Flight of the Five Swans

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Fate Chapter 34

Ayden

Dinner had been absolute torture for Ayden. The tension around the dinner table had been so thick that he felt he could have cut it with a knife—even with his butter knife. His father had been most suspicious to find out that one of the Kyorian princesses had been living under his roof for the last several weeks. He spent the entire meal shooting glances across the table at Svana—Raia, Ayden reminded himself—through narrowed eyes. This was likely a contributing factor to why Raia herself looked tense as well, though Ayden suspected that the main reason for her unease was the man who had sat next to her.

Soran, prince of Deturus—or was he the king? Whatever his title may be, he claimed to be Raia’s fiancé.

Yet Ayden suspected that there might be more to the story. There had to be more to the story. All throughout dinner, Ayden had seen that Raia sat as far away from the Deturian royal as she possibly could, leaning her body so far in the opposite direction that she was nearly falling off of her seat. And when Soran insisted on escorting her to her room, she looked positively horrified. She had glanced towards Ayden and the king with a pleading expression in her eyes. Yet there had really been nothing that he or his father could have done. After all, from everything that Soran had said, Raia was the one who had been in the wrong, fleeing her wedding and taking shelter in Ithcar under false pretense. In such a delicate situation, their hands were tied. They could do nothing to intervene between the engaged couple without risking antagonizing their newest royal guest—and possibly gaining a powerful enemy in Deturus.

Still, Ayden could not get Raia’s face out of his head. She had looked so worried, so frightened. The image of her eyes haunted him even now.

Ayden stood abruptly, knocking the chair over in his haste. He didn’t pause even a moment to right the piece of furniture before he had stridden out of the library and down the hall towards the guest rooms.

A guard was standing outside the door to Raia’s room. Ayden wished that he could say that he was surprised at the sight, but he had already guessed that Soran would likely take some kind of precaution to ensure that Raia did not flee again. From what little he’d seen of the man, Ayden knew that Soran wanted the Kyorian princess badly. And while Ayden could appreciate the girl’s allure perhaps far more than anyone else, he certainly would never have dreamed of stooping so low as to bar her—or anyone—in their room. Not to mention forcing her into a marriage that she clearly did not want.

As Ayden had expected, the guard moved to prevent him entering Raia’s room. “No one enters. King Soran’s orders.” The man said, and the curtness of his voice told Ayden that the guard had no idea who he was. Fortunately, however, this was one occasion where Ayden actually had the authority to overrule Soran’s wishes. After all, the Deturian may be royalty, but he was still a guest in their palace. The Ithcarian palace—where Ayden was prince. Not only the prince, but the crown prince, heir to the throne.

Ayden could go where he damn well pleased.

He straightened his shoulders and looked the man square in the eye with a quelling gaze—one he never needed to use with his own men.

“I am Ayden, crown prince of Ithcar. You will let me pass.”

The man’s face whitened, and he looked for the world as though he were caught in between a rock and a hard place.

“I…I’m sorry, Your Highness,” he said at last, his voice full of the deference it had previously lacked. “It’s just…King Soran said…he said the princess was not to leave…”

“The princess will not be leaving. But I will be entering. Just for a moment—for a private word with the princess.”

Ayden did not give the guard a chance to refuse. He simply strode right past the man and opened the door to enter.

Raia looked up as the door opened, and Ayden saw immediately that she had been crying. Her gray eyes were red and puffy, and moisture still lingered in streaks on her cheeks. His heart clenched at the sight. Still, he took pleasure in the certainty that she was happy to see him. Raia’s sad expression lightened slightly at the sight of him. The look in her eyes when she saw him—the joy, the hope, the…Ayden had to caution himself against reading too deeply into the emotion he saw reflected in her gaze.

“Svan—sorry, Raia.” He said, his voice stumbling over the still-unfamiliar name. At Ayden’s slip of the tongue, Raia’s expression became uncertain, as though just remembering all the secrets still between them. Ayden stepped fully into the room and closed the door slightly behind him. He left just enough of an opening to convince the guard outside that he and Raia would not be planning her escape—though that was exactly his intention.

