Here’s the original sketch I had of Valtrak. As you can see, I had Elves and Dwarves pitted against each other, as they have been since Lord of the Rings. I eventually changed this to Elves vs. Satyrs and Dwarves vs. Centaurs just to switch it up. This is what Valtrak was before he fleshed out into the character that he is now.
I floundered desperately, trying to break the surface of the river for air. Every time I did manage to get my head above the water, I was pushed back under immediately. Suddenly I stopped panicking. I was going to die, and it didn’t scare me. Elthinor’s voice faded from my ears and my vision was edged with black. Everything was fading when a strong hand grabbed my shirt and pulled me out.
I must’ve blacked out because when I came to, those same strong hands were forcing water out of my lungs. My throat burned fiercely as I turned and vomited up the last of the water. I lay on my side, gasping in fresh air. When my body stopped fighting me I turned to thank Elthinor. Only, it wasn’t Elthinor that stared back at me.
A short, stocky man was staring at me, his eyes golden brown. He had a long beard that was almost the same color as his eyes. He wore rough clothes, all shades of brown. Beside him was a strange looking tool covered in dust. He continued to stare at me for a while, and I just stared back, not quite sure what to make of him. I was surprised when he spoke.
“Are you a girl?” he asked quietly, his voice deep and gravelly.
I blinked then frowned angrily. “Of course I’m a girl!” I croaked, my voice lower than usual because of my raw throat.
“You look like a boy.”
I would have gotten on to him if I hadn’t been trying to look like a boy. Instead I sighed and flopped back down, covering my eyes with my arm. Everything ached.
“Thank you for saving me,” I muttered.
“You’re welcome. You’re lucky it’s my break,” he said absently. “I have a question. Why aren’t you home taking care of your husband?”
My face turned red and the man looked a bit unsure. I was about to yell his ears off when a frantic voice called out.
“Elthinor!” I gasped, forcing myself up. Ignoring the burn in my throat, I began to shout. “Elthinor! I’m over here!”
I heard him shoving through the woods, not caring for once if he made noise. I knew he must be frantic. He probably thought I was dead.
“Oh, is that your husband?”
“He’s not my-!” I began when Elthinor burst into the clearing, saw me, and embraced me.
“Filynora! Filynora! You’re alive! Oh you had me worried, dear one!” he cried, tears gleaming on his cheeks.
“I’m fine,” I laughed, hugging him back.
“How? The current is so strong! I could barely get back out!”
“That man over there saved me,” I said, pointing. I caught the man’s expression and found him glaring at Elthinor. “What’s the matter?”
Elthinor looked at him and let out a shout, dragging me behind him as he pulled out his knife. “How dare you touch her, you evil little child?!”
“You travel with a human, tree demon?! You must have her hypnotized!”
“Hey! What’s the matter with you?” I demanded, grabbing the Elf’s wrist. “He saved me, Elthinor! This man saved me!”
“He’s no man, Filynora! He’s a Dwarf! They’re demented children interested only in shiny things!”
“You’re one to talk! All Elves are carefree demons who terrorize my people!”
I stood back and watched as they called each other terrible names, my mouth hanging open slightly. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Or my ears. Elthinor had always been kind, even if he was a little distant at times, and to see him angry and cursing at the Dwarf who saved my life was bizarre. Even if the Dwarf had insulted me twice, I didn’t think it was fair for him to be cursed at. At the same time, I didn’t like that the Dwarf was cursing my friend.
I walked up to stand in between them, but I was immediately pushed aside. I growled and shoved Elthinor as hard as I could. He yelped and stumbled, falling into the mud on the riverbank. The Dwarf laughed meanly and I turned and slapped him hard. He stopped laughing and pressed his hand to his cheek, obviously shocked that I’d hit him. I glared at him and slapped him again.
“You-You hit me!” he gasped. “Why?”
“The first one was for arguing with my friend. The second one was for insulting me.”
“How did I insult you?!”
“You told me what I should be doing. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean every male gets to tell me what to do.”
“Ha! Not the smartest thing to say to her,” Elthinor crowed in joy.
“Do I have to remind you that you did the same thing when we met?”
