Lyria spun about and knocked the sword from Antohne’s hand. The weapon met the dry dirt in a resounding cloud of dust and she performed a small curtsy as the soldier laughed.
“You’re hitting harder, Liri!”
“Need to practice. That oaf hasn’t demanded his second defeat yet.”
Antohne’s smile widened as he retrieved his fallen sword and asked, “Impatient are we?”
“Remember the other month, after the sea serpent? I’ve been waiting to do something about his arrogant smirk since then.”
Antohne laughed again and shook his head, and she returned his infectious smile as she sheathed her sword, eager to finally leave the training yard and the hot dust they had kicked up. They had been practicing for hours and her arms were heavy, she was tired, and the sweat that dripped through her filthy face was gross. She headed for the barracks, desperate to clean herself, but paused as she realised the soldier was not following.
Her heart skipped at his tone and she inwardly winced as she turned about, noting that his cheerful grin had been replaced with a bashful smile. His uncharacteristic anxiety radiated out in a tangible aura as he ran a hand through his mussed up hair, and his cheeks flushed a bright red as their eyes met.
“I was wondering if you would join me and my family for today’s noon-meal? They’d love to meet you! Father’s returned to Vaelon for the season but my brother is home and mother too, and she makes a wonderful stew. Better than the palace’s —Lord Cael said so himself!”
Lyria lowered her eyes. She was aware of Antohne’s infatuation and had been waiting for this moment, and was surprised that the cheerful, optimistic man had taken so long to act, though was sorry that he actually had. While she enjoyed his company and was flattered by his attention, she was not sure if she should pursue any attachments. It seemed unwise given her birth-blessing and every time her thoughts wandered in that direction she heard her mother’s impatient voice screech, ‘No, Lyria. You are of the blood and I absolutely do not want you cavorting with that man. Do you know what will happen? Do you understand? You will have children! And they will be cursed just as you are, and just as I. Our kind have suffered enough, girl. Do not let another child suffer.’ That was what her mother had told her after she admitted her first interest. A shared bond would likely result in children that would harbour her forbidden blood and it pained her near as deep as the death of her family; she would be the last of her line.
“I’m sorry, Antohne. Lord Andru requested my presence for today’s noon-meal earlier this morn. I should best clean up and go present myself.”
His smile returned to its customary cheer, almost as though he were relieved she had not accepted his invitation, and he lifted his sword to lay an assault upon the nearby mannequin.
“Aye, Liri. See you this eve-… see you on the morrow!”
Lyria narrowed her eyes, but Antohne was focused on the dummy and the sun was nearing its peak; she was going to be late.
It was just past noon as she left the training yard, a renewed energy coursed through her after the quick wash and she was ready to face Andru. Another moon-cycle had come and gone since she had taken Arnauld’s life, and the Arisse’s had been quiet as she settled her thoughts amid the peace of their palace courtyard and her emotions as she trained with the soldiers. She would never be a normal citizen of their city with her secret blessing, but she was herself once more.
Lyria passed the populated centre markets. No longer awkward amid the endless chaos and noise, she was capable of treading the pathways and dodging the people with a newfound ease, however, she was still unsuited for the city. Astana was spectacular, but the peace of the countryside was preferable. The gentle caress of the waves that lapped at the base of her cliff-side village, the ability to even somewhat hear the chirruping of one small bird… she wanted to go home.
The guards were familiar with her appearance and greeted her as she stepped into the tranquil courtyard, the lone bastion within the overcrowded city, and she smiled as she breathed the scented air. At least there existed this single comfort. The gardens seemed to change each time she visited; just last week they were a mass of blooms as fiery as the lanterns strung across the city streets, yet today each bed was made up of lavender and strange white flowers as intricate as finely crafted snowflakes. For someone who despised mage-work, Andru certainly was bizarre in his choice of courtyard. She cast a longing glance over the lush gardens and stepped into the icy interior of the palace, delighted by the chill that contrasted the warm day, and travelled the winding corridors that led to Lord Andru’s personal dining rooms. The route was clear despite having only been there once before and she soon knocked at the embellished door, her tentative tap of weeks past was now a confident rap and she entered with ease as her Lord acknowledged her.
