“What’s happened?” Lysian asked, rushing to Berhalis’s side. He sighed at her wide blue gaze watching the humans. The maiden promised to him shone with such a beautiful charm even when afraid and anxious. She caused him to smile even under such strenuous conditions.
“They’ve come from Nudomri,” he murmured as more and more walked into their village. He stopped in his stride just at the edge of his village. He knew his cousin was working diligently to heal those in need. Despite anything his cousin might have been, disobedient, arrogant, and headstrong, Berhalis knew him to always help those in need, even if those in need were a potential threat.
“Nudomri,” Lysian repeated, moving closer to Berhalis. “Why are they here? The Sea of Kalana should have kept them at bay.”
“Their kingdom has fallen; none would help them.”
She pressed her palm against her mouth. On her wrist, in swirling white elegance, was the mark the gods had left to seal in her gifts and make them stronger. She had already come of age at nineteen, merely weeks older than Berhalis and Daylor, and she put her talent of fire to good use in their village.
“Lysian,” he said, hand gentle across her face. She tore her gaze away from the humans and looked up at him. He took hold of her hands, stroking the backs of them with his thumbs. “They will be turned out with an escort, of that I am certain. There is nothing to worry about.”
“But why are they here?” she implored. “Is there something troubling they’ve sought to escape?”
He nodded once. “Thaos.”
“Demon god.” Her hands tensed, pressing harder against her mouth. Softening his gaze, he tilted her chin upwards and kissed her. She calmed beneath his touch, a more deliberate act on his part as he called out to his blood crystals to soothe her. “He’ll return to the islands, the prophets have said,” she closed her eyes and leaned into his touch.
Berhalis held her close with a firmness that allowed room for comfort. “No, not until the elder gods descend. I doubt the time has come just yet. He cannot enter this island with their protection. Neither do I think his elf lover Elona can if she is still alive.” He kissed the top of her head before placing his cheek against her blond hair, continuing to warm her with his strength and magic.
“She is a god.”
“She is. But we should not worry ourselves with that.”
“Berhalis,” a maiden called, rushing across the thick snow to them. The storm that had begun had died down for the moment, and he could see his aunt, Mirya Athanis ley Tinuren, coming towards him with her gown drawn up into her furs. “Where is Thallan?”
“He should have been here already.”
“Do they expect us to feed all of these men?” she huffed. “We’ve only enough food stored to last us through the winter.”
Berhalis shrugged, releasing Lysian. Last year had not yielded great results for their village, and they barely had enough for all. Winter had been heavy this year and hunting had been nearly impossible.
Still, they could not turn out several thousand starving individuals.
“I will talk to my father and uncle about our food stores when I can,” he said.
“Where is Daylor? The two of you need to prepare to leave tomorrow. Even with this unwelcome news, it is just as important.” Nut brown eyes were wide when she looked across each face that passed them by. Their numbers were great, far more than they could contain and shield from the winter’s harshness without seeking further help.
“Helping the humans,” he replied, placing a hand on Lysian’s shoulder. “Many of them were not well off. When you see the last of them that is when Daylor should arrive.” He looked over his shoulder at the humans who continued to flow in.
“Tell your father and uncle I’m looking for them,” Mirya snapped, pulling her fur cloak closer around her as the wind thrashed again. “With you two leaving tomorrow, and with such outstanding conditions, I will need help. I still have Lysian’s gown to finish for your binding.”
“I thought my mother was doing that?” Lysian inquired.
Brunette curls whipped around when Mirya shook her head. “Your mother has enough to worry about with the new baby. Farsawen and I took it upon ourselves. It is a miracle to be blessed with more than one child, and within such a great distance of time.” Mirya reached out, touching Lysian’s belly. “May the gods quicken you early as they did your young mother.” They smiled at one another, and Lysian’s cheeks deepened to scarlet. Berhalis kissed her forehead, knowing many would bless them before he blooded her.
“Tell Daylor to prepare,” Mirya snapped.
“I will,” he reassured her.
“Make certain he stays out of trouble,” she insisted, dark eyes boring down on him.
“I will do my best,” he replied. “You know that he will do as he pleases.”
