The next morning we reluctantly packed our belongings before sitting down to breakfast. We were still exhausted from our long run. On the positive side, we felt sure that Gilronin would not catch us, but we didn’t want to tempt fate. As we ate our rations of food, I related my dream and Elthinor looked thoughtful when I finished, as if he were trying to remember something but could not quite grasp what it was.
“I…I feel as if I dreamed that, too, but I…can’t remember. It is like a childhood memory that has become hazy with time.”
I shrugged, swallowing a bite of jerky. “You were asleep in the dream. He said you don’t quite believe in God. Is that true?”
Lowering his head, Elthinor blushed, biting his lip. “I’m sorry, Filynora. It is just hard for me to believe such a fantastic tale. I’ve grown up hearing of the Great Tree, but admittedly I only weakly hold on to that belief. I want this story to be true, make no mistake, but it’s just…there is something missing from this story. Maybe finding more of the scrolls will fill in the gap.”
“Maybe it’s the man in white?” I asked absently, tearing off a piece of bread then popping it into my mouth.
Elthinor smiled. “Maybe he is why you and my grandfather believe so easily.”
I shrugged. “It’s possible. But the Followers in Ellavendir prove that you don’t have to see to believe.”
He nodded. “True. But it is easier when you see proof. Take this piece of bread. Even if I say that it’s not real, the fact that I can see it points out that it is, in fact, quite real.”
“Just because you can’t see something does not mean that it’s not real. Can you see the wind? No. Yet it is most definitely real!” I argued.
Stumped for a moment, he finally said, “But you can feel the wind. You can’t feel God!”
“And you know this how?” I asked, arching my eyebrow.
“I…” he trailed off. “What is your point?” he finally asked, sounding truly curious.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I just think that if you’re not completely sure then you should give it a chance.”
Anxious to start moving again, we finished breakfast quickly. Elthinor and I followed the directions I had been given, travelling further east. Soon the forest began thinning and we could see sunlight ahead, not just the speckles of light that were cast upon us through the canopy of leaves. We hurried toward it, coming out of the forest onto an expanse of nearly flat grassland. We gathered a night’s worth of wood, knowing we would need some on this treeless plain and also realizing that we would have to go without for a little while. Because the grass was half dead from the heat of summer, we found quickly that it wasn’t as pleasant as traveling through the shady forest.
“It’s so hot,” I sighed as we walked, the sun beating down on us.
Elthinor chuckled. “It’s better than being cold. I’ve been hunting in the middle of winter.”
I smiled. “Me, too. I had to camp for three days out in the snow trying to find meat for my Elementals.”
“You really like Elementals, don’t you?”
“They are not as bad as people think,” I said sternly. “You just have to know what you’re doing.”
“Fine, fine! I believe you, Fily. I just don’t know what I am doing. I’ve never been around them before and…Look out!”
Grabbing me, he dove into a dip in the ground. I yelped in surprise as we landed, my breath squeezing out of my lungs. I gasped for air as Elthinor pulled his bow and nocked an arrow, aiming at something. I waited for the hiss of wind that signified his releasing of the string, but it didn’t come. I looked at him and he seemed to be confused, though the string was taut.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“I…I think it is a wolf. A large wolf. But he’s just sitting there panting.”
I peeked over the edge of the ditch, letting out a squeal in delight as I leapt up and ran out to embrace the wolf. Elthinor gave a cry of disbelief, hurrying up behind me and relaxing the string so he would not accidentally shoot me.
“What are you doing? He could be feral! He could attack you! He could…” he trailed off as the wolf licked my cheek. “Do you know him?”
“Of course I do! This is Ember!” I said happily, kneeling on the hot ground. “He’s my pet. And he’s no ordinary wolf. He’s a Kindle Wolf, connected to the element of fire.”
“So he’s an…Elemental?” he asked hesitantly.
“Or a Nature Being. Whatever you want to call him,” I replied with a smile. “I was worried about where he had gotten to! He was with me the night my farm burned down, but I did not see him in town. I thought maybe your people had, well, killed him.”
