Chapter 14 - Melkar (P6) - Search for a Spy
“I’m glad you managed to safely cross the Silver Forest.”
Allana averted her gaze and nervously squeezed her hands together making Elian smile. Another of those small gestures typical of her.
“Well … I mean … I did find a group of soldiers …”
“You found what?!” he demanded, quickly losing his smile, and she looked urgently at him.
“But nothing happened! Really! I only heard them talk. They seemed discontent about something regarding their forces being split up. And there was something else, something that kept the entire forest in silence, something not Human that was about to leave the main army and go somewhere else.”
“The Dragon?” Elian asked, hope brightening his countenance.
“I don’t know, I’m sorry. They seemed too afraid to talk openly about it. Always afraid something or someone might overhear them, even though there wasn’t anyone else close by”
“If it was the Dragon, and with their forces split up, then Mithir may actually have a chance …”
“I really can’t tell. All I know is that they weren’t happy, and that, by the way they talked, they sounded like mercenaries, men fighting for money, not for any specific Kingdom. They seemed to have a certain aversion to anything related with Magic, but it was thanks to some kind of Magic that they were able to carry those heavy weapons. And they’re looking for a jewel, which confirms the rumors we received from Mádon. Also they had orders to capture anyone that makes use of Magic. I don’t know if the Magi of the Tower will agree to leave the safety of their mountains once news that they’re being targeted and hunted by the Northern Armies reach their ears …”
“They can’t abandon us now, when we need them the most.”
“I never spoke or seen a Mage, but the feeling I get is that they’re all old men, with white hair, long beards and serious expressions.”
Elian laughed, amused by her critical expression, and the sound of someone knocking on the door captured both their attentions. Allana gave him an intrigued look but he simple sighed.
The door opened slowly and Elipson’s head peered inside, immediately putting a smile on Allana’s face.
“Of course, come in!” she told her, jumping to her feet, and Elipson opened the rest of the door, giving way to a tall man with dark-brown hair and two others with green-blue eyes.
“Hum … they wanted to meet you, and well …”
Allana smiled, nodding, and invited them in.
Elipson stepped aside, granting passage to the tallest man and the other two followed him closely. All it took was a single glance and she was sure these last two Knights shared the same blood. Their hair was light-brown; the oldest one used it long, tied at the back of his head, and the youger one used it short, the light bangs falling over his eyes that glowed in a mixture of blue and green.
Elian stood up and took a deep breath.
“How did found out where she is staying?”
Elipson shook her head and sighed.
“Arkel threatened to sic his mad brother on the innkeeper, should he refuse to spit out the information,” she said, obviously pained with the act the two brothers had put on.
“I can’t believe it! That again?” Elian asked with a sorrowful tone, and the oldest of the two brothers smiled mischievously.
“Mahel is getting really good at playing his part of deranged brother,” he praized, laughing out loud, and Mahel blushed, since his gaze was still lost on those golden eyes that kept smiling at them.
“Elipson. Don’t you think you should introduce us to Her Higness?” said the taller man, his voice calm and grave, and Elipson nodded.
“Allana, this is Lamar Darnel. Arkel Lasien. And the crazy brother is Mahel Lasien.”
Allana greeted them all with a smile, especially Mahel since he was clearly the youngest and was obviously embarrassed by the whole situation.
Lamar took a step forward and bowed respectfully.
“It is a pleasure to meet you again, Your Highness,” he said and Allana nodded discreetly.
“Hey, Lamar … Again?” Arkel asked, clearly trying to remember where they’d met her, and Lamar smiled at the girl.
“Of course. If I’m not mistaken it was Her Highness who stopped that young girl’s Test.”
Allana nodded again and looked at the other two Knights.
“That’s right, that was me. But could you please drop the formalities?”
Arkel and Mahel looked at her in disbelief, and Allana took a deep breath when she noticed the dark figure in the back, leaning against the open door. She crossed the room followed by the other’s gazes and, without a word, held onto the Knight’s arm and stood on her tiptoes to place a light kiss on his face.
Denar looked completely taken aback, his cold and distant expression quickly melting away to one of complete shock, leaving a smile on her lips.
“I’m also happy to see you again. And please don’t worry so much. Everything went just fine.”
His tense shoulders relaxed and he shook his head, condemning her childish attitude, placing a large hand of her head as if she were just a kid.
“You reckless brat …” he muttered under his breath and Allana smiled proudly before turning back to look at the Knights now filling her small room. She wasn’t alone anymore … She’d never thought it would feel so good being surrounded by familiar faces again.
