The heat from the fire is comforting as is the starry night sky. I can feel the eyes that are on me, all watching in concern and something else. But I notice that Caius is tense. Very tense. Like he’s afraid of the situation. I’m sitting near the fire with one of Cassian’s robes over me. It’s warm. And smells just like him.
Caius hands me a cup with a warm liquid in it and rubs his hand gently on my back. I look up at him giving him a soft smile.
“Thank you.” I murmur. I immediately move my gaze trained down though because the one gaze that I can feel is scaring me. Cassian. He’s sitting across from me, and I know he hasn’t taken his eyes off of me. He’s just watching me. I refuse to meet his gaze in fear of what might happen, and what I might feel if I do.
“Leave us.” He says. I feel a sense of Deja vu hearing those words leave his lips. But I don’t let him know that. I decided to keep the fact that I am remembering him to myself. For some reason he has a problem with it, and it scares me to think what he would do if he found out. Ulric and Caius both leave, but I don’t miss the hesitation in Caius before he finally decides to follow Cassian’s orders.
I keep my gaze down, looking at the orange glow being cast over the grass by the fire. Cassian lets out a deep sigh.
“What happened.” He asks. I only shrug. The fire is comforting, but I’m starting to get uncomfortable sitting so close to it.
“So, you just somehow magically ended up frozen in the middle of a waterfall.” He says. I giggle softly. It sounds funny when he says it like that.
“Are you laughing?” He asks in disbelief. My smile immediately drops. Silence.
“I was just... in the water, and my skin began to feel funny, and the next thing I know, the water had frozen around me.” I say. I take a deep breath and look up meeting his gaze. Everything I felt that first time comes rushing back to me, in alarm. It feels like a punch in my chest. But I swallow my fear and stay brave.
I have to let out a small breath. He’s staring at me as if contemplating what to do. His hair is pulled completely back and out of his face, so I can see all of the symbols that adorn the side of his face. He notices the direction of my stare.
He laughs softly shaking his head. The sound carries on the wind, brushing past my ears. He looks at the fire.
“Is the heat making you uncomfortable?” He asks. I look to the fire and back to him.
“Or is it me?” He says. His gaze is zeroed in on me, and I can hear the amusement in his tone. He stands up, placing his hand in the flame. I gasp softly expecting it to burn him but it does. The flames wrap around his hand, not hurting him at all. He looks at me.
“I like the fire. It makes me feel good. At home. At peace. It comforts me.” He says. He pulls his hand away from the fire, and it looks fi
“It’s a part of me. And when I feel like I’m losing control on my situation, I look to the flames.” He says. He steps in front of me, kneeling so that he is eye level with me. My grip on the mug tightens involuntarily, and my instincts are screaming at me so loud, I’m surprised my ears haven’t started bleeding yet.
“You’re an Ikniri do you know what that is?” He asks. I shake my head unable to form words.
“The Ikniri, are one of the Ancients. The first. Powerful beings put here to lead humanity to the light. To help them and protect them.” He says.
“But your people lived in the mountains. High in the mountains where it snowed and was cold. You only came out when someone was in need. Your people weren’t settlers. They never stayed long. They stayed long enough to help.” He says. “Your body is maturing. Your power is evolving, but you know not what to do with it. And I understand now you’re overwhelmed with everything that is going on.” He says. He searches my gaze for a good minute, then looks down reaching for the mug in my hands.
“And when your body feels your fear, it manifests your source of comfort.” He plucks the mug from my hands showing it to me. There’s an icy sheen around it, and the once scalding drink that was in the middle is now frozen solid. I let out a soft gasp.
I did that?
“So, tell me, Neytiri. Why do I scare you so much?” He asks. He smiles, and the dimple on his left cheek forms.
“I would never harm you.” He says. I feel like I’m about to pass out from the blood rushing through my ears, and the erratic beating of my heart. I can’t hone my senses like I did in that dream. For some reason I could ignore the warnings and feel comfort from him.
“What are you?” I ask. My voice comes out barely a whisper. And for the first time, Cassian looks shocked by my question. He blinks, and his gaze narrows. He seems to be contemplating his answer.
“Tell me, what do you see when you look at me.” He says. My eyes widen, and I look away.
