I slowly came back to consciousness only to find myself on the softest bed I had ever been in. The blankets covering me were smooth beneath my hands, and I had never felt before the kind of cloth before. I was so comfortable, relaxed, and warm that I almost fell back asleep. But just before I did, I felt fingers lightly trace my cheek. At first I did not move, thinking my mother was just checking on me. Then my mind remembered her disappearance. My eyes flew open and I stared at the strangest boy I had ever laid eyes on.
He was crouching on the edge of the bed, one hand to the right of my body holding himself up, the other hovering above my face. A necklace dangled from his throat, one of the first things I noticed. Then I saw that his entire color scheme seemed to be based on green and silver. His face was right above mine and I could see that the irises of his eyes were a deep, dark green edged with a narrow ragged band of silver which was smooth on the outside where it met the whites. The other side of the silver spiked into the green yet was divided by a thin black line so that neither color touched the other. The silver stood out against the greens, naturally drawing the eye. But his eyes were nothing compared to his face, which was by far fairer than any face I had ever seen. In fact it looked sort of feminine, at least to me, despite him clearly being male.
Green and silver started at the inside corner of his right eye and swept up around and above his eyebrow—also silver and green—before curling in on itself like a vine then blooming into an intricate silver flower on the upper part of his cheek. The left side of his face was a swath of intertwined green and silver that traced just along the edge of his jaw then branched off into an upside down tree-like pattern with swirls at the tips of the branches. It was hauntingly beautiful, and I wondered who had painted such a masterpiece on, not canvas, but skin. Then I noticed his hair. His hair was various shades of green with silver streaks gathered into braids scattered throughout. He was mesmerizing, but I quickly grew scared.
His face looked startled as he realized I was awake, and he jerked his hand back with a soft cry of surprise, moving backwards to crouch on the balls of his bare feet, on which I saw what looked like blooming flowers in silver set at the end of green vines. I jerked upright in shock, ignoring the pain that streaked through me. I pressed back against the headboard with my mouth open and my eyes wide, holding the blanket up against my chest as if it would protect me. The strange boy suddenly looked panicked and shook his head, holding up his hands and leaping backwards off the bed to land almost silently on the floor.
He began speaking frantically, his voice, even in panic, soft and melodic. “I know what you are thinking. Please don’t-” I let out a scream. “…scream,” he finished weakly, his hands dropping to his sides. His eyes darted to the door and he looked resigned as it burst open quite suddenly.
Another strange looking person, a man, came inside. Where the boy’s face was green and silver, the man had blue and a warm gold, though it was not the same patterns. His right cheek design looked like the wispy outline of a blue wolf howling to a golden moon or sun and his left was golden flames with blue smoke curling out of it. His eyes were blue and gold. He looked directly at the boy and frowned. When he spoke, his voice was nothing like the boy’s. It was more grating and held an edge that indicated gruffness and a lack of sympathy.
“Elthinor! What did I tell you? You can look at the Human when she is better,” he snapped, marching over and grabbing the young one’s pointed ear. He looked at me, his eyes a little hostile. “I am sorry, girl. I shall get him out,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.
I watched as the man dragged the boy out, the latter pleading with the man and repeatedly saying how sorry he was. I stared at the open doorway then looked around the room. The room itself was handsome and made of intricately carved wood polished to a shine. Even the floor was wooden, instead of stone or dirt, which was such a novel idea that I spent a good couple of minutes staring at the floor. I finally looked up again, noting how brightly lit the room was. Sunshine poured in from a window set in the wall across from the bed I was in.
I had a feeling I was in the boy’s room by the colors, which dazzled me, though not as much as the dream colors had. The blanket was green with silver stars strewn across it. Around the bottom edge of the room, plants of all kinds were painted, all in green with silver flowers. Off to one side a bow hung on the wall and a workbench had a quiver of arrows hung at the corner, but neither of the items were mine. In fact, I did not see my pack or my weapons anywhere in the room, which worried me slightly. I was in a strange place, so I would like to know where my weapons were.
“Oh good, you’re awake!” a cheerful, familiar sounding voice said.
I turned to see yet another strange man. This one was clearly older than the others in both appearance and in the look of weariness in his eyes. His colors were black and red. His right cheek held the same wispy kind of lines that the blue and gold man had, but they formed a bird instead of a wolf; the bird’s eye was red. On his left cheek was a red flower with a black stem and leaves. His eyes were black edged with red. It made him look scary, but he sounded so kind that I replied.
“Um, hello,” I said shyly. “Who…who are you?”
“I am Aloron,” he said kindly.
Somewhere in my mind, I recognized the name, but that was the least of my concerns. “Where am I?”
“You are in the town of Ellavendir,” Aloron answered. “But that is not important at the moment. Are you well?”
“I…I feel all right. Sore, but overall fine. Why?”
“That is good. Very good,” he said, not acknowledging my question. “Did my grandson scare you?”
“Um, the silver and green one?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yes. The silver and green one,” he said, obviously amused at my query.
“I…did not expect to see him. He startled me,” I said weakly.
