I awoke to the sound of a crackling fire which was warming my left side. My eyes flickered open, and I found myself staring at a perfect night sky strewn with stars that looked like diamonds. I shifted slightly which forced a groan to leave my lips at a sharp, stabbing pain in my right shoulder. There was frantic movement and suddenly Gabrithon’s face hovered over mine, worry etched in every tired line of his face. He slowly smiled, his bottom lip quivering as he reached down as if to stroke my cheek.
“You are awake,” he whispered happily. “Oh little filly, you are finally awake! One moment and I shall get Elthinor.”
I lay there in a daze, staring up at the sky. I didn’t understand what was happening. Each breath I took in burned slightly, and my body felt strangely heavy. There was a rustling noise, an exclamation, and the sound of a scramble of quick footsteps hurrying toward me. An exhausted looking Elthinor was suddenly peering down at me. Tears immediately started streaming down his cheeks then he bit his lower lip as he tried to staunch the flow.
“You are awake,” he said, emotion coloring his voice. “Oh, how I thank God that you are awake! Oh Fily, I was so worried. You have been asleep for three days. I prayed for you every minute. As sure as I was that there was no God, that is how sure I am now that there is one! You are alive and awake, and that is all I asked for. I am sorry I ever doubted you about Him.”
I smiled weakly at him. “I am sure our Father and Jesiah are pleased that you believe.”
“Oh Fily,” he murmured. “I thought I would lose you. After coming this far, it would be devastating to see you die. I would not know what to do with myself.”
“If I die, look for the scrolls. Look for the truth within them. It is imperative that they are found by our generation. Promise me this. Please? The world is dark enough as it is,” I said with an odd note of strength in my voice.
The Elf looked miserable at the thought of my death, but I saw something in his eyes stir as he replied. “I promise, Fily. I promise.”
“Good,” I sighed and relaxed again; I had not even noticed I was tense until that moment.
“Elthinor,” Gabrithon said quietly, interrupting our moment.
The Elf looked at him calmly, an air of peace about him. “Yes?”
“It is time to change her bandages.”
“Ah…yes,” Elthinor answered, a note of embarrassment working its way into his voice. “Well then, I suppose we had better.”
I arched my eyebrow at him and he blushed.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“Well, Fily, your shoulder was wounded. Quite badly I might add. It is…I mean…Well…”
He gestured at my shoulder, so I turned my head to look at it. I stared at it blankly for a moment before realizing that I wore no shirt. My face turned redder than Elthinor’s, and I hid it behind my hands as I wished I could disappear. When I finally gathered the courage to remove my hands, Gabrithon and Elthinor were looking at me sheepishly.
“Might I say that if we had a female traveling companion other than yourself, she would be the one tending to you?” Elthinor asked with an awkward attempt at a smile.
“Yes,” I said weakly, looking away from his eyes. “But that does not help at the moment.”
There was a deep, awkward silence, in which Elthinor and I avoided each other’s gazes. Gabrithon just stood there, staring at the two of us. He finally could stand the silence no longer and walked over to stand above me.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” Gabrithon said, kneeling down in front of me to help me sit up.
I kept the blanket firmly clasped to my chest, but the Centaur kept his gaze on my eyes. The kindness I saw in the depths was mesmerizing; I relaxed unconsciously. Elthinor had me move the blanket just enough to get to my bandages and began to work, carefully unwinding them and setting them in a pile. He treated my wounds with the same paste he had rubbed on Gabrithon when he had been hurt, which eased the pain quickly, and then began wrapping my shoulder skillfully with fresh bandages. He patted my whole shoulder when he was done then helped ease me back down.
“Now, you need rest,” Elthinor said firmly, picking up the used bandages and moving to set them in the pot of boiling water over the fire. “And I don’t want to hear a bit of argument.”
“You shall anyway,” I said stubbornly even though I was exhausted. “I want both of you to rest as well. You look like you have been up the whole three days I have been unconscious!”
“We have,” Gabrithon said as he stood and moved to lay down beside me. “You worried us.”
“I thought you did not care for me?” I blurted out before realizing how cruel that sounded.
Gabrithon flinched as he settled down. He still seemed a little self-conscious of the act, and he leveled his gaze on me.
