Much to Alanis' chagrin, they met up with Andrew and had dinner at the local tavern they frequented nightly. As they entered the pub, James and Andrew were both greeted with sloppy shouts from several other patrons.
After their meal, Alanis and her companions, lounged in their private booth with a wide assortment of ales. By the time James started telling Andrew about his heroic slaying of the serpent, the pair were completely inebriated. Not having much else to do, Alanis observed their interactions, rolling her eyes on several occasions while James drunkenly told his story.
As the story went on, she quit paying attention out of boredom. James was going on, sparing no detail, about their walk now. She pondered briefly, why he even bothered going out of his way to tell it. Hell, having lived through it once was enough for her.
After a while, she found her mind slipping away with thoughts, wondering about the story Alexander had told her. She had a hard time believing the things he said, but was disturbed nonetheless.
Was he lying? What gain would he have telling me something so horrible if it wasn't true?
Was it true, was I lied to my entire life, were they secretly murdering us because of our powers?
Alanis lowered her eyes, feeling alone, and troubled as she thought about home. As much as her uncertainty bothered her, she was still compelled to return, even now, consequences be damned. And in turn, the more she thought about Larska, the more alone she felt. Even the tavern seemed quiet despite the many voices surrounding her. It was evident she didn't fit in this place, she had little, to no clue about the culture, and beliefs of these people.
Alexander said those that could wield were touched by the gods. Were these gods some sort of supernatural force, what on Terra were they, she wondered then remembered his offer to help her recall her last days in Larska.
Should I go through with it? It may help me figure out what happened...
New Moon wouldn't be until a few more nights-five after tonight. James explained how the ritual worked while they walked to the tavern. He told her that Alexander could somehow open her mind to his, and once in, he would be able to uncover her lost memories.
Alanis picked up one of the drinks James had ordered and took a sip from it without thinking. Almost immediately, she lurched in her seat and spat out the horrible liquor in a spray of mist to the table below.
Andrew and James both looked at each other and erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
"What the hell was that?" Alanis wiped her lips across the backside of her hand, removing the small trail of spit that clung from them.
"I'll order you something tame," James teased while cleaning the table with Andrew's cloak.
"Barbra's moonshine shouldn't be consumed by a lady, that's for sure," Andrew replied, his flushed face returned to a normal color. "Hell, it's not fit for human consumption," he then added, spurring James to laugh again.
Alanis picked up the wretched drink again and stared at the brown liquid as she swished it within the cup. She was ready to let go of this horrible night and forget the conversation she had with the king.
Perhaps, a few swigs of this drink would help her do so, she hoped as she continued to swirl the liquid within the pewter mug. James and Andrew quickly became enthralled with the stare down she was having with her drink.
James leaned in and whispered into her ear, "Simply thinking about its pungent taste will not make it go away. There's no charming this beast."
Alanis glared over at him with such ferocity he nearly fell out of the booth they sat in.
In a quick motion, she pressed the lip of the glass to her mouth.
Here goes nothing, she thought as the liquid reached her lips. Now that she knew what to expect, she chugged it with her tongue pressed firmly to the floor of her mouth. James and Andrew, both, cheered her on to finish the drink, pounding the table with their fists as she drank. As she finished the last of it, she fell back into her seat, feeling the liquor as it burned its way down to her stomach.
That horrible taste lingered on the back of her tongue, she feared it would last forever as it did not waver.
I shouldn't have done that. What's gotten into me?
She stooped forward, resting her head on the tabletop, waiting for the burning sensation to settle.
James placed his hand on her back. "You alright," he asked in a half concerned tone.
Screw it, I'm already in this too deep.
Alanis lifted her head. "I thought you said you were going to order me another drink, where is it?"
His lip tugged into a smile, amused with her turn of attitude.
"Barbra," James shouted, "We're going to need another round over here!"
Alanis had no idea what effects this drink, or any others would induce, and quite frankly didn't care. She was done with worry for tonight, knowing damned well it would be waiting for her tomorrow.
In the meantime, James and Andrew had her sample different drinks, all tasting better than the wretched moonshine she tried first.
Later, she found herself listening in on James's storytelling again, but this time it was with new ears as her buzz helped aid the knight's narrative. There in that booth, they continued to talk, and drink, until it was closing time.
Unlike Larska the streets of Berthold were alive at night. All around them, the sound of music permeated the air. Young couples danced and sang out with the tunes being played. James and Alanis strolled through the town square, laughing as they finished the remaining spirits in hand. She couldn't remember the last time she felt so good.
As they walked, James would play tour guide, and drunkenly tell her about each place they visited. All things considered, she really lucked out meeting him instead one of the other knights.
