Kianna and Lenna now looked as they normally would, and as they walked the streets of the kingdom heading towards the castle, no one suspected the dark deeds they had just committed. The pair recieved many compliments on the clothing Kianna had designed for them. Lenna was wearing a short wrap-around blue dress with long flowing sleeves and silver accents, tight black pants, and soft leather boots with silver buckles. A silver half-moon headband was worked in with her braid. Kianna herself was wearing a purple corset-style dress with gold strings for the lacing, two straps to hold it up, and flowy detached sleeves. The skirt, which was puffed up slightly with multiple layers, came down just above her knee. She was not allowed to wear pants according to their customs due to her status as a noble, but she still had the leather boots with gold buckles. The gold ring around her head that her small bun was set on top of, separating it from the rest of her free flowing hair, marked her as the princess. She really did have quite a talent for design, but she still doubted her skills. She was used to getting non-genuine compliments with the intentions to please her, even though what would make her happier was an honest critique.
The girls entered the castle smiling and laughing together as they went in search of Kianna’s father. He greeted them warmly with a smile, but there was a certain somberness to his eyes that Kianna picked up on. It unnerved her. It didn't fit in at all with her father’s personality. “Hello, my little flower. Lenna, it’s lovely to see you dear, as always, but if you don’t mind I require a few moments alone with my daughter.”
Lenna clasped her hands in front of her and gave him a respectful nod. He had banned the Nightlock siblings from bowing before him long ago. They were much too close to his daughter for that. “Of course, sir. See you later, Kia!”
As Lenna walked out, Kianna’s nerves mounted. She had to wonder what this was about. Had he found out she was an assassin? No, that wasn't possible. She knew Alex and Lenna would never rat her out. Her head was spinning. She felt like she was falling, but she knew her feet were still planted firmly to the floor... “Come here, my child.”
Kia’s father’s strong and gentle voice pulled her back from the edge. No matter what it was, they would work through it together. That was how it had always been with her father. He respected her and tried to let her make her own decisions. Even if the worst had happened and he had found out about her double life, she was sure the worst would not come of it. Kianna walked over and sat next to her father. “What is it, Dad?”
Kianna knew that her father wasn't very young, but he appeared to have aged ten more years in that one moment. Suddenly, she was worried again. Was something wrong with him, or her mother, or her little sister? She was a bit disturbed that her mind kept jumping to the worst possible conclusion, but she knew something was off. Her instincts were screaming at her, and if there was one thing she had learned in her life as an assassin, it was to trust her instincts without doubt. “Kianna, my daughter, we are having a visitor tonight. He is a prince from one of the neighboring kingdoms. Sweetheart, I am so sorry. You are to marry this man. I don’t want to force you into this, but I assure you it has the best interest of the kingdom in mind. I know that’s something you've always held close to heart. I need you to go to your room and get dressed in your finest gown. We must all stick to the strictest of social protocol tonight. Do you understand?”
Her father’s eyes pleaded with her, and she knew he didn't just mean to ask if she understood what was going on. He wanted to know if she understood why he did it. He wanted to know if she could ever forgive him. “Yes, sir.”
The formal response was like a slap in the face to her father, and she knew it. Their relationship had never had any base of formality. But she truly didn't understand how he could do that to her. Kianna had always been a good princess, looking out for the good of her kingdom any way she could. She fought for them as an assassin then pretended to be a helpless noble girl when she was in their view despite helplessness being the feeling she hated most in the world. She worked hard to both fit the ideas that they had about how life should be and to maintain what she felt in her heart was right. And now, having been denied such an important and fundamental choice that would never be denied anyone else, she wondered when it would be her turn to worry about her. When would anyone ever worry about what Kianna wanted?
The princess rushed passed her mother who tried to stop her to comfort her. Kianna didn't want to be comforted. She didn't want her mother's kind eyes and understanding words to sway her. She didn't want to be understood, and she didn't want to understand. She wanted to be allowed to feel the way she felt, and she was determined to do just that. She always looked out for the best interests of everyone else around her. For once, she vowed to be selfish. For once she was going to look out for herself.
