I’d had nearly a week to think about my predicament and decide which path to follow. As much as I desired to know what was in the next scroll, I needed to find my mother. I knew that she would be killed if I did not go after her, and I could not allow that. I contemplated how I was going to tell my two friends. My shoulder was rapidly healing, a fact that wasn’t lost on Elthinor and Gabrithon. Such deep puncture wounds should have taken ages to heal. The fact that they were healing faster than Gabrithon’s wounds had after his Vampire attack seemed to fascinate them. So much, in fact, that they would argue about who would see the wounds first when they went to change my bandages. It was funny up to a point, but it was also a bit irritating as it was still embarrassing to change them. My worries about how to break the news to Elthinor and Gabrithon were abruptly halted when my Elf friend directly asked me about it. I sat there in silence for a moment, knowing he knew the answer.
“I can’t just leave my mother to those monsters,” I said, though my heart screamed at me to go after the next scroll.
Gabrithon walked over to me and looked down; he seemed much taller when I was on the ground, and he was tall to begin with. “Well, Elthinor, you were right. I am not surprised though. I would not leave my mother to those things, either.”
I smiled graciously at the easy way they accepted my decision. An odd feeling permeated my being as a thought occurred to me. Two males were following me. Me, a fifteen year old girl. And the oddest part was that neither of them was Human. I chuckled; if only the people of my village could see me now! None of them would believe it, especially not Tynan. The thought of that particular person had its effect on me even without my knowing it.
“What is that look for?” Gabrithon suddenly asked, looking a little alarmed.
“It was just a thought of somebody I don’t particularly care for,” I replied, my tone dark.
“That one boy?” Elthinor asked absently as he placed a fresh piece of wood on the fire.
“Yes. Him,” I replied scathingly.
Gabrithon looked confused, so I quickly filled him in on Tynan’s behavior. I wasn’t surprised that his expression held no disgust, but recognition and, if I may dare to say it, guilt. He sighed when I was done and began tracing his bow, which he just picked up; he had been about to hunt for some fresh meat before we had started talking.
“I regret to inform you that that is quite commonplace amongst my people,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t really know how to sympathize with you. I was on Tynan’s side of things not too long ago. I must admit I never considered a mare’s perspective toward my advances.”
I kept my temper in order to speak calmly. “I suggest considering it. It is not always pleasant.”
Gabrithon snorted. “I don’t plan on being around any mares but you for a while, Fily.”
I hummed and tilted my head at that, knowing it was probably true. No female I knew would come on a journey like this, besides myself of course. I thought about how different I was from others, and then how different I was from other females. I could not think of one other female I knew of who would go on a quest like this, not even to save their family members. I was just the odd one out again. I shook my head to clear the thoughts away then looked to Elthinor.
“When are you going to allow us to go?” I asked, lightly pressing a hand against my rapidly healing shoulder.
Elthinor looked sharply at me. “Well,” he said hesitantly. “You are healing at an astounding rate. But I don’t want you to overexert yourself. Maybe we can begin tomorrow, only going for a half day.”
I smiled. I knew he was reluctant to let me walk, but he knew that I would not be content just to stay still for much longer, not with my mother in danger. At the thought of my mother, I lowered my head. To have been so close to freeing her and losing her again tortured me. I could still see the look in her eyes. The frightened, helpless, resigned look…
“Then we shall leave tomorrow morning,” I said fiercely, my heart stirred by that memory.
Elthinor sighed, shaking his head. “Sometimes I wish you were easier to manage.”
“Then she would not be Filynora,” Gabrithon said pointedly.
“True,” the Elf admitted with a laugh. “And then we would not be in this mess.”
I suddenly felt guilty at my friend’s words. It was true that we would not be in this mess if it had not been for me. I sighed and flopped back on the bed, knowing Elthinor would want me to rest before tomorrow’s exertion. I had jolted my shoulder again but ignored the ache that brought tears to my eyes. I did not understand why my friend would say something like that. Elthinor, with that odd sense he seemed to possess, noticed my change in mood.
“I did not mean any offense, Fily. You know I don’t mind traveling with you,” he said comfortingly, his eyes shining with that ‘females are strange’ amusement.
“That does not make it any less true, though,” I replied with a frown. “I don’t like the thought of putting you both in a position that you don’t want to be in.”
“Sometimes, Fily, life is a position I don’t want to be in,” Gabrithon said suddenly. “But that does not mean I will not try to find a way to make said position more comfortable.”
I stared at him, wondering what he had gone through to make him as he was. Sometimes I would wake up at night and hear him whimpering from nightmares. At first I had thought it was from the Vampire attack, but the night before I had heard names. I wasn’t quite sure, but I thought they were masculine names. Was he an outcast like Elthinor and I were? It took me a moment to realize that I had asked the question out loud. Elthinor was looking at me with his eyebrows raised, his silver and green eyes horrified, not to mention a little embarrassed. Gabrithon looked uncomfortable and he sighed, his shoulders slumping.
“You really want to know?” he asked.
