Beasts of the Four Kingdoms: Instinct
FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK, ARIA WAS TAKEN IN BY THE TOWN’S physician, Cad had followed the town’s sheriffs the whole way to the physician’s house. His hands kept shaking and he cursed every time he’d ever fumbled for an arrow. Aria, Cad wondered. How could she have learned all of those fighting techniques? She’d never shown me those… But then again, why would she? Cad glanced at Silas who was walking nervously next to him. Silas glanced back and eyed Cad in a way as if saying “Did you know about her?” Cad shook his head and replied with a “How could I?” She must have had worn the garments as a way to hide her identity and work undercover for “the Lord”.
Why would she try to attack me? Was it because he had grown since the last two moons or was it his maturity or did she not have enough time to see his face? Aria almost killed me. Cad never thought he’d ever have to think those words. She didn’t almost. She tried to kill me. Prudentius was healing slowly by the other small healers in town, Iris had said told Cad. At least she’s safe.
Was it because she was jealous? Stalking two woodsfolk one day and it happens to be Cad and a beautiful young girl. Then, with bubbling anger, attempted to murder Cad just because of affection? No, that’s not like Aria.
Then what was? What would possess one of your closest friends–close as an elder sister–to suddenly find an urge to point a sword at your heart?
All of these thought and more swarmed in Cad’s mind like a hive of hornets. When Cad, Silas, the sheriffs and Pika reached the physician’s house, the day had gone by like a cloud and the sun was now falling slowly. Cad looked at the sky and saw the vivid colors of green, blue and ginger. It looked like as day was pulling his bed sheets over his head, while night was throwing hers off in an earnest haste.
The small group huddled in the physician’s small study. He had a desk with a chair, a shelf with all of his medicines and remedies, a small round glass window and long table to overlook a patience. Pika watched with awe and seemed to be mesmerized with such a small place full of his interests.
“Lay her on the table.” The physician stated, lowering his book. The sheriff did so, letting Aria’s head slam on the oak wood.
“Be careful with her,” Cad said.
The first sheriff scowled. “Sure, we’ll be real careful,” he sneered, “with the woman who almost murdered how many people in Ezra. And that pet of hers might have burnt the whole town if it weren’t for that friend of yours.” The sheriff grinned. “Be good to her. That other one’s a keeper.”
Don’t I know that? But Cad didn’t say it out loud. Not with Pika around.
The physician had examined her—commented on her Kornelian garments—and stated that she had fractured her back. Thankfully the fall wasn’t that high, nor the wound that deep.
“What was she doing getting an arrow in her leg?” the physician asked.
“You mean you haven’t heard?” Silas exclaimed. “The whole town’s been talking about since it happened not but an hour ago!”
“I’m sorry, but I have no enjoyment of walking around our ‘fair’ town and awing at our ‘beautifulness.’” He undid her boots and rolled her tights until he could see the wound. The physician dabbed it with a cloth, much to Aria’s painful but mute reactions. “Won’t she talk?”
“She hasn’t said a word since the fall,” the second sheriff said.
Is she silent so I won’t know who she is? Who she really is.
Cad leaned forward, hovering over Aria’s pale face. “I know who you are.” He said quietly. “I know you and I just clashed on the roofs of Ezra. I know who you are, Aria the Vagabond. My friend. My sister. And now that I know what you are and what you have become I will never forgive you!” Cad grabbed the arrow he had shot at her, broke it in half and left the physician’s house. He hadn’t
The Wolf Brigade decided to stay at one of the inns until they got answers. They were denied. Cad almost smiled when Iris told him that Julius was about to challenge the small innkeeper to a duel when Prudentius advised they just agree to the terms in which the innkeeper gave them. What they received were the stables. And since they didn’t have any coins to stay for a week, the men would hunt for the inn’s food in the nearby woods and the “youths” would take care of the stable animals.
“‘Let those, children, take care of the confounded beasts. They’ll probably feel at home there. The dunghead!” Silas declared as they brushed the air horses on the third day.
Cad grinned and then turned his attention back to his air stallion. His hand moved with a slow and solemn motion. There’s something wrong with him, Iris decided. She left her mare to Silas who silently nodded. He understands, she thought. Iris strolled over Cad and said:
“Did you ever know?” she said abruptly.
