James knocked at the door to his bedchamber, gaining Alanis' attention as she worked on her hair. When the bun was secure at the top of her head, she rushed to the door, greeting him with a tired smile.
They had stayed up late the night before, talking until the early morning hours. It was nearly first light when they gave in, and finally went to sleep. James, being the gentleman that he was, offered his bed while he bunked on the floor near the fireplace.
"Looks like someone's in good spirits today," he said returning her smile with one of his own. His enthusiastic grin made her wonder how he had managed to be so energetic with so little sleep.
"You're lucky I made it out of the tub, James. I could have spent the entire day soaking," Alanis said, stretching her arms above her head. "It's amazing what a simple bath can do for you, after not having one in three days." It was true, she felt great, the hot water had worked wonders on her tired muscles.
Fortunately, the pump mechanism wasn't too difficult for an outsider, like her, to figure out. When activated, it filled the tub with hot, glorious water, that smelled funny, but left her skin glowing more beautifully than it ever had before.
It seemed it wasn't going to be as difficult as she thought it would be to give up the luxury of electricity, not with baths like these.
"Well it's a good thing you're feeling rested. I figured, since I'm off duty today, we could go down to the training fields and work on your wielding technique."
Her brow rose in response.
Work on my wielding technique?
"Yes, your technique. While you were pulling the other day, you let your power control you. It's common mistake amongst new wielders."
"Hey, but it all worked out, right?" She shrugged playfully.
"Sure, you may have saved our hides back when we fought Onobilando, but we got real lucky with that catch," he said trailing off as he spoke.
Alanis smacked his arm. "You mean you weren't sure you could catch me?"
"Hey, but I caught you, right?" he said, imitating her earlier question.
"I guess you're right, besides, I'd like the distraction."
James smiled again, though she noticed him eyeing top she wore.
I hope I put it on right, the last thing I want is for him to think I'm some sort of an idiot.
"Well, what is it? You said I could use these clothes, right?" She questioned, recalling their conversation the night before.
While they were getting ready for bed, he had pointed out an old wooden chest to her, explaining it was left behind by an old roommate. Inside it, were several worn tops and slacks, all tailored to fit a woman. He told her she was free to use them, if she wished.
Luckily, they fit her almost perfectly.
It took a while for her to choose from the small collection, as each piece was beautifully handcrafted, and uniquely adorned with stitching and intricate beading. Ultimately, the top she chose was the most modest of the bunch, as the others showed a little more cleavage than she was comfortable with sharing.
In time, Alanis returned his stare, allowing her eyes to take in the fresh clothes he wore. Though, the tunic he wore accentuated his form in a most pleasing way, she found her focus drawn to the strange, scarlet feather that weaved throughout the collar. It was so large and brilliant that she wondered what type of creature it came from. Cautiously, she let her eyes drift downward, noticing the symbol that was meticulously embroidered at his chest—a lone wolf.
Was it a sigil of some sort, or just a clever design?
"Well, don't we look dashing, today. When did you find time to clean up?" she asked while she examined the patterns and furs that decorated the lower half of his tunic.
"To be honest, I couldn't sleep a wink so I sneaked out after you fell asleep and cleaned up at one of the local bathhouses. I figured I could use a bath myself as I smelled like wet dog."
"Well, how do I look?" She twirled under his gaze, earning a chuckle. "Do I pass?"
Alanis spoke of her hair, she had braided it into a classic bun, following one of their many customs. To her understanding, it was tradition for women who were not betrothed, or married, to keep their hair tied back. She wasn't told the reasoning behind the custom, but was sure at some point James, or someone else would explain it to her.
"Mhmm," he answered with a short chuckle, "You'll fit in properly, now."
"Great," she said making her way to the front door, then stopped noticing James wasn't behind her. "Something the matter?"
His eyes scurried to the wall where his swords hung. "Uh, about last night," he said with a subtle cough, "I'm sorry, for my behavior."
"Oh, what for?" she responded, then thought back to their talk at the fountain and grimaced briefly.
Was he going to bring up her emotional breakdown from the night before, or the kiss he almost stole? Either way, she hoped he would keep his apology short. It was too damned early to ruin the day.
