Chapter 14. The Piano
Outside the Castle
The trek to the palace was uneventful, but sneaking into the prince’s room wasn’t without its own dangers. They climbed to one of the private second story balconies that connected to his room after stabling his mount.
Alanis was thankful she had recently acquired the upper-body strength to hoist herself over the small wall that awaited them at the top, if not she would have been bunking with the horses for the remainder of the evening.
"It’s late," Alanis whispered while she cautiously walked into his room, “I should get back to my room before the sun rises. They’ll be questions asked if someone sees me leaving your room.”
No doubt there would be.
And not to mention, the rumors—they’d spread like wildfire. The prince and Oraur Lahre knocking boots would be the topic of many conversations and she feared that word would eventually reach Berthold, and her king.
"Ahhh, but you forget,” he replied while he turned his gaze to the old hidden door that joined both their rooms.
She had almost forgotten that it was there and so did he. It wasn’t until she knocked upon it the other day, that he remembered it.
“There’s no need to rush out just yet.”
“Well, If you’re proposing I sit around and chat with you, then you’re going to need to set a fire. It’s freezing in here.” She folded her arms against her chest and turned from the door.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth, you know that?” he jested, while shuffling his cloak from his shoulder. He draped the garment on the foot of his bed before tending to the fire.
Alanis stood silently at the door, too nervous to frame a retort to his last statement. This was the first time she had been invited into his bedchambers, and to top it off he had asked her to stay. But her worries ended there, for she knew they would merely speak about the commander’s proposal and would no doubt try his hand at discouraging her from considering it.
As she walked over to fireplace and sat near the hearth across from the prince, she recalled the kiss they shared earlier in the evening. She had nearly forgotten about it after the events of the night.
Nervousness fluttered in the pit of her stomach again while she watched him feed the fire several fresh logs. There was no real explanation for her actions, other than doing it out of spite, but her real nervousness stemmed from the pleasure she took from it. It was truly unexpected and left her with more questions regarding her feelings for him, if she even had any, than answers.
He left her side briefly and returned with two glasses.
“I thought you’d be chattier after reuniting with your friends. Instead, you have a telling look on your face.”
She looked away, towards the growing fire and answered, “So, you’re an expert on reading me now?”
“I’m an observer and I’ve observed a change.”
“I’m shocked, what more can I say?” Alanis replied. Her chin lifted as she turned to properly acknowledge him. “I’ve noticed these types of events bring trouble, so I’m sorry if I’m reluctant to celebrate their arrival. If anything, it scares me.”
Faris smiled and offered her the extra glass. “You’re smarter than you look.”
“Oh, and how do I look, your highness?”
“Well played,” Alanis retorted and took the offered goblet from his hovering hand. He successfully managed to overcome his insulting remark with a simple pleasantry. And truth be told, she was charmed, unaware that he found her attractive.
“So what’s the story behind Lord Ashton, is it some sort of alias you go by back in Ilu?”
“It was my father’s name.”
His true father, she gathered by the way he glanced at his ring. She dropped her eyes respectfully.
“And Elis?” he asked in return.
“My surname in Larska. Anna and I were born the same year so our friends would us ‘The Elis Sisters’.” A bottle of Hiore’sen was opened by the prince while she chatted. Her cup was then filled as was his.
“So let’s get down to it, the real reason you want to talk to me,” she said, cutting to the chase.
He took a drink and she followed suit with a small sip of her own, careful not to drink too much. She knew this was his way of loosening her up, to yield to his request to refuse the commander’s proposal. It wasn’t going to work, but she’d participate in his game, hoping he’d loosen up for her.
“I guess I’ll go first, since I already know what you’re going to say,” she said. Her eyes lowered to her glass from his lack of response.
Alanis let the breath she was holding onto, go on a soft sigh. She knew he was planning everything out inside his head while she hesitated speaking. This was going to be tough. Whatever argument he was going to give was going to be good.
She licked her lower lip, tasting the rich, berry wine once more before she asked, “What’s going on between you and the rebellion?”
“Not much. I’ve been asked to join, but decided to support them in other ways.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you decide against joining?”
He smiled. “The commander would like it if I made my presence known in rebellion. I heard the same spiel you heard tonight, that my presence would boost morale in his followers. And I suppose Benjamin desires a partner to split the burdens of leadership with.”
“Like a second in command?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“So... why did you reject his offer?”
"Offers,” he corrected with a short laugh, “He’s asked several times. And I can tell by the way you’re staring that you think it’s a good idea.”
“It is, you’ve got a lot to offer ‘The Rebellion’, besides gold. You’re formidable with a blade, and too stubborn to let yourself get killed in battle.”
“But I’m no leader.”
“How do you know if you don’t try?”
“Because I know,” he sighed, “Just as you’re no warrior.”
“Regardless, I haven’t said no.”
