It was late, nearly everyone going to their rooms. The musicians began playing catchy songs and thus the drinking began. Davin stood at the bar, sipping on his ale. Stella walked to him, also with her drink. “A woman ruling over your country?” she mused.
He shrugged a shoulder, saying, “I don’t see why not. She is wise.”
She put a hand on his shoulder, continuing, “Kiaran is wise, as well. I seem to really enjoy following her.”
Once again, he gently pulled away from her hand. “I can see why.”
“She is so powerful and rather compassionate for someone so…cut off,” her voice trailed off. “I was imprisoned as I am sure she told you.”
“Somewhat,” he replied.
“The entire time, she fed me; made sure I had what I needed,” she paused. He could tell she was nearly drunk already. “She even had the guards take me out occasionally to enjoy the fresh air.” Stella looked at her mug as she sat it on the counter. “She is rather remarkable. I would’ve loved to meet Fargo. She learned this from him…from the Zeil. I wished so hard to be one of them, to follow her…and she accepted me.”
He raised a brow, somewhat surprised. “She has?”
She chuckled, “Yes...But I do not feel as if it is right...”
“Why not?” he asked cautiously.
She took his hand and said, “Come dance, I need to celebrate…We all should.” Odd. She avoided answering.
Reluctantly, he followed her, their hands embracing as they danced. He was clumsy and awkward as she led him through it. She laughed, her long, light hair framing her. She spun from his hands, her feet dancing rhythmically with the music.
Torin nearly ran into her, his eyes on her while he walked to his brother. “She is excited,” he laughed a little.
Davin nodded, asking, “What are Kiaran and Alana doing?”
“Getting some rest, I suppose.” He grinned as he added, “Women.” He pointed to Stella, saying, “She is a little wilder than they are.”
He laughed with him, saying, “I’d have to agree.” He patted Torin’s shoulder, saying, “Brother…I am proud of you.”
Smiling, he said, “Thank you.”
Kiaran went through another cleaning by the nurse, Alana at her side. It was much easier than the night before. Alana looked to Kiaran, saying, “If you are to leave the room, do not stray too far. You are still weak.”
“I know,” she grunted.
The nurse was finished and she lifted her pack of supplies. Walking to the door, Kiaran waved to them as they left. Once they were gone and the door was closed, Kiaran grabbed her bag, sitting it on her bed.
Rummaging through it, she found the book of the Zeil. It had nearly everything there was to know of their culture. Her gaze moved to the ribbon tied around her wrist. There was nothing written in the book on the knowledge that Kane gave her. Nothing was mentioned about keeping memorials or reminders of others.
Sitting at the desk near the window, she opened the book to a blank page. She took the quill, dipping it in ink, she began writing. Finally, she added at the end: One’s memory is kept not by keepsakes, but by thought. Remember them well. And be sure to leave a good memory of yourself.
Closing the book, she paused. Slowly, she pulled the ribbon off her wrist and tied it around the book. She tied the bow perfectly in the center of the book cover. Then, she stood and looked out the window. She smiled, her fingers still on the cover.
She opened the window, the wind briskly making its way through the room. Her dragon perched on the windowsill, its wings stretched out slightly, enjoying the air. It looked to her, flicking its tail and then dove off. She watched it fly away.
It was rather late by the time she could escape the nurse’s watchful eye, but early enough for people to still populate the pub. Loud laughter and a lute played through the building. Her fingers tightened around the book somewhat nervously as she made her way down the stairs. Rounding the corner, she nearly ran into Torin.
“Oh, hello,” he said in surprise as he took a step back. “I was just coming to find you. I hoped you’d like to join me.”
“Sure,” she smiled.
They walked out of the building, the fresh air never seizing to refresh her. “Did you enjoy your night?” Kiaran asked with a smile, keeping the book held against herself. “The music is nice.”
“Did it keep you awake?” he asked.
“The pain did,” she replied coolly. “However, the lute is rather soothing.”
“I think Stella enjoyed it most of all,” he said. “She was celebrating your acceptance.”
Kiaran was unable to hide her smile as they walked just to the outskirts of the town, the trees young and far apart. They stood beneath the shade as his eyes landed on the book in her hands.
