Kane stood among the trees, watching the hawk circle in the sky above him. It was oddly silent that day, the animals creeping further into the forest, away from the tribe. Twigs cracked as someone neared from behind.
“Kane, a carriage is approaching,” Raven’s voice touched his ears.
He turned his head slightly, looking to her. The sun was broken by the trees above them, the patterns of light soft on the woman. Her hardened eyes were stuck on him and he asked, “Are they heading to us or passing by?”
“Noro spotted them, and he believes they are heading to the tribe. I will show you where they were last…You can see for yourself,” and with that, she turned and walked away.
He followed after her, quiet and curious. Raven glanced back at him, saying, “Kiaran did well, but I feel it is more fateful that you lead us.”
He smiled a little, but didn’t say anything in response. Instead, he said, “Who would be heading here, I wonder? If it is just a carriage.”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged.
Perhaps a few soldiers or even a spy was within it, watching the tribe to see what they were up to. As they walked closer to a narrow road, they kneeled, hiding behind branches. The sounds of wheels breaking dry dirt and twigs rounded the curve and passed them by.
Something about it seemed familiar, sending chills down Kane’s spine. It was small and plain, except for a small silver crest beside the door in the shape of an oval. Inside the oval was a diamond. On either side of the diamond were two, gold bars. Kane’s heart sank, and Raven noticed.
“Kane,” she whispered, “what is wrong?”
“I believe I know who she is, and she is not welcome. Do not race her off or she’ll have us attacked,” he said sternly.
“What? Who is she?”
With a face of stone, he turned and left without a sound. She followed him, and he knew she had plenty of questions. He was not ready to say, but soon enough she would know.
Once back at the tribe, they noticed the carriage had already gotten there. The people stood around it, some in awe at its beauty, others skeptic to trust.
The little man leaped from his seat and opened the door. Bowing slightly, he held a hand out. The elderly woman took his hand and stepped out of the carriage. Her jewelry and fancy clothing caught the attention of everyone in the tribe.
“I am looking for a man named Kane,” she spoke loudly. “I am not here to play games or to cause trouble for any of you. But mark my words, if you do not give him to me, something will be done.”
Kane nearly darted through the crowd, standing just ahead of her. “What are you doing here?” His voice was strong, intimidating.
Except…she did not quiver. She simply stared him down. “You stole something from me years ago. I want her back.”
“Your daughter was mine the second she committed herself to me. I cannot help it that she chose me over the pampered little boy you chose for her,” he retorted.
Her expression showed fury as she drew her brows low. “I’ll advise you to return her to me or this will end badly.”
“Why after near seven years you decide to come?” he asked quizzically. “Seven years, you’ve waited.”
“I’ve only just learned where to locate you,” she barked. “Return my daughter to me.”
“I cannot,” he said. It grew silent as she stepped closer to him. “Several years back…she died baring a child who was not ready for his life.”
“What?” she hissed, “You dragged her into the wilderness only to kill her?”
“I swear to you, woman, that if I could have avoided that, I would have. There was no way I’d know she would die, and if I did…I would not have left her with you.”
“And now that you haven’t, and because you were a thief, she is now dead,” she croaked.
“Woman,” he bellowed, “ she would have died with any of you! At least this way, she died with who she loved. You are not welcome here. Leave!”
She shook her head as she climbed into the carriage. Just as the man was about to close the door, she leaned forward to say one last thing. “A life for a life, Kane. You will see my pain.”
As they left, everyone stared Kane down. The worst gaze of them all was from Raven. He kept his eyes from her as he made his way to his house. She trailed behind him, wanting to say something, but was unable.
“Just…just leave me be, Raven,” he grumbled under his breath.
“Kane, tell me what happened,” she replied.
“You witnessed it, did you not?”
“Yes, but…” she was unsure of what she actually wanted to hear. She was curious…and feared that Kane was becoming emotionally vulnerable. “Perhaps you need your rest.”
“I do,” he nodded as he entered his house.
Connie quietly approached, touching Raven’s back kindly. She was always a sweet woman, but as of late, she always wore the sad face of a lost mother. With her husband and children gone, she was always so sad.
“I fear for him...” Raven said lowly. Connie nodded solemnly.
Days had passed before Kiaran was able to fully wake up. She was in a bed, blankets tightly wrapped around her body. Her arms were exposed, lying at her sides. The little dragon rested along her leg, his head on her thigh.
Completely unable to open her wounded eye, she pulled her hands to her face. A cloth bandage was wrapped tightly around her head, covering the one eye and that quarter of her face. She forced the other eye open which was still swollen and slightly bruised. Her hair was in a braided mess.
With all the power she could possess, she moved her gaze over to the empty chair beside her. Behind it was the doorway where Davin stood, watching her.
