Cloud & Shade - Chapter 2: Prison Walls

"Where is she?!?!?!" Athrun was furious. Even Mornië knew better than to cross him when he was in this mood. He had practically come storming through the halls the moment he discovered Aingeal had gone missing again. "Are you telling me you can't keep track of a 16 year old girl?!" Athrun raged at the elf before him. Ilterendi just stood there calmly. He had been appointed as Aingeal's bodyguard some years before, when Athrun discovered that the girl's blindness wasn't going to confine her to the "safety" of the flet, where Athrun would prefer her to be.

"I'm sure she's fine milord," He tried to calm the furious elf, "It's not like it's the first time she's done this."

Athrun's eyes flashed in anger, "Which means that you should know better by now than to let her out of your sight!"

"Athrun," Mornië laid on hand carefully on Athrun's arm. "She'll be fine; you need to let her have some time alone."

"What if she gets hurt?" His voice gentled a little. Sighing in frustration, he leveled his still smoldering gaze at Ilterendi. "You're coming with me."

~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~

Aingeal walked slowly, her hand trailing along the hedge to her left. Birds chirped around her and the sound of water to her left informed her of her location. She knew that within a few feet she would find a small gate that would let her out of the gardens and into the wild unknown outside the city. She had finally been able to ditch her bodyguard, much to her own comfort. It felt liberating to go somewhere and know she wasn't being followed. Her searching hand found the latch of the gate and lifted it. Not many people even knew that the gate existed. It was more of a small passage that the garden keeper used to take clippings and such outside of the city.

Crouching down to avoid the low ceiling she knew was there, she silently glided through the short passage on bare feet. Bare feet; another defiant symbol of freedom and her own rebellion against her father's wishes. She could feel the familiar weight of her pet ferret clinging close to her neck, her little claws holding fast in the dark fabric of Aingeal's tunic. Her father would be furious at Aingeal's disappearance, but the hard earned freedom was well worth the cost.

The think pine needles covering the forest floor tickled the bottoms of her bare feet as she emerged from the passage in the wall. She pushed her black braid over her shoulder nearly knocking Kira, her white ferret off her shoulder. The animal let out a soft hissing sound, communicating her indignation, and nipped Aingeal in the ear as punishment. Aingeal winced but made no other sign that she had felt anything. With on hand stretched out in front of her and the other stroking Kira under her chin, she proceeded deeper into the forest. Her ears picked up sounds that even most elves didn't hear. Her lack of sight had some benefits but not enough.

Still, despite that fact, she moved confidently through the wooded area. She knew exactly where she was, as well as where she was going. Her feet didn't make a sound as they brushed silently across the grass and leaves, deftly side stepping stones and fallen branches. The ground sloped upwards, gradually becoming steeper. She grabbed onto nearby sapling and branches to pull herself up, her feet somehow finding the hidden path that etched its way across the mountain diagonally. The sun broke through the thinning branches as she neared a lower peak, fingers of warmth dancing on her face as its rays fell upon her.

The sounds of the forest filled her ears. Sounds that almost seemed foreign to her. Since her blindness eight years before, her father had become increasingly paranoid. He used the excuse that he was trying to protect her, and that it was for her own good. Aingeal had heard all of his reasons enough to ignore them. His will to 'protect' her was what kept her from any real happiness.

Don't leave the flet without Ilterendi. Don't leave the city. Don't run. Don't fool around with archery. Don't do this. Don't do that. You might get hurt. Be careful... The common phrases echoed through her mind. She had never submitted to her father's will. He imposed it upon her by force. Still, she defied him every chance she got. She was not some animal that could be caged and controlled. He wanted her to be lady like, to wear dresses, and stay in the house where it was safe. She had managed to defy all three wishes in one hour; by no means a record, but still an accomplishment considering the circumstances.

Just an hour before, she had managed to sneak out her second story window while Ilterendi thought she was sleeping. It had given her at least an hour's head start before anyone would realize she was missing.

Her loose black pants whispered around her ankles as she topped the crest of the peak. She knew that that point that it flattened out in a stretch of flat bare stone, creating a ledge that stuck out several meters over the edge of the mountain. A strong wind blew across the face of the stone, cooling it some as it heated in the sun's warm light.

