The scouting towers stand above me, their wooden planks supporting the base. Only one exit gives us freedom from this village of Cylombria, built for farming and hunting. I sit on a metal trunk full of weapons made by Legpaw, the gruffy old man who’s way too overprotective of his daughter, with my eyes on the mahogany door leading into the towers. The village opens up towards a vast forest, appropriately named Falret Forest, north of here. Following the forest to the west is the river leading into Sorrow Lake. I brush my silver-blonde hair out of my eyes while I focus my attention on the shapes of the trees. The golden hue of the Cherith trees indicates fall is almost upon us.
About eight years ago I awoke in the middle of the night feeling at unease. In order to calm myself, I went for a walk by the forest, thinking about things that had grown to bother me. I had an inexplicable urge to enter the forest at that time, even though it is forbidden. I faced my worst fears. Something demonic was in there, calling out to me. Ryce is gone for what I had done.
As half of my punishment set up by the entire village, I was moved to the outer ring of the village located close to the entrance If there was any more instances with me, I would easily be kicked out.
The home where they planted me is small, barely enough to house two people. It’s a one bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom type of living space. Over all, my family’s belongings couldn’t go with me. There’s nothing here tying me to the family I once had, except the scar on my left shoulder. It remains as a reminder of Ryce.
I'm a disgrace here for letting my brother get the best of everyone. After Father's murder a few years before this, I was to take care of Mother and Ryce. I failed in doing so. Mother's now dead and Ryce is nowhere to be found. Everything’s fallen to ruin.
Chief Elder Chigaton, or just Chief as everyone calls him, issued the second half of my punishment for the past six years. Each year, I’m tasked with something new. Last year, I was given the task of a miner. It didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Just one year digging out ore and rocks in the Mizahe Mines, where goblins are said to take refuge. It didn’t bother me. The miners have a certain area to which they are allowed to venture in. One wrong mishap and we could all go down, including the village. Goblins are known to rampage when angry and we didn’t need one like that to happen.
This year, I am a finder, one who watches Falret Woods for any threats. Nothing usually happens here, so my job is easy. I’m pretty lucky this time around. Chief must be losing his touch on the punishments.
I silently set down my crossbow. For three months, I was taught to hold and shoot it properly, even all the little mechanisms that make it work. Never have I thought to use it in my life. I definitely didn’t want to think about the problems that could arise, and surely Legpaw would try any method to of blame to get me permanently banished.
Footsteps echo close to the entrance of the village. The sky above me swirls with pale, dark clouds. The wind bites at me with its frigid breeze. The sweet aroma of seaweed-salmon cakes fill the air from Tamloa’s cookery. I bite my tongue in disgust. Sweet things really aren’t my thing. Not since Mother died.
Rain begins to fall in large amounts. I push myself off the trunk as Legpaw’s warning came back to me, “Hey, twat! Get yer skinny butt over her! Don’t ya dare let any monsters in her! If you do, you’ll be gettin’ the…” He put his index finger on his throat and drew it across, meaning beheadment.
He makes me sick. Out of everyone in Cylombria, I’ve pushed myself the most to prove I’m not a disgrace as they all say. I will do whatever it takes to make our king leave our village alone. Jacena’s, the daughter of Legpaw, death is not my fault. The king let those griffins loose near here and yet, no one’s willing to put up a fight to protect us from getting the same fate she had. I may be a disgrace with what happened because of Ryce, but I will not let anyone take away my chance at protecting this village and its people.
Jacena was unlike anyone else I had ever met. She was a young girl, about two years younger than me, with golden curls trailing down her back and fern green eyes that could light any room. The way she would speak could send relief washing over an injured animal. The last time I saw her was a year ago. Since then, Legpaw has had it out for me. The griffins were vicious for that time of year. They came out of nowhere, their cries ripping us awake in the middle of the night.
I shake the memory from my thoughts when I hear wood scraping upon dirt. I lift my head to glance at the mahogany door and see Legpaw exiting. A black patch covers his left eye, making it impossible to not shiver. He almost always seems to be glaring at someone. The crossbow feels heavy in my grip when I pass him on my way into the towers, our stare never leaving one another.
The tower looms over me as I enter it with no intentions on returning. I want to make sure I can fulfill my duty to this village. The sinking feeling of what Legpaw, and his group of lackeys, would do if they found my secret stash of food I’ve packed to last me a month haunts my wavering thoughts. They would raid the whole thing and leave me to starve in here. I stored it here the day before under a pile of unused tools. There’s no reason Legpaw would look through it.