“We shall be traveling together for a while, and Elthinor and I hardly know anything about you. I have told you plenty about my life before the whole Aswang incident, and Elthinor has told you about his, but you have yet to tell us anything about yourself,” I said, sitting up to stare at him.
“I have told you a little,” Gabrithon said quietly.
“About your people’s culture, not your life,” I argued. “We want to know about you, not just your people.”
Gabrithon shifted and sighed again, slinging his bow off his shoulder. “I guess I am going to go hunting later.”
He settled down and we leaned forward, excited to hear his story. Gabrithon was silent for so long that I began to think he wasn’t going to say anything, but just as I was about to speak he let out a breath and looked up at us.
“I don’t want you to look at me differently. Promise?” he asked, his eyes begging.
“Oh. Well, if you wish,” I replied, confused.
He took a deep breath. “I am the youngest prince of the Centaurs.”
Elthinor and I glanced at each other then back at him. He was red-faced.
“What?” I asked after a long pause.
“My father is technically the king of the Centaurs. I come from Cyrene, the Centaurian capitol. It is located far north, on the edge of the sea in the forests of pine and to the east of the mountain caves where the stone men live.”
“Dwarves?” I asked absently then realized I had interrupted.
“If that is what they are called, then yes,” the Centaur replied. “Anyway, I have four older brothers. There is my eldest brother, Hithaeron. He is the strict one, always about adherence to the rules. He considers me a bigger disappointment than even my father does. Cevenor, the second oldest, is a bit lighter on me. He is the most sympathetic. Orodon and Marwon are twins, an extremely rare occurrence amongst our people. Orodon is playful and enjoys pranks. Marwon is exceedingly bright and, well, bookish. They all have some level of contempt for me.”
“But why?” I asked, feeling exasperated. “As far as I can tell, you are a perfectly wonderful Centaur.”
“As far as you know, I could be normal,” Gabrithon said dryly.
I frowned. “Are you not?”
“Not really. As I said, I am considered a disappointment by my father and my brothers. The only one in my family who actually does not consider me a disappointment is my mother. She is the only regret I have. Since I met you, I have realized how cruel I have been to her. Despite all of that, she loved me and held me when everything became too much and I, um, cried…” he muttered the last part and I smiled encouragingly at him.
“Go on,” Elthinor said after a few moments of silence.
“Well,” Gabrithon said quietly. “There is not much more to tell about my family. My life, on the other hand, wasn’t fun. In fact, I have had more fun during our travels together than the entirety of my childhood. If you noticed, I quite easily conformed to following you, Fily, and treating you with respect, despite my background. I have never quite…fit in. I never saw the reasoning behind many of our traditions, especially our practices toward females and other races. We are rather violent and uncaring toward the latter, and the former we have little respect for, as you already know.”
“So…why did you treat me the way you did when we first met if you hold such a different view?” I asked.
He looked uncomfortable. “I did try to fit in,” he admitted with a sheepish smile. “I know from what you have told me about your Paxtonvale, Fily, and your Ellavendir, Elthinor, that you both tried to fit in as well, but you never let go of your beliefs. I did.”
“I did not really have any beliefs to let go of,” Elthinor said quietly. “I did not have my faith until after Fily came into my life.”
“The only beliefs that I did not let go of,” I began after thinking a while, “were the ones about the Elementals. I still let the village mold me to their standards. I wore a dress whenever I went into town and tried to be a normal Human girl.”
“Normal is something you are not, Filynora Raeloc,” Gabrithon said seriously. “And personally? I would not have it any other way.”
“Neither would I,” Elthinor said with a smile.
“Hey,” I said, smiling brightly. “According to what I have heard, you two aren’t normal either. We are misfits in our own races. And you know what? I think that’s why we get along so well. I have no doubt in my mind that God planned this.”
Gabrithon did not look as skeptical as he had before; in fact, he looked thoughtful and his lips actually upturned to a soft little smile. Elthinor laughed, agreeing wholeheartedly, all doubt he had possessed before my accident gone. I smiled at both of them, feeling we had reached a new level of companionship with Gabrithon’s description of his past. It was a nice feeling, to know we were friends. After the cruelty I had faced in my village, it was good to know I could have friends.
“Well,” my Centaur friend said as he took up his bow—his quiver was already on his back—and stood to his full height. “Now that that is out of the way, I should go hunting.”
“Would you like some company?” Elthinor asked, reaching for his own bow.
Gabrithon’s smile faded slightly, and he looked a little uncomfortable again. “Well, actually I was kind of wanting some alone time. Talking about my family brings back some bad memories. I need to sort through them alone. If you don’t mind, that is…”
“Not at all!” Elthinor said with a kind smile. “I understand completely. I shall stay here with Fily and entertain her while she rests.”
He purposefully put emphasis on the last word, and I lay back down, sighing dramatically. Smiling, he shook his head as Gabrithon chuckled.
“Stubborn filly,” he said teasingly as he trotted into the trees.
I laughed softly at that and relaxed as Elthinor picked up his bow for practice.