The dragon glided over Rishana’s main castle where Murdock slept peacefully under his roof. Kiaran’s eyes looked over the city. From such a different point of view, nothing was familiar. The walls were reinforced and it appeared to be more of a fort than a city.
Finally, she spotted the fighting arena. It was empty--naturally, being the middle of the night. Landing in the center of the field, Kiaran leaped off. She looked over her shoulder at Cyrin who waited for her, blood staining his sleeve.
“I will be quick,” she whispered.
“Yes, Lady,” he lowered his head momentarily. The proper showing of respect to royalty? It was still difficult to become used to.
Quietly, she made her way up the stairs, her feet moving quickly. As her foot hit the top step, she froze within the gaze of someone all too familiar. Her heart swelled as she raised her eyes.
“Kiaran…” his voice was soft, low, at a whisper.
“Aye, Walter,” she grinned.
“You have changed so,” he was in shock. It was in his eyes, his body. “What are you doing here?” His gaze shifted past her to the dragon.
“I felt you must know what is going on, and paper is too risky. Walter,” her eyes deepened as she forced herself to continue, “Alana died, and left Davin to take reign from Murdock. I assume you don’t disagree with that decision. We have a plan--well, we are gathering a plan.”
“Alana’s--dead?” he gasped. “I could not have ever imagined.”
Her brows creased as she looked away. “I am sorry I could not stop it,” she breathed.
He changed the subject instantly, saying, “You have a plan?” Then, he looked to Cyrin and Ruthianna, still in complete shock.
“A plan in process anyhow,” she nodded. “We have joined with the Avestitians.”
A brow raised and he lifted his chin in curiosity. She explained to him who she was, what Kriettor was, and several other things he was left out on. It seemed as though the words moved ahead of him too quickly. He stared at her as he gathered the information a good minute after she finished her last word.
“Much has happened in the past months,” he shook his head. “What of Torin, is he faring well? The lad worries me.”
“He is well,” she nodded, her voice soft. “We all are.”
He rested a hand on her arm firmly, lowering his head to be level with hers. “Hurry home, Kiaran, be safe. Finish your plan and let me know when we are all needed. I have my own army of men here as well. Though we aren’t many, we are strong.”
“Aye,” she nodded. Holding his arm, she nodded again, “Yes, Walter.”
Turning, she darted down the stairs, a hand reaching up to keep her hood on. She climbed onto the dragon in a simple, swift motion. Grasping Cyrin’s shirt once more, the dragon dashed into the air, disappearing.
Landing within the walls of her own castle, before the dragon stopped moving, Kiaran dropped from her back. She rushed up the stairs, exhilarated. Cyrin jumped from Ruthianna’s back and raced after her.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” he questioned.
“I am not sure,” she nearly laughed. “So many things, just so much…I need to see Torin and Davin, they will want to hear from Walter, I know of it.”
He smiled slightly. Her eyes moved to his arm, and she exhaled. “Perhaps you should see a nurse.”
“Perhaps,” he sighed.
They walked inside together where Kiaran pulled her hood off her head. Nurra hid comfortably in her loose hair, most of it bunched into a long braid. Elsibellem walked down the hall just ahead of them. Her eyes narrowed at their ruffled hair and clothing. As her gaze landed on his wound, she gasped, “Are you injured, Sir?”
“Only slightly, I am fine,” he replied.
“Shall I accompany you to the infirmary, Sir?” she asked.
“Perhaps,” he shrugged. Looking to Kiaran, he said, “She is looking for Torin and Davin.”
“I believe I last saw them in the dining hall but moments ago,” she said, looking to Kiaran. “I hope they have not left yet.”
“Thank you,” she nodded as she turned and walked away.
Her limbs nearly began shaking from the awkward flight and the excitement from seeing Walter. Finally reaching the large, open doors to the dining hall, her heart stopped. All the tables were empty besides one in the center of the room.
Torin sat, leaning over a book, his arm covering the pages from Davin across the table. His other hand was grasping at his rough hair. Davin sat with his back leaning against the table. Neither of them looked like they were faring well. Her eyes were glued on Davin. The future King of Rishana. It was so easy to see the weakness in his stature. The nervousness, the worry…it was engulfing him.
Kiaran slowly walked toward them, her boots softly padding the tiles. Davin looked over his shoulder at her. Torin slowly looked up from his pages. Closing his book, he sat up straight. Taking the seat beside Torin, she finally spoke first. “I saw Walter.”
They were lost in the statement, eyes wide, faces twisted. “He wishes for the best for you both.” Her eyes kept moving to Davin no matter how hard she fought herself. Finally, looking to Torin, she said, “He asked how you were fairing. He cares, Torin.”
