The group dispersed, the elves towards the trees and the wolves under them. I felt a hand grab my arm as I prepared to climb the closest tree. It was Benjamin.
'Bet I can get to the top before you.' I couldn't stop myself from breaking into a wide grin.
'Still sore because you lost the running race.'
'Why would I be bothered about that?' Benjamin was trying very hard to act casual, but I could tell I was getting to him. 'I mean, we never really did find out who had won so you can't say you came first.' I laughed my small twinkly laugh, which only made Benjamin's handsome face screw up more. 'What?'
'Nothing,' I giggled, 'it's just your attempts to redeem yourself after being beaten-'
'It's just because you know I won and you refuse to admit it,' Benjamin retaliated, his hair rippling as he tossed his head from side to side.
'OK then,' I smiled impishly, 'let's settle it now. The first one to the top is the winner and we'll say no more about it.'
'Deal,' he responded, almost immediately. 'After three?'
'One, two-' Benjamin leapt and grabbed onto the first branch. 'You cheat,' I cried after him indignantly and hurried to catch up after he'd had a head start. I could feel laughter rising in my throat as we jumped from branch to branch, both focused on reaching the top first.
I managed to draw level with Benjamin and we remained neck and neck until we emerge at the top of the tree, both breathing heavily and smiling. 'Shall we agree to call it a draw,' I suggested, leaning against one of the sturdier branches until I had caught my breath. Benjamin smirked but consented to my verdict.
We sat at the top of the tree in silence for a few moments and I looked out at the view below. The sky was a pure, deep blue but there were clouds hovering on the horizon, threatening to cover the sun. All I could see for miles around was dense woodland with a few clearings dotted around, and beyond that I could see small wisps of smoke that indicated human dwellings.
'How can they be so close but not know anything about us?' Benjamin looked at me, a confused look on his face. 'The humans,' I clarified, staring back at the open space. 'I wonder what they are like.' I had always thought about them. I found not knowing anything about them was so frustrating.
'I don't think you'd want to know Sarya,' Benjamin said, his voice taking on a warning tone. 'Father says they are very dangerous.' I raised an eyebrow.
'And you always listen to what your father says?' He laughed his low rumbling laugh, knowing there was some truth in what I was suggesting. There were a few more moments of silence before I spoke again. 'What do you think he will say about the stone?'
'I'm not sure,' Benjamin replied cooly, as if the subject were of very little interest to him.
'It nearly tore our two groups apart before, who's to say it won't do the same thing again.' Although I might not always show it, I was very attached to my wolf friends. Liam was the muscle and always managed to make me smile, whether he meant to or not. Mia was quirky, even if she did like to brandish her walking stick at people and Ander was just Ander. I couldn't imagine life without them.
'I'm sure it won't,' Benjamin reassured me, opening his eyes as the sun disappeared behind a small cloud. He frowned as it became chilly and I could feel goosebumps spreading up my arms.
'Come on then, we should go back down,' I began my descent, still looking up and Benjamin. 'We wouldn't want to be late for the meeting now, would we?'
Climbing down took a lot longer than climbing up. I was more careful to watch where I was putting my feet and almost lost my footing on one occasion and would have fallen if Benjamin hadn't reached down with amazing speed and grabbed my arm before I lost my balance. We both made it to the ground safely and headed off in the direction of the council chamber where I was sure the others would be waiting for us.