Chapter Three

I don't believe I had ever experienced a longer day before in my life, it seemed to stretch on forever! The group showed no intention of stopping for a break any time soon and we had already been walking for the entire morning. I had never walked this much in my life. Ok, perhaps that's not true. There was this one time that I went on a three day backpacking trip, but at least then I had had some food! I had no idea where the hell we were going or how long this damn grueling pace was going to continue. And if all this wasn't annoying enough, I was tied by a leash to a god forsaking elf! A real elf! Before, after being chased by goblins and being rescued by talking trees and a floating light, I felt like I had been losing my sanity. I had randomly lost consciousness twice in one day, woken up in a completely different dimension from all I could tell, been attacked by freaky goblin thingies, been winded, the list goes on. Yet with all of that I hadn't been mad, just tired and completely and utterly panicked. Yet one tussle with an elf, just one, and I felt like choking the bastard. And for the record, I am not a very violent person; I just have moments every once and a while where people who know me leave me alone. This was most certainly one of those moments.

To be perfectly fair, it wasn't as if he was walking very fast and it wasn't like I was being dragged along or anything. The real problem was that the stupid rope chaffed. It actually really hurt and I was hungry. I hadn't eaten anything since lunch at work and that was more than twenty four hours ago. I can't go that long without eating. I was starting to feel more than a little dizzy and delirious. At this point, had I enough energy to speak, I'd have started babbling ceaselessly a couple of hours ago. I figured that sometime in the near future, I was going to have to say something to someone. I mean, exactly how well could they travel if they have to drag me around on a rope when I'm starving, I would just slow them down. As far as I knew, I already was slowing them down, but with the two small ones, Rowan and Alpin, I'm sure if the pace we were traveling weren't optimal, it wouldn't be because of me. I couldn't figure out why I was with them anyway. As I heard them in the clearing, they didn't seem like they weren't nice, but I certainly didn't get the impression that they were particularly good Samaritans either. I had no supplies, so I'd just be a drain on their resources, and I'm female. From everything I had observed so far from the village and the way the travelers spoke, if they spoke at all, I sort of got the impression that things were a little backward here. For all I knew women were viewed as property and things could be like the dark ages. Yet, things couldn't be quite like that because they were taking me with them, and they had all seemed perfectly polite when they had introduced themselves earlier ; I had detected no malice at all towards me, but that could change.

The truth was that I was complete adrift. Being so hungry, the world kept spinning on me and I had to stop a moment to regain my balance. Every once in awhile, the voices of trees or bushes would float through and I would feel like I needed to shake my head to clear them. I would catch the most random conversations about a overly rambunctious squirrel living nearby or the dangers of root fungus. Before I had felt a little better equipped to block out such mental garbage, but now I was constantly distracted by the social tête-à-tête of the flora around me. I as starting to feel like I had schizophrenia or something, hearing voices. But, if you're really hearing voices, aren't they usually talking to you and not to each other?

After three hours of continuous walking, I realized that there was a problem. Kayla, who had been walking in front of me, had slowly drifted behind me. At first I did not think much of it, she certainly could not escape. It took me until the rope was beginning to cut into the skin of my wrist and Kayla began to trip constantly where there was nothing for her to trip on that I realized there must be a problem. I stopped and turned around to watch Kayla, who absentmindedly drifted past me, a glazed look in her eyes. Feeling annoyed with myself for not having noticed anything earlier, I reached out and grabbed one of Kayla's arms to stop her. It was if she hadn't even noticed anything had happened. She just stood there staring at me like as if I weren't there and she was seeing something far off in he distance. I tried to get her to notice me but it was if she could focus for only a minute on me, and then would become distracted and look elsewhere.

"When was the last time you had something to eat Kayla?" I finally asked her. She just stared at me, either because she did not comprehend the question or just wasn't paying attention, I could not tell. I tried not to sigh to heavily and almost successfully fought off a small niggling of guilt.

"Larkin!" I called out. "I think that it may be time to stop and rest."

"And eat" was the almost instantaneous reply form the dwarf. Rhett, who was standing behind him, laughed deeply and proceeded to pound vigorously on Gairse's back. Watching them I found that I got far too much satisfaction from watching Gairse balance precariously on his toes for a moment before he settled back on his heals.

"You would not mean that you are not as robust as you previously boasted would you dwarf?" Rhett said.

