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Archives: The Golden Egg

Chapter 2: Arrival in Dragon Breath

    Reaching the capital city of Moss took several days at the slow pace on foot. As promised, Aiden gave Eliamn lessons in riding and Tiash was ridden whenever someone was too tired to walk any further. They passed through a couple villages, but for the most part, the elves camped in the wilderness. The simple villagers didn’t take very kindly to pointy-ears sometimes, but once they reached the city, they were met with a wide variety of reactions ranging from awe, to nonchalance, to open fear. Less people had a negative reaction here though. Naclia was in awe of the city though, she’d never seen so many people in one place before.

    “Maybe...we should find one of those inns here,” Naclia said, obviously distracted.

    Aiden whistled as he looked around, just about as distracted as Naclia. “Um...yeah, an inn,” he said absently. “Where do you think we’d find one?”

    A bit overwhelmed herself, Eliamn looked around left and right from atop Tiash’s saddle. She began feeling slightly queasy about the presence of so many humans around, but she shook head trying to dispel that feeling. “From my understanding of how cities seem to be built...” she began hesitantly, “Wouldn’t it make sense to place inns close to where travelers pass by, like city gates? I’m sure we could find one close by—try asking someone.”

    “That makes sense,” Naclia replied, though a little embarrassed at having something so obvious pointed out to her. She turned her attention to the buildings, looking at the signs. They didn’t really need to ask anyone, there were several inns within view on the main street.

    “How about that one?” Naclia pointed to a large and good looking inn with a sleeping dragon on the sign with the text, ‘The Dragon’s Roost’ beneath. The building was in good repair and appealed to Naclia.

    Aiden looked the building over, then followed Naclia, leading Eliamn on Tiash. “If we can afford it,” Aiden murmured. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to stay at an inn, but it was a part of the full experience. Aiden much preferred sleeping in a tree or on the ground, closer to nature. However, as a pretty young woman with black hair walked by, Aiden decided it might not be so bad in the city. He gave her a charming grin, which was returned with a shy smile and a blush. There was such beautiful variety to humans, he’d give them that much.

    “Well, hopefully I should have enough coins to allow us that much.” Eliamn replied, eying the insides of her money pouch. Once Aiden led Tiash into the stables she disembarked and was about to help him care for the horse like she had been taught to... but her curiosity won over her. She edged toward the inn’s door, curled her fingers around the doorknob and tentatively began opening the door.

    The first thing that assaulted her sense was the heat and sound that hit her almost like a wall along with the smells of greasy meat, sweat, pungent liquor and burning pine. She gasped and slammed the door shut and ran back to the stables—pale as a ghost.

    Now, the stables might be a bit smelly and the road dusty—but there still was the wide expanse of the sky above them and the promise of freedom from the city gates. Eli didn’t consider herself claustrophobic or scared of crowds, but, seeing so many people gathered in such a little enclosed space was mind boggling to her.

    “What’s wrong?” Naclia asked as she saw Eli return, sheet white with shock. “They didn’t chase you out did they?”

    “N-No,” Eliamn replied uneasily, her ears drooping. “It’s just... well... the inn is...” she swallowed hard and tried getting her composure. She pointed back toward the door. “There’s a whole village-worth of people crammed up in there. There was the noise, the heat and the smell...” she shuddered and hugged herself. “Sorry, I guess I was a bit overwhelmed.”

    Naclia eyed the door of the inn uneasily. It would be an uncomfortable experience for all of them, most likely. “Well, let’s all stick together,” Naclia replied. “We will be fine then. Aiden, come on!”

    After stabling his horse, Aiden hurried over to his companions. He put an arm around both Naclia and Eliamn’s shoulders, having heard the conversation. “Let’s go in,” he said confidently and started to lead them both to the door.

    Naclia paused with her hand on the door, gathering her courage briefly, in case the inn was as bad as Eliamn said it was. The ranger then pushed open the door and slid out from under Aiden’s arm.

    Indeed, the inn was crowded--to elven standards--and was thick with smell and was a little warmer than comfortable. Naclia snapped her jaw shut when she realized that she had been staring with her mouth hanging open. She stood a little straighter and strode toward the common room, but once she was there, she didn’t know exactly what she should do. After a moment of consideration, Naclia headed toward an empty table near the stairwell. As the three elves passed through the room, conversations quieted and the attention of the patrons was drawn directly to them. Some stared in awe, there were a few who seemed apprehensive, and a good number of the men’s eyes suddenly became glued to Naclia’s chest. She heard a couple girls giggling and glanced back to see two barmaids staring dreamily at Aiden.

    Naclia slipped into a chair at the table she’d chosen as quickly as she could without running to the seat. A blush had grown on her fair cheeks with all the attention they were receiving.

