13. First Dance
Day 2: Centre Yew Lower Dungeon
Although it was hot and miserable, Alanis managed to get comfortable enough to sleep. Thankfully, the night terrors she had been experiencing seemed to have let up as her dreams were seemingly normal again.
Occasionally, she would wake to hear James rustling his chains or clearing his throat. Though after awhile, his noises became too loud to ignore and she awoke fully to find he wasn’t doing well. He was burning with fever and when he spoke, he sounded hoarse and weakened.
Alanis beat on the cell doors with her metal cuffs, trying to gain the attention of anyone that could hear to check on James, but no one answered. After awhile, the realization that they had been locked away to die crossed her mind, stopping her from calling out.
Instead of wasting her energy further, she sat with James and tended to him, offering him water and keeping him as comfortable as she could under the circumstances.
It was nearing night again, Alanis guessed as she watched the remaining torches grow fainter. Unfortunately, this meant it was only a matter of time before they would be sitting in the dark. That thought alone, would have scared her if she wasn’t already worried about James, as his condition was getting worse with each passing hour.
Alanis sat up and looked James over as he rested against the wall, debating whether she was going to search him or not. Earlier in day, she had asked him to give her the letter so she could read it, but he was still adamant that they hold off, being that it was a crime to open a royal seal.
It was one of the most preposterous things she had ever heard. Under normal circumstances, of course, they would have abided by the law, but this was life or death. Now was the time to forgo the rules and read the scroll before the last of the light died away. It was their last chance, their only chance, the voice in her head urged her to do what she must.
He stuffed it down his shirt, she recalled as she crouched over him.
Here goes nothing.
She reached down his breastplate, stopping as he shifted, awakened by her touch.
“Reaching down my armor, what devious things are you up to, Alanis?” he jested weakly as he roused.
“You know very well what I’m up to. It’s time, James. Give me the letter, before it’s too late.”
He coughed, “No, I told you, we will be punished if we do.”
“Save it, James. One way or another I am going to read it, so you can either hand it over willingly, or I’m going to take it by force.” She watched him a moment. It was clear he wasn’t going to cooperate by the smug look he was giving her, but she was serious with her threat and would follow through.
She lunged at him and reached down his armor again, searching briefly before realizing the letter wasn’t there, that it had likely been stuffed down his tunic instead.
He began to chuckle as she unbuckled his breastplate. She had offered to remove it earlier, though he declined, proclaiming a knight on task is never to strip of their armor, that it was considered a disgrace to their kingdom if they did.
He shifted his position and wheezed as she pulled the armor away from his chest, “Gods, that feels better.”
“Of course it does, you fool,” she replied, looking over his withered frame, “That metal was trapping the heat in. If you would have let me help you sooner, you probably wouldn’t have gotten as sick as you are.”
“And what fun would I be, if I wasn’t getting under your skin.”
“Joke all you want, but we’re not done yet.” She began to untie the leather straps of his tunic, loosening it before shoving her cuffed hands inside.
It would have been an embarrassing thing, searching his body the way she was, without the fear of dying looming over her head. Her fingers slipped over his slick hardened chest, stopping for a moment when she though she heard a pleased moan break past his lips.
You better not dare, she wanted to grumble. Having a laugh was one thing, but finding pleasure in her suffering was quite another.
Keep it together, he’s merely trying to stall the inevitable with his gross sounds. That’s all.
Despite being hot, she could feel herself flush as unwanted thoughts came to mind. Her hands slowed the lower they went as she imagined what his physique looked like beneath the cloth.
Dammit, it’s only a body. A well-kept body. Just stop thinking about it already.
Alanis stopped, her hands rested on his muscular abs while she noticed the weak, mischievous grin that was forming across his lips. Had she not been so preoccupied, and somewhat embarrassed by her actions, she would have kept her mouth shut and continued her search, but she didn’t.
“What is it now,” she asked, playing into his hand.
His smile grew more devious with his reply, “It’s just—I was wrong earlier, this feels so much better.”
And with that, Alanis retracted her hands, annoyed he wasn’t taking things as serious as she was.
“Aww, come on,” James laughed, “It was just getting interesting, and you were so close, I swear it. Want to have a go at it again?”
She shoved him, “Piss off, James. I know good and well it’s not there, so where’d you hide it?” There was no way it was down his tunic, and she could only pray that he didn’t somehow stuff it down his pants.
That would be my luck.
“Doesn’t matter where it is because you won’t be reading it,” he answered starkly as he fell back against the wall.
It was obvious the letter couldn’t have gone too far, he was bound to the wall after all, which meant he had it on him, but where?
