Chapter 15. The Next Day
Alanis stood at the biggest window in her bedchamber and searched the darkened city below while she thought over Benjamin’s offer. As she watched the street from her cozy perch she was stricken with fear. The windows of the surrounding buildings were dark, as were the streets, much darker than a normal night in Ati.
The night and loneliness it carried, had a way of getting at her, fueling her insecurities of the future—her future. She closed her eyes and prayed to the gods to grant her strength in her time of need, knowing she would need it when facing Faris next.
The joining-door creaked and her breath hitched as she caught his scent in the darkness. Worn leather and the smell of the white plains, two scents that made her think of him.
“You can’t place faith in me because you have no faith in yourself,” Faris whispered, coaxing her eyes to open.
His hand lifted her chin, so he could gaze into her eyes. Those green eyes, as green as the emerald that adorned his finger, as green as the fields in spring searched her while she was lost within them. There was something about the way he looked into her eyes that made her heart dance and melt, both at the same time.
“I’m not the type of man that deserves your heart. Now Berthold’s King and Lord Fulton, those are men worthy of your love, wouldn’t you agree?”
She stepped away from him, offended by his statement. What he thought he knew about her wasn’t true. She wasn’t only interested in those types of men. Sure Alexander and Wesley were obvious suitors, the golden knights many young women dreamt of being with. But was that her dream? Perhaps, it could have been, but now she would never know, not while her fate was set in stone.
“Yes... they are different from you, but that doesn’t make them the better choice. If you think I’m that shallow then you’re—” she stopped in mid-thought and examined her surroundings, then looked up at the prince, who was waiting patiently for her to continue.
"A dream..." This was all a dream, she realized, remembering the night before. There was no way he would have mentioned Alexander as a suitor. That was a secret he could never know about.
She pulled her hands to her chest, securing them against her bosom.
“We kissed, that’s why I’m dreaming about you. I feel guilty for what I did and how I’ve misjudged you. I was only trying to show you that I can live in the moment too, that I’m not some sort of prude or princess.”
“I never said you were,” he replied simply with a step towards her.
“But you think it... I can tell by the way you regard me.”
“What you see is fear.”
Why would he fear her, she was destined to save him and everyone else, she would never hurt him. Was it his fear of the powers she possessed, or was it her fear, the fear of him finding out that she had been manipulating him into performing a task without his knowing.
"Fear..." Alanis repeated. “There is no need to fear me. I promise, I would never allow anything bad happen to you. Please, trust me.” Her whisper was met by a kiss from him as haunting as his stare. It was deeper than the kiss they shared the night before, permeating into her very soul, becoming one with the drumming of her heart.
His lips left hers. “Then the only way... is to let go. You’ve got to let go...” the prince whispered into her ear, each word was drawn out in her ear as he spoke them. They were important, holding within them a hidden message that was more than her subconscious tugging at her guilt.
“Forgive me,” he said and pulled away from her before she could react to his words, disappearing into the sunlight that flooded her bedchamber. She looked out the window, clutching her chest in longing, missing him and the heat of his kiss.
"Let go,” a soft voice called from behind.
Alanis turned around spotting her reflection in the standing mirror, beside her bed. The face that stared back was hers, but it was changed. Her eyes were brighter and her hair shown like spun silver, the same hue as Berthold’s King, the mark of a Sorrow that had been shed.
Though as curious as she was of the silver beauty that stood before her, Alanis was more intrigued by what she said.
’Let go?′ she questioned. Her hands lifted to the mirror as she pondered what she meant, what everything meant. As she mulled over her question her reflection came to life, spurring her heart to jump inside her chest.
“Listen to him... to everyone,” her reflection spoke. Alanis trembled, hearing her words come from another’s mouth. “They’ll suffer with you as long as you hold on.”
"Let go of what," Alanis whispered back while lifting from her pillows, realizing that she had lost her dream as she blinked against the morning light that flooded her bedchamber.
Safe and back in my room, she thought briefly before her eyes caught the curled parchment at her feet.
This can’t be good.
The Old Stone Tower
Southern Furisre Sreuni
That unpleasant feeling was indeed true. The letter that was left at the foot of her bed made her heart race with blood boiling rage, forcing her to flee the castle on horseback to hide her anger. The decision that was made without her consent led her to the abandoned tower to await the prince’s arrival. She knew he’d show. His arrogance would require it. He’d come to train her and go on like he did nothing wrong. But he wasn’t going to get away with it, not this time. This wasn’t his decision to make, Benjamin had asked her, and she would be the one to answer.
