Part 3 - The Council of Everlyn
It was all she could do not to scream in frustration. Or maybe she should hit them all hard over their heads!
Allana sat very straight at the top of the long table, all dressed up in a gray velvet gown, something not too fancy but not too shabby either, her golden hair pulled up to give her a more regal look in case the thin golden crown around her forehead were to go unnoticed. All that for nothing!
The most distinguished, stuck-up members of the ruling council of Everlyn had politely bid her welcome as she'd entered the room, disgruntling whispering amongst themselves when she took, the usually empty, Queen’s chair. But, after the initial shock, they'd happily proceed to ignore her, as if she were just another one of those huge paintings of ancient rulers that hanged from the walls.
She had been forced to interrupt them and even to be quite rude to get their attention. At least Heric seemed to have yet to recover from their previous encounter, quietly sitting in his place, his thoughts lost somewhere else. But then the discussion had started and it seemed that would never reach an end.
“Whichever way you look at this, this plan is pure madness!” Sir Molehad, the representative of the Knights of the Realm, was protesting, looking at the map Allana had presented them in order to better explain her evacuation plan.
“Your Highness, with all due respect. Don’t you feel we should leave these affairs to someone with more … experience in the matters of war?” suggested the Prime Minister, and old man Allana had known her entire life, the red silvery threads embroidered on his dark blue velvet coat shimmering as the flames from the many candlesticks danced.
“No, I do not think so,” Allana countered in a firm voice. “And madness is placing all these lives in harm’s way when there’s no chance of victory.”
“And so we should run?! How cowardly is that?!” protested the young Knight once again and Allana frowned, her voice taking on an ironic tone.
“Cowardly?! And what do you call sending to battle common people that don’t even know how to hold a sword? Or children that should be running and playing around? Because that’s what you will all be doing, should you choose to stand by this absurd plan of staying and fighting. It’s obvious we don’t have enough men to protect the city walls.”
“How can you affirm something like that if you have never even …”
“You’re quite wrong, Sir Knight,” Allana cut him off, raising her head proudly. “I know your men all too well and I know they’ll never be able to face the army that marches towards us even as we speak. And you know it too! Or can you state right here, right now, that there’s a chance. even if a small one, your men might win?”
The young man seemed at a loss for words, his face going considerably pale, and the others looked at him with fear and apprehension in their eyes.
“Is this true?” asked the Commander of the Royal Guard, wearing his armor, which he was obviously not used to do. “Answer man! Is this true??”
“Come on, gentlemen, let’s keep our heads leveled,” said Heric, speaking for the first time since the Council had begun. “We all know Everlyn has always been a peaceful Kingdom. It wasn’t built for war or battle. Its own geographical surroundings tell us as much, should we care to analyze it. However, it is our Kingdom, our home, and I believe we should try our best to defend what belongs to all of us!”
The others seemed to calm down, silently agreeing, which annoyed Allana to her core. Because all he had to do was speak a few empty promises and everyone would immediately nod their heads like fools.
“There’s nothing to defend here! The things that surround us are nothing but stones pilled over stones! The only thing really worth defending are the lives of those that have always trusted us to do so!” she countered and Heric faced her, his expression dark and closed, although his eyes showed he had begun to regain his self-confidence once again.
“Right … That’s all very touching. But if we were to do something like what you suggest we would be completely defenseless on the road. Not to speak of all the problems that would arise, such as how to feed all these people while they cross the Sun Mountains, which would probably take them two to three days to do. Or where should we take them, when the Northern Armies advance once again. Problems don’t simply disappear because we turn our back on them and decide to run away!” he retorted and Allana clearly understood that his last comment had been personally directed at her.
“I am quite sure we have enough food in storage to feed everyone for a whole week or more, am I right?” she asked, unfazed, turning to the Minister of Agriculture, a fat man all dressed in red silk at her left, the white feather from his small, ridiculous hat brushing his glistening forehead. The man blushed profusely as he nodded, drying his fat, sweaty neck with a white handkerchief, and Allana went on. “And as for where we will go the answer is simple. We’ll travel to Mithir.”
The murmurs of disbelief were many, which forced her to raise her voice in order to be heard again.
“Mithir, yes! It’s a Kingdom like any other that soon enough will have to face the same threat we now face. We already have amongst ourselves some of the brave Knights from Mádon. Maybe if we unite forces with them, maybe then we’ll have a chance.”
“This is crazy! Your Majesty will never agree to this!” Heric stated fiercely, his brown eyes ablaze, and Allana faced him coldly.
“The Queen is in no condition to allow or disallow anything! And Mithir is much better protected than Everlyn or even Mádon. They’re better organized and are superior to us in every way, as far as war tactics are concerned!”
