind of massive disturbance in the city and it's making its way to the Palace!" the servant reported.
Ileana sighed and rubbed her eyes. "I am so sending this whole city to prison for at least a year." She had decided a while ago to keep the law on prison time on the penal island for anyone caught involved or inciting a riot, but had lowered the sentence to a more respectable six months to a year rather than all eternity like before.
Xol snickered as she rose from the bed with the baby in her arms. She knew that Ileana would march out to meet the rabble, so she wanted to be by her side. Before she could do that, she had to find grandparents or uncles or the single aunt to leave Xi with. Oddly enough, they all seemed to be headed toward the front of the palace like Ileana.
"Okay, I'm trusting you all not to get too close to these crazy people when they show up and keep an eye on Xi," Xol said, slipping the baby into Miss Olga's arms.
"Are you sure you want her holding Xi? It'll be hard for her to swing a sword with the baby in her hand," Yu pointed out.
"I would not swing my sword with Xi in my arms. Are you insane?" Miss Olga huffed. "I would give her to Lucia first."
Whether it was a poor attempt at humor or the truth, no one asked and continued on their way. Everyone but Xol stopped at the palace front gates. Xol marched out to stand with Ileana, who was looking out as a sea of people drew closer to them. For a moment, it looked like a rebellion was on their hands, but the people halted a respectable distance.
"What business have you here?" Ileana demanded, voice carrying with deep authority.
"There is talk that your demon spouse has given you demon offspring. We demand to see it!" a voice carried as a man pushed his way to the front of the mob.
"Don't you dare call the little goddess anything less than divine! Her child is the same!" a daijinn hollered and then he turned his attention to the Queen. "We do find it hard to believe that a human had a daijinn child, though. Are these lies spread to keep us in line?"
"I have no time for lies. I find your method of inquiry beyond rude," Ileana stated with a scowl.
"I would calm yourselves if you know what's best for you," Xol snarled, loud enough for all to hear. Of course, it was probably the fact that she flared her whole body for a brief moment that got the crowd quiet.
"How dare you call the woman that helped save this country in two wars a demon?" someone shouted.
It was clear already that the mob did not really have a common link beyond probably waiting to know if there really was an heir to the throne. Neither parent was too inclined to subject their daughter to a mob, though. They would have to wait and see how things played out.
"Bring out the devil child!"
"Is there even a child? You could have been in the city with a bag of flour for all we know!"
"How can you be our Queen if you can't even produce an heir to keep your line going?"
"You're going to make us the laughing stock of the world!"
"Just show us the heir! Prove that you're as great as everyone says!"
"My head hurts," Ileana whispered to Xol.
Xol nodded. "What's the point? What're they here for?"
"I think they want to see Xi, but they see so hostile about it," Ileana said and she glanced back to check on the baby. She got a chance to see that there was a crowd to the back of them, too. Not just their usual group, but servants, Councilmembers, diplomats, and many other people with business in the palace. Off to the side, she noticed Arrigo, who seemed to be smirking. Some of the mob was there thanks to his lies that she had been carrying a monster.
"People, what the hell do you want?" Xol called and Ileana pinched her. "Ow! What?"
"No swearing, especially not with Xi-Xi within earshot," Ileana ordered.
"Show us this supposed baby!"
That sounded like a threat to Xol. "Or else what? Do I look stupid enough to show my not even two week old daughter to crowd of crazy people?"
"As poorly as that was put, people, my beloved is correct. You cannot show up here as mob and demand to see the heir," Ileana informed them.
"Why don't you present her to us? Is it because she doesn't exist and you made this up! Everyone knows two females can't have a baby and everyone knows daijinn and humans can't have a baby!"
Ileana frowned, her patience gone. "You dare come to my home as an angry mob and make demands upon us in such a rude and malicious manner? Who do you think you are? I have never spoken down to you in such a manner. I have treated everyone in this country as fairly as possible. My wife has put her life on the line for this country more times than any of you, I would wager. Again, all we want is for the best and you dare come to our home as if you plan to burn us out of the place! We will show you nothing until you return to your senses! You may meet our daughter when she wills it if you cannot control yourselves! You may meet her when she is Queen!"
Of course, there was a chance that Xi would not be Queen since Ileana still had not met with the Council to find out if she would still be Queen. She could only wonder what the delay was with Council now. Arrigo was probably involved, Ileana figured.
"Come, beloved. We do not owe this angry mob anything," Ileana said, turning to leave.
"Wait! We are not all here to behave like animals! We want to see the princess!"
