The scarlet sky was decorated with golden trails that exploded into white lines, depicting intricate flowers and elegant script before fading into a shower of golden sparks. Hanna watched from her designated place, the balcony separated from the spacious courtyard by five stairways, high enough for the attending citizens to see their princess while they celebrated the day. It was a mere two hours before dawn, the dawn of the day after that which marked her 1,150th year. The citizens of Atayhara painted the night sky, still a vibrant red, before it would dissolve into the lavender of day. The celebration had begun the previous morning, in the first hour of dawn when the sun and moon were directly aligned with each other, the exact hour each royal child is born during. During the day, the celebration was pretty, whimsical tunes in the streets and elegant dances with jewels and bells on ankles and wrists. But Hanna had anticipated the sunset, for the celebration had then turned to a wild cacophony of cheers, dark and flowing ambrosia, laughter, flashing street performers, entangled brightly colored banners and shawls, and a hundred rhythms of songs blending into one.
But now that night was over, the celebration loud in this last hour of its life. It was traditional, the royal birthdays celebrated from the hour of their births until the dawn of the next day. Through tiny, almost imperceptible spaces between the bodies in the crowded courtyard below her, Hanna could see the ground littered with forgotten ribbons, lost strings of beads, and used toys children spun about to add to the noise. The people looked far more disheveled and rosy-cheeked than they had just the night before, and even Hanna herself had returned flushed and heavy-breathed, her dress tangled about her legs instead of flowing gracefully. The royal children were always allowed to partake in the celebration, as long as guards stood quietly but dutifully nearby. Since it was her birth they honored, however, she had had to remain overlooking from the dawn until after the sun had set, and then she had all but ran down the stairs to the streets. Now, she had returned and been quickly fixed up to be presentable enough to see the last hour.
Her mother stood beside her, long, pale fingers lightly resting on the marble railing as she surveyed the growing festival. Queen Natara did not speak, but smiled and observed with all the regality she had grown and commanded in her own long life. Her hair was a gold tinged with pinks and reds, as though she had dipped her head in the night sky for just a moment, but it had stuck. The long tresses were in a complicated style of several braids encircling her head and dipping down her back, between the large, pale pink and gold-tipped wings. Since she was a small child of barely a century, wings but a few skinny, tiny grey feathers, Hanna had watched her mother’s hair be done with rapt attention, envious of the flame-like glory she had not inherited.
A laugh brought Hanna’s attention to her other side, to her older sister smiling at her as she walked to just a step behind her. It was polite, since it was Hanna’s celebration, after all.
“I hope you enjoyed your birthday, sister,” Ketura cooed happily, wrapping an arm around Hanna’s back. Hanna felt the familiar touch of metal against her skin, the golden mechanics exposed along Ketura’s arm neither hot nor cool enough to burn. Her gown was of layers of nearly transparent silk, drawn over her right shoulder to leave her left arm completely bare before flowing down her body. The maroon color brought out the rosy tinge to her hair and wings, much like their mother’s.
At her side was their younger brother, Tehra, his hazelnut hair in three tight braids from his forehead to the top of his shoulder blades, clothed in a silk turquoise shirt and light brown pants. Though younger than Hanna by nearly 64 years, he still looked down slightly when he grinned at her, and she recognized the constant gleam of humor in his eyes.
Hanna herself was the only one to wear white, as was customary, though she suspected her brother could see through her high-held head and elegant updo to the blaring consciousness within. Her hair was the lightest of any of the five royal children, and had none of the flames or chestnut from their mother and father. It did not have any shades, in fact, just one solid curtain of pale gold. Thus, her wings had only the barest hint of gold, a mere whisper above complete white. Her dress only further pointed out this fact, much to her chagrin. The dress hung off of her shoulders, to reveal the golden metal that spanned no more than three inches along her collarbone–another atypical lacking.
As luck would have it, or perhaps her mother sensed the palpable discomfort, she put a soft, comforting hand upon Hanna’s shoulder, drawing her a step closer to her side. Hanna looked up at her mother’s face, which watched the horizon instead of the streets below, and followed her gaze to see the same sight she had looked at all her life. That did not detract from its beauty, however. Atayhara, the angel territory, was gold, the capital city itself gleaming, and the red sky glinting off of the trees in the east as if they burned eternally. In the south, nearly three hundred miles from the city, the Gold Mountains spanned as a glittering gate between the land and the Middle Territory, until it too met ancient, closely packed trees. The thick forest spanned along the east, and Hanna knew it obscured Kelaan. That was the direction her mother’s stern face looked now.
“The demons do not have this,” the queen stated lowly, and Hanna swallowed her surprise to listen. She’d grown up with the stories, and she knew of the dark, jealous beings that lived beyond the natural barriers.
“They live in the dark, Mother, I know this,” Hanna said tentatively, unsure why she was bringing up the scary bedtime stories now. Her mother nodded and smiled at her, reminding her of that childhood.
