Part 5 - A Proper Talk
Elian walked down the white corridor, flanked by tall windows. His footsteps echoed lightly through the silence that seemed to fill the entire palace of Everlyn. Contrary to Mithir, where guests and ministers were constantly received at the palace, there was no one in Everlyn, besides the Royal Family and that stern man. The palace was filled with a kind of peace and quiet that actually pleased him. He was sick and tired of having to deal with the various members of the court and their constant flattery. On the other hand, that silence carried a mix of melancholy and sadness. Elian had seen it clearly in Lidya’s eyes, but not only in hers. Dana and Heric too, shared that same feeling, though the later seemed to want to hide it beneath all that male toughness which made him all the more cold and inaccessible. Allana, almost like a miracle, seemed to have escaped that silent illness, as if she’d been living in another world, far away from everything else.
Looking around he thought he’d gotten lost again. Everlyn’s palace was much bigger than one might think, when seeing it from afar. It was almost as if a new bright corridor appeared before him every time he turned a corner.
Finally a stone archway led him outside. The sun was shining brightly and Elian basked in its light as he stepped onto the grass. The sound of laughter guided his steps and for an instant he just stood there, listening and watching her, as she sat in the middle of all that green.
Her long blond hair had been tied on a braid that fell over her back, shining under the sun has if it were made of pure gold. Her white dress, spread over the grass, seemed to reflect the morning light. And beside her laid a huge feline, its fur listed in black and white.
Allana played with the animal as if it were a mere cat and Elian ended up believing it was probably tamed and harmless. However, the moment he got closer to her, the big tiger raised its head, looking at him ferociously and growled threateningly. Elian halted right where he stood and Allana, warned of his intrusion, looked up at him without making a single gesture in order to pacify ‘her pet’.
“Sir Denon. Please don’t tell me you’ve got lost again,” she greeted him in a sassy tone and Elian laughed, though he kept that big cat under surveillance.
“I thought as much. We did meet yesterday.”
Allana looked away and stroked the tiger’s fur, which made it give up on its growling threat and surrender to the girl’s touch.
“Really? I’m deeply sorry, but I seem to have forgotten all about such an event,” she retorted with despise and Elian laughed lightly.
“Please make up your mind, Your Highness. Still, even if you have forgotten, I remember it perfectly. Of course your attires were … quite different. If I recall correctly you were wearing … pants? Oh yes! And if I’m allowed to say so, a rather ridiculous hat on your head!” he described mockingly and Allana gave him a fierce look.
“How dare you talk to me like that? Besides, I have no obligation whatsoever to explain myself before someone such as you! After all, you’re nothing but a … mere messenger!” she scorned, clearly annoyed, and Elian tried hard to control his laughter.
“But of course, Your Highness,” he retorted, bowing respectfully. “I’m fully aware of my standing, and it is as Your Highness says. You have no obligation whatsoever to grant me any kind of explanation. But … can you say the same about Her Majesty the Queen?” Allana remained silent but her golden eyes gleamed coldly at the implied threat. “Oh, and another thing! I’m not a mere messenger. I am a Knight! And if you’ll excuse me, it is my duty to report all and any irregularities I may observe directly to the Queen. After all, I am in Her Majesty’s debt and have to repay her kindness in providing us a place to stay,” Elian added, trying to look as serious as possible, and Allana blushed furiously.
“Irregularities?! What are you talking about?!”
“Please, Princess … I wonder what you would call it, having someone of your stand walking around the palace in such attire. If someone were to see you and recognize you … I’m sure you’re fully aware of how a rumor like that goes around rapidly, since it is quite rare for servants to be able to keep their mouths shut about matters concerning the Royal Family.”
Allana looked away, raising her head in an expression of superiority, and Elian waited, smiling.
“Tell me … How much do you want for your silence?”
The Prince laughed out loud and the girl looked at him with despise.
“What?! Does my Lady intent to bribe a Knight? You can keep your coin, Princess. I won’t be taking any golden coins, when I finally leave this world.”
She seemed surprised at his answer. From all the replies she’d expected to hear …! In her mind, those that surrounded her always expected to gain something in return for a favor. She despised those kinds of people. Ambitious people without values, moral or character. However that Knight had refused her without a thought. And although he seemed to be a presumptuous, annoying little man, in that single moment he kind of won her admiration. Still she wasn’t about to let him know that! And so, she lifted her chin, facing him with airs of superiority.
“So? What can I do for you then?” she asked, trying to look indifferent and Elian smiled, much more pleased with that question than with the latter.
“You can send that tiger away so that we can have a proper talk.”
The girl seemed shocked by his proposal and looked at the tiger that kept a fierce eye on her guest.
“Go. Go hunt your lunch. I’ll be OK.” The tiger looked at her, growling lightly as if warning her about some imminent danger, and Allana smiled, stroking its fur. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” The tiger licked her hand and then rose, walking away with heavy steps, until it disappeared behind the trees that seemed to get thicker as one left that sunny yard.
Once certain that the tiger was gone, Elian approached her and sat beside her.
“And? What else can I do for you?” she asked him again, trying to look undisturbed, and he smiled, resting his hands behind his back in a relaxed position.
“Tell me about you.”
“Yes. For instances ... What do you like to do?”
“Do you question all the Princesses from all the Kingdoms you visit this way?”
“Hum … I guess not.”
