1st DRAFT of part of a fantasy novella.
|Every morning is pretty much the same for me. I wake up just before sunrise, bathe myself in last night's rain water that I collected in a barrel. An apple and piece of bread are my breakfast. All of the animals need to be fed before the rain starts again, which could be at any moment. Normally I would let the chickens out of their pen for the day, but since the sky is full of black clouds, it's probably best if I leave them in their coop after I feed them their morning grain. The new spring chicks eat alongside their mother.
I milk the cow, while she eats her feed from the trough in front of her. Her side is warm and smells of hay when I lean my head against her. She will be confined to the barn today as well. The last thing I want to do is chase a cow down in a thunderstorm.
After the animals are fed, I remove my apron and wash my hands in the basin by the door. I'll spend a good bit of my morning grinding grain for the bread I'll be baking later in the day. Candles need to be made from the beeswax that is stored in my root cellar, and rosemary must be cut and dried for stew.
There is much to be done, and I am only one person. Everything will get done, eventually, though it will take longer since I am working alone. The neighbor's daughter helped me last spring, but she has since married and moved away to tend a house and small farm of her own. She says I should get married, so I wouldn't have so much work to do on my own, but I haven't found anyone to marry yet. There aren't many young men in the village who are unmarried, and the few that aren't married have no interest in me.
So, I run our small plot of land on my own. The village priest is my uncle, and he checks on me to make sure I'm doing well. He is the only reason I haven't been sent with my mother's family. They live thirty miles away, and our farm would have to be tended by another in my absence, so Uncle thought it best that I stay for now. I am nineteen years old, and perfectly capable of running the place by myself. Most of the villagers don't think it proper for me to live alone, but since they've all known me my whole life, they make an allowance in my case. I help all of the women in the village at some time or another during the year, and I've even helped many of the men with their sick animals when they couldn't find a remedy. Most of the villagers consider me an asset, but they would still like to see me married.
The rain has started up again and I set to work grinding grain. It is almost dark as night outside, but I am not afraid. Many days of early spring are like this--dark and dreary. There has been talk of strange folk around our parts lately, but surely they wouldn't be out in this mess. Most thieves and vagrants tend to choose dry nights for their activities, not dark and wet days. Still, I must be on my guard. Ginger, the only dog on my farm, sits at my feet while I work. She would bark and bay if she heard any stranger approach, and her presence makes me feel safer.
I stretch my arms and stand up from my stool. The grain has been ground, and my back is aching from sitting for so long. Wild root stew will be my dinner, along with the fresh bread that I'll begin baking next. It's a meager meal, but I don't have a man to hunt for me, and most of the animals are warm in their dens today, anyway. I'll set rabbit snares tomorrow, if the rain has stopped. I can always trade some of last summer's beeswax for meat if I get desperate. I'm one of only two people in the village that keeps bees for their honey and wax, so I can barter for just about anything I need. I grow my own flax as well, so I can spin and weave cloth for my clothing, selling the excess for seed grain and other things I might need.
A knock on the door sends Ginger into a fit. She bares her teeth and growls, while I walk to the chink in the wood by the door. I use this chink as a peephole. None of the villagers would come to the front of my home. They always come around back, where I'm usually working. Only a stranger would knock on the front door. I see a figure, hooded and dark standing outside. Ginger continues to growl, as I call through the door. “Who’s there?”
I SWITCH TO PAST TENSE HERE...THE FIRST SECTION WILL BE CHANGED TO PAST TENSE AS WELL
“I’m a friend of your fathers,” the stranger said.
“Then it will pain you to know that he is dead,” I answered.
“Please accept my condolences then. He was a good man.”
“Thank you. I suppose you will be on your way then?”
“Your father offered his hospitality to strangers.”
“I am not my father, nor a man to offer my hospitality to strangers who might do me harm.”
Ginger had ceased her growling, and I laid my hand on her head, wondering if I should’ve brought my knife to the door. I could run for help if I needed to, but the odds were against me. I wouldn’t get far in my long skirt and bare feet. The undergrowth I would have to trek through would cut my feet, making escape impossible. I had one other option,
“State your name, and I’ll decide whether to let you enter,” I said as bravely as I could muster. My arm hairs had already started to prickle, but if Ginger was calm, perhaps the stranger’s intentions were honest.
“Llewulyn of the Grove.”
Holding my breath, I reached for the wooden plank that held the door fast. My heart began beating furiously within my chest, and I hoped the strange man at my door couldn’t hear it.
Opening the door wide, I allowed the cloaked man to pass through. He was taller than I had originally thought when I viewed him through the chink in the wall. Tossing back his rain soaked hood, Llewulyn of the Grove revealed his face. It was though I had died and was standing in the presence of an angel of heaven, so beautiful was the face of the man who stood before me. His beauty was unearthly, and it shook me to my core. Who was this man who had known my father? I had never heard his name mentioned by my father or mother, but there was much about my father than I hadn’t know. His days as a trader to foreign lands were shrouded in mystery. Even my mother hadn’t known everything about my father, or so she had told me before her death two years earlier.
