Part 1 - Ride to Mithir
Allana took a deep breath and smiled as the sun touched her face. She still couldn’t believe how everything had gone so smoothly. Of course she wouldn’t have made it without Selina’s help, and she kept worrying about what Heric might do to her when he found out that the girl everyone had seen, walking around the palace gardens, drawing everyone’s attention, wasn’t really Allana, as they had expected. Selina had even worn one of her dresses and, although the young girl had prepared a plausible excuse, Allana couldn’t help fearing the worst. The only thing that gave her some measure of comfort was knowing that Dana would probably intervene on Selina’s behalf.
Still, no matter how much she worried, what was done was done, she reminded herself. And she had decided the night before that she wouldn’t second guess her own decision.
Stretching her back and arms, a grimace of pain touched her lips. They had been riding the entire night and, although she was quite used to riding a horse, she had never done so nonstop for so long. Now the muscles on her legs throbbed painfully and her entire body felt heavy and stiff, but none of that really mattered. She was finally free. And all her fears and doubts simply disappeared into thin air as she contemplated that wondrous idea.
She had finally been given the chance to start anew. Of course she felt bad about leaving her mother and Selina behind, but Selina had been right. To remain in Everlyn would have meant accepting a life she couldn’t see herself living, and all for nothing. Since no measure of sacrifice could ever save that which was condemned from the start. And so she had decided she would live her life to the best of her abilities, so that at least her decision to leave them behind wouldn’t have been for nothing.
“Allana?!” Allana turned towards Elian who, sitting by the fireplace, looked over the roasting wild rabbit Denar had hunted while they were still on the road. After conveniently skinned and cleaned, the small animal had been skewered on an improvised spit and now hanged over the flames, filling the warm air with a delicious scent. “Come. It’s almost ready.”
She obeyed and spared a curiously glance at the variety of food set before her, using Elian’s cloak as a table cloth. Denar had fulfilled his mission of gathering provisions beyond anyone's expectations.
“Thank you. But I’m not that hungry.”
“Just eat, girl! The last thing I want is to have to carry you on my back after you've fainted!” Denar grumbled as he approached the fire, carrying a leather flask filled with fresh water. Allana watched him as he walked by her. Sure he had helped them without complaint, but it was clear the Knight didn’t quite agree with her escape, or with Elian’s idea of hiding her in Mithir.
“Denar is right. We won’t stop again until nightfall. And after that only after we reach Mithir. We should try to reach the city as fast as possible. Although improbable, they might be following us. You’ll only get tired faster, if you refuse to eat.”
Allana sighed and sat near the fire.
“Fine,” she conceded, grabbing a piece of bread that, the moment it touched her tongue, made her realize that she was actually hungrier than she had initially thought.
“Have you thought about your new name? We can’t keep calling you Allana,” Elian declared and she shrugged, taking a handful of dried fruits from a wooden box.
“Don’t know. Hadn’t thought about that,” she admited, sticking a few nuts in her mouth. “I guess anything is fine.”
“Darna,” Denar suggested, surprising them both, although the Knight remained oblivious to their incredulous looks.
“Darna … why not? It has a nice ring to it,” Allana agreed and Elian smiled.
“Darna it is, then. Darna Aurea," he decided. "Now you can’t forget that you’re not supposed to answer by any other name. We’ll also call you like that from now on, so that you'll get use to it.”
Allana nodded and, as soon as lunch was finished, they broke camp and went back to the road.
After their short stop, they rode the rest of the day under a bright sun, where a soft Spring breeze brought them the sweet scent of wild flowers.
They stopped only for short periods of time, in order to allow their horses to rest. The road to Mithir went on, between the Silver Forest and the Sunny Hills, which meant the ground was mostly flat, allowing them to make good time with ease. The fact that no travelers could be seen on either direction offered them a sense of security.
