Preparations Have Been Made
Eventually, Kiaran and her comrades reached the docks, found their ship, and sailed to Avestitia’s Northern Docks. Greeted by a royal caravan, they made their way to the capital. There, Kiaran had learned that all was well. However, there was an instance in Trinelim where the supposed barbarian, Narkin, had temporarily overthrown Lord Varthen and ran an army back to Brinn with only fifty soldiers.
She accepted the news with a grin. There was something about that man that told her he would be rather useful. “Good,” she had said, “Williem is an ass and Narkin can be Trinelim’s champion.”
Avestitia was able to fend of Brinn and morale was increasing due to their winning battles. It helped Kiaran to focus on her plan to break into the Mage Queen’s territory. Her own palace, as it seems. Even just the thought would make her skin crawl.
One evening, Kiaran retired to her chambers, all the while, wishing to speak with Davin. He had to be broken and scarred, hurt and terrified. Her heart burned as she climbed into her bed, her eyes filling with tears. She could kill Sterjia--the moment she saw her she would lob off her head.
Sighing heavily, she sank into a deep sleep. As restless as her heart was, her mind was shrouded in unrecognizable nightmares. Taunting her throughout the night.
The fire crackled within its stone fireplace, the embers floating gently through the room. Kiaran sat on the wooden floor, her knees pulled to her chest, her arms wrapping around them.
Resting her chin on her knees, she watched the fire blankly. The library was empty--considering the time of night. Nurra sat in the chair at the table a few feet away, watching her. The table was still covered in books that Ryker had been studying.
Boots echoed against the floor as Cyrin made his way across the room. It was silent again as he stood just behind her. Her black hair fell down her back, some of it feathering in her face, masking it from view. His arms were crossed and his eyes softened.
“Ryker has been excited in meeting your friends,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said lowly.
He remained still, the air thickening with anxiety. “I am sorry.”
She turned slightly toward him, asking, “Why?”
He sighed, sitting in the chair beside Nurra. “You are being pulled between many places: Avestitia and the Zeil, your duties and Davin.” His voice was soft as he spoke.
“Sterjia has a vendetta against us...” she said lowly. “She’ll come after us any day now...and it won’t be through Brinn.” She spun around, facing him. Placing her hands on the ground behind her, she stretched her legs out ahead of her, wiggling her numb toes.
The white gown she wore was silky, shining in the dim light from behind her. Flexing her toes and watching them, she said, “Sterjia is my relation, have I told you this?”
“No,” he lowered his brows.
“She was sent away to Trindal where she soon found that she was gifted with magic. Some men stole her and sold her to the first Murdock who used her to have a child--Who just happened to be the very man that you were at war with.
"That is why she cursed the kings of Rishana. His desires would kill him as they have killed her own innocence. Now, she is corrupt, and soon enough, I know that she will be after us for revenge as well. And if not revenge, then she wants the dragons. They pose a threat to her power...But I assume she blames us for her being sent away...If not for that, she never would have endured the king.”
He thought on her words for a grueling few minutes until he finally said, “You’ll be leaving for VinCar soon, won’t you?”
She smiled slightly, pulling her legs in. “Yes.” The soft sounds of the fire behind her perked her ears. “I suppose I can’t convince Ryker to stay behind, so he will be coming along with Stella.”
“He is just a child,” Cyrin said shortly.
“I know,” she sighed, “But a very useful child. I had killed my first man only a year or so older than he is now. So I know that he is old enough to begin acting like an adult...which he pretty well already does.”
He stared oddly at her which made her look away. Sitting forward, he leaned on his knees and said, “I will join you, Kiaran. This woman must be brought down for the sake of more lives than any war known to man.”
“You understand the situation then?” she stood.
Nurra leapt onto the table, watching them. “I do,” he nodded. “I have a question for you, though.”
“What’s that?” she replied.
“What will be done while we are gone? We are fighting a war with Brinn right now,” he continued.
“I’ve already spoken with General Arnol. He knows my laws, and I’ve spoken with Ritiann and Elsibellem.”
He stood with her, his stature narrow, but taller than her by a few inches. “One more question...” She watched him curiously. “Why not just bond with Kriettor and go straight in and kill her? Dragons are immune to direct magic, so it’d be safer that way.”
“He doesn’t find that wise,” she said stiffly.
“This...is necessary,” he said slowly. “Isn’t it?”
