"Where are Elthinor and Jaiden?" Lolaiken asked as we gathered in the throne room.
"Elthinor was spending time with his family," I replied. "Jaiden went with your son to go get him."
"Very good. As you know, we leave out tomorrow. I have noticed a conspicuous lack of weaponry, swords in particular. I had our smiths forge three swords."
"They'll be relieved, I'm sure," Valtrak said.
"My good Dwarf," the king said curiously. "What is the thing you use as a weapon?"
"A double bladed axe, your majesty."
"Is that normal for your kind?"
"Of course. The average Dwarf is gifted an axe by his relatives by the age of thirteen. Just in case we run into any mules."
"Centaurs," Elthinor said, looking a little too cheery as he walked up. "He calls Gabrithon a mule because they pick on each other."
"Are you all right?" I asked suspiciously.
"Just fine," my Elven friend said with a too-big smile.
"His father was pushing him around. He even got slapped," Lochanor said with a shake of his head.
I pressed my lips together tightly. "Elthinor…"
"It was nothing, Fily, I promise."
"It's not nothing Elthinor," I said, looking down at the ground. I hated how Gilronin was acting.
He reached over and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Fily, I-" he started.
"The king had a sword made for you," I cut in, turning my back to him.
"Really?" he asked excitedly then frowned. "Fily what do you expect me to do? He's my father."
"Yes, he is, but you're not a little boy any more. You're an Elf in your own right."
His face turned red around his designs. "You really think so?"
"I certainly think so, young one," Lolaiken said. "You've done things most Elves never think of and that few would dare to do. Besides, you conduct yourself in a very Elfly manner. I'd say you're more of an Elf than your father is."
Elthinor looked nothing short of delighted. He laughed and spun me around happily then actually kissed my cheek. I gasped and pressed my hand to the spot he had kissed, shocked. He'd never done anything like that before, and it made my stomach tighten. He calmed down when he saw the look on my face and smiled.
"Sorry, Fily. I didn't think before I did that," he said apologetically.
"Oh, that's all right," I said, lowering my hand. As soon as the looks appeared on the faces of all the males, I grew angry. "Stop laughing! I can't control my blush! Besides it's not funny."
"It is a little funny," Pinnathir said, shrugging with an amused smile.
I harrumphed and spun around, storming outside and sitting beside where Gabrithon was standing.
"Fily? What's the matter?" he asked, kneeling down.
"They're all laughing at me," I pouted.
I hesitated then showed him my face; I could feel it was still warm. He blinked and smiled just like Pinnathir had. I growled, lowering my head back down. He chuckled.
"Fily, we can't help it."
"You can help it," I asserted. "You just choose not to. Anyway, they got new swords."
"That's useful. Jaiden's made great strides training with the Elven guards. He's good enough for a sword now, I believe."
"The training methods the Elves use are very efficient. He had hardly made any progress before we got here," I admitted.
"Elthinor told me they were developed in times of great war. When they were still fighting the Satyrs, that is," Gabrithon explained.
I hummed in response and we just sat there, or knelt there in Gabrithon's case, and watched the Elves milling about. It was nice to sit in silence and just bask in each other's company. It took an hour for the others to come out, and they quickly walked over to us. Elthinor and Jaiden each had a sword belted on their waists and Pinnathir was carrying his.
"I need a belt. I was in there talking with the leather worker, explaining how my belt needed to be formed," he explained.
"So that's why you took so long," I said, looking up at them.
"Yes," Elthinor said. "That and we were discussing our departure tomorrow."
"Is everything in order?"
"Yes. We just need to go pack our bags. I suggest we do it now. The king is bringing out some crystals so we each can pack some."
I nodded. "Very well then. Let's go do it."
We packed up quickly and spent the rest of the day practicing our sword fighting. Jaiden had improved greatly and could actually hold his own against me, though he was a little awkward at first. I didn't blame him; it was his first time with a real sword. We went to sleep early and got up early, too. We hurried outside the gate to where we would be meeting to see the king and the prince and a few Elves grouped together here and there. Lochanor noticed us first.
"Hail Filynora," he said, sounding more respectful than he had the day before.
"Hail," I said. "What changed in your attitude?"
"Well, I've been thinking about those stories Elthinor told. I must ask you, and please answer me honestly, did you do all that?"
"About you killing an Aswang and Vampires and all those other monsters," he said, his eyes locked on mine.
Instead of answering him verbally, I shrugged my pack off and carefully pulled down my shirt to reveal my shoulder scar. The prince reached for it as if to touch it, but Elthinor snatched his hand and threw it back towards his body. He stood protectively in front of me.
"I would keep in mind, my prince, that she is, in fact a girl, and that touching here anywhere near there is quite inappropriate."
"Oh! You are quite right! I ask that both of you forgive me," he said quickly, holding up his hands and backing up a little bit.
I stared at him. Everything had happened so fast that I hadn't had time to think. Elthinor was right, of course, but I hadn't thought of it that way; I had been willing to let him touch the scars. Realizing that Elthinor was waiting for me to forgive him—or not—first, I fixed my shirt and smiled.
"I forgive you."
"Then I forgive you, too," Elthinor said. "But don't let it happen again."
Lochanor nodded then walked away, probably thinking he would just get into more trouble being around me. Elthinor turned to look at me, his demeanor softening.
"Filynora, I need you to keep that in mind, too."
"What?" I asked.
