It starts slow.
Little things here and there that would almost be unnoticable. A question or two. Or maybe even a gesture. Miniscule moments that shift things in incremental amounts. But movement is movement and all steps get you somewhere.
“How did you train? As a guard for your people.” Clarke asks after what had been a rather long stretch of silence between them.
Lexa isn’t surprised by the questions anymore, they have become more frequent over the days. “We had rooms with equipment. Treadmills. Ellipticals. Things like that.”
Clarke nods and looks ahead. “... Interesting.”
Lexa cracks a smile. Clarke’s unwillingness to admit that she doesn’t know what things Lexa mentions are is as endearing as it is infuriating at times.
“And you had the ability to grow food? In the metal box?” The space between Clarke’s eyes scrunches together a fraction as she clearly tries to picture it. Her eyes search Lexa’s face as if to perceive whether what she’s been told has just been a way for Lexa to mess with her.
The sun is high above them, birds circling overhead as they make their way on the narrow path. The air feels a bit lighter and Lexa realizes with each passing day she feels her body healing from the ordeal of Shallow Valley more and more as the city gets farther behind them. Her face is nearly clear from the bruises even.
“It’s really not like you have down here,” Lexa responds, gesturing briefly as she talks to the sweeping fields they pass through, the wide open air. The tall grass on the edge of the road is golden from the summer sun still and shifts like water in the breeze as it reaches up to touch her boots in her stirrups.
She thinks of farm station with its eco-pods and the nearly translucent vegetables that would come out of it, tasting about as rich as the dirt they came from. How they were grown with light that was harvested through panels and then fed through the bulbs overhead, energy released again with a consistent hum.
“It was much more... enclosed. Artificial in most ways. It’s hard to describe.”
Clarke lets out a small, non-committal noise and faces forward in her saddle again, still looking unconvinced or perhaps bothered that she can’t quite picture the idea of things growing without the wide sky overhead.
Days later and Lexa now barely feels the beating she faced. Long afternoons in the saddle, however, are still hard on the body as she languidly stretches her arms over her head with a small groan. They’ve stopped for the day and Lexa is trying not to show how happy she is by that fact as she covers her yawn with her hand.
The sky is a deep indigo and if she squints she can see the stars even with the glare of the two fires at the center of their camp. The evenings are a bit colder now and she’s not sure how she feels about it. Cold wasn’t something experienced often on the ark, it was only ever felt as a byproduct of a malfunction of their station’s careful equilibrium.
A majority of the warriors are off on a hunt, trying to secure a few rabbits or some other game after their journey was surprisingly sparse with wildlife. The few warriors that remain huddle around the larger fire, trading stories that have some of them tipping their heads back with laughter.
Clarke sits alone.
Her elbows are resting on her knees, hands clasped gently in front of her as she stares at the shifting flames. It’s not an uncommon sight. Typically the Commander spends her time in her own tent once they’ve made camp. Occasionally she’ll make brief appearances at a fire but eventually her proximity will clearly make some uneasy or overwhelmed if they are staying in a small village, so she’ll take her leave. Lexa glances around, looking for Anya or Avery or anyone she would ordinarily see within the Commander’s company. They are nowhere to be found and now that Lexa considers it more, she has not seen much of the second recently. She can’t say she’s upset by that factor.
“Is this seat taken?”
Clarke’s eyes shift up from the flames, pulled from her thoughts. Her gaze follows Lexa’s outstretched hand until they land on the spot on log beside her. After a moment, Clarke shakes her head and Lexa settles onto the uncomfortable seat with thanks, realizing belatedly that she’s sitting closer than perhaps she had intended. But the fire spits softly in front of them, letting off a warmth that Lexa settles into after neither of them makes to move away. She yawns, failing to cover it up this time. Clarke returns to her thoughts, fingers tangling in the necklace string that hangs from around her neck as the fire snaps in front of them, spitting out glowing remnants of the wood it consumes.
Distant laughter coming from the other fire reaches them and Lexa looks over, cracking a smile even though whatever humorous story they’re sharing in their language is lost to her. She spends some time just sitting and straining her ears, wondering if she can pick out any of the words from the limited vocabulary she’s been building. She’s so focused on her objective it takes her a moment to realize that Clarke is looking at her.
“What?” she asks with a light laugh, touching her face as if it might have something on it, confused when there’s nothing. Clarke is still staring at her, an odd expression on her face.
“Do you miss them?”
“Miss who?” she asks, dropping her hand into her lap once more.
Lexa sobers slightly at her words, the smile disappearing. The fire snaps and the logs shift. Muffled laughter reaches them.
Clarke nods slowly, her eyes returning to the fire though she doesn’t appear to feel any qualms about bringing the potentially sensitive topic up.