She shrugged. “I’ve already tried asking him...I mean, I guess I don't know what kind of havoc could come of him leaving Avestitia again. Especially entering such a place as VinCar."
He frowned, but agreed with her.
They walked to the door together. Her naked feet grew cold as they left the fireplace. “Perhaps you should get some rest, Kiaran,” he said.
She agreed and began to walk away. Facing him, she said, “I apologize for being so difficult to work with.”
He smiled, his teeth gleaming beautifully. “You may be difficult, but you generally have good reasoning behind it. I trust you."
The last few weeks were spent training Ryker for combat and Petre teaching the boy all he knew. Kiaran had spent most of her time with the general to insure Avestitia’s safety during her leave. She had also worked with Petre, hoping to learn some defense against magic. It was proving quite difficult.
Too much time was passing however, and she found herself distraught with worry. Davin was in Sterjia’s clutches and she could do nothing about it. She was about to her breaking point, barking at nearly anyone who came near. To add to it, there was a huge battle to the north. Chaos was breaking loose and it all left Kiaran lost.
One afternoon, Kiaran met with Petre in the throne room just after she had agreed to meet a few diplomats. They sat on the steps to the dais together. “Petre...” He looked up to her. “You said you’ve met Sterjia?”
“I saw her...but she didn’t quite notice me, thankfully,” he answered.
“Tell me about it.”
It was silent as he cleared his throat, looking down. She watched him with a strong stare and he flexed his fingers, weaving them together. Resting his hands on his knee, he said, “She was...They have a strict set of rules on magic-users. They have to swear fealty to her. Often, she’d make it a public thing and those who refused...She’d kill them. There were three deaths in the moments I stood there, and each one of them she killed on her own rather than using an executioner. She’d kill them with her own power.” He shook his head. “I shiver at the thought. Her eyes are like ice--like flame-covered ice. I do not like it.”
“What were you doing in VinCar?”
“I was curious,” he shrugged. “I’ve studied magic but never really found anyone around who could use it. I wanted to see what it was capable of.”
“Did you?” she questioned. His grim silence was answer enough. She lowered her eyes and grew anxious. “...What do you...What does she do to her...”
“Prisoners?” She nodded and looked away, her heart filling with glass shards. “Everything. Anything. I don’t rightfully know. Only rumors. I didn’t stay in VinCar long enough to know much more...but I wasn’t focusing on Sterjia. I was more curious about the mages.”
“Aye,” she nodded and stood. “Thank you, Petre.”
“Of course, your Highness.”
Finally, only a few days remained before she’d travel to the country of magic and chaos. Kiaran stood at the railing of the stairs, watching Ryker walk through the garden with her mother. They were both smiling, admiring the flowers and the birds throughout the shrubs.
Kiaran leaned on the stone railing, wrapping her hands around her wrists. Cyrin joined her, watching the garden as well. It was silent, the occasional chirping of birds perking their ears.
“Ryker still won’t talk about Davin,” she said lowly. He watched her from the corner of his eyes. “Hasn’t said a word about him since we’ve come back from Rishana.”
“He is a wise child,” he said, his voice deep and soothing. “Perhaps he understands more than even you and I do...I am sure he is thinking about him more than he’d admit.”
“Still, though,” she breathed, “I am sure he is hurt by it. I can see it in his eyes.”
At that moment, Ryker caught them in his sights and he lit up, waving at them. Kiaran lifted a hand in response. He waved to Ritiann as he darted up the stairs to Kiaran. Smiling widely at her, he said, “Is it time for practice already?”
“No,” she forced a soft smile, “I was just enjoying the weather.”
“Ah,” he said. “It is cooling off isn’t it?”
“Summer is nearly over,” Cyrin agreed. “I enjoy autumn the most.”
Kiaran frowned. Autumn was always her least favorite season. When she was younger, she always related the dying leaves to her heart. She was shedding flakes of her heart every day just as the trees lost their leaves.
The worst of her memories was during the fall festivals where Kiaran would do simple street fights. They were supposed to end before anyone was killed, though at least two or three times she had killed her opponent from habit of using exerted force on her real competitors in the arenas.
The boy paused in her gaze and she asked, “Are you sure you want to go with us? It is going to be dangerous.”
“I am not worried about that,” he shook his head. “I am only worried about giving Davin his freedom.” She smiled slightly, the hurt leaking through her expression. “I may not have known him for long...but he is a great man...more so than my own father.”
