Dragonbound: Redemption (Book 1)

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Chapter 10

The next morning, Kiaran and Torin stood in the village, warming their hands at a fire. Connie had removed the stitches in Kiaran's neck, and it felt much better than she thought it would.

The thick smell of firewood filled her lungs, causing her to sneeze. Wiping her eyes and nose, she turned around to see Connie watching them. She seemed hesitant and tried to smile, but it was far too forged.

She twisted a strand of hair between her fingers and she finally spoke, “I was hoping to ask you to search for our army.”

Kiaran’s eyes shifted to Torin and he said, “I believe we may be doing so soon.”

Nodding, she lowered her head. “My husband and two sons are out there.” Her voice was distant and she rubbed one of her arms. “I don’t wish to lose another child…”

Kiaran was surprised--she didn't think Connie was old enough to have children in battle.

Torin rested a gloveless hand on her shoulder. Lowering his head to look into her eyes, he spoke softly, “We’ll find them.”

“Thank you,” she breathed as she walked away, wiping at her eyes.

“Let us speak with Fargo,” Kiaran said, leading him toward his home.

Reaching his doorway, she gently moved the blanket aside with good her arm. Slowly stepping inside, she looked to the side where Fargo sat in his chair. He smiled at them as they entered. “May we speak to you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he nodded, gesturing to the couch ahead of him. As they sat, he asked, “What is on your mind, children?” He seemed slightly better than previously.

“The men that were sent to battle, it has been a while since you’ve heard from them, am I right?” Kiaran questioned. She slowly ran a hand over her wrapped arm, the bandages unseen from beneath her coat.

“Well,” he thought deeply, “it certainly has. If everything went accordingly, they should have returned two or three nights ago.”

“We would like to search for them, see if they need assistance,” she said.

Nodding slowly, he spoke, “Kane will gather a small crew to accompany you in case of any attacks on your way.”

Standing, they thanked him and left.

Meeting with Kane in the village, he stood with the entire tribe. There were several conversations softly enveloping the area. All eyes moved to them as they walked up. Kiaran nearly strutted, her confidence as strong as ever. Perhaps it wasn’t confidence but the fact that she didn’t care that the others watched her. Her poise was perfect, strong, empowering. Torin was proud just to stand beside her, let alone be her companion.

Kane turned to them, saying, “We will leave just before dawn.”

She nodded.

Torin saw the red-haired woman again, gently holding the bottom of her belly for support. Kiaran followed his gaze and she shook her head disapprovingly. His eyes shot to her, curious. She spoke harshly under her breath, “You cannot.”

“I cannot what?”

She whipped her head to face him, her brows very low. “She is baring a child. You cannot get involved,” she growled lowly.

“I-I’m not,” he nervously shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“I can see that in your eyes,” she said. “She is married. She is pregnant.”

“I know that,” he huffed. “I need to go get ready for tomorrow.”

“As do I,” she said calmly as she walked away.

Standing in her room, she stared at her weapons, clothes, and equipment neatly placed across her bed. Taking hold of a sword, she unsheathed it, placing the case with the rest of her belongings. She softly ran her fingers down the flat of the black blade. Twisting the sword in the low light, she watched her reflection wind and bow in the bends of the blade. The thought of Walter put a smile on her face.

A dark figure walked up from behind in the reflection. Turning quickly, she pointed the blade toward him, holding it firm in her upturned-hand. She grinned at Torin as he held is hands up in surrender. “Good morning,” she said pleasingly.

“Good morning,” he nearly questioned. “You seem excited.”

“Just ready to be doing something,” she shrugged as she sheathed the sword.

“How is your arm?”

“Much better,” she said, attaching her sword to her belt. Tonna lingered around the corner, keeping an eye on them. Torin followed her gaze to the child. He stepped aside, allowing her to rush into the room to Kiaran. “Is something wrong, Tonna?” Kiaran asked as she knelt down to her.