“Well … that’s true …” the Prime Minister agreed but Heric wasn’t about to let it go that easily.
“These are nothing but rumors! Who have checked the veracity of this words?”
“I have! Since I've been personally staying in Mithir just until two days ago,” Allana replied and more murmurs of disbelief filed the room, but nothing could be worse than Heric’s furious expression.
“This is treason!” he accused, raising his voice. “Mithir is, and has always been, our enemy!”
“Nonsense!” she dismissed. “The House of Mithir and the House of Everlyn share the same blood!”
The twin doors of the room opened heavily and two Knights all clad in black entered unceremoniously.
“Are we too late?” asked Denar, smiling as usual, but Heric jumped to his feet, almost overthrowing his chair, and shouted to the guards standing outside the room.
“Arrest them! They’re both traitors! Spies from Mithir!” he accused and the men obeyed immediately, used to following his command, holding them both before they had enough time to react.
“Hey! What the hell is this?” Denar protested, his brow frowning in annoyance, and tried to free himself without much luck.
“Stop this! Release them this instant!” Allana ordered, her voice echoing above Denar’s threats and curses, and both guards looked troubled, unable to decide who to obey. They were used to receiving orders from Heric and recognized his position as the Governor of the Kingdom. But, on the other hand, Allana was their sovereign and the Heir to the Royal Throne.
“Do as I tell you! The Princess doesn’t know what she’s saying! They came from Mithir and as such are our enemies!” Heric insisted, and the guards pull them towards the door, Denar still complaining, Elian complying peacefully.
“Take one more step and you’ll both be found traitors for refusing to obey a direct order, and for being disrespectful towards a member of the Royal Family,” Allana added, her voice suddenly calm and cold and the guards stopped once again. The room went deadly silent and even Heric seemed at loss for words. Allana walked up to the guards, followed by everyone’s gaze, and tilted her head to faced them, her small figure suddenly looking as that of a true Queen. “Have you not heard me? Release them this instant!”
The men practically jumped, obeying and lowering their heads, and respectfully stepped back. Denar gave Heric a menacing glare but then recalled Elian’s words and refrained his desire to smack the Lord across the face, if nothing worse. Straightening his clothes he raised his head, as if he were superior to everyone in that room.
Allana reached out her hand to Elian and smiled when he took it without a single moment’s hesitation, pulling him towards the table as every present stared at them in complete disbelief.
“Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce you His Highness, Prince Elian Darclya of Mithir. My cousin.”
They all stood at once, all but Heric, and bowed awkwardly.
“Oh please! It’s obvious he’s an imposter. This … scoundrel is nothing but a mere messenger. He’s been our guest before and he’s the one responsible for the Princess’ disappearance. He should be arrested and condemned for treason!” he spat, losing all self-control as anger took over, but no one cared to comment or express their approval.
“Shall I end the life of this unfortunate one, Your Highness?” Denar asked bleakly, taking a step forward, right hand over the hilt of his sword, but Elian placed a placating hand on his shoulder, turning to face the Lord Governor.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you sir, but I truly am who my cousin said I am. And if the word of your Princess isn’t enough, maybe this will help convince you,” he said, taking off the ring he always wore on his right index finger, and placed it on the table for everyone to see.
Heric didn’t even move to check it, but the Prime Minister reached for it, holding the small gold ring as he carefully studied it.
“It is in fact the Royal Coat of Arms of Mithir.”
“Big deal. A counterfeit for sure.”
“No, my Lord. I’m sorry but this is the real thing. I could recognize it anywhere. It is the duty of my House to always serve the rightful Heir, and so we carefully study all Royal Coats of Arms. And this ring has the imprint of the Royal Coat of Arms of Mithir, no doubt about it.”
Heric seemed to grow a shade paler, sitting heavily on his chair, which greatly pleased Allana.
“I believe apologies are in order for this crass lack of courtesy?” she suggested, looking significantly towards Heric, but it was the representative of the Knights who spoke.
“Your Highness, please accept our most humble apologies for this regrettable mistake …”
“Of course,” Elian cut off, nodding in approval, and Allana led them to two empty seats at the Council's table. Denar sat beside his Prince, keeping is menacing expression, and Elian smiled as he took his place.
“Now … we were discussing the possibility of our people, and the people of Mádon that we’ve received as refugees, joining forces with Mithir, since they’re much better prepared for this war than we are,” she recalled and the Prime Minister nodded thoughtfully.
“Maybe it’s not such a bad idea … We could exit Everlyn through the Silver Forest and only then enter the Mountains, south from here …” he suggested, studying the map for the first time, and the others seemed to follow his line of though.
“Well, we would be at an advantage in the Silver Forest, with all the labyrinthine pathways. To the unaware it can be a true maze out there,” the Commander of the Palace Guard agreed, also focusing on the map.
