I Am the Life: Chapter 30

Three days later, we bid Valtrak and our send off party goodbye and off we went. It was raining lightly, rather cold, but not too bad. We traveled swiftly, making good progress. We reached the forest in two weeks’ time and Gabrithon looked nervous as we stood at the edge.

“Why don’t we make camp here for a night or two,” I suggested.

He nodded. “Yes. That sounds fine.”

After camp was set up, we settled around a fire, Gabrithon wasn’t lying down. I looked up at him—he was much taller from the ground—and frowned.

“Gabrithon, why don’t you lie down?” I asked.

“We are very close to Centaur halls. I wouldn’t dare. It isn’t right for a stallion to lie down unless he is grievously wounded, remember?”

“Vaguely,” I said honestly. “If you want to stand, feel free to, but it’s going to be weird.”

“I know,” he said with a shake of his head. “I know.”

That night we ate pheasant. I enjoyed it, as I had never had it before. Elthinor had promised that it would be a treat, and it was. He said it tasted a lot like chicken, something I hadn’t eaten either. I’d had lamb, sheep, and goat before, but never chicken. I mentioned this and Pinnathir choked on his food.

“You’ve eaten goat?” he asked, looking horrified.

“Yes,” I said then thought about it. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have told you that.”

“That was rather thoughtless,” Gabrithon stated.

“I didn’t think about it,” I said with a shrug.

“Well next time, please do. That’s a disturbing thought, you eating goat.”

“Sorry,” I apologized again.

We fell into silence again. Gabrithon was nervously clopping his front hooves against the ground, peering anxiously into the forest.

“We are close to Woodspell, yes?” I asked and he jumped, almost spilling his untouched food.

“What? Oh, yes. Yes, we are extremely close to Woodspell. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re watching us right now.”

I turned to peer at the trees, narrowing my eyes. “Well, they won’t get to see much,” I finally said. “I’m going to sleep.”

I fell asleep quickly and was woken when somebody actually kicked me. I jerked and looked up to see Gabrithon, his eyes frightened, staring down at me.

“Get up girl!” a rough male voice said.

“Hello Fily,” Elthinor said, standing in front of a Centaur, looking quite unenthused. “Have a nice rest?”

“It was pleasant enough until somebody kicked me,” I growled, standing up. I was grabbed immediately.

“Gather your things. We are taking you all to the king. He will be especially eager to see you, my runaway young prince.”

“Shut your mouth. And get your hands off her!” Gabrithon said, snatching me from the brute’s unforgiving grip.

“Oh, the colt is trying to be a stallion now, ooh,” the Centaur holding Elthinor taunted.

Gabrithon squeezed my shoulders, warning me not to respond. It was just in time, too, as I had a comeback on the tip of my tongue.

“She is mine to protect, now leave her be. If you don’t, she has my full permission to make you leave her be,” my Centaurian friend said sternly.

All the Centaurs laughed at that. “She couldn’t do anything,” the first one said, his voice full of superiority. “She’s a girl, or haven’t you noticed.”

“I have, but you don’t know what that girl is capable of.”

They laughed again and made us gather all we had. When I belted on a sword and swung my quiver and bow over my shoulders, they stared at me hard. Then we started out for Cyrene. We walked for several days, and they were not pleasant days. The Centaurs were rude and cruel to all of us, including their prince. I was very upset at that, but didn’t say anything. To Gabrithon’s credit, he held his head up high and walked regally in a way I hadn’t seen since he met Korvict. He really is a prince, I realized, he just doesn’t show it all the time.

We were getting close to the Centaurian capitol of Cyrene after a week. The Centaurs were gathered together, whispering. Pulling back, one said, “My young prince, do fancy losing a race like you lost races with your brothers?”

Without another word, they all took off. We began to run, too. I easily kept up with Gabrithon as we came up alongside the others. We dashed through the forest, ducking and weaving through trees. With a smile, Gabrithon pushed my shoulder from behind.

“Beat them, Filynora!” he shouted breathlessly.

I whooped and shot ahead, Gabrithon right behind me. I could hear the Centaurs’ cries of disbelief. I broke through the trees and found myself in the middle of a wide swath of dirt that looked sort of like a road. I stopped running, Gabrithon behind me, and Elthinor behind him. The Centaurs came out a second later, doubled over as best as a Centaur could be, gasping desperately for breath.