“But it is you who can keep him grounded better than any other, Berhalis.” She tilted her chin up, long features sterner than those of any other elf he knew. “We want our son to lead the village one day, but we think perhaps it will be you.”
Berhalis quirked a brow. “Or perhaps the both of us. He has his strengths, and he will grow into them. Either way, we’ll see what the council says.”
“Gods willing.” Mirya’s frown deepened as her eyes cast down the lines of men, women, and children coming in. “Tell your father and uncle that I will be asking around for help with cooking and food.” Sighing, she patted him on the shoulder before walking away.
“I should help as well. Warm them along with myself,” Lysian said. He looked down when she squeezed his hand. Her pale skin contrasted against his, some of her veins visible due to the cold. However, her lips remained just as vibrant as ever. She could wield fire, and the heat of her body kept constant no matter the temperature. Despite this, he knew the cold still bit at her.
Berhalis nodded before kissing her forehead and sending her on her way.
Alone with his thoughts, he grumbled against the cold and the drifts of snow moving in towards the forest. Looking at the tree line, he swore he saw the lithe, wooden figures of the dryads within, their black eyes glinting when they spotted the humans. There would be much to worry about when it came to the dryads and travel. Quite often, when they felt vulnerable or something threatened the forest, they attacked, despite staying hidden most of the time. The humans could disrupt the balance of Vheria.
“Berhalis,” someone called out ecstatically. Whipping around, he saw Daylor rushing towards him, stragglers of humans coming in now. His cousin’s cheeks were ruddy, and his eyes alight.
That was not a look Berhalis liked to see.
“That was a wonderful experience,” Daylor said, stopping just in front of him. “They all tell the same story, and the children were so curious. I had my hand in entertaining a few.”
“They’ve all been taken care of?” Berhalis inquired.
Daylor nodded. “And this woman who continued to follow me—”
“You need to interact as little as possible,” Berhalis commanded, frowning at Daylor’s wide smile. “We all do.”
“No.” Daylor’s brow furrowed. “I have a feeling—”
“Daylor,” Berhalis wiped his hand across his face before glancing at their village. “We should tell your father of your experience. They need help either way.” Daylor scoffed, passing a hand through his long hair. “I do not mean to offend, but this could be short-lived. It is exciting, but we’ve no idea how the council and the king will react to this news. If they are turned out—”
“Let me have my excitement for the moment, cousin,” Daylor snapped, the usual smirk transformed into a sneer. “Even if they are escorted away, I can have my exhilaration, and I will not interfere with whatever plans they have.”
Berhalis bit the inside of his lip. Knowing his cousin had not found trouble just yet, he would have to bow down to this battle.
With a curt nod, he grasped Daylor’s shoulder and wheeled him further into the village. “My apologies cousin, you are right. I only worry for you. I worry for them. I worry for the darkness that could drive one to put even their younglings in such danger, and why no other human kingdom would help them.”
They passed a thick row of torches, the boundary lines of the village, and the homes of wood and stone sat in comfort close to one another. They were a visage of the surrounding forest, and every year the village expanded around the river inlet that drifted into the forest. It was home and Berhalis took great pride in defending the homeland of the gods, where mother Gaia bore them, raised them, and died.
“This woman was beautiful,” Daylor murmured, “as tall as any maiden. She could pass for an elf.”
Berhalis clenched his teeth, not knowing what direction Daylor’s thoughts headed. “She…” he started before quieting, not wanting to upset Daylor or drive him away. With Daylor, he would have to think of a way to disagree yet keep him in line. He often had to have patience and watch his wording with his cousin. It was good practice for his eventual parenthood.
Shaking his head once, he simply stated, “Be cautious.”
“I will, of course I will.”
Berhalis chuckled, heading towards the back of the village where the large Tinuren family home rested, expecting his father and uncle to be there while his aunt saw to the food at the center of the village.
They came closer to the house and saw their other cousins standing to the side speaking amongst themselves. While elves did not birth many children, their grandmother had birthed twelve children that gave birth to one or more each. This included several sets of twins that brought more glory to the family. Their family stayed close, even the two aunts his grandmother bore, aunts who should have gone to live with their husbands’ families. In the village their bloodline could be traced all the way back to the birth of the elves.
