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Daughter of Light (rewrite) / Chapter 9

Daughter of Light (rewrite) / Chapter 9

Posted February 3rd, 2019 by Garrett

by garrett
in a city drinking coffee

a/n: i really like this chapter for some reason.

 

9

 

Ciara had never been called to the king’s office before, so when a servant approached her just as she finished wiping down a window, and said that she was needed there, she knew something had gone wrong.  She muttered thank you, rung out her rag, and took a breath that clouded the glass in front of her.  Instinct told her to run, to leave her job behind and go home, but she knew she couldn’t.  Fear grabbed at her limbs and forced her to climb the stairs to the corridor that housed the king’s office.

            Her fist trembled as she knocked on his door.  Instead of an answering voice, the wood swung open beneath her hand and let out a warm draft.  His shadow loomed above her, the dark facade of his face blanketed with a thousand unreadable masks.  Furrowed brow, near-black eyes, but a hint of a smile on his mouth.

            “Welcome, Ciara,” he said.

            The way he addressed her by name made her lungs clench in her ribcage.

            She stepped inside, and bent her head and shoulders.  “Your majesty.”

            “Rise.”
            The command took over her body and then she was standing upright, watching him circle his desk and sit in his high-backed, leather chair.

            “Have a seat.”

            Ciara gripped the armrests as she lowered herself into the chair across him, her knuckles white with fear.

            “I can see why he likes you,” the king drawled.  “Sharp features.  Warm eyes.  Apparently a body carven by the gods themselves.”  His eyes dropped, and at first Ciara thought he was examining her skinny figure beneath her servant’s dress.  But she followed his gaze to a drawing on his desk.  The woman’s body was foreign, traced with bulbous curves she’d never dreamed of having, but the face she knew as clearly as if she were staring into a mirror.

            Heat rose to her cheeks like the rushing in of summer after a cold winter.  She knew the artist without even glancing at the signature scribbled in the bottom right corner, knew it from the way the lines were bolder in some places and softer in others.  She recognized it as well as she might recognize his handwriting, maybe even better.  But was this how he thought of her?  Had these fantasies led to disappointment the night before?

            “Your majesty—”

            “Don’t speak.  You’ll only make this worse on yourself.  My son is royalty.  You are nothing but a worm wriggling your way into his bed.  Maybe even his heart.”

            Ciara swallowed.  She couldn’t bear the listen to this, not when her mind rushed with thoughts and her heart hammered in her chest.

            “Do you know what we do to worms, Ciara?”

            He was standing now, his large hands, laced with veins, spread across the desk, index finger touching the corner of the drawing.

            She didn’t dare answer, instead waiting for him to answer himself.

            “We step on them.”

            Ciara couldn’t help but flinch as he slammed his fist on the paper and grabbed it up in a single motion, crumpling it in his hand.  The muscles beneath his shirtsleeve shifted as he threw the drawing into a fireplace against the wall.  The flames devoured Finn’s beautiful—no matter how inaccurate—creation, and some part of Ciara was glad.  She could never live up to those expectations.

            But any trace of gladness dissipated as the king rounded the table and stood above her, a shadowy figure against the glare of the fire.  The room was dark, she realized, with heavy curtains drawn over the windows.

            She didn’t anticipate what happened next, didn’t anticipate his fist releasing and swinging against her cheek.  The slapping ring of dry hand against soft skin seemed to echo in the room long after it happened, the sting blooming across her face like a swarm of bees attacking her all at once.  She raised an idle, trembling hand to her cheek and touched the sensitive, welting skin.

            A burning anger simmered in her, like coals in a fire, not hot enough to engulf him with her wrath, but enough to strike out at him mentally.  To declare her hatred for him right then and there.

            You’re a cruel bastard and I hate you.  I hate you.  I hate you.

            But she knew to keep the words lodged in her throat, knew that if she let them out then it would all be over for her.  Everything she’d worked for in Berea, going from cleaning the toilets to working in the kitchen, to serving the prince himself.  All of her progress would be erased if she lashed out.

