Kane, Torin, and Stella walked alongside Kiaran, the warriors following. Raven adorned her light armor, her sword drawn and gripped tightly.Archers hid up in trees and on surrounding cliffs, watching carefully.
Kiaran came to a halt beside a line of trees. Over the hill marched an army of at least one hundred men. Their armor glinted in the sun, looking like silver and gold ants with a bit of dark blue fabrics.
Kiaran flexed her gloved fists. Her heart fluttered wildly within her chest, nearly ready to panic. Then, her anger came, anger at herself for becoming so weak, so vulnerable. She looked to Torin, his bright eyes on the warriors. How did she truly feel for him? He was handsome and kind and gentle…She shook the thoughts away. Now was not the time. It was her fear talking. Desperation.
As the army neared, two people mounted on horses in the lead looked particularly familiar. Fiery red hair was braided over a shoulder of the woman in front. Kiaran’s blood grew hot and her eyes jolted to Torin. He saw them as well. The enlightenment on his face to see his brother was bothersome.
“Do not acknowledge them,” she said. His eyes shot to her, “We do not know if they are after us or with us. Allow them to speak first.” She could see the frustration on his face as he looked forward again.
The army had come to a halt and Alana and Davin rode forward to them. Only a few yards away, they leapt from their horses. Alone, they walked to them across the wide plain. Anxiety clutched them. Finally, they reached Kiaran who stood tall, her chin lifted slightly with no fear in her at all.
A huge smile broke across Alana’s lips and Kiaran relaxed, her body calm but assertive. Davin, too, smiled brightly as he and Torin embraced. “We were told you’d be here,” Alana spoke first.
She could hear Davin comment on Torin's hair and tattoos. It seemed like a happy reunion--but was it?
Kiaran did not yet smile. “Why have you come?” she replied.
A silence fell upon them, as they paused and stared at her. The wind weaved between everyone. Davin’s brows lowered as he huffed, “We came to help you.”
She glanced to the tribe behind her. “I cannot keep you here for long. There is little food for your men.”
Davin stared at the tattoo on her chest. He, then, looked to the necklaces draped around her neck. “You lead the Zeil?” he asked in shock. She slowly nodded, unsure of what to say. “I’ve read about them, but I’ve only seen one tattoo design,” he pointed, “yours.”
She rested her hands on her hips, returning his gaze. He appeared rough, almost older. The weather had not done him well, though he was just as handsome as she had remembered. Handome, but with a stressed expression. She tore her eyes from him and she leaned to Kane. Her voice was low, “Get a feast together. Let us welcome our allies.”
The smell of roasting deer and vegetables filled the air with the scent of charred wood. Kiaran lead her old companions through the sea of busy people. The soldiers were trying to sing along with the tribesmen, having fun and relaxing for the first time in a long while. Kiaran imagined they would be edgy and uncomfortable. But, rather, they were happy there was nothing to fear. Torin spoke carefree to his brother, happy to see him. They made their way to Kiaran’s home and entered into solitude.
Kiaran and Kane stood by the window as Davin and Alana stood near the seats. Torin walked beside Kiaran, looking outside. She could feel Davin staring her down. She kept her eyes on Alana, trying to ignore it. “What are your plans now?”
Sighing, Alana shook her head, “I am not sure.”
Unsure of what to say, Kiaran asked, “How were your travels?”
“Fare enough I suppose,” she smiled. “Kiaran, I need your assistance. I believe we should head to Avestitia in search of the Queen’s help. Perhaps she can shed some light on Murdock’s ruling.”
“How do you mean, exactly?” she raised a brow.
“She may be the good of this war. Perhaps she is aware of his evil. We hope she will aid us in ending his reign,” Alana answered.
Kiaran thought long and hard, Kane’s glare on her. “I cannot leave my people,” she said strongly, though with a weak look of guilt.
Kane’s lips twisted into a small smile, happy with her answer. Torin looked from Kiaran to Davin. “We are important to this tribe,” he tried to explain.
Davin glared at Kiaran, saying, “We came all this way for you to refuse our help?”
“I will not drop my duties just for revenge,” she barked, her voice sharp and clear. “Clearly, I do not need your help. Here, you are asking me for it."
"I didn't realize how quick you were to abandon those around you," he said, hurt by her refusal.
"You do not understand responsibility and family,” she bit.
After a short pause, he said, “I will wait outside.” He turned and stormed away. Torin hesitated, but rushed after him.
“We have been watching Murdock for some time, now,” Alana explained. “He is a corrupt man and evil and vile. We’ve just now decided it time to act.”
“Why did you come this far west when the sea was near your fort?” Kiaran asked. "You could have simply gone there without me."
“Because Davin does understand the importance of family. We came for Torin as much as we came for you." She lightened her tone a bit, adding, "We need your help,” she said sternly. “You will prove to be rather important.”
After a moment, Alana approached her, changing the subject, “You look well, my dear.”
“I am,” she smiled. “This is my home, and I will not abandon it.”