“I do care for you. I realized that these last few days. There is just something about you that makes me feel comfortable around you. I feel less pressured to be what I am expected to be in my own race. As you are a female, I don’t feel threatened by your skill and prowess with the bow and with the knife, though I would if you turned on me. Because of your passion for God, of whom I am still not sure, I know you possess loyalty and would never do that. Because of your understanding nature—even if it takes a while for you to understand—I don’t fear relating my own culture to you. Because of your seemingly natural compassion and lack of judgment, I don’t fear letting my barriers down.
“You are, quite simply put, quite an interesting individual. You seem to be the perfect companion for both me and Elthinor, as he has told me stories about your time with him, and we are both perplexed at that. We do enjoy your company and I, like Elthinor, would not know what to do with myself if you were to die. I don’t wish to go back home where I would be treated like the outcast I have always seemed to be. I suppose I would help Elthinor in the quest for the truth. But it would not be the same without you, Fily.” He paused then looked a bit embarrassed at his speech. “I hope this disperses any negative thoughts you believed I had against you. We are still different, but I hope you will accept this extended offer of friendship.”
“I do accept it,” I said with a smile and no hesitation. “I am sure we shall be good friends.”
“I’m so glad you accepted,” he sighed. “Elthinor did as well, but I was more nervous about you. Like I said before, there is just something different with you. I can’t place what it is. It’s just so, I don’t know, alluring?”
“I am not sure that is the right word for it,” Elthinor said, lowering himself to sit on his bedroll. “But I can’t think of a better one. I do know what you speak of though. It is what first drew me to her side. It is what made me rescue her from the Aswangs and what drew me into this dangerous journey. It is what made me her friend.”
I forced myself to sit up, still holding the blanket firmly against myself, and stared intently at both of them. What were they talking about? I thought about it a moment, and all I could come up with to explain what they were describing was the impression that had made the people in Paxtonvale avoid me like I had a plague.
“Is something the matter, Fily?” Gabrithon asked.
“No,” I said immediately. Ember growled at my side, catching my lie, and I glared at him as I told the truth. “Yes. I don’t understand your fascination with whatever it is that you are talking about. I think what you are talking about is what my village despised about me.”
Elthinor stared at me. “Well, we are not your village. We are not even the same race as they are.”
“That might be the only reason you like me,” I said, suddenly nervous. “What if I lose it?”
Gabrithon laughed. “Oh Fily, the chances that you would lose your personality are…” He trailed off thoughtfully then laughed again. “There is no chance of that! Now put those ridiculous ideas out of your head.”
I lay back down slowly, wincing as I jarred my shoulder. I could not help but feel insecure about my friendships, though I didn’t know why I was suddenly so uneasy. As I thought about it, the answer came to me. I did not want to lose the only friends I had ever had. Even though Gabrithon was a relatively new friend, I cared about him. The battle had naturally brought the three of us closer because we had to trust each other. I could feel the nearness in the air even between Gabrithon and I and we had not been too friendly before. This feeling was something that I did not want to lose. Elthinor must have been watching me because he laughed softly.
“Females worry over so much. I don’t believe I shall ever understand it,” he said then paused for a moment. “Fily, if it makes you feel any better, we shall still be your friends no matter what. Right, Gabrithon?”
“Right,” Gabrithon replied, also sounding amused. “Always.”
“Always is a long time,” I replied, looking at the stars. “And our lives will not be easy for a long while, if ever. Are we strong enough to take it?”
“Maybe not alone, but we are not alone, are we?” Elthinor asked.
I ignored Gabrithon’s snort and smiled fondly at the Elf. That he would acknowledge Jesiah and God like that made me feel happy. It gave me joy that he was aware of them and that it pleased Jesiah, because I knew it would please him. We settled into silence; I yawned as sleep began descending on me. My mind was aflutter with thoughts, but my body was taxed by the little bit of moving I had actually done. Elthinor noticed, and he yawned himself.
“Now that that’s over with, shall we get to bed? I am sure we are all tired,” Elthinor said, tucking himself into his bedroll.
I nodded and turned over, snuggling down into the pleasant warmth. “Good night.”
“Sleep well, friends,” Gabrithon said, and I could hear the joy in his voice at that word.
“Aye, sleep well,” Elthinor muttered then the only noise to be heard was the crackle of the fire.