“You’re evil.” I say. He’s quiet. He places his hand in mine. I take note that this hand has a burn on it. But from what I don’t know.
“Do you think I’m evil, Neytiri.” He asks.
“Have I done anything to harm you.” I shake my head. He places his finger under my chin, lifting my gaze to meet his.
“Then how can you say that?” He almost sounds hurt. Almost.
“I...” I trail off not knowing what to say. I feel bad for saying that to him. He hasn’t done anything to harm me. Or anyone for that matter. He killed Loris and his men for me, he took me in, he’s taken care of me every day since, and never has he done anything to harm me. He’s only looked out for my well-being.
“I can see in your eyes, Neytiri. You’re starting to remember.” He says. My eyes widen, but I can’t look away. He tilts his head.
“You know that I’ve known you for a very long time.” He says. He reaches out, running his finger along my face, tracing the symbol that is there.
“I gave you this a long time ago. The day we met in fact.” He says. “So that anyone that came into contact with you would see it and know not to touch you.” He says. His hand drops, and he looks around. He stands, pulling me towards his tent. The tent from my dream. The deep blood red, and no matter how many times I ran through the opening, he would always stop what he was doing to see what it was that was wrong with me.
There’s a thick palette of blankets in the corner, and he pulls me down on top of them. They’re soft. So soft I can feel myself sinking a little. He takes a seat in front of me, keeping our gazes locked.
He reaches out, grabbing my hands in his. My heart speeds up, and I want to yank away from the contact, but I force myself to stay still. His dark gaze seems to be searching my face.
“No more secrets.” He says softly. He caresses the side of my face with his hand.
I blink in shock. No more secrets. He said it. It really means that much to him, that I trust him. And that I don’t think of him what my mind is telling me. And that means a lot to me.
“When I found you, you were wounded. You were scraped up, and bloodied. And you had a gash on your head. You were just a child. You had wandered out of the forests and into the edge of my camp. My men found you.” He smiles softly as if remembering.
“I was going to kill you. You were all supposed to be dead. But when I asked you where you came from, you kept your mouth shut. You refused to tell me. I didn’t know if it was stupidity or if you were just a mute. But then you begged me not to kill you. And that’s when I realized it was bravery.” He says.
“To this day, I don’t know why I spared your life that day. I took you back to my camp, and healed you, and left my mark. At the time it was meaningless. Only those of old knew what it meant. But now, it is what has kept you safe your whole life. Because my mark is law.” He says. I listen intently.
“I tracked your village, and I left you there, expecting to never see you again, until you somehow showed up in my camp again.” He laughs, and I feel my fear of him slowly melting away.
“And you were looking for me. I wish I could have captured the look on Ulrics face.” He says.
“I had to order the men to stop capturing you each time you came, and eventually it was a normal thing for you to show up in my camp.” He says. He looks at me.
“You were so eager.” He says. I immediately think back to what Caius said.
“As eager as ever”
“How long did this go on?” I ask. Cassian’s smile drops.
“Nine years.” He says. I blink in confusion.
“That’s impossible.” I whisper. I distinctly remember my life, and Cassian wasn’t in any of it. Even when I woke up from running from the villagers, I remember nothing other than Gran finding me and this symbol on my face.
“Why don’t I remember any of it?” I ask.
“It was war. You never knew because the village you lived in was in the forests. Forests that are considered to others to be forbidden. So, the world never reached your people.” He lets out a deep sigh.
“But eventually I had to leave, as did my camp. And you were so set on coming with me. So, I did what I had to. I erased your memories and replaced them.” He says. I look at him in horror. It makes sense now what Rykun said about me being tampered with.
“How did Rykun know.” I ask. Cassian looks surprised by my question.
“Rykun is Xavien’ s subordinate. He can sense things.” Is all he says. I stand up from my seat, glaring at him.
“You tampered with my memories? How much of it is fake?” I ask. I feel tears burning my eyes. He shakes his head, standing with me.
“You misunderstand, Neytiri. I only removed myself from them.” He says. I shake my head turning my back to him.
“Neytiri...” He says. I feel his hands around my shoulders as he stands behind me. I’m shaking from his touch. He places a soft kiss along the base of my throat.
