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Daughter of Light (rewrite) / Chapter 8

Daughter of Light (rewrite) / Chapter 8

Posted February 1st, 2019 by Garrett

by garrett
in a city drinking coffee

a/n: it's been a while since I've posted any, but I am on chapter 19 i think which is pretty close to the halfway mark for the book

 

8

 

Finn watched the sun sink into a patch of wispy clouds.  In a couple minutes, Ciara would arrive.  In a couple minutes, she would escort him about of his room with a bag strung over her shoulder, looking beautiful as ever, and he would smile at her and they would have a gorgeous evening together.  Their long-awaited endeavor into a new pocket of their relationship.

            A knock echoed at his door and he couldn’t help but crack a smile.

            “Come in,” he said, already imagining what Ciara might look like—

            The voice startled him.  “Your father is holding a meeting in one hour.  He says it is mandatory.”

            Finn glued his eyes on the window above his desk, watching the blue sky, fighting back the burning sensation in his eyes.  Why were the gods so cruel?  No, it weren’t the gods who sought to ruin everything good in his life.  It was his own father.  Somehow he must’ve known that Finn was looking forward to this night, and with one stroke of his power ruined it all.

            “Thank you,” Finn said.

            The door shut with a click.

            He shut his eyes and the tears rolled out, wetting his eyelashes.  An overwhelming wave of disappointment crushed into his chest and wrung out his heart.  Days looking forward to stealing away these few hours with Ciara—only for his father to destroy it with a single command.  A mandatory meeting.  Probably just to go over the same things Finn had already heard a thousand times.  If he had to listen to one more detail about his mission then he might throw himself off his balcony.

            Why did everything always have to go so wrong?

            Finn sucked in a deep breath through his clogged nostrils.  And he exhaled.

            The bright blue sky reminded him that everything was going to be okay, so instead of crying, he used his shirtsleeves to wipe away his tears.  He knew if he looked in a mirror he would be able to see where his skin was red and swollen around his eyes, but he didn’t care.  It would be gone by the time Ciara arrived.

            Oh gods, Ciara.  How was he going to tell her?  How would she take it when he broke the news?  She’d been looking forward to this night just as much as he had.  He doubted she’d ever been on a real date.  He hadn’t, and he was the prince.

            The prince of Euanthe with a servant.  If only his father knew.

            Finn stared at his hands in his lap.  The soft light brown skin wrapping around his fingers—the dark hairs on the backs of his forearms.  The hands his father gave him.  He’d spent hours examining Leon Hadar, trying to figure out what parts he received from him and what he’d gotten from his mother.  He knew his green eyes, as murky as a lake were a gift from Jasmine Hadar, before her passing.  So different from his father’s ominous dark coals.

            A soft rapping echoed from the door and Finn’s heart sank.

            He had a collection of red roses he’d picked himself from the garden tied up with a ribbon, tucked away under his bed to give to her.  So much for any of that.  So much for him ever having a chance of romance in his life of responsibilities and hard work.  No wonder none of his father’s marriages ever worked out.

            Finn took his own thought back immediately.  He knew his mother’s death was a shock to everyone, including his father.  No one expected for her to catch a disease so young, or for it to spread so quickly, or for her to die within days.  Finn remembered watching her in her last days, bedridden and sweating through the sheets.  She’d hugged him close and whispered that she loved him and all he could do was shake in her arms.

            Finn scooted back from his desk and fought through heavy steps toward the door, as if he were treading through muddy water.

            Ciara’s bright smile lit him up.

            She’d never been so blatant in her life—instead of her drab servant’s outfit, she wore a pale blue dress, tied with a little belt, and a soft cotton jacket.  Her hair fell around to her elbows in red ringlets, bouncing when she said with an impish desire, “Do you need assistance, your majesty?”
            Finn kept a straight face, the horror of letting her down creeping into his stomach.  Not only was he going to have to cancel their date, but after the week was up, they might never see each other again.  If his mission didn’t go well…

            “Always,” he said and held the door open for her.

            Ciara stepped past the threshold and the lock clicked behind her.

            She spun on her heel, her dress spiraling around her body.

            Finn shouldered on his coat, not sure what he was doing.  Why was he preparing to leave?  Why hadn’t he told her that he had a meeting he had to be at.  That he had to hear his father give him the same instructions once again.

            Instead of telling her, Finn found feeling underneath his bed for a bunch of thorned stems.  At the first prick of his finger, he smiled, pulling them up like a magician performing the final part of his act.

            “Oh!” Ciara said, sauntering forward to feel the velvety petals.  “They’re beautiful.”

            “They’re your favorite, right?” Finn asked with a tad of hesitance, as if he didn’t already know the answer.  As if he didn’t already know every minuscule detail about her.