Entering the house that had trees growing from the sides of its entryway, they were greeted by the warmth of a fire against the far wall and several men who lined the main room. With little furniture in the room, only a few sat in hand carved chairs. While strong in appearance, the humans were still shorter than both cousins and any elves there. They were also stockier and heavier than the elves who generally displayed lithe features.
Their fathers and village elders stood just before a door that opened to the outside in the middle of the house where the family altar and trees stood. Close by was the prince, his sister, and two other men. All eyes turned towards them, Berhalis’s father, Calowen, nodded once.
Thallan gestured to Daylor. “My son Daylor and my nephew Berhalis.” The men nodded. “Daylor, if you wouldn’t mind assisting these men while we continue to speak. Elrick here was wounded some time before they left Nudomri. It started to heal, but the wound has festered from the sea travel. Some of the other men have similar complications.”
Quick to react, Daylor strode forward, removing his gloves and tucking them into his belt. Elrick stood tall, though a foot shorter than Daylor. Apprehensive eyes surveyed Daylor, but the prince lifted his dark tunic. Berhalis squinted through the dim lighting before moving closer. Just above his hip was what might have once been only a small cut that could have mended without the use of magic. However, now pus oozed from the wound that inflamed his side.
Daylor hesitated, fingers curling.
“I’ll need something more,” he murmured. “Salve and bandages.”
“We’ve heard that elves were able to use the life force of Gaia to produce magic,” one of the men spoke up, hands clasped tightly before him. “We barely believed it. Now we know it to be true, so why do you need anything more than that?” Berhalis looked at Daylor and braced himself.
Daylor tilted his head to the side and smiled with stiff lips. “Just as any person who fights has a certain amount of strength before becoming exhausted, those who hold magic become exhausted too. I’m already tired from tending to your people, despite using some of their life energy. Excuse me for a moment.” Daylor left the room quietly.
“So it is true then,” Galimun, Berhalis’s third-born uncle, said, arms crossed over his broad chest. “Humans lost the ability to use the mana of the world.”
“A long time ago,” a red haired, wiry man replied. “When the gods ascended, they say, they took our magic away as a punishment for those who helped Thaos and Elona. They took the crystals from our bodies and turned them out into the world in the north and the south. We’ve never been there, but I’ve heard stories.” The man grimaced before lifting the sleeve of his tunic to reveal a wound on his arm that was in much the same fashion as the prince’s.
“You said Thaos drove you away from your land?” Berhalis asked, straightening his back. “He walks this realm?”
Daylor returned, his head bent low, but Berhalis knew he was listening to everything said.
“Aye,” another man replied. “Shortly after the Great War he returned. His demons torture the land, rape our women, and destroy our crops. He approached our prince in an effort to gain us in peace, to turn us against our gods.”
“The demon god approached you?” Thallan asked.
“Yes,” the prince replied, letting his tunic fall to the floor. Pallid skin made him appear sickly, more so in the dim lighting, but Berhalis knew Daylor worked well. Daylor had yet to take his coming of age vows, yet his powers were already more powerful than even some Elders in the temple, able to heal more than any other healer they had seen.
While Daylor applied salve and a healing hand of white energy to the prince, Elrick continued to speak, “He was taller than you elves, charismatic with great power radiating from him. Nevertheless, I could not let my people fall to him, and so he killed my family and went to war with us. He tore us apart just as he had the kingdom of Darsus. Their numbers are too great, and their kingdom has grown in power. He told me he is no longer allied with Elona the elf, but I doubt that.”
“Why would the other kingdoms not assist you?” Calowen asked, his features just as proud as the rest of their family. Their family often mimicked that of their god Kothes in that they were stern, yet loving protectors.
“My father offended them in one way or another, and they are fighting amongst themselves.” The prince hissed at Daylor’s prodding fingers on his face. A cut running the length of his jaw had some swelling to it before disappearing beneath his beard. “There is much war on Nudomri. Currently, Eanlasair is battling against Ilystaria. Whatever it is that happened, Thaos knew we were in a weak position.”
After wrapping a cloth around Elrick’s midsection, Daylor moved to the next man, his eyes marked with dark fatigue, but he pressed on.
