Ardrion squatted against the wall, observing the townspeople. It was small, but somehow continually busy. He had not been aware that the king had spread his rule this far west into the forest. But this village was somehow different. The passing men walked with a degree of grace and wore bright earthy clothes that seemed actually quite foreign to him. Their faces weren’t worn from work in the sun. He studied them for a few seconds contemplating what it was that was off about them.
They aren’t men at all; they're elves.
But Jenrik was human; though the healer knew him by name. Ardrion had never met an elf before, but these villagers were obviously very familiar with humans. As he scanned the town from his post, everything intrigued him. He thought back to his walk through the forest. Had he not been looking for a village, he might have missed it entirely. It was expertly camouflaged.
Jenrik appeared in the canvas doorway and Ardrion shot upward to his feet. “She should be fine. Now, she just needs some rest.”
Ardrion exhaled his relief and nodded. “That’s all?”
“It will take some time for her to regain her strength; she’s been through a lot.”
He nodded again.
“Did the healers ask you about her?”
“Yeah, I told them that I found her hurt, so we escaped and came straight here.”
“What else?” He tried to mask his terseness.
“Nothing—I don’t know.” Ardrion was flustered anyway.
“Did you tell them about Ellrez, or the Kolrav'an?”
“No, I don’t think so, I didn’t mention it.” He confusion was getting heavy.
Jenrik’s gaze moved from sweeping the village down to Ardrion. “Do you know why she was in that dungeon?” Jenrik leaned closer.
Ardrion met his intense gaze, but shook his head. “I went down there one night and she was there, bleeding, in the dark. She told me her name and then I had to leave until the next night. She was really weak, so I grabbed a few blankets and fled Ellrez as quickly as I could. We barely managed to escape the Kolrav'an.”
“You were in the castle?”
“There was a celebration for our victory in the war over Kyloserrh.”
“You know nothing else about her?”
“No.” he shook his head again, frustrated at the interrogation. “Can I see her?”
“Ardrion,” he waited for the boy’s undivided attention. “The elves have a tenuous relationship with the King and more so with the Kolrav'an. I do not want to strain it. Do not mention Ellrez or your escape to them.” Ardrion nodded impatiently.
Jenrik gave his permissive nod and Ardrion took off for the healer practically leaping through the canvas threshold when he reached it.
Kaelyth lay tucked into a thin blanket looking far from peaceful despite her heavy sedation. Wherever she was, it seemed that she didn't want to be there. Fever dreams.
He sank into a low chair positioned aesthetically in a corner near the bed. The busy morning finally gave way to a satisfying stillness. But it only freed his mind to wander. As he sat in the quiet, he began to retrace the chaos of the last few months. Not even a month ago he was a hero, sharing drinks with the king himself. He didn't even know who this girl was, but, for some reason, he remained at her bedside unable to let her go. The chair began to induce some sort of dreamy state in Ardrion and he sank lower, wondering how he could have been whisked so far away so easily.
A day or two slowly passed as Kaelyth regained color, though not yet consciousness. Between visits Ardrion explored the village, watching with wonder at the elves’ distinct way of life. They regarded him with caution, but warm caution at that. He at least felt that there was effort to make him feel welcome.
As he sat by the trickling brook, he heard Jenrik call his name. “You'd better get in here.”
The boy appeared almost instantly, rushing through the doorway. He navigated the short hallways as if he had lived in them all his life. Inside the sunny room, Kaelyth was crunched against a wall keeping the elvish healers at bay with whatever makeshift items she could find.
“Kaelyth!” He dove in front of her, hoping she at least trusted him enough. “Hey, it’s me, Ardrion. You’re safe. They’re friends.” He gestured behind him.
She was straining to keep the pain in a less aware part of her mind, but it was obvious to everyone in the room. She relaxed a little with Ardrion's presence, but continued to be apprehensive at the approach of any of the healers.
“Where—” she breathed.
“Don't worry. We lost Roszmirrh. We're in Atanyiri forest.” he said hopefully. She searched the faces carefully of the healers strewn about the room, visibly exhausted. “You should get some rest, though.” Ardrion said dutifully. As he started for the door, she grabbed his arm, gesturing a hint.
He gave another glance at Jenrik in the doorway, but took up residence in his chair once again, as she practically fell back onto the mattress. The room quieted as everyone filed out and he sank into the thinning cushion. As soon as she allowed herself to rest, she was out.
Ardrion was left to just watch over her, wondering about her. Where did she come from? Why was she in Ellrez, and the dungeon of all places? And why can't I tear myself away from her?
Ardrion emerged from the canvas doorway some time later, blinking in the still bright sun. Jenrik caught sight of him and joined him on a walk through the wood.
“Ardrion,” he said, “I am distressed by the news that the King is working so closely with the Kolrav'an.
“Well, I remember the one that pursued us to Atanyiri, but none others, and I’m not sure he was under the King’s orders.”
“I fear he is building an army.”
Ardrion scoffed. Valren probably only needed the Kolrav’an because all his men had died at Kyloserrh. “I would not be surprised.” He said flatly.
“He’s looking for Kaelyth.” Jenrik said in a low voice.
“She has something he wants.”
“What is it?” He leaned close.
Jenrik broke the focus and leaned away. “That is not my secret to tell.”