A small voice stopped her internal rampage. “Kiki!”
Kianna turned to face her five year old sister, Livianna. She felt her anger deflate. Because Livianna was one person she could never forsake in favor of herself. She was reminded of how glad she was that she was born first, so that Livianna didn't have to go through this. She would much rather it be her than her little sister. Her short orange locks, one of which always insisted on falling in front of her face, wide brown eyes, and childish demeanor screamed of an innocence Kianna prayed every day would never be disturbed. She bent down and scooped up her sister, who’s little legs snaked around Kia’s middle and small arms wrapped around her neck. Kianna gently brushed back the stubborn piece of hair, but it popped right back out of place. “What is it, Livi?”
“Why do you look so sad, Kiki? I don’t want you to be sad. I love you.” The words simultaneously warmed and broke her heart. Innocent little Livianna would never comprehend what was going on. And what about when she married? Obviously they would have to come back to rule when her parents died, but chances were she would be moving fairly far away from her little Livi for a while.
Kianna kissed the top of Livianna’s head, deciding a lie was best right now. “I was sad because I couldn't find you! But now that you’re here, I have nothing to worry about! We have a new friend coming to meet us today. Do you want to come get ready with me?”
Livianna nodded eagerly. She loved doing anything with her big sister. Kianna was the center of Livianna’s world. She idolized her big sister, practically worshiping the ground the older girl walked on. When she grew up she knew she wanted to be just like Kiki, which she had proclaimed many times.
Kia managed to distract herself from the upcoming events for a while by helping her little sister get ready. She dressed her in a dark green dress that she had designed. The skirt fanned out like leaves with golden veins lined with gold. It had long fitted but comfortable sleeves and a t-shirt style approach to account for comfort. There was also a pair of little green shorts underneath to so Livi could run around and play. Kianna dressed herself in a long flowing blue gown with a similar skirt pattern to Livi’s, only rather than the golden veins she had golden swirls climbing up the skirt representing waves. It was a bit tighter fitted at the top and the neckline dipped a bit. The sleeves clung to her arms to just above the elbows before flowing out. She fastened a golden flower necklace around her sister’s neck and a blue water drop necklace around her own.
“Kiki, can you do my hair like yours? Pleeeeeease,” Livianna begged, staring up at her sister with huge eyes.
“Of course I can, Livi. Whatever you want.” Kianna set to work on her sister’s hair first. She left a few strands of orange hair framing the younger princess’ face and pulled the rest back into a small ponytail. Then she fastened in the silver loop that showed Livianna was a princess, if not the crown princess. The loop fastened just beneath the ponytail, which Kianna then clipped up so the short strands fell over the clip. It looked absolutely adorable. After that Kianna set to work doing the same to her own hair. Hers was much longer, and it fell down in waves to her shoulderblades. The style looked much more sophisticated on the older girl, who now stood in front of the body-length mirror holding her sister. “What do you think?”
“I love it,” Livianna squeaked excitedly, before adding reverently, “You’re really pretty, Kiki.”
Kianna smiled at her sister’s compliment. “Not half as pretty as you, Liv.”
At that moment, their mother appeared at Kianna’s doorway. She stared at her oldest daughter with sorrow and regret. She couldn't help but feel a bit of sympathy for her mother, who she knew would never want this for her. “Our guest will be here shortly. Why don’t you come with Mommy for a little while, Livianna.”
Livianna wanted to protest so she could stay with her sister, but she felt at that moment that something wasn't right, and she knew when something wasn't right that it was time to listen to Mommy, so she left her sister alone without complaint.
As much as Kianna loved her little sister and appreciated the distraction she had provided, she also appreciated the time alone to reflect on what was about to happen to her. She was going to marry a man she had never met before. She had no choice in the matter. It wouldn't make a difference if she detested him with all she had, or if they didn't see eye to eye on anything. For whatever reason this marriage was necessary politically, and tradition dictated that she would get married soon anyways. A queen always had equal power, but a queen had never ruled without a king by her side. Kianna wanted for all she was worth to screw tradition. It had screwed her all her life. It seemed as though she was always being held back by some sort of custom that the rest of the world was free to acknowledge as outdated.