“Huh?” Cad jumped.
“Did you know, that, your friend-what is her name, Ariana?”
“Aria,” Cad interrupted.
Iris brushed the stallion’s dark mane and nodded. “Yes, Aria. Did you know she was capable of being such an intense fighter? An assassin?”
Cad sighed and shook his head. He closed his eyes and looked away for a moment. “No,” he said. “I didn’t. I thought… I thought I knew her. I thought she was my friend, my sister-”
Cad turned to look back and reluctantly smiled. “You know what I mean.” Then he hung his head again. “The problem is, I thought about when I shot her. Would I have still shot her, even I knew if it was really Aria?”
Iris watched Cad, his face, his hair, the sad look on his face. “What did you find?”
“I found that I would. I would do anything to save you, Prudentius and Silas, even Julius. You all are my family.”
Iris tilted her head and placed a hand on her hip. “Hmm. I guess we are family. Will, not like brothers and sisters. But I see what you mean. We’re all in this together. We must watch out for one another.” Iris played with a lock of her hair. “So you’d really shoot another arrow for me. I mean us?”
Cad nodded. “Yes.” He felt a sudden burst of embarrassment and warmth as Iris grasped his hand and smiled.
“Me too,” she said, and then went back to her mare.
What just happened? Cad wondered in shock.
On that same day, Cad was walking around Ezra just looking at it in question. It looked fairly normal for a town, even though this was Cad’s first: streets, alleys, buildings and the large bell tower, which shadowed over the whole city exactly at noon. But then, there were its faults. A hungry beggar on the corner of a busy bakery, the dirty miserable children that shouted at one another and the loud music that blared from the many taverns which were dotted all over the map of Ezra.
I could never live here, Cad decided. If he’d ever decided to stay one place, after this mission of course, it would probably be in a village of some sorts. With a carpenter, fisherman, the village midwife, a handful of laughing children and a dog or two. He’d have his own shop, maybe making a living as a blacksmith. Like in Nora. But he knew with all his heart that hunting was his passion.
The feeling of holding the bow in one’s hand, the watching of the forest dwellers and the triumphant sensation of defeating a mighty elk or the sly fox, the sad feeling of slaying the snow white rabbit or the chubby chipmunk. To Cad, the art of bowhunting was something every person, woodsmen, stonemen or dwarf should do.
The sudden sound of his own name shocked Cad back to reality ad realized that he had been staring at the weaver-lass this whole time. He blushed and begged his apologizes, in which she said
“I hadn’t noticed,” even though Cad could tell that was a big fat lie by the way she was watching
He looked to his side and saw Silas was standing next to him, grinning from ear to ear. Cad punched him in the arm.
“Ouch!” Silas cried. “And here I am doing a favor for Iris, and I get slugged in me arm! I’m going to have to ask for a tip.”
“Whatever,” Cad said. “What is it?”
“Iris wanted me to tell you that,” Silas said indignantly. Then he suddenly paused.
“What?” Cad inquired.
Silas darted his eyes this way and that and then blurted. “That Aria’s awake.”
Cad’s eyes seemed like water ripples, getting large as the shock spread. “What?” He shouted. Cad smacked himself in his mind as several people stared as they carried on their affairs. “She’s awake? Why didn’t you say so, you dog!” Cad dashed past Silas, running with all his might to the physician’s house, leaving Silas standing in front of the weaver-girl, wondering “Dog? How old are we, two?”
Cad rushed to the physician’s house, his heart pounding, his mind racing and his lung pumping. She’s awake! Awake! Now I can finally get some answers. Cad flung the door open like a madman, and stumbled in the house, his breathing so rasp that he had to manually inhale in and out.
“Oh, your friend’s here,” said the physician from his study. “Pika, would you show him in here, please?”
“Yes sir,” Pika piped up. He appeared in the doorway, grinning. “Hiyah, Cad. Whoa, you’re sweating like a horse! What’s wrong with you?”
“Just-just-a little out of-of breath,” Cad gasped, holding himself up by the door. “Let me, let me see her.”
