We had decided that Pinnathir should come with us when we went to the Elves. Elthinor was pleased, having grown rather fond of the Satyr. Laetitia wanted to go, too, but I wasn't sure. On one hand, she was a princess and could help negotiate with the Elves. On the other, she was excellent at leading the females in Greensage, even the new Dwarves. It was quite the dilemma. I decided to go to Pinnathir.
"I think you should let her go," he said when I asked him.
"Can she handle the trip? I want to get there as soon as possible."
"I think she can. She's suffered under the Dark Ones. Or under their minions at least. She's a lot tougher than she was. Besides, she's been practicing with sticks, so she could use your sword if she had to. "
I lowered my eyes to the ground, biting my bottom lip thoughtfully. "Are you sure that she should come?"
"I believe it would be in our best interest," Pinnathir said, smiling encouragingly at me.
I thought about it. "Fine. She can come. I'll go tell her."
Pinnathir went back to packing up some food. I walked into the tent area of the former slaves and found Laetitia's. She was sitting in front of it sewing something. When I stopped in front of her, she looked up, a smile curling her lips.
"Hello, Filynora. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"You can come," I said, not mincing words.
She leaped up in joy and did a little dance, her hooves making a clopping noise in the dirt. I smiled, waiting for it to pass. She finally stopped to embraced me happily.
"I was hoping you would say I could!" she exclaimed.
"Thank Pinnathir. I was going to say no."
She looked a little hurt. "Why?"
"You weren't ready last time," I said. "And I am worried that you are not ready now. But if Pinnathir thinks you're ready, I'll give you a chance."
Laetitia slowly smiled again. "Thank you for the chance."
I nodded. "Get ready. We leave the morning after next."
Laetitia was the first to be ready on the day we were leaving. I came out of my tent to find her sitting beside her backpack, plates of cooked food beside her. Leah must be up, I thought as I sat down and picked up my plate. I was finishing my food as Gabrithon came out. He knelt down onto his belly; I handed him his plate. Elthinor and the others came out minutes afterwards, looking excited. They all discussed the impending departure as they ate, but I stood and packed up my tent, roping it onto my bag. Laetitia wouldn't like to sleep in the open, and it'd be nice to have a tent. As if on cue, Laetitia cleared her throat.
"Is that for my benefit?" she asked, pointing at the tent.
"Yes. I had a feeling you wouldn't want to just sleep out under the night sky," I said.
"That's a nice sentiment, but unless it's raining, I'll be fine."
"It's packed so we're keeping it," I said.
Elthinor, Pinnathir, and Valtrak decided to take their tent, too, then the Dwarf helped my Centaurian friend pack his cloth, though they left the sticks. At least he would be covered if it rained. My father, Aloron, and Korvict showed up just before we were going to leave.
"Greetings, Filynora, Valtrak," the Dwarf king said. "I came to bid you safe travels on your trip. And your friends as well."
"Thank you, sire," Valtrak said, inclining his head. "And I hope you continue to get along with the ones already here, Human, Centaur, and otherwise."
"It is a struggle, but the Centaurs are surprisingly easy to get along with. Most are already friends with Dwarves who were slaves along with them," Korvict admitted.
"Daughter, have a good journey," Elyosius said to me, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"No promises," I said.
I hesitated a moment then embraced him. He stiffened in surprise then placed his arms around me.
"We have spent almost no time together outside training, but I love you," my father said softly.
"I suppose I love you, too," I said with a smile as I pulled away.
"Aw, how sweet," Laetitia said behind me.
Irritation welled up in me as I turned. "If I were you, I would shut my mouth."
"But it is," she exclaimed.
Elthinor laughed. "Anything for me, Grandfather?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. Here, show this to the guards and then to the king. That way they'll know you know me."
He handed Elthinor a wood carving, and Elthinor carefully placed it into his pack. I was confused.
"How will that prove anything?" I asked.