“It’s decided, then! We haven’t much time. We’ll have to arrange enough carts to divide our supplies according to the number of groups. Also there should be at least two or three Knights accompanying each group. The first groups to leave should include women and children, for they’ll certainly take longer on the road. Then should follow the elderly and the young ones, so that the younger ones may help where strength to walk may fail. And lastly the men that will ride the remaining horses, moving faster and defending the rear if needed be.”
All the presents nodded as they took in the Princess’ plan and Heric looked at them in complete disbelief.
“Are you telling me you’re agreeing to this … madness?! Joining forces with Mithir?! A Kingdom that has been our enemy for the last fifteen years?!”
“I am sorry to inform you but Everlyn has never been our enemy. If that were the case I wouldn’t even be here, to begin with,” Elian calmly replied. “It was all a misunderstanding.”
Heric jumped from his chair, leaving every present in a state of utter shock but, as soon as he gave a single step towards Elian, the point of a sword was pressed against his chest forcing him to a halt.
“If I were you I wouldn’t give me any excuses to let my had slip,” Denar told him in a low voice that seemed to echo through the entire room, and Allana stood up, quite aware of the dangerous look on the Knight’s face and the heavy tension filling the air all around her. She gently pushed the blade away with her bare hands and faced Heric’s fury with the same regal expression with which she had commanded the palace guards.
“I don’t care about your personal opinion at all! This is the Council’s decision and you only have one of two choices. Either stay and help, like everyone else, or pack your things and leave! Because my decision has been made and it is final!”
Heric looked at her for a moment, completely speechless, even though she knew, facing his burning eyes, that he would have hit her if he could, and then simply left, closing the door with such anger that the sound resounded throughout the entire palace.
Quiet, almost unintelligibly comments filled the room. Up till then, although his position had never been officially recognized, Heric had always been the Regent of Everlyn. Seeing him stripped from all his power and functions by a young girl that, although a Princess, they were used to see as a child with no notion of what it meant to truly rule a Kingdom, left them scared and insecure.
“Don’t worry. Heric won’t leave,” Allana reassured them. “I know him. He just needs some time to clear his head, that’s all. And we have more important matters to attend to. I’ll need lists of all the supplies in storage, of the number of Knights and Palace Guards able to fight if the need arises. Also the number and ages of the people that live in the city and in the surrounding lands. Please list them by families. The Royal Guard can help with this matter, while the Knights gather all the horses and weapons available. Finally, a list of goods that are worth salvaging, but order them by priorities. Our main concern is saving lives!” she added and the men quickly forgot their fears, their minds filled with more pressing matters. “Very well, gentlemen, get to work. The time is short. As soon as you have all the lists compiled please come to me. If possible I’d like the first group to leave in the morning!" They all nodded approvingly and stood up, sharing ideas amongst themselves as they left, until there were only the two Knights and her in the room.
Denar applauded as soon as the doors were closed again, the sound of his clapping filling the empty room, and Allana gave him a critical look.
“Can you please stop that?”
“But Your Highness! I’m merely congratulating you on your amazing performance!”
Allana took a deep breath and sat heavily on her chair.
“I’m exhausted …”
“But Denar is right. You were great,” Elian agreed with a smile. “You even managed to make them accept me.”
Allana laughed lightly.
“Oh, they were asking for it! And it was worth it! Just to see all those lost expressions and awkward bows. That was really funny!”
“See, Elian. The girl has a sense of humor!
Allana laughed again and Elian shook his head disapprovingly.
“You two look like children. But what about us, milady? What’s our part in this big plan of yours?”
“Get some rest. I’ll need your help early in the morning.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Denar stated, standing, and Elian followed him.
“And what about you?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be getting some rest too. But first I want to check on my mother …”
Elian nodded, gently placing a kiss on her forehead before he left.
Once on the second floor and away from unwanted ears Denar finally took a deep breath and smiled.
“Damn, she’s tougher than I thought!”
“Yes she is …”
“What’s the matter? Why the worried look?”
“Hum … I just don’t like it when she gets angry like that,” the Prince answered, to what Denar shrugged jokingly.
“I think she’s kind of cute. If a skinny little girl like her can be called cute!”
“Denar! Please. That’s not what I’m talking about. Just forget it. Get some rest, will you?”
“What about you?”
“I want to check on Elipson.”
The Knight’s smile vanished immediately and he nodded. Not knowing what else to say, he turned around and walked away towards his room. For a moment Elian just watched him go and then sighed before he went to find Elipson.
He knocked on the last door to his left and, as no one answered, silently opened it and walked in.
The room was spacious and the heavy velvet curtains remained closed, drowning the entire chamber in a shadowy dimness cut only by a single candle burning on top of a small nightstand.