“I guess being with you has made me faster,” Gabrithon said to me in between pants.

“You have to keep up with her. She so ambitious that she’ll leave you behind if you don’t!” Elthinor laughed breathlessly.

Just when we were catching our breaths, Pinnathir and Jaiden came walking out, looking flushed.

“You are all insane,” Jaiden said blandly.

“Sorry, Jaiden,” I said. “I forget that you don’t run with me.”

“When do these two?” Pinnathir asked, gesturing at Gabrithon and Elthinor.

“While we were traveling, we would have little bursts of running. Then when we would stop for the night we’d race around to different points. We’d only do it around the middle of our long trips, though. We stopped after the Dwarf caves because of Valtrak.”

“We should really start that again,” Elthinor said.

“Shut up, all of you! Now, I don’t know how you did that little filly, but it is very unladylike to run like that,” said the meanest Centaur as he grabbed me roughly. “Now, tell us how you did that and I might let you go.”

“You will let her go now!” Gabrithon boomed.

“Shut up, you pathetic prince,” the Centaur sneered as two of them moved to restrain him.

“I’m a Strangeling,” I said cautiously.

“What is that?”

“I’m half Human and half Elf.”

“Liar,” he snarled then began putting pressure on my arm as if he wanted to break it. “Tell me the truth.”

“She’s telling you the truth!” Elthinor yelled, racing forward to try and stop him. He was snatched up.

“No she’s not. Where are her designs?”

I quickly focused and my designs tingled to life. He didn’t stop the pressure and just grinned. He wasn’t going to stop. He wanted to hurt me to hurt Gabrithon. I grew angry and pulled my knife, then plunged it through his arm. Literally. He screamed and released me, groping for the handle of the knife. Gabrithon burst from the two Centaurs’ grips and wrested the arm with the knife down so I could pull it out. The wounded Centaur held his arm gingerly as blood gushed from the injury. I heard murmuring and noticed that we’d drawn a crowd.

“You wretched abomination,” he growled, his voice quivering with pain. “How dare you strike a stallion?”

“I gave her permission to do that,” Gabrithon said with a nod, shoving the aggressor back. “Remember? Or is your memory as dull as the rest of your mind?” Turning, he gestured for us to follow. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we shall be going to the caves of the king.”

“Caves?” I asked as we left. “I thought you used those strange tent-like dwellings.”

“They’re called pavilions. Most Centaurs do live in only those, and they can vary in size. The king’s pavilion is big, and it runs back into a large system of caves that are perfect for Centaurs. There are rooms and hallways running far down into the ground. It’s quite nice.”

“Sounds like a Dwarf house,” Elthinor said.

Gabrithon stopped. “I suppose it does,” he said, chuckling softly. “Just don’t tell my father. Or any Centaur for that matter. They would be angry at a suggestion like that.”

We wound our way through pavilions of all sorts and colors to one of black and grey. Gabrithon stopped outside it and talked to one of the guards posted to either side of the entrance. The guard walked inside while we waited. Gabrithon turned and pressed his hands on my shoulders.

“Filynora, you must behave. Promise me you will behave. You have to.”

“Gabrithon, I’m not going to promise that. I can break it too easily. I shall try, but that’s as far as I’ll go,” I replied.

Gabrithon grimaced and dropped his hands. “I truly appreciate your honesty, but I have a feeling we’re going to be in trouble.”

“Hey Gabrithon, what’s with all the carrots?” Pinnathir asked, leaning down.

“We love them. They are a delicacy to us. But as we cannot reach them without a special tool, which doesn’t work very well, we plant a lot and only get a meager harvest.”

“They look ready,” I said.

“How would you know?” Jaiden asked.

“I wasn’t just an Elemental keeper. I was a farmer, too.” I turned to Gabrithon. “Do you want one?”

He brightened. “Very much,” he said, taking a step forward.

I grabbed one and pulled up. The carrot came away with dirt on it, so I washed it in the small creek that ran beside the garden. As I handed it to my Centaurian friend, he smiled and gratefully took it, immediately taking a big bite out of it.

“Isn’t it ironic that horses like carrots, too?” Jaiden asked.

Gabrithon frowned. “We’re much better than any horses. We can talk,” he said with his mouth full.

“Not always a good thing,” Elthinor teased.