Elthinor looked properly chastised and the Dwarf looked a bit angry, but seemed to concede. They both were obviously embarrassed about their actions, probably their words, too. I’ve discovered that most males find it improper to curse in front of the ‘delicate’ sex. Sure enough, Elthinor began to apologize.
“I’m sorry, Filynora,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry you had to hear that. I don’t really know what I was thinking.”
The Dwarf nodded, refusing to look at me. “Sorry for the language, miss.”
“It’s fine. I’ve heard worse,” I said. “But I don’t want you fighting. The Dwarf saved my life, Elthinor. And you, um…”
“Valtrak,” the Dwarf supplied.
“Valtrak, Elthinor is my friend. So stop fighting and get along.”
“Why should I listen to a girl?!” Valtrak demanded harshly.
I narrowed my eyes and whistled. Immediately Ember burst from the trees where he’d been hiding and bounded over to stand at my side. The Dwarf looked like he was going to run. He backed up and tripped over his tool, shaking like a leaf in a wind.
“D-D-Deathbringer!” he shrieked. “Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me! I’ll listen! I’ll listen!”
I stared at him for a moment then turned to Elthinor. “Does every race have a different name for them?”
“I wouldn’t know. We Elves keep to ourselves. In fact, all the races keep to themselves,” he said, trying to wipe the mud off his pants.
I turned back to the Dwarf. “This is Ember. He’s mine and he listens to me. He won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me or my Elf friend.”
“I don’t have time to hurt you. I-I have to get back to work,” Valtrak stammered, grabbing his tool and running off as fast as he could.
I watched him run and frowned. I liked the Dwarf, as gruff as he seemed. He was almost the exact opposite of Elthinor and it interested me. I wished he’d stayed. Elthinor must have known what I was thinking and didn’t comment on the Dwarf as he began cleaning the clearing, realizing that I was too tired to keep walking today.
I just sat beside the river, thinking on the Dwarf. I smiled suddenly, knowing without a doubt in my mind he’d be back. The feeling I got when I looked at him was the same I had with Elthinor. He belonged with us. I don’t know why, but we belonged together.
When darkness began to fall, I finally moved to gather wood. Elthinor was pulling bread out of his bag. I couldn’t help but frown. I was getting sick of nothing but bread. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the food, but bread just got repetitive. If we couldn’t get meat tomorrow, I’d go looking for berries to add to the bread. A rustle in the bushes had Elthinor pulling his knife. I just smiled.
“Come on out, Valtrak,” I said smugly. “We’re just about to eat.”
The Dwarf walked hesitantly out of the bushes, eyeing the knife warily. He reached into his bag and pulled out two cloth-wrapped lumps. He tossed one to Elthinor, refusing to get too close, and handed me the other. I raised my eyebrows and unwrapped it, giving out a delighted cry when I saw it was dried meat. I embraced the Dwarf, who gasped in surprise and stood stiffly until I pulled back.
“I was just thinking how nice meat would be! Thank you!” I said happily, tearing off a chunk and chewing it with delight.
Elthinor wasn’t about to give the Dwarf bread, so I broke off some of mine and gave it to him. He took it and chewed it thoughtfully, staring into the fire and not looking up. He seemed uncomfortable, as did Elthinor, but I was completely at ease. This time I wasn’t bothered by the seeming familiarity I had with this stranger. Elthinor broke the silence, his eyes boring angrily into the newcomer.
“What are you doing here?”
The Dwarf shifted under Elthinor’s sharp gaze. “I don’t know,” he admitted in a low voice. “I just had to come back.”
“You’re welcome to be here,” I said cheerfully, my eyes daring Elthinor to protest. He didn’t.
Valtrak looked at me and smiled. “Thanks.” There was silence for a while. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for my mother, and Elthinor is accompanying me,” I replied.
“Your mother? Isn’t she with-” he cut off abruptly.
“Say it,” the Elf murmured, his eyes sparkling with glee.
The Dwarf wisely rephrased what he was going to say. “Where is she?”
“The Aswangs took her.” The Dwarf shuddered in fear. “So you know them?”
“I know of them,” Valtrak said, his voice quivering. “Our fires burn constantly if they are seen anywhere near our towns.”