I Am the Way: Chapter 11

I was standing on the edge of a canyon, far enough back to feel safe, but close enough to know that it was a long way down. My eyes were drawn to two figures standing out on the edge of the adjacent cliff. They were dark grey and as I noticed them, they launched into the air, heading toward me, but they stopped over the canyon. I cried out when I saw who they held between them: my mother.

“Silly child,” the taller Aswang said as they dangled my mother over the gaping tear in the earth. “We believed you were self-sacrificing.”

The shorter Aswang laughed as, for the first time, I heard a name to match with the creature. “Tikujar, I do believe that she is afraid of us. Mayhap that is why she has not left the Elf village yet.”

“What do you say, Rattuin, should we show her just what our warning meant?” Tikujar crooned, making me sick with the false affection in her voice.

“Oh let’s,” Rattuin answered, her eyes gleaming.

I screamed in horror as they dropped my mother and she fell down, down, down into the darkness. I screamed louder as they dove toward me, fangs bared—

“Filynora! Filynora wake up!”

I sat up with a yell, lashing out at the voice. There was a yelp of surprise and a thud. I shook my head violently. I knew that voice; it wasn’t one of the Aswangs. I looked around, breathing heavily. I was no longer on a cliff. I was back in Ellavendir in Elthinor’s room. Said room was lit by a candle held by Aloron and he, Gilronin, and Selaniam were standing over me. Elthinor was on the floor, looking up at me with concerned eyes even as he rubbed his right cheek.

“What happened?” I asked, my heart pounding.

Amused, Aloron spoke calmly. “You just punched Elthinor after coming out of a nightmare.”

“This is no laughing matter, Aloron!” Gilronin snapped. “She scared Melanari!”

“What was so terrible that you had to scream like that?” Elthinor asked as he stood up.

I shook my lowered head. “I can’t remember,” I lied smoothly.

“Well, don’t let it happen again,” Gilronin growled, leaving the room.

“Oh you poor dear,” Selaniam crooned as she stroked my hair. “Let me get you some tea.”

Selaniam had realized a while ago that I was almost like an Elf in intelligence and deed. She had started to treat me as if I was her own daughter, which was nice, but a bit strange. She made me miss my own mother more and more each day. Once she hurried off to make tea, Elthinor and Aloron were the only two people left in the room. They stared at me, knowing I had lied about the nightmare.

“What happened?” Elthinor asked gently.

I answered without hesitation, knowing I could trust them. “My mother. They are still threatening my mother. She is not dead yet, but if I don’t follow them soon, she will be.”

“Oh, Fily,” Elthinor sighed, reaching over to press a hand against my shoulder to offer comfort. “It will be all right. Somehow, it will be.”

Before I could respond, Selaniam came back in with piping hot tea. I drank it to get her to leave, scalding my mouth in the process, then settled back and pretended I had not. She made sure I was comfortable before kissing my forehead and leaving. She did try to get Aloron and Elthinor to leave too, but they decided to stay for a short while to comfort me. Aloron said a prayer for me then mussed my hair affectionately. He left Elthinor with me with the condition that he leave in just a few minutes. We were silent for a moment after the older Elf left. Elthinor finally looked at me with sad eyes.

“Please, Filynora. Don’t do it. There must be another way. Let me think about it. Let me see if there is another way.”

“You have two days, Elthinor. Then I leave. Don’t tell anybody,” I said as I lay down, turning my face away from him. Our conversation was over.


Time was up. Elthinor had not given me an alternate plan, so I began packing food and some of Elthinor’s clothes that I had finished tailoring. I had found my pack and weapons hidden in Gilronin and Selaniam’s room. I had them at my side when there was a knock at the door. I shoved the pack and weapons under the bed, standing up, smoothing my dress and putting a smile on my face.

“Come in.”

The door opened and my smile became genuine when I saw Aloron. “Hello my dear. Am I interrupting anything?” he asked.

“No,” I lied, though I got no pleasure out of it. “I am just cleaning the room a little.”

The old Elf looked at me with wise eyes and a knowing smile crept onto his face. “I see. Well you have certainly done a good job.”

“Can I help you with something?” I asked shortly, shifting uncomfortably under his gaze.

“I have come to pay you the wages you have earned working for us,” Aloron said, handing me a bag of Elven money. “Gilronin would not be happy that I am paying you, but it is money I earned myself.”

