I had never given much thought to love. Love was the feeling of acceptance I felt when I was with the other Rogues, or curling up around the fire with my family at our home in Linira. I felt a pang of sadness as I thought of my parents, wondered how the new draconian measures taken by the rulers of Aeridia were affecting them. An irrevocable thought crossed my mind; I wondered whether they were still alive. Ours was a family deeply rooted in Elven tradition. I remembered vividly the gentle smile on my mother’s lips as my father said,
“Her lips were still as white as aven petals when we wed.”
More than anything, I feared the day when I would awake and no longer paste my lips; their paint was a reminder of my family, my upbringing. Myself. I was an entity who was unwilling to share herself, for the time being; afraid of love. For a moment, I felt an emotion, the same colour as its helpless recipients. The emerald plants did not have to worry about love. They allowed the matchmaker, dressed in jet black and yellow stripes, to choose their mate, his tiny, fast beating wings spurring him on. I wished that I had the bees to guide me. The thought of bees reminded me of their malicious counterparts; the wasps. I abhorred their everlasting stings. However, they reminded me of another, darker element of myself. I, like a bee, had a far more malicious facet. My knowledge of poisons. I shook my head to shake my thoughts, becoming aware of the others in the camp. The sun was continuing its arc through the Skye, now descending carefully. The light had taken on a lilac tone, sweet and hazy, yet in full knowledge of the darkness which had yet to come.
Tunya and Meredyth were bonding as quickly as Tunya grew, only growing stronger, Sunelya watching with a look of contentment on her face. Elowyn was playing with fire, sending curls of smoke up into the Skye. I knew that this was Elowyn’s way of dealing with her pent-up emotions. I felt it best not to bother her, I would press the issue later. Faeth sat next to Darl, talking to him. I only heard muffled voices, but then I saw the light as it played on his sword. Faeth held it, utterly amazed. I saw the longing she had to use it in her eyes, which slightly frightened me. Looking at them, I remembered my previous amazement at Darl’s use of wordless magae.
Darl was hard to define.
I remembered seeing his strange eyes for the first time, their indecisive colour had shocked me. I felt then that I had preferred him as he slept, being able to care for him and feel necessary. But now, as I knew more of him every day, I became glad of his presence. I walked towards them and sat down. Darl turned to me and smiled.
“I see you have an admirer,” I began, “or rather, your sword does.” Darl chuckled and replied,
“Faeth seems completely enamored with it.” Faeth, at the sound of her name, responded.
“I want to hold it. Can I? Please?” To my surprise, Darl let her. Faeth stood up and walked into the clearing to practice her swordplay. I was content with my short dagger. Although I mainly used it for food preparation, I always took it with me in case of danger, in a scabbard which hung from a belt at my waist. Subconsciously, I held it by its bronze hilt and took in my reflection. I noticed Darl’s image behind mine in the blade, and flinched.
“I didn’t realise you were still here.” Darl turned to me and laughed,
“I didn’t realise you were so vain.” I gasped.
“I’m not vain! I needed to make sure the blade was clean.” I lied. Darl shook his head, tutting under his breath.
“Now, Aven, what were you told as a young kiri about telling lies?” I hung my head, faking shame, before throwing my head back and laughing. Darl continued, “Besides, that dagger looks as though it’s never been used!”
“It has! To take plant cuttings, skin vegetables...”
“How do you survive on plants all the time?” Darl interjected, inquisitive, “Don’t you ever long for that sweet sensation of freshly roasted meat in your mouth?”
“I eat enough to keep me full as I sleep.”
“That would explain your figure then."
“My figure?” Darl paused. I glared at him for a moment, but the glare soon melted, giving way to more laughter.