Lexa does miss them. Everyday. She misses the sense of familiarity. She misses Raven. She misses the anonymity she was allowed to have where she was just a guard who did her job and nothing more was expected of her.
But as she sits and thinks about it more, she realizes with a slow start that she would miss this too.
“Yes, I do miss them,” she says, drawing Clarke’s attention back to her. “But sometimes less than others.”
Clarke holds her eye for a moment before looking away.
A comfortable quiet resettles between them. The fire crackles and shifts.
The days pass quickly as they make their way. The wind runs among tree bristles on the forest floor as storms rumble and toss their way overhead at inconvenient times. Occasionally it is not just rumbles but downpour as the sky opens and tries to cleanse the sense of summer from the ground.
One such time has just passed, leaving the earth wet and pliable. The mud is slick and clings to Clarke’s boots as she walks. The soft undergrowth of the glowing forest is long behind them now. They are that much closer to home.
“I’m not doing it.”
“You will,” Clarke tells her, there is no room for anything but gravity in her voice.
Anya stops walking to whirl back and face Clarke. She’s fuming. Clenching her fists tight in indignation. “I won't.” Anya stares at Clarke for half a beat, jaw tense as she’s met with a calm and unchanging expression. Then she turns, shoving a branch out from in front of her face as she continues to stalk away in another direction aimlessly.
Clarke breathes evenly through her nose to try and gather herself. She has been on the road too long now to have much patience for someone defying her, even Anya. She stands her ground, refusing to chase. “This is not a request.”
Anya stops once more and turns at the tone, back straight. She purses her lips, searching Clarke’s eyes wordlessly, a war waging behind her own as she so clearly bites her tongue against what she sees as a grave injustice or even a punishment. Eventually, what could be eons later, she looks away with a tense jaw but says nothing else, the closest to an affirmation Clarke knows she’s going to get.
But it’s done. Even Anya knows the limits of how much challenge she can put forward without reprimand.
The sound of twigs snapping beneath uncareful feet has them both turning. Lexa approaches with a questioning expression as she glances between them. She can clearly feel the tense energy even though she doesn’t yet understand its source.
“Lincoln said you wanted to see me?” she says, still glancing between them and taking in the deep scowl on Anya’s face as she looks away.
Clarke ignores the question and cuts right to the chase, one hand resting on the sword handle at her waist. “You still wish to train?”
“I… do I what?”
“Do you still wish to train?” Clarke asks again, more insistent but not in an unfriendly tone.
Understanding breaks across Lexa’s face. “I…” she looks between them. “Yes. Yes, I do.” She tries to rein in the curious enthusiasm on her face but not fast enough for Clarke to miss it. Her eyebrows raise a fraction. “You’re going to let me train as a guard? In Polis?” The surprised hope shines brighter, her eyes wide with her interest caught as she takes a step forward unconsciously.
“No,” Clarke cuts her off, watching as Lexa’s face immediately falls, shuttering. She opens her mouth to ask the obvious next question but Clarke’s patience is spent so she cuts her off. “Anya is going to take you as her second.”
There’s a moment of heavy silence broken only by the murmur of the camp in the distance and some birds fluttering between the branches above their heads.
Lexa’s gaze shifts over to Anya. Anya, for her part, hasn’t stopped staring indignantly at the ground since Lexa joined them, making her opinion on the idea clear.
“Oh. I… really?” she asks, obviously surprised.
“Do you not want it?” Clarke asks, watching the other girl closely, trying to read her face. Becoming a second to a warrior of Anya’s stature is considered an... honor. More than that, actually. To be trained by the hand that trained the Commander is nearly unheard of. She is having a difficult time reading Lexa’s reaction.
“No!” Lexa answers insistently. “Yes, of course I do. I just…,” she glances at Anya again mouth open to say something else. Then all at once she shakes her head, putting something aside. “Nevermind. Yes. I accept.”
Anya rolls her eyes sharply. Clarke can practically feel the disgruntlement radiating off of her. She sends Clarke a dark glance as she brushes past Lexa. “Dison foto strat,” she says to Clarke as she passes, her tone hard.
Lexa watches her retreat, waiting until she is out of earshot to speak. “She doesn’t seem particularly keen on the idea.” she says, turning back to Clarke.
Clarke lifts and drops one shoulder, one hand resting on the hilt of her sword again even as she watches Anya disappear from view. “She will get over it.”
A quiet settles for a moment as Lexa seems to absorb the information and perhaps grasp how her life is about to change a bit more.
“Thank you,” she says eventually as she looks at Clarke. Clarke notices that her eyes are the same shade as the glistening trees around them.
Clarke nods, accepting her thanks. As she leaves, however, she turns back and says: “As someone who has filled the role of Anya’s second, I speak sincerely when I tell you that perhaps you may want to wait before bestowing your gratitude.”
