Elthinor visited me the next afternoon, bright-eyed and cheerful. It was another beautiful sunny day, and the window was open, beckoning the cool breeze in. When he walked into the room, he greeted me jovially, happy to see me. That was new for me. Nobody I knew besides my mother was ever happy to see me.
“Greetings, Filynora. I trust you are not so tired today?” the Elf asked, standing just inside the doorway.
“I feel better,” I replied, smiling back at him. “I am still quite sore though.”
“Not surprising. My grandfather told me that you looked as if you had been on the horse’s back for at least a day and a half,” he said absentmindedly, swaying back and forth on his feet.
I noticed his hands were behind his back. “What are you hiding?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him; I was still a bit wary of these Elves. The stories I had heard growing up did not dissipate so easily.
He smiled guiltily and brought out a package. “I am not as skilled as my sister is, but I fixed it up for you.”
I arched an eyebrow as I took the gift and began to unwrap it. A dark green dress was revealed, and I could not help but grimace. I felt guilty when his face immediately fell.
“You don’t like it?” he asked.
“It is not that I don’t like it, but I don’t usually wear dresses,” I replied honestly.
“But you must wear a dress if you are to go outside. You certainly can’t wear the rags you came in. They are sooty and torn. Besides that, they’re clothes for a lad not a lass. And you can’t wear that nightgown out either. My sister would not appreciate you flashing around her night clothes.”
I could understand his point, even if I did not like it. Besides I had nothing else to wear. So I nodded and watched him close the door behind him as he left me to change. I pulled the curtains in front of the window then gingerly stripped out of the nightgown and pulled the dress on. It was as soft as a flower petal and ended a few inches past my knees. Along the bottom edge were silver flowers, reminding me of the flower on Elthinor’s cheek. The sleeves were short—which was something new for me as all my old dresses were long-sleeved—and allowed my arms to move around unhindered. I sat back down on the bed as Elthinor knocked quietly.
“Are you ready, Filynora? May I see?” he asked through the door.
“Come in,” I said.
He entered and his eyes lit up. “Oh that’s quite lovely. It fits just as I thought it would!”
“How did you know it would fit?” I asked, picking at the fabric, uncomfortably aware of what I was wearing.
“You are about the same size as my sister,” he answered as he sat beside me. “You look very nice,” he added with a shy smile.
I forced a smile. “The fabric is comfortable. But why did you give me this?”
His smile faded and he rubbed the back of his neck, bringing my attention back to his long hair. “Well, Father says you are to be our errand girl. A servant. Grandfather tried to argue with him, but he is certain about it and will not be swayed. He told me I am to show you around the village today and give you your list of chores to do every day.”
I felt my face fall, but instead of the anger I expected, I felt resignation and acceptance. A soft voice whispered through my head, telling me to do as I was told; it sounded suspiciously like the man in white. I took a breath and nodded at Elthinor.
“Show me what I am to do then.”
He handed me a basket before leading me outside. I was stiff and sore, so I took a moment to stretch before I followed. I froze outside the door, staring at the village. The town looked different from my village of Paxtonvale. Instead of plain dirt streets, stones and flowers of every color lined the paths, which weren’t loose dirt, but packed down so much that it was smooth. The houses weren’t as rough looking as the Human houses I was used to. Instead, they were smooth wooden structures that were actually painted. There were beautiful plants and trees painted so well that they looked real. I realized that these Elves were plant-centric, especially if it grew in the forest. I was so amazed at the sights that greeted my eyes that I did not realize Elthinor was tugging on my arm until he spoke.
“Filynora, we need to move,” he said gently, still tugging on my arm.
“Oh. Sorry,” I apologized and followed him down the path that cut from the front door through the soft grass to connect with the road.
As soon as we left the yard, Elthinor grew tense, and his eyes dropped to the ground. I realized why in the next second.
“Hey look!” a male voice called. “Elthinor is a Follower!”
The sound of the youth laughing made me angry, and I decided to help out the poor Elf. I hummed then played up the servant role I had been given. Using my sweetest, most humble voice I spoke.
“Young sir,” I began softly. “Why do they insult you so?”
“Young sir, she says!” laughed one Elf. “He is no sir, Human! If anything, he is a madam!”
I wanted to turn and slug the Elf boy who said that. Just because Elthinor was shy and quiet did not make him a girl. I felt my temper rise, but just as I turned to tell the lad what I thought of him, Elthinor placed a hand on my arm.
“Filynora, let’s go,” Elthinor said quietly.
We walked away to the laughter of the mean Elves behind us. I looked at Elthinor whose face was red in embarrassment. I frowned and touched his shoulder, ignoring the Elves staring at me curiously or, in most cases, with disgust.
“Thank you for trying,” Elthinor mumbled, not even glancing at me.
“Why do you let them do that? Fight back!”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Elthinor muttered, shaking off my hand. “You have no idea of what it is like.”
“I don’t know what it is like?” I asked incredulously. “There is a boy in my village who always bothers me. He pushes me around and threatens to hurt me all the time. He uses his words to insult me and his physical strength to intimidate me.” I paused to let it sink in. “Still think I don’t know what it’s like?”
Elthinor shrugged as we took the middle route out of three when the path split . “It is not the same.”
“Of course it is not the same. I am a girl, which makes it worse! I don’t have enough muscle to defend myself. You do, so why not fight back?”
“I am not strong enough!” he spat, his eyes darkening with anger as he turned on me. “Don’t you think I have tried fighting back? There are just too many of them. They surround me and beat me. Father told me that if I can’t win, I should not fight.”
