The genie insisted he had no reason to love that girl as much as he did. It was obvious that this little errand after some lost piece of jewelry was just to get rid of him, which spoke of not only a spoiled nature on the girl's part (she was a princess), but a disregard for the well being of another person's soul. Whatever the princess had done for him while a child had to have been a whim, and now nothing more than a memory.
But when pressed upon for the reason why he loved her so, his heart would still call to those days when her soft hands mended the cuts on his face and her lips smiled too frankly.
Chapter 3: Dreadful Wind and Rain
A woman danced before Kyanna. It was midday and the desert heat covered the yellow land with rippling heat waves, yet the woman danced. Her skin shone like tarnished bronze, glossed with sweat. Long, orange-red hair whipped about her as she moved. She wore simple white cloth, which contrasted against her darker skin. Each movement accented the curves of her waist, her hips, her arms, her breasts.
Beautiful. More than beautiful enough to make Kyanna feel insignificant, princess or not, but the moment she thought it, beautiful didn't seem adequate. Too tame. Too...clean.
But what music was she dancing to?
Then she heard it: thrumming drums, a keening horn, and rattling zils. It was a kind of music she had only heard once, as a small child, when performers from the desert were still allowed in the kingdom.
"What is your wish?"
The woman twirled and paused to place her eyes upon Kyanna. They were an exotic amber and almond shaped. Beautiful.
"You know you heard me. I asked you a question. What is your wish? What do you desire most?"
Kyanna found herself answering without a thought.
The blazing woman snorted and danced on, flinging her arms into the air as though to caress it. Her full cinnamon lips smirked up at the tired blue sky with barely restrained laughter.
"A common man? Out of all the wonderful things of life, you wish for a man? Sweetheart, there's millions of men in the world. Do you really wish so dearly for something so commonplace?"
"He isn't commonplace! He's special."
"That's what they all say. But is he really?"
Kyanna screwed up her face. "If anything, they are all saying he isn't special."
"Our 'they' is different, sweetie."
The sun burned brighter. What kind of being could dance in this surreal heat without a hint of slowing or exhaustion? It was as though she were a part of the desert. As the woman's dancing grew in intensity, Kyanna thought she could see a message in the curve of her limbs.
Why not freedom? Why not dance? Why not the ability to find elation in simply being alive? Why not the endless eternity of the sky?
"Special or not, he's but a man. Are you really content to sink so low, little princess? Even born as you are to rule over nations? Don't you know what you are?"
A loud boom woke her. Rain pattered on the windows behind the wispy, pale curtains. They matched the rest of the yellows and pale off whites of the room, with accents of red here and there, such as the couch. It took her a moment to remember how she had come there. Then she felt the weight of the ugly gold locket at her throat, groaned, and covered her face with a pillow.
"No, no, no. I can't be awake right now. I don't want to be awake."
Had she really gotten married yesterday? Or had that all been some dream? Oh, if only, she thought blithely, tugging out her marriage pendent from between her breasts. Once more she tried to dig her nail into the crevice between the two halves, but the break could have been merely ornamental for all the good it did.
She peered over at the back of the couch. She heard no breathing underneath the storm and couldn't find his boots, so she supposed Einar was out and went back to her brooding.
Lightning flashed and a boom of thunder rattled the manor. The window panes shuddered beneath the howling wind. She smirked. Her luck the weather should fit her mood so well.
When she found the will, she got up and peeked over the couch to make sure Einar wasn't there before locking the door. She took her sweet time breathing the solitude and dressing into her favorite and most comfortable day dress. She liked the unassuming pale blue of it and the durable cotton skirts. No silk or satin to worry about staining or tearing, no tight waist or double knitted support. Utilitarian, and yet modestly flattering to her coloring and figure.
She wanted to wear dresses like that every day.
At ease now that she had her war armor on, she unlocked the door and stepped out, wary of stray heroes. But it only took her a few minutes conversation with the only visible nearby guard to discover she had the house to herself, as her newly wedded husband was busy exploring the land about the manor. Thus, with nothing else to do, she set off to find her favorite place: the kitchen.
As most kitchens were, the honeymoon manor's was set against the south wall which, by the wisdom of Tortol, God of earth, always faced the gardens and small livestock, such as chickens, pigs, and domesticated hares. Thus winter vegetables and animals would be protected from the northern winds by the brunt of the home, and the kitchen would always be close to its source of ingredients.
Kyanna breathed in the scent of yeast, dirt-covered vegetables, and cooked onions that wafted into her face on opening the door. Her fingertips hummed for dough.