He did not smile, did not move, and did not say a single word. He simply stared at her with no emotion, his arms crossed and leaning against the door frame. She grew uncomfortable as she lowered a brow. The rain was still falling, the pattering muffled by her bandages over her ear. His arms moved to his sides as he walked to the chair, sitting in it.
“You worried us,” he finally said.
Her voice was broken and horrid as she attempted to speak, “You do not seem so thrilled I am awake.”
He snickered as he lowered his head, closing his eyes. His voice was rather quiet as he said, “I thought you were going to die in my arms.” He wanted to look to her but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Kiaran’s heart fluttered in her stomach as her eye filled with tears. Blinking them away, she continued to watch him, hoping for his gaze, for his voice, for something to change. This was a conversation she’d prefer not to have.
“You,” he cleared his throat. Unable to finish his sentence, he stood and walked away. Hot tears ran down her cheek as she muffled frowned. Weakly, she pulled the blanket to her face, hiding it as she rolled onto her side.
She had just nearly died.
As Davin walked away, his insides weakened slightly, his hands tightly forming fists. He slipped by Torin as he entered the room. Something inside him was itching to get out, and it was killing him. He walked through the soft rain to the benches under the row of trees. Sitting down, he weaved his fingers together, resting his thumbs between his eyes as he bowed his head.
The thought of her hot blood on his gloves was haunting him. He looked to his bare hands, his skin unstained. Rubbing his forearm, he tried to force the feelings aside.
He lifted his gaze only to find Stella wandering over. She watched him and leaned sideways slightly to make eye contact with him. “It is bothering you, no?” she asked. Sitting with him, she continued, “She is lucky to have kept that eye, let alone her life.” He did not answer. She allowed a short pause, then added, “You have saved her life.”
“Anyone would have done that,” he retorted.
“You don’t see yourself as a savior?” she asked, rather surprised.
“No,” he shook his head. Not at all.
She rested a hand at his elbow, softly speaking, “I would be eternally grateful if I were her.”
Inconspicuously, he pulled himself from her, replying, “I am sure.”
“And I am sure she is grateful as well,” she smiled weakly. “I can see the caring soul you have within that soldier shell.”
“What do you want?” he growled as he turned to her. Her face dropped as he persisted, “Leave me.”
"I am sorry to bother you," she said uneasily as she stood. Cautiously, she walked away, heading back indoors.
The things she was pulling on him; what cruelty within her was slowly leaking into the air? He was unsure of what she was aiming for, and he was unable to trust her. To sum it up…He did not like her. Shaking his head, he bowed it and sighed. Perhaps it was just his sour attitude...
Finally, Kiaran was strong enough to stand on her own. The sun was barely peeking through the window, the dew glowing beautifully. Despite the bandages and damages done, she was filled with...something. Joy, maybe? It was difficult to say.
Her feet padded across the cold floor to the window. She held the wall as she peered outside. The trees were filling with several different shades of green. Smiling, she took a deep breath. “Thank you,” she whispered into the air. If there was a god, she was thanking him.
Her dragon perched on the windowsill, trilling at her. She playfully touched his nose as she turned around. The door knocked and then opened up, Alana entering. “How are you doing, Dear?” she asked.
“I am well,” she nodded. There was a silence, as she asked, “…How are the others?”
Alana sighed slightly as she lowered her head, “Let’s keep this about you, shall we? They are uninjured and will be just fine. I don’t believe any of us saw you to have any mortality in you. It finally hit us that you do have a vitality rate as us all,” she snickered.
“I suppose,” she shrugged a shoulder. “Do you think it is possible to go outside for a bit today?”
“I wouldn’t see why not. The weather is amazing, and it is warming up; summer really is on its way.”
Her braid swayed against her back as she walked down the stairs of the inn. She was still weak, but she continued to pull forward. She wore just a tunic and leggings, her boots feeling oddly heavy. The fresh air just outside the walls was calling her. She longed to be in the wind, the sun warming her skin. She ignored the awkward stares and curious glances as she made her way out the door.
Finally, the cool air touched her skin softly. The bandages around her eye kept that part of her face warm and rather uncomfortable. Smiling, though, she walked down the street to the white stone benches. Sitting on one, she rested her arms on her legs as she leaned forward.
Her dragon nuzzled his nose against her chest, purring sweetly while sleeping in her lap. A shadow was cast over her as Torin walked up. Taking the seat beside her, he rubbed his hand across her back.
“You are doing well today I take it?” he said.
“I am,” she said. “Although I am a little weak.”
“To be expected,” he mused. “Do you have an appetite yet?”
She rubbed her belly, replying, “Not quite.”
He stared at the messy hair that covered her face. She looked to him and he laughed, saying, “You look like a mess, Kiaran.”