“Don’t let pride rule your choice, or you’ll find yourself dead because of it.”
He was right, though she wouldn’t admit it. She was ready to join in that instant to prove him wrong.
“Not if we joined together. If we both joined, we could look out for each other.” She smiled, offering what she thought was a solid proposal.
“You look after me?” he scoffed, stealing the smile from her face. “You have no idea what battle is like, how it feels to see an army of marching soldiers ready to slay you, and your followers without so much as a second thought. The fear is paralyzing, even to a seasoned solider.”
He spun his goblet in his hands as he caught her stare, “There is no looking out for one another, not while you’re packed elbow-to-elbow with shields and steel. You kill as many of them as you can, before they can kill you. That is your duty, your goal—
“And if you’re somehow lucky enough to survive and hear the horns of victory you’ll realize that you’re not free of death, because you’ll find it everywhere as you search through fallen comrades for survivors. That is what you have to look forward to if you join. Sounds fun doesn’t it?” He chuckled cynically.
“But... what about fighting for the people you love?”
“My sister is safe in Berthold. I’ve helped the rebellion enough to merit—”
“Your sister can’t be the only person you have to fight for. Why else would you fund the rebellion if you didn’t care. You care. You care more deeply than you’re letting on, but something is holding you back.”
“I’d rather not speak about this any further. I’m too tired to shoulder a debate with you this hour.”
“Fair enough, I’ve got a lot to think about anyway,” she replied lowly, her thoughts heavy with questions he couldn’t answer.
What if joining the rebellion was her purpose as well, she pondered as she rolled her glass in her palms.
Her eyes took in the flames while she mulled over all of her past visions. The Sorrow had told her the prince was reluctant to play. At first she was certain it was his role as prince, but after tonight it was clear his place was with them. The idea he would join if she did was stuck in her mind, beyond the reach of her own insecurities.
She picked up the summer wine, noticing her glass had gone empty while she weighed her decision. She filled her goblet to the brim and slurped away the excess until she drank half of it, stopping only when she noticed the prince’s judging stare.
Was he going to judge her based on her binge drinking, she feared. She certainly looked distraught with a bottle of wine in one hand and a half chugged drink in the other. But luckily, he reclined against the slate wall behind him and watched the fire instead.
“So, have you ever been in love,” she asked curiously. He only ever mentioned his sister and wondered if he had been hurt by someone in the past. That would explain why he was so standoffish regarding the subject.
He pulled from the wall with a curious look in his eye.
“I can’t say that I have,” he said with a smirk then tapped the bottle of wine she held with his empty glass, “You...?”
“Yes...” she answered hesitantly, realizing her question had backfired, forcing her into the spotlight again.
“Go on,” he said with a smile as she refilled his goblet.
“I’d prefer not to,” she said while scooting back against the stone wall.
"Oh, come on. I told you the story behind my ring, now it’s your turn to tell me something equally girly.”
“You’re such a dick.”
“And you wouldn’t have me any other way, would you?”
“I suppose not. You acting like a civilized man—I don’t want to think of a world like that,” she replied with an eye roll.
She was very much aware of his watchful eye as she relieved the near-empty bottle of wine between them. This wasn’t one of his normal teasing sessions, he was genuinely interested in hearing about her, learning, intimate details about her past that only a close friend would care about.
Was that what was happening? Were they becoming friends, she wondered momentarily, but was drawn back by one of the prince’s clearing coughs.
“Don’t avoid the question. Tell me about it.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Well for starters who was this... guy?” he chuckled.
“No one in particular...”
“Someone you knew in the settlement?”
“Yeah,” she sighed, preparing herself mentally for the old story she was bound to tell. She sipped her drink and continued, drawing the prince near with her lowered voice. “... you know Justin?”
He looked her over and nodded after he grasped she was speaking about her friend from Larska.
“Well, he had an older brother. His name was James,” she answered, “He was my first crush... Anyway, things don’t work out the way we plan.” As she explained James’ untimely death she began to question if she had ever really been in love with him. The feelings that she once held for him were faded and buried so far beneath the destruction of her last failed love that she wasn’t sure.
She looked over at the quite prince as he washed his painted smile down with his drink.
“So, what was it like?” he asked.
“What...?” Alanis leaned away, but her eyes locked with his. She wasn’t sure what ‘it’ was. With him, it could mean anything. And there was a great likelihood that it was something perverse.
“Being in love, how’d it feel?” His emerald eyes pulled her in, shocking her more than his question.
“... Wonderful.” She smiled through her pain then whispered, “And freeing. There’s no other way to describe it other than that. I dropped all of my boundaries when I was around him. And I would have done anything to be with him.” She thought of Alexander and the way he made her feel. For weeks she had put those feelings to rest, but they were still there and just as strong as they were the day she left Berthold.
