We were awakened that night by Ember, who was growling and looking in the forest. Gabrithon’s nostrils flared and he was up in an instant. By the faint light of the embers in the fire pit I could see his panic. He was frightened.
“We need to leave. They are coming!” he said, his voice betraying his emotions.
The fear in his voice persuaded us to do as he said and we packed up in record time. Once our bedrolls were firmly tied to our separate packs, Gabrithon had us moving swiftly along the edge of the forest with Ember’s markings glowing orange to light our way. There was suddenly the sound of hooves and the poor Centaur squealed and shot off. We gasped and ran with him, his fear spreading to us. We ran and ran until we—well, they—could not run any further, and all three of them stopped, panting heavily. I was a bit winded myself; the longer we travelled, the fitter the rest of them got and the longer and faster they could run.
“We cannot stop,” Gabrithon whimpered. “They will catch us and father will be awfully angry at me. I do not like my father in his best temperament. Anger is worse. Much, much worse.”
“What do you propose we do?” Nolan asked, still sucking in air greedily. “We are not Filynora. We cannot run until sunup the way you would like. We must walk!”
“Yes,” Elthinor agreed readily. “Besides, we must be far enough away from them by now. They are probably still searching our camp.”
“How did they find us so fast if Cyrene is deep in the forest?” I asked quietly as I caught my breath.
Gabrithon blinked. “I forgot you are not Centaur and do not know the land. Right inside the forest about a mile or two is Woodspell. It is a small community, but home to some of the fastest Centaurs in the world. They are also some of the most unforgiving of trespassers as they live close to stone men…or Dwarves as you call them. Dwarves are rather cruel creatures. They enjoy roping and branding us, and a branded Centaur is considered useless and it is a shame just to look at him.”
“That’s not fair,” I objected. “He did not choose to be branded.”
“Nonetheless, he or she is damaged beyond repair, according to our culture.”
“That’s about as fair as the arranged marriages, eh, Fily?” Nolan asked as he stroked Ember’s head.
I made a face and the three of them laughed, albeit nervously. They were wary of my temper when I spoke of those subjects, and I could not blame them. I ignored the comment to the best of my ability, looking up at the stars and the sliver of the pale moon that was high up in the night sky. The stars twinkled, ever so far separated from the desperate race against time and Centaurs that we were going through. It made me envy them just a little bit.
“Shouldn’t we start walking again?” I asked with a deep sigh then began walking without an answer, Ember following without question.
Elthinor caught up with me and smiled hesitantly in the half light. I sighed and smiled back. I could not stay mad at any of them, especially Elthinor. We were just too good of friends. I enjoyed having friends. It made my life a lot more interesting than raising my wild Elementals ever had. The fact that we were on a mission that seemed like it was of dire importance was just a bonus. My life had turned from boring and plain (well, as plain as an Elemental raiser’s life could be) to an exciting adventure that had no end in sight. Despite all that my life had become, I had begun to yearn for the safe days back at the farm with my faithful Elementals and pets by my side. The long days I spent hunting in the wood where nothing seemed to be against me was in stark contrast to today when everything seemed to be after me. Ignorance, I thought to myself as we walked, is something I would pay dearly to get back.
We traveled the rest of the night and well into the morning before we decided to unroll our bedrolls and sleep a bit. Gabrithon volunteered the watch; he just could not sleep being so close to Woodspell, and we decided not to argue with him. I woke first to find him dozing. As soon as I moved, his head shot up and his eyes locked onto me. As soon as they did, he relaxed and rolled his head back.
“Anything from Jesiah?” he asked.
“No,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “Still don’t believe?”
“No. Just making conversation,” Gabrithon replied.
“You should sleep. We don’t want you being irritable again. We do not need more fights,” I said firmly.
“I cannot sleep,” he sighed. “I am too worried about my father. He’s not a forgiving stallion, and I fear he is livid about my leaving.”
“You said that he was trying to make you be something you aren’t. What was he trying to do that was so bad?”
Gabrithon chuckled softly. “You will think it is ironic.” I looked at him questioningly. “He arranged a marriage for me with a shy filly from one of the noble families. I did not like her so I…ran away.”
I felt that my jaw had dropped and I quickly covered my mouth to muffle the laughter that I could not repress. Gabrithon looked properly abashed, but smiled as he let me soak up the irony.
“So I guess you understand being female more than I thought,” I said when I could stop laughing.
“In some ways, yes. Being the youngest prince, I did not have the responsibilities my brothers have, but I was restricted by the same rules. Sometimes they were stricter rules. It is quite boring being royalty, and my father had complete control over everything I used to do. When I ran away, there was such a sensation of freedom that I could hardly believe it. I could do what I wanted. When I met you, believe it or not, I was a bit irresponsible. I had nothing to really live for, so I took ridiculous risks. That’s how I got in trouble with the Vampires. I followed their noises out from my campfire, even though somewhere in me I knew better, and…well, you know what happened. I still have a couple scars to prove it.”
