The court of House Davanar was a rush of movement, men and woman dressed in their finest all in a state of disarray. Terra Amirian was one of the few who swept through the long, wooden corridors with an air of calm, long, curling black hair cascading over her shoulders. She had a ledger in one hand, glacial irises hard and lips pressed into a thin line. Anyone in her path moved, their gazes following her as she made her way deeper in the massive estate with a sense of purpose to her steps.
No one dared stop her, not when she was on a mission.
A group of soldiers followed on her heels, their hands resting on the hilts of their sheathed blades and helmets under their arms. One man walked in front of the platoon, his pace even with hers even if he was a step behind her. As they made their way towards the massive doors at the end of the hall, where the stationed guards jumped to action to pry them open, the man murmured, "Never have I seen these men so quick to do as they are tasked without a few sharp, reprimanding orders, Terra."
"Perhaps your presence here shakes them, Lieutenant Bran," Terra didn't slow as she neared the door, but she did permit a smile to appear once they were through. Bran, as he was named, snorted in what she would consider to be incredulity before he replied, "The only thing these men are terrified of in this House is Lord Davanar, the Captain, and Sir Alphonsine. And you, mostly you."
Had she been any other woman, she would have giggled. Instead, she bit back the desire and took the comment for what it was: a light compliment that lingered between them as she led their group further into the estate. Here, in this part of the building, nobles were rushing about with their arms piled high with books and scrolls. Not a one of them paid any attention to the group marching in their midst.
In the distance, she heard a loud, booming voice yell, "What have I said, you simpleminded fools? I want to see progress! Someone, fetch me Lady Terra!"
"I am here, Lord Davanar," Terra stepped into the brightly lit room, hands folded before her as the men behind her spread out and tracked down their own target. House Davanar's lord, Cygnus Davanar, blinked at her arrival before looking over her shoulder to Bran. Then his attention was on her as she said, "With the last attack on our border, I knew you would need Lieutenant Aranas and extra arms."
The large, hardened man smiled even as her attention left him. She sought out her true purpose, her one goal, and she found the object of her royal assignment towards the back of the room. A young woman, dressed in a flowing gown with too-long sleeves, was hanging off one of the men with a flirtatious smile while the man in question, one of the higher-ranking guards, kept glancing between the girl and the Lord with an increasing look of rising panic. Terra's eyes narrowed.
"Princess, unhand that man this instant!" The guard's skin lost all color as Lord Davanar, who she was walking past, stopped midsentence to turn and observe the unfolding spectacle. The young woman, eyes wide, turned to her with a slack jaw. Terra advanced on them without pause, eyes narrowed. "Ciana Balara Davanar, you will unhand him right now, or, God help you, I'll put you through another night of lessons."
"Ra!" The young princess stomped her foot, arms snapping out on either side of her body. Terra's gaze narrowed as the princess took one, angry step closer, voice sharp as she cried, "That's not fair!"
Terra was impassive. "I am not here to make life fair, Princess Cia. I am here to teach you."
"You've been teaching me for the past ten years," Cia rubbed her foot across the floor, lower lip sticking out as a veil of soft, golden-brown hair flowed around her face. Her arms were folded in front of her, hands clasped together, and shoulders pulled inward. A picture of innocence for anyone who didn't know any better. When Cia peered through her lashes, Terra was tempted to laugh. "Can't I have a bit of fun, Ra? My birthday's a few days away."
She regarded the pouting girl before her, lips pressed into a thin line. "Fun is all and well, Princess, but it is no longer fun when your antics get in the way of another's job. Let us be off. We have much to do."
"Yes, Miss Terra."
Cia stepped forward as Terra turned around, head low. The older girl met Lord Davanar's gaze, inclining her head in respect, as he shook his head. She wasn't sure what expression was on his face, only that he seemed bemused as she swept past him with the young princess on her heels. As they left the room and its people, as they ventured further into the hallways and away from prying ears, Terra let her pace slow. Neither spoke for a time, the two of them walking quietly through the lit, wooden corridor with an air of peace wrapped around them.
As they were bowed outside, Terra finally said, "I hope you had a good reason for what you did, Cia."
She saw the scratching look Cia sent her in response, this time smiling as she gazed up at the sky. As the warmth settled across her ivory skin, Cia murmured, "I had reason enough, Ra. Let's not talk about it."
The underlining message wasn't missed: 'Take me somewhere private.'
Terra led the way through the various gardens, passing under large trees blooming the darkest green. A warm wind curled through the air, each gentle breeze toying with their skirts and dancing within their long, loose hair. Neither said anything as Terra headed for the Servant's Quarters, holding the door open for the girl walking with her. A few servants bowed upon seeing them, not a one looking surprised to see them within the building.
Within minutes, they were confined in Terra's chambers and the windows cracked. Cia plopped down on a cushion, groaning in an unladylike manner before kicking off her slippers. "My feet are killing me, Terra. How can you stand to walk in these things all day?"
"It is a pain you learn to live with," Terra placed a glass of water of the table, then a second, and sat beside the young girl as she continued, "The discomfort will fade once you break the shoes in, Cia."