“Well, It would seem we’re staying here,” Elian decided and couldn’t help feeling a bit amused at the lost expressions still plastered on his toughest Knights’ faces. “Mahel, could you please get us rooms for the night? Denar, you see to our dinner. And we’ll get our stuff and see to the horses.”
“You can bring my bags here,” Elipson declared, placing herself beside Allana who smiled at her.
“Does that mean you’re going to abandon us?” Arkel asked with a desolated expression that was far from being able to move any of the presents.
“But of course, honey! There’s no reason why Allana should stay alone. And I’m sure all of you have been blessed with enough common sense to not even dare offer to take my place,” she quickly added in a clear threat and Arkel averted his gaze as if the thought had just crossed his mind. “Besides, you all snore! I need a quite night’s sleep for a change!”
“Ah, Elipson … You’re being unfair,” Mahel protested in a half voice, his cheeks still blushed, and Allana couldn’t help laugh.
“Let’s move, people! Soon the inn will be full and we may very well find ourselves sleeping with our horses!” Denar reminded them and was the first to leave, followed by the other three Knights that were still contesting Elipson’s accusation.
Allana took a deep breath when they finally left and Elian gave her comforting smile.
“Don’t worry. They may seem a bit all over the place but they’re all good guys.”
“I just don’t want them to think of me as a burden.”
“You?! A burden? You have nothing to worry about, hun. Only someone who doesn’t know you would think of you like that,” Elipson said to which Elian nodded.
“Everything will be fine, you’ll see. And that being said I better get going too, before Arkel gets us all into trouble again.” Elipson agreed and Elian left, leaving them alone.
Elipson looked at the girl beside her. At a first glance she obviously looked the same, but something in her eyes, in the way she carried herself, something hand definitely changed. As if she’d reached some inner resolution and that had left her more self-confident, more certain of herself.
Allana smiled, feeling the other woman’s gaze on her, and took a deep breath.
“How’s your shoulder?”
“Oh, almost healed. I think it will be fine from now on. You know … you were really missed.”
Elipson nodded and smiled lightly.
“And it wasn’t just Elian. It’s something I can’t quite explain, but I’ve always been true to myself and as such have no problems admitting it. I missed your presence. It’s strange and, to certain point. ridiculous, since I hardly know you … at least not as Allana.”
“I’m the same as always. Allana or Darna …”
“Yes, I know. But being Allana gives you a different … weight. After all I fought against you, or better yet, I fought against the memory of you for a long time. And I tell you, it wasn’t an easy fight. I think … I even hated you a bit, seeing the way he cried every night, seeing all my efforts wasted in a single moment, when he remembered something about you.”
Allana lowered her gaze.
“It never depended of me … I could never have even imagined …”
“Oh, I know! I’m sorry. You have to understand that I too was a child. And children have a different, special way to see the world. In any case, I’m happy you’re here, now … And I do like you, Allana. You’re like a precious gemstone that, no matter how dense the darkness around you gets, you never lose your glow. Even when it seems a useless to fight, you never give up. You are what I was never able to be … I allowed my light to easily disappear …”
Allana was at a loss for words, noticing the shadow of a deep sorrow taking over her gray eyes.
“I’m not that strong. If it weren’t for Elian, if he’d never went to Everlyn, I would probably have never left that place. I’d probably be dead by now, and I would have happily accepted my own death.”
“And yet you had the courage that many brave men I know lack. You ventured on your own, all the way from Mithir, leaving behind the safety that was offered to you.”
“Maybe Denar is right, and I was just being reckless … Besides my motives were purely selfish …”
Elipson smiled at the girl’s depressed expression and gently caress her golden hair.
“I don’t know what your motives were, if you were right or wrong. All I know is that your presence brought a new light, a breath of fresh air to all of us, because it rekindled Elian’s hope. I don’t know how much longer I’d be able to take it, seeing him looking down like that, lost in that uncertainty, consumed by guilt. One way or the other, either we’re aware of it or not, your presence kind of lifted everyone’s spirit.”
Allana smiled and hugged her, surprising her.
“I really like you too, Elipson.”
Elipson laughed and patted her back.
“Well, now, let’s see where I’m going to sleep in this miserable room of yours.”
Allana pulled away and gave her a mischievous smile.
“At least I’ve already gotten rid of all the bugs yesterday night.”
“I see … what an interesting night that must have been,” she replied with a sickened expression that made Allana laugh. “Who could have guessed … a Princess spending her free time killing roaches.”
“It was that or spend the night feeling them crawling all over me. I chose the first.”
“Wise choice. What do you think …” She went suddenly quiet at the sound of shouting coming from down below.