As she and the child spoke, Torin watched her with a smile. Kiaran was dressed in light clothes, without her winter wears over them. She nearly seemed to glow, her dark hair still falling down over her shoulder.

The little girl took Kiaran’s hand and placed something small and round in it, a rope strung through it. “Please find my father,” she said softly.

“I will,” she nodded.

The little girl turned and left. Standing, she opened her hand. A smooth, black stone was threaded on a leather strap, making a rather pretty and simple necklace. Her heart sank as she looked to Torin. He stared at the necklace, taking in a deep breath. Exhaling slowly, he said, “I’ll let you finish getting ready.”

“Actually, Torin, I was thinking, perhaps you should stay with the tribe for protection,” she said, turning back to her things. "With most of us gone, I don't feel right taking all of the Zeil's protection. I need you to stay here."

Fighting the urge to argue, he knew she was right. “Yes ma’am.”

Kiaran watched her recruits say their goodbyes to their families. Torin rested a hand on her shoulder. Looking to him, she smiled. Suddenly, he took one of her hands and said, “Return to me.”

“I do not plan on being gone for very long,” she smiled awkwardly. Hesitantly, she wrapped an arm around him as a weak hug. He tightly took her in a one-armed embrace. “I will be home soon enough.” Home, the word tasted so well on her tongue.

A few people came to them with enough horses for each of them. Then, they were off. Kane rode beside Kiaran, the others surrounding them. He was the only person who had no farewells. She scrutinized him, believing such a warrior to have a wife or children. His blue eyes moved to her and she locked gazes with him. For a very split second, she could see anguish in his face. His pain eased for a moment.

“So what do you suppose we’ll find?” she asked.

He slowly shook his head and looked forward. His body swayed with the horse, the cold air reddening their skin. “It will not be good,” he replied lowly. “But perhaps I am wrong…and that happens rarely.”

A few birds chirped as they trotted between trees. Two of the men ahead of them were talking, their voices glum and soft. Kiaran glanced to Kane a few more times before speaking. “The markings you get as a Zeil, are there any for remembering someone?” He looked at her oddly and she rephrased, “Someone dear to me died, and I want a tattoo to remind me of her.”

“It does not work that way, I am afraid,” his deep voice rumbled. “You remember her because you cannot forget her. She is forever in your heart, in your memories. You don’t need something to be a reminder for something you already remember.”

He made perfect sense and she felt foolish. “I understand,” she finally said. “Thank you.”

It was soon nightfall and they all gathered tightly around a fire. Kiaran stared at her hands as she pulled her gloves off, the scars glowing orange from the blaze. Her thoughts reverted back to Nathanial’s house. Kane looked at her and followed her gaze. The hairs on her neck prickled slightly. Her eyes slowly moved to his, and he quickly turned to the fire.

He broke his bread in half, handing a piece to Kiaran. She took it and he said, “To be honest, I am not sure why Fargo likes you as much as he does.”

Her brows creased by the blunt statement. She glared at the food in her hand. “I don’t know either,” she mumbled.

The woman across the fire looked between them. The fire cast dark shadows along her narrow wrinkles. “Kane,” her aging voice broke in, “The lady is strong-willed and has a good heart. We all can see this.” Kiaran felt a smile itch at her lips. The only sounds in the air were from the horses and fire. The woman looked sternly to Kiaran, saying, “Kane expects to rule over us once Fargo leaves us--and with good reason. He feels threatened by Fargo taking a liking to you.”

Kane grumbled to himself as he stood and walked into the wilderness. She could feel the anger and embarrassment off him as he stormed away. Standing, Kiaran turned to follow him. “You may not see it, but I do,” the woman said.

“I will see if he is fine…I do not plan on taking Fargo’s place, either, woman.” She then strutted away.

She found him standing near enough to the fire, but they were out of earshot. Kiaran slowly made her way past the horses and a few trees. He was leaning on a tree trunk, arms crossed, and his eyes on the starry sky. Confusion washed over her as she asked, “Why do her words make you so angry?”