Yes, things could have been much worse, she could have been found by that wretched she-knight, Cassandra.
Near the end of the night, they found themselves at a beautiful fountain that graced the center of town. Alanis took a seat on the marble ledge that encircled the water. James joined her, sitting close beside her.
He draped his arm over her shoulder and she stiffened, his sudden gesture nearly sobering her. "I'm glad to be in the company of a true night owl, like myself. To tell you the truth, I didn't think you had it in you to drink among us veterans."
Alanis laughed with him briefly, watching as their breath mingled in the air ahead of them.
"So, do you have a story for this place, too?" she asked, noticing he had no intentions of moving his arm.
"Of course." He smiled, his arm tightened around her, pulling her closer to his side. "This place is the oldest landmark in all of Berthold. Legend has it, Lord Richard drove his sword into the very soil where we sit."
Lord Richard, she wondered, thinking only kings ruled kingdoms, but realized until three days ago she knew nothing.
"Who was he?" Alanis' eyes trailed to his.
"Lord Richard Blair, he was Berthold's first king, her founder. But before all of that, he was a renowned mercenary, sought after by many for his skills in battle strategies. He often used his gift to help the smaller kingdoms, and territories, earning them much-needed victories."
"He sounds like an amazing guy," Alanis replied, thinking of Alexander, Berthold's current king. She wondered what type if king he was, if he was as revered as his ancestor.
"That he was. Though, after a while, he grew tired of fighting and settled down. When he arrived in these unclaimed territories, he met a young woman."
"Let me guess, they fell in love and built this very kingdom?"
James looked her over and shook his head. "No, unfortunately, theirs wasn't a tale of love, though they were fated to meet, quite literally. She said she had visions of him in her dreams, and that he would be the one to bring their village together, to build it into a glorious kingdom. Curious of her story he decided to stay, to see if there was any truth to it."
"Fated to meet," she whispered, wondering how was that possible. Meetings were chance, as far as she knew.
How is it possible for someone to see a future that has yet to happen?
"While Lord Richard visited her small village, he realized the hardships they went through. They had no army, no real way of protecting themselves from attacks. And there were many threats to be feared for large beasts roamed the forests around them, as well as the threat of being taken over by neighboring villages looking to gain territory.
One day, the inevitable happened, their village was attacked by a group of men who served in a kingdom to the south. Richard took the men he had trained, in preparation for such an attack, and with that training, the men successfully halted their advance."
James paused briefly, Alanis wondered why as he was getting to the good part-the happily ever after part.
"When they arrived back in the village, they found it sacked. While they were away, another group destroyed everything. Every woman and child left behind, were slain, including the young woman who had foreseen his arrival."
"Damn, I thought this was going to be a happy story, James. After everything they went through, none of it matter..."
"But it did, Alanis. Sometimes destruction can be a catalyst for change, as it was for Lord Richard and his men. After everything, it only strengthened his resolve. With hope in his heart, he drove his sword into the ground and swore on his life that he would protect, and rebuild their land. He made good on his word, rebuilding the small village into a stronghold that was marveled over across the lands. They named their land Berthold, The Bright Kingdom, and eventually elected him as their king."
As he told the story, Alanis wondered how much of it were true. Their founder, King Richard, seemed like a saint among men.
"It's hard to believe such an amazing story," she replied while her eyes searched the bright stars above them. "That one man could change the lives of so many."
"Well like anything, people tend to leave out the bad, and build upon the good while writing history. I'm sure King Richard, and the people of early Berthold, had other hardships, but they weren't overcome by them, they kept going and made the best out of what they could. All of their hard work made all of this possible." He looked over at Alanis as she lowered her stare form the night sky.
"Yeah, I guess people do that," she whispered while thinking how beautiful his eyes shown even in the dark.
Like two bright stars.
He smiled noticing her stare, joining in without her knowing. That was, until she realized they were completely alone-and close.
She stiffened against his arm as he gravitated closer, until he was just a breath away from her. The feeling he was transmitting through his gaze was intense. It was the same look he had given her earlier in the day, when he knelt before her, and vowed to keep her safe.
But it was also different, this feeling.
He had other plans this time, she could read them as his gaze lowered to her lips.
Is he trying to kiss me, right here, right now?
She pulled away from him gently, but her eyes were still trapped by his stare.
It wasn't as if she were repulsed by the young knight. Along their journey, during the times he wasn't annoying her, he had his moments. But this was something she wasn't ready for, even in the state of mind she was now in.
"James," she said drawing further away from him. "Was it true, what Alexander said earlier, about Larska?"
Without saying anything, he gave his answer as he turned away from her, like he had earlier during their meeting with the king.
He's hiding something...
"Alanis, I wish it weren't, but it is," he said and she looked away, believing him as her eyes strung with tears.
