Part 2 - A new Bed
When they entered the city the streets were practically deserted. Only a few bars and taverns kept their doors opened, but the silence that echoed even from inside such establishments indicated that those who had looked for refuge there, during the early hours of the night, had either returned home or fallen asleep on top the worn wooden tables.
No one could be seen. And so there was nothing to hinder the return home of the Crown Prince, which Elian silently thanked for. Things could become rather complicated if they were seen arriving together. Most certainly rumors and questions would immediately arise, concerning the young woman that accompanied him. All problems he definitely didn’t need, since he already had enough to deal with as it was, with the eyes of the entire nobility turned towards him and his future marriage, now that he had reached adulthood.
Once they had crossed the Inner Wall Gates, that had been opened due to Denar’s earlier arrival, two Knights all clad in black approached them to hold their horses.
“Your Highness, welcome home!” said one of the Knights as Elian dismounted, and Allana followed his lead. It was the first time she had heard someone talk to him with such deference and, somehow, it made her realize that which she already knew; that Elian was like her, the heir to a throne and, for that reason, an irreplaceable existence to his own people.
“Thank you, Tenmar. You can leave him be. Denar will take care of Denon once he returns,” he told the Knight, noticing his pained expression since his white horse was well known amongst the Knights for his ill temper. “Please take care of the lady’s horse.”
Tenmar nodded and took the horse away as soon as Allana untied the small leather bag she'd brought, containing what little she had taken away with her from Everlyn.
“Elian!!” The strong voice of a woman made them both turn around and a smile brought life to Elian’s face as she hugged him, making him take a few steps back. “What on earth were you thinking?! Do you have any idea of long you were gone?” she complained, pulling away only enough to look him in the eye, and went on, not even allowing him the chance to reply. “Now of all times! With all the news we've been receiving! And you send a note through Arkel?! Arkel?!” she questioned in indignation. “Do you have any idea of what I’ve went through trying to keep things in the palace under control? How many times do I have to warn you not to let that useless bastard drag you around?”
Elian laughed lightly, obviously happy to see her even though all she seemed to be able to do was scold him, and nodded obediently.
“I know. I’m sorry. Won’t do it again,” he told her, even though he didn’t sound sorry at all, and she gave him a reproachable glare. “And I’m truly thankful for all you’ve done in my absence,” he added, this time more honestly, and kissed her cheek, which seemed enough to overthrow her bad temper.
Allana stood there, in silence, avoiding staring too much. It was kind of embarrassing, the way she had hugged him so freely. After all, Elian was a Prince and she was used to be treated with the distance and cold respect that that position implied. She'd already found the relationship between Elian and Denar rather peculiar. But now, because the person before her was definitely a woman, she couldn’t help feeling as if she had witnessed something she wasn't suppose to see.
Almost as if he had read her mind, Elian turned to her, his arm still over the woman’s shoulders, and smiled happily.
“Now to more serious matters. This young lady here is Darna and she’d like to join our Dark Order. And since you’re the one in charge for the female sector …” Elian introduced her, almost proudly, but the gray eyes that landed on her became instantly cold and hard, all traces of emotion leaving the other woman’s face.
“Where did she come from? You’re not going to tell me that that idiot convinced you to bring home some kind of plaything!” she spat dryly, as if Allana weren’t even there, and Elian gave her a disapproving look.
“You’re being rude, Elipson. And here I was, hopping you'd know me better than that. We met Darna on the road. She was on her way here and so we ended up traveling together,” Elian explained, although Elipson still looked suspiciously at her.
“She’s too small and too thin! And new admissions to the Order were over last month! I don’t know what you’ve told her but I won’t accept her if she’s no good. My squadron, my rules. Remember? I won’t care, even if you promised her she’d get in!” she told him firmly and Elian smiled, apparently used to her strict personality.
“Wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Hum!” she grunted, looking back at the girl, and Allana faced her cold gaze with her head raised up. “Follow me then. I will take you to the dorms,” Elipson told her, turning around, and went on ahead.
Allana didn’t waste any time following her. She stopped for a moment as she passed by Elian and bowed respectfully, as it would be expected from a commoner.
“Thank you very much for all you’ve done for me. I’ll be sure to succeed and to prove I’m not some kind of plaything,” she added, her tone as dry as the other woman’s had been, and Elian couldn’t help take a small step back when she raised her head to face him. He'd never seen her look so furious.
Allana ran to catch up with the older woman and followed her quick steps in silence.
“Darna what?” she heard her ask and Allana hugged her leather bag as she tried to keep up.
“Aurea,” she answered as planned. “Darna Aurea, ma’am.”
