Secrets and Shadows: Part Four
For several minutes they crouched there, behind the ancient disintegrating sofa, trembling with fear. It seemed like forever. The Eyrie lieutenant took a deep breath and decided that it was safe. She tried to stand and found that her legs were shaking. She sank her hands into the rotten fabric of the couch to steady herself and let out a shuddering breath. “I think they’re gone.” She leaned down and helped pull the ambassador to his feet.
“Who... who were they?” Rhydel asked anxiously.
“I... I don’t know,” Arianna replied with a tremor in her voice. “From what we heard, they are a group conspiring to overthrow Darigan.” She sounded shaken by the prospect. She shuffled her way to the door, inching forward slowly and groping in front of her with her hands to avoid hitting the desks. The darkness was completely enveloping; she couldn’t even see the any of the obstacles littering the room or even the outline of the doorway. She could hear Rhydel shuffling along behind her, his hands thumping against the wooden desks as he felt his way around them. At last, she reached a wall, and she felt around until she found the molding surrounding the doorway and then the doorknob. She listened intently for a second, and then quietly turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. Her head snapped back and forth as she scanned the hallways for any sign of an enemy, and then she slid out through the door, closely followed by the silver Kougra. “I think they’ve left. I don’t see any light from their torch. Do you still have ours?”
“It’s right here,” Rhydel replied, and she heard him rustling through the wicker basket. “Do you have a match?”
The Eyrie searched through her pockets and pulled one out. She scratched it against the flagstones and then used it to light the torch which Rhydel offered. She winced as she turned her head and shielded her eyes from the abrupt flare of light.
Wordlessly, they glided down the corridor and then rounded the corner to where the offending metal bracket lay on the stone floor. The burning torch it had contained was missing. Rather anxiously, Arianna stepped into the open doorway. Much to her disappointment, the conspirators had not left anything behind. She scoured the room for clues while the ambassador stood behind her and held the torch, but she couldn’t find anything. Not even a pencil or a scrap of paper had been carelessly left behind.
“Nothing,” Arianna pronounced unhappily, and followed the ambassador back out into the corridor. He rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. He looked exhausted.
“So what are we going to do now?”
Suddenly, she felt incredibly weary, as if the weight of the world was pressing down on her shoulders. She blinked a couple of times and wiggled her shoulders to dislodge the sensation, and then said, “We try to find our way out of here. Then I report up the chain of command and hope that this conspiracy gets squashed.”
“Who are you going to tell?”
“The Commander.” She paused, and snorted bitterly. “But he’d never believe me. No matter what I do or what I say, he’ll never treat me as anything more than an enemy.”
Rhydel knew instinctively that this was a very touchy subject with her. He licked his lips, and then asked very delicately, “So why does the commander have such a grudge against you?”
She laughed without any mirth. “Sins of the father.”
The ambassador blinked in confusion. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“He hates me because of who my father was,” she answered coldly.
“But you said your father was a common soldier. What could a common soldier do to earn the hatred of a commander?”
“My father was more than a common soldier,” Arianna growled and then quickened her pace as if to escape from the questioning.
“Then who was he?” Rhydel demanded.
“None of your concern,” she snapped back.
“Why won’t you tell me?” the Kougra continued incessantly, increasing his pace to catch up to the Darigan Eyrie.
“Because I don’t want to.”
“Please tell me,” the ambassador pleaded.
The Eyrie stopped. “You want to know, you really want to know? Fine. I’ll tell you.” Rhydel was astonished when her shoulders began to tremble, and she drew in a shallow, shuddering breath. “My father was Lord Kass.”
* * *
Rhydel gasped in shock and took a step backward, and the Darigan Eyrie whirled to glare at him; the same cold, haughty stare that he had seen in a thousand pictures. “There. Now you know,” she snarled. “My big secret, the reason why I have to dance on eggshells around this Citadel. Half the people who know my true identity think I’ll betray Darigan the first chance I get. If I say the wrong thing, if I make one wrong move, they will fall on me like a ton of bricks. Guilty until proven innocent.” She turned and stalked off down the hallway, leaving the stunned ambassador gaping in surprise.
