I awoke to a cool rag pressing against my forehead. I groaned as I shifted slightly and my back protested the movement. I forced my eyes open when a female voice told me to lie still. I found myself staring a dark haired woman with grey eyes, her skin tanned from the sun. I did not recognize her at all and it made me panic. I forced myself to sit up, ignoring the agony that was my lower back, and grabbed her wrists as her hands came to push me down.
“You have thirty seconds to tell me who you are,” I growled threateningly.
“I am Leah,” the woman said in a soothing voice. “And you must lie down. You are only going to hurt your back worse if you do not!”
I opened my mouth to tell her off when the door burst open and Valtrak hurried in. I calmed immediately at the sight of his familiar face and let Leah ease me back down onto the bed. She turned to glare at him.
“I told you and the others not to come in here. She is certainly not presentable for any male company. Now out while I help her dress.”
Valtrak made a face at her then smiled at me. “I suppose I shall. Hurry though. I need to talk to her.”
He left, shutting the door behind him. Leah helped me out of the bed and leaned me against the wall. When she pulled out a dress, I shook my head.
“I don’t wear dresses.”
“But it will hurt less,” Leah said gently.
“I don’t care,” I said blandly. “I have extra clothes in my pack…if anybody grabbed it.”
Leah walked over to the other side of the room and grabbed something, holding it up for me. I smiled delightedly. That meant the scrolls were safe! I nodded and she helped me into a pair of pants and a shirt. They were both Satyr-made specifically for me so they fit perfectly, but it had been painful to get into them, especially lifting my arms to slip into the shirt. I was settled back into the bed and Leah opened the door. Valtrak walked in and Leah hovered in the doorway, looking unsure if she should leave us be.
“Leave,” I said and she departed, glancing back at me worriedly.
As soon as the door closed, Valtrak heaved himself onto the bed to sit. He was playing with his hands as if he was nervous.
“Are you alright? I mean, I know your back is bruised pretty bad, but other than that? You know, about, well, Nolan.”
He said the name softly, hesitantly and his violet eyes moved up to meet mine. At the mention of Nolan’s name, I felt tears leap up to my eyes, but I pushed them back. I did not really know how I felt about him. On the one hand, he was family, my lost twin brother. On the other hand, he had betrayed me and captured most of my friends to do who knows what to them. I was angry, but sad at the same time. I shrugged.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I’m…confused.”
There was silence for a moment. “I know that you are upset about Elthinor and the others being taken, but there is a little surprise for you,” he said finally.
He slid down off the bed and walked to the door, opening it. He gestured for somebody to come forward. I watched the door, honestly curious. A male stepped into the doorway and I gasped, forcing myself to sit up again as I saw a person I had not expected to see for a long while, maybe not ever again.
“Aloron!” I exclaimed.
The old Elf laughed, presumably at my enthusiasm, and hurried forward to embrace me gently. As he held me the tears I had forced back came to me in a rush, and I began to cry against him. He settled onto the edge of the bed and held me, rocking back and forth. He seemed to understand that I needed the release and simply smiled at me when I had calmed down and pulled back to wipe my eyes.
“Feel better?” he asked.
I nodded. “What are you doing here? How did you find us?”
Aloron smiled at me and stood, walking over to the window. He opened it and whistled. A flash of black suddenly shot through the opening and I gasped in pain as something big and heavy landed on me, knocking the air out of me.
“Ember!” I managed to say as I tried to catch my breath.
“That’s right,” Aloron said with a smile. “That wolf of yours is quite smart. He carried this to us and dropped it at my feet.” The Elf held out my mother’s bracelet. “At first I thought he had eaten you, but there was no blood. I remember you spoke of pets that you had, and since you rode an Aqua horse when we first found you, I made the connection that he was yours. The poor thing wanted to set out immediately, and we tracked you as well as we could. We stayed at an Elven town during the winter, which I could tell did not make the wolf happy, but we were not going to travel while it was cold.
“After the thaw, we were led to a Satyr city, where we were welcomed by a queen, but not by the king, and she pointed us to the southeast. We set up camp one night and the fire wolf started going crazy and bolted into the darkness. We followed and found you and that strange rock-looking lad out there.”
“He is a Dwarf,” I said with a chuckle. “They look so amazing, do they not? God is so creative, isn’t he?”