Elian entertained Allana with stories from his Kingdom, leaving the girl increasingly anxious to arrive at their destination. Denar, on the other hand, kept his silence, avoiding thinking too much about her presence, since he couldn’t erase the feeling that she would soon become a true living source of trouble. He still clearly remembered her unwavering expression when she had confronted him, the night before, once they had been left alone during her escape. Absolutely determined, her golden eyes hard like gemstones, she had frontally asked him why he seemed to dislike her. And then, since he hadn’t known how to reply, taking into account that she was a Princess and all that, she had provided him with her own answer. And it had been as if she had bore in to his brain and read his mind. Sure he couldn’t help seeing her as a little girl, bored with her rich and safe lifestyle, wishing for some kind of change and a bit of adventure. And yes, he firmly believed that, eventually, she would get tired of her new life and would start missing all she had left behind, longing to return home. However, listening to his own thoughts clearly poured out in her firm young voice, he had had no choice but to rethink his opinion, making him keep a watchful eye on her …
The sun had begun its descent, painting the sky with tones of purple fire, when they stopped once again. Denar consulted the map he carried tied to his saddle and approached Elian, who was helping Allana off her saddle. Although she had bravely refrained from expressing any kind of complaint, the truth was that her entire body ached and her eyelids had started to feel heavy from all the accumulated fatigue.
“We’re close, now. We can reach Mithir before dawn. All we need to do is cross those hills.”
Elian looked over to where the Knight was pointing and saw two small hills similar to all the others they had passed by during the day. His thoughts went towards the girl that now stretched her arms and legs, trying to ease her sore body.
“Can she take it? The road goes west, around the hills, which means it’s not as close as it seems.”
“Come on, Elian. She’s not made of glass, you know?” Denar criticized but Elian gave him a look of disapproval, leaving him to check how she was faring.
“How are you feeling?”
Allana turned to look at him and smiled.
“I’m fine. Still a long way to go?”
“No. Mithir is on the other side of those hills. If we continue, we’ll get there at dawn.”
Allana’s face seemed to come alight.
“Really? Let’s go then! I can hardly wait!” she answered, excited, almost like a child anxious to finally receive a long awaited gift, and Elian couldn’t help smile before her radiant expression.
“Are you sure? Wouldn’t you rather rest for a while?”
She held her horse’s reins and swiftly mounted again, apparently immune to any kind of pain.
“That’s all I’ve been doing my entire life. Enough resting! Shall we go?”
Elian sighed, but he was still smiling when he went back to his horse to face Denar's expression of ‘I told you so’.
“Told you she wasn’t made of glass.”
The Prince ignored him and led them back to the road, closely followed by his two companions.
They rode all through the night, and the day had just started to dawn when the bright outlines of a walled city appeared on the horizon. Although the hours of darkness had already passed, all throughout the Kingdom small vigil lights could still be seen, since they had been kept alight the entire night.
“I’ll go ahead and announce your arrival,” Denar told him and Elian nodded as the Knight spurred his horse to a fast gallop, leaving them behind. Soon his dark figure was lost amidst the gray mist of the morning and Allana fixed her gaze on the ghostly brilliance that would soon become her new home.
“Welcome to Mithir, Darna. Once we arrive you’ll stay in Elipson’s care. She will see that you’re taken to the dorms. You’ll be able to rest, for today. You’ll start your training tomorrow morning,” he told her and she looked at him in disbelief, her eyes glowing bright, almost like those of a wild animal, a huge smile taking over her childlike face.
“Does that mean …”
“Isn’t this what you want? I gave you my word. I’ll live up to it. Unless …”
“No! This is what I want!” she immediately confirmed and he took a deep breath. For a fleeting moment he had hoped she would have changed her mind.
“However, there is one condition. I won’t allow stubborn demonstrations of pride. If, for any reason, you feel you’re not able to go on with the training schedules, if you think it’s too hard, I want you to quit. We all have our limits and there’s no shame in recognizing them. Agreed?”
Allana nodded, still smiling, and just wished she too could arrive at Mithir as soon as possible.