Ellanora left the group at the inns private backroom, walking back upstairs to collect her things. It wasn’t a slow process but it wasn’t a quick one either. She moved carefully through the room, making sure she had all her things put away before hefting the backpack up on her shoulders and leaving the room. She felt the stairs give a little under her feet as she walked down them, and with a wave towards the innkeeper she walked out the door.
The street was clean and shiny, a few cleaners making sure last night’s downfall didn’t collect. She looked around, since she couldn’t hear the people behind her. People were moving in the same direction as her and she started walking towards the noble quarters. She smiled at the people who looked at her, gave a few of them a nod, trying to calm her breathing. No-one would recognize her, most of them didn’t even know she existed.
She hoped Quarion still lived in the same place, but she had no idea. Last time she’d seen him had been when she was sixteen and she had still lived in the mansion with her mother.
They had met when she was twelve, he’d come by to talk with her mother and her advisors about something inane. He’d spent most of the time trying not to roll his eyes at their stupid suggestions and advice that wouldn’t help at all. He shut them down quickly, cleanly and expertly. She’d been spying on them from her balcony as usual, and he’d almost got her caught when he’d made her laugh.
She’d had to sprint back to her room and miss out on the last part of the meeting, but she’d never been able to let him out of her mind since then. Later after that evenings dinner he’d cornered her and told her that he’d seen her out on the balcony, but not to worry. He wouldn’t tell anyone. She might have fallen a little bit in love with him then and there.
Their first kiss had been when she, under a false identity, had spent a season in the Seat of the Empire and she’d snapped at some duke’s daughter after she called him an old freak. She’d been so sassy that he’d started to laugh, only to drag her away before the duke’s daughter’s suitors came around.
In an alcove not too far away she’d kissed him and for a while he’d kissed back. He’d then held her at arms distance to tell her that it was a bad idea, she was only fifteen and barely an adult. Also she was the Emperors daughter. She’d just looked at him, not saying a word.
They’d kissed a few times since then as well, but he always stopped it before it became anything serious. Once he held a party at his house and they’d almost gotten caught. He’d been mad at her after that and she’d been ashamed of herself. He was an adult. An adult with hundreds of years of experience on her. What could he even want from her?
That last time at the mansion he’d told her that if she still wanted him in a few years and with her father’s permission, he’d be willing to give it a go, but right now it was still a bad idea. She’d told him that she understood and watched him walk away. Two months later the mansion was attacked, her mother killed, herself deafened and running for her life. She’d spent the next few years letting people believe she was dead, mostly because she wanted to figure out who had killed her mother.
To her disappointment she’d found nothing while working with the Knights of the Order, then getting captured by Asmand and taken by force by him had made her, well not regret her choice, but regretting not writing to him. Telling him that she was alive. What if that time in the mansion had been the last time she’d seen him.
She’d missed Quarion something terribly down in the dungeon, and realised that she hadn’t gotten over him at all. She was still very much in love with him.
She had gotten lost in her thoughts and had to orient herself at the square, looking around to get her bearings. In front of her she had the market quarters with its cheerful morning jitters. If she found the road to the north she’d eventually come to the entrance of the Noble quarters. That’s where her problems had begun.
Someone tapped her shoulder and she jerked around, ready to cast a spell at the intruder, but she stopped herself when she saw it was a guard. He looked a bit concerned and was talking, so she looked at his mouth, reading his lips.
‘-lp you.’ She’d missed the first part, and heaved a sigh. She smiled at him and started signing, which made his face freeze and then look troubled.
‘Uuuuh. I don’t…’ He started scratching his neck and gesturing for her to follow him, in big dramatic waves. She barely managed to not roll her eyes. Instead she smiled and followed him towards the small guards’ outpost, where they all looked just a perplexed when the first guard explained that she couldn’t hear and didn’t seem to speak. They all looked at her with pity in their eyes and she frowned at them. She was used to it, but it didn’t make her like it more.
She put down her backpack and started going through it until she found a pen and some paper, then she wrote down that she was looking for the way towards the noble quarters and that she could read their lips, so they didn’t have worry about her understanding them.