Kia stared at the mirror, but Kia didn't stare back at her. It was Princess Kianna that looked out through the mirror. The regal woman who followed the dictations of culture, edicate, and tradition, not the tenacious defiant girl she knew she really was. How much of herself would she lose to this marriage, to this man she had never met? The not knowing was killing her.
Kianna had never before questioned being born into her family. They all loved her and she loved them. But for the first time she wished she had been born one of the normal commoners that lived in their kingdom. Thinking of her father, her mother, Livi, Lenna, and Alex , she decided that was not the case. Because if she wasn’t about to face the possibility of losing herself now, she never would've been herself, never would've known all of those wonderful people. And she would not wish this situation on anyone, let alone her baby sister.
There was a knock at Kianna’s door, and she knew before the servant told her that her future husband had arrived. She steeled her nerves. Maybe it wouldn't be that bad. Maybe he would be sweet, and they would get along wonderfully. Maybe this was an odd twist of fate that would bring her to the man she would love. Unfortunately, she somehow doubted it. This was not a time for things to work in her favor. She knew from the looks on her parent’s faces. Whoever this man was, he was not someone they would pick for their daughter willingly. She only wondered what had forced their hand.
Kianna straightened herself and strode with as much pride as she could muster into the greeting hall to meet him. If she was going to do this, she was going to do it right, and she was determined to hold on to at least a little bit of who she was in the process. The already tense atmosphere stiffened with Kia’s arrival. Livianna had no idea what was going to happen, but she was picking up on the tension everyone else was feeling, and so she stayed glued to her mother’s side, uncharacteristically quiet.
Before she had to fall into the pompous and fake etiquette that she knew she would have to adhere to for the night, Kianna flew into her father’s arms. She couldn't let him suffer through the evening thinking she hated him. She rested her head at the crook of his neck and reached up to whisper in his ear. “I love you, Daddy.”
After that the tension was a little less thick, but it was still undeniable. When the knock sounded at the castle door, Kianna just about jumped out of her skin. Her father reached out briefly to squeeze her hand before letting her go and signaling for the doors to open. The loud creaking noise the large wooden doors produced when they were opened had never seemed more ominous before that day.
All four of the men who entered were imposing to say the least, but it was easy to see who it was she would be marrying. He had an air of authority. Kianna had faced down plenty of horrible people, but just the sight of him sent a chill down her spine. He looked absolutely sinister, and she had a terrible feeling about him. He was tall and broad. His short blond hair contrasted sharply with his almost black eyes. His armor was black with red swirls that resembled fire, and a red cape billowed out behind him. He held a calm demeanor of self-importance.
Kianna’s father walked her forward and stood in front of their visitor with an amiable smile on his face. “Welcome, Prince Narciso. It’s wonderful to have you here. This is my eldest daughter, Princess Kianna.”
Prince Narciso took her hand and kissed the back of it. He smirked, and it seemed to be filled with venom. “Charmed, I’m sure. And you are just as lovely as promised.”
Her fight or flight response started to kick in, and Kianna was disturbed to find out it was heavily weighted towards flight. She wasn't sure how to respond, but her father stepped in. “She is, isn't she? Please, come with us. We have a lovely meal prepared.”
As frustrated as she still was with the situation in general and her father in particular, Kia was thankful for the distraction. She didn't know how long she could've kept her eyes locked with Narciso's calculating gaze, but she knew she couldn't've lived with herself if she had broken it. As it was, she was somewhat disappointed with herself. She was an assassin. She had faced great warriors and won. Had taken down entire plots and conspiracies with one swipe of a coal-black sword. She could face this.
Then again, she wasn't really an assassin anymore, was she?
No, she couldn't honestly say she was. But, for the time being, Kianna was still Kia, so she held on to the last bit of nerve she had with a tenacious bout of strength. Without so much as a nervous glance, she took the seat next to her future husband. Even if she was afraid, she was brave. And she wouldn't lose that. Not so soon. A new determination flooded her. She wouldn't lose it ever. A smile spread across her face. It was a true, genuine one filled with determination.