Allana looked alarmed and her gaze flew to the door at the sound of running steps on the stairs and down the corridor.
“What do you think happened?”
“Wait here. I’ll go and take a look. Don’t leave the room,” Elipson told her and Allana nodded, watching her silently as she crossed the room.
Elipson opened the door and peered outside. Seeing that the corridor was empty she quietly closed the door behind her.
The angry voices coming from below reached her even clearer, sounding like loud protests. With her hand resting on the hilt of her sword, she made her way to the stairs, her steps as silent as possible.
Suddenly a man grabbed her by surprise, pulling her roughly, throwing her down the next flight of stairs, making her land heavily on the wooden floor of the common room that creaked in complain beneath her feet.
“Everyone down! Now!” he commanded in a strong voice and three man, probably guests, ran downs the stairs and past her, quickly obeying, although they were clearly unhappy with the situation.
“What’s going on here?” she asked the man that had grabbed her but he ignored her, still barking orders.
“Hey! You two! Go upstairs and bring everyone down!” he commanded and only then she noticed the two large men that accompanied him and that were already running up the stairs, quickly obeying his command. They both held heavy, double edged swords and quickly disappeared amongst the shadows.
Her thoughts immediately turned to Allana, who she’d left alone. They would soon find her and and force her to come down to the common room, like everyone else. For a moment she considered going back, trying to reach her, but quickly gave up on the idea. Disobeying their orders would probably be seen as a provocation, and she’d rather avoid getting into trouble, especially knowing that she’d inevitably end up involving the others in the conflict.
The screams of a woman filled the air and a rude-looking man dragged her down the corridor by her hair, pushing her against a wall, kissing her while laughing disgustingly. Elipson squeezed the hilt of her sword, a deep anger burning her chest, but suddenly the big man that seemed to be in charge ordered him to let her go, and his command was immediately obeyed. They seemed to fear him …
The woman ran dawn the stairs, passing by her while holding her torn dress so it would somehow cover her naked body, and the men laughed. Elipson looked at the stairs once more, still wavering … she could hear the noises coming from the floor above. They must be checking every room, forcing everyone out. There was nothing she could do, she regretfully concluded. And so, pulling the hood of her cloak up, she did as she’d been told, and joined the rest of the guests in the common room.
As she’d imagined, everyone had been gathered in main room. Surrounding the inn’s guests were more armed men, their eyes wide alert as they looked for signs of resistance, and she couldn’t help noticing the white armbands they wore, contrasting with their dirty, old armors. If Mandrake’s word was to be believed that meant that those were his brother’s men, the one’s responsible for mantaining the order in Melkar, according to their master’s command.
She discreetly identified Mahel, near the counter, with a round men wearing a dirty apron standing right in front of him. The yound man had his attention completely focused on his brother, standing on the other side of the room, waiting for a signal that would tell him what to do. Next to Arkel were Elian and Lamar who, in his turn, had his gaze turned towards a shadowy corner by the fireplace. Even though she couldn’t see him, she immediately knew that Denar was there, hidden amongst the darkness. All it took was a single signal and they would all act as one.
Elipson turned to the stairs, waiting to see Allana appear. She’d stay close to her and protect her, if the worse came to happen. Guests with disgruntled expression kept coming down, a few looking a bit more conformed, as if they were used to situations like this. Many were still straightening their clothes, or pulled professional girls by the hand. Finally, the two men that she’d seen disappear upstairs also came down, but no sign of the blond girl she’d left in that room.
“Everyone’s here!” one of them announced to the larger man that seemed to be in control of the situation.
Elipson winced when she felt a small, sharp pain on the back of her head and her attention was immediately focused on Elian. It had been a long time, since she’d last felt that disconcerting sharp pain.
“Talk to me! Where’s Allana?” she heard him ask, as if he’d just whispered in her hear, even though she knew that his voice was only in her head.
“I don’t know. I left her in the room, when I came out to see what was going on …” she replied, formulating the words in her thoughts, and saw him close his eyes for a moment and the pressure was gone.
“Well then!” said a voice that captivated her attention and a dark-eyed man stepped forward, the crowd around him parting to let him through, opening a clearing around him. He wore a dark-metal armor that, beneath a cloak lined in dark-red satin, reflected the flickering light of the candles.
Elipson saw by the corner of her eye Denar step back, deeper into the shadows.
The man that had spoken smiled at all the presents, with the same polite expression with which one thanks the presence of his guest on a special occasion, and she couldn’t help stare at him in complete disbelief. He had the same exact face as the man they’d been speaking to, not long ago. The similarities were so many that it was disturbing. Even their voices sounded the same.