"Ten paces," Aingeal whispered as she counted her steps forward. From where she now stood inches only separated her from the ledge. The wind whipped about her, blowing the loose tendrils of hair about her face and the ends of her un-tucked swordsman shirt about her waist. When she stood there, it almost seemed that there was music in the wind; a song reserved for her ears alone. Kira stuck her cold, tickling nose in Aingeal's ear, interrupting the moment suddenly. "You rat," she muttered to the ferret before sitting down cross-legged on the warm stone.

How long she sat there, alone with her thoughts and inner demons, she didn't know. The sun had sunk low in the sky, nearing the horizon. She wanted to remain unfound until sunset, but the likelihood of that actually happening was very slim.

"I can wish if I want to," her voice was lost on the steady wind.

Kira scurried off to hunt for her dinner, and quickly returned to curl up in Aingeal's lap, falling fast asleep. Aingeal couldn't help envying the creature. Its life consisted of eating, sleeping, causing mischief, and sleeping some more. She stroked the small animal's fur absently and lay back on the stone, letting its warmth seep through her clothing to her wind chilled skin.

Just as she began to doze off, the sound of voices reached her sensitive ears, bringing her to full wakefulness. It didn't take a genius to figure out who the voices belonged to. It was her father and Ilterendi. There was no point in trying to hide. Neither elf was a fool; it would only be a matter of time before they found her. Her expression settled into a steely and defiant scowl. Scooping up Kira, she stood and inched a little closer to the edge of the sheer rock face.

"Aingeal!?" Her father's voice echoed through the trees and reached her ears more clearly than before. She turned to face the edge off the cliff, to catch the last bit of warmth from the dieing sun before it sank below the western horizon. Her shoulders stiffened slightly as the voices drew even closer. Kira climbed sleepily back to her shoulder as she waited. The bars of her prison were descending once again and there was nothing she could do to stop them, nothing she could do to escape them permanently.

"Aingeal!!" She heard his footsteps clearly as he stepped onto the stone. A few seconds later she was yanked roughly away from the edge by the back of her shirt. "What in Eru's name do you think you are doing!?!" She could hear the rage in his voice, but refused to respond. He may as well go yell and rant at a tree. He would get about as much response.

His fingers tightened almost painfully around her forearm as he pulled her away from the precipice, still expressing his outrage loudly. Aingeal knew Ilterendi was there too, probably watching silently. Athrun continued to rant, his finger's tightening their grip as he shook her a little by the shoulders to get his point across. Aingeal didn't show any recognition of the contact, but was fully aware of his crushing grip.

Ilterendi stepped forward and lay a hand on the elf lord's arm. Athrun glared at him for a moment as a silent message passed between the two. Athrun let go of Aingeal and turned away, "Take her home, and don't let her out of your sight until I meet you there."

Ilterendi nodded and silently guided Aingeal back down the path. Kira looked up at Athrun with glittering black eyes before nipping his ankle in indignation and scampering away after her mistress.

~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~

The only sounds that broke the silence as Aingeal and Ilterendi made their way back down the mountain were those of the woodland creatures and the wind in the treetops. Ilterendi noted Aingeal's stony silence and respected it by not urging her to talk.

The animosity between the young she-elf and her father had only grown through the years. It was only amplified by Athrun's overprotective nature constantly stifling Aingeal, who was just as, if not even more, independent as her father. By trying to keep his daughter close, Lord Athrun was only pushing her away more and more everyday.

It was only once they were inside the city that Aingeal finally spoke, bitterness evident in her voice. "He's such a hypocrite," she spat, "I hate him." Ilterendi shook his head imperceptibly.

"He's only trying to protect you," he told her patiently, "He reacts out of fear for you."

"Well he doesn't need to!" She burst out, "I'd rather be dead than live my life under his tyranny!" She muttered some other explicates under her breath in a number of languages before storming ahead of Ilterendi. Kira skittered between his feet after her, her little claws scratching against the smooth stone of the walkway.

Ilterendi rubbed a hand across his face in frustration before following her. At this rate Athrun was going to lose his daughter entirely.

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