The man shook his head and smiled. “The lad is too curious for his own good. He just wanted to look at you. He meant no harm. Now, I will check on you later, dear. I have chores to do. Gilronin should keep Elthinor out so you can rest. Goodbye now.”
I stared after him as he closed the door, more confused than before. The way they painted their faces was something I had never seen before; many things in this strange place were new to me, like the paintings around the baseboards in the room. Though the men sometimes painted their faces in our village, it was only for the hunting parties. More specifically, Elemental hunting parties. Even then, it was nothing so intricate.
After that, nobody came back into the room for a long while. I tried to get up once, but I was so sore that I immediately lay back down. The bed was comfortable, so I dozed for a while but quickly got tired of that, so I thought. My thoughts circled around, going from the fire at my home to these new strange men to the man in white from my dreams to what happened to my home, but they always came back around to the man in white. I was still so curious about him, but there was no way I could see to learn more, so I simply reflected on all I had observed in the dream.
I must have eventually fallen asleep amidst my thoughts because I suddenly became aware of somebody touching my face again. I opened my eyes to see the silver and green boy, who leaped away from me again, this time as if I were burning him, and he covered his ears as he winced. This time I somewhat expected it, so I decided not to scream, and he gradually relaxed and began edging back toward me as I sat up. His eyes were shy, like the eyes of the girls at the village when one of the older boys talked to them.
“Hello,” I said.
He lowered his eyes and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Hello.”
There was awkward silence for a moment. “What’s your name?”
“Elthinor,” he said quietly. “Yours?”
Elthinor frowned in confusion. “That does not sound strange. Human names are supposed to be strange.”
I stared at him, well aware of being called ‘Human.’
“Why do you say it like that?”
“’Human names,’” I repeated.
“I am so sorry, but I don’t understand,” he said, his brow knitted.
I stared at his strange face with a new intensity and sat up, reaching over to touch his cheek. He flinched but did not move away, and his eyes followed my hand. The green and silver I had expected to flake off beneath my touch did not do so. It…seemed to be a part of his skin. At this realization, I jerked my hand back.
“You…you are not Human, are you?” I stammered, my eyes wide.
“Me? Human?” he asked and laughed. “I am no Human! I am an Elf!”
My jaw dropped. “But you can’t be an Elf,” I argued when I found my voice. “Elves are dark and cruel and ugly. You don’t seem to be anything like that.”
Elthinor’s eyes were wide. “Who told you that?”
“The elders in my village. They sometimes tell stories about how you go to Human settlements and kill everybody you see then take the live children and eat them…” I trailed off as Elthinor suddenly looked offended, and he crossed his arms.
“That is absolutely ridiculous! I don’t know a single Elf who has even been to a Human settlement, let alone been on a killing spree. And we most certainly would not eat a child, no matter the race.” His expression suddenly morphed into a curious one. “But what about you? Humans are supposed to be filthy, rude creatures, not as bad as Satyrs, but still, dirty, horrid creatures not even near Elven standards. You seem quite clean and kind, now that you are not screaming, at least, and you seem to have a bond with the Nature Beings. How is that?”
“Nature Beings? You mean the Elementals?” I asked, my eyebrow going up.
“If that is what you call the animals that spout elements, then yes,” Elthinor said with a smile. “They are fascinating creatures, but I am not allowed to be around them. I don’t have the training.”
I snorted in amusement. “You don’t need training to be around them. Sure you need to be careful until they are used to you, but other than that, no training needed.”
Elthinor shook his head, and he sat down on the edge of the bed. “Maybe not for Humans, but we Elves are strict about it. They are quite dangerous. I don’t know how you Humans can be around them without being afraid.”
I laughed softly. “I am the only Human I know who is not afraid of them. Everybody else wants them dead.”
“But you are a girl,” he said, his brow knitted in confusion. “If a mere girl is unafraid of them, why are the men not unafraid as well? It makes no sense.”
Warm anger flooded through me at those words. “What do you mean by that exactly?”
The tone of my voice must have alarmed him, and he backtracked. “I simply meant that a man has fewer fears than a woman.”
“What gives you that idea?” I demanded, narrowing my eyes at him.
He looked frightened and began shrinking away from me. “Well, you see,” he squeaked nervously. “Females are the more delicate sex. They are frightened more easily because they can’t protect themselves as a male can. It is true of the Elven race and, as far as I have seen in my experience, which is limited, the Human race as well. I am sure the other races are just the same. It is nothing against you, Filynora. It is just that in all my experience your sex is, well, fragile.”
I was about to argue, about to slap him, about to remedy his opinion when Tynan’s words, and more prominently his actions, came to my mind. Then my thoughts moved to the way I had been raised to think, even if I disagreed. The anger drained out of me and I slumped back against the feather pillows, suddenly feeling downcast. Elthinor looked surprised and leaned toward me, his eyes concerned.
“Are you all right?” he asked gently.
“I am sorry,” I said sadly. “I suppose I should learn my place, right?” I asked dejectedly.
Elthinor stared at me for a moment before sitting back upright. He looked as if he were thinking. He played with his hands for a few minutes before speaking, his voice thoughtful and kind.
