"We cannot just trust these strangers! Look at what they did to Valtrak!"
"But Valtrak admitted he went with them willingly!"
"What if she tricked him? Females are cunning things, no matter the race."
Those were only a few of the comments that I heard. Most of the rest was lost in shouting and argument. I sat beside Valtrak on the floor. Well, I was on the floor. He was in a chair. I listened to the shouting, bored out of my mind. This was going absolutely nowhere. They just kept shouting the same questions and answers out again and again. It was really getting ridiculous. The king just sat back and listened, his eyes on me. I tried to behave. I really did. But after the third hour of arguing passed and the fourth was well underway, I snapped. And I knew the best way to get them to shut up.
I concentrated and my skin tingled. The king suddenly sat up, eyes wide. Some Dwarves noticed the king's reaction, so they looked down at me and stopped talking. Other Dwarves noted the drop in sound and looked at me, so they stopped talking. It was a ripple effect; soon all the Dwarves were openly staring at my facial designs. The room was silent for the first time that day. The king leaned forward and placed his arms on the table.
"I thought you were Human?" he said, his voice steady.
"She is a half-Elf," Valtrak said, laughter in his voice. "And she is quite good at commanding a room's attention, yes?"
"Quite," Korvict replied, settling back with a smile. "Is there a reason you did that, Filynora?"
"This is going nowhere," I said blandly. "We need to get somewhere before we all die."
Korvict laughed. "Well that is an interesting way of putting it."
Elthinor stood up. "If it pleases the king, may I speak?"
"How does anything get done in here? Wouldn't it be more civil to talk instead of yell?"
"Who are you to criticize us? You are nothing but an Elf!"
"But I am not, and I agree with him," Valtrak said, pushing his chair back as he stood. "Filynora is right. We are not getting anywhere in this argument and we need to get this underway."
"Well what do you suggest, young one?" one of the Dwarves at the head of the table asked.
"I suggest you listen to us! You do not even know the story!" I snapped, surging to my feet; seeing Valtrak look embarrassed made me angry.
"Shut up, girl!" the one across from me spat.
I gave a yell and almost went across the table. Valtrak grabbed me, holding me in place. I struggled for a minute; all of the Dwarves looked taken aback. All of them, that is, except for Korvict. He began to laugh, and I turned to look at him. Valtrak kept his arms around me in case I got mad again. I frowned.
"Am I really that amusing?" I asked dryly.
"You would really try to hurt him," he chuckled.
"I do not think she would just try," Valtrak replied with a smile.
"But she is not stronger than us and she has no weapons," the Dwarf said.
Valtrak released me and held out his hand. "Filynora?"
I rolled my eyes and pulled my knife out of my belt. I had hidden the sheath in my pants to get it in here. Valtrak took the blade and placed it on the table. The Dwarves all stared at it then looked back up at me.
"Anything else?" he asked suspiciously.
"How in the world did you know?" I demanded as I pulled out a large tool from my pocket. It was sharp and flat at one end and it was used for stonecutting. I had snuck it from one of the tables we had passed on the way to the room.
"I know you," he said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He took the makeshift weapon and placed it on the table. "Anything else?"
"Filynora," he sighed, holding his hand out again.
I huffed and took out a second tool like the first from my other pocket. The Dwarves were all staring open-mouthed at me. They had probably never seen somebody get weapons into the room. Elthinor and Pinnathir were both biting their lips to keep from laughing, but the king had no such reservations. He began guffawing, pressing back into the chair and holding his belly. I smiled at his mirth, so Elthinor and Pinnathir finally laughed out loud. The rest of the room burst into yelling, and I chuckled, too.
They called for me to be kicked out, but the king finally stood with his hands held up to get them to be quiet. One at the top of the table stood and planted his hands on the table.
"She needs to leave," he said, pointing a finger at me. There was a chorus of agreement from the other Dwarves. "This is supposed to be a safe place. She has defied the law."
"She is a Strangeling," Valtrak argued. "And knows not of our laws."
"Did you warn her about weapons in the meeting room?" Valtrak did not answer right away. "Did you warn her?" the reddish brown Dwarf asked.
"Yes. I did," Valtrak said solemnly. "But I did not tell her it was law."
"You still told her that no weapons are allowed. She needs to leave," a black Dwarf said, approaching me and grabbing my arm as if he were going to pull me to the door.
Pain exploded up my arm and I screamed. Elthinor was beside me in an instant as the Dwarf let go of my arm in shock.
"Filynora! What is the matter?" he asked, spinning me around and looking me over.
"It hurts," I said, cradling my right arm to my chest.
Valtrak grasped my wrist and barely grazed his fingers over my forearm. He clicked his tongue then pressed down slightly. I yelped and jumped. Pinnathir and Elthinor were both looking at my arm in confusion.
"Is it broken?" Elthinor asked concernedly.
"No. This is the arm Uncle grabbed. It is very deeply bruised, I fear," Valtrak said, staring at the skin. He sighed and looked up, meeting my eyes. "Filynora? Please leave. I do not feel it is…safe for you to stay here. You did break our law and that is not good. Please?"
I nodded, grabbing my knife and the two tools from the table. If he thought I should leave, then so be it. Korvict was suddenly by my side.
"Come Filynora. I shall escort you back to your room."
I walked behind him, setting the tools back on the table I had swiped them from and sheathing my knife. We went through the maze of halls in silence until we reached my room. Korvict looked at me then, roving his eyes over my face.
"You are a very strange girl Filynora. And that is not always a good thing. I suggest you obey whatever Valtrak tells you to. At least while you are in Dwarven halls. It might just save your life."
I looked at him and slowly nodded. "Yes, your majesty."
"Behave, Filynora. I shall send your friends back to you in a while."