They wake up before the sun has even started considering heading near the horizon. The birds are quiet, unbothered in their nests, waiting for first light to start stirring. Everything is still. It’s the part of the day where nothing quite feels here nor there.
Lexa rubs the sleep from her eyes but follows the warriors that ride their horses carefully on the road they can just barely see beneath them in the moonlight. Despite the tiredness she can't help sneaking glances at the specific warrior who is to be her teacher for the foreseeable future. She looks out of the corner of her eye but Anya's face is unreadable except for the slight scowl sitting at one corner of her mouth. But that isn’t particularly out of the ordinary.
She hasn't even looked Lexa's way since yesterday. Whether that was to give Lexa time to back out or Anya time to convince Clarke to change her mind, Lexa isn't sure. She ponders on it as they head towards the light that rises slowly in the distance.
They are heading into Polis early. Lexa deduced that it’s for the same reason they arrived in Shallow Valley early. Less people, less fuss. The more she’s gotten to know Clarke the more she thinks she understands.
"Are we close?" she asks. She's been refraining from asking that question every few minutes but she is having a difficult time reining in her eagerness to see the place she has heard so many stories about.
"Closer," Lincoln tells her in a voice still gruff with sleep. "We entered the Commander's forest a while back. The city archers will likely have already announced her arrival to the gates."
Lexa's gaze quickly looks up to scan the trees for the silent archers, knowing her efforts are futile even as she does it. She doubts she will ever be able to spot them unless they want her to. Or perhaps she just needs to be taught how to see them.
She chances a glance at Anya again, but the warrior is grim as ever.
In the end she isn't prepared for Polis.
The stories and snippets of things she heard over the weeks telling her about its tall buildings and long roads that circle and interconnect, all leading towards a tower at the center - Clarke’s tower, they did nothing to help her.
She wasn’t expecting it all.
Being born floating out in space she thought nothing could ever phase her, that she had seen the cosmos so how could anything be more awe inspiring than that? Lexa’s jaw had begun to drop when even just the gate had first come into view. The road curved and twisted from the trees until it evened out for the last mile where it ran straight, packed dirt running hard and fast up to a large wall. Guards in thick armor, holding spears longer than Lexa’s body, stand at either side of it as well as atop it.
Lexa’s neck cranes to catch sight of a large red flag being raised as they approach, flapping ardently in the wind as it’s quickly sent up upon the sight of Clarke. At the flag’s center: the same cog-like mark that marks Clarke’s forehead now.
Words are shouted across the top of the wall and movement begins flow into a steady flurry as their party grows closer. Suddenly there is a crack in the barrier before them that grows as the gates are opened with a steady mechanical grind that clicks and shudders loudly.
They pass beneath its wide arc, the doors flayed open to welcome the Commander back to her place of rule. Lexa eyes trail over the large bars of iron that twist together like branches of trees, mouth open, stunned at the intricacy of the web of metal that appears both impenetrable and beautiful at once
“Welcome to Polis,” Lincoln tells her with a grin, enjoying her expression.
Lexa’s senses are so overrun with different smells and sounds she’s at a loss for words. Though the sun is just starting to rise, the city is clearly getting ready for a busy day. It's like Shallow Valley but grown larger by a magnitude and a half, using the best scraps of the old world to construct something entirely new and vibrant.
They don't avoid all the crowds and splendor that clearly comes with the arrival of the Commander. Word of their presence seems to ripple out ahead of them as they traverse down a wide road that is clearly the main avenue of the city.
The farther inside they venture the greater the color that arrives. The houses are no longer stone or earth colored like the forest that surrounds them but start showing flickers of paint that spell out things from the old world. The graffiti becomes more and more clustered until they reach what Lexa assumes is the main square, a broad space filled with row upon row of stalls that are beginning their day, releasing rich smells of roasting meat and baking bread.
There is a crowd now, full of people in a mix of warrior’s dress and others in eclectic fabrics that likely represent the clan they come from. Lexa sees a few children run by in Shallow Valley robes and she is absolutely astounded by the energy and chaos that is coming to life before her.
Their horses press through the crowd -- or rather, Clarke's horse proceeds and the crowd parts widely before her, a wake of bowing bodies and murmurs and shouts.
Lexa doesn't think she's blinked once since they entered the gates. There is too much to take in and the flow of the buildings and the color that sprouts from crevices and cracks makes her crane her neck until it aches. She loves it. She loves every single bit of it.
Her astonishment at the sights before her are what distract her from the approach of what their group had been heading for all along.
The tower casts a long shadow across the city with the rising sun behind it. Her head tips back to take it in and she lets out an appreciative whistle under her breath.
