The Kiesha'Ra: Reprise
Finally, we get to the good stuff! Also, I'm not sure if I'm not looking hard enough or what but I can't find if it's ever mentioned whether Karl is a crow or raven. I've decided to make him a raven but if that's wrong please let me know. That being said, this chapter was so weird and uncomfortable to write. I just can't get into the mindset. Maybe it's all the blank space I had to fill with Zane adjusting to the married life. Brownies to anyone who knows what story Danica tells the children.
"I think she's afraid of me," I commented in what I hoped was an offhand manner while Danica and I watched the sparrow rush out. She didn't respond, deciding instead to gather her reserve about her and effectively blinding me. I settled similarly into myself and felt my breathing slow as my body stilled. Enough time had passed for the silence to move from awkward to amiable when Nacola Shardae made her way over to us, head held high and all uneasiness expertly masked. Though it was obvious that she was uncomfortable in my presence, she didn't so much as look at me. "I think she's not the only one."
There was the predictable argument and I lost my temper a bit more than I had intended when Danica's mother, an intolerant woman at best, all but accused me of my people's worst crime. To my face. Her other concerns I could deal with, cobras were notoriously short tempered and meetings between our people have always been violent. But to be accused of that I could no longer hold my infamous tongue in check and very nearly threw her over the ledge.
"Would my word mean anything to you Nacola? The word of a cobra for your daughter's virtue?" I gave her barely a second to answer but knew full well that if my word had ever meant anything it most certainly would not for this matter. "Leave now, Nacola Shardae."
"Danica, get her out of here before I hurt her."
"Mother please return to your room now."
Thankfully, Danica did not hesitate or question me. I blew out a heavy breath as I watched them leave then turned and kicked the low balcony wall. Hard. I kicked a few more times for good measure and growled deep in my throat. My tantrum had only lasted about two minutes but it was long enough for the young raven that had been guarding Danica to poke his head cautiously around the heavy drapery that had been closed to give us some semblance of privacy.
Like most avians he would not look me in the eye, though he was careful not to be so obvious about avoiding my gaze. I caught a reproachful look in his face before the emotionless mask slid into place and instead of berating me or letting his suspicion show, he quietly and politely "suggested" that I might be more comfortable in my rooms if Danica and Nacola were retiring for the night. I raked a hand through my hair and unclenched fists I didn't remember balling before nodding.
I tried to smile pleasantly but knew I could never pass for a politely raised avian and wasn't even sure why I was trying. "I think you're right," I told the younger man. "If Danica comes looking for me let her in, of course, but otherwise I'd rather not be bothered." And flexing my shoulder blades and trying to ignore the apprehension having a feathered soldier at my back caused, I slipped into my room and bolted the door.
I roughly pulled the balcony curtains closed and once I was safely sequestered I unleashed my fury on the innocent furnishings. I allowed myself a tantrum the likes of which I hadn't experienced since I had been named Diente. As I screamed into a pillow and fought back furious tears I finally fully questioned what I was doing here. What had I expected to happen? Why did I blindly bind myself to this woman I didn't even know? How could I have allowed myself to be so blind-sided? For a few bewildering moments I even found myself wishing my mother was here. I felt so completely foolish for being upset by an ignorant woman's words, but I also knew that this must be what the rest of her court and her species thought of me and my kind.
A few more deep breaths and I was nearly calm again. I unbolted the door then threw myself on one of the low couches and gazed unseeing at the ceiling. They were making no allowances for my ignorance, no concessions to my upbringing and had even gone so far as to accuse me of the worst crime a being could commit. So be it. If they expected a dark and sinister prince with ulterior motives then I could be that. But mostly I was just sad and lonely.
After what seemed like hours there came a tentative knock on my door. I could almost see Danica hesitating outside, uncomfortable being alone with me but unwilling to let the incident pass without comment. I was in no mood to humor or reassure though so I only called for her to enter. Which she did with great trepidation, I'm sure. While it is well known that my kind is known to be temperamental, exuberant, and demonstrative, it is not so common knowledge that while comfortable and at home with the swirling rawness of every emotion felt in my vicinity, I prefer humor to anger, laughter to tears, and am quite skilled at calming distraught serpents. It's not that I was ashamed of my earlier outburst, but being upset all the time can get exhausting so I at least made a minimal effort to be nonthreatening in tone and posture.
"Questions, Danica? Do you want to ask or would you prefer not to know what you have tied yourself to?" My words do not have the intended effect, I had meant to push Danica away, to punish her with my words, perhaps make her nervous, instead she met my challenge squarely and retorted, "Are there questions I should ask?" without batting so much as an eyelash.
