I Am the Way: Chapter 24

Nolan and I hurried through town the next morning, heading for the gates. We passed through and made our way away from the path and up the hill southwest of the town. As soon as we got to the top, there was a cry of utter relief, and I was swept up into an embrace. There was a whimpering bark from below in the valley. I could see a fire pit and Ember tied up to a rock. He was sitting there tugging at the rope. He looked about ready to burn through it, restrained only by his training, no doubt. My attention was brought back to Elthinor and Gabrithon when the former spoke.

“Oh, Fily, you are all right! I was so worried,” Elthinor said happily as he released me.

“We figured you got locked in the town,” Gabrithon said, patting my head.

“You mean we hoped she got locked in the town. We thought you might have been captured by, you know, something.”

“I almost was,” I replied. I gestured for Nolan to step forward; he had spent the time we had been there thus far staring at both of them. He quickly stepped forward at my prompting. “This is Nolan. He saved me from the, er, Naga, I believe they called themselves. I have no idea what they look like, but they speak with hissing voices, like a snake.”

Elthinor, who had listened intently to my explanation, sized him up for a moment before grabbing his hand and shaking it vigorously. “Thank you! How can we repay you?”

Nolan shyly glanced at me for a moment before replying. “Filynora said that you might consider taking me with you?”

“Oh? What about your family?” Gabrithon asked, and I felt like slapping him as Nolan looked away.

“I am…an orphan, Mister Gabrithon.”

There was an awkward silence, and Gabrithon’s hoof pawed at the ground for a moment.

“I see,” he said finally. “Well, can you fight?”

“No, but I am willing to learn!” the boy answered immediately, determination in his eyes.

Elthinor looked at me and arched an eyebrow. I shrugged.

“Why don’t you go down into our camp in the valley and wait for us? We shall discuss this,” Gabrithon said. “Oh, and stay away from the Kindle Wolf. He might bite you.”

Nolan shied away from the Centaur as he nodded, starting down the hill. I could understand his trepidation of my friend; Gabrithon was quite big. When he was far enough away, Elthinor looked at me incredulously.

“He is a runt, Fily,” he said flatly. “He would not last a minute against Aswangs or Vampires. He looks as if he has never done a day’s work in his life.”

“Maybe because he has not. He is an orphan,” I replied with a hint of bitterness. “Now, I don’t know about your cultures, but in Human culture orphans are looked down upon.”

“What is an orphan?” Elthinor asked suddenly.

Gabrithon and I stared at him in shock for a moment.

“An orphan,” Gabrithon began, “is a colt who has no parents or relatives willing to take him in.”

“Oh…Elves don’t really have orphans. Friends and neighbors take in Elflings whose parents are dead,” Elthinor replied absently. “But that does not negate the fact that he is small and can’t fight!”

“I am small,” I replied quietly.

“But you can fight,” Gabrithon said.

“Only with a bow and a knife. I have no knowledge of swordsmanship or true fighting. I honestly am just trying to survive when I fight.”

They both looked at each other, and I watched them. For some reason, I wanted Nolan to be with us. He seemed to be an outcast, too, and would fit in perfectly. At least, I hoped he would.

“Fine,” Elthinor said softly. “We shall give him a chance. But if he can’t handle it, we shall send him back.”

I smiled, and we headed down the other side of the hill toward our camp. Nolan was sitting there, staring into the embers of the fire pit, poking them with a long, thin stick. When he heard us coming, or rather when Ember started leaping and tugging more violently at his rope, he looked up then stood, hope etched on his face. I smiled at him and nodded; his eyes widened.

“You can come with us, but if you slow us down or get in the way, you have to leave,” Elthinor said sternly.

Nolan’s face lit up. “I can come with you? Thank you! I will try not to be bothersome! I promise!”

I wasted no time and quickly changed behind a knoll, happy to be out of the dress. I told everybody we should leave immediately. Elthinor wanted me to rest—he was still concerned about my almost healed shoulder—but I reminded him of the Naga. He was reluctant but allowed us to pack up and move out. He was more worried about my safety than my health at the moment. I untied Ember and stored the rope back in my pack, which was considerably lighter now that Nolan and Elthinor had taken most of the fresh supplies from me. I looked over at Gabrithon a moment and realized I should have gotten him a pack, but I pushed that thought out of my head as we started out.