“By the time we get done with this adventure, I am sure we all shall have many more scars,
I said softly, rubbing my shoulder; even though it had healed fast, there were still several pale scars there.
He looked at me with a strange look on his face. “How can you talk about that so calmly?”
“Talk about what so calmly?”
“Getting scars. That implies pain and pain implies more dark creatures and it does not seem to bother you like it should.”
I shrugged and looked away even though I knew the answer. Evidently, he did, too, because he frowned when I didn’t answer.
“You used to be so confident about Him. Now…” the Centaur trailed off. “You seem to have lost a part of your glow.”
“It is a little hard to explain. Your face just used to have this glow. Like you were always happy or…I don’t know, joyful, even when you were in pain, or times were hard.”
I looked down. I had felt a little empty since my mother’s death, but I had just assumed it was from her, not God. Now that I thought about it, it made more since that it seemed to be a greater hole than even my mother could have left. I began to cry and Gabrithon looked alarmed.
“I don’t know what to do, Gabrithon. I don’t know how to tell Him I am angry at Him or that I don’t understand why He took my mother. I know he had to have a reason, but that does not help the pain. I miss her.”
“How do you tell anybody you are angry at them?” he asked.
“I yell at them and, well,” I paused for a second, embarrassed. “I hit them if they are close enough.”
“It won’t really do if you hit Jesiah. Elthinor told me the last time you were angry at Him you tried to hit Him and it upset you terribly.” He tilted his head at me. “Is that what you fear? Losing control like you did the first time?”
I thought about it for a few minutes. “Yes,” I finally said, wiping my cheeks.
“I would say you have much more self-control now than you did then,” Gabrithon said with a smile. “How do you know you cannot control yourself if you do not try to talk to Him?”
I hummed, realizing he was right. I decided the next time I dreamed of Jesiah, I would try and explain my feelings to Him. It would not do to be separated from Him. I knew that the best place to be was with Him, no matter what my circumstances were. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but when had my life been easy?
“You know, for somebody who does not believe in Jesiah and God, you certainly help me with my problems involving them.”
Gabrithon looked uncomfortable. “I just think that your belief in Him is interesting and-”
The rest of his excuse was drowned out by a horn. Gabrithon yelped and was up and running away before I could register what was happening. The horn had woken Elthinor and Nolan up and they sat up in surprise. Gabrithon had disappeared, and I called for him. Instead of the Centaur, a short, bearded creature came out with an axe held in his hands. His beard was a reddish brown and his dark eyes stared distrustfully at us.
Without warning, we were all grabbed from behind and held by strong hands. I yelled and struggled, Nolan and Elthinor doing the same, but we were subdued by more of the creatures, which I assumed were Dwarves.
They were just as unusual as any of the other creatures. They looked just as I remembered from the scroll readings, but judging by the looks on Elthinor’s and Nolan’s faces, they had never imagined anything like that. Their skin and hair looked textured like rock with different colors for each Dwarf. Their eyes sparkled like the gemstones I had only caught glimpses of in the traders’ camp, each color taking up the entire eye, with no iris or pupil to mar the jewel-like perfection. They were stunning beings, like the Elves and Centaurs were, but in a different way. The one with the reddish brown beard approached us. His skin was brown and I could see his eyes were black as he approached us.
“Why do you have a fire wolf with you?” he asked, and I noticed that Ember was pinned to the ground by a long wooden staff with a curved end that fit around his neck.
My eyes widened and I commanded him to flame up. He did so and the Dwarf holding him down yelped as the staff caught on fire. Ember leaped up and I said the only thing I could think of.
“Run! Find Gabrithon!” I gasped, and Ember looked at me with somber eyes before doing as I said.
The Dwarves growled amongst themselves then the leader grabbed me. He seemed angry, but not worried, that Ember had gotten away. He seemed to have a more pressing question on his mind, and he did not mince words. He looked at my Elven friend and asked his question.
“Why do you trespass on our land and where is the horseman that was with you?” he asked curtly.
“We did not know that it was your land, and I do not know where he went. He fled when he heard your horn,” I replied.
“Silence, wench,” the Dwarf commanded.
I growled at him and he looked surprised. “Do not call me that,” I snapped.
He frowned slightly at my apparent boldness but eventually shrugged. “Very well, what am I to call you then?”
“You could call me by my name,” I said with raised eyebrows. “That is what most people call me.”
“What is your name?” asked the Dwarf holding my left arm behind my back.
“Odd name,” one of the Dwarves pinning Elthinor to the ground said; I suddenly noticed that though the Dwarves just held me, they had both of the boys against the ground.
I snickered. “To you.”
The Dwarf actually smiled a little and his eyes softened. “I like you, girl. You are bold. You and your companions are to come with us to our king.”
“Then what?” Elthinor asked, his voice strained.
The Dwarf’s eyes hardened again as he looked at the Elf. “Our king will decide what is to happen to you.”
“In all likelihood, you will become slaves,” the second Dwarf holding me said.
My head fell forward and I sighed. “Again?”