I’m running. Through the trees. I know exactly where I’m going. I rush through the brush, ignoring the stinging branches as they slap against my cheeks. I know he’ll be upset with me for not taking my time, but I don’t care. I just want to see him.
I overheard the villagers talking about me. I’m a curse. a freak. I should have died along with my people. It would have washed my slate clean. But I’m a living sin. That’s what they say about me. I finally reach the edge of the trees, and I can see it. His camp. My eyes fall to the symbol on the banners and I smile through my tears, making my way into his camp.
The soldiers barely glance in my direction. He made it clear a long time ago that I am always welcome. I pass by a familiar guard, and I recognize him immediately. I take note he does a double take when he sees me. I rush through the camp taking in the familiar sounds of metal and conversation.
I see his deep red tent straight ahead of me. I pump my legs even harder just wanting to reach him already. I reach out pushing open the tent, and barging in right in the middle of his meeting. His generals all look in my direction, and I see him straight ahead. his back is to me, and his hair is falling past his waist into a loose ponytail.
He turns to me, but for some reason I can’t see his face. It’s as if it’s blurred. He glares at me for a good while, then turns to his generals once he notices the tears streaming down my face.
“Give me a moment.” His voice is commanding. Stern. And everyone leaves the tent. Then he turns to me, walking to where i stand in the entrance of his war tent, and kneels to my height. I still cant make out his features.
He places his finger under my chin, lifting my gaze to meet his. He tilts his head, and even though I can’t see his face, there is something in the back of my mind telling me that he has a curious smile on his face.
“Why are you crying?”
I jolt awake in bed, letting out a loud gasp. I immediately look around, and see no one. The room is dark and empty due to the thick curtains being drawn over the windows. My heart is racing, and I place my hand over my chest trying to calm myself down. There’s a light sheen of sweat drenching my body.
That dream was so vivid, as if it really happened once. Maybe it did. But for the life of me now I can’t ever recall something like that happening. And I can’t even remember who the man was I was so eager to see. So it must have just been a dream. A very vivid dream.
I lay back on the soft sheets, looking up at the ceiling. It’s been days since I last spoke to Cassian. My mind has finally calmed itself down, and the myriad of emotions that I had been feeling up to this point are now in my control. I can think clearly, and focus on getting out of here. Cassian said I am not a prisoner, yet he won’t let me leave this kingdom.
I pull back the covers, sitting up and throwing my legs over the side of the bed. I always wake up early, waiting for Ismena to arrive, but today I do everything on my own, eager to get out of bed and clear my mind. I reach underneath the bed, pulling out the clothing I had been working on for a while now. I snuck some needle and thread and a blade to cut the length of this dress. It’s all white with a sheer overlay, but I cut the length of the dress and sewed it into pant legs. Much easier for me to move around, and won’t get caught under my feet or between my legs like those awful dresses they try and force me to wear.
I walk to the mirror, braiding the front of my hair and pulling it into a ponytail and grabbing my sword before leaving my bedroom. I’ve almost mentally memorized the halls of this castle, so it’s easier for me to find myself where I want to be. I’m walking the halls, heading to one of the doors about to go outside when I hear a voice.
“Neytiri?” I tense, looking behind me. Caius is walking towards me with a raised brow. I take note that he has all of his weapons ready.
“Where are you off to this early?” He asks. I narrow my gaze, lifting my chin and crossing my arms over my chest.
“To see the people. I hate being in this place.” I say. He quirks a brow at me before cracking a smile and shaking his head. He walks past me mumbling.
“Still as eager as ever.” He says. It’s so low that if I were anyone else I wouldn’t have heard it. I whip my head around.
“What did you say?” I ask. He doesn’t respond though.
“You aren’t allowed to roam outside of the castle without an escort. I’m sure the king already told you that.” He says. I think he’s going to tell me to go back to my room, but he doesn’t. He only keeps walking, and I realize he wants me to follow him. So I do.
We walk in silence, barely passing a soul. I guess he was right about everyone still being asleep. Which brings up my next question.
“Why are you awake so early?” I ask. He keeps his amber gaze trained forward, but I don’t miss the small smile that appears on his lips.
“I am a part of the kings guard. There is no sleeping.” He says. I tilt my gaze looking at him.
“The kings guard? So you see the king regularly?” I ask. He’s hesitant, but nods his head.