“I was just attacked by a rather large dragon. You would look worse than this, Torin,” she grinned.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I think you know,” her grin widened.
Stella rounded the corner, walking to them with a rather happy gleam on her face. “Good morning, Kiaran,” she said.
Torin looked to Kiaran who nodded. Her head felt so swollen and hot and crusted over, and yet--somehow--she was able to move it with no problem. Luckily, her right eye was untouched, leaving her with at least half her eyesight.
She took a shaky breath and exhaled slowly, “Hello, Stella.”
“I am relieved to see you are doing better,” she added. She stood awkwardly, holding her hands together, waiting silently.
Torin adjusted his position as he glanced between the women. He patted Kiaran’s arm as he stood. “Well,” he slapped his hands together, rubbing them, “I will be inside eating.”
Kiaran smiled as she waved her hand goodbye. Turning her attention to Stella, she asked, “Is there something you need?”
“I…” she trailed off as she cautiously sat beside her, “wanted you to know that I respect you, and it was troublesome to imagine that you could have died...And I wish to apologize for nearly...you know...killing you...”
She began to smile, unsure of what to say. “I understand,” she lowered her head. “Thank you,” she finally got out. Stella appeared rather sincere as she played with her fingers, uncomfortably.
"You know...Those weeks I spent as your prisoner, I was waiting for my execution," she said. "I thought there was no way that you were going to let me live." Kiaran smiled a little at her. The woman's green eyes lifted to her and she smiled back. "Do you want to know why I decided to follow you?"
"The first day you sent me outside, I saw a swallow," she explained. "My mother actually hails from Trindal, a country past Avestitia. And in Trindal, the people there believe that if you see a swallow, it is a sign of something new. But if you see one eating a dragonfly, it means something much larger is in place and you simply should go with it."
"Which did you see?" Kiaran asked. "A swallow or a swallow eating a dragonfly?" She smiled and Kiaran knew it was the latter. "You are a superstitious woman, aren't you?" she asked.
"I am," she nodded.
Kiaran smiled a little and paused. "I feel that you belong in the Zeil, Stella," Kiaran said, finally.
Her eyes lit up as she sat up straight, “Truly?”
“Yes,” she smiled.
Stella laughed as she jumped up, “Thank you, Lady.” She took her hands and said, “Thank you, Kiaran.” Her voice softened as she continued, “I needed this.” She excitedly bounced her feet.
“Go tell him,” she snickered, “I am sure Torin would love to hear it.” Stella nodded and raced off.
Once alone again, she closed her eyes. She sat for several minutes, listening to the birds singing sweetly, the chipmunks chirping at one another, and the people mingling as the day drew farther on.
She could remember Fargo sharing his love of sounds with her. His sight was failing him, so sound was important. He could never fully express his adoration for the songbirds of the spring and the soft rains pattering on the leaves around him. She was beginning to understand.
Standing, she walked through the town, occasionally holding her hands to her thudding head. People eyed her defensively, uneasy in her presence. But a few recognized her as one who helped the little girl in the gave. Though no one approached her, she felt like they were all staring and standing more closely than she'd like.
Her gaze looked over the windows of the pub just downstairs of the inn. In the corner sat Davin, staring at his mug, his eyes rather distant. His face was less rugged from shaving his facial hair. He rubbed his ungloved hand through his hair as he closed his eyes. His shoulders expanded as he took a long, deep breath.
Kiaran found herself at a pause. She looked from within the window to the window’s surface at her reflection. Her gauze was dark brown from the blood, parts of her hair crusted over, the rest of it in a horrible braid. Her clothes were new, though simple and unattractive.
Pushing that thought aside, she entered the pub. Slowly, she moved toward him. The smells of the hot alcohol and the wooden walls were strong as she passed through. Sitting ahead of him, she said, “A little early to be drinking, is it not?”
He looked up to her and said, “I suppose it is.” He attempted to conceal a grin, a small grin that was nice to see.
“What do you say Davin…would you like to go get some fresh air?”
Her smile was irresistible. Shrugging a shoulder, he agreed. He followed her toward the door. Her walk was weak and rather unstable. Hesitantly, his hand moved to her back, attempting to support her. She shook her head, saying, “I can do this, it just may take twice as long.”
“We should probably slow down more often anyhow,” he mused. “We rush through life so eccentrically we often forget to enjoy a few things as we go.”
They walked side by side on the dirt roads, moving between homes and stores. The smells of a bakery filled their lungs warmly. Kiaran grew weak, her body becoming very tired. She grasped Davin’s elbow to keep herself standing. He looked to her, quickly wrapping his arm around her lower back. He was warm against her body as they walked toward the bench just outside the bakery. He could see the sleepiness in her face as she stared forward.
He searched through his entire mind, hoping to find the words that had escaped from his tongue, but it was to no avail. She slowly turned to him, saying, “I wanted to thank you for getting me out of that cave.”
