Part 2 - A Queen's Gift
Allana climbed the long stairs that led to the Royal Quarters, on the last floor. On a sunny day, from the high corridor windows, she could have seen the evergreen gardens. But now, that night had fallen, all she could see was a deep darkness, as if the world had ceased to exist and all that was left was that lonely palace.
Hesitation grew inside her as she got closer. Her mother had always been … distant. As much as she’d like to, she couldn’t recall ever being held or kissed. Not even a smile. Every time she recalled her childhood Dana was the one in her memories. And, although the woman had always been gentle, she had never seemed to have time for those small things. Dana had raised her to become the perfect Princess and the ideal wife, so she could fulfill her duty towards the Kingdom. And so she was to be married to an honorable man, to whom she would give a Royal Crown and with whom she was expected to produce new heirs to the Throne.
Allana had wondered many times about the reasons that led her mother to keep her distance, almost as if they didn’t share the same blood. And she had only been able to understand it a little when Dana had told her of how close she had been to her brother, Allana's uncle and the King of Mithir, and how she had been forced to part with him because of her. Her presence reminded her mother of those painful days, and so Lidya had chosen to shut herself away in her own world and forget everything that surrounded her, her daughter included.
Allana took deep breath, casting all those memories aside, and knocked on the heavy door. A soft voice answered and she pushed it open, the old wood cringing, showing her a huge but practically empty bedroom, where only a wide bed could been seen on the other side of an arch that divided the room in two compartments.
She stepped forward, her feet soundless against the gray stone floor, and peered toward the bed where a pale woman leaned against two big satin pillows, her face showing countless marks of time, easily deceiving others about her true age. Her blond hair looked dull, spread over one of the pillows, her small thin hands resting unmoving over the sheets.
Allana sat gently by the bedside and placed her hand over hers, too cold to belong to one of the living.
“Allana …” The cracked voice echoed in the room as Lidya's eyes fluttered open, looking tired and listless.
“Yes, it’s me, mother …”
“You came back …” she whispered, her dried lips spreading to give way to a feeble smile. “Dana thinks she can deceive me … But I’m still not that far gone, that I wouldn't be able to recognize my own daughter …”
“I know. Please don’t wear yourself out. You need to rest and to regain your strength.”
Lidya smiled again and Allana felt her throat tighten as if something was choking her.
“You know as well as I do that I’ll never …”
“Please, mother …! You’ll be fine!”
The fading Queen took a deep breath and squeezed her daughter’s hand.
“You’re back … That’s all that matters … I was afraid you wouldn’t return in time … I want you to forgive me …”
“Hush now, child, and listen. I’ve done things … Things that you don’t know … That no one knows … Not even your father knew … Things that I’m not proud of. But that, if I hadn’t done, you wouldn’t be alive now … And so I don’t regret any of it … Wait …” she told her and taking a trembling hand to her own chest, pulled out a round white medallion from under her night gown. Taking it off she pulled it apart in a way Allana thought it would end up breaking it. But it didn’t. And the white stone emitted a soft glow and divided itself in two different parts - one round and smaller than the original, and the other looking like waxing a moon. When put together they fitted each other perfectly. Lidya kept the round piece and gave Allana the other part. “Here. Wear it always. It will keep you safe … hidden from all evil.”
Allana held the small piece of stone, now cold and commonly white, and looked suspiciously at it.
“What’s this … ?”
“No questions, Allana … I won’t be able to answer them. Just wear it,” she nodded obediently and Lidya seemed to relax. “Don’t ever take it off, you hear me …? And remember … things aren’t always what they seem. And now … if you please, open the door and invite your cousin in … It would seem he has something to tell you but doesn’t quite know how to go about it …”
“My … cousin …?” Allana stammered, her heart racing inside her chest, and Lidya took a heavy deep breath.
“Yes … the young man that accompanied you … The same one who visited us a few weeks ago. Don’t give me that look … I know what I'm talking about …”
“But … I thought …”
“That I didn’t know?” Lidya laughed which led to a deep cough that almost rendered her breathless. “No one can forget that child’s gaze … That terrible gaze … that always makes us see who we really are, even when we just want to forget it all. Not to mention his silvery hair. You can trust him, Allana … He won’t do you any harm.”
“But I thought … All my life people told me that we would kill the each other …!”
“Well, yes … But it all depends on what death really meant to the ancient one that foresaw that part of your destiny … Endio was the one who decided to take it literally. But enough from the past. Elian is still waiting …”
Allana stood up, still hesitant, and walked to the door, opening it. As Lidya had foretold there he was, by the looks of it preparing to walk away, since he turned around at the sound of the cringing door.
“Oh, hey. I didn’t want to disturb you. I mean … Ah, I came to tell you that the Council is ready for you.”
Allana smiled, amused by his flustered expression, and stepped out of the way.
“Come in. My mother wishes to speak with you.”
“Your … You told her …?!” he whispered and Allana smiled again.
“No. She knows …”
“Knows …?! How?”
She shrugged and signaled him to come in. Elian obeyed and stopped by the door. She couldn’t help smile before his troubled expression and, holding his hand, she led him across the room and towards the bed where the Queen was resting. Elian observed the laying woman for a moment, seeming shocked by the way she had grown older since he’d last seen her, but then, remembering his education, respectfully bowed his head.