“Has he spoken to you about my purpose here?” I ask. A soft laugh escapes him.
“Why are you up so early, Neytiri?.” He says. The way he speaks to me almost sounds as if he’s familiar with me. Like he knows how to talk to me.
I shake my head.
"I had a strange dream." I say. He leans forward, looking at me.
"Oh?" He says, and I know he wants me to elaborate.
"It was just... so vivid and real. As if I had actually gone through this. But I have no recollection of it whatsoever so I know it cant be true. It was strange." I say. He's quiet next to me, only nodding his head.
We finally make it to the front gates of the castle, and the guards that were here the day I arrived are still posted. One of the guards gaze falls on me, and his eyes widen slightly. Not in shock like everyone else, but something else. He quickly hides it as Caius opens his mouth.
“We’re going into town.” He says simply. The guard on the right nods his head, and the doors to the castle open revealing the cobblestone bridge.
It takes us about five minutes just to reach the actual town below this castle. I look around in awe. Some of the citizens here are just beginning to waking. The sun is casting a warm glow over the town, and the morning dew sits lightly atop the buildings.
I can smell the fresh bread being baked as well as the grass and flowers in bloom. The kingdom is beautiful. People are slowly beginning to bustle around, going about their morning routines only to stop and stare in shock when they see me. At this point I am used to it. At least they don’t attack me like the villagers once did.
I can hear the whispers, and I can especially make out one word.
“This is amazing.” I whisper.
“You think so?” Caius steps next to me, looking around with little interest. I make a face and turn to look back to the citizens around me.
“Of course. So many different people interacting with one another, it’s beautiful.” I say. As the words leave my lips, children come running and laughing across my path. They look so happy and peaceful. The small boy in the back trips over his feet, falling at mine.
I immediately reach out to him.
“Are you ok?” I ask. I sense Caius tensing behind me, but he does nothing to stop me. The little boy looks at me distrusting, but takes a hold of my hand letting me help him on his feet. I begin wiping the dust off of him and take note that he has a large cut on his knee, and it’s dripping blood.
“You have to be more careful.” I murmur. I reach to the fabric around my waist pulling off just enough to cover his wound. I notice the sounds from earlier have died down, and it’s a little quieter.
The boy still doesn’t speak. He just stares. I finish tying the fabric around his knee, and stand to my full height giving him a soft smile.
“There.” I say. He raises a brow at me, and lifts his hands and begins making gestures. He places his right hand against his chin and lowers it smiling at me. I shake my head.
“I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“He’s deaf.” Caius says behind me. He walks closer to me, and I can see the disdain dripping from him. I look back to the boy.
“What’s he saying?” I ask. Caius hesitates before answering.
“Thank you.” He says. I turn back to the boy, smiling and nodding my head. He looks at me a little longer, and i see the curiosity behind his gaze. He reaches out to touch my hair no doubt, but I hear Caius’ footsteps, and he flinches away in fear. His eyes widening as he looks to Caius behind me.
The boy slowly backs away, and takes off into the now forming crowd in fear. I feel irritation at Caius. The one person that hasn’t been afraid of me, and he scares him off. I stare at the spot that the boy was just standing in seconds ago, and stand turning to face Caius.
“Why would you scare him off like that?” I snap in anger.
“Assassins can come from anywhere. I can’t let my guard down just because he’s a deaf child.” He says. I roll my eyes standing and looking him in the eye.
“I can take care of myself.” I growl out. I turn away from him and continue walking down the street all the while looking for the boy, but he’s nowhere to be found. Eventually, we reach the marketplace, and my eyes widen as i take in the scene before me. It’s nothing like the neighboring villages we would go to trade goods for.
Caius is walking silently next to me, not at all impressed. If anything he looks bored.
“How long have you been a part of the kings guard?” I ask. He looks surprised by my question, but quickly recovers.
“For as long as I can remember.” He says.
“So how is it different from the guards that stand watch around the castle?” I ask.
“The kings guard is specifically for the kings protection.” He says. I laugh softly.
“The king can’t take care of himself?” I say. Caius laughs as well.
“Of course he can. But there are people out there that wish for him to be dead. And will go to any lengths to procure that idea.” He says. My eyes travel to the men calling out their goods.
“Why would they want him dead?” I ask. He shakes his head.
“Ask him yourself.” He says. Now it’s my turn to shake my head.
