11. Centre Yew
They arrived at Centre Yew in the late afternoon. Alanis would have never known if she wasn’t told so. The secluded kingdom was sprawled throughout the tops of the tall redwoods they rode under, well out of sight, and reach, of a passerby.
As they entered the city, Alanis and James dismounted and walked the rest of the way alongside their horses. Her eyes followed the long trail of houses that sprawled above them, watching the wooden walkways that connected them sway in the breeze.
Ellah reared back and let out a grunt, her sudden movement startled Alanis causing her to cling to Trista’s saddle for support.
"Shit,” Alanis cursed under her breath, annoyed that she had reacted.
There is a good chance James will have a laugh at that, she thought as she pulled away from her horse, noticing his stare from out of her peripherals. He’s too damn quiet, just say something already.
They walked for several steps before she could no longer ignore his stare.
"Yes,” she questioned moodily, “what is it?”
“This place gives me the creeps, too,” James admitted with a laugh and to her surprise nothing more was said.
She looked above them at the empty walkways again. “So, where is everyone? Shouldn’t we have seen somebody by now?”
“The people here are nocturnal, they live by the old god’s rules.” James pulled his canteen from one of his many saddlebags and opened it. “They’re a very private people, so you won’t be seeing much activity, at least, not until dusk.”
“So, we’ll have to wait till night to meet with their king?”
“No,” he replied then took a large swig of water from his canteen. “Someone is always on guard at Yew’s Temple. Once I address them, they will arrange a meeting for me with the king.”
Alanis glanced back at the houses above them then lowered her eyes, fearing the people here would be even more distrusting of her situation given their culture. Though, she quickly came to the conclusion that it was no matter, as it was yet another reason for her to be thankful to have James on her side.
They continued their walk until the trees began to disperse. James claimed Yew’s Temple was in the clearing they were coming up on, beneath the very earth they stood. While he spoke, she lifted her boot, wondering why anyone would want to build shelter underground.
Just as he claimed, in the clearing ahead, the accompanying knights waited with one of Yew’sTemple guards. They tied their horses off on one of the border trees of the town and joined them.
“Sir Allard, I presume,” Yew’s guard greeted in a snarky tone, he turned his head briefly as the two other knights left to take break. “Took you long enough.”
Alanis kept her distance and stood behind James. She didn’t like the looks of the guard. There was something about him that made her feel uncomfortable besides the obvious.
The guard looked to her, stifling her thoughts.
“I apologize if I’ve offended you, sir,” James replied, sounding more sincere than usual. “I trust my entourage has explained the reasoning behind our visit?”
“Aye, a letter, was it?” The guard stepped back and eyed the pristine armor James wore.
“Yes, a letter from King Alexander’s Council.”
“Well let’s have a look at it, then.”
James pulled the letter from his cloak then handed it to him.
The man thumbed the royal seal. “Any clue, for the reasoning behind this,” he asked, letting his dark eyes lift from the envelope before handing it back to him.
“None, I’m afraid. Though, if I may ask if it’s customary for you to question your king of his motives each time he gives an order?” James replied back just as stiffly.
The guard grunted a short laugh. “Very well then, follow me.”
He glanced over to the nearest tree and made some sort of gesture towards it, likely a signal of some sort. While his hand lowered a thunderous horn sounded, blaring throughout the treetops.
Soon after, the ground below them began to rumble. Alanis’ gaze dropped to a rusted metallic plate that was hidden near the guard’s post. While she was wondering how she missed spotting the structure, James took her by the hand, pulling her away from the shifting plate to his side.
The guard laughed again, “Your handmaid doesn’t get out much, does she?” he remarked, letting his eyes fix to the top of her exposed cleavage.
Asshole, she wanted shout, but knew biting her tongue was the wiser action. Instead she jerked her hand away from James, offended he didn’t at least shoot the man a hostile glare on her behalf. She would definitely be having words with him after his task was completed, though for now, she discreetly clipped her cloak across her breast while the others weren’t paying attention.
The plate finally began to pull apart, exposing a small walkway that lead underground. It was dark, musty, and the steps that led down into the opening were worn considerably.
The guard stepped down into the tunnel first and James followed. Soon after, Alanis shuffled in against her better judgement, which was screaming at her to not journey into a creepy underground lair.
After taking several steps down she found it hard to focus on the walkway. It was dark, so dark that she reached out and held onto James’s cloak for support until her eyes adjusted to the stairwell. When they reached the bottom, she stopped, reluctant to go any further than she had.
What is this, something feels off, Alanis whispered to herself as a feeling draped around her, one that was strong and new. She held her arms against her chest, clutching her cloak between her fingers while she took in her surroundings.
Like the stairwell, the room below left much to be desired. It was large and void of what she considered to be normal decorations for a temple or keep. Along the tall walls, torches lit the way to a pair of larger doors that likely led to the king’ chamber.
