Ritiann stood at the windows, the sun basking her in all her glory. She was magnificent, beautiful, powerful. As Kiaran and Cyrin walked in together, she looked over to them. “Cyrin,” she smiled widely at him. “You have met my daughter.”
“She is lovely, Ritiann,” he bowed shortly. Kiaran lowered her brows slightly.
The queen remained at the windows as she continued to speak, “She has much to catch up on. Our customs are…different.” Her letters rolled beautifully from her tongue.
“I believe she will catch on with time,” he smiled as he looked to Kiaran. She nearly melted under his gaze, his white teeth so…extraordinary.
“I am sure,” Ritiann agreed. “You have an astonishing way with words. If anyone can teach her, it’d be you.”
Cyrin nodded, “It shall be as you wish, Ritiann.” Turning to Kiaran, he bowed for a moment, looked up to her and said, “I look forward to spending time with you, Lady.”
She raised her chin slightly, feeling…odd. Royalty? Really? She was a princess? She nearly scoffed at the thought. It was unbelievable. She was the opposite of that only days ago. And years? She was a murder...
Once Cyrin left, Ritiann was looking back out the window. Kiaran slowly moved to her side, admiring the view with her. Finally, Kiaran spoke first, “Why did you attack and kill nearly all of us?”
“We were on our way to battle the King’s soldiers, but came across you.” Kiaran glared at her and she continued, “Most of you were wearing their armor. It was an honest mistake, Kiaran, and I am gratefully sorry.”
She clenched her teeth as she fought for words.
“It seems as though you were on your way to Avestitia.” Kiaran nodded. “What for, may I ask?”
“We were hoping to see if you would aid us in overthrowing Murdock from the throne.” Ritiann stared at her and she explained everything that was happening.
“Well, my child,” she shook her head. She let out a short, wry laugh, adding, "Do you know why he wanted to marry you?" Kiaran shook her head. "He knew you were Avestitian."
Kiaran narrowed her eyes at her. "How?"
"Your appearance is unmistakable," she shrugged a narrow shoulder. "He knew if he had one of us as a wife, he would be unstoppable." She seemed to swipe that conversation away as she said, “We have a much bigger problem on our hands than an unruly king.” Before Kiaran could retort, she added, “He may be after something much more than riches and dominance.”
“What is going on?” Kiaran demanded.
“There is a dragon, so powerful that it can quake the earth as it walks, send hurricanes with its wings, and sound thunder with its roar. The blood of that great creature is rumored to create immortality. Its eyes can form the future if someone looks through them as their own. Its tongue can allow someone to breathe fire. Its bones can cause a person to be indestructible. This Great Dragon, Kriettor, is in jeopardy of your relentless King Murdock.”
“Is this what the war is over?” Kiaran asked, her eyes wide.
“It is,” she nodded. “We hope to stop him before he comes any closer.”
“Where is this dragon?” Kiaran questioned.
“It is in our land. Deep within the earth away from the coolness of our snow or the softness of the soil.”
Kiaran rubbed a hand over her head, feeling the sharp edges of the freshly cut hair. Ritiann watched her with soft eyes, her lips curved slightly. She studied the way her daughter’s hair cascaded over a shoulder, the way she observed the nature just past the wall of glass…She was perfect.
Touching Kiaran’s hair, she said, “Let us do something about this, shall we?”
In another room, mirrors and candles surrounded them as a woman played and fiddled with Kiaran’s hair. “Your hair is like black silk,” the woman gawked. “It is much like our Lady’s.”
Finally, she took the short hair and rolled it tightly against her head. She left rows of hair on the left side of Kiaran’s head and pulled the rest of her long hair to the opposite side and made a loose bun. A few strands of gold and some bone beads were hanging within her hair. Her bangs still hung in her face, lining her brows and hanging off to the side.
Once she was finished, she pulled Kiaran to stand. “You look lovely,” she smiled.
“Thank you,” she replied softly as she made her way from the room.
Elsibellem met with her just outside the door. “We are to join together in the dining hall for a feast to celebrate your return,” she said. “What you are wearing shall suffice.” Kiaran nodded her head and they began walking. “She did your hair well.”
“Thank you,” she nodded, “I like it.”
Finally, they reached the hall and entered the doors that were opened widely. Within the room, many people were at the rows of tables talking joyfully. It felt much like in Rishana when she met Murdock for the second time. Her stomach knotted up.
She and Elsibellem walked toward the head table where Ritiann waited for them. The people watched her closely as they walked by. Some of their hands reached for her, touching her hand or her dress. She stiffened up as they moved on.
Sitting beside her mother, Kiaran gripped at the clothing over her legs. She kept her eyes on the golden trimmed plate ahead of her. The woman gently nudged Kiaran with her elbow. She pointed across the room toward a familiar group. Her companions sat together within the large group of Avestitians. She wanted to raise a hand to them, but her muscles froze. Nurra stood in her lap, his front talons gripped on the table as he looked out over the crowd.