His muscles flexed slightly to her voice. “What she says are not only words. She sees things in dreams and feels what we think.”

“She…is a soothsayer?” She walked to him, her curiosity peaked. He nodded. “You really feel threatened by me?” He stared at her with no expression or words. “You needn’t be worried, Kane. Fargo will choose the right person and it is not me.”

“You do not seem to understand,” he shook his head. “Kimana knows what will happen.”

He walked past her toward the fire and she followed. “The future is not set in stone. I believe you would be best to take over. You’ve been beside Fargo for years, am I right?” He nodded.

Once they returned to camp, everyone was silent, trying to sleep. Kiaran curled up in her blankets and gazed at the fire. The flames warmed her face as her mind wandered far away. She thought of how Davin released her hands in her prison cell. He was kind when no one else was. She often thought of him since her dreams during her fever. It seemed to sooth her to sleep easily. Soon, she, too, drifted to sleep.

They traveled the next day until they reached the beginning of the battlefield. The awful smell of decaying and burning flesh filled their lungs. They came upon a few burnt bodies with some scorched trees. Everyone was silent, their heads low, tears in their eyes. They slowly came to a stop.

Kimana walked to the closest body. She reached in a little, leather pouch and pulled out a small seed. She moved the man onto his back, the smells of dead flesh and flaking ash of skin filling the air. Tears ran down a few people’s faces as they watched. She placed the seed on his chest and put one hand over it. She placed the second hand over the first, said a soft prayer and stood from her knees.

She continued to the next few bodies until they were out of the forest. They came to the clearing where the real battle was. Kiaran’s heart sank to her feet as her stomach twisted into knots.

Six dragons--at least twice the size of horses--littered the ground, blood pooling around them. Dragons; she couldn’t believe it. She thought it was just rumor. Their riders were also dead, hanging from their saddles. All of the Zeil were dead, some pulled apart, some stabbed, and some singed.

The woman beside her whipped her hand to her mouth as tears cascaded about her. Kane’s face was pale as his brows lowered. Kimana rubbed her temples, lowering her head. Softly, she said, “This will take some time.”

It took hours to gather all the bodies and place them side by side. Kiaran had found Tonna’s father, a matching necklace still hanging from his neck. Blood had crusted the side of his head, a quick kill. He was not burned, not ripped into pieces, but simply hit in the head hard enough to die. She took the necklace Tonna gave her and placed it in his hands. Her heart sank as she wiped her hands on her pants.

The sun was setting by the time Kimana began placing seeds on their chests. Kiaran stood with the others, watching the old woman fall to her knees, place a seed, and pray for each man. “What is it that she’s doing exactly?” she finally whispered to Kane.

“It is customary to plant a seed so a tree might grow from his body. It is a powerful memorial to his life. It is said that if he is wicked, the tree will be weak and brittle. But if he is wonderful, as his tree will be.”

Kiaran smiled slightly. She liked the customs she was learning. Never has she felt so at home. “I can just imagine the tree Fargo will grow,” she whispered.

The faint light of the lantern allowed little detail to be seen. Davin looked to Alana whose eyes were sternly fixed on the man across the table. As she spoke, his heart rushed with excitement. They were about to break the law.

“Sir, we will be heading south to inspect the rumors of Avestitian sightings,” she spoke confidently.

“Yes, Alana, be careful on your travels,” he replied under his breath as he worked on papers.

The two headed out the door and rushed down the halls toward the exit where just over one hundred men awaited them. Alana barged through the army, toward the gates of the tall walls. Pointing, she said loudly, “Head out, men.” The men who had horses mounted them. Alana and Davin climbed onto theirs as well. Soon, they were on their way.

The sun began to rise once they were far from the fort. Davin gazed at the wilderness ahead, paying no attention to the people around him. They lied to their upper-in-command, and it was so easy to do so.

