Part 1 - A Bright Morning
The day dawned bright and sunny. And although it was already late in the morning, it was with sacrifice that Elian dragged himself out of bed, and only because Adira had tempted him with one of her delicious anise cookies.
The air smelled of Spring and the trees, after their long Winter sleep, had already started to show their beautiful and colorful flowers.
“Hurry up, Young Master! If your mother finds me here I’m sure to get scolded!”
Elian stretched lazily and looked at the plump woman that had awakened him.
“Why would she scold you?”
“Why?! Because my place is in the kitchen, that’s why! And the Young Master is old enough to get up by himself, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh, come on Adira. My mother knows perfectly well just how much you spoil me,” Elian told her, getting up and hugging the older woman as he kissed her on the cheek. Adira blushed and pushed him away towards the water basin awaiting him. “Besides, yesterday I had an extremely tiring evening.”
“I warned you that you shouldn’t stay up until late. It won’t be long now, before the palace is full of guests!”
“Yeah, but you know how the boys are! It was my farewell party, before the Ceremony of Passage!”
“Yes, yes. I saw the state in which your clothes returned from last night’s said party!” retorted the woman with a critical expression, looking at the pile of clothes left on the floor.
Elian laughed, drying his face on a white towel, and returned to the woman’s side.
“Don’t worry, Adira! If it seems no one can fix them just deliver them to my Dark Knights. They made them that way, it’s their duty to return them to its original state!”
“Right … I’m sure they will…!” the woman grunted with a sigh. “And please hurry! Master Denar is downstairs waiting for you for a while, now,” she informed him, picking up the dirty clothes and left, so that he could get dressed.
Although it displeased him greatly due to its formal style, Elian put on his ceremonial clothes which awaited him carefully hanged over the back of a chair. The dark-blue velvet frock coat seemed to squeeze his arms, not to mention the complex silver embroidery that drew delicate, intricate shapes on the sleeves and collar, making it even flashier. The cloak he pulled over his shoulders was lined in dark-red, closing over his chest with a gold chain, stealing what was left of the small mobility the coat allowed him. The pants weren’t pliable at all, threatening to rip at the smallest wider movement. And the shiny shoes, with their beaked tips, painfully squeezed his feet.
With a frustrated sigh, Elian concluded that which he already knew, nothing could compare with the simple, flexible Knight's uniform he used every day. However today was a special day. It was the day he would complete his twentieth spring, finally stepping into the world of adulthood. And so he had to endure it.
Of course the worst was yet to come. The Ceremony and all those guests, whose presumptuous faces and deceptive ways he deeply despised. But still, not everything was bad, and in his mind he couldn’t stop reviewing the plans he’d carefully made and that should be put in motion as soon as the Ceremony was over. The thought that the moment he’d been waiting for all those years was almost upon him left a warm sensation in his chest. And so, it was with a smiling face that Elian went down to the kitchen in order to have his breakfast.
Denar awaited him inside, making the lives of the young kitchen helpers even harder than they already were, since no one could stop him from sticking his finger in the fuming pots that filled the air with all kinds of delicious scents.
He’d also put on his ceremonial uniform, the same that all the Dark Knights from Mithir would wear during the festivities. But, even so, Elian looked at him with jealousy, wishing he could trade his tight clothes for the dark tunic, vest, and light cape where, in the back, embroidered in silver, glowed the Moon and the Sword, the symbol of the Dark Knights Order.
“Elian!! Finally!” the Knight said, walking up to him and throwing an arm over the young Prince’s shoulder. “We have a lot to talk!”
“Afterwards, Denar. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have something to eat first,” he answered and sited himself in one of the wooden chairs.
Adira, with her friendly smile and flushed cheeks, placed a plate of his favorite cookies right in front of him, one of her specialties. Elian thanked her with a smile and signaled Denar to join him.
“And Elipson?” he asked, taking one cookie from the plate.
“She’s outside, with the cadets. You’re not going to tell her?”
“Tell her what?” asked the Prince, between bites.
“About your travelling plans! We’re really going, aren’t we?”
“Of course! As soon as the Ceremony is over. It’s part of the tradition, after all.”
“Yes, of course. Still my question stands. Are you going to tell her?”
“Come on, Denar. Everyone knows …”
“Elian! You know what I’m talking about!” he insisted, lowering is tone to a whisper so that no one else could hear him. He knew all too well that the young women working around the kitchen could never keep a secret. “We’re talking about something quite different from a night spent under the stars and a supposed ‘search for the inner self’ as the tradition states!”
Elian took a deep breath and stole another cookie from the plate.
“No, I’m not going to tell her that. If I did she’d want to come along and I wouldn’t know how to tell her to stay. I already told her it’ll be a boring trip to the border and back again. I don’t intend it to take more than two, three days, anyway.”
“Two or three days is hardly one night!” the Knight contested and Elian sighed shrugging.
“Well, everyone knows how you’re always leading me astray and kidnapping me for whole days at a time …”
“Of course! It had to be me …” Denar added, ironically.
“Why do you reckon I’m bringing you along? Anyway, everything’s going to be alright. As long as Arkel does as we agreed and delivers my note informing everyone that we’ve decided to continue my birthday’s celebration at the provinces south of Mithir, there won’t be a problem.”
Denar took a deep breath knowing that nothing he could say would change Elian’s mind once he had made a decision, and shrugged, giving up on the subject.
“Hum … you’re going to lie to Elipson, then…” he concluded, sounding amused at the idea, and his taunting tone earned him a reproachful look from his Prince.
“You know perfectly well that I don’t lie! Least of all to Elipson! It’s not a lie. It’s going to be a boring and tiring trip. The rest I’m just going to omit!
The Knight looked at him sideways and shook his head in ironic disapproval.
“If only she could hear you …”
“If only you could hear what I tell her, when I talk about you …”
“You talk with her about me?!”
“Of course! Whenever I want to say something bad about you I always go to her. She never disagrees!” he answered, smiling, and Denar gave him a threatening look. “After all these years … can’t stop wondering what she’ll be like …!” Elian added in a small whisper, his expression suddenly distant, and the Knight looked at him unable to understand.
“She?!” he asked, uncertain for a second, until he finally understood who the ‘she’ he was talking about was. “Oh, she … Oh, come on, Elian. She’ll be a boring and annoying fifteen years old girl, like all the other girls her age!”
“Yeah … probably …” he granted, thoughtfully. “Anyways, I can count on you, right?”
“It shall be as Your Highness commands …!” the Knight answered with a small curtsy and Elian glared at him disapprovingly.
“Just kidding! Of course you can. I’m just as curious about that girl as you. After all, I’m tired of hearing you speak about her. If it wasn’t for the fact that she’s of your blood, and that the last time you saw her she was nothing but a baby, I’d swear you’re completely in love with her! At the very least quite obsessed!”
The Knight laughed out loud, amused by his Prince’s outraged expression, and slapped him lightly on the back.
“And don’t just stand there, Your Highness. His Majesty still wants to review some of the Ceremony’s details with you. And it won’t be long before you’ll have to start welcoming your guests. Today the honors are rightfully yours.”
Elian smiled forcebly before Denar’s irony, feeling suddenly depressed at the reminder of his duties for that day, and stood up with a heavy sigh, leaving his last refuge - the kitchen.