The rock formation was beautiful. Its color was a strange muddy orange, and it seemed to be a nearly vertical group of rocks, slightly angled inward in a half circle. They started on one side of the cliff that backed them and arched outward. I wondered what it was like inside. Were there only more rocks, or was it filled with green things? There was, however, one off-putting quality about it: an almost tangible air of sadness. We stood at the edge of the forest staring at it in the fading light of evening, which splashed golden light everywhere and speckled us through the canopy of the trees. Gabrithon suddenly shivered and looked away from it, but Elthinor and I just couldn’t seem to look away. I felt like this was an important moment, though I didn’t know why. Without thinking, I tilted my head back to look up at the sky.
“This is beautiful,” I whispered.
“What are you doing?” Gabrithon asked.
“Talking to God,” I said without thinking before realizing that it was true.
Gabrithon looked bemused. “He is not real, Fily.”
“Yes, He is,” I snapped fiercely, turning to look at him.
“How do you know?”
“Because I do.”
That was the truth for me. I just knew that He was real, that He was there watching us. Aloron had told me once, while I was cleaning the house, that He was always watching, always listening. I asked him how he knew, and he told me that he knew from years of praying to God. After I had asked him to, he taught me how to pray. He told me to simply talk to God as if He were standing there, but that I needed to also be reverent because he was powerful enough to create me. The Elf had not told me to call Him Father, but ever since the man in white had told me that my ‘Father in heaven’ loves me, I thought of Him as the Father I had never known.
“Don’t argue with her on this,” Elthinor warned. “She is stubborn on the subject. I am almost sure she learned it from my grandfather.”
“Why does it even matter?” Gabrithon asked. “It can’t affect a person’s life…Can it?” He sounded genuinely curious about that, for which I was glad. It meant he wasn’t completely closed off from what I was saying.
“I believe it does. I don’t know how yet, but if God wants me to know, He will let me know,” I replied. “Now, let’s make camp.”
We did so quickly. The routine was familiar to me and Elthinor, and Gabrithon was learning. As Ember started the fire by putting his muzzle in the fire pit, Gabrithon watched with fascination. He was still not used to the fact that Ember was an Elemental. Evidently, Centaurs believed that Elementals were just a myth, so he was shocked to find they were real. He had wanted to pet the beast, but if Ember had not liked Elthinor when he met him, he loathed Gabrithon. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I had a suspicion that he disliked the animal part of him.
“He will begin to like you eventually,” Elthinor said to Gabrithon with a smile. “He still does not fully like me, and I have been travelling with him for a while now.”
Gabrithon shrugged and sighed. “It is all right. Believe it or not, I am used to people not trusting me.”
“Me, too,” I said as Ember plopped down in front of me and rolled onto his back.
“You?” Gabrithon asked as I began to rub the Kindle Wolf’s belly.
“Humans are male dominated, too, but not to such an extreme degree as your culture. A woman and her daughter taking care of a farm and raising Elementals was looked down upon,” I said bitterly. “You know something, why is a woman considered lower than a man? Is it just because we are physically weaker? Without females, none of our races would exist, for males can’t bear children! Why then are we treated as if we are property?”
Both males looked uncomfortable. They glanced at each other then looked away at anything and everything but me. I made an angry, indignant noise as they continued to remain silent. I could feel my cheeks warm with emotion, and it took all that I had inside not to go slap some sense into both of them. Instead I kept a calm, albeit sarcastic tone.
“No comments at all? Not even from the worthier-than-thou-art Centaur?”
“I don’t wish to incur your wrath on the subject. Elthinor has informed me that you are quite sensitive about it. He told me about your many talks on the topic in his village. If even some of them are true, then I don’t wish to ever speak of such issues around you or to you. My views, or rather Centaurian views, would probably make you even angrier than Elven views.” He paused then looked directly at me, holding his chin up high. “I have never met a filly like you, and I probably never will again. As hard as it is for me to admit it, I am impressed with you. I know I have said that before, but it is just so strange. You are all right. You know, for a female.”
I stared at him intently before letting the subject drop as I sat down in front of the fire and began pulling out the meat we’d salted; it still amazed me that Elthinor had thought to bring salt in his bag. Elthinor sat down beside me, earning a soft growl from Ember. Gabrithon seemed at a loss for what to do for a moment before lowering himself down to the ground and curling his legs underneath him so he was closer to us. I smiled at him.
“I take it that Centaurs are not prone to lying on the ground?”
“Not stallions,” he said. “We even sleep standing up, though I must admit it feels nice to lie down and sleep. I feel safer closer to the ground. I know why mares prefer it now.” He paused as an upset look passed over his face. “My father would not be happy that I had to lie down, even though I was hurt. He and the other stallions would have expected me to remain standing unless my legs were broken.”
