From Tribe to Horseback
They had taken a large dragon, departing Vintar rather suddenly. It was quiet, no one but Ritiann, Cyrin, and Elsibellem to send them off.
The dragon flew effortlessly across the sea and into Rishana’s territory. It carried them over the lands and past mountains. Kiaran could feel the chill of the air despite the bodies in front and behind her.
Stella clutched tightly, clearly very uncomfortable with being in flight. Ryker, however, awed and pointed. He was in love with it all.
By the time they reached the Tribe, it was late. The sky was dark, filled with speckles of stars and a large moon. The dragon shifted its weight anxiously as it watched them walk away.
Nurra clutched to Kiaran’s shoulders, his slender body stretched across the back of her neck. His orange eyes darted about, watching their surroundings. Kiaran glanced back to the dragon and she whispered in Draken, “It is safe, do not worry.”
As they neared, they could smell the few fires that were roaring. Some houses were still being built from their recent move. Many of the Zeil were still awake and enjoying the relaxed company of one another.
Each person grew silent as Kiaran passed. Some noticed her right away, lowering their heads or reaching a hand out to greet her. Others were shocked by her change and her presence and stared in silent awe.
Shouts rose as some finally leapt from their places and rushed to her. They praised her return, as if she were a missing queen. A much more loving reaction than in Avestitia.
“Our leader is here,” some would sing, “She has come back.”
The air was filled with laughter and high spirits. Kiaran could not bear to smile, her heart dipping into the acids of her stomach. She held a hand into the air, the others following suit. “I am glad to be here,” she said, forcing a convincing smile. Their voices rose together as they cheered. “This will always be my family.”
A tall, blonde man walked toward her. Ark. She smiled at him, remembering his sister who cared for her when she was weak from the wolf attack. He lowered his head for a moment, saying, “Welcome, Kiaran.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “I am sorry about your sister. And your brother, as well?”
“We’ve lost many, then,” he replied quietly. They had died when the Tribe was attacked by Rishana’s king. He, then, said, “We wish you could stay.”
“I know,” she smiled. “But I am sure Kane is doing a fine job.”
“He and Raven, both,” he smiled as his gaze moved off to the side.
She could feel Ryker standing closely to her. His little hand touched her arm which was at his shoulder. He pulled her arm toward his chest as he wrapped his hand tightly around it. She looked down to him as his eyes glided over the people.
She smiled as she stood up straight again. The red clothing that she wore was beautiful, royal, and covered in black metals shaped like dragon scales. The fire nearby flickered on the gold rings in her ear and nose. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a gold and opal band wrapping around the base. Her hair flowed gently in the breeze, looking like thin strands of silk.
Facing Ark once more, she asked, “Where is--”
Kane walked into view, Raven at his side. They both bowed their heads for a moment and they greeted her with hands on their tattooed hearts. Kane’s tattoo for leadership was incomplete, the circle surrounding the tree was blank without the lace-like designs within it. They still viewed Kiaran as their rightful leader, and she would remain as such until death.
“Kiaran,” Kane said.
“Walter is the king now?” she asked flatly, anger flaring for a moment. Kane glanced to Stella who stood nearby with a heavy expression. She kept her head low, as if she were a child in trouble.
Kiaran didn’t have time to ask Stella many questions. So her reason for being in Avestitia was still a little faint. Curiosity and a touch of guilt flooded her as she glanced her way.
“Basically,” he answered. “We’ve done what we could to change his mind. But the kingdom is now in a state of martial law.”
“Does he realize what he has done?” Kiaran bit. Everyone silenced, their voice replaced with the sound of the cracking fire and the chirping bugs.
“We...believe he may have planned all of this from the start,” Raven said.
“Walter...?” Kiaran could hardly believe it.
Before she could be fully washed over with rage, Stella stepped toward them. Kiaran pulled forward, leaving the people behind before she said something regrettable. Ryker kept with her, watching each person as they past. His fingers tightened around her forearm as her pace quickened.
Pulling her arm free of Ryker’s grip, she wrapped it across his shoulders, guiding him away. They walked up a hill where a row of benches sat beneath a tree. They sat together in silence, listening to the night around them.
“I realize I’ve not told you much...about myself,” she began quietly. “When I first left Avestitia, I was placed in Kamoni with a horrid man and his wife.” He watched her, confused. She had never spoken of her past. Not a single story. Not one reference. “One night, I finally killed him. The soldiers thought I was a monster...So, I was imprisoned.” The blues and greens in his eyes shined as he listened to the story. “But...if by the grace of God...Two soldiers of Rishana happened to be there the day I was arrested.” Her eyes stared ahead, looking back to Davin through the prison bars. “Davin was the first person to show me what real goodness was.”