I’ve got it, he’s sitting on it, he hasn’t once moved from that spot.
While he was getting comfortable she made her second advance, only this time he put up a fight. The way he was resisting only fueled her resolve, as she figured she was close to finding it.
“Finally,” she shouted after pushing him far enough to spot and grab the letter.
He tried to stop her, but she was already halfway to the brightest torch in their cell before he could react.
“Listen to me, no good will come from reading that letter.”
“Tell me, James, what good will our punishment be if we are dead?” Her eyes were on the seal the second she asked her question.
“They’re coming for us, have faith that they will.”
“Maybe next time,” she responded coldly as her fingernail popped the seal from the scroll.
She stood silently, examining the letter beside the dying torch before deciding to read the warning it held out loud.
“King Leon Llewellyn, it is of great importance that you correspond to this letter as our first attempt to contact you was met with no reply. As a show of respect, we’ll allow you to partake in a peaceful discussion with our court back in Berthold, so you can explain why you’ve allowed dark magic to be practiced in your territory. Failure to respond to our invite will be met with swift action as this meeting is nonnegotiable.”
Dark magic—Alanis had never been told about dark magic, though she figured it was a serious offense by the overall tone of the letter.
“What exactly is dark magic?” she questioned, noticing James’ sour expression.
He sighed, “It’s a practice of magic that was outlawed many years ago because of its negative effect on the wielder. The range of those effects vary from person to person, but most prolonged users suffer from madness over time.”
Alanis stepped away from the torch, back into the darkened corner of the room where she made her bed. The guard and the king’s Tunerir, must have been practicing dark magic, they certainly seemed the type.
It was true, they killed their king and intended to pin it on both her and James. And like that, the little bit of hope she had for their rescue slipped away with her into that dark corner. They would never again see daylight, they were going to rot away in the dark.
"My god,” she whispered, though it carried further on her trembling breath, “they’re never going to let us go. We’re gonna die down here, we are, aren’t we?”
James was quiet, which spoke louder than words because she knew he was thinking the same.
“That’s why—That’s why they haven’t checked on us. They’re waiting for us to die, that’s it.” With each word she spoke, she found it harder to rein her emotions, until she gave in and let go.
The tears that followed wet her face and she fell to her knees, sobbing loudly into the stone flooring.
“Alanis,” James called out several times, his voice straining as he wrestled against his restraints to get to her.
Alanis lifted her head to witness him pulling at the metal chains futility. The look on his face, and the agonizing sounds he was making, forced her to her feet.
“James, stop!” she shouted and came to him, “Please, you’re getting too worked up.”
He fell back against the wall, looking away from her in disgust. In her heart, she knew he would get worse if she continued to break in front of him. She needed to stay strong for him.
“Look at me, James,” she spoke softly as she lifted her hands to his chest. Beneath his tunic his heart paced quickly and his breathing was more ragged than it had been. His little outburst had wasted valuable strength, strength he needed if he was going to make it in the coming days. “They’re coming for us, it’s just as you said, so please save your strength.”
He moved away from her, still unable to look at her in the eye. He needed time, she supposed while pulling away, giving him space.
Alanis sat on her cloak, watching the torches as they dimmed. One by one they died away, leaving the room a little darker with each of their passing.
Her eyes were fixed on the last torch, watching it in silence as it slowly faded. As it extinguished, the breath she had held came out on a shudder. The sound, though soft and low, was loud enough to gain James’ attention.
“Alanis,” he called, his voice sounding as if he was standing over her shoulder. “come, here.”
“I’m okay,” she’s answered, “you don’t need to worry about me.”
“You’re not alone.”
“I know,” she replied, trying her best to sound unaffected, but it was obvious she was.
“Then come sit with me, I’d feel better having you nearby.”
Carefully she came to his side with her cloak in hand, dropping it to the floor beside him. She sighed while she lowered to sit, the dark reminding her of the last night she spent in Larska.
After the ritual, she didn’t speak to James about what happened. Afraid he would treat her differently, or feel sorry for her. But now seemed like a good a time as any to unburden herself, so she would.
“The night I escaped Larska was the night I went through transcendence,” she spoke out into the dark, trying to put a rein on the fear it held over her. “That night, my Official carried me out to Larska River. He was trying to help me and my friend escape.”
“I’ve heard it all,” he said with a cough, “an Official with a conscience.”
She sighed frustrated by his remark. It was one of the reasons why she didn’t tell him sooner, knowing he’d react this way. Even knowing the truth, it was hard for her to think of Justin negatively, as she was still trying to figure out how to feel about what he may or may have not done.
“We grew up together—we were actually good friends.”
“Good friends don’t secretly murder innocent people.”
