Second writing assignment
|The tea was hot, wet and warm and provided enough of a kick to wake him up after his restless night. It didn’t ease the complex tangle of emotions in his gut. Beneath the stern visage he was reeling internally from the confrontation yesterday. For once his control had slipped and he had allowed his emotions to rule his actions.
“Margaret said that you would be here.”
His head snapped upon hearing the soft voice behind him. He placed the white tea cup on the table whilst he regained control of his wayward emotions. He needed his control, needed it to be strong enough to withstand whatever this meeting was going to throw at him. He could not afford to lose everything after finding it after so long.
“Rina makes an excellent meal to start the day with,” he replied as he stood up to greet the young woman stood by his table. “Would you like to join me?” A brief nod had him pulling out a chair to allow her to sit facing him across the table. He indicated for Rina to bring another cup and a fresh pot of tea.
She waited until the tea had been served before looking up and meeting his pale blue eyes. She did not waver from the steely gaze nor did she look away when her eyes caught sight of the jagged scar that ran down one side of his face. Her eyes traced the features that had once, a long time ago, been as familiar to her as her own reflection in a mirror.
“I should not have spoken to you the way I did, yesterday,” she began, her voice soft and flowing like a stream over a pebble filled bank.
“You had a valid reason for your words. I also said words that I regret speaking,” Ryder replied, his accent stronger than normal. “You are well?”
“Yes, thank you.” A smile lit her features and he was reminded of the little girl who would often be found trailing him around their home, a bright, sunny smile ever present on her face.
“You have lived in this town long?” Ryder asked, feeling the absence of his normal self-confident nature. After his explosive outburst yesterday he was wary of letting his feelings take control once more.
“Since I was a small girl. I don’t remember a great deal about the raid or what happened to me afterwards. Whoever found me left me at a market and Soren and Marina found me and brought me home with them.” If she was feeling unsure of their meeting she hid it well. She stared at him, her delicate features poised with an air of confidence that surrounded her like a protective cloak.
“Your bodyguard’s parents?” A grin tugged at Ryder’s firm lips as he remembered the red-haired young lady who had rushed to her friend’s defence and tore a verbal strip off him.
“Leah is not my bodyguard,” she denied. An answering smile once more lit her features and again Ryder was reminded of the little girl he had once adored before believing she was lost to him forever. “She is protective of me, I admit.”
“They have looked after you well?”
“Yes, they have. I could not have asked for a better family to care for me after my own.” She paused to take a drink of the fragrant tea before looking up and meeting Ryder’s eyes. “What about you, Ryder? What happened to you after … after the raid?”
“I was found by an army patrol who had come to investigate the smoke from the fire. I was badly injured so they took me back to their camp where I recovered from my injuries.”
“And the others?” Her voice was hesitant as though she was fearful of hearing what she knew was the truth.
“I’m sorry, Tia. Your parents and your sisters were all killed in the raid.” He reached out and covered her pale, trembling hand with his own, larger bronzed one. “They were buried at the church. The soldiers took me to their graves once I was strong enough to visit. They did not know what had happened to you.” He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze before continuing. “The raiders had set the house on fire with the bodies inside making it impossible for them to know which child was missing.”
“Why, Ryder, why would someone do that to us? What had we ever done to harm anyone?” For a second her calm composure slipped allowing Ryder to glimpse the agony of hurt that she was experiencing. Tears welled in the cornflower blue eyes as her chin trembled under the strain of such powerful emotions.
For a second Ryder paused, not wanting to reveal all that he had uncovered during his time with the army and then on his travels. It would only hurt Tia further if he explained everything now. “I don’t know, Tia. They had their reasons, I suppose. They have paid for what they did to our family.”
Tia looked long and hard at the face of the man who had been both her adopted brother and her hero when she had been growing up. The innocence of childhood had long since disappeared from his features. The harsh edges told her that he had witnessed much harshness in life, experiences that had shaped and honed him into the man who sat before her.
“You found the men who did it?”
“Most of them. I was on my way to get the last two when my horse pulled up lame.”
“Is that where you will go when you leave here?”
“Yes. Storm’s leg is now healed so I plan to leave tomorrow morning.”
“Can you not stay?” Tia pleaded, holding tightly onto the hand that held hers. “I do not want to lose you now that we have only just found each other. Besides…” Her voice faded away as though she was uncertain of what she wanted to tell him.
“Besides what?” Ryder prompted, curious over what she was going to say to him. The Tia he had known has a child had had no hesitation when it came to sharing information, whether it was a secret or not. This older Tia now possessed secrets she seemed reluctant to share, even with one who had been so close to her.
It pained him a little to know that he had lost that bond with Tia. Though he had been older than her, she had always been the closest to him of all of his sisters and would often be found wherever he was, whether she was invited or not.
