It's a tradition as old as recorded history.
The eldest prince chooses his bride from among the genetically strongest toddlers, and she is raised to be his princess. Though he doesn't believe a true bond can form between them that way, Sakkriel chooses an enchanting child that grows to be an exasperating young woman.
Now all he has to do is prove himself the god-descendant he is to claim her.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-release title.
"Oh, Father." Katia sighed, envisioning the lecture to come.
Zebu scowled, but she noticed his lips weren't in the tight line that proclaimed her sire was angry with her. That was a relief.
"Sakkriel will not wait forever, and you must know these things before he mates with you."
"He doesn't seem to be in a hurry," she noted.
That hurt. She'd expected the prince on the visitor's stone the day after she celebrated twenty yans. Yet, here she was, half a yan later, still waiting for him to deign to come to her. The royal cazta she would wear after mating was stored in a stasis bag. The healers took their endless tests, her education continued, and Sakkriel was nowhere to be found.
The unfeeling suluine.
In a world full of men starved for a female body, it seemed she'd been bound to the only male on the planet over the age of adulthood who wasn't interested in claiming a mate. He doesn't want to claim me. She secretly wondered if it was specific to her, or if he didn't want any woman.
It wasn't even that he was very young and unwilling to relinquish his freedom from responsibility. Sakkriel, like all heirs to the throne were when they mated, was almost twice her age. Younger than most males who find a mate at a claim day, but surely he still wanted female companionship.
Zebu opened his mouth to protest, but another voice preempted him.
"I suppose it must seem that way. Good day, Sakkri Katia."
Katia vaulted to her feet and turned toward him. Her face burned, and she struggled to find the words to apologize to Sakkriel.
The prince didn't wait for it to emerge. He greeted her sire and shared a whispered conversation. Zebu tipped his head and retreated without a backward glance at her. The door closed behind him.
Katia didn't wait to hear what he intended to say. "You must think me impatient and rude. Not a stunning first impression, I must admit."
His laughter was dark and rich. "My first impression of you was formed long ago."
The reminder stung. He'd chosen her when she was barely two yans old. What could he possibly know about her from such a meeting?
And yet he chose me out of all he met. Why? She'd never understood what made her so special. Katia was just another child born on a seed world. Even fully-winged females weren't that rare. At least a few came to Sakk from seed worlds every sa-sen, and many more that number were born on Sakk in the same time period.
He continued. "On the contrary, your tutors assure me you that you are gracious and spirited, but everyone is entitled to a misstep." That seemed to amuse him.
She straightened. How dare he patronize her? "I wasn't aware my tutors were charged with reporting to you."
His smile turned brittle. "Technically, they aren't."
"But?" Katia challenged him.
"I wanted to find out about you." There was no apology in it. He was spying on her, and he wasn't the least bit ashamed of himself.
"You could have asked me." She was being peevish, she knew.
"Before we met again," he qualified.
Katia didn't know what to say to that. She turned to the window. "And now that we have?" Was he going to escort her to a bed with no more knowledge of her than that? Why not? He chose me with less.
As if in answer, Sakkriel's hands closed on the curve of her hips. Her heart hammered, and she waited to see what he would do next.
"We haven't greeted each other properly."
"My lessons didn't include a proper way to greet you." She hated to admit the lack of knowledge to him. Was that one of the many things she'd missed in the lessons? I should have attended to them more fully. Father always said--
"I thought you might greet me as you did when we first met." His voice stirred flutters in her stomach.
Katia licked her lips. "I don't recall how I greeted you. I was only--" The rest died out as he started to turn her toward him.
Sakkriel stared down at her. He dipped his head, laying a kiss on her cheek...then moved to do the same on the other. His breath teased at her lips, and she trembled in anticipation.
"I placed my Kieta around your neck and kissed each cheek."
Her hand crept to the seal she'd worn since she was a toddling babe. The seal that marks me as his. That and the squad of warrior priests who accompanied her everywhere.
"I said your name, and you touched the Kieta as you are now."
A whimper escaped her lips. There was something intoxicating about being so near Sakkriel.
"Do you know what you did next?" There was an enticement in that.
"I kissed you?" she guessed. Her mother had often recounted the way Katia kissed everyone when she was a baby. It used to drive her sire insane with worry.
"Will you greet me properly, Sakkri Katia?"