Gabrithon hit him in the face with his tail. “Shut up, limbless tree,” he said with a grin.

Elthinor tried to steal the carrot from our friend, but he simply held it high above the Elf’s head, wiggling it tauntingly.

“What’s the matter, dead wood?” he laughed. “Too short?”

“At least I’m not just full of air!” Elthinor shot back.

“Oh, how original!” Gabrithon said, crunching on the carrot again.

“How did you get that?” a male voice asked.

“Filynora pulled it up for me,”

There were two Centaurs standing there, both chestnut colored. They were of equal height and looked very similar, though there were a few differences in their faces. The one with the higher cheeks walked down the gentle incline and stood in front of Gabrithon.

“Who is Filynora?”

“That would be me,” I said cautiously.

“Your female is quite bold,” the other Centaur said.

“Who are these Centaurs, Gabrithon?” Pinnathir asked, looking up at them.

“These are my twin brothers, Marwon and Orodon,” was the reply, gesturing at one then the other.

“Nice to meet you,” Elthinor said, bowing low.

“Why did you bring such rabble to our city?” Orodon demanded.

“We need to discuss a matter of war,” Gabrithon said.

“Oh, like the last matter of war?” Orodon scoffed.

“Yes, the one where you send our Centaurs to attack the Dwarves, only to disappear afterwards,” Marwon said with a snort.

Gabrithon snorted, too. “I had my reasons.”

“What were they? To go around with this group of misfits?”

“Yes,” was the reply, rather harsh.

“How ridiculous,” Orodon snapped.

“You’re ridiculous,” I muttered.

The twins looked at me sharply. Orodon walked up and stood in front of me. I wasn’t afraid, though my hand went to my knife. I didn’t trust these Centaurs. Not one little bit. He scrutinized me.

“You are too bold. You meet our eyes and talk out of turn,” he said.

I didn’t lower my eyes from his. I heard Gabrithon sigh. When Orodon reached for me rather suddenly, I drew my knife. Before he could touch me, Gabrithon had grabbed his arm and thrown him rather violently away from me. Orodon took several steps back and stared at his brother with shock written all over his face.

“Well, you’ve certainly become a stallion now, haven’t you?” Marwon asked, a note of derision in his voice.

Orodon stared intently at him. “You’ve changed,” he stated slowly. “There’s something more…stallion-esque about you, really and truly there is. You’ve grown up, little brother. I never thought I’d see that.”

Gabrithon looked his brother over, looking for teasing or taunting. He found none.

“Our journey has been long and difficult. I know what matters now, and I know our ways are not the best.”

“Oh really?” asked a scathing voice.

“Father!” Gabrithon gasped.

He placed his right hand across his chest with his hand balled into a fist then bowed as low as he could. He looked at me and mouthed, “Do this.” So I did. Our friends followed suit.

“Rise,” the black stallion said.

When we came up, I looked him over. He was taller than Gabrithon by about six inches. That had to make him eight feet tall. He had a stronger, bulkier build than his golden colored son, and there was no kindness in his stern face. He walked over to his son, and I could sense how nervous Gabrithon suddenly was, though there was no trace of it in his posture or face. I watched them carefully as the king looked over his son. The black one suddenly snorted.

“Your brother was right. You have changed.” He paused. “But you’ve changed in all the wrong ways.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, father,” Gabrithon said tonelessly.

“Don’t worry, Gabrithon. He expects disappointment from you by now,” said another chestnut stallion coming up behind the king.

“Hello Hithaeron,” my friend said.

Hithaeron didn’t grace him with a response. “Father, why are these vagabonds even here?”

“They say they come for war, father,” Orodon said, smiling contemptuously.

“War? But the Dwarves have given us no trouble.”

“Not against the Dwarves, your majesty, but against the Dark Ones’ minions.”

“Dark Ones?” Marwon asked. “What is a Dark One?”

“They are evil creatures, fallen angels with physical forms. They are the most powerful creatures in this world,” I said.

“You need to teach your female some manners,” the king said harshly.

“You need to-” I started angrily, but Elthinor slapped a hand over my mouth.

“Stop it!” the Elf hissed in my ear. I elbowed him in the ribs and he grimaced, but didn’t dare make a noise; it was considered weak for a male to sound out his pain, and Gabrithon had warned them not to.

“She needs some more training,” Hithaeron said. “I suggest you work on that.”

