A Game of Destiny

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Chapter Two: Clashing of Two Spirits

We woke early. Instead of being guided to a horse to ride with Sequoia and her party like I had thought, I’m taken to a humble yet fine carriage, pulled by two enormous stallions. They are large and muscular, thundering their hooves and emanating power and strength. They made me nervous, but Sequoia was calm around them, greeting them soothingly as ‘DarkStride’ and ‘Mauler’. The names made me wary, but I found amusement in how Sequoia looked average-sized next to the stallions.

“It will be a long and boring journey,” she tells me tiredly, “It will take two days. Feel free to sleep in the carriage. There’s a crate of food in there for you under the seat.”

Blinking at the first long sentence I’ve ever received from her, I don’t respond quick enough, and suddenly I’m bundled into the carriage. She shuts the door on me with a thud. It seems marriage life is going to feel like being ignored and left all the time. I can live with it, but it still stings. My hopes, however juvenile, were for us to be companionable. I dare not hope for love.

The rain slashes down at us relentlessly as we start to leave. I peer at my village, at the familiar sights, and say my goodbyes. I think I imagine the faces of my family at the window. Unable to keep looking to find out, I turn away, instead tugging the crate out from under the seat and rummaging through the contents. I find cheeses and loaves of bread, dry meats and pastries.

Chewing on some dried meat, I watch the outside world turn into a landscape of green, grey and brown. The rain blurs everything, and the only sounds I can hear are from DarkStride and Mauler. Occasionally I hear a shout from Brina or Elide, Sequoia’s sisters. They shout order’s a lot, but I’m glad. In the carriage on my own, I feel trapped, as if in a separate reality.

It’s startling how at twenty-four years of age, I am now a married woman. In an ideal world, I imagined Muriel and Vanora marrying first. They were blessed by the priestesses with beauty and share the same long cascading black hair and dark, long lashes. They are the best of the harvest father tells us. Though he never said it, I knew he saw me as failed seed. Unlike my sisters, I am not beautiful. My curls are black and glossy but unruly. Without care and attention, they become wild and tangled. Where my sisters are curvaceous, slight or elegant, I am angular, awkward and gangly. Again, I think Sequoia has a strange reason for marrying me, but I do not know it.

The rain comes down harder, and I hear voices rise. Sequoia’s voice thunders above the others, making my heart surge in panic. I have never heard her raise her voice, and I hope it’s a rare occurrence. Outside, the sound of silence booms, and the carriage stops. I swallow the dry meat in my mouth quickly, smoothing out my dress and curls. When the carriage door opens, Sequoia looks frustrated.

“I forgot something,” she states flatly, her eyes dark, “Come here.”

Hesitant, I go to her slowly but tried to disguise my nerves with a smile.

“Did you want some food?” I asked, gesturing towards the crate.

She shakes her head, her eyes flitting around the carriage, trying to judge the size of it.

“No,” she huffs, stepping into the small space, “I forgot to kiss you and let the others know you’re mine. You smell too good to the shifters in our party. ”

Blinking, I absorb the information with a swelling sense of dread. instead of sounding capable and elegant, respond with a disgruntled, ‘eh?’

She barks an order to the riders outside and slams the door shut, shrugging out of her wet furs. She sits on the bench opposite me, stretching her legs out and shaking the rain out of her hair. Her eyes puzzle at me before she pats her thigh.

“Sit,” she orders.

I regard her with a silent plea, but she stares back insistently.

“What are you going to do?” I asked quietly, not moving.

Her eyebrow quirks and I notice a thin scar in the middle of her brow, puckering the skin as her brows moved.

“Put my scent all over you. We slept in the same bed, but you didn’t sleep near me.”

Her words almost felt like a dig, as if it was something she hadn’t liked to observe.

“So you’re going to do that...in a carriage?” I asked quietly, wringing my hands together and staring at my feet, “I haven’t bathed or prepared myself. ”

She frowned.

“Pardon?” She asks, perplexed, her long arm reaching to grasp my hands to stop them wringing, “What exactly are you thinking?”