The man crossed the room towards the innkeeper and stopped right beside Mahel.
“Hum … I was told a very disappointing thing, that you have bee lying to me. And you know how I get upset when things happen in my town and I’m the last one to know about them,” he said, leaning forward over the counter, and the plump man took a step back, clearly trembling, droplets of sweat sliding down his round face.
“Mmmy Lololord …!”
Caleb smiled coldly and, in a quick movement, grabbed the man by the collar of his tunic and pull him down, smashing his head against the wooden surface of counter.
“My brother was seen here just this afeternoon, in your establishment. And there’s no way you weren’t able to recognize him, right? As such, I’m certain you understand my disappointment when I realized that you had lied to me!! After all I’ve done to make sure you kept your doors open,” he went on, raising his voice, and the innkeeper closed his eyes, his lips shaking, his face still pressed down. Caleb smiled and finally released him, looking amused as the man quickly took a step back, his entire body shaking in fear. “But, oh well, although your life is of no consequence to me, I’ve decided to spare you. However, you’ll have to do me a small favor in return …” he said and looked around the room. “Unfortunately we came here, me and my men, in search of someone who recently rented a room in your establishment. But we seem unable to find her.”
“Please, my lord! Just tell me who!” the innkeeper begged, his voice shaking, and Caleb smiled coldly.
“I knew that by now you’d be begging me to let you help. She’s a young girl and she arrived yesterday. A wine merchant left her at your door,” he went on, looking around once more, as if expecting a reaction. “We know that that’s what happened because he told us himself. His last words, the poor bastard,” he added with a sigh. “In any case, he described this girl to us. She is a spy and so I’m sure you understand the reason for all this commotion,” he said to the other guests in an apologetic tone. “And then I remembered that kid I helped out, yesterday. And I couldn’t help wondering if, by chance, they’re not the same person …” He thoughtfully pressed a finger to his lips and the innkeeper stammered, unable to produce a single coherent word.
Caleb shook his head in disappointment and unsheathed the dagger he carried in his belt, nimbly making it spin between his fingers with one hand.
“Please …” the innkeeper begged, stepping back, and Caleb gave him a threateningly deadly glare.
“Please don’t tell me you’re going to reply the same thing you told me, when I asked you about Mandrake … Because that would be really unwise!”
“No, my lord! I remember that girl!” the man blurted out, his eyes crazed with fear as he searched for a way to save his own skin. “I saw her today … she was with one of the other guests … and then another asked me which room she was staying in, which is on the second floor!” the man added, hoping that would be enough, but Caleb remained where he stood, his expression impenetrable.
Elipson winced again at the sharp pain that pierced head and looked at Elian, who was staring intently at her.
“Since they’re still looking for her it means they haven’t found her yet. She must have ran away. Remain calm. And stay with me,” Elipson replied and Elian nodded discreetly.
“And? Who asked such an indiscreet thing, such as the number of a girl’s bedroom?” Caleb insisted and Mahel slowly placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Him!” the innkeeper said, pointing a shaky, accusing finger towards the young Knight, and Caleb looked at him with a doubtful expression.
“Him?! Oh, right here by my side! I hope he isn’t just the first poor bastard you’ve decided to condemn to death, right?” he asked again with that threatening expression, and the innkeeper took another step back,vehemently shaking his head.
“Nnnoo. He and another … there was a whole group of them … and a lady too.”
Arkel took a step forward but Elian held him back, which seemed to calm him down a bit.
“We’re joining Mahel. Stay where you are, for now,” Elipson heard in her head and nodded, obeying.
“Group, uh? Interesting. And who are the members of this group of yours, if you’d be so kind to tell me?” Caleb asked, this time turning to Mahel who pressed his lips shut and remained silent, his expression unwavering as if to tell him that nothing in the entire world could force him to open his mouth.
“We are!” Elian replied in his stead, with Arkel and Lamar one on each side.
Elipson saw Denar leave his dark corner but all it took was a small gesture to make him understand and return to the shadows.
“Very well … This innkeeper here tells me that there’s a girl in your group. Is that true?” The room fell into a heavy silence, the air almost unbreathable.
“Elian? Can you hear me?”
“Tell him the truth!”
“Just do it!” Elipson commanded in her thoughts.
“And? Did the cat eat your tongue?”
“It’s true. There’s a lady in our group,” he admitted and Lamar gave him a sideways look, unable to understand what he was doing. Mahel too, seemed confused, but Arkel quickly caught on, placing an ironic smile on his face.
“If you can call her a lady,” he added with a sneer and Caleb looked carefully at the four men standing in front of him, studying them closely. The rest of the guests remained silent, in suspense, their fears lightening a bit, now that the culprits had been identified.
