“For gods sake, get off,” Alanis groaned while twisting her shoulders in hopes to loosen the golden clip from her cloak. “Get off. Get off—Get off!”
With a quick combination of jumping and wriggling, she was able to free herself from the teal cloak that had draped her body. She sighed and sat on top of the crumpled fabric, relieved to be rid of it. Despite being a good thirty to forty feet underground, the cell they were in was beginning to feel dreadfully hot.
Luckily their gracious hosts left them with a supply of water to get them through the night. Though, it would prove to be a long one as it was damn near impossible to sleep in such heat.
While settling on the ground, Alanis managed to maneuver her cuffed hands around her legs, freeing them from behind her back. As small feat as it was, she was grateful to gain some use out of her hands again.
With her newfound freedom she straightened her discarded cloak against the stone flooring in silence. When she was done, she lied on it with her back facing James in protest. She was still too angry to muster a conversation with him after everything that happened.
I can’t believe this, she seethed. This wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t rely on him as much as I do. I should have left when I wanted to.
“We can’t keep giving each other the silent treatment,” James spoke over her thoughts.
I can very well try, she thought, annoyed by his voice alone.
“What would you like to talk about then?” she questioned, hearing him clear his throat. “Maybe we could start by guessing how they’ll execute us.”
“A good old-fashioned hanging would be my guess.” James chuckled and she stiffened at his statement.
“I’m glad you find all of this amusing, Sir Allard,” she said under her breath.
"You asked,” he replied coolly, then added, “If my answer isn’t to your liking then perhaps we should talk about something else.”
“I’d much rather lie here in silence, thank you.”
“Here’s a lighthearted topic you may approve of,” he said, ignoring her request. “I don’t know why I’ve never asked, but how old are you?”
As ridiculous as his question was, it was a topic they had never discussed. Most of her time was spent adjusting to her new life and learning how to navigate it, her personal life rarely came up. Now that she thought about it, it was weird it didn’t come up sooner, and under better circumstances.
She rolled over on her back and looked up at the ceiling, watching the shadows of the room dance with the torch light.
“Come on, talk to me, Alanis.”
It was the last thing she wanted to do, but figured he was feeling guilty and saw this as an opportunity to make amends with her. Although it was hard to look past the direness of their current situation, her conscience urged her to reprieve her anger for the time being.
“Okay, I’ll play, but you get to go first,” she countered while wiping her cuffed hands against her sweaty forehead.
“Twenty-two,” he said with a smile. “And in case you were wondering, my birthday is the twelfth of Sivina, if you were planning on getting me anything.”
Twenty-two, she thought surprised he wasn’t younger by the way he carried himself. In her eyes, he seemed too foolish to be older, though so was she for thinking a few extra years would make someone act like an adult.
“Your turn, don’t leave me hanging,” he joked while clattering his chains for effect.
“If we happen to make it out if this pit, I’ll be turning nineteen on the twenty seventh of the next moon.”
“What a coincidence, my mother was born under the moon of Rehareina, too.” Alanis sat up, wondering if he was going to tell her more about Lady Allard, but was quickly let down as he continued on with his overly annoying optimism. “Don’t you worry, you’ll live to see your next birthday.”
She rolled over onto her belly and looked up at him. “What makes you so sure we’ll be rescued anyway?”
“Sir Marcus and Christopher are on their way back to Berthold as we speak. They had orders to send a raven should something happen. Once word gets back to Berthold about our false imprisonment here, our king will respond with backup.”
“What happens if they were captured too?”
“I very much doubt that.”
“Doubt it all you want, but it is a possibility, one that we may have to face.”
“While we were meeting with the dead king, they had orders to stay put in the forest outside of town should anything go wrong,” he said too cockily for a man chained to a dungeon wall. “Calm yourself, this will all work out.”
“Oh, so you’re psychic now?” Alanis laughed as she sat up and propped herself against the wall. “Pity you didn’t use your abilities earlier when I told you something didn’t feel right. All of the signs were there, we should have left while we could.”
“Ah yes, I’m sure that would have gone over well with my king, abandoning my task because you were too spooked by our surroundings. Not to mention, I would have been made the laughing stock of all of Berthold.”
But we would have been safe, she thought while clenching her fists, had she free movement of her hands she would have likely struck the wall out of frustration. Instead, she bit her tongue and kept her mouth shut, deciding to give their argument a rest as it wouldn’t have changed the predicament they were in.
