Shaylee looked at me, a gang of young Elfinas behind her. I arched an eyebrow; my forehead no longer hurt, so I could hold the expression. Shaylee's hand was completely bandaged from the wrist up. I hoped it hurt. The Elf girls were looking me up and down, sizing me up.
"You were right, Shaylee, she is," a blue and grey Elf said.
"I am what?" I asked.
"I told them how ugly you are," she said lightly.
"I know I'm not a perfect little girl, but that doesn’t bother me anymore."
"What? No! I mean physically. You're so plain and boring. Even your designs are stupid. I can't believe Elthinor can look at you without flinching."
It felt like a knife was plunged into my chest. I didn't know what to think. That hurt. I had never considered myself beautiful. I knew better than that. I thought I was at least a little pretty. I thought about who was talking, but I couldn't shake the truth of the words. I wasn't even pretty. I was in pain, and Shaylee smirked.
"Poor Filynora," she crooned. "Elthinor can't care about you. You're just too different yet so very plain."
I reached forward and squeezed her injured hand, making her cry out, then shoved past them angrily. I hurried to Leah's house and opened the door. Nobody was home, but she said I was welcome anytime. I walked over to the mirror they had hung by the entrance to her and her husband's bedroom. There was plenty of light so I could clearly see myself. My face was plain, I decided as I stared at it. And my hair was straight and plain as well. My skin was tanned from my many adventures in the sun's harsh light. Elthinor's skin hadn't tanned much at all. It was still pale, which was the preferred shade by Elven culture. I brought my designs forward and saw no beauty in them. They were simply a mar on my skin, and the color did nothing for my hair. I wasn't just plain, I thought unhappily, I was ugly. But, I thought with a little hope, I could make myself seem pretty.
I went through the day miserable. I gave a false smile every time Elthinor looked my way and he grew immensely concerned. Maybe he was faking it? Maybe. I was just too…me, I thought sadly. I finally left my friends and wandered over to the Satyrs' camp. I found the two I was looking for. Melanari was putting up Laetitia's hair. There was going to be a celebration of the five races being together for the first time in ages tonight, suggested by Gabrithon, of course, and the other four races agreed. We were having it to the southeast of the town; tables were already being carried out there. There was food being prepared from every race, all different recipes and ways of preparation.
"Hello, Filynora!" Laetitia said.
"Hello," I said, standing in front of the two of them. "I have a request."
"And what would that be?"
"I was thinking that this celebration is a special occasion, so I want to look my best. Could you two help me get ready once you're done?"
They both leaped up, squealing in their eagerness. "Yes!" came their cries.
"Thank you. I'll be in Leah's house."
"Do you have a dress for the occasion?" Melanari asked.
"Dress for whom?" Miyana asked as she came out of the tent.
"Filynora. She wants to be dressed up for tonight."
Miyana's eyes went directly to mine. "Why?"
"I just want to look nice for tonight," I replied.
"No other reason?"
"Well," she said slowly. "In that case, I have a lovely dress for you. I had the tailors make several new ones for you."
I wanted to groan, but this is what I was asking for, so I simply smiled when she brought out a green and silver dress. Melanari smiled and ran her hands over the material then looked directly at me, nodding.
"That is absolutely perfect."
"It matches Elthinor's colors," I said, smiling. "I like it."
"Good. Now, we'll be at Leah's house in a few hours."
I walked back to the house, walking in to see Leah cooking a pot of stew. I suddenly had an idea. I made first one thick circle of dough and formed it into a bowl with straight edges, then another. Once I was sure it would hold its shape, I placed them in the oven. Two hours later, I took the dish out of the oven. I told Leah what I needed, then I went out and got two rabbits. I walked in the house and cooked them with apple slices and chopped onions.
While those were cooking, I got the top pastries ready, humming to myself. Once the rabbit was done, after I'd mixed in some cider so that it could simmer, I took out the meat, apples, and onions and placed them in the thick pastry bowl. I mixed flour and butter together, cut the resulting paste into small bits, and placed them into the mixture left in the pan, stirring it until it thickened. I added a couple spices then sniffed as I tasted it. Satisfied, I poured half the mixture in one pastry and half in the other. I then placed the tops over them, cut slits in them for the steam to escape, then placed them beside the oven. I would put them in about forty-five minutes before the celebration. Right then, Melanari and Laetitia opened the door.
"Mm, smells good in here," the pink and purple Elf lass said.
"Rabbit coffyns," I said with a smile. "My mother's recipe. I don't know what Leah's making."
"Damian slaughtered one of our lambs. I'm making lamb stew, slow cooked to bring out the flavor," Leah said. "You two look quite nice. What are you doing here? And with a dress?"