“Your father never mentioned he had a daughter the last time I saw him,” Llewulyn said, removing his cloak and placing it near the fire to dry.
“I suppose that information didn’t have anything to do with the business at hand when you met him.”
“Perhaps you weren’t born yet the last time I spoke with him.”
“But you don’t look much older than me, so how could that be a possibility?” I asked. The man that stood before me couldn’t be more than a few years older than me, and I was a pretty good judge of age.
“I’m older than I look. I knew your father when he was a young man, not much older than you are now.”
“Then that would mean…,” I gasped.
“I’m a High Elf of the Grove.”
“But your kind abandoned these lands years ago, or so my father told me.” I was awestruck at the idea that an elf stood in my dwelling. It would explain his unearthly beauty…and tall height. All of the men in my village were at least a head shorter than Llewulyn. Elves had a reputation of being tall and lovely.
“We have moved westward, or most of us have, but some have stayed behind to look after their affairs with men.”
“Is that why you’re here? Did my father have some debt to you?” This elf would be very disappointed if he was seeking riches here. The best I had to give was homespun linen and beeswax. Elves were never known to be murderous, and my muscles were beginning to relax, although I did wonder what Llewulyn might demand as payment.
“Your father owed me a favor, and I’ve come to claim that favor,” he said, his head slightly cocked to one side as though he were looking me over.
“Well, as I said before, my father is dead these five years past, so you seek in vain.” I hoped this elf wouldn’t take offense to my words, but I spoke truth. Surely he would honor that. I had nothing that this elf could possibly need or want.
“You are his next of kin, which would leave it to you to honor your father’s debt,” Llewulyn said, his voice deep and steady.
“I owe you nothing, elf, no matter what you claim my father promised you. I have nothing of value here, as you can clearly see…unless you desire fresh milk and eggs for your journey westward.”
“You have a sharp tongue for one so slight.” Llewulyn’s lips twisted into a smile, making me catch my breath. I had never seen another living creature as lovely as he. It was almost cruel how beautiful this elf was.
“I don’t ask for much. Just your time.”
“My time? How could I possibly be of use to an elf?” I regretted my question almost as soon as I had asked it. Perhaps this elf wanted me as a slave. I’d never heard tale of elves taking slaves, but there was a first time for everything.
“I need you to lead me to a certain location. When we arrive there, you are free to return to your cows and chickens.”
I don't know why I consented to go with the elf in the end, but it seemed like the right thing to do, especially after he told me how he had saved my father's life before my birth. That was how my father had incurred such a debt to the elf. I would be betraying my father's memory if I didn't fulfill the favor asked of me.
Llewulyn asked me to accompany him on a journey north, which would take at least thirty days to reach on foot. I assumed we would be traveling on foot, since I didn't see a horse or cart anywhere in sight. The journey would lead us to the northern forests, where my father had hidden away a object that held value to Llewulyn.
"What object did my father hide?" I asked, packing a cloth sling for the few items I would take on the journey.
"It is of no value to men, but infinite value to the Elves. That is all I can say at present."
I didn't like not knowing what we were after, and I was confused as to how I was supposed to obtain it when my father had never spoken a word about this mysterious object that we were seeking. Llewulyn assured me that I would be a great help in finding it, and that was all. He made a promise to me in return. When the object was recovered, he would make sure that I would never want for anything again.
My Uncle, Father Elred, would take care of the farm while I was away. Ginger would come with the elf and I. Llewulyn had objected to the dog coming at first, but he changed his mind after I told him that she would go or I would not. This was enough to quiet him on the subject. We would leave before first light, and I was trying my best to get a few moments of sleep before the journey began.
Llewulyn touched my shoulder lightly, waking me from the surface of a dream. It was time to go. I had less than two hours of sleep, but that couldn't be helped now. Grabbing my father's bow and quiver from above the mantle, I slung my bag over my head and the bow across my back. A small dagger was strapped to my lower leg, right above my boots. The boots were made of fine leather that my father had traded for in Italia to the east. They had been a present for my mother the year before he died, and my mother had prized them above all her possessions and rarely wore them. They fit me perfectly, and I thought of my mother's warm smile as I tied the leather bindings around them to hold them on my legs.
Ginger followed at my heels as the elf led the way away from the house. We were heading away from the main road, and I soon learned why we would go this way. Hidden in a copse of trees were two brilliant horses, leather and cloth saddles on their backs. Llewulyn mounted the first horse, a black gelding with a coat that shined in the patches of moon light that had found its way through the canopy above. The second horse was a beautiful chestnut mare with brown eyes that matched her coat.
"I've never ridden a horse," I confessed as Llewulyn waited for me to mount. With a graceful dismount, the elf was by my side in a moment, helping me mount the creature who stood calmly beside me.
