Part 6 - You Promised
The sun had already begun to set when the sound of noises by the door left her heart racing. Now that she’d made her mind she really didn’t want to be found!
With silent steps, which she’d perfected in order to escape the palace unnoticed, Allana walked to the door, listening attentively. The sound of three knocks made her sigh in relief and she unlocked it, allowing Selina in. The two men that followed her made her take a few steps back, as she watched them apprehensively.
Denar closed the door behind them, after checking the corridor to make sure they hadn’t been followed. And then they both stood there, amazed, staring at her, at the strength and confidence that those two golden eyes mirrored. It was almost as if, suddenly, the lost and frail girl they had helped the night before had simply disappeared.
“So? What’s happening outside?” Allana asked, still unsure, especially due to the fact they were both staring at her, and Elian seemed to wake up from his waking dream.
“As to be expected, the streets are packed with guards. They’re looking for you everywhere. Heric firmly believes that you still haven’t left Everlyn,” he reported.
“The roads leading to the Silver Forest and the lake are also being watched,” Denar added. “The palace gardens are the least guarded place.”
“And so we thought that maybe we had a chance, if we took you out of the palace grounds through there. On the other side of the fence there are only crop fields and some small farms. Even if someone were to see you no one would recognize you. But for that to work we have to find a way to cross the fence, and so … Do you know of any paths like that?” he asked her. “Sometimes palaces have secret tunnels as an escape route for the royal family, in case of need,” he stated and Allana thought about it for an instant.
“There’s no such thing in Everlyn. At least not that I know of …” Elian sighed in dismay.
“But then … How does Phandora comes and goes as she pleases?” Selina asked and Elian looked up hopefully.
“Phandora?!” Denar asked, suspiciously.
“The wild tiger that visits me sometimes,” Allana explained. “I really don’t know. Never thought about it. But the only possible explanation is that the hawthorns’ fence must be torn somewhere. If it is, it must to be on the North side. Phandora always comes from there.”
Elian smiled and gave Denar a friendly pat.
“I think it’s time you rejoined the search for our Princess. And Denar, this time, how about checking in the garden? After all, it’s such a big garden, with so many places to hide … especially the North side,” he suggested and Denar shook his head in disapproval, although he couldn’t hide the smile on his face as he left.
“I also have to go. If I don’t show my face around from time to time Dana will turn the palace upside down looking for me as well. I’ll be back when it gets dark,” Selina informed them, following the Knight, and closed the door behind her.
Elian loosened his black cloak and dropped it on the bed with a sigh of relief. His gaze went automatically back to the girl in front of him and a smile touched his lips. The gray dress she wore made her golden eyes seem even more golden, and the dark cloak that fell around her shoulders made her look even smaller and thinner. Even so he had never seen her look more beautiful.
“What are you staring at?” she asked, frowning almost threateningly, and he smiled again.
“Nothing. Just thinking that you really look like you’re ready to leave. Are you really sure …”
“I have never turned back on a decision I’ve made!” she stated firmly. “However, if you thought it better and decided you don’t want to take the risk …”
“No!” he cut in, immediately.
“Because I could understand if you did. Even ignoring the possibility that Heric might find out about our escape and what that would entail, I’m also quite aware of what it means for you to hide me in your Kingdom.”
“I said no. And he won’t find out about anything. I’ll make sure of it!”
Allana took a deep breath and made her way to the window, looking outside, to the streets that, as darkness fell, glittered with the lights of the torches and lamps of those who walked them, looking for her.
The touch of a hand on her shoulder made her jump, and he raised both hands in the air showing he’d meant no harm.
She looked scared, for an instant, but then she was smiling again, even though it was an obviously fake smile.
“It’s okay. And I wanted to thank you … for yesterday … and for not confronting him.”