Elthinor had removed his hand from my mouth, and I was sorely tempted to say something mean back to him. But, I thought suddenly, to them it wasn’t mean. It was a fact of life. I wondered if there was any way to change that. The king looked over our little group and snorted.

“You all are filthy. Go clean up.” The conversation was over.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 29

Winter passed us by swiftly. I watched with a farmer’s practiced eye for the first day of spring. The feeling in the air was growing, and I began pushing everybody to get ready. Elthinor told me again and again that winter was going to be late this year, but I knew better. Sure enough, warmth flooded the world and I stood outside Elthinor’s tent.

“I told you so,” I said as Elthinor stepped out, his shirt in his hands. He was barefoot, too.

“Fine, fine, you were right,” he said, waving a hand.

He walked past me and I looked at his back. The angry red lines had receded to pale markings. They were mars in his designs, though the colors were still there. I wondered if the scars would remain there or if they would fade to nothing. Without really thinking, I walked over to him, reaching out and tracing one. Elthinor jolted and turned to look at me.

“Fily?” he asked.

“Does it still hurt?” I asked, tracing another one.

“Sometimes, but I think the pain is in my head.”

“I’m sorry,” I said softly.

“It’s all in the past.” He stayed very still as I traced each scar. When I had traced the last one, he spun around and grabbed my hands. “Do you still find my back as beautiful as you used to?”

It was an odd question, but one I answered automatically. “Yes, I do. Scarred doesn’t mean ugly, Elthinor.”

“What wise words from…” he trailed off, searching my face.

“From a girl?” I asked bitterly.

“No, from one so young. You actually sound like Valtrak. And my grandfather.”

“Oh. Why are you so nice to me, Elthinor?” I asked, trying to shy away. “I know I’m strange. My very race has that word in it. Why do you bother with me?”

“Because you are you, Filynora. You’re kind and sweet, when you aren’t killing something, but even then you do it with such ferocity and grace. You are extremely amazing. I’m glad I met you. I sincerely am.”

I blushed as that mysterious look appeared in his eyes again, along with an enigmatic smile. He leaned forward and gently pecked my cheek. I blushed harder at that and he opened his mouth to say something when there was a shout.

“Filynora! You must come see…this,” Laetitia stopped. “Am I interrupting something?”

I stared at her dumbly for a few moments. “I don’t think you were,” I said, shaking my head.

“What is it?” Elthinor asked, slipping his shirt on.

“Oh, nothing. Go back to what you were doing.”

I glanced over at Elthinor and he looked a little embarrassed. What had we been doing? Elthinor’s eyes were shy again, like they had been long ago when we first met. I was thoroughly confused, and Laetitia looked between the two of us. She finally sighed.

“Well, I was just going to say that Melanari and I found the perfect dress for you to wear to the spring celebration tonight.”

Laetitia had met Melanari during the long winter and together they had agreed to make my life miserable. They constantly wanted to dress me up and make me look pretty. It was rather irritating.

“I’m not wearing a dress to any celebration,” I said. “We are getting ready to leave in three days.”

“Three days, eh?” Elthinor asked.

“Yes,” I said with a nod. “We need to get to the Centaurs as fast as we can so we can get this war over with.”

“We might all die horribly in this war, you do know that right?” Laetitia suddenly asked.

“Only if that’s what God wants,” I replied.

“You and that God of yours. Why do you even bother?”

“Because He bothered for us.”

“How?”

“He became one of us in the man called Jesiah.”

“Then where did this Jesiah go?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Then how can you have faith? There’s no proof.”

“Faith doesn’t need proof. That’s why it’s faith.”

Laetitia stared at me then shook her head. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand you.”

“Tell me Laetitia, in your worship of the great Faun, your goddess, what proof do you have?”

“She blesses the females with fertility.”

“I ask again, where’s your proof?”

“The fertility is proof.”

“No it isn’t,” Gabrithon said as he came out of his Centaurian tent. “Fertility is something that is or isn’t. You cannot show me one little thing that proves that she is the one that controls that sort of thing. It is the same thing with my culture’s version of the great stallion. He supposedly provides virility, and if you aren’t in his favor, you won’t have any. You have just as little proof as Filynora does, maybe less. She at least has the scrolls to back her up.”

Laetitia looked angry. “Shut up. Who says that you’re right?”