My face challenged the red colour spectrum. I didn’t want to put it into words, the fact that I thought Sequoia wanted to consummate our marriage in a carriage. It sounded terrible.

“I’m a virgin,” I hissed, as if that was much better, “I don’t quite know myself. I don’t know what kissing and making me yours means.”

She blinks, the purple of her irises glimmering. Her hand tugs, guiding me to her, and I relent out of embarrassment. I sit on her muscled thigh, mortified.

“It seems,” she says slowly, her lips close to my ear, “that you were expecting something vastly different. We will consummate our marriage, but not now. We are both far too tired and new to each other for that. I wanted to kiss you and hold you for a while to put my scent on you.”

She shrugs, a smirk in place.

“Unless you insist, of course. I can’t deny my wife if she genuinely wants it.”

My face feels hot. Sequoia seems to find the statement funny, but I just felt cheapened by the remark. My home growing up viewed sex as necessary but not to be talked about, especially in terms of what a woman herself wants. I thought it would extend to Sequoia, but she seems open about the idea and completely unfazed.

“I’m not insisting,” I bristle, crossing my arms, “I won’t ask for it.”

She chuckles, her hand caressing my curls gently. Humour was eminent on her face.

“That’s fine,” she tells me, “my courtesans await me anyhow.”

I stiffen at the comment, making her laugh. I was moving into anger.

Standing abruptly, I sit opposite, crossing my legs and taking an angry bite out of an apple.

“You can go,” I told her, “if you must, let me wear your furs for a few minutes before you depart. Tell your riders what you like.”

She eyes me in disbelief.

“You didn’t like that,” she observed, leaning forward and tossing her furs at me, “and what would I tell my riders?”

I shrug into the furs, wrapping them around me tightly. I rubbed my hands through it to rub my scent in.

“Something deviant,” I replied finally, glaring out the window.

It occurred to me that I was arguing with someone twice my height and weight and that if wanted, Sequoia could probably rip me in half with her bare hands.

“I could tell them a lot of things,” she muses, her hand resting on my knee and inching to my thigh, “but shifters can smell if the deed has been done or not. I need my scent on you. The furs will suffice. ”

Not wanting to reply, I bite into the apple again, the crisp sound slicing the silence. I finished it and then tossed the furs back wordlessly. Day one of marriage was ruined by my envious nature and naivety.

Sequoia, who had looked like she found it funny, now looked grave.

“It was a joke though,” she offered, “about the courtesans.”

I face her, annoyed she was drawing out the heat of envy and embarrassment from me.

“I don’t care what you do with them,” I ground out, “Dress them how you like, touch them how you like and so on because I don’t care. As long as I’m fed and safe, I’m content, but don’t talk to me to make me react a certain way because that’s inexcusable.”

She seems shocked and hurt by my statement and left the carriage with a loud slam of the door. I hear movement outside and shouting before finally, the carriage starts moving again.

I regret my actions by nightfall. After not talking since Sequoia left, I was craving company. No one came near the carriage, and there were no people around to people watch. In the small box of a carriage, all I can do is wait. The trees are dense and wild, slightly different to the ones near our village. Frowning, I realise the rain has let up and that the carriage was moving through a small town. I frown, trying to think where we would be map wise. Since we’ve been travelling North, I can only guess that a place this size would be Fornaxe or Rimeare.

Squinting, I stare outside, trying to make out a sign in the torch-lit town. I’ve never been outside of Porro but would often imagine travelling through the surrounding areas. A sign saying ‘Fornaxe Forgery’ swung in the breeze, and I smiled.

“We’re in Fornaxe!” I said to myself triumphantly, “Known for its locally harvested ales and honey.”

I knock on the far side of the carriage loudly, and it stops abruptly. I exit the carriage happily, and the coachman peered at me warily, face gaunt with sleep deprivation.

“Are you okay, Lady Aouren?” he asked, and it took me a moment to recognise that as my new name.

“Yes,” I tell him, and then see the riders paused in the distance, “I’m going to a local tavern for some ale.”