    Eliamn herself just barely managed to follow Naclia around. Just a few steps after they went in, she had frozen. Some sort of irrational terror had struck her—something about the tight spaces and so many humans stifling the common room. Only her pride stopped her from latching onto Aiden and letting him drag her in. Not considering the repercussions that would have with Aiden himself, she would be showing her unease to all the humans around.

    Instead, she took a deep breath of the stale air, squared her shoulders and grimly followed Naclia around—after all, it wouldn’t do to have an elf look like a stupid peasant in human lands.

    To her credit, only the white knuckles of her clenched fists and her rigid up swept ears even hinted as how nervous she felt as she glided toward the table and sat near Naclia.

    Aiden glanced back at the barmaids he heard giggling and gave them a charming smile. Out of his group, he was the most at ease. Of course, he was a quarter human. He always wanted to get in touch with that side of him. Naclia was one of the few who knew that about him, since it wasn’t physically obvious. He sat down at the table with his companions and he couldn’t help but be just a little inwardly amused at their tension.

    A barmaid soon came over to their table to take drink orders. Naclia simply asked for wine, then found out just how many there were to choose from. Fortunately, the inn was stocked with an elven vintage from the Mirror Forest, so Naclia choose that. The maid was kind enough to offer a discount since it was from their native land. And possibly thanks to Aiden’s flirting glances. After the maid retreated with their orders, it didn’t take much longer for other patrons to approach them. This time, they weren’t very friendly.

    “Well, look at the pansy elf,” a young man sneered at Aiden. Backing him up was a gang of five other men. “You’re at our table elfie.”

    “Yeah! You go, but leave the wenches!” one of his friends said, grinning at Naclia and Eliamn. He got an elbow in the ribs from his leader.

    “We don’t want your kind here, get out before it gets messy,” the leader of the gang growled, directed at Aiden.

    Naclia hopped to her feet and gripped the hilt of her sword. “Hey! I’m not some piece of meat and we have every right to be here!”

    Talen sat across from the elves in a nearby chair at the bar, taking a rest after his trip. Ahh, now that feels good, he thought and stretched his legs out. He had been traveling for awhile, going from city to city to see what he could learn, but yet most of the time it was a disappointment. As he rested, he couldn’t help but hear a conversation not far from him, it seemed that the group standing before the elves wanted them gone, Talen heard their threatening words. Hmm, seems like this could be trouble, I had better stop this before blood is shed, he thought and stood up, approaching the group. Talen stepped in front of the drunks, standing in between the two groups.

    “Hey now, there is no need for fighting here,” he said, looking at one group then at the other. He had hoped his rank as a knight would help him in stopping this without bloodshed. “As far as I heard, you all were the ones who tried to start this quarrel, so I suggest you leave!” he said and turned to the group of humans in front of him.

    The innkeeper stormed toward the gang as well. “Get out of my inn!” he insisted. “I won’t have you chasing a way or starting a fight with paying patrons!”

    The gang leader looked between the knight and the innkeeper and a number of other patron’s whose attention they had captured. “Fine, we just wont stay at a place that serves fairy freaks,” he sneered, then turned and shoved his way out, his buddies following.

    Naclia gave a sigh of relief, then looked at the knight who’d stood up for them. She gave him a sweet smile as her eyes roved over him approvingly, trying to stay focused on his face at least. “Thank you for your help,” she said.

    Talen sighed softly as the gang left. “It seems like humans still don’t respect elves as much as they should huh?” he said. He turned around and faced the group of elves, soon noticing the elven woman standing before him, whom was the one from the group ready to defend their honor. He stopped for a moment, staring at her, never before in his life had he seen a woman of such beauty and grace. He blushed slightly, not knowing what to say or how to react to her thanks. “Think nothing of it, Milady,” he said and smiled. “It is usual this day and age for things like this to happen. Are all of you alright? Oh, how rude of me, my name is Talen Drecloud, a Knight of Moss.”

    Eliamn wasn’t unfamiliar with the mannerism of people, most especially her people. While not seemingly as fetching, worldly and competent-looking as, say, Naclia, Eliamn hardly blind to was had just passed between Naclia and this Talen. Attraction? To a human? Still, Eli bounded upright at the other’s introduction. “Greetings, sir knight and thank you for your assistance. We’ve left the Mirror Forest and are recent arrivals to Dragon Breath.”

    “This is Naclia and Aiden, both rangers,” she introduced each of her companions before motioning toward herself and adding, “I am Eliamn, a shamaness. We’ve yet to break supper, would you care to join us?” Eli finished, making a motion between Naclia and Aiden, studiously making sure Talen was as close as possible to Naclia while being furthest from herself.