"Not at all," Gairse tersely after he had regained his balance and straightened his cloths. "But there is nothing quite so robust that a dwarf likes more than a meal." And with that, the whole group almost as one set down their packs and practically threw themselves to the ground. I tried my best to ignore the encounter and instead gave my attention to Kayla, who was staring intently at a flower bobbing in the slight breeze. As gently as I could, I forced Kayla to sit on a log close to where we were standing and sat next to her.

"Kayla," I said a little louder, trying to get her attention. "How long has it been since you have last eaten?" . This time she heard me, her head slowly turned to look at me and she stared at me blankly for a few moments before she was able to answer.

"I had lunch yesterday," she answered simply, though somewhat airily, as if she were to weary to speak. That niggling sense of guilt exploded in my gut as I thought of what that must mean for her. Humans could not go for long periods of time without sustenance I knew and with all the traveling we had been doing I was very worried about what that may mean. I reached into my pack and began taking out enough food for the both of us without saying another word. A loaf of bread, some dried meats and fruits, cheese and water. I divvied out the portions and gave Kayla her share.

"Here, this should be enough," I said, unsure of what else to say. As soon as the food was placed in front of Kayla, she began to eat it. Slowly gnawing on the slightly stale bread she made her way through most of the food in a relatively short time. At first, she merely nibbled at the food but was soon inhaling it. I tried not to notice but soon found myself laughing silently at her.

What was it about this one young woman that I found so amusing? I simply could not understand it, as it was not like how I always laugh at the dwarf. With the dwarf, I laugh at him because I enjoy pestering him. I have also found that it helps remove some of the friction and tension between the two of us. Yet with this young woman….perhaps it was merely because she intrigues me. My mind kept coming back to that moment when she had shouted at me to release her. How had she spoken such an ancient form of elvish? More importantly was the way she felt in my mind. Even before I had seen her I had felt elf. That was part of what made an elf what we are: our attachment to the earth, our magic, our being. Everything about an elf can be detected, felt, by other elves. Yet, not only had she felt like an elf, but I a high elf. Only once in my life had I ever met a half elf, and though he felt like an elf, he always felt like a young elf. Never was there a strong feel of him in my mind, but Kayla. There was no mistaking how she had felt in my mind, my very spirit. But I could not explain it, I was at a complete loss.

"What?" Kayla asked me suspiciously. I suppose I must have been staring.

"I was just wondering about you, that is all," I replied.

"What exactly is there for you to wonder about concerning me anyway?" she asked, beginning to sound defensive.

"Well," I said, hoping to alleviate any growing discomfort she may have been experiencing. "There is how you were able to do the things that you did before."

After a moment Kayla's expression went from slightly understanding, to complete incomprehension.

"The way that you were able to run from me as you did. Elves uniquely have the ability to flow through a forest like water in a stream, it is part of what we are. The way that you…communicate with the trees. You sense the forest as if you could hear it speak to you," I explained as best as I could. Kayla's eyes filled with suspicion and the look on her face told me she thought I might be going insane.

"And", I said before she could ask me any questions. "You told me to release you in elvish. Not just elvish, but a form that has not been spoken in thousands of years! You could not have learned that from anyone alive today." After staring blankly for a moment, Kayla began to shake her head no. It took her a few moments of attempting to say something before she was able to form a complete sentence.

"No, "she said. "There is no way that I spoke in some other language." I just stared at her. I knew she wouldn't believe me right away, but I certainly wouldn't propose something so ridicules unless it were true. I suppose she must have found my expression amusing because she began to laugh.

"Hon, you have lost your mind," she finally managed to say.

"Have I?" I finally asked after staring a few moments, hoping that if were to take what I was saying seriously, so would she.

Kayla stared at me for a long time. I knew my expression didn't change and the loner I stared at her, that serious expression on my face, the more doubt entered her eyes. Her disbelieving face slowly went blank and her eyes filled with question. I could almost see the thoughts going through her head: "Did I really speak another language?" , "Could he be telling the truth?". Her eyes stayed on mine and the longer we stared at each other the more I began to feel trapped in her gaze instead of the other way around, the way I had intentioned. Her mouth opened very slowly, just falling open as if she wanted to say something very soft. I could see her breathing and she slowly began to fall forward ever so slightly. Had I accidentally done something magical and not meant to? Elves once had the ability to entrap mortals with their gaze alone, with the way my day was going so far, I might have believed it. Yet, I was entrapped as well; I could feel myself slowly drifting towards her as well. What had I done?