The shoes in question were unlike the slippers either of them were used to – these were like boots, only they flared around the ankle. There was little room for breathing, the feet confined within them for hours on end. Terra's gaze shifted to her own booted feet, her legs tucked to the side of her body. Her feet were likely swollen, by this point. She attempted to wiggle her toes with little success.
"Tell me why you were in the War Room, Cia," Terra didn't look away from her feet, only began to tug at the offending shoes. When dainty, slender hands joined, Terra looked up to see Cia glaring at the shoes as if they were the vilest things in the world. As the princess pulled, Terra added, "You said you had a reason for being in there. I want to know what that reason was."
"Rumors, mostly," Cia braced her knees against the floor, body taut as she yanked on the shoe trapped between her hands. Terra's body inched across the floor, her hands flying out to grab the table as the princess yanked again. Cia's brow was furrowed. "A few of the girls I associate with, they mentioned how all the other missing nobles had spoken with Frazier shortly before they vanished…"
Terra's mind whirled, dots connecting with startling lines. "Are we talking about the Barthonan Treaty?"
"The one and the same," Cia yanked the shoe off, tossing it aside with a triumphant grin. She started on the other foot with renewed determination, pulling and yanking as she said, "I smelt a mole. Each of the nobles had ties to the Lords of Barthonan and all of them knew Frazier. I didn't want to tell you or Sir Alphonsine, not without some proof or evidence supporting the rumors…"
Terra exhaled, slowly, when the other shoe came off. "And your thoughts, Cia?"
"I'm not sure," the princess tossed the shoe behind herself, lips pulled into a frown. "He was…skittish. Are killers skittish, Ra? He couldn't even look at me without being afraid of my father's reaction."
It would be best to consult Sir Alphonsine, a thought which Terra shared with the young girl before her. Cia nodded in agreement, though she spoke up a moment later, "We'll be talking to him and the others in a few nights, right? After we pick go and meet Bran's contact?"
Terra's expression settled into something akin to indifference even as she said, "I still don't think this plan of yours is wise, Cia."
The girl rolled her eyes. "You know as well as I do that this plan of mine may be the only thing that works."
"Seducing a warlord with a love potion from a gypsy isn't wise," Terra leveled her attention on the fair-haired girl, holding her gaze without flinching. Cia's lips, too, were a thin, white line. Terra refused to yield, her skin itching as the plan in question rose to the forefront of her mind. "Magic isn't something we should even attempt to play with, Cia, let alone directing it at someone so…so…"
"I was going to say 'terrifying,' but I suppose your word works just as well," Terra folded her hands in her lap, legs tucked to the side once more. Across from her, the princess leaned against the table with wide, happy eyes. Terra held that gaze even as the princess said, "We're talking about Baskara Zavakia, Ra! He's not just any warlord, he's the warlord. He conquered Al'Zorian Rise and the Lavonian Lowlands by himself! He hasn't lost a single battle – can you imagine what such a force would do for us? He could turn the war over and ensure our victory. I know he can, Ra. We just have to…convince him to help us."
Therein was the issue: convince Lord Zavakia, battle-hungry warlord, to join forces with them.
He wasn't known for aiding others unless there was something to be gained. The likelihood of anyone giving away land held within the Silver Isles for over a hundred years was as probable as him agreeing to help them. Terra rubbed her brow, knowing Cia's plan was the best chance. It was the only chance.
"Once he marries me and takes me to Al'Zorian Rise, I can begin swaying my newlywed husband to see how the Silver Isles is wrong in its pursuit to tear down White Mountain's protective walls," Terra watched as Cia leaned in, the younger girl's face glowing with emotion. Terra leaned in, arms folded on the table between them, as the princess continued, "Once we get enough forces in White Mountain, we can push my father's men to retreat and then to surrender. After that, we can negotiate a treaty where White Mountain will be left alone and protected by the Noble Houses we'll pick out! The war will end."
There was so much at stake, Terra knew. Yet she was fully aware of how they had little choice, not when Lord Davanar was readying to assault White Mountain's borders once again. She didn't know how long the ancient, holy lands that contained White Mountain would hold against constant battering. There was also the fact that a love potion was unpredictable – there was no telling how Lord Zavakia would respond.
She did know, however, that obtaining a love potion was the easy part of this task.
Getting Baskara Zavakia of Al'Zorian Rise, who had yet to arrive, to fall victim to the potion?
That was a battle all unto itself.
And here lies the ending of 'Black Bird's' first chapter! There's so much that happens in this, so many things that are hinted at, that it's hard to believe. I had a different chapter before this, something that wasn't as intriguing, and I'm so glad I decided to change how the story starts. I'm looking forward to writing this story, to seeing how the characters grow and change. To see the story unfold. In this way, I'm also eager for all of you who will be joining this epic, sweeping journey.
I'll update as often as I can. I promise.
I have several stories I'll be working on, which means I'll be plenty busy. So, until next time, I wish you all a good day!