“Subtle,” she jokes, knowing Lincoln heard her by the way his lips twitch but doesn’t comment.
As they reach the base of the tower the different members of their group split off at some signal Lexa doesn’t notice. She sees Tahvo give a small wave before hitching his bag across his back and leading his horse in the direction the other archers disappeared in. She notices that he is once again wearing the three painted dots signaling his position beside his eye and wonders how much formality Clarke demands when she’s required to make an entrance to the city or if maybe it’s a personal choice that they all make. Lexa doesn’t get the chance to ask her though.
Clarke swings down from her horse and hands the reins off in a quick motion. People descend on her like a swarm, instantly demanding her attention. They speak with respect but also with a haste that argues that their concern or complaint or report should be heard first. Clarke’s face is a mask as she listens, nodding and turning from one person to the next as they make their way towards the tower’s entrance. In a blink the Commander is swallowed by the crowd of advisors and servants and Lexa is left with her goodbye on her tongue.
When things have settled a bit more, Lexa drops from her own horse. She pats its side gently and grabs her bag and staff from the saddle before making the move to follow the crowd into the tower with a shrug. A rough hand on the back of her jacket stops her from getting more than a foot away.
“Not there.” Anya turns and shoves her in the direction of a smaller building next to the Commander’s tower, younger warriors coming in and out of its door. “There.”
Anya doesn’t linger to give more explanation, just grabs her own bag and stalks inside the tower without a backwards glance, leaving Lexa behind.
“Welcome home, Commander.”
Clarke lets out a breath so deep she feels all the way to the tips of her fingers as she releases it. She breathes in the familiar scent of her belongings with closed eyes. She stands at the entrance to her quarters, the light from the day pouring through the open windows. She knows that if she were to go over to the balcony she would see the city stretching and yawning itself awake far below.
It had taken her longer than she would have liked to get to her rooms. She had been endlessly taken aside by one advisor and then the next, shown maps and placements of their warriors, received an update on the new Shallow Valley leader’s status, the list was endless and her mind works and sorts with the information even now.
She had come close to breaking free at one point but then Titus had caught up with her as well. He had been determined to give her an update on the training of the Nightbloods though she will be observing them tomorrow most likely and will see them for herself. He had also taken it upon himself to make her aware of his feelings regarding “the sky girl”.
Clarke wants to lean her head back against the closed door behind her and just shut the world out for a moment.
Her handmaidens wait before doing anything. They know she doesn’t like to be pounced upon when first walking in but rather do things in her own time. Their hands remain folded behind their backs loosely as they wait.
As soon as she begins removing her shoulderguard they approach and get to work. Their quick fingers make easy work of its buckles and soon she is relieved of its weight. This is quickly followed by the sword at her hip, the knives at her thighs, the daggers in her boots, as well as the rest of the weapons hidden and tucked against her skin. A gentle, tired laugh escapes her as she realizes she would never be able to fool any of her handmaidens as they know where everything is hidden.
Her grit and sweat-coated shirt is tugged above her head, the fabric pulling at her hair, and she feels more than sees them pause when they find the still-healing wound on her side.
She doesn’t offer an explanation. After a moment they continue their task, knowing that it is not their place to ask questions. This is not the first time they have found her injured and it won’t be the last.
She sighs as she thinks about the bath in the other room, knowing that she can’t use it as it would only risk infection until the cut is healed. Her handmaidens seem to understand and yet still take pity on her.
In the end they carefully pour pails of floral-scented water through her hair and carefully wipe the paint and dirt from her skin with damp cloths. Their movements are slow and diligent and Clarke revels in the show of care after so long on the road.
“I hear you brought an outsider back to Polis with you?” the voice is soft, gentle and humorous, belonging to the eldest among them after Clarke has had enough time to settle into an almost completely relaxed state.
Clarke cracks an eye open, not even realizing that she had closed them in the first place. She finds Kala looking at her with an expression Clarke rarely sees: curious and oddly mothering in some ways. She’s likely the only one that could get away with giving Clarke that look without putting their life at risk.
“I might have,” Clarke responds, closing her eyes once more as warm water is poured over her hair, her head tipping back to keep it from her eyes.
“Who is she?”
The question is clearly not meant to be prying or even sound demanding, more just curious but in a way that wouldn’t mind if Clarke chose not to answer.
Clarke opens her eyes again and stares at the ceiling, watches the light of the morning seep through her large windows and paint the tiles of the room a flurry of blues and greens. The sound of dripping water and small, gentle movements as her handmaidens shift around her is all that fills the room for a while.
“I’m not sure yet.”
The building Lexa walks into is filled with an entry space as well as tables that are spread out with a few younger warriors sitting at them, chatting amongst themselves. It’s clearly a gathering place of some sort and she could easily imagine people sitting down for a meal or stopping for a quick rest.