I stared at the small bag in my hand then looked up at Aloron, shocked and touched. There was no doubt in my mind. He knew. I felt my eyes tear up. I embraced him, and he placed his arms around me to hold me gently.

“I saw greatness in you the moment we found you on that water horse,” he said softly. “I knew you would leave us when you got here, and I knew it would be for a good cause. Promise me something. Keep the beliefs we shared with you. Pray to God for strength in your journey. I am sure that it will be long and difficult, but you will find it leads to an amazing place.”

I stayed in his embrace for the duration of this speech then pulled back, wiping my eyes. I still didn’t like to cry, but it didn’t bother me at that moment. Mainly because it was Aloron. He was kind enough not to point it out, but he did push my hair back from my face.

“Thank you, Aloron,” I said sincerely. “I will miss you.”

“I will miss you, too, Filynora. Maybe I shall see you again in the future, but for now you must leave. Take my blessing with you.”

I teared up again. To have the blessing of such a wonderful Elf meant so much to me, so I told him as much. He smiled kindly, kissed my forehead, and turned to leave. I wiped my eyes and moved to finish packing, my heart full of joy and sorrow.


Late that night, when I was sure everybody was in bed, I slipped out of the house. I wore a set of Elthinor’s clothes turned mine with my own shoes, which were my only belongings the Elves had not thrown away when they brought me to Ellavendir. Running from the village, I was just entering the trees when a shadow moved at the edge of the forest. My bow and an arrow were at the ready without a thought. Elthinor stepped into the moonlight, the designs on his face glimmering, and I relaxed immediately.

“If you think I am going to let you go alone, you’re crazy,” he said with a warm smile.

I smiled and embraced him briefly, chuckling at the shocked look on his face. “Then we go together.”

“We must hurry. My father will try to catch us,” Elthinor said urgently.

I grinned, taking off at a light run with Elthinor catching up quickly. He seemed unaccustomed to running with a pack on though, so we soon slowed to a walk, but I did not mind. We walked through the darkened forest, the shadows bringing fears to the surface. I pressed close to Elthinor several times when I was frightened, and once I screamed and hid behind him when I saw a shadow move. He watched it for a moment before assuring me that it was only an owl eating its dinner. He seemed amused by my fear, teasing me a couple times.

The first occurrence was when we had paused to drink. I had just capped the water skin when I felt something lightly moving across my back. I shrieked, spinning around to see Elthinor’s shadowy form shaking with repressed laughter. The second time, we were hurrying along when he gave a shout and pushed me forward. Yelling, I scrambled up the tree I had landed against. His laughter made my cheeks burn with a blush. The third time, though, I got him back. He had growled like an animal, and when I panicked again, he laughed. So I slugged him across the face. We spent the next hour in awkward silence as he kept rubbing his sore jaw. He finally apologized sheepishly, and the silence following that was much more companionable.

By the time the sun was fully in the sky, my feet were sore, and I was exhausted. Elthinor seemed tired too, though he was holding up better. We stopped for breakfast, a small meal of an apple apiece and bread, then began again. We were trying to outrun Gilronin, who was a persistent Elf, Elthinor told me.  We had talked about it during the night, agreeing to travel either until the next evening or until we could go farther.

Now that there was light, my fears were alleviated, and I started pointing out things in the forest. I brought Elthinor’s attention to little details, like squirrels staring at us curiously, birds flitting around us, and brightly colored flowers peeking out of the green foliage and dead leaves on the forest floor. He seemed to be humoring me, but he grew interested when I casually mentioned my dream with the man in white.

“But if you think this forest is interesting, then you should have seen the one with man in white. There were flowers that looked like crystals and so many different colors. There were colors I had never seen before!”

“Man in white? The same one my grandfather and Eretren saw?” he asked curiously.

“I suppose so,” I said with a shrug.

“What was he like?”

“The first thought that comes to mind is that he seemed to be pure light contained in a Human body. He was more real than anything I have ever experienced. He had so much love in his eyes, his face, his being that it shone out of him with the light. It’s hard to describe, but being in front of him made me realize how I’m so…I think the word I’m looking for is impure.”


“I don’t know any other word for it. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be in his presence, yet he did not tell me to leave.” An idea popped into my head. “It was as if there was a barrier between us. It was like a chasm.”

“Was there any way across?” Elthinor asked.