"Just hold the reins loosely and she will do the rest," he assured me. Even atop the horse, Llewulyn seemed tall. I wondered if all of his kind were as tall as him, or if he was tall even by elf standards.
We made our way carefully though the undergrowth of the forest, dodging briar and bramble patches that covered the forest floor along the way. When the sun started to rise, I could see that we were on a path, although it was hard to make out in the low light. Although I had played in the forest as a child, I had never known of any paths hewn there, other than those made by the wild animals. Perhaps this was a path made by animals. It was said that the elves could communicate with the forest creatures. Ginger followed behind the mare I rode, sometimes straying off the path to investigate some noise that she had heard.
We travelled from sunrise until sunset on the first day. I was just beginning to fatigue when Llewulyn stopped his horse in a glade well hidden from the path. Dismounting, he turned and looked in my direction, his eyes never quite meeting my own.
“We’ll rest here,” he said.
I was too tired to ask any questions. My stomach had started to growl, and my head became fuzzy with hunger. Ginger came and sat beside me on a fallen log, her eyes questioning me about what we would eat. I looked up in time to see a small wrapped bag flying my direction. My hands reached up and caught it before it could hit my head. Inside was dried meat, a handful of berries I didn’t recognize, and a small wedge of cheese. I divided the meat and cheese between Ginger and myself. I had brought my own water skin filled with fresh water from the brook that ran behind my flower garden. Cupping my hand, I let Ginger drink her fill of water before returning to the repast left in the small leather pouch.
Llewulyn ate little before glancing around and surveying the trees in the glade. I watched him as he moved soundlessly around the grove, looking up the length of one tree before moving to the next and doing the same. I didn’t know what he was looking for, or if he was looking for anything. Perhaps elves worshipped the trees for all I knew. They were great tenders of nature and wildlife, or so I had always been told. Llewulyn stopped at the sixth tree he came to and froze. Speaking strange words beneath his breath, the roots of the tree spread slowly, revealing a passage into the earth. He beckoned me to follow him as he descended into the ground below the tree. Rising to follow, I looked back at Ginger. She remained where she sat by the log, and layed her head on her paws. She wasn’t coming with me, this I knew from experience. It didn’t seem to alarm her that I was walking into the bowels of the earth, however, so I took this as a good sign.
“What about the horses,” I asked.
“They can take care of themselves. Plus, Ginger is there to guard them,” Llewulyn said, the hint of laughter on his voice.
“Where are we going?”
“To a safe place, where we can sleep without disturbance.”
Although the way was low lit, Llewulyn seemed to generate light as we descended further into the tunnel. With him leading the way, I knew that I would be safe, and had no fear of being lost or frightened. It was a strange feeling to trust this man, who was not a man at all, when I had just met him. Knowing my father had trusted him kept me steady.
We passed through a series of chambers, some large and some small, but we stopped at none. We continued for what seemed like a very long while before Llewulyn turned to the right and continued down a narrower passage. At the end of this passage, we passed into a small chamber, and then into a larger one. Torches hung around the wall sparked into life from an unknown source, making me jump. I could now see the interior of the room.
Several small tables and chairs were scattered throughout the room, all decorated in an earthly fashion. They seemed to spring from the ground itself, as though roots had twisted up from the earth to form the chairs and tables. The cloth that formed the seat cushions looked as though they were unsoiled and newly made. A large bed of similar fashion stood in the corner of the room, the bedposts gleaming as though the wood had been polished with orange oil that traders sometimes brought into the village from Espana and other exotic places.
“You’ll sleep here tonight,” the elf said, pointing towards the bed.
I nodded before walking towards the massive bed. My bed at home was only big enough for a small person, but this bed could sleep at least four good-sized adults. The coverlet was woven from a fine material that was soft to the touch. It smelled of lavender, even though it was deep below the earth. I wondered how long it had been here. Surely not for long, otherwise it would smell of damp and soil.
“Where will you sleep?” The question slipped from my tongue before I had a chance to filter my words.
“Surely this bed is big enough for the two of us, don’t you think?” Llewulyn said.
Feeling the color rush to my cheeks, I nodded before turning my head away from his direction. I had never been in a bed with anyone other than my parents, and that was when I was a small child. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the idea.
“Don’t worry, I have no designs. I would like to sleep in a bed tonight, considering this may be the last chance before we head into the mountains. It will be the hard earth and rocks for pillows after tonight, I’m afraid, unless we happen upon safe shelter.”
“Of course,” I replied, laying down among the soft linens. I had removed my boots, not wanting to soil the bed, but left my dress on, along with the apron and shift beneath the former. I usually slept in my shift only, but it didn’t seem appropriate in the presence of a male. Llewulyn lay on top of the coverlet, his soft boots still on. With arms folded behind his head, he closed his eyes. I gazed upon his angelic face for a few moments before closing my own eyes. It would be difficult to sleep on any other occasion, but I was exhausted from a full day of riding a large animal, something I wasn’t used to. Laying still, I could feel every muscle aching and then relaxing as sleep descended upon me.