"Umm, hi," she says to the curious expressions that she receives as people look up from the benches and tables they sit at near the doorway. They don’t answer or respond. Instead they give her a look that she doesn’t lie to herself and say is friendly before quickly returning to their conversation.
A commotion towards the side draws her eye. A girl around Lexa's age says a long string of words in Trigedasleng as she holds a warrior’s leg still and wraps a bandage around it while he sits in a chair near the window. She's not ungentle in her movements but they suggest that she has worn through most of her patience prior to Lexa’s arrival. The warrior she is tending to, who looks no older than thirteen, appears slightly chastened by whatever her words were. As he sits still she ties the bandage off with a satisfied nod, observing her work.
Eventually she seems to sense someone staring at her. From where she crouches, she glances over her shoulder at Lexa. “Gaf som in?” she asks, her tone slightly accusatory or defensive to pair with the way her eyes narrow.
Lexa blinks back at her, at a loss.
The narrowed eyes study her for a moment longer, taking in Lexa's clothes and the strange insignia on her guard jacket. Something clicks for her and her eyes widen a fraction before she covers it.
"You’re the sky girl," she says, eyebrows raised and switching to English as she rises from her crouch in an effortless move. It's not a question but Lexa nods anyways, still not sure how she feels about the descriptor despite its accuracy.
"I was told to come here?" Lexa says instead in response, not wanting to linger on the topic. “I guess this is where I’m supposed to be staying from now on.” Lexa looks around the rectangular hall as she speaks which is clearly just part of the first floor of the building. It’s wide and open, large windows on the sides allowing light to illuminate the space. There are a few tables and chairs here and there but not many of them are filled and mostly she sees other people rushing in and out of the hallways and doorways at the other end. A large staircase spirals up in the front corner, its steps disappearing around the bend where she can hear people walking about.
The girl nods as if she hears this quite a bit. "Who is your first?"
"Anya," Lexa answers, still looking around the room distractedly. She doesn't have a last name to give but from what she'd gathered, people seemed not to have them on the ground.
The girl snorts in response, obviously not believing her. “Right. And I suppose you rode the Commander’s horse into the city too.”
Lexa’s attention returns to her, mildly affronted at the idea of this random stranger essentially calling her a liar.
“It’s true,” she says, eyes narrowing as she adjusts the heavy pack over her shoulder, wishing she could set its weight down.
The other girl still seems unconvinced, arms crossed. Neither of them pay much attention to the young warrior who is listening in interestedly, gaze going back and forth between them as they speak.
Lexa pulls the bag over from around her shoulder and digs through it for a moment. "Well, I have this." Lexa holds up the remains of the red shawl that had been given to her by Clarke all those days ago. It has gained a few gashes here and there but can still hold itself together for the most part, the pin holding it together catches the light.
The girl stills minutely, doubt disappearing from her face to settle on something much more serious. Her eyes narrow in on the cog insignia and she stares for longer than a beat. She meets Lexa's eyes again briefly.
All at once she turns and begins walking towards the staircase, her mind having come to a decision. "Come with me. I'll show you where to put your things."
She's already striding away before Lexa can even process the swift change. She hurries to follow, adjusting the bag on her shoulder with a frown as she stuffs the shawl back into it while also hanging onto her staff.
"Seconds,” the girl starts, “both those permanently stationed in Polis and those visiting from other clans, typically stay within these quarters. It is close to both the food hall and the training grounds and it keeps all of you from getting under the Commander’s feet. Some seconds stay in the tower but most remain here."
They wind up the narrow staircase numerous times over but the girl doesn’t stop once to show the other floors. Lexa assumes she will have to do the exploring herself at some point.
She does poke her head out onto their landings once or twice however and mostly just sees the same thing: rows of rooms and people her age or younger running to and fro in a variety of states of dress and armor.
After numerous floors the girl abruptly makes a hard left and then they’re walking down a hall that looks the same as all the ones before it but slightly quieter and clearly less occupied. Lexa is forced to stop short when the other girl halts suddenly.
Lexa looks to her right. ‘Here’ is a small, nondescript room with freshly folded blankets and items sitting atop a small, single bed.
"Put your things in this room, this is where you will rest. But if Anya is truly your first I imagine you will not get to sleep much."
"Thank you," Lexa says gratefully with a smile, stepping inside and dumping her bags on the bed, thankful to not be carrying them farther.
She looks around at the simple room. It has a bed, an empty chest for her to put her things in, a small table, and a single chair beside it, carved from some sort of dark wood. It also has a high ceiling that slopes down at an angle, making her realize she’s must be on the top floor. There is a small, singular window just low enough she bets she can reach to prop it open if she stretches on her toes.