"We just finished getting ready for the celebration tonight. We're here for Filynora," Laetitia said, grabbing me to move to Jaiden's room.
"Really?" Leah asked.
"I want to look nice for tonight," I said with a shrug. "If this goes on too long, the coffyns take about forty-five minutes, okay?"
"What's a coffyn?" Melanari asked.
"It looks like a pie," Laetitia said, releasing me and walking over to them.
"Yes, yes it does," the Elf girl said.
"You and your people call my Kindle Wolf a Hellhound," I said to her. "I can call your pie a coffyn."
"Well, I suppose we can take that. Now come on."
After closing the shutters, they actually had Leah bring a tub in so I could wash. It took an hour to heat up enough water so that I could soap myself down. Once my body was clean, they wrapped me in a towel and washed my hair vigorously. Not once, but twice! They rinsed it out the second time then rubbed the wet mass to dry it as much as they could. Then they dressed me. The dress draped past my knees, but they frowned when they looked at my shoes.
"I've got some," Melanari said, opening the door only enough to slip out.
I could smell my coffyns baking in the oven as we waited. Laetitia poked my shoulder.
"Isn't a coffin what you put dead things in?"
"So why do you call them coffyns?"
"Because dead things are in them."
"Well the rabbits are dead aren't they?"
She looked a little sick. "Remind me not to eat that."
I smirked. "Don't eat that."
She laughed and shoved me. "You know something," she said after a moment. "I was rather surprised when you asked us to do this. You never want to act like, well, like a girl. Is there some other reason you wanted us to do this?"
Yes, I thought, Shaylee said I was ugly, and I want to prove to her that a little working over from you can make even this wretched creature pretty. But of course I said none of it. I simply shook my head and smiled, evasive in my answer.
"I just feel like doing something a little different, that's all."
Melanari came back and set her shoes down then they came over and started to discuss what they would do with my hair. When it was dry enough for their tastes, they swept the front part of it back into a braid then did small braids around the back beneath it. They then started to paint my face.
"Enhancing your features," Laetitia said, Melanari nodding in agreement.
When that was done, they got me into the shoes and stared at me. They both finally smiled. "Absolutely lovely," came the simultaneous reply. They threw open the door in order to show Leah. They paused at the tall, gruff looking Human man staring at us suddenly.
"Hello Damian," I said.
His eyebrows knit together. "Filynora? You're…What are you wearing? This looks nothing like you!"
"Oh my dear, you look lovely!" Leah exclaimed, hurrying out of her room.
"You look nice, too," I said, smiling kindly.
"Go look in the mirror while Laetitia helps me into my dress," Melanari said.
Leah guided me over to the mirror. Damian had been right, I looked nothing like myself. My brown eyes were framed by green, and they stood out quite a bit. My face was a nice even tone, no freckles apparent. I hesitated then concentrated and my designs came forward. They were a little covered in some spots but didn't argue with the colors they had chosen. I smiled. I did look pretty. I couldn't wait to see Shaylee's face!
The door opened so Melanari and could Laetitia step out. They looked gorgeous, of course. We gathered our food, the pink and purple Elf carrying the other coffyn, and we went out to the fields where the celebration was centered. As I was about to set down the Elven-named pie, I heard Elthinor's voice.
"Melanari! Have you seen Filynora? Some people have said that you were seen talking with her," he asked, coming closer.
I turned around. He froze. My other friends were behind him, and with them, staring in disbelief and outrage, was Shaylee. I watched as Elthinor's eyes traced my frame, taking in how I looked. Then he smiled, stepped forward, and sniffed the coffyn in my hands.
"What have we got here, my little Fily?" he asked, his eyes shining in the light of the setting sun.
"Rabbit coff—Rabbit pie. I made them myself."
"Well then, I must taste it," he said, turning to our friends. "What do you think?"
"Filynora made something?" Gabrithon asked. "Oh yes, I have to try this."
Before I knew it, they each had a good chunk of it, eating it happily, except for Shaylee who was glaring directly at me. I smiled sweetly at her then looked at Elthinor for his judgment.
"This is delicious! You need to give my mother this recipe. She's never made rabbit pie before."
"It's my mother's recipe. I'd be glad to give it to her," I said with a nod.
My other friends each commented happily that it was delicious. I felt delight seep through my being. I was never much of a cook, but I could do it when I had to. Or when I felt like it. The compliments were nice but not as nice as Elthinor looking me over every minute or so. It made that strange feeling of lightness and heaviness settle in my stomach. I smiled, feeling my cheeks warm up. To hide that fact, I turned to move the other coffyn around before cutting a piece for myself. Elthinor set his plate down and grabbed a wooden cup, filling it with wine. He offered it to me then got one for himself. Melanari, Laetitia, Leah, and Damian had wandered away after we had arrived. Once we had finished the wine, Elthinor opened his mouth to speak, but Shaylee could stand it no longer and spoke first.