“I understand that…Davin is the one who you should explain that to.” Her voice was so warm and kind. “Nonetheless, this entire country needs to be corrected and saved. The kingdom needs you, Kiaran.”
“Why me? A war is not won on only the account of a single person,” she retorted. “Why do you need me?”
She shrugged with a weak smile. “A hunch?” Thoughts swarmed Kiaran’s head, making it uneasy to focus. “I will leave you to think,” Alana turned and left. Only Kiaran and Kane remained.
She dropped into the couch, grasping fists full of hair and massaging her scalp. Kane watched her fight herself. There seemed like no good solution, and it was killing her. Gently, she wiped a hand over her face.
“I have to,” she breathed. Solemnly, he sat beside her. “I have to go, they need me.” He did not reply. Looking to him, she added, “I will trust them to be safe in your hands.”
Surprise washed over him as he asked, “You are sure of this?”
“Absolutely,” she nodded, “These people are your family. Watch over them with everything you’ve got. And I will return.”
She stood and stepped outside, the breeze whipping her clothes and hair about. The soldiers ate and attempted to sing the Zeil’s song of praise and happiness. Kiaran would surely miss this joy. Her heart stung as she watched them. Her eyes glided over the bobbing heads and landed on Davin. He sat alone on a bench, away from the crowds. He still wore his armor which seemed rather uncomfortable to Kiaran. She took a steadying breath and headed for him.
Silently, she stole the seat beside him. His head was bowed, watching his gloved fingers weave between each other. She could not help but watch the wind brush his dark hair aside. Touching an arm, she spoke softly, “You do not look well, Davin.”
His chest nearly caved at her gentle voice and hands. He wished to look to her, but he was too stunned. Finally, he said, “There is a lot of…conflict.”
“Do not be upset with me,” she faced her body toward him. “I am only trying to be a rightful leader…One who makes the decisions that no one else wishes to make. Davin, this is my family. I’ve never had one of those.”
“I am not angry,” he said.
She turned back to the row of three large fires, her heart and mind struggling to find something to say. She lowered her attention to her hands as they picked at the few, gold rings she wore.
“You have changed,” he spoke. Their eyes briefly met, and it seemed as if all the world had paused for those very few seconds.
She had changed, and it was a shock to him. The old, tattered clothing and roughness was gone. Even her eyes appeared softer, kinder. Whatever had happened while he was gone was good for her.
Her bright eyes, lined in thick, long lashes gazed at him. Her tanned cheeks were so smooth. A tattoo was lining her left eye and drawn to her ear which was pierced with gold. A gold ring was threaded through her eyebrow and one through her left nostril. She was marvelous, beautiful. His hand ached to just touch her skin, to feel her cheek or touch her angled chin.
Suddenly, his gaze moved to her legs, where the red fabric hung between them. A tattoo was barred around her thigh with a blank gap in it. Her fingers intertwined with the skirt as she grew uncomfortable. Tearing his eyes away, he reached into his pocket. “I found something on our travels that you may want to have,” he said.
She watched him somewhat anxiously as he removed his and from his pant-pocket. Within his fingers was the little blue ribbon of Grace’s. Her heart nearly skipped a beat as he took hold of her fingers and pulled her hand to him. Keeping her hand in the air, he removed her fingerless glove and tied the bow on her thin wrist.
“Where did you find it?” she asked.
“In the mountains,” he replied. His hand remained with hers momentarily as he looked at the scars lining her knuckles and up her arm. It seemed silent for a very long time.
“What do your tattoos mean?” he finally asked.
“I will explain on a later day,” she replied. She pulled her hand away and took her glove back. “As of now, however, I find it more important to talk about our journey.”
His eyes shot to hers and she smiled. “You are coming?” he nearly stumbled over his words.
She stood, the power seen in her stance. Her eyes brightened with the thought of being within her element once more. Davin stood beside her and gently touched her arm. He expected her to react with a counterattack, but she simply looked to him. Every strand of her hair was placed perfectly and elegantly, such a change from months before.
He tore his gaze from hers. There was silence between them, filled with the sounds of the others’ laughter and singing. “How did you gain your place of power?” he asked.
Her teeth glimmered as she smiled, “Another time, Davin. I understand we have a long journey ahead of us.”
Torin stopped at Kiaran’s house, watching her smile at his brother. He felt sickened by her happiness with him. He knew it was coming, but hoped it wouldn’t. Leaning on the house, he crossed his arms.
Stella slowed to a stop as she was passing him by. Following his gaze, she smiled sadly. "That is your brother?" she asked. He nodded. "I can see the resemblance." Resting her hands on her perfectly curved hips, she said, “Looks as though you might lose your lovely woman to another man."
He could see no grin on her lips. There was genuine concern for him. He, however, was unwilling to cave in. “She was never mine to be lost. She has not betrayed me.”
“How sadly loyal you are to her,” she shook her head.
Angrily, he walked away.
The sun was nearly gone as Kiaran and her companions sat and ate with each other. They were oddly silent, the fires crackling loudly. Soon, it would be morning and time to be leaving. The tribe was unhappy to hear her news. Raven sat with her children and Connie and her brothers. Kiaran ignored her glares, wishing she could have already left.