            She peered up with gleaming eyes, holding the flowers close to her chest so they looked like a spot of blood blooming over her heart.  “Yes, yes they are.”

            Tell her, he told himself.  Break the news.

            ‘Ciara, I’m going to Mohana to hunt down the Blue Eyed Witch.  I have to leave in a week.  I can’t go out with you tonight because I have to go to a meeting about that mission.  Oh, and I might die.’

            It’s that easy.  It’s that easy.  One deep breath and say it.

            Finn inhaled.

            And Ciara stepped up and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck.  Everything else in the entire world fell away, crumbling to dust on a distant sea breeze.  He was faintly aware of the curtains to his balcony flapping but his mind buzzed with Ciara’s lips on his and her hands in his hair.  Drops of red were scattered across the rug where their bodies pressed so close together had ruffled the rose petals loose.

            Finn glanced out the window, at the sun growing closer to the horizon by the second.

            “It’s about time we leave, isn’t it?” He asked with a wicked grin.

 

The horizon was dark orange and the sky was a fuzzy pink, as soft as the blanket Finn brought to wrap around him and Ciara.  They sat on the soft moss and dirt, backs against his favorite boulder, gazing at the distance, where the city unfolded in a cluster of shadows and lights.  And the wall stood like a stony beast made of darkness, encircling Berea until it cut off to the sea behind the palace, behind them.

            Wind rustled the curls around Ciara’s face.

            “I could stay up here forever,” she said, her voice as low as the hum of crickets in the forest.

            Finn nuzzled her neck and whispered, “We can be.”
            Ciara laughed, putting her fingers through his hair.  “We have lives.  They would start missing us if we were gone too long.”

            “I wish I could end things with my life and just be up here with you.  Forever.”

            Ciara smiled and sank down so that she laid with her head cushioned by the blanket.  Finn turned himself on top of her, framing her with his forearms.

            He bent down, planting a gentle, pulling kiss.

            A seed he hoped to grow.

            And as the light fell and the stars twinkled one-by-one into existence, that seed blossomed into a crisp red rose.

 

“Finn,” a soothing voice whispered.  “Finn, wake up.”

            His eyes shot open.

            For a moment, he stared blankly at Ciara’s face and her messy hair and the city beneath them.

            What the—

            Gods, what had he done?  His pants were gone, thrown aside.  He scampered over to shove them on.  His shirt next—he spent a total of ten seconds buttoning it, not noticing a few still loose.  He dragged his hands through his hair and started rolling up the blanket.

            “What the hell is going on?” Ciara asked.

            Her voice tore him from his frenzy and Finn froze.

            He craned his head around to see her with a waiting expression, eyebrows raised and mouth open.

            “We fell asleep,” he said, as if that explained everything he hadn’t told her.

            “Why are you rushing?”

            “I…”  I missed a meeting and my father is going to kill me. 

            “Was last night not…was it…” Her voice trailed away, the hurt lingering in each word.

            “Oh gods, Ciara,” Finn stepped to her, intertwining his hands with hers.  “Last night was incredible.  I mean it.  But…you see, there was a meeting I was supposed to go to yesterday.  My father told me about it last minute.”

            “And…and why didn’t you go?”

            “If I went, then we wouldn’t have been able to come here last night.”

            “Oh,” Ciara said.  Her voice was twinged with worry and pride, for herself, maybe, but mostly for him.  He’d chosen her over his father.  He’d chosen her over his duty.  “You shouldn’t have done that.  We could’ve come here another time—”

            “No, no we couldn’t.”

            “Yes we could, I get regular breaks.” She peered into his face, searching for answers.

            Finn looked away, blinking into the pale sunlight.  She didn’t know.  She didn’t know that he was leaving so soon, and that they might never get another chance to be like this again.

            Then he looked back to her, his mind racing with thoughts.  “Holy shit, Ciara.”

            “What?” She asked, rolling up their blanket.

            “Your job.  You had a two hour break—that was it—what are you going to tell them?”

            She stopped and ran her hands over her face.  “I don’t know.  I’ll figure something out.”

            “Okay, okay,” Finn murmured, shoving the rest of his things into his bag.

            “What are you going to tell your father?” She asked.

            Finn blinked.  He hadn’t even thought about that.  What was he going to tell his father?

            “You’re not going to tell him about us, are you?” Ciara asked.

            “No, no, no.  Never.”

            Ciara let out a sigh that held no relief, heavier with something darker.

            “I guess I’ll tell him that I got caught up with something else.”

            Ciara asked, “Can you be anymore vague?  He won’t accept that.”

            “How do you know?”

            “I’ve been serving him for two years.  I know.