Both father and son were seated at the table, though this time there was only enough silverware for three atop its surface, and as Lord Andru motioned for her to join them with a small nod, Cael offered her the first natural smile she had yet seen from him. It was a cheerful grin that allowed a dimple to form deep within his cheek as he greeted her and she was not quite sure how to react, having expected something a little more obnoxious after the unlikely sympathy he had extended the last time they were in the same room together. The expression was genuine though and she was grateful that he seemed friendly —in part because her placement faced him and she was loathe to stare at her plate for the next hour.
Andru clasped his hands together and smiled as she took her seat.
“I trust you have been keeping busy? I hear you have been thrashing about my swordsmen in the yard.”
“Yes, sir. Commander Rede insisted I continue my training. His method is nothing like my father’s though, it’s been… difficult.”
Andru raised an amused eyebrow and asked, “How so?”
“Father was teaching me to be quick on my feet and agile with my movements. ‘Like a plainscat’, he would say… the commander’s method feels stodgy. It doesn’t suit me.”
“Maybe that’s why Ari likes you so much,” Andru winked. “Both methods will serve you well. You must remember that Rede is tasked with our defence and there won’t be much cavorting behind our shield walls. In the unlikely event assailants bypass our great protectors and storm the city, at least we will have you.” He furrowed his brow as he inspected her. “I am glad you have kept yourself occupied. And, I assume you have overcome your… needless guilt?”
Lyria fingered the silver fork beside her plate. That was the purpose of this invitation: Andru had another ‘task’ for her. Though she felt at peace with her actions, a small guilt remained if she thought about it for too long. She could recall Arnauld’s blood with perfect clarity as it arced through the air and still tasted the sickness that had swept through her throat afterwards, and she swallowed down the resurgence of phantom nausea as she looked Andru in the eye, forcing a smile as she lied, “I believe so, sir.”
An intense deju vu flooded her as Lord Andru retrieved a rolled parchment from inside his coat and handed it to her, alongside a small purse and a thin bracelet embedded with three small diamonds.
“Wonderful,” he sighed, allowing a brief glimpse of the anger he had held concealed behind his courtesy. “Last night I received an urgent message from one of my Watchers by Hycliffe Cove. Another blasted mage, but this one…” he grimaced, “I’m sure you’ve heard the tales of those who wear the red hair. You are a capable young woman but I’m not asking for your hand this time, only your eyes. My Watchers in the region are accustomed to the… lifestyle the Cove offers and are unreliable, as you will see, and I would prefer a sober report.” He looked at Cael for a brief moment before returning his gaze to hers. “I will allow no red-haired banshee harm my son while I remain in power; if this threat is true, an army will be required. I’m placing great trust in your plainscat-esque capabilities.”
Lyria furrowed her brow. His mage remark had sailed over her as painless as a gentle breeze, but the red-haired woman… she had indeed heard the tales about those with the cursed hair and had believed them to be mere myth. They were said to be powerful mages who were second only to the Gods, a tale used to keep small children in line, and a chill struck her spine at the thought of one actually existing.
Cael interrupted her thoughts as he waved a dismissive hand toward her and said, “Yet you allowed this brazen, blonde-haired banshee to near maul me. Is it because she’s blonde you don’t deem her a threat?”
The arrogant Lordling she was familiar with had returned and her tongue was quick as she responded before Andru could open his mouth.
“The Lordling was easily outmanoeuvred, perhaps more training is in order.”
Cael’s eyes gleamed as he faced her, and she returned his sarcastic half-smile with a smug smile of her own as he said, “Is that an offer, my dear brazen banshee? Perhaps out in the wilds, alone, away from the prying eyes of the guard…”
Andru sighed, his exasperation evident beneath the deep harrumph.
“Don’t be delusional, the miss has better things to do than to dance with you and your ego.” He shook his head and turned his attention back to Lyria. “The bracelet negates mage-work, though I doubt it’s strong enough to withstand one of the cursed, and the purse contains enough coin for two moon-cycles in the Cove… you will likely not be required to remain for that long. I would have you leave within the next day or two, at a time of your choosing, and you will contact my Watcher. The document has the necessary information.”
A pity; it was a pretty bracelet. It would hold no use for her though, and would likely stifle her own abilities. Lyria tucked the items into her pocket just as Natalia arrived with a trolley laden with freshly cooked meats and vegetables. The maid chatted as she served the fare, at ease with the men she lived to serve, and performed her signature curtsy with a joyous smile before leaving the room. The young girl’s carefree attitude comforted Lyria as she watched Andru’s desire for informality take place and allowed herself to relax as she took to her meal. The fare was the most filling she had eaten since the communal feasts in her village square and she felt at home as she dined with her superiors, almost forgetting that she was one of the blasted mages her Lord despised, and smiled as the man and his son bantered as easily as herself and her father had. Memories of her own family soon overwhelmed her and as though he had sensed her thoughts, Andru sent her a knowing glance.