I rose and approached her in a somewhat aggressive manner, mostly I was amusing myself, but somewhere in my mind I was also ashamed. It is not Danica that I am angry with, it is not my Naga I want to lash out at, and it is not the Tuuli Thea who deserves such treatment from me. But she is there before me and I allow my predator's instincts to control me for a few moments longer. "Relax. I'm not going to bite," I said without attempting to change my aggressive posture. Beneath Danica's steely reserve I sensed her tense and could almost taste the adrenaline in the air as she fought her instincts for the sake of peace. Peace. Was that not the reason I was here, alone in uncomfortable settings? Yet it was not for peace that I threatened, teased, and taunted an innocent young woman who had the misfortune of being the only one present. But still the predator would not release me.
"So easy, Danica," I whispered as I moved towards her, my voice and body could no longer agree on whether to be threatening or pleading and I gave up on controlling my emotions. "Despite how I have despised your kind for so many years . . . you alone are so very fragile."
As if of its own accord, my hand raised and my arm swung in her direction. I had very nearly struck her before I regained some control of myself. I would be proud if I weren't so ashamed. The next few minutes passed the same way; I made threats and swore promises to myself and to her. I would not let her forget that I was dangerous, but neither would I allow myself to truly harm her. Then I invited her to my bed and refused her acceptance of my invitation. Until finally, finally I said what I had meant to say so many minutes – hours? – ago.
"I did not intend to frighten you." Danica's raised eyebrow asked the question more clearly than any words her lips could have formed. "Your mother all but accused me of something that is, among my kind, the highest crime any man could commit. There is no trial, only punishment, because it is considered better to let an innocent man die than a guilty one live. I know my kind has an evil reputation in the eyes of yours, but having that ignorance thrown in my face in such a way was more than unpleasant."
I paused to see if she would have a reply, an answer of any kind. When she did not speak I continued my rambling explanation and apology until finally she forgave me. She would likely never forget this night, but at least she would have her warning and I'd have the knowledge that she had seen me at one of my more regrettable moments and hadn't called her guards. A few brief platitudes later and we said our goodnights. I went to work righting the things that had been knocked over in this and the next room during my considerable tantrum and curled on a small section of mattress on a bed far too large for one person. Especially for one that so rarely slept alone. Ignoring my discomfort, I burrowed further into the mattress and closed my eyes waiting for the light of dawn to wake me.
Unsurprisingly, I did not sleep long or deeply. It took me a moment to realize where I was and then I spent another moment to briefly wonder whether Danica had slept at all the night she spent in my room in the Serpiente Palace.
Danica and I did not share a room again. I developed an almost avian ability to hide the listlessness that this brought on and only my sister knew how lonely I was. I did not see my family as often as I would have liked because Danica and I had decided it would be best to split our time evenly between the avian and Serpiente lands. My life had drastically changed though Danica once confided to me that other than the traveling hers had not. I was trained in combat and raised as a soldier. As a child I had mostly ignored and avoided the other more princely political lessons, believing Anjay would rule and I would be a warrior and sometimes advisor to me brother. Even after I had been named Arami and taken on many of the responsibilities of the Diente, my mother remained in charge of the daily affairs of the Palace and our people, though of course I was familiar with and aware of most of the important goings on in Serpiente lands.
Now, Danica and I saw our people together, heard complaints and responded to petitions and pleas for aid. There were still occasional requests on both sides for soldiers due to unauthorized skirmishes. My Guard had strict orders when it came to these situations and an attack against the avian people was treated the same as an unprovoked attack against Serpiente. Often, by the time an avian could complain to the Tuuli Thea or her alistair the members of the Serpiente army charged with such matters had already contained the situation and punished those discovered according to their involvement.
I had plenty to occupy my time and mind between keeping the charade going, keeping the peace, traveling weekly between palaces, training with the guards and soldiers at both strongholds, and maintaining a relationship with my people and family while trying to develop one with Danica's, not to mention the draining affect limiting physical contact had on my kind. Some days I fell into bed exhausted and overwhelmed, but most I lie awake for hours mulling over things and inexplicably itching for a weapon and the adrenalin of a fight. It was perplexing considering how much I hated fighting and warfare.
Despite a few difficulties and the near-constant exhaustion, I put up a good front and made steps toward befriending Danica and her closest guards. I was correct in my earlier assumptions that Rei was in love with her. But he also understood and respected Danica enough to never make his feelings known to her. I spent some free time exploring the Hawk's Keep and surrounding lands though I was already familiar with the layout thanks to my spies. I also occasionally met with Eleanor Lyssia though not about anything specific or important, it was nice to spend time with an avian who didn't make a point of keeping me in her line of sight at all times. We spoke mostly of innocent trivial things and were always aware of avian propriety even after Eleanor's master seamstress granted her permission to set up a shop in the Serpiente marketplace.
