Heres a nice chapter for you. sorry about the wait!
Aly's mouth was open and she stared wide-eyed at her father who's expression echoed her own. With effort she closed her mouth and swallowed, her fists clenched and unclenched by her side. Neither of them spoke, just stared for a long minute, the longest minute of Aly's life.
"Charles, what is going on?" A commanding voice called from behind Aly's father. He answered without turning around, his shocked eyes never moving from Aly's face.
"You have a...visitor." He stumbled over the word, unsure of what to call her.
"Well let them in then!" The voice replied, Charles nodded blankly and stood to the side, clearing Aly's view of the rest of the hall. A man in spledid robes was pacing on the other side of the empty hall in front of the throne. He paused and looked up when Aly took a stuttering step forward, his eyes grew weary as they passed over Aly and her companions.
"Come here." the King commanded, taking a seat on his throne and rubbing his temple. "Charles close the doors."
Aly cast one last quick glance at her father then, steeling herself, she lifted her chin, straightened her shoulders and continued forward. Stopping in front of the King she bowed deeply.
"Your majesty, I am Alyana of the Animals and have a dire message to bring for you and your Kingdom."
The King watched blandly as Blue swooped down and landed lightly on Aly's shoulder, "I have no doubt that you do." he replied, giving a tired smile.
It was late in the night when Aly finally finished her story, they had moved into the King's more comfortable study earlier on, though Star, not able to fit through the smaller doorways, had left with Watcher following a rather terrified stableboy to the Palace Stables.
Aly was sitting on a delightfully comfortable armchair with Blue perched on the arm next to her, she seemed incredibly interested in the King, refusing an invitation to go with Star and Watcher. Aly was glad Blue had stayed though, her presence was, ironically, comfortingly familiar within the King's study.
They were sitting in a heavy silence at the moment, Aly had finished her story and Charles and the King were considering the allegations of what she had told them. They didn't look positive, both looked old beyond their years.
Eventually the King looked up and spoke to both of them. "'tis too late to talk of war. We shall talk again tomorrow Alyana. I can organise rooms for you during your stay in the Palace if you wish?"
Aly bit her lip. "Could I sleep with Star and Watcher? In the stables?"
The King seemed taken aback for a second, "we have rooms enough to accommodate you..."
Aly shook her head. "I would rather sleep next to my companions. I...I am not comfortable within walls anymore...the stables are more open."
The King looked slightly perplexed but nodded, "As you wish. Both of you may leave now. I have much to ponder."
Aly nodded and stood, not looking at her father, she offered her arm to Blue who ignored her and jumped off the chair, fluttering onto the King's desk. He looked up in surprise. Blue tilted her head and considered him. "Mortal ruler. You are not as stupid as most of the others." Blue sent the thought to all three of them, then trilled, laughing. Leaning forward she ran her beak through the King's salt-and-pepper hair then jumped off the desk and glided back to Aly's shoulder, leaving a single, blue feather on his desk.
The King looked startled but shook his head with a sigh and waved them out.
Charles was waiting at the door, when Aly turned he opened it for her and followed her out. Once they were in the corridor they stood and faced each other. Blue, thankfully, flew off down the corridor inspecting the flickering lamps mounted on the walls.
"Aly." Her father said one word, he reached his hand forward and pushed her collar back slightly, revealing the A that was forever burnt into her skin. Aly turned her face away, she had cut out certain part of the story that she didn't want to tell, all they knew was that she had been captured by the Ankars.
They lasted a few more seconds like that before Aly's shoulders began to shake, raked by silent sobs. Charles reached out for her and pulled her in his chest, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair.
Aly cried. She cried for her dead mother, she cried for the war that diedem was to face, for her father whom she had abandoned and she cried for herself, the pain she had suffered at the hands of the Ankars and the way her heart hurt everytime she thought of Wolf.
She cried like she never had before and her father stood there the whole time, his own eye leaking tears of sadness and joy. He finally had his daughter back.
Aly woke with the sun streaming in on her face and the heartbeats of her companions against her skin. The large stall she was in smelled sweetly of hay and horses and she was reminiscent of the days she had spent as a stableboy here.
This was her third day in the Palace, she had spent the previous two talking constantly with the King and awkwardly trying to repair the relationship between her and her father. She was happy because the King no longer needed to talk to her so she had the whole day to herself.
Breathing deeply Aly smelled food on the air, her nose twitched and she opened her eyes lazily. Looking up she saw Jack balanced on the door of the stall holding a paper bag and mug in his hands, he grinned as he saw her uncurl from her sleeping position up against Star's warm belly and jumped lightly down from the door and into the stall.