“You don’t like your father either?” Elthinor asked.
“No,” Gabrithon said bitterly then perked up as he registered what the Elf had said. “Wait, either?”
“I don’t like mine. He is an angry Elf. He does not like me believing in God. Or well…I don’t quite believe yet, but the idea is there, and he hates that nonetheless. He calls the belief a silly fairytale. I believe there is more to it than that, though, and that displeases him.”
“It does stir something in your heart, does it not?” Gabrithon asked absently.
“Exactly!” Elthinor exclaimed. “That is what makes me believe there is something there. I just…something is keeping me from believing. I don’t know why, but I need some kind of, well, proof.”
“Proof would be nice, though Fily does not seem to need proof.”
Elthinor smiled. “You forget, Gabrithon, that she talks to the man in white.”
“Oh yes. The Son of God,” Gabrithon said contemptuously with an incredulous smile.
I felt a flash of anger at his disbelief. “I haven’t yet heard your explanation for how we got here,” I growled. “Please, inform me of it.”
They looked at me, obviously startled by my hostility. I really did not care what they thought of me at the moment. I wasn’t going to sit by and let them make fun of God and His Son. That wasn’t something I could tolerate. To me, that was worse than berating females in general.
“Fily, I did not mean to insult you,” Gabrithon said slowly, looking nervous for some reason. “I just…”
“Was making fun of my beliefs?”
The Centaur paused and sighed. “Um, yes,” he answered reluctantly.
“I have refrained from making fun of your culture. Please refrain from belittling my beliefs, especially because I’m in contact with the man in white.”
“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment, shifting.
I felt a soft smile curl my lips; I knew it wasn’t easy for him to apologize to a girl. “You are forgiven, friend.”
Gabrithon started in surprise. “Friend? I have friends?”
Elthinor and I glanced at each other, smiling at his surprise, realizing just how alike each of us were in spite of our physical differences. Apparently, Gabrithon had been just as friendless as we had.
“Yes,” I replied with an amused smile. “We are friends.”
He tried to hide a pleased smile as he hummed thoughtfully. “Well, being friends with a filly is discouraging, but I suppose I can overlook it.”
Elthinor and I laughed at that, and he smiled openly. I became aware that he was relaxed for the first time since I had met him. As I thought back, I recalled his constant tension around us: the way he kept his distance from us when we traveled, the haughtiness that he had always addressed us with (which I now realized was his way of keeping a wall up), and the way he always trailed us with his eyes. There was a marked difference in his countenance. I was sure that he would still be wary of us for a while, but as we sat around the fire talking, it was as if we were of the same race. It was nice, I thought, to be surrounded by friends. I suddenly smiled at a new thought, and Elthinor and Gabrithon looked at me.
“What?” Elthinor asked.
“Did you ever think that the people in this particular group would be your group of friends?” I asked with a giggle.
“What do you mean?” Gabrithon asked.
“As a Centaur, did you ever think you would be friends with an Elf and a Human? And the same for you Elthinor. Did you ever think that Gabrithon and I would be your friends?”
“No,” they both answered in unison.
“I never expected to have any friends until I moved into the city,” Elthinor continued after a brief pause. “Once they knew…” he trailed off and glanced at me, looking a little embarrassed. “Once I was away from Elves who knew who my father and grandfather were, I figured they would be more receptive to being my friend.”
“Why?” Gabrithon asked curiously.
“Well, my father is an influential Elf in Ellavendir—that is the name of my village—and he intimidates all of the Elves there, including the males and females my age. They tease me because I am nothing like my father and am therefore an easy target.”
“And your grandfather?”
“He is a Follower and looked down upon by most in our village. But he is also looked up to by most in our village because of his ability to spot greatness and because of his ties to the king. He is an odd Elf. I am always teased for him, too, because I am like him in all the wrong ways.”
“Oh. I am terribly sorry,” Gabrithon said solemnly.
“I don’t mind it too much anymore,” Elthinor said, though I could tell he was lying. “Besides, Fily does not tease me, and I hope you will not either, and at this point you are the only two who could. What about you?” he asked, changing the focus to Gabrithon.
“Well, I am the youngest of five,” Gabrithon said cautiously. “And I think differently from them, and they hold the popular opinion. That is all I am going to say on the subject.”
Though we prodded a bit, Elthinor and I could not get Gabrithon to say any more, so we slipped into more relaxed and less personal conversation until we went to bed. As I settled into my bedroll, I was pleased by how comfortable we were with each other. I hoped that this would last, but I was also sure that Gabrithon and I would clash again. Oh well. I would worry about that when it happened.