Lioness14 mins 22.3K 14 mins 22.3K
Sunlight crept into the room through the gaps in the curtains; it crept in slowly and softly like a mouse scurrying into its home. Slowly, slowly, they alighted on the red head so sweetly immersed in slumber and as the bravest of the sun rays dared to touch her hair it leapt into red, red flame.
She woke gently, without any alarm or distress- a comfortable end to a comfortable sleep. Her eyes were bleary with sleep yet held a glimpse of the kind and gentle soul she possessed. A knock sounded on the door. “Come in” she said- her voice so musical it seemed she had played the words on a harp. A servant entered and greeted her with a smile; she returned it as the woman fluffed up her pillows and laid the tray laden with breakfast on her lap. She bit into a ripe strawberry- the juice painted her lips a charming red.
“The king wishes to see you, my lady- you father is weary, and asks you to cheer him with your company.” The servant said.
“Oh, how terrible! I will come as fast as I can. But tell me what to wear now for I cannot choose! The red or the white?” She spun around, clasping the dresses to her bosom and laughing. The servant smiled indulgently for the princess was every bit the child at sixteen that she had been at six.
“Why, you look so pretty in anything you wear! Wear the red today, my lady- it brings out the roses in your cheeks so.”
She ran to her father and embraced him and he kissed her brow. She drew back and looked into his eyes, and cried out, upset-“ But what is this? How ill you look! What is wrong?”
“Why, nothing that your papa cannot set right, my little lioness! Do not looked so frightened- smile for me! I will be well as long as you are happy.” She smiled then, and suddenly her gaze fell upon a quiet armoured man standing behind behind her father’s great chair.
“Brannon, Brannon you are home!” She clapped her hands in delight. The knight smiled. He was strong and tall, and had reached his fortieth year but there was no grey in his hair or weakness in his limbs. He had watched over the Princess Arya from her infancy and had taken the place of playmate and protector in absence of siblings.He was deeply fond of her-as was almost the entire populace. She was their dear princess, so like their dead queen- gentle and kind and youthful. He bent to her persuasion, and accompanied her outside for a walk.
His gaze lingered on her as she bent to kiss the poppies on their blooming heads. He was fond of her but not blind to her faults. As the only heir to the throne, she ought to have learnt politics and the way of the sword, but instead sat embroidering and singing as other noble women did. She possessed a keen intellect, but was ill disposed to using it in any matters other than in the choice of her clothes and music. She was a pampered soft child where she should have been a strong, powerful princess. It was not her fault, he mused softly to himself. The king had loved his queen dearly, and after her death had contrived to provide his daughter with as idyllic a life as possible. This was why she knew nothing of the turmoil the kingdom was in.
Etoria was a mighty kingdom- rich in trade and military might. It was one of the oldest kingdoms in existence- it possessed great archives full of knowledge and wisdom of the great kingdoms of the past. Her soldiers were the most powerful, her knights the most loyal. Etoria’s people considered their land a mother- every citizen served to the best of their ability. Blacksmith or cobbler, merchant or scribe, Etoria’s people prided themselves on the quality of their craft. There were wide forests and restless seas flanked by great ports.
And Etoria’s enemies were slowly closing in from every side, choking the kingdom as a python squeezes breath out of its prey.
Etoria fought back with every ounce of its power and held back the hounds baying for its blood for several years, years in which its princess had grown up, blissfully unaware of the danger her land was in.
Until that night.
Arya jolted awake. Something had woken her, some sound, a feeling of inexplicable terror. She smelt smoke in the air. She slowly opened her door, only to be faced with a hellish scene that would be burned into her eyes for the rest of her life. Fire, blazing hot fire consumed her world. She could hear distant screams as her world burned to ashes around her.
She was going to die. She sank to her knees, weeping. All of a sudden, someone yanked her to her feet. She screamed and tried to tear away. But the hand that held hers only gripped harder.”Princess, you have to come…” Dimly, she recognized the voice, but was far too hysterical to respond. “ Oh, for the love of - Arya! Walk, damn you!”The use of her name jolted her out of her shock.
He pulled her along, cursing as a pillar crashed down in front of them. They made their way through tunnels, hallways and countless passages. Finally, they stumbled out of the burning inferno.
Arya fell to her knees, sobbing and gasping for air. “I’m going to faint!” She warned, and then Brannon roughly grasped her head and forced it between her knees.
”Breathe. Breathe.” He gasped.
She calmed by degrees, and sat up slowly. Her clothes were singed, her arms and legs burned and there were blisters on her feet but she was alive. Beside her, Brannon groaned. She touched his shoulder gently.
