Kiaran sat in a small, wooden cell. A tiny window high on the wall allowed little light into the room. The woman sat under the window against the wall, a chain was around her ankles and attached to the floor. Her sandy colored hair covered her eyes as she stared at her hands. It was mostly silent, the songs of birds breaking through the air. Kiaran’s silver eyes gazed at the prisoner.
In the times Kiaran had seen her, she had been praying. Whispering words to a god she hoped was there. It was unusual, causing Kiaran to pause and think. She was also just a human, a woman with a bad habit of killing others...
“Who are you?” Kiaran asked.
“I’m a Kamoni assassin,” she replied as she had so many times.
She remained silent, her stern, green-blue eyes on her. Kiaran crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned back in her chair. “What do you plan to do to me?” she asked.
Kiaran thought for a moment, not sure of an answer. “I do not wish to kill you, but I cannot trust you.”
“Yes, well, I cannot say I trust you either. I was sent here to kill a murderer, and you claim innocence,” she said.
“I am not innocent. I killed him, but for a reason. Who are you to speak to me? You are paid to kill. That makes you no better than me,” she said, her voice hardening. “The sooner you tell me your name, the closer we are to trust. If I feel you will not attack me, you are free to leave. For all I care, you can return home and claim you had accomplished your task. He wouldn't know any better, for I will cause nothing for your king to notice.”
Her eyes were off of Kiaran, staring aside. “Again…who are you?” Still, there was no answer. Simply, Kiaran stood and left.
Stepping out of the small building, the cool breeze hit her. She inhaled deeply, the smells of spring filling her lungs. Looking to the guard beside her, she said, “Bring the lady out for some fresh air today. She is still a human being and deserves to be treated as such.”
“Yes,” he nodded.
The sun warmed the new clothes that Raven had made her. Gray wolf fur lined the neck of her long, light vest, reaching past the belt around her waist. Gold and colored beads were strung from each side of the vest. Her shirt hung low enough to reveal the tattoo of the Zeil over her heart. A decorative leather and gold belt held her two black swords, her boots matching. Light fabric flowed in her front and back, her legs showing on both sides. A black band was tattooed on one thigh, telling the story of her murder of the assassin’s help. Hidden beneath her shirt was an elegant drawing of her swords along her back. It did not take long for Torin and her to prove themselves among the people; her tattoos proving her strength. Upon her cheek were dots from underneath her eye across to her ear.
Kane walked through the budding trees, meeting her with a question, “Anything?”
“No,” she shook her head.
“It has been weeks and yet nothing? She is hiding something,” he huffed. Sighing, Kiaran nodded in agreement. “I came to you, Kiaran, because Fargo wishes to see you.”
She walked with him toward a group of brightly colored trees, the leaves poking through their buds. Over the weeks, she had bonded rather closely with the old man. Underneath one of the trees rested Fargo in a bundle of blankets. The weather was warming up, but he only seemed to feel colder. Kiaran neared him and he patted the grass beside him.
As she sat down, Kane leaned against a nearby tree, his head hanging low. Fargo coughed heavily, his lungs quaking greatly. He was far too weak to lift his hand to his mouth. The sun bled through the branches, shining on his liver spotted scalp. Kiaran forced a reassuring smile.
“My dear,” he began, wheezing so he had enough air to speak, “as you may very well know, I am dying.” Her smile disappeared and her heart sank. “I will be leaving all of you very soon. Kiaran you have stolen my heart as if you were my daughter. I have taught you things that no one else here knows. I feel that your heart is powerful and you cannot be swayed.”
Kiaran’s insides twisted as she clutched her stomach. This was not right. She knew what was coming, and hoped he would not ask. He made eye contact with her, his stare strong and hopeful.
“I can trust only one person to keep the people most important. Please, I ask you to take my place and watch over the tribe,” he ended coughing.
She could feel her innards shake and her gaze directed past Fargo, landing on Kane. He was unable to hear his faint voice over the wind. “Does Kane know?” she finally replied.
“I have told him,” he nodded. “He will remain at your side just as he was at mine. Kane is loyal.”
She was unable to refuse, but unable to accept. The thought of other people’s lives in her hands was astonishing and excruciating. “I will look after these people,” she said. “You put faith where no man has before. I trust in you; so if you believe this is best…then so be it.”
