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