She had expected the other girl to leave, so she is surprised to find her still hovering at the door, unabashed in her staring as she leans against the frame with crossed arms.
"The Commander has shown you favor.” It’s not phrased like a question.
"Well, I don't know if I'd say it quite like that," Lexa says with a small laugh. She begins pulling things from her bag and setting them aside, grimacing slightly at the dirt from the road she’s clearly dragged inside.
"There are very few that receive tokens with the Commander's insignia." Her voice is even, cautious almost as she takes Lexa in. Lexa thinks she would be more bothered by the staring if she hadn’t gotten used to it from traveling with Clarke.
Lexa shrugs as she tosses some things into the empty chest. "It’s a long story. But I don't know, we're... friends,” she says, ending with another half shrug.
"I was not aware the Commander had friends."
There’s something about her tone that has Lexa looking up. She takes in the other girl’s posture and the way the words leave her mouth slightly clipped. Lexa stops in her unpacking and turns her attention more fully.
“You don’t like her.”
It’s not a question, Lexa can see it even more clearly now that she’s looking for it. She’s suddenly beyond intrigued having mostly only met people who either see Clarke through a gaze filled entirely with devotion or one filled with fear and misunderstanding.
The girl hesitates for the barest of moments but long enough to confirm Lexa’s statement as she chooses her next words carefully. “I respect the Commander and her dedication to protect her people.”
Lexa sees the non-answer for what it is but doesn’t say anything else.
“Well,” the other girl says, standing up straight from the wall, signaling the end of the conversation. “I suppose I should let you get settled and you look like you could use some rest.”
Lexa blows air from her nose. “Thanks. It’s hard not to look and feel a bit run down after so many days on the road. I think I’m permanently covered in a layer of dirt.” She holds out her arms to show it.
The girl rocks back on her heels briefly, lingering another moment, looking Lexa over with something more than just curiosity. Eventually her eyes return to Lexa’s and she says, “If you need me, you can find me over at the building just across the square. I have lived here long enough I can likely either help you with whatever you need or direct you towards the person that can.”
“Okay, sure.” Lexa says, hand on the back of her neck, surprised by the offer. “Thanks for uh, getting me settled.” Lexa offers her hand and the other girl takes it briefly.
As she lets go she lets out a sigh that’s almost exasperated and with a shake of the head says, "Be careful, sky girl."
"It's Lexa, actually. Little bit less of a mouthful.”
The other girl actually cracks a smile, amused by something she doesn’t share, hesitating at the door for a moment longer before exiting.
“Wait, I didn’t catch your name.” Lexa calls after her, poking her head out as the other girl walks back down the hall.
The girl turns, sending a quick grin of a smile as she walks backwards for a few steps.
"Costia. Good luck.”
“Send an archer to the relay point and have them go through Floukru on their way back. I haven’t yet heard word from Inver and he could use a reminder that patience is not something running deep in Polis nowadays.”
“Yes, Heda.” The nondescript looking archer with the three dots, one gold, on his temple bows quickly and takes his orders and goes. His footsteps make no sound on the stone floor and he’s gone quickly.
Clarke folds her hands behind her back and looks out over the skyline before her. It had been a long day of meetings and consultations and now the ground is gold as the day starts coming to an end. The sound of the door opening has her turning her head for a moment, knowing that the only person bold enough to enter without being announced is the one who has a bone to pick with her.
Clarke cuts her off before she can really begin. “I need you to remain in Polis for a short while and coordinate some things for me.”
Anya stops just short of the steps that would bring her to Clarke’s level.
“My troops - “
“Will be just fine. I’ve seen to it.”
There’s a brief pause where Clarke drums her fingers against her interlocked hands behind her back as she looks over the city. There’s a pause in the conversation where she can feel more than see Anya looking at her.
“Shallow Valley has made you uneasy.”
Clarke’s fingers still and she turns her head. But Anya’s expression is nothing but even, a look she adopted at some point when Clarke wasn’t paying attention in the moments before.
“Not at all,” Clarke says, stepping back from the balcony.
“It has made me rethink some things -- “
“You’ve sent archers and a patrol to each of the clans that are ruled by a nightblood.” There is some bite in her tone and it sets Clarke back a moment. Clarke meets her eye steadily and says nothing. What Anya says is accurate and she’s not sure quite yet how she found out so quickly. Anya seems to read her mind on this.
“You think I wouldn’t notice that suddenly half of the archer legates and their seconds are gone? Others may not know to look for that sign but it wasn’t particularly subtle either. I know you. I know you wouldn’t trust anyone outside that rank to do that job.”