We continued southwest, moving faster than my Elven friend was comfortable with to get as far away from those Naga creatures as we could in one day, just in case they tried to chase us. By evening, I was exhausted but felt safer. I knew I had pushed myself too far, and Elthinor knew it, too. He swooped down to fuss as we settled by a grove of small trees with a little pool in the middle and Nolan was sent to chop down a tree.

“You were supposed to tell me if you got too tired, Fily!” he scolded. “No, you are not helping set up camp. You are sitting down to rest. Later, I shall take a look at your shoulder. Now, sit!”

I watched as Ember sat down and I arched my eyebrow, disliking that he commanded me about like I was a pet. Elthinor’s resolve melted a little bit, but he still looked stern and expected to be obeyed. I sighed, lowering myself to the ground beside Ember, stroking his thick black fur and enjoying being with my own pet. We had been traveling so much that I had not spent much time with him. In fact, I felt as if I had been ignoring him a bit. I hummed.

“Go get a stick,” I whispered in his ear, which flicked at my breath, but he got up to retrieve the stick.

He dropped it into my lap; I grinned and threw it. He bounded after the stick and brought it back. After a few rounds of that, I felt a giggle bubble in my throat, and I tossed the stick over the boys where they were preparing camp just to see them scatter when Ember leapt through them, the wood Elthinor carried crashing to the ground. As my Kindle Wolf brought the stick back, I could feel them glaring at me.

“Oops,” I said innocently, smiling and batting my eyelashes.

Elthinor and Gabrithon tried to hide their smiles, but Nolan, who was following them around like a puppy trying to please its master, laughed.

“You did that on purpose!” he accused.

“Why would I do that?” I asked, pretending to be offended.

“Because you are not happy that I won’t let you help,” Elthinor said, still trying, and failing, to look upset.

“Not really,” I admitted. “I just wanted to see what would happen.”

“Well, is your curiosity sated?”

“Maybe,” I replied with a grin.

I let them finish setting up camp before I tossed the stick again. This time Elthinor caught it and, while the Elf looked surprised, Ember pounced on him and grabbed the stick from his hands, which were instinctively trying to push the large Kindle Wolf away. Gabrithon openly laughed, and I was rolling on the ground as Ember returned the stick.

“You should have seen your face!” I gasped.

“Ha ha,” Elthinor muttered as he stood up, brushing himself off.

“Oh, come now, Elthinor. It was only a joke,” I said, calming down and standing to move closer to the fire pit.

He smiled lightly. “I know. You just surprised me. And Ember’s kind of heavy.”

“I’ve never seen a wolf that big!” Nolan exclaimed.

“Kindle Wolf,” I corrected.

“Can…can I see him go all flames?”

Flaren,” I replied with a smile.

Flames erupted over his back, and Nolan gasped in wonder and fear. I stroked Ember behind his ear, and the flames turned to what looked like embers smoldering in his fur. Gabrithon hummed. That was a trick my pet did not do too often nowadays.

“Is that where he got his name?” the Centaur asked, gesturing at the glowing designs.

“Yes. He used to do this all the time before he could properly spout flames. He was quite cute. Now he’s handsome, isn’t that right, Ember?”

Ember looked at me with those glowing orange-red eyes of his and snorted, rolling over to bear his belly to me. I scratched it, finding that special spot, and his leg began to move uncontrollably, causing laughter from the three males.

“Why does he do that?” Nolan asked.

“I have no idea,” I answered honestly as I continued to scratch him.

“It is amusing. I did not know he could do that,” Gabrithon said.

“Do you not have dogs?”

“I don’t know what a dog is, so no.”

Nolan laughed. “You have no idea what a dog is?”

I grabbed his arm and his laughter stopped, a bit of fear in his eyes as he stared at me; he was more intimidated of me than I thought. “Don’t make fun of their cultures. They are from different worlds than we are. If you are to travel with us, you must accept them. I know some bits are going to be strange to you, but just ask and learn to work with it.”

Nolan nodded. “I shall try.”

“A dog,” I said, turning to Gabrithon, “is a creature like a wolf, but tamed by Humans, and I think Elves?”

“No. We don’t keep dogs,” Elthinor said. “Continue.”

“They are tamed by Humans to be companions, guards, and sometimes hunting partners. They are playful and kind, but they are not Elemental, as Ember is.”