The air was a perfect coolness, the chirping bugs growing louder. “You fell in love with him?” he asked.
Her face flushed as she refused to answer. “He and Alana saved me,” she said, her eyes moving back to him. He was sitting closely to her, his hands on either side of his legs on the wooden bench. “Their king wanted to have me killed, so Torin and I escaped to the Zeil.”
“The Zeil...” he breathed. “This tribe?”
“Aye,” she nodded. “Here, I learned from an old man how to enjoy the sounds of nature.” She closed her eyes and faced the sky above them. Breathing in the scents of the woods around them, she said, “Fargo was his name. A wise old man. He had poor sight in his age, so he would listen to the bugs chirp at night. He’d listen to the songs birds sing, as if they had words along with them.”
Ryker was caught, staring at her. The scars along her eye were a prominent part of her face, but did not make her ugly. Instead, she was all the more interesting. She peaked through her lashes at him and he instantly closed his eyes to listen with her.
“Sometimes,” she spoke softly, “if you listen close enough, you could hear someone’s heart beat as they fall in love. Fargo told me this, once. His heart sings a different tune.”
“That is a beautiful thought,” he replied softly.
“It is,” she agreed as she opened her eyes once more. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been in love, per say...But I have been overwhelmed with warmness and with the love that everyone should feel. The Zeil provided a family for me, and I have a great love for them.”
“That is wonderful,” he admired with a warm expression. “I hope to experience such a thing.”
“You will,” she assured him.
“Kiaran?” She lowered her gaze to him. “Can...can I tell you something?”
He hesitated. “I know who you are,” he continued, “My father is your brother, yes? I...overheard.”
She smiled, which confused the young boy. He wasn’t supposed to know, but she was smiling about it. “Honestly, I am glad that you know. It isn’t easy keeping the truth from someone who is so intelligent.”
He lit up, his lips curling at the corners. “You believe I am intelligent?”
“You are,” she nodded. “Just always remember no matter how smart you are, it means nothing if you don’t have a heart.”
“I’ll always remember,” he replied happily.
Soon, Stella approached, grasped their attention. Kiaran stood with her, the air seeming to tense. The glass-like flower which clung to Kiaran’s hair caught Stella’s eye. She leaned toward it in incrustation. “That is a beautiful flower. Odd to see it in your wardrobe,” she smiled weakly. “I meant to comment on it earlier, but I was too busy trying to not fall off the dragon’s back.”
“You were securely glued to my back,” she replied with a hint of humor. “...It was a gift.”
“Oh,” Stella breathed, as if catching on. She hesitated, a frown touching her lips.
Clearing her throat, Kiaran asked, “Where is Torin?”
Following Stella’s directions, she and Ryker skirted the tribe, hoping to avoid anyone they could. In the distance was Torin’s small home.
Outside, Torin was hunched over, picking up a stick. Throwing it far into the woods, he laughed as a young wolf darted after it, playing games. As the wolf returned with the stick, it sat at his feet and looked to the visitors with a cocked head. Torin followed his wolf’s gaze and his expression faded away.
Kiaran’s feet carried her more quickly as her heart shattered and her blood ran cold. How could she tell Torin about his brother? Stopping before him, she froze. “Kiaran?” he asked. “I didn’t expect to see you here--What’s wrong?” his voice deepened as he saw her glistening, damp eyes.
“It’s your brother,” she choked out.
“What?” he asked softly, stepping toward her. He glanced to Ryker, but ignored him, giving Kiaran his full attention. “What did he do?”
“Torin,” a woman called from the doorway of the house. She stood several inches shorter than Lianna and her copper tented hair was pulled into a tight bun on the top of her head. She wore a dress, very clearly from the city rather than the tribe.
Her eyes moved to Kiaran curiously, her hands covered in flour as she wiped them on her skirt. “Torin, your wife needs your assistance inside...”
“Right,” he replied lowly. “Come in, Kiaran.”
Moving a slightly shaking hand to her face, she wiped her hair aside and shook her head. “No, I...”
“Come and meet my parents,” he said. She looked at him in surprise and he said, “They came with me after I returned from Avestitia. They didn’t feel safe in the City any longer.”
“I wouldn’t either,” she muttered. Another tear ran down her cheek and Torin frowned.
Looking back to his apparent mother, he said, “I’ll be in in a moment.”
“Very well,” she replied, reluctant to walk back inside.
He faced her once more, darkness swallowing them as the door closed off the light inside.