I had to think hard on how it felt. What we were talking about had seemed instinctual, my understanding unquestioned until Elthinor asked about it. Now that I had been asked, I had to explain a feeling from a dream. Not only that, but it was not an ordinary dream. It felt more real than life felt, so it had not faded, but it was so hard to verbalize. I finally started talking, but the words surprised me.

“At first, there was no way across, though those who looked forward to the coming bridge were allowed across in some way. Then there came a carpenter who actually built the bridge. The bridge is crossable, but there is something you have to do to get to the other side. At one time how to get across was being taught across the land. However, there is almost no understanding left in people now about how to cross, but there is hope. The scrolls show us the way to get across the bridge. That is why we must find them. If people don’t cross the bridge, they try their own way to get across; but they inevitably fail and fall in, where they are swallowed by darkness and consumed by the fire that burns at the bottom of the pit.”

Elthinor and I had stopped walking, and he was gawking at me. I felt my cheeks warm at his shocked stare. He finally managed to speak again.

“How in the world do you know that?” he asked incredulously.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Elthinor shook his head as we started walking again. “Maybe it is a message from God,” he said, though I could tell he was being sarcastic. I, however, thought he had an excellent point, and it brought a smile to my face even as silence descended upon us again.

Around noon we stopped for a lunch of jerky before continuing to walk. We pushed ourselves, continuously aware of what we had to outrun. The forest was aflutter with small animals moving around us. Sometimes they startled me, so I would grab Elthinor’s arm. My jumpiness embarrassed me, but exhaustion seemed to make it worse. The thick trees meant it was impossible to see too far ahead, which did not help my nerves. When the sun finally set, which we only knew by the pure darkness around us, we stopped to set up camp, past exhaustion. We ate just enough to satisfy our hunger, got into our bedrolls, and fell asleep as soon as we were settled.

I was in the same red and black dress as the first time. Elthinor was sleeping beside me, his own clothes red and black, which stood out against the soft green grass. The man in white sat beside him, stroking his head and smiling lovingly. I looked around at the beautiful forest for a few moments, taking everything in with delight. Even if I didn’t understand them, I knew these dreams were special.

“He does not quite believe it yet. The only reason he is going on this journey is to keep you safe,” the man in white said softly.

I was just as disoriented about this as I was the first time, but now I believed that this was real. I also believed that somehow this man was tied in with God. My curiosity was piqued; I wanted to know more.

“Believe what, exactly?” I asked as I sat up.

“He does not quite believe in the Father. He is at the edge, his mind open, but he needs more to push him over.”

I was confused. “Your Father?”

He smiled. “You shall learn more on your journey, child.”

“Are you going to leave me with that?” I asked as the dream started melting; this one was even shorter than the last one.

“No. Continue east, dear one. When you reach the great river and can go no further, travel upstream.”

“What then?” I asked swiftly as he began to dissolve.

There was just another smile.

I woke to see the moon peeking through the leaves above us, which were rustling in the wind. After blearily watching the few visible stars for a few minutes, I fell back asleep. If I dreamed anymore that night, I did not remember it.




I Am the Way: Chapter 8

One morning, Elthinor decided to come along, and we walked to the market in silence; every time we were together in public, he would not talk or look at me. I didn’t mind. I understood all too well the pain of being different. The morning was cool thanks to the thick grey clouds covering the sun, and the village wasn’t buzzing with activity like it usually was. I was glad for the lack of crowds but uneasy. Something doesn’t feel right, I thought as we walked down the now familiar path to the marketplace.

We got to the market, and I was looking at some blueberries, trying to remember whether or not we needed some, when I smelled a musty scent, like that of great age, and I shuddered. Fear filled my heart, and I stopped breathing as I slowly turned. There was a shadow beside a house that was too deep. As soon as I directly looked at it, two pairs of sickly yellow eyes appeared, staring at me. The memory of the first time I saw those eyes overwhelmed me, and I screamed, dropping the basket and backing into the trader’s booth. All the Elves around us glared at me. Elthinor was by my side in an instant, grabbing my arm.

“What is it, Filynora? What’s wrong?” he demanded, his eyes staring into mine.

I did not have the chance to answer as a screech went up that made all the Elves cry out and look toward the noise. For the first time in my life, I saw the creatures that haunted some of my darkest nightmares. Their hair was pure black and stringy, framing narrow, dark grey faces twisted in anger that seemed permanent. They had fangs that were covered in green saliva that oozed down their chins. Their bodies were abnormally thin, like their bones were about to pop out of their skin. They were proved female by the look of their chests, which were covered by tattered black cloth that also wrapped around their waists. Giant bat-like wings sprouted menacingly from their backs and they flexed their claw-like fingers. Their presence caused an odd chill to fall, making the morning even cooler, and the smell of a decaying animal filled the air as they drew closer. But their most disturbing feature was their revolting yellow eyes, which glowed with a disturbing light. I saw fire burning behind those eyes. And they looked right at me.