"Elthinor, I believe you promised me a few dances," she said, batting her eyelashes.
"Oh?" he frowned. "I suppose I did."
They walked towards the sounds of music. I felt that hot ember burst into my belly, my fists clenching.
"Greetings, daughter of mine," Elyosius said as he came up with Ember. "Looks like we got here just in time for the celebration, eh, Aloron?"
They both smiled at each other then looked at me.
"What, pray tell, are you wearing?" my father asked lightly.
"Clothing," I said, trying to see past them. Ember bumped my hand with his nose.
"Yes, but why that particular style?" Aloron asked.
"Daughter, you do not seem like the kind of girl to wear a dress. Even as a small Elfling you wore trousers."
"I just wanted to look nice!" I spat viciously. "Now move!"
I slammed past both of them and left Ember whining from being struck. It was harsh, but I was more focused on what that horrible she-Elf was doing. I stopped when I could see them. Most of the people, from every race, were near the long tables set up for their particular types of food. Some were browsing, but most of them were being safe and staying at their own races' table. My eyes were locked on the spinning couple. It was a horrible slow song, and her head was up against his chest. A raging fire was soon burning inside of me; I narrowed my eyes. Then I asked myself a question: why did I care so much? After thinking it over for a moment, I could only come to one conclusion. I knew she was trouble, and I was just looking out to my friend. Yes, that's what it was.
I turned and Elyosius seized my arm. Aloron was beside him.
"What?" I asked irritably.
"I do not believe what I just saw! You never act like that! You just disrespected both of us!"
I opened my mouth for a snappish reply, but Aloron seemed to read my mind.
"Think very carefully about what you are going to say, Filynora. God is always watching and listening," he said.
My mouth snapped shut, and I swallowed, feeling my cheeks heat up. What was wrong with me? I never acted like that. Just recalling what I had done to the two of them, even though it might seem small to the more rebellious, made me feel horrible. I relaxed and lowered my head.
"I'm sorry. Really, I am. I just…I'm a little…I'm going through something," I finally managed to spit out.
"Looks like a rivalry to me," Aloron said, smiling knowingly.
"Rivalry? No, she's just not right for Elthinor, that's all," I said.
To my chagrin, they both laughed, looking at each other. What was so funny? They looked at me then stopped laughing immediately, though mirth was still in their eyes.
"All right, Filynora," Aloron said. "Just please try to be more polite, even in a jealous haze."
"So what if I'm jealous?" I demanded. "He was my friend first! She needs to go and find her own friends instead of spending all her time with mine!"
"Friend?" my father asked, suddenly looking extremely confused. Aloron looked like he agreed with him.
"Yes, friend," I said. "Why does everybody react like that when I say that?"
"Filynora, don't you realize that Elthinor—" Aloron began.
"Grandfather, Elyosius!" Elthinor greeted, embracing his grandfather. Shaylee stomped on my foot, smiling prettily.
"Oh Ember!" I sang, and he came bounding over to me. The wretched she-Elf shrieked and leaped over to the other side of Elthinor. I hid my smirk as I knelt down to kiss my pet's head.
"Hello, Elthinor. What are you doing?" Elyosius asked.
"I came to ask Fily to dance with me," he said cheerily, taking my hands.
"Now, Elthinor, you know I can't dance," I said, trying to tug my hands away.
"Nonsense! I danced with you at Stonemere, and I'll dance with you here in Greensage! Just follow my lead."
I was led away, and we began to dance. It was fun, though I kept expecting Vampires and Naga to leap out to attack people. Elthinor chuckled as he spun me around.
"You know something Fily, and I noticed this with the Satyrs," he began, pulling me close. "You have remarkable grace for a person who doesn't dance very much. And your fighting's graceful, too."
"Thanks," I said, enjoying myself quite a bit; I could feel Shaylee glaring at me.
"You know, I haven't said much about it, but you look beautiful. Who did you up like this?"
"Your sister and Laetitia," I replied.
"They sure know how to make your eyes stand out."
I blushed, the contradicting feelings in my stomach returning. We danced for an hour or more then we took a break after dark. I walked over to get some water, drinking deeply. Shaylee was suddenly beside me. I looked at her coolly.
"Yes?" I asked.
"You know what? I've finally figured out why those 'friends' of yours give you so much attention," she said sharply.
"Oh? And why's that?"
She told me, and rage hit me so fast that I couldn't control myself. I slammed my fist into the side of her head and she dropped, unconscious. I stood there, breathing heavily. Everybody was staring at me as my face grew hot. When Elthinor walked forward, tears filled my eyes, and I began to run as fast as I could.