Elthinor suddenly looked guilty. “We were, um, keeping him away. We thought at first he was a different wolf each time he came, but we came to realize he was the same one. We just assumed he was hungry and wanted Elf.”
I laughed, and Ember began to prance around me, overjoyed, no doubt, to be back in my presence. Elthinor came a bit closer, reaching out his hand to pet him, but Ember immediately growled, his hackles rising. Elthinor leaped back, trembling, and I swatted Ember’s nose as he continued to snarl. Startled, Ember looked at me with a whimper and hurt eyes as he shrunk down to the ground.
“No! He’s my friend!” I admonished. “Come here Elthinor and give me your hand.”
“That is all right, Fily. I believe I shall keep my distance,” the Elf said dryly.
I stood, walked over to him, grabbed his hand, and dragged him toward Ember, who was sitting still, looking at the Elf, but he wasn’t growling. Elthinor fought me a little, but he finally allowed me to put his hand in front of Ember’s nose. The wolf sniffed the Elf’s hand thoroughly and, after a moment’s consideration, licked it, though there was no real enthusiasm in it.
Elthinor laughed. “His tongue is rough,” he said, sounding elated.
“Pet his head,” I urged.
He did so slowly, still hesitant around the great black and red wolf. After it was clear that Ember wasn’t going to attack him again, he looked as if he was enjoying himself, more so than the wolf did. When I scratched behind his ear, he livened up, pouncing on me and licking my face. Elthinor frowned.
“Why doesn’t he like me?”
“He doesn’t trust boys,” I replied. “All the other boys he knows were mean to me. He will warm up to you, though it might take a while.” I paused as another thought came to me and I grinned. “Either that or he is irritated that you kept him away from me for so long.”
Elthinor looked disappointed. He had once told me that he longed for a pet, but his father always said no. Gilronin was especially against Elementals, which he feared above all else besides Satyrs, Elthinor had mentioned to me. I felt sorry for Elthinor, but it couldn’t be helped. Ember would like him in his own time. Ember and I stood up. I smiled, looking at Elthinor.
“Well, my friend, shall we continue?” I asked.
He nodded, so we started walking again. “You know, it is good for your wolf to be here. He will help to protect you-us,” he corrected quickly.
“He has always protected me,” I replied, acknowledging his slip-up and trying not to be too offended by it. “He is the strength that boys have that I need.”
Elthinor smiled, nodding his understanding. We walked in silence until nightfall, camping out under the shining stars and a half moon. The night was rather cool, so we stayed close to the small fire until it burned down. Then Elthinor and I huddled in our bedrolls. The next morning we began early and by mid morning had reached a wide, fast flowing river. The three of us turned north to follow the river upstream, just as the man in white had said, stopping only for lunch. We stopped before darkness fell and made camp then sat there for a while, watching Ember trot over to the river and attempt to fish.
“Do you want fish for supper?” I asked as the wolf finally caught a fish and carried it away to eat it a little way from us.
“Is fish any good?” Elthinor asked, looking up from the firewood he was neatly arranging with distaste in his face.
“You’ve never had fish?” I asked, my eyes widening in surprise.
He shook his head. “We hunt. Fish is considered a poor Elf’s food. Nobody in our village is poor enough for fish. We are one of the richer villages in the Elf nation, despite being so separated from the rest of the Elf kingdom.”
I frowned. “Fish is delicious, and it’s time you try it. We are having fish for supper. Come now,” I said as I stood up.
“What are we doing?” he asked as he began striking sparkstones together to start the fire.
“We are going to catch our food,” I said sternly as flames erupted onto the dry wood.
“We have only enough firewood to keep the fire burning for a few hours,” Elthinor said as he put the sparkstones up.
“Then we better hurry and catch some fish.”