"Elves use wood carvings to indicate prestige," Elthinor said, pulling it out again to reveal some sort of black cat with purple highlights. "This one has plenty of purple paint on it, so it signifies an Elf with connections to the king. The type of wood, Cherry, is very difficult to carve therefore it was done by a professional, who would have charged quite a bit for the piece. Most of the professional carvers live in the royal city, so that narrows down where the Elf could have gotten it. The skill level of this means that the artist would have been the palace carver. And because it's a panther, which is a very intriguing cat that most Elves worship for its beauty and that the king keeps as pets, that increases the price even more which solidifies that the owner is in contact with the king.
I stared at him. "You got all of that out of that one little carving?"
"I was taught how to study them, Fily," Elthinor said, rubbing the back of his neck with an awkward smile.
I watched him a little longer than shrugged. "All right then. Are we ready to go?"
Aloron walked over to me and embraced me, kissing my forehead. "Try not to die, Filynora."
"As you wish," I said with a smile, though I knew that he knew I could not really promise that.
Jaiden tapped me on the shoulder. "Ready, Filynora?"
"Yes," I said, nodding at him.
We bid them farewell and hurried away. I had to tell Ember to go back to the town several times; we had decided to leave him behind for this journey so that he could control my other Elementals. When he finally stayed, we followed the map that we had all marked, heading south toward the Elven capital of Starrydale. An hour after we started out, I studied the map and noticed that the borders were blurred.
"What's not shown on the map?"
"Mountains to the west," Pinnathir said.
"The sea to the north," Valtrak put in.
"Ocean to the north," Gabrithon replied. "And desert where the Centaurs live on the plains to the east."
Elthinor chimed in. "A forest to the south. Ellavendir is in it. That forest whips around the back of your village and extends to mountains to the west, and it goes so far south that nobody has ever come to the other side of it. Many Elf cities and villages lie in the forest, though after a hundred miles in, they stop. Too many Elementals live out past that." He paused and his eyes suddenly lit up. "Ellavendir is on the way to Starrydale. Why not visit instead of passing it?"
"I wouldn't mind seeing Selaniam and Melanari again. Gilronin, not so much," I said with a nod.
“Who?” Jaiden asked.
“My mother, sister, and father, in that order,” Elthinor replied.
"I would like to meet your family, but I don't know how they will receive me," Pinnathir said.
"I might scare them," my Centaurian friend said, obviously amused at that thought.
"As would I," Valtrak added.
"They won't attack you. I will not let them," I said happily. "And I won't let them turn you into a slave, Jaiden. I'm conscious this time."
"Thank you, Filynora," Jaiden said with a laugh.
"So what do you say?" Elthinor asked.
"Sure, why not?" Pinnathir said after a pause.
"Great!" the Elf exclaimed.
Elthinor hurried us along, and we kept up with him for days of rough travel and short nights of sleep; Laetitia kept up just as well as the rest of us did. Then we got to the forest, and we had to slow down because of Gabrithon. He had to pick his way through the trees, which slowed us down considerably. We grew closer to Ellavendir, and Elthinor began telling us of his childhood romps in the forest. Most of his stories were of him playing alone or with his sister, but they were all entertaining. We laughed with him at his past joys, were solemn with him at his past pain, and even cried a couple time in sympathy at his humiliations. We were all familiar with being humiliated, so we felt quite strongly about it.
Elthinor had just finished telling another story when he suddenly stopped. He stroked a tree and smiled.
"Home," he sighed then put on a burst of speed, disappearing into the forest ahead of us.
I looked forward to seeing the Elves, but not as much as Elthinor, so I stayed walking with the others. Pinnathir moved to hover behind me, obviously a bit nervous. Gabrithon stayed walking beside me, but he placed a hand onto my shoulder.
"This is going to be funny and terrifying," he said, smiling down at me.
"Indeed," Valtrak said from my other side.
We walked for about three minutes more then I slowed. There were no shouts of recognition. There were no sounds of feet rushing to capture us. There was only silence. That worried me. I drew my bow and raced forward, my friends following me. We broke into the clearing and froze. Elthinor stood there quivering from head to foot. I dropped my bow and the arrow I had drawn and embraced him. We were not in the village. But that wasn't possible.
It was not possible because there was no longer any village.