"That you are a girl," he said softly, taking my hands in his. "You can't just do things like that. There is such a thing as propriety."
My cheeks flushed, and I opened my mouth to give a snide comment about him and Gabrithon having seen me shirtless. Before I could, Lolaiken came up to us. He arched an eyebrow when he saw my face.
"Am I interrupting something?" he asked.
"No," I said through clenched teeth, jerking my hands out of Elthinor's.
He looked surprised. "Filynora, I'm just looking out for you."
"And besides that, he's got a good point," Valtrak said, coming over to place his hand on the back of my hand.
I didn't answer. I knew they were both right, but I didn't need them to remind me that I was a girl. I hated that fact enough already. Instead of mentioning that little fact, I turned to the king and made my face pleasant.
"May I help you, your majesty?"
"I was just coming over to see what made my son leave so quickly."
"It was a small matter that we have taken care of. Please don't worry about it," Elthinor said with a low bow.
"If you insist," Lolaiken said, nodding his head. "Now I hope you are ready to go?"
"Yes," my Elven friend replied.
"Your majesty?" Valtrak asked. "I would like to personally thank you for the crystals you've given us. Many of them have the potential to become gorgeous gems. You have given up very valuable things for me. You weren't obligated to do that." He paused. "Do you have multiple gems for your sword? I notice that you have a blue sapphire in there now instead of the amethyst I ate."
The king smiled. "Yes. We do indeed have many gems for my sword. This one has a snugger fit than the other one, for which I am glad. We have a hard war against them, don't we?"
"Yes, we do," Pinnathir said as he and Jaiden walked up; they had been getting Pinnathir's new belt for his sword. "Those monsters are hard to fight, and the stronger they get, the trickier they are."
The king nodded, then looked around, frowning. "I do hope that more Elves show up."
"You said we would be fighting with Satyrs, Father," Lochanor said; Elthinor gave him a sharp look, but the Elven prince continued. "I know I find that unappealing. Others will, too."
"Well, even if we don't get many out of this city, I've sent runners to every Elven village, town, and city. With the full message, mind you, so they should be more eager to help."
Only two thousand Elves gathered on the grass, plus many to see them off. When Melanari came up to me, I thought she was just here to say goodbye, but Gilronin and Selaniam came forward, too. They looked like they were dressed to travel.
"Are you coming with us?"
"The king said he needed female Elves to come, too, in his written announcement," Selaniam said, embracing me.
"I think it's ridiculous, sending a female into battle," Gilronin groused.
"But father," Melanari protested. "Filynora goes to battle all the time."
"She's not natural."
That one stung. Elthinor looked upset.
"Father, leave her alone. She's just fine the way she is."
Gilronin grabbed his son's arm. "I didn't ask you. She's nothing but a freak, and I still cannot believe you travel with her."
Elthinor got really red and his designs stopped shimmering. He jerked his arm out of the older Elf's grip and stood tall.
"You are just a bitter old Elf who has nothing better to do than to insult people and order them around. Grandfather took quite a bit from you and said nothing, but I can't stand it anymore! You're mean, and you only get joy from bringing other people down. I'm a Follower of Jesiah. So are most of my friends. And Filynora is an amazing girl for whom I'd give my life. Yes we're different, but that doesn't mean that you have to keep hounding us about it. Now, if you're just going to act like you usually do, I suggest you let mother and Melanari come with us while you go back into that city alone. Dare I say, that's where you belong, what with the way you act."
There was silence after Elthinor had finished. He was glaring at Gilronin intently. His father looked surprised, staring wide-eyed at him. Gilronin slowly blinked then crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes.
"Is that so, young Elf?" he asked, mocking. "Well if I'm staying, then your mother and sister are staying, too."
He was about to grab their hands and drag them towards the city when some Elf cleared his throat. When Gilronin dropped into a bow, and the two females into a curtsy, I knew who it was. I turned to look anyway, and it was indeed the king.
"You are Gilronin," Lolaiken said as they all straightened.
"Yes, your majesty."
"You shall let them come with us, if that is what they wish. Maybe that will teach you the lesson your son's speech was meant to."
Gilronin looked angry, but he quickly resigned. "Yes, sire."
"I'm not going anywhere without my husband," Selaniam said. "Now if you'll excuse us, your majesty. Come along Melanari."
But the young Elf girl didn't move. "I want to go with them."
The two Elves jerked around and stared at her.
"Melanari, sweetheart, what do you mean?" Selaniam asked.
"I mean just what I said. I want to go with them."
"But you're too young," Gilronin asserted.
"I'm fifteen," Melanari said defensively. "That's how old Filynora was when she was at our house the first time."
"But you're different than she is," Elthinor said.
"I'm coming. The king said I could, didn't you?" she asked, turning to look at Lolaiken.
"I did. But if you do come, you mustn't complain about the long distances we will travel. And you must actually do something once we get to Greensage."
"I will. I'm good at cooking and sewing."
"Then I see no reason why you shouldn't come. Get ready to go."
"I'm already ready," Melanari said happily.
The king nodded then walked away, and Melanari was given a tearful goodbye by her parents. Then they left. Melanari stood with us, but she didn't join in any conversation. She seemed content to just listen. About half an hour later, the king sent messengers out to proclaim the news about the creatures wanting to attack them. That caused a stir, but there was no time for one. We started out, the Elves marching.
"You ready?" I asked Melanari.
"I guess so," she replied.
"Well, there's no going back now."