“And that is why they envy us, my darling,” she spoke the words Hanna had heard every night. Though it was sudden, it at least took Hanna’s mind temporarily off of her own discomfort.
Finished speaking, the queen stepped back and motioned to her children with her. The noise was no longer increasing below, but finally showing hints of waning. The citizens would sleep off the festivities for most of the day, and thus not pay attention if their princess was observing anymore. Her mother’s words still encircling her mind, Hanna walked from the balcony at a pace barely acceptable as calm or regal, and her brother’s longer legs easily fell into stride with her.
“Easy, sis,” Tehra chuckled quietly, but kindly. “You’re foolish to think the unusual is unattractive. You have looked ethereal all this time, as though you should be in a world beyond this one.”
Hanna looked at him sharply, since her brother’s history of over 1,000 years of teasing had taught her to just assume he was. But though his face held his signature grin, his eyes shone with honesty. Her answering smile was hesitant at best, but she tried to silently convey her gratitude for the support.
He didn’t look long, however, and Hanna bit down a giggle as her brother’s attention shifted immediately and wholly to the girl standing waiting for them. The girl was nephilim, the daughter of an angel and a human, which altered her color enough that her wings were a brown lighter than her hair and eyes, but far darker than pureblooded. Lydia had been Hanna’s maid and good friend since childhood, growing up and being heavily influenced by Tehra’s mischief as they all were. She would end up playing games with them more than actually doing her chores, but just before her supposed work was to be inspected, Tehra would round up his siblings and the six children would all do Lydia’s chores together so as to spring their friend free of scoldings.
Now she set the large, elegantly put together vase of flowers to hang alongside the doorway and stepped slightly behind Ketura–for propriety’s sake. “Happy birthday, my lady,” she said, and they twisted their heads to smile at her.
“Lydia, did you get to celebrate anymore?” Hanna asked eagerly, hoping she had. She had danced with her a bit, flitting in and out of the crowds and her siblings, but she knew the girl had her own friends and dances as well. Lydia nodded, grinning, and Hanna finally noticed that her cheeks were slightly flushed and her hair was tied back tightly, most likely due to the mess it had become.
“How come I didn’t get a dance, then?” Tehra whined, pouting exaggeratedly, and Lydia smirked.
“Just because you’re a prince doesn’t mean you’re the best catch out there,” she teased, successfully knocking his ego down a few notches. As she always had since Tehra had reached his sixth century. Ketura arched an eyebrow.
“Actually, it very well might,” she mused. Tehra lifted his head in triumph, until Lydia merely scoffed. His whole demeanor immediately pitched back into a put-out puppy.
The four then proceeded to chat easily as they walked to the wing of the palace that held their rooms. Lydia followed Hanna to her rooms, helping her pull off the delicate gown and brushing out her hair from the tight style.
“Sleep the day away like the rest of Atayhara, and your lazy brother,” Lydia suggested playfully as she combed through the long, white locks. Hanna laughed.
“I plan to, not only was the festival exhausting but then just standing there for hours,” Hanna groaned at the memory. It was a fantastic sight, yes, but the hours had still dragged. “You’re so mean to poor Tehra,” she mock-chided, but Lydia just giggled. This was frequent, the two girls giggling in Hanna’s room as they gossiped, played silly games trying to dare each other to talk about boys, and do each other’s hair. However, once they’d gotten older, and the rules had become more real, the talks had lessened a bit.
“Someone has to keep him on the ground, or else it’ll be his head that takes off instead of his wings,” Lydia retorted, shaking out her own tawny wings. Hanna grinned, but it froze as a thought occurred to her. All their teasing, as they’d all grown up together…
“Do you like him?” Hanna asked, and Lydia picked up on her change as the hairbrush slowed and the girl’s chocolate eyes met hers in the mirror. She frowned in confusion.
“You’ve all been my friends my entire life,” she answered. Hanna shook her head, and Lydia nodded in understanding. “That would be silly,” she scoffed, but her expression seemed only half humorous. “You all abide by rules that I don’t have to, Hanna. And we’ve always known that.”
Hanna sighed. The laws of Atayhara were very clear, and though strict, were necessary. Royalty was not allowed to simply date and go on whatever escapades or flirtations the way all other citizens did. They did not marry each other, of course, but it was important that all of the siblings remained pure and honest. That, and it would devalue them.
Lydia touched her shoulder briefly, skin to skin and for only three seconds, and Hanna felt the warmth course between their skin and smiled. The currency of Atayhara was deliberate touch, its value determined by the amount of metal contacted, the body part touched, and the length of contact. Angels traded nearly immeasurably small pieces of their souls and power through this contact, thus the touch of a royal was precious. Hanna’s mother was especially protective of her since she had begun to mature, demanding that Lydia do the princess’ shopping for her and reminding her constantly of the rules.
“Besides, if we were together, all I’d think about during it would be when we were children and he cried and nearly shit himself when Ketura jumped out at him every time we played hide-and-seek.”