One of the guards took the note from her and read it, then turned to her and said, slowly, ‘Do you have papers for the noble quarters?’ She nodded and pulled out the papers from her coat. The guard held his hand out for them and she looked at the guards carefully when they looked over the papers.
As soon as they saw the purple seal their eyes got huge, and they looked back at her. She smiled and raised an eyebrow. They guard quickly looked over the rest of the papers then stood up straighter and looked at her. She held her hands out for the papers and got them back from a shaking hand. He was about to say something but she held up a hand and pointed towards the thing she’d just written on the other pieces of paper.
'I don’t want to cause a scene and that means no escorts or huge announcements. Absolutely no salutes'
He read that as well and was about to protest, but she raised her eyebrow again and looked at him disapprovingly. He looked about to piss himself, so she rolled her eyes and asked again for the directions towards the noble quarters. He pointed with a shaking hand towards the road to the northwest. She heaved on her backpack and started walking, leaving the dazed guards behind her.
She walked with a purpose and after a while she found the northern entrance to the noble quarters, but there was a long line to get in. She looked at the sun, midmorning. She couldn’t wait that long, otherwise she’d miss him. If they still kept the same schedule. She didn’t have the patience for that. Not today.
With a sigh she started walking past the line towards the front, upsetting a lot of people but ignoring them and the foul words they probably threw at her back. At the gate she pushed her way to the front and slammed down her papers on top of the ones already on the table, making the guard on paper duty look up at her. She felt the old lady she’d almost pushed out of the line shove back at her. The guard took one look at the papers and stood up and turned around to say something to the two guards behind him. He then turned around again and told her to follow him. She was ushered through a door and into a private room, where she was asked to sit and wait until another guard came in. She’d never been happier to be able to read someone’s lips.
She sat down and impatiently tapped her fingers against the table. After a few minutes a major came in and sat down in front of her, going through the papers that she’d given them. He identified himself as major James Littersteen and he then gave her an apprising look and asked her to identify herself.
She looked back at him and signed her name. He frowned at her and then signed the ‘slower’ sign. She was surprised, and after a few seconds signed her name again but slower and he nodded. He then signed ‘My sister husband deaf. I’m teach slow.’ She nodded her head and smiled.
He then signed ‘how deaf?’ and she slowly signed ‘nine years ago, not to be rude, but above your paygrade. Need to see Quarion Xiloscent.’ He frowned and nodded.
‘Need verify papers, please wait.’ She sighed and nodded, then he left the room.
She was left to her thoughts for a few minutes and closed her eyes. After so many months she was almost there and she was starting to feel sick. If she truly were pregnant the little piece of shit was making her life hard. The major had just opened the door as she made her way over to the paper bin and threw up. He rushed over and held her hair back and patted her back as she heaved up her earlier breakfast. She stayed there and breathed a few minutes before signing thanks without looking at him.
She knew what she’d see if she looked at him and she didn’t want to deal with that now. He tried to help her up but she waved him off and before he could ask her how she was, she signed ‘so can I go now?’ He gave her a look, nodded and gave her back the papers.
She took them, put them inside her coat and went towards the door, but before she left she turned around and asked him ‘does he still keep the same housing?’
She chuckled. ‘Not Empress yet.’ Then she left the holdings.
She walked through the streets, knowing the rumours about her presence were already spreading. She avoided everyone’s eyes and focused on her surroundings.
The streets were so clean that you could have eaten off them, delicious smells coming from all around. The townhouses were exquisite and some as tall as 120 feet, all decorated in detail. The small lawns were so green that she was 99% sure it was being kept fresh by magic.
She made her way down the streets and eventually stood outside the door of Quarion XIloscent. She knocked, knowing that it was his help that would open the doors, not him himself. That’s just not how the nobility did things.
A smiling maid opened the door and asked her what she could help her with. Ellanora held up a note saying that she needed to see Mr. Xiloscent, to tell him it was Ellanora here to see him. The maid took the note and frowned at it. She squinted at the note and slowly moved her mouth, sounding the words out. The maid was obviously not educated and it was torture for Ellanora to watch her slowly make her way through her short note.
After a few minutes the maid looked up at her, cheeks read in embarrassment and nodded her head, telling Ellanora to follow her. She was going to have a word with Quarion about teaching his help to read and write properly. They stepped into an atrium that looked almost the same as last time.