"My Official, Justin, he was one of my closest friends. We grew up together practically. I can't believe he was in on something like that. It makes no sense."
James sighed as he could offer no response fitting. Nothing he could say, or do would make it any better. They both had conflicting stories, though, she was starting to doubt hers.
Justin, is it true, did you know?
Her eyes could no longer hold back the tears that were building up, they trailed down her cold cheeks. After a while, she dried her tears with the cloak he had lent her.
They both sat there quietly, the effects of the drink were waning quickly against the night's cold breeze. His arm slipped from her shoulder and he stood to his feet in front of her.
"Come on, let's get out of the cold." His hand extended for hers.
He smiled and helped her stand, knowing that the good time they had shared had slipped away.
They came to his home in the nicer part of the city. Like the other houses, his was made of stone, but quite large for a man living on his own. Peculiar still, was the inside, which was beautiful architecturally, but bare, having very little furniture and no decorations. Well, unless you counted the swords and shields that clung to the wall.
Perhaps, he never has company or just moved in, Alanis thought while studying the entryway.
"Make yourself at home. If you want to take a bath there's one off my room," James said pointing towards a larger wooden door at the opposite side of the house. "You can take the bed when you're finished." He stumbled to the fireplace attempting to start a fire.
She watched as he fought to get the fire going, when it started she sat beside him, near the hearth. The silence that shrouded them reminded her of the first night they met, when they were too nervous to speak.
"I'm sorry you had to hear it from my king, when it should have come from me. I wanted to tell you, really, but when I realized you had no idea what the settlements were doing... I couldn't, not when you were so desperate to return. I didn't want to frighten you anymore than you already were." His head hung low as he sighed, "I'm a coward."
"No you're not a coward. I think you were right not to, I would have probably run from you, if you had," she replied.
He glanced over his shoulder while plucking the fire stick from its holder.
"I'm not sure what to believe anymore. If all of this is true, then everything-everything I've ever known was a lie. How can I be sure about anything, anymore?"
"You can't, but you can make the best of this new life you have been dealt. Every day that you are alive, holds great promise as long as you're willing to live for it," he replied, rolling the fire poker in his hands while he spoke, "I believe you have a wonderful future ahead of you. You don't know how blessed you are with your powers."
"I thought everyone here, could wield once they reached transcendence?" Alanis questioned with eyes on the dancing flames.
"Yes, that is true-" he paused, "But you wield the wind, a power many strive to harness."
"It's rare that a new wielder would harness her power. The fact that you're a half-breed makes it nearly impossible, even with practice."
The power he spoke of didn't seem any different than the one he had used, in fact his seemed stronger.
"I can't wait to see the look on Cassandra's face when she finds out."
He poked the firewood, the flames flared with the sudden shift.
Alanis caught his stealthy smile before he could hide it. "She is going to be livid."
He smothered a few stray embers that neared the hearth.
"Great, another thing that woman can hate me for." Alanis slumped over and sighed.
His smile faded as he stared at the fire.
"She'll come around, she's not as tough as she makes herself out to be," he said, hanging the fire stick back on its hanger.
Alanis couldn't blame him for wanting to upset her. That woman must have been under his skin as well-likely longer than she could ever stand.
"I forgot to thank you, for looking out for me."
"A duty every man should provide a lady," he replied softly.
"Even so, I'm glad it was you I met back in those woods, instead of the others."
His smile was restored by her declaration.
"My promise will always stand, you have my word, that I will keep you safe."
Alanis trusted he would keep his word, he was the only thing she had left to rely on, besides herself.
Author's Note: This was one of my favorite chapters to write. Alanis gets a taste of Berthold history and struggles with her conflicting emotions. Oh and that ALMOST kiss. Hehehehe...
I've noticed some of you are jumping on shipping James. He is a delightful guy, though I share Alanis' feelings on the matter.
Anyway let me know what you think so far. Your feedback is awesome and always welcome, positive and negative. Thanks for reading.
Anonymous 1 - Thank you. I sometimes think I should do better with my descriptive writing. Glad you're not put off by the length. I have a tendency to write long chapters.
Anonymous 2 - Maybe. Mayyyybe. We shall see. I think I have a crush on King Alexander, myself.
Anonymous 3 - James is like that one friend everyone should have. Glad you adore him.
Anonymous 4 - Cassandra's dislike towards Alanis will be revealed as the story progresses. I don't want you to think she's one of those girls that's a thorn in the protagonist's side for no reason.
Anonymous 5 - Sorry for the wait. I'm currently dealing with holiday stuff and completing another story at the moment, so I'm not at 100 percent. Either way, glad you're itching for an update. Hope this chapter is satisfactory.