We waded into a relatively calm spot in the river with sharpened sticks from the woodpile. I knelt down, carefully watching the fish. When one came near enough, I lashed out and speared it neatly through the middle. After gathering a couple of good sized fish, I turned to see if my Elf friend had caught anything. He was awkwardly trying to copy what I was doing but failing. A fish leaped out of the water which startled him and caused him to flail backwards. He landed hard, splashing water several feet into the air and scaring the fish. I laughed as I helped him up. He was soaked to the bone and looked humiliated. I ignored his condition and told him that he could try again, but he stormed out of the river, looking for a dry pair of clothes.
I walked to the fire pit to clean the fish as Elthinor walked behind me into the growing darkness and changed out of his soaked clothes. He came back, spreading the wet clothing out on the grass so they would dry overnight then sat down beside me to watch me. The silence that stretched between us seemed awkward, and I finally couldn’t stand it. I arranged one fish on a spit over the fire before turning to look directly at Elthinor. He looked a bit surprised at the intensity of my gaze.
“Is something the matter?” I asked.
Elthinor frowned. “What do you mean, Fily?”
“It just feels uncomfortable right now. So I ask again, is something the matter?”
The Elf rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. He seemed to realize that I would not leave it alone, so he finally spoke. “I suppose I’m a bit embarrassed.”
I was surprised. “Embarrassed? Is it because you couldn’t catch a fish? That’s no reason to be embarrassed. That was your first time fishing.”
“Yes,” he said, looking reluctant to share. “And it is not really that that makes me embarrassed. It is the fact that you, a girl, did better than I did. In Elvish culture the males get meat, whether it be fish or deer or rabbit. Females don’t. I feel bested by you.”
“Oh. So it is a boy thing,” I said, feeling relieved. “Look, you can tell every Elf we meet that you taught me how to fish, that you taught me how to shoot, and that you taught me how to hunt. I don’t mind that. I understand that boys have pride that can be easily bruised.”
Elthinor relaxed immediately and laughed in relief, placing a hand on my shoulder. “You are unlike any female I have ever met. Most of them like to point out our shortcomings. You don’t. I am proud and glad to call you my friend. I believe I shall follow you anywhere. And keep your accomplishments. You have earned them in your own life. You’ll just have to suffer with teaching me to fish.”
I smiled at him. “Thank you. And we’ll just have to see if you are willing to follow me anywhere.”
After that, his embarrassment melted away as I showed him how to cook the fish properly. I let him try his hand at the other one. He did well for never having cooked this kind of meat before. He was hesitant as he tried it, but found that he enjoyed the flavor and texture and quickly polished off his meal. I ate more slowly, well aware that Ember, who lay beside me, had his ears up and was staring off into the distance. Something had to be out there, but I did not want to alarm Elthinor.
After a while, Ember relaxed, and I did as well. Elthinor and I lay back, staring into the night sky. We were silent for about half an hour before the Elf, his facial designs shining slightly in the moonlight, began to point out constellations. I had never thought of the stars in the way that Elves did. They drew lines between them to make pictures and wove fantastic tales around them. Some were funny, some were adventurous, and some were sad, but they were all beautiful in their own way.
“Why don’t our races get along,” I asked after a lull in the conversation, “if we were all friends when we were created?”
Elthinor sobered up. “I’m not sure. You, as a Human, are nothing like the stories Elves tell of Humans. Something horrible must have pushed us apart for a rift as large as the one now in place to have grown. I wonder if the other races are the same way?”
“It is quite possible,” I replied. “Think about it. We don’t know which race wrote the scrolls. Judging by the fact that the first one was found near Elves and the second one is supposed to be near Centaurs, the writer or writers must have had contact with both in order to place them so close. However, Humans know little of any race other than their own, and the same seems to be true of Elves. The rift must have formed after the scrolls were written.”
“Or it could have been forming while they were being written,” Elthinor argued. “They may have been written to bring the races closer together.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” I said with a smile that turned into a yawn.
“We’d better get to sleep if we plan on starting out early enough to make any progress in our journey,” Elthinor said.
I agreed and slid into my bedroll, sighing at the warmth that surrounded me. I fell into a deep sleep and didn’t dream.