“I believe you.” His smile resurfaced. She could tell he wouldn’t pry any further, even he looked uncomfortable with the turn in their conversation. “I never thought I’d believe such a tale, but you’ve got me convinced.”
“Don’t worry even a man—” she paused, “...like you can find love. You’ve got a lot to offer, you know.”
“I do believe you’re the first to utter something so profound in my bedchamber.”
“If you’re lucky it won’t be the last.”
She blushed, “Wishful thinking, your highness.”
She rose her glass and drank the rest of her wine in a single gulp. This talk was getting too intense for her liking, it was time to turn the tables. Since they were answering questions she had one in particular that needed to be answered, so she stated, “Now it’s your turn to explain something.”
She stood to her feet and glanced towards darkened corner of his room, to the covered piano that was pushed against the hidden door that connected their rooms.
“I hear music some nights,” she chuckled while stooping over the prince. She had no idea why she found it funny to admit, though it could have been brought on by intoxication. “Music coming from your room,” she continued as she rushed to the piano that was hidden under the sheet. And with a swift tug of the cloth, the grand piano was revealed.
Alanis stood before it, her eyes taking in the large musical instrument. Faris joined her, watching as she experimentally tapped on the keys.
“I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.” She giggled, her fingers pinging at the keys with each fluttery tremor.
“Sit down before you hurt yourself,” he laughed and pushed her to the side.
“I’ll sit only if you promise to play something.”
“Who says I play.”
“I may be drunk, but I’m not—” she hesitated trying to frame a word sophisticated enough to describe her current state of mind. “stupid.”
“Clearly, I have no idea who I’m dealing with. Who would have guessed I’d be found out by a master spy.”
"Clearly,” she repeated.
He sighed while pulling the short bench from under the piano. He took seat and glanced up at her hovering figure.
“Seriously, though, sit down. You’re making me nervous with your drunken swaying,” he said, eyeing the bed behind them.
She plopped against his bed and watched as he positioned his hands over the keys.
“What do you want to hear?” he called over his shoulder.
And he did just that.
The soft notes he played twinkled around her like the gentle fall of snowflakes. She closed her eyes and listened to him play. It was beautiful and lulling, the same melody he played nights past. Though, it was better without the stone walls muffling the harmony.
Then, he began to sing—
-Lost boys and golden girls, down on the corner and all around the world.
-Lost boys and golden girls, down on the corner and all round, all around the world.
Her eyes opened and she pulled her head from a flock of pillows. She pinched her arm, unable to believe her eyes and ears. But as she continued to watch the serenading prince, her shock was lost to her building enchantment.
-It doesn’t matter where they’re going or wherever they’ve been,
-’cause they’ve got one thing in common it’s true.
-They’ll never let a night like tonight go to waste,
-and let me tell you something, neither will you, neither will you.
-We gotta be fast,
-We were born out of time, born out of time and alone.
-And we’ll never be as young as we are right now, running away and running for home,
-running for home.
He looked back at her gaping stare and stopped abruptly.
“I’m sorry...” he mumbled. There were several other remarks that were lost to her ears, but she got the gist of his apology.
Could it be that he was embarrassed, or perhaps, shocked he had played for her. She couldn’t imagine why, his gift was wonderful.
“Gods, that was—beautiful,” Alanis choked, blushing at her words and how corny the sounded. “All bullshit aside, I’m in shock, truly. I’m at a loss for words.”
“Really, I feared I had made an ass of myself when I looked over at you. There was a strange look on your face. You looked almost ill.”
“No, I assure you it was quite the opposite. I had suspicions that you played, but had no idea you could sing. Did you write that piece?”
“Have you always played?” she blurted then recanted her question by adding, “I mean, it must have taken you forever to get to this level.”
“Yes... a lifetime,” he whispered. His reply was thick with resentment towards his talent. “When I was a child I had a lot of anger.”
“What brought that on?” Alanis asked timidly.
“There were a lot of whispers and stares. Most were curious of my sister and I, but some had fears we wouldn’t be capable of carrying out our responsibilities since we weren’t the king’s true heirs.”
That explains a lot, Alanis thought before replying, “I’m sorry. I can imagine that would be a lot for any child to handle.”
“Not my sister, she always kept cool and did whatever she could to ease their fears. But I couldn’t... Whenever I’d hear their whispers or see their stares, I’d get angry. At first Laurel didn’t know what to do with me. She’d tell me not to worry, that I was the heir of Ati Harei, that those men would answer to me someday.
“But I didn’t find her words soothing, they made me feel worse. I didn’t like the fact that my title would force their respect. I didn’t want it like that. I wanted them to see that I was no different from them. Sure I couldn’t wield and I was birthed from a woman who was enslaved in a settlement, but my needs were the same as theirs. I wanted the same things any normal man should.”