    Naclia took her seat again and watched Talen with a sultry gaze as she waited for him to take up Eliamn’s offer. Aiden noted the looks exchanged between Naclia and Talen as well. He felt a pang of jealousy, which surprised him a bit, but he kept his mouth shut. He could understand Naclia’s attraction, he found the human women were much more attractive since they were so different from what he was used to in the forest.

    Talen nodded, a soft smile played across his lips. “Of course, I wouldn’t dare turn down such a kind offer,” he said and walked a few steps over, taking a seat next to Naclia. He had felt strange, being around elves, he had thought elves normally didn’t like being around humans, but perhaps he was wrong. “So what brings you to this place?” he asked them, looking to each one of them as he did so. He had noticed the look Naclia was giving him, he couldn’t help but keep his eyes on her, looking her over then smiling as his eyes met hers.

    “Adventure,” Naclia replied. “We’ve spent our entire lives in the Mirror Forest, it’s about time we go out and saw the rest of the world.”

    Talen looked over at Naclia as she replied to his question. “Ahh adventure...I see a lot of people these days are looking for a good adventure. I myself am looking for an adventure,” he said softly and smiled at her as his eyes looked over, gazing into hers. “The Mirror Forest? I see, so you are from there,” he said, nodding.

    A maid soon returned with their drink orders and set the glasses in front of them. “Sorry about the commotion,” the maid said apologetically. “Usually we don’t have problems like that. My boss offered to give y’all half price on your rooms, if you’ll stay,” she said, clutching her tray to her chest.

    “Thank you, that’s very kind,” Naclia replied with a warm smile. The maid gave a small curtsy, then left to continue her duties, sparing just a glance for Aiden.

    “Hmm...half price on the rooms sounds good,” Talen said after the maid had left. He pulled out from his side a bag of coins that he had kept in reserve in case he needed a place to stay, or food.

    “Here, I’ll pay for the meal and your rooms, its the least I can do for all that’s happened here,” he said and smiled to them, most people thought of knights as those who like to take advantage of their class, but when he wasn’t on duty, he wished to be like everyone else.

    “Thank you!” Naclia beamed. “That’s very kind.” She leaned toward Talen, propping her chin up on the back of her hand. “You know, we could use a guide, if you’re not familiar with places, at least you are with customs, right?”

    Talen smiled and scratched the back of his head nervously at Naclia. “Think nothing of it, its my pleasure!” he said happily. He felt a bit nervous as she leaned towards him he was never really good at being around women. “ need a guide? Well I am familiar with the area and customs. Perhaps I could be a good guide to you all, if you wouldn’t mind my being along, I would be honored to be your guide,” he said, a soft smile across his lips as he looked to Aiden, then to Eliamn and then to Naclia.

    Aiden took a sip of his wine too keep from saying something that would likely get him slapped by Naclia. Though his relationship with her kept him from any physical attraction to Naclia, he still felt a touch over protective of her. Maybe his pride was a bit wounded as well. “Well, thanks for the offer, Talen,” Aiden said. “We appreciate your help, but you shouldn’t have to spend your money to put us up for the night.”

    Eliamn eyes shifted from Naclia to Talen, at first bemused at their exchange, but her eyes widen in dawning alarmed as she listened to their conversation. Adventurers? Since when? Eliamn knew they were on a journey across Lodoss, but that was just traveling—there was a difference between simply traveling and fending off trouble... and meddling into things that were the stock of bard tales.

    Eliamn meant to warn both her companions about the dangers of getting too close to humans and she meant to talk them over about that silly adventuring business... but not there and now : it would make all of them look bad to start an argument in such a public place. “Well, I’m sure we could take you up on that offer, though I’d rather we do that tomorrow morning,” Eli said as she loosened her collar a bit. “It was a long trip. I, for one, would appreciate getting some rest.” Falis, this place was stifling her!

    Talen shook his head at Aiden’s words. “Please, it would be no problem at all to pay for your stay,” he said with a soft smile. He looked to Eliamn and nodded. “I agree, getting some rest tonight would be good if you have a long way to go for tomorrow,” he said and stretched out a bit. “Will you all be staying in your own rooms or sleeping in one?” he asked them curiously.

    Eliamn frowned and brushed her golden locks behind he ears as she pondered Talen’s question. “err... I don’t know so much about human lodgings. How do customers usually work this out with an innkeeper?”

