Apologies for my absence last week. I know you all missed me terribly but I’m back with a new story concerning two of the characters in my forthcoming novel, The City of the Gods.
The sky was suitably gloomy for the death of a prince and all of the city was in mourning. That, at least, was the idea, but most were happy to enjoy a day free from their labours. Such freedom did not extend to the servants of the House and Kiva was no exception.
Her mother’s disdain had been clear, the prince’s death was her fault. How she had been expected to fend off disease was beyond her but it mattered not now. Now, her task was to keep Princess Syai save from assassins, plots, and all else which might befall her. It did not help that Syai was but a child and with her father buried in the crypts beneath the pantheon she wasted no time in returning to the palace. Planting herself at the foot of a hawthorn tree in the grounds – a tree her father had helped her climb – and tried to scramble up. She resisted all offers of aid, she resisted all the pleas to come in out of the rain.
Kiva watched from above, sheltered in an out of the way alcove where she would not be disturbed. The palace was something of a maze but she had learned of every nook and cranny, every hidden room and twisting passage. The servants soon stopped their pleas, she would grow tired and return in doors or, if not she had to sleep eventually and once she did, the mages could sent warmth back into her body and fend off illness as they had not been able to for her father.
She stepped out from her alcove and approached the tree, the girl’s hands were bloodied from her efforts to secure handholds and now Syai’s head was bowed, she had failed.
“Princess,” she said as she approached, “have you ever heard the story of Prince Lyr and how he came to found this city?”
“A thousand times,” she answered wearily, without turning to look.
“Prince Lyr was the descendant of a Balusakan trapped on the wrong side of their great civil war,” Kiva recited regardless, “he forefathers had stood with the corrupt King Saradris and paid the price for their allegiance when parliament’s legions marched into the capital and ended the war.
“Lyr’s family fled with others who had chosen the losing side but despite their fall from grace, they remained proud of what they had been and in time Lyr sought more for his children than the life of vagabonds. So he spoke to his family and the other exiles and gave to them a vision, a vision of their own city free from the new empire which had replaced the Balusakan monarchy.
“They pooled their money, selling off all that remained of their possessions, and traded in every favour owed to them. Most thought them mad, yet they all joined Lyr on a fleet of ships which came ashore in a rocky, barren place. It seemed at first that the dream would die but Lyr would not let it. He built his city here and found the seas nearby to be rich with life. Alays thrived.
“Do you know the moral of this story?” she enquired.
“That a prince… must have vision?” Syai said, now turned to look. “I do not know you,” the princess declared, almost accusingly.
“No, you do not,” she answered flatly, “and that is not the moral. The moral is that without help, Lyr would have accomplished nothing despite his dream.”
With that she lifted the princess up to the closest branch and the girl began to climb. Syai laughed as she ascended, as though the events of the past days had been washed away. She would remember, soon, but for the moment she was happy and Kiva walked away. Servants saw her climb and rushed to catch her as she returned to the ground. They asked who had helped her but Kiva was already gone.
Her vigil continued until one night, years later when she was summoned by her mother to the House and given new instructions. The guards around Syai’s room were missing, the servants too as Kiva had been told they would be. A large, grizzled and yet oddly handsome man stood by the door in their stead, she noted all these details in an instant. He nodded as she approached and Kiva handed him a dagger without a word. She did not wait to see his reaction, but turned on her heels and waited in one of her many hiding places. There came the sound of a struggle and then a shout before Syai fled into the caverns beneath the palace. The princess had survived and Kiva allowed herself a small smile but the night was still young and there was much to do.
Image: Assassin by Deligaris.