Clarke drums her fingers on one of the stag antlers of her throne where her hand had come to rest. Eventually, after a long moment of deliberation, she says, “I am making no immediate actions or decisions.” She pauses, her hand tightening on the throne minutely as she continues. “But Shallow Valley should have never happened.”
“But it did --”
“Yes.” Anya opens her mouth to say something again but then Clarke cuts her off again, tired of being interrupted. “I am not going to start a war with each of my own clans based on suspicion and paranoia. But don’t think me foolish enough to leave them be after what happened.”
“Do you suspect?”
“No,” Clarke says firmly. She believes it too, for now. “Not yet. I believe they are as loyal as perhaps Narrok once was. Before distance and jealousy corrupted him.”
Anya’s look is level at her, empty even though Clarke can see the way her jaw ticks. If there’s any pity behind her eyes she doesn’t show it. Someday Clarke will have to ask her what she’s thinking in this moment.
“I am erring on the side of caution,” Clarke says, coming around to take a seat in her throne. “What happened in Shallow Valley will not happen again. I will do what I must to ensure that.”
Anya is still looking at her even as Clarke steeples her fingers and descends into her thoughts.
Clarke’s eyes flick up to her and then away.
“We all change."
Lexa is marveling at the handiwork of the new clothes she received, fingers tracing over the intricate stitchwork and the care that has so clearly been woven into it. She folds the garment carefully and places it into the trunk at the foot of her bed. Completely unpacked she tosses herself back onto her bed with a sigh of relief and happiness.
The amount of joy that comes with having a space to call your own is sizable to the point of overwhelming, she’s finding. The room is tiny, barely even there with its simplistic style and minimal decor but she loves it. She loves every square inch of it solely because, in this present moment, it is hers.
She is so wrapped up in the joy of her thoughts that it takes her a moment to realize that there is someone standing at her door. She startles and grabs for the staff leaning against her wall. But Anya doesn’t even move, just continues to lean with arms crossed, observing.
Lexa, trying to still her pounding heart replaces the staff slowly.
Anya is still staring at her. Her eyes are intense and intelligent. Lexa wonders if that’s where Clarke picked it up. The ability to look at someone like you’re reading their entire past and deciding their entire future in a blink.
“Tomorrow. Sunrise. At the training fields.”
She says nothing else and instead turns and leaves.
The air is warm, humming with energy from a day full of sunlight, perhaps one of the few remaining days like it as the season begins to turn. Trees within the city are beginning to shed their leaves, littering the ground for the gentle wind to sweep up. Above it all, the large tower at the center of the city sits in the path of the setting sun.
"So this is where you reign," Lexa observes as she walks about the space, head tilted back and not yet looking at the person at the center of it all, eyes blinking at the brightness.
The room is large, cavernous almost in its outwardly bent ceilings. It gives the impression of being larger than it is. A section of the back wall is open to the elements, the late afternoon breeze plucking at the light curtains. The setting sun sits directly at the back of the room, glaring into it and making Lexa squint against it to see. The architecture has obviously been arranged for just this purpose as it forces the person entering to stand blind or be forced to stand in the throne’s shadow, looking up to face the person sitting there. Lexa does just this, allowing her to drop her hand from shading her vision, bringing Clarke into focus with the sun shining vibrantly at her back. Her hair looks like light itself, the individual strands glowing under the intense illumination as the sun coats itself as golden paint down her arms.
Lexa is hit with a sudden and deep level of understanding for the people who believe Clarke to be something other. Something empyrean.
There’s something in her chest that she clears her throat around, swallowing at the way her mouth feels suddenly and inexplicably dry. Clarke leans back on her throne in a slow and smooth motion, crossing one leg over the other. "Technically, I reign everywhere. But Polis is the seat of the Commander's power, yes."
"The throne suits you," Lexa says after a pause, eyes trailing over the antlers and spears that sprout out from the back of the chair.
"A gift from my predecessor,” Clarke answers, running her hands over the arms of the chair with light fingers, looking down at it. She almost appears self-conscious in the movement, but it’s likely a trick of the light. Clarke looks back up and her eyes give Lexa a once over, taking a mental note of something she doesn’t share. Eventually she speaks again. “How are you settling in to Polis? Are you finding it to your liking?”
Lexa grins even though she’s so exhausted she’s not quite sure how she’s standing. “It’s incredible.”
Clarke softens minutely and gives the barest smile in response, seeming pleased by the very fact that Lexa is pleased. “I... am glad to hear that.”
The sounds of the city catch on the wind for a moment, floating in through the window and drawing both their attention. “I can see why everyone speaks so highly of this place. It’s so vibrant.”
