Part 5 - A Princess' Choice
When Allana woke up the sun was already high in the sky and the day was nearly halfway gone.
For a moment, seeing the bright light of the day, she almost believed last night had never really happened, and that the day that awaited her would be no different from the day before. And yet all she had to do was look around, to that room that definitely didn’t belong to her, and reality immediately came crashing down on her.
Her arms and wrists hurt and the swelling on her face made her wish she hadn’t woken up at all. Heric had never hurt her like this before, she thought fighting off the tears as she touched her dried and split lips.
With a deep breath, she sat up amongst the white sheets and looked out the window. It was about lunch time, she guessed, and apparently up till then no had discovered her whereabouts, which meant they were all probably still looking for her.
As she prepared to get up something caught her eye. Someone had placed a grayish dress on the bed, at her feet. Reaching for it, she immediately knew that it didn’t belong to her. Though the size was right the quality of the fabric wasn’t exactly what was used to wear.
The door of the room opened without warning, startling her, but the smile that greeted her left her mouth opened in disbelief.
“Oh, you’re awake. Good!” Selina said, closing the door behind her and crossing the room towards the Princess, sitting beside her. “How are you feeling?!"
“Hurts a little,” she shrugged, and Selina gave her a critical look.
“You look terrible!”
“How did you know where to find me?” Allana asked, ignoring the girl’s comment, and Selina smiled proudly.
“You know me!” she told her, her mischievous expression making Allana smile as well, until she realized her face hurt at the slightest movement.
“Don’t even want to know. But tell me. How are things outside?”
“Well, as to be expected. The whole Kingdom is looking for you,” Selina reported, losing her childish expression. “Heric sent everyone out, searching for you. Of course he didn’t tell anything about what really happened. So, as far as everyone is concerned, you just had another of your childish fits and this time decided to run away from home. As you may imagine, Dana is furious and Heric, as usually, is performing superbly in his part of dishonored and outraged fiancé.”
“Selina …” Allana muttered in a scolding tone and the girl frowned in disapproval.
“What? Are you going to blame yourself again? And say it was all your fault? Please, spare me!”
“No … not this time. But no one can argue that he has … rights, over me. After all he is the man I’m going to marry …”
“You listen well, Allana! Heric will never forgive you for what happened today! For you running away! He is a vengeful man with a rather concrete and retrograde concept about how a woman should behave. And, in case you still haven’t noticed, that’s exactly what you are, his woman! And still you disagreed with him, refused him and ran away! He’ll make you pay for it!”
Allana lowered her gaze, clenching her hands together, and sighed.
“I know. But there’s nothing I can do about it …”
“Run away for good! Get away from this place once and for all!” Selina told her, holding her trembling hands, and Allana looked at her in disbelief.
“Are you insane?!”
“I’m deadly serious!”
“That’s impossible! I can’t just leave …!”
“Why not? Do you remember when we used to play the wishing game? Do you remember what you always wished for? Now you can make your wish come true! It all depends on you! Allana!” she called her, making sure she got her undivided attention. “Do you remember when you used to tell me that you didn’t belong here? I always thought you said that because you wanted to be different; because you had everything, which meant you didn’t know what else to want for. But then I understood what it was you really wished for. And you know what? It’s so little, so small … and yet so important. Every common person has what you wish for - freedom. And now you have that chance too … don’t let it escape.”
Allana sat in silence for an instant, too moved by the other girl’s words to speak.
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you …?”
“Of course! Just look at you! Anyone would dream of being in your shoes, since it is expected that a Princess’s life will be full of beauty and marvel. You live in hell!”
“It’s true … that I would love to leave … but … You too, know the true reason behind this engagement …”
“So what? The Royal Heir disappears. It simply means that the Council will have to gather in order to choose a suitable Regent, since your mother is in no condition to rule. You know as well as I do that no old ways or laws will keep them from choosing Heric. He’s the only hope we’ve got against the Armies of the North. They will choose him and I can bet that the decision will be unanimous.”
“But to leave Everlyn at a time like this … When we may be attacked at moment …”
“All the more reason for you to go! As soon as the threat from the North becomes real in their minds I’m sure that the council will want to marry you two as soon as possible, so that he can have full authority. And for what? We both know that Everlyn can’t win this war. They’ll have to evacuate South. And you’ll be married to that asshole and all for nothing! Run away now! We’ll all have to leave Everlyn anyway. At least you’ll be free.”
Allana took a deep breath, seeming to consider all that Selina had told her, and shook her head in disapproval.
“And where would I go …?”