Better catch up with them before they realize I’m gone, Alanis thought. The last thing she wanted was to be the cause James’ task failed or to cause him any more embarrassment.
While she lifted her foot the door beside her rattled, giving way to its presence. The sound, combined with the appearance of the door, made Alanis’ heart jump in her chest. She grabbed the old railing bolted to the wall beside her and held on to it as she caught her breath.
It was only the dark, an irrational fear of small spaces that was making her feel this way, she told herself.
“You coming,” James asked surprising her once more, making her jump back towards the steps and railing.
Good god, why the hell did I come down in this hole? I got to get out of here before I screw this up for him.
“Sorry—my eyes are still adjusting to this light,” she lied, “Just go on without me. I’ll go back up and wait for you.”
“As much as I’d love to get this over with,” he said while grabbing her hand. “I can’t leave you behind in a place I’m not familiar with. Besides, if something were to happen to you my father would have my hide.”
Alanis nodded and let him lead her through the great hall while holding hands. Usually, his whole knight in shining armor routine annoyed her, but this time around, she was comforted enough by his gesture to allow it.
They soon caught up to the guard in the connecting room at the end of the hall. Standing, alongside the walls were rows of old suits of armor along with paintings of Yew’s past kings hanging behind them. In each painting, stood a giant intimidating man, each wearing an scowl across their face.
James’ grip loosened on her hand, releasing it as the guard stopped at the king’s chamber. Luckily the man hadn’t noticed or didn’t care to point out James’ chivalry. He looked over at the pair before looking back to the giant doors ahead of them.
“I’ll let the king know you’re here. It shouldn’t take long, so don’t go wandering about,” the guard said while he pushed the door closest to him open.
Alanis studied the door as the man disappeared behind it, intrigued by Yew’s beautiful insignia. Carved across the top half of the door was a large red wood tree with a glorious crown of branches, beneath it, within its roots, the crescent moon was tangled.
Several long minutes passed, spurring Alanis’ eyes to roam the room, exploring it further. It seemed, the longer she looked, the more menacing the architecture became in her mind. There was only one way out, which would make them very vulnerable should anything go wrong, she worried.
Her breathing became heavier as the strange feeling she felt earlier struck again. Something inside her was warning her to get out of there. She backed away from James and looked to the other end of the great hall just in time hear a large clank.
It’s too late. The upper door, it’s been shut, she thought, realizing her intuition may have been right all along.
“Alanis, what is it this time? The guard said to stay put,” James said almost scolding her, though his eyes softened as they met her frantic stare.
“I’m not sure, but something doesn’t feel right about any of this.”
“Albeit there choice of location could be more inviting for visitors—this is the way of their culture. Don’t worry. All I have to do is hand King Leon this letter and we’re out of here, no problem,” he replied taking the sealed scroll from a pocket in his cloak.
“So you’re telling me, you’re not the least bit worried that our only way out has been closed off?”
"Gods, what are you going on about?” James stuffed the scroll back in his cloak.
“The upper door, they just closed it.”
“So what?” He laughed now amused by her cowardice.
“Yes, laugh all you want, but that was the only way out of this place.”
His laughter subsided with her statement. “Oh, come on, it’s merely the environment that has you shaken up. It’s customary for any castle with audience in presence of their king to secure their doors should something happen.”
“I hope you’re right,” she retorted angry at his lack of concern.
“Just keep quiet and stay near me when they call us in. We can argue about who was right or wrong later.” He laughed again, noticing her arms folding at her chest.
"YOU keep quiet,” she whispered back to him annoyed.
Before anything else could be said, the doors to the king’s chamber opened, on the other side the guard waited.
“King Leon will see you now.” He motioned for them to make their way in. “Knock on the door when you’re done with your visit.”
He’s not going to guard the king, that’s odd, Alanis thought as they walked into the room alone. She looked back and watched him close the door before following James.
While they approached the darkened throne Alanis bowed her head, her eyes followed the dark velvet carpet that lined the aisle to where the king sat.
Eyes low, mouth shut, we’ll be out of here in no time.
James stopped at the start of the steps that led to the throne and bowed. Above them King Leon sat as still as a statue. Alanis looked up at the king after awhile, wondering why no one had spoken, noticing the eerie way the torchlight made him look as if he was moving.
“King Leon, forgive me for talking out of turn,” James apologized timidly while reaching for the letter. “As you are aware, I come from the kingdom of Berthold on task to deliver a message from King Alexander’s Council.”
There was still no response.
“Your grace,” he repeated several times, each time raising his voice a little more.
His grasp on the letter loosened and eventually it slipped from his hand, unnoticed by him, to the steps below. He walked up the remaining stairs cautiously and stood before the king.