The narrow staircase leads me in a spiral. Twisting up the staircase until I come to an opening of a small, wooden enclosure with an open view on all sides of the tower, I take in the surrounding sight. A layer of rope lies stashed in the left corner. To my right is another trunk full of various weapons and just beside that is a small doorway leading to a crawl tunnel that joins with the other tower. The doorway jams easily, trapping the other finder on the other side. I doubt they’d want to meet with me, so they’ve probably found another way down.
Crouching in front of the door, I open the trunk to find layered with more than just weapons. I swallow and turn to look over the forest. Hunger invades my stomach. The sensation builds up as I ignore it.
Standing up, I lean over the short walls meant to keep us from falling. Birch trees of every color--red, gold, orange, green, and brown--you name it, rustle in the autumn breeze. The trees find ways to remain this way, even out of season. Grass grows, but never wilts. Our land seems plentiful. The king wants to make use of this land for his own profit, even if he decides to let the griffins loose.
I tug on the hem of my tunic when the vision of her invades my line of sight. She dances delicately along the dirt path while clutching her handbag tight to her body.
I behold her features, drinking every part of her in. Silky strands of of brown hair hide her eyes. Her skin is pale--paler than any human’s. An ashen cloth covers her mouth, hiding most of her emotions away.
The sun beats against her form. Lifting her head to the bright blue sky, she holds out her frail hand and whistles, calling upon a red-bellied grackle. Now, the bird resembles the form of a small raven with black feathers and a red belly. Its wings spread wide in the rain.
Gazing at her, my vision catches her as she strokes the grackle's body and whispers something to it before she lets it fly off somewhere. The girl drops her hand to her side, the lacy black cloak she wears billows around her as the wind picks up.
My gaze flicks to a dark silhouette. Standing by the entrance of the village is Legpaw and his group of lackeys. Has he the nerve to gang upon a defenseless girl? Pulling out my sheathed dagger, I race down the stairs and outside the tower, slipping myself in-between the wooden fence and the tower to see the girl from a different angle. Her right hand gracefully holds a sword, balancing it against her hip as she glides, keeping it barely above the ground.
Rain continues to fall when she raises the sword to point it straight at the men. She pulls down the hood of her cloak, flashing her green eyes as her hair blows away from her face.
“How dare you threaten me? Do you not know who I am?” Words of sweet nectar reach my ears.
Legpaw steps forward, clearly trying to win her over by raising his hands up in surrender. “We don’t mean ya any harm now. Do we, boys?” All of them shook their heads. “But we don’t know ya. Do ya mind takin’ the cloth away from yer face there, lass? So we can see yer face now.”
“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, but I cannot.”
I held my breathe. Legpaw isn’t one to take no for an answer. He sighs and brushes a hand through his greasy hair.
“Look, laws require you to show yourself. We can’t have any threats entering our village.”
She nods her head. “Understandable, but I am showing most of my face. Do you really want to see the rest of me? I can let you check me over for any weapons, only I bring my sword and dagger. Nothing else. Now, may I enter to buy some supplies for the road?”
Her eyes never waver from Legpaw, or the others. One man, Colin, steps forward, keeping his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Lass, you see, our village is in great peril. Anyone could say that and use it to their advantage against us.”
Resheathing her sword, she let’s both her hands fall to her sides. “Very well. You may escort me to your leader then.”
I hold my breath. Seeing Chief won’t get her anywhere. Legpaw would find a way to make sure she’s a threat. I tighten my grip on my dagger and step out of my hiding place to catch the girl’s eyes locked on me.
“Why, hello there, stranger.”
“Get lost, twat!”
The girl moves towards me, her hand extended out to me. “I’m Lissie Chath. May I ask your name, you man who has been watching me?”
I smile weakly and hold out my hand. "Azel. Azel Hirilonde."
"Ah! A name of Elven heritage. You look human, but the light hair and bright eyes gives you the distinguishing features of a Quenya...may I ask whom your Father is?"
Her hand clasps mine as my eyes drop to my feet.
"Anga. He passed away nine years ago.” I glance away, tears lurking at the corners of my eyes.
"Oh," she whispers. "I'm sorry to hear that. Anga is a most powerful Elven name among our people, Azel."
She takes the dagger from my hands and places it in the sheath. Our eyes lock once more before she turns and faces Legpaw, Colin, everyone else.
“Please, take me to your leader. And, Azel? You may speak to me later, if you wish to know more about your heritage.” I follow her out into the opening of the village. Lissie turns to look at me for a moment. “You can meet me outside the village at any time, but for now…”
“How about meeting her later on? Would evening sound good?” I ask.
Brushing a strand of brown hair away from her face, she nods. “Tonight then. May the Maker watch over you until then, my friend.”
She moves after Legpaw, who seems reluctant to see her talk with Chief. The light of the sun gleams down on me as I move back to my post, not eager to talk to Colin or anyone else.