    Talen looked at them confused, it was obvious though, they hadn’t been to an inn before, or human lodgings were different compared to elven ones. “Well, usually lodgings here have two beds in them. I don’t know what your used to but thats how it is here,” he said with a smile across his lips. “There are three of you, and if I’m staying as well I guess I’ll pay for two rooms,” he said and stood up. “I’ll go make the reservations,” he said and headed to the counter, giving a glance back at Naclia as he walked. I’ve never been so nervous around a woman before, but, she is truly lovely.. he thought as he continued on.

    Naclia turned to Aiden and pointed at him, “Don’t get any of your dirty ideas, you’re sharing the room with Talen. Eliamn and I will take a room for ourselves,” Naclia said, though she was mostly joking. Aiden wouldn’t make a move on her, as far as she knew. He seemed more interested in the dark haired human girls.

    Aiden looked back at Naclia innocently and put his hands up. “I don’t know what you’re thinking about, but I certainly wasn’t thinking that!” he told Naclia. “Besides, I’m not letting you sleep alone in the same room as some human you just met.”

    “Oh?” Naclia replied. “Why, are you jealous? Or afraid for little ’Clia?” Naclia hoped Aiden wasn’t jealous, she didn’t need that complication from her best friend.

    “What right do the both of you have at being jealous anyways?” Eliamn smoothly added, “After all, you’re both gaining a rather large supply of admirers: I’ve been generally ignored.” Eliamn’s smile dispelled any bitter impression from her comment—in fact, she was glad Aiden actually was worried for Naclia too, in his own flippant way.

    “Actually, I’m more worried about him,” Aiden replied with a smirk. Honestly, he was concerned about Naclia as any friend would be. After Terin died he did try to fill the role of brother.

    Aiden was pleased that Eliamn wasn’t feeling left out. She didn’t seem interested in human men, so he didn’t think she would care for them to flirt with her. Aiden had been grinning and winking at women all day, and Naclia, well, she was a well-endowed elf. That definitely drew attention.

    Aiden chuckled, “Well, if you want admirers, you’re going to have to ask for them,” Aiden said with a wink, though he was sure she probably didn’t care for any.

    An embarrassed flush came over Eli’s face—there was simply no way she’d be so bold, especially with humans—but she made a quick recovery. “Um, no, thanks. I don’t think the elders would approve of elf-human pairings anyways.”

    Though it was an airy dismissal of the matter, there was the underlying message of caution behind her apparently self-centered statement. She wanted to say more—Aiden’s pinning for the attention of human women was totally unfathomable for her—but she kept reminding herself repeatedly that both were grown adults and didn’t need her mothering.

    “They do now,” Naclia replied, regarding the elders. “If you remember when the forest was attack by the Demon God about forty years ago, our warriors joined forces with dwarves and humans. Ever since, the elders have been more open to interracial children. You should see all the half-elves in the outer forest.”

    “Alright, ” Eliamn grumbled. “Maybe when I said ‘Elders’, I just meant my parents.”

    Talen stood at the counter, taking out the payment for two rooms. After he did so, he looked back at the three elves he met. Seems like somethings wrong... he thought to himself, noticing the pointing of fingers and exchange of words, even though he couldn’t hear them. Soon he turned around, slowly walking back towards the table, he watched them still, as if trying to read their lips. He had arrived back at the table and smiled at them. “The rooms have been paid for, so if you wish to rest anytime is fine,” he said and sat back down next to Naclia.

    Eliamn rewarded Talen with a smile. “You have our thanks, Sir Knight.” The Keeper shaman looked at him closely and inched forward. “If you’ll forgive my purple hair frequent amongst humans?”

    Talen shook his head, waving a hand before his face at them. “Please, think nothing of it, its my honor,” he said and smiled, then touched his hair at the comment. “Well, I suppose purple hair isn’t really frequent amongst humans, thats what people tell me at least. I suppose I just got lucky or something,” he said, scratching the back of his head nervously.

    Eliamn gave Talen a gracious nod. “You are wise to think of your differences as you being lucky.” She peered around and back at him. “I can tell humans don’t always appreciate differences.”

    Talen smiled and gave her the same nod she gave him. “I thank you, I understand how humans do not respect elves as much as they should. We are allies, not enemies,” he said and looked around at them. “I understand things that you all must be going through, we are different, but yet we are the same in the same instance,” he said with a soft smile.

    Aiden chuckled at Talen’s comments, “If you say so,” he said into his drink. He didn’t think the knight really knew much of what they were experiencing. “Well, we’ve been on the road all day, perhaps we should get a meal and go to bed?” he asked his companions. “Unless anyone wants to explore more.”

    “I personally wouldn’t mind seeing more of the city if you’d like to show me around,” Naclia said to Talen. She glanced back to her companions, her gaze quickly shifting from sultry to friendly. “You two can stay here if you feel more comfortable.” She knew Eliamn wasn’t too comfortable, Naclia expected she probably was feeling a bit homesick as well.