Alana stared at him, his eyes enlightened. Smiling, she said, “Are you excited to see your brother?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “I wonder how he and Kiaran are doing. I wonder how they are with the tribe.” He nearly laughed at the thought.

“Yes, the poor tribe is in for a treat with Torin and Kiaran,” she chuckled.

Their journey seemed endless. Rather than a straight shot through Exile Desert, they traveled along the coast for a few miles. Several days away from their fort, Davin grew wrestles. He sat at a fire, Alana and a few men with him. The bright orange flames drew him in.

“What is on your mind, Davin?” she asked.

He forced himself to face her. The wrinkles around her eyes were deepening as she aged. He sighed, attempting to come up with an answer. He did not know what was wrong with him. He felt…nervous? A feeling so strong it twisted him into knots. “I believe they will be much different once we see them,” he answered.

“Of course they will be,” she replied. “Do you expect them to remain the way we left them?”

“No,” he shook his head, “I know it’s going to be a drastic change from last we saw them.” His voice was low, his eyes on the flames once again.

He wanted to be a part of their change. There was a strange urge that he had to be the one person to shape Kiaran into a kinder, happier person. He rubbed his eyes, thinking of his younger brother. All the time they spent alone in the wilderness--He shook his head. If anything, Kiaran had probably beaten him to a pulp by now.

“Well, I believe we should get our rest,” Alana said. He agreed and as he shifted, she added, "As you know, we are committing treason." His eyes met with hers, unease deep-set in his face. She smiled a little, saying, "About time, right?"

Davin smiled a little and nodded. They crawled into their blankets, shielding themselves from the cold air. The faint sounds of the night kept him from sleeping sound. He grunted in frustration and pulled the blanket over his head.

Kiaran entered his thoughts. He remembered her silver eyes and dark hair, the scars on her hands…His hands holding hers as he unbound her in prison. His brows lowered slightly.

Switching his view over, he thought of her elegance as she wore the dress so long ago. There is a lady underneath all those scars and armor. He knew it...but that wasn’t what drew him in. It was her power, her eyes as hard as steal. She was unusual...and he liked that.

It was mid-day and they were still so far from their destination. In the far distance was nothing but hills and trees, the mountains hiding past them. Davin looked to Alana who adjusted her sword at her hip.

“Do you have a plan? What will we do once we reach the Zeil?” he asked.

“I suppose we shall figure it out once we are there,” she answered.

“It’s unlike you to act on impulse,” he snickered.

“Kiaran may have changed me as we have changed her. Besides, acting on a whim works for some people, why not us?” she grinned.

The sounds of the ocean were soft, the coast a mere mile away. It reminded him of the time he and Torin first visited the sea. They had been part of the King’s military for only a year or so. Alana met them at the coast for the first time. The warm sun and salty air was welcoming. Today, however, he could hardly wait to escape the sea and get back to the mountains. Torin and Kiaran were awaiting him. And believe it or not, he missed his little brother.

“This rebellion will not be easy. It will finally be set into full motion and not just talked about,” Alana spoke coolly. “Are you ready to defy your king, Davin?”

“As ready as I shall ever be,” he answered.

"Good," she smiled brightly, her eyes sharp with excitement. "I'd hate for you to have a false sense of preparedness."

Their horses stamped in the dirt as they moved forward. “We cannot just arrive to Eava’s Drop through the south,” she explained. “The river is too wide and deep. We’ll have to circle around and travel through the Armogot Mountains. The river is much smaller that way.”

“That’ll take over a month,” he scoffed.

“We will make it. Don’t fret, Dear,” she said. “And with the winter, the weather may make it longer.” Davin frowned which only made her grin. “You worry too much. We'll arrive just as spring thaws their scared little souls.”

"That's not reassuring," he mumbled and she laughed.

Once Kiaran and the others returned, and told them of the battle site, everyone was in a panic. Some were sobbing while others remained silent in shock. It had been several days, and no one was comfortable. They still were fearful, angry, torn.