“I just believe in the scrolls, Laetitia,” I said defensively. “They are truth. They say they’re the truth.”

“That doesn’t make them true. It makes you think what the writers want you to think. What do you say to that?” the princess snapped.

“What if those writers were inspired by God?” Elthinor countered.

“But how do you know?

“You just have to have faith, my princess,” Pinnathir said, coming out of the tent.

She just stood there and stared, unsure of what else to say. Finally she stirred. “I need to leave.”

“Laetitia,” I began, but she gave me a dark look. “Just shut up, Filynora.”

As she walked away, I was left staring after her, confused. She had never done that before. She had seemed a little hostile, which was completely against her personality. What had triggered that? My father walked up to me, and leaned his face down in front of mine.

“Filynora, are you alright?”

I explained what happened then said, “Why did she do it, I wonder?”

My father’s eyes were knowing. “It is the message, of course.”

“Message?”

“Of Jesiah. It tends to go against the grain for most people. It is uncomfortable at the least and rage inducing at the most.”

“Why?”

“Because of the message of sin. Have you told her about that?”

“Yes, a while back.”

“Well, she is being convicted and doesn’t like it. She doesn’t want to change her ways, her lifestyle, so she denies that what you say is true, even though deep down she knows it is. And when you continue to tell her about and support your beliefs, she gets defensive and angry. It’s happened many, many times to me. More times than I could count. Some of them are not as calm as Laetitia was. I’ve been struck by both males and females before. Others just shout about how their ideas are right. The priests for the races are the worst. They tell me how I’m going to their version of Hell then try to explain away the holes in their religion. The fact that they even have a version of Hell points to how the true story lives on, even in fragments.”

“I don’t understand. What are priests?”

“They are people who perform sacred rituals specific to their particular religion. Religion is their belief system. Priests are in charge of rites and sacrifices, and also try to appease the gods or goddesses when they are perceived to be angry.”

“Oh,” I said then looked down. “Do people hurt you like that often?”

“It’s called persecution, daughter of mine,” Elyosius replied. “It’s not fun, but something a good Jesite must face if he or she truly does what Jesiah said to do.”

“What did he say to do?”

My father suddenly looked embarrassed. “He said to go out and preach the Good News to all. But I don’t know exactly what that Good News is. It’s part of the missing story.”

“That’s alright,” I said, pressing my hand on his shoulder. He smiled.

“You are kind, daughter.”

“What did you come here for, sir?” Elthinor asked.

Sir? I thought. Where did that come from?

“Don’t call me sir unless you’re my son-in-law,” my father teased.

Elthinor’s eyes suddenly sharpened and they stared at each other. I arched an eyebrow and Valtrak tapped my wrist. I looked down in surprise; I hadn’t seen him come out of the tent. I leaned down and he chuckled.

“This is amusing, no?”

“What’s going on?” Valtrak stared at me, analyzing my face. “What?” I asked.

“You really don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“I knew it!” Gabrithon said, coming up and placing his hands on my shoulders.

“Shut up, mule,” Valtrak grumbled.

“What is it I don’t know?” I demanded.

They glanced at each other then avoided looking at me.

“Filynora, it isn’t our place to tell you,” Valtrak said slowly.

I thought about arguing then dropped it, figuring that it was a male thing. “Fine.”

Elthinor and my father were staring at me.

“You have quite the challenge ahead of you, my boy,” Elyosius said then turned and left.

Elthinor clapped his hands together suddenly. “Well, let’s get packing.”

I stared at him as my friends all began moving around and gathering up supplies. I couldn’t help but wonder what the big secret was. Oh well.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 28

The Satyrs arrived just before winter. Laetitia embraced me, while Jestyn looked as if he was in a foul mood. I hurried away without a word and came back with Eilidh, Pinnathir right behind her. I stood her in front of the king and he stopped and looked the Faun over. She had black hair and no stripe and her eyes were brown. Her horns were dainty and graceful.

“Who is this?”

I smiled kindly. “This is your daughter Eilidh.”

His eyes dashed to me and he grew angry. “How dare you joke about that? My daughter is dead!”

“You used to sing a little song to me and Onarir when we were little. They were about twinkling stars and sparkling lakes with colorful fish who could talk,” Eilidh said.

Jestyn slowly gripped her shoulders and stared into her eyes. “Eilidh?” he asked, his face softening. “My daughter!”

