The week passed by torturously. I was healing quite well; my arm was almost completely better, pink scratches the only markings left. Elthinor assured me that he was on the way to full health, too, so I had nothing to worry about except for the waiting. Gilronin made sure his son was comfortable with plenty of food and rest, but I was still expected to do my chores. I did them without complaint, happy to have anything to distract my mind from the story and the questions in my head. They kept me up every night for an hour or two just wondering. Keeping busy was the only thing that helped. When I wasn’t busy, I was either ruminating on the story or my mother. I still missed her terribly.
“Fily!” Elthinor exclaimed as I finished sweeping; no matter how hard I tried I could not get him to give up that stupid nickname.
“Yes, Elthy?” I asked teasingly.
“Ha ha,” he said with a smile. “You had better change into that new dress you have. The meeting is in an hour!”
“New dress?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.
Hurrying of to change, Elthinor grinned. I rolled my eyes and put the broom away. I was still using Elthinor’s bedroom so technically it was his, but I called it mine. Entering the room, I looked at the bed then laughed softly. There, in the middle of the bed, was the new dress he had mentioned. It was a bright red that matched the green one, except that the green one was quite worn by this point, and the red was embroidered with gold instead of silver. I smiled as I ran my hands over the soft cloth. It was a thoughtful gift, though he knew at this point how I preferred to dress. In fact, he had snuck me a few of his clothes, so that I could try and tailor them for myself.
I quickly changed, wishing I was allowed to wear pants. I walked out onto the porch, smoothing the dress down as I stepped outside. I looked over the garden and breathed in the flowers’ scent while I waited. I had to admit that Selaniam was quite the gardener, and she was teaching Melanari, too. The flowers in their garden were, in my opinion, the prettiest and most fragrant in Ellavendir. Aloron arrived first, coming from somewhere in the village, and he commented on my dress. I smiled but did not reply. It wasn’t that I was rude, but I honestly did not know how to respond to a positive comment to my appearance. I had never received any before.
“Are you excited my dear? You and Elthinor both seem interested in Followers’ beliefs,” Aloron said, breaking the silence.
I nodded. “I am. The story you told has raised more questions than I originally had, and I am desperate for answers.”
“Don’t worry, Filynora. You shall have a chance to ask your questions, though I can’t promise answers to all of them.”
I was about to ask him what he meant when there was suddenly a burst of yelling from inside the house.
“No son of mine is going to go to that meeting! Those Elves are insane.” There was a pause. “Their beliefs are ridiculous! It is bad enough that your grandfather believes that hogwash! If you come back as a Follower, you are out of this house! Do you hear me? O-U-T! Out! Come back here while I am talking to you, Elfling!”
Elthinor came out, his face downcast. Neither of us asked him what was wrong. We could still hear Gilronin, now yelling at empty air as we walked away. I felt sorry for the poor Elf, but I had no idea how to help the situation, so I said nothing.
“What happened?” Aloron finally asked as we took the right path where the road forked three ways.
“I let it slip that you were taking us to your meeting. He did not want me to come. He does not want his son becoming crazy,” Elthinor said bitterly.
“From what I have heard so far, it is not crazy,” I said with a smile as we headed out of the village. “It seems to answer some big questions that most people don’t think about.”
“That’s not true, my dear. Elves do often think of the big questions, but they answer them differently than we do. Their answers are false, but they do believe that they are correct.”
“What do they believe?” I asked, confused.
“In the beginning there was a being, a giant tree. It sprouted buds one day and out of those buds came the first Elves. They made merry and began to discover their world. One day the earth bubbled up and Humans came from it. Naturally it was assumed that they were less than Elves, so the Elves made them slaves. Then came a Human man who led them out of slavery by killing the children of the Elves. They were released and then a terrible cursed race, an unnatural hybrid of Human and goat, came from the west and reduced the grand city to rubble. Unable to stand the decimation of their once beautiful home, the Elves left and settled into the present Elven towns, but are still cursed by Humans and Satyrs to this day.”
I frowned. “That doesn’t explain the Dwarves or Centaurs. What did they do, just appear out of nowhere? And what happened to the great tree? Your story is much more believable and it doesn’t have any holes in it.”
