Stars Over Llorleya- Chapter 14
Chapter the Fourteenth
Some months later, across the East Sea
Loth, a young elf, leisurely strolled down the beach, the sun gleaming on her golden hair. So light was she, that her bare feet hardly made imprints for the waves to wipe away. She took strange pleasure in seeing how the feet of Men sank into the ground, leaving footprints in the wet sand. They are so heavy and clumsy and unbalanced, she thought. I suppose they cannot even stand erect on a tree branch, or run over snow without sinking into it. (Note: Elves are similar to fairies in build and characteristics, only without the wings of course. They are generally taller, as well, and are rumored to be better healers.)
The waves were high that day, though subdued by the time they reached the shore. Loth enjoyed the crash of them as they came in, crowned with froth and sea foam. She loved the waves, wild as her eyes, laden heavy with white froth; she loved the crisp, fresh feel of the sea, and the warmth of the sun on her tanned skin. She loved the sounds of the rolling sea and she loved its people.
Sea spray wet her bare legs as she walked. Light-hearted, she dashed out into the shallows, arms flung back. There she stood, bracing herself for the oncoming waves. They rolled in majestically, blue and green and glistening. As the wave crests descended over her, she laughed. More and more waves broke over her, drenching and cooling her with the fresh, cold sea. She laughed again as she danced, playing in the water. Her lithe, agile body leaped and ran, somehow unburdened by water. She was merry as she danced and splashed, carefree.
She plunged under the water and swam smoothly, gliding through the water as a knife slices through warm butter. Then she surfaced, surging up with a burst of white water. She had taken a breath and submerged again in a moment, only to reappear wading through the clear blue shallows, or singing where the sandgrass met the water, seated high on a throne of reeds and rushes, crowned with lilies, seabirds her subjects, circling her. She laughed gaily.
Lying on the warm sand to dry, she suddenly sat up. What was that she heard? Gazing off down the beach, her clear eyes alert, she noticed a figure. A wet figure. A young female human. Waves broke over her, leaving her lying half into the sea and half out of it, unwanted and alone.
Loth strode over to the figure down the beach and studied the castaway. She was small and slender, wrapped in seaweed, with long, dark hair splayed over her, obscuring her. Her clothes were tattered, with ragged edges. Even before being sea-washed they could not have been very fine.
She must be worth the trouble somehow, she thought for the mermaids don’t bring us corpses… Yet she surveyed the limp form with growing displeasure as it was being dragged slowly in and pushed out of the sea by the waves, back and forth, as they swept in and sank out. She noted an arrow wound on the girl’s left hip, and a graze on her right shoulder. What would the mermaids have seen in the wretched creature, to do all of this?
The best time to look for mermaids, as everyone should know, is that magical time in the morning where both the moon and the sun are in the sky, when it is not quite morning, but not quite night. Mermaids are hardly ever seen during the day, though some sightings have been mentioned, and one must never go searching at night.
Though at night many merfolk surface, that is when they do their deepest, most powerful singing. The sound has driven some mad, and transformed others. The magic of the merpeople is strong and strange, but dangerous for those who are not one of them, and dangerous even to some that are.
But if you wait till daylight to find them, you may miss them. If you try to find them just as the moon is rising, they will only ignore you. So you must catch them while they linger to finish their last strains.
Loth waited through the night while the human was tended by several Elves. When the sun showed its first ray, she was immediately at the beach.
The sand was cold to her feet, numbing them where it was wet. She went to the part of the bay where the water, still and calm in the windless morning, gently lapped at the shallow rocks. These rocks reached just into the Deeps, where one might see a mermaid.
Loth lightly jumped from rock to rock, never loosing her footing on the smooth slippery stones, as a human might. The merpeople were finishing their last beautiful aria, a song that was joyful with the rising sun, and mournful with the setting moon. Loth caught her breath and listened.
As the last gleaming fins were disappearing into the sea, Loth reached the farthest rock, and in her clear, ringing Elvish voice, began to sing.
A few mermaids resurfaced. For though the voices of the children of Elves and the children of the merfolk are very different, they are attracted to one another. Somewhere, one began singing in a beautiful, eerie harmony.