    Eliamn’s head turned to look at Naclia. She looked at the other pointedly, obviously choosing her words before saying, “I really think it would be wiser to face the city of Dragon Breath after a good night’s sleep. I also don’t think it would be a good idea for you to go off on your own.”

    The shamaness turned her head to Talen and smiled apologetically. “Please forgive me, but this place is making me a little edgy and we’ve only just met you, Sir Knight. I am merely concerned about the welfare of my companion. It’s all just so... so foreign.”

    Eli turned her head back to Naclia, “Tomorrow morning?” she proposed, though she came very near to making it a plea. A lot had gone on and she hated to pitch into things. Naclia seemed to be made of sterner stuff though and it really worried her.

    Talen shook his head and smiled. “I know what you mean, please there is no need to explain things, I understand how you feel. Considering we only just met, I would most likely feel the same as you do at this moment,” he said and looked to Naclia. “Perhaps tomorrow morning would be a wise decision to show you around Dragon Breath, that is if you don’t mind?” he said.

    Aiden wasn’t too fond of the idea either. {“You can spend some time with your little boy toy tomorrow Naclia,”} Aiden said in their native language so Talen couldn’t understand. She was taking things far too fast. Aiden knew she never dated before, maybe it was just this new and different man that brought it out in her. “We’ve been walking all day, let’s just relax for awhile,” he said, this time in the common language. “You’ll have plenty of time to explore tomorrow, Naclia.”

    Eli stiffened, her hands clenching into fists under the table and her eyes widening ever so slightly as she heard Aiden’s remark in elvish. Aiden had done the mistake she had tried to avoid, telling off Naclia right away when Naclia hadn’t gone overboard yet.

    Blaming her for something she hadn’t done—Eli wasn’t sure if Naclia was really going for it or if she herself was being paranoid, either way, she just meant to talk about it later...-- and talking in elven in front of an acquaintance was definitely a faux pas.

    She was tempted to discreetly kick Aiden in the shin to have him notice he made a mistake, but decided not to take that privilege away from Naclia. Naclia wasn’t stupid: unless she was REALLY moonstruck, by now she would have noticed her other two companions’ concern.

    Naclia glared icily at Aiden across the table. {“Watch your mouth. I don’t need you to protect me, I can take care of myself. You should know that,”} her voice was just as chilled as her gaze as she spoke in the elven tongue. “I’ll wait until tomorrow then, Talen. I’m sorry for my companion’s rudeness,” she told Talen, her voice starting to warm up again.

    Talen nodded to Naclia in reply to her words. “I understand, its alright,” he said, even though he didn’t understand a word of what they were saying to one another, it must have been important for them to say it in elvish so he wouldn’t understand. “Then tomorrow it is, i look forward to it,” he said looking to Aiden and Eliamn, then back to Naclia and giving her a warm smile.

    Naclia gave Talen a coy smile, anticipating the next day. “Now, how about a warm meal before bed?” she asked, hoping it would change the mood of the table.

    Talen slightly raised an eyebrow at her coy smile, she was certainly giving him flirtatious looks, but getting looks like that from such a lovely lady why would he argue? At the mention of food, his stomach suddenly growled, as if responding to the word. Talen scratched the back of his head and closed his eyes, smiling nervously. “Well a meal sounds good, I paid for that already along with the rooms, so order what you wish!”

    Aiden couldn’t hold Naclia’s gaze for very long, so he hid his face behind his cup and took a long drink. He glanced over the rim at Eliamn, but she didn’t seem to happy with him either. {“Besides, you’re coming on too strong, Naclia,”} he murmured in elvish, then gave Naclia a wink to let her know that it was just friendly advice, not him being facetious.

    Talen looked around at them all, he could tell something was wrong, but he couldn’t determine what it was due to them speaking in elvish. “Well lets get something to eat, then get some rest for tomorrow, if you want to see all of Dragon Breath then we will need some rest,” he said looking to Naclia and giving her a smile.

    Eliamn wanted to snap at Aiden. His behavior wasn’t improving, he still was patronizing Naclia even if inwardly she did agree with him. However, the human knight saved the day by moving on the subject just before she could think of a reproach. “I’d like to try some of those cooked tubers,” she said, pointing the potatoes in the dish of a person on another table. “Maybe some bread and perhaps some salad if there is any, please,” she finished her sentence by rewarding Talen with her most adorable smile.

    Naclia gave Aiden a glare that told him clear enough, ‘Just shut up already!’ Maybe he had a point, she was coming on a bit strong, and she probably could have stood to back off a bit. Talen seemed enthralled with her though.