At the same time, Danica was exploring the Serpiente Palace acquainting herself with passages that I had never used as well as the well trafficked market and other public areas. I watched her sometimes from a distance as she gracefully navigated the crowds. About a month into our arrangement, Danica discovered the brightly colored Palace nursery. Though there were no royal children, the room was crowded with the offspring of merchants, servants, and guards playing loudly and with no never mind to the presence of their Naga. One little girl even approached her to ask for a story and before the child minders could shoo the child away she had reach up and found herself in Danica's lap. With a soft smile and a quiet laugh Danica settled the girl into her lap and began a story I had never heard. It was about four young, magically powerful children who didn't know they had magic until their families had died and with nowhere else to go each ended up in the same small, temple community.
"The children were all different and didn't think they were going to like each other very much and at first they didn't but then they became friends. And after they became friends they began to understand their powers and how to use them. One day there was an earthquake and the four children were trapped in a cave with no way out, they were running out of air and one little girl was very afraid of the dark and began to cry. The other children were also scared but they had learned not to let their emotions control them so they were able to use their magic to keep them safe until the other girl calmed down. Once she got control of herself she was the very bravest of them all. She found a way to use her special power to combine all four children's magic into one very powerful magic that kept them safe until their teachers and guardians were able to dig them out. From that moment on they were the very best of friends and hated to be apart."
The other children had gathered 'round while she talked and at the end of the story applauded and requested more. Danica told of the children's other adventures with pirates and forest fires and was telling a story about the boy and a great plague when I melted back into the crowd and found some business of my own to occupy the rest of my day.
Later that evening I sought out my sister and found her in the large sitting room my family shared. She was leaning against a pillow reading, Galen was nowhere in sight.
"Hey there Little Bit," I greeted from the doorway. Recently Irene had taken to reacting very badly to being startled. "Where's your prettier half?"
"I had to forcibly remove him. He acts like pregnancy is a terminal illness." Irene rolled her eyes and made room on the couch when it was evident I had something to say. "How's life?"
"Good, okay, splendid, barely tolerable, and sometimes all at the same time," I responded flippantly rolling my shoulders as if my back was bothering me. It wasn't.
"Uh-oh," she sang turning to give me her full attention. "What happened?"
"Nothing," she only raised an eyebrow in response. "Really," I insisted, "absolutely nothing of note has happened."
"Got it," she announced with a wicked grin. "It's about Danica isn't it?"
"Maybe? I don't know. I saw her in the nursery today but that's really it."
"Does she even like children?"
"She must have spent at least an hour with a toddler on her lap amusing the children with stories I'd never heard before. That sounds like 'likes children' to me."
"Wait, you watched her tell stories for an hour?" Irene questioned incredulously.
"No! I left halfway through the fourth story. I didn't want her to know I saw her." At this admission my sister burst into peals of laughter. The mirth went on until she was clutching her sides and gasping for air. "And just what, pray tell, was so funny about what I just said?"
"You love her!" Irene exclaimed triumphantly. "I so win the pool."
"There's a pool on my love life?" I squeaked aghast.
"Yes and I win. Mother bet you would fall in love after six months and Galen bet something would return us to war before you had a chance and Ailbhe said you would give in after a year. I bet one-sided after six weeks together. And I win."
"You don't win because I'm not in love."
"Methinks the lady doth protest overmuch." Shaking my head I left before her insanity could have a chance to infect me.
After that day, I made more of an effort to seek Danica out. We still spent most of our time together in public, because I wasn't sure Danica would welcome being alone with me. I mulled over, considered, and dismissed my sister's words almost hourly until they were a running commentary in my head and I analyzed everything I said and did. I also often felt eyes on my back which while not unfamiliar was bit unsettling. I didn't know who was keeping such a constant watch on me until I was ambushed on my way to the market one afternoon.
I hurriedly turned a corner and a figure emerged from the shadows. "Zane," a woman's voice whispered barely louder than a breath and then there were arms around my neck. I struggled for a moment until I recognized the woman as Adelina my guard and former lover. I thought I had loved her once but when our lips met I felt nothing and tried to push her away. She still clung tightly to me and admittedly I was not fighting very hard. It had been so long since I had been this close to someone and my skin craved the nearness.
Sorry this is so late, and cookies to everyone who stuck with me this long. Also, I like to reply to reviews, but a lot of you have private messages blocked….why? Anyways, thanks for reading, hope you enjoy and criticism is always appreciated.