“I...I lost him,” she admitted. “We got into my own territory, and...Davin was...taken.” His body tensed as he remained silent. “She has him and I can’t do anything about it--I-I don’t know what I’m going to do--”
“Kiaran,” he said, gripping her by the arm. Her eyes shot to him and a fat tear ran down one cheek. “It is not your responsibility to run straight in to save him. We will figure all of this out.”
“No,” she shook her head. “You must stay here with the Zeil. Help them travel north. Understood?”
“I,” he trailed off, then clamped his mouth shut, nodding his head. “I understand.” After a moment, he released her, then asked, “Why are you here? Just to tell me that?”
“No,” she said softly. “I am so sorry, Torin...”
“Kiaran,” he replied quietly, shaking his head. “Don’t be. Davin is strong, he will be fine,” he tried to assure her--though he was trying to assure himself as well. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he added, “Kiaran, it is fine.”
Holding her face in her hands, she held her breath. Torin grew tense, only recalling seeing her cry as such perhaps once before...Even that was from a distance. She never openly cried.
“I can’t do this,” she whispered. “I can’t lead an entire country--and the Zeil still relies on me--and now a child is placed in my care, and Davin is ripped away from me and thrown into a prison and is very likely being brought to the brink of death only to be healed again so they could do it once more tomorrow! I can’t do this, Torin--I don’t know how anyone could!”
Hesitant to do anything, Torin remained still. He wanted to pull her to his chest and allow her to cry, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She would likely only push him away...or punch him. Either way, it was likely not something that would comfort her. Nothing would at this point. Not a hug nor kind words. So what could he offer?
His heart sank as he realized the doom that his brother was actually in. Shakily, he rubbed the back of his neck. “Have you told Kane yet?” She shook her head. “Let us go tell them. This is urgent.”
“Perhaps,” she breathed silently.
Raven and Kane sat beside one another, quiet and tense. Torin led Kiaran and Ryker to the large fire, Stella joining them quietly. Everyone else was simmering down at the other fires, playing instruments and singing songs.
Although the air was filled with happiness around them, they were silent and distraught. She had explained everything she had discovered and what had happened to Davin. No one interrupted, no one chimed in. They all sat silently to listen to every word she had to say, no matter how difficult it was for her to tell.
They remained quiet for several minutes as a couple deer cooked over the nearby fires. “I had never imagined that was taking place...” Kane said solemnly. “I am sorry I overlooked it.”
Kiaran’s eyes lowered and she sighed. “I probably wouldn’t have believed it myself,” she admitted.
“I have to say,” Raven began cautiously, “It seems that this queen may be pulling you into a trap by snaring Davin. He is blatantly important to you, therefore she will keep him as leverage to make you bend for her.” Blatantly? Kiaran frowned. “All I am saying, Kiaran, is that she will keep him alive. Keep that in your thoughts as you travel. He will be kept alive--but at the cost of something great. She wants something from you...Do be careful with this.”
Kiaran nodded, inhaling deeply. “That is understood, Raven, thank you.”
Stella rested a hand on Kiaran’s and said, “I will continue on with you to find the mage’s son and I will go to Trindal VinCar as well. I admire you, Kiaran, and I look up to Davin. He is the rightful king, and deserving of that position. I want him to come back.”
Kiaran nodded. Kane, then, said, “We’ve been preparing to leave, as you’ve instructed us through Torin.”
“Good,” she said softly.
Lianna stood nearby, listening from the edge of the fire’s light. Torin lowered his eyes to his hands. His wife sat beside him, obviously upset that he might ask to join as well.
Kiaran glanced to Torin, but she looked straight back to Kane. “Would it be a problem? If I took Stella while you move the Tribe?”
“No. We can handle the move without her. Perhaps with a bit of discomfort, but it shall be done. We can only ask that you will be careful on your journey and find us in the north soon.”
“Of course,” she nodded.
Tallin ran over, falling to her knees. Her round cheeks turned red and puffed out as she began to sniffle and cry. Torin’s lips smiled in the corner as he reached over and lifted her to her feet.
She growled like a little cat as he tried to pull his hands away, and she latched on. Her fat little fingers wrapped around his thumbs as she ran with his retracting hands. Lianna chuckled as she ran a hand over her swollen belly. As Kiaran watched, she realized what she needed to fight for most: Families. Children. Not for Davin, per say, but for the survival of the Tribe, the survival of everyone.
“I swear I will end this before it begins,” Kiaran finally stated as she stood and left.
She came to a small hut that they allowed Kiaran to stay in. Sitting on her cot, she ran her shaking hands over her head and yanked her ponytail out. Her hair fell around her, the few beads clicking together. She took the flower, gripping it as tightly as possible without breaking it.
