Chapter One: Anatia
Cinis Sarnifeace prowled through the halls of Nightcliff Keep, her boots echoing off the stone floors and down the halls. Not one servant met her stare, none of them had a death wish. She had been told to report here once she had hunted down the latest rebels claiming to have made contact with Anatia Nalcothy. The blood of those lying bastards still coated her hands, still matted her wine red hair and covered her face in tiny freckles of bright red blood. She suspected she looked like a ghost from the tales of old whispered around campfires. She didn’t care. She had looked worse, she knew that without even looking in the mirror. Especially when she entered her rooms at the Keep and found Ben waiting on her bed. He looked up as she entered and looked her up and down, eyebrows raised slightly.
“How’d it go?” She rolled her eyes, dropping her blades and shedding her bloodied cloak like a second skin.
“As well as it always goes, the bastards didn’t know anything about Lythian, and they hadn’t come in contact with Anatia either, they were just spreading rumors.” They’d lost their heads for it. Ben just smiled at her in the way he always did, like he didn’t see the blood on her, like it didn’t matter or scare him. And she smiled back at him, the smile only he could coax out of her.
“We’re to head to the Iron Castle later today, the King wants us there to greet some guest or another in a few days.” She groaned, despite spending most of her time at the palace she felt more at home at the Keep, even if it wasn’t really a home at all.
“Can’t I wait to leave until tomorrow? Or better yet not at all! I just got back from a mission and I really don’t feel like going to that prison of a castle!”
“Cin you know we have to go and the King will just get angry if we’re late.” Understatement of the century.
“He’ll be mad either way, you know that. Please Ben.” she clasped her hands and looked up through her lashes sarcastically.
“We’ll head out tonight then.”
“Instead of this afternoon,” he pulled away and walked to the door, “Your welcome now clean yourself up before we go, you’ll scare Lanora to death.” she paused at the words though Ben didn’t seem to notice as he left the room. She didn’t know if she wanted to see Lanora right now.
Lanora the ten year old princess of Galcinar and second in line to the throne, though she was technically older than her twin brother Lucien.
Suzzete had been assigned as one of her caretakers after the queen had died. Suzette was one of the better nursemaids in the castle so when Cinis had arrived as a child the King had assigned her Suzette so she would be taken care of, even though she was already taking care of Lanora. This didn’t mean that Suzette didn’t take care of Cinis, no it just meant that she often had to accompany Suzette when she went to take care of Lanora. Suzette would take care of Lanora for most of the day and help Cinis in the mornings and evenings.
She felt bad for the woman who likely got very little sleep. That wasn’t to say that Lanora was a handful. Despite her father Lanora was a nice girl, though maybe that was because she didn’t really see her father very much. Since Lanora wasn’t the heir the King didn’t really care to spend time with her, though he barely bothered to spend time with Lucien either.
Lanora had never really understood what Cinis did, Suzette had probably told her that she was a bodyguard of the king or something of that nature. Lanora had always been such a contrast to the rest of the court, she had always been so bright and hopeful. When she had been younger she hadn’t been able to say Cinis, so she had said “Cinni” and it had always made Cinis smile.
But now after all the blood she’d shed today she didn’t know if she could look Lanora in the eye. It was one of her many nightmares, walking into her room to find Lanora waiting on her bed as she often did when Suzette had to fix something or do something in Cinis’s room. In the nightmare she walked in with the blood of other people soaking her tunic and pants, red splattered on her face like it was now, and she saw Lanora, saw the moment Lanora realized that it wasn’t her blood and became scared. Thankfully Suzette knew when she had missions and when she would likely return from them and she never let Lanora accompany her to Cinis’ rooms on those days, instead leaving her with one of her night time care takers.
Yet even now she couldn’t help wanting to see the smile on Lanora’s face when she saw Cinis in the doorway to her playroom. Couldn’t stop the small smile at the thought of Lanora running up to hug her around the waist yelling “Cinni Cinni!” Maybe if she got the chance she would visit Lanora, if she wasn’t covered in blood by than.
She had a few hours until they would have to head out for the castle, she looked around the room thinking of what she might do in the meantime. She had been planning on washing up and going on a walk in the nearby woods or that afternoon after she returned. But now that with the looming specter of returning to the Iron Castle shadowing her she decided she didn’t want to think about the King in a nice place like the woods. She decided instead that after washing up she would go on a walk along the grey coastline.
Her hair was wet but plated tightly into two long braids down her back. The air had a bite to it today despite the weather farther inland being miserably muggy and humid. The keep was at the top of a cliff looking out over a crash of grey waters, and she was now walking along the thin stretch of beach below and beside the cliff. It was out of view from the Keep but Ben knew well enough that she liked to come here, though he never intruded on her when she did come here.
She wore her knee high dark leather boots, a loose white tunic with a brown leather vest and pants that hadn’t seemed quite so thin inside. Now the cold seemed down to her bones but she didn’t really notice. She picked a few of the small pebbles up from under foot. The beach didn’t really have sand so much as it had a multitude of small grey pebbles. She picked up a few of the flatter, rounder ones and tried skipping them on the water. Over here the waves were small to nonexistent, the mere sway of water near and back from the ocean to the rocks. Cinis wasn’t very good at rock skipping though, no one had ever taught her though she had spent quite a lot of time working at it down here on the beach, in these stolen moments with the grey sea and the cloudy sky. But she had learned something else instead.
She sat on one of the large grey boulders closer to the cliff face than the water and took off her boots. She left them bending over awkwardly on the cold rocks jumping down from her place on the boulder and relishing the feel of the cool air and pebbles beneath her feet as she landed on the bank. They pushed and prodded and cooled her muscles as she wandered slowly down the beach. When she reached the waterline she braced for the cold as the icy water hit her toes. It was sharp, not painful but numbing. Like the instant she hit the water she couldn’t feel her feet, and then the feeling returned. So she stepped farther into the water, closing her eyes, and imagining that the numbness might last forever.