“Good. Then it is decided,” Lolaiken said as he stood.
Relief flooded through me. The long debates were over. The Elves would help us. Now all that was left to do was to tell everybody. We stood and hurried outside to meet Gabrithon, who had been kneeling at the window. He’d still participated, and occasionally had said wise things that had flipped the discussions around. Gabrithon finished stretching then placed a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me.
“Well, that was an interesting experience,” he said as we began following the council out.
“What was?” I asked.
“Oh, the whole thing where we discussed whether or not to go to war.”
“Don’t Centaurs do that when it comes to Dwarves?”
“They live underground Filynora. We can’t go to war with them unless they’re marching. And at that point it’s a split second decision, and our mentality is ‘Kill all Dwarves!’ so the answer to your question is a regrettable ‘no.'”
“We have such talks,” Valtrak said from the other side of the Centaur. “And the answer is usually ‘no.’ We don’t wish to needlessly die. Though we do have the same approach. ‘Kill all Centaurs!’ as it were. I’m rather glad I didn’t listen to the rules for you, mule.”
“Stonehead,” Gabrithon said affectionately, though he realized what he’d done after a second and tried to wave it off. “Ridiculous nonsense,” he spat. “Don’t know what I was thinking.”
My Dwarvish friend and I both laughed and then headed up the stairs to the large landing at the top. Gabrithon had stopped following and we both paused and looked back. He held his hands behind his back and gazed up at us. Valtrak took a couple steps down and held out his hand.
“Well, come on!”
“The king didn’t say he wanted all of us up there,” Gabrithon said, eying the stairs distrustfully.
“Come Centaur!” Lolaiken called as if on cue.
“Gabrithon, why do you never come up? You could stand right outside the door instead of down in the square. Then the Elves would bother you less,” Valtrak said, taking another two steps down.
“I just, well, I don’t like stairs,” he admitted, defeat evident in the slump of his shoulders.
“Look at me, Valtrak!” Gabrithon exclaimed, throwing his arms out wide. “I’m a Centaur. My front half is heavier than my back half! I’m afraid of hurting myself coming down the stairs.”
“Well if you go down slowly enough, you won’t fall. And I’ll walk with you if it makes you feel any better,” Valtrak said, patting his friend on the leg.
Gabrithon looked down worriedly, but slowly started to make his way up to stand beside our friends. By now a crowd had gathered, but it didn’t seem like there were enough Elves present. He raised his hand and brought it down and a blasting noise came from high set windows in the palace behind us. I jumped horribly and Elthinor grabbed me to steady me.
“What was that?” I gasped.
“A horn. It signals that the king has important news,” he replied. “Here comes another one.”
The second wasn’t nearly as jolting as the first, but it was just as loud. Two more sounded out then silence reigned. The crowd had greatly increased, Elves pressing close together to fill in all the available space. There were runoffs into the smaller streets. There was the buzz of conversation from those assembled until the king raised both hands. The silence that followed was by no means complete because of the sheer number of Elves present, but everybody was clearly eager to listen.
“My subjects,” Lolaiken boomed. “I have much news. First, I am horrified to say we have been tricked.” There was a stirring in the crowd. “We have not just been tricked, but generations of Elves have been tricked, too.” A ripple of murmurs sounded out. “Those shattered-eyes were not Elves. They were beasts called Rakshasa, and they are just a small fraction of the true enemy we should have been facing all along. We have been in council for over a month now, and we have decided what we should do.” He paused. “We are going to go to war with these Dark Ones.”
The noise level shot up so fast that my hands twitched as I almost went to cover my ears. The king simply stood there and scanned the crowd. After a minute or two, he held up his hands, and the near-silence fell again.
“There’s more you need to know. Not only are we going to war with these Dark Ones, we will be fighting alongside other races as well. So far there are only Humans and Dwarves who are willing to fight for this. But as we speak, the princess of the Satyrs, and a good friend of this group up here with me, is trying to convince the Satyrs that fighting with us, not against us, is the better option.”
If I thought it had been loud before, it was nothing compared to the explosion of sound that took place now. I thought that the Elves would sprint up the stairs to kill me and my friends. They were not in favor of fighting with the Satyrs on their side. Lolaiken did not look surprised, but held up his hands again. This time the near-silence wasn’t instant. It took five minutes to get them quiet again and even then, there was a grumbling amongst the assembled Elves.
“Please, I know the idea sounds unappealing, but the shattered-eye Rakshasa tricked us, tricked us into attacking the Satyrs. And the Satyrs had their own shattered-eyes, who tricked them into attacking us! I expect you to do what is best for our race.”
The king turned to leave, and I grabbed his arm. He looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Yes?” he asked.
“Are you going to tell them about the threat to the Elves?”
