The heart of the eternal

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Chapter 11: Prina

Wenja and Sefa had managed to calm down Prina with the help of Nefhriel and some cups of soothing tea, now Wenja helped Sefa wash the girl with some water heated over a fire and they were shocked by how much grime they managed to get off her skin. No wonder why Prina did look so greyish, she was very filthy. Her hair was dirty too and Sefa was cussing like mad as she struggled to get the grease out of the thin locks. Prina was clearly malnourished and Imh had been ordered to prepare some really heavy food for her. Wenja had never imagined that Prina could be that abused but now she did see that the men of the family had put all the hard work onto her. She had been working more than anyone else and done the work of several grown women. Wenja saw that Prina’s hands were filled with scars and hard skin and it had cracked in several places and her back was already a bit bent. Sefa was clicking her tongue as she tried to scour the last dirt out of the poor girl’s skin. “You are so filthy I bet a mine worker would be way cleaner, did you never bathe?”

Prina was hanging her head. “No, I wasn’t allowed to, the warm water was for father and Mjorr!”

Sefa almost growled. “Why am I not surprised? But that ends now, you will never become a goddamn work slave again”

She grasped a pair of scissors. “Your hair is damaged beyond repair, I need to cut it”

Prina just nodded and Sefa did make a swift job of the thin locks. “With good food you will get much nicer hair when it grows back out.”

Prina just stood there, apathetic and broken and Wenja did still have a hard time understanding how it was possible. Mjorr had raped his own sister, that was a sin so great Wenja was unable to really wrap her head around it. The rules against incest were terribly strict in the valleys, you were not allowed to marry any person who was related to you and it meant that people sharing a common great great ancestor couldn’t marry, and if they were related closer than that it was seen as a great sin. That meant that most had to leave the valleys to find a spouse but it was worth it for in the ancient days many had married their cousins and the result had been that many were born ill or retarded and disease was frequent.

Prina just stood there and Sefa did rub ointment onto the skin and then they found some clothes Prina could use. They even found a sort of head veil which covered most of the head but not the face and they added a normal veil which hid the lower half of it. Imh came with a kettle and it was a sort of soup, boiled on marrow and vegetables and it did smell very good. Imh filled a bowl and handed it over to Prina who just stared at it, she did look flabbergasted. Imh nodded firmly. “Yes, it is for you girl, eat!”

Prina was given a spoon and ate slowly, Wenja did see that she was missing several teeth and cringed, Prina did look like an old woman. Sefa whispered to Wenja as Prina tried to eat. “How old is she really?”

Wenja swallowed hard. “She is sixteen”

Sefa let out a small gasp. “Are you kidding me?”

Wenja shook her head. “No, I am serious. She has worked herself halfway into an early grave. I thought I was working hard but it is nothing compared with what she has endured.”

Sefa growled. “A good thing we are on the move, I will ask if we can continue driving for the next days. We have many spare horses and the men can switch between driving and sleeping. We need to get as much space between ourselves and her family as possible.”

Wenja nodded. “They are gonna be furious for sure, and I think Mjorr is capable of murder.”

Sefa tilted her head. “I hear you, we will let the dogs lose, they can keep watch. “

Wenja had seen some very large long legged dogs in one of the wagons and the animals had looked fierce and strong. Sefa sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. “When we reach Ohtanar I bet that Ahravan will be mighty shocked by all of this, but the clans have many warriors and they know the plains like the back of their hand. They won’t let anyone near who isn’t welcome and someone like Mjorr is most likely to get lost before he gets near the city anyhow.”

Prina cringed each time the name was mentioned and Wenja wondered what would happen to the girl, it was unlikely that she would be able to overcome the trauma she had been through. Sefa prepared the wagon for the night and she told the guards to keep an extra keen eye open and Rhawan did volunteer to sleep on the roof of the wagon with the wagon driver. Prina was placed between Wenja and Sefa and the girl was trembling most of the night and there wasn’t much sleep to be had for anyone. In the morning they left very early and Imh did cook in the wagon, there was a sort of container you could put coal into and it was large enough for a small kettle. Imh made tea and then porridge and she almost forced Prina to eat two portions. Theka and Nefhriel did travel with the wagon this day but Floth’bha did ride with the guards. She rode a massive mule and Wenja hoped that the mere sight of the half orc would deter anyone trying to do something silly.