The cook at the counter with strong, broad hands frosted with carrot bits, was none other than Hope, Chief Royal Chef of the castle and old nursemaid of the princess.
She, however, did not meet Kyanna with a smile. Her thick bottom lip jutted out and her nearly hairless eyebrows furrowed..
"Princess Kyanna Rochester De Karpathia, what by Eine are you doing here?"
Kyanna was not deterred. "I had nothing to do, so I wanted to make something."
"Where is your man? Only married yesterday and already abandoning him?"
Kyanna frowned at this. 'Your man' implied intimacy. "He's the one who went off exploring, and probably will be all day, so please let me have something to do by giving me reign over the flour and sugar, that's a dear."
Hope's ruddy face puffed in her usual quick inflation and deflation of disapproval. With a flip of her hand over her shoulder, she indicated that Kyanna had permission and went back to mincing carrots.
"You had breakfast?" Hope asked. "'Course you didn't, ungodly hour that it is, get over here."
"I'm fine. I'll get something myself."
"And have coals and damnation spread on my arse by your father? I think not, you will come sit over here all prim and proper like I know you can be and let me make you something."
"Hope," Kyanna whined.
But with a one-eyed crocodile glare, Hope coerced her onto the stool at the end of the counter. The larger woman hummed a tuneless ditty as she switched from mincing to cracking a few eggs over a griddle on the fire and spreading marmalade over a biscuit.
"Stop your growling, I'm just doing my job," said the cook.
"I'm not growling."
"In your head you are. Ain't no one the boss of Kyanna but Kyanna, or so you think, whether it's someone's royal duty or not. Which is why," she pushed over the biscuit and settled a softer, butter-on-bread look at Kyanna. "I worry about that boy of yours."
Hope always gave out tough love to all whom she brought under her wing, whether they be a princess or not. But Kyanna still hoped Hope would be at least a little sympathetic.
"Oh? Sorry for him and not me?" Kyanna said, tearing out a sticky strip of biscuit. "If I recall, he's getting everything anyone could possibly want: kingship, princess, fame, glory, blah."
The crow's feet around Hope's eyes tightened. "Even kings need to feel loved and wanted."
"Oh, pardon me, like a whole country of adoring fans can't do that."
Hope's hands stilled over the skillet. The eggs popped and crackled in their bed of butter. After eyeing Kyanna's expression, reading her as only a mother could, she pulled back the skillet and slid out the perfect, unbroken fried eggs onto a simple wooden saucer.
"Dearest Ky," she slid the eggs over, but let her fingers linger on the counter beside them. "You've never had children, so you cannot understand the depth of feeling that comes from that much love. You cannot grasp the depth—the overwhelming weight of the anxiety and concern that comes from such love. Now, I know he is my king, but I know your father as a human being as well, and I know he loves you more than life itself. He would give up everything just to ensure your happiness."
"As you've told me a billion times already, but your point is?" said Kyanna, her cheek on her palm and her marmalade tainted fingers busy with unsticking themselves from one another.
"He would not have given your hand to anyone he didn't think treasured you."
Kyanna snorted. "I'm not stupid. I know it was because he was afraid I'd run off with Jeremy. Had to tie me down quick and all—oh look! A hero who's saved the kingdom who needs rewarding and no spare dukedom on hand! That'll do."
Hope scowled. "Well pardon me. I didn't realize how badly you wanted to be the sob story. I'll just ignore everything I know now and simper."
Slamming her palms against the table, Kyanna stood, and used every inch of trained, intimidating posture to fling her indignation on the cook. Nursemaid or not, Kyanna was still her princess. It was the only thing she could have over Hope in their battles.
"You keep talking about me needing to love Einar and accept him, but what about me? Don't I deserve to be loved by who I marry?"
"I was implying no such thing."
"Yes you were! I've never even met the man before our wedding day, so what other reason could he have to ask to marry me than money and power, huh? How's that for a testament of his character?"
"Like you would remember him even if you had met him," scowled Hope. "I can't honestly believe that your father would have handed you over to anyone with an ounce of ambition for the crown. No. That boy has to love you, Kyanna."
"Then he likes me because I'm pretty? Because we sure as hell haven't talked for there to be otherwise."
"You're more oblivious that you give yourself credit, you stupid child. Now shut up and eat your eggs."
Kyanna pitched up her chin with a sniff she had often seen her aunt do on occasion to ill-bred noblemen who thought their knowledge above hers, trying to save something of her lost ground. But she inevitably plopped back down on the stool, swiped up her fork, and moodily munched away on her eggs.