The old man smiled, saying, “They may not be so accepting to begin with. Give it time and they will grow to love you.”
He took her hands in his and a tear ran down her face. Fargo looked to Kane who, thus, walked to them. His face was saddened as he looked to his dying leader. Kiaran looked to him, noticing a band tattooed around his left arm. A line crossed through it and her heart sank even further. He was married…and she died.
Kane sat on his knees at Fargo’s other side. They sat quietly together, sorrow weighing heavily over them. Fargo wheezed heavily as he fell limp, his eyes rolling in the back of his head. Her heart instantly grew five times its size as she gripped his hands tightly. Tears ran down her cheeks as she closed her eyes. She took a deep, shaky breath as she leaned her forehead on his hand. Kane’s large hand rested on the back of her head.
Turning her gaze to him, Kane said, “May we go?” It was asked with a weak voice. He removed his hand as she sat up. Nodding, she stood and walked away with him.
Kiaran watched her pupils train among each other, children and adults. Torin trained as well, getting beaten by a larger man. He fell backwards and they laughed. Lianna stood nearby, watching him with a large grin. Looking over to her, he stood and began talking to her. It felt strange as his attention was drawn onto another woman. She liked that she was left alone, but the thought of the woman baring a child was heart wrenching. Lianna needed a father for her child, not a young lover.
Raven’s daughter trotted over from training, and said, “Miss Kiaran, what is wrong?”
Before she could reply, Torin came up, resting a hand on the little girl’s head. “Tonna, why don’t you continue practice?” he asked. She slowly nodded and walked off. Looking to Kiaran, his eyes were as weak as her heart. “I know Fargo passed away,” he said softly.
“The ceremony is soon,” she replied, the sadness swarming her voice. “I have to tell them afterwards who I will be.”
He touched her gently. “You will be fine,” he reassured her.
She blinked away her tears, her lids burning. Torin pulled her into a hug, Kiaran accepting it. Her arms wrapped tightly around him, burying her face in his chest, crying. This feeling was overwhelming her. The kind, old man died, and now this entire tribe was to be in her hands. The stress was breaking her down. “I’m better off fighting for my life,” she sighed, sharply pulling away.
“No,” he shook his head. "That's not true."
Kiaran sat between Kane and Torin on the soft dirt, their legs folded beneath them. Everyone sat behind them as they silently watched Kimana plant a seed with Fargo’s lifeless body. Some people wept softly as others simply stared. Then, Kimana turned to them.
As she slowly lifted her outreached hands, everyone followed suit. Many hands were stretched toward the clouded sky as they closed their eyes and looked up. They sang sweetly. Their voices struck a powerful nerve within Kiaran. Her watering eyes looked to Kane who clandestinely cried. She clutched her fists, her fingernails scratching the palm of her hands.
Once the sad, soft song ended, the elderly woman said, “Our Fargo has left us, but would not leave without someone to guide us for him.” She held her hand toward Kiaran.
Torin rested a hand upon her back to let her know everything was fine. Wiping her tears away, she and Kane took Kimana’s place by Fargo’s grave. Everyone stared, their eyes wide in disbelief. A few people looked appalled. Her eyes moved to Raven whose face was red from crying, though her expression was as hard as always.
“I understand no one can replace Fargo, and I do not plan to,” she began. “He asked me to lead once he was gone, and I could not tell him no. I hope I may, somehow, be near as great as he.”
No one said anything--likely out of respect for their dead leader. But the looks she received led her to believe they were not happy with her.
Kiaran sat in the cell again, watching the woman. She stared out the window, clouds rolling above them. The woman looked to Kiaran, speaking first, “Tell me about yourself.”
“You have nearly killed me, and you expect to chat?” Kiaran asked coolly.
“I will not reveal myself to you unless I feel that I can trust you,” she replied.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and pondered. She did not wish to tell her life story once more, but she did. Ending her story, they watched one another.
“If your story is true, I am sorry,” she breathed. “I am Stella…Kiaran, I’d like to join your tribe.”
“Do you even know of our ways?” she retorted.
“I believe you are a trustworthy leader. I’d like nothing more than to follow you. As a prisoner, I’ve been given clean food and water, a place to sleep, and even fresh air. I’ve been treated more humanly now than back at home.”
