Part 10 - Fiery Waters
The palace had been left behind some time ago when the compact trees gave way to a beautiful lake. Looking over his prisoner’s shoulder, Elian could easily understand why his horse had chosen that spot. He had always liked places like that, near water, where the grass was fresher and tender.
The lake in front of him had silvery waters that reflected the fiery tones of the sky above their heads. Fed by some of the Silver River tributaries, its waters were fresh all year, resisting the dry seasons when even some of the cities wells went dry.
Elian dismounted, reaching up to help his prisoner, but he refused his offer with despise, jumping down on his own. With effort, he took off his black gloves and pulled off the helm that covered his head, face and neck.
“Oh! Should I be surprised? My opponent is … a girl!” he stated, feigning a dramatic tone, and Allana smiled coldly before his sarcasm, brushing the blond strands of hair that stuck to her damp skin.
“What do you want from me?” she asked, unwavering, holding her helm under an arm as if she really were a Knight.
“Hum, your voice is much prettier like this,” he said, averting his eyes from the bruise on her face, but she seemed even more annoyed by his comment.
“How did you find me? Are you spying on me now? Following me? Did Heric send you?” she went on in a dry tone, her golden eyes glowing coldly, and Elian couldn’t help feel mildly annoyed by that accusation.
“You know very well he didn’t!” he retorted and tried to calm down. “I just went looking for you, but you weren’t in your chambers …”
“Pity? Is that it? You’re feeling sorry for the poor Princess stuck in her palace, surrounded by all these evil people? Is that it?! Well! I don’t need you pity!!” she told him fiercely, as if he had attacked her and she needed to defend herself; as if his presence alone made her feel the need to fight back. And Elian sighed softly as he understood why she felt that way. Denar was right. There was nothing he could do for her. He could only make her feel worse. Because he would soon leave, but she would have to stay behind. Because he had freedom, but she was a prisoner …
“Nothing like that. I just went to tell you that we’re leaving today,” he replied and, after a brief instant during which she seemed shocked, she suddenly looked relieved.
So he was leaving. Well, she personally had told him to do so not long ago. So he had chosen to obey her … The only person who had ever tried to protect her… to understand her … was leaving. He would ride his horse away from that place and dive into an unknown world, the way she had dreamed of doing so many times. And she would stay there, locked in that eternal nightmare … as it should be.
Turning her back on him in order to hide her own feelings, Allana put her gloves and helm on the ground and started uniting her sword’s belt, freeing herself from all those leather protectors.
Elian stood there, unsure of what else to say since she hadn’t replied him. Somehow he couldn’t really think about much as he watched her every move while she gingerly stripped until only a light knee-high tunic was left. Her skin was white, as if the sun had never touched it, and her blond hair fell down her back all the way to her slender waist. At first she could look like a child, not too tall and clearly too thin. But, as she entered the lake and the tunic clung to her wet skin, he couldn’t help notice that she definitely wasn’t a child anymore.
Blushing embarrassed by his own thoughts he tried to look away, as a gentleman should certainly do, but simply couldn’t do it. He saw her dive under the fiery waters and wash her face before getting out of the lake, squeezing the brim of her soaked tunic. Then, without a word, she walked away towards a bush, from which she produced a leather package. Untying the strings and unwrapping it, she unfolded a yellow dress and pulled it over her head, ending up wetting it too. After getting dressed, Allana squeezed the excess of water from her hair as best as she could, straightening it with her fingers, and packed her warrior’s attire, hiding it in the same place where her dress had just come from.
“I see you come here often …” he finally managed to say, forcing his mind to think properly, and she shrugged covering her hideout with green foliage.
“All the time. Denon was kind enough to bring me here. Of course, I’m not talking about you.”
Elian pretended not to notice the irony on her voice and waited until she had finished what she was doing. That had been one of Denar’s brilliant ideas, he thought, introducing him with his horse’s name.
“Why do you do it? The combats. Some kind of revenge?” he asked and Allana looked at her small but callused hands.
“It’s basically the only thing I can do. Everlyn will fall at the first attack of the Armies of the North. Our Kingdom wasn’t built to withstand war. Our Knights don’t know how to fight. They are only good for ceremonies and festivals, not for battle. You saw how they can’t even win over a girl like me,” she told him with a sad smile.
“But you’re not just any girl! I’m telling you. You’re a much better fighter than some of the Knights I know. Sure you’re lacking in terms of technique. But nothing that couldn’t be solved with twenty, thirty days of proper training.”
“You’re only saying that to cheer me up.”
“Not at all! It’s the honest truth,” he insisted. “And Knights don’t lie!”
Allana sighed and smiled, which immediately made him smile as well.
“If that’s so, than I shall believe you.”