“I was planning on announcing that when we leave out. That way I can know how many trust me. The others may join us later on, as I believe many will from the other Elven cities.”
“Oh. Very well then,” I said with a bow, and he turned and went inside.
We had to wait several hours for the square to clear out before we could go back to the stable we were staying in. We all looked at Gabrithon when we were about to head down the stairs. He started out slowly, obviously having a little trouble. He stayed steady with Valtrak, who was beside him, encouraging him softly. He was going a little faster than he had been when he’d started, but he was no worse off from it. We hurried to the stable and, once we were all inside, Jaiden shut the door and visibly relaxed.
“Well, that whole process had fewer headaches than the Dwarvish one,” he said, rubbing his temples.
“Maybe not, but it was just as tricky. Elves don’t like Satyrs any more than Dwarves like Centaurs,” Valtrak said with a nod. “But so far, both of the kings we have on our side seem to understand that the others are not to blame.”
“My father will not be so easy to persuade,” Gabrithon said, lowering himself to his belly. “He is set against Dwarves, wanting every one of them dead. He is a tough stallion.”
“I can only hope Laetitia is faring just as well as we are,” Pinnathir said, perching himself on one of the closed doors of an unoccupied stall. “She does have a lot of influence, but her father, my king, is quite stubborn. And he loathes Elves.”
“I know. He never even tried to talk civilly around me,” Elthinor said.
“I think he knew that I was half-Elf. He was never kind to me either,” I said.
“He hasn’t been happy for seven years,” Pinnathir said. “Not since his youngest two children were killed by somebody, Elves or, more likely Rakshasa. He lost a son and a daughter. They were twins and were only nine years old at the time.”
We all stared at him. “He had two other children?” I asked.
“Yes. They were both taken outside the city while playing in the lake. Blood coated the ground in front of the lake, and their bodies were never found. It’s the reason he never lets Zaharra or Laetitia swim.”
“What were their names?” Jaiden asked, an idea in his voice.
“Eilidh was the girl, Onarir was the boy. They would be sixteen. You’ll never guess how you spell her name.” After a long pause in which we all stared at him, he grinned and spelled it out.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Elthinor said while I shrugged off the spelling; it made no difference as I could not read or write. “And you’re sure it’s pronounced ‘Ay-lee,’ right?”
“Yes,” Pinnathir said. “It’s an old way of spelling it.
“How old are Zaharra and Laetitia?” I asked, interrupting Jaiden as he began to speak. He frowned, but let Pinnathir answer me.
“Laetitia is seventeen, Zaharra is twenty. Now what were you going to say, Jaiden?”
“If they never found their bodies, isn’t there a possibility that they could be alive?”
Pinnathir hopped down and walked up close to Jaiden, narrowing his eyes. “Well, there is. But makes you think they could be?”
“They tend to capture, not kill, unless they’re trying to provoke one race with another,” our Human friend said. “They want slaves.”
“Maybe that means they were amongst the slaves that came with us from the Dark Ones,” Gabrithon said, looking down at my pack and moving his fingers against the dirt as if to grab it.
I snickered softly and dug out a piece of venison jerky out of my back. Handing it to him, I met his eyes and smiled.
“Good point. We’ll check when we get back. And Gabrithon? You just have to ask,” I said gently.
“I wish I could reach the ground,” he said with a sigh, abruptly standing up and trotting over to the far end of the stable. He chomped on the jerky. “We’re just not built to do any of that!” he burst out. “If your God exists, why did he make my kind not able to reach the ground?”
Pinnathir snorted. “You think you have it bad. At least you run like a horse. I cannot sit on one comfortably. I must walk everywhere.”
I opened my mouth to reply, but this time Jaiden interrupted me. “Now, now,” he said. “God made each of us just the way we are. Should the clay tell the potter that he is wrong in making him a certain way?”
They both looked at him and Gabrithon sighed. “You have an excellent point. You know, if this God of your does exist,” he repeated.
“I pray that you’ll come to believe,” I said quietly.
“When do you pray for me? I never see you pray.”
“Oh, I-I just…” I trailed off and bit my bottom lip. “I do pray, but just when I remember it, which isn’t very often honestly.”
“What about you, Elthinor?” Gabrithon asked.
“I pray every night before I go to bed as I stare up at the stars,” came the reply.
“I don’t really know what praying is. Nobody ever explained it to me.”
“I talked to Aloron and he told me about it. I pray every single day and read the scrolls when I get the chance in our busy lives. Once we settle down after the war, and if I’m still alive, I hope we can get the other scriptures from Oidynhall.”
“That would be interesting,” Elthinor said.
They launched into a conversation of what could be there while Gabrithon stared at me. His eyes were intense. He walked over and knelt down beside me.
“If you really believe, you will do what you say you do,” he said then left it at that.