“Come here, Strangeling!” the taller one hissed.

Elthinor’s eyes were wide and he grabbed my arm and began dragging me back to the house, raising a call: Enemies! Darkness! Fight! I ran beside him, and he practically threw me into the house. He was breathing heavily, his eyes wild with fright.

“Father! Grandfather!” he called. “Aswangs in the village!”

There was a scream of fear from Melanari as she and Selaniam, Elthinor’s mother, hurried into the room. The two Elf-men hurried in with swords. Aloron placed a hand on Elthinor’s shoulder when the lad came back in with his own sword.

“You three stay here,” Gilronin told us then they rushed out.

I ran to the window while the other two huddled back. Many Elves were out there, shouting at each other, trying to drive the creatures back. The Aswangs, as Elthinor had called them, were steadily making their way toward this house. Toward me. I looked back at the two Elf-lasses behind me and knew that they could not fight. I might not have ever had the chance to fight before, but I knew I could if I had to. I also knew I could not put these two Elves in danger just so I could pretend it wasn’t me they were after.

I turned and ran into Elthinor’s room, heading for his bow and arrows. The bow was heavier than I was used to and the quiver didn’t fit right, but I had no time to find my own; my new one had been confiscated, despite my intense objections. I was still displeased about it. As soon as the quiver was situated, I ran to the front door, but I was stopped by a pair of pale, delicate hands.

“Let go of me!” I exclaimed, turning to look at Melanari.

“You can’t go out there!” she said, her voice high with fear and her pink and purple eyes wide with terror. “We just need to stay in here. The males will take care of it! Females are not trained to fight! They are!”

“I have to go!” I growled and tore out of her grasp. “You are in danger and it is because of me.”

I ran outside and was immediately assaulted by somebody yelling for me to go back inside. I ignored him and ran through the village, away from our house. As soon as that thought ran through my head, I realized that my time in the Elven village made me feel like I had a home, but the thought quickly disappeared as I  climbed into a tree then skittered up on top of one of the bigger houses. I took a deep breath and whistled.

“Oy!” I shouted. “Here I am!”

All eyes suddenly turned to me, including the Aswangs’. The Elves were dismayed; I guess they were used to me and were ready to defend me. The Aswangs were pleased to see me. As they took off into the air, I quickly nocked an arrow, aimed, and fired. They were faster than I had anticipated. I struck the shorter one in her right shoulder and she shrieked in pain, but they kept coming. I slid off the roof of the house and ran, not having any idea what I was going to do. Along the outskirts of one side of Ellavendir that I had never been to before, I dove behind a boulder, quieting my breathing as much as I was able. I turned and peeked through a small slit in the boulder, watching the two creatures fly over the last house and pause.

“We know you are there, Strangeling,” one said in her scratchy voice.

“Yes, we can smell you!” the other Aswang laughed.

“Now come out like a good little Strangeling—”

“—so we may take you to our Masters for disposal.”

I shook my head. “No!”

“Then we shall—”

“—take you by force!”

I heard them shriek and watched them dive toward me. I closed my eyes, braced myself, stood, turned, and swiftly fired an arrow. They were higher in the air than I thought they would be, but I got the taller one through the foot; it froze and clawed at the arrow, crying out as it removed it. I ran again during their distraction, ducking back into the village. I turned a corner and nearly slammed into Elthinor. He grabbed me immediately even as recognition dawned on his face.

“What do you think you are doing?” he hissed as he pulled me against the house, and the roof overhang hid us as the Aswangs flew over us, searching for me.

“Protecting your mother and sister,” I whispered back. “They’re after me!”

“What?” he asked, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “Why would they be after you?”

Looking into his eyes and trying desperately to convince him of what I knew to be true, my voice trembled as I spoke. “I don’t know, but they are, Elthinor! They must be.”

Something in my demeanor seemed to convince him and he hurried me out to where I had been before. We went past the boulder, stopping in a small shadowed area surrounded by bushes and trees on three sides and a small, lonely building on the fourth. Above us was another overhung roof to shield us from the sky. He pulled me down and we crouched there breathing heavily.