He crossed the room towards the bed where Elipson seemed to be sleeping and placed a hand on her forehead to feel her temperature. Her gray eyes snapped opened immediately but instantly became softer the moment she recognized him.
“I woke you up … I’m sorry,” he told her in a whisper and she smiled.
“I wasn’t sleeping. How did everything go downstairs?”
“Unexpectedly well. Allana introduced me as the Heir of Mithir and it looks like she completely forgot that she wanted us out of here by sunrise.”
Elipson smiled again and shook her head.
“Don’t think so. She probably simply came to terms with what I told her before.”
“What you told her before?”
“That you would never go back home leaving her behind to face a battle. Which is the honest truth.”
“I see …”
Elipson held his warm hand and tenderly kissed his palm.
“You’re worried … What’s wrong?”
“Lidya told me some things …” She waited quietly for him to go on. “She told me I should leave again, after returning to Mithir … That our only hope of winning this war lies in the West. And that I should take Allana with me. Which I can’t possible do! My place is in Mithir, leading our Knights into battle!”
“I see … And of course you’re right. But … just imagine that this chance of salvation is real. Wouldn’t it be your duty to leave in search of it?”
“But what kind of help would we be looking for? The Western Kingdoms are too far away. Once we'd reach them it would be too late. Mithir would have fallen a long time ago.”
“If that’s so why worry about something like this?”
“Because I feel …”
“Trapped? Unable to find a way to solve this problem?” Elian looked surprised and Elipson smiled. “I know. I think we all feel more or less the same. And it’s no use worrying. In the end things will happen the way they have to happen. We just have to have a little bit of faith in our own destiny.”
“Destiny …?! I don’t know … Allana believed her entire life in something like that, only to find out that things don’t always happen as they have been foretold.”
“Well, when I say destiny I’m not talking about some prediction or prophecy spat out by some old man. I’m talking about something bigger, a path given to us by the Gods.”
Elian laughed and shook his head.
“Who are you and what have you done with my Elipson,” he joked. “Really, Elipson?! You really believe the Gods are somewhere out there looking out for us? How do you explain what happen to Mádon and Cordal, where hundreds of innocent children were slaughtered in their own beds? No. God is the hope of the hopeless and despaired that have nothing else to believe in.”
“Maybe you’re right. But when I was younger I used to believe in the God of Light. It was to Him that I prayed, asking that they would let me see you when you were a little boy, even though I knew that would never happen, since I was just an orphan girl and you were the Heir to the Crown. And it was to Him that I turned to when you wouldn’t listen to my words, endlessly staring out the window, unable to see or hear me, even though I was standing right there, beside you. Back then he always listened to me. Maybe He can only understand the prayers of children, or maybe only children know how to talk with Him. He certainly didn’t listen to me when I needed Him the most … And so I was … angry at Him. But now … now I can’t help think that maybe He did the right thing … Who am I to question His wisdom …?”
“Elipson … You can’t just look at things like that … Placing all the responsibility on a being that no one knows for sure if it really exists,” he told her softly and she looked away.
“If I can’t say it was God’s will who will I hold responsible then? Me? Was it my fault, then?”
Elian lowered his gaze so he couldn’t see the tears that filled her gray eyes and shook his head.
“I’m sorry … forgive me … I should have done something, back then …”
Elipson smiled, drying her eyes with the back of her hand, and took a deep breath caressing his face.
“There was nothing you could have done. Not you nor anyone else. But least of all you, who were only a child. The truth is we were all too young … And I’m sorry. There’s nothing to gain by talking about that now.”
“Sometimes speaking about something that … hurts us …”
“Not in this case, dear. It won’t help anyone. Come here,” she told him, offering him a place beside her, and Elian accepted her invitation laying his head on her shoulder. “Besides, you already have more than enough problems to fill your head. But please don’t worry so much. What I meant with that destiny talk is that when the time comes things always seem to have a way to sort themselves out, no matter if we like it or not. That’s why we always have to be ready, so that when the time comes we may be able to deal with the results the best way we can, in order to minimize the damage.”
Elian hugged her gently, careful not to hurt her injured shoulder, and took a deep breath. He loved the way she smelled, the warmth of her body. He always felt safe near her, just like he had felt when he had been just a little boy.
“There’s something … new … something new that … frightens me. Even more so because I have the feeling that this time I’ll be all alone,” he told her in a whisper and she wrapped her good arm around his shoulders, squeezing him with all her strength.
“That will never happen, Elian! I swear! I’ll always be by your side! Remember? I swore to this when you were still a child and a Knight never goes back on his word!”
“I know … I know you and Denar are always there to defend and protect me from the entire world. But … who'll protect me from myself?”