Stars Over Llorleya- Chapter 15
Chapter the Fifteenth
It was a few days later that Aria told her life’s story to the elves, who listened attentively. A tall male elf with a stern face and long silver hair seemed to be the leader of the colony. His name was Thrond; he was wise and probably very old, though he seemed comparatively young: He was clean-shaven, with no wrinkles or bentness, though he was a bit grim about the mouth and rarely smiled or laughed.
Sitting at his side was an she-elf; not very young, yet certainly not old. Beautiful, tall, and willowy, she had long waves of bright yellow hair cascading down to her waist. She was dressed in something like an Indian sari, and her face held a gentle, glowing beauty. Loth told Aria that she was Findahla, the daughter of Thrond, and his only child. Thrond’s wife had died in childbirth, so Findahla had been raised by her father and they were extremely close to each other.
Findahla never spoke directly to Aria, but she gave her a warm, welcoming smile that immediately encouraged the nervous human. Eventually Findahla did speak, though still not to Aria; but Aria noticed that her voice was soft-spoken, melodic, and mysterious; somewhat like Wynd’s, but huskier.
Aria surprised herself in her narration. She shared things she hadn’t expected to share, things she had never shared before, and things she had prepared herself never to share again, such as her first fourteen years of life as the Princess of Llorleya. She even told them the very personal story of her mother’s medallion.
She told them of the silver book that no one could read, except for one inscription. And how, in the sentence, they had referred to the star-circle, which she suspected was her mother’s medallion. She told them about her first vision, every detail about the strange thing her mother, Cera, had done when Aria had been only a baby, and what she and Erik had said afterward.
The elves seemed as confused about that as she was, though some- Loth being the most apparent- seemed to get a little excited about it, as though they might have an idea. Thrond’s face remained impassive, as it usually did, but Aria sensed he was considering her words with care.
She told them about going blind, and her other visions, and Goodwife and Abby and Peter, and Dominic, and meeting Wynd, and running away.
She told about seeing what Torlith had done, and traveling to the castle, alone and unsure of how she was getting her kingdom back.
And she told about Gilligan. She blushed as she murmured how they had fallen in love. Even as she said it she was realizing the strength of that truth. She loved him so much. The sweetness turned into an ache.
Yes, they were in love.
And she might never see him again.
She brushed away the heartbreaking thought. Of course she would see him again. Whether through elves or miracle, she was going back to Llorleya. It wasn’t just for Gilligan. Llorleya needed her. She was its Princess… and someday, she vowed, it would have a ruler worth having.
Aria had just finished, and was telling the elves how she needed to get back to Llorleya and claim her crown. (She was old enough now, that was what she had been aiming for; if she could get back she could probably raise an army.) She was also hoping she could find Gilligan, though that wasn’t her main object. And this time, she would tell him everything.
Thrond said they could probably send her back if she wished.
In one swift movement, Loth leapt up and smote the table with her shining blade. Her eyes blazed from some fire kindled deep in her soul. "Send her back? Alone?! Why do we not do something?!" she cried, her sword still quivering upright in the table, inches from Thrond’s hands.
Aria was startled by Loth’s intense vehemence, though she did think Loth kind of had a point. Aria would need more help than just getting "sent back".
"Our people have remained silent too long! I say we should go with her and take her kingdom for her!" Loth continued defiantly, as though Thrond was the one keeping them away from the battle.
She turned her head to Aria. "No one comes to the land of the Elves lightly. There is always a deeper reason." She turned back to Thrond. "Maybe this is why, so we can help her and fight for her and her people!"
Thrond, stood up angrily, eyes flashing. "Peace, warrior’s-heart!" His voice was a stern, harsh reprimand, and his eyes were on fire as well. But something in his voice also conveyed a sort of approval- You are courageous, he seemed to say, but rash and foolish. You do not know of what you speak.
Loth sank into her seat and buried her bright head in her arms, not lifting her face from the table. It was obvious that she was deeply upset, though not because of Thrond’s reproach. She was grieved because she had a just heart.
A female elf swept over to her side in an instant. "Loth..."
