I was numb for several days, unable to sleep because of my fear of facing the man in white again. The Vampires’ words still stung me, and they confirmed that the man in white had a connection with God, which made the wounds hurt even more. I knew I shouldn’t believe them, but there was a ring of truth to Lugat’s words. The man in white was God’s Son! I had yelled at the Son of God. I had attacked him! I was so certain that I would never be forgiven for my anger that I had made myself physically ill. I had not really had any sustenance in days, even though I did try to eat to appease Elthinor’s demands. But I would just get sick afterwards and all the hunting, fishing, and cooking that my Elven friend did was in vain. He would simply sigh, holding my hair back behind my head as I emptied the contents of my stomach out into the river before settling back, dead to the world around me. Ember was constantly by my side.
While my faith had been weakened by the Vampire attack, Elthinor’s faith seemed to have gotten stronger. He still was unsure about God, but he did believe that the Light One the dark monsters had talked about was real. Just the way the Vampires had spoken the nickname with such conviction and the look in their red eyes made both of us believe in the Light One. Elthinor just needed confirmation that they were one and the same, while I already knew they were.
We were eating supper on the evening of the third day of my despair, or at least Elthinor was, when he set his plate down and sighed. He looked at me with such intensity that I knew what was coming before he even spoke. I looked away, unable to hold his fierce gaze.
“Fily, we need to talk,” he said firmly. “You can’t just run away from this. Whatever it was that you did, I know that you will be forgiven if you just ask. Grandfather’s words come to mind. You see the man in white when you sleep, and I know that’s why you are avoiding it. I don’t like seeing you like this. Sleep, Fily. Sleep and ask for forgiveness when you see him.”
I stayed silent for a little while before peeking up into his silver and green eyes again. “I attacked him, Elthinor. I told him I hated him. I told the Son of God that I hated him. How could he forgive me for that?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure he will. Now, finish your meal then sleep. Ember and I will keep watch.”
Ember looked up at the sound of his name. He had begun to like Elthinor in the time after the Vampire attack and was beginning to respond to his voice and commands just as he did for me. When no command followed, he settled back down beside me, and for the first time since the attack, I willingly picked up my plate. I was afraid to fall asleep, afraid to face the Son of God. I didn’t know what would happen when I came near him. Would he yell? Would he physically hurt me for my anger? Would he make the dark creatures come back and destroy me? I deserved every single one of those actions, probably worse.
I started when a hand took my nearly empty plate away and arms wrapped around me, hugging me to a warm chest. “It will be all right, Fily. It will be. You’ll see. He will forgive you for everything. Now rest your troubled mind. Sleep and you will see. He will forgive you.”
As Elthinor rocked me, my exhaustion caused my eyes to slide close without any trouble. I lay there, half awake and half asleep, but finally, the strain was too much for my mind, and I drifted into a fitful sleep. When I awoke, Elthinor was sitting with his legs crossed staring into the fire. His naked sword was beside him, ready to be snatched up. I moved slightly, and his eyes shifted to me. He frowned.
“You did not see him?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said groggily.
“You are not letting go. Your mind is still awake while your body sleeps, feeding you doubts so you can’t meet him. Relax and release your fears. He will forgive you,” Elthinor said seriously.
I looked away from my friend to focus on that word. Forgive. I closed my eyes and between the possible scenarios playing through my mind that word echoed. Anger. Forgive. Violence. Forgive. Denial. Forgive. Hate.
I slowly opened my eyes to see a beautiful canopy of multicolored leaves above me. I lay there for many uncounted moments, holding my breath, but there was no cheerful voice greeting me this time. I sat up slowly, my eyes going immediately to the man in white. The white of his clothes stood out against the forest, which wasn’t as bright or as beautiful as I remembered. The colors were dimmer, and even the light in the sky seemed to be diminished. The only light that wasn’t dull was the light coming from him; he was sitting a little way away. His light, I thought, would never go out. I swallowed and shifted, making a little noise, but he didn’t turn around. I bit my bottom lip, stood, and walked toward him, a lump in my throat. I stood behind Him for another long moment.
I took a deep breath then I hesitantly reached out a hand and placed it on His shoulder. He turned toward me, and as soon as he looked at me with those caramel eyes, I burst into tears, collapsing to my knees. I heard Him turn fully toward me, so I grabbed the bottom of his tunic, hiding my face in it and trying to stop crying. I found that I could not, so I did not even bother to try and hide it.
“I am so sorry!” I sobbed. “I don’t know what came over me! I miss my mother! I am frightened by the Vampires and the Aswangs!”
A gentle hand began stroking my hair.
“I forgive you, but why are you afraid, child? Is my Father not with you? Has He not protected you all this time?”
I sniffled and thought about that, leaning into his touch. Even though I had been wounded by the Aswangs and gained a nasty scar from the encounter, I was alive, though not entirely safe. I suddenly realized that just because so many bad things had happened did not mean that God had not been with me. I also realized that my belief in God had been conditional on the good times, mainly in the Elven town. That just wasn’t right, I realized. I needed to be constant in my belief or else it wasn’t much of a belief at all. I finally spoke my mind.