Her eyes grew hot with tears that refused to flow. There was a soft knock at the door and Ryker stepped inside. He kept his hands behind his back, pressed on the doorknob as he closed the door. “Are you going to be alright?” he asked softly.
She didn’t answer, rather she kept her head bowed and in her hands. He could see the stress lying over her like a heavy veil--one with the weight of the world. It was tugging her further and further, near to her breaking point. Ryker took a step toward her, brushing his shaggy, blonde hair from his eyes, though it kept on his forehead.
Clearing her throat, she lifted her gaze to him and said, “Not until I get him out of there.”
The celebration continued outside, though Kiaran had retired for the night. Ryker kept at her side, unwilling to allow her to feel alone. Though she couldn’t admit it, she appreciated the boy’s kindness. Once he sat beside her, she patted his knee and said, “Arrimen did well in raising you.”
He frowned and nodded his head, lowering his gaze. His fingers tugged at the fringe of his shirt. “We shall see...I am sure your father is fine, Ryker.”
“I hope so,” he breathed.
Kiaran and Ryker made their way into the forest a few yards away from the tribe. It was still early, neither of them sleeping well. Most of the Tribe still slept after their night long celebration.
The dragon they rode on slinked through the trees, watching her. Once she was at the dragon, she rested a hand on its face, closing her eyes. “Go home. It will be safe there. Do not fear.” The dragon nodded its head, its brown eyes watching her. “Thank you,” she said as the dragon stepped back. It climbed the tree and then darted into the sky.
“That is so amazing,” Ryker breathed. Kiaran looked to him and he continued, “I think it’s amazing how you can speak with those creatures.”
She thought so too, but she remained quiet, her thoughts growing distant once more.
As everyone gathered to say their goodbyes, Kane stood before Kiaran and Stella, saying, “It will be safest, I believe to send Raven and Torin with you.”
“Why?” she nearly retaliated. They needed everyone they could to travel safely to the north.
“Walter is not looking for us here. We will be safe. On the other hand, you not so much. I want to ensure you have enough allies to help you reach the city. Once you are ready to head back to Avestitia, they will return home. Stella may stay with you as long as you choose.”
“Thank you,” Kiaran bowed her head, thankful for the assistance. Her eyes moved past the large, muscular body to Torin. He led his horse toward them, speaking with a tall man with wide shoulders and a graying beard to match his main of hair. Beside the man was the smaller woman who had called for Torin the night before. Her hair shone copper in the light, her dark brown eyes unreadable.
Kane stepped aside to speak with Raven who had also just arrived. As Torin reached Kiaran, he stroked the side of his horse and paused. “This is Kiaran,” he told the two.
They eyed her closely, as if inspecting her for some reason. She felt pressured to make a nasty glare to make them back away, though she had too much pride to do so. What an odd thing to realize...That she had grown pride.
“Kiaran...” the woman thought aloud. “This is the woman my sons have chased after? I feel as if--I-” she stammered, “I do not know what to say--”
“Hush, Anille,” the man spoke with a deep, nearly paralyzing voice.
“Is it true?” she ignored the man.
“What?” Kiaran nearly grunted.
“Is it true that Davin is haunted by a curse?” She paused, tears in her angry eyes. "Why would he go to you? What help could you give? You look like just another woman."
The words struck Kiaran like a bolt of lightening, her heart rupturing. Her mouth opened to answer, though there were no words. Finally, she scrounged up something to say. “Rishana is cursed...the country is cursed so that anyone who rules the land will fall so deeply to their desires that--”
“So you say that he desires you? What a claim to be making--Queen or not, I hardly--”
“Anille!” the man snapped and she stepped back from the booming of her name. “I hardly believe this is something to cast at a queen! Hush and step away so I may handle this fashionably!” Her face red with anger, she obliged and stepped away, her eyes never leaving Kiaran. “I apologize...My wife is under stress, your Majesty.”
“No need to apologize...I understand,” she said lowly. “And you needn’t call me that, either. Kiaran is fine.”
“Aye,” he nodded. “I am Milas Holloway, and that is my wife Anille. I wish we could have met under better circumstances.”
“I agree,” she dipped her head. “It is nice to meet you, however. I admire both of your children. They do you just.”
“I am humbled,” he bowed his head. “I have a request of you, which you already may know: I ask that you return our son and I ask that they shall both be safe in the end of all this...But I also request...if it is within your power...that Davin will not be the cursed king to bring Rishana down. I would be brokenhearted if he had that bestowed upon him.”
“I will do all that I can to ensure that he will not,” she answered. Her voice was so assertive that he believed her. He nodded and she added, “Stay with the Zeil and when I bring Davin back, you will see him once more.”