“Now, why do you think they are after you?” he asked.

“I think they come to our farm every year. I-I have never actually seen them entirely before now, but those eyes…I saw them twice, and I would never forget those eyes. I think they are the creatures that dragged off my father years ago, and they may have taken my mother, too!”

Elthinor looked thoughtful for a moment. “All right. How did you keep them away all these years?”

“A bonfire,” I explained hurriedly. “They don’t like heat and light. That’s why they’re here today: the clouds are covering the sun.”

“Bonfire?” he asked. “I don’t see how we could…Wait a moment! The center of town! The marketplace! We can set the booths on fire!”

“How are we supposed to get there?” I asked. “They are watching for us from the sky!”

“We will have to run,” he said, sounding excited as his cheeks flushed. “We have to beat them. We can sneak through the Nature Beings’ enclosure! Follow me. Swiftly!”

He took off faster than I had ever seen any Human run and I followed. All of a sudden I got the rush I felt when hunting, and I felt a smile curl my lips even as I heard the shriek of the Aswangs spotting us. Elthinor leaped a tall wooden fence, much like the ones that had fenced in our Elementals, and I scrambled up and over, hitting the ground with a grunt. Elthinor pulled me to my feet and began leading me through a hilly area with sparse trees and a stream.

A familiar snippet of song stopped me in my tracks and I looked toward a tree to see Inferno chained to it. I stared at him as I realized that he must have followed me when I was on Rainstorm. Elthinor hurried back to grab my arm, but I shoved him away and took his sword out of the sheath. It was heavier than I had expected, but I ignored that and shattered the chain around the Phoenix’s leg. He squawked as he took off. Elthinor took his sword back and sheathed it again.

“What do you think you are doing?” he demanded, but I had no chance to answer.

The Aswangs dove down, but I screamed as I took off at a dead run with Elthinor beside me. We ducked through bushes and over a small stream then we both leapt the fence on the other side of the enclosure in one bound and kept moving as they swooped down at us. They tried to catch us with their claws but kept missing. There were voices coming closer to us as the rest of the Elves finally caught up, but they weren’t going to be fast enough.

Elthinor and I sprinted into the marketplace and ran for the booths. Without thinking I dove into one and Elthinor followed. Or at least he tried to. The smaller Aswang grabbed his ankle while he was in midair, lifting him up. The taller one grabbed his wrists, turned him right side up and hugged him to her body. He struggled desperately in her grip, but it was to no avail. The smaller one placed her claws against his throat and he froze, looking down at me fearfully. I saw small droplets of red start to ooze down his neck as both the horrible creatures glared at me.

“Give it up, Strangeling or else—”

“—we shall kill this Elfling!”

I decided that I could not let Elthinor die, not for me. I wasn’t worth it. I slowly stood and climbed out of the stall. Immediately the smaller one lunged forward and grabbed me, laughing victoriously. She held my arms so that I could not even use the bow, and I realized firsthand why Elthinor’s struggles had been fruitless. The Elves were gathering below us, but it was too late, just as I knew it would be.

“Silly Strangeling.”

“We always win!”

“Elthinor!” Aloron shouted as he came into our view, staring up in horror. “Filynora!”

How could I have gotten Elthinor involved in this? As the Elves began to fumble with their arrows, I noticed a streak of red and gold out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look at it. My Phoenix sat on one of the booths. The Aswang had not bothered to cover my mouth, so I uttered the only word that I could think of to save us both.

Flaren!” I bellowed.

The Phoenix caught fire, the flames spreading to the cloth of the booth. The Aswang holding me, who happened to be right beside the fire, shrieked and dropped me, flying away from the scalding heat of the fire. I landed hard on my belly then hopped up to my feet, slinging the bow off my back and grabbing an arrow. The two creatures were leaving so I only had one shot to stop them from taking Elthinor with them. The Elves were shooting at the creatures, but the creatures were too fast. I nocked my arrow and fired, ignoring the raw heat blazing behind me.

I hit my target if not my mark, the arrow sinking into the taller one’s shoulder. She yowled and dropped Elthinor, who let out a scream of pain as he fell. I gestured for Inferno to catch him. Inferno let out a dulcet tone and put his flames out before speeding over to catch my Elven friend. He lowered the Elf gently to the ground before flitting over to sit in the middle of the fire to watch us. I immediately saw the cause of Elthinor’s cry of pain: four long gouges running across his right side. I glared up at the Aswangs who were circling me high above the fire. I pulled another arrow and fired. Then I repeated the action again and again.