He came to the tower just as she expected. Snow flurries danced behind him and his moving mount. Alanis kept her head low, she was far too furious to look him in the eye. The amount of time she sat stewing over his betrayal had fueled her anger and it would push it to the point of no return should she look upon him.
“I knew I would find you here,” Faris said from atop his steed, “sulking like a child.”
And I knew you’d come, she thought rousing from the toppled tree trunk. There was no use fighting her anger, he’d only provoke her until it was unleashed.
“I’ll ask you this only once,” she said lowly, but allowed her voice to grow bolder as she continued. “Whatever you decide next will dictate whether I’m going to forgive your childish behavior.”
He lifted his chin and snorted. Her weak threat was nothing to him. So she sighed and bowed her head, letting him win the cold stare-off that played silently between them.
“Take me to Benjamin, so I can give him my answer.” Alanis looked up, praying the prince would surprise her, praying he’d accept her request.
“I’ve already given him your answer. Besides, he’s left for Cove.” His reply read as cold as his stare. “You’d have a hell of ride catching up with him. That is, if you knew where to find him.”
“My answer,” she replied and turned away before her emotions were caught by him. “You’re a hypocrite—a fool!” Her head shook in disbelief that he could be so stubborn, that she had almost believed in him.
She heard his dismount into the snow. Each of his steps crunched the snow beneath his leather boots, growing louder the closer he came.
“Crying will do you no good,” he said, stopping when his shadows met with hers. “Why can’t we just train, and forget about the other night. You’ve other things to worry about, the Winter Festival, and your quest. You can’t juggle it all.”
“How do you propose I forget?” she said, turning to him. There were no tears in her eyes, but the pain in them was there for him to see. It was also thick in her question and made the prince’s smirk fade. “Because I can’t. I can’t, not while I’m unsure if this is part of my destiny, my quest. Benjamin is right. They need us.”
“They don’t need anything,” Faris snapped as soon as she finished. “They’ve got plenty of recruits, and more than enough gold to supply their upcoming campaigns. Let it go, Oraur Lahre.” He touched her shoulder, letting his fingers settle between the folds of her cloak.
“Don’t touch me.” Her words hovered in the air between them. “You may not understand magic or destiny, but you know what those people are going through. You and your sister could have easily been in their place, same as I.
“Once the settlement’s experiments become successful, you and I and everyone else, won’t have the luxury of ignoring them any longer. They’ll come for us armed with weapons and the ability to harness magic. They’ll be no stopping them when that happens. They’ll bring down your kingdom and the next, then we will all die.”
She left him alone at the stone tower when he had no reply for her argument, realizing nothing she could say would change his mind.
Tall shadows from the trees splayed throughout the trail ahead of her, dusk would be coming shortly. The day, like her progress with the prince, had been wasted and ruined. And hope the morrow would bring seemed just as fruitless.
Why am I so stupid, I should have known better.
As she lamented, her ears caught a sound carried on the wind ahead of her. The sound grew into a hum, the same hum Letando’s Tuore made as it sprout from her chest.
It’s warm, this sound—a guiding sound.
Alanis pulled on Trista’s reins and walked her to the source of the hum.
Their walk was short, though the anticipation of what she would find on the other side of the scattering stone trees made each step feel like a journey of their own. As she slipped past the last of the trees she shielded her eyes. The light ahead was brilliant and blinding, reflecting off the grand frozen lake like a giant mirror. Alanis squinted and staggered her way past the tall shadows, but as the sun cast down upon her and her worn yellow cloak she doubled-over from the surprising burn in her breast.
Glowing, she said simply as she examined her chest. It was Letando’s Tuore, but why was it called? There wasn’t any immediate danger, nor was she experiencing any distress. The fact remained that she wasn’t entirely sure how she called upon the Light Goddess’ magic to begin with which made her curious all the more.
She lifted her eyes to the new sound ahead and spotted a horse as white as snow. The glowing shield at her breast arced, catching the silver eyes of the steed.
Could this be a vision, another dream?
Alanis looked to her side as her mount’s reins jerked her arm. Trista had backed away with her head bowed submissively to the creature ahead.
Alanis let go of Trista’s leathers and walked to the silver steed. It’s head lowered to a crack in the ice to drink, dismissing her entirely as she circled behind it. The light grew brighter with each step she took and the ache in her chest dulled.
“Hello,” Alanis said nervously, wondering still if she was dreaming and the steed would speak back a greeting.
But it did not, it only lifted its head and gave her a soft snort before bowing to drink again.
Just a horse—a beautiful horse.
It would make a splendid mount, but she knew nothing of taming. Something the stupid prince knew plenty about, she thought briefly.