Loth added words to her song. It was a call to the mermaids, daring them to meet her, challenging them to touch her, promising them she would honor the peace between Elves and Merfolk.
Three slow shadows swept through the water. Suddenly they streaked up, surfaced, and paused, their human bodies above the water, their fins still below to protect their silvery scales from drying in the new sunlight.
Two were female, one was male. The male was the color of a rock cliff, different shades of grey, with a stony appearance. The youngest-looking had an peach-colored fin, and long, wild orange hair that seemed to move on its own. The last mermaid was seemed wiser than the others. Her fin was red-violet, with glowing purple eyes and dark violet hair. Wrapped around her was a graceful yellow scarf.
The youngest-looking mermaid (the orange one), clasped the male’s arm. "Is it dangerous?" she whispered.
The male looked to the purple mermaid. "What say you, Maela? Is it safe?"
The third, Maela spoke slowly, with a voice that was quiet but deep and strong, almost masculine, while her eyes glowed brighter. "No, Seryl, it is not… safe. But do not be alarmed. It is a deadly warrior in battle, but I do not think it will attack. For though the young sea-dwellers have forgotten it, the friendship that lies between Elves and Merfolk lies deep and strong and does not fail… Though I would say the Elves are in our debt, for we are the ones protecting them." This last bit was said with the tone of a sort of accusation.
It is not wise to argue with a mermaid, especially when the mermaid is probably right and you have a favor to ask.
Loth crept a little closer on her hands and knees. "No, I will not hurt you. I am only here to ask a question."
Maela looked up steadily. "I promise no answers."
Loth continued, "What do you know of the human given us yesterday?"
Rock-colored Seryl began quickly, "We know of no humans given you-"
The orange mermaid broke in, eagerly throwing sprays of water around the rock with her fin, "Oh, yes we do. Lome brought it in- or maybe it was Rwelli- no, Luna, I’m sure of it. Where was I? Oh, yes. I think it was a female, but that’s all I know of it."
"It was Lome, you were right the first time, Soona," Seryl said to Soona, the orange mermaid. Loth stared at him and he began to flush a dark grey. "Well, perhaps I knew a little of the human," he admitted. "I beg forgiveness," he said with a low bow.
"Granted," said Loth, still a bit confused and wondering whether she should be angry because he had not told her immediately about the human, or uninterested because she wanted to know more about it.
Maela, the purple one, gazed into Loth’s clear eyes. "Why would you have us tell you this? What have you to do with the human’s child?" she asked guardedly.
Loth was silent, as though pondering whether or not to answer. "I found her on the beach. She seemed worthless. I wondered why so much time was taken on her, and why she was even rescued. What makes her special?"
Maela stared at Loth for a long time. Then she dived under the water, and the other two followed. "No!" Loth cried, leaning into the water and reaching a hand out after them- but all she caught was the edge of the long swirling yellow scarf Maela had been wearing. She pounded her fist onto the rock, making a noise somewhere between a growl and a sob. So close! she thought angrily.
But as she was turning to leave, Maela returned. She curtly snatched the yellow scarf from the foot of the rock and threw it around her shoulders. Her former companions were absent, but two other friends accompanied her, one a blue-green male, the other a female with black hair and a green fin. Maela motioned to them. "This is Lome," she said motioning to the blue-green one, "and this," she said with a nod at the black-haired mermaid, "is Seema. They can answer your questions."
Lome began. "I found the human landling" -landling is one term merfolk use in reference to practically all folk who live on land- "and perceived her to be innocent of crime, besides more I could not define. In some confusion I brought her to Seema, one of our skilled healers."
Seema began her piece in a voice beautifully high and clear. "When I saw the daughter of Men, I found no threat in her. I knew she would not hurt the Elven folk, nor the Merfolk; I knew also she had suffered many wounds besides wounds of the body: these were wounds of the heart, and they are beyond my power to cure.
"I healed her of her outward injuries well as I could, and they will not be infected or cause her harm, I think. And she will not cause you harm either, Elf. Though you may find you are doing your own people harm, and many others as well, if you do not show her what I bid," Seema said, her green eyes glowing dangerously. If she had carried a sword she would have had her hand on the hilt, ready to be drawn.