"You aren't trying to ensorcel the young woman with your elvish ways are you Tieryn?" came Gairse's voice.

"I do not think that she is the one being ensorcelled." I replied solemnly, not taking my eyes off of Kayla. Kayla stared at me a moment, blinking her eyes as if coming out of a dream.

"My lady, do you not have any supplies at all?" Gairse asked.

"Well," she said staring me in the eyes . " I had a dagger, but it was confiscated." And like that the spell between us was broken. I couldn't believe the audacity of this one woman. I believe it took me full second before I began to laugh. I had to escape before Gairse decided to make some snide comment that I wouldn't be able to rejoinder. I got to my feet and stumbled away towards Larkin, laughing so hard water began to come to my eyes. After awhile, I couldn't even remember why I was laughing. Because of Kayla's snide comment, or because of that sinking sensation I had felt when being pulled into her eyes.

What on Earth had just happened between us? One moment I was under the impression that the elf had completely lost his mind, and the next? It had felt as if I was falling into his eyes, those radiant green eyes. I have never seen eyes like his before; green the color of vibrant pine leaves and soft emeralds melted together with gold fragments moving around inside. The green colors had begun to spin around, and the gold pieces had melted so that his eyes were a kaleidoscope of moving colors. My whole consciousness had been swallowed up by those swirling colors and it was as if I was being sucked down by some unstoppable force. For a moment my entire vision had consisted of nothing but those swirling colors and, I had been able, for just a moment, to smell the pine trees that were swirling in his eyes. Then Gairse had broken the spell.

I honestly couldn't remember speaking in another language, but, I also couldn't honestly remember anything at all. Why had I taken that dagger? Why had I not stopped for one moment to question what it was that annoying bush was telling me to do. The point was that I hadn't and there was nothing that I could do to go back and change what I had done. So now I got to live with the consequences, if I could. It was as if the second I had seen that elfs face come into my vision every capable though in my head had vanished and I was completely filled with panic, so I ran…I think. When my mind finally decided to start working again I was being wrestled to the ground and that stupid elf was on top of me. The strangest sensation had come over me then, as if the very act of someone touching me without my assent was an affront of some kind.

"What was that about?" Gairse asked, drawing me from my reverie. I didn't even turn to look at him, my eyes attempting to bore holes in the back of the elves back.

"Nothing important," I replied, my voice dry and drained of all humor. "Besides, what does it matter? The elf is utterly insane anyway." There was a moments pause and then the elf burst into laughter.

"So, you do not like the elf either?" he asked as mirth danced in his eyes.

"I don't know," I replied despondently. "He's just so irritating." I paused a moment to put into words what it was I felt. "It's as if he's always laughing at me because I did something stupid, but I can't tell if I've actually done something stupid." Gairse shook is head commiserating.

"It is just the way of the elves, part of the reason that the dwarves have never had the best of relations with them; too self important for our taste." I snorted at the analogy.

"I don't know about that Gairse. It seems to me that you act just as self important at being a dwarf as Tieryn does at being an elf." Gairse huffed at my observation and shifted uncomfortably. Finally he just shrugged.

"It is probably the only reason that we get along really. We enjoy pestering each other, but he is not so bad." Gairse paused, leaned closer to me and looked around conspiratorially. "Do not tell the damned man, but sometimes I feel sorry for the chap."

"You do?" I asked, he just nodded emphatically. "Why?"

"A village girl such as yourself I suppose would not know of the difficulties the elves have been having. Though in truth they have tried their best to keep such problems quiet, for I certainly do not know the specifics of it. But I do know this. Tieryn is the last born of his people and there has not been a coming of age for a lower elf in over a hundred years." He looked at me expectantly as if I should understand the implications of everything that he was saying. So, not wanting to give away my ignorance, I gave him my best thoughtful expression, "Huh," was all I said. Gairse shook his head in the affirmative, buying completely my act, and went farther up to where the others were sitting. Strange though, was that although Gairse went to the area the others were sitting, he niether spoke, not sat with anyone else.