Ritiann stood, the voices stopping as everyone looked to her--including Kiaran’s comrades. The woman’s voice was powerful, strong, and beautiful as she greeted everyone exceptionally. “As most of you may know, my daughter was sent away from us, in hope that one day she may return to take my place. She has gone through much turmoil, which you can easily tell just by looking into her eyes.” Kiaran’s stomach twisted as she adjusted herself in her seat. “My lovely child has come home,” she cheered as the others roared excitedly. Ritiann rested a hand behind Kiaran, gently touching her hair. Kiaran stood beside her, her eyes locked on Davin and Torin. They did not know she was Ritiann’s daughter and their disbelief was evident.
He stared at her in disbelief. Something within her was scratching to escape. The shock and almost…fear in his face was excruciating….nauseating. She continued to hold her chin up, keeping herself presentable, looking as if she were not nervous.
“Soon, she shall be inaugurated as heir to Avestitia and all the riches I own,” she added. “Kiaran Krutia is now home.”
Krutia? Kiaran finally had a family name…it was strange. For so long she never had a name but simply Kiaran, fighter, warrior, and then Zeil. And now Krutia? Future ruler of an entire country? And a powerful country at that. She began to grow weak at the knees as she gripped her fingers on the table.
Cyrin was sitting beside her, watching her fingers flex. Instinctively, he touched her arm to calm her but she tensed even worse. He followed her gaze to her strange, Rishanian friends. Davin stared daggers at him and he slowly removed his hand from Kiaran’s arm. Ritiann continued to talk before, finally, they could eat.
It had only been minutes into dinner before Kiaran shoved her plate aside. She could no longer pretend to eat their food. She hung her head, her forehead resting on the inside of her wrist as her fist angled out, the cool air hitting her fingers. Ritiann watched her, Kiaran’s eyes closed and her breathing was deep.
Her heart ached as she gazed at her daughter. Finally, Kiaran sat up straight and pushed her chair back, speaking softly, “I must go for a moment, Ritiann.”
“Take your time, Kiaran,” she replied in a whisper.
Silently, she stood and escaped from sight without being noticed. She wondered down the halls, looking at the beautiful paintings and statuettes throughout the castle. Her eyes, however, were searching for a door to escape into the wilderness for some solitude.
Finally, she came to a balcony. Rushing outside, she kicked off her shoes, her toes touching the frigid floor. Her hands moved to her sides, forgetting that there were no swords to grip, nor belt to adjust, but simply just the silk dress. Her hand then moved up and slicked back her hair as she closed her eyes, holding back the tears, her breath shaky.
Davin and the others sat among the excited crowd. They stared at their food, taking only a small bite here and there. “I should have seen it,” he breathed.
Torin looked to him and asked, “How?”
“She looks just like them, Torin,” he spat. “She behaves like them, her heart is synced with a dragon.”
He shrugged a shoulder, saying, “The Chastins must be descendants of them as well. They, too, have flowing black hair and piercing, silver eyes. Lorelei could speak to Nurra, too.”
Davin looked up to see Kiaran slipping away without any attention on her. She looked distraught, nearly as much as he was. Glancing to Torin, he stood and began to go after her. Stella watched him confusedly and he said, “I’ll be back.”
It took him a few minutes to catch up to where she had gone. The door between them was opened slightly as she tore off her shoes on the balcony, the cool wind shoving its way through. Her fingers were intertwined with her hair against her head, her shoulders moving with her deep breathing. He touched the metal handle of the door but drew away. His heart was beating fiercely as he watched her. Interrupting her seemed like a poor idea, but he forced himself to push the door to open further.
The clanking of his boots on the stone balcony echoed around them. Her wounded arm fell back to her side, slightly bent at the elbow to relieve some of the tension on her shoulder. She turned to the side, her eyes meeting with his. He cleared his throat, unsure of what to say.
“I am the queen’s daughter,” her voice was shaking.
“Apparently so,” he nodded, trying to keep his voice cool. It was silent as they watched each other, at a loss of words. “How badly wounded are you?” he finally asked.
“It is not so bad,” she answered softly. The sun tried to shine through the clouds and branches on his civilian clothing. He looked rather handsome as he stood still, questions written throughout his stance. It wasn’t often that he went without armor, and she liked it. “How is your brother?” she forced herself to ask. “He appeared to be fine.”
“He is well now that he saw you were faring,” he answered honestly.
“...How are you handling everything?” she nearly whispered. His face was as hard as stone, his chest rising with his deep breath. “I couldn’t help but notice how close you and Alana were.”
“Aye,” he croaked quietly, bowing his head. “She was going to be a grandmother.” She frowned. “I am finding it difficult to live with the very people who killed her.” Her frown deepened as she found it difficult to breath. She moved closer to his side, touching his hand with her fingertips. His jaws tightened as his brows creased. “I thought they killed you too.”
“They didn’t,” she said softly.
Her heart was beating so strongly within her chest that she was unable to stand still. He noticed her unease and asked, “Would you like to spar, Kiaran?”
Her face seemed to relax as she answered, “Yes.”
