It all made her heart pound – the chest broadly hugging her, the entrancing face she saw every time she looked up, even the moonlight pouring in the window.
Soon Aymon was holding her cheeks. The firm, big hands were warm, and just their touch made her feel like her body was going to melt.
Aymon smiled affectionately as she looked down into her eyes, so softly that she couldn’t imagine him as a leopard with sharp claws and fangs.
“Breedee, my happiness doesn’t come from being the chief.”
He slowly kissed her nose. It was an infinitely tender kiss, making Belinda’s heart race as if it had fallen off a cliff.
Aymon continued quietly, lightly kissing her cheeks.
“What makes me happy is what I can have as the chief.”
Whispering the mysterious words, the corners of his mouth slowly rose, as if he was truly happy.
In the dark, Belinda could only distinguish that genuine smile by touch.
Aymon pulled away, turned back into a leopard, and left for the forest with a last sentence. Belinda recalled those words as she looked at the black panther drifting away.
“It really won’t be long, Breedee. Wait just a little.”
The sound of crickets came from somewhere. Every time the grass swayed in the night breeze, a fresh smell accompanied the pleasant noise.
Belinda didn’t know exactly what Aymon meant, but she smiled, chasing the afterimage of the leopard that had already disappeared.
If Aymon was happy, so was she.
It was an exceptionally sunny day with fresh air, perhaps because of the light rain at dawn.
The empire’s main square was crowded with people celebrating the coronation. They had gathered from not only the empire, but also neighboring kingdoms.
The most important nobles were waiting at the boundary between the imperial palace and the Shinsu forest, while the ones who couldn’t enter stood in a row on the road between the main square and the palace.
Everyone, from the nobles living in the capital to lords of small estates and village chiefs, was dressed in their best clothes.
The square was packed to the brim, and those who hadn’t gone out had climbed onto the roofs of their houses or the hill next to the city, awaiting the coronation ceremony. All the people of the empire looked on with eyes glistening from excitement.
Celebrating a new Shinsu chief was a rare experience that wouldn’t be repeated for decades.
“I heard the new chief is a black leopard.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard rumours that he’s so scary in person that you won’t even be able to stand up properly. My cousin, the imperial servant, said he met him at the hunting grounds. He says he’s incredibly big.”
The faces of the two silently conversing people were filled with joy.
The chief position had been vacant for quite some time, so the appointment of a new one to protect the empire was a great source of happiness.
When the sun was at its highest, a huge trumpet sounded from the palace.
The coronation ceremony was about to begin.
The huge gates opened, along with the golden palace doors, followed by flags with golden roses on them.
Guards appeared with the flag of the imperial family, eliciting cheers from all over the square.
The Emperor followed behind them, looking like the protagonist of a myth on his white horse.
The cheers grew even louder.
The clothes he was wearing were reserved for the most important days: embroidered roses, the symbol of the imperial family, on the left shoulder, and an embroidered leopard on the right. There was a dazzling sparkle whenever they moved, perhaps because of the jewels covering them.
Petals were scattered into the sky with a loud roar from the square.
Behind the Emperor, Adelai, Lart, and Belinda, also dressed in their best, followed on white horses.
Protected by the imperial knights, the leader of the empire and the family who would succeed him proudly walked around the square’s fountain.
“Glory to the Shinsu!”
“Glory to the Emperor!”
The empire’s people cheered as the beautiful family passed by them.
It was a very happy day.
The row of nobles, all dressed in knight uniforms, bowed in unison to the imperial family and raised their swords to the sky as they passed.
The four horses swung back in the direction of the palace. It was time to head to the Shinsu forest.
Belinda clasped her horse’s reins tightly and stared at the palace door, which was beginning to come into sight again. The real coronation ceremony would begin now, when they crossed the palace to the boundary of the Shinsu forest.
She was happy to be able to play a role in the celebrations for Aymon’s ascension to the throne.
In a good mood, she felt her heart pounding.
The imperial family crossed the palace without haste. With the musicians following behind them, they traveled for two hours before seeing the boundary of the forest.
When the emperor’s party came into sight, the nobles, who had been waiting in advance, pulled out their swords in unison and pointed them to the sky.
The music stopped, replaced by the beat of a drum.
In the breathless stillness, everyone’s hearts began to beat at the same pace. The sound of the horses’ hooves spread over them.
Passing the row of nobles, the Emperor stopped his horse in front of the border. He got off and gave a quick sign with his hand.
The drum’s beating stopped. All the nobles reverently laid their swords onto the ground, symbolizing a pledge of allegiance to the Shinsu and a pledge to not raise swords towards them.
The Emperor also pulled out a sword from his holster, holding out the blade adorned with rubies and amethysts.
The rest of the imperial family behind him also knelt down.
The nobles were already kneeling down, with their foreheads against the ground.
All that was left was the sound of the gentle wind and the wait for the Shinsu to emerge.
The Emperor stared at the forest calmly. Through the silence, the sound of a beast’s steps came.
They were Shinsu.
Everyone gulped with tension.
The first to appear were Halla and Shanti, two beautiful brown Shinsu.
As they walked along, they approached the Emperor and bowed to the ground.
A little while later, the Emperor held his breath.
From the dark forest, an even darker presence walked out steadily.
Slowly and confidently, an arrogant beast, the master of the sacred forest, approached the human.
It was Aymon.
Everyone bowed down even lower. They couldn’t raise their heads under the heavy pressure.
The sun’s dazzling glow poured onto the black leopard, his glossy fur glittering like the night sky.
In spite of his relaxed gestures, his eyes were clearly shining.
More Shinsu followed behind the slow-moving Aymon as he reached the humans, his heavy, proud steps as silent as a shadow’s.
Only then did everyone raise their heads.
Bigger than any other Shinsu, with black fur that couldn’t be seen anywhere else, the brown leopards standing behind him protectively. This noble beauty was before their eyes.
They internally let out an exclamation towards the Shinsu full of grace and dignity.
This included Belinda.
Raising her head, she stared at Aymon, in front of her father, as if he had become a stranger.
A step away, Aymon felt holy and noble, as if he were a mythical being.
Even though he was the same big cat who rubbed his face against her, the same beast that had jumped on her in heat.
In this moment, it was the overload of emotions making her heart pound.
The Emperor took out his sword, which glistened under the sun, and put it onto the ground.
Aymon pressed down on the blade with his front paw, snapping the hard metal. The human weapon crumbled under the force of a Shinsu.
Long ago, after the war, an agreement was reached between the Shinsu and the humans. Humans vowed not to raise their swords at Shinsu, and Shinsu also agreed to stop their meaningless killing.
The ritual was simple.
The nobles put their swords down and the Emperor offered them to Aymon, who broke them.
The ritual symbolized that human safety was in the hands of the Shinsu.
After the swords were broken, the music started again and the crowd cheered with joy.
Just like when the palace doors opened, the sound of a trumpet rang, spreading into the square outside the palace.
A loud roar broke out, and a cry of joy shook the whole empire, celebrating the harmony of man and beast.
Belinda looked at Aymon with a big smile, briefly catching his eyes. He also seemed to be smiling slightly.
The coronation ceremony had been peaceful.
“The great Shinsu, the conqueror of the continent. To the masters of the sacred forest, and all the people of the Athez-…”
The Emperor’s gentle voice sounded.
Aymon laid his chin on the floor with a drowsy face, not hearing or seeing anything.
In this moment, all he could focus on was the Emperor’s daughter standing behind him, Belinda, his one and only precious human.