"Fior mani du’nure," she spoke in the old tongue this time, assuring the steed she was friendly and to be trusted, to be sure she wasn’t dreaming.
The horse lifted its head again. Its silver eyes were calm and inviting, daring her to join it on the lake’s edge. She found she couldn’t move when she went to walk, but the light that she carried broke free and moved when she could not. It grew between them, and within it, Alanis could see echoes of something she couldn’t understand. They felt like memories, in sense, beautiful ones that were trying to escape her.
“Stop!” A shout broke the trance she was in. “Don’t go near it, back away and lower your eyes!”
The horse reared onto its hind legs, sending Alanis to the frozen ground as it bellowed. The sound was godly and harmonic as it travelled across the frozen lake. Before she could grasp the animal was some sort of mystical being wings erupted from its back, furthering her amazement.
Fulton rushed to her side, his black cloak danced behind them as he drew his sword protectively in from of them. The horse took several trots back and let out one last call before its wings fanned. The light that was left between them flashed and it was gone, leaving behind hundreds of deep blue butterflies. They scattered, looping and disappearing into the wind like the scattering of leaves. She lifted her hand to the last, it landed in her palm and melted into her skin.
“What was that thing?” Alanis said under her breath. Whatever it was it certainly affected her powers, enhancing them.
Fulton sheathed his sword. “That was Sinreinti’ani, the Light Goddess’ mount.”
Alanis had read about the steed, a gift from the God King worthy enough to carry his bride. The stallion was said to have been the last standing Davani’reanare that guarded Heaven’s Gate. The trinity of judgment was once strong, but as societies greed grew, their powers waned until only the final judgment was left to guard the gate of the innocent.
The Queen took over the Davani’reanare’s role together with Sinreinti’ani, the last and final judgment, and judged the souls as they crossed from life to death. Rewards were bestowed upon those pure of heart and punishment to those touched by decay. It was told that a touch to the winged-steed, while living, would brand an early judgment dealing death to a corrupt heart, but if the person had a true heart, a heart most pure, they would be granted luck today, tomorrow, and the next day.
“I wonder why it was wandering here,” she stated as she stood to her feet.
“The same could be asked of you.”
She looked the captain over. What was he doing out in the middle of Furisre Sreuni? This was the second time he had found her wandering the forest. The first time, she didn’t think much about it, but this time she wondered if he had been following her.
They sat at the tavern. Alanis rested with little regard to her manners, sitting cross legged in her seat with her chin propped against the lip of her empty mug.
The mystery of Fulton’s second rescue wasn’t nearly as interesting as she had hoped. Seems the captain had been patrolling the area for brigands in preparation of the king’s hunt at the Qeore Lake. The king would bring in a bear for the Winter Festival Feast as an offering to the gods to grant a healthy summer crop and to strengthen the kingdom.
It was also the only time that the flesh of the living could be eaten, though most turned their noses at the old tradition, as a rite of gaining strength for the year ahead.
But her interest soon spiked as she spied the prince and one of his would be-whores. She shuddered when she caught the prince’s revolting displays. A kiss here, a grope there, it was enough to make her want to throw her dagger across the room and jump over her table like a wild animal. He didn’t need to be so vulgar with his transactions, his reputation had been well established with the others.
He’s mocking me, she seethed and shuddered again, foolishly.
“You like him. Don’t you?” Fulton asked, setting his empty mug to the table. Its clink against the stone table-top caught her attention before his question.
"What,” Alanis croaked dryly and slumped forward, her hazel eyes were glued to the captain’s. “That is... Why would you say that?”
“It’s well known that you were training with him almost every day. But here you are, sitting with me, when I can tell your mind is elsewhere.”
“Oh yes, my mind is on the prince,” she scoffed with an eye roll, “And how I’d much rather be with him. Or should I say between them.”
“Joke all you want, it won’t hide the truth.”
“You’re serious. You truly think I like him?” Her eyes searched his face, waiting for a smile to spring from the corners of his lips. But there was none, instead he wore the smirk of a man bested by another and it pained her to see it. Her heart sank as she slumped over and rested her head against the wall.
They regarded each other silently as their mugs were refilled by one of the tavern master’s daughters.
“All I’m saying is you should tell him before he takes on a new client.”
“That’s his business,” Alanis said, lifting her head from the wall. “He can do whatever he likes.” He most certainly would. “It’s not like we’re friends. He’s been training me for the Winter Festival is all.” She picked up her drink and dropped her eyes, hoping the topic would drop too.
He took a drink then offered a true smile. “Does saying that change your feelings for him?”