“I don’t know what his part was in all of it, all I know is he tried to save us.”
“Regardless of his one good deed, he knew what was happening which makes him guilty in my book.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“There’s no question about it,” he said close to her ear, “that man doesn’t deserve your forgiveness.”
Alanis turned her head in his direction, feeling the closeness of his breath.
“The nightmares I’ve been having recently were of that night. I was told by Elder Simon that they were brought on by the ritual, a residual effect called a vision echo.”
“What exactly happened that night?”
“We tried to cross the river in the dark. The current was strong that night and the water was so cold I could barely feel my hands. I suppose that’s why I lost the grip I had on Anna,” she paused, deciding whether she was going to tell him the rest of the story, the part that kept her up most nights. “They tried to reach me.
“Though, something caught my foot and pulled me under before they could reach me. I fought as hard as I could to break free, but it wasn’t enough. I can remember feeling the water fill my lungs.”
"W-Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” There was strain in his voice. “I can’t believe you carried that alone for so long.”
“But I wasn’t alone,” she answered softly, “I had you.”
“I could have done more for you.”
“You’ve done plenty, James. You kept me so busy that I scarcely had time to think of it.”
“Well then, when we get back I want to take you someplace nice, if you’ll let me.”
“If we get out of here, you can take me anywhere you want.”
“Then it’s a date,” he said quite proud of himself.
A date—did he just finagle his way into taking me out on a date?
“Well don’t get too cocky, we’re not out of here yet,” she replied with a laugh.
Alanis closed her eyes letting her thoughts fade one by one into the dark until she began to dream. Like the night before, her dream was gentle as she found herself in a beautiful field, surrounded by wildflowers and tall swaying grass. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of the field, while her fingers brushed the fluffy stalks beside her.
Voices caught her ear, forcing her to turn on her toes, towards the sound. Behind her, stood a funeral pyre with a man and woman lying on its bed.
Alanis looked over the platform at the couple. They both wore white robes, stitched in gold thread, their hands rested on their chests where they each held a golden crown. If she didn’t know any better, she would have thought they were sleeping peacefully, but the sounds of sorrow coming from the other side of the pyre told her otherwise.
“It must be done now, your grace,” Elder Simon urged, handing the young king a lighted torch. “Be strong and perform your duty.”
This must be a dream, another vision echo, Alanis told herself as she caught a glimpse of the young king, Alexander. Somehow she was seeing his past again, like she had during the ritual.
On the other side of the pyre, beside Alexander, stood Elder Simon and an unfamiliar man draped in a black cloak, his head dressed with a crown made of bone.
Alexander took the torch and threw it on the pyre reluctantly, as it met with the kindling the fire spread quickly to the couple at its center. He bowed his head and the man dressed in black took notice, resting his hand on the young king’s shoulder for support as they watched the pyre burn.
That poor boy, Alanis thought to herself, realizing they were his parents. She recalled the shaman mentioning he had lost them around the time his sight was taken away.
The flames crackled loudly, billowing dark smoke to the skies above them. Alexander lifted his head with the sound, watching as the smoke shifted in the wind, forcing an opening for his gray eyes catch her stare.
Alanis stepped back, startled. Was he able to see her, she wondered briefly before noticing the hidden tears within his eyes. The feeling it evoked hurt her deeply as she felt his sorrow, it was almost too much to bear, twisting her insides until she fell to her to her knees.
“No, not again,” she cried out as the skies grew dark, anticipating the nightmare that was about to begin. “Don’t take me back there again, please!”
She crouched down near the darkened shore of Larska River, feeling grass on her palms. It was her intention to hide from the events that would take place for as long as she could.
"Lahre,” a man said, touching her shoulder from above. “Can you feel it, Alanis?”
Alanis looked up to the man—to Alexander. Relief swept over her as she realized the horrible events of that night weren’t going to be shown to her again, that she was merely in a lucid dream.
“You carry it within you, lahre.”
"Lahre,” she questioned, then remembered the word meant light in their old tongue. “I’m not sure what you mean.” She was unsure how anyone could carry light?
He reached down, offering his hand to help her up. She lifted her hand to his and he took it. While he pulled her to feet she stepped forward without thought into his arms where she took shelter briefly.
As her eyes opened she noticed how the scenery surrounding them changed. It was night, wherever they were, though the light of the moon shone brighter upon them.
“Where are we?” Alanis turned from Alexander and stepped out into the field, taking in the ethereal scenery in awe.
All around them, fireflies twinkled in and out of existence across the large darkened plain. It was as if they were standing in the heavens above, she mused while her hand lifted to one of the flickering bugs.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Alexander spoke up, swaying her attention at he stood over her. “I used to love to play in these farmlands as boy. When my mother would let me, I’d run through them at night, pretending I could touch the stars.”