            “Okay, so I’ll tell him that I came out here alone.  That I fell asleep drawing or something.  He’ll believe that.”

            Ciara chewed on her lip.  “I suppose.”

            Finn started, throwing his bag over his shoulder.  “But we cannot go back into the castle together.”

            “We didn’t think this through,” Ciara said.  “I’m not allowed to leave the castle until the week is over.”

            “That’s two days—”

            “Exactly,” Ciara said.  “Two days that I’m not going to be working.  I’m going to get fired.”

            “No you won’t.  I won’t let that happen,” Finn said, going to fetch Morana where they’d tied her up overnight with some food and water.

            Ciara trailed him.  “I don’t guess there’s any way you can sneak me back onto the castle grounds?”

            Finn undid his mare’s lead and started buckling on her saddle.  “Not that I can think of.  Maybe if you wore a cloak or something to hide your face you could come in with me.  No one would ask any questions.”

            “But in your story aren’t you supposed to be coming back alone?”

            He held out his hand for her.  She took it and heaved herself on Morana, her skirts riding up her leg.  Finn climbed up in front of her and relaxed with the feeling of her arms locking around his stomach.

            “We’ll figure it out on the way back,” he decided.

 

After they’d rode through the forest, coming up with plans as the trees swam by, and reached the hubbub of one of the city’s main avenues, Finn raised his cowl and led Morana into a shady alley between a cafe and a bookshop.  Amid the puddles of dirt and dust, in the dry heat, faces inches away from each other, they devised a plan.

            They were to ride in together as far as the stables, hoping that no one remembered him coming in with another person, and together they would dismount.  Then, Finn would go to his room and pretend as though he had never left in the first place.  As long as the guards all stayed as oblivious as usual, then there would be no flaws.  If anyone asked Ciara what she was doing in the stables, she would tell them that Prince Finn had asked her to saddle Morana for a ride into the city.  They would of course tell her that it was not her job to saddle the horses and send her on her way, finishing the job themselves.

            And all would be well.

            With this plan imprinted into their minds, the couple rode through the streets, and past the main palace gate.  Finn felt Ciara shrinking behind him as they rode beneath the rising portcullis, nodded on by one of the guards in his shining armor.  Morana’s hooves crunched against the gravel, each step rebounding through his head as loud as a gong.

            The morning sky was bright and blue and did little to conceal Ciara where she slumped against him, except for maybe blinding onlookers with its brilliance.  Moments later, they reached the second portcullis, this one nicer with more guards atop the stout wall.  They took note of who rode Morana in and raised the gate without a second thought.  Finn smiled against the heat—it was working.  No one even raised an eyebrow at the fact that he was entering with a girl.  It wasn’t their business anyway, was it?

            The bailey greeted them with the clanging of the blacksmiths at work and the bustle of various servants doing their jobs.  Ciara seemed especially wary around those familiar faces wearing the uniform she usually adorned, burying her face into the crook of her neck to avoid their eyes.  Finn knew this was an action of fear but relished in the feeling of her nose and lips pressed against his skin, bringing him back to the night before.  When no one was around to see them but the stars.

            Finn jerked Morana’s reins toward the stables, where she ducked through the steep opening and into the cool darkness.

            He dismounted her and helped Ciara down, the glance they shared and the innocent smile a telling way for him to know that she was aware the plan was working—that it would all be okay.

            Instead of a kiss, as he would’ve liked to give her, he squeezed her hand and turned to go into the bright day, back into the castle, and back to his duties, already daydreaming of their next adventure together.

            An adventure that would only be possible if her survived the mission looming before him.  He knew he had to tell her before the week was up, knew that if he didn’t, and if he never made it back home, she would forever wonder what had happened to him.  He knew that the heartache would eat at her until the day she too died.  At least, he hoped it would.  No, he didn’t hope that she would experience a lifetime of pain and longing.  That was selfish of him to think.  He only wished for her to miss him, as he would miss her in a week’s time.  As he missed her now, like a gnawing at his chest, just moments after leaving her.

            But how would he tell her that he must go?

 

The first sign of anything odd was that his bedroom door was ajar.  Never, in his entire life, had he left his room with the door open, fearing that someone might sneak in and snoop through his things.  He had nothing scandalous to hide in the past, but now he owned countless sketches of Ciara—Ciara laughing, Ciara reading, Ciara crying, Ciara lounged across his bed—that he knew he should have locked in a safe somewhere.  Even a loose floorboard would do.

            Finn stepped inside and knew who the girl was the moment he saw the silky brown hair that fell to her waist, almost melding into the dark skirt around her ankles.

            “Cyrille!” He crossed the room and slammed the book she’d been leafing through closed.

            Her green-eyed glare—one of the many traits they shared from their father—stabbed him beneath the curls of her lashes, a gift from her mother.