“For that you’ll have to thank Selina. She’s the one who stopped me from killing him,” she smiled again, not even bothering to answer. Somehow she knew he would have never have killed him … or anyone else, for that matter. And then she was swallowed by those black eyes again … a deep, soft and warm gaze that left her empty, unable to react. She watched as he raised a hand and softly touched her bruised face, but even then she couldn’t master a single coherent thought. “I know you’re afraid of me … I don’t know why, but I can feel it. I just wanted you to know that … even though you can’t remember, you were very important to me when I was still a child. For a long time you were my only friend, the only one I could talk to, the only one that seemed to understand me, even though I knew you were too little for that. When they took you from Mithir … I promised myself that some day, when I was able to make my own choices, I’d come look for you again. And that’s why I’m here. No other reason,” he told her and Allana took a step back, the memory of the fear she had felt the day before breaking the hypnotic spell she’d fallen into.
“This may sound crazy but … I remember your eyes … And although you may not know, the reason why we had to leave Mithir was because they wanted to keep us apart. Because something terrible is supposed to happen if we’re together,” she told him, avoiding his gaze, and Elian stood silent as he noticed the nervous way she chewed on her split lip.
That he hadn’t expected, he thought, even though he had imagined a whole lot of possible excuses and explanations. Looking at her it was clear she truly believed in what she’d just told him. Which made him feel somewhat restless; an inexplicable feeling of eminent danger twisting his insides, or maybe fear would be more accurate.
“Why would you say something like that …? Who told you that?”
Allana managed a distant smile and shrugged.
“It’s probably nothing. Only stories Dana used to tell me when I was little. I guess I just allowed myself to be scared for no good reason.” she answered and he immediately knew she didn’t want to talk about it … that she would rather pretend that that matter was of no importance. He too, he found out as his heart beat hard against his chest; he didn’t want to know any more details about the matter. Which meant he was a coward!, he was aware … But for now he would accept her will and his own weakness, and let that matter be. At least until he went back home, to Mithir, where he could search for his own answers.
And so he smiled and held her small cold hand, pulling her towards the bed where he made her sit.
“Well, I guess it’s only natural for you to feel a little insecure. But you don’t need to worry. Everything’s going to be alright. The palace of Mithir is a bustling place. When we get there I’ll introduce you to all the Court Ladies and I’m sure they’ll make you feel right at home. On your spare time you can always go for a ride or …”
“Elian!” His name in her voice hit him hard, almost as if someone had knocked him over the head with something hard. It was the first time she’d called him by his name, and that unpleasant sensation from before returned. “I don’t want any of that! I want a different life!” she went on, forcing him to push that dark feeling away.
“I know. And it will be different.”
“No! You don’t understand. I don’t want to be a Court Lady! I don’t want to be someone who does nothing but stroll around in a pretty dress, laughing at silly jokes in hopes to find some rich nobleman to get married to!”
Elian was caught by surprise for a moment, but ended up laughing as she faced him with a serious expression.
“Okay. You’re right. To tell you the truth I also think they’re quite annoying,” he confessed, remembering just how much he truly despised those women that seem to hold as their only purpose in life to earn his favors, in hopes of one day becoming the future Queen.
“Besides, you said I could choose what I wanted to be,” she insisted and Elian nodded, amused by how seriously she was taking the whole matter.
“That I did. And a promise is a promise.”
“Really?” she asked, tightening the hand that still held hers, her eyes glowing as if she were a child and someone had just promised her a new toy, and Elian smiled.
“If I said so, then it is so. What do you have in mind?”
“I want to be a Knight!” she answered unwavering and he laughed at the way she said it, sounding almost like she was delivering a declaration of war.
“But of course! I should have guessed. All those questions about the Knights and if there were women amongst them. I also agree. You’ll love it. You’ll have a lot to study, of course. But the White Knights are all nice people and …”
“No! I don’t want to be one of those!” Allana immediately objected and Elian looked at her unable understand. “I want to be a Black Night!”
“I want to learn how to fight! I want to know how to defend myself without having to always depend on others! I want to be independent and for that I need to learn how to protect myself!”
“But Allana … You don’t know … you can’t even dream how hard it is, how tough the training sessions are for those who want to become Black Knights,” he tried to explain, to no avail.
“But it is what I want!” she declared unyielding.
