Part 4 - One Glass of Wine
Allana opened her eyes but remained in silence. She could hear the sound of music from the party taking place in the palace at a distance, but it wasn’t enough to cover-up the quiet, soft sound of footsteps that made her smile. Larrisse and her friends had practically vanished right after dinner. As for Mihail, she should be outside, with the rest of the Knights that were allowed to attend the festivities. And now Kahor ...
Allana got up as soon as she heard the door close and peered out of the window, watching as Kahor’s small figure sneaked away, hiding amongst the shadows of the night. She didn’t even have to try and guess the other girl’s destination. Not after what she had seen and heard that afternoon. Smiling happily for the her, she returned to the warmth of her bed.
For an instant her thoughts went back to Everlyn and all that she had left behind. In her mind Dana would probably be crying her Princess’s disappearance as she tried, as hard as she could, to hide the truth from Lidya. Heric, on the other hand, was probably relieved, since he no longer had to deal with an impertinent brat like her. And as for Selina, she could only wish she’d come with her … She was the one Allana missed the most.
She woke up again, late at night. Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes and focused her attention outside, confirming she’d in fact heard the singing voice that had disturbed her sleep. Kahor’s bed, at her side, was still empty, but the other four girls had already returned. Outside nothing else could be heard, except for that singing voice that seemed to be growing closer.
“Heey! Youuu! Are youuu thereee?”
Allana jumped from her bed as she recognized that voice and opened the window, looking outside.
“Elian!” she whispered, still in disbelief, and he smiled at her, the most honest, open smile she had ever seen on his face.
“Found youuu!” he stated happily, leaning on the windowsill, and Allana stepped back, looking around to make sure none of the other girls had woken up. “Let’s goo. Let’s goo for a waaalk …”
“Shut up already!” she ordered angrily, covering his mouth with her hand, and he smiled again, his dark soft eyes pulling her towards him like before, in the lake, making her want to run away. “It’s late! Go home!”
“Booriiinggg ..:!” he muttered, even with her hand covering his mouth, and the sound of someone turning in their sleep made her look back in fear. “Come onnn … Pleaseee …?”
“Hush! Alright already!” she urgently whispered back. “But you have to keep quiet, okay?” Elian nodded with that happy, childish smile on his face and Allana sighed, looking around once more, before grabbing her cloak and climbing out of the window. His warm hands held her before she could jump to the ground and softly placed her down, leaving her too conscious of how close they stood to each other
“What have you been drinking, Elian?” she asked, still whispering, raising her head to face that disturbing smiling face, and he lowered his head towards her, making her take a step back.
“Shush … It’s a seeecret …”
“Really ….?” she muttered, taking another step back, and he smiled raising one finger in the air.
“One. One ssssmall glassieee … Shhh …” he repeated, placing his finger over his lips and she sighed. He was completely drank. “Come! Come!” He suddenly grabbed her hand in a fast movement she couldn’t avoid and practically dragged her, forcing her to keep up with his much wider steps.
“Wait! Wait, Elian! Where are we going?”
“A beauuuutiful, veryyy, veryyy beauuuutiful place …” Was the only answer she got as she ran to keep up with him.
The night was cold but Allana had no time to feel it. A few minutes after they left the dorms, tall, dark trees surrounded them, enveloping them in eerie shadows. The only light they had came from the moon, floating high up in the sky, but Elian didn’t’ seem to need it, his steps unwavering as he dragged her down a small path.
He finally stopped when they reached a wooden construction, and Allana took a deep breath, trying to recover from the light run. Right in front of it, were nine pointy stones rising from the ground, forming a circle. And, in the center, on a higher platform, a small stone altar-like table had been placed, giving it the appearance of a sacred place. The wooden building, she noticed as she observed it more closely, was in fact a small chapel, it’s glass windows painted with images that could only be perceived from the inside.
“Where are we …?”
Elian smiled and pulled her towards the circle, stopping at the base of the platform where the stone altar had been placed. He released her hand to climb the three steps up to the altar and gently, almost lovingly, caressed the cold, hard tabletop. Only then did she notice the small figures carved on the stone base. And so, she was so focused trying to make sense of what she saw that she practically jumped when Elian dropped heavily on one of the steps, sitting down.
“Thiis is the place where all Knights come for their Vigil, before taking the final Test. It’s a saaacred place for prayer and meditation,” he whispered and smiled, his body still wavering as he reached out his hand to her. “Come here.”
