Part 6 - A Queen's Decision
Half the morning had already passed when the division into evacuation groups was finally concluded. The members of the Royal Council, with dark circles under bloodshot eyes and pale faces from lack of sleep, looked at each other satisfied with their night’s work. Carrying the list of the several groups, the assembled provisions and respective guards that would accompany them for the evacuation of Everlyn, the Prime Minister finally stood up and faced his countrymen.
“Gentlemen, let’s get to work!”
They had just started leaving the room when Elipson barged in, breathless.
“My Lords, I bring news.” she announced and tired smiles rapidly turned into apprehensive expressions. “The Northern Armies are on the move and it looks like they’re moving at full speed. If this goes on they’ll probably reach Everlyn’s borders before sunset. From what we could gather their numbers are above fifty thousand men.” Denar rose, about to scold her for venturing outside on her own, but Elian held his arm, forcing him to remain silent. “Of those, about seven thousand travel on horseback and two thousand carry bows on their backs,” she went on. “We could also distinguish a few siege weapons, such as catapults and assault towers. All men are armed and wear heavy armor, although they might as well walk naked, by the effortless way they carry themselves. Above their column a dark cloud looms in the sky, covering the sun.”
The room went deadly silent, the enthusiasm from before now completely lost, at least until Heric spoke up.
“I suppose we should hurry up, then. Since the plan is to abandon the city before they arrive,” he added, still with a hint of displease in his voice, but everyone immediately agreed, going back to their business as they quickly left the room.
Elipson too, was about to follow them, when Denar held her arm, holding her back.
“Are you mad? You went outside?” he asked in an accusing whisper, and she pulled her arm free, looking disdainfully at him.
“Spare me! Who do you take me for? I can take care of myself just fine! And don’t give me that bullshit about responsibility! I’m not the one going out every night, partying and sleeping around with every whore in town, and ending up not being able to attend first practice! So please, do me a favor and pretend I don’t exist!” she spat the words in one single breath and turned to follow the others outside.
“I told you you should keep quiet … Elipson knows what she’s doing. I’m sure she didn’t take any unnecessary risks …”
Denar brushed Elian’s appeasing hand off his shoulder and looked at him, irked by the Prince’s words. But the moment he faced his sad gaze he simply shook his head and left as well.
Everything had been carefully planned and soon enough Knights started bringing inside the palace’s walls those that would form the first group. Of course this led to a tense atmosphere, where cries were heard here and there as families were force to split up, no matter how much they were assured that everyone would be together again in just a few days.
Everlyn was a peaceful Kingdom, never touched by war, and many still didn’t believe that a cruel, devastating army was practically at their doors. And so, as there were those that didn’t want to let go of their wives and children, there were also those that refused to leave their farms, houses and material possessions. In those cases the Royal Guard would always intervene, since it was their mission to make sure everything went on as planned.
As people were brought in, carts were loaded with provisions, water, blankets and tools for what may be needed on the road. Most members of the Council took the lead of one of the organizing teams, and those who did not, spent their time talking to the people, trying to appease them, explaining how things would proceed, answering questions. Of those Allana’s presence was the most appreciated, as the young girl appeased mothers and children that had just been separated from their husbands and fathers. But sometimes Heric had to be called to reassure them, since up till then he’d been the one occupying the ruler’s seat and the people had grown used to look up to him.
It was midday when the first group, guarded by five Knights, finally left Everlyn’s gates, and everyone immediately started working on the formation of a second one, and then a third one, and so on.
As new groups kept being formed the people started to get used to saying goodbye to their loved ones, which made things much easier. On the other hand, there were lesser people staying behind, and finally only young men and strong male adults were left inside the city walls.
Allana sighed and sat on a doorstep near the main square while Heric talked with a man, trying to convince him that no harm would come to his daughter and wife, who had both left hours ago. She could no longer tell how many times she’d heard those same words that day, and how many times she’d answer the same way Heric was answering right now. She was tired and her feet hurt from all the walking and running around. She wished everything would be over soon, that everyone would leave and that night would finally come, so that she could finally have some peace …
Elipson approached her and sat beside her, sighing as she passed her a flask with fresh water.
“It seems everything’s going as planned.”
“Yes. Two more and the city will be deserted. I have to go inside. Mother, Selina and Dana must leave on the next group. You too. There’s no need for you to stay any longer. The final group will be the remaining Knights and Guards. They’ll know how to better organize things amongst themselves.”
“You know, I thought you understood. We’re not leaving here without you. Even if Elian were to consider it, it’s hardly something a Knight would do.”
“No, you don’t understand. You should leave here as soon as possible. You all have other responsibilities to attend to. While I …”
“You’re no different from any of us,” Elipson retorted cutting her off. “You’re still young and I understand all this has been very hard on you. But it’s precisely in times like these that our friends are most needed. And in case you still haven’t understood, you have quite a few of those out here. Because that’s what friends do. They help and support each other when things go sour. You’re not alone anymore,” she added and Allana took a deep breath, deeply touched by her words, smiling embarrassed.