Loth lifted her face for a moment. "How much longer must we hide and wait, never fighting for the innocent, never taking action?" she said to Thrond. It wasn’t a challenge, simply a question. Then her face was once more hidden in her arms.
Aria began to sing something, hoping to comfort Loth. It was one of her strange, bittersweet songs, one that sounded something like a mourning wail.
Loth looked up. The elves looked at Aria, astonished.
"Is something wrong?" said Aria, startled.
"No, nothing is… wrong." Loth lingered on the last word as though considering its truth. Aria sensed, as though with a vision, that her thoughts were racing. Then, without more speech, she rose abruptly and strode of in the direction of the elves’ library.
Aria raised an eyebrow. A silent command seemed to have reached the elves and they spoke no more of her song. She was startled. Curious… she thought. I wonder what my voice has done now…
After that, no more was mentioned about that day (neither Loth’s outburst or departure), though Loth did seem to spend a lot of her spare time in the library, and even more discussing things with Thrond.
In the meantime, Aria had a lot to amuse her. Convalescents were treated very well by the elves, but not in a restraining way. She had beautiful clothing, and the tree-house, the woods, the beach, and the gardens were very interesting.
In "the log", as someone unimaginatively dubbed the tree-house, Aria found something new in every room, such as a table that was the face of a clock, or a window made of ice though it was warm out. There was a mirror that was dew collected in the center of a giant rose, and, when the water was drawn out, the rose could be a baby’s cradle or a seat. There were wind-chimes fashioned from mushrooms; and lanterns that were bubbles. Once an elf showed her a magical map that came with a spyglass. At first glance they both seemed ordinary, but when you pointed the spyglass at a certain point on the map, you could see a picture of the place you were looking at.
The gardens were equally engaging, and Aria spent much of her time learning the names and uses of the flowers and herbs there. Aria’s room became filled with the sweet scents of flowers and herbs, both dried and fresh. Some grew in Llorleya, but others were entirely new, such as a pond plant with large, waxy pale green leaves spotted with purple. It was called a likanap, and could be used to soothe burns. Another, a tall, stalk-like plant with xylems like celery, could be cut open and drunk when one was thirsty. One of her favorite new foods in the elfland were small, silver berries that grew on a plant called a frostfruit bush.
Aria spent the rest of her free time exploring the woods and shore or collecting sea-glass and shells among the waves and rocks, always hoping to see a mermaid.
When Aria told the other elves how wonderful it all was, they would shrug, and smile, and describe to her the beautiful places that they came from. They told her of proud, wise Elf-lords, tall and stern and wondrous and great; beautiful structures and palaces, and so many other wonders that made Aria, for a moment, see how they felt about the tree-house, that it was simply a shadow of the greatness they knew, crude and incomplete, for the colony was still a fairly new settlement.
Aria wished very greatly to see these things grand, august things they described, but knew that she should stay near the elves’ shore- for always at the back of her mind was the need to go back to Llorleya.
So at Aria’s request, Loth began to train Aria- or rather, re-train her, in the much-needed skill of weaponry. She taught her moves unknown in Llorleya that could be very useful in battle. Aria felt she was slower with sword and bow than she had once been, for with Goodwife, Peter, and Abby she had had no need for weapons, and even at the castle recently she had been preoccupied. She now realized that she was in for a lot of practice.
Aria shifted on the garden bench once again. "Loth, can we-"
"No! No already! Why all the questions?" snapped Loth irritably.
Aria frowned. "I’m bored. I’m full of energy."
"You can’t honestly tell me you want more training today," said Loth incredulously.
"Well, no… But it’s a slow day. I’m restless! I’m bouncing off the walls! I need something interesting to do!" She practically flew over to Loth and begged her on her knees. "Give me something to doooooo!!"
"Stop it!" said Loth, springing backwards. "You’re acting like a sprite who’s sucked a meadow dry of sugar-nectar! Calm down, please!"
"I can’t," she wailed.
"Ask me a question then. Anything on your mind."
Aria thought a moment, sitting back on the bench. "Do you have many humans here?"