Aloron’s eyes lit up. “So you still do believe?”
“Yes,” I said happily. “It has truly changed my life. And Elthinor’s. And I would even venture to say that it’s changed Gabrithon’s life, even though he does not admit it yet. Valtrak is quiet about his beliefs and Pinnathir is just the opposite, but it has changed them, too. We would not be on this adventure if it was not for God.”
“Then they would not be captured,” Valtrak said gruffly. “What say you to that?”
I thought about that and the Elf and Dwarf waited for my answer. I finally sighed. “I do not know what God has planned, and I do not think anybody could really know. But He knows what plans He has for our lives. Jesiah told me so. I do not think Nolan would kill them though. He knows I will come after them to try and get them alive. We need to find out if they are alive and where they are being kept if they are.”
“You are not doing anything,” Aloron said sternly. “Your back looks terrible. You are to stay put until you heal.”
I rolled my eyes. “Now I know where Elthinor got it from.”
“What?” Aloron asked, sounding confused.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, and Valtrak chuckled.
Aloron stared at the two of us for a moment then shook his head and smiled. “So what is your name, little Dwarf?”
“Valtrak,” my friend answered. “And I am not little,” he added, sounding irritated.
“Actually he is normal size for Dwarves,” I said.
“Really?” Aloron asked, looking very interested. “So Dwarves are all around your size, Valtrak?”
I smiled softly as the old Elf started talking with Valtrak quite freely. The old Elf really did practice his belief that all creatures were equal. Now that I was up, he seemed fine with talking to my friend. I settled back, petting my sweet Ember, who was curled up beside me. He licked my hand and I smiled at him. I had missed him so much. He was my oldest and, dare I even say, dearest friend. A plus about him was that he could not repeat what I told him in confidence, though I was sure my other friends would not do that, either, but still. It was a comfort.
There was a sudden knock at the door and a tall young man stepped into the room. He had dark brown hair and shy black eyes. He stepped into the room, carrying a steaming bowl.
“And you are?” I asked, my voice distrustful.
“Jaiden. Jaiden Richards. Leah is my mother. She asked me to bring you some chicken broth. You have not eaten in days.”
As soon as he mentioned food, my mouth started watering. I was hungry, I realized. In fact, my stomach decided to tell me so, growling loudly. Jaiden chuckled and carefully handed me the bowl. He left the room without another word. Aloron forced me to eat slowly so I would not get sick. As I ate, I listened to my Dwarven friend explaining his culture to the Elf, and vice versa. I learned some new things, like just how close Elves were to the forest. The way Dwarves were with stone was how the Elves were with trees. They knew just what it took to nurture them, to make them live and thrive. I smiled as Valtrak asked why Elves were so good with plants.
“That’s just how God made them,” I said absently as I set the bowl to the side to let Ember lick up the last little bit of broth. “Just as he made you Dwarves to dig deep into the earth and understand stone and crystals and gems, he made the Elves to frolic and care for the forest.”
Aloron looked at me curiously. “Your knowledge seems to be greater than when you left Ellavendir. Why?”
I smiled and looked at Valtrak. “Could you hand me my pack?”
Valtrak did so and I dug around inside it for a moment then pulled out the three tubes that held the scrolls. Aloron’s face lit up and he let out a gasp.
“Scrolls?” he asked, sounding a little breathless.
“Yes. We have read two of them. The fourth one in the list Valtrak and I have not read yet.”
“It is a miracle we even have that one,” Valtrak said solemnly.
“True,” I replied sadly.
I quickly went through them and handed Aloron the second scroll, which he practically devoured with his eyes. I watched him, knowing just how much it meant to him to finally be reading what happened next. It would possibly reshape his beliefs a bit, and that was significant.
Valtrak caught my eye and held up four fingers, presumably referencing the fourth scroll. I held up one finger to indicate that we should wait a minute or two. I wanted Aloron to read it to us. The third scroll was snatched up and read just as fervently as the second, and when Aloron reached for the fourth scroll, I held up my hand to stop him.
“You must read this one out loud,” I said with a smile.
He nodded and took the scroll, this time quite gingerly. He slowly unrolled it and took a deep breath, his eyes gleaming as he began reading.