Kiaran was awestruck as she watched her. Slowly, she said, “I am afraid I cannot trust you. It will take time, Stella.”
Nodding, she said, “To be expected.”
“But tell me...who were you protecting? It has been nearly a full winter before you told me your name.”
Stella hesitated, frowned, then said, “Family. I was afraid...that you might go after them in retaliation.”
“I see,” she hummed. “Perhaps...with time, you will be trusted.”
Several days passed as Stella was watched carefully. She seemed on edge, constantly guarding herself. But as time passed, she seemed to open up a bit. She sparred and trained and learned the tribe’s culture and tongue. It was not a new language but things were talked about differently, seen differently.
She was doing well, to everyone’s surprise. Kiaran and Torin stood beneath a tree watching her spar with other trainers. She quickly defeated them one by one. Her skills were remarkable, much like Kiaran’s.
Kiaran felt somewhat threatened by her. She was beautiful and powerful. Her light hair and green eyes were easy to admire. Her body was in perfect condition, and nearly scar free. Her new set of clothes revealed her belly and legs, her skin a soft, creamy color.
Kiaran’s unsettling gaze moved to her own body. She was never able to see the beauty in herself. She knew she had a pretty face and a decent shape. But she had too many scars and her eyes were too mean. A few nasty scars lined along her stomach beneath her clothes. She would forever be haunted by her past, keeping her beauty far from her own eyes.
“It is good you are a compassionate leader,” Torin said. Leader...It still caused her to pause when she thought of it.
She looked to him, his hair now cut like a horse’s mane. It was short on the sides, though the strip from his widow's peak to the base of his scull was still a few inches long. Ink tattooed the sides of his head, where his hair was close to his scalp, making beautiful markings to reflect his status as head hunter. Lining his cheek down to his jaw was a simple arrow tattoo. Aside from his urban background, he was appearing to be more like a Zeil.
Forcing a smile, she said, “It may be foolish…She seems to be so powerful. If she still plans to kill me, it will happen.”
“I will be sure that you’ll never be harmed,” he replied.
She rested a hand on his arm, patting it. Smiling, she walked away, needing a brief moment to herself. The warm sun bathed her as she made her way home. Fargo’s home had become her own once he had passed away. Entering the small house, she found Kane awaiting her. He was much too large for his chair. Standing, he faced her rather urgently.
“What is it?” she asked.
“We have a few men stationed in other cities,” he began.
“Aye, Kiaran,” he huffed. “One man reported back. An army is headed our way.”
She closed her eyes, rubbing them. She was fully aware they were after her. Without opening her eyes, she said, “There are caverns by the waterfall. Have a few of our people clear it out and have it ready to hide in. How close is the army?”
“A week or so away.”
She looked out the window, birds singing sweetly. “As you clear out the caverns, I will get everyone ready,” she said.
“Aye,” he nodded and left.
Kiaran stood ahead of the warriors and most of the tribe once they had gathered. Torin and Stella stood at either side of her. Dark clouds rolled in, the breeze chilling. “An army is approaching. I need the warriors to get ready,” she said. As the fighters began to mumble, she turned to Torin. “Torin, I need you to prepare the archers. Stella, help Raven prepare the other fighters.”
Stella nodded and walked away, meeting with Raven. Torin watched her worried eyes as she stared at the crowd. His brows creased. She was obviously nervous and troubled, not even attempting to hide it. Her gaze moved to him, her eyes matching the silver sky. He quickly turned to the crowd, speaking loudly, “Come on, men, follow me.”
Kiaran could not look away from Torin. He led the men away, glancing over his shoulder at her. He smiled softly, as if to comfort her. Raven walked past him and to Kiaran, leaving Stella a few feet behind.
“I will fight for you, Kiaran. But I need to know it's worth leaving my children behind for what may be the last day of our lives,” she said.
“Raven..." Kiaran began cautiously, "I can't promise you anything."
Raven nodded, looking back. "Need anything else from me?"
"Tell the others…be sure not to scare them. Also, have them gather supplies for the caves. As soon as the army is here, have everyone ready to evacuate. If they are only here for me…” she looked to her hands, speaking from her heart, “I will go with them.”