“And the piano?” Alanis asked, hugging one of the prince’s pillows to her chest.
“I was getting to that, you impatient lush,” he smirked playfully, “While all of that was going on I came across this old piano. It hadn’t seen much use so when I first went to play, the tune was just as sour as my mood. I found pounding the keys had helped release some of the anger I was feeling. Needless to say, I’d find my way to this piano almost every night.”
Alanis dropped the pillow from her arms and let loose a soft sigh. “You’re amazing,” she stopped and corrected her thought nervously, feeling the heat of her blush stinging at her cheeks, “I mean, you know when you play and sing. I wish I had a secret talent that beautiful.”
“You could,” he said while he scooted to the end of the bench, his hand lowered and he patted the polished wood beside him. She looked him over terrified that she would make an ass of herself in her current state if she took seat beside him. The room was swaying and she was on the cusp of falling to sleep.
“Come now, I’ll show you a few tricks,” he added with a coaxing smile.
Alanis sat beside him and he showed her several chords. They were simple, yet when struck together in a short pattern sounded like a short melody. She struck the chords over and over, moving quickly as her pride inflated with her accomplishment. He continued to teach her new things as she played, oftentimes taking her hands to guide them to the correct key.
“You’re a natural and you’re graceful with your hands.” he said once she stopped.
“To tell you the truth,” she yawned, stretching her arms forward. “I owe my thanks to you and your swords training. I’m much swifter with my hands now.”
“You need to place more faith in your ability. The potential was always there, with or without my help.”
“I’m sorry, I did it again. I’m so horrible at accepting compliments.”
They sat silently, both in thought. As she mulled over the night’s events, she realized that there was a change in the prince’s behavior, that he was easier dealt with when they were alone. He still carried his strong will, but it was easier to bend when it was just him and her. If she could somehow get him to see that his place was with ‘The Rebellion’, she felt her task would be complete.
She would join, it was her only choice, the clear choice. She closed her eyes, picturing his disapproving face. He’d tell her she was stupid and would yell when she told him she’d made up her mind. But she knew he would follow her to the battlefield, he’d make sure she was safe, and nag at her every chance he could.
They were friends now.
"Lanis,” he repeated several times as her head fell to his shoulder.
“Lanis, who’s Lanis,” she slurred sleepily.
“That’s what your friend called you, right?”
“No,” Alanis yawned making herself more comfortable on his arm, “She called me Lani. You called me Lanis.”
“My mistake,” he replied while watching her eyes close. She nodded off briefly, but awakened with a small jerk that startled both, him and her.
“So... you’re no longer calling me Oraur Lahre. I like it, the new name...” She began to nod-off again as she spoke. Her head bobbed and gravitated further onto his shoulder for support where she nestled her face near his neck.
He waited for her to wake again, but she never did. After awhile, her breathing softened until it matched the silence that now filled his room.
"No,” he answered just below her silent breath, as silent as the whispering flames that crackled behind them. “I know it bothers you, because it bothers me. I was just as terrible to you, as the others who mock me... Besides, you deserve to live by your name, not some title someone else has given you.”
Faris took her into his arms, lifting her limp body to his before adding, “You have a name, remember that...”
He gently rested her on his bed as he uncovered the old door that he and his sister had used when they were children. Though, he hadn’t laid eyes on it since they had grown from their dependency of each other, he thought of it every day all the same.
The last time she rushed through the door, her eyes were large with excitement as she told him about her meetings with the temple master. She was more than proud of the abilities she possessed, she was honored.
And to this day he never understood why.
There were never any raw feelings regarding the gifts the gods had given her and spared him. Truth be told, he was glad he had only himself to rely on. The powers of the gods always seemed like they came with a price. His sister’s childhood was robbed by hours of study and tedious training.
As he opened the secret door, a warm smile sprawled across his lips while he remembered her last smile, the last carefree smile his sister wore all those years ago. It faded along with their relationship, but he still hung on to that feeling, for she was his blood, the only person he truly gave a damn about.
The only person who truly held his heart.
He refueled the dying fireplace in Alanis’ room before carrying her back to her bed. He found it hard to leave her there, alone, as he walked back to their joining doors. His eyes kept wandering to her sleeping face, hoping she would wake so the lonesome feeling that accompanied him would break.
With the door closed, the silence won. He walked over to the foot of his bed and sat.
While he undressed his armor, he looked over his shoulder, to the door again. He stopped, realizing something he thought would never happen, happened without him knowing it.
The door he feared would never open, had opened again.
Because of her.
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Old God Language:
Hiore’sen = Summer Wine
No, I didn’t come up with the lyrics or song that Faris sang. If you’re interested in hearing the song, it’s called ‘Lost Boys and Golden Girls’, by Meatloaf. It’s one of my favorite songs by him.
And I feel it fits the prince perfectly.