Pika pointed to the study and led Cad there. “This way,” the boy said.
When Cad walked into the room, Aria’s head tilted towards him. He thought he saw a quick smile.
“Ah,” she said, “There’s the Young Hunter. How does you?”
“How does I?” Cad asked, his cheeks turning red and his face getting hot, “How does I? What I’m wondering is what’s wrong with you! Why would you try to kill me, Aria?”
Aria slowly blinked at looked at the physician. “Could I talk to this lad alone, please?”
The physician, fully engrossed in teaching Pika the fundamentals of spider-webs, nodded quickly and exited the room with his book under his arm and Pika following dutifully.
When the door to the study had closed and it was just Cad and Aria in the room, she steadily pushed herself up until she was sitting with her legs stretched out. Aria breathed and then looked at Cad. “Don’t look so frightening Young Hunter,” she said. “I’m not going to kill you with the wound in my leg.” She smoothed her tunic, obviously stalling and began:
“The reason why I tried to kill you and your ‘friends’ is this: after our village was burned to the ground, I was very angry at the Dragonites.”
“Indeed. I was certain you and Beck were dead; I escaped by slipping out of my wagon by a hidden entrance at the bottom.. I thought they’d burn the wagon but instead they rummaged through it and then took it for themselves! They drove it south, and I held on to the bottom, holding back my grief for my friends and village who were burned by those fiends. Finally, they stopped for camp and when they were all out of hearing distance, I snuck around the back of the wagon and leapt inside. I was glad it had rained the day before, since the wagon’s covering hid me while I inspected the wagon.
“I was looking for my mother’s gold locket when I heard two of them coming back. I hid behind some of the bounty from Nora and threw my bear cloak over me. Just in time too for as soon as the fur fell on my body, the two Dragonite warriors stepped into the back of the wagon. ‘Commander was not happy,’ the one named Cinis said. ‘Nothing makes him happy, not even large bounty from our raids make him happy!’
“‘Just shut up!’ said the other they called Bellum. ‘Remember, the only reason we’re doing this thing to find that woodsman. The Lord says that we can’t never stop till all of those godly beings are dead.’ ‘But I still don’t understand why,’ said Cinis. ‘Because,’ said Bellum, ‘if we get rid of all the woodsmen, the Four Kingdoms won’t have anyone linked to the Almighty and if there’s no Almighty than Hansgard, Kornelia, Sari and Zavia are all ours.’ Cinis gave a ferocious laugh. ‘Ah,” he said. ‘Now I see it. So, did we find him or not?’ I heard a bang and guessed Bellum had hit Cinis on the head with something real hard.
“‘What do you think, you dunghead?’ Bellum yelled. ‘Commander Phinehas is having a tantrum because we didn’t find that stinking woodsman! And now, we’ve got to return to Ignis and tell this to the Lord.’ Suddenly Bellum stopped talking and whispered something to Cinis and then they both departed. When I was sure they were gone I started to do my own thinking. A woodsman? I asked myself. The only woodsman I knew was Cad the Young Hunter. And then it hit me.” Aria stared at Cad in the eyes. “You were the woodsman. You were the reason our village had burned, the reason why everyone was dead. And with a burning desire I made it my mark to kill you.” She sighed and rubbed her nose.
“Anyway, I was just about to crawl out from the bear cloak when it was thrown off of me. Cinis and Bellum stood over me, each with drawn swords. ‘I knew a spy was in the room!’ Bellum proclaimed.
‘C’mon Cinis, let’s run her through!’”
Cad could tell that that was a very frightening scene in Aria’s life because at that moment she was sweating, her eyes wide and her breath was coming short. But she continued, nevertheless. “Well, I knew that it was my demise and sought for a weapon, but there were none. For a second I knew that if I’d ever see you again, I’d kill you on the spot.”
Cad felt a lump in his throat. Had his existence in Nora really done so much damage that all the villagers were dead and Aria had sworn to kill him? What was his existence? What meaning of life did he have if he was just here to cause death and havoc?