“And … about my true identity …”
“Oh, please don’t worry,” she told him still smiling. “It's none of my business. I could never prove any of it, anyway. It’s just that ... sometimes, I simply know.”
“And you know you’re right.” She nodded affirmatively and sat under the shadow of a tall tree, playing with a lock of hair that had started to gain soft waves as it dried up.
“This will always be a special place for me. I love the silvery waters of the lake. it’s always so peaceful here …”
Elian walked up to her and squatted down, determined.
“Allana … I really need to tell you …”
“Why?” she suddenly interrupted what he was about to say, and the words fled from his mind as those golden eyes faced him unwavering. “Why can’t we just stay here, looking at the lake? Why do you have to tell me anything?”
“Because … I have to.”
“And then everything’s going to disappear …” she whispered, lowering her gaze. “It’s always like this. I’m sure I rather not listen to whatever you have to say! Can’t I order you to just keep quiet?”
“I’m afraid not, Princess. You’ll have to listen to me, since that’s the reason why I came here in the first place. And since I have to leave as soon as possible, I want to at least fulfill my promise. A promise I made fifteen years ago.”
“Promise …? What kind of promise …?” she asked, facing him, half curious, half afraid, looking like the child that, moments ago, Elian could have sworn she wasn’t.
How to tell her the truth?, he wondered, taking a deep breath. Not that he was expecting some big reaction to what he had to say. After all, she didn’t know him. As far as she was concerned he would simply become a mere cousin that lived miles away. And yet … she had asked him not to tell her and the fear he could see in her eyes left him unsure of how to proceed.
“Well … I promised a little girl I would find her so we could finally play together,” he finally told her and blushed at just how silly that had sounded when said outloud. “Of course, when I made that promise I was only five years old … and well, I’m no longer at an age to play like a child would, but at least I’ve come,” he summed up, watching her carefully and her expression seemed to become brighter. Had she guessed the rest?
“Oh, I see. And who might this girl be? I’ll help you find her anyway I can,” she offered, smiling, and Elian took hold of her hand, scaring her as he faced her, determined.
“Please don’t do this!” he practically ordered, squeezing her hand when she tried to pull away.
“Please … let go of me. You’re hurting me,” she pleaded but he pulled her, forcing her to face him.
“Elian!” he stated, raising his voice above hers, and Allana fell silent, looking at him, her eyes widening in disbelief.
“My name is Elian! And I’m your cousin!”
“From … Mithir …” she muttered and, in the next second, she was fighting for her life, hitting him and kicking him hard until he finally released her.
Elian watched stunned as she jumped to her feet and stumbled away from him, absolutely terrified.
She looked around, panicking. She had to escape! But she just couldn’t see how! His horse would most certainly obey his master and she knew she could never outrun him! Holding her head in despair all she could see was the red waters in front of her.
“This can’t be happening … It just can’t …” he heard her mutter, her voice shaking, and stood up trying to understand what was going on. His first impulse was to try and reach her in order to calm her down. But then he recalled the terror he had seen in her eyes and decided against it, keeping his distance.
“Please calm down … and tell me, what’s going on,” he tried and she spun around, looking at him as if he were a terrifying enemy. “Allana …”
“Stay back!!” she ordered, stepping back herself and water covered her bare feet soaking the hem of her dress.
“Stay back!!” she repeated and Elian obeyed, looking confused at her. “Please … stay where you are …!” she told him again, now trembling as if about to collapse, and Elian forced himself to obey and to stand still.
“I won’t hurt you …”
“You should never have come. This wasn’t supposed to happen.” she said, her voice no more than a whisper, holding her arms, looking like a cornered animal. “I wish you had never come!!” she suddenly shouted and the wind rushed through the trees, shaking them violently, blowing green leaves everywhere.
Elian raised an arm, protecting his face from the sudden gale and, when he looked at her again, saw that there were tears in her terrified eyes. The clear sky above them became filled with heavy dark clouds and the sound of thunder echoed all around.
“Allana …” he started but her frail smile stole his words away.
“I believe … it’s going … to rain …” she whispered, not making any sense, and suddenly seemed to lack the strength needed to stand, her knees buckling under her weight, dropping her in the water.
Elian ran to her, holding her as the first cold drops of rain fell upon them, and pulled her out of the water, brushing her wet hair so he could see her face.
“Allana!!” he called and she opened her eyes, looking too tired to stay awake.
“You should never have come … Now it’s only a matter … of time …”
“I don’t understand! And you’re burning up!!” he noticed urgently, feeling how hot her skin was.
Unwilling to waist any more precious time, Elian called his horse with a whistle, and took her in his arms, sitting her on the saddle. Holding her limp body so she wouldn’t fall, he mounted behind her, covering her semiconscious body with his cloak, in order to protect her from the rain that had started to fall in full strength. He had to keep her warm, he told himself holding her against his own body. At least until they reached the palace!