As Ayden approached several steps, Raia stood, wringing her hands together in her nervousness. Ayden also suspected that the princess was at a loss as to what to do without her ever-present knitting keeping her fingers busy.

He took a deep breath and blurted out exactly what was on his mind.

“You don’t want to marry him!”

Ayden had meant to phrase it as a question, but it did not come out as such. Yet he did not think that his statement was false; from observing the interactions between Soran and Raia since the Deturian king’s sudden arrival that afternoon, Ayden was certain that marriage with Soran was the very last thing that the Kyorian princess desired.

Raia shook her head vehemently, confirming Ayden’s suspicions. He felt a brief moment of happiness, a flutter of hope.

“Then you won’t!” He told her fiercely, and was immediately encouraged by the flash of hope that appeared in Raia’s eyes as well. Mind racing frantically, he immediately began formulating plans for an escape. He began to pace the room, his voice a hushed whisper.

“Even as prince of Ithcar, I do not have the authority to intercede between the relations of a couple once engaged.”

Raia nodded in resigned disappointment, her eyes following him as he walked up and down the room. Ayden came to a stop and faced her once more. Though his voice was low, it reflected his utter determination. “But I’ll help you escape, Raia. I know this palace like the back of my hand. We can slip out, run away where Soran won’t find us until it’s too late.”

The happiness in Raia’s eyes dimmed at the mention of his idea. Ayden felt disheartened.

“What is it?” He asked her, a trifle desperately. He had left his plan purposefully ambiguous in case he had misread the signs. Yet he had believed that Raia would jump at the chance to escape Soran’s grasp—and he had thought that she would be willing, even eager, to have Ayden along for the flight.

Raia did not have her chalk and slate, and so had to resort instead to using hand motions to communicate. She fluttered her hands as though they were wings. Understanding immediately, Ayden’s heart sank a little.

The swans. Of course. Ayden did not comprehend Raia’s utter devotion to her swans, but he knew instinctively that she would never hear of leaving them behind. And no matter how Ayden racked his brain, he could not think of any way to sneak five large and likely noisy birds out of the palace undetected. They were sure to be spotted or heard, and then they would be in the exact same situation as before.

No.

The situation would be worse than before. While Ayden knew that running away with the Kyorian princess would bring no small trouble for the relationship between Ithcar and Deturus, he would be willing—more than willing—to risk the difficulty if he could be sure of helping Raia out of harm’s way. But being caught in the act of fleeing would be a different story; not only would the relations between the two countries suffer, but he—and Raia—would be undergoing the risk only for their plans to end in failure.

He looked at Raia sadly, and she read his response in the depths of his eyes.

“They are truly precious to you, aren’t they?” Ayden asked her softly. Raia nodded, holding his gaze and placing her hand over her heart.

“Precious enough to sacrifice your own freedom?” Again, she nodded without hesitating, and he could not tell by her expression whether or not she had detected the undertone of bitterness in his voice. He winced internally on hearing it himself. Shoulders slumping slightly, he stepped closer to Raia and her hands into his own. He gazed deeply into her eyes, which reflected his own sadness and disappointment back at him.

“Then tell me, Raia.” He said, his voice barely above a whisper to prevent the guard outside from eavesdropping. “I can’t call a stop to the wedding. You can’t—or won’t—escape. But is there anything—anything—that I can do to help you?”

Raia’s eyes searched his own desperately, as though there was something she was longing to tell him. Finally, however, she pulled her hands from his grasp and made yet another motion with her own.

Her knitting.

“You want me to bring you your knitting?” Ayden guessed, and Raia smiled slightly through the sheen of new tears. “Where did you leave it? In the gardens?”

Raia nodded, her eyes shining with emotion. Desperately, she caught at his hand again. She tapped his palm with her own, shaking her head almost frantically. Ayden took another guess.

“And…don’t touch?”

Raia’s fingers curled around Ayden’s, and she nodded again. Twisting his hand deftly, Ayden caught Raia’s in his grasp. He bent over it, kissing the back of it for the first time.

“It shall be done.”

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