“Elian … We shouldn’t be here …”
“It’s okay. No one ever comes here. No one is allooowed to,” he replied and Allana took a deep breath, looking around to confirm what he’d just said, ending up obeying. For some mysterious and annoying reason she simply couldn’t refuse him whenever he showed her that bright smile. As she sat beside him Elian turned back to the stone altar, reverently touching the small pictures. Some of them had partly faded away but most still glimmered softly by the pale moonlight. “This stone was engraved by a Mage, a long, looog time ago, and was given to Mithir as symbol of ... of the pact made between our Kingdom and the Temple of Solara, in Narr," he stammered, his head softly wobbling back and forth as if he couldn't keep it still. "However, no one has ever managed to understand the meaning of these pictuuresss. On the other hand, nooo one ever wanted to oooffend the Mages of the Tower by asking them. And since it lacks the luxury and beauty tooo be placed inside the paaalace, it was brought here, when the King formed the Knight’s Orders. In the beginning this was a place opened to all that looked for a moment of siiilence and con ... contemplation. But as the number of Knights increased, faather had another, bigger chapel built.”
“The one from the entrance.” He smiled, dreamily, and nodded a few times.
“Yes, yes. And this place became only for those about to take the final Teeest. And so these nine stones were also puut here. Four for each of the four elements that protect tha ssspirit, and the other five for each of tha fiiive senses of the physical body. This altar, here, stands as a symbol of the Goood of Creation, to whom the fuuuture Knight is supposed to ask for the courage to face the challenges ahead. And the Mage’s stone was added as part of the altar. Some believe that during theeeir Vigil a Knight is able to looook beyond the physical world, and Endio had hoped someone would be able to understand the meaning of these iiimages during such state.”
“And? As anyone been able to do it?” Allana asked, curiously, and Elian drew back so she could see the pictures more clearly, leaning his lolling head against the stone.
“You tell me ... ”
“Me? But …”
“Just try. It’s almost like a story ...” he insisted, closing his eyes as if ready to listen to her, and Allana looked and the white engravings, trying to make sense of what she saw.
“I don’t know …”
“Just say what comes to mind. Don’t worry about how it sounds ...”
Allana looked at the small images again, half embarrassed by the entire situation, and, as she focused her attention, the stone seemed even whiter, the moonlight shining directly upon it.
“Hum … let’s see … Here it looks like two persons … they seem happy. But somehow I don’t think they’re just people, since it’s almost like they’re glowing.” she described tracing the images with her small fingers. “Maybe they’re Magi … or some kind of divine beings. Here there’s a child. He’s holding hands with the woman. Maybe it’s their child. I don’t know … I’m only guessing!” she complained, looking back at him, afraid she wasn’t making any sense, but Elian simply nodded with a smile on his lips, his eyes still closed as he leaned back against the stone.
“Go on … Yes, their child. And then?”
Allana took a deep breath and returned to the engravings.
“The child grew up …” she said, following the sequence of images that led her to a new set of carvings. “And somehow caused the other two to grow apart, so that he could keep this ball, here, all to himself.”
“And what’s that ball?”
“I don’t know. Maybe some kind of powerful or magical thing …? It seems to be something solid, like an object …”
“Yes ... go on.”
“He took the hearts of the other two beings …? Did he killed them?”
“What do you think?” Elian asked, looking at her, his eyes so dark now that not even the moonlight was able to cast a gentle glow on them. But Allana didn't notice any of it, her attention completely focused on the small stone figures in front of her.
“I don’t know. They do seem to be … somehow special.” she guessed.
“Well, if that’s so, then they probably didn’t die. Gods are immortal. Aren’t they?” Elian laughed and nodded, amused by her uncertainty. “Then … did he somehow made them prisoners? Locked them in that object?
“A gemstone …” he corrected her with a soft murmur.
“Hum … yeah … why not? However, something went wrong with his plan. And that gemstone exploded. And the small pieces fell all over the ball he wanted to keep. And the ball grew … and now it’s filled with … more people? Oh, lots and lots of people. And so he ran away, and hid somewhere, in a cave. There it looks like it’s the start of another story. Is this a river? Or the ocean …? There’s a boat. And here … is Mithir,” Allana went on, touching Mithir’s coat of arms, but the rest of the image had been half erased and it was impossible to decipher what had once been engraved. “Where’s the rest? The stone was cut!” she accused, searching for the rest of her story, and Elian took a deep breath.