They escaped down the narrow stairs to the flat ground that was covered in yellow and brown pine needles. The skin of her feet felt comfortable, natural on the frosted soil. She stood as ready as she could, considering the wounded arm. Davin also readied himself. He was uninjured, although she could see the torment in his eyes from their battles.
They began to fight one another, careful not to do more harm to her wounds. Her body seemed stronger, quicker, and more limber than before--despite her injuries. Davin noticed this and pulled away from the fight.
“It is natural for you to be here,” he commented. “Your body is in tune with the land.”
She did not reply, her mouth pressed in a tight line.
“What is it?” he asked.
“There is something much more troublesome than just taking the kingdom from Murdock.”
His eyes narrowed as he stepped toward her.
“Ritiann told me about a dragon that has amazing powers…I believe he has a lot to do with this land--why Drakelings are always drawn back home…to him. And we believe that Murdock is after this dragon’s blood,” she explained to him all that her mother had told her.
The air filled them with nothing but chills. It felt as though they were so tiny and alone watching each other. So many troubles and evils surrounded them.
Unable to talk himself out of it, Davin reached to her, his hand holding the side of her face, her hair falling over his knuckles, grazing his skin. The warmth of her cheek radiated to his hand just before he touched it. It was the only thing he could bring himself to do. Nothing else in the world seemed like a better idea. Her eyes were so piercing, taking in his kindness and gentle touch, much like their first encounter in the prison long ago.
His cold hand rested so gingerly upon her reddened cheek. Her heart leapt into her throat and her eyes dampened as she slowly stepped into his arms. Her injured arm was pressed between their chests as her other arm wrapped around his neck. She pressed her lips to his tightly. His blood instantly grew hot as he wrapped his arms around her body, holding her as closely as possible.
It was a haunting thought…Losing Davin. She believed he was dead, but he was still alive. Hot tears spilled over her cheeks, leaking onto their lips. He moved his kiss to her cheek, smoothing the loose hair away with a thumb.
Resting her forehead on his shoulder, she cried quietly. What if she did stay in Avestitia? She would leave him behind. He held a hand to the back of her head, keeping his stature as strong as possible. He opened his mouth, but his voice was stuck in his throat. Finally, he forced his words out, feeling almost like vomit, “Kiaran…” He sighed.
Pulling away slightly, but keeping her warmth close to him, he placed his hind in a pocket. Her reddened eyes watched him as he pulled out a single, smooth feather. It was beautiful with red and black stripes. He twisted it between his thumb and forefinger, then handed it toward her and she slowly took it. His eyes burned into her as she stared curiously.
“You are a woman unlike any other. There are things about you of which I have not learned and would love to spend forever learning them.” Her face flushed and he continued, “By the looks of it, you do not recognize the feather…” He laughed, feeling like a fool. Taking it, he shoved it back in his pocket. “If the significance comes to you, then come find me.”
Her mind was unwilling to work as he turned and left. Thoughts were screaming at her, but she was incapable of reacting correctly. Turning, she kicked the tree beside her so powerfully that her foot throbbed for minutes afterwards.
The moonlight bathed Kiaran and Nurra as they slowly walked through the courtyard. Stone dragons were etched into the maze of black iron bars which were fenced between stone columns. Plants grew up the iron, beautiful pale petals facing the sky above them. The walkways were made up of small, white pebbles, beautiful green grass on either side. Her hair was loose, the wind pushing it around. The short hair on the side of her head felt odd as it floated in the wind. Her cheeks were hot from crying on and off. Her heart hated her emotions, hated itself. She held her heart strongly; the shirt bundled in her fist.
For her life, she could not think of what that feather meant. It had to be Zeil, but it was unfamiliar to her. She felt incredibly imprudent. Nurra continuously tried to content her. “Nurra, I do not know what he meant by a feather,” her voice was low and harsh.
“Feather?” Torin’s voice broke the air, making her jump. “You seem absentminded. What is wrong, Kiaran?”
“Have you spoken to your brother lately?” she asked.
“Just before coming out here,” he answered solemnly.
She waited for him to continue, but he did not. “Torin, he was…” Her voice grew weak as she forced herself to speak, “He gave me a feather, and then took it back when I did not understand.”
His face grew pale as he sighed. “Kiaran, the feather of red and black stripes…it is meant for a symbol of forever life…It is in the book you gave him.”
She choked slightly and said, “Forever life?”
“Between us?” she breathed. He nodded again and she nearly began to panic.
“He wishes to marry you. At least one day,” Torin seemed to huff. “The red Tatu birds group with one mate for life. To signify the unity and commitment, the man would find the male Tatu bird and take one of its feathers and present it to the woman that is always on his heart.”
Her heart swelled to the point where it might have ruptured. “I-I cannot,” she burst, stepping away. She could never become a wife. That was the reason of leaving Rishana.
"I think maybe you should talk to him," he suggested. "Maybe he doesn't mean to marry you. Not right away."
She shook her head, walking away with a numbed heart.