“It’s too dangerous! I’m sorry but I can’t let you do something like that. You’ve lived your whole life here, being raised to be a Princess, not to fight with a sword in hand. The practices alone would leave you so tired that you probably wouldn’t make past the first week. Besides, even far from here, you’re still a Princess, and although the purpose isn’t killing each other, injuries are frequent and accidents do happen. Once away from here it’ll be my responsibility to keep you safe.”
She pulled her hand from his and looked away, clearly angry and, at the same time, disappointed … which made him feel rather displeased with himself. Still he knew he was right. She was nothing but a young girl, filled with dreams and fantasies she had probably created in order to escape the loneliness of living locked up in that place. However, belonging to the Order of the Black Knights was far from being a beautiful dream. It meant years of suffering and self-sacrifice, as he knew all too well.
“You promised …!” she muttered and he couldn’t help feel sorry at the loss of the bright and happy expression she had shown him a moment ago.
“It’s too hard for you …”
“How can you say that? How can you know?” she asked him, facing him, angry at him again. “You’ve seen me fight! I can fight rather well! Not one of Everlyn’s Knights has ever been able to beat me!”
“Please don’t take it to heart, but … Everlyn’s Knights aren’t the best example of what it really means to be a Knight.”
“But if I haven’t even tried how can you say I can’t do it?”
Elian gently held her hands and kissed them.
“These hands weren’t made to wield a sword,” he stated, smiling, but she pushed him sharply, making him take a few steps back as she stood up to face him.
“You promised!” she demanded again, her voice colder and harder than before, and Elian couldn’t do anything but stare at her … at the way her demeanor had changed just like before, when they had spoken near the lake. “Is that how a Knight is supposed to uphold his word?”
He wanted to counter her but, as much as he tried, he couldn’t find a single argument that could grant him reason. And suddenly, the small sweet girl he had built in his mind was gone, and right in front of him was a huge dark shadow with golden eyes that seemed about to swallow him whole. He stepped back, unable to control the fear that that monster invoked deep inside him, and his whole being trembled in terror …
In a flash his sight became focused again and that terrible shadow disappeared. He was back in the real world and, without knowing why or how, he now laid on the bed, knees pulled against his chest as if trying to protect himself from some unavoidable attack. The feeling of eminent danger had faded away too, but he could still feel the tension that had gathered in his muscles, and the cold droplets of sweat that slid down his back. He blinked, still unsure of what had just happened, and only then saw her right beside him, those golden eyes looking at him, brimming with tears she quickly brushed away.
“I’m … sorry … I … oh … this is probably a very bad idea …”
Still baffled by what had happened, Elian tried to sit up, only to discover his muscles were trembling, as if he’d ran nonstop for a whole day.
“I’m okay …” he told her, trying to reassure her, and the sharp pain that hit him in the chest made him hold his breath with a grimace.
“I can kill, you know …?” Her cruel cold tone made him look up at her, even though he could hardly breathe now, and the distant and indifferent expression of her face made him straighten his back, ignoring his heart that seemed to hurt with every new beat.
“You can’t hope to scare me with only that,” he told her, trying hard to keep his voice from faltering and showing the pain he still felt. “Besides, anyone can kill. It’s a matter of … circumstances.”
Allana seemed confused by his answer, but only for a moment.
“You know what I’m talking about!”
“I do …?”
“And sometimes I just … can’t control it … Almost as if someone else is doing it, even though I didn’t wish for any of it …” she confessed bitterly and Elian took a deep breath, as the pain slowly subsided. “You must think I’m some kind of monster …”
“No. That’s what you think of yourself. People are who they are. And the fact that you, me, and probably many others, are a bit different doesn’t make us monsters. Besides,” he went on, smiling. “we all have some hidden secret, deep inside, that we’d rather not share with others.”
“You also have one …?”
He faced her childlike curious eyes and laughed.
“Of course. I’m no different from everyone else.”
“Can’t you tell me …? Just a little bit?” she persisted, seeming uneasy since that subject clearly displeased her. “You already know mine … kind of … No one has ever found out about it … and survived. Though Dana probably suspects something, since strange accidents were quite often around me, when I was younger. Because I’m unable to control it, I’ve decided long ago that the only thing I can do is to try and avoid getting angry, and stop myself from wanting anything, so that I wouldn’t feel disappointed when my wish wouldn’t come true. And it worked, so far … The truth is I don’t have the slightest idea why I’m able to do … these kinds of things …” she concluded, averting her gaze almost as if she regretted having told him so much, and Elian took a deep breath.