He paled, spluttering and such, but I paid no heed, marching towards the nearest tavern with my small pouch of spending money nestled in my cloak. I may have married Sequoia, but I never agreed to be a ‘kept’ woman. I’ll have my own money and do my own things. Sequoia is cursing in the distance as she rides over, and as she neared, I stepped into the tavern.

It was an old place but well-kept and full. The fire roared in the fireplace, and the bard played his lute with a dutiful precision, nodding in a lull in the corner as people drank. Walking to the barmaid, I smiled. I’m glad to talk to someone I feel I don’t have to act a certain way with. She’s wood fae, with deep sorrel eyes and a bun of brown tendrils. Two curls bounced prettily on either side of her sweet face.

“Can I get a pint of Fornaxe ale?” I asked, grateful for swindling some of the marriage payment into my possession, “And honey crackers please, with pickled sour honeyed berries.”

She blinked and then smiled with pointy white teeth.

“I’ve not heard a stranger ask for things here so precisely,” she mused, leaning over the bar, “Or from a stranger quite so cute and oblivious to the number of bandits and assassins in here. You must not be from here.”

I nod, not caring about the bandits and assassins.

“I heard the ale here is amazing and that anything paired with honey is like a gods kiss. I couldn’t ride through without trying anything,” I told her, not prepared to leave just because of what company I was around.

She eyes me before her head picks up on what was behind me. I didn’t have to look to know who it was, but I didn’t care. We were married, and I was tired and thirsty.

“I’ll get those for you, my Lady,” she says quickly, flitting away.

I watch her as Sequoia sits next to me, feeling her eyes hot on my face. Being a Dwarf Giant must mean getting things easier, though I don’t suspect the barmaid to deny me drink and food.

“You’re not safe here,” Sequoia grunts at me, sounding tired.

Turning to face her, I take in the purple of her eyes and the firm press of her lips.

“No more than anyone else here,” I tell her, looking around unfazed, “Anyone could get injured or die here. I may be a woman and not built like you, but I always carry my knives and know basic protection magic, so rest your dear heart.”

Sequoia frowns, her eyes assessing my clothing to find the knives. She hadn’t known this because I hadn’t told her before, which was fine. I flicked my finger, and a deep blue flame danced from my fingertip.

“I know other magic,” I tell her, almost dreamily, “Which is why I swear, if I’m cooped up and ignored for hours on end, I’ll burn something. I’m a person. I need company. I need to stretch my legs, and so do you.”

I stare at her, seeing the tiredness in her eyes from riding all day. Her jaw clenches as she looks at the blue flame with silent dread. It was something I’m used to seeing. The blue fire is so rare that it’s often considered evil. Father forbid me to use it in the house, telling me it was a bad omen.

“People like blue fire. Put it away,” she orders, closing her hands over the flame.

I snuffed it to avoid burning her, surprised she even went to grab it with the risk. Her eyes hold mine, intense.

“Don’t use that in public anymore.”

Gritting my teeth, I was about to argue, but the ale is pushed towards me, and Sequoia pays before I can. The barmaid gives me my crackers and pickled berries, her eyes low to avoid Sequoia’s gaze. I didn’t miss, however, the intense stare she gave me before she left us alone again.

I drink silently, simmering next to Sequoia while she chews slowly on the berries. The ale was utterly delicious, and the crackers and pickled berries were indeed tasty. The entire experience felt off, however, because Sequoia and I were off.

“That’s probably stronger than what you’re used to,” she says blandly, raising an eyebrow at me, “You look drunk on half a pint.”

I swore at her, earning me an unimpressed look.

“You look pissed,” I quip back at her, “Probably because you got the runt of the sisters in terms of beauty and character, and you’ll probably never love me.”

Sequoia presses her lips firmly together, looking frustrated.

“Is that really what you think?”

I nod, shrugging.

“It’s okay. I never expected anything different. It was always going to end with your disappointment.”

I go to take another sip, but she takes it from me and downs it in one go.