Ileana looked down at Xol. "What do you wish to do?"
"We need to do this with some order. I understand how some of these people aren't here with wicked intentions and they shouldn't be punished because idiots showed up with them," Xol reasoned.
Ileana agreed. "Then we will do this with order."
The Queen decided that she would present Xi to the people and force the Council into making a decision by arranging the presentation to be at the Gathering Hall. They would be able to keep Xi high above people and thus safe should the crowd because a mob and the Hall would be able to hold a large group of people. After that, Ileana could simply jump right on the Council to make a decision already.
Arrigo frowned as Ileana made the announcement and then ordered the crowd to disperse. She was sure it truly upset her uncle to see the people follow her orders. Ileana and Xol then went back to their daughter.
Xol's ears twitched as she listened to the crowd gathering in the open court below the hall that Ileana decided to hold the affair in. The Council was filing in, taking seats. Ileana was holding Xi close as she watched Arrigo and Riccardo enter. Arrigo seemed unusually tense and heated, glaring at Ileana in an openly hostile manner. She suspected he was upset that another of his schemes was coming undone, but she held the baby just a little bit closer. Xol actually growled at him, showing off elongated canine teeth.
"Shall we begin?" Ileana asked as she passed the baby to her wife.
Xol looked around. "Everyone's here," she said, looking at the Council. She then cast a glance at their usual group who just showed up for added protection of Xi. The shamans decided to stand with the masses as did the royal alchemist. Yan and Santo were there also, looking to say a few words.
"Good." Ileana nodded and then she went to stand by the decorated, hand carved guardrail to address the people gathered below. "Good afternoon, citizens of Chuachin. I hope this day finds you well. I wish you to forgive me and my wife's disregard toward your curiosity involving our child. It did not occur to us that she would be such an important figure to anyone beyond the two of us just yet. As first-time parents, we have been enamored with her long before she was born, but it did not occur to us that everyone would want to meet her so soon. She is quite the dear, a darling little treasure."
Xol stepped over with Xi in her arms. She hugged the baby for no reason and then eased her into Ileana's arms. Xol then stayed with her family, but her ears moved in every direction they could to keep aware of everything around them.
"Citizens of Chuachin, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Princess Xi Bakunarius," Ileana said, holding her daughter high enough for people to see. Xi gazed down at the crowd and giggled. She then waved and got a flood of "aww"s.
"How is it possible?" someone called.
"This is one thing that must be taken on faith. The gods willed it and it was so. Of course, our favorite royals had to do their part," Ha remarked.
"We have tests and witnesses of the tests to prove that Xi is the blood of both the Queen and the Consort," the royal alchemist proclaimed.
"Can you do the tests again in front of everyone?"
The alchemist rolled his eyes. "It takes hours and I need the proper equipment. It is not something that one can just snap your fingers and do. Plus, it requires drawing blood. If the Queen and Consort will it, I will show whoever would stay in my lab for hours to see. It is not a difficult process, just long."
Eyes drifted back up to the Queen. Ileana groaned, even though she knew that she should have expected as much. She looked over at Xol.
"Not now. A few months from now when Xi's older," Xol said.
Ileana nodded. "We will do this when Xi is a few months older. The idea of drawing blood from her again is somewhat off putting. Not to mention, she does not seem to like giving blood. She screams, squirms, and kicks."
"In other words, she behaves like a baby," a woman remarked in the audience.
"This is just a dodge!" Arrigo snarled as he climbed to his feet. "Don't you people see? They are going to set things up and lie about the results! It is impossible for two women to have a baby and more so it is impossible for a human and a dog to have a child! How the hell could you people be so stupid as to buy this foolishness? They paid off the alchemist and doctors and witnesses and the damned jinn are liars!" he screamed as he paced heatedly along the tile.
The outburst was a bit shocking. Ileana held Xi closer and Xol went between Arrigo and her family. He glared at them all and Xol bared her teeth at him. The tension seemed to pop between them before Arrigo turned away, scowling at the wall. Ileana watched him for a moment before turning her attention back to the crowd.
"My people, it is up to you on what you wish to believe. I can only offer you my word and the word of my love beyond the science of alchemy and the ancient knowledge of the shamans. If you cannot trust in all of those things, I have nothing left to give," Ileana stated.
"I think at this point, we all owe it to the Queen and Consort to trust in her," Councilwoman Julia said, standing to be seen by the people below. "They have both done more good for this country than we could list in a day and they have never done us any harm. They have no reason to lie about Xi and most of the Council has seen the tests as well as results. The royal alchemist, Doctor Diego, explains everything well and walks you through the process so clearly. The shamans do the same. If you cannot believe in science, then as the Queen said, there is nothing left for you. The science is sound and some of you men have used the process before, so you know how reliable it is."
