Gerald wrinkled his nose at the earthy, mossy smell that always filled the woods. He longed to get back to his palace, but there was work to be done, and a king must do his work, after all.
“Hurry up!” he shouted at the coal black ngựa dragging the carriage. They bolted and took off.
Gerald leaned back against the soft, silky back of the ghế, chỗ ngồi and watched the trees blur by.
How grateful he was that he didn’t live out here, with all the faerie and elves and goblins. No, goblins lived in the marshes, didn’t they? But the faerie-folk, elves…still out here. He could feel them watching him. But no matter. He would soon be back at his palace.
“Whoa, boys, whoa!” the driver called, reining in the horses. Snorting and stamping, they came to a halt in front of a tall fence.
Gerald climbed off the carriage, holding his body regally and proud. He marched over to the gate and knocked.
The gate swung open, revealing a young faerie girl. She couldn’t have been thêm than eight. When she saw him, she gave a small squeal and raced into a house.
“Well, what kind of way is that to greet royalty?” Gerald muttered to himself, brushing imaginary dirt off his crimson cloak. He glided in through the gate, shutting it softly behind him.
A woman came out of one of the houses—the same one the young girl had come out of, Gerald noted. She only came up to Gerald’s waist, but she looked up into his face.
“Hello, my lady,” Gerald greeted her politely.
She curtsied. “Good day, my lord.” She đã đưa ý kiến the words courteously, but Gerald could see an expression of distaste around her mouth.
“I’ve come for a few things,” Gerald said, longing to get out of this place. Disgusting woodlands.
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Food, I suppose, like last time?”
“Yes, actually. With all the troubles of guarding the palace, my servants and guards have no time to hunt and gather.” With that, Gerald swept into a lều, cabin and filled his áo choàng with bánh mỳ, bánh mì and cheeses.
He went back to the carriage, dumped his load in, and went back to the faerie house. After all, the servants needed a morsel hoặc two now and then, as well.
After going back a few times, Gerald bid the faerie lady farewell. She returned it, but her eyes were hard and cold.
Distasteful little beast, Gerald thought. He whirled and hurried through the gate and up onto the carriage.
“On to the elves!” Gerald called to the driver. “I hear they have plenty of meat.”
The king taking off with thực phẩm wasn’t just a one-time thing. It had happened eleven times in the past tháng hoặc so, and the faeries weren’t about to put up with the no-food business any longer.
Ceel sat at the edge of the group of faeries, listening to them throw out ideas, argue about how it was a good plan hoặc a stupid one, and throw out the tiếp theo idea once everyone agreed it was stupid.
This went on for quite a while until a middle-aged lady sitting tiếp theo to Ceel stood up.
“I’ve got it,” she said.
No one really paid attention, they were too busy arguing about the idea that they steal the thực phẩm back.
“I’ve got it!” she said, louder this time.
The faeries quieted and turned towards her.
“We don’t have to steal our thực phẩm back,” she said. “We’ll just steal it from someone else!”
“Who?” someone asked.
The faerie smiled, obviously pleased with her idea. “The elves.”
Ceel looked up. Steal from elves? From what he knew about elves, he wasn’t sure that was the best idea.
Everyone else seemed to be delighted, however. Faeries and elves had been in a fight so long neither side even remembered what they were mad about, and the faeries were certain that this may be the winning hand.
“Good,” the middle-aged faerie said. “We’ll send some faeries out tonight.”
Of course it was just Ceel’s luck that he was one of the ones chosen to take the food. He set out with four others, clutching a bag for the thực phẩm in one hand and a dao, con dao in the other. Just in case.
The elves’ village was an giờ away, so it took quite a while to get there. bởi the time they did, Dock, the youngest of the group, was panting heavily.
“I’ll go over and check it out. Make sure it’s safe,” Zrengal, the bravest of the five, announced importantly.
Zrengal spread his silvery-blue wings and flew up over the stone tường the elves had built around their village. He popped up a moment later, grinning.