“And where’s this lady of yours?” Caleb asked, and Elipson walk up to them, crossing the crowded room, whisperers following her every step.
“I believe that would be me,” she said in a soft, mellow voice, and only then Elian noticed her proximity, panic taking over his dark eyes.
“Elipson! What are you doing?!”
“Just trust me …” was her only answer. And then Caleb was moving towards her and, holding the edges of her hood,pulled it down, revealing her black, wavy hair and a pair of cold, gray eyes.
For a moment he was completely taken aback, lost in the woman that had suddenly appeared before his eyes, until a smile stretched his lips at the haughtiness and coldness of that face. With a sharp pull he broke the velvet cord holding her cloak over her shoulders and let it fall in a dark puddle on the floor, at her feet. His eyes coursed unceremoniously over her body, from head to toe, and stopped at the sword hanging from her waist with a deep sigh.
“Does that mean I’m not the one you’re looking for?” Elipson asked, placing a hand on her waist, and Caleb smiled again.
“Hardly, my lady. I could almost say that all my dreams have just come true,” he replied sarcastically but his smile died as quickly as it had been born, and his eyes took on a deadly glow. “However, you’re certainly not the girl I was sent to find. You’ve disappointed me yet again!” he said, turning to the innkeeper, his voice hard and sharp, and the poor man raised his hands in the air, clearly in panic.
“No, my lord! She’s not the one … it was the other … the one from yesterday! The kid!”
Caleb shook his head as if in resignation and lowered his gaze.
“I’m afraid you’re beyond salvation. You are of no use to me anymore. Besides, as you all know, those who help and hide rebels are immediately considered traitors, and the punishment is death.”
“My lord … please …” the man begged once again, his hands still raised in front of his sweaty face, his eyes drowning in terrified tears, and suddenly a soft whistle echoed through the room, followed by a guttural moan. The innkeepers eyes turned upwards inside his head, his lips half opened in supplication, a mix of fear and pain eternalized on his face. A thin thread of blood slided down his neck, from the place where a small dagger had buried itself in the innkeeper’s throat, and with a gurgling sound the man fell heavily on the floor.
Elian was lost on that lifeless face, on that listless body, and suddenly he could hear the man’s heartbeat slowly slowing down, choking him with each new pained beat, making something hurt deep inside his chest, as if a painful, loud scream had risen from deep inside his soul. And then the scream wasn’t his alone anymore and he realized it belonged to the real world. A strong hand pushed him to a side so that a woman could run past him. She fell on her knees beside the now dead man, trying to reanimate him, despair eating her broken voice.
Elian looked at Lamar who, still holding his arm and keeping an eye on Elipson, seemed completely oblivious of the dead man at his feet.
Caleb smiled, clearly glad that he hadn’t missed his target, and looked at the woman beside him, who had remained absolutely calm and serene.
“What say you? Shall we leave this place and have a little talk just the two of us, away from this crowd?”
Elipson shrugged, as if she couldn’t care less, and crossed her arms.
“Hum … I do appreciate women who isn’t afraid to take a risk,” he said and, without another word, unbuckled her belt, letting it fall to the ground, over her cloak. “Your sharp pointy friend stays, agreed?”
Elipson shrugged again and Caleb held her arm, making her walk in front of him towards the door.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll keep him busy for a while. Find Allana and get her out of here!”
“Elian! Stop behaving like a child!” she rebuked him, unable to avoid an annoyed expression, but Caleb didn’t seem to notice it.
She saw Denar take a step towards her, from her left side, his emerald eyes glowing dangerously, but then Lamar was near him, holding him back. He too followed her with his gaze, clearly able to remain calmer than the rest but still unable to hide his worried expression. And then the cool air of the night touched her face, and with it the stench coming from the dark streets surrounding them.
Caleb waited until all his men had left the inn and turned to face them.
“She was here. She must have run away right before we arrived. Close the gates and organize patrols. I’m sure that kid is still in town and I’m going to find her, no matter the cost! Now go!” he commanded and the man scattered, each one taking a different direction.
Caleb looked at his new companion and smiled. Grabbing her by her black hair he pulled her closer, tilting her head back, and kissed her. Elipson grabbed him by his cloak, stopping him from pulling back, and responded to his kiss with the same force he’d used. He looked at her and smiled, amused, although she kept staring at him with those same cold eyes.
“I love that look …”
“It’s the only one I have.”
“Yes, I know. Come. I’ll take you to my home,” he said, holding her arm again as if he were afraid she might escape, or maybe attack him, and Elipson accompanied him.
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