As the day stretched into evening, Kiaran watched Ryker dart around with Britta. He helped her tend to the elders in the carts, mostly.
The horses were detached from their carts and lined up near a stream, drinking cold water. Behind the horses and trees, the sky bled a deep pink color through the thick, stretched clouds.
The grass was bright green and full. Kiaran walked through the grass, farther away from the others. The breeze rippled through her skirt and the grass, cooling her. Her hand moved over her short curls, touching the headpiece that Estiahn gave her.
“Ki--Ak--Mom!” Ryker shouted as he rushed to her, stumbling over her name, then her fake name, then her title as mother. She spun around in alarm, only to see happiness plastered on his face. Her heart slowed back down. Nothing was wrong, he was simply excited.
“What is it?” she asked.
He reached her, holding her hand in his. It initiated a slight response, her muscles tensing in surprise. “I like these people,” he said.
That was it? All that excitement for such a simple statement?
“Aye,” she nodded. She walked forward. “Come, sit with me.”
They sat together in the grass. She watched him as the soft light glowed on his smooth skin. His eyes stared forward, the colors of his irises blending like the greenest tea. He was going to grow up into a handsome young man, and she felt privileged to help take care of him.
She smiled slightly, her heart skipping. His eyes moved to her and she exhaled slowly. It was finally time to tell him. To let him know the world. Her world. And what it shall become.
“When I was younger, Nathanial was the man that raised me in Kamoni...His wife had his child, Grace. Before I left Kamoni, she was around your age. Her spirit was broken,” her voice was soft. Her words were short and broken up. It was very clearly difficult to form her story in soft enough terms for the boy to hear.
She didn't realize how difficult it would still be to speak of her. Often, she'd wake in the night, tears in her eyes, realizing how forgotten Grace had become in her busy life.
Ryker’s attention was fully on her as he listened. His wide eyes dug into her as her heart burned.
Her voice wouldn’t work at first, but she was finally able to continue, “Nathanial was an awful man...and before I killed him...earlier that night, he had killed her. That was all I wanted...was to protect her.”
He audibly gasped, his face paling. Of course, how could a father kill his own child? Ryker wouldn't know how cruel the world actually was.
Neither of them spoke, the silence filled with chirping birds as they flew home. He had no idea how to reply.
“I believe that is why I distance myself with you,” she continued. “I am sorry for that.”
“It is alright,” he finally got out. “I am sorry about your...sister.”
“As am I,” she sighed weakly. The guilt was almost too much.
“Now, to change the subject," she cleared her throat, "we should be getting ready to sleep. My feet are swollen.”
“Mine as well!” he smiled, albeit sadly.
It was early morning, Ryker helping Britta pack the supplies back onto the carts. A boy walked by and flashed a smile at her. She concealed a grin as she continued to work, watching him from the corner of her eyes.
Ryker noticed and frowned a bit. The boy seemed strong enough, and a little handsome...and a bit older.
He sighed, realizing it was not worth the frustration. He was developing a strong like toward Britta, but he would only know her for a short while before disappearing back to Avestitia with Kiaran.
“Who was that?” Ryker asked once he walked away.
“That was Cole,” she responded, a soft smile on her lips.
“Is he a friend of yours?”
“Hardly,” she laughed. He cocked his head slightly and she added, “I do not have many friends, Ryker.”
“Ah,” he breathed, “I never had many, either.”
Just over an hour had passed, and they were on the road once again. The dirt kicked up beneath their feet as they walked. Kiaran was between carts, her ears perking to the snorting of horses and the chatter of those surrounding her.
Ryker and Britta talked as they strolled beside her. Kiaran glanced there way, zoning in on their conversation.
“No, lions do not purr,” Britta giggled. “They can only roar and growl. They aren’t capable of making the purr sound that small cats do.”
“But I guarantee that is what I heard!” he shouted with a laugh. “That lion just fell on the rock, purring like a kitten with milk. I don’t know what was in it, but the thing sure enjoyed that plant.”
Kiaran grinned as she kept her eyes forward.
“Britta!” a new voice cut in. Kiaran’s attention darted behind her to the children. A girl, possibly slightly older than Britta, marched up to her. Her hair was braided and rolled up on the back of her head. Her clothes were nice, allowing Kiaran to assume she was a rather well-off girl.
“What, Minda?” she asked coolly. There was irritation clearly in her eyes.
“Do you realize why you are here?” she asked. They came to a stop, Ryker and Kiaran sticking around as well, though Kiaran strolled a few feet ahead.
“Why?” Britta rolled her eyes.
“Do not insult me by rolling your eyes,” Minda barked. “You are unworthy of following this caravan. Do you not realize it?”
“Excuse me, but where do you think you have the right to accuse her of such things?” Ryker chimed in, his voice booming.
The girl laughed, her eyes still on Britta. “You have a little boy protecting you now? Please--Britta, grow up and be the woman your mother always was.”
“What does that mean?” Her body tensed up as her brows drew low. Kiaran knew that stance, she could read her like a book--she was ready to lunge forward.
“Oh, you know,” she looked aside, smirking. “I mean it has nothing to do with how she whored arou--”
Britta moved to harm her, but stopped. Rather, she balled up her fists. She was in the right mode for attack. “You need to shut your mouth before I bust your teeth down your throat,” she breathed with an all too cool tone.
“Getting your words from your old grandfather, I see?” she scoffed. “Fine, I will leave you with the outcasts. But I’ll have you know, for that little threat...You will regret that.”
The second group of horses pulled the cart past them, the wheels rattling loudly. Britta kicked her feet back together and dropped her hands, her expression sinking slightly.
Kiaran watched silently and Ryker faced the girl. “What was that about?” Ryker blurted out.
Kiaran began to interject, to keep Ryker from stepping on toes, but she answered. “My mother was a known whore before marrying my father...And my grandfather is a mouthy, fighting man who drinks far more than necessary,” her voice was soft. “Everyone says the only reason I am on this trip is because my father is leading it. Which is pretty well true.”
“No,” Ryker shook his head, “You are a good person and help take care of the people who can’t do much. Right Kiar--” He froze. Britta lowered a brow quizzically at him. He slowly faced Kiaran whose eyes widened slightly as he laughed. “I almost called you Kiari!”
“Who is Kiari?” Britta asked slowly. “If I may ask?”
“She was my aunt...” It felt as if the answer was coming too slowly. “She lived with us for a while, and I spent a lot of time with her.”
“I worked in the day, so she’d watch Ryker for me,” Kiaran nodded. “He sometimes gets into the habit of mixing our names up.”
“Sorry,” he grinned, his insides on fire.
“I understand,” she giggled. “Once I had a cat named Fickle, and my mother would shout at him for spilling milk on our table, but throw my brother’s name instead.” Ryker laughed with her and Kiaran’s heart slowed back to normal. It was close, but the boy was quick enough to fix the problem.
“So,” Ryker began as they walked once more, “you have a brother?”
“An older brother, yes,” she nodded. “He is twenty now and works in the castle as a guard...We haven’t heard much from him, but my father says he was probably moved to a smaller area to work. There has been a lot of problems in most of the smaller cities. We assume that he is working in one of those to protect the people.”
“That is an honest job,” Kiaran said lowly, her gaze dropping to her feet. It made her think of Davin, his duty before becoming King...Before turning against Murdock. All he and Alana wanted was to protect the people of Rishana. Even from its king.
“Oh, your husband was a guard, wasn’t he?” she asked. Kiaran’s heart pounded for a moment and she forced a smile. “I-I apologize if I struck a nerve asking.”
“No,” she shook her head, “These things happen. I am used to it.”