“Gods, please can we talk about something else,” she groaned and downed her drink before the blush on her cheeks had cooled.
Wesley laughed and sat two silver coins on the table for their drinks before standing.
“I’ve got to prepare the guard for the king’s hunt. Try to keep away from the forest. I doubt I can continue to aid you each time you run into trouble.”
Ati Harei Palace
Her eyes would occasionally rise to take in the full, silver moon as she walked to the palace. There’s no way I have feelings for him, she thought following the walkway mindlessly. Wesley had it wrong. It was impossible for her to have feelings for Faris, not when she was in love with Alexander. That’s what her head kept telling her anyway.
But there was that indisputable feeling she felt when she saw him together with that woman. She wanted to harm him, not because he had betrayed her trust earlier, it was something less than that. It bit more like jealousy.
He’s an idiot, she grumbled under her breath, pushing away the images of the prince groping the rebellion follower from her mind. A fool that thinks of himself and no other—a coward.
“Strange meeting you here,” the cowardly fool spoke from behind.
She stopped her walk and turned to him. “No it’s not,” Alanis said flatly. “We both reside in the same palace, in rooms next to one another so it’s not strange.”
“So—are you and the captain having a go at it again?”
Her hands wanted to fly to his neck, but she restrained them coolly at her sides as she lashed out with her words instead, “Gods, really, what the hell is wrong with you? Have you forgotten that you’re an asshole and I don’t want to speak to you?”
“I was an asshole before all of this, so what’s changed?”
He did, or so she thought. They were getting along and he had stopped calling her Oraur Lahre, well he hadn’t since this morning, since he ruined everything. And he had even opened up about his childhood the night before.
“Our relationship, I thought we were past whatever trust issues you have.”
“Relationship? I told you I don’t keep many friends and trust is something I have little faith in.”
“Just because you say something doesn’t make it true.” She stole the captain’s speech, though she thought it applied to his situation more than hers.
“What kind of statement is that to make?”
“That what you’re saying is a cop-out, a way to justify what you did to make things easier on yourself. Like you, I’m an observer and after everything you told me the other night I understand why you did what you did. But this is my life, and these are my decisions to make, not yours.”
“Trust me, I’ll sleep easy come tonight. Gods know how exhausted I am after today,” he said. His normal cocky tone riddled his words like the stinging cold.
“You won’t. You only say that you will to keep an illusion that you don’t care. But you do. So you can talk your talk and go on about what you think you may know, when I know that you don’t even know yourself,” she retorted just as cockily, he stepped back surprised by her tone.
“If you’re going shout nonsense at me at least make it coherent.”
She stepped forward, her eyes lifted to his. “You don’t want me to join because you’re worried for my safety, because... You. Like. Me." She poked his collar forcefully with each accusing word, watching the rage that burned within his eyes as she continued, “Is that clear enough for you? Did you understand that?”
The prince took her hand, pulling her close by her gripped wrist. “Are you mad? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard,” he snarled and would have roared if his teeth had not been clenched.
“Then why’d you kiss me like that last night?” She recalled their kiss, the way his hands moved in rhythm with his mouth, and the way he tasted on her tongue. How it made her feel to be wanted like that by him. That feeling made her heart race.
“You’re bringing this up because of that? If that’s how you pieced this theory of yours together then it means must feel the same for me.”
"Me—I,” she stopped.
“Yes you. In fact I do believe it was you who initiated the kiss. Do tell me what drove you to that action?”
“You... You made me mad, coddling me like I was some sort of child when I am not. You push me away at every opportunity then bring me back in.” Her excuse was as poor from her lips as it was in her head. She could only hope he wouldn’t question it.
“So you kissed me to prove a point, is what you’re saying?”
It sounded much worse coming from him, like a horrible excuse. He knew she was unsure of her actions and that’s what made her reply childishly, “You enjoyed it.”
Another foolish move, she realized too late.
He released her arm. “What are you trying to prove? That I enjoy the company of a willing woman, what man wouldn’t? If memory serves, you took as much enjoyment in the activity as I did. So what’s your end-game here? What answer are you looking for?”
She flushed and lowered her eyes. He was right, she thought. What was she looking for, truly? She wouldn’t obtain the answer from him. It was something she would have to find on her own.
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Old God Language:
Letando’s Tuore = A shield of light that protects the caster.
Fior mani du’nure = Said by Alanis meaning, Do not fear me.
Sinreinti’ani = Winged Judgment or Silver Steed, Letando’s mount and companion.
Davani’reanare = Divine Trinity, The three judgments of the heavens.
Qeore Lake = Crystal Lake