At last, with afternoon drawing on into evening, the rain finally abated into a soft drizzle while the sky remained grimly foreboding. Dark clouds thickly obscured the sun, but the absence of rain made the dismal day seem even more dour for some reason. Felicity strode swiftly with the shivering Coral; the young girl wrapped in Felicity’s cloak. For her part, the noblewoman did not seem at all bothered by the rapidly cooling air or her soaked clothes, which included a long, practical dress and heavy work boots.
Behind the pair trudged Korvius, brooding and silent, his facade of easy humor replaced with a taciturn exterior exacting tithe from the world around him, as if learning the secrets of the city with every passing step. His demeanor darkened upon spotting the castle through the towering buildings and walls of the inner city.
“Now, we’ll be arriving considerably early, so do your best to stay where I put you until you’re called. Understand?” Said Felicity.
Coral nodded. “Are you sure I’m invited? I look terrible.” She asked for the fifth time.
Felicity stroked a hand over the poor girl’s forehead. “Yes, I’m sure, dear. You’re always welcome at the castle.”
From behind, Korvius muttered something in his native language, a guttural, staccato sentence delivered with annoyed terseness.
“I’m sorry, priest? Have something to add, or are you going to whine like a child back there anymore?” Felicity upbraided over her shoulder. Korvius had been saying various things in his incomprehensible tongue from time to time and it was beginning to wear on Felicity’s nerves. When no reply to her retort was forthcoming, she decided a different approach to breaching the sullen mood of the priest would be appropriate. “What language do they speak in Katzairia?”
Korvius took a moment to reply. “T’would be known as Old Hyv to wider Isaka, but the dialect has split enough to be counted as it’s own language, known as Vaktrian.”
“I didn’t know any of that.” Felicity said with genuine interest. “Why is it called Vaktrian?”
Korvius coughed softly, or perhaps he was just clearing his throat. “Katzairia is not just one land with no separate regions. Vaktor is the largest city, from whence I come. They simply named it after that.”
Felicity nodded. She was pretty sure she had seen the name of that city on some of the maps of the far East, and she said as much.
“Aye, there are some features of the Deep Vale that even outsiders would know easily. Most foreigners are stopped at the fortress at the entrance to the Vale.”
“Levitisar?” Felicity asked.
“Fortress Levitisar, aye. The only place any foreigner is really allowed to go, and even then only with proper business.”
Felicity turned around. “Why so secretive?”
Korvius’ face remained blank. “Isolation has kept us safe for a long time; it continues to do so.”
Felicity looked down for a moment. “I can understand that.”
“Ye sequester thyself within a castle on a hill. Are ye sure ye understand? Being distant is not the same thing, lass.”
Felicity opened her mouth to respond then, seemingly thinking better of it, kept quiet instead. Something about Korvius drove her mad, but also fascinated her. His rudeness was more taciturn abruptness than true lack of manners. Maybe this was just how people in the East behaved.
Korvius continued his brooding silence while Coral sidled up to Felicity, looking at her like the noblewoman was some kind of angel from another world. “Lady Felicity?” She asked timidly.
The noblewoman smiled warmly, showing surprisingly sharp teeth. “Just Felicity, young one. Yes?”
Coral gulped. “Why are your eyes red?”
Felicity could feel more than see Korvius’ attention suddenly shifting out of his personal reverie onto her. He had wondered the same thing, but unlike the young teenager he had the tact to not ask out of turn. Inwardly, Felicity sighed. “The nobility of Lataron and South Setzon all have red eyes. It’s just how we look.”
“Oh.” Coral said, both satisfied and unconvinced. Korvius was entirely sure Felicity was lying, or at least covering up reality with a half-truth. He was a witch hunter, after all; detecting lies was his life. The more he thought about it, the more he came to the conclusion that, while the aristocracy of the province may all have red eyes, it wasn’t just a quirk of appearance. There was definitely something more to her.
“Oh?” Felicity asked back.
Coral looked ahead. “I’ve just never met someone with red eyes, or a woman that could carry a man like you did with Korvius earlier.”
Felicity took a long time to respond. “It was just adrenaline, dear. I like the priest very much and would prefer him in one piece, you see.”
At that, Korvius laughed out loud, a harsh, rocky sound without humor. “How stupid do ye think she is to believe that, thy highness?” He said, adding a strong sense of mock deference in the title he gave.
Before Felicity could respond, it was Coral who did first. “Stop talking about me like I’m not here. Father does that, not you too.”
Korvius paused, looking over at the girl with a strange expression. “Aye, fair enough there, Coral. I am sorry.”
“Oh goodness, he does have a sense of propriety.” Felicity said with exaggerated relief. “I had just assumed you were always a crude ass.”
Korvius didn’t grace the jab with a response, choosing instead to pointedly ignore Felicity, looking up at the castle looming closer in his vision.
“Can we just get to the castle already so we can start finding my father?” Coral asked with no small amount of fire in her voice.
“Of course, Coral. I’m sure the Lady of the castle will be most pleased to meet you.” Felicity said. Korvius only snorted and continued on his way.
* * *
In the tall turrets of the castle, Rassia was anything but pleased. She glared out from a lone, dark window from where she could see the small group of three approaching the walls. The Priest, her foolish subordinate, and a young woman she did not recognize.
“Felicity,” She started, voice dangerously soft and calm. “This rebelliousness will stop, immediately.” Her red eyes narrowed as she took a long, deep breath hissing between her clenched teeth. “I will not be removed from my station for your lasciviousness.” She knew what caused Felicity’s deep interest in the foreign priest, made all the more irritating because the same interest dwelt within her own heart.
With a final huff, Rassia turned to stalk back into her chambers. She had a dinner to get ready for, after all. Appearance was everything.