“I believe anyone would’ve done it,” he replied. His stomach knotted as the conversation became very familiar. He lowered his brows as Stella came to mind.
“What is it?” she asked softly.
It took a moment before he could ask, “Who is Stella?”
Sighing, she closed her eye. Of all the things to talk about, that woman was brought up. “She was sent to assassinate me,” she huffed. “We brought her down and imprisoned her until she revealed her name.”
“Why is she with us? Is that not dangerous?” he began to grow agitated.
“It is worse to allow her to ambush me if she wished it. She said she wanted to follow wherever I lead. She must prove herself before becoming a Zeil and she must prove herself before I set her free.”
“I wouldn’t let your guard down even then,” he said quietly. She scrutinized his face as he continued, “She seems devious to me. An assassin is trained to seem like something they're not. It's how they hide.”
“I understand that," she said coolly. "But I was the one with her for weeks in captivity. She broke down, and I can see her growing."
"Well," he muttered, "if you insist."
"Don't fool yourself, Davin," she smiled a little. "I am no fool. I still have my eye on her."
He laughed with her quietly. It seemed calm; like the whole world was at peace. The golden sun glossed over Kiaran’s face and hair as she lowered her head. Her hair fell over her good eye. He couldn’t move his gaze from the blood stained bandages and skin. As she looked back to him, he gently brushed her hair to the side of her face, his chest filling with heat.
Her skin crawled as her grin faded away. His eyes were so concentrated on her. The feelings within her arose so powerfully she was unable to tell what it was that she was even feeling. There was something about him that was different--the fear in his eyes, the softness of his frown, there was something about him.
“A-are you okay?” she finally asked.
Taking her hand and helping her up, he said, “Yes. I think it is time to go back. You need your rest.” Then, he helped her to her room, and she rested.
The next morning Kiaran sat in her bed as Alana and the nurse peeled the bandage from her face. It ripped at her skin, sending pain through her. She grimaced as they fought to get it off. “Come on,” the nurse huffed at herself.
Finally, they got it off, the smell of her blood filling the air. Alana’s eyes widened as she said, “It’s infected.”
“No surprise,” the nurse sighed. “She skipped her changing yesterday.” Their eyes were stern on her.
“I know,” Kiaran growled. “I am paying for it, no need to preach.”
Alana laughed as she gently patted alcohol on her wounds. She filled the entire floor of the inn with her groans; her face felt like it was lit on fire.
The little dragon sat on her lap, growling at the unfamiliar woman. Finally, a new bandage was wrapped around her eye once again. The throbbing was contained within the tight bandage.
“Stay here tonight and wait for us to check on you in the morning before you run off again,” the nurse said. “You must be careful, Kiaran.”
“Yes,” she nodded. The dragon nuzzled against her neck, comforting her.
The nurse left Kiaran and Alana alone in the room. “Do you happen to know who may become king once Murdock is gone? I know I’ve asked before...” Kiaran finally asked as the question buzzed about her head.
Alana sighed as she rubbed her graying head. “I am not sure,” she answered.
“Perhaps you should figure that out soon,” Kiaran mused. “Would you mind coming to eat with me?”
Smiling, Alana nodded, saying, “Of course, child.”
They moved to the pub just downstairs. The Holloway brothers and Stella sat at a booth, conversing. Torin waved and they walked to them. Stella and Torin moved down the seat, allowing Kiaran to sit with them. Alana sat on the other side with Davin.
Kiaran rested her elbows on the table, her arm against Stella’s. She leaned in, her voice very soft, “We must figure who should take the throne.”
Everyone paused and stared at her in silence. Stella glanced between each of them, keeping her mouth closed tightly. “In my opinion it must be someone with great intelligence and power.”
“Compassion and grace,” Torin added.
“Experience,” Davin continued the list.
The three of them moved their gazes to Alana whose eyes were wide. She raised her brows as she said, “And who would this be?”
“You know it is a wise choice,” Davin said. “You have all the qualities you need. You have been close to Murdock…well, close enough to know how to run the kingdom.”
“And better than he has done,” Torin added.
"What about Walter?" she questioned. Davin shook his head. "Well, I am a woman. It will be difficult to prove my worth," she grunted.
"You'll prove it by leading this rebellion," Kiaran said.
She sighed and hid her face in her hands. “Fine,” she huffed.
They each grew excited, but kept it hidden from the others around them. A woman brought them their food. They ate, conversing and laughing together.
Kiaran told amusing stories just as the others were. Her laugh was strong, beautiful, unadulterated. She, Torin, and Stella were rather close as they spoke. Davin and Alana sat in their seat, silently watching them. They cracked smiles with them, enjoying their giddiness.
And to think, Kiaran had almost died.