            So she kept her mouth shut and allowed herself to cry inside, to keep her pain confined in her cheek, where it belonged, and not her heart, where it longed to be.  How could Finn, someone so loving and kind, come from such a monster?

            The lie fled from her lips, sneaking around all the harsh words she held back.  “Your majesty, I swear I will never speak to your son again.  I will never even look at him.”

            A cold chuckle rose from the king’s throat as he took his seat, as if nothing had ever happened, as if the redness swelling in her face had been there when she’d walked in.  “You’re damned right you won’t.”

            “Your majesty—”

            “I’m sorry, Ciara, but we no longer are in need of your services here.  If you wish to stay and gather your belongings, then you may have until the end of next week to leave.  Until then, I will be the one making promises to you.”

            She could feel the tears now, the flood she’d been trying so hard to hold back, burning the backs of her eyes.  Just another minute and she could let her walls down.  She could cry about everything she had lost in such a short amount of time.

            “I promise that if I see you going near my son, if I even glimpse you walking in his direction, or glancing at him from across a room, I will slit your throat on the spot.”

            Ciara’s blood iced over, a chill that not even the dry heat of Euanthe or the warm fireplace could thaw.

            “I’ve done worse, you know,” he drawled, tapping his finger on the desk.

            She rose without being told to, turned her back on the king without being told to, and left without a single word in his direction.  Never again, in her entire life, would she say those wretched words.  To anyone.  Never again would she refer to someone as “Your Majesty,” not for as long as she lived.

 

Ciara hunched over her bedside table in the small closet she called her room, barely large enough to hold a short dresser, her cot, and a nightstand.  A lantern hung above her, casting a stale yellow light over her eighth draft of this letter.  So much paper and ink wasted, she thought, glancing at the growing pile of crumpled discards scrawled with embarrassing monologues.

            She began her new draft by addressing it, deciding that this one would not be filled with frank emotion, but with facts.  Probably for the best, in case it was intercepted.

            To Finn.

            The rest came just as easily, which led her to wonder why such a thing required so many drafts—a description of what had happened and where she would be going.  Acantha, the capital city of Kaede, to live with her family.  And then her farewells—as short as she could manage without being too curt, and just as sad as they were sweet.  Finn had been her world for almost a year, when she’d been assigned to him at the end of last summer.  Now, once again, the sun was high and steaming, though Ciara wasn’t being promoted.  She was leaving her job with just under twenty coppers to her name, enough to possibly afford the fare across the Western Highway into Kaede, and food for the journey.

            Mama and Papa would welcome her home with warm hearts and smiling faces—she knew that much.  Though she also knew that when they went to bed the night of her return, neither would be able to sleep, wondering what went wrong in their daughter’s life.  Or possibly even wondering where they had gone wrong in raising her.

            The image of them, disappointed in her, struck her harder than the stinging red hand print on her cheek.  Ciara folded her finished letter and slid it inside an envelope.  The only way she could be sure it reached him would be if she hand-delivered it, though she knew that would be the riskiest scenario.  Her walking up to Finn’s bedroom chambers would be going against exactly what the king had told her not to do.

            Though he wasn’t her king anymore, was he?

            Ciara stepped into her shoes and let her door fall silently behind her, careful not to wake any of the other servants sleeping in their own little rooms lining the hall.  The hall that she’d called home for so long—the hall that might as well have been the dungeons below the castle, with no windows letting in light, and nothing but small, cold rooms.

            Her feet padded across the stone corridors, each echoing step as loud as an earthquake in her head.  She let herself tiptoe up one of the smaller staircases, one she figured the king would be less likely to take.  Her hand trailed the wooden banister as she ascended, wondering if this was the right thing to do.  Maybe she should just leave Finn with no warning, and let him wonder forever where she’d gone.  Or maybe he would confront his father with questions about her, only to realize that because of his stupidity, she’d been fired. 