“Well, Darna Aurea, my name is Elipson. And Elipson will do. No ma'am, no madame, no lady. Elipson," she retorted as they walked, without even turning back to look at her. "I don’t know what you’re expecting to find or to accomplish here but, just as you’ve heard, I’ll only acknowledge those I find fit to enter the Order. And since you’ll be staying in one of my squadrons, I’ll be the one to decide whether you’re accepted into our first grade of training or not,” she went on and Allana couldn’t help noticing the crescent moon and sword embroidered in silver on her left shoulder, the silvery lines almost shining against the black of her uniform. The symbol of the Dark Knights of Mithir, the same Denar and Elian wore. “Denar, whom I believe you’ve met, and I, as well as the Prince, are in charge of the entire Dark Order. Since Elian also has many other obligations, it’s up to us to manage and coordinate the different training groups,” she explained with the same tone a teacher would use when teaching a class. “The groups are divided according to grades. Every time one of us feels a trainee is ready to start on the next grade a Test is held where three Knights, us excluded, will evaluate the knowledge and abilities acquired. Should the trainee be deemed apt he'll then be accepted into the next grade. As you’ll soon find out, should you be lucky enough to remain with us, being a Knight isn’t just knowing how to fight with a sword or having a flawless defense. There’s a strict code to observe and, above all, we can never forget the reason why we exist as an Order – to help those in need. Since I’m the only female Dark Knight to have ever completed all grades of instruction, I’m the one responsible for all female trainees. Usually dorms are divided according to work groups, but since there are very few women we only have one female dorm. I won’t be able to be present at all times, so I’ll choose one of the others to accompany you in these first few days, so you can learn the basics of how things work around here. She’ll be taking the Test in a few days and she’ll need someone to take on her group duties once she passes. There, that door is where I live,” she added, pointing a small wooden door that opened on what seemed to be the palace wall, side by side with a few others, all alike. “And here is where you’ll be staying. On the other side of the square are the male dorms,” she told her and Allana looked in the direction she’d pointed to see a few blocks of big but low houses, all made of dark wood. “Wait here.”
Elipson went inside the house right in front of them and she obediently stood there, at the entrance. The female dorm was no different from the ones on the other side of the square, she noticed. The only difference was that building stood alone, while the male dorms were a large cluster of wooden constructions.
With a deep breath she raised her eyes towards the sky. The morning was getting brighter by the minute and, although she was terrible tired, she couldn’t avoid the feeling of excitement that stirred from deep inside her. The world had never looked so bright and she could hardly wait for the new day that was dawning, almost as if she she could be reborn anew with it.
Her gaze was lost on the door through which Elipson had disappeared. Elian had told her a bit about her, but Allana could never have pictured someone like that. She was young and beautiful, and strong willed. Her black hair fell shoulder height in a mass of shiny curls. And, although her strong personality could be easily perceived just by looking into her gray eyes, somehow Allana knew she wasn’t the cold and distant person she was trying to be in front of her.
Elipson came back followed by a younger girl, but who still looked older than Allana. Her skin was tanned, probably by too much time under the sun, and her dark wavy hair was firmly tied at the top of her head. Her dark brown eyes still carried traces of the sleep that she had tried to hurriedly brush away but, even so, her stand was firm and alert.
“This is Kahor Nrahon. She’ll be responsible for you during this phase of adaptation. I hope you’ll get along well.”
Allana smiled politely and stepped forward facing the other girl.
“My name is Darna Aurea,” she introduced herself.
“Pleasure to meet you, Darna, " she replied and turned to Elipson with the seriousness of a warrior accepting a mission. "Please don’t worry. I will teach her all she needs to know.”
“Great. Today eat and rest, and just take a look around the different areas of our training grounds. Tomorrow I’ll measure your worth,” Elipson told her and Allana nodded, although she couldn’t stop smiling, still half doubting that she was really there.
After Elipson had left, Kahor led her inside and to one of the vacant beds. It was dark and cool inside the building, and two rows of beds, with their respective night-tables were aligned on both sides of the big compartment. Besides that, every set of furniture included a simple table and a chair. No doors, walls or curtains divided the space, and Allana could see that some of the beds were taken by other girls, still tucked in under their blankets.
“Did you get here today,” Kahor asked her in a whisper and Allana stopped looking around, placing her bag on her new bed.
Kahor smiled since the new girl seemed somewhat too childish and sat beside her leather bag.
“Is this all you’ve brought?”
“It’s all that was worth bringing … and all I needed. How many girls stay here?” Allana asked looking at the occupied beds, even though she couldn’t see much in the dimness.
“Besides me, four. There sleeps Mihail. She’s the oldest of us and she’s in the last grade. Soon she’ll be a full-fledged Knight, just like Elipson. But, as you’ll eventually come to learn, she’s not one of many words, so don’t take it personally. The bed in the corner belongs to Freda, next to her is Larrisse and then Tereze, whose a little bit silly and does everything Larrisse tells her to do. I’d advise you not to get too close to them … they’re always getting into trouble. You see, the thing is that although the Knights are like brothers to each other, the same can hardly be said about us, cadets. There’s a lot of competition and very little companionship. So, if you’re really thinking about reaching the last grades you’ll have to learn to stand by yourself and to not depend too much on others.”
That Allana could understand all too well, she thought untying her cloak. After all she had been living like that since she’d been born.
“I’ll be fine. Thank you for everything. And I’m sorry for waking you up so early,” she added, remembering the other girl’s sleepy face when she had first seen her, and Kahor smiled embarrassed.
“Oh, it’s okay. I always get up earlier than the rest. My job is to go to the kitchen and get our breakfast, before everyone else wakes up. Starting tomorrow that will be your job too, since we all have a daily task to perform. But today you’re probably too tired from the trip. So I’ll show you where the bath house is and you can wash up while I get you something to eat. After that you can get some rest. In the afternoon I’ll show you around the grounds.”
Allana nodded in agreement. In truth her legs still hurt from all the time she had spent straddling her horse and she hadn’t slept since she had left Everlyn. In that moment, the perspective of a warm bath and a bed to lie down sounded almost like divine blessings, even if that bed was obviously smaller, harder and shabbier than the bed where she had slept her entire life.