“All clear,” he whispered.
Ceel flew up over the wall. He could hear the others following him. Dock was still panting.
“Dock! Stop breathing!” Zrengal hissed.
Dock held his breath and glanced around the village.
It was quite different from their own. The buildings were wood as well, but they were a bit taller and wider. The faeries had a wooden fence instead of the elves’ gray, stone one, and the faeries had hoa around their houses. The elves’ houses, instead, each had a wild dog tied up near the door.
“How are we gonna get past them?” Dock asked, eying one of the chó nervously. It was growling, and its hackles were raised.
Ceel glanced back, trying to get a look at the tường around his dark blue wings. “Maybe we should go back,” he whispered. Something about stealing food, even from an elf, made him feel horribly guilty.
“Are bạn kidding?” Zrengal asked. “We need food, Ceel!”
Ceel nodded. “So, how do bạn plan to avoid the dog?” he asked.
“Just watch,” Zrengal said, zipping over to the dog. From his expression, however, Ceel could tell he had no idea what to do.
Zrengal hovered about an inch above the dog’s snapping jaws, obviously thinking. The dog, growling and slobbering, seemed to be considering barking.
Suddenly Zrengal zoomed down, holding the bag open. He stuffed the dog’s muzzle into it and tied it on with the its rope.
The dog was trying to bark, but all the faeries could hear were muffled squeaks.
“C’mon,” Zrengal said, opening the door. The faeries flew in.
It was a small house, one of those were all the rooms are connected. Off in the left-hand corner was what appeared to be a kitchen. On the right were a few chairs made of juniper wood and deer hide. In the back of the room, almost hidden bởi shadow, were the soft hides of animals, lying on the floor.
Ceel noticed a female elf’s small head poking out from under the furs. Once he made that out, he could see a shape of someone tiếp theo to her, and then someone tiếp theo to them.
“Quiet,” he đã đưa ý kiến to the others, gesturing to the sleeping elves.
Dock nodded and took an earsplitting bite of apple.
“Shhhhh!” the other chastised him.
Dock, his eyes wide, slipped the táo, apple into his bag.
All they could find were fruits, though the elves were incredible hunters. Zrengal suggested that the king might have taken their meat.
“Serves them right,” Stefknot said. Thin and scrawny, Stefknot was characterized bởi a burning hate for the elves.
Now he went over to them and knelt bởi the makeshift beds. “Maybe we should slit their throats,” he said.
“No, Stef,” Ceel said. Slitting their throats would make him feel even guiltier than he already was.
Stefknot glared at the elves contemptuously and stood. “Let’s go.”
Dock opened the door and flew out. The others followed him.
The dog pawed frantically at the bag and managed to struggle out of it. It threw up its head and howled.
Ceel heard a scuffling noise from the house. A soft light came on from within. Candlelight.
“Come on!” Zrengal shouted, flapping wildly towards the wall. Ceel followed.
A dao, con dao whizzed bởi Ceel’s head. He dodged and flew up over the wall, glancing back.
An elf vaulted over the tường and landed silently on the other side. He pulled another dao, con dao out of his áo khoác and threw it.
Ceel swerved and flew off into the night.
Myrtal glared after the faeries, his bangs whipping around his face in the wind. Stupid creatures. First the king takes all the meat, and now this! How would they survive?
Myrtal kicked the tường as hard as he could and vaulted back over it. His soft leather boots landed soundlessly on the leafy ground.
He walked back to his lều, cabin and opened the door. Warm light greeted him, but he didn’t feel cheerful. Forlornly, he blew out the candle. The hut was shrouded once again in darkness.
Myrtal kicked his shoes off, tossed his áo khoác onto one of the chairs in the corner, and lay down tiếp theo to his younger sister, Relm. Her breathing was slow and steady.
Myrtal closed his eyes, exhausted. Sleep crept up on noiseless feet and lấy trộm, đánh cắp him into the night.