Fargo stood in the bright sunlight, his jewelry shimmering. One woman shouted out, “What of the Avestitians?” Everyone grew anxious, staring at Fargo for hopeful reassurance.

Kiaran looked down, her arms folded across her chest. Torin stood beside her, his eyes on Fargo. A soft, grumbling sigh exited Fargo’s mouth. Her gaze moved to him. Rubbing his head, he looked to Kane.

“There were many of their bodies as well,” Kane sighed. “Chances are they’ve retreated since they are not here yet.”

Chances were, they were not even a full army of Avestitians. It was unlikely that the Zeil could fight a very large group of soldiers. Kiaran frowned, finding it all very distasteful. How foolish it was to go into battle against them. From what she had gathered, Avestitia was built on war-grounds. They were always fighting to survive.

Everyone looked horrified. Kiaran stepped forward, her arms moving to her sides and she said, “I do not like chances.” They awed at her; their attention did not sway her.

“Young lady,” Fargo began, “how do you propose you go about this?”

She could see his honest curiosity in his eyes. “I’ve trained the dogs to fight. Perhaps I could bring some and only a very few men to search for any Avestitians. I will leave the remaining dogs and men here for protection.”

“I do not know how many men are left to spare,” he replied. “I am afraid to lose any more people.”

“Fargo, you will lose no one else,” she said, her voice strong and kind. Torin gazed at her. “Torin and I will bring six dogs and I hope to have five men. I only wish to search. No battles. The caverns at the base of the drop can be a safe spot. If we see any Avestitians, we will return and warn everyone to hide there.”

Fargo smiled, “You are wise for a youngster, my dear.” Kiaran returned the smile. “If there are any volunteers, you may do your quest.”

“And if not?” she asked.

“We may need to relocate,” he said solemnly.

Kiaran and Torin looked to the crowd. No one was optimistic. Kiaran stood ahead of them, speaking strongly, “I understand you are scared. I have worked with many of you, and you are strong. I only ask for a few of you…just in case we are ambushed.”

“What makes you believe you should be trusted for something like this?” a man shouted. He pulled away from the mass of people, confronting her. “What if you are not as powerful as you claim? I’ve yet to see you on the battlefield.” He stood only inches from her, enraged.

Torin shook his head at his ignorance where Kiaran glared. “Do you wish for a fight?” Torin asked in hushed amusement.

“Aye,” the man spat. Kiaran raised a brow at that and Torin stood alert.

The man lunged at her and she simply stepped aside. Before any fists could be thrown, Kane grabbed the man by the nape of his neck and thrust him back to where he came from. He held him still in his other hand as he said, “I will volunteer, Kiaran.”

Shaking her head, she replied, “I need you to remain here for protection.”

Fargo nodded his head, his voice weakening, “I believe this would end better than relocating.”

After a short moment, a few men stepped forward. Soon enough, to Kiaran’s surprise, four men, two of them being Connie’s brothers, and two women volunteered. One more than she had hoped for. Looking to Kane, she said, “I leave it up to you to ready troops here and be sure the caverns are cleared out.”

Fargo turned to the volunteers and to Kiaran, “Good luck to you all.”

She nodded as he left to his small home. Everyone began departing, with the exception of Raven who stormed over. Her face was stern, her eyes red from crying. “Woman, you best be right about this. We can’t afford to lose any more family,” she bit.

“I do not plan on being wrong,” she retorted.

Torin rested a hand on Kiaran’s shoulder, his eyes firmly on Raven. “There is no reason to fight. You can trust us,” he said.

She waited a moment before finally leaving. He removed his hand from her shoulder. The six people walked to Kiaran and Torin. “I’d like to leave by sundown,” she said. “As it gets later, they will be setting up camp. Gather your things and meet me at the kennel.”

