Chapter 4. Foolish Plan
Outskirts of Ari Harei
The White Plains
Alanis was right about the prince's love of the ride. She had missed him every time she tried to casually bump into him, losing him to some sort of riding ritual he took part in every morning.
The stable boy, John, told her that the prince would come in just before sunrise and take his horse out for a ride—some days he'd ride for hours, others, he'd be out until nightfall. Nobody knew where he was going or what he was doing, nor did they care, but she did, if this man was somehow involved in the future of Terra she had to.
She decided to take Trista out for an early ride on the fourth day of her stay, hoping she'd get a chance to talk to him—about what she did not know. She could talk to him about horses, but that conversation would die before it started, for she knew next to nothing about them. If she were brave enough she could always ask about the woman he was with the other day, Natalia. Yeah right, that would be a disaster, she thought as her feet slipped into the stirrups.
Her hands lifted the reins and she brought Trista to a slow trot, ushering her to the stable entrance. She met with the cold, its familiar touch greeted her cheeks and exposed fingers, but her thoughts were elsewhere as her mount quickened pace. She didn't think it possible, but it felt great riding again. There was a certain rush she experienced by setting Trista to gallop, it was invigorating and freeing. She was finally in control.
The morning sun cast upon her white cloaks, setting the shimmery cloth aglow with its mark. In that moment, she felt like an Oraur Lahre as she sped through the white, open plains. All she needed now was an intimidating weapon—a sword, like Lahre Sari to strike down her foes, then she'd be a true warrior of light.
She traveled the full perimeter of Ati, searching for the prince, but neither he, or his midnight-mount were spotted. Her wrist flicked and the reins tightened, Trista stopped at the cusp of Furisre Sreuni. Alanis's eyes rose, scanning the tall trees ahead. The prince was nowhere to be found at the kingdom's edge, so wherever he had gone to was on the other side of this forest.
These woods are filled with hidden dangers. Never venture them alone.
She recalled the short warning that was given to her days before, as they journeyed through the forest. It was a warning she didn't need, just being near those towering trees made her feel on edge. But after a short argument with her better judgement she decided to take a stroll through the forest. She would keep fairly close to forest's edge, just in case she should lose her bearings.
"u'odvonti," she said with the flick of her wrist and Trista began to move, breaching past the first onslaught of trees.
After a while, she dismounted and walked alongside Trista. It felt good to stretch her legs after such a lengthy ride, even the crunching debris beneath her feet sent pleasant vibrations through her calves.
Where could he be, she wondered while planting her backside on a toppled stump. Her head tilted back and she took in the crisp air. The prince was a secretive man, that's what she heard from many of the knights who served under him. There was no doubt about that, but what was he doing, was it part of her quest to find out?
A raven's call interrupted her thoughts, its flapping wings echoed menacingly from behind. She turned her head in time to see the large bird dive at Trista's head. Its talons tangled in her mane as it pecked aggressively at the top of her head, pulling out tufts of hair with each strike. Trista swung her head, and in an amazing feat of balance the raven's wings opened countering her sudden movement.
There was nothing Alanis could do but watch. Trista was thrashing about too violently to even consider approaching. The bird finally let up and took off. It swooped over Trista's head and flew towards the city, cawing loudly, like a laughing child. Trista took off, dashing around the stone trees as swiftly as the bird flew through them.
Alanis ran after them, tripping over her cloaks several times.
"Trista—holre!" Alanis shouted behind her galloping mount. She stopped, her legs cramped from the sudden sprint. It was useless to keep at it, her horse had already disappeared into the blinding light at the forest's edge.
She was long gone...
"Shit," she cursed lowly, there was a brief moment of silence and she cursed again, knowing she had a hell of a walk ahead of her, two or three hours, she guessed. There was good news, Trista had run towards Ati, so she could at least breathe easy knowing she'd be safe.
She leaned forward and regained herself on the arms of a tree. Her eyes closed and she took in the silence, if it could even be called that, there was a whisper of something and it came from nearby, somewhere close. The tree, she questioned, her eyes grazed the length of the tree to its unearthed roots.