He embraced her, holding her tight. Miyana, who had been beside Jestyn the whole time, stroked her hair and smiled gratefully at me.

“Where’s Onarir?” Miyana asked as they pulled away.

Eilidh flinched and looked away. “The Vampires took him. He never came back.”

The king and queen of the Satyrs didn’t bother to hide their tears, but they were mixed tears, tears of joy beside tears of sorrow. I watched for a moment then turned and walked back to where Jairus was standing. Aloron and my father were beside him along with my friends, plus Lolaiken and Korvict. When the Satyrs had finished reuniting, Jestyn wiped his eyes then strode forward, staring distastefully at the Elven king. He stopped first in front of the Dwarf.

“Greetings from my Dwarves and may you be in good health, Satyr king,” Korvict said, bowing low.

“The Satyrs wish you the same,” Jestyn said lightly, then turned and glared at the Elf. “What say you, limbless tree?”

Lolaiken stayed calm. “I wish you a long life and hope we may be friends,” he said; I could almost see the insult hovering on his tongue, but he swallowed it.

Jestyn’s eyes narrowed and he stared hard at the Elf. Then he turned to look at Jairus, who had stepped forward.

“I am Jairus,” he said, bowing low. “I am the leader of this growing city. I welcome you on behalf of the Humans.”

Jestyn did not thank him. “You aren’t half monster, I mean Elf, like that girl over there are you?”

“No,” Jairus said, turning to look at me curiously.

“Thank you for the welcome. Just keep her and those blasted Elves away from me.”

“Father!” Laetitia and Eilidh exclaimed at the same time.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Filynora,” Eilidh continued, sounding a little angry. “She rescued all of the slaves from the real monsters! And those monsters have fangs and claws, and they can drag you screaming into the dark and do things to you. Horrible things! Things you’ll remember until you die a hopeless, probably violent death at their hands! So stop calling Elves monsters! You don’t know what a monster really is! And don’t hate Filynora, thank her. She saved me when you couldn’t!”

Jestyn stared at his daughter. “Eilidh, I-I’m sorry. Please don’t be upset.”

“I shall be upset,” she said, stomping her hoof. “You don’t know what you speak of, yet you speak with confidence. That is something I cannot tolerate.”

She flounced away, leaving us all staring after her.

“Well, we know where she got that from,” I said.

“Probably those creatures that had her locked up,” Jestyn mumbled.

“No dear, I don’t think that’s what Filynora meant,” Miyana said.

“Well then what did she mean?”

“Sire, she was acting like you do,” Pinnathir said, still staring off after her.

“Me? When do I act like that?”

“You acted like that in Stonemere after the Vampires and Naga attacked,” I said blandly.

Jestyn paused. “I don’t act like that,” he said and turned to Jairus as Lolaiken bit his lip, in all likelihood to keep from laughing. “Where do we stay?”

“Elves have settled to the east, Dwarves to the south,” Jairus replied.

“Then we shall take the west,” Jestyn said and was about to turn away when my father dashed forward and grabbed his arm. The Satyr jumped. “Get off of me, Elf!”

“Your men,” Elyosius said. “They each have two swords belted at their waists, along with their spears. Why?”

Jestyn turned and looked over his army. “I just decided to bring them. We emptied the armories. Laetitia said it would be a very difficult war to win. We wanted extra swords for those who don’t have them.”

“Like Humans?”

“Humans? Yes. Why?”

“I’d say God just answered my prayer,” Elyosius said, releasing the Satyr. “Once you get settled, please come find me. We need to equip the Humans, the ones ready for them at least, with swords.”

Jestyn stared at my father, looking him up and down. “You’re different from other Elves,” he said then gestured at Aloron. “And so is that one over there.”

“We just try to follow God as well as we know how,” Aloron said, inclining his head.

“Maybe that is the difference.” He looked thoughtful for a moment then shook it off. “Well, let’s go,” he said to Miyana. Laetitia didn’t follow, choosing instead to stay with us. She sighed as the Satyrs passed and slumped her shoulders.

“How did you do it twice?” she asked.

“Do what twice?” Elthinor asked, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing lightly to comfort her.

She turned and looked at him. “Help decide a race to go to war. Father was stubborn and angry the whole time. Every time I presented an argument, he ignored in, and so all of the Satyrs who wanted to be on his good side, ignored it, too. I still have a headache.”