Tia looked down at her empty cup and toyed with the idea of pouring another drink even though she knew she would not drink it. Her nerves were tight as she wondered what his reaction to her news would be. Would he be pleased for her or would he be angry? She did not know nor could she gauge his mood because this Ryder was not the same boy she had grown up with.
“I’m getting married the day after tomorrow, to Leah’s brother, Aaron.”
Ryder leant back in his chair, stunned at the news she had imparted. Not only had his little sister grown up but she was about to embark upon the next stage of her life. To be a wife to a man he had never met, never judged to see if he was suitable for his little sister. “I see. Congratulations.” He smiled a little to put her mind at ease for he could see how tense she was as she waited for his reaction.
“Thank you.” She looked across at him, her cornflower blue eyes serious within her face. Colour had returned to her features, turning her skin a soft golden colour that shimmered as her blonde her framed her face. “I’d like you to be there, Ryder. To be the one who offers me into Aaron’s care.”
“That is the task of the head of the family,” Ryder pointed out, feeling a little uncomfortable at her request. Inside, he would have loved to have given her to the man she had chosen to be her husband but that was a role he knew he would never have fulfilled.
“You are the only family I have left, now. The only one I would want to do this.” Her eyes pleaded with him as she held his gaze.
“I’m not blood family, though.”
This time it was she who covered his hands with her own. “You may not be of my blood, Ryder but in here,” she placed a hand over her heart, “in here, you are as much of my blood as my parents and my sisters were. I will always claim you as my blood and, as such, through that claim you have the right to offer me to Aaron.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow, though.” The words seemed forced from his lips as though he did not want the commitment of leaving town. At this moment, tracking the last two raiders down and finding out who hired them was far from his mind. The desire and focus for revenge that had driven him for so long seemed a minor goal when compared to what Tia was asking of him.
“Please stay, Ryder. Just for a few more days. Do this for me and let me have the chance to get to know my brother once more.”
Ryder hesitated, he was tempted, so very tempted but he could not give up on his quest when the end was so very nearly in sight. “No, I’m sorry, Tia. I’m not the boy you once knew. I am not worthy of what you ask of me.” To avoid the hurt in her eyes, he pushed his chair back and stood up. “Look after yourself, Tia.”
He could feel her eyes upon him as he walked out of the café. Each step he took tore at his heart, ripping new wounds on the old scar tissue. He told himself that he was doing the right thing, leaving her. Told himself that the intervening years had changed him into a man not worthy of the honour she sought to bestow upon him. Told himself that this was better for her, for both of them. Told himself but didn’t believe it.
Angry with himself, he strode over to the stable to check on Storm to ensure that the stallion would be fit to travel tomorrow. It had been a mistake to stay in the town for so long. The sooner he left and got back to his task the better.
The small church was filled with fragrant blooms whose gentle scent floated above the gathered congregation. The rows of seats were filled with people who had come to watch Aaron marry Tia. At the head of the church, the priest stood in front of Aaron and Tia with the close family members standing nearby, ready to fulfil their roles in the wedding service.
“Aaron and Tia, you have come to this House of the Gods to pledge your love and devotion to each other through the vows of marriage. Let those gathered here bear witness to the promises you have made to each other and to be the binding of those promises so that you shall never break them and betray your vows and your faith.” The priest looked at the young couple who stood before him, their faces both nervous and excited as they stood on the precipice of a new chapter in their lives.
“Aaron, you stand here ready to take Tia as your wife. To love her, protect her, honour her and provide for her and the children she will bring you in this union. Do you accept this responsibility and promise to love, protect honour and provide for her for the rest of your lives together?”
“I do,” Aaron replied in a strong voice.
“Tia, you stand here ready to accept Aaron as your husband. To love him, obey him and tend him and the children you shall provide him with. Who offers you into the care and protection of Aaron?”
Silence filled the room as no one stepped forward to offer her to Aaron. It was always customary for someone to offer the bride to the groom, even if it was an acquaintance but today it appeared that no one was willing to take that responsibility. Just when it seemed that no one was going to speak, one voice cut through the silence like a hot knife through butter.
Tia turned and looked as Ryder stepped forward from the back of the church. His clothes were dusty as though he had ridden straight to the chair yet to Tia he was the most welcome sight she had ever seen. A smile of pure joy lit her face as he came to stand by her side.
As Ryder placed her hand in Aaron’s he felt something shift inside him. He had been halfway to Kirenze when he had admitted to himself that he would rather have been here, with Tia, than tracking the men who had killed their family. Revenge seemed such a minor matter when compared to this and, as he looked down at her radiant features, he knew that this was where he wanted to be. Revenge could wait, family couldn’t and his goals had changed, giving him a new direction in life. One that he intended to follow to the end.