“You cannot just give yourself away,” she retorted. “Fargo has left you the leader for a reason. If you leave us, you leave the Zeil…that is something you simply cannot do.”
She seemed to be pleading for her to stay. For once, Kiaran felt like she belonged to a family. “If it is avoidable, I will work it out. However, if it will save us a fight, I will go. But trust me, Raven, I will do what is only necessary.”
Nodding her head, she began to walk away. She could feel her insides shake with nerves and agitation. The horrible King Murdock; his eyes burned into her memory.
Reaching her home, she was nearly ready to explode. She tossed the blanket over the doorway to the side as she walked into the house. The swarm of emotions dropped her onto the cushioned chair. Holding her shaking hands over her face, she sighed deeply.
She didn't want to die.
Davin and Alana were only a day or two away, hiking through the Armogot Mountains. Trees were broken, limbs hanging high above them. “Looks like a tornado came through here,” Davin said.
“Looks rather eerie,” she breathed.
The entire army was quiet as they stared at the place in awe. Alana raised a hand and everyone halted. Closing her eyes, she softly spoke, “I am aware we are entering the Mountains of the Armogot, and I will take nothing that is yours. We are simply heading through if you are willing.”
"You don't actually believe in that, do you?" Davin grinned skeptically.
"Precautionary," she smiled back.
Davin gripped a tree trunk as he pulled himself up the steep mountain. Looking at his hand, a blue, stained ribbon was stuck to a twig near his fingers. Inquisitively, he pulled the ribbon from the tree. It was the ribbon he had tied around Kiaran’s wrist the first night they had met. He stared at it for a moment, as he remained stationary.
Alana shouted over her shoulder at him, “Come on, Davin. Pick up the pace.”
“Aye,” he nodded as he pocketed the ribbon and climbed on.
It took nearly no time at all before Kiaran awoke in the early morning. She was unable to even remember going to bed. Her sleep was restless as she waited for this day. The soldiers were nearly there. She forced herself to sit up, the blanket falling into her lap.
The light glinted off the mirror across the room, catching her gaze. She looked into the reflective surface. Her hair was long and wild, hanging down over one shoulder. She had thinned out; her tattoos and beads and braids in her hair made her look like she had transformed. Her eyes moved to Torin standing in the door behind her. She turned and faced him. He wore some leather armor, gloves on his hands and his quiver slung across his back.
She stood, regardless of the light gown she was wearing. Her feet padded softly across the floor to the window. She pulled the heavy, orange and yellow curtains aside, allowing the sun to bathe her fully. Sighing, she closed her eyes, clutching the curtains on each side of the window. She listened to his boots clank on her floor.
“They are nearly here,” he said softly. She nodded her head. Gently, he rested a hand on her shoulder. She was losing a very small amount of body mass from lack of fighting, but somehow, she still appeared to be as much of a combatant as ever. “We are all with you, Kiaran.”
She turned to him, her infamous silver gaze on him. “Thank you,” she breathed.
“I’m not sure how the day may end,” he spoke slowly. “But I want you to know…” his voice trailed off as his hand slid down her arm and gripped her hand.
She slid her hand from his and held it behind her back. Her eyes lowered and his heart dropped. “Torin, there is only friendship between us.” Her voice was soft and weak…
He placed his hands on either side of her face and kissed the top of her head. “Just know it, though. That’s all I am saying,” he said into her hair.
Before he released her, Kane stepped into the doorway. He froze and Torin quickly moved to her side, his face flushed. He watched them quizzically before he finally spoke. “They have arrived,” Kane said.
Kiaran’s head rushed as she inhaled sharply. “Gather everyone and be sure they are ready to retreat,” she said. Kane nodded and left. “Go and wait among the archers.”
“Yes, Lady,” Torin said as he left.
Quickly, she dressed in her silky, cream colored shirt, her fur-lined vest, tall boots, beaded necklaces, and long, deep red fabric lining the front and back of her legs. However, she also wore a chainmail shirt beneath her clothes and attached some greaves to her boots. and a pair of bracers over her forearms.
She attached her swords to her second belt and wrapped most of her hair up, pinning it in place with gold pieces and bone picks. What hair was left down was braided or had colorful beads thread throughout it. Staring at her reflection, she took a deep, steady breath. Her gut was in knots.