Part 4 - The Important Thing
Elian woke up like always, drenched in his own sweat. Always the same nightmare, that he forgot as soon as he opened his eyes. Unavoidably, his thoughts turned to Allana. As a child he had been sure they both shared the same dream and that, like him, she always woke up scared and lost. But now he wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
He had fallen asleep sitting on the ledge of the window and his wet clothes had dried against his skin, leaving him chilled to the bone. Outside had stopped raining and the sky grew clearer by the second. The morning that would soon arrive would bring back the sun and he would have to return to Mithir. The time was scarce and he still didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do about Allana …
From the next room he could hear the raucous sounds of Denar’s snores, which made him feel more at ease. The fact that Denar had been able to fall asleep meant he had decided to support his decision. Whenever the Knight had to obey something he didn’t agree with sleep always seemed to elude him, leaving him in a terrible foul mood. Now all he had to do was, somehow, persuade Allana to leave with them … which he guessed would be the hardest part. After all, how could he even dare suggest something like that to the Crown Princess of Everlyn? In her place he would never agree with such a preposterous idea …
Noise coming from outside the room captured his attention, leaving him alert. Elian walked in silent footsteps towards the door, where he stood still, listening intently. For a moment he didn’t hear anything else, but then there was noise again and it sounded like voices. Opening the door he exited to the corridor and turned right, towards the commotion. And as he grew closer the sound of voices became clearer and he knew someone was in trouble … a girl, he concluded, his pace becoming automatically faster as he practically ran towards the voices. A huge bang made him stop. A door had just been closed and Elian looked around, searching for a place to hide.
Not knowing what to expect, he opened the door to his left and entered a dark and, thankfully, empty room. Taking cover from the light of the corridor, he hid amongst the shadows, watching the corridor from the door he’d left ajar. Now he could hear someone sobbing and the sound of bare feet running against the stone floor. His heart beating hard, he opened the door, keeping himself hidden, and waited. And as soon as she ran past him he reached out for her, easily lifting her from the ground, and pulling her with him, back into the darkness. She screamed and kicked him, and Elian had to cover her mouth to silence her, still watching the corridor.
Allana fought him desperately as she had been fighting up till then, trying to get free from the hands that held her and that seemed even stronger than the ones before. And Elian pushed her against the wall, enduring her kicks in silence as he tried to calm her down.
“Allana!!” the shout that echoed through the corridors filled her with a renewed terror and she tried to scream for help.
“Hush! Be quiet! Listen to me!” he whispered, taking advantage of the few instants she had grown still, fighting for air, too tiered after all that tossing and trashing. “It’s me. I won’t hurt you. Please be quiet. I’m going to release you, okay?” As she couldn’t answer but seemed somehow calmer, Elian removed the hand he'd pressed against her lips.
“Allana!!” the voice outside shouted again, now closer than before, and the girl jumped in fear. Elian took a finger to his lips and repeated the hush from before, smiling to reassure her, and they both waited in silence.
Keeping an eye on the corridor, Elian saw Heric pass by them, muttering threats under his breath, staggering slightly as if he couldn't see all too well where he was going . When he finally disappeared around the corner he took a deep breath and turned his attention towards Allana. The girl remained quiet, standing completely still where he’d left her.
“It’s okay, now. He's gone,” he told her, but she didn’t answer, as if she hadn’t heard a single word he’d said. “Allana …?” he called her, placing a hand on her shoulder, and her body trembled, as if about to collapse, giving him only enough time to hold her before her limp body could hit the ground. Pulling her closer he easily picked her up, holding her in his arms, her small light body shaking nonstop, and gently covered her with his cloak, hiding her before leaving his dark hideout.
Elian went back to his chambers as fast as he could, keeping watch to make sure he wasn’t seen, and only let his guard down when he finally closed the door behind him.
“Elian! It’s about time! Where have you been? Did you hear all that shouting?” Denar asked him urgently as soon as he got in, and Elian rushed past him.