    “Can we take our dinner in our rooms?” she asked Talen. She didn’t want to hear anything more from Aiden. Naclia was also feeling the urge to just withdraw from the men for the rest of the night before she made a bigger fool of herself in front of her companions.

    Talen nodded in response to Naclia’s words. “Of course, eating in our rooms shouldn’t be a problem,” he said to her, looking around and waiting for a waitress to come and take their orders.

* * *

    Once dinner was ordered, the four new companions retreated upstairs. Naclia and Eliamn took a room while Aiden and Talen took the other.

    As soon as Naclia shut the door behind herself and Eliamn, she leaned against it and gave a heavy sigh. “Maybe Aiden was I right, I was coming on too strong,” Naclia murmured in elven and dropped her traveling pack by the door, followed by her cloak and bow.

    “I guess I’m just enchanted by the adventure.” The ranger shuffled across the floor, then flopped down on her bed, apparently exhausted. She was trying to explain herself to Eliamn. There wasn’t much difference in their age, give or take a month or two, but Eliamn was raised by more orthodox elves, and therefore, it seemed to Naclia that she was more mature than herself--at least in this situation.

    Eliamn gave Naclia a long look as she slipped her backpack from her shoulders and set it down next to her bed. “You don’t really have to justify yourself, you know,” the shamaness replied in elvish as she turned and sat on the covers, stroking her fingertips over the woolen blanket. “I wasn’t going to give you a lecture.”

    Although she would’ve liked to discuss the matter with Naclia, she didn’t feel it was right to give her unbidden advice. Not lecturing was one thing—patronizing quite another. Naclia would talk if she needed to.

    Thus, Eli slowly let herself become limp, her back flopping on the bed softly. “I ache all over,” she admitted with a weary sigh.

    Despite what Eliamn said, Naclia still felt the urge to justify herself, though perhaps it was only for herself. Naclia took off her high boots, then swung her legs up on her bed and laid back. With a sigh, she replied. “Me too.” The bed was comfortable enough that it might just remedy the problem.

    Naclia rolled over on her side to face Eli. “I took things too far in there, didn’t I?” Naclia asked. She wanted to discuss it, she wanted some assurance, guidance, something. The whole night left her dazed and confused.

    The blonde shamaness stared intently at the room’s ceiling, struggling hard to convey the right message. “I admit I was rather alarmed by how you and Aiden conducted yourselves in there. Your enthusiasm did give me a scare. It takes years, perhaps decades for elven love to grow...” her voice trailed off.

    She turned her head toward her ranger companion. “I feel bad telling you what you did is wrong when you have actually done no wrong. You are an adult and it is not right for me to question your actions.”

    “My fear is that you might be heedlessly drawn to that knight like a moth to flame. I understand humans can seem fascinating to you, but they are also different from us—you could be hurt,” she sat up, ears drooping and eyes filled with genuine concern, “I would hate to see heartache come of this... so please Naclia, be careful.”

    Naclia absorbed Eliamn’s words. It seemed tonight as if she’d drifted off course, Eliamn’s reply helped steady it. “You’re right. Besides, I didn’t come to look for a husband. I just need some perspective, thank you, Eliamn,” Naclia replied, then rolled onto her back again.

    Shortly, there was a knock at their door. Naclia answered it to find one of the maids with two steaming plates and a bottle of wine that was “on the house”. Naclia thanked the maid and brought the food in. It seemed they’d be eating on the bed with no suitable table in the room. Once they were situated with their plates, Naclia poured them both a goblet of wine, then offered a toast. “To adventure?”

    Eliamn was smiling as she reached for the wine goblet, but it nearly slipped through her fingers at Naclia’s toast. She couldn’t help cringing at the words. “What exactly do you mean by that Naclia?” Eliamn asked quietly. “I thought we were just traveling...”

    Naclia paused and blinked for a moment, “Well, of course it’s an adventure. Where’s the fun in merely traveling?” she asked, then drank down her wine, expecting her question to be rhetorical.

    “Well...” Eli looked down at the wine in her goblet, meeting her reflection’s confused stare. “Most of the songs and ballads about adventurers have them fight monsters, brave legions of undead and perform other heroics. I’m not sure I’m cut out for that sort of thing—not to mention ballads rarely if ever mention those whom never come back home.” Eliamn bent her head and closed her eyes, suddenly feeling rather depressed, though Naclia’s sharp ears caught her companion whisper : “Not that anyone would miss a failed Keeper...”

    Naclia set her glass down, then moved to sit beside Eli on her bed. “You shouldn’t put yourself down like that,” Naclia said. “You’ll be back home safe after this. I know your family would miss you, I saw your brother saying goodbye. You don’t need to wave a sword around or shoot a monster full of arrows to be a hero either, and I don’t expect you to. We’ll all do what we’re best at and if we stick together, we’ll be fine, all right?”