“We will,” he nodded. “I thank you.”
She forced a weak smile, though it was as fake as could be.
Soon, he and Anille had left and Kiaran mounted the horse that one of the men had brought to her. Ryker rode with Kiaran and the others had their own horses. All of the tribe had gathered together at that last moment.
Lianna held Tallin on her hip, her little leg straddling her swollen belly. Tears formed as she stared at Torin who could hardly look her in the eyes. Kiaran’s heart throbbed as she thought about his explosion, declaring his love for her whereas he should only feel that way toward his wife.
Amongst the crowd were Raven’s children, standing with Kane. They raised their right hands to the sky, Kane's reach far higher than the others.
“May the sun keep you warm, the breeze never push against you, and the water bend as you need it,” he said. Then, the tribe repeated it and they began singing a calm, soothing song as they journeyed forward. Their voices carried for well over a time before they could no longer hear them from the distance set between them.
Raven wore a thin, summer shirt that had no sleeves underneath a leather brigandine, though it was nontraditional compared to the usual guard or soldier. It was detailed to match her womanly figure and was open enough to show her dress beneath.
Across her back was a longsword in a black sheath, seeming to large for a woman of her stature. Along with her armored exterior, her eyes were just as mean. Her angled brows and black hair only added to her prestige, though most would see her as savage.
Kiaran respected her, understood her. She felt that being able to trust her was a privilege she shouldn’t take for granted. It was amazing to witness her power, but to also know of her weakness: Her children. She gave up everything to save them, though it put the whole Tribe at risk. All that did was prove that Raven was human, and that she held her children above all else.
As any mother would.
Kiaran noted Torin's heavily tribal clothing. His bow, from where she could see it, appeared new and very well made. His hair had grown long, keeping the sides shaved as always. The tattoos on his scalp were seen clearly beneath the short layer of hairs growing back.
The birds chirped in the trees as a cool wind blew across them. Ryker gripped the pommel of the saddle as he sighed. Kiaran glanced down to him and asked what was wrong. “I miss Davin,” he whispered.
“As do I, little one,” she answered just as quietly.
“And I miss my father,” he added even softer.
Kiaran tensed, unsure of what to say or do. So, instead, she chose to remain silent.
They had traveled for two nights, and it felt as if it took forever. Kiaran was used to her dragons, doubling distance compared to the horses. They traveled through the night, resting for only short breaks. The entire time, Raven was her usual stiff self and Torin was oddly silent. He hardly spoke with Kiaran, or even looked at her.
She was afraid he had put a wedge between them. It was an awful thing; Kiaran missed their friendship. Ryker must have noticed her, enticing him to ask, “Kiaran? What’s wrong?”
Kiaran’s eyes shifted from Torin to the boy and she shook her head.
“I thought you two were friends,” he whispered, using a hand to half-cover his mouth.
“We are,” she answered.
“Then, what’s wrong?” he asked more innocently. “You look like he hurt you...or like you hurt him.”
“Oh,” she flushed a bit, looking forward. “It’s nothing. Just...Focus on the road, kid.”
Nurra purred softly as he rested on Kiaran’s shoulder. She touched her fingers to his nose, acknowledging him. They rode the horses along the wooded road, the cool breeze weaving through the trees. Stella kept close to Kiaran, and was also rather silent. It was strange..she had spent so much time with these people, and yet no one had anything to say to one another.
“Perhaps it would be best if Davin lived with the Chastins so the dragon could heal him when needed,” Stella suggested softly.
“If he is healed too often, the curse will build a tolerance to it,” Ryker replied just as quietly. “Soon enough, it won’t be treatable.”
"If he isn't king, I can't imagine the curse will continue to affect him," Kiaran replied.
“What is your plan, anyhow, Kiaran?” Raven looked at her. Her eyes shot through her like ice. “Do you plan to simply invade VinCar and demand his release?”
“I do not know what I am going to do. I may be reckless, but I'm not stupid."
"That is very nearly the same thing," she retorted.
"We will learn more options once we find the mage," Kiaran answered. "We'll get him out."
“What if Sterjia doesn’t allow it?” Raven pushed.
“I will kill her,” she said so sternly it made Ryker’s skin crawl.
Raven remained unmoved, her brows meeting in a frown. “It will be difficult,” Ryker whispered, though all could hear. “It is possible...but very unlikely.”
It grew silent and she could feel the tension in Ryker’s heart. Not only his, but everyone else’s was troubled. Kiaran clenched her teeth and she finally said, “It will be fine. He will be saved as will Rishana and my own people.”