“Don’t you think you’re safe!” the taller one shouted angrily as they dodged my arrows.

“We will be back!” the other one yelled. “But first—”

They both began talking at once. “If you come after us, child, you shall surely die. If you don’t, she will die!”

They threw something at me then flew off, the beating of their wings getting louder as they got farther away. I picked up the dusty object and froze, my eyes widening when I realized what it was. I bit my bottom lip and just stared at it, unable to look away and unwilling to accept what it meant. Elthinor reached up with his right hand as if to comfort me; his left hand was covered in blood from holding his wounded side

“You’re crying,” he stated softly as Aloron and Gilronin rushed over to see us. “Why?”

I held out the object that the creatures had thrown, revealing a dusty bracelet. It was turquoise and in the shape of a group of vines curled together with flowers blooming around it. It had been a gift from my father to my mother. She had never, ever taken it off except to bathe, and she always put it in a special spot where she knew she would not lose it. I wiped my tears away as the Elves surrounded us and answered Elthinor in a whisper, my voice sounding broken with my sorrow.

“They did take my mother. They are going to kill her if I don’t follow them.”

“But they will kill you if you do follow them!” he whispered desperately. “They said so themselves!”

I did not answer him as the Elves swarmed around us. Gilronin pointedly ignored me, but Aloron carefully looked at my own cuts, which I hadn’t noticed in my rush to save Elthinor, while Gilronin thoroughly examined his son. We were taken back to the house and seen to by a kind Elven doctor with designs of orange and yellow. Melanari and Selaniam were frantic and kept bringing water for me to drink. I had a feeling Elthinor was getting the same treatment I was. He was in Aloron’s room, and I was still in his room. I had hidden the bracelet before anybody could ask about it. It was the only item I had left of my mother, the rest having burned in the fire. I missed her terribly. When the excitement had died down and I was left alone to rest, I lay back against the soft pillows, hoping desperately that she was well.



I Am the Way: Chapter 7

Elthinor visited me the next afternoon, bright-eyed and cheerful. It was another beautiful sunny day, and the window was open, beckoning the cool breeze in. When he walked into the room, he greeted me jovially, happy to see me. That was new for me. Nobody I knew besides my mother was ever happy to see me.

“Greetings, Filynora. I trust you are not so tired today?” the Elf asked, standing just inside the doorway.

“I feel better,” I replied, smiling back at him. “I am still quite sore though.”

“Not surprising. My grandfather told me that you looked as if you had been on the horse’s back for at least a day and a half,” he said absentmindedly, swaying back and forth on his feet.

I noticed his hands were behind his back. “What are you hiding?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him; I was still a bit wary of these Elves. The stories I had heard growing up did not dissipate so easily.

He smiled guiltily and brought out a package. “I am not as skilled as my sister is, but I fixed it up for you.”

I arched an eyebrow as I took the gift and began to unwrap it. A dark green dress was revealed, and I could not help but grimace. I felt guilty when his face immediately fell.

“You don’t like it?” he asked.

“It is not that I don’t like it, but I don’t usually wear dresses,” I replied honestly.

“But you must wear a dress if you are to go outside. You certainly can’t wear the rags you came in. They are sooty and torn. Besides that, they’re clothes for a lad not a lass. And you can’t wear that nightgown out either. My sister would not appreciate you flashing around her night clothes.”

I could understand his point, even if I did not like it. Besides I had nothing else to wear. So I nodded and watched him close the door behind him as he left me to change. I pulled the curtains in front  of the window then gingerly stripped out of the nightgown and pulled the dress on. It was as soft as a flower petal and ended a few inches past my knees. Along the bottom edge were silver flowers, reminding me of the flower on Elthinor’s cheek. The sleeves were short—which was something new for me as all my old dresses were long-sleeved—and allowed my arms to move around unhindered. I sat back down on the bed as Elthinor knocked quietly.

“Are you ready, Filynora? May I see?” he asked through the door.

“Come in,” I said.

He entered and his eyes lit up. “Oh that’s quite lovely. It fits just as I thought it would!”

“How did you know it would fit?” I asked, picking at the fabric, uncomfortably aware of what I was wearing.

“You are about the same size as my sister,” he answered as he sat beside me. “You look very nice,” he added with a shy smile.