“Miss Lewell, you are not obligated to remain only to listen to our inane chatter. I thank you for joining us and… you have my request.”
“I’ll escort you out.”
Lyria was startled as Cael leapt to his feet, and Lord Andru shook his head as he dryly stated, “How unusually polite of you, Cael.”
Cael performed an overly embellished bow towards his father and with a flamboyant wave of his hand he motioned for Lyria to leave the room as Andru chuckled.
The idle contentment she had experienced in the dining rooms vanished as they walked in a pained silence, an awkwardness replaced her previous ease and she felt as though she did not belong as the young Lord guided her through the palace. This accompaniment was the unlikeliest ending to the noon-meal and she folded her arms tight across her chest as they walked, and jumped as he placed a hand on her shoulder.
“You know, miss… my father thinks highly of you,” he released an exaggerated sigh. “Alas, I defer to his judgement against my will. His demands have been made clear, and I will comply —for now.”
Lyria tore herself from his grasp and lifted her chin into the air as she glared at him, her cheeks inflamed. How could Antohne consider this oaf his closest friend? The damned Lordling was impossible.
“I don’t care what you think! I have proved myself to your father and your meaningless opinion is worth nothing.”
Cael’s smug smile transformed into a mischievous grin that brightened his face. He was playing her, her irritation the prize he sought and claimed, and her cheeks grew hotter as he rubbed at his jaw in false contemplation.
“Oh, how exciting! You do get agitated easily.” He sent her a cheeky wink. “And, I must ask… what of when I am your Lord? Will you prove yourself to me at that time, perhaps?”
Aware of his game, Lyria squashed the pointless boil of her simmering emotions and forced a honeyed smile to replace her scowl.
“When you are my Lord? Don’t displease the common man, for they will rise against you… and one such as I could be their leader.”
Cael’s jubilant laughter rang out and echoed several times over against the stone walls. Curious glances were cast from guards and servants alike as they observed their young Lord’s mirth, and she was surprised to find her irritation fading as his merriment sang to her, as the pleasant sound soothed her and encouraged her returning ease, and the dimple buried within his cheek was almost appealing as he regained control of himself and smiled at the sword by her hip.
“So, think tonight would suffice? First moonrise or second?”
“Whatever are you talking about?”
“Our training session, of course!”
Unbidden excitement flooded her veins; she could at last introduce her sword to his smirk! They had been dying to meet for so long.
“Oh, you are referring to the dance your father forbid.”
The mischievous grin returned and an unreadable, though familiar, glint shone from his eye.
“The very same. Along the eastern wall is a small entrance hidden by foliage, it leads to a forest cottage on the opposite side. Tonight’s guard on rotation is my good friend, Antohne —I believe you are already well acquainted— he will allow your passage. First moonrise it is!”
Cael strode away before Lyria could respond and she shook her head, unable to hide her amusement at his obnoxious method of ensuring his final word. She continued along the cool corridor and had almost reached the entrance when Antohne’s warm accent spoke to her from earlier that day. ‘Aye, Liri. See you this eve-…’ The soldier had known! Cael had planned this. Was that why Antohne had invited her to noon-meal with his family? A last moment bid to save her from a defeat that would not be hers? That was offensive. The Lordling stood no chance against her and Antohne should be well aware of that by now.
Lyria pushed open the palace doors and strode out into the sunlight, a confident skip in her step as she hurried to her cottage to rest before the first moon touched the horizon. Cael may have had the last word just now, but the last word that night would be hers. Her sword would at least meet his smirk.
#freewritemadness and #NaNoWriMo is over! And so, we are back to our pre-November programming. 😀
This concludes Chapter Seven of Vengeance! You can find the previous chapters at Kaelci.Net under the Book One – Vengeance header. Please keep in mind that the website is still under construction and will be a lot more pleasant to look at in coming days!
If you have any critique I would love to hear it, please. I take all critique to heart and want to make this book worthy of transforming into an e-book. Were there any grammatical errors? A spelling mistake I missed? A weird sentence you had to read twenty times before it clicked? Did something not make sense? (keeping in mind that information may be in previous chapters) Please let me know! 🙂
Thank you for reading!
B.M.Matthews — @kaelci