“Keep watch over your heart,” a delicate voice called through the mists of snow. “Keep watch over the elves.”
Daylor stood naked in the snow, staring into the flurries, which stretched on and on, blocking all paths from view. A stillness enveloped him despite what the world was around him. He remained unchanged while the snow continuously shifted his surroundings, becoming new and yet, all at once, staying the same. The cold did not burn his skin as it should have, and he looked on awestruck.
“The humans,” he whispered.
“All in time.” The feminine voice spoke again. “You are gifted. As from the first you were born, so shall you be born again.”
The snow’s fury slowed, each flake suspended in time around him. It was breathtaking and surreal when he reached out his hand into the snow. Each flake touched his skin but would not melt, clinging to him as though he too were just as cold.
“The dead shall sing in your honor, Daylor, and you shall reign in a new age.” Still, no body owned the voice that spoke to him, but he continued to listen, unquestioning. He had heard this voice before, perhaps as a child in the night. This voice drifted through his being, putting at ease every fiber in his body.
“I don’t understand.”
“Ask your mother what happened at your birth. Ask of the shadows.”
Daylor shook his head several times. “Who are you?”
“Awake,” the voice cried out and caused his head throbbed, every part of him burning until his eyes snapped open. Awake, but still frightened, he jumped up from the floor of his family home. For over two months now, he had had dreams about boats, about the snow, and about red blossomed gailenia flowers with their many pointed petals covered in ice. They were becoming harder to ignore and drifting from surreal to reality.
Hand to his chest he looked over his family’s sleeping bodies sprawled across the floor. The fire in the hearth illuminated their faces, and he smiled. They had given up their beds to allow the human men some comfort for the night. The humans had traveled far, and despite what healing Daylor and others had given them, they were still ill and exhausted from their journey. The healers of the temple had more skill and could remove any affliction they still suffered, but that wouldn’t be until they arrived.
Glancing at the window, the warm hues of light filtering in signaled the beginning of the day. Vhedril’s light would soon rise to watch over her creations, while her sister Ghedril would leave for the day.
The stairs creaked, and he looked up to see his mother, Mirya, in her earth-green gown flowing down without another sound. She craned her head at Daylor before gesturing for him to follow her to the kitchen. After pulling on his tunic, he did so.
“You will be of age by the end of this month,” she whispered, moving pots and pans around without a sound as she prepared to make breakfast for all present. “Perhaps it is time to think of a wife or where you will best serve your abilities.”
He shook his head and leaned against the wall. “I thought of traveling to the Temple of Vhedril in the north, of asking the High Elder to give me permission to assist them.” His mother paused in her movements. “I do not want to leave our family—”
“I’ve always encouraged you to follow your own path,” she interrupted with a mother’s ease, flicking her wrist to light the stove wood with the gifts granted her.
“I always have, except now I’m uncertain what I should do.” His eyebrows crinkled. Remembering his dream, he lowered his voice further. “What happened at my birth, Mother?”
Mirya stumbled in her step as she headed towards the back door where they kept their perishable foods. She swayed before leaning against the doorframe. Shaking her head