“I’m the same. I can also do things that can’t be easily explained,” he stated and Allana looked at him in disbelief. “Don’t believe me?” She still looked skeptical, which was in itself funny and kind of ironic, taking into account what she had just told him. “Want me to show you?” If their roles were reversed Allana was sure she wouldn’t want to be shown anything! But she just couldn’t swallow the curiosity that burned inside her. Or maybe it was simply her need to know a bit more about the stranger with whom she was about to leave to somewhere completely unknown. He just sat there, waiting, although his discreet smile seemed to be challenging her. And so she nodded, bracing herself. “Then close your eyes,” he told her, even more amused than before, and she frowned suspiciously.
“It’s easier if you do. Come one. Trust me. Nothing bad will come to you.”
Allana sighed, conforming, and did as he asked. Once she closed her eyes a deep silence surrounded her.
Something warm touched her face, softly, lighter than any touch she had ever felt, almost weightless, and a profound sense of peace enveloped her. Suddenly she was completely calm and she could hardly understand the reason behind all the anxiety and fear she had felt just moments ago. Now she found herself filled with bliss and hope, almost as if a ray of light had shined down on her, casting all darkness away.
Unable to resist the curiosity of not knowing what was happening she slowly opened her eyes and, for a few moments, all she could see was a bright white light, all around her. Then, as her eyes grew accustomed to the brightness, she saw that two black eyes watched her attentively and, amongst all that light, something that looked like hands touched her face.
Gradually the light that filled the room started to fade away and his hands regain their human form, warmth and weight. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged stepping back.
“I guess that’s it,” he said awkwardly, and Allana blinked, still lost in the enchantment of what she had just witnessed.
“What are you …?”
“Same as you. What are you?” he returned and she seemed at loss for words. “Nothing much, I guaranty. Just a little bit different, I guess. These things aside, we still bleed like everyone else, we feel the same and we live and die the same,” he told her and raised one hand to touch her face, her skin once again healthy, free from all those terrible bruises. “Besides, I couldn’t stand looking at the bruises that idiot left in your face any longer.”
Allana sat in silence for a moment, unable to understand what he had just said, and then it hit her, and she jumped to her feet practically running to the nearest mirror. Not a single mark, she marveled incredulously, turning her face right and left. And the pain too, was completely gone. Still in disbelief she turned back to him as he watched her, amused by her reaction, and, with a second thought, went back to the mirror, unbuttoning the first buttons of her dress, looking for bruises on her neck and chest. Not even one had remained.
“How did you do this?” she asked, still searching, touching herself in places where, instants ago, only the weight of the dress she wore had been enough to cause her pain.
“This is my secret. Told you we all have our secrets.”
She was about to say something when three knocks on the door cut her off. Elian walked to the door, unlocking it, and Denar entered in a hurry.
“And? Have you found it?” Elian asked as soon as he closed the door, and Allana waited in anticipation. Denar frowned angrily as soon as he saw her, and his critic gaze flew back to Elian. “Please spare me the lecture, Denar,” the Prince anticipated and the Knight sighed in resignation, since at the moment they had other, much more pertinent matters to attend. Above all he had decided to take his Prince back home, as soon as possible, even if that meant he had to drag that little girl along as well.
“It’s as we suspected. There’s a hole on the fence, close to the ground. However it’s very small. I can’t pass through it. But she might be able to,” he admitted, measuring Allana with his eyes. “Even so, although their numbers are fewer, there are still guards patrolling the gardens. To reach the passage we’ll have to somehow elude them.”
“Hum … we need a distraction.”
Three knocks on the door interrupted their conversation and Denar opened it, allowing Selina in. As soon as he saw her a smile crossed Elian’s face. The solution to their problem had just arrived.
“I’ve just found the distraction we needed,” he announced, without averting his gaze from the girl that had just come in and whose cheeks begun to blush.