Her parents noticed the change, and small smiles of their own graced their faces. They knew the situation was less than ideal. But they also knew their daughter. They knew she was strong. They never would've put her into such a situation if they weren't sure she could handle it. Who knows? She could even be good for the young man sitting next to her. Maybe she could bring peace to more than one kingdom in more than one way. Even if she couldn't change the prince, they knew she could change his kingdom. She had the tenacity to do the seemingly impossible, of that they were sure.
Food was brought out soon. Conversation arrived with it. It wasn't something that could be put off forever. Knowing that, Kianna turned to Prince Narciso, smile still in place. "So, tell me about yourself."
Narciso glanced down at his princess out of the corner of his eye. "What do you want to know, Princess?"
Kianna stirs her soup, mulling the question over. She hadn't considered the need to press specifics. "I don't know. What are your hobbies? What do you like to do for fun?"
"I like to hunt." The answer was short, to the point, and showed no interest in reciprocating conversation with her.
Too stubborn to give up, Kianna pushed onward. She thought of what she did in her life as an assassin, hunting people. Hunting animals would give her less guilt, and it would probably pose a similar challenge. Maybe it was something they could bond over. "That sounds fun. What do you hunt?"
Seeming a little surprised, Narciso actually turned toward her this time. "Wild animals of any variety. We find boar, mostly. Do you hunt?"
It took Kianna a moment to answer. She couldn't very well explain who she was and what she had done. "No," she answered calculatedly. "But I'd like to give it a try."
The silence that followed was heavy. In her perceptive nervousness at the situation, Livianna toppled her soup, splattering it on herself and her older sister, who's right she was sitting at. Tears welled in Livianna's eyes. She didn't understand the importance of this event, but she knew it was important. In that moment, Kianna didn't care about the man sitting next to her. She only had eyes for her tearful younger sister. Smiling kindly, Kianna wiped the soup off the younger girl, then herself and the table. "Don't worry, Livi. Look. No harm, no foul."
Happy once again, little Livianna hugged her older sister. "Thanks, Kiki."
"Any time, Livi." Kianna smiled and ruffled her little sister's hair affectionately. "If you're done eating, you can go play."
Livianna looked to her parents for conformation. They nodded their assent. Livianna wasn't needed for this; only Kianna was. And they had refrained from explaining the details of the visit to Livianna, hoping to spare their youngest the emotional trauma for as long as possible. It would be easier to discuss serious business with Livianna gone. Blissfully ignorant, the little girl bounced off to play.
"You will make an excellent mother."
Kianna choked on her soup and sputtered in a rather undignified, un-noble manner. She coughed for a few minutes before she could even pretend to regain any composure. Even, then, the act was tenuous at best. "Excuse me?"
"I think you'll make a good mother for our children." His words seemed sincere, and yet Kianna still couldn't shake the ominous feeling she had about the foreign prince.
"I hadn't really thought of children yet," Kianna told him, hoping her discomfort would discontinue the subject, for the time being at the very least. They were engaged, sure, but they knew next to nothing about each other. She wasn't okay with discussing that kind of subject with him yet. She knew one day she would have to, but she was less and less sure that she would ever truly be emotionally prepared for that discussion.
Mercifully, the subject was dropped. A more tentative, casual conversation was struck up. She shared with him the interest she had taken in fashion and her love of interacting with her people. He shared with her his love of weapon forging and battle strategy. His words weren't menacing, but the menacing aura that seemed to surround him remained. The fact that it didn't dispel with time worried her. She didn't know what she would do if she couldn't get over her uneasiness. But she wasn't convinced that she should. That was the most disquieting thing. She knew her parents were against this sort of thing, yet here she was. The whole thing was beyond suspicious to Kianna.
After what seemed like an eternity, the meal finally ended, and Prince Narciso left with his dignitaries. Kianna allowed her fiance to kiss her quickly on the lips before he departed, knowing that it was likely to be the first of many. She had never been kissed before. She felt the loss acutely. The large wooden doors of her home closed slowly, and she felt trapped. Kianna stood, she didn't know for how long, in the entry hall of the castle, wondering what the hell she could possibly do.