Gripping the reins, Isla spun Helix toward the castle walls away from the oceans’ edge and kicked him into a dead run. Sand flew from the stamp of the stallion’s hooves, coating her cloak and hair. Her eyes watered from the whipping cold, tears freezing instantly on her cheeks but she urged him on as the gate grew closer.
It was a gaudy monstrosity of a thing; coal-black iron, twisted like serpents with gaping mouths of fangs guarding the House of Ormarr. Armed guards stood lined five wide, all tall as Nordic giants with dark hair pulled back into low knots. They were deadly quiet as the horse and rider approached, ten dark eyes falling in their direction.
Slowing Helix, Isla nodded hesitantly at the closest guard.
“Good morning, Princess Isla,” he spoke, eyes hooded with disinterest. A tattoo claimed the left half of his face, marring his skin with flames of black ink. An ebony bow and quiver filled with feathered arrows fell across his back and a sword sat low on his hip, the ease of the weight he carried showing in his comfortable stance.
“Good morning,” she murmured, raising her chin in defiance before kicking Helix back into a gallop inside the gate.
For the fifth morning in a row since she’d arrived at her uncle’s home, she’d woken from the same dream; the feeling of bone-deep, heart-break and a low, velvet voice purring for her to come to the shore. Come to the water, it said over and over. Come to the water.
Also for the fifth morning in a row, she’d met the cold hostility of the guards upon her return. Isla knew in her gut she was being watched, probably even followed. Her uncle was nothing but thorough in his search to dig up her secrets.
Helix was her sole escape, the easy breath of his lungs between her legs and his gentle shakes to warn her of watching eyes as they made their way through the courtyard.
“We have to go,” Isla shouted, slamming her hands down onto the desk. “Rorian, this is not a request. This is an order.”
Raising his eyebrows slowly, Rorian gestured to the chair next to him, his eyes instantly returning to the book he held. Isla felt the growl of a threat bubble in her throat, the echo of her order falling empty on his ears. She felt her cheeks flush, anger rising at his contentment to read while she raged.
“I will not sit idly by when I know in my heart we are being plotted against. Rorian, I am not trying to create something from nothing here. There is something very wrong with this place. You know that,” she forced, lowering her eyes to try to shove down her temper. “I have felt it since day one and I know you have felt it, too, Rorian.”
“I will not ask again, Isla,” Rorian purred, flipping to the next page, “sit.”
Isla met his stare above the book coldly, wrapping her arms around herself defensively. His blue eyes chilled dangerously with challenge at her refusal, reminding her of the icy waves just outside the window. Isla remained standing though it took all her willpower to keep looking him directly in the eye. A year ago, he would’ve put the book down and earnestly listened to her. A year ago he would’ve cared she was worried about their safety.
“Fine,” he sighed, tossing the book down onto the desk. “If you must continue on with this melodramatic performance. Come with me.”
He rose with the fluidity of water over rocks, a gracefulness Isla still had never gotten used to even after the past twenty years he’d been her guardian. Stepping silently into the hall, Isla followed, giving a last glance back at Rorian’s personal quarters at Ormarr’s home. It was rich in velvet and dark hues, the walnut desk taking up most of the floor space across from the massive bed. Windows guided morning light in on two walls, the sound of gulls in the distance piercing her veil of observation.
“You went out again this morning,” Rorian stated casually as they started walking. Not a question, but a fact. “Are you ever going to tell me what that’s about?”
Shaking her head, Isla continued to walk by his side, the flutter of her skirts dragging the stone floor. Her hair was piled in a mess on top of her head, the early morning ride tangling the curls of silver blonde. She doubted Rorian would’ve needed to see her leave to truly know she’d gone again to the beach that morning; she smelled of ocean and wind and Helix.
“You would tell Lorandon,” Rorian whispered, a hint of edge in his tone. His hands were clasped behind his back as he walked, measurably taking smaller steps so Isla could keep up.
“No, I wouldn’t tell Lorandon anything I wouldn’t tell you first. I have always valued your trust above all things. But you won’t listen to me, so I suppose, maybe I would’ve been forced to go to Lorandon. At least he would’ve listened,” Isla quipped, the same edge in her voice. “But you aren’t Lorandon so here we are.”
Coming to a steep halt, Rorian faced the princess in the narrow hallway. His tall frame towered over her, the edge of his wide shoulders brushing against the walls on each side. Darkness polluted the space but Isla could see the thunder he was desperately trying to contain. Rorian always radiated power, the tangibility of it sparks snapping around him. When he was angry, the sparks turned to molten flame.
“Regrettably, yes you are stuck with me and only me. Lorandon chose to stay behind, if I remember correctly. I chose to come with you because I couldn’t stand the thought of you coming alone like your father insisted. Why do you choose to belittle my decision and disrespect my judgement?”
Flashbacks of a childhood drenched in quick-witted debates between the two guardians and her father filled the back of Isla’s resolve. A break in her anger allowed the tiniest bit of shame to float to the surface.
“Rorian,” she whispered. “I do not disregard your feelings or your thoughts. It’s just…”
Slamming his hand against the wall, Rorian’s anger fully materialized.
“You are not a child anymore, Isla! If you can’t state your feelings like a grown adult, we’re moving on,” he seethed, turning to march off down the hall.
Tears tugged the brims of Isla’s eyes, the loss of all anger deflating her frame as she watched her most trusted companion continue walking away from her.
“I don’t even know who you are anymore,” she whispered, brushing away the sole tear dripping down her cheek. She was surprised to see his shadow pause, already almost twenty feet away before he disappeared around the corner.
Copyright © 2016 Pearl Bayou