He awoke to soft, white daylight. Squinting, he pushed the furs off and pulled himself up.
Relm murmured in her sleep. Myrtal knelt down and brushed her hair out of her eyes, then plucked his boots off of the floor where he had thrown them and pulled them on.
He stood and took a comb from the table. Grabbing the looking glass from its place leaning against the wall, he ran the comb through his hair until the tangles and knots were worked out. Satisfied, he returned the comb and mirror to their places and hurried out the door.
A quick glance at the sun dial told Myrtal it was around eight. He had gotten up rather late, he thought. But no matter. The ngày had come.
“Come, come, children, gather near!” Myrtal heard Sylis, a young woman who sometimes told stories to the small children, calling them close to hear her tale.
Myrtal wandered closer and leaned causally against a largish building, listening. Even though he was fifteen, he still enjoyed hearing the tales Sylis spun, though he pretended he wasn’t listening.
“You may think the forest is the only place around,” Sylis said, her voice taking on that special tone only storytellers have, “but if so, bạn are mistaken. There are other places—strange places. Large động vật that growl like the thunder and can run faster than even the quickest elf that resides here.”
Myrtal’s eyes widened with surprise. Elves were the quickest creatures he knew of, unless bạn counted faerie, though only when they were flying. How could a creature be faster?
“These creatures can be all different colors,” Sylis continued. “Blue, silver, red—sometimes even màu hồng, hồng hoặc yellow. Green, even.” Sylis spread her arms to indicate the size of the color range. “Man calls them kars,” Sylis said. “Or perhaps it was cares. Either way, dangerous, dangerous creatures.” She gestured to the east. “Go that way for miles, miles and miles, and you’ll come to this strange place. Don’t go there, however. It would be a foolish and risky thing to do.”
Myrtal glanced the way Sylis had gestured, his curiosity roused. What was this mysterious place, with its strange kars? He felt the need to find it, to puzzle it out, despite Sylis’ warning. Maybe tonight, while everyone was hunting for the stolen meat. No one would miss him then.
Perhaps, Myrtal thought, if—when—I find this place, we can di chuyển there. Then we’ll be free from Gerald’s rein. His jaw set with grim resolve, he set about his morning chores.
Night came quickly. Myrtal packed up a few choice belongings—an táo, apple the faeries had looked over, a copper water bottle, and a jacket. The inside was lined with knives. Then he slipped over
to Relm, who had put herself to giường and was lying under the furs, watching him.
“Goodbye, Relm,” Myrtal said, his tim, trái tim heavy with the thought that he may not see her for quite some time.
“G’bye,” Relm đã đưa ý kiến in her quiet, carefree voice. “Myrtal?”
“What is it?”
“Can bạn sing to me before bạn go?”
Myrtal sat down on the hides and started to sing in a soft, gentle voice.
“Go to sleep, little angel,
Let the world fade away,
Let your dreams take your sights,
Awaken in the day.
“Go to sleep, my dear child,
Let your mind be of peace,
Settle down, go to sleep,
“In the ngày your troubles will slip back to you,
But for now, go to sleep,
That’s all bạn can do,
To escape from the nightmares, run away in a slumber,
Myrtal fell silent. Relm’s eyes were closed, and she was breathing softly.
Myrtal kissed her gently on the forehead and slipped outside to tham gia the hunters.
He mingled with them and let himself be pulled with the crowd over the tường and out into the woods. Only there did he wander away, towards the east, walking at first, then breaking into a run.
He would find this magical place and save the elfin folk, no matter what the cost.
Ceel could never quite say what drove him to take the thực phẩm back that night—guilt, pity, destiny, hoặc a little bit of each. Either way, there he was, flying through the trees, off to return the thực phẩm to his enemies.
He knew he had to be quiet, of course. If the elves caught him in their village, there was no telling what they would do to him.