Kiaran walked to the fence the dogs lounged in. Climbing over the fence, she figured out which dogs were to come with her. Resting against the post, she breathed slowly, listening to Torin’s footsteps as he neared. He leaned over the corral to see her face. She was in deep thought, but fully aware of his presence.

“You are loving this tribe aren’t you?” he asked. There was a hint of playfulness to his tone. Her eyes shifted to his. “I know I am. These people…are family,” he added. “I feel welcome here. Here, I am looked up to.”

Her chin rested against her shoulder as she watched him. She smiled slightly, and said, “They are still adjusting to us. Nonetheless, I feel…at,” she paused, “I feel at home.”

The others came, ready to go. They brought horses, supplies packed and ready. The sky was pink, casting soft, golden shadows along the frosted grass.

Lianna walked to them, her hand holding up her large belly. She looked to Torin shyly and then to Kiaran with a rather uncomfortable anxiety. Her hair and the sky accented her hazel eyes and soft, pink lips as she smiled at them. Kiaran glanced to Torin, seeing his eyes on her and the smile on his face. She frowned slightly, she looked back to the woman, her gaze moving down to her belly.

“I just wanted to wish the both of you luck. We’ve lost so many good people,” the woman spoke with a quivering voice, her eyes turning red. “I would not like to lose anymore.”

“We will bring them back safely,” Kiaran said.

“I mean you,” her eyes shot to hers. “Be careful.”

“We will,” she replied softly. As the woman walked away, Kiaran turned to Torin, her face very stern. “Do not do anything foolish.” She gripped her horse's reins.

“What?” he questioned as he faced her. “What do you mean by that?”

“I saw the look you gave her. She is carrying a child and you cannot interfere,” she said.

“Even if I were to interfere, she no longer has a husband,” he hissed beneath his breath.

“No, but you are a warrior and will not remain here to care for her. Soon enough you’ll be back at home with your family and friends,” she said as she climbed onto her horse. “She needs a husband not a toy.”

“What if I do not plan on returning?” She gazed curiously at him. “I only had blood family where I was from. Here, I belong. There is no need to go back. I want to stay here.”

Adjusting her position on the saddle, she faced forward and kicked the side of the horse. As it moved forward, she replied, “As do I.” Unknowingly, a grin spread across his mouth as he climbed his own horse.

They moved slowly through the dark. Everyone was silent, besides the dogs’ constant sniffing and panting and the horse’s hooves. After hours of scouting, the older woman said, “I believe we may be safe of the Avestitians.”

Kiaran nodded, “I’d have to agree. We should keep searching the perimeter until dawn. Perhaps we should do this every night until we are sure they are gone.”

Everyone grew exhausted as dawn approached. Kiaran watched Torin talk to a couple of warriors, one of them Ark. He chattered on like a small chipmunk to no end. The dogs stopped in their tracks, grunting and sniffing wildly. Kiaran rested her hand on the hilt of one of her swords as she jumped from her horse. Torin readied his bow as everyone froze.

From the surrounding trees, several men lunged toward them. Torin remained on his horse, shooting two of the men down, instantly. Thus, the battle began.

Kiaran kicked an attacker away and drew her swords, the blades shining in the dim light. Twisting around, she slashed her blades through a man, killing him. An attacker tackled her to the forest floor, landing stiff on her chest. Her swords tumbled away as they wrestled.

She rolled onto her back and faced the enemy, a woman holding her down. Grasping a fist full of hair, Kiaran slammed the woman’s face to the frozen ground above her opposite shoulder. She lifted her knee and kicked it to the woman’s chest as she and flipped her to her back. Kiaran drew a knife from beneath the her belt. Holding it against the enemy’s throat, a small amount of blood trickled down her neck.

Kiaran’s companions surrounded them, the others all either held captive or retreated. Kiaran glared, her eyes murderous. She noticed that she wore no mark, not of Rishana or of Avestitia. “You are not Avestitian, nor are you of Rishana. Why are you after us?” she growled.