“I would never hurt you.” He says. He stands tall and moves away from me.
“Caius.” He calls out. In a few moments, Caius is in the tent, looking back and forth between us.
“Take Neytiri back to her tent.” He says. “I think that’s enough stories for tonight.” He says walking to the table with different papers on it.
The next few days are torture. I do everything I can to avoid Cassian, and for good reason. I’m upset. He lied to me and kept things from me about my past, that he altered. It makes me wonder what out of what he has said is true and what is a lie. He seems to have an ulterior motive here, but I have no idea what it is.
On the sixth day, we stop at a watering hole to feed and rest the horses as well as the men. As I look around, I take in faces that I do not know, but judging by their expressions, they all know me. I look to the edge of the water to see Caius sharpening his sword with a stone.
I look back to see Cassian speaking with Ulric about something, so I make my way to the river. I stand quietly behind Caius, not knowing what to say.
“You seem down.” He says without looking up. So, I move, taking a seat next to him and pulling my knees to my chest.
“I know about my past.” I say. He stops what he is doing, looking at me.
“I thought you’d be thrilled.” He says. I shrug.
“It’s just upsetting knowing a large chunk of my life is missing, because Cassian took it from me.” I say. He’s quiet for a moment.
“Cassian did what he did to protect you. He’s always had your best interest at heart.” He says.
“Your people that took you in were cruel to you. I can’t count the many times you came into our camp, crying because of them.” He says.
“I couldn’t imagine how devastated you would be if the only source of happiness you had was gone.” He says. He places his hand on my arm, rubbing it soothingly.
“You’ve got to give him some credit. I don’t think Cassian could bare to think of how upset you would be to come to us finding we had all up and left. ” He smiles at me. I look back to where Cassian is standing. He’s still speaking to Ulric. I take a deep breath, nodding my head.
“You’re right.” I say.
“Why did he never come for me.” I ask.
“After he conquered the kingdom.” I clarify. Caius goes back to sharpening his blade.
“That is something you will have to ask Cassian yourself, Neytiri.” He says.
We finally reach the castle, and are greeted by the entire castle staff, including the man that is what I’m assuming to be the figurehead of this castle as well. He’s an older man, with jewels adorning his body. Cassian is led into the castle, and Caius and I follow closely behind.
“I’m sure the Ikniri is tired after the long trip, I will have some servants come to your quarters to clean you up.” He says barely glancing in my direction. Cassian doesn’t even look back as he switches language, speaking in a foreign language that I am unfamiliar with.
“Come.” I feel Caius pulling me along.
After the servants have washed and clothed me in another God-awful dress, I am free to roam the halls. But Caius is once again close behind me.
“How long are we going to be here.” I ask.
“Long enough for Cassian to ensure his ally.” Caius answers. I look at the walls that are adorned with portraits of the king and his family. He has a son and a daughter, and a lovely wife.
“Why would he just give up his kingdom?” I ask. I look to Caius and he has a grim expression on his face.
“He doesn’t have a choice.” Caius says. I stop in my tracks, looking at him in confusion.
“What do you mean?” I ask. He fidgets a little, as if he doesn’t want to answer me.
“They don’t call him the “blood king” for nothing.” He says. My eyes widen.
“You think the King of the kingdom we have now relinquished his hold? He tried to fight. And it cost him his guard, his kingdom, his life. Cassian isn’t someone to cross.” I look at Caius in horror.
“That’s what kings do, Neytiri. They conquer lands and take kingdoms.” He says. I shake my head.
“So, what is Cassian the king of?” I ask.
“Why all those years ago was he set up in a war camp, instead of a kingdom?” I ask. Caius stares at me for a moment and looks away.
“That’s something to ask him, Neytiri.” He says. “It’s not my story to tell.”
Caius looks torn. Like he wants to tell me but something is holding him back.
“What did you mean the other night by Cassian having his fill?” I ask. Caius looks up. He studies me. Really studies me. And I see a moment of weakness in his eyes before he covers it up.
“I was just being paranoid. I’m sorry if I worried you.” He says. He doesn’t even give me a chance to respond before he’s walking away from me, leaving me alone in the hall.