I stared at him for a moment as we began to move again. We walked in silence for another couple of minutes, finally ending up in the center of the village. The market was much bigger than ours with so much more to offer. The booths were all covered by brightly colored cloths and everything looked cheerful. I was reminded again just how gloomy Paxtonvale was. There were fruits of all sorts, some that I had never seen before and some that were out of season. I wondered how that was possible. Elthinor sighed and stood straight, drawing my attention from the market stands to him as he began to instruct me.
“Every week you are supposed to come here and pick up whatever my mother and sister need. The fruits that you definitely need every week are apples, strawberries, cherries, and grapes,” he said, picking them up as he listed them and placing them in the basket. “You’ll also need to grab carrots and several loaves of bread.”
He guided me around the market and pointed out the various shops after we had what we needed. Once I had seen all there was to see, at least in the marketplace, we walked back to his house. The house from the outside was all smooth wood, just like all the other buildings, with beautiful flowers out in a garden, some of which were multicolored. I had never seen flowers like those before in real life. Only in that dream. A beautiful Elf woman was out in the garden, a pale green tree with pink flowers on one cheek and a pink doe in soft green grass on the other. She looked up as we approached and smiled.
“Hello, son. Are you showing the Human around? Does she understand everything?” she asked lightly and a little condescendingly.
“She is not stupid, mother,” Elthinor argued quietly, though he still sounded respectful. “She understands things just as you and I do.”
Elthinor’s mother gave him a patient smile that clearly said she was humoring him and nodded. Elthinor sighed heavily and shrugged.
“Oh, never mind. Come on Filynora. Let’s put the produce up.”
I followed him into the house, through a hallway, across the main room, into an entirely separate room which looked to be a kitchen, and finally to a pantry. We set the goods on the various shelves and closed the door. I glanced over at Elthinor, and he seemed more relaxed now that we were inside the house. I knew exactly how he felt.
“So, what do I do now?” I asked.
“Well,” he said slowly after a rather long pause. “I can show you where the broom is?”
I frowned then shrugged. “Fine. Lead the way.”
My life quickly fell into a pattern in Ellavendir. I would go to the market every morning, put away the various items, clean the house, and then get most of the afternoon off to spend with Elthinor. He and I taught each other many talents and ideas. I taught him how to wield a knife and he taught me how to make a bow from scratch, which was great. I had needed a new one. I showed him my skill with the bow and he showed me his skills with bow and sword. We discussed in depth the differences between our cultures, as much as we knew at least. It was a peaceful time.
His sister Melanari found it odd how I would rather spend time with Elthinor than with her. I just did not want to be her living doll. I had spent time with her once only to be dressed up in many of her dresses while she went on about some of the other Elf girls and what they were doing. I did not follow half of what she said and I did not know any other Elven girls, so the stories never made sense to me. Besides, the conversations—more like monologues, actually—seemed to have no point. I just could not stand talking about things that ultimately led to nothing. I would much rather talk about weapons with Elthinor, or even better and more interesting, Elven culture. Especially now that he wasn’t nearly as shy around me as he was around everybody else.
Most of my conversations with Elthinor started out light and joking, but they often led to deep discussions about our cultures and their similarities and differences. I discovered how lackluster Human culture was compared to Elven, at least in my opinion, but my knowledge of Human culture outside Paxtonvale was lacking. I could not answer many of his questions asking for details into Human trade and travel, or the different jobs that appeared in the cities, towns, and villages. Indeed, I had started to feel stupid because of it.
“How do you know so much about Elven culture?” I asked crossly one day, avoiding yet another question.
He tilted his head, staring at me with his strange silver and green eyes. “Do you not get a formal education?”
“I take that as a no,” Elthinor said, biting his bottom lip.
“Well what does formal education entail?” I demanded.
“Well, young Elf lads are supposed to go and learn to read and write and learn of the history of Elves. We are also taught basic counting skills and the different trades.”
I stared at him. “You’ve learned all of that?”
“Yes. It is mandatory for Elves…male Elves,” he corrected, looking warily at me. “Though female Elves do learn to read and write.”
I snorted at that. “I take it females also learn to sew and quilt and garden?”
“All Elves garden,” Elthinor replied immediately. “That is not restricted by sex.”
“Why not?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.
“Because…plants are…there is this connection…I mean I…Oh! I can’t explain it! It would be wrong to keep an Elf from plants, no matter their sex.”
I stared at him curiously. What an odd explanation, I thought. He seemed uncomfortable, so I changed the subject back to education, which led it into an insightful discussion about Ellavendir and how it contributed medicinal herbs and some fruits, such as apples, to the Elven kingdom.
All in all, I was happy with my life, despite my servant status. The village was fun to explore, and, since most of the Elves had gotten used to me, I was mostly ignored. I was constantly amazed at how different their building style was from ours. Not only that, but there was just so much color! On the sunny days, Paxtonvale was all browns and grays, with maybe a few green blades of grass sticking through the loose dirt or mud, depending on how much rain had fallen. But Ellavendir had greens and reds and blues and yellows, not only from the flowers that seemed to be everywhere that wasn’t a path, but the rainbows and flowers and plants carved and painted onto every piece of wood that was big enough.
Not only that, but the Elves themselves had so much color. Each one had two designs on his or her face, and each one had two different colors that their bodies were based around. Each design was different in some way, even if it was the same as somebody else’s. I also realized that in the right light, the designs sort of sparkled slightly, especially in moonlight. I had never seen anything like it. Needless to say, I was greatly enjoying my stay in Ellavendir.