“I thought as much. I doubt you’d still have that head of yours if you did so. Well, Sir Denon, if it’s about the administration, or the fighting forces of this Kingdom that you want to know, I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong person. You should try Lord Heric. He is the one in charge of such matters.”
Elian laughed. Her confident look amused him, even though he knew fully well she didn’t trust him one bit.
“I’m not a spy, if that’s what you're thinking. Don’t you feel lonely? Always locked up in this palace?” he asked, looking around him before facing her again. And for a fleeting instant something changed in the girl’s expression … a shadow he had not expected to find darkened her golden eyes.
“I’m not always locked up in here!” she rebuked dryly and Elian smiled.
“No, you’re probably not, right?” She faced him severely and Elian took a deep breath. “Please don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone about last night.”
Allana sighed and looked up at the blue sky over their heads. Her expression had changed. No longer fierce or haughty, she now looked more like a child, and the thought made him smile. Because that was exactly what she was.
“Being royalty is very boring. I wish I could be more like … you! It must be great, being able to get on a horse and just travel the world, without destiny or schedules to uphold. Without anyone to tell you what to do! And so yes, sometimes I run away. I dress differently so that others won’t recognize me and, for a few moments, I live other people’s lives. And it’s like I’m living a dream …”
“And the others?”
“Oh … Dana as cared for me since I was a baby. Every time I remember my childhood she’s there. She’s the one who raised us both, me and Selina. My mother is always far away, locked up in a world of memories where no one is allowed to enter. And Heric rules in her place. I don’t remember where he came from, or when he arrived, since I was too young. But to me he has always been like that … too big, untouchable … severe …” She clenched her hands tightly together and sighed deeply. “I am to be his wife by the end of Spring, when I turn sixteen,” she added quietly and they were left in silence.
Elian couldn’t avoid feeling her sorrow and sadness, which he had thought her, somehow, to be immune to. And yet her sadness ran even deeper than anyone else’s. Because hers was a resigned sadness, one that had to be hidden and kept in silence, which had led him to his initial misjudgment. No, Allana was far from being the confident, joyful, young woman she had appeared to be, just moments ago.
“But if it is against your will … why would you accept it?” he finally asked and she took a deep breath.
“Hum … because the Kingdom needs a King, and Heric will be a good King,” she told him and straightened her back, almost as if someone had scolded her. “But I speak too much! I’m sure none of this can be of any interest to you. Please, tell me! What’s it like to be a Knight?”
Elian smiled at the curiosity that brightened her smiling face and decided to indulge her.
“Well, it can be complicated, at times. Being a Knight implies a certain amount of sacrifice.”
“In your Kingdom … are there women…? I mean. Can women …”
“Sure. In fact, one of our best Knights is a woman. However not many follow through with their training until the end. Passing all the grades takes some time and many girls end up getting married or finding the physical training too hard. But in our Kingdom there are two Orders of Knights, The Black Order and the White Order. And amongst the White Knights there are a lot of women.”
“The White Knights are responsible for all the knowledge. They’re the ones who assemble and organize our libraries and manuscripts. They also distribute goods amongst the needy and work with healing and medicine.
The Black Knights are responsible for the defense of the Kingdom and for keeping the law. They are formed in the arts and tactics of combat, military strategy and all kinds of fighting techniques. White Knights never wield weapons. Well, at least they never had to, until now …” Elian added.
“Are you talking about the Armies of the North?”
Elian looked at her and smiled at her grave tone.
“Yes. They’re a threat worth of consideration, don’t you agree?”
Allana sighed but didn’t answer, as if that subject wasn’t to her liking.
“And you? What kind of Knight are you?”
“Well, to tell the truth I don’t really belong to any Order. But Denar is a Black Knight.”
“Is that possible?” she asked, intrigued. “I thought belonging to an Order meant a specific kind of training …”
Elian smiled, gracelessly, not knowing exactly what to tell her, and decided to make up an answer.
“Hum … you see …”
They both looked up, towards the strong voice that had shouted her name, and Heric trotted furiously towards them.
“Lady Allana! May I inquire what you’re doing out here, by yourself, with that … stranger?!”
Elian smiled politely and rose to his feet.
“I was just telling Her Highness about some of my Kingdom’s beauties,” he explained but, when he looked at her, her smile had disappeared, that indifferent expression returning to her face
“Your Highness! Would you please accompany me?” Heric insisted dryly and Allana stood up, quietly dusting her white dress.
“It was a pleasure talking with you, Sir Denon,” she told him coldly and Elian bowed his head in reply. Where had she gone? That curious, bright girl? Where was the child that had made him smile mere instants ago?
Without a word, Heric held her by an arm and leaded her back to the palace. And Elian stood there … his eyes glued to that rough hand, to her thin arm tightly held; and he had to turn away, in order to keep his angry revulsion under control.
So that’s how it was. Allana was nothing but an object, a symbol of royalty. She wasn’t wanted for her personal worth. To them she was simply something useful, her worth measured by her royal blood. And she would wed that man so that their Kingdom wouldn’t fall. As if something like that could really avoid the inevitable.
Elian took a deep breath and looked back at the palace of Everlyn, its simple lines contrasting with the classic complexity of Mithir. Two Kingdoms that belonged to two siblings and, at the same time, so different from one another. Mithir built in times of happiness, Everlyn raised from the ashes of a life without meaning, an extinguished soul without hope of ever being lit again.