The End of Illusion
Part 2 - Suspended
Allana raised her head and straightened her back, ignoring the murmurs that could easily be heard as she walked by her fellow cadets. If the fact that she was a girl had kind of put her in the spotlight during her first week there, now she seemed to be the only topic of conversation of the entire campus.
Ignore them, just ignore them, she told herself not even bothering to look so she could add a face to all those secretly voices.
Nevertheless she couldn’t help feel relieved when she finally arrived at her destination, taking refuge in the warm and busy kitchen where Adira shouted her orders and everyone prepared for dinner.
“May I?” she asked, peering inside, not wanting to be a bother or to disturb other peoples' tasks, and Adira peered back at her, from amongst the smoke of a large lidless pot.
“Goodness! Child! What are you doing here? Give me just a second or this stew will end up burning!” she added, all in one breath, and Allana obeyed, watching her work. As promised, it wasn’t long before Adira left her fuming pots to grant her attention. “But please, tell me! How’s little Kahor?” she asked without delay, confirming what Allana had guessed, that news of what had happened had already spread everywhere, and smiled as she followed her towards their usual table.
“She’s alright. She’s resting, right now. They gave her something to help her sleep. But it looks like she won’t be able to walk for a few days …”
“Oh, that’s terrible! I’ll be sure to pay her a visit tomorrow morning, and to take her some of my cookies to help her get better,” the woman said, smiling warmly at the thought. “And what about you? Should you be here at a time like this?”
“I was just getting tired of all the whispering and ogling, and pointing. I’ll be expelled soon enough, anyway,” she added heavily. Although she’d managed to put up a strong front when she'd talked with Elian, the truth was she had no idea of where she would go, not to mention that she really didn’t want to leave the Order.
“Nonsense! What you did was really brave! Not to mention it was the right thing to do!”
“But it went against the rules. I don’t mind it, really. Of course I wish I didn't have to leave … I’ve grown quite accustomed to my life here. But I’m definitely not sorry for what I’ve done. I just needed a little peace and quiet, that’s all. That’s why I came here.”
“Well then, please take your time. Are you hungry? I can fix you a plate of that delicious stew,” she offered, almost as if she was offering something completely irresistible, and Allana smiled, nodding.
“Thank you very much, I’ll be happy to have some.” Truth was, with all the commotion, she had ended up skipping lunch, what to say about dinner.
Adira walked away and returned not long after with a mouth-watering fuming plate of stew, one that made Allana’s stomach rumble in anticipation. She ate everything, while Adira watched her with a smile of satisfaction, and finally took a deep breath feeling much better.
“Thank you. It was delicious!” she complimented and the woman took her empty plate away, returning with another one filled with butter cookies.
“Glad you approve. It means His Majesties won’t have anything to complain about today’s dinner.”
“Oh, I bet no one ever complains. You’re cooking is always delicious. Never met anyone who could cook better than you,” she said with all honesty, and Adira seemed to blush, averting her gaze.
“Well, even so, one must always be alert. These young girls spend half the time with their heads on the clouds,” she criticized, looking towards her helpers. “Can you believe it? Once I even found one of them putting salt in the King’s pudding! Can you imagine what would have happened if something like that were to be served! They’d surly think I was trying to poison the King!” she added and Allana couldn’t help laugh, imagining the whole situation.
However all talking was suddenly interrupted when the door that led to the palace was closed, and Allana stood up seeing Elian cross the kitchen towards them.
“Well, I’ll leave you to your business,” Adira said, smiling with that disturbing all knowing expression. “Also I should keep those airy heads busy so that their tongues don’t start spiting out nonsense,” she added and Elian nodded.
“I won’t be long. Promise.”
“What’s that now, Your Highness? The kitchen belongs to you! Just don’t spread it around too much, if you please …” she told him playfully, and bowed before walking away, leaving them alone.
Elian waited until Adira was out of ear's reach and then focused his attention on the girl before him. Averting her gaze she looked almost embarrassed, as if the strong unwavering Allana from that afternoon had disappeared, leaving the Allana he knew in her place.
“Elipson was looking for you …” he informed her, not knowing exactly how to say what he had to say, and she shrugged, still avoiding him.
“I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet. Everyone's looking at me strangely …”
“Allana, I had to make a decision …”
“I know. Don’t worry about me. There’s a whole world outside. For starters, there’s a whole city I don’t even know.”
She jumped when he held her hand, squeezing it, his warmth almost burning her cool skin, and she couldn’t help look up at him, at the urgent eyes that watched her as if she had been running away and he’d just managed to catch her.
“I don’t want you somewhere out there! I want you near me! You’re like my sister! We have the same blood!” he told her all in one breath, as if he wanted very hard to convince her to stay, and Allana fought to escape his dark gaze that seemed about to swallow her again.
“You don’t even know me. I’ve been telling you that since we've met. Besides, none of this is how it was supposed to be. Which means that it’s like we’re writing an entire new story, instead of following what has been determined for us. And so, anything is possible.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked quietly, sounding almost scared, but even so she wouldn’t look at him.
“About something that should have happened but didn’t. And now it’s not important anymore. Everything has its moment. And to think I was raised fearing a future that never came to happen,” she added, smiling ironically. “But now my future is my own. And I can do whatever I please, which is just great.”
“No! I won’t allow you to be lost to me again!” he retorted, squeezing her hand, startling her with the intensity of his words, and she couldn’t help looking at him, at his pained expression that made her heart beat faster. “I’ve waited so long to meet you again … No, you’ll see. Everything will go back to normal soon enough.”
“You really believe that …? I can’t help feeling as if today everything has changed … and nothing is ever going to be the same again.”
“I will not expel you!” And she knew he wouldn’t. But still the weight she felt in her chest told her he wouldn’t need to. That dreamy life she had been living up till then was about to end, even though she wished very hard it wouldn't.
She held her breath when he pulled her closer, hugging her tightly, his warmth pouring all over her, making her feel small but,at the same time, completely safe in his arms.
“I won’t lose you again …” she heard him whisper and took a deep breath.
“You feel it too … don’t you? There’s no escape.”
“I don’t care which path I have to take. As long as we’re together. Please promise me you won’t simply vanish without a word. You can’t even imagine how hard it was to live until the day I went to find you again … Please, just promise me that.”
She didn’t understand … not the meaning of his words, nor how her existence could mean so much to him, since they hardly knew each other. But the pain in his voice was strangely unbearable. And so she nodded.
He seemed somewhat relieved as he gently released her, but not before placing a light kiss on her forehead.
“Thank you. And now come. I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping, at least for tonight. It’s probably best to keep you away from all the talk,” he added with a renewed smile. “Since I had to suspend you for the time being, tomorrow you won’t be able to attend practice, but you can still go to the library if you want. You can also have your meals here, if you prefer to avoid the dining hall.”
“And what about Karl?”
“Well, after what you said no one feels the need to punish him as well. I guess that’s what you wanted?” Allana nodded. “Good. Let’s go, then, before Adira starts complaining about our invasion. She says the kitchen belongs to me but she has no qualms in kicking me out of here, fry-pan in hand, if needed be.”
Allana laughed as she followed him towards the palace, but the truth was that the place where he had kissed her just then was still warm and strangely tingly, leaving her too self-conscious.