Her nightmares had been plagued with wolves.
"Do you dare go against the wishes of your family? Do you want to be cast out to the wolves?"
She was walking down a narrow forest path, dark and shrouded. She felt the need to turn around, but she wouldn't, she must not turn around. She could hear the growling noises from behind, only the tiny light that she could see ahead kept her from reacting to it. The she-cat padded faster, her paw-steps left blood on the shadowed forest floor.
"Do you want to be cast out to the wolves?"
She saw sunlight reflecting from the icy mountains, making a bright appearance in the sky. The meadow below swayed back-and-forth, rich with the smell of earth and fresh berries. Wind stirred the grassland, and they rippled like water. She could see the dark shapes of her littermates beside her, they moved closer and pressed against the she-cat. The cat purred, smiling at them with glee.
Just as she began to speak, her voice no more than a mere whisper, everything began to shatter. Suddenly, the bright sunlight was gone, and valley below smelled of earth and death. The great blue sky was destroyed by large claws, and everything was gone. She could see the gray shapes, and she heard the growling.
"Do you want to be cast out to the wolves?"
"Quinn, wake up!" the mew was hushed, but the irritation in their voice was obvious. "Today is the day that the ceremony will take place, remember?" the black-and-white she-cat nudged her.
"I'm getting up," Quinn snapped, still reeling over her dream. "I know what today is. Today is the day that my betrothal to my beloved will finally be validated." Quinn's voice was proper and curt, matching her sleek appearance. She gazed around the spacious mountain den, specifically private for the Princesses, imagining the bright lights she had seen in dreams.
"Yes," Tifara nodded her head in agreement, watching her sister with an intent gaze. "Exciting day, isn't it?"
"I suppose," Quinn's voice was uneasy, she had to pick her words carefully. Cats had ears in the most unexpected of places, and that meant she couldn't even voice her opinions to her own sister.
"My beloved Prince Bierce will be a great mate for me, and I love him with all my heart already."
"Quinn, do you dare defy my wishes?"
"Really? You love him, already? If you ask me, I think he's an arrogant snob." Tifara voiced her opinion, her spotted tail lashing at the floor. "It pains me to see how crazy you are for him."
Quinn's eyes narrowed, although Tifara's outburst had been entirely random, it wasn't unexpected. The black-and-white she-cat had never taken her duties as seriously as she should, at least not in Quinn's opinion.
"Why bother waking me up for the ceremony if all you're going to do is complain on how it's such a horrible choice?" The black she-cats amber eyes flashed with anger, but she wouldn't show it. She was a princess, and it was her expected duty not to.
"Quinn, remember where you've come from."
"Orders," Tifara replied her tone bitter. "You know as well as I do that going against Pegard means that a storm is on its way."
"Pegard may be much at times," Quinn tried to reason with her sister, selecting her words with extreme caution. "But he is the King of our family, and he would never intentionally try to hurt us."
"He's putting you in an arranged betrothal, making you become mates with a cat that you barely know! Isn't that harming you enough, sister?" Tifara's voice was now transitioning from anger to pure concern.
"You may not admit it, Quinn, but I know that this isn't what you want." the black-and-white's eyes were clouded. "We both know that Pegard isn't doing this because he wants you to be happy, it's all political. He knows that setting you up with the treasured Prince of the FireBloods means that our two families can become allies, and prevent any future problems. It also helps Pegard with his own obsession of having to rule over everything."
"Quinn, I could ruin you if I wanted, you know that."
"Just be quiet!" Quinn couldn't stand listening to this anymore, she gave her chest a few quick-licks before padding around her sister swiftly, moving with elegance in each hurried step.
"You're just going to deny everything, are you?" Tifara's voice was filled with hurt. "I can't see you do this to yourself, Quinn."
"Stop, please." Quinn had to force herself to pause in front of the entrance, she had to face her sister. "I know that you care about me, sister. I care about you as well." Quinn's voice held little emotion, her voice almost monotone.
"But what if you were chosen to be the heir instead? Or what if Pegard pairs you off with some Lord or Prince from another family?" Quinn's questions were blunt, and an awkward pause ensued.
"I don't know." Tifara admitted, facing her.
"You would do as Pegard would say," Quinn answered for her. "He's all we have. Mother is dead and Claw is gone." Quinn's words held thick in the air, it was rare occurrence for them to mention their mother and brother, especially the latter.
Tifara was silent, she looked away. Perhaps she saddened at the mention of their immediate family, or maybe she was looking away because she knew that the black she-cat was right. It was impossible to know.
"Whether you like it or not, I'm eight moons old and can make my own decisions. I choose to follow our family path and follow orders. That's what Pegard wants, and that's what mother would have wanted."
"Are you sure about that?" Tifara asked, her eyes wide.
"I am," Quinn spoke truthfully to her sister. "We are the sister Princesses of the ColdBlood Family, the most royal, noble and respected family here in the mountains. We can trace back our dynasty to the first cats that settled here, to the very first king." Quinn repeated what she had been told all her life, because it was their life, whether they were happy with it or not.
"I love my beloved Prince Bierce with all of my heart, and I know that he will be the strongest and most brave cat in the mountains. He'll love me even more than I already love him, and we will live happily ever after."
Tifara only nodded. "Yes, I would only imagine so."
Quinn smiled, moving forward to give her sister a quick lick on the ear. She had managed to finally make Tifara see in the correct way, or at least act like it. That would keep her safe, for now.
"The FireBloods should be here soon," Quinn noted, examining her appearance for another time. "We should head out, Pegard will want us to be out to welcome them."
"After you," Tifara murmured, avoiding looking into Quinn's gaze. "It's your special day, after all."
Quinn offered a smile to the black-and-white she-cat. "Why, thank you." Quinn purred, not hesitating to continue moving forward towards the exit, Tifara not very far behind.
"Quinn, you will be the FireBlood tom's mate, whether you like it or not. Remember where you come from, we are the ColdBloods and you will not defy my wishes. If you choose to, I won't hesitate to cast you out."
"Now tell me, do you want to be cast out to the wolves?"
As Quinn exited the mountain den with her sister, Tifara looked on with complete hurt. Quinn noticed this, but she wouldn't react. Tifara would learn to deal with whatever pain she had eventually, and she would become a strong Princess, she had the ColdBloods in her, after all.
Quinn muttered to herself as she stepped out into the chilly weather, a light summer snow was falling from the sky. She repeated her family words in her head, as she believed it brought her strength.
Fire, Ice, Honor.
She could now see the FireBloods were arriving, their bright pelts were easy to spot in the pale environment. She also spotted the darker shape of Pegard, waiting to greet the newcomers, heavily guarded with servants on either sides of his body.
She was more than hurt now, she felt broken, injured. But she would not show this, she was a Princess of the ColdBlood Family, as was her sister Tifara. They would not be weak. She would not be weak, at least not today.
She wouldn't allow herself to be cast out to the wolves.