"Nineteen,” he whispered with a laugh, cutting through the silence. “Take rein of your life while you can, the years have a way of slipping away once you reach your twenties. At least, that’s my experience, anyway.”
Alanis kept her back to him, her resolve to pay him attention unwavering, though what he said next broke it instantly.
He sighed as he shifted his chains, “I was nineteen when I thought I found love. God’s, I was so young, and stupid, believing I could have it all.”
She lifted from the wall and turned her head, half-expecting him to be wearing a sly smile across his face, but that wasn’t what she found. Though he wore a smile, it was pained, the sort of smile that usually carried a story, one that she was willing to listen to.
“What are you going on about now?” she questioned, trying her best not to seem too interested, but unaware she was playing into his hand.
He sat forward, catching her eye before he continued.
“I moved out on my own at seventeen to finish my knighthood training. Back then, my father wasn’t too keen on the idea of his noble son serving as a glorified guard, as he put it, but it grew on him, just as it had with her.”
"Her,” Alanis said yielding completely to his story. “I take it she was the woman you were in love with?”
“Yes,” he replied looking away. “Truth is, I only set out to train to gain favor with her, as her father and older brother were both golden wards of the king, the highest post a knight can be granted besides captain. I thought joining the golden cloaks would impress her and get her to see me as someone who could protect her, instead of some soft nobleman.”
Alanis sat back with his confession and sighed.
So that’s why, she thought, realizing his shortcomings as a knight were rooted by this selfish goal. Had he been more serious regarding his training this could have all been avoided. Before she could get angry at the fact, he spoke again.
“As luck would have it, my plan worked, as I was able to catch her eye and gain her friendship—a year later we were engaged. It was as perfect as it could be, I can still remember thinking that the day it all came crashing down.
“It was late afternoon when I was helping her bring in a few pieces of furniture to our house. Normally, the bride’s belongings would be moved in after the binding ceremony, but she was too eager to wait, insisting we’d bring a little in at a time a week before the wedding. Just as I was readying our horses to walk her back home for the evening, the castle bells tolled, signaling an intruder was on royal grounds.
“I left her and her sister behind and made my way to the castle, though by the time I got there, it was already too late. Twelve lives were lost, slain by a settlement spy that had made a life for himself in Berthold. It was a surprise to everyone who knew him, as he was trusted enough to sit in on our king’s forums.
“To this day, I believe it must have been a shock to her father and brother, too, as I heard rumors they had both hesitated in subduing him, which ultimately cost them their lives.”
It was quiet for awhile, only the crackling sounds of the torches filled the silence.
Alanis figured he was thinking back on that day, though her thoughts were on Cassandra. It was clear she was the woman he was talking about. She suspected they shared a past, but it never occurred to her that it ran this deep. It was a small wonder why she distrusted her so much, she would have too, if the shoe were on the other foot.
“What happened to the man, did they ever find out what he was in search of?”
“Unfortunately not, the king cut him down as he made his advance on him.”
“Alexander brought down a man?” Alanis said skeptically.
How was that even possible, she wondered. There was no way a blind man could best someone that had slain twelve.
His eyebrow rose curiously. “What makes you think Alexander is incapable of defending himself? Don’t let his title fool you, our king is capable and not to mention, one of the most skilled swordsmen in all of Terra.”
Alanis bit her lip, perhaps she had it wrong, maybe he wasn’t blind, or maybe James had no idea about Alexander’s handicap like she did. Either way, it was hard for her to believe his king had brought down someone so dangerous without sight.
“So, I take it the wedding fell through after all of that.”
“It was a huge shock to her, to lose both her brother and father in the way that she did. After that night, she focused all of her energy on her swords training and taking care of her sister. There wasn’t much time for anything else as she was driven to keep her father’s house in order, let alone our relationship.”
“I’m sorry,” Alanis said softly, feeling pity for him. “for the both of you.”
“Don’t be, she’s not...” He rested his head against the wall, letting his blue eyes trail along the chains.
“No, she must be,” she replied while sitting in front of him. “I knew there had to be a story behind all of her anger and distrust towards me, now I understand why.”
He chuckled. “That obvious, huh?”
His sudden laugh made her think back to the day Cassandra had confronted them in the training fields. She was asking about the clothes James had let her borrow and where she had got them from. Then it hit her—
Those were her clothes!
Alanis stood and swiftly kicked James’ plated shin guard, rustling from his musings.