    The blonde elf lifted her head and gave a slight nod. “Alright. It’s just... I have never really had any experience at any of this—even my younger brother has done hunting around our woods. All I’m good at is tending flowers and talking to spirits.”She looked back at Naclia. “Forgive me. I was supposed to be cheering you up and I end up talking about my insecurities. I am just afraid I’ll become a liability : that is why I left home. You are absolutely right—I’ll certainly do my best.”

    Naclia put her arm around Eli’s shoulder and gave her a small, assuring hug. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m here for you. I’m certain you’re a good shaman as well,” Naclia pulled back from the hug, then moved back to her bed so she could eat her dinner. After a bite, she decided she might as well bring up the subject of Eliamn’s purpose on this little quest.

    “Your mother told me why you were coming, about not making your contract with Ento yet. I assume that’s why you’re feeling so insecure. I haven’t come as far as you, and you’re only a hundred and twenty five. Keeper or not, you shouldn’t be ashamed. I’m hoping to make a contract with Djinn. I know a few elves who decided to go outside to forest to make their contracts, sometimes it’s better than simply trying to accomplish it through communion.”

    Eli’s grip tightened on her plate. She had happily let the subject be so she could gather her wits about her and so the plate was empty—though she might have eaten ashes and not known it. While she had apparently succeeded in making Naclia fell better, now it was -her- problems whom were coming to the fore. Still, she wasn’t going to play the hypocrite : it felt good to have someone else to talk to besides her family.

    “I’ve been weaned on succeeding my father and to keep our family tradition of guarding the Ancient Tree...” she began, “I’ve been practically weaned on it. Keepers are not only expected to tend the trees, but we are it’s... how should I put it? An honor guard, though that’s largely ceremonial these days. However, due to the recent events, the three wars which have happened so far in our lifetime, my father has been adamant on our order having the keenest ability to control our shamanistic powers so we wouldn’t be for show.” Her eyes strayed to the oak staff that lay on her bed. “I’ve played with Sylphs instead of playing with dolls. I sung with dryads instead of going out to play with other children. I learned to coexist with the spirit world in the very preparation to the point where I would ultimately serve as a full-fledged keeper.”

    Her fingers curled up, grasping the bed covers mercilessly. “But when came the time to make my contract with Ento... I-” she shook her head, the experience too raw for her to describe it still and then continued, her voice became tinted with self-loathing. “I was the first Keeper my age to fail!”

    “My family,” she continued, trying very hard not to cry, “tried to give me the best education they could, they had high hopes in me... b-but then I dashed those. Even if I somehow escaped death, I couldn’t stand their bemused pity, their puzzled wonderment at what had gone wrong with me. I tried so hard to do whatever I was expected to do... but I couldn’t bear this : I had to leave lest I go mad!”

    Naclia didn’t get very far into her meal once Eliamn started her tirade and was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Naclia pushed her plate aside and was quickly beside Eli again, offering a comforting hug.

    “Aiden and I will help you,” Naclia assured her, but what she continued with what was more important to her. She didn’t want this journey to be for the sole purpose of completing Eliamn’s training. “But you’re away from the Forest for the first time, away from your parents and your duties. You should seize the opportunity to be yourself and not the next Keeper. It seems like you haven’t had that chance before.”

    Eliamn hugged Naclia back, burying her face in the other’s shoulder as she sobbed. “I’m sorry... I’m sorry...” the blonde elf said, realizing she was making a scene. “I’ll do my very best,” she snuffled and looked up. “I won’t let you down.”

    Naclia gave Eliamn a comforting squeeze. “Don’t apologize, and don’t worry about ‘letting us down’. We’re not expecting any more than you’re willing to give,” Naclia assured her. Eliamn seemed emotionally damaged, either from her failed summon or maybe just from her family. Either way, Naclia only wanted her to feel better. She would do her best to help Eli recover on this journey.

    Eliamn finally pulled back and gave a meek nod. “...thank you,” she snuffled and brushed away her tears. “I suppose I’m just weary from the road. I’m just going to lie down, alright?”

    Naclia nodded and moved back to her bed, “Sleep well then,” she said, then prepared for bed and settled in.

* * *

    Talen sat down on the bed, stretching out after having sat down for so long at the table downstairs. Slowly he looked across the room at Aiden, of all the people whom he was around, Aiden seemed to not like his actions towards Naclia the most. “F...forgive me if I seemed too forward towards your companion back there...” he said, looking at Aiden. “Its just...I’ve never seen a woman of such beauty before, so I guess my mind kinda wandered,” he said and scratched the back of his head nervously.