“No one knows. My father says the stone he knows has always looked like that, and he refuses to talk about it. But I’m glad …” He added, straightening his back to look at her. “Your story is the same as mine.”
Allana finally looked at him and immediately regretted it, trying to escape the dark depths of his gaze that seemed capable of swallowing her whole. It was always like this, she thought, frustrated but, at the same time, feeling inexplicably warm and relaxed. His eyes were like a trap, waiting to capture her. And although the feeling of closeness and intimacy that trap created made her feel as if she was floating or soaring, or something like that, it also scared her like nothing had ever scared her before. Because she couldn’t help feeling as if those dark, profound eyes could somehow devour her, plunging her into an eternal darkness where she would be forever forgotten, unable to remember even her own existence … Absolute silence … and emptiness …
“How … did you know I’d see the same story …?” she asked, forcing herself to talk in hopes it would dilute that terrifying sensation, and he smiled, holding her hand, his skin warm against hers, cold and damp.
“Because we are the same … You know it … like I know …”
His voice resounded in her head, making her entire being tremble, almost as if something was about to shatter deep inside her. And then she couldn’t help stare in awe at him … Since when did his hair glowed like that? The white silvery threads that snowed his black hair seemed to come alight, crowning him in incandescent silver, casting soft shadows on his gentle face, and she couldn’t help think she had never seen anyone as beautiful as him. Even though she despised most kinds of human proximity, suddenly all she could think of was how much she wanted to touch him … touch his face … touch his glowing hair … feel the warmth that wrapped her hand surround her completely. But those eyes …. Those eyes looked scarier by the minute, certainly about to devour her, ready to erase her entire existence. And the cold icy fear that punched her right in the stomach finally gave her enough strength to avert her gaze and pull her hand from his grasp.
“We should probably go … It’s been a long day. And I have to wake up early in the morning,” she added, feeling the need to explain herself, partly afraid he wouldn’t allow her to go back like same crazed man, and for an instant she actually held her breath.
“You’re probably right. It’s tooo late …” the sound of his agreeing voice finally allowed her to relax and she turned in time to see him stand up, using the stone altar as a support. However, the instant he was standing he lost his balance, and would have fallen head-first if Allana hadn’t reacted in time to grab him.
“Elian! Are you alright?” she asked, worried, searching for his face as his head was pending forward, completely listless, and she felt his hand squeeze her shoulder in search of support.
“Huh … no … my head … everything is … spiiinning …” he complained in an anguished tone and Allana could hardly believe that he suddenly wasn’t able to stand on his own when, just moments ago, he had been talking rather coherently with her. His hair, hanging in front of his face no longer glowed and was a dark shadowy mass, his tall body, almost folded in two, threatened to heavily hit the ground should she release him.
“Come on! We have to go! I can’t leave you here now, can I?” she told him, trying to slip her small arm around his waist to hold him up, and she practically had to drag him, since his steps were uneven and his knees constantly failed him.
Sure it wasn’t her first time witnessing someone's drunken spell, she thought clenching her teeth, using all her strength to practically carry his heavy weight. Heric used to talk loud and shout her name all over the palace. Sometimes he would even go to her bedroom and kick on the door until Dana appeared to take him away. Allana had never even tried talking to him, or look at him, when he was like that. She would run to her bedroom and lock the door every time she heard him shout, keeping very quiet and fearing what would happen if, one day, the strong wooden door should fail her and fall victim to his anger. However, she knew that not everyone turned angry and violent when blessed with a few extra glasses of wine. Allana had seen others laugh without any apparent reason, and knew of others that cried as if they were children. But like what she'd witnessed that night …
She stopped for an instant to catch her breath and pull him up.
What exactly had happened that night anyway?, she wondered still afraid. The truth was ever since she had stepped in Mithir her already strange life had become even stranger. Which was … bad!, she decided, frowning. For she had tried all her life to be as normal as possible. To pretend that she wasn’t … the monster she knew she was. But Elian seemed unable to see it, or unable to care. And his free acceptance of all the strangeness around her made all her previous efforts at living within normality completely wasted. Because … they were the same?, she mused with a sigh, looking at him, his wobbling head pending forward, and she couldn’t help smile, the warm feeling he gave her making her heart beat faster. And yet she knew better than anyone she couldn’t trust him.