He scratched the back of his head while his blue eyes elevated back to hers. "For involving you in my drinking shenanigans," he answered innocently.
She let go of her held breath then laughed, relieved it was only that. "Oh, that," she said, straighten her back, "Don't worry, if anything it was better than what I had planned."
"Freak out," she replied, giving him a friendly pat on the back. "Instead, I chose to have fun, like you said I would."
He laughed shedding the shamed look from his face. She was glad, having to deal with her own insecurities would have been harder if he wasn't his normal happy self.
"I'm glad you did," he said while strolling to the wall, where his weapons hung. "So have you given the king's offer any thought? I think you should, it couldn't hurt to try, right?"
Alanis was quiet while she watched him unhook one of the lower swords that clung to the wall. His eyes studied it quickly before he sheathed it at his side then made his way over to her.
It couldn't hurt to try, sure, that was easy for him to say. The young knight had a lot of trust placed in his king and council, perhaps the same amount of trust she had in her Official and the Larska government. For now, she was confused and would need time to decide for herself.
"The other night, you mentioned my power was different," she responded, ignoring his question while she opened the heavy door. "Can you tell me more about it?"
"Sure," he answered from behind.
Alanis stumbled backwards as he snatched the decorative cape that clung to her shoulder straps, stopping her from walking through the doorway. Somehow, she managed to gain balance before she plummeted into him.
"Geez," she said catching her breath, "Watch it, I nearly fell."
"Oh, I wouldn't have let that happen," he quipped and pulled the cape to the side, exposing her back. His hands then lifted and worked on the loose knot she had tied near the center of her shoulders.
She fidgeted nervously and was too embarrassed to protest, surprised by the warm sensation on her neck with each of his breaths.
"Mhmm..." He chuckled. "You'll thank me for this later."
Currently she was thankful, thankful she was facing the other direction. And thankful he couldn't see the idiotic expression that swept across her face, and the blush that followed.
"Her name is Oaro," he replied while untying the lousy knot.
"What," she mumbled nervously, forgetting the question she asked earlier.
Her back arched and she took in a breath as he tightened the leather straps.
"Oaro, she is the keeper of the skies, controlling the wind and the breeze. Oaro is the eldest of the three goddesses. That is who you draw your power from."
"Arr-oh," Alanis sounded out her name and James nodded in approval.
Alanis wondered if the woman who had helped her in the woods was the guardian of the wind, Oaro, she certainly seemed like a goddess.
"And you, who do you draw from, what is her name?" She turned to look at him and he stopped what he was doing.
He dropped the straps to her side, soon after his gloved hands repose on her bare shoulders for a moment.
"Reiro of Terra," he replied and fastened something she failed to notice while getting dressed. "She controls the earth below our feet."
"Reoh," she repeated then squinted as he gripped the leather straps then tied them tightly down to the small of her back.
"The last and youngest goddess is Moras, the keeper of the sea." He finished, his hands tugged at the bottom of her top testing its security.
Alanis placed her hands on her hips and took in a deep breath as he released his hold on her.
"Too tight?" he asked while he walked past her through the door.
"A little, but I'll get used to it."
They both made their way to Barbra's Tavern to get something to eat before heading out to the training fields. During breakfast, James explained, in more detail, about the three sister goddesses.
For the most part, many first time wielders received power from Moras and Reiro. Although they weren't as coveted as being blessed by the skies, both of younger goddesses were equally powerful as the eldest sister. Though, if the wielder was blessed by Oaro, they had the ability to wield all three separately and together.
That is what made her power so special.
After they finished eating, they made their way to the outskirts of town, to a spacious field filled with tall grass to practice wielding. There were others there, most training in combat, with weapons and magic.
Alanis walked behind James, avoiding the curious stares that followed them. On occasion, she could hear them whispering about her as they passed.
"Sir James," a young girl screamed from ahead, looking to be the age of five or six. "Oh, Sir Allard, I was worried!"
The tall grass moved as she trampled through it to greet him. Her arms opened then just as quickly, leapt into his arms. James twirled around with her while she giggled wildly, her small hands grasped his cloak while they spun.