    Aiden collapsed on the other bed after he set his traveling gear aside. “You weren’t the one being too forward,” Aiden said. Having to share a room with Talen would be awkward after the events at the table, but they could hopefully work their problems out here. “Besides, she is beautiful, though I suppose you haven’t been around many elven women before, have you?”

    Talen shook his head in response to Aiden’s question. “No, honestly I haven’t been around many elven women, and seeing her felt like it put me in a spell of some sort,” he said looking down at the bed, picturing Naclia in his mind. “ said I wasn’t the one being too forward? I’m surprised she gave me a look like that, normally I thought elves didn’t think much of humans.”

    “Many elves wont give a human a second thought, but some of us find humans more attractive,” Aiden said. “Me, for one, I like the variety in humans. I think that’s what Naclia likes too. Eliamn doesn’t seem interested in the opposite sex at all, especially humans. But she doesn’t know that I’m really a quarter human. So humanity intrigues me.”

    Talen looked at Aiden, giving him a look over, honestly he didn’t have any human features for being a quarter human, he couldn’t tell at all. “Hmm...interesting, I wouldn’t have known you to be a quarter human, I cant really notice any human features to you,” he said, then laid back on the bed and looked to the ceiling. “Well tomorrow is going to be a busy day, hopefully all will go smoothly with Naclia when I show her around Dragon Breath,” he said and leaned up on his elbows. “And don’t worry, no matter what, I wont let anything happen to her, I give you my word as a knight,” he said softly. Of all things, he wanted him to be ensured of her safety tomorrow, he could easily tell how much she meant to him.

    “Not many people know, my father was a half-elf, but he left before I was born my mother told me,” Aiden explained. “I trust you with Naclia, you seem like a decent, honest fellow. I don’t know if I trust her not to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. It can take years for two elves to fall in love before they become a couple. Sometimes it’s not always true, as in the case of my parents, but I would rather see Naclia take things slow rather than rush in and end up hurting herself or others.”

    Aiden was finding it rather easy to communicate with Talen. Like he had said, he felt Talen was a honest and respectable individual.

    Talen nodded, he understood what he was talking about. “I thank you for your trust, not really know how to react sometimes when women ask me things, I suppose I’ll just have to do what I can tomorrow,” he said and laid back on the bed, stretching out and yawning at the same time. “At first I thought you did not think much of me out there, but I am honored that you think of me as such, I could say the same for you, friend,” he said, smiling as he looked at the ceiling, he never really knew how to converse with elves, having never really talked with their kind before, but he found it was becoming as simple as talking with a best friend of sorts. He was finding it easy as well to communicate with Aiden, he could tell that he was an honest and respectable individual as well.

    Aiden grinned broadly at Talen, it seemed they could be friends. Maybe he could give Aiden a little insight into his own ancestry as well. Aiden heard a knock on the door and hopped to his feet to answer it. It was a maid with their dinner and a pitcher of ale. Aiden thanked her with a flirty wink and extra tip, then brought in the food. “Ah, you humans do have some beautiful women amongst you,” Aiden told Talen with a grin.

    Talen took his share of the meal and sat on his bed, soon smirking and nodding with a grin of his own. “Yes indeed, but if you do not mind my saying...I have never seen a woman so lovely as Naclia,” he said staring down at his meal, a vision of Naclia coming to his mind. “I have honestly never seen many elves in my life, but still they intrigue me,” he said and began to eat his meal.

    Aiden chuckled as he started to eat. Talen seemed really taken with Naclia, and now Aiden didn’t concern himself at all with Talen. He just hoped Naclia would treat him better than she did tonight. “Well, that’s understandable. I’d say Naclia is intrigued too. We’ve met some humans just outside the forest, but neither of us have strayed very far. I don’t think Eliamn has ever met a human before, she was terrified when she first came in here, the poor thing.”

    Talen nodded and began to eat as well. “Hmm...I see, I guess some elves haven’t seen humans before either. Well, I wouldn’t worry too much, a lot of humans are usually the same as others, but there are the few who stray away from their paths,” he said.

    “Not many elves stray, as you put it. Nothing really interesting happens in our forests, but maybe that’s just my human side talking,” Aiden said as he ate. His meal was nearly gone when he set aside his plate and took a last swig of ale. “I think I’m going to turn in,” he told Talen and climbed under the covers of his bed. “Good night.”

    Talen nodded. “Hmm...I see, well I guess thats understandable,” he said and finished his meal as well, setting the plate aside and laid down in his bed. “Well see you in the morning, good night,” he said and closed his eyes, turning his back to Aiden and giving one last yawn before falling asleep.

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