"We have only one other," Loth said.
"One other?" Aria sat forward eagerly. "Who is it?"
"A female. She came a few years back. All I know is, the merfolk found her and brought her to us. (That seems to be the only way we get your kind.) Mer-healers can work wonders with wounds, so she was in very good shape when she was brought to us, as you were."
"Did she come across the East Sea, too? I mean, assuming she was from Llorleya…"
"The West Sea, you mean," corrected Loth. For of course from the Elf Havens, the sea was to the west.
Aria shrugged. It didn’t really matter to her. Why not just compromise and call it the Mermaid’s Sea? she thought. "Whatever. Is she from Llorleya or not?"
Short temper, this human, Loth thought. "I believe she is, though I don’t really remember all that well. Whether she came across the West Sea or not, I do not know, for mermaids have other ways of getting themselves and others from place to place."
"What’s her name?"
"I don’t know; as I said, I don’t remember much about her. I rarely bother with humans after seeing them the first time and getting them acquainted with this land, as I’m doing with you."
Aria suppressed a little sigh. "Where does she live? What does she look like?"
"She lives all around. She doesn’t seem to mind the loneliness; she was a traveler before she came, I think. But when the girl feels like it, she sometimes settles into a small cottage over the West Hills, but only temporarily."
"Good, I’ll try there," Aria said.
"As for how she looks," continued Loth, "I really don’t remember, except that she was human. And she had beautiful eyes. That’s about it."
"Nevermind, I’ll find out what she looks like soon enough." Aria grinned. "I can’t wait to see someone without pointed ears."
"You dislike our ears so much, then?" The elf smiled.
"No, far from it, actually. But if I must look at one more pair of pointed ears that I can’t have, I believe I could scream."
Loth smiled again.
"And besides," Aria continued more seriously, "I long to see another human. We think and talk differently from elves, and our manners are easier and not quite so formal."
If indeed you are human, thought Loth, standing. "Remember, she’s lived among elves for over four years. She may act more as an elf than a human. Oh, I’ve remembered her name! It is Starray."
"Starray." Aria stood up, savoring the sound. "It’s a pretty name. Unusual."
Loth shrugged. "It’s not unusual here. But, come along, I’ll show you the way to her house and we’ll see if she’s there."
Starray tilted her mirror so that she was looking down on her reflection instead of at it. The mirror was the full-length king that swings from a pole on either side.
She studied herself. Her red hair was bound very much like an elf’s- combed back from the top of her head, with a braid on either side of her face. Her skin was tanned and her limbs strong from traveling. Her feet, though once bare, were now clad in elf-sandals, made from dried leaves. Her dress was unusual, sewn of many different colors from many different cloths, much like looking down on many brightly colored circus tents.
She was tall and graceful, though she stood a bit crooked, with one shoulder lower than the other. She wasn’t particularly beautiful. Except for her radiant face.
Her eyes were big, but now her face had filled out around them. Her face was filled now with a thoughtfulness that had never really been typical of her before. These characteristics gave her an appearance that was less childish and more mature than last we met. But her violet eyes are still laughing.
Starray shook her head and turned the mirror totally around so that she could no longer view her reflection. "You are very vain, Starray," she scolded herself. "And what’s worse, you have no right to be." Then she paused and laughed. "As if anyone does!"
She heard a light tap on her door. "Hello? Is anyone there?" asked a voice that caught something on the edge of Starray’s memory, like a corner of clothing snagged on a nail; and yet… it was completely unfamiliar to her.
"Umm, yes," she said, hastily turning the mirror the right way around, "yes, I’m here. Come in." The door opened to a timid push, and Starray flashed a bright smile. She was more than slightly surprised when it was returned with a gasp from the dark-haired girl in the doorway.
Aria caught Starray’s hands and spun her around. "Rayne! It’s you! You’re alive!"
Starray’s face turned white. "Why do you call me that? How do you know my name?"
"How do I know it?" Aria laughed. "How do I know it indeed!"
"You’re not an elf, are you?" asked Starray, feeling increasingly scared.