“Elementals are so rare!” Nolan exclaimed. “How did you get Ember?”

“They are not as rare as people think, though they are scarce,” I admitted. “They are just extremely hard to catch or keep. My mother and I specialize in them. She says I have a gift for it. They just obey me, well-trained or not.”

“I can believe that,” Elthinor said seriously. “Ember just obediently follows us, no running off and no attacking us.”

I smiled. “That’s Ember for you. He only attacks when I am in trouble or I tell him to. I am almost sure he would follow me off a cliff if that is where I wanted to go!”

There was a collective chuckle. I sighed and relaxed back onto my bedroll. I could sense Nolan’s unease at being with us. I glanced over to see him fidgeting. I wondered if Gabrithon had been uncomfortable when he had first met us. Elthinor had definitely been uncomfortable the first time we had met, but by the time we had left Ellavendir, we were comfortable enough with each other that no awkwardness had bothered us. Gabrithon had been hiding behind his own culture at the time we had met him, so I was unsure about that.

“Relax,” Elthinor suddenly said. “We are not the ones you should fear. It is the creatures we are chasing that you should fear.”

Nolan had jumped at the Elf’s voice, but he did relax a little. “I can’t help it. Most people are not nice to me, seeing as how I am an orphan. I just keep expecting you all to turn against me.”

“Trust me, we are not going to turn against you,” Elthinor replied. “We need as many people as we can get. Fighting the Aswangs or Vampires would be, I imagine, easier with more people.”

Nolan looked nervous. “When will I learn how to fight?”

Elthinor looked at him then walked out into the growing darkness. He came back with two rather long, thick sticks and tossed one to the newest addition to our group. Nolan caught it and stared at it for a moment.

“What is this?”

“This is how I learned how to fight with a sword. We shall have to make you a bow and quiver of arrows so you can practice. Until then you shall learn how to sword fight.”

“Where am I going to get a sword? Swords are rare in Human villages and they are really expensive when they can be found.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Elthinor said. “Now, prepare yourself!”

I watched, fascinated, as the Elf lunged at Nolan, and the fight began. In the back of my mind, something seemed familiar, but it was only the shadow of a memory.

 

Nolan and I hurried through town the next morning, heading for the gates. We passed through and made our way away from the path and up the hill southwest of the town. As soon as we got to the top, there was a cry of utter relief, and I was swept up into an embrace. There was a whimpering bark from below in the valley. I could see a fire pit and Ember tied up to a rock. He was sitting there tugging at the rope. He looked about ready to burn through it, restrained only by his training, no doubt. My attention was brought back to Elthinor and Gabrithon when the former spoke.

“Oh, Fily, you are all right! I was so worried,” Elthinor said happily as he released me.

“We figured you got locked in the town,” Gabrithon said, patting my head.

“You mean we hoped she got locked in the town. We thought you might have been captured by, you know, something.”

“I almost was,” I replied. I gestured for Nolan to step forward; he had spent the time we had been there thus far staring at both of them. He quickly stepped forward at my prompting. “This is Nolan. He saved me from the, er, Naga, I believe they called themselves. I have no idea what they look like, but they speak with hissing voices, like a snake.”

Elthinor, who had listened intently to my explanation, sized him up for a moment before grabbing his hand and shaking it vigorously. “Thank you! How can we repay you?”

Nolan shyly glanced at me for a moment before replying. “Filynora said that you might consider taking me with you?”

“Oh? What about your family?” Gabrithon asked, and I felt like slapping him as Nolan looked away.

“I am…an orphan, Mister Gabrithon.”

There was an awkward silence, and Gabrithon’s hoof pawed at the ground for a moment.

“I see,” he said finally. “Well, can you fight?”

“No, but I am willing to learn!” the boy answered immediately, determination in his eyes.

Elthinor looked at me and arched an eyebrow. I shrugged.

“Why don’t you go down into our camp in the valley and wait for us? We shall discuss this,” Gabrithon said. “Oh, and stay away from the Kindle Wolf. He might bite you.”

Nolan shied away from the Centaur as he nodded, starting down the hill. I could understand his trepidation of my friend; Gabrithon was quite big. When he was far enough away, Elthinor looked at me incredulously.

“He is a runt, Fily,” he said flatly. “He would not last a minute against Aswangs or Vampires. He looks as if he has never done a day’s work in his life.”