“That he does,” Torin nodded.
“I have come to the realization that we will need more of a plan than what we have,” Kiaran mentioned.
“Sounds right,” Davin replied.
“We have many people on our side, and once we have Kriettor properly protected, we still have the Rishanian army to battle against. We have the army Walter has readied for us…the Zeil, Chastin, and Avestitians…” she thought aloud.
“The Armogot,” Torin breathed. “The spirits of the mountains we passed through.”
“Aye,” Kiaran grinned.
“They are willing to help, if nothing else.”
Davin looked at them oddly, and Kiaran said, “We had contact with them on our travels to the Zeil. Your brother had talked sense into them and they are on our side.”
"...Really?" he breathed. "Huh."
Kiaran held a grin, allowing a short, quiet chuckle. “There are many against only one city, a strong one, though,” Davin replied.
“It never is a bad idea to be ready,” Torin retorted.
“I believe we’ll need another plan. Who is to say that Murdock doesn’t get to Kriettor? He might reach him before we have the chance to kill him. We must be ready. For whatever we may be facing,” Kiaran reminded them.
After a few more moments of arguing about tactics, they were silent. Kiaran’s eyes landed on Torin’s book and she asked, “What is that, exactly?”
His eyes met with hers and he froze. Davin grinned, answering for him, “It is full of stories he has written about his travels with you.”
“Oh,” her voice trailed off, unsure of what to say or think. “That is a rather nice idea,” she shrugged. He smiled slightly and she rested a hand on his shoulder, adding, “I am glad we have traveled together, Torin.”
“I as well, Lady,” he answered.
Standing, she walked away, her heart swollen slightly with happiness. A story of her travels and friendships rather than her horrid, murderous ways. It was suiting.
She made her way outside where the trees awaited her. Gently, she placed Nurra in the pine needles beneath a tree. She stood feet away from him, breathing steadily. Stretching her arms out, she began exercising her muscles to keep them from becoming stiff and weak. Her wounds were healed and she felt exhilarated. Before long, she found herself battling the trees once more.
“I see old habits die hard,” Davin mused.
Her heart leapt at the sudden voice and she turned quickly to him. She stood in her fighting stance, her fists held up, posture ready for a fight. “I suppose,” she shrugged, her breathing coming in light pants. She stood back up, her hands dropping to her sides.
“So…how was Walter?” he asked lowly.
“Well as far as I could tell,” she answered softly, “I only spoke to him for a few minutes.”
He nodded, his eyes low. Discomfort washed over him like dirty water, covering his entire body. Growing strong, Kiaran stood tall, her stature as it always was. “Davin, I have many things on my mind,” he looked to her. “I have the pressure to become queen, or to return to the people I promised to take care of.”
“I understand,” he nodded. “And have you made a decision yet?”
“Not at all,” she laughed. “It is insane, but there is no right answer to this.” He could see the desperation in her eyes. “But Nurra has made it clear to me that I should not worry. There are far more important things to be dealing with at this current moment.”
“What might that be?” he pressed.
“Protecting Kriettor and killing Murdock,” she said slowly. Hesitantly, she moved toward him, her voice fading as she forced herself to continue, “And…perhaps the people I love...”
It was almost like poison on her tongue to say such things. Never think of love while battling, it could only scar her once it was over. Things would change as soon as Davin would take the throne, and she would change as well.
She could see the edginess in his eyes as he gazed at her nervously. It made her grin at his awkwardness. Such a strong man, powerful mind, and yet a week constitution when it came to her…and only her. She weakened him in ways she could weaken no one else. The thought made her swell.
“What might you be saying?” he asked lowly.
Her eyes lowered as she caught herself in a bind. What was she saying? It was hard to tell. She rubbed her aching knuckles as they bruised from beating the bark. “I am not sure,” she breathed.
“If I were to guess…” he grinned, “it sounds as if you might feel something for me.”
He moved a hand to her side and her chest ached and her breath came quickly. Perhaps he was right. She had never urged for someone to touch her, she had never kissed another man like she had him. She was unable to keep her eyes from his any longer. Once their sights met, the world around them broke away.
“Davin, I don’t believe I can leave you after this battle,” she forced her voice to work.
He fought a smile as she grew uncomfortable…nervous. “Why are you so uneasy?” he asked.
Her body was immobile as she stared at him. There was some redness on his cheek as if he were struck. She wanted to touch his bruise, his face, dark hair, lips…she wanted to feel his body, but she was unable to bring herself to do so.
However, Davin moved his hand to her face, softly touching the scars that drew down her eye. She closed her eyes, her skin needing his touch. Her lips grew numb as she hoped for a kiss, but it still did not come. Opening her eyes, she saw him staring at her still.
