In every land she had visited, the people had some way to mark the Day Between Years, and always on the same day. It was the hair’s breadth of silence between the heartbeats of the world. In Ambreis and Serandia the Day Between Years marked the switch of summer into winter, and it was a solemn time of transformation and power. But here, where the height of summer was the dead season, this day was one for laughter, for fertility rites and new beginnings.
Kamela Mujah, the Firebird Queen of Arujia, had surprised her people by choosing the Day Between Years to announce who would be taking the throne from her. She was just shy of twenty-nine years old, a lively spirit who was both quick to smile and quick to voice displeasure.
On the last Day Between Years, the queen had gathered likely candidates from every noble house into her court, and for one year she had tested them- tested not only their knowledge of tactics and courtly matters, but their courage and compassion. Those she found unsatisfactory she sent home until there were only a handful remaining. Now the nighttime feast customary on this day was laid out on the royal tables, the sweet red Arujian wine poured and untouched. The five who had answered her summons last year sat together in a row further down the table. She rose to speak, and her gaze moved to them with the calm awareness that all other eyes in the room were on her.
“My faithful courtiers,” she began, raising her voice to reach the entire hall, “One year ago today I announced that you would have a new ruler. I have been your queen for fourteen years, and I hope that I’ve served you well for each day of them. But the time has come to let go, and I’ve found someone who will perhaps serve you better.” The queen made a sweeping gesture toward one of the five, the golden bangles on her arm tinkling together. “In one month’s time, the banner of the house of Farajo will fly here. Lord Melli is to be your new king; long may he reign.”
There was a silence hanging like a shadow over the hall, and only Queen Kamela dared break it as she raised her cup for all to see.
“For tonight, be merry, and drink with your queen while you still have me. A toast to togetherness and favourable luck; to life!” she called out, and managed not to make it sound like a goodbye.
“To life,” the rest of the court echoed, goblets ringing against each other in tribute.