Denar followed him, intrigued, and only then noticed the volume his Prince carried under his cloak. Even so he couldn’t help gasping in disbelief when, bending forward, Elian gently set Allana down on his bed.
She sat there, completely still, almost like a doll that suddenly had stopped working, and Elian crouched in front of her, trying as hard as he could to keep a smile on his lips.
“Allana …?!” he called her in a whisper and her whole body shook again, as if he had threatened her. Closing her hands into tight fists she raised her head in fear, but the face that looked back at her wasn’t the one she had expected to see.
“What the …!” he heard Denar’s suppressed exclamation of anger and made himself smile again so not to scare her. Now they could clearly see the horrible bruises that marked her pale face, denouncing the abuse she had suffered. Almost as if she could read his mind, Allana reached for him, her hand shaking, and her small fingers seized the sleeve of his shirt, as if she hoped to be able to hold him there.
“It’s okay … don’t worry,” he told her softly, trying to reassure her, and stood up, turning to the Knight that was looking at the girl with a horrified and quite dangerous expression. “Denar, could you go and see if you can find something to treat her wounds. Some cold water would be nice too.”
“Elian …” he muttered in disbelief, as if he couldn’t understand, or maybe accept his request, and the Prince smiled at him as well, the same exact way he had offered the girl, which seemed to shock Denar even more.
“Can you please do what I asked?” he inquired, his hard voice contrasting heavily with his fake, gentle expression.
“Uh … yes … I’ll be right back.”
Elian watched as he left the room and took a deep breath.
He was … furious!, the need to beat someone into a pulp burning through his veins. But he knew Denar didn’t feel all that differently. And the Knight would show much less restraint than him, unless he could make him focus on a specific task. For the moment, and as hard as it was for him to admit and abide by it, Allana was right, he thought as he looked back at her. Running after Heric in search of revenge wouldn’t accomplish anything and would only serve to let everyone know where she was. If that happened, they would certainly take her away … maybe even expel them from the Kingdom for attacking their guest. And then she would be left all alone.
No! He would swallow it, he decided as he returned to her side. He would swallow his desire to bludgeon that man to death. She was the important thing he had to focus on. And what she needed was a safe place to rest and someone to care for her. Revenge wouldn’t take away her pain, or make those bruises disappear. Revenge would only appease the fury inside him. But he wasn’t the victim there.
He grabbed the water basin resting on the dresser and a clean towel, sitting beside her. With a sigh he dipped the towel in the cold water and raised it slowly to her face. She turned away, avoiding him, pulling her feet up and hugging her knees.
“Allana … let me help you. You’re bleeding,” he asked, referring to the cut on her lip, and Allana looked away as if that could hide it.
“I don’t need your help. You should have left like you said you would.”
“I don’t understand … Why are you so afraid of me?”
“I’m not afraid of you!” she retorted, facing him angrily. “I just don’t want to have anything to do with you!”
“Why?! Your father expelled my mother!”
“Allana!” he cut her off. “We were mere children, back then … Not even I know what happened between the two of them. But don’t you think that, whatever happened, is their problem, not ours?” She averted her gaze again, seeming embarrassed as if he’d just scolded her. “I came all the way out here just to meet you again. True my father forbade any contact with Everlyn. But I still came. Because I refuse to live my life according to what my father chose to do in the past. He has his life, he chose his path. I intend to do the same, by myself, according to my wishes, not his. Can’t you do the same?”
She obviously couldn’t, he thought as he watched her. If she could she would have never agreed to that marriage.
“You don’t know anything …” she muttered, looking depressed, and he bent forward, trying to look her in the face.
“Won’t you tell me, then?” She simply shook her head in response and Elian took a deep breath. “Okay then … But at least believe me when I tell you that I won’t hurt you and that I’m only trying to help you. No Kingdom deserves this kind of sacrifice.”
“Mother says that land is all we really own!”