Now Clarke truly is smiling. “You’ve seen only a small portion of it. There are parts of this city that are easy to get lost in but are also the most full of life. The markets, the training facilities.” She pauses as if she’s debating something and then continues. “The alley of the craftsmen is perhaps my favorite. Weapons, woodwork, tools, anything you can imagine from all over the clans. They can be very private about their work however. People who have known Polis their entire lives are typically the only ones capable of locating each of them.”
Lexa realizes she’s smiling at the very fact that she is watching Clarke talk about something she loves. That same inexplicable thing stirs in her chest.
She can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen the expression she sees on Clarke’s face after Lexa says what she does next:
“Will you show me?”
Clarke’s mouth drops open slightly and her eyes widen. The great Commander, lost for words.
Her mouth opens and closes twice as her mind works through whatever it’s trying to do now that Lexa has so clearly stumped her. Lexa wants to ask when the last time Clarke was able to merely walk around her own empire and enjoy it for what it was and not as the ruler she is.
“I…” And now she’s looking at Lexa, really looking. Her blue eyes searching for something she must eventually find because she says slowly, “I suppose that could be arranged... on occasion.”
She’s keeping a tight hold on how she feels about the idea, preventing it from showing on her face. Her fingers tap on the arms of her chair from where she leans back, still looking at Lexa but in a way that doesn’t leave Lexa feeling pinned.
The sun slips. The mountains far in the distance welcome it and the light in the room becomes less overbearing and altogether softer with each passing moment. There are hints of color in the light that now paint the throne and the air around Clarke differently. Something softer. She looks lost in thought again as she leans forward and steeples her fingers beneath her chin. Lexa can feel the conversation ending, the day ushering it on its way. She holds onto it for a bit longer.
“You never did tell me.”
“Hm?” Clarke asks, refocusing.
“How did you know that Shallow Valley was the clan to go to?”
Clarke’s expression sharpens immediately and Lexa almost regrets asking as any softness disappears from her posture and expression.
Outside the light dips further. For awhile Lexa thinks Clarke has decided not to answer. But it becomes clear that she is merely just organizing her thoughts on the matter.
“There’s a certain kind of quiet,” she starts, gaze looking at nothing over Lexa’s shoulder as she picks her words, “that is difficult to trust.”
“Shallow Valley was quiet?” Lexa asks, trying to understand as her brow pinches, recalling the bustling streets of the city.
“Not to everyone. Just to those who know how to listen for what isn’t there and take advantage of that,” Clarke elaborates.
Clarke almost smiles, impressed, but there’s nothing kind in the way her lips pull. “Yes.”
“If I’m lucky.”
Lexa can’t imagine Clarke relying on luck for anything.
“Is that why she fears you?” Clarke’s head tilts the slightest degree, prompting Lexa to continue. “Because you understand her.”
Clarke’s gaze over her steepled fingers heightens to a focused point. Lexa feels trapped again at the intensity of it. The switchbacks in the energy in the room since she walked inside have her feeling like she is spending the conversation placing her hand on and off of a live wire.
“I think... that is an astute and perhaps not inaccurate observation,” Clarke says eventually.
The sun falls beyond the trees and the buildings. The haze fading from red to lilac to blue quickly, casting long and soft shadows as it goes.
It isn’t until Lexa has been shown out of the tower and returned to her room that she wonders what the purpose of Clarke calling her up to her tower had been at all.
The morning dawns in a rush. The sky rises from black to blue quickly and Lexa is standing at the edge of the training fields as it does, breath curling out into the chilly morning air.
The area is quiet. The only sounds coming from the wind pushing at the tall trees surrounding them, and the birds who are prompted by the growing light to begin their day.
Lexa swallows, hands gripping and regripping the staff in her hands as Anya stands before her.
The older warrior looks at Lexa and Lexa can see the hum of distaste that sits just below her skin. There’s an anger in the way she looks at Lexa that has Lexa’s heart beating in her ears. She tells herself it’s not fear she feels as she looks back, but her body is taut with tension.
Anya turns the wooden, practice sword she has in her hand over twice, looking at it as she speaks.
“Heda gada hedon ai diyo diz,” she says evenly. “Nou wich em ai na mou disha os kos yu gada hana kom em.”
“I don’t -- I don’t speak Trigedasleng.”
Anya looks up at her then and now Lexa can see the full anger that sits behind her eyes. She pauses and Lexa’s palms sweat. A crow shrieks overhead.
She lifts and drops one shoulder indifferently. “Yu beda dig op snap den.”
And then she attacks.
“Dison foto strat,” - " This is a bad idea."
“Gaf som in?” - "Need something?"
“Heda gada hedon ai diyo diz,” - The commander has ordered me to do this"
"Nou wich em ai na mou disha os kos yu gada hana kom em.” - Don’t believe I will make this easy because you have favor with her.
“Yu beda dig op snap den.” - "You better learn quickly then"