“ You are hurt?” she asked, tears glistening in her eyes. “Nothing time and rest cannot remedy.” He answered.
“Where is Papa?” she asked again.”I want to see him!”
His eyes met hers. No word was spoken, but she understood. She wept again, and this time Brannon did not tell her to stop.
Seven years later…..
He clutched his dagger close as he ran through lanes and roads. He must not be found- he dare not be found. He would die instantly. He slowed down for a moment and looked behind him- it seemed that he had shaken her off. He breathed a sigh of relief, and turned forward.
The sharp edge of a knife at his throat is all he felt before his blood splattered the stones on the street.
Arya looked at him with disgust, before wiping his blood off her knife on her clothes. Something rustles behind her- she spun around.
“To think there was a time when you would have cried at hurting a fly.”
“That child is dead, Brannon. She died the night my father did.”
Brannon eyed his sovereign carefully. She had always been beautiful, but now that beauty was tinged with a danger that was almost palpable. She was tall, taller than most women of her land, and her slender body housed a will of steel. She saw him watching her, and favoured him with a rare smile.
”Loyal, loyal Brannon. My only friend in this land of enemies, my anchor in this sea of hatred and fear.” She said softly, her eyes filled with a tenderness few men alive had seen.
“ The council awaits you.” He told her, gently dipping his head in deference to her position.She tilted his chin up, forcing him to look her straight in the eye.”Do not lower your head, Brannon-certainly not for this child you have raised.” He nodded, too overcome to speak. She sighed.”Today the war begins, Brannon. The moment I enter the council’s chambers I will be under siege. Those old men have used me for their own purposes for far too long. They have forgotten that a lioness can never truly be controlled.” There was a light in her eyes- the light of a great predator cornering its prey. “ Today I will remind them why the world fears me.” He nodded in acknowledgment, and followed her as she dashed away. He walked behind her as she entered Tuor’s great hall, and stood at her side as she sat in her chair, occupying it with a careful grace and deceptive lethargy. The council stood at her entrance, and the Raika- the head- frowned as she neglected to return the gesture when they sat. But he said nothing, and began business when all of a sudden one of the council members – an old, almost wizened man shrieked in outrage.
“Is this the courtesy afforded to the men that give you shelter, Princess? How dare you stand before us, fresh blood on your hands?”
She looked up, almost unconcernedly. “What, this! Does blood frighten you, Lord Rauros? How strange- it is the blood of the man you asked me to kill.” Her voice had not lost its melodious quality with age, but time had sharpened its allure into something much like the fatal attraction of a viper poised to strike.
The council shifted uncomfortably. The blood was not dry on her hands yet- it glistened as she played with her knives. The Raika ignored the exchange, and continued-
“ As per the Trade agreements with Kiri-“
“Actually,” Arya interrupted-“I was wondering if we could talk of Etoria.”
“ What, so enthusiastic? Very well. Listen carefully- Etoria will be mine by the time the leaves turn gold next year- and you will help me take it back, old men.”
“And why would we do that?” One of them demanded.
“Because you owe Etoria a debt. It’s quite simple, really- Etoria spent money and men in Tuor’s liberation- now I demand you repay the favour.”
“You demand, do you? After we took you in after Etoria’s invasion?’ the Raika said, very quietly.
“Oh, I’m very grateful.” Arya purred. ” You took me in, and made me your assassin- your blade. You made the queen of Etoria work for you-“ Here her eyes flicked to Raros-“ And I have worked for you well, have I not? Killed your foes, burnt the kingdoms that threatened you. I have ensured that your trade has flourished all these years. And as you demanded payment from me for the sanctuary you have provided, I demand it from you- pay me in the men, money and blood you owe my land.”
“This is preposterous!” The Raika exploded, and moved to strike her. Brannon stood in front of Arya in a flash, twisting the other man’s arm behind his back. “ Careful. Your next move may well be your last.”
“Come now, Brannon. We must be civil to our hosts- let him go.” Arya smiled, sardonic humour colouring her tone. “Tuor believes in diplomatic negotiation, does it not? I will negotiate.”
The Raika’s face relaxed- yet he eyed her warily. “Do sit.” Arya urged. He remained standing.
“Sit.” Steel laced her tone, and he obeyed quickly. “Here are my terms- Your help in exchange for your lives, and those of your family.”
Shock rippled through the room- Arya seemed to be enjoying herself.
“You she-bitch, what have you done?” The Raika snarled.
“Well, you do not raise an assassin without consequences. It’s a shame, really- you told me everything I ever needed to know. The location of your armouries- your wealth coffers.” Poison laced her every word.