"No, not an elf, not a-" She stopped twirling around the room and turned to face Starray, her face suddenly surprised. "You really don’t remember me? …Not at all?"
Starray’s face suddenly lit up. "Maybe- maybe-" She came closer and looked closely at Aria’s eyes. "Princess Aria?"
"Yes, yes!" cried Aria. The two were immediately embracing.
"I can’t believe you’re alive!" cried Starray- though I suppose now I will call her Rayne again. And how good it feels to say it! "How?"
"How are you still alive? Why are you here?"
"Why are you here?"
Loth, standing in the doorway, looking both amused and puzzled, broke in, "Do you two know each other?"
"Loth," Rayne said excitedly, hopping up and down while holding Aria’s hand, "I remember you. You helped me when I first came- don’t you remember my story?"
"Not in the least," admitted Loth. "Well, very little. Aria can testify to that."
"That’s another thing!" said Aria. "Why do they call you Starray?"
"They can’t pronounce Rayne, for some reason. They were calling me Rye-eene, and I just couldn’t stand it. So they gave me a new name."
"So what should I call you? Starrayne?"
"Rayne is just fine." Rayne sighed. It was a happy sigh.
"You’re so tall! How come you grew and I didn’t?" said Aria with a laugh.
"I’ve always been tall and awkward. That’s no change. But look at you!" Rayne stepped back. "You’re lovely."
Aria shrugged. "I’ve been told that before. And you’re not awkward in the least!"
"It’s true, you are beautiful," said Rayne with a smile. "You almost glow."
"I’m just happy to see you," insisted Aria, catching Rayne in another fierce embrace. "I can’t believe it," she said. "After all this time, you’re alive. You have to tell me how you came to be here."
"And you, too," said Rayne. "Oh, I’ve missed Llorleya and you so much. And Josh. It’s been so long.
"Josh isn’t here?" Aria said, suddenly confused. Of course, Loth hadn’t mentioned a man with Rayne, but Aria had just assumed when seeing her…
"He’s dead." The pain of years gone by was still raw in Rayne’s voice.
Aria’s eyes said she couldn’t believe it in place of her mouth, since she couldn’t trust her voice to say anything. She hadn’t known Josh as well as she had known Rayne, but Rayne’s obvious adoration, admiration, and devotion to him had become almost famous to her.
Rayne faltered as she tried to explain. "I- After we- well…"
"You don’t have to say anything, Rayne," said Aria gently.
Rayne shook her head. "No, no, I want to."
"Then you’d better start from the point where we got ambushed on the way to the winter feast," said Aria quietly.
"You charged off," said Rayne after a long silence where she tested herself to make sure she could tell the story without crying. "Josh and I began to fight. After our horses were cut down, we were left on foot against the horsemen, and we both knew we didn’t stand a chance. We were back to back, to defend each other, but I got separated from him. A rider bore down on me, and I screamed. Josh ran to me without thinking, not watching his back. That’s when they killed him. I don’t remember much after that. A sword cut across my back. I was only semi-conscious, but the riders seemed to think I was dead. They threw me- most likely Josh’s body, too- into the stream nearby. I blacked out. When I woke up- it must have been months later- I was here."
"Mermaids," said Loth quietly from the doorway. "The same way Aria got here."
"I recovered, and lived all around with the elves since. I still stand a little crooked, though. You’ve probably noticed."
"No," said Aria. It wasn’t really as apparent as Rayne seemed to think.
"It’s gotten straighter," commented Loth.
Rayne didn’t seem to hear. "I never really said goodbye to Josh. Right after they killed him they took him away." Rayne looked at the floor. "My heart still aches."
And it always will, thought Aria. Experience has taught me that. "But it will ease. Slowly. Not completely. But a little," she whispered aloud.
"At least you’re alive," said Rayne, grief still in her voice. "You must tell me everything later." She sounded much less enthusiastic about it than she had been before. Aria didn’t blame her. She had lost the heart for it as well.
Aria gave her another hug. "And you’re alive. Don’t forget that." As Rayne embraced her in return, Aria looked up. Thank you, God, she prayed with all her heart. Thank you so much.