“Your Majesty …”
“Since a few days ago, yes …? Last time we didn’t get the chance to talk …”
“No, we didn’t …”
“And I fear our time is even shorter now … but no matter. There are always things that need not be said … others that are better left forever forgotten … And your father …? How is he doing?”
“He’s doing well, thank you for asking. Right now he’s focusing on matters concerning the future of our Kingdom.”
“As to be expected. He has always been one to worry about things that have no solution, no matter how much we think about them, or even wish they didn’t belong in our lives. Oh well … Dear …? I thought I heard you had a Council waiting?” she asked Allana.
“Yes, but …”
“Don’t worry … Elian will stay and keep me company for a while, won’t you …? Besides, we have some things to discuss …”
Allana looked from one to the other, worried about leaving him there, but Lidya was clearly sending her away and it was true that she had a Council waiting for her. She couldn’t very well call upon Everlyn’s ministers and then make them wait indeterminably.
“I’ll be going then …” she announced and, as Elian didn’t seem to be opposed to the idea, left in a hurry. She still had to get changed. As if she’d allow them to look down on her because she wasn’t conveniently dressed!
“You’ve grown a lot …” Lidya commented as the door closed again. “Please, seat,” she told him, indicating a nearby chair, and Elian pulled it closer, doing as he as told. “Was it with you she left? Please tell me what happened … This was the first time my child left me for such a long period of time.”
“Please forgive me, but … if you knew, why didn’t you told them the truth? I’m sure Lord Heric would have gone after her …”
“Heric …! We can’t take Heric too seriously … Sure he’s a great ruler, but nothing more than that …” she said, her weak voice no more than a whisper, and Elian couldn’t help feel annoyed with that woman’s unwariness.
“But your daughter was to be married to him!” he accused her, unable to control his emotions, and Lidya sighed.
“Don’t judge me, child … I’ll get all the judgment I deserve when the time comes … And you … you don’t know Allana, nor the things she’s … able to do … It’s true I tried to tie her down to a dull, normal life, empty of great emotions, in hopes that her real self would remain asleep … But deep inside I always knew it would be impossible …”
“Allana is a sweet girl. All she needs is a little bit of love and guidance. Anything she may be able to do can be easily controlled, if she learns how to do it. It’s a matter of discipline …”
Lidya smiled and nodded.
“Yes … Well then, I suppose I chose the wrong way to do it …”
“And you can only see it now?”
“No … But you are both far from understanding the whole picture. All you can see are the small pieces of a much larger puzzle. All I did reflects the total of my efforts to make her grow closer to what can be called normal … I fought so that she wouldn’t develop these … abilities … and did it with all my might, even if that meant she had to suffer in the process. All I did was for my child’s own good … Please don’t look at me like that.”
“Like how, Your Majesty?”
“You disapprove. But you’ll understand, eventually …”
“Why don’t you try and explain it to me right now?”
“Because I can’t … I gave my silence in exchange for the time we had … I can only ask you to watch over her … Her path is too hard for a child like her. Because Allana can look strong at times, but she’s still young, and pure, and naïve … Just as you see her. Please never stop seeing her like that. When the time comes you must leave … I’ll have to stay.”
“Allana will never agree to something like that!” He frowned.
“Then you’ll have to make her. I’ll be able to earn you some time. At least enough so you may safely reach Mithir …”
“Time?! But how?”
“Trust me … When you get home you must tell your father all that’s happened here. And then, Elian, leave again!”
“What?!” He blinked, perplexed.
“Sure Mithir is the strongest Kingdom in the East but even so it won’t be enough … It will also fall, eventually. But you know that.” Elian lowered his gaze unable to contradict her and Lidya went on. “You’ll have to go on, to look for help in the west. Only uniting forces will you be able to win.”
“I can hardly leave my countrymen, my father and mother just like that!”
“I’m not asking you to make a decision right now. Just keep it in mind … Here,” she told him, giving him the other part of the medallion, the white small circle, which Elian took obediently. “Wear it. It will protect you. The one who gave it to me did so we could stay safe and protected, hidden from the eyes of the world. And one more thing. When you next see your father tell him … that even after all this time I still keep him in my heart … that he’s still my beloved …”
Elian felt the words escape his mind. The sadness hidden in her eyes was too deep to be healed with soothing words. And so he nodded, which at least brought a weak smile to her lips.
“And now go … I’m sure you want to return to your companions. And I … I need to rest …”
Elian stood up and bowed respectfully.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
“You’re welcome, Your Highness.”
He bowed again and left, quietly closing the door behind him. Once outside he took a deep breath. The air inside that room seemed heavier and harder to breathe …
Elian turned to the darkness that filled the corridor and nodded as Denar stepped into the light, placing a friendly hand on his shoulder.
“Just tired, that’s all. And Elipson?”
“Had the good sense of go and getting some rest. That annoying girl took her to her room and stayed with her.”
“Was she okay?”
“You know that’s always hard to tell,” the Knight answered and Elian sighed. It was true he was tired, but the night was far from over. “And now we should probably go downstairs and see how our little Princess is faring. That Heric guy is starting to irk me beyond measure, which is never a good thing …”
“Denar … please control yourself. We’re mere guests in this house,” Elian warned walking towards the stairs, although he couldn’t help share the Knight’s feelings.
* If you want to know more about this book or simply access earlier updates, please visit the official site at https://carpersanti.net/arnae/