A few of the paintings were new and the furniture had been updated to fit the current fashion. She sat down, but could only keep still for a few seconds after the maid had left. She took of her backpack and put it on the side table and started pacing. What if he wasn’t here?
No, then the maid would have told her. What if he’d moved on? For all that he knew she had been dead for nine years. It was a clear possibility, and quite understandable. What if he couldn’t, or worse, wouldn’t, help her get her father's throne. What if-
There were two hands on her shoulders, turning her around, and towards a face that had barely changed. He was still just as handsome, the long face, high cheekbones and pointed ears that was standard for all highelves. His light hair was a bit longer, there was a slight hint of wrinkles around his golden eyes and his thin lips were open in disbelief.
She smiled at him, relaxing for the first time since she’d come to the city. He looked at her, searching her face, then he pulled her into a hug, squeezing her hard against him. She embraced him back, putting her head on his shoulder. She breathed in the smell of him, and her head told her that it was the same as last time. After a minute or so, she realised he was talking. She felt his chin move against her, and pulled back.
‘-dead and I couldn’t believe it. How are you here? You could had told me something. Nine years, Ella, nine years! I’m so happy to see you, don’t get me wrong, but I’m so mad at you for not telling me about it. Your father was-‘
She put a finger to his lips, making him shut up. There were tears in his eyes and Ellanora kissed him. His lips were soft, but dry. She put her arms around his neck and his arms wound up around her waist. He then carried her up the stairs and into his bedroom.
She sat on the bed, looking out over the city skyline through the open balcony doors, just enjoying the moment. She felt the bed dip down behind her and his arms around her as he kissed her neck. She leaned back and closed her eyes as he continued on down towards her shoulder, moving the morning gown out of the way.
It had become early afternoon and the last warm summer breezes were finding their way into the room. He said something against her shoulder and she turned around, looking at him.
‘I asked how long you’ve been deaf?’ He said and she stiffened. She squinted at him and he chuckled. ‘Earlier I said something and you didn’t reply. I thought you were lost in thought and I wanted to prank you. I tried snapping my fingers next to you ear and you didn’t even flinch.’ He looked a bit sheepish when he saw her angry face. ‘Sorry. Oh, and you always watch my lips when I talk. Not that I don’t enjoy you watching me, but it makes me think I have something between my teeth.’ He grinned at her and she shook her head.
She was a bit upset that he’d figured it out so soon, but it was inevitable. She mimicked a pen and some paper and he left the room to come back a few moments later with stack of papers and a quill and inkwell. Of course he couldn’t just have a pen like anyone else. She raised an eyebrow and took the offered things.
She climbed over towards the edge of the bed and put it down on the bedside table, she wasn’t going to make more of a mess for the maids to clean up. Thinking back to a few moments ago made her blush and she was glad she had her back towards him. As she started to write down everything that had happened, she felt his arm settle around her and his chin on her shoulder. He was reading from above her shoulder. Usually she hated when people was doing it, but it felt okay with him. There was no pressure for her to finish quickly or to make it pretty, so she just wrote in her own time.
When she got to the part about the prison, Asmand and what had been done to her, he held her tighter and put his forehead down while taking few breaths. She leaned back against him and put down the quill. She could feel him talking again, but when she tried to turn he just held her fast, shaking his head. She put her hands on his and leaned back more against him so she could feel his body against hers. After a few moments he kissed her hair, then lifted one hand to make her look at him.
‘I will never make you do anything you don’t want. I promise. What happened to you is not okay, it’s horrible, that bastard how dare he, and…’ he paused, closing his eyes again and taking some steadying breaths before continuing ‘and I will help you in any way you want. You’ll never feel forced to do anything with me.’
She looked at him for a few moments and her eyes became blurry. She leaned back against him once more and cried for the first time since she’d gotten out of that godforsaken place. She cried for the injustice done towards her, for all the people who lost and would lose their lives under Asmand’s rule and she cried for not having allowed herself to cry for such a long time. He just held her and once she calmed down he tucked her into bed, brought her a big glass of water (which he convinced her to drink, claiming it would give her less of a headache tomorrow morning) and crawled into bed with her. They didn’t talk again until the next morning.