I forced a smile. “The fabric is comfortable. But why did you give me this?”

His smile faded and he rubbed the back of his neck, bringing my attention back to his long hair. “Well, Father says you are to be our errand girl. A servant. Grandfather tried to argue with him, but he is certain about it and will not be swayed. He told me I am to show you around the village today and give you your list of chores to do every day.”

I felt my face fall, but instead of the anger I expected, I felt resignation and acceptance. A soft voice whispered through my head, telling me to do as I was told; it sounded suspiciously like the man in white. I took a breath and nodded at Elthinor.

“Show me what I am to do then.”

He handed me a basket before leading me outside. I was stiff and sore, so I took a moment to stretch before I followed. I froze outside the door, staring at the village. The town looked different from my village of Paxtonvale. Instead of plain dirt streets, stones and flowers of every color lined the paths, which weren’t loose dirt, but packed down so much that it was smooth. The houses weren’t as rough looking as the Human houses I was used to. Instead, they were smooth wooden structures that were actually painted. There were beautiful plants and trees painted so well that they looked real. I realized that these Elves were plant-centric, especially if it grew in the forest. I was so amazed at the sights that greeted my eyes that I did not realize Elthinor was tugging on my arm until he spoke.

“Filynora, we need to move,” he said gently, still tugging on my arm.

“Oh. Sorry,” I apologized and followed him down the path that cut from the front door through the soft grass to connect with the road.

As soon as we left the yard, Elthinor grew tense, and his eyes dropped to the ground. I realized why in the next second.

“Hey look!” a male voice called. “Elthinor is a Follower!”

The sound of the youth laughing made me angry, and I decided to help out the poor Elf. I hummed then played up the servant role I had been given. Using my sweetest, most humble voice I spoke.

“Young sir,” I began softly. “Why do they insult you so?”

“Young sir, she says!” laughed one Elf. “He is no sir, Human! If anything, he is a madam!”

I wanted to turn and slug the Elf boy who said that. Just because Elthinor was shy and quiet did not make him a girl. I felt my temper rise, but just as I turned to tell the lad what I thought of him, Elthinor placed a hand on my arm.

“Filynora, let’s go,” Elthinor said quietly.

We walked away to the laughter of the mean Elves behind us. I looked at Elthinor whose face was red in embarrassment. I frowned and touched his shoulder, ignoring the Elves staring at me curiously or, in most cases, with disgust.

“Thank you for trying,” Elthinor mumbled, not even glancing at me.

“Why do you let them do that? Fight back!”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Elthinor muttered, shaking off my hand. “You have no idea of what it is like.”

I don’t know what it is like?” I asked incredulously. “There is a boy in my village who always bothers me. He pushes me around and threatens to hurt me all the time. He uses his words to insult me and his physical strength to intimidate me.” I paused to let it sink in. “Still think I don’t know what it’s like?”

Elthinor shrugged as we took the middle route out of three when the path split . “It is not the same.”

“Of course it is not the same. I am a girl, which makes it worse! I don’t have enough muscle to defend myself. You do, so why not fight back?”

“I am not strong enough!” he spat, his eyes darkening with anger as he turned on me. “Don’t you think I have tried fighting back? There are just too many of them. They surround me and beat me. Father told me that if I can’t win, I should not fight.”

I stared at him for a moment as we began to move again. We walked in silence for another couple of minutes, finally ending up in the center of the village. The market was much bigger than ours with so much more to offer. The booths were all covered by brightly colored cloths and everything looked cheerful. I was reminded again just how gloomy Paxtonvale was. There were fruits of all sorts, some that I had never seen before and some that were out of season. I wondered how that was possible. Elthinor sighed and stood straight, drawing my attention from the market stands to him as he began to instruct me.

“Every week you are supposed to come here and pick up whatever my mother and sister need. The fruits that you definitely need every week are apples, strawberries, cherries, and grapes,” he said, picking them up as he listed them and placing them in the basket. “You’ll also need to grab carrots and several loaves of bread.”

He guided me around the market and pointed out the various shops after we had what we needed. Once I had seen all there was to see, at least in the marketplace, we walked back to his house. The house from the outside was all smooth wood, just like all the other buildings, with beautiful flowers out in a garden, some of which were multicolored. I had never seen flowers like those before in real life. Only in that dream. A beautiful Elf woman was out in the garden, a pale green tree with pink flowers on one cheek and a pink doe in soft green grass on the other. She looked up as we approached and smiled.