“Maybe so. But if you really think about it, even land is never really yours. The only thing you truly own is the life that was given to you. And you’re throwing yours away.”
“What do you expect me to do?” she demanded, turning against him, her golden eyes glowing with withheld tears. “Do you want me to tell my mother that the only man able to save our Kingdom hits me? She would stand by me, and Everlyn would be condemned, only because I wasn’t strong enough! Not to speak about how all of this would hurt her!”
“What about Dana? Why don’t you talk to her?
Allana smiled coldly, brushing the tears away.
“You really think she doesn’t know?” she asked with irony in her voice. “She just pretends she doesn’t see, smiles and makes up excuses when mother asks me what happened and I don’t know what to tell her. The only one who has ever helped me is Selina, but she can’t do much against him.”
Elian took a deep breath and tried once more to tend to her injuries. This time Allana didn’t try to avoid him, remaining silent without uttering a single complain whilehe gently wiped the blood from her lips.
“I should just kill him. And all your problems would be solved. And I’d feel a little bit happier mayself,” he added, dipping the towel into the water basin, and she faced him with a cold smile.
“If I wanted him dead, he’d be dead.”
Elian watched her for an instant, not knowing exactly what had left him that feeling of apprehension, if the way she had said those words or the smile that accompanied them. But then Denar was back, bringing with him a small flask of disinfectant and a role of clean gauze.
“It’s a mess out there. Heric woke up half the palace. They’re all looking for you,” he reported, informing the Princess, and she sighed deeply.
“As to be expected. I should go.”
“No! Stay here. No one will find you here. Rest for a bit and tomorrow we can think about what to do,” Elian pleaded with her, holding her hand as to persuade her, and she gave him a condescending smile.
“There’s nothing to think about. I have to go …”
“Please? Please. Just think about it. Won't it be easier to face everyone after resting for a bit?”
Allana sighed again, looking out the window. The sky had begun to brighten and morning wouldn’t be far away. Besides it was true she felt terribly tired and her entire body seemed to scream for some rest.
“Okay then. But just for a little bit,” she granted and Elian smiled, pleased, parting the blankets so she could lay down. She fell asleep almost immediately.
Denar took a deep breath and looked at Elian, who remained by her side, watching her sleep.
“What now? What are we going to do?” he whispered and Elian smiled as he watched her.
“Just look at how she sleeps so peacefully. How can anyone even think about hurting her.”
“But if they find her here …”
“They won’t!” Startled, they both turned towards the door where that voice had come from and a girl, her hair the color of honey, smiled back at them. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Selina entered the room unceremoniously and walked towards the bed, to see how Allana was doing.
“He went too far …” Elian heard her mutter dryly but, the next instant, she was smiling again. “But she’ll be fine, now.”
Elian was surprised to see her there, but not has surprised as Denar who had thought that the girl was a mere, rather dumb, lady in waiting.
“Selina, how did you find out …?”
Selina looked at Elian with that same smile on her lips and shrugged innocently.
“I saw you when you carried her here. Ah, should I add Your Highness?” Elian smiled at the girl’s audacity but Denar didn’t seem to find it the least bit amusing.
“But who does this girl thinks she is?”
“Oh, come on, Sir Denar. I think I’m just a girl who knows the truth about who you are and where you came from.”
“You told her?!” Denar asked, turning accusingly towards Elian, and the Prince managed to find enough humor to laugh.
“I didn’t. I believe our friend here is rather gifted with a pair of exceptionally large ears.” he said, jokingly, and Selina bowed thanking compliment.
“Now … what’s the plan?” the girl asked and Elian crossed his arms, slightly tilting his head.
“Well, I suppose that’s open for debate.”
“Please, Your Highness! Who are you trying to fool? I know you want to take her away from here. And if you ask me, I totally agree. The problem is persuading her, right? Well, that’s exactly why I’m here. Leave it to me. I know how to be rather persuasive, when needed.”