“We’re leaving,” she tells me, taking my hand, “Now. We’re going.”

Following reluctantly, I look behind me, and the barmaid is staring after us. I smile at her, giving a small wave, and she waves back confusedly. Something in her eyes concerns me, but I can’t describe why. As we leave the tavern, I feel sad. Sad I’m about to be confined to that small carriage.

"Let me ride," I whine, grasping Sequoia’s furs, “I’m so sick of being stuck in there.”

She sighs heavily and spins around, her eyes flashing with anger.

“I’d have let you if you didn’t get yourself drunk. You selfishly wasted an hour worth of travel time,” Sequoia hissed, pushing my hand off her furs, “So you’re staying in that carriage for the rest of the journey. I never want to see you drunk again.”

I glare at her.

“Oh? And your word is law? Why am I not allowed to drink? That’s controlling behaviour,” I shout at her, “You bark orders at me all the fucking time, without any resemblance of care. I’m not expecting love, but some level of civility, yes, because you talk to me like a dog. ‘Come here’, ‘sit’, ‘we’re going’. Who the fuck made you boss? Give me a break.”

Her eyes flash darker, looking around us. Her eyes fixed on something in the distance, and her nostrils flared as she breathed in deeply. Her hands shook, and her jaw clenched. It was probably all she could do to stop herself from throttling me on the spot.

“Please,” she said finally, “Get in the carriage.”

I threw my hands in the air, all sense of self-control gone. I hate myself when I’m like this. This rebellious behaviour is just because I can’t have what I want, and what I want is the freedom to choose my own life. I can never have that.

“Yes, master,” I hiss sarcastically, “Your slave will do your bidding. Whatever you desire.”

I walk past her and get in the carriage before slamming the door shut. I huff angrily, staring at her through the window, realising she wasn’t moving. She shook her head, turned intending to say something, but when she saw me watching, she hesitated. I could see her fighting herself over whether to say something or not, but finally, she decides not to and walks away. I feel guilty, of course, especially because she looked at me like that.

Sinking deeper into my seat, I curse myself, feeling awful. My pride forbids me to apologise. I wish Muriel was here to give me advice. She’s always so wise and neutral. I want Vanora’s kindness to rub off on me. I wish I was like my sisters.

Sleep doesn’t find me for an exceptionally long time. I beat myself up over my actions and words all night until my eyes, feeling raw and dry with sleep deprivation, fall shut. They only fall shut upon hearing the birds of the morning start to chirp.

I didn’t wake until noon. Jolting awake, I find myself in furs.

“Ah, you’re awake! Just in time,” a voice sounds to my left, “We’ll be coming towards the estate soon.”

The voice belongs to Brina, Sequoia’s older sister. They look remarkably similar, but Brina was shorter, with tanned skin and eyes so dark a blue they looked like the deepest depths of the ocean. Overall, her manner was easy and calm, with quick smiles and laughs.

I swallow, staring back at the furs with confusion.

“You didn’t hear it from me, but Sequoia left that with you when she checked on you earlier,” she tells me, looking around as if to check if Sequoia could hear, “Quite a fight you guys had.”

I give her a dark look, not wanting to talk about it, and she backs off immediately.

“Like hey, I won’t get involved. It’s my little sister,” she backtracks, looking sheepish, “Not my marriage, not my business, but I’m allowed to be worried.”

I snort.

“Be worried quietly then,” I retort, and then groan, “That was rude of me, sorry. Just, I’ve felt like I’ve been sold, and my freedom is gone forever.”

Brina whistles.

“Not a nice way to feel, I’ll give you that. Your father was a peculiar man selling you off, but Sequoia saw the opportunity and took it. She’s never conventionally done things, I tell you, always making people question themselves. It’s paid off though, just have a look at the estate.”

I turn reluctantly and do a double-take. The carriage was moving opposite a channel of water, and on the other side was a castle. It stood tall and majestic in the sunlight, built of stone, turrets and long glass windows. My mouth was probably hanging open. I don’t know a lot about Sequoia, other than she has a bit of money. If father had known she had more, he would have tried to bargain for more.