“I’m still afraid,” I whispered, raising my head up and meeting his eyes, “but I realize He has been protecting me. May I ask you a question?”
It took me a moment to gather my thoughts. “Is my mother alive?”
“What makes you think I know that?” he asked with a soft smile.
I lowered my eyes. “I believe you are the Son of God, though I am not sure how that works. Yet,” I added before I thought about it.
He began to stroke my hair again. “Your mother is alive. You will grow ever closer to her as you continue your journey.”
“Thank you,” I said quietly then asked another question. “Why did you answer me this time?”
“There were lessons to be learned,” the man in white replied. “And may I say that you must simply ask for forgiveness and, if you truly mean it, you shall receive it. You shall learn why this is arranged like this later, but for now, remember that. I love you, dear one, just as your Father in heaven loves you.”
I lay my head in his lap as he continued to stroke my hair. Just before everything went black, he kissed my forehead.
I awoke to see the most beautiful light blue above me. There were puffy white clouds scattered in the blue, and they looked so fluffy that I wanted to grab them. I resisted the urge. There was a lightness about me that had been absent since the Vampire attack. I felt like dancing, so I did. Slipping out of my bedroll—I had no idea how I had gotten in there—I leaped up and began to spin around the camp, laughing to myself. When I noticed Elthinor watching me with a bemused expression, I grabbed his hands and spun him around with me until he was laughing as well. We finally fell to the ground, dizzy and elated. We lay there panting for a while then Elthinor turned on his side to look at me, his face gently resting against his fist. He was smiling at me, his eyes sparkling from residual laughter.
“Well?” he asked, still sounding a little out of breath.
“He forgave me, Elthinor. He told me that He loved me and that God loved me and that if I asked and meant it, I would always be forgiven.”
“Just you?” he asked with raised eyebrows, a hint of fear in his voice.
“No. I believe it applies to everybody,” I replied, putting my arms behind my head and staring at the clouds.
“What makes you think that?”
“Because God is there for everybody. Even through the bad times we go through, He is there.”
“That’s quite an interesting thought. But if He is a loving God, why do bad things happen?”
This time, I was the one who was stumped, and, after a moment’s thought, I answered honestly. “I don’t know, but there must be a reason. He must have a reason for everything, even if we don’t understand it.”
Elthinor sighed, flopping back and joining my cloud-gazing. He chuckled and pointed out a cloud shaped like Ember, which began a playful game of ‘find the most interesting shape in the clouds.’ After an hour or so, the green and silver Elf won by pointing out a cloud that looked like one of those half horse, half man creatures.
“What do you think of the Centaurs?” I asked.
“The horse men? Well, I hope that they are not like Satyrs. They are the goat men,” Elthinor added in response to my look.
“I know that,” I said with a sigh. “Well, the name Centaur fits the horse men better. Isn’t that what the scroll called them?”
Elthinor shrugged. “I suppose we shall find out.” He paused and looked at me. “We are going to find out, yes?”
I took a deep breath as I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. Elthinor sat up as well and I looked into his now familiar, yet still different, eyes.
“The Son of God told us to follow the river upstream. It continues into the forest. We shall follow the river on the morrow, if that is agreeable to you. We have spent too much time here. If your father was following us, he would be upon us by now.”
Elthinor raised an eyebrow. “Might I remind you we were here so long because you refused to ask for forgiveness from the man in white?” he asked teasingly.
“I will not deny that. But you were reluctant to go into the forest to begin with.”
“Oh, it was just me?”
“Of course. I was willing to go in,” I said with a giggle.
“Sure you were. The moving shadows and darkness don’t scare you at all,” he said sarcastically. “It’s not as if you were screaming and clutching at me during the first night of our journey.”
I blushed. “Well, at least I can fish!”
He laughed. “I am getting much better at it. I caught us breakfast…Oh, um, are you hungry? There’s cold fish,” he said sheepishly.
“Actually, I am hungry. I would like some fish, cold or warm.”
He stood, offering me his hand. I took it and he pulled me up. I looked for the fish, but all I saw was Ember lying beside two empty plates. I laughed as Elthinor cried out in shock and half-hearted anger.
“Hey! It took me an hour to catch those!” he complained, crossing his arms and trying not to pout.
“Want me to go catch some?” I asked, trying not to laugh at his expression.
“I would like to accompany you. And, though it does bruise my pride to ask this, would you be so kind as to teach me your techniques? I am tired of falling into the river every time I catch a fish.”
I smiled kindly. “I would be delighted. It does take a little practice. You will stop falling into the river. Eventually.”
Elthinor retrieved the sharpened sticks we used to fish and handed me one. As I pulled my knife and sharpened mine a little more, I could sense his eyes on me. I wondered why. When I finished, he placed a hand on my shoulder and looked directly into my eyes.
“You must promise me something, my dear friend,” he said seriously.
I felt a start run through my body. What was this about? Was something the matter? Had he done something wrong?
“What?” I asked, my eyes widening.
He suddenly gave a cheeky grin. “Try not to laugh too hard when I go down into the river.”
I laughed in relief and shoved him away. “Come on, mighty fisherman. Let me show you the ropes.”
His face went blank, and he sounded confused as he spoke. “What ropes?”