As the day stretched into evening, the caravan was coming to a stop. It had been a few nights, and it seemed as if they were only inching closer to the city.
Stella rested on her stomach, the cold forest floor freezing through her jacket. The sounds of the caravan and the talking people just off the cliff she spied from were muffled by rustling leaves.
She watched through the branches as they moved off the road and set up camp. Her elbows dug into the dirt and she rested her chin in her hands.
Cyrin made his way from the brush, lying beside her on his chest. He watched the group of people with her.
“Feel better?” she asked.
“I do,” he grunted.
“It sounded like a waterfall, you must have been holding it for hours” she jested.
He stared at her, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Let us focus less on my urine, now,” he said flatly.
She muffled a laugh, facing the caravan once more. Ryker darted between carts with a young girl. “So,” she began, “Cyrin? Have you ever been married?”
“No,” he answered simply.
“Really? Why not?” He lowered a brow at her quizzically. “I just assumed that you would have married someone, I suppose.”
“I’ve never felt the need to have a wife,” he answered as he watched Ryker. Kiaran in her new form appeared uneasy. She was still trying to adjust. “The thought may have risen once or twice, but I am just far too busy with my work.”
“Ah...You mean with Kiaran?” His purple eyes shifted to her. “You spend a lot of time with her.”
He let out a laugh, his handsome smile beaming. “There is nothing romantic about it.”
“Well why not? You spend your entire time working for her.” It grew silent, but his smile was still there. “I suppose it would be hard to love her if she was already in love with someone else.”
“That isn’t it at all...Ritiann mothered me for years, so I feel like Kiaran is a lost sister,” he stated. And for the first time, he realized that only two women had ever peaked his interest.
“Do you truly feel that way?” she questioned.
It was silent as he scrutinized her curious face. She was stunned with the idea that they could be only friends without a romantic or sexual air about it. Why was she so hung up on it?
“Why are you so intent on this?” he finally voiced his inquiry.
“I don’t know,” she admitted sheepishly.
Sighing, he said, “I will not argue the fact that she an astonishing woman...But, I will tell you, I am not in love with her. What would I lose or gain by lying about it?”
“Well,” she looked away. “I was simply curious.”
“And what of you?” he asked.
She smiled perfectly. “I’ve never been married,” she began. “But I used to pull men around by the scruff of their necks.” She paused, sighing softly. It was embarrassing how she used to behave.
“I suppose I liked the attention...But as I watched Kiaran, that part of me died. She was always so confident, knowing exactly who she was. Confident, strong, attractive..."
Cyrin watched her. It surprised him to hear Kiaran labeled as confident. Was it not evident to all others that was what she lacked most of all? That her absence of confidence is what caused her doubt and fears?
"She was never flirtatious to get what she wanted. She was respected. I wanted that same respect, for myself and from others," she continued, not noticing his puzzlement.
Her eyes slowly moved to him, smiling awkwardly. “Also...if it weren’t for her, I’d either be dead or in my old way of life. And either of those would be a bad thing.”
She folded her arms flat on the ground, resting her chin atop them. It was silent again, and cold. Cyrin watched her. She had changed because of Kiaran, and--from the stories--Torin seemed to have changed as well. Kiaran was a woman of influence and would be a great leader.
He faced forward again as Kiaran slinked off, away from the others. She stood in a field, her back to everyone and her arms folded across her chest.
Finally, he asked, “What did you do before you met her? What was your life before?”
She lifted her gaze, sighing. Sitting, she folded her legs in front of her. With both hands, she pulled her hair into a ball, tying it in place. Burn scars stretched across the back of her neck, creeping down past her coat. The scars were faint, but still noticeable.
“I was an assassin,” she shrugged. “My father, and his father before him were in that line of work--Has Kiaran not told you?”
He shrugged and shook his head.
“Well, it made a good amount of money, and we could live comfortably. It was a profitable position. And it was very difficult to maintain. Mother resented my father and me for it...She forced my older sister to marry a man far from home, hoping that getting her away from Father--and hopefully would keep her from becoming an assassin as well. Not that it helped anything. Once you're born into the family of assassins, if you are chosen to become one, you are raised into it. My sister was not. So, ideally, there was nothing to fear.”
She adjusted her hands, touching the grass before her as she kept her gaze low. “I was Father’s prodigy. I excelled in hand to hand combat, and everyone saw it. My name was well known in Kamoni, and thus, King Rolland himself wanted to hire me. To kill Kiaran.”
Cyrin sat with her, pulling his pack to himself. Digging through his things, he found some jerky and handed her a piece. They ate quietly for several minutes.