"And while we tell the country to trust me and Xol and believe in us, I now ask the same of the Council," Ileana said as she turned her attention to them.
"Highness?" a Councilman said as if he was totally baffled as to what she meant.
"I ask the Council to give me and Xol all the powers of the Crown. You have put this off long enough. We are either hired for the job or fired. It is not that difficult," Ileana pointed out.
"You cannot be serious about giving a foreigner and an animal the crown!" Arrigo hollered, fired up again as he saw all of his plans crumbling in the same minute. "How can you trust either of them with this country!"
"It has already been decided. The majority of the Council felt the need to give you the powers days ago, but we thought that you wished to enjoy time with your family before we called the meeting," a Councilman said.
"You can't do that! This was my destiny! Mine! I was groomed for this and I am the one with a human son!" Arrigo roared and made his final mistake – lunging for Ileana, who still had Xi in her arms.
Xol hit Arrigo so fast no one even saw her move. They slid while remaining on their feet and Arrigo's back smashed into a column. He grunted, but did not back down.
"You see this dog even attacked me!" Arrigo screamed as he punched Xol in the side.
"If I attacked you, you'd be dead by now!" Xol proclaimed as she shoved him even harder.
Arrigo grunted again as his back impacted the column, cracking it. Riccardo actually called in guards, but he ordered them to pull Xol off of Arrigo, which was not an order they followed. Arrigo went to save himself, pulling a dagger out of his sleeve and stabbing Xol in the gut. Xol hissed and backhanded him against the rail as her blood painted the floor.
"Xol!" Ileana cried.
"Stay back!" Xol commanded her mate, pointing at the Queen. Her eyes never left Arrigo, though.
"I'm sick of this nonsense! I'll set everything right!" Arrigo turned his attention to Ileana and started toward her and Xi. He barely made it a step, though.
Xol launched herself at Arrigo, fully ignited. They slammed through the stone railing and plummeted to the floor below. The sickening sound of bones crunching followed the loud thud of their impact. Xol's flames faded seconds after they hit the ground and neither of them moved.
"Xol!" Ileana screamed as she stared down at her beloved's motionless form.
Xol groaned from her space in bed. The noise caught her mate's attention and within moments Ileana was hovering over Xol. She looked like a chocolate blur to Xol.
"How are you feeling, love?" Ileana asked quietly.
"Everything hurts. What happened?" Xol inquired.
"You knocked yourself out cold when you tackled Arrigo from the conference hall to the open lobby below. I am sure it does not help that Arrigo stabbed you."
Xol groaned. "Remind me to next time just hit him with my fire."
"You did. You dived at him with your whole body ablaze. He was lucky to survive."
"Damn straight he's lucky. I remember him pointing a knife at you and Xi. I should've bitten him in the throat on the way down," the shorter female proclaimed. "How long have I been out?"
"Days. Three to be precise. Arrigo is still out. You used him to break your fall, although I doubt that was by design."
Xol could not argue that. She could not remember anything beyond feeling totally outraged from Arrigo threatening her mate and child. He failed. She had stopped him. She wondered what her mate had done after they were knocked out.
"Where is Arrigo now?" Xol asked.
Ileana moved onto the bed and moved close to her spouse. "His apartments for now. As soon as he is safe to move, he will be going into exile on one of our islands to the west. I do not want him near Massimo, so they cannot plot anything together. His wife can decide if she wishes to go with him or not."
"Why would you give her the choice?"
Ileana smiled. "Because I know she will not go, but if given the choice, my uncle gets to see that she is the one abandoning him. She will go back to her father's county more than likely. She was only with Arrigo for the status and he threw that away at the Council meeting."
"And her son? He could be a problem in the future, right?"
Ileana shrugged. "Everyone can be a problem in the future. I will not hold Arrigo's sins against his son."
Xol nodded. "Speaking of offspring, where's the baby? I think Xi would help me feel better."
Ileana smiled and rushed off to get their daughter. When she returned, she carefully laid Xi down on Xol's chest. She snuggled up to Xol's side. Their little family fell asleep in those positions with small, pleased smiles on all of their faces. Tomorrow might end up just as crazy as the days before it or just as busy, but for the moment, all they had and needed were each other. For the moment, despite Xol's injuries, everything was perfect.
Next time: the epilogue.