“Go with those Knights, wherever they’re bound to. Sir Denon already offered to take you with them and promised that you could start anew, in his Kingdom. You’ll be able to choose what you want to do! Just think about it! Learn new things, meet new people. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”
“Yes, but …”
“But?! Is there any worse ‘but’ than what awaits you living beside Heric? Just free yourself from all this while you still can, before he controls you completely! For once, just think about you and no one else! Think about your happiness, and the right you have to it like everyone else!”
“Go with Sir Denon …” Allana muttered, lost in thoughts, divided between her strong longing for freedom, and what she knew would inevitably happen should she choose to go with him. The terrible truth her mother had confided in her and that she had never dared share with anyone else. On the other hand Elian seemed unaware of all that, she thought. And maybe, because of it, the danger wouldn’t be that great … Hope burned in her chest and a smile touched her injured face. “So be it, then,” she decided and Selina hugged her, happy and relieved for her Princess’s choice, smiling in satisfaction at her small victory.
“Great! That’s great!”
“And what about you, Selina! Won’t you come with me?”
“No. I’ll stay and take care of things on your behalf. I’ll also take good care of Lidya, so you don’t have to worry. It’s a promise!” Allana nodded in agreement and held the other girl’s hands.
“And if anything happens, anything at all, you’ll send a message! The hawks from the eastern tower will find me wherever I am! Promise you’ll send word!”
“I promise, I promise. Don't worry, everything will be fine. Of course Heric will have a fit when he finally sees you’re nowhere to be found,” she added, laughing mischievously, and Allana sighed as no one could stop Selina when she got all hyped-up like that.
“So? Where are they? We need to settle a few details before leaving,” Allana asked with a renewed mood, and Selina went back to her innocent look, that didn’t match her true personality at all.
“Oh, well. Of course they’re outside, helping with the search. After all, they’re Knights. And Knights are supposed to be useful in times such as these, right?” Allana looked at her at a loss and Selina lowered her voice. “Of course, in the mean while, they’re also looking for the best way to take you away from here as soon as it gets dark.”
“I see … So you had everything planed out, even before I agreed!”
“Come on, Allana. You know how this Knighthood thing works. Sir Denon was about to disembowel Heric with his sword and I told him that, if you had to choose, you’d rather be the one to disappear, since Heric is so needed and all that. Then he came up with this solution and I agreed that it was … doable.”
“Then … this was his idea?” Allana asked, unable to stop a shiver of fear, and Selina smiled happily.
“More or less. I helped a bit. Men are complicated creatures by nature. Here. Dress this. It should fit you, right?” she asked, handing her the gray dress, and Allana nodded accepting it. “The idea is to make you look like a commoner, in case you’re stopped on the road. Unless you’d rather let everyone know who you really are.”
“No! I’m tired of being royalty. This dress is perfect.”
Allana changed clothes and Selina sighed at the sight of all the bruises that marred her pale skin with all kinds of shades of purple.
“That bad?” she asked, noticing the other girl’s gaze, and Selina smiled with confidence.
“You’ll be perfectly well in no time at all!” she replied and helped Allana braid her hair. She then gave her a black cloak, as old as the boots she now wore, and looked appreciatively at the Princess. “Perfect.”
Allana walked over to the mirror and gazed at her own image. True she was far from looking like a noble lady, what to say of a Princess. She was small and too slim to begin with. She had never had a royal bearing, which had truly saddened Dana down to her core. And dressed like that, with that old and stained cloak to cover her, she could be just anyone.
Besides, she decided raising her head, she had made her mind! Made her choice. She wasn’t going to second guess any longer! Even if she couldn’t avoid the feeling that everything happening around her was somewhat unreal and simply moving too fast.
“Do you need anything else?”
“No. I don’t think so. But Selina! If Heric finds out you’re helping me … or even dreams you knew about my escape …”
“Oh yeah? And who’s going to tell him? In any case I can always tell them you hypnotized me, that you were actually a witch and I’m not to blame. The poor me …!”
“Hum … the problem is that I don’t doubt you’d have the courage to tell them something like that …” Allana sighed and Selina smiled quite proudly.
“I’m going to see what’s happening outside. Stay here and don’t open the door to anyone, unless we knock three times, got it?” Allana nodded a confirmation and Selina left, leaving her alone.
Turning back to the mirror, Allana ran a hand over her bruised face. She would never allow herself to look like that ever again, she decided firmly. She would never be a victim again! And, for that reason, she approached the window and looked down, at the city below, biding her farewell to the small, bright, white houses of the Kingdom of Everlyn.