Siobhan pushed her way to the front of the crowd. She did not fully understand what had triggered the search, but Zoisite was touring the north, looking for the one who would take his place at court. Neither did she know how he picked which towns and villages to try, but she knew that he was in the right one, the last he would need to search.
All of the boys of the small town in Eire between the ages of five and ten were assembled on the platform in the town square, with the rest of the town gathered around, anxious to see if one of their own would be chosen to train as a Shitennou, as their Shitennou.
Siobhan already knew the answer to that. On the night that she and Cearul were born seven years ago, there were portents that had announced that the next King of the North had been born. Of course, his mother, wracked with the pain and effort of giving birth to the children, and his father, pacing in the living room, were oblivious to the alignment of stars or the movement of the Selkie. They did not know that in a palace miles away an older man exalted in knowing that he would soon be joining his brothers, the only one of the current Shitennou to have served two kings and seen the birth of the next, or that his sons were relieved that the blessing and curse had passed from their family.
The next day, they did learn the meanings of all these events. The town seer had come to see the babes, to give her blessing, but she came with more than that, with words of doom and promise. She had told the new parents that they had brought forth the next Guardian, not to the current king, but to the young prince, less than a year old himself.
So as Siobhan forced her way to the front of the crowd, her eyes sought her brother's. The Seer had not told anyone else, but as her green eyes met with her twin's, she saw his confidence. The other boys were figidity, unable to stand still, nervous energy radiating off of them. Cearul stood straight and proud, smiling with certainty. He winked to her and clasped his hands in front of him for a moment, his promise that he would not abandon her.
She nodded as she clasped her hands in front of her in return. She made a face at him then, causing him to laugh, and the other boys turned to glare at the boy with the red highlights in his blonde hair, angry that he was relaxed enough to demonstrate such mirth.
A hush fell over the crowd, and Siobhan turned to see an older man with poise and majesty walk onto the stage. He wore a uniform of white, trimmed with gold, but in the place of the gold cloak that represented his position as a guardian of the Golden Kingdom, he wore a deep green edged in ermine as King of the North.
Siobhan tilted her head as she studied the man, drawn to him. This was the man who would be training her twin, the man who would, at least in some ways, take her closest friend from her, and yet rather than harboring resentment to this man, her king, she was fascinated by him. She felt a hand on her back, and realized that everyone else was bowing to him, and she bowed in obedience to the familiar hand of her father on her back, but did not take her eyes off of him. She wondered if she should feel awe and why all she felt was fascination.
"Rise, please." The man smiled, and as Siobhan stood, she noticed that it was a warm smile. This was a man who truly cared about the little people that he ruled and served. "As you know, I have been searching for my successor, for the one who will serve the King as one of his Shitennou after I pass and will be your King. I warn you that it is not a task to be taken lightly. In fact, with all the honor and privilege comes a great burden. I would not trade my time in service to you, or to Theseus or his father before him, but it has come at a cost. One I pay willingly. I say this not to cause you to fear for your sons who stand up here, hopeful candidates, but so that you understand the gravity."
"No one will be forced into this. Should the right candidate be found among your sons, he will have a choice. I fear, he can only have twenty-four hours to chose, and because of his age, it will be up to you, his parents and loved ones, to help him weigh the options. There is no shame, no dishonor, and no repercussions should he chose to remain." His eyes were earnest, "I plead with you to make the decision that is right for him."
The blonde girl with the halo of curls wanted to laugh. She felt her father's hand tighten on her shoulder and looked up at him, seeing the same amusement in his eyes. Cearul had had more than twenty-four hours to contemplate the consequences. Their parents may be simple farmers, but it had been a life that made them happy, and they did wonder what it would mean for their son to not to be able to have a simple life, to be burdened with obligations and responsibilities that they could not imagine. Yet, they had watched Cearul, and believed he would be able to bear up under the weight.
Siobhan turned her attention back to the king and smiled. The decision had not been made lightly, but it had already been made.
Zoisite then turned his back to the crowd and surveyed the boys standing before him. Siobhan watched as he held out a stone, a light green streaked with deep red before him. Slowly, he walked before the boys, stopping occasionally.
He stopped at Breanden, momentarily touching his shoulder as he stood before him. Shaking his head slightly, he patted his shoulder and moved forward. The brunette sighed in relief as the man moved to the next boy in the line.
At Ethan, he placed the stone in the boy's hand for just a moment before taking it back. Unlike Breanden, Siobhan saw disappointment in Ethan's eyes, as the oldest allowed to stand and the son of the town's mayor, he believed that he should be chosen.
When the man reached Cearul, her heart sped up, anxious to see how they would all know that it was her brother, her twin, that would be their next king. She could see that Zoisite felt it as well. The man stopped and placed the stone inside her brother's hand. He closed the boy's fingers around it, patted them for a moment and then stepped back.
Soft green light spurted from between Cearul's fingers. Siobhan's breath caught and her eyes shown, but the light faded almost as quickly as it had started. Zoisite waited a moment, and Siobhan could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was expecting something more to happen.
Cearul's eyes sought out her own, and she saw the pleaing in his eyes. Something was going wrong, and she could not understand what it was. She took a step towards him, but felt her father's hand on her shoulder, stopping her.
She reached out towards her twin, offering her what support that she could. "Come on, Cearul… let it happen."
His eyes remained locked on hers, and he nodded slightly. He took a deep breath and squeezed his hands around the stone.
It did respond. Green light once again came from between Cearul's fingers, and he opened his hand as the light bloomed. Zoisite took a step towards him, and Siobhan felt her heart speeding up, felt like she was flying as she watched her brother be exalted.
Only, suddenly the king had turned from her brother and was staring at her. Her brother's eyes were wide as he stared at her, a smile twitching at his lips, and she realized that everyone was staring at her.
"Well." The king's voice was marked by amusement. "This is unprecedented. Young lady, please, come forth."
Siobhan looked around, confused. Her father leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Go up there. It's ok."
She swallowed and moved onto the stage, not understanding what was going on. Her brother's eyes were full of pride, though she expected him to be resentful. Somehow, though she did not quite comprehend it, she was stealing his moment.
Zoisite turned for a moment and gently lifted the stone from Cearul's hands, and took Siobhan's, placing it in her own.
Before she could protest, Cearul once again clasped his hands in front of his chest and smiled.
That one gesture set her at ease, and she looked down at the stone, her world, for just one moment, centering on this seemingly normal gemstone. It flared up a third time, and she felt herself enveloped in light, felt the temperature around her drop, felt as if she were encased in ice. Instead of pain, she felt whole and complete.
When the light faded, the king was kneeling before her, not one knee in pledge, but on both, a father and grandfather who knew how to put kids at ease.
"It won't be easy. People are going to have questions; there's going to be resistance. But I'll support you." The man's smile was warm and comforting, and he gently took the stone back from her hands. "You're not quite ready for it yet. I might miss my brothers, but I won't join them until you're ready to take your place. And you can still say no."
Siobhan did not understand the import of those words, but she nodded, accepting the comfort that he offered.
He looked between the two and grinned, "And I see no reason why your brother cannot come as well. You won't be together as often as you'd like. But there are more positions to train for at the Palace than just that of the Shitennou."