He heard voices below him. Startled, he looked down.
Directly underneath him was a group of elves, talking in low voices and moving silently, as elves do. They were heavily armed.
Ceel flapped his wings to carry himself up and away from the elves. He had no wish to be spotted bởi them.
From the bird’s eye view he had put himself in, Ceel could make out a figure darting through the woods. He flew closer for a better look.
It was an elf, he was sure of that. They had the light brunette hair characteristic to elves. Well, of course he did. Ceel had never seen an elf without the pale brown locks.
He kept flying and following the elf, watching him from above. What was this elf doing? Ceel dropped lower until he was only a few feet above the elf’s head.
He recognized him somehow. But from where? Glancing down again, he realized; it was the elf who had thrown the knife.
He almost stuck him with his own dao, con dao when he realized he probably would have done the same thing if elves were stealing his food. Besides, it would be cowardly not to give him a chance to defend himself.
Ceel kept after the elf, determined to discover what he was doing out here, alone. His strength, however, was waning fast. If the elf kept up this pace, he would soon have to stop and lose him.
The elf seemed to be tiring too, luckily. His footsteps, though still silent, were heavier, and he was slowing. Finally he came to a stop and rested, leaning against a large elm tree. A leaf fluttered down and landed in front of him.
Ceel flew up and perched on the branch of the elm, peering down through the leaves at the elf. Should he approach him? Keep following? hoặc just turn back? The last idea was dismissed, however, when Ceel realized he had no idea where he was.
Suddenly the elf took off again, this time with renewed speed. Startled, Ceel took a moment to gather his bearings, then leapt up and took off after him.
Why do I even care what this stupid elf does? Ceel wondered. Why does it matter to me? Of course, it’s not like I can go back now, being lost. He scowled.
Suddenly the elf came to a stop. Ceel had to shoot upward to keep from running into him.
The elf turned around, a suspicious expression crossing his thin, pointy features. He glanced around, searching the woods for hidden dangers.
Please don’t look up, Ceel prayed. Please, please don’t look up.
The elf slowly turned and started walking again. Ceel dropped down cautiously.
Suddenly the elf whirled back around, his eyes flashing. Ceel jerked himself back up, but it was too late. The elf had seen him.
“What do bạn want? Who are you?” the elf demanded, pulling a dao, con dao out of his jacket.
Ceel yanked his own out of his belt, fluttering into the air.
“Faerie scum!” the elf shouted at him. “I asked bạn what bạn wanted!”
Ceel dropped down and landed on the ground. “I wanted to return the thực phẩm we stole. I…I saw bạn when I flew over and I wondered what bạn were doing. So I followed.”
“Well, go back,” the elf snapped.
“I can’t,” Ceel said. “I’m lost.”
The elf sighed. “Fine. Come on, then.”
The elf turned his back on Ceel and walked stiffly through the woods, the dao, con dao held tightly in his fist.
Ceel hurried after him. “Ah…what are bạn doing?”
The elf studied him, snorted a little, and ran the blade of the dao, con dao against his palm, testing it. “I’m finding the edge of the woods, if bạn must know. I’ll live out there, free from King Gerald.” He đã đưa ý kiến the word ‘king’ in a scornful and đắng, cay đắng tone.
Ceel nodded, hurrying to keep up with the quick steps of the elf. “I…I’m Ceel.”
“Myrtal,” the elf said, not looking at him. He seemed a bit mad.
Ceel went faster, thinking perhaps his slow walking was the problem.
“You sound like a dwarf,” Myrtal đã đưa ý kiến angrily. Out of all the creatures that resided in the woods, dwarves were đã đưa ý kiến to be the loudest.
Ceel tried to walk silently, like the elf, but found it impossible to make so little noise. He scrutinized the elf’s feet as he walked, noting that he landed on the balls of his feet, never the heels.
