“Shianni?” Darrian stepped through the door of his father’s house, looking for his cousin. He had to leave with Duncan soon, but he couldn’t go without saying goodbye to her. He felt like it was the least he could do.
There she was, curled up on the bed in the corner. Darrian pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down. Looking at her like this…he never noticed before how small she actually was. Shianni always lived larger than life. Her outspokenness and her confident attitude belied how dimunitive she really was.
Sensing that she was no longer alone, Shianni opened her eyes to peer at her cousin. She gave him a small smile. “You always said my temper would get me in trouble.”
Darrian reached out and pushed her hair away from her eyes. He tried not to look too serious, he knew the last thing she would want is his pity. “It’s not your fault, it comes with being a redhead.” He winked.
Shianni snorted. “You’re just jealous because I got all the looks in the family.”
He held her hand lightly. “How are you? Really?”
“I’m…alright. I’m still here, so that’s something I guess.” She hesitated a moment. “Look, as far as the others know, Vaughan just roughed me up a bit—“
“And that’s all they need to know.” Darrian finished. “What happened isn’t anyone’s business.”
Shianni looked relieved. “Thank you. For everything.”
Darrian scooted closer in his chair and wrapped an arm around Shianni’s shoulders. Burying his face in her hair he whispered what he couldn’t bring himself to say while looking in her eyes. “I’m sorry Shianni. I’m so sorry.”
Letting out a small sob Shianni brought her arms around him. “It isn’t your fault.” Feeling Darrian shake his head in negation she hugged him tighter. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. And neither would the other girls. You saved us.”
“I should have done something, I should have stopped Vaughan before he even took you.” He clenched his jaw. “I only wish I’d had more time. That bastard got a faster death than he deserved.”
Shianni shrugged. “He’s dead. That’s all that matters to me.” Pulling back, she looked at him thoughtfully. “You’re leaving for good, aren’t you?”
Unable to meet her gaze, Darrian sighed. “I honestly don’t know. I’ll come back if I can, but I don’t want to put our people in danger.
“I want to tell you something before I go, though.” He ran a hand through his hair and gave her a small smile. “You’ve…well, you’ve always been my hero.”
“What are you talking about?” Shianni asked. “I’m no hero.”
Darrian finally looked her in the eyes. “Yes, you are. You’ve always stood up for yourself, no matter what. When Vaughan and his friends showed up this morning no one stood up to him, not even me. We’ve been subjugated by these shemlens for so long, that none of us even thought about fighting back.” He smiled at her. “Except for you.”
Shianni snorted. “Bottling the arl’s son is hardly heroic.”
“It is when no one else had the courage to do something to stop him. You stood up to him, that’s true heroism.”
He took her hands in his. “Look, what happened to you was horrible. I can’t even imagine how hard it is going to be for you. But you can’t let them win.” His voice became more forceful. “What they did was all about power, about breaking your will and tearing you down. If you let what happened change you, then they’ve gotten exactly what they wanted. Don’t let them win, Shianni.”
Tears started trickling down her face. “I don’t know what to do, I feel so…helpless.”
“But you aren’t. You’re strong, and brave, and the people here need you. Nothing’s ever going to change here until we start fighting back. You can help them, show them that no one can have power over us unless we let them. Take that anger and fear and use it as a weapon. Be a voice for our people.”
Shianni nodded. “Okay. I’ll try.”
Darrian smiled at her. “Good. That’s all I can ask for.”
Shianni smiled at him. “I love you Cousin. Make us proud out there.”
Darrian hugged her and then stood up. “I love you too, Shianni.”
He went outside and walked over to where Duncan was waiting for him. “Are you ready to go?”
He took one last look around and sighed. “Let’s go.” And he walked through the gate, unsure of what lay ahead for him, but confident that no matter where he went his heart would always remain here.