“You don’t act like any Elf-maiden I know,” he said slowly. “I don’t think your place is with them or any female for that matter. It just does not seem likely that you will be a complacent little wife and housekeeper.”
“If I don’t marry, what will happen to me?” I asked; that question had been haunting me for a couple of years. “A woman is supposed to start a family, whether she wants one or not,” I added bitterly.
He smiled at me and shook his head. “I don’t know about what will happen to you, but my grandfather thinks it is something big. He says you have a feeling of importance around you. The same feeling he has had around some Elves. They are Elves that are now leaders and councilors to the Elf King, and Elves who have done valiant deeds and fought Satyrs.”
I thought about that for a moment. I just could not believe that I could ever be destined for something important. I was a girl. Men were the ones destined for the important things in life. They were the ones who became warriors and heroes. At least they did in the stories the elders told. There were never any stories about girls or women doing amazing acts, and rightly so, I thought. Who wants to hear about our lives when they are filled with the raising of children and the mundane tasks of everyday life when they could hear about men who slay Elementals (my least favorite stories) or Elves, and take great risks to save the women who will bear their offspring. I frowned. It made women seem like just some prize to be won. I did not like that or agree, but the culture screamed against what I thought.
“Why do you look sad?” Elthinor asked, reaching over and tentatively placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Because I know you can’t be right. I am just a girl,” I said matter-of-factly. “And girls don’t do anything of importance.”
Elthinor frowned. “Normally I would agree with you, though it might make you mad to hear that. But you came to our village on an Aqua horse. That is impressive. I would have to agree with my grandfather.”
I smiled at him, holding back a laugh as his expression brightened at the look. “You know something? I like you. I have never met an Elf before. Are you all like this?”
He winced and looked at his hands again, and for the first time I noticed more designs on the backs of his hands. “Not really. A lot of Elves are mad that my grandfather brought you here. They don’t like Humans.”
I had expected that so I wasn’t too upset. “Why are you being nice to me then?” I asked sincerely.
He opened his mouth to say something then closed it. His features scrunched together as he thought about it. While he did, I looked out the window to see thick forest past a stretch of green grass. The house, I concluded, must be at the edge of this Ellavendir if the forest was the only thing to be seen past it. I watch birds flit to and fro before landing on branches, no doubt singing to each other, though I could not hear it this far away.
“I am not sure,” he finally said, drawing my attention back to his face. “If somebody had told me a week ago I would be a host to a Human and that I would not mind it, let alone like it, there would have been a fight. I could not stand to be called a…” He trailed off and watched me hesitantly, gauging my reaction to his pause.
“A what?” I queried, a bit impatient.
“Well, a Follower.”
“What is a Follower?” I asked, confused.
“They are zealots. They have odd beliefs, though I am not fully sure of what they believe. But they are adamant about being kind to all of the races, even Satyrs because we were all made at the same time and were meant to be friends. I think,” he added as an afterthought.
“So being a Follower is bad?”
“Most Elves consider it to be. My grandfather is the only Follower who is not made fun of and that is because he is so respected and does not push his beliefs on anybody. He does share them every chance he gets, but there is debate about whether they have proof of their beliefs. Oh, by the way,” he said suddenly. “You might want to thank him. He is the reason you weren’t left for dead.”
“Really?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “I suppose I do owe him thanks then,” I said with a half shrug.
“No need for thanks, my dear.”
Elthinor and I both jumped, turning our heads at the same time to see Aloron leaning against the doorframe and watching us with those creepy eyes. He pushed himself to stand and walked over to the bed, looking over us with a crooked smile on his face. The Elf did not seem angry at all, though I suspected Elthinor was still supposed to be leaving me alone. In fact, he seemed glad to see us talking together, if his next words were anything to go by.
“I can’t believe my eyes,” Aloron said, rubbing his grandson’s head and messing up his hair. “My grandson, a Human-loving Follower, like me!” The horrified look on Elthinor’s face said it all, and Aloron laughed. “I am just kidding, Elthinor. But you do seem to be enjoying your time with the Human.”
Elthinor looked at the ground. “It is easy to forget she is Human when you are talking to her,” he said quietly. “She seems so…normal.” I was skeptical of that statement but tried not to show it.
“Do you mean to say they are not as different from us as everybody thinks?” the older Elf asked gently.
“I did not say that,” Elthinor said quickly, glancing warily at me. “But…no, they are not. Filynora is kind and definitely clean.”
Aloron chuckled. “That is wonderful, Elthinor. Now, I hate to tear you away from what I assume is a fascinating discussion, but it is time for you to help your sister with the chores that you have been neglecting all day. Let Filynora rest. She needs it.”
Elthinor nodded, stood, and hurried out the door, throwing a goodbye over his shoulder along with a smile. Aloron smiled at me as well and followed the silver and green Elf, closing the door behind him. I let my head fall back and closed my eyes, thinking about my conversation with the Elf boy. I liked him. He wasn’t overly bold and self-assured like the other boys I knew. It was a nice change.