She gripped it uncomfortably as she kept her eye away from him. She touched her pulsing, wounded head, wishing for the bandages to come off.
The bugs chirped around them in the trees. Gently, he took the book from her, touching a finger to the ribbon. A brow rose and he said, “Interesting.”
“I thought,” she spoke slowly, “your brother may enjoy reading this. It is about the Zeil.”
“I’d suppose,” he replied. There was a silence as he handed it back. Finally, he said, “Do not hesitate to gift it to him.” She stared at him, puzzled. “I think it’s rather sweet,” he said almost playfully.
She rolled her eye as she said, “Thanks, Torin.” She shoved the book beneath her arm, holding it against her side.
“No, really,” he grew slightly more serious, “Davin will love it.”
It grew even darker as they returned to the inn, nervously entering. Several of the soldiers were around Davin’s table, laughing and carrying on as Stella told a slurred story.
But the one who seemed to be enjoying the night the most was Stella who was conveniently seated on Davin’s lap. Her arm was wrapped around his neck, the other hand holding a mug of ale, pointing as she said, “...that was the time she--”
Kiaran’s heart shattered as her hands grew weak. Davin’s eyes met with hers and he shoved Stella away and she fell to the floor with a grunt.
Instantly, Kiaran stormed outside. Before she could get too far, Davin grasped at her elbow, saying, “Kiaran, wait.”
“Wait for what?” she snapped without facing him. Her eye grew hot as tears tried to form. Luckily, the dark hid her expression. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. Just…perhaps getting rather chummy with the devious assassin.”
“No,” he began. “She was telling a story, and acting it out a bit. She just happened to sit on me to animate her point.”
She cut him off by throwing her hands in the air. It became very silent. She slammed the book to his chest as she rushed back inside, her insides shredded. Torin tried to stop her but she shoved him aside, moving upstairs. His blood grew hot as he walked outside to his brother.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“I don’t know, myself,” Davin breathed. He slowly lowered his eyes to the book, noticing the ribbon. His heart slowly sank as he touched the bow.
Torin shook his head, “I believe you have really done her in, brother. She finally opened up to you, gifted something to you--something sacred. We can’t just give away our culture like that. You were special.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but was able to say nothing. Sighing, they walk in together. “I will talk to her,” Torin sighed as he moved up the stairs, leaving Davin confused and baffled.
For his wise, older brother, Davin was rather stupid for that. Why would he let Stella perch in his lap? He was not interested in her, that much was obvious. “Idiot,” he grunted to himself.
Torin knocked on the door, Kiaran letting him in. She sat on her bed, her knees drawn up to her chest. He sat beside her, keeping silent. “Are you alright?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I am not exactly thrilled, to say the least.”
“Give him the benefit of the doubt, Kiaran,” he said.
“Davin did nothing wrong…” she breathed as she covered her face with her hands.
Torin looked aside, his insides aching. “I will tell you, my friend, that he seems to have grown rather attached to you as well. I want you to be happy. Do not be afraid to talk to him again. He is ignorant, but that does not make him a bad man.” He patted her knee as he stood. “Good night,” he added as he left.
A few hours irked by as she fell in and out of sleep. Her eye was irritating her as much as her heart was. Her dragon was curled up comfortably against her belly. Its small scales shimmered in the dim light. A growl rumbled from its narrow chest as someone knocked lightly on the door.
She stared at the shadow that bled through the bottom of the door. Finally, she opened it. Davin stood in the hallway, his eyes locked on her.
“You are drunk; it is late; and I am sick,” she stated as she began closing the door.
He pushed his hand on the door as he said, “Please hear me out.” The dragon growled harder and she shushed it.
“You have a moment,” she nodded. The door was only open a few inches as she leaned on it.
He lifted the book, saying, “Thank you.”
She raised a brow, expecting more.
“And yes, I have drunk a little more than I should have.”
“Anything else?” she groaned.
He hesitantly rested a hand on her neck, her hair brushing his knuckles. “I am sorry I hurt you.” Her gaze darted away. “I didn’t realize there was anything--“
“There isn’t anything. I just don’t like Stella, and I thought you didn’t either.” She glared at him. “I finally decided to--I…I need to just go to sleep.”