James stopped and she planted a quick kiss to his cheek. The smile she shared with him was as bright as the sun above them and soon, Alanis found herself smiling with them. He was gentle and unguarded with her, it was almost as if he were her older brother.
"How many times have I told you to call me James?" He tugged at her long braid, watching with a smile on his face, as she winced, annoyed at his antics.
"I like Sir James, it sounds better." She stuck her tongue out then took notice of Alanis' stare, letting her large, icy blue eyes study her. "This must be the girl Cassie was talking about."
Sheesh, Alanis thought, it must be a cultural thing to talk in front of people as if they weren't there.
James dropped the girl to her feet all the while keeping her stare. Nervously, she clung to James's cloak as she hid behind him.
"Don't be rude," he said stiffly.
"I wasn't," she fussed while straightening the wrinkles in her baby-blue dress, after she was done fidgeting, she stepped in front of James.
Alanis knelt to the child's level, deciding to introduce herself, to show she wasn't to be feared.
"My name is Alanis, what's yours?" she asked softly.
Instead of responding, the girl nervously yanked several blades of grass that stood near them, tossing the thick blades to her feet.
"My sister says you escaped from Larska, is that true?"
What a little brat!
Alanis blinked, stunned by her behavior.
I can't believe these people, even their children were cruel.
"Felicia," James groaned her name, forcing the child to mind her manners.
"It's alright," Alanis lied, politely. "I take it your sister is Cassandra."
It was clear they were related, anyone could see the striking similarities between them, both in personality and beauty.
"Yes, I am from Larska," Alanis answered her earlier question.
"I was about to show Alanis how to wield." James butted in.
She lunged, aggressively at his arm. "Can I watch pleeease? I promise I'll be quiet, I won't bother you," she whined while tugging at his hand.
"Yes, but don't get in the way. Your sister would harm me if anything happened to you," he warned.
"I know, I know, I won't..." she proclaimed as if she heard his spiel before.
True to her word, Felicia sat in the grass at a safe distance. Her large eyes sparkled as she watched James discuss wielding.
"The first thing we're going to work on, is your pesky floating issue. The trick is to keep grounded at all times. To do that, you must remain calm and find something to anchor to so you don't get caught up into the pull of the Tartli, the orb. The way most counter this, is to keep in contact with the surface that they're standing on. It helps to feel, to touch an anchor, while harnessing nature."
James stepped away, giving Alanis enough space to realize he meant for her to use her power.
No way, you've got to be shitting me. Does he really expect me to go for it now, after his questionable anchor speech?
"James, really, are you sure?" Alanis questioned, thinking about the height she had reached the last time she wielded. "I don't know, even you said, it was a miracle you caught me. I don't want to tempt fate again."
"Try it, you'll be fine. If you do happen to float, I'll warn you." His assuring tone was no comfort to Alanis.
Felicia's eyes grew wide. "You fly?" She sat forward, her small arms propped up her shaking body.
Alanis turned towards her, noticing the curiosity that shone in her large eyes.
"Not exactly," Alanis replied feeling quite pleased the girl was showing a positive interest in her. "It's not as if I can control it."
"Doesn't Oaro's gift cause the wielder to levitate? Wait, does that mean you've been blessed by her? James is it true!?"
"Darn it," James groaned, both of their gazes were brought to him. It was apparent he hadn't been paying attention to their conversation as his gaze was elsewhere. "I forgot my shield," he murmured while walking away. "I'll go see if someone will let me borrow theirs."
While James was away, Felicia asked Alanis several questions about Larska. She was very curious about her home, and what life was like for the people who lived there.
As they traded stories, Alanis learned they had a lot in common, despite her bratty, childlike behavior. The child told her that she had never been out of her homeland of Berthold. She also told her it was her dream was to travel Terra and to see the great sea that surrounded them.
Alanis could tell she was very fond of James, when she spoke of him her childlike demeanor was lost. Alanis wondered what their relationship was, they seemed closer than casual acquaintances, almost like family.
"What," a loud shriek permeated the peaceful field, behind them Cassandra tromped through the field, "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
Alanis and the girl stopped conversing instantly, their eyes were both drawn to the storm that was heading their way.