She lowered a brow quizzically. “What do you mean? Your father seemed fine.”
“He only worried about my gift and how to hide it. He only ever made me study and rarely tried to make me happy,” he said. "No matter what I did, it wasn't good enough."
“He was worried about your survival, Ryker,” Kiaran said. “I could tell he loved you.”
“If that’s the case, then you and Davin must love me so much more,” he choked as he darted toward the castle in an attempt to keep his tears unseen.
Sighing, she rubbed a hand over her face. Cyrin watched her anxiously. Neither of them knew what to say or if they should say anything at all. “I am going to make sure he has everything he needs packed and ready,” Kiaran said as she walked off.
Ritiann made her way up the steps to Cyrin, asking, “Is she alright?”
“Aye,” he smiled slightly. “The boy is throwing her through loops is all.”
“Motherhood is a strange thing...especially when you are suddenly thrown into it,” she sighed.
Kiaran zipped through the hallways until she caught up to the boy. She grasped his shoulder as they both came to a stop. It was quiet for a moment. “Ryker, we must talk about this,” she finally sighed.
He rubbed a hand over his wet eyes, his brows drawn low. Heat rose in his cheeks as they flushed. Turning aside, he said, “Fine.”
Keeping silent, they made their way to the library. It was a secluded and peaceful place, perfect for a private conversation. The stairs that led down to the door seemed like they would last forever. Finally, they got into the room, sitting at a table. Neither of them spoke, and kept their attention elsewhere.
Finally, Kiaran asked, “Ryker, why are you so emotional?”
“Because I’m a child still,” he mumbled.
“That isn’t an answer,” she grunted. His eyes moved to her and her heart softened. Leaning in slightly, she said, “Please, just talk to me.”
He inhaled slowly, his shoulders rising with his chest. His hand shot to his face, wiping some tears away again. “I just wish that you could have been my mother and Davin my father.” Kiaran’s heart leapt into her throat as her eyes widened. Her mouth grew numb as she scrambled for a response.
“I know it seems stupid,” he shook his head, “But you have both taken care of me, and I feel...that you and Davin...” he trailed off. His saddened eyes moved to her, seeing the pure pain in her heart. His brows creased as he said, “If Fargo was right, and I could hear your heart...It’d be beating a different tune...” Lowering his head, he added softly, “I can tell that me bringing this up has upset you again. I am sorry.”
Her fingers twitched slightly in her lap as she watched the boy. She was at a loss...What was there to say to something like that? Tears ran from Ryker’s eyes as he hid his face from view. Kiaran hesitated, wanting to pull him into an embrace, but...she couldn’t.
“Ryker,” her tongue finally forced the words out, “Do not cry.” Her words only seemed to worsen his ache. His shoulders bounced as he buried his face into his arms, resting on the table. Leaning over the table, she rested a hand on his forearm. They would get through this, she knew it.
The next morning, Kiaran awoke to a knock at her chamber’s door. Slowly, she sat up, wiping a hand over her face. Lethargically, she made her way to the door. She wore her thick, blue gown, the sleeves hanging loosely down to her elbows. Her fingers wrapped around the door handle, pulling it toward herself.
Standing in the doorway was Elsibellem, bowing slightly to her future queen. “Your Highness,” she said, “you asked for me to wake you?”
She yawned. “I did, thank you,” she muttered, still half asleep. “Are the others awake as well?”
“Aye,” she nodded.
After eating a quick breakfast and being sure that all of her things were packed, she met the others in the main yard. The sky was still dark, striped with a few early rays from the sun. The crisp, cold morning was accompanied by the scent of late blooms and falling leaves. Everything was set: Avestitia was ready for war; their mounts were ready to leave; everything was packed; and everyone was dressed and fed.
Elsibellem watched Cyrin with a long, sad expression. Kiaran noticed, watching the two of them. She wondered just how long this had been going on.
Ritiann took Kiaran’s attention, touching her shoulder gently. “My daughter,” she said softly. Her eyes held a look of worry, though masked by a smile. “Be safe and return soon.” Kiaran nodded. “I must tell you...the one thing I’ve always regretted was letting you go.” Her smile was now gone. “And it doesn’t get any easier.”
“I’ll return soon,” Kiaran answered. “And I’ll have a sure way of ending this war before it has a chance to start.”