“Okay,” he breathed. His hand fell to his side as she closed the door. So slowly, she crawled into bed, crying softly.
Finally, she was healed enough to leave the city. Her bandages were removed and her stitches taken out. She had deep, swollen scars across her eye, which she could hardly keep open. However, she was lucky enough to have her sight still.
Weeks had passed and they were nearly to the Exile Desert. Kiaran’s face was still rather red and swollen, but it was nice to feel some fresh air. Her long hair was pinned back into place, her new clothes showing nothing of her Zeil culture. Her wounded eye constantly was damp, the air stinging it.
The horses carried them farther away from the mountains and closer to the mounds of sand. Closing her eyes, she held a hand over the hot, moist scars. She slid her hand down her neck, stopping over Fargo’s necklace. Silently, she sighed as she lifted her eyes. Torin watched her from his horse beside her.
“Everything fine?” he asked softly. She nodded her head. “You seem rather absentminded,” he pressed.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she snapped.
Alana rode ahead of them, speaking loudly, “We are nearing the desert. We should be through it in a matter of a week. There are enough supplies for just that. You will be sparse with what you have been given.” Looking to Kiaran, she said, “You must wear something over your wounds to keep the sand out of them.”
“They are nearly healed,” she sighed.
“Aye, but they are still open,” she replied. “Just do as I say.” She laughed, feeling like her mother.
Grinning, Kiaran turned around, shoving her hand into a bag. “I will find something,” she said.
“No need to rush, I believe we should stop for the night and relax before we head through,” Alana said.
Kiaran sat among some soldiers whom she was not acquainted with. She was hoping for a moment to gather thoughts without someone interrupting her. She played with her dragon as one of the men attempted to set fire to the stack of wood ahead of them.
Davin made his way over, sitting between her and one of the soldiers. His knee was pressed against hers, very little room for them. She looked over at him as he laughed slightly.
“What?” she asked.
“I have just been informed that my brother had kissed you,” he said.
Her eyes narrowed as she said, “He kissed me?”
“After you attacked him,” he added.
“It was not really what he thinks it was,” she growled softly.
“I am shocked his lips are still intact,” he continued to joke.
“Davin, that is enough,” she barked. The men around them slowed down, watching them. She glared between everyone, speaking slowly, “I do not want to talk about this.”
“My apologies,” he replied softly.
An uncomfortable moment passed. “Your attempt to consolidate our relationship by talking about stupid things is a waste of time,” she grunted. He lowered a brow at her. She closed her eyes as her dragon perched on her shoulder. It eyed him closely, growling. It flashed its rows of tiny, needle-like teeth. “Hush,” she waved the shoulder it sat on.
He quietly put his hand in his pocket, pulling out a beautiful silk cloth. It had greens and purples weaved throughout it with a beautiful golden trim. She watched it with appealing eyes, but she tried to hide it. He smiled, his teeth shining brightly. He handed it to her and she slowly took it. “It is a gift…I wanted…to thank you for the book,” he said.
She nodded her head as she looked the cloth over. “You are not drunk again?” she lifted a brow.
“I am not,” he continued to smile. That damned smile always made her insides flutter. He took the fabric from her and she looked at him. Brushing her hair aside, he wrapped the silk around her head and let it drape over the left side of her face, covering her scars. “To keep the sand out,” he said, “I’m sure Alana will be much happier to see this tomorrow.”
“Less annoying than a bandage,” Kiaran smiled sweetly. “Thank you.”
She rubbed her lips together and slowly turned her head away. He noticed the new scars on her arm and hesitantly touched a finger to them. “How did you get these? They are fresh, aren't they?”
“They are,” she nodded. “We hunted a couple wolves at Eava’s Drop. Torin gave me plenty of hell over that.”
“I am sure,” he nodded. There was a rather awkward silence as they glanced about. Finally, he asked, “How close have you two grown, anyhow?”
“I don’t see how that is any of your business,” she replied. She pulled the fabric from her face, folding it carefully. “What of you and Stella?”
“That isn’t fare,” he huffed.