“He won’t tell me anything. He only says ‘in due time’ besides, it’s not like I can see him when I wish.” I say. Caius stops walking and stares at me. I stop, looking back at him.
“What?” I ask. He furrows his brow, and looks away.
“Nothing. I just...” He looks at me in disbelief. “He hasn’t said anything to you?” He asks. I nod my head slowly. Before I can ask anymore questions, the people around me begin making noise, and pointing up into the sky. Caius places his hand on his sword, and looks up but his eyes widen and he grabs my face between his hands, holding my gaze to his own. His eyes are filled with desperation.
“You have to trust me. Don’t look up.” He says. He then wraps his arms around my shoulders steering me away from the marketplace and back the castle.
I hear the clatter of objects and the mumble of voices. I don’t understand what is going on around here in the slightest. Everyone is so secretive, and fearful. And I have no idea why. Caius brought me back to the castle, and hasn’t spoken a word to me since. He set me outside of the doors of a room. And I can hear his voice through the door. He sounds angry. I can also hear another voice that sounds irritated.
I would leave, but Caius told me to stay put. So I have for the past few minutes. The door suddenly opens, and Caius walks out he looks irritated. He stands quietly for a moment, and then looks at me.
“Go on in.” He says. I slowly stand, and make my way into the room. I pause in the doorway, my breathing catching in my chest. Cassian is standing in the center of the room. A room that is filled with books. His hair is falling down his back, past his waist and is pulled into a loose ponytail.
“Come in, Neytiri.” He says. I slowly step forward, and the doors behind me are shut. He looks up, looking at the book around us. But still keeps his face hidden, and his back to me.
“Have you ever seen such a beautiful room filled with so much knowledge?” He says softly. I know he’s speaking to me, but I can’t help but want to see the face behind the man.
"The old king never used this room. Probably why he was such an idiot."
“Close your eyes.” He says. I hesitate, taking in his form before I close my eyes, shutting out the world. I hear him closing the book, and he makes his way over to me. I know that with just one motion, I would be able to see him. If I just open my eyes, I can see who he is. He pauses in front of me, and I can feel the heat radiating off his skin.
“Neytiri, you’re shaking.” He says. I can hear his amusement. I tense when I feel his hand on my cheek, brushing lightly over my skin. His fingers brush over my hands, grabbing ahold of them and pulling me along. He sits me down on a soft seat.
“Did you enjoy the kingdom?” He asks. “Caius told me about the boy you met.” He plays with the torn fabric I used to wrap the boys knee with.
“That was very kind of you.” He says. He stands, and I hear the rustle of fabric.
“Why haven’t you shown me your face?” I ask. There’s a pause.
“I fear that things will fall into perspective a little too soon should you see who I am.” He says.
“Why would you fear that?” I ask.
“I don’t need you ruining my plans.” He says.
“So... you know who I am.” I say.
“Why don’t I know who you are?” I ask. He’s silent.
“You’re rather talkative today.” He says. I bite my tongue. I may have pissed him off. He laughs. The sound makes my ears ring.
“It’s ok, I like it.” He says.
“Caius also tells me that you have been asking a lot of questions.” He says.
“I... just want to know why I’m here.” I say.
“You’re here, because I want you here.”
“But why. Why didn’t you kill me like the last king.”
“What would I have to gain from killing you. The last ikniri.” He says.
“I don’t know... I think you know more about my race than I do.” I say.
“I think you are right about that.” He says.
“The last king was a fool. He didn’t know what true power was, and tried everything in his miniscule power to find it. He made too many mistakes along the way.” He says. I can hear the irritation in his voice. So I decide not to respond.
“Let’s get away from the kingdom. Just you and I.” I’m completely shocked from his words. It’s random and out of nowhere.
“What? Why?” I ask. “Why would you want to with me?” I say.
“I’m tired of the issues caused by the kingdom. I can tell you’re uncomfortable here. I want you to feel at home, and I want you to feel welcome around me. Let’s get away.” He says. He sounds so excited, so sincere. But still, something in the back of my mind is telling me to be wary of this king.
“Will you let me see your face.” I ask. He’s quiet.
“By the end of our trip I will.” He says. My heart flutters and I feel excitement coursing through me. All I have to do is get away from the castle and he’ll show me who he is. Not only that, but it may trigger my memories and let me finally see who he is. I smile even though my eyes are closed.