But she didn't stick around to do the cooking she intended to do. Hope already ruined her mood. So Kyanna swept out of the kitchen with as much grace as her injured pride would allow.
Unbidden, unwanted, but so well-loved, an image of Jeremy rose to her mind, his dark curls flinging rain water as he turned into his sword arm during a practice spar. Mud coated him from the waist down, and she watched from the safety of the stable doors. It had been their meeting place, the stables, as no one would think it strange for the princess to loiter around with the horses for stretches of time. Ever since she was young, she had a strange love for the musty smell of hay and horses and found comfort there whenever she was upset.
Now, more upset than ever, she found herself heading for the nearest exit in search of the stables. Her throat tightened so viciously, the pain of it reached her ears and tongue. But she couldn't cry yet. Not while the staff could see. She already knew what they would think if they saw.
Outside the storm raged on. Curtains of rain rippled across the grass fields of the manor, yet she plunged through to find the stables on the west side of the house. The moment she smelled hay, a fountain of tears went down her cheeks to mix with rainwater. The wedding carriage's snow white team looked up from their troughs as she stumbled in, soaked to the bone and sobbing and scratching at her eyes. A few nickered as she searched, half blind, for the ladder to the loft and climbed up. In the warm shadow of the loft, with the company of a few rusted farming tools, Kyanna curled up onto her side and let herself hiccup away. Oddly enough, she found the thought of Jeremy as comforting as it was painful, and selfishly let herself be led away into memories: Jeremy with his arms about her; the way his narrow hips felt against hers; the way his eyes scrunched up when he laughed; catching sight of him from the library window as he followed his master...
"...The miller hasted and drew his dam, Binnorie, O Binnorie.
And there he found a drowned woman, by the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.
You could not see her yellow hair, Binnorie, O Binnorie—"
One of the stable doors squeaked open and Einar pushed through, singing in a smooth, level baritone and followed by an equally wet white mare. He wore a casual, open collared shirt and riding pants, both of which stuck to him like a second skin from water. But what drew her eyes most wasn't the ample muscles outlined by his now transparent white shirt, but his wan expression. It aged him as facial hair or lines never could, and which the puppy-like expression he held all throughout the carriage ride had hidden.
For the first time, she thought she could see something of the war hero she had been told about.
Despite the age and solemnity his face spoke of, his voice reminded her of maple syrup after it had been warmed by the sun. She could feel the ice in her veins melting from the sound.
"For gold and pearls that were so rare, by the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.
You could not see her middle sma, Binnorie, O Binnorie."
He led the mare into a stall and set about taking off her saddle and brushing her down. The horse whuffled at him before setting her nose into the trough with her neighbor.
"Her golden girdle was so bra, by the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.
A famous harper passing by, Binnorie, O Binnorie,
The sweet pale face he chanced to spy, by the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.
And when he looked the lady on—"
He turned and happened to glance up in the loft. She froze, fingers to her cheeks. He would see—he must see—she had to look a wreck, puffy eyed, wet as him, covered in straw and dirt—oh gods...
Instantly his puppy face was back. "'ello Princess!"
She groaned and put a hand over her face. "For all that's holy..."
"What was that?"
She retreated back into the loft to hide her face, eyes closed against her embarrassment.
"Weren't you busy with something?"
Not caring what invitation he might be implying with that, she dropped her face back down to her arms and hmphed. A few minutes passed to the ambiance of rain on the barn roof, horses chewing, and the hush of the brush across horse hair before curiosity got the better of her and she lifted her head up to peer over the edge. "That song you were singing..."
"It's a murder ballad."
She wasn't sure whether or not he heard her sarcasm, as he went on. "I learned it from a, uh, rather belligerent drunk. Appropriate for the weather, don't you think?" He turned to the haunches of the horse and smiled at her—or what he could probably see of her hiding behind her folded arms. "What brings you out here?"
A hint of the world weary face of his returned. "Ah." He brushed a few times with that empty face before looking back. "Would a story help?"
"Um, I don't know if I'm into...murder ballads."
"Oh, it's not all bad. I don't have to sing it either."
She sighed, adjusting so her fingers, falling asleep from being pressed into the floor, dangled off the edge of the loft. Grime from the wood smeared onto her forearm as she did so. "Sure. Though what possessed you to go out in this weather?"
"Against popular belief," he tossed the brush into a pail in the back. "A ride through the rain is invigorating."