"What do you bid?" said Loth. "I still don’t see why she is worth so much, even if she is pure-hearted or whatever you said." Obviously Loth did not think being innocent of wrong was good reason to spend so much time on a tiny human girl.
Eyes still blazing, Seema continued, "I bid you, be kind, be generous, watch, and listen: for she is not to be easily figured out, and I think there is more to her than first glances might betray."
Maela spoke again. "And as to the other thing you asked- She may be worth more than anyone knows at present, even you, Elf."
Aria groaned and rolled over like a sleepy schoolgirl. She immediately changed her mind, half-screaming through clenched teeth as lightening bolts of pain lanced through her body.
She lay back and rested awhile. The pain eased a bit, no longer quite such a stabbing, jarring pain- more of a dull, ceaseless throb at her hip, and she hardly felt the graze on her shoulder.
She opened her eyes. Since she was blind, she didn’t expect to see much, only cloudiness, but she was surprised by an ache around her temples and darkness at the corners of her eyes. Slowly her head cleared and the darkness and headache did as well. And she could see. With her eyes not burning.
This was not a vision.
Aria suddenly found an elf- An elf? she thought with confusion- bending over her. He smiled. "Good, you’re awake."
She groaned. "My hip," she said, not forgetting about her eyes but feeling this was most important to mention.
The elf nodded. "Yes, that. It’s not a terrible wound, and it’s been healing well. You should be able to go in a day or two. Thankfully, you won’t limp in the slightest. The merfolk have done their work well."
"I- I can see," Aria stammered.
The elf nodded slowly. "Yes…"
Aria shook her head. "That can’t be right!" she exclaimed.
"Is something wrong?" The elf’s brow furrowed.
"You- you don’t understand-" Aria said.
"No… no, I don’t," said the elf.
"I’m- I’m blind," Aria said. "I mean, I was… am… used to be…"
The elf smiled. "Praise God. Then the mermaids have done their jobs doubly well." He smoothed the bedsheets. "I don’t think you’ll ever have problems with your eyes again."
He hadn’t even skipped a beat.
For a moment Aria didn’t understand. After all, the village doctor had never mentioned his hopes to her. So long she had been afraid to let herself cherish dreams, especially since Wynd had failed to cure her with fairy dust. Could she really see again?
She felt like jumping, twirling, dancing. She could see! She wanted to see everything, jump out of this cot and take in all this place had to offer her new sight. She hadn’t been completely without sight since the fever- after all, she had had the star-circle- but then, she hadn’t been completely with it, either.
Instinctively she reached for her necklace, but found nothing there. "Where’s my medallion?" She said, starting up. She quickly collapsed again.
The elf frowned. "Don’t do that." He turned to a shelf behind him and pulled something off it. "You mean this? We kept it in case you wanted it, but it’s a bit damaged."
Aria took it gently. The black key was rusted beyond repair. Sadly, she discarded it. The silver leaf was missing. Probably the merfolk had taken it. Well, it was only fair, thought Aria, thinking again with excitement of her healed eyes. After all they did, they deserve something from me. But her mother’s necklace, the star-circle, was untouched, by either merfolk or the sea. It was just as perfect as ever, shined just as bright as the day she got it, and glistened with all the mystery it had ever possessed. She refastened it around her neck as memories flooded to her mind. She remembered how she had gotten it, and her vision of her mother, and all her other visions. How far away some of them seemed.
But that didn’t really matter right now. The questions that mattered were where was she, and what had happened, and how was she to get home? And what was she to do about Torlith?
She shook her head. That was too much to consider, at least right now. She was tired and sore. But if there were answers to these questions, she would search for them, to be sure. Right after she took a little rest…
"What’s your name?" said the elf suddenly.
She responded immediately, only half opening her eyes. "Ariann-" Aria stopped. "Aria." Her true name felt strange as her lips shaped it. It felt aerial and intangible, like something out of a dream. She had been Arianna so long, she was so changed. Could she ever reclaim "Aria", truly and wholly?
"Welcome, Aria," said the elf, carefully pronouncing it.
Aria lay back down, lost in thought.
