The caravan had finally reached the capital. It was not much different from any ordinary city with its typical decor. Flags of purple draped from tall buildings and stone statues stood in the courtyards. The towers, however, stood tall and slender like horns from a beast. They appeared black against the bright sun, casting ominous shadows across them. It was far colder, the wind carrying dark clouds toward the city.
People did not seem friendly or particularly happy at their arrival, giving no attention to them as they strode by.
Being in the city made Kiaran’s stomach acids rise, singeing her heart. This could be where Davin was. Her eyes ran over the buildings as they neared the castle, but she saw nothing that looked like a dungeon or prison.
She walked beside Brinden, Ryker’s pace slowing. He was caught in the excitement of another city. “Mother,” he awed, “This is the capital of any good books.” She smiled at him as he eyed everything closely. “VinCar holds the most mages and the most authors than any other country,” he continued, “I love to read books about them and see what all a mage is capable of.”
“It would be a good thing to know if you ever had to fight one,” Brinden laughed.
Britta walked to them, smiling softly at Ryker who waved happily. “It is rather cold today,” she said.
“Aye,” Brinden agreed. “Are you anxious?” he smiled.
“I am,” she nodded.
“I’ll bet you get the very job you hope for,” Ryker perked up.
Smiling, she said, “That would be lovely.” She chuckled, saying, “Hopefully we will be close enough to visit often!”
“Yes!” he gasped, looking to Kiaran. “We’ll do that, won’t we, Mom?”
“Of course,” she nodded, doubting their luck would be so.
Soon, they were escorted to a corridor where they were allowed a place to freshen up and ready themselves to meet the employers. They had been split into groups according to skills, age, and pay-grade.
Kiaran dressed into a green and gold dress to match the headpiece that Estiahn had given her. Ryker wore simple, nice looking clothing, though his hair was messy. Kiaran tried to fix his hair, but it was too wild. She snickered slightly, dropping her hands to her sides helplessly.
“Your hair is wild, boy,” she finally said.
“I know,” he rolled his eyes as he wiped a hand over it.
A booming voice caught the attention of everyone in the hall, saying, “If you shall follow me, the employers are ready.”
The group of people faced the man and walked out of the corridors and into the castle. The ceilings were tall and the walls were far apart. It was so open and roomy, nearly any dragon could fit in it with ease.
Kiaran looked across the way, her eyes pausing on each person. Any one of them could be a mage, and any one of them could be against her. Her heart raced.
Finally, they came to a large room, the tall windows draped with elegant fabrics. There were twelve people in all, some men, some women. They were all rather professional looking, watching them with stone eyes.
Kiaran stood with the others, many of the important people of VinCar watching them. There were tailors, blacksmiths, innkeepers, and several other business owners. One woman walked to Kiaran, eyeing her headpiece.
The woman’s tight curls were pulled back, tied tightly to her head. The light glinted off the silver necklace that hung from her neck. The onyx ornament clung to the chain just above her cleavage, the black and green lace of her fancy dress reaching toward it.
She leaned forward slightly, holding a finger to Kiaran’s new, heart shaped face. She touched her chin as she said, “Your headband, did you make it?”
“No,” she replied, near ready to swat the woman’s finger away. Ryker watched silently. The woman removed her hand and eyed her closely with a hint of curiosity. “It was given to me.”
She stood back up, looking her over. “So, you cannot sew?”
“I have never tried,” she answered honestly. “I’d assume I could catch on, however.”
“Hm...” she hummed as she stepped back. “Perhaps. We shall see.” With that, she moved on, looking over the other girls.
“Who do you think will chose us?” Ryker whispered.
“I don’t know,” she breathed. They would be lucky if anyone.
A short man stood ahead of her, asking, “What skills might you have, woman?”
“I can write, read, and clean,” she said shortly.
He waited for a moment, expecting more. “Is that it?”
“Well, yes,” she lowered a brow slightly, “I also learn things quickly, and I can work for hours without tiring.”
“Well,” he grunted. He glanced to Ryker, asking, “Is this your son?”
“It is,” she nodded.
“Is he skilled in anyway?”
She paused, wondering. “He is a great student,” she said. “His father taught him many things. He spends much of his time reading. And he paints.”
“What does he study?”
“Anything,” Ryker smiled widely. “I love books.”
“As does Nila,” he said slowly. He moved his hands to his hips, his red shirt pulled tightly across his large belly. “Come with me, the both of you. I want you to give my wife company as I leave during the day.” He thought for a moment more, asking, “Is anyone here a good entertainer?”
“I’m not sure,” she shook her head, curiosity swarming her. “What kind of entertainment, exactly?”
“My wife and I enjoy a good show at times, like singing or dancing or music,” he said. “Can either of you sing?”
They glanced to one another and Ryker said, “I can play a lute.”
“I sing on occasion,” she shrugged.
“And quite well,” Ryker smiled. She glanced to him and he shrugged, saying, “I’ve heard you lately, Mother...” At times, to pass the long hours of walking or cleaning sheets, Kiaran would hum or sing small parts of the Zeil’s songs--the parts that she could recall, anyhow.