“Maybe because he has not. He is an orphan,” I replied with a hint of bitterness. “Now, I don’t know about your cultures, but in Human culture orphans are looked down upon.”

“What is an orphan?” Elthinor asked suddenly.

Gabrithon and I stared at him in shock for a moment.

“An orphan,” Gabrithon began, “is a colt who has no parents or relatives willing to take him in.”

“Oh…Elves don’t really have orphans. Friends and neighbors take in Elflings whose parents are dead,” Elthinor replied absently. “But that does not negate the fact that he is small and can’t fight!”

“I am small,” I replied quietly.

“But you can fight,” Gabrithon said.

“Only with a bow and a knife. I have no knowledge of swordsmanship or true fighting. I honestly am just trying to survive when I fight.”

They both looked at each other, and I watched them. For some reason, I wanted Nolan to be with us. He seemed to be an outcast, too, and would fit in perfectly. At least, I hoped he would.

“Fine,” Elthinor said softly. “We shall give him a chance. But if he can’t handle it, we shall send him back.”

I smiled, and we headed down the other side of the hill toward our camp. Nolan was sitting there, staring into the embers of the fire pit, poking them with a long, thin stick. When he heard us coming, or rather when Ember started leaping and tugging more violently at his rope, he looked up then stood, hope etched on his face. I smiled at him and nodded; his eyes widened.

“You can come with us, but if you slow us down or get in the way, you have to leave,” Elthinor said sternly.

Nolan’s face lit up. “I can come with you? Thank you! I will try not to be bothersome! I promise!”

I wasted no time and quickly changed behind a knoll, happy to be out of the dress. I told everybody we should leave immediately. Elthinor wanted me to rest—he was still concerned about my almost healed shoulder—but I reminded him of the Naga. He was reluctant but allowed us to pack up and move out. He was more worried about my safety than my health at the moment. I untied Ember and stored the rope back in my pack, which was considerably lighter now that Nolan and Elthinor had taken most of the fresh supplies from me. I looked over at Gabrithon a moment and realized I should have gotten him a pack, but I pushed that thought out of my head as we started out.

We continued southwest, moving faster than my Elven friend was comfortable with to get as far away from those Naga creatures as we could in one day, just in case they tried to chase us. By evening, I was exhausted but felt safer. I knew I had pushed myself too far, and Elthinor knew it, too. He swooped down to fuss as we settled by a grove of small trees with a little pool in the middle and Nolan was sent to chop down a tree.

“You were supposed to tell me if you got too tired, Fily!” he scolded. “No, you are not helping set up camp. You are sitting down to rest. Later, I shall take a look at your shoulder. Now, sit!”

I watched as Ember sat down and I arched my eyebrow, disliking that he commanded me about like I was a pet. Elthinor’s resolve melted a little bit, but he still looked stern and expected to be obeyed. I sighed, lowering myself to the ground beside Ember, stroking his thick black fur and enjoying being with my own pet. We had been traveling so much that I had not spent much time with him. In fact, I felt as if I had been ignoring him a bit. I hummed.

“Go get a stick,” I whispered in his ear, which flicked at my breath, but he got up to retrieve the stick.

He dropped it into my lap; I grinned and threw it. He bounded after the stick and brought it back. After a few rounds of that, I felt a giggle bubble in my throat, and I tossed the stick over the boys where they were preparing camp just to see them scatter when Ember leapt through them, the wood Elthinor carried crashing to the ground. As my Kindle Wolf brought the stick back, I could feel them glaring at me.

“Oops,” I said innocently, smiling and batting my eyelashes.

Elthinor and Gabrithon tried to hide their smiles, but Nolan, who was following them around like a puppy trying to please its master, laughed.

“You did that on purpose!” he accused.

“Why would I do that?” I asked, pretending to be offended.

“Because you are not happy that I won’t let you help,” Elthinor said, still trying, and failing, to look upset.

“Not really,” I admitted. “I just wanted to see what would happen.”

“Well, is your curiosity sated?”

“Maybe,” I replied with a grin.

I let them finish setting up camp before I tossed the stick again. This time Elthinor caught it and, while the Elf looked surprised, Ember pounced on him and grabbed the stick from his hands, which were instinctively trying to push the large Kindle Wolf away. Gabrithon openly laughed, and I was rolling on the ground as Ember returned the stick.