She knelt to the ground and put her ear to the hardened root. There was a definite sound, a continuing hum. She could tell it wasn't brought on by the breeze like the other noises were. Her finger slipped over the smooth surface, it moaned a soft sound with that stroke.
Was something hidden here, she wondered while she closed her eyes and pressed her cheek against the cold, rocky surface. There had been life there once, she could feel it and perhaps it was still there hidden underneath the stone.
"What happened here...?" she said and as she murmured her question the echoes of the forest tapered until silence reigned.
"Good morning, miss," A husky-voiced male spoke up.
She jumped, clutching at her chest. Her heart was racing along with her thoughts. She turned around, gathering her cloaks with one hand as she stood to her feet. Her head turned to the tall, burly man that stood several paces behind her. Her gaze stopped at his hardened face, where she examined his freakishly large brow as discreetly as she could.
"Good morning," she replied hesitantly while lowering her eyes.
"I haven't seen you around here, are you new to these parts?"
She kept her distance and responded quietly, "I am."
Her nervousness didn't wane as he flashed her a smile, she could tell it was for her benefit, it concealed something too sinister to mask.
"Do you normally venture Furisre Sreuni—alone?" he laughed and her nervousness returned.
She gripped her cloaks, raising them above her ankle. "No, I was just leaving. I've got to get back to Ati," she murmured while striding towards the exit, towards Ati Harei.
She could hear the snow as it crunched behind her. Her rousing thoughts of danger returned as his shadow cast over her.
"That's too bad. You should have stayed in Ati." His breath wafted over her shoulder, turning his simple statement into a threat of warning.
She spun around with her hands balled. Acting on instinct she lifted her fist and punched him straight on, hitting his nose first. Her arm swung again and her second punch caught his chin just as he went to cover his face. She grasped her throbbing hand and held it to her chest, it was more painful than she had anticipated.
"Why you little bitch," he snarled, groping his bloodied nose. His eyes burned into hers and her intuition told her it was time to run or die. He lunged at her missing her completely as he fell against the stone trunk.
She took off running, ignoring the cramps that threatened to lock her legs, her sights were on the plains that surrounded Ati, someone would see her if she could make it past the old stone trees. But she didn't have long, she could hear the charge of the man behind her, he was gaining ground and she knew she needed to do something else to stall him. If he caught her, he was going to do bad things to her, really bad things.
As she ran her chest began to burn, the same as it did when she shielded Felicia from the dragon's attack. It was Letando's power, she could feel it. Light permeated from underneath her top and burst ahead, cutting through the trees in a glorious pillar—then it was gone.
That's it? What the hell was that, she balked and was pulled backwards as the man gripped one of her billowing cloaks.
"No. Please don't do this," she labored hopelessly as the man tackled her to the ground.
She managed to break free of his grip, but was slammed into again, this time he used his whole body to pin her to the ground. She wiggled against him, giving it her all to buck the large man from her, but it was futile and only seemed to anger him more. He ground violently against her squirming body halting her movements then grabbed both of her wrists with one hand and squeezed them together, excruciating pain shot down her arms and she cried out.
She didn't realize she was screaming until his other hand balled-up and struck her face, striking her lower lip and jaw. Her screams stopped and her head jerked back knocking against an uprooted stone, it clonked, disgustingly as it struck the root. The sound was horrible to her, but not as bad as the shooting pain that splintered though her back. She blinked groggily, trying her best to scatter the stars that swirled in her vision.
He released her wrists and plowed his hand between them, to the hard sheath at his hip. He pulled his hidden weapon free and prodded her side with it, cutting through her outwear to her skin.
His other hand lifted and he grasped her delicate neck, letting each finger constrict as his face neared hers, "You're going to cooperate now, or I'm going to make this extremely agonizing for you." his voice shook as he uttered his threat, along with his gripping hand.
She tried to voice her acknowledgement, but his hold made it impossible for her to speak. She choked and closed her eyes, letting her body go limp in his hold. If she was lucky, he'd merely have his way with her and let her live.
