A Brief Encounter
There were times Davin wished his constitution weren’t so strong so that he might pass out for the duration of the trip. The small cart he was trapped within only had bars across the top, allowing the sun to scald him. The nights were cold, wind cutting through. His hunger pains made him sick, and his lips dry with dehydration.
Worst of all, though, were the voices. The whispering, inaudible words that stalked throughout the night. It was impossible to tell who may have been speaking. But at times, a disembodied woman’s voice would hit his ears like a crescendo before disappearing. Those were the longest nights of all.
Early morning, Davin woke, startled by the shrill sound of a bird. It was quiet, his guards either sleeping or on alert elsewhere. The bird perched on the top of his cage.
It was on odd looking thing, having the shape of a regular seagull, pose for its abnormally long, ebony-black beak and hefty, predatory talons. It was covered in snow white feathers, not a speck of any other color on it. It was surprisingly clean for a wild animal.
It eyed him with bright red eyes, glassy like drops of fresh blood. It clicked once with its beak, snapping the air, then let out another loud caw.
Davin sat up, the chains rattling against the wood, though the bird wasn’t scared away. It simply cocked its head sideways, watching him inquisitively. It took a step along the bar, closing in a bit on him.
Its beak parted, revealing a dark indigo tongue that vibrated as it cawed long and low. but as its caw broke through his ears, it seemed to carry a whispering voice--one much like the woman’s he had heard in the night.
Covering his ears, Davin kicked at the bars beneath the bird and it flew off, squawking and croaking as it darted out of sight.
The sun poured over Davin as they traveled, burning his exposed skin. Even the tops of his naked feet were red. Groaning, he shifted his weight as his legs grew numb. His right shoulder felt like it was breaking.
All in all, it was a terribly long travel and each day was the same: Eat once a day, drink twice, feel a bit of shade as the trees bowed over the road, sleep in the cage, wake in the cage, relieve himself in the cage. It was never going to end.
One evening, he lied on his side, the cold air wafting over him. He stirred, feeling broken, malnourished, and weak. A hand slinked through the cage and lifted his ragged hair from his eyes. It was a gentle touch, much to Davin's surprise.
He was shocked to see a thin, white hand and arm that slid back to the edge of the cart. There was a second hand wrapped around an iron bar, and then a small, round face past them. She was white--as white as the moon--with hair to match. Her eyes narrowed as a smile broke across the lower of her face.
“Harlin,” he breathed, though he hardly believed it.
She giggled and touched her fingertip to the center of his brow. The touch was frozen and tingled across the rest of his face. Kissing her fingertip after drawing it back, she whispered, “Shhh....King Holloway. Rest. Be easy, you will survive.”
“But--” before he could retaliate, she winked and disappeared into the surrounding darkness.
The following few days, it felt as if his nourishment was returning to him. With each day, he felt a bit stronger and no longer felt hunger nor thirst...At times, he’d feel a pang of hunger, but in general, he was comfortable--as comfortable as he could be, anyhow.
Soon, they reached a city. Demanding voices of a strange accent, the clattering of wagons and horses and doors and boots became overwhelming. The wheels of his cart rattled his teeth as they clenched tightly. His forearms flexed as his fists tightened behind his back.
As they moved, the buildings shaded the heat off of him. Soon enough, the cart came to a stop in a quieter corner of the city. The door was unlocked and pulled open, then Davin was yanked out. His feet hit the stone ground, his knees wobbling a bit from the long ride.
“He is quite covered in filth,” a woman said sternly. Her voice was warm and rich, though he could sense something dark within it. There was a moment of silence as he stood, his head hanging low. “Nasty. Couldn’t you at least let him relieve himself outside of the cart?” she asked.
“Not without risk of his escape,” a man answered. A hand gripped Davin strongly by the shoulder. “Your majesty.”
Majesty...Davin’s frown deepened as rage filled him. Your Majesty--It had to be Sterjia. “Very well,” she sighed shortly. “Take him in. Waste no time.”
Davin was dragged inside before he could get a proper look at her. They moved from hall to hall. Reaching their destination, his chains and pants were removed so he stood naked in a stone room.
Four men threw scalding water over him and scrubbed him down. It took everything within him to keep from lashing out. Once he was cleaned, he was shoved toward the corner where a pile of ragged clothing waited. He pulled on the pants.
He was forced to sit on the little stool, two large men holding him still. One of the other men held a branding iron, the tip red hot and in the shape of a twisted snake with open fangs. Aiming it toward Davin, he pressed it into the front of his left shoulder. Davin growled as his skin melted and cauterized.
“Now put this on,” the man said, giving him a shirt. “It gets cold...don’t want you dying on us.”
Why? He pulled the shirt on, both shoulders burning--one from the old wounds the other from the fresh brand. Why would they not want him to die?
“Where am I?” he brought himself to ask as they led him back into the hallway. His damp feet walked quietly, padding along the stone floor.
“VinCar,” one man answered.
“Why?” No one answered him. “What does Sterjia wa--”
“She is never to be addressed by her name by the likes of you,” the man spat as he whipped around to face him. He was a tall man, his shoulders nearly twice as broad as Davin’s, and a cape of wolf furs draped from them magnificently. His eyes burrowed into Davin with such entensity it nearly made him cringe.
“Enough,” he ordered. “Come.”
They climbed many sets of stairs until they reached a beautiful, open room filled with purple and black drapes. The floor was lined with soft rugs, gold embroidery decorating them with special detail and care.