Aloron patted my shoulder and smiled. He was obviously pleased with my answer, and even Elthinor smiled a little at me before pointing out the glorious sunset hanging in the western sky. I tuned out the two Elves as they started to mockingly argue about which color was the best, and I thought. Honestly, I had no idea why I was so serious about the story, but I was. It I just knew that it was true. And now I knew that the man in white was special. I had tentatively asked Elthinor what he had imagined during the story, and his answer was that he had not imagined anything. He definitely had not seen what I saw. I wished he had. It had been so amazing.
I was so lost in thought that I did not realize we had arrived at our destination until I ran into an Elf. I nearly fell, but he turned swiftly to catch my arm.
“Are you all—” he started then froze. A smile suddenly graced his purple and gold designed face. “You are a Human. You must be Aloron’s guest.”
I nodded shyly as he released my arm to grasp my hand, shaking it heartily.
“I am pleased to meet you,” he said. “My name is Eretren. I am a dear friend of Aloron’s.”
“Filynora,” I said, bewildered; in my experience, it was only the men who shook hands.
“And this young one must be Elthinor,” Eretren said, grasping Elthinor’s hand to shake it just as vigorously.
“Y-yes sir,” Elthinor struggled to say.
Eretren laughed, releasing the poor lad. “Aloron, it is good to see you again! You did not make the last meeting,” he scolded playfully.
“Gilronin insisted I go hunting. I must admit that that hunting trip wasn’t nearly as interesting as the last one,” Aloron said jovially.
“What happened on the last trip?” I asked curiously.
Aloron and Elthinor glanced at each other and chuckled. “That was the trip I found you. After we found you, we came straight back to the village without any meat.”
We were led into a dark green tent set up in a field a ways from the village. From the outside it looked much too small to house any large number of Elves, and as soon as we passed through the flaps of the tent, I knew why. There were only about ten other Elves present. I could not believe that so few Elves were open to this. It made me angry, though I wasn’t sure why.
“Everyone,” Eretren called out, commanding the attention of the Elves and drawing my attention back to him. “It is my great delight to inform you that our two guests have arrived. Allow me to introduce Elthinor, Aloron’s grandson, and Filynora, the Human. I am also pleased to announce that Aloron is here today!”
There was a general hum of interest when my name was mentioned. The Elves stared at me for a moment then one stood and approached me. Suddenly all the Elves were crowding closer to me. I smiled shyly, which was unusual for me in and of itself, as one by one they shook my hand. I was overwhelmed by all the questions shot at me and could not even understand one of them, let alone all of them.
“Now now, leave her be!” Aloron scolded them. “She is still a young one!”
“Oh? How old are you, Filynora?” one Elf demanded.
I turned to face him. He was a relatively young Elf but older than Elthinor. He was orange and black, with a black horse with an orange mane and tail on one cheek and a rose with orange petals and a black stem on the other. He curiously stared at me with strange orange and black eyes.
“I’m fifteen,” I replied to his query, backing up closer to Aloron as they surged forward again.
Aloron stepped in front of me and physically pushed them back. I was grateful as he took charge, ordering them to sit down. I stayed close to Elthinor as we sat right in front to stare up at Aloron and Eretren. They were clearly the two oldest Elves there; I concluded they were the two leaders of the group. I glanced at Elthinor and he gave me an eager smile.
“This is neat!” Elthinor exclaimed.
I turned to face him. “I thought there would be more people,” I said flatly.
“Our numbers are few,” Eretren admitted sadly. “Nobody wants to even hear our beliefs because they don’t want to be judged by the others in the village. But we believe it is God’s opinion that matters.”
“Indeed,” Aloron agreed. “But we shall get into the deeper aspects later. For now, we must tell you the truth.”
“And that is?” Elthinor asked.
“We don’t know what happens next in the story I began telling you.”
“What?” Elthinor and I exclaimed.
“Why not?” I demanded, leaping to my feet.
“Wow. She’s feisty,” the orange and black Elf muttered.
“Antieron, please!” Aloron scolded.
“Well she is!” Antieron said. “I have never heard a female of any species speak like that in front of males.”
“You know that does not matter. We were all made by God.”
“It was just an observation!” the Elf muttered in embarrassment, using his hair to hide his face.