“It’s really easy to see why Elian cherishes you so much …”
“Hum, Elian! Oh, I know all too well who he really cherishes, and it’s not me. But oh well, since I gave my word and all that, it’s better to leave it at that. Shall we go inside, then?”
Allana pushed back her curiosity and nodded, grateful for the company. The palace was even more silent than usual, it’s great walls, stairs and corridors completely deserted as they walked towards the Royal bedchamber. Inside the daylight was heavily filtered by the velvet curtains that covered all the windows, and Dana stood beside the Queen, who looked as pale as a dead person.
“Mother. The city is almost deserted. Only two more groups to go. You all should leave with the next one,” Allana informed her and Lidya smiled reaching out her hand, calling her to her side.
“You can’t even imagine how proud I am of you. My little girl … all grown up.”
“Your Majesty, with your permission, it’s really urgent that you make haste. They’re all waiting for you and the day is approaching its end,” Elipson urged and Lidya looked at her with that same peaceful and resigned smile.
“No. Allana … order them to leave.”
Allana looked confused.
“But mother! This group is the one you’re supposed to go with. Everything’s ready. They have a carriage ready for you and …”
“I’m not going … I can’t,” she finally said. “I still have much to do here.”
“To do?! What are you talking about?”
“Please don’t argue. Just give the order. Dana shall go in my place.”
“Your Majesty! If Your Majesty is staying so am I!” Dana declared vehemently and Allana held the Queen’s hand, pleadingly.
“Please, mother. There’s no time for this. The group must leave as soon as possible!”
“The group as already left.” Allana turned back at the sound of that voice and Elian came in.
“Heric gave the order.”
“But I told him …”
“I told him to do it,” Elian confessed and Allana looked at him in shock and disbelief.
“You … what?!”
“Allana. Dear, listen …” Lidya asked, pulling her closer and making her sit, since she looked too stunned to react. “I asked him to do it. I’m not leaving Everlyn. You … you are all I have. For you I did something … unspeakable, for which I’m responsible, and for which I’ll never be able to atone. I’ve sacrificed many things and many lives, and many more to come. And because of this I cannot afford to lose you now. All I ever wanted was for you to have a chance at being happy … And that’s why I have to stay.”
“By staying I will keep you safe and give you enough time to get far away from here … that I can promise you.”
“No!” Allana said stubbornly, her golden eyes filling with tears that she fought back with all her might. “I’m not leaving you again!”
“Yes you will! If nothing else because I’m still the Queen and you owe me obedience! Come, don’t cry … I promise one day you’ll understand the reason why I do what I do …”
Allana slid her hand from Lidya’s cold ones and stood up, rubbing her eyes so hard her skin turned red.
“Do as you please, then, like you’ve always done anyways! Just selfishly deciding on your own, without telling or explaining anything!”
“Allana … it’s not like that …”
“Of course it is! And I don’t care anymore! Nor do I want to listen to your empty excuses any longer! You say that everything’s for my sake? Because of me? Liar! Not once have you cared about what was best for me! All you ever cared about was yourself, and your lost past, and the life you might have had if I didn’t exist! Stay if you want, then! But not because of me, you hear me?! Because I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore!” she said it all in one breath, her heart breaking with every word, leaving a deep sadness in Lidya’s eyes and a stunned expression on Dana’s face, and then turned around and darted out the room. Elian still called after her but she pretended not to hear him, and so he ended up leaving after her.
Lidya took a deep breath, looking even more tired than before, and closed her eyes for a moment which made her look like a perfect, beautiful corpse.
“Please forgive her, Your Majesty! You know she didn’t mean any of it,” Dana finally managed to say and Lidya sighed.
“No. She meant every word and we both know it. That child … she finally managed to gather enough courage to speak her mind, didn’t she?” she added, sounding prideful.
“If that’s how Your Majesty really feels, please show her she’s wrong,” Elipson asked, taking the liberty of addressing the frail woman once more. “She’s trying to tell you that nothing is more important to her than you’re safety!”
“We both feel the same, then. And yes, she’s right. I am a very selfish woman … always have been. Which is another reason for me to stay. Not for her, as she requested. But for myself. Because I need to know she’s safe. As for you, Dana, tell me. How long have you been in my service?”
“Fifteen years, Your Majesty. Since the Princess was born,” she answered without hesitation and Lidya nodded.
“That’s right. And do you still remember why I brought you into my House?”
“Of course, Your Majesty. So I could take care of the Princess.”
“Then isn’t that your duty?” she asked and Dana stood very still as she understood what her mistress meant. “Since that’s your duty you shall leave when the Princess leaves!”
“But Your Majesty …”
“No buts, Dana. That’s your only duty, isn’t that what I told you fifteen years ago?”
Dana lowered her gaze and bowed respectfully.
“Yes, Your Majesty …” she finally conceded and prepared to leave but Lidya called her one last time.
“Dana … the day you crossed my path was truly a blessed one. Thank you for all you’ve done. And please, keep looking over my little one as you always have.”
Dana nodded, fighting back her tears, and finally left the room.