Prologue
Breaking Tradition

AZ 1409 - Late Spring
El-Alar, Goldleaf Forest, Zephyr

Relinia was a rarity among her people. To have been named Queen at the tender age one hundred and seventy-two was unheard in all the history of her people. Not one in all her predecessors was a day under five hundred when they took the throne.
Though she had ruled for over two hundred years, the same difference as a couple decades for humans, Relinia was still quite young for a Xotika and knew she would have difficulty convincing her elders of the decision she had made.
Inside the council chamber of El-Alar, one of the five sacred tree palaces of the Xotika, she had gathered all of the men and women of rank in the court. She hovered in the center of the room on a platform of polished crystal. No fanciful language would fool her wizened peers, so she kept her address simple and direct.
"Citizens of Goldleaf, fellow children of the Moon, I come before you this day to inform you of my intention to marry Solon, King of the humans, of the land they call Zephyr."
The audience burst into low murmuring as she had expected. It did not take long for one of the older courtiers to request permission to speak. Relinia nodded to acknowledge him.
"What has driven Your Majesty to make such a decision?" the courtier asked.
"We have lived in conflict with the humans for millennia," the Queen replied. "They would devour our forest like a wildfire if we did not resist them, but to continue the fighting is meaningless. They are many and growing. We are few and diminishing.
"Lest we walk further down the path of bloodshed and destruction, we must sue for peace. Among the rulers of the humans, it is common to forge an alliance through marriage. This is what I intend."
A female courtier raised her hand next and spoke after receiving permission.
"Is Your Majesty offering herself up bodily to this... human as a mere bargaining chip?"
Relinia shook her head.
"I am not sending myself to the humans as a hostage nor selling myself as a ransom for our people. This human king is a rarity among his kind, rich in both wisdom and compassion. Over the course of my missions to Zephyr, the human king's virtues have genuinely won my affection, but do not think I have sight of my duty. As Queen, my people come first, of course, and this alliance could protect our lands for many years to come."
Sidarazel, the chief of the Law-speakers, spoke without asking for permission.
"Human life is but an eyeblink to our kind. Whatever virtue the human king may have, it will soon die with him. What do you intend to do after his death? Do you honestly think the humans will let one of our people rule over them?
"Though I shudder to think on it, what of the children, should you bear any? They will never be accepted, not among the humans, nor among us."
Relinia chose to ignore the Law-speaker's rudeness for speaking out of turn and answered his questions anyway.
"I will not take the throne from the humans. They should be ruled by their own kind according to their own ways. I will return to El-Alar after the King perishes.
"As for my children, which I will bear--El-Naia willing--, I would hope that my own people are not so petty and cruel that they would shun those who share our blood. They will inherit their father's throne and rule over the humans while preserving good relations with our people."
"And what if the humans do not accept these halfbreeds?" Sidarazel asked, again without seeking permission.
This time Relinia did not dismiss his discourtesy so easily.
"If you continue to disobey the protocols of this forum, I will have you removed," she said sharply. Once she was certain that the threat was understood, she continued, "But to answer your question, the humans will not notice any difference after the second generation. During the reign of Solon, I will devote myself to improving our relationship with the humans. But to bring our two peoples together is not something I can do alone. I will need your support, each and every one of you. It will not be easy, but it is the hope for our future."
The Guardian of the Forest sought permission to speak. Relieved to see the restoration of propriety, the Queen readily acknowledged him.
"Your Majesty," the Guardian said gravely, "we all know that humans are great lovers of violence and warfare. Will you allow our people to be dragged into their every petty little conflict?"
"If the safety of our people is not concerned, it is not our place to get involved," the Queen said firmly. "The human king is a good man and he will respect our sovereignty."
A particularly ancient Xotika, Haranel the brother of the late Queen Harana, moved to close the discussion.
"You are our chosen leader who rules by El-Naia's grace," he said. "It is not seemly that we should countermand your decision when you act for the good of our people. Rebellion is not our way, so we lend our power to see that this dream of peace is realized.
"Humans are known for their incontinent hearts, so keep your wits about you, my daughter. I pray that this Solon is as good a man as you believe."
"Thank you, my father," the Queen replied, bowing slightly in deference to the aged brother of her mentor. She then blessed the assembly, saying, "May El-Naia's grace guide us to a new age of peace and reconciliation. Go in peace, my brethren. You are all dismissed."
Relinia did not want to abuse El-Naia's name to force their agreement, but she left the forum confident that she would eventually convince them of the rightness of her decision. Time would prove to them that she was making the best choice for Xotika and human alike.