“Our god led us here,” the red haired man spoke again. “The lesser gods. Seeking that perhaps the elves would come to help us, perhaps the elder gods would follow you. They gave us a map to show us the way, to avoid the devils of the sea.”
“They were set in place to guard the islands,” Thallan said through tight lips.
The red haired man shrugged. “We are here. Not all of us that set out, but we are here.”
“And we are in need of refuge,” the prince said, rubbing his side. “We are in desperate need of help. Please do not turn us away.” The room was quiet, and even though the prince already looked healthier, he appeared just as fatigued. Daylor had used the man’s energy to heal him and, coupled with a long journey, exhaustion was not unordinary.
Berhalis’s father cleared his throat, pushing against the light colored table he had been leaning against. “That is not for us to decide,” Calowen said, nodding slowly, eyes on Thallan.
Thallan nodded his agreement. “We will need to take you to the temple in the morning to see the council and our king, perhaps the prophet. This is troubling news, something with more meaning than anyone in this village could interpret or handle. We are the guardians of the isle, not those who are the deciding hand.” He rubbed his eyes. “We’ll house you here for the night, all of you. There is a storm beginning that we can not travel in. Then you and all your people will come with us in the morning. Children included.”
Elrick pulled his tunic on, eyebrows furrowed. “Is it far?”
“Far enough.” Thallan nodded. “But we need to keep an eye on all of you.”
“Even children?” the red haired man inquired, his eyebrows furrowing. “These children have been through much. We would like for them to be allowed to rest.”
“I understand but—”
It was then that the eldest of the village, Syrvis Laralin, spoke in gentleness and with thought, “I am certain that women and children could do no harm if kept to a quarantined area. Your wife, along with the other maidens, could look after them within the village. Most are proficient in the art of combat.”
Thallan sighed, his eyes heavy on the men in the room. Berhalis knew that this was a large task, a difficult one, and with one wrong move on his uncle’s part, many things could come undone.
Thallan murmured, “Any present, see that they are tended to and let your wives know what is to be expected of them.” He bowed his head to the prince. “You and your men may stay here with my family and I. We understand your importance and in the least will not tread on that. The rest will need to be housed elsewhere.”
“And my sister? We are the last of our family. I do not want to be separated from her.”
Thallan nodded. “Keep your sister with us, so that we may watch her. The dryads of the wood are a concern. They do not take kind to newcomers or perceived threats. Daylor and Berhalis,” he raised his hand when Daylor looked back at him, “keep close to her tomorrow. For now, Daylor will give her his bed as well as show the men to other areas of our house. And Daylor, make certain all of your things are prepared to leave tomorrow, both you and Berhalis. When you return to the village, you will have matured and may be able to help sort this mess.”
Daylor smiled at Berhalis before showing the prince from the room, soon followed by the rest of the men and elves.
In silence, Berhalis approached his father and uncle. The two elves spoke in murmurs to one another until they saw him still standing there.
“Aunt Mirya is looking for you,” Berhalis stated, bowing his head. “She says we do not have enough food for those who have arrived. She was overly annoyed with the situation.”
Thallan chuckled. “I know how my wife is. Even if we do not have the food, either the gods will provide or the temple will. Let us hope this does not interfere with coming plans.” He winked at Berhalis who smiled in turn, knowing he spoke of his coming marriage. “I need to find a maiden that will promise herself to Daylor somehow. Perhaps the Elders will choose for him.”
“I think they would have chosen by now,” Berhalis replied. “Even a maiden would have chosen by now, but he tends to scare them away.” The other two elves laughed.
His father slapped him on the back. “Keep an eye on him. I know we always say that—”
“I know how he is.” Berhalis nodded. “I will.”
“Get a night’s rest,” Thallan said, nudging him in the back. “We leave early in the morning if the snow has stopped.” Thallan nodded once to Berhalis who obediently left, knowing his father and uncle had much more to discuss.
There would not be a pleasant night’s rest for him, he knew. With all the excitement, he would need to keep a closer eye on Daylor. With the incident where he had provoked the dryads to attack in the past, there would be no telling what trouble Daylor would find with the humans.