            “What?” She had the audacity to ask, as if this were her room he was barging into.

            “Leave.  Stop going through my things.”

            “I’ve been searching the library for this book for weeks.  I should have known you would have it stashed away here with your pictures of your favorite whores.”

            Her sharp bite almost drew his attention away from the drawings scattered among the wide desk—every detailed portrait of Ciara open for display like a private gallery of his desires.

            “Leave!” He yelled, snatching the book from her grasp and scooping up the sketches.

            Cyrille rolled her eyes and strode away, the door open like a gaping cavity behind her.

            Finn crossed the room to slam it closed, locking it for good measure.

            He knew his cheeks were red, knew it from the burning sensation reaching from his neck to his face and into his head.  How dare she come into his room and look through his things!  He wouldn’t do the same to her—he couldn’t remember the last time he’d even shed a glance toward his half-sister’s bedroom door.

            Just when he’d decided a hot bath and a long nap might douse his fuming anger, a knock echoed from the door.

            “What is it?” He asked.

            “Your father wants to speak to you.”
            “Okay, thank you.”

            The footsteps outside trickled away, leaving Finn once again in silence, staring out the window above his desk.  Now the blue sky seemed less brilliant and more icy, like the gleaming crystalline surface of a glacier.  His anger twisted in his stomach into something new, a creature of roiling and squeezing.  Anxiety.

            He knew what his father wanted to speak to him about.  He knew it, and he still left the room, shut the door behind him, and walked to his father’s office.

            His knock on the large oak door seemed deafened by the silence in the corridor.

            But his father’s booming voice answered, “Come in.”

            Finn soaked in the enormity of the office, the large glass windows and the half-circle desk stretching almost from wall-to-wall, covered with neat stacks of paper and a browning map of the continent.  A winding iron staircase ascended into a shadowy alcove above, where he thought his father sometimes rested after long a long day of work.  And beside the door, always staring at the king at work, was a life-size tapestry of Finn’s dead uncle, Raoul Hadar, his striking blue eyes lanced with the power of the Warlocks.

            “Sit,” he said, examining something in front of him.  The desk lamp’s glow was almost too bright for Finn to make out the faint pencil-lines of a woman’s figure draped across ruffled sheets.  Not a drawing from life, just imagination, though his father couldn’t have known that.  And how had his father come into possession of it?  Was it Cyrille, who’d been too easily persuaded to leave his room, that had taken a piece of folded paper without him noticing?

            “You missed the meeting last night,” he said in a cool, calculated way.

            Finn answered, “Yes,” trying to match the king’s tone.

            “Why?”

            “I had other things to do.”  The confidence he tried to instill in his voice faltered on the last word.

            “Other things?” The king raised an eyebrow, sliding the paper across the desk.  Though Finn didn’t need to examine it—he knew exactly what his father saw.  He could have sketched an exact copy from his own memory.

            “I assumed that the meeting would be going over the same details about this mission as all the others.”

            “You should never assume,” his father said.  “Though sometimes, we do.  It is human nature to assume the good in some people.  Say, in our own sons.”

            Finn’s throat tightened.

            “You are always being watched, son.  Always.  I’ve been informed that when you left last night to do other things as you put it, you did not leave alone.  Is that correct?”

            The urge to lie, to protect Ciara, crawled up his throat.  But he knew it was too late.  He knew his father was aware of the entire truth, and was merely baiting him into confessing.

            “Yes, that is correct.”

            “And this was the woman you left with?”

            Finn flicked his eyes down, to see Ciara’s familiar freckled face and curls frizzing around her like blood steaming off her head and shoulders.

            His eyes shot up to meet the king’s.  No words needed to be said for a jolt of understanding to pass through them.  His father had had lovers in the past, affairs with women who were considered lowly.  He knew that he could not be judged for that, or Leon Hadar would be judging himself as well, which was something he never did.

            “You chose to have an affair with a servant?”

            Not a question of judgment, but a final opportunity to tell the truth.

            Finn didn’t say a word.

            “You missed an important meeting to go do some lowlife whore,” his father growled, slamming his fist on the drawing.  “You are going to be the king of this country one day, Finn.  No one will respect you if you do not take this responsibility seriously.  Nothing can distract you from this mission.  Nothing.  And I cannot trust anyone else to take it on but you.  Do you understand?”
            Finn clenched his teeth together and felt his jaw shift.

            “Do you understand!”
            It wasn’t a fatherly question anymore, but a kingly command.

            Finn’s wall broke under his father’s force.  “Yes.  I understand.”

            “Get out.”
            He stood, head clouded with anger and resentment—toward himself and his father—and left the room with the door wide open.

 


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