“What I said has not changed,” he said. “I want to spend my life with you, to learn about you, to…be with you always.” His tone began to change and his eyes filled with agony. “But…perhaps we should think this over, Kiaran.”
Her lips parted slightly, but she swallowed hard, listening. Nurra slinked his way to her, climbing up her leg and side, curling up on her shoulder as he always had.
“I will not ask you for children, and I had no intent. As a king…I need heirs…”
Her lower lip grew weak as she fought back tears. Her head swelled and her ears burned as she felt foolish. “I understand,” she muttered.
“That is all I can say right now…You can be upset, you can be thrilled, but all I need of you is to understand,” his voice was soft.
“It simply makes my choices narrower and easier to choose from,” she shook her head. “Thank you, Davin.”
“Perhaps with time...we might be able to have something more,” he tried, but failed. They were both hurting.
She turned and tried to walk away, but her legs began running, instead. They carried her up the stairs and to her chambers where the fire kept her rooms too warm. Closing the door behind her, she sat on the floor, slamming her back against the door, crying.
“Why can I not be pleased?” she asked herself. “I am unhappy for him asking, and now I am destroyed for losing him.” She stared at Nurra who sat on her knees, listening. “Nurra, I am lost.”
If anything, she was not lost but found. The feeling swarmed her as Nurra’s thoughts came powerfully. Their connection was becoming stronger as his words grew more clearly to her. There was nothing in the world that she needed more than to love someone, whether or not he returned that same love.
“If it is so, Nurra, than why must it hurt so? I thought he had…” she shook her head. It was so foolish of her to imagine he loved her. It was a difficult emotion to conquer. “Ha,” she scoffed, “Love is nothing but for fools.”
Standing, she tossed her boots and coat aside and untied her blouse and kicked off her pants. Finding her night clothes, she changed into them, the cool fabric soft against her skin.
Crawling into her bed, she faced the dying fire in the hearth across the room from her. Nurra slipped into the blankets and curled against her chest, trilling softly. Her lungs ached as she took a deep breath to calm herself. She forced her burning, damp eyes closed and she finally fell into slumber…a deep, and dreadfully needed slumber.
Kiaran stood with her mother and Cyrin on a balcony as all of Vintar watched. Ritiann held her hand above Kiaran’s head, speaking strongly, “My daughter is to protect Kriettor as Rigain once had years ago. We will hope for a safe and soon return.”
As the crowd roared, she looked to her daughter and spoke softly, “Kiaran, a word to your people?”
Stepping forward, she looked to her mother who watched expectantly. Her voice was powerful as they listened to her. “I am not sure if I am to lead you. I’d prefer to leave and return to my family in Rishana.”
There were gasps and mumbling amongst them and Ritiann’s eyes widened and she gasped as well. “You have returned to us, you cannot simply refuse,” someone shouted.
“I have my own people who I have been entrusted to care for and I cannot simply leave them behind. They were my family; they took me in when no one else would.”
“No, this is your family,” a woman cried.
“The Zeil are of heart and soul I have never before seen. They are full of love. I promised to protect them, to lead them, and I cannot do that from here. What would make me a better leader for you if I were to so easily give up on my first family?”
Everyone grew silent as some nearly began crying. “If you refuse to lead us, then what will happen to us?”
Gesturing to Ritiann, she said, “Ritiann is still here, and she has many years ahead of her. Worry about it when the time comes.”
“Can you not just bring your Zeil to our lands?” Ritiann asked. “They can live in our castle with you so you can lead them as well.” She spoke lowly, no one outside of the three of them hearing.
She shook her head, “They are an amazing people. Cities will change them. They can only be where they are. Our customs would die off, and soon enough the Zeil would be no longer. I cannot do that to them.”
“Have you not seen the beauty among these villages? They are all living well. The only poverty comes from those who are unwilling to earn a living. This country has survived for centuries without losing customs and love and hope. I am sure your Zeil would understand. Who is leading them while you are gone?” she pressed. “Can he not continue leading them if you do not bring them here?”
Kiaran shook her head and said, “I am sorry, but it must be this way.”
As she left, Cyrin followed her away. “Kiaran,” he grasped her attention, “Has your mother not told you?”
“Told me what?”
“She…does not have much life left,” he breathed. Her heart sank and he continued, “Every generation, when the next ruler returns, the first is near to death. Within a few months, perhaps a bit longer, she is dead and the heir takes over.”
Her voice was caught as she replied, “W…why?”
“It just always was,” he shrugged.
“I,” she sighed heavily, caught on her words, “I must think on this…”