“Let’s make a deal. You eat a chicken leg, in front of me, and I’ll show you how to use silent magae.” Thinking on this for a moment, I thought it would seem unadventurous of me not to try; I smiled in acquiescence, taking his hand gently and shaking it. Mid shake, Darl bent his head and kissed my hand, his lips lingering a little beyond the time I felt acceptable for sealing a simple agreement. I drew it away quickly, my eyes widened, and I stood up. Although well meaning, he had taken me by surprise, caught me off guard. Taking my cloak from where it hung on the branches, I wrapped it around me, drew the hood over my head and walked briskly to the town to clear my head. I needed to buy a few plants that were not local to the area in addition to getting some respite, so I had an excuse should the others have questioned me.
Arriving in the bustling market-place, I found a stall selling various types of therapeutic flowers. I selected a few from the rows on display, paid, and placed them into my bag. Turning to leave, I saw a rather vocal chicken wondering around, and grimaced, remembering the promise I had made to Darl earlier. In an attempt to focus on my return journey, I whispered, Carathike. Making my way along the path, I took in the people around me and froze in my footsteps. Directly ahead of me stood a group of Voxanians, sucking the magic from a helpless human, using alien spells. Overcome by the injustice before me, I walked purposefully towards them and snapped,
“Leave him alone!” The largest Voxanian turned to face me and said, in a slimy voice,
“Well, this is a very pretty protester we have here, men. What say you to dealing with her... our way?” I tried to run, but I soon found myself in the grasp of two Voxanians, who forced me against the brick wall of a nearby alchemy shop, knocking the breath from my lungs. I felt hands slip through the material of my cloak, groping for the bare skin beneath my dress. Mustering the last of my dying strength, I snatched my dagger from its scabbard at my waist and swung at the arms of the largest Voxanian. I heard a cry as I drew blood, watching it spatter across the blade and over my pale, shaking hand. I sheathed my dagger and tried to stand up, but I was soon knocked back by a second Voxanian, who placed his haggard heavy hands over my chest and around my waist as my hood fell back, my condemning ears now in full view.
“What an elf you are, what a fighter! Don’t struggle, it’ll only hurt more.”
In vain, I screamed. No. This was not how I wanted to relinquish my jylia. As all hope seemed dim, I heard the sound of footsteps, sprinting, and then the sound of metal singing as it made its downward arc into the Voxanian’s shoulder. I heard blood-drenched cries as I was drawn up into the attacker’s arms. As the noise faded, and I came to my senses, I realised that I recognised my rescuer.
“Darl? Is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me."
“How did you know where to find me?”
“I wanted to apologise for earlier. I didn’t know that I was going to find you struggling with a Voxanian mercenary.”
“I saw injustice,” I began, my eyes glazed over with the memory of the ordeal, “I wanted to help.” Tears began to course their way down my cheeks. Darl stopped, content that the Voxanians were gone. He laid me gently against a tree trunk and knelt beside me.
“Calm down, Aven, everything is going to be fine.” Overcome by a sudden surge in strength and emotion, I flung my arms around Darl and buried my head into his chest. After a moment of rejection, I felt his arms around my back, his thumb gently stroking my head. In a softer voice, Darl said, “You’re safe now.” I believed him. Presently, I heard a great thunderous rush of footsteps, and a familiar voice.
“Aven, you stupid girl!”
My sister’s voice.
Elowyn, Faeth and Meredyth had found us. Elowyn continued to speak.
“Sunelya saw you in the town as she flew overhead. Why did you confront the Voxanians?” I silently cursed her acute sight.
“What are we here for but to help the helpless? I saw suffering and wanted to remedy it.” Then she said something which cut me deeply.
“You’re not strong enough by yourself. You’re here to feed us and give us a place to sleep, not to go off and play heroine.” I felt my emotions swell within me, anger and sadness all at once, creating a storm in my gut. I stood up forcefully.
“That wasn’t the reason I left.” Darl looked at me, pleading with his paradoxical eyes. “I left because I needed some more ingredients to make my potions, and was on my way back through the town when I saw a poor man having his powers taken from him. I had to act.”
“You should have told us. It’s not fair to us.” The storm of emotions spewed from my lips.
“You’re hiding something from me, I know it! You have been playing with fire, and I know you do that when something is wrong. I’m your kiethar, you have to tell me. What are you keeping from me?”