"Now be still, as still as you are now... If you move I swear I'll gut you, then you'll never move again. Do you understand?" His rough hand loosened around her throat. The sudden rush of blood made her feel dizzy, but she managed to answer him with a nod.
He lifted, but was securely mounted atop her.
"What are you, miss? I've never seen magic like that. It must be powerful considering you casted here. These parts are dead to magic."
"W-What," she shivered while peeking up at him. Why didn't anyone tell her on the way in, that would have been nice to know.
"Not gonna tell me, eh? Well, no bother. I'm not much for talking anyway," he countered while digging his dagger under the clasp of her cloak. He pulled up, snapping the thin fabric with the sharp blade. "You're a beauty, despite your foolishness. It's not every day I get to entertain a lady." And it was wonder why, with manners like his.
"Do whatever it is you're going to do to me," she shuddered boldly as fingers ran the length of her neck. She watched as he parted the torn cloth greedily, she wanted to punch the lustful expression off his face, but knew she would be beaten again if she acted out.
She closed her eyes and flinched as the man pawed at the swells under her blouse, his hands searched and lifted her undergarment to touch her flesh. She whimpered, What good was my blessing? It was shit—a worthless title and nothing more. The prince was right about it all. She couldn't believe this was how she was going die—bested by some rapist-murderer.
"Now that's no way to treat a lady," a familiar voice bellowed, the man's head was snatched back before he could respond, pulled by his hair.
Fulton, thank gods!
The captain seized the dagger from his flailing hand just as quickly. "So you wish to penetrate this innocent woman?"
Alanis crawled to the nearest tree and hid behind a massive branch. She held her top and watched helplessly from her hiding-space.
"It was a misunderstanding. I only wished to frighten the girl, s-she had no right wandering these woods alone. You know, it's not safe—" He was hushed as Fulton pinned him to the tree. The man groaned as he struggled to move his head, his broken nose mashed against the tree. He looked back, trying to make eye contact with the captain as he begged. "Show mercy, my lord. I swear, I didn't know she was of noble blood."
"Mercy. I'll show you the same mercy you planned to give her," he replied and plunged the dagger into the back of his neck. The man gasped, choking on the cold steel of his weapon.
"There's your mercy," Fulton muttered, his hands released the now convulsing man.
"Gods," Alanis trembled and brought her hands to her pursed lips to cover her gasp.
The man lumbered several feet then stopped as his strained eyes met with hers. She scooted back against the tree as he stumbled towards her. She wasn't prepared for the darkness she saw when she looked into the dying man's eyes. Her eyes clenched, but she could see the man as he fell in her mind's eye. His haunting thud, and gurgling last breaths painted a picture she'd never forget. She had seen a lot of disturbing things in her time outside of the settlement walls, but nothing that compared to this.
She could hear the captain's advance, and opened her eyes once she felt the weight of his shadow.
"T-Thank you," she stuttered, remembering her manners even in the hysterical state she was in. "If you hadn't—"
He lowered his hand, the same hand that dealt death. "Lift your eyes Alanis, that man deserved to die. He was lucky I was merciful and gave it quickly."
She looked up at him and lifted her shaking hand to the branch that hung over her head. He grasped it before she could wrap her fingers around the petrified limb. Her earlier debate whether she wanted to accept his hand was decided without her consent. She was irritated at first, but as he lifted her to her feet she felt a wave of relief wash over her, and it was then she realized Fulton was right. She was glad the man was dead.
"I-I know... I tried to stop him, but..." She trembled, the words she wanted to say wouldn't come, those simple words—that her magic was worthless. That's what she wanted to say, but instead she began to choke against her tightening throat. She gave in to the building pressure and a flurry of tears followed.
He led her into his arms silently, allowing her head to take shelter against the polished armor that covered his breast. Though her body shook and her heart raced, she felt safe knowing he was there.
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The Old God Language:
Lahre Sari = Light Spire, the Kingdom sword of Berthold, its current owner, King Alexander Blair. King Richard Blair was the first to wield Lahre Sari.
Ati = The shortened name of Ati Harei, used by the locals.
u'odvonti = Move forward, the nobles frequently use The Old God Language as commands for their mounts.
Holre = Halt