I awoke and stared at the wooden crossbeams of the stable. It was the only building that Gabrithon could fit in. Besides that, the floor was dirt, so both Gabrithon and Pinnathir could easily walk on it. When I had suggested the stable, the king had vehemently opposed the idea. That was, he opposed it until I asked if he had another idea. Then he grudgingly consented and had a stable freshly cleaned for us. The days of debate were exhausting, and the noble Elves were still quite snooty to us when we passed through the outer court.
I sat up and stretched, yawning. There was no other movement, so I assumed that I was the only one up. I straightened out my bedroll then padded barefoot out to the wide center of the stable. We had each taken a separate stall to sleep in, and it was actually comfortable; not having your own bed comfortable, but comfortable enough. It was nice sleeping in a building for a change.
I settled down in the middle of the open space and sighed, grabbing my brush out of my bag. I was well rested, and my friends were, too. The meetings with the council were going well and were much calmer than the Dwarves had been. I only attended occasionally, being too busy searching for Elthinor's family. Many Elves were reluctant to talk to me when I looked Human, so I usually went out wearing my Elven designs. Most I talked to also asked me why I wore pants. I never answered that question, instead asking them something else.
"Good morning, Filynora," Valtrak said as he stepped out of the stall he had claimed.
"Morning. Did you sleep well?" I asked, running the brush through my hair.
Valtrak grinned. "Indeed. In fact, you might say I slept like a rock," he joked.
I laughed softly. "Joking? You are feeling good."
His grin faded into a soft smile. "I am. Those crystals and gems the king provided have greatly helped. The pain might have possibly been a little worse than I was letting on. It ached sometimes and burned others. It was unpleasant at the least and quite bad at the most."
"You really shouldn't lie to us. Maybe we all should start keeping crystals in our packs. You wouldn't run out so fast."
"That might actually help. We should stock up before we leave for Greensage."
"Stock up on what?" Gabrithon asked, clip-clopping his way over to us and lying beside Valtrak.
I hummed. "Crystals," I answered, then abruptly changed the subject. "Why exactly do you two like each other so much now? I mean, is it because you missed Gabrithon, Valtrak?"
Valtrak turned his face away from me as Pinnathir and Elthinor joined us. "I don't know what you're talking about. I would never miss a mule!"
"I'll take that as a yes," I said with a smile. "And you, Gabrithon? Is it because you missed him and he helped to rescue you?"
"No!" Gabrithon balked. "I'm with Valtrak for once. How could I miss an enemy, let alone a stonehead?"
"Another yes," Elthinor said, reaching for my brush.
I handed it to him, and he began brushing his hair. When he was done with that, he handed the brush back to me then began twisting his hair together into his small braids. It struck me how comfortable we were with each other, what with these little acts of normalcy. Jaiden broke into my thoughts as he walked out of his stall, yawning.
"Hi," he said, running his fingers through his tangled brown locks.
"Hello," Pinnathir replied. "Sleep well?"
"Mostly," Jaiden said evasively.
"Mostly?" I asked.
"I had a bad dream. There were these eyes. They were black where the white should be, white where the color should be, and red where the black should be. It was scary. Then this voice came to me and ordered me to stop you or else. I told him no. There was this searing heat, like I was engulfed in fire, though I couldn't see any. Then I was jolted awake. After I had fallen back asleep, I didn't dream for the rest of the night."
"What an odd dream," I said, but nobody else responded. They all had haunted looks in their eyes. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know about anybody else," Elthinor said quietly. "But I had that dream after you and I started our journey."
"I had it after I met you and we had been on the road for a couple weeks," Gabrithon admitted.
"Mine was a little different. The voice told me to stay away from you when we were still mining. It's why I stayed distant for so long," Valtrak added.
"It was while I was imprisoned. He promised my freedom if I would kill you," Pinnathir said darkly. "And…I-I almost said yes, Filynora. He had me on hallucinogens and the Dark Ones had me thinking I was an assassin. Once I came down from the high, I realized what lies they were." He paused. "I had to tell you that. I'm sorry."
I was in shock. Could the Dark Ones actually influence dreams? It seemed so. And whichever Dark One it was—or maybe it was the Dark Master!—they wanted me dead. I had never truly thought about that. They all were sent to capture me at first. Now, it appeared that it was capture, or if you can't do that, then kill. It was a scary thought. There was a knock on the stable door, and I turned as Elthinor got up and opened it. It was the king.
"Good morning," he said cheerily. "Are you ready for today's meeting?"
"Yes sire," Elthinor said with a bow. Everybody followed suit, including me.
"You may rise," Lolaiken said with a wave of his hand.
"I think I'm going out to the city again," I said.
"What are you doing out there?" Elthinor asked; I hadn't told any of them why I went out into the city when I missed the meeting as I wanted finding Elthinor's family to be a surprise.
"Just meeting Elves and exploring," I said, which wasn't a total lie.
"Oh. Well, don't get lost," Elthinor said.
"Come, I have had breakfast brought out to the square for you. Then we shall head over to the meeting hall."
We ate quickly then I bid them goodbye. I hurried through the streets. When I was an hour into the city, I began questioning Elves. Hours later, several Elves pointed me to one of the survivors of the attack, and I quickly found him. He stared at me intently.
"Weren't you the Human servant of the Cyzaens?"
"Why do you look like an Elf then?"
"I'm a half-Elf. But I must know, are the Cyzaens still alive?"
