Their travels were quiet and awkward as they made their way from the desert. Finally, one morning as they were readying their horses, Davin pulled Torin aside.
“Is something wrong?” Torin asked. His voice was even changing. Not the sound, per say, but how he went about using his words, the sternness in his voice versing the hesitant words from the past.
Davin stared at him for a moment before asking, “What all has gone on between you and Kiaran? You are close, yes?”
“Yes,” he answered rather slowly. “What happened? It seems rather…tense between you lately.”
His eyes fell to the side and Torin’s blood grew cold. “You have grown too closely, have you not, brother?” Torin asked. Davin sighed, trying to reply, but there was nothing. “Anything else?” he scoffed. “You need help in wooing her?” he growled. “You are Davin…a Holloway. You should be able to win her over with the name alone.”
“What is on your mind? Just say it,” Davin howled.
“I have loved her since the beginning only to be shot down, and crashing hard from it. But you have only teased her, making it seem like you love her. You’ve only felt like this once you saw her recently. She was always a woman, but you didn’t see it until she was dressed as so.”
He was baffled as his little brother spoke so angrily--so honestly. It was built up in him for a rather long time, but Davin never imagined him to say it.
“She only knows this world to be cold and unforgiving, but she was beginning to see the brightness of it. However, yet again, someone wants something of her—that sacred thing that she should share with no one. Her heart is shredded between the Zeil and us, and you cannot try to take it from her as well.”
When had he grown so sensible? His heart burst within his chest as he shoved by Torin who grasped his elbow. “Davin, listen to my words. Just this once, listen.”
“You know,” Davin’s voice was low, “those tattoos and the clothing are not the only thing the Zeil have given you.” He looked over his shoulder at him, “I am sorry, little brother. You are wiser than I thought you to ever be, but I am not a fool. I am not a dog, either. I am very aware of who Kiaran was before we ever even reached the City months ago. Hurting Kiaran is the last thing I want to do.” He tore his arm from Torin and mounted his horse, trotting away.
Torin stood still, shaking his head…what was going on between them was almost gut wrenching. He, too, mounted his horse and went to where everyone was gathered.
Alana sat upon her steed, gathering everyone’s attention. Once the army hushed, she spoke, her voice powerful. “The options ahead of us are few…There are three towns, each holding Murdock’s guards. We will split into four groups to appear less conspicuous as we travel through different towns. Gather more supplies, rest for one night, and push through to the forest just east. We will reunite and make our way to the ship waiting for us. Do not dally. Do not speak to anyone. Keep to yourselves for the night and move straight out in the morning.”
She turned to Davin as he and Torin approached. “We, also, will have to split up. Davin, it will seem less obvious if we are together. And Torin and Kiaran will need to be separated. Last, they were seen together, and they will be easier to recognize together than apart,” Alana continued.
Kiaran looked between everyone, Stella just as lost. “Stella shall join me,” Kiaran said.
Alana nodded her head as she cleared her throat. “Be careful,” she said to everyone. “Join with your group of men and we will move on.” She smiled at them as she turned her horse and left.
Kiaran moved her hand down her horse’s back as she began to climb onto the saddle. Stella stood with her, keeping her head low. She tapped Kiaran’s shoulder and pointed to Torin as he walked to them. They turned to him and he tried to smile. They stood motionless, watching each other. Davin remained on his steed as he kept his eyes on Kiaran.
Her heart swelled slightly as she and Torin embraced. It felt as though something was going to happen...something bad. Nurra purred comfortingly from the horse’s saddle. They held each other tightly as she inhaled deeply, his scent filling her lungs. This was the first she would be separated from him since their journey began back in Kamoni.
“Be careful,” Kiaran told him.
“Of course,” he nodded. “You too, Kiaran.”
She pulled away from him, her body weak. Worry was flooding through her, but she tried to shove it aside. Looking past Torin to his brother behind him, she locked eyes with him. She stepped aside as Torin and Stella said their goodbyes. Reluctantly, Kiaran made her way to Davin, her mind racing.