            Ciara ground her teeth together as she reached the corridor with Finn’s room.  Stars winked at her through a tall window.  If only Finn had told her about the meeting, then she could have convinced him to reschedule their night out.  If only he hadn’t been so idiotic and carefree.  Her mind was at war—part of her raging against Finn for making her leave not only her job, but him; part of her longing to ignore the king and stay in the prince’s warm embrace forever.

            But that wasn’t an option.

            Ciara tapped her knuckle against Finn’s door, praying to the gods that he was the only occupant.  If Cyrille or his father were inside, speaking with him, what would she do when the door opened to show her standing alone, holding a letter?

            Thankfully, when it did open, Finn alone stood on the other side.

            The speech Ciara had prepared to accompany her letter burned away, ignited by a sudden rush of anger in her chest.  This was all his fault—the handsome prince standing inches away from her—staring at her with those deep, green eyes.  She threw her gaze to his feet and held out the letter, shoving every dark, furious part of her in a corner of her mind.

            “What’s this?” Finn asked, the volume of his voice startling her.

            Without a second thought, she shoved a finger to her lips and stepped across the threshold.  Finn shut the door and peeled the envelope open.

            Ciara trailed her finger around his bedpost while his eyes scanned the page, pupils tracing every scrawling word she’d dared to inscribe.

            Finn exhaled and slumped beside her, on the foot of his bed.

            “I can’t believe him,” Finn said.  “I can’t believe he would do something like this.”

            Ciara averted her gaze from him, the pain of seeing his face, knowing that she would never be able to lay her eyes upon him again, too much for her to bear.

            “This is ridiculous,” Finn breathed.  “He can’t just fire you for no reason!  You’re an excellent servant!  And…and…”

            Exhaustion from the entire day wrapped itself around Ciara’s bones.  She no longer had the energy to remind him to keep his voice down.

            But he’d fallen silent.  Ciara looked up to see what was wrong, only to find that instead of speaking, Finn stared at her face.  No—at her cheek, where she knew the king’s mark bloomed as fresh as a rose against her pale skin.  Ciara wanted to tell him not to worry, that there was nothing he could do to stop it now, but the urge to fight him fled her as soon as that letter reached his hands.

            “He’s a monster,” Finn said.  “My father is a monster.”

            Ciara nodded.  Tears tried to claw free behind her eyes, but she kept the locked up.

            “I’m so sorry, Ciara.” Finn raised a hand to touch the side of her face that was searing with the king’s mark.  He planted a kiss there, a seed she knew would never see the sun.  He let his lips linger, and Ciara felt a salty wetness crawl to the crease of her lips.  They weren’t her own tears, she knew, feeling the burning desire to cry as strong as a growing tsunami.

            But one of them had to stay strong.

            When Finn pulled away, his eyes gleamed with sorrow and anger, streaks of tears running down his face.

            Ciara wiped them away with her finger.

            She’d had one encounter with the king, but Finn had a lifetime of them to come.  He had to live with that awful man as his father.

            She marveled at her flipped mindset—burning anger simmered into quiet sympathy.

            Ciara let her fingers journey up the side of Finn’s face, through his silky hair, and allowed him to lay his head in her lap.  She stared at the candle wick burning on his desk, and sifted pieces of his hair apart, tucking them behind his ear.

            Minutes passed before he pulled himself up.

            Ciara’s heart broke at the sight of him unwinding before her.  The shell of the headstrong prince she’d grown to love melting to show his softer core.  When he wiped away his final tears and looked into her eyes, she thought she could almost see the layers of his chest peeling away to expose a sinewy, gently beating heart beneath.

            Their hands found one another, fingers tying together like a fraying knot.

            “He told me that if he saw me speaking to you or…or even looking at you then he would kill me,” Ciara said, her voice as steady as a glacier.

            “That sounds like him.”

            “And it’s not that bad,” Ciara tried to say in a convincing tone.  “It’s really not.  Your leaving for Xanthe at the end of next week, so we would have had to say goodbye anyway.”

            The mention of goodbye made Finn’s shoulders tighten and his hand go limp.  He blinked a few times before giving her a straight response.  “Oh, yeah…I guess, but it’s not the same.  I’ll be back here in a month, and you’ll be in Acantha.”