“I’m used to it Aloron, since every male treats me like chattel every day of my life,” I said bitterly, crossing my arms and becoming aware that everybody was staring at me.
“No!” Antieron nearly shouted, leaping to his feet. “Young lady, I never meant offence. Our beliefs are strict about treating everybody as equals, even if they are not physically the same.”
“Now I know why there are so few of you in here,” I shot back, still sore from the offense. “And why none of you are female.”
“None of us are female because the village leader has banned them from our meetings. He controls the females in our society as much as I’m sure the males in the Human village do. Maybe more,” Antieron said bravely.
“Oh, yes? And who is that?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. The Elves all stared at me, except for Elthinor.
Red-faced, he answered my question. “My father.”
“Your father?” I said in surprise. “Why did you never tell me?”
Elthinor shrugged. “Because I did not want you to be afraid of him.”
“Me? Afraid of him?” I snorted. “After those Aswangs, a mere Elf could not frighten me.”
“Fily, you should be afraid of him,” Elthinor muttered.
“Why, because you are?”
“So you are not afraid of him?”
“I…didn’t say that,” Elthinor replied, sounding shy again.
“Then why? Why should I be afraid of him?”
“Because he could send you away!” Elthinor snapped angrily.
“Why on earth should I be afraid of that? I was run out of my last home by a mob of angry males with pitchforks and torches! He could not do anything that could compare to—”
“Maybe Melanari and Selaniam would miss you,” Aloron cut in quietly. “Maybe I would miss you, too.”
Aloron’s calm voice cooled my temper as I looked at Elthinor, really looked at him. He was avoiding my gaze and his cheeks were pink around his designs, which were dull without one hint of the sparkling quality I had grown used to. I touched his shoulder, so he glanced up at me with those shy eyes of his. They were gleaming with true fear, something akin to terror. He had not looked this scared even when the Aswangs had him in their grasp. Would he truly miss me that much?
“I’m not afraid of him,” I said quietly. “But I do obey him, yes? And I will continue to as long as I am here.”
Elthinor smiled, the fear melting away. “Thank you, Fily.”
“Why does he call you Fily?” Antieron suddenly cut in.
While all the other Elves glared at him, I mock-glared at Elthinor. “Because he thinks it is a wonderful little nickname for me,” I growled. “And I can’t get him to stop using it.”
There was laughter from all the assembled Elves; the tension that had been boiling since my outburst dissipated quickly. Several conversations started between the Elves, and I had a feeling they were all about me and Elthinor. Antieron walked over to us and sat down beside me, grinning.
“By the way, you are quite the bowman. Or should I say ‘bow-woman’?”
I snickered at that. “Thanks. I have been practicing since I could hold a bow.”
Aloron raised his hands suddenly and everyone stopped talking. “Now, now, let me explain to the young ones why we cut the story where it is.” He paused for a moment then, looking directly at me, continued. “The simple truth is that we don’t have the next scroll.”
“You see, about forty years ago,” Eretren began, “a queer group of creatures came through here, ragged and wild and world weary, preaching that there was an ultimate Creator, a God who loved us enough to give everything he loved away. They spoke of scrolls that would reveal the past written back before the five races were as separate as they are now. They were hidden to preserve the truth in a time of darkness and ignorance, according to them, and they gave us clues on how to find the first scroll, the one written by an Elf.”
Aloron nodded at Eretren’s words and continued the story. “They left as suddenly as they had come, leaving dissension in their wake. They haven’t returned since. A group of curious Elves, including Eretren and myself, decided to look into the rumors of the scrolls, but only up to the point that the Elves left the story. As Eretren said, we joined that group to search for scrolls.”
Eretren took over. “We had no luck at first because the clues they had given us were so vague, but we eventually found the landmarks mentioned in the poem leading to one of the oldest Elf villages. We were given permission to look around the town, but we seemed unable to find it. Just when we gave up hope, a man robed in white—he looked Human—appeared to me in a dream and instructed me to find the place where the river sang the loudest and wait for the water to catch fire. There, he told me, was where I would find the scroll.”