“Ah, yes,” she slowly looked back to the man, saying, “I was taught a few simple steps from a woman years ago. I am sure it isn’t too difficult to learn to dance.”
“Hm,” he pondered. “I might like the two of you...”
A few people down, someone was speaking with Britta. “You will work with me,” he said as he stood tall. “My daughters need help at the inn. You seem like you would fit in.”
“Thank you,” she bowed shortly.
“Follow me,” the short man grabbed their attention again. “I will take you to our home.”
“What do you do, may I ask?” Kiaran asked.
“I am a traveling merchant. At times, my wife is left at home, and she gets lonely,” he answered.
“So we are pets, in a way?” Kiaran replied.
He looked over his shoulder at her, his brows low. “No,” he grunted, “You are human beings and will not be treated so lowly. You are simply going to give her company and enjoyment. All I strive for is her happiness, and I cannot keep her happy when I am gone.”
Kiaran slowed her pace as a man spoke with Brinden. He nodded, smiling. He, too, found a job in VinCar. Ryker walked past her and she picked her pace back up.
They were outside the castle, the golden sun setting in the distance. Shadows contorted the area, giving it a much more terrible look. Ryker held Kiaran’s hand tightly as he walked nearby, his eyes looking over the area silently. They glanced to one another, one seeming just as concerned as the other.
In the distance they could see a small army returning to the castle. They carried banners which matched those in the city. “Seems as if the Queen is keeping busy,” the man said lowly.
Kiaran’s new employer had a fantastic house. It was tall, two stories--each story about twenty feet from floor to ceiling. The front was covered with tall windows and beautiful plants that grew from pots hanging along the windowsills, though they were dying from the season’s change.
It was a beautiful home with a small plot of land. It sat near the castle, but was stuck between his shop and a blacksmith. Other than that, it was rather secluded by trees.
The thick scent of baking bread and burning wood lofted through the air. “Inari is a great cook. It smells as if she is baking raisin bread again. You will love it,” Marco, her employer, said. Nearing the door, he held the handle, saying, “It may take a while, but you will soon fit in just fine here.”
Opening the door, he walked right in. Ryker looked to Kiaran, hesitant to follow. She glanced to the boy and shrugged. They walked in after him, taken by the beauty of the decor.
Candelabrums of gold were strategically placed to look their best. Curtains of the nicest silks draped over the windows, blocking out the setting sun. The home was spacious, but not overly-so like the castle.
“Well, come on,” he waved a hand through the air.
They followed him, admiring the paintings hanging on the walls. “Oh, I would love to paint this,” Ryker breathed as he stopped. He admired a painting of a tree, its trunk twisting all the way to the branches that spread toward the vast sky. It was a beautiful piece, having many dark and bright contrasts.
“Your mother says that you paint. It is something you do often?” Marco asked, facing him.
“I dabble,” he shrugged a shoulder.
“He is talented in his hobbies,” Kiaran assured him.
“Perhaps Nila will show you a few things,” he smiled. “She painted that.”
“She does a great job,” Kiaran replied.
“Aye,” he smiled past his little beard. “Now, she is waiting, come.”
Finally, they moved into a nearly empty room. It had only a few chairs and one table in the center of the room. The smells of paints and paper filled the air and Ryker smiled.
At the table stood a short, plump woman. Her cleavage was like floured bread dough, pressed tightly together at the top of her colorful corset. Her corset had an array of colors in simple vertical stripes all the way around, black lace lining the top. Her skirt had several colors beneath the shear black fabric. She had a beautiful, round face, soft and her cheeks a light pink. Her hair was full of blonde curls that were pinned back messily.
In her hand, she held a paint brush that she carefully stroked the last line of black on the canvas. Her round, green eyes looked up from her work at her two new employees.
A white smile spread across her delicate lips. “Welcome,” she gleamed as she stood up straight. She was beautiful and seemed so welcoming.
“Nila, this is Anika and Ryker,” Marco said.
“I see,” she walked from around the table to look them over. She seemed to eye Ryker closely from where she stood, saying, “What a sweet boy! Tell me, Ryker, is it?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
“Well, Ryker, tell me, what do you favor most in life?” she asked.
He lowered a brow quizzically, and said, “Well, I suppose I enjoy life. If I didn’t have it, I’d have nothing at all.”
“Oh,” she laughed, “A scholar, are we?”
His eyes slowly moved to Kiaran, confused by the response. What made him a scholar for that? It was a simple fact that no one could enjoy anything without first having life.
“He enjoys reading, painting, and he can play the lute,” Marco explained.
“I see,” she hummed, walking to them. “I assume you are the mother?” she asked.
“I am,” she nodded.
“Well, I hope you both feel welcome in my home. It gets rather lonely without Marco,” she smiled. “Our cook is the only other employee we have, and she lives with her husband and sons across town.”
“We thank you for housing us,” Kiaran lowered her head.
“Of course,” she smiled, watching her. Perking up, she added, “I am sure you two would love to get cleaned up and have some rest, no? Inari will have the bread ready for breakfast tomorrow.”
“That sounds great,” Kiaran smiled.