The road was very good and Rhawan had confirmed that they would continue for a few days with few stops, just to get as far away as possible. It would be hard but it was needed. They passed a couple of villages now and Wenja was curious but also shy, she peeked out of the wagon and saw that the people here wore clothes slightly different from the ones in her own village. Here the colours were more vivid and the valley was less steep and there were grapes planted in the valley side which tilted to the south. Rhawan said that they grew grapes and made wine there and he did even buy a bottle from a local man. He and one of the other guards did taste it with Sefa and Theka and the two women did cringe and spit and the guard called it horse piss. Rhawan did drink it with a grin, Wenja couldn’t believe that the eternal was able to swallow that filth for it did stink!

Prina was terrified of Rhawan and Nefhriel and she did almost piss herself when Floth’bha did stop by to introduce herself. Wenja had believed that she was naïve with a very narrow horizon but she saw that she wasn’t so bad after all. Her parents had taught her much in spite of being simple farmers and Prina had not been allowed to learn anything. Theka did sort of interview the girl and found that her lack of knowledge was shocking. They followed a river now and the guards did buy some fish from the locals and Imh promised to transform it into something delicious. Theka and Sefa started to teach Wenja and Prina some of the language of the plains and to their shock Prina was like a sponge and learned very fast. Wenja struggled a lot more but the skinny girl did understand the nuances of the language immediately and Theka said that she would have been a very wise person already if she had been born into another family. Nefhriel did promise that she would teach them how to read and write too and that made Wenja a bit nervous. She had never even touched a pen.

The wagons kept moving that night, slowly but steadily and they stopped a few times to change horses but for no longer than half an hour. Rhawan and some of the fastest riders did ride back in their own tracks to check that they weren’t being followed and Wenja and Prina started to get used to the many people who followed them. There were wagon drivers and guards and men who cared for the horses and a cook who made the food for the group. He was a human, a very fat man with a kind face and slanted eyes and a soft voice. Wenja liked him for he treated her as an equal. The guards did show her great reverence and she felt so silly when they bowed for her. Prina did cover herself whenever she had to leave the wagon, they did use a chamberpot if they needed to relieve themselves at night but Wenja hated it so she made sure that she had done all such things before it got dark.

Sefa did keep their minds occupied with card games and she and Theka were good teachers. Nefhriel too tried to teach them things and Wenja started to realize that the elves were very different from humans in more ways than she had known before. Since Wenja was to marry one of the eternal Nefhriel was explaining a lot about their culture and the girl was a bit shocked to learn that it was believed to be a bad omen if a bride was untouched, it could mean that she was of a cold nature and that the marriage would be a very platonic one. She was also shocked when she was being told that the elves had several grades of marriage. Since she was human her marriage to Ahravan wouldn’t be regarded as a full marriage, she would die eventually and leave him as a widower. But there was also a sort of non-binding temporary marriage which could last from a single day to many centuries and some marriages did include more than two individuals. It all made her head spin, and then Nefhriel told her that since her children would be full elves if Ahravan fathered them they would grow much more slowly than a human child and not reach full maturity before they were between forty and seventy years of age. That made Wenja feel a bit odd, she risked dying of old age before her children, if she got any, had even reached adulthood.

The next days were tough on everyone, they reached a rather steep valley which lead down towards a lake and the road was bad and a bit dangerous. They couldn’t stay in the wagon here and had to walk and Rhawan did walk with them and Floth’bha did protect their back. She wore her axe all the time and the guards were very efficient too, circling the wagons and always being on the lookout. They reached the lake and there they had to rest for a whole day, the horses were tired and had to eat and here there was no snow yet. It was warmer too and Wenja was glad she could shed the heavy coat.