Ceel tried this method, and found, that though his footsteps were not nearly as soundless as Myrtal’s, there was a considerable improvement. He walked on, proud of his achievement, and promptly tripped over a cây branch.
Myrtal cracked a smile, something Ceel hadn’t known elves were capable of. He offered his hand and helped the small faerie to his feet.
“Maybe bạn had better fly,” the elf said, still grinning.
Ceel nodded and flew up a bit, so his feet were only a few inches above the ground.
“Fly a few feet,” Myrtal instructed.
Ceel did so.
“Better,” Myrtal said. “Much quieter, definitely.”
“Why does that matter?” Ceel asked, a bit crossly.
“Well, we need to watch out and make sure bears don’t catch us,” Myrtal said. “Wolves. Griffins. Just be careful.”
Ceel nodded. He had no desire to be someone’s dinner.
Myrtal watched the creature out of the corner of his crystal-blue eyes. Curious thing, he thought. How do the wings hold him up? They’re so transparent and thin…He resisted the urge to reach out and touch one, find out what it was made of.
He noticed Ceel watching him intently. Crossly, he snapped, “it’s rude to stare, faerie.”
Ceel cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. Myrtal flushed as he realized that he had been staring as well.
“Sorry,” the faerie apologized. “I’ve never seen an elf close up before.”
Myrtal sighed and let the faerie study him. Ceel watched how his feet landed; the way his pointed ears would tilt in the direction of a noise, like a cat’s; his strange, petite body. To a faerie, the proportions looked wrong. An elf, though a few heads taller than a faerie, was only a pound hoặc two heavier. Strange, very strange, to a faerie.
Of course, to Myrtal, Ceel looked wide and rather heavy for a creature of his size. But that probably had something to do with the elves’ hate for the faerie-folk.
Ceel stopped then, hovering in the cool night air. “Can we stop?”
“I’m exhausted,” the small creature answered, rather meekly.
Myrtal groaned, irritated. “Fine. Sleep off of the ground, though. It’s too dangerous, what with all the predators.” He jumped, grabbed the branch of a tree, and swung himself onto it. Ceel followed and perched in front of him.
“Keep going,” the elf said, climbing to the tiếp theo branch. “We can’t rest only seven feet above the ground.”
Ceel sighed and fluttered up to the highest branch he thought would hold both him and the elf. He was quite surprised when only moments later, Myrtal’s thin fingers grasped the branch he was sitting on.
“How did bạn get up so fast?” he asked as Myrtal pulled himself onto the branch.
“I climbed,” Myrtal answered, wondering if all faerie were so stupid. He spotted the bag of provisions tied to Ceel’s leather belt. “Is that the thực phẩm bạn were talking about?”
Ceel nodded. “Are bạn hungry?”
“A bit,” Myrtal admitted.
Ceel opened the bag and balanced it in front of him. Myrtal took a piece of trái cây and started eating.
About halfway through, he noticed Ceel hadn’t touched the food. “Not hungry?” he asked.
Ceel hesitated. “Well…I did steal it. It’s not mine.”
Myrtal shook his head. “Listen, faerie, if bạn hadn’t brought the thực phẩm along, all I would have to eat would be this apple.” Myrtal pulled the trái cây in câu hỏi out of his pack, then pushed it back in. “The thực phẩm is as much yours as it is mine.”
Still the winged creature hesitated.
Myrtal sighed. “Alright, how about this; I don’t eat until bạn take at least five bites of food.”
Ceel relented, pulling a handful of berries out of the bag. He stuffed as many as possible into his five bites, so as to fill himself without feeling guilty, then put what remained back.
Satisfied, Myrtal finished the fruit, washing it down with a sip from the bottle. Ceel took a drink when it was offered, feeling rather obliged.
Then they made themselves as comfortable as they could on the hard, scratchy branch (it was difficult for Ceel—he couldn’t sleep on his back, what with the wings, and being on his side hoặc stomach made him feel like he was about to fall) and somehow drifted into a restless sleep.