There were several windows, glowing gold in the lowering sun. In the center of the glass room was a tall throne. It was made of gold plated bone and ivory with what looked like dragon scales climbing up the legs. They were an assortment of colors, ranging from the darkest blue to the palest yellow. Admittedly, it was impressive.
Sitting upon the throne, however, was Sterjia. She was adorned with power. She wore a dress, the corset revealing her narrow shape. Her skirt was layered with probably ten different fabrics of rich, dark colors.
Her back was erect, her gloved fingers curled gently around the end of the arms of her seat. Her black hair was pulled fully out of her face with several pins that pointed with white ivory, looking like small horns of a dragon. Being pulled back, her hair fell down her back all the way to the seat like a black waterfall.
Her painted eyes slowly shifted to Davin, one of her thin, black brows arched at his arrival. Her dark red lips curled into a smile and she let out an unamused laugh. “King Davin Holloway,” she hummed. “It was so easy to talk your kingdom into giving you over. Quick to betray, are they not?”
“Why?” he demanded. Her smirk suddenly disappeared and a look of evil and despise washed over her face in an instant.
The man draped in wolf skin gripped Davin by his bad shoulder, squeezed, and forced him to his knees. Davin growled as he fell. Then, the man grasped him by the hair and forced him to bow before her. “This degenerate--”
“Farekhahn,” Sterjia growled, “Release him.” Reluctantly, he obeyed and his hands left Davin’s body. He raised his shoulders a few times to release the pressure which was once on them. Shaking his head, his hair fell around him, still stinking from travel.
Sterjia stood, her shoes clicking slightly across the marble floor. She slowly stepped down the few steps that held her throne above the rest of the room. Reaching their level, she tilted her head as if in curiosity.
“Dear Davin...” she sighed with a mellifluous voice. “Your kingdom threw you away. Who next shall betray you? Your lovely Queen Kiaran?”
His eyes darted to her as she reached him. She stood directly ahead of him. Her fingertips touched his hair, brushing it aside. It was so gentle. “Come now, if she truly loved you, she would say so, no? You’ve tried so hard, yet she’s said nothing.”
His brow tingled where the girl with multicolored eyes had touched him. He lowered his brows, but the feeling persisted. Sterjia crouched ahead of him so she was eye level. Her stunning blue eyes drew him in and she spoke very clearly, saying, “You do don’t you?”
“I do what?” he growled.
She laughed with her mouth closed, holding in the sound. As her smile cracked, revealing her peril teeth, she said, “You crave her. I can see what you desire, Davin and it is unbecoming of your character.”
His body grew hot, simply adding to the sunburn that stretched over his skin. As she drew her face close, he lowered his, keeping his eyes on nothing at all. Whispering, she said, “You’ll have to do better to get that sort of attention from that queen, Dear. She is...difficult to achieve, no?”
Standing again, she turned, her skirt twirling about her as she walked a few feet away. She spoke without facing him, saying, “Your curse, Davin. It will never fade away. It will always be a part of you.”
He tried to convince himself that she was simply trying to scare him. The tingling across his brow intensified, though he tried his best to ignore it. “What are you trying to prove? You have this kingdom, this land--”
“Yes, but I want the dragons. They are rightfully mine!” she burst, shooting a glare over her narrow shoulder. She posed an eerie similarity to Kiaran. “I was sent away from my home as a babe to find my way back. It was my rightful place to be queen...But...” Her voice softened as she faced the massive windows lined in thin gold. “I aim for something else. And since you’ve asked...I shall answer: I despise Avestitia. With everything in me, I hate them. It was their fault. Their customs that sent me away and because of that...What I’ve gone through...I’ve been tortured. Ripped of my womanhood. My child was taken from me to become a monster--just as his father! Because of Avestitia. Because of customs! I was tormented. I was ridiculed. I was beaten and nearly drowned. Avestitia. HA!”
She played with a silver band around her wrist that matched the snake branded on Davin’s shoulder. Her thin, gloved fingers danced along the silver snake until she dropped her hands back to her sides. Walking to her throne, she spun and sat, saying, “Take him away. Farekhahn, I ask of you to stay.”
He nodded as the other three men dragged Davin off. Sterjia followed him with her eyes as they disappeared down the stairs. Her fingertips pressed against each other as she inhaled deeply.
Farekhahn knelt on one knee, keeping his head bowed. His dark hair was pulled into a ponytail, his curling locks twisting down his back, hiding in the wolfskins. “Your Highness,” he said lowly.
She said nothing for the longest time and simply stewed. Finally, she said, “He is stronger than I had imagined.” The man remained quiet, allowing her to think aloud. “Somehow he can keep that curse at bay...” Her blood ran hot as her breathing quickened. “Oh--it doesn’t matter,” she swatted a hand through the air as she leaned back in her seat. “I shall still use him to my advantage.”
“None shall compare to your wisdom and strength, my Queen,” he said, his deep voice like honey.
She smiled, her eyes moving to the man. “Come, Farekhahn.” He stood and moved to her side. She stood with him, and touched a hand gently to his bearded cheek. She looked longingly into his dark eyes with a sweet smile. Tapping her fingers on his face, she kissed his nose and said, “You give me much credit.”
“Credit where it is due, your Highness,” he bowed his head.
“Sweet,” she breathed. Her fingers moved down his jaw and neck to his shoulder where she kept her hand. “You are loyal...aren’t you?”
“Of course,” he answered.
A corner of her lips curled and she said, “You are the very man that Trindal VinCar shall look to. Anytime one wonders what a man should be...They shall see you, my dear.” With that said, they kissed, her fingers tightening on the wolf pelt along his shoulder. His broad hand moved to her back, drawing her in.