“I, of course, went with him on this one final search,” Aloron said. “For the man in white had appeared to me as well with the same riddle. We walked up and down the river, trying to hear the song that the man spoke of but heard nothing that remotely sounded like music. We sat down to rest after a couple hours and, for a reason we have yet to discover, we fell asleep. I awoke to the delightful sound of rushing water and as my eyes flew open, the singing part of the riddle made sense. I woke Eretren to tell him of the wondrous news, that the waterfall was the place on the river that ‘sang’ the loudest. I must say that I have enjoyed the sound of rivers singing ever since…”
“Aloron,” Eretren jokingly scolded. “Now, we just had to figure out how to catch the water on fire. We put our heads together and looked thoroughly at every conceivable way to make water burn, but of course there is none. We figured that part out near the end of the day. The sun was setting, splashing its beautiful glow all around us. All at once, there was a flash of light and the waterfall lit up. The cascading water looked like falling fire, the odd splashes like hot embers. We marveled at the stunning display for a few moments then quickly waded into the river. It was tricky to get to the waterfall, but we managed.”
“When we got there,” Aloron said. “We found we could not get through so I dove under the water to try to get through that way.”
“How big was this waterfall?” I asked.
Eretren smiled. “About as tall as Elthinor is. Maybe a bit taller. But despite its size, it was much more powerful than you would think,” he added, looking directly at me with a knowing smile.
“Anyway,” Aloron continued. “I managed to go under the waterfall, which was a task in and of itself, and when I came up, I was in a small cave eroded by the falls. And in the cave was nothing but rocks. I was so disappointed that I began to weep. It upset me greatly that I couldn’t find the scroll. I had taken to heart what those strange beings had said about a loving God, for my father was quite the strict Elf who did not truly care for me. Through my tears, I noticed the sun’s rays coming through the waterfall and landing on a patch of mud. In desperation, I began to dig. Several minutes later I held a deerskin tube that had clearly been waterproofed with beeswax, sealed quite well. Granted, it was muddy, but my dive back through the waterfall cleaned it nicely. We knelt on the riverbank, staring at the tube and hoping that we had found it.”
Eretren took over again. “I opened the tube, as I had been drying out on the shore while he was in the cave, and we both cried out in joy. There was the scroll, the paper old, but holding up nicely. We unrolled it and read the story of the creation of the males as you have heard it, plus another riddle. We went back to the other Elves that had come with us, but they took almost no interest in it. In fact, they were annoyed. They did not understand why it was so important to us; they thought the story was ridiculous. Most of the Elves felt the same way when we got back to Ellavendir. We did gain a few more people who believed and we began to pray to this Creator, this God who made us,” Eretren finished.
Aloron grew solemn. “My wife was an avid follower until her death, but after she died, Gilronin banned females from attending. He thought it was silly for females to focus their attention outside of their households. The only reason he did that was because we had more of them than males believing, and they were talking to their husbands or fathers, trying to get them to understand and join. Gilronin did not want Selaniam or Melanari getting what he called ‘funny ideas’ in their heads.”
We sat in silence, thinking on what had been said. I frowned suddenly and looked at Aloron.
“Why am I allowed here if females are banned?”
“The rules only apply to Elven females. You hold the stature of a servant and are Human,” Aloron replied. “Besides, Gilronin rarely thinks of you. He hasn’t thought to ban you.”
“Grandfather, what was the other riddle?” Elthinor asked after a pause.
Eretren and Aloron glanced at each other then spoke in unison, the rhyme sounding well rehearsed.
“Near Centaurs’ halls the scroll you will find,
Although you would care to mind.
Their forests are not where it is hidden
In fact, it is now forbidden
To enter this place where evil spread,
And the first ones made were left for dead.”
“The reason we didn’t go after the next scroll ourselves,” Aloron said after a pause, “was that our group was disbanded, forbidden to go after more when we returned to our village. The leader at that time did not want us to get more ‘ridiculous notions’ in our heads.”
“And now that we have the courage and experience to stand up for it, we are too old. And the young ones who want to go would need a guide,” Eretren said sadly.
There was silence, and Elthinor and I looked at each other. I don’t know what was going through his mind, but I felt a surge of passion to find those scrolls, and a peace that told me I was meant to. He smiled at me with a gleam in his eyes.