The waters roll by in cerulean blue, and birds glide on the winds. It’s picturesque.

“Pretty, isn’t it? It pays well to be friends with the Queen, the Queen’s mage, the knights,” Brina says, “Does not hurt too much that she’s also the current commander of the Queen’s army, The Armoured Giant.”

“Shit!” I shout, looking at her frantically, “Then what is she doing with me?”

She’s surprised and peers at me with hesitation.

“What? What do you mean?”

I throw my hands towards myself and then towards the castle.

“She could choose an elegant lady of nobility, of elite standing, but she chose some country bumpkin...gods...am I a charity case? Did she marry me out of charity? What can I possibly offer when she lives in that?”

Brina gapes at me.

“Sequoia didn’t marry you out of charity!” she tells me, incredulous, “She has her reasons. She spoke to the Queen, and the Queen blessed the marriage.”

Shaking my head, I look towards the castle again. Brina called it an estate, but to me, it’s an entire kingdom. You could tell me the Queen lives there, and I would believe it. The glass windows are gorgeous and sparkle in the sunlight. As we near it, I begin to feel very sheepish about losing my temper last night. The riders might gossip about me being a nightmare. I’ll gain a bad reputation, and I’ll have no friends.

I sigh.

“We’ll be coming in shortly,” comes Sequoia’s voice, and I panic.

Brina mouths to me to feign sleep, and I do so, keeping the furs around my face.

“Ah, yes, I wonder if the Lady will like it,” Brina says, sounding very convincing that she hadn’t just been talking to me, “She’s not yet woken. Ale really must have affected her. Poor thing, she’s going to have the worst hangover.”

Sequoia huffs, but I hear her horse come closer.

“Does she look cold?” she asks Brina, “Other races get colder than us Dwarf Giants. Should I get an extra fur cloak?”

Brina laughs, and I hear Sequoia grunt.

“What? She looks cold to me.”

“I think if you added another fur cloak, you would start to cook her. Then I’d be tempted to start trying to season her with salt and honey,” Brina laughed, clapping Sequoia on the back, “All seriousness though, what was last night about? I haven’t seen anyone yell at you in years, let alone someone half the size of you.”

There’s a silence. I can’t believe Brina to have the audacity to construct a scenario where I could listen in on Sequoia. My ears strained to listen.

“She thinks I’m a monster,” she sighs, “Not that I blame her. I’m huge, I’m horrifying, and I bark orders at people. She won’t sleep anywhere near me. She was distracted during the wedding ceremony. The only time she makes eye contact with me is when she’s angry with me. On top of that, I made a joke about courtesans, and now she thinks I have a string of courtesans to fawn over. I don’t know what to do.”

Brina hums in thought.

“Have you tried being affectionate? I’ve only ever seen you dragging her to places or touching her hair.”

Sequoia murmurs something under her breath, and Brina asks her to repeat it.

“I said she looks scared whenever I try. You should have seen her when I went in the carriage. Gods. She was hesitant to even come near me. She thinks I’ll eat her.”

Brina sighs but says nothing. Despite her chirpy manner, she doesn’t talk when it’s not warranted. She doesn’t talk for the sake of talking.

“What would you do?” Sequoia asks quietly.

“Well,” Brina mused, “Give her time. She has just been sold off to a stranger by her father to live in a strange land where she’s not with her sisters. She seems close to her sisters.”

The fur tickles my nose, and I shift, wrinkling my face to deter the itch. There’s a silence, and I realise I’ve made myself known to be awake, so I open my eyes slowly. Sequoia looks at me blankly before looking away, but Brina grins.

“Here she is, look at her. How’s your head?”

I swear at her because my head is throbbing, but I’m more concerned over the fact that Sequoia can’t look me in the face.

“Are we almost there?” I ask, trying to act like I’ve just woken up.

Brina nods, chattering away naturally as we get close. I notice Sequoia looking increasingly tense as we get closer to our destination.

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