“ Where your children live- your wives- their friends- their most precious possessions. You grew too carless, too complacent. You have all at some time or the other employed my services and in the process you have revealed your greatest weaknesses and strengths. Surely you have heard the legend? Death haunts all that cross me. It will find you- a deadly poison in your meat - a sword that is poised at your beds. Refuse me, council- and I will kill you.
“You- you bloody-bitch!”Lord Raoros screamed. “Guards!Guards!”
“Temper, temper, Lord Rauros.” She smiled.” I doubt these guards would heed your command. Mine , on the other hand…..” She raised her hand, and in seconds at least fifty different weapons were pointed at the council.
“It seems that Tuor’s people are not quite happy with you, Council. I hardly needed to do anything, really-I simply told your people that all who fought for me would be welcomed and honoured in Etoria. And well, as for your own resources and armies it really is quite convenient you’re all forever at each other’s throats. For example, Raika, the man I killed today for Lord Rauros was your own operative, the one who you had ordered to infiltrate Lord Rauros’s household.” The Raika looked at Rauros in disbelief, who stared back brazenly. Arya took in this exchange, a tiny smile playing on her lips.
“You destroyed yourselves- there is nothing left. Your men are mine, your money is mine. Your very lives are mine to take, and make no mistake, trust not to my mercy- I will kill you, unless you do my bidding.”
The Daiymo hung his head in defeat. “We will do ask you ask.”
“She- bitch” Rauros growled, and the next second he lay on the ground-dead, a knife piercing his throat, his blood bathing the marble floor.
“Temper,Temper.” Arya said softly, lowering her hand.” He could have been correct in his address, at the very least.”
“His address of you?” Brannon inquired, quite undaunted by the mess on the floor. Arya flashed him a quick smile- all canines and fierce, fierce strength. “ I take offence to being called a bitch, you know. I quite prefer the name they curse me by-Lioness.”
She turned her back on the council and began to walk towards the ornate door. Several armed men came out of the shadows of the council room and followed her on her way out. As the door opened, she turned back and addressed the shell shocked Council.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you, gentlemen.” Her smile was more like a snarl.
The battle for Etoria began. It was a great war- for there was great power wielded by both sides. Great legends were forged in the flame of battle- great legends died. One name was on all lips- Arya, Lioness. Tales were told even in the enemy camps of the woman who tore down everything and everybody in her path. They called her the harbringer of death, the dancing devil. They said that her hair burned like the fire that had burned her home, and that her lips were as scarlet as the blood of the enemies she spilled. Her strategies baffled even the shrewdest of the enemy’s minds- she was like a giant spider in her web-plucking one string after the other and creating ripples only she could comprehend. The fighting went on steadily until one day, something changed.
Brannon- loyal, steadfast Brannon had taken a poisoned arrow meant for her. She held his fever hot hand in hers. He was not as young as he had once been- he could not break the fever’s grasp.
“ I have served you well?” he whispered through parched lips.
“Nobody has served me better, and nobody ever will.”
He clutched at her hand weakly.” I always thought you were too weak, that the king was a fool to have indulged you so. Now I see he was kind to have done it. Arya- Lioness- assassin-child-woman-daughter-my queen. I would have stayed by your side forever.”
He reached into his cloak, and drew out a dagger and gave it to her.
“ I would not die by an enemy’s hand.” He said simply.
It was a clean kill, a simple kill. It was a mercy to do it for her most loyal friend and knight, for the fever would have been long and painful.
Still, for the first time in many years her hands trembled after the kill.
When she emerged her men noticed a strange shift in their leader. She had always been dangerous, but that danger had always been masked by veil of misdirection and charm. Now it was naked for the world to see in all its terrible glory. The agony about her was tangible-it was the agony of a lioness who has lost the last member of her pride.
Towers fell, towns and cities and kingdoms. Death prevailed, ghosting its cold fingers over soldier, mother, child and father alike. Finally, the day before the trees turned completely gold Etoria was Arya’s again.
She sat on her father’s throne, his golden crown resting upon her head. It was heavy with the weight of lives she had taken. She remembered her father, her gentle mother…..the servants she had played with who had fulfilled her every wish. She remembered Brannon, her greatest friend and knight. The fire in her soul smouldered. She would rule for them, for all of them. She would take the fire that tormented her heart and use it to light up her kingdom, burn down all the darkness that lingered in her land. The weight of her crown suddenly seemed easier to bear. She had left home in a blaze of fire, and returned to it in a flood of blood.She would ensure with every breath in her body that the blood she had spilled, the sacrifices that had been made…..she would use them all to create a shining beacon whose light could never be quenched. She was Arya- Glorious, invincible lioness- and it was her time to rule.