Theka was very adamant, she would make sure that Wenja and Prina did learn how to write and provided them with white smooth inner bark from some local trees. Nefhriel and Sefa did help them and Wenja did feel fantastic when she finally managed to understand the connection between the letters and the sounds and the words. The alphabet they used was invented by the elves and it was elaborate and very beautiful but difficult. The girls had to practice on the basic shapes for hours and Wenja didn’t have time to miss her family at all but at night the longing would return with full force and she was suddenly glad she had family she could miss. Prina was thawing up, it was as if she was throwing a shroud off herself and her true personality did slowly emerge from under it. Wenja did find that she in fact liked Prina, the girl was very clever and Imh was force feeding her every second hour. Prina was afraid she would get fat if the dwarf didn’t stop demanding that she ate bone marrow and other fatty foods every day.

But the food and the attention and the feeling of security did something to both of them, Wenja too loosened up and now she would smile at Rhawan and even try to joke. She was learning the language too but that did take time. She was no linguist, that was very obvious. She often made mistakes which made the entire wagon erupt into laughter and Wenja got this strange warm feeling in her chest, these women were her friends and they cared about her and she found that she cared about them too. She started to know them, Theka was a widow and her husband had died twenty years ago in a terrible snowstorm. She had two children and both were at Ohtanar. Sefa was unwed and had quite a reputation for being a mischievous little rascal who loved to play pranks on others and she and Rhawan were obviously very good friends. Nefhriel was also unwed but she had someone back home who was waiting for her and she was just keeping him waiting for her final answer to torture the poor male. She believed that it shouldn’t be too easy to get a yes. Wenja learned that a true marriage between elves did involve a sort of bonding of spirits which was unbreakable and eternal and it would make them into two pieces of a unity for sure.

Theka did tell the two girls a lot about the history of the realm and Wenja was feeling more and more curious about the monsters but nobody seemed to be willing to tell much, only that they came from the mountains to the far north and that they were extremely dangerous and hard to kill. The valleys were getting wider and the mountains less tall and ragged and Wenja felt that she was entering a new world every day. She saw so much she never had even imagined. One day they drove through a forest with trees so tall she was sure they would touch the skies and they were enormous in circumference, so large a wagon could have fitted inside of the trunk. She saw people wearing odd clothes, new breeds of cattle and houses which were built in strange new ways. Prina did already speak the common language very well and she did even dare to speak to locals when they stopped. She wore the veil and they had dyed her skin darker with nut juice and she had gained some weight too so it was very unlikely that anyone who saw her would think that she was some runaway village girl. The cape and the veil made many believe that she was some sort of holy person for there were a few groups of believers who would leave their families behind and go into the service of their gods and they always covered themselves thus.

Prina started to suffer from morning sickness and Wenja didn’t envy her this, she was miserable for hours every day and Imh was almost torturing the poor girl and making her eat so much food she felt stuffed like a sausage. But Wenja too did experience changes now that she was being fed well and she felt how she got more energy and how her body slowly got more shapes. Her bosom got more ample and her hips weren’t just bone anymore, she did heal from her previous lack of good nutrition rather well.

The group did catch the attention of many on their way, they passed by several villages and farms and although most were very friendly Wenja did see a few people who were not. It was the elves in special who caused these kinds of reactions and she had a hard time understanding why anyone would act thus? Some even spat and left when they saw the eternal and a few did signs which were supposed to ward off evil. Sefa explained that many humans believed that elves did get their eternal lives from somehow draining humans of theirs and others did believe that elves stole human babies and transformed them to elves since they couldn’t have children themselves. That made both her and Prina scoff and Prina wondered why on earth anyone would believe that the eternal were unable to breed?

Rhawan was sitting there with them playing cards and he answered rather wryly that it was believed that since the elven males were prettier than most human females they couldn’t really be males, that they were lacking certain masculine traits.

Sefa started to laugh so bad she almost spurted tea all over the table and then Nefhriel told them all about the time she and some other elves had been sent off to a city to the south to buy some rare herbs and while they were there the mayor were treating them all as if they were female, believing that this was the truth. In the end one of the warriors had been sick and tired of being referred to as “lass” or “her” and he had just pulled down his pants at the dinner table and confirmed that yes, he was indeed male and no, he didn’t miss anything, rather the opposite.

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