"Get away from my sister, spy!" Cassandra shouted as she came up on them, stopping abruptly as the skirts of her dress caught the grass.
Though she was dressed modestly, the simplicity of her attire only brought attention to her natural beauty. She gripped her long flowing skirt with her hands then yanked them free.
Felicia stood to her feet. "Don't get mad at her, Cassie, I was only curious. James was—"
Cassandra grabbed her by the arm and pulled her away.
"Go home, now. I'll talk to you later," she ordered sternly.
"Was that really necessary?" Alanis asked while watching Felicia sulk as she walked away.
"Don't tell me what's best for my sister. I know you've filled her head with settlement lies, escapee."
The woman looked her over, disgust filled her piercing blue eyes. Alanis found she wanted to slap that expression from her wicked face, as it was more insulting than her accusations.
"Where did you get those clothes?" she questioned while stepping back, Alanis noticed a tinge of worry hidden in her voice.
Alanis was done listening to her, for some unknown reason she felt it necessary to lash out at her at every meeting. She turned to walk away from her, and she repeated her question again, this time speaking louder.
"James gave them to me, what's it to you?" Alanis answered, hoping that would quiet her.
The others that were practicing nearby, stopped and stared at the scene that was unfolding. Alanis shuddered, wondering what wild ideas filled their heads about her.
"I heard you and James were gallivanting around town last night into the wee hours of the morning. I wouldn't get too attached to him if I were you."
"I can assure you I'm not interested in—"
"Trust me, I'm doing you a favor by telling you this, because you don't seem wise enough to see through his charade."
"What," Alanis whispered, appalled by the way she was speaking about him. "Are you jealous?"
Cassandra stepped back and grasped the silver brooch that was pinned to her top. Alanis must have struck gold, her stunned look only confirmed her theory.
She was jealous.
"If I were you, I'd watch my mouth about things you know nothing about," she replied.
"It's the truth, isn't it?" Alanis looked her over, her anger was see-through now.
Cassandra's eyes lowered and her hand slipped from the brooch to her side.
"What's going on here?" James intervened.
Cassandra glared up at him. If her eyes had been a weapon they would have cut right through him where he stood.
"What the hell were you thinking, bringing my sister around her? We have no idea if someone sent her here to spy, or attack us." She pushed past him.
"Relax," he said, trying to calm her as she walked away. "She's a good person." He grabbed her by the arm and held her still.
She looked up at him, Alanis could detect something from the look she returned to him.
Did they have a past, Alanis wondered.
Their silent stare told her they had.
Her eyes broke away from his. "Why, because you've walked around with her for a few days, you now know her?"
"No, that's not it, but I think I am a good judge of character. I know she's telling the truth," he replied.
She pulled free of his grasp. "I fear your ignorance may be the death of you someday," she murmured and began to walk away.
It was becoming clear, to Alanis, that if she was going to stay in Berthold, and not have her intentions constantly questioned, that she would have to go through with the ritual. If she didn't, she feared the others would soon join forces with this woman in her crusade to bring her down.
"Stop," Alanis called out to her while she walked away. "I know you don't believe me, but your uncertainty will be resolved once I go through with the ritual, it will prove my story. You'll see."
"I hope so, for your sake, because I will show you no mercy if you're lying," Cassandra replied with her back to them.
Author’s Note: Happy New Years. I can’t believe it’s 2020. Ugh, I remember when it was 1999. GODS I’m old. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter. Please let me know what you think. I love your feedback, even if all of you are anonymous. Hahah.
Anonymous 1 - I totally agree. Alanis should definitely kiss someone she cares about. After this chapter, she will be having more interaction with King Alexander for the ritual. I’m glad you’re enjoying the story.
Anonymous 2 - More will be revealed on Cassandra, that’s for sure.
Anonymous 3 - What James is hiding will become clear as the story progresses.
Anonymous 4 - Hahaha, yes, Alanis will be using her powers soon. I plan on spicing up some battle scenes.
Anonymous 5 - Hmmm, King Alexander’s motives should become clear after the next chapter.
Anonymous 6 - Sorry for the delay, we just got done with Christmas and New Years, so I should have more time to write soon.
Anonymous 7 - The almost kiss was intense. I’m glad you liked it.