"I’m very pleased with you, Aria," said Gyld, the elf who aided Aria most frequently and had been with her when she first came to consciousness.
"Why?" said Aria curiously, propping her chin up on her palm.
"You’ve spent less than a month in our hospital," he started.
"I would have spent even less if I weren’t confined to this room," said Aria pointedly.
Gyld ignored her. "We were surprised, though I suppose we shouldn’t have been, considering all that the merfolk did for you. But the point is that I’ve finally come to admit that-"
A loud rapping sound was made from the other side of the door.
Gyld paused. "Just a moment." He turned around and opened the door.
A tall, strong, slim she-elf strode into the room. She had lips like pink coral, and the many braids in her hair were colored like droplets of liquid sunbeams streaming out behind her, reaching almost to her feet. Her flashing eyes were fierce and untamed. A sword was sheathed at her waist, a bow clenched in her slender, long-fingered hand, and a quiver slung over her shoulder. She had a regal bearing that commanded respect.
This was a warrior elf.
She bore no adornment except for a golden armband and a few bangles on her ankles and wrists that clinked as she moved. She, unlike most of the other elves, was barefoot, her feet stained a deep green from walking in the grass and dew. She was clad in a light dress coming to about her knees, tailored in a way that it wouldn’t be restraining. The cloth was simple, soft, and very light, for fast running. The elf was fleet-footed and swift with a lightening agility that could be seen tensed in every muscle; she could probably outrun a deer.
She was very beautiful, but her beauty was a dangerous beauty; violent, warlike, strong, vicious, and imperial.
All this Aria saw in the space of a moment, all locked tightly into the elf’s dangerous, brilliant golden-amber eyes.
"I am Loth," Loth said to Aria in an authoritative voice, then turned briskly to the elf-nurse. "Is she well enough to go, Gyld?"
"What I was going to say," continued Gyld to Aria, "is that I’m finally admitting it’s time for you to move into the tree-house and get out of this tiny room."
Aria grinned. Finally!
Gyld turned to Loth and he nodded. "If she goes gently." With a wry smile, he continued, "Though you rarely take things gently, do you, Loth?"
Loth smiled, too. It was somehow unpleasant. Aria couldn’t decide if that smile was arrogant or disdainful or simply living up to a reputation.
Gyld pulled Aria to her feet. "She may go, but first show her room to her, so she may dress. She can’t very well tear about in her nightgown." He made a clicking noise with his tongue as Loth led Aria away.
Aria was given a pretty room. It had a wide window with green shutters, looking out on a garden. Light poured through the window, and on a slight breeze was carried the sweet smells of lavender, rosemary, and other scents she did or did not recognize.
The room was at the end of a long hall that was all lined with doors that Loth said were more bedrooms. There was another hall about three or four doors down on the right that led to a large room, then to the right of that an arching doorway that led to the elves’ library. The walls and ceiling of the elves’ house were rounded, like being inside a very large, long wooden tube, almost.
After Aria changed into a dress perfect for the calm, sunny weather, Loth offered to show her "the treehouse" rather stiffly, almost sounding hostile. Aria was beginning to find the proud, savage-eyed elf both intimidating and intriguing.
First Aria had questions, which were perhaps the some of the only few she ever asked Loth that were answered directly. Mostly she asked how she got to be with the elves, which we already know. She also asked where exactly "being with the elves" was.
"You’re at our colony," Loth replied loftily. "Rather a small colony, really, but we’re the only elves you’ve ever seen, so we seem like many, correct?"
"What’s your name?"
"You shall tell us all about yourself later," said Loth, smiling. This time her smile was friendlier.
Then they went outside. Aria was enchanted immediately. She had expected the treehouse to be an ordinary treehouse that Loth wanted to show her, but she had just been inside it! Several huge, thick fallen tree trunks that stretched over the ground had been hollowed and carved into one enormous network of rooms, all with round walls and ceilings, rather like Bag End in The Hobbit. Behind the logs was a thickly wooded area, in front, the large garden that Aria had seen from her window and a good view of the sea, though from the beach you couldn’t see the elves’ house because of a less thickly wooded area farther down. It was beautiful, literally a "tree-house".
"Welcome," said Loth, sweeping her arm to their surroundings.