“Hello, son. Are you showing the Human around? Does she understand everything?” she asked lightly and a little condescendingly.

“She is not stupid, mother,” Elthinor argued quietly, though he still sounded respectful. “She understands things just as you and I do.”

Elthinor’s mother gave him a patient smile that clearly said she was humoring him and nodded. Elthinor sighed heavily and shrugged.

“Oh, never mind. Come on Filynora. Let’s put the produce up.”

I followed him into the house, through a hallway, across the main room, into an entirely separate room which looked to be a kitchen, and finally to a pantry. We set the goods on the various shelves and closed the door. I glanced over at Elthinor, and he seemed more relaxed now that we were inside the house. I knew exactly how he felt.

“So, what do I do now?” I asked.

“Well,” he said slowly after a rather long pause. “I can show you where the broom is?”

I frowned then shrugged. “Fine. Lead the way.”

My life quickly fell into a pattern in Ellavendir. I would go to the market every morning, put away the various items, clean the house, and then get most of the afternoon off to spend with Elthinor. He and I taught each other many talents and ideas. I taught him how to wield a knife and he taught me how to make a bow from scratch, which was great. I had needed a new one. I showed him my skill with the bow and he showed me his skills with bow and sword. We discussed in depth the differences between our cultures, as much as we knew at least. It was a peaceful time.

His sister Melanari found it odd how I would rather spend time with Elthinor than with her. I just did not want to be her living doll. I had spent time with her once only to be dressed up in many of her dresses while she went on about some of the other Elf girls and what they were doing. I did not follow half of what she said and I did not know any other Elven girls, so the stories never made sense to me. Besides, the conversations—more like monologues, actually—seemed to have no point. I just could not stand talking about things that ultimately led to nothing. I would much rather talk about weapons with Elthinor, or even better and more interesting, Elven culture. Especially now that he wasn’t nearly as shy around me as he was around everybody else.

Most of my conversations with Elthinor started out light and joking, but they often led to deep discussions about our cultures and their similarities and differences. I discovered how lackluster Human culture was compared to Elven, at least in my opinion, but my knowledge of Human culture outside Paxtonvale was lacking. I could not answer many of his questions asking for details into Human trade and travel, or the different jobs that appeared in the cities, towns, and villages. Indeed, I had started to feel stupid because of it.

“How do you know so much about Elven culture?” I asked crossly one day, avoiding yet another question.

He tilted his head, staring at me with his strange silver and green eyes. “Do you not get a formal education?”

“Formal education?”

“I take that as a no,” Elthinor said, biting his bottom lip.

“Well what does formal education entail?” I demanded.

“Well, young Elf lads are supposed to go and learn to read and write and learn of the history of Elves. We are also taught basic counting skills and the different trades.”

I stared at him. “You’ve learned all of that?”

“Yes. It is mandatory for Elves…male Elves,” he corrected, looking warily at me. “Though female Elves do learn to read and write.”

I snorted at that. “I take it females also learn to sew and quilt and garden?”

“All Elves garden,” Elthinor replied immediately. “That is not restricted by sex.”

“Why not?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

“Because…plants are…there is this connection…I mean I…Oh! I can’t explain it! It would be wrong to keep an Elf from plants, no matter their sex.”

I stared at him curiously. What an odd explanation, I thought. He seemed uncomfortable, so I changed the subject back to education, which led it into an insightful discussion about Ellavendir and how it contributed medicinal herbs and some fruits, such as apples, to the Elven kingdom.

All in all, I was happy with my life, despite my servant status. The village was fun to explore, and, since most of the Elves had gotten used to me, I was mostly ignored. I was constantly amazed at how different their building style was from ours. Not only that, but there was just so much color! On the sunny days, Paxtonvale was all browns and grays, with maybe a few green blades of grass sticking through the loose dirt or mud, depending on how much rain had fallen. But Ellavendir had greens and reds and blues and yellows, not only from the flowers that seemed to be everywhere that wasn’t a path, but the rainbows and flowers and plants carved and painted onto every piece of wood that was big enough.

Not only that, but the Elves themselves had so much color. Each one had two designs on his or her face, and each one had two different colors that their bodies were based around. Each design was different in some way, even if it was the same as somebody else’s. I also realized that in the right light, the designs sort of sparkled slightly, especially in moonlight. I had never seen anything like it. Needless to say, I was greatly enjoying my stay in Ellavendir.