Fate Chapter 29
Raia was feeling a distinct sense of panic. As far as she could see, her current situation was now just as bad as it had ever been when she was Soran’s prisoner. At least in Deturus, her sisters had still been able to transform back into humans and keep her company at night. Now, the other five princesses were swans at all times of the day and night and on top of that, Raia feared that they were slowly losing their humanity completely. She, on the other hand, still had two whole shawls to knit before she would be able to break her sisters’ swan curse and set them free. And in the meantime, they were now trapped in Ithcar, the country that had been threatening war on Kyoria since before she was born.
Could things even get any worse?
The only silver lining that Raia could find was that no one—not even Ayden—knew her true identity here. She thanked her lucky stars for the initial suspicion that had prevented her from giving Ayden her real name when he had asked. She was certain that the king of Ithcar would exploit the situation to his advantage—and Kyoria’s disadvantage—were he to learn that he had even one of the Kyorian princesses under his roof. She didn’t like to think what he might do should he discover that he had six of the seven of them within his control, though she was determined not to find out.
Still, Raia was having a hard time thinking what to do—not only to prevent her discovery, but also how to escape. She couldn’t very well send a message to her father. In fact, posting anything to Kyoria was out of the question; she was sure such an action would draw unwanted and antagonistic attention. Nor did she imagine herself capable of planning an escape from the castle—let alone finding her way out of Ithcar—on her own. Raia would no longer have her sisters’ help in plotting, and if their last trip was any indication, she severely doubted her chances of navigating them all home through the forest. Thus far, the extent of her plans consisted solely of keeping her identity secret, as well as trying to cure her sisters as soon as she possibly could.
By the time one of the servants had appeared to escort Raia to her required audience with the king, Raia had already washed and changed into the strange garments provided her, and was knitting madly at the fourth nettle shawl. She stuffed all of the shawls back into her grubby pouch when she saw the door opening, and kept a firm grip on her pouch all the way to her audience with the king. No way would she feel comfortable leaving her precious knitting alone in the room. To her, it was as priceless as anything Raia had ever owned. The shawls meant the return of her sisters. She would not risk losing them—or having anyone else touch them—for the world.
Raia’s heart pounded in her chest as she was led down winding corridors to the king’s reception room. Relief flooded her when she entered the room and saw that Ayden was also present. He stood to the right side of the king with his hands resting behind his back, looking at her with an expression of encouragement on his face. Her eyes fixed on him desperately, as though his mere presence anchored her, preventing her from being swept away by the force of her own panic. Feeling slightly calmer, Raia allowed her gaze to drift to the older man in the room.
From all the stories Raia had heard from her childhood of the evil Ithcarian rulers, she had imagined the king as tall and skeletally thin, with a twisted mustache and evil red eyes. Well, maybe not the red eyes. But as far as Raia was concerned, the twisted mustache was a definite requirement for a leader who was reputedly so corrupt.
But the king of Ithcar was not at all as Raia had pictured. Tall, he certainly was, and rather slim as well. His features were just as strong as his son’s, though the king’s face also sported a neatly trimmed goatee that was peppered with gray. His dark hair was of the same salt-and-pepper coloring, and his eyes were the exact shade of brown as Ayden’s—a warm, cocoa-brown that Raia immediately found herself wanting to trust.
Raia curtseyed to the two men, her movement practiced and graceful.
When she glanced up, she noticed a slight confusion on both Ayden’s and the king’s faces, though she couldn’t imagine what had already perplexed them about her actions.
The king quickly recovered from his confusion.
“You are welcome,” he told her, his voice deep, and his tone rather abrupt. “I am Naaman, king of Ithcar. My son tells me you are Deturian?”
Raia nodded her head almost too quickly in confirmation. She was eager not to give him any reason to suspect her of being Kyorian, even if it meant lying outright. Before the king could ask her any more questions, Raia held her hand up to her throat and patted it as she had done with Ayden in order to convey her inability to speak.
King Naaman was already nodding his head. “Yes, yes.” He said to her, “My son has mentioned that as well.” Raia bristled a bit as the king waved a hand in seeming dismissal. Then she realized that the motion was an indication for one of his servants to step forward. The man who approached held out a flat piece of slate, and Raia took it from his hands along with a small bit of white chalk. She glanced at the items in dismay, and then looked up at Ayden, whose expression was apologetic.
“It’s just for a couple of questions, Svana.” He told her, and Raia had to consciously stop herself from wincing at the sound of the name.
Ayden did not seem to notice her discomfort. “And afterwards, you can keep the slate, and the chalk. They’ll help us to communicate.”
“You can write?” King Naaman asked her, shifting as though he were a bit uncomfortable.
Raia hesitated, and then she nodded. While it may have been easier for her to avoid interrogation by feigning ignorance of writing, she genuinely doubted her ability to maintain such a charade for however long she was forced to reside at the Ithcarian palace.
The king was visibly relieved at her answer. “Very good, then.” He said. “Now, can you tell us your name?”
Raia wrote on the slate with a shaking hand, and then held it up to show the two men. Svana. Ayden’s brows furrowed in confusion.
“That is the name that I gave you.” He said. “Do you mean that that is your real name? Or the name you choose to go by?”
Again, Raia wrote. It is my name now.
The king sounded impatient. “But what is your name? Your real name. The name you had in the past.”
I have no name. I have no past.
This answer seemed to perplex Ayden and King Naaman even more. They were both silent, as if at a loss for what to say to her next. Finally, the king spoke once more, his voice unsatisfied.
“Fine.” He said. “Your past is unimportant. What we want to know—what we need to know—is what your purpose is here in Ithcar. Do you intend any harm?”
The king’s voice was stern and his gaze intense at this last question. His eyes seemed to bore into Raia’s, as though seeking to read the truth straight from her mind.
Raia’s answer was definite.
The king still did not seem entirely satisfied, but he nodded reluctantly all the same. “Very well. The truth of that, we shall see, I am sure. You are free to go. I assume you already have a place to stay in the city?”
Raia was caught by surprise by the suddenness of her freedom. Her mouth dropped open in shock, and she found herself momentarily unable to answer the king’s question.
She hesitated too long.
Ayden’s familiar brown eyes bore into hers, and his voice was soft. “You don’t have anywhere to go, do you, Svana?” It was more a statement of fact than a question. For a moment, Raia was tempted to lie and tell them that yes, yes she did have friends with whom she could stay. But then what would she do? Sleep in the street? She had no money for shelter or food, and no idea how to find her way home to Kyoria.
And then there were her sisters to consider.
Raia shook her head, averting her gaze from Ayden’s to hide the tears glistening in her eyes. She was stuck.
“Then you will stay here.”
Ayden’s voice was decisive, and Raia looked up at him again. She was torn between utter horror and utter relief at his offer. On the one hand, staying in the palace would give her a more or less secure place to live while she finished knitting the final two shawls. On the other hand, as a Kyorian in the Ithcarian court, Raia would be right in the middle of the lion’s den, so to speak.
That is, if they ever found out.
Raia glanced nervously at the king, expecting the man to oppose his son’s suggestion. But he did not. Rather, King Naaman seemed completely unsurprised at his son’s words, as though he had already been expecting Ayden to make the offer. Raia bit her lip and nodded tentatively. She would stay.