“They do look like stars, I was just thinking that,” she whispered looking up at him, “I suppose that’s why you said so.”
For a moment the sounds of the night filled the silence between them. Even knowing it was a dream and that he wasn’t real, she couldn’t help but feel intimidated by this tall, handsome man with the most hauntingly beautiful eyes she had ever seen.
He looked down at her with those gray, piercing eyes and held her within them, beckoning her to move closer. Yielding, she let go of her earlier insecurities and stepped forward, allowing him to take her in his arms.
“I like this,” he said, surprising her, “being close to you.”
“I like it, too,” she admitted hesitantly, only because there were no repercussions, though feeling the slightest bit vulnerable.
“Then come closer.” He smiled and wrapped his arms around her, forcing their bodies together in a more intimate way.
“If only this were real,” she said content by the way he felt pressed against her, “a man like you, showing interest in someone like me. I’d have to be crazy to think you could feel the same.”
He pulled away to look upon her, “Why would you say something like that?”
“Because you’re out of my league,” she confessed while lifting her hand to his face, tracing his jawline with her fingertips, “and perfect.”
"Perfect.” He smiled, catching her hand, “It is I who am not worthy.”
She smiled back, feeling brave enough to tell him something more.
“I don’t know why,” she whispered, “but ever since I’ve laid eyes on you, I’ve felt something, something I can’t explain. It’s like I’m drawn to you, like pulling the elements.”
“We call it, el’crusuna.”
"El’croo-soo-nah,” she repeated, wondering if it was even a real word and not something her mind had made up.
“A bond, though one that is predestined by the gods.”
“A bond,” she repeated, “I suppose if I have to be bonded to someone, it might as well be with you.”
He gripped her hand a bit tighter, noticing the way she was looking at him. Then with a gentle movement he placed their hands against his chest and lowered the other to her waist. She looked him over, unsure of his motives until his feet began to move, forcing her to follow his lead.
And she did, dancing close with him.
While they twirled in the fields a faint melody came to her mind, a song that tolled at the Berthold temple every morning. Over time, she had grown fond of that tune, though not knowing its name. There were times she would hum the melody to herself while she went about her day, as it always put her in a better mood.
Why didn’t I ask James the name of that song? I should have asked him...
She stumbled, stopping their dance as she thought of James. It was the first time since her dream started that she had, she realized selfishly. What kind of person does that? What was was she thinking, enjoying herself while they were trapped like caged animals waiting to die in the dark.
“What’s wrong,” Alexander questioned noticing her watering eyes, “if I’ve offended you in any way, I’m sorry, truly.”
“It’s not that. It’s just—I’m dreaming about you, when I should be worried about more important things.”
Alexander stepped back, looking her over with a slow stare, ”Dreaming—What are you talking about?”
“Yes, dreaming, this is all a dream.”
It could have been the way he looked at her, or the distance he had put between them as she spoke, but it was at that moment she began to suspect that her dream was something more, that what was standing before her, was real in a sense.
That they were really talking to one another—connected by dream.
This place may not be real, but it’s him—
Instead of being embarrassed by their earlier actions, she stepped forward, thrilled at the possibility that she could get a message to him. She could make time later to worry about everything else, right now getting James and her rescued was more important than her pride.
“Is it really you, Alexander?” She waved her hand in front of him as if to snap him out of a trance. “Tell me this isn’t some sort of stupid vision echo, please tell me you’re real.”
“I don’t know how,” he replied taken aback, “but I think we’re still connected by the ritual.”
“Thank the gods!” she shouted happily, acknowledging them for the first time. “Remind me to pray at the temple if I make it back!”
“Make it back, what kind of danger are you in?”
“Me and James are sitting in an underground dungeon in Yew, charged with the murder of their king. We had no part of it, I swear.”
“So that’s why you haven’t returned,” he said then added, fueling her hope, “I’ve sent a search party to investigate the matter. They should be there soon, that is, if they’re not there already.”
(To be continued...)
If you want to read on, go to my profile and read Something Lost First Draft. Chapter titled Broken Hearts. Scroll down to Day 3.
Author’s Note: I changed up this chapter A LOT. In the first draft I had James and Alanis a bit more flirty in this chapter, but this time around I wanted to cut it out.
Another thing I added was Alanis and Alexander’s connection via the dream. It’s a goal of mine to bring more richness to their storyline in the rewrite, which means more interactions and of course romance. I hope you liked it, anyway let me know what you think.
Original WC - 2460
Edited WC - 3976
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