“You should have seen your face!” I gasped.

“Ha ha,” Elthinor muttered as he stood up, brushing himself off.

“Oh, come now, Elthinor. It was only a joke,” I said, calming down and standing to move closer to the fire pit.

He smiled lightly. “I know. You just surprised me. And Ember’s kind of heavy.”

“I’ve never seen a wolf that big!” Nolan exclaimed.

“Kindle Wolf,” I corrected.

“Can…can I see him go all flames?”

Flaren,” I replied with a smile.

Flames erupted over his back, and Nolan gasped in wonder and fear. I stroked Ember behind his ear, and the flames turned to what looked like embers smoldering in his fur. Gabrithon hummed. That was a trick my pet did not do too often nowadays.

“Is that where he got his name?” the Centaur asked, gesturing at the glowing designs.

“Yes. He used to do this all the time before he could properly spout flames. He was quite cute. Now he’s handsome, isn’t that right, Ember?”

Ember looked at me with those glowing orange-red eyes of his and snorted, rolling over to bear his belly to me. I scratched it, finding that special spot, and his leg began to move uncontrollably, causing laughter from the three males.

“Why does he do that?” Nolan asked.

“I have no idea,” I answered honestly as I continued to scratch him.

“It is amusing. I did not know he could do that,” Gabrithon said.

“Do you not have dogs?”

“I don’t know what a dog is, so no.”

Nolan laughed. “You have no idea what a dog is?”

I grabbed his arm and his laughter stopped, a bit of fear in his eyes as he stared at me; he was more intimidated of me than I thought. “Don’t make fun of their cultures. They are from different worlds than we are. If you are to travel with us, you must accept them. I know some bits are going to be strange to you, but just ask and learn to work with it.”

Nolan nodded. “I shall try.”

“A dog,” I said, turning to Gabrithon, “is a creature like a wolf, but tamed by Humans, and I think Elves?”

“No. We don’t keep dogs,” Elthinor said. “Continue.”

“They are tamed by Humans to be companions, guards, and sometimes hunting partners. They are playful and kind, but they are not Elemental, as Ember is.”

“Elementals are so rare!” Nolan exclaimed. “How did you get Ember?”

“They are not as rare as people think, though they are scarce,” I admitted. “They are just extremely hard to catch or keep. My mother and I specialize in them. She says I have a gift for it. They just obey me, well-trained or not.”

“I can believe that,” Elthinor said seriously. “Ember just obediently follows us, no running off and no attacking us.”

I smiled. “That’s Ember for you. He only attacks when I am in trouble or I tell him to. I am almost sure he would follow me off a cliff if that is where I wanted to go!”

There was a collective chuckle. I sighed and relaxed back onto my bedroll. I could sense Nolan’s unease at being with us. I glanced over to see him fidgeting. I wondered if Gabrithon had been uncomfortable when he had first met us. Elthinor had definitely been uncomfortable the first time we had met, but by the time we had left Ellavendir, we were comfortable enough with each other that no awkwardness had bothered us. Gabrithon had been hiding behind his own culture at the time we had met him, so I was unsure about that.

“Relax,” Elthinor suddenly said. “We are not the ones you should fear. It is the creatures we are chasing that you should fear.”

Nolan had jumped at the Elf’s voice, but he did relax a little. “I can’t help it. Most people are not nice to me, seeing as how I am an orphan. I just keep expecting you all to turn against me.”

“Trust me, we are not going to turn against you,” Elthinor replied. “We need as many people as we can get. Fighting the Aswangs or Vampires would be, I imagine, easier with more people.”

Nolan looked nervous. “When will I learn how to fight?”

Elthinor looked at him then walked out into the growing darkness. He came back with two rather long, thick sticks and tossed one to the newest addition to our group. Nolan caught it and stared at it for a moment.

“What is this?”

“This is how I learned how to fight with a sword. We shall have to make you a bow and quiver of arrows so you can practice. Until then you shall learn how to sword fight.”

“Where am I going to get a sword? Swords are rare in Human villages and they are really expensive when they can be found.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Elthinor said. “Now, prepare yourself!”

I watched, fascinated, as the Elf lunged at Nolan, and the fight began. In the back of my mind, something seemed familiar, but it was only the shadow of a memory.

 

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