“Why is that? Because you were drunk?” she looked harshly at him, “You are still accountable of your actions.”
“I know that,” he hissed as he pulled her up. She yanked her arm from him and he continued, “I have told you. She was telling a story,” his voice was low as he tried to avoid the attention of the men around them, “I truly am sorry.”
“Why?” she asked coolly.
He stared at her, unsure of how to answer. She smiled with pain in her eyes as she began to speak, but he cut her off, “Because, Kiaran, I know you do not trust her…let alone with one of your friends.”
She slowly nodded her head, not completely feeling settled with his answer. However, she shoved it aside, saying, “Alright.”
“Really?” he pushed.
“Yes,” she forced a smile. “And Torin and I have only become close friends. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He slowly nodded his head. “So, Kiaran,” he gestured to the tattoo at her heart, “how did you gain your power with the Zeil?”
She smiled as she led him away from the fire, to tell her story. He seemed rather enthused to listen, though she knew it wasn’t of much interest. They walked aimlessly, talking back and forth about her time spent in the tribe. She pointed toward the hill covered in young trees, saying, “Care for a hike?”
He snickered as they climbed through the trees, away from the voices of the army surrounding them. “I did not think you would believe that I was wronged by King Murdock,” she said as they walked through the woods. He looked at her and she continued, “I have never been given a chance before. I was always the wrong one, not the one wronged.”
She tripped, catching herself on a tree. Laughter slipped out of her as she stood back up. Davin watched her with a warm smile, but did not laugh. “What?” she grinned.
He shook his head, saying, “We should probably head back, it is getting dark.”
Nodding, she hesitated, keeping a hold on the tree. Her body grew a little weak, still trying to strengthen back up. “Davin...?”
“...You were rumored to have killed many soldiers...” she said lowly.
“The Battle of Harlin,” he groaned, running a hand down his face. They sat together beneath the trees, the darkening sky casting heavy shadows over them. “Yes...many.”
She could see the regret in his eyes, and refrained from asking anything more on it. He slowly moved his gaze to her and she said, “I was rude, I’m sorry...”
“No, not rude. Curious.”
“Curious or not, I should not pry,” she looked away.
“It is not prying if it’s a simple question. I could have avoided the answer.”
“And why didn’t you...?” They watched each other for a moment. She was feeling brave and thought to ask what Torin had asked him. She wanted to see if he’d trust to tell her the truth whereas he wouldn’t trust his own brother. “Was it true that you killed over two hundred in one battle?”
He inhaled slowly, his jaws clenching slightly. Just when she believed he wouldn’t answer, he said, “Two hundred and four. Six hours.”
The answer only made her blood run cold. He was as much of a killer as she ever was. “I do not know the number I’ve killed since my first...”
“It is best that you don’t remember,” he muttered, looking forward. After a few more minutes of silence, he stood and said, “It is late...”
She nodded and he held a hand out for her. Hesitantly, she took it and stood with him. “Perhaps next we talk, it won’t be so...solemn,” she said.
“Perhaps,” he smiled. Solemn or not, he still enjoyed her presence.
He continued to hold her hand as he led her from the wooded area. Kiaran fought the urge to take her hand from him. She came to the conclusion that she did not want to release his hand at all…she simply couldn’t deal with being close to anyone. She watched him closely as they walked. Finally, as they passed the last tree, she withdrew her hand, placing it at her side.
The sky was black, the stars beginning to dot the sky. She leaned forward, saying, “We have an early morning ahead of us." Backing toward her fire, she said, “Well…good night.”
“Good night,” he replied.
She snuck past Torin who was getting his bedding ready. As she pulled her blankets from her pack, he said, “Enjoy yourself?”
“I suppose,” she shrugged, trying not to face him. She could feel her face growing hot. There was no reason for it, she was simply enjoying one's company.
He crawled into his blankets, watching her as she avoided looking at him. “Kiaran,” he nearly ordered. She shot her gaze to him, his uniquely cut hair falling to one side. “Everything alright?”
“Yes,” she nodded as she pulled the blankets over herself. “Good night, Torin.”
He nodded as he lied down. "...Good night."