“Only you,” she retorted. “I am here to assassinate you.” She was as fearless as Kiaran, striking Torin with shock.

“From where do you hail?” she commanded coolly.

“King Rolland, himself,” she smirked. “You have accomplished something, considering a king has ordered your death. He wishes you to be dead, as dead as that little girl you had killed. As dead as all of those--”

Kiaran twisted herself to be standing atop her on her knees. Her knee dug deep into the assassin’s stomach. Her ears grew red as she forced herself to keep from pressing the blade further into her throat. “Why?” Kiaran spat.

“You are dangerous,” she choked out, “and a murderer.”

“How dare you,” Torin barked as he stormed over, “Do you even have the slightest hint as to why she had killed anyone?”

Kiaran put a hand up for him to halt. “Hush,” she grunted. “I was abused, better off to be a mutt. He raped me and my sister. I killed him just after he killed her. I should not have to share my life story with a lowly assassin. An assassin who kills for money, who destroys lives and rips the breath from a person who has an enemy too cowardly to do it on his own.”

Everyone stared in shock, sympathy washing over them. She could feel their hearts swelling around her, and she reddened even more so. “You exaggerate to escape your fate,” the assassin huffed.

“I do not lie,” she retorted. “If you wish to keep your life, you’ll shut up and come with us.”

The woman closed her mouth tightly as Kiaran sheathed the knife. She pulled her up and two men came and bound her. She walked away to retrieve her swords, sheathing them at her hip. Torin grasped Kiaran’s elbow and pulled her aside. Leaning in to be heard, he spoke softly, “Kiaran...are you alright? I didn't expect you to say such a thing for everyone to hear...”

“It is the truth, and my family must know why I did what I’ve done and why I’ll do what I’ll do. There is reasoning to my irrationality…most of the time,” she ended with a slight grin.

Soon, they were entering the tribe, the villagers lurking towards them nervously. Kiaran climbed off her horse as Kane neared them. They came to a stop at the edge of the village. Ark tossed the woman to her knees ahead of him. The woman looked to Kiaran’s strong stance, her chin lifted as she watched Kane. The woman lowered her head as Kane and Kiaran spoke, staring at the dust.

“Avestitian?” Kiaran shook her head. “Any of them around?”

She shook her head again. Pointing to the lady and her four accomplices, she said, “Only one assassin and a useless brigade out for my head.”

“What are we to do with her?” he questioned.

“Whatever it is you do with prisoners. I do not want her dead. And I do not want her hurt,” she made clear. “However, her men should be escorted back to Kamoni.” The woman glared at Kiaran who ignored her completely. Kiaran turned and walked away, leading the dogs to their kennels.

Once she reached the kennels, she sat on the fence, facing the dogs. The sun was now over the trees, warming her from the frozen wind. Torin stood a distance away, watching her. Lianna walked to him, following his gaze. “I feel badly for her,” she said softly. Torin lowered his eyes and nodded. “The others told me what she had said…no wonder she is so bitter.”

“She isn’t bitter,” he retorted, “Kiaran has a good heart, but she is still adjusting to human behavior.”

“You like her quite a bit, do you not?” she asked. Her voice was soft and sweet.

Sighing, he replied without realizing his voice was working, “I love her, Lianna.”

“Oh--well, she’s somebody to love,” she replied, the surprise in her voice.

“Mock me as you may, but you cannot see her heart as I do,” his stern eyes met with Kiaran’s as she looked over her shoulder at them. She smiled slightly, having no clue as to what they were saying.

“How sweet,” she breathed.

“I wish she thought the same of me,” he whispered as he trotted toward her.

Torin sat beside Kiaran on the fence, facing the opposite way. His heart was heavy, and she noticed. Neither of them looked to each other, nor spoke. Finally, after many minutes of simply enjoying each other’s company, Torin said, “What are you going to do about the assassin?”

“I do not know,” she sighed.

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