Elthinor placed his hands on her shoulders. “I don’t know Laetitia. We just took it one day at a time. The Dwarves were much worse than the Elves.”

“We were not!” Korvict suddenly exclaimed, hurrying up to us.

“Yes, my king, you were,” Valtrak said, chuckling softly. “The Elves were much more respectful about it. They did not shout endlessly, trying to have one opinion heard over another, but heard every one of the gathered Elves, and us, in turn.”

“Ha! Sounds like Dwarves are quite uncouth,” Lolaiken said with a smile.

Korvict frowned. “And I suppose you consider yourself couth?”

“Why, yes. Yes I do.”

“A couth creature knows when he should shut up, like young Elthinor over there. Besides, you have done battle as much as we Dwarves have. And even you must agree that battle is not couth.”

Lolaiken looked stunned at that. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “Battle is the epitome of uncouthness. I had never thought of that before.”

The Dwarf nodded sharply and I suddenly noticed something. “Where are your guards?”

“They have finally left me alone.”

“Why?”

Korvict grinned. “I reassigned them to battle training. I gave the annoying ones the younger Dwarves.”

I laughed. “Well that’s one way to solve that problem.”

“Indeed,” he said.

“Guards? Like the ones that guard our gate?” Lolaiken asked, stepping closer to the Dwarf king.

“I suppose.”

“Why did they guard you? Do they not trust your subjects?”

“It wasn’t my subjects they didn’t trust. It was them,” Korvict said, gesturing at me and my friends. “And then they brought a Centaur to the caves, though he stayed on the surface.”

“The guards at Starrydale aren’t nearly as paranoid.”

“Maybe not about you, but they were paranoid against Satyrs,” Pinnathir said. “They shot at us as soon as we were in range.”

Lolaiken sighed. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Well, they didn’t kill me, so it’s fine.”

Laetitia had watched and listened to all of this without a word. She looked exhausted. I touched her lightly, jerking her out of her daze.

“What?” she asked.

“You need a hot meal and some sleep,” I said sternly, then turned to Elthinor. “Mother, would you come and help me?”

Gabrithon roared in laughter, and Valtrak, Jaiden, and Pinnathir chortled. Elthinor glared at me.

“Not funny,” he groused.

“I’m afraid we’re not in on the joke,” Lolaiken said, gesturing to himself and Korvict.

As Gabrithon cheerfully began explaining how Elthinor liked to mother me when I was injured, my Elven friend and I took Laetitia to Leah’s. Leah prepared a plate of chicken, rice, and beans. I began to eat the chicken when Laetitia tentatively poked me.

“Yes?”

“I know this is going to sound odd, but may I try some?”

“Certainly,” I said, holding the meat out.

She took a small bite and chewed it thoughtfully. “It does not have the texture of fish.”

“That’s because it is chicken,” I replied.

She took another bite. “It isn’t bad,” she said. “Mind if I have the rest?”

“Not at all. I just didn’t want it to waste.”

“Why don’t Satyrs eat meat?”

“We are part goat. That is an animal. Animals are made of meat.”

“I see no problems with eating meat as long as you don’t eat goats,” Elthinor said.

Laetitia shrugged and finished off her meal. I was taking her to my tents when Miyana stopped us. The queen then led us to where the Satyrs had set up.

“What do you think?” Miyana asked, gesturing at a rather large red tent.

“I think I’m ready to collapse,” Laetitia said with a yawn.

“Well, the inside’s not ready yet,” Miyana said.

“I was taking her to my tent. It’s away from the hustle and bustle of this place.”

“Very well. Carry on.”

When I had settled her into my bedroll and bid her to have a good rest, I walked out to find my friends gathered together. I gestured them to be quiet.

“We have all winter to rest,” Valtrak said. “We need to make good use of the time.”

We need to start pitting the soldiers against each other in different ways,” Elthinor said. “So they’ll get used to various styles of fighting.”

“We should get the kings together to discuss strategy,” Gabrithon said.

“We need to start rationing food. Mother says we’ll bleed the town dry otherwise,” Jaiden said darkly.

I listened to their different ideas, but my attention was focused on the Centaurs. I knew they were as bad as Gabrithon said, because I knew Gabrithon back before he respected me. He told me once that he only did that to fit in. I was scared of the ones who already did, because they would be much, much worse.

 

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