"King Leon,” he whispered in a voice that foreshadowed their future, which at the present moment was screwed.
James lifted his hand to the Leon’s shoulder, as he pulled it away Alanis could see a dark, tar-like substance on his palm. Despite, knowing no good would come of it, she walked to the start of the stairs where he had stood moments before.
“That’s not blood, is it?” she questioned foolishly then added shouting, “We’ve got to get the hell out of here, James!”
Alanis could tell James’s mind was elsewhere by the blank stare down he was giving his hand. While he was out of it, she picked the scroll up and stuffed it down her top. If anything, the message could somehow help them get out of the situation they were in.
He’s definitely dead, this isn’t good!
“There’s no way the guard could have missed this,” James said, thinking out loud, “He’s been dead for some time now.”
“Yes, unless he wanted us to find him like this, so he could blame us for whatever happened here.” Alanis was sure whatever happened to him, happened by that guard’s hands.
“Maybe,” James said, thinking out loud again.
Oh, how she wanted to strike him, but held back.
“Maybe?” she shouted, her words echoed throughout the room. “I told you something was up, I told you, and you didn’t listen to me!”
The large doors opened and a woman wearing a beautifully decorated cloak walked in, her dark curly hair bounced beneath the elegant headdress she wore. Beside her, walked the guard who let them in earlier, his pace soon quickened as he walked ahead of her.
“What is going on in here, Sir Ferrel and I heard screams from the hall,” she said, her dark brown eyes looked James over before falling on Alanis.
“Who are you?” James questioned while he stepped down from the throne towards Alanis.
“Sir Allard, you shall address her as Tunerir Daria.”
James bowed his head respectfully. “My apologies, I didn’t know I was in the presence of the king’s Tunerir.”
“I heard shouts. I asked you before, now answer me, what was the reason behind them?”
“Your king is dead, he has been for some time, by the looks of it,” James replied.
“King Leon,” Daria said distressed as she rushed up the stairs.
As she came to his side, she knelt to her knees and touched his face.
"L-Leon,” she said trembling. Though, it was silent for a moment, it felt like minutes before the woman spoke her accusation, “What have you done to him?”
“I told you, when we entered the throne room he was like this. We were sent here, by order of our king’s Council to deliver a letter to King Leon.”
“You lie, he was alive just before your arrival, I saw it with my own eyes.”
“As did I, Tunerir Daria,” the guard spoke up.
“His blood is cold and congealed, there’s no way it could be like you say.”
Her eyes widened. “What’s that on your hands?” she questioned noticing the blood that caked James’s palm. “Sir Allard, you have the blood of our king on your hands and you expect me to believe what you are saying to be true, do you think I’m a fool? Sir Ferrel, take them down into the lower dungeon until we know what has transpired here.”
“As you command, Tunerir Daria.” The guard whistled and headed towards us.
“What? No, you... you can’t do this!” Alanis shouted feeling a wave of panic wash over her.
James grabbed her by the hand and pulled her close.
“We did no such thing, we would never think of murdering your king, or anybody else,” Alanis said, pleading, “You can’t blame us for this, please, you got to believe me.”
While Alanis was proclaiming their innocence, four armed guards rushed in and quickly surrounded the pair.
“Woman,” Sir Ferrel grunted while grabbing Alanis’ arm forcibly. “Mind your tongue, before I have it.”
Alanis looked at James who was held back by two other guards, he watched helplessly as she was taken to the larger hall, to an adjacent crypt that led deeper underground. At its end, was a dark chamber that was damp and warm, the perfect space for a miserable dungeon.
If it could be considered luck, James was led in to the same holding cell as her. Both of the guards held him in place while another forced him to the wall where a pair of shackles hung.
“I suggest you reconsider what you’re about to do, we come from a powerful kingdom that will not tolerate this,” James warned while trying to push forward.
“Shut your mouth, you damned fool.” The guard shoved him forcefully into the wall while the others quickly secured him.
“Watch it,” James retorted.
They were more lenient with Alanis restraints, cuffing her hands behind her back so she was able to move about the cell freely. Though, for the time being, she took shelter in the far corner of the room, away from guards while they finished restraining James.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be getting out of here soon,” James said to Alanis as the guards closed steel door, locking them inside.
Alanis slipped away from the dark corner and walked over to where James was chained. She looked up at him silently, dumbfounded by what had just taken place.
“The other knights will send word to Berthold,” he whispered, “They’ve been instructed to alert the Council should we not return by dusk.”
The shock and fear she was in kept her silent as she sat beside him. She heard him sigh as he slid down the wall to join her on the floor.
“Like I said earlier, we’ll be out of here soon,” he assured, though she could tell he wasn’t so sure of it himself.
To be continued! Click that heart button and comment if you’re enjoying the story. I appreciate the support. Thank you!