"I bought ye some food, ye missed breakfast." he smiled his white-toothed smile and handed the paper bag and steaming mug to her. Aly sat up and leaned against the wooden wall, taking the food with a warm thank you. She and Jack had had a little reunion when she turned up to the stables the first night to find him staring unabashedly at Star while she slept.
They were good friends, Aly liked him because he didn't asked too many questions, didn't delve into why she had turned up as suddenly as she had left scarred and with strange creatures in tow.
Resting the mug on the ground Aly reached into the paper bag and pulled out two warm pork buns, she offered one to Jack but he shook his head. "Naw Iv already eaten, thanks" Aly nodded. They sat silently while Aly ate the first pork bun and half of the second, she offered the rest of the bun to Watcher who turned up his nose and Blue who gladly swallowed it whole.
When she was sitting, sipping quietly at the mug of weak coffee, Jack scratched his head and said, "Sam...Aly could I ask a big favour of you?" he grinned nervously at her then continued before she could reply. "I know ye aint busy today, and I was just wondering...I'm a simple boy, never expected too much outa life you see...then you turn up with your..." he waved his hand at Star, giving the sleeping horse an awed gaze.
Aly said nothing and waited, though the corner of her mouth quirked up in a smile. "What I'm trying to say is...could I maybe have a ride?...only if its no bother of course." He clasped his hands and looked hopefully at her.
Aly brushed back a lock of dark hair, "I cant say Jack." She replied. He looked confused, "What?"
Aly nodded at Star next to her, "You must ask Star here, its not my place to say."
He was even more befuddled now, "Ask her...? but its a horse! Horses can na talk"
Aly frowned theatrically at him."Thats not very nice, why don't you talk to her and see what she thinks about this." By this point Star was awake and aware of the attention on her, she snorted in amusement at Jack.
"Jack, you can believe in a horse with wings, why not one that can talk?"
Jack glanced at her and nodded nervously, he looked back at Star who turned her head to face him.
"Um...miss Star, by any chance...would I ever be allowed the honor of having a ride on ye back?" he hurried through the last part then finished and quickly looked back at Aly, "Was that good?"
Aly shrugged and smiled, "I don't know, Star? Is it?"
Star leveled her gave at Jack. "Yes I believe I might take you for a ride."
Jack jumped and looked shocked. His eyes shot to Aly "Wha..?" then back to Star, realization grew in his expression and he nodded solemnly at Star. "Thank you."
Aly laughed out loud, Jack looked at her, then started laughing too. And for a while, That's all they were, two young kids, laughing together at things they didn't understand.
While she was laughing Aly realized that she didn't like Jack because he didn't ask questions. She liked him because she could act her own age with him, he didn't ask her to be anyone other than herself.
Standing in the middle of the courtyard outside the stables Aly stared upward at the clear blue sky and the dark bird that was her Star. Even from way down on the ground Aly could hear the whoops of joy and terror the Jack was making as Star took him for the ride of his life.
Aly squinted and smiled into the sun, she was happy. For the moment.
Aly and jack had spent the morning out of their horses racing and flying through the forest and the sky, she had helped him with a few of his chores in the stables before lunch and was now treating herself with a trip to the baths.
Aly entered the steamy room with a towel wrapped tightly around herself, there were a few women scattered around the large pool-like bath. Walking to the most steamy end of the pool Aly dropped her towel on the side and slipped into the hot water with a small gasp.
She floated contentedly in the water for a long time, rubbing her body and hair down with soap time and time again. She had been in the bath almost an hour before she decided she had had enough, her fingers were as wrinkled as prunes. Stepping out of the bath Aly wrapped her towel around her skinny body quickly and raced into the changing rooms.
The baths had emptied while she was in them as people left to have their lunchtime meal so Aly was alone in the changing rooms. On one wall there was a large floor length mirror, Aly hadn't seen her self since she had run away from Toren so out of interest she stepped in front of the mirror and let her towel drop.
What she saw was not the young, rounded features of the Aly she knew, her hair was a few shades darker, almost black. She had also lost all her baby fat during her travels and now had sharp, defined features and her body was almost bony. Except...to Aly's surprise, she had gained modest curves.
Aly touched her face lightly. Then her hand moved down to the A burnt into her collarbone then further down to the white whip lines that decorated her ribs and back. She had the body of a woman now, but the scars that cut into her skin were ugly and she turned from the mirror in repulsion. The Ankars had taken away even the joy she might have felt in her body changing into that of a women's. What else could they take?
Aly didn't let herself answer that question because she was scared of what the answer may be.