A fresh boom of thunder made the horses' heads pop up. She raised an eyebrow. 'Rain' was a tame word for it. He paid it no heed as he closed the stall gate behind him, then found a feeder bucket to upturn and settle himself on. She could hear the wet creak of his clothes even from the loft. It was only then she noticed the sword sheath strapped to the saddle he had just used. This was private property guarded by an entire platoon of her father's best soldiers. What need did he have for a sword?
"It's a rather short one, really," he said once he had sat down and flicked some of his wet hair from his face, reminding her too strongly of Jeremy the last time she had seen him. "There were two sisters who fell in love with a miller's son. One was fair while the other was dark—you know, one blonde and one with black hair. When it came to light that the miller's son had been cheating on the dark sister with the light and planned to marry the later instead, the dark sister grew mad with jealousy and pushed her sister into the river, knowing she couldn't swim. When her fair sister's body floated down the river into the miller's pond, a harp player came by and was enchanted by her beautiful corpse and used her bones to make a harp, with her golden hair to make the strings. The moment he tried to play the harp, though, it possessed him and forced him to sing the tale of the golden sister's murder. However, no one really took the song seriously and just took it as a rather good story."
"That's terrible! What kind of story is that?"
He gave her another one of his peculiar looks—as though he didn't know where she had gotten that from.
"I thought a romantic expert like you would understand that love doesn't always work out."
"That's not a romance. That's a tragedy. And people actually like this?"
He blinked at her as though it should be obvious and went to peeling off his riding gloves.
Kyanna sighed. Lightning flashed through the ajar stable door. Einar undid a belt on his thigh, which turned out to be attached to a sheath for a small dagger.
"All those weapons—is that old habit?"
He frowned. "Two blades hardly count as 'all those weapons.' But yes, more or less."
"Huh..." she cocked her head to the side.
"Princess..." he hesitated. "Did somebody offend you?"
"What gave you that idea?"
"Well, you're soaked and up in a loft looking like you just cried your eyes out. I can't help but be concerned." Though concern wasn't what she saw in his narrowed eyes. His hand had yet to drop the small sheath as well.
She inwardly rolled her eyes. "Circumstances, good sir. I have some terrible circumstances, and a friend more or less blamed me for them. Though..." she averted her eyes from the war hero, unnerved by the tension in his gaze. Hope's words floated to the surface of her mind: her father would not have given her to anyone with an ounce of ambition for the throne...
At her words, though, he seemed to relax. "Your fault? If I'm not mistaken, I'm the one who brought you to where you are now. Seems hardly fair of them."
He said it so frankly, she felt herself softening. "Exactly. And I'm not some irresponsible, selfish nitwit who is going to run out on her father and country so she could be with some..."
Neither of them looked at each other. After a minute or so, Einar stood up and patted his hands on his thighs before hefting up the saddle onto his shoulder and restarting the song.
"And when he looked that lady on, Binnorie, O Binnorie,
He sighed and made a heavy moan, by the bonnie mill-dams of Binnorie.
He made a harp of her breast-bone, Binnorie, O Binnorie,
Whose sounds would melt a heart of stone, by the bonnie mill-dams of Binnorie."
Summer warm syrup dropped down her chest, melting her strength, and soothing the raw ache of her heart. She closed her eyes and breathed. She never thought a man's voice could do this. None of the stories about him ever said anything about his singing, or doing anything with music—or storytelling, for that matter.
She opened her eyes as he paused to bend over for the small tub of oil to treat the leather of the water-abused saddle.
He tugged out a rag from the cubby beside the tub. "What for?"
"Don't be stupid. For the uncouth way I treated you last night. You...you didn't know about him. You didn't deserve it."
He set the tub of oil on the table and tugged out a thick towel from the rack before turning back to the saddle to try it. She hoped he would keep singing, leave the conversation on that, but he said, almost so low she couldn't hear him, "That's the thing, Princess. If I had known, that wouldn't have stopped me." He let out a short breath of unhappy humor. "Funny how I always used to think there was no way a sane person could kill their own sister over something as stupid as a lover."
And leaving the saddle with the towel over its saddle horn, unused, he stood and crossed the stable and back into the rain and thunder outside.
This concludes the end of your free sample! If that is what it's called. Anyhoo, you can find the rest, all complete and shiny just for you, on Readict! It's an app for a digital publisher. Man, just saying the word 'app' makes me feel like a complete scammer...or a fast food joint. I don't even own a smart phone, so what's up with that?
Hope you enjoy my first traditionally published work! :D