As she stroked his horse’s neck, she kept her eyes low, her voice quiet. “I expect you to be careful as you usually are,” she said.
He nodded his head, his voice stuck within his throat. Resting his hand on hers, she finally looked to him. “We’ll meet you on the other side.” He pulled her fingers to his lips and he pecked a quick kiss on them. Her eyes were glued on him as she slowly put her hand back at her side. Nodding, she turned and forced herself to walk back to Stella and mount her horse.
It wasn’t long before she and Stella were on their way to one of the towns. There were about twenty men with them, surrounding them as they traveled. Soon, they were within the town’s walls, the villagers eyeing them oddly.
Nurra hid beneath her cloak, gripping tightly at her shirt. Kiaran brushed the hair behind her ear as she swallowed hard. It was awkward as they watched the two women closely. Coming to an inn, one of the men entered, asking for rooms. Eventually, they found enough rooms for everyone between three different taverns.
Kiaran and Stella shared a room, attempting to sleep in their beds. They faced one another, speaking softly. “Something is bothering you,” Stella said.
“Yes,” Kiaran nodded. “I cannot avoid feeling like…something is going to happen very soon.”
There was a drawn out pause before Stella asked, “Like what?”
“It is hard to tell,” she breathed. “I am worried for everyone.”
“Instincts are powerful," Stella whispered, just as uneasy.
Nurra sat on her chest, watching her anxiously. “Perhaps some sleep would help us,” Kiaran said.
“Perhaps,” she agreed.
Only a few hours into sleep, they were awoken by running feet through the hall outside their door. Men were barking orders as they barged into their room. Andrew, one of their soldiers, said sternly, “Lady Kiaran, you must wake.”
“What is it?” she shot up. Nurra growled as he jumped onto a bed post.
“One of Murdock’s recruits is here after you,” he said. “And he has an army with him…” Stella tossed Kiaran her boots and she put them on. Within seconds they were dressed and snatching up their belongings. They followed Andrew into the city.
There was a small battle between everyone. With only twenty soldiers with her, she conjured up her strength, knowing she’d have to fight. Stella watched her stance go from being simply alert, to being the old Kiaran she was once. Her body was tense, her eyes cold, and her lips in a thin line. She turned to a large man, obviously the recruit. His black hair was pulled back, hanging from a blue ribbon, matching the rest of his clothing.
“Are you ready for this?” Stella asked, almost excited to see her in action.
“Absolutely,” Kiaran replied as she drew her swords.
She and the enemy darted toward each other, dodging the other fighters. He swung first, his massive ax slicing through the air. She easily doubled over to dodge, her chest level with the ground, her legs squatted. As she came up, he came at her with his back-swing, but she ducked again. He was rather quick for a man with a heavy ax.
Instantly, still doubled over, she kicked her foot at his. His foot slid behind him and he fell to his knee. In one swift move, he knocked both her feet from beneath her and she fell onto her back. He held his ax in the air, the tip of his hilt aimed at her face. Her expression grew angry as she rolled away, the ax ripping a few strands of hair from her scalp as it slammed to the stone road where her face just was.
Standing up, she held her head, her scalp stinging.
Davin raced through the streets with Alana, avoiding every enemy they could. Alana’s heart ran so quickly, praying that Kiaran was not noticed within her city. Finally, they reached the stables and retrieved their horses. The sounds of shouting and fighting in the streets were muffled by the walls around them.
As they saddled up their horses, Davin asked, “Do you think they are in the other cities as well?”
“I am not sure,” she said anxiously. “We will just have to move to the forest beyond and meet with the other group of men that passed between the cities. If there are signs of a fight in either of the two other cities, we’ll all go back and investigate.”
Reluctantly, he nodded his head. Soon, they were bursting through the doors of the stables on their horses. The other men were with them; they avoided any fight they could find themselves in.