            “You could come visit me.  We could make it work.” Ciara’s brain spun through every possibility to keep their little flower alive through winter.

            Finn shook his head and sighed.  “How would I get to Acantha without my father knowing?  And sooner or later he’s going to expect me to start looking for a wife.  The future queen of Euanthe.”

            Ciara’s throat tightened.  She couldn’t even allow herself to think of Finn sitting atop the throne, a crown gleaming on his head, with some beautiful wife from a royal family at his side.

            The realization that she would never again be with him like she was now sunk in and scattered the pieces of her broken heart.

            It was that realization that made her grab the back of his neck and pull him in for a kiss, long and deep.  A kiss goodbye.

            He raged against her mouth, their bodies folding together and moving—a leg around his waist, his fingers in her hair.  Their hands roamed each other’s bodies, feeling the skin of one another, as soft as the silk sheets they writhed against.

            Before Ciara knew what was happening, before she gave it a second thought, they were taking off clothes and sinking under the sheets, and the candle on his desk—the only glowing source of light in the room—was burning out.

            The room swam in darkness, only lit by the moon and the stars, and the two lovers whispering their last goodbyes.

 

Ciara woke in a cocoon of sheets so soft she thought she might sink into them.  Something tickled her ear, and she plucked a crisp, white feather from the pillow beneath her head.  She’d never slept on feathers before…

            The night rushed into memory as hard as the broad daylight streaming through the windows.  And the empty impression of another body in the bed beside her.  She listened for the trickling of bathwater being started, but heard nothing but distant clanking in the courtyard below.  Finn was nowhere to be seen.

            Ciara shot up, fear fogging her thoughts as she scanned the room for her clothes.  She threw on her servant’s dress, shoved on her shoes, and scampered to the washroom.  Her hair was a frizzy mess, scattered with random feathers.  She picked them out, throwing them on the floor, and then ran her fingers from her scalp to the ends of her curls, catching on countless knots.

            She cursed and decided it was pointless.  No matter how many times she tried to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress or straighten her ruffled hair, she was convinced that her appearance screamed the truth of what she’d done last night.

            What she’d done with Finn.

            What she’d done with Finn for the last time.

            Ciara had just finished giving up on her hair when the bedroom door creaked open and shut.  Her limbs froze and all she could do was stare into the mirror and wait for whoever walked in to step into its reflection.

            Her gut told her it was the king, that his menacing glare would appear over her shoulder, knife in hand to cut open her throat.  Ciara swallowed, touching a hand to her neck, not ready for the worst to happen—

            Finn’s gleaming smile could’ve shattered the mirror.

            Ciara spun around and released a long sigh.  “Why the hell didn’t you wake me up?”

            “I was preparing a gift for you.”

            “A gift?” Ciara couldn’t find words to express what she felt.  “Anyone could have walked in here and found me!” The low register of her voice did little to hide the anger resonating from every word.  “Your father could have walked right in and killed me in my sleep!”

            A dashing smirk crept onto Finn’s lips.  It was hard for her to stay angry at him when he looked like that, when he stood there waiting, arms behind his back, for her to finish ranting.

            She rolled her eyes and tilted her head at him.

            He grinned and presented a small velvet box, tinier than the palm of her hand.

            “What is that?” She asked.

            “You’ll see,” he said, turning it over into her waiting palm.

            Her fingers wrapped around the smooth navy surface, tracing the creases of the black ribbon that tied it together.  She moved to peel it apart, but he stopped her.

            “Wait until you’ve left to open it.”

            “What?  Why?”

            “Just trust me,” he said.

            Ciara breathed his clean scent, like he’d just walked out of a steaming bath.  He pulled her in for an embrace, and she squeezed her arms around him, resting her forehead against his shoulder.

            “I’ll see you again before we leave,” he whispered into her head, his breath tickling her ear.

            She pulled away, but didn’t question it.  Something stupid and giddy woke in her brain, spurring a question she would have never asked levelheaded.

            “Promise?”

 


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