“I was an assassin as well,” he finally said. She shot her eyes over to him, her brows lifting.
“That is a surprise.”
The sounds of leaves crunching perked their ears. They both shot to their feet, watching for any slight movement. Out of the trees walked a tall man.
He had slick, black hair and bright blue eyes. His features were like a finely chiseled statue, perfect in every way. His eyes shifted between the two, rage boiling just beneath the skin. “What are you doing?” he questioned, his accent very similar to Cyrin’s.
“Relaxing from our travels,” Cyrin said sharply, flexing his gloved hands. “What do you want? Are you a bandit?”
“You are the ones staking out this caravan,” the man growled. “I will ask the questions.”
“I think we can handle this like adults,” Stella said with a gentle voice and a kind smile. “There is no need to have such a nasty attitude...Either of you.”
“That is my son down there,” he barked as he pointed, “He is supposed to be in Avestitia, what is he doing here?”
“We don’t know what you are talking about,” Cyrin lowered a brow. Was this real? Or was he trying to trick them?
“That boy,” he hissed, pointing directly at Ryker. “He is my son. At this moment, he should be with the queen, safe and far, far away from this country. Again I’ll ask: Why. Is. He. Here?!”
Cyrin took in everything about this man. He studied his eyes, his hair, his facial structure...Was he Ryker’s father? “What is your name?” Cyrin asked.
“What?” he lowered a brow. “Arrimen,” he grunted. He glared at Cyrin, saying, “I know who you are. I do not know your name, but I know what you do for Ritiann. So I assume that Kiaran knows you and I assume she told you about him.”
“She has,” he nodded.
“Where is she?” Arrimen questioned.
Cyin and Stella exchanged looks, saying nothing. It was silent for a long, few seconds. “If you are Arrimen, why are you here?” Cyrin asked. “I thought you lived in Trindal.”
“I am here to finish what must be started. That is all I will tell you,” he said. “Now I need to know why Kiaran is putting my son in danger.”
“We cannot explain this,” Cyrin said.
Arrimen blew up, rage boiling out of him. Stella moved forward, holding her arms out. Gently, she touched a hand to Arrimen's shoulder. She broke in before he could retaliate, either with words or fists.
“Now, Arrimen, let us speak of this. I will explain all that I can. But what we leave out, trust me, is for the safety of your son and Kiaran both.”
His eyes were like ice, cutting straight into her. Her hands were stern, but gentle as she guided him in the direction he came from. They walked slowly as she patted his shoulder. “Cyrin is a little tight,” she shrugged. “He was raised in a castle, I suppose I’d be a little arrogant as well.”
“I just want to know what is going on,” Arrimen ordered.
“I know,” she smiled sympathetically. “Kiaran and Ryker are going to the capital. That is too much I have told you already. All I can say is that she would never put him in danger. You should see the way she watches over him, like a mother wolf, she is.”
He sighed heavily and came to a stop. “Do you know what they do to mages in VinCar?” She cocked her head slightly, curious. “Sterjia uses them for her army, to ensure that any possible threat toward her works for her. She can watch them more closely. Do you know what she does to any that might show rebellious behavior?”
She shook her head, her eyes wide and watching. “She kills them. Publicly. To let the rest of her people know how low her tolerance is for anyone who questions her. If they find Ryker, he will belong to her.”
Stella stared anxiously. “I promise that will not happen,” she breathed.
“No,” he huffed. He turned and walked toward Cyrin again. “I will get him out of here, myself.”
Cyrin held up a hand saying, “Hold on, Arrimen.” He ignored him and continued toward him. “Arrimen,” he barked. “You put trust into Kiaran for a reason, did you not? Why would you doubt her now?”
“She was never supposed to let him leave Vintar,” he howled. “That is the only reason I sent him away.”
“Vintar is just as dangerous now,” Cyrin continued. “Sterjia has taken Brinn, and they are now attacking our kingdom. She’s convinced Walter of Rishana to work for her, so who knows how long it’ll be before he attacks as well. Kiaran thought it safest to bring the boy with her, rather than be separate of him.”
Arrimen froze, staring at him. Every muscle in his body flexed and his brows drew low. Inhaling deeply, he stood erect, his shoulders squaring off. “I will trust her judgment, but if anything happens to my son, she will pay.”
“Understood,” Cyrin said. Stella shot a glare at him.
“I will be off to finish my job, then,” Arrimen announced lowly as he walked away.
Once he had been out of sight for a moment, Stella whispered, “I didn’t expect that.”
“Neither did I,” Cyrin agreed lowly.