Kiaran and her opponent continued to fight, neither of them winning. He was powerful, more so than she expected. Nurra flew above, watching, cooing at her. She forced herself to remain calm and collected. The man began to raise his weapon and suddenly, Kiaran kicked the bottom of his hand, sending the ax far from them. He stared at her for a very short second right when she kicked his chest. He stumbled back and she leaped at him, bringing her swords down on him.
Blood splattered onto her face as she shut her eyes tightly. She breathed heavily, her lungs asking for more air than she could provide. Quickly, she stood, sheathed her weapons, and wiped her face, blood smearing across her skin. Turning to Stella, she said, “We need to hurry.”
Reaching the stables, they retrieved their horses and the soldiers were alongside them, all still alive. Miraculously, they made it from the city, racing toward the forest line. Looking over, she saw a small group of men, also rushing the same way.
Squinting her eyes, she saw Torin at the head of the crowd. He raised his bow into the air, as if in victory. She, too, lifted her sword into the air, her horse still running at top speed. She continued to search until she saw Davin and Alana, also heading their way.
Once into the forest, they remained silent, hiding in trees, brush, crevices, or ditches. They faced the cities, their weapons at their fingertips. There were no sounds, not even from the bugs or birds.
Nurra perched on a tree near where Kiaran hid beneath a bush. The ground was cold against her body, her hot breath ricocheting back into her face. Her hair matted to the blood and sweat on her forehead. The scars on her face itched slightly and she attempted to ignore it.
Her eyes shifted to the side where Stella hid not too far away. She nodded her head, her blond hair collecting dust and leaves. Turning to Nurra, they connected once again. Doing as Kiaran wished, he darted into the air, circling around to see if they were clear of enemies. Soon, he returned, crawling beneath the leaves and sticks. It purred sweetly, and she knew it was safe.
As the sun slowly rose in the east, everyone sat together in small groups. No one seemed to want to speak. Only a few people exchanged words every so often, but it was generally silent. Kiaran’s stomach knotted tightly, within hours they would be on their way to the sea, on their way to Avestitia. She gripped at her stomach, wishing her nerves would subside. Her fingers fiddled with her bread. She could feel Alana’s hard stare, and Kiaran reluctantly forced herself to eat it. Occasionally, she’d share a bite with Nurra.
The soft whistling of a flute filled the air from one of the men. A few others began singing along, the sounds lifting their spirits. There was a beat stamped into the ground and clapped with their gloved hands. The song grew stronger and cheerful as minutes passed on.
Torin looked to Kiaran, smiling childishly. Taking her hand, she laughed as he pulled her up. Her face reddened as they were the only ones up. Within seconds, many others, including Stella and Davin, were dancing along the forest floor. It was mostly carefree bouncing and clapping. But the movement was enough to excite them.
Kiaran danced stiffly, mostly just bouncing about awkwardly. Torin’s eyes never left her as the army danced endlessly. Her heart filled with joy as she and her companions rejoiced. He held her hand in his as they spun together amongst the others. The joy was overpowering and it made her uncomfortable. Finally, she pulled away, leaving him to dance with the others.
She walked away, still wearing a broad smile as she watched. Alana passed her, taking a heavy swig from her wineskin. "Here," she gave it to Kiaran, then joined the festivities.
Soon, the music died down and everyone was packing their things together once more. As Kiaran adjusted the saddle on her horse, she became distracted…She touched the soft, brown hair on the horse’s side, her fingertips barely stroking it. Her thoughts continued to move back to worry and anxiety. Something was still worrying her.
Stella slowly touched Kiaran’s shoulder. She turned to her and Stella asked, “Are you still bothered?”
Nodding her head, she replied, “Whatever is to happen is coming and it will hit us hard.”
“We’ll be fine,” she said softly as she continued to hold her shoulder. “You shouldn’t worry yourself.” She knew she was right, and reluctantly, she climbed onto her horse and they were on their way.