Once his wits returned to him, Rhydel jogged down the hallway and then followed the lieutenant at a discreet distance. He waited while she tried out her set of keys on a large wooden door. She grunted in surprise when the key turned in her hands.
“Here’s a food storage room,” the Eyrie said emotionlessly after pushing the door open and peering inside. “This one looks very recent. I think we can wait here for the night and hope someone unlocks the door in the morning.” She sat down on one of the bags of barley and cradled her head in her hands for a moment before speaking. “Look, I’m really sorry about my outburst back there. I didn’t mean to bite your head off.” She wiped her hand across her face. Her fingers came away wet.
“I’m sorry too. I didn’t realize that it was such a painful subject,” the Silver Kougra replied gently. He didn’t know what else to say. He sat down across from her on a bag of wheat. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I dunno,” Arianna breathed. “Maybe I should. I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it.” She stared at the opposing wall for a long minute. “I don’t know where to begin,” she said hopelessly, shaking her head in denial and then dropping her chin to stare at the floor.
“Then start from the beginning,” Rhydel replied.
Without moving her head, the Eyrie looked up at the ambassador and gave a long, low sigh. “Alright,” she said dubiously, but she straightened up and softly began to speak.
“The earliest thing I remember is being carried on my mother’s shoulders and watching a parade go down the streets of the Citadel. Lord Darigan was in it, and my father marched at his side. This was before the first war, and everyone was content and there was always enough to eat. And then the war started, and there was little food, and everyone was frightened. I didn’t understand what was going on when Darigan disappeared, but I knew that everyone around me was very upset. Then my father took his place, and then everyone was happy because he told them what they wanted to hear. Even the war was celebrated, because he deceived everybody and told us that Meridell was our enemy; that they wanted to crush us and destroy our homes.
“At first I was very proud of my father; he seemed so strong and powerful. He would bring us presents and treats from the castle’s kitchens. But then, as the war worsened, he became moody, and he had a very mercurial temperament, smiling one moment and then screaming the next. At first, I didn’t understand why he was so mean to us, but I grew up very quickly. I had to.
“When the war turned against us, the mob which had once fed on the lies of my father turned violent. My mother and I feared that they would tear us apart. Then after my father was defeated, we approached Lord Darigan and begged for asylum, and he was very kind to us. He provided us with new identities and the stipend of a soldier’s widow. That was the only thing which allowed us to live in some semblance of normality.
“If Darigan had not been such a generous person I never would have been able to become a Citadel Guard. He had enough faith in me that he sponsored me into officer’s training. My mother was very happy that I would be making a name for myself and bringing honor back to the family. But she died before I even graduated from training.”
“It must be hard to go through life with this on your shoulders,” Rhydel said, unsure of what to say.
“Hard?” The Eyrie snorted bitterly. “You don’t know the meaning of the word. Do you know what it feels like to look in the mirror and see his face? The face of a tyrant, the face of someone who started a war and ruined thousands of lives. Do you know what it is like to have that feeling hanging over your head? I can’t escape it. For as long as I live I will always be known as Kass’s daughter. The daughter of a monster.” Arianna buried her face in her hands. When she spoke again, her voice sounded raw. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to take this out on you, but this is the first time I’ve ever talked to anyone about it. I’ve kept it bottled up inside of me for so long...”
“When I first saw you,” the ambassador said softly, “I knew that you were a very smart, very poised officer who wasn’t afraid to speak out and risk drawing attention to herself. I could see that you had something to prove to the world.”
“You must think I am some sort of a coward,” she whispered miserably.
“Never,” Rhydel said softly. “I think you are a very brave person who has suffered under a tremendous burden for far too long. I think that nobody else would have been able to cope as well as you have.” The ambassador paused and listened to the faint sound of Moaches chirping outside the storeroom door. “And I think we should get some sleep.”
The Eyrie nodded and wiped her eyes. Her throat was too tight to answer him back. She lay down on the barley sack and pillowed her head in her arms and closed her eyes. It would be many hours before she would be able to fall asleep.
To be continued...