She stood and walked away. Raven stepped into her path, eyes ablaze. “How could you abandon us so soon--so easily?” she growled.
“I am trying to rescue the kingdom,” Kiaran said.
Kane neared them, listening. “You shall run away, but we shall survive without you,” Raven sneered.
“Fargo does not want you to survive but to thrive, Raven. I am doing what this tribe was to do years ago. This is a rebel camp, and I am to end the reign of this evil king.”
Kane walked over, saying, “Raven, she will return to us and everything will be fine. Trust in us.”
Tears shimmered in her eyes as she stormed away. Kiaran’s heart swelled. Was she crying over her or her betrayal? She turned to Kane. “She was crying,” she breathed.
“She has been hurt once before,” he sighed.
Kiaran nodded her head, understanding how difficult it was to trust someone. “I will return the moment I am able,” she said.
The sun barely floated in the sky as Kiaran stood in her room. The bronze light touched her skin, shining on her long hair as she pinned it up. Her tired eyes scanned over the shelf of books as her fingers played with the amulet that was once Fargo’s. Her gaze was drawn to an old book in the corner. Gingerly, she lifted it, dust smothered across the leather cover. Opening it, she carefully leafed through the pages.
On each page were drawings and descriptions of Zeil tattoos and clothing and customs. Smiling, she knew this book would thrill Davin. Something in her told her to gift the book to him. Carefully, she placed it in her bag of belongings. Lifting her bag, she turned around. Alana stood in the doorway, arms crossed and a smile on her lips.
“I am thrilled you are willing to join us,” she said.
“Yes, as am I, Alana,” she nodded. “Just when I was growing to like it here.”
“You can return, so long as you keep yourself alive, that is,” she jested.
“That, I plan to do,” Kiaran chuckled. Stella entered her thoughts and she sighed sharply. “I have another to join us.”
“Great,” she smiled.
Alana followed Kiaran into the late spring morning. The warm glow of the dying fires and sun filled the tribe with beautiful colors and shadows. Just ahead of her house was the whole tribe, sitting on their knees facing her. Bright eyes gazed at her adoringly as others glared at the dirt. Kiaran was stunned as Kimana lifted an arm, closing her eyes. She spoke as the others chanted with her, “Our leader of the Zeil, keeper of our hearts and homes…Return to us safely as we await your wisdom and guidance.”
She looked to Tonna and Narhlo, their innocent eyes watching her closely. Raven stroked her daughter’s hair, keeping her gaze low. Torin sat in the crowd, his head bowed and hands in his lap.
Her heart seemed to both ache and swell in pain and joy. They seemed to truly love her...There was no correct way to react, but her long silence was not acceptable. She opened her mouth and it took a moment before she could speak. “I have seen corruption and hatred. I have seen abuse and loathing. This place is the only exception to all the darkness of this world. I feel as though I belong here. The Zeil are a great, loving, and accepting people. I will return and I will be sure this tribe lives on.”
She raised a hand, gesturing for them to stand. It was silent again. Everyone smiled as they hesitantly departed, some wishing Kiaran luck while others simply bowed to her and walked away.
Torin and Stella remained with bags in their hands. Kiaran made her way to Torin, Alana waiting where she stood. Torin’s bright eyes kept low as she stopped ahead of him. There was something hurting him, she could see it and knew it was going to haunt her. She dropped her bag and forced her arms around his neck. His muscles twitched at her sudden embrace. He quickly took advantage of this, and wrapped his arms around her as well, his hands resting on her back.
“Why the sudden motion to hug me?” he asked quietly.
“I imagine you could use one,” she replied, pulling away. “Something is bothering you, no?”
He shrugged as his arms fell to his sides. “I simply worry about you.”
“We will both return safely, Torin,” she told him. “And if you please, you can return home with your brother.”
Gently, he took her hand and she allowed it. “My home is with you, Kiaran. You will see that in time,” and with that, he lifted his belongings and walked away.
The words stung her like venom. She could not understand why he was so attached to her. How does that feel--to have someone so important to you? She seemed almost afraid to feel it. Her body was frozen as her mind raced for an answer. Finally, she shoved the thoughts and feelings aside. Turning around, she faced Alana and Davin.
“It seems they have grown to like you,” Alana smiled.
“It seems so,” she smiled back.
“I will be sure you return to them unharmed,” Davin said.
“You will be the one who needs protecting,” Kiaran’s lips curled into a sly grin. As she walked by, their eyes locked. Davin felt his heart speed momentarily. That smile, and her joke, it confused and attracted him. He watched her strut away, her movements brisk and smooth. He grinned, shaking his head.
“She is blossoming, is she not?” Alana said. “Turning into a lovely woman--an unusual one.”
Davin looked to her, replying, “She is much happier.”
Stella silently made her way past them, saying, “Kiaran is strange, but she makes a powerful leader.”
“I’d have to say so,” Alana nodded in agreement.