After a moments pause to wonder why Gairse, who seemed so very friendly, was not being very sociable with everyone else, I noticed that he had completely forgotten my leash. Either he had just forgotten about it or had purposely left it alone. Sneaking a quick look around to see that no one was paying any mind, I grabbed at the leash and began to set at the knot with my nails and teeth. The knot was very simple and did not take me long to untie. As the last loops fell into my lap, I sighed in relief and rubbed my very sore wrists. "Now what," I thought, looking around. I knew I couldn't leave, where would I go? I had no supplies, no idea where I was or where I could go if I did try to leave the group. Tieryn's pack lay at my feet and for a moment I considered it, but figured he pack and trying to escape just weren't with the effort. Tieryn had been able to catch me before and I would prefer not to suffer that humiliation again. I also had a sinking sensation that I was supposed to be with this group of people. I had been led to that spot in the first place, so meeting these people could not have been a coincidence. And as much as I had been stupid enough to try and steal the elf's dagger, I'm also very sure that the bush knew what would happen if I did and very possibly planned the whole thing. I felt completely manipulated and the idea annoyed me. Yet, the forest had helped me escape the gremlins and given me shelter; did I have any other choice but to trust the forest's judgment? As much as Tieryn annoyed me and the group was very unfriendly amongst themselves, everyone had been more than hospitable to me. I figured I may as well see where this was all leading and follow the others.

Before I reached Larkin, I wiped the tears from my eyes and tried to steady my breathing. Kayla was really beginning to get under my skin and the idea bothered me. I had hardly known her a mornings time. In that moment when the earth magic had spouted between us I could not tell if I was pulling her towards me, or the other was around. Where had this strange woman come from. Never before had I heard her strange accent or speech pattern. Why was it she felt like an elf, how could she pull such magic from him and from the earth. I found myself attracted to discovering her mystery like a moth to the flame, and I found the idea very disturbing.

I sat down by Larkin's side without making a noise, though I'm sure Larkin knew instantly the moment I was beside him. Larkin was staring off into the forest, a far away expression on his face. He made no incication that I was by his side or that he wished to speak with me, for I knew he did. More than anyone I knew what weighed heavy on Larkin's brow. I had been his friend and teacher for most of the young man's life, and knew more than maybe even himself how affected he was by these recent turn of events. How adult and wise Larkin was made me proud of my old student and I only wished that I could act so much wiser than my years.

"Trying to solve the worlds problem again, old friend." I asked quietly, already knowing the answer.

"You always told me that I should pace myself," a wry smile came to the young man's face.

"And you never listened, even when you were still under my tutelage," I replied.

"I am still under your tutelage elf. And I probably always will be," Larkin said, turning sad and tortured eyes to his friend.

"Did you want to talk about it?" Larkin sighed in response to my question.

"It almost seems as if it has happened to someone else, that it isn't real. Yet it is true, my father really is dead. The woman I love really is the one that is responsibly for his death. And yet again I know that that is not true." I shook my head with a sigh. I knew, I knew all too why and why not this was true.

"The Lady, though it may have been her hand that committed the crime, is not in truth responsible. I know the young woman just as well as you do and I too know that she could not have done what she did in her right mind." I said.

"If only I could convince my mother and the council that she truly is innocent, and that it is someone else who is behind this whole situation entirely. Even her disappearance." he said passionately, but with little hope.

"You know as well as I do Larkin that there are those in the council that work for him, and that they have turned the minds of the council against you over the years," I sighed, pausing to think of what next to say. "I have few doubts that your mother believes you at least in some way. But with the Kings sudden death and her new responsibilities, it will take her time to see past her grief and know that things are not how they have been presented."

"Time we do not have," Larkin replied bitterly. "And not just for my Lady, for all those that dwell in this land, for all have been affected. Something must be done now, or it will not be done at all." I clapped Larkin's back lightly, but firmly.

"Your father would be proud of you," was all I said. Larkin got to his feet and called back to the others.

"It is time that we move on. It is a few days march to the next village and we will need new supplies soon. Pray that the village will be there still when we arrive," and with that he hauled his pack from the ground and headed off, not even looking back to see if the others were following; he did not want them to see the tears as they slide down, uncontrollable. I stayed where I was, staring at my friend, concern twisted my stomach. I was broken from my reverie when my pack was shoved roughly into my stomach and all the air rushed out of me. Kayla marched past me, seeming very pleased with herself and leaving me to have to catch up with the others after I was able to breath again.