I went into my room and sat down on the bed, blowing out a breath. I wished for some of that coffee that Petra had brought me, but I did not know the mansion well enough to try and find it, or her for that matter. I heard a noise out in the hall and hurried out to see a male Dwarf picking up some items that had fallen from a cart. I knelt down and helped him despite his protests.
"Really, ma'am, this isn't necessary. I can manage," he said, trying to take what I had picked up.
"It's fine. Could you help me?" I asked as I placed the items in the cart.
"Do you know Petra?"
"Yes. Would you like me to go and get her for you?"
"Yes, please. And I would also like some coffee if it isn't too much to ask."
"Of course. Thank you for your help," he said and hurried off.
I returned to my bed. I recalled what Petra had said about my grief. What did she mean by stages? I didn't understand what that had to do with my mother dying. And my mind was back to my mother. What if things had been different? What if I had been faster? What if I had killed Tikujar before that night? I jumped when a hand was placed on my knee. Petra set the tray on the bedside table and smiled at me. I voiced my questions and her eyebrows came together, sorrow written on her face.
"There was nothing you could have done, Filynora."
"How do you know?" I asked weakly.
"Then tell me what happened."
So I did. I tried to start telling her of the time after we had gotten my mother back, but after a few questions I backed up to where we had first found her by the lake. A few more questions had me back up to when I was on the farm after she had been captured. I told her my entire story from the time my mother had disappeared and realized how conflicted my life had been at first. It seemed like there had been two missions when I first broke out: find my mother or find the scrolls. I noticed how they had been on the same path for a while, but when they had diverged I had chosen my mother. I finished telling her the story, right up to the point where my mother had died. I sat there silently for a minute.
"What if I had chosen the scrolls instead of my mother?" I asked quietly.
"We'll never know," Petra replied. "And there is no reason to dwell on it. I won't blame you if you do, but really Filynora, it can never happen any other way. What's done is done, and you can't change it."
I sat there, tracing the empty cup in my hands. She stared at me for a minute, then moved behind me and began braiding my hair again. I had taken it down the night before because it was uncomfortable to sleep on, so nobody had seen it but Petra. I sat there and let her do it while my thoughts circled around and around. Petra's words struck a chord and, as the braid landed heavily on my back, I spoke.
"You're right. I cannot change the past. There's no use wishing my life had turned out differently. Thank you."
Petra slid off the bed. "I'm glad. Now, would you like some more coffee?"
"Yes, please. And if you want a cup for yourself, I won't tell anybody."
Petra laughed. "I do believe I'll take that offer. I'll be back in a few minutes."
She left. A minute later, the door opened, and my friends came in. Valtrak was speaking to a Dwarf in the hall and came in a few seconds later. They all looked exhausted. Elthinor walked over to the bed and fell face down on top of it. I stared at them.
"Are you all right?"
"No," Pinnathir said darkly, his usual smile gone.
"We hardly made any headway. They just kept yelling," Valtrak said, sitting beside Elthinor and rubbing his temples.
"Well maybe tomorrow I can—" I began.
"You're not allowed back in for a year. And we had better be done with this by then," Elthinor said, turning over onto his back and placing his arms behind his head.
"When did they decide that?" I asked.
"Ten minutes ago. That's what the rest of today's arguments were about," Pinnathir muttered.
"Tomorrow we're to tell our story, and then the real debates are going to start," Valtrak sighed.
I stared at them. "You've got to be kidding."
"No. I don't envy you," Elthinor growled.
"I'm sorry," I said softly.
"Please don't be. Honestly, I am more worried about you than us. You have nothing to do," the Elf said.
"I'll go mine," I said with a shrug. "Or have Petra show me around."
"If you are absolutely sure," Valtrak said curtly.
The door opened, and Petra came in with a male Dwarf behind her. They were carrying steaming cups on trays. Petra handed me my cup, and I gratefully sipped it. The male Dwarf handed each of my friends a cup. Elthinor stared at it, sniffing it suspiciously.
"What is it?"
"Coffee," Valtrak said happily, spooning a strange golden, thick looking liquid into his cup.
"What's that?" I asked, pointing at the small dish.
"No!" I gasped. I had only heard about the sweet treat. "May I taste some?" I asked eagerly.
He dipped the spoon in again and dribbled some into my outstretched hand. I licked it up out of my palm, humming in delight. I had never tasted anything like it. It was amazingly sweet and smooth as it dissolved in my mouth. I thoroughly cleaned my hand, ignoring the chuckling from the boys.
"Have you really never tasted honey before?" Valtrak asked.
"No," I said with a shrug. "The traders carried it, but nobody could afford it."
"Well it's a rare commodity among Dwarves. Only the richest Dwarves can afford it. I must say that being a guest of the king does have its advantages," my Dwarven friend said with a nod.
"Coffee eh?" Elthinor asked. He hesitantly sipped it. "Yuck!" he exclaimed, wrinkling his nose.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"It's too bitter," he said, holding the cup away from his body.
"Well, add some honey," Valtrak said, scooping a couple spoonfuls into the cup.
After it was stirred in, Elthinor hesitantly tried it again. He smacked his lips then smiled.
We talked for a little while, steering clear of subjects that required too much thinking. We didn't dare stay up too late, and soon the others left for their own rooms. Before they left, Elthinor paused and turned me around.
"I can honestly say I have never seen a braid like this."
"But you have braids in your hair," I said, turning back around to grab one of his to make my point.
"Yes, but we only do small ones," Elthinor said lightly. "It looks very good on you, though."
I blushed as he turned and left. I got into bed, and Petra, who had left when it was clear she wasn't needed, came back in, taking the empty cups. She bid me goodnight before leaving, and I settled in, pondering what Elthinor had said. It made me feel strange. I wasn’t sure what to think of it, so I was grateful when sleep took me.