“You shit, I can’t believe you would do that!” she growled, angered that he had not only been stupid enough to allow her to wear his ex fiancée’s clothing, but also insensitive enough to have let her wear them in front of her.
"Ouch, what the hell was that for?” he questioned surprised by her outburst.
“For parading me around in front of her that day in the training field!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You know exactly what I mean, you ass! The clothes that I wore that day were hers and you didn’t think to tell me. It’s no wonder she almost ripped me a new one.”
He looked surprised that she had solved the mystery, or perhaps he was shocked that she had called him out on it, either way it was now out in the open.
“They’re just clothes, how was I to know she would overreact,” he grumbled after the shock of it all wore away.
“You’re either very, very stupid, or you merely sent me out there that day to piss her off. I suspect it’s the latter in this case, though it could very well be both.” Alanis walked over to her cloak and sat down hard, biting her tongue as she met with the stone floor.
“That was never my intention, I swear.”
“Whatever you say.” She winced, tasting blood in her mouth. “But one things for sure, you’re wrong, she still has feelings for you.” Even a fool could have seen it.
“You’re crazy, that woman loathes me.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I bet if you talked to her like an adult, instead of acting like a fool, things would get better. Who knows, you may even get back together if—”
“No, what’s done is done,” he said, his words stiff and stubborn.
“Well, in that case, don’t involve me in anymore of your games,” Alanis warned, folding her arms against her chest.
“Believe what you want, but I have not been toying with you, now or ever.”
Alanis fell back against the wall and watched the torches as she wondered where the others knights were. If they somehow managed to make it back to Berthold, it meant that her and James were going to be stuck in this room with each other for another day or two.
”Great, just great,” she whispered to herself, thinking they would likely kill each other before the guards would have a chance to.
She groaned and brought her cuffed hands to her head, burying her face into her palms. As she massaged her forehead she counted back from ten, realizing it would be wiser to focus her mind on something else other than their argument.
What could have killed the king? she thought adjusting her top at the straps, which for some reason was pinching at her breast. While settling against the wall she reached down her leather bustier and freed the scroll she had forgotten about.
“What’s that?” James asked then quickly stated, surprised, “is that the letter?”
“Yep, you dropped it near the king’s throne.”
James motioned for her to bring it to him and like a fool she did, handing it to him without so much as a second thought.
“So, you gonna read it?” Alanis sat beside him, curious to see if the letter had any information regarding the king’s death.
“No,” he said, stuffing the letter down his breastplate the best he could with limited movement. “Under any circumstances are we to break the seal.”
“You’re not the least bit curious? I’m telling you, that letter is likely key to whatever is going on here.”
“Which is why it is better off sealed,” he stated, “the less we know, the better off we’ll be.”
“I don’t know how I’m going to make it down here with you.” Alanis laughed though she was angry, tickled by the fact that she was more disappointed with him than their current predicament. “God, it’s hot, why is it so damned hot in here?”
Alanis picked up one of the canteens the guards had left in their cell and uncapped it. She gulped the water down, stopping only after she noticed its odd earthy taste.
“Those bastards must have built their dungeon near a hot spring,” James replied with a chuckle. “Clever assholes.”
She smiled and took another drink, the earthy taste was growing on her.
“Can I have some too, please?” he asked politely, as if she would reject his request and leave him thirsty.
She scooted over to him and lifted the canteen to his lips.
“That woman, Tunerir, was she some sort of council?” Alanis asked while pulling the canteen away.
He swallowed. “Her name is Daria, Tunerir is her title,” he replied while clearing his throat several times.
“She has dark hair just like mine, do you suppose she was from a settlement as well?”
“Most likely, but it’s odd that a king would choose an outsider to become his Tunerir.”
“What exactly is a Tunerir, are they some sort of advisor?” She took another small sip of water.
“More like a guard that fights alongside his or her master. As you know, it takes time to wield. Most enemies aren’t gonna sit around idly, so while the Tunerir pulls an elemental power, the master attacks with a physical weapon.”
“Sounds like a good battle tactic.”
“It is, though it does have its drawbacks.”
Alanis sealed the canteen while lying back on her cloak, her thoughts were on the Tunerir still. Shouldn’t she have been with the king protecting him since she was his guard, did she have something to do with his death?
To be continued! Click that heart button and comment if you’re enjoying the story. I appreciate the support. Thank you!