"Yes. They live right next to me."
"Can you take me to them?"
"Certainly," he said then began leading me through the streets.
He knocked on the door when we got there, and it opened to reveal Melanari. She glanced at the Elf then her eyes fell on me. Her jaw dropped, and she let out a piercing shriek, diving towards me and embracing me tightly. The noise brought Selaniam and Gilronin to the door.
"Filynora?" Selaniam asked in shock.
"She's alive! Maybe Elthinor's alive, too!" Melanari crowed.
"Of course he is," I said as she released me. "But he doesn't know if you are alive or not."
"Well where is he then?" Gilronin demanded.
I didn't like his tone, but smiled as I replied. "He is discussing matters of war with the king and his council."
There was silence. "Really?" he finally asked.
"Yes. I'm sure he would be delighted if you all came to see him once he's done for the day."
"Of course!" Melanari and Selaniam exclaimed.
"Fine," Gilronin said, quite unenthused.
They got ready, and we left, moving through the city swiftly. Melanari kept asking questions about her brother, but I just told her to wait and see. I bumped into an Elf and he glanced at me, his face suddenly showing distaste.
"Watch it Human," he spat.
Anger warmed me, and I triggered my decorations. He yelped and backed up.
"I know. Now if you'll excuse us," I said coldly, pushing past him and continuing on.
"What did you do dear?" Selaniam asked.
I paused and turned my face towards them. They didn't say anything, so I turned back around and started walking again. I hoped they were following me.
"Filynora," Melanari said gently.
"Yes?" I asked.
"Oh. I-I…Thank you," I stammered.
We moved in silence and got to the palace just in time. Elthinor was just coming around the corner with Jaiden. Melanari shrieked again and sprinted for her brother. My Elven friend looked up at the noise and let out a cry of his own, hurrying to meet her. Selaniam hurried by me with Gilronin as Elthinor scooped up his sister and spun her around, both of them laughing. I saw my other friends come to stand beside Jaiden, and I was beside them quickly.
"What is going on?" Gabrithon asked.
"Who are they?" Valtrak added.
"The male Elf is Gilronin, the older female is Selaniam, and the younger is Melanari. They are Elthinor's family," I replied.
"So that's what you were doing!" Jaiden exclaimed.
"Yes," I said with a soft smile. "How did the meeting go?"
"It went well," he said. "We're reaching a decision."
"That's good. Do you know how much longer? We have already been here for a month."
"A week at the most," Gabrithon said with a nod.
"Can we go meet his family?" Pinnathir asked then headed over there without an answer.
The others hurried to catch up, and Valtrak glanced at me uneasily. There could be trouble. Sure enough, when my friends got up to them, Melanari was the first one to notice them. She looked at Gabrithon, then at Valtrak, and finally her eyes landed on Pinnathir. She screamed and jerked backwards. Elthinor whipped around, looking ready to hurt what had made Melanari act like that. When he us, he lowered his fist.
"Melanari, these are my friends," Elthinor said, turning and grabbing her hand.
"B-but the Satyr!" she gasped.
"You know, I forgot Elves hate me," Pinnathir said thoughtfully. "All of the council has been most kind to me, though it was probably by the king's orders."
"You are friends with a Satyr?" Gilronin asked. "That's almost as ridiculous as those Follower beliefs you dabbled in before you left. I'm glad that nonsense is gone, at least." Elthinor didn't respond to that, other than looking down and shuffling his feet. Gilronin pursed his lips. "It is gone, isn't it son?"
"Not really," Elthinor finally answered in a small voice.
"Not really?" Gilronin roared. Before he could continue, somebody cleared his throat.
"Your majesty," Elthinor said, bowing low. His face was burning, so I thought maybe that was another reason he'd bowed.
Everybody bowed, except for the two female Elves. They curtsied. The king waved his hand and bid us to rise.
"So, I see that you've found Elthinor's family," he said, nodding at the three Elves.
"Yes," I replied.
"Good. They may stay in the palace so as to be close to you, Elthinor."
"Great," Elthinor said unenthusiastically, glancing at his father.
"Now, dinner shall be out here for you in a few minutes. If it pleases the Cyzaens, would you like to dine with me tonight?"
"Oh sire, it would be an honor," Gilronin said respectfully.
"But we're not dressed for it," Selaniam protested.
"Milady, you look beautiful. And your daughter, too," Lolaiken said. They both flushed.
"Oh, very well then," Elthinor's mother said, running her fingers through her hair.
The king gestured for them to follow him then turned and went up the palace steps. Selaniam and Melanari followed immediately, but Gilronin grabbed Elthinor's upper arm. Elthinor tried to shrug him off, but I saw the grip tighten.
"We are not through discussing this little Follower issue, Elthinor," he said, then released the boy and hurried to catch up with his wife and daughter.
Elthinor's face was burning again. He stood there, close to tears. But he wouldn't cry. Not in front of our friends, if he could help it.
"You can't let him push you around like that," Gabrithon said suddenly.
"Doesn't your father do that to you?" Elthinor spat.
The Centaur's face softened. "Yes. He does. That's why you must stand up to him. That's my advice."
I smelled the food as the servants began to come down the steps with covered dishes.
"I don't know if I can, Gabrithon," Elthinor said softly. "And I don't want to talk about this right now. Let's just eat and go to bed."
Gabrithon dropped it as the food reached us, and we all began to eat in awkward silence.