Aria continued: “‘Wait!’ came a sharp cry from outside the wagon; a man in a dark hood with sleeves and armored boots swung himself into the back of the wagon, casting his shadow over us. ‘Commander!’ Cinis cried. ‘We were just about to kill this spy here, because, well, she snuck onto the wagon from the raid in Nora.’
“The man waited, then watched me with deep burning eyes. ‘Leave her alone.’ He said. ‘But Commander,” Cinis began. But Commander Phinehas had spoken and demanded that I be let alone.” She shuddered. “Tis was the worst moment of my life.”
“I can image,” Cad said.
Aria nodded. “He told them to leave and as soon as they did, Commander Phinehas asked if I were hungry or thirsty. I was shocked. ‘Why are you being so nice to me?’ I asked. ‘Because,” he said, ‘you’ve been in our midst this whole time and none of my men knew about it.’ He gave me this look of approval and intuition.
“‘I think, we’d make a good warrior out of you if you’d give us the chance. Would you like to join our army of learned assassins?”
“ ‘What’s in it for me?’ I asked. Phinehas looked at me with burning eyes and poked me on my shoulder with every word he said. ‘What you get is to live another day to hunt down that woosman who destroyed your village.’ I defiantly replied, ‘YOU destroyed our village!’ Phinehas only laughed and said, ‘Why do you think we ever came to your dying village, aye?’ He leaned closer and whispered, ‘To find that woodsman.’
“And then, it was certain: I knew I would track you down and kill you before I die.” Aria sniffed again and wiped her eye. “I was convinced that if you no longer exist, I could go on with my life and know that Nora was avenged.” Aria hung her head, her dark black hair covering most of her pale face. A wet tear slowly made its way down her cheek.“But now I see that I was wrong. During these past days, I’ve searched through my mind of a time were you ever struck down someone with an arrow that wasn’t an animal. And I couldn’t. Now, you would have done anything to protect your new family; and I guess, even if you knew it was me, you would have shot another arrow. Am I right?”
Cad nodded. “You’re right.”
“Indeed. I respect that, and as these days past, I’ve realized that I wouldn’t have done that.” Aria looked distantly beyond the room. “Remember those days in Nora, when you, me and Beck used to wonder how many of the King’s men we’d fight until we got struck down ourselves? I said I’d fight at least twenty. But you, you said you’d do it until there’d be none left in all of Zavia. You were very angry and stubborn and always wanting to fight for no reason.” And then she smiled, really smiled. “And now, you’ve grown. Not just only in stature and strength but also in heart and mind. You didn’t
stop me to fight. You stopped to protect.”
Aria slowly got better. Her leg wounded healed but she’d never be able to do some of her acrobatically tricks.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” she’d said. “I’d given them up anyway.”
On sixth day of the second week, Aria had summoned for the whole Wolf Brigade to see her. She had sat in a chair in the physician’s study, with the all of them standing or leaning or sitting around her. A tall wooden staff leaned on the chair’s arm , as if depending upon it for strength.
Aria apologized to each one, especially to Prudentius for the wound she’d given. Prudentius silently acknowledge the pardon with a nod, while Stilicho was still skeptical.
“How do we know you won’t return to King Anser and tell him you’d seen woodsmen in Ezra?” he demanded, his arms crossed and his eyebrows narrowed.
Aria answered, “If King Anser found out I’d seen woodsmen and didn’t kill them, I’d lose my head. And besides, I’ve decided to leave the assassins.”
“Why?” Stilicho asked. Cad was wondering the same thing.
“For the first thing, I’ve seen you all are not what they say you are. You haven’t killed me, ripped my arms off or left me for dead on the street. Instead you did the exact opposite. And two, I’ve become fed up with King Anser and those Dragonites. They’d been making trouble all through the Kingdoms and I’ve blinded myself to their treachery.”
“Tell us what you know then,” Baron Stilicho said.
Aria breathed and then began: “First of all, the King does not rule Zavia, the Dragonites do. The leader of the Dragonites is a man they call Lord Dragon. He’s the master mind behind all of the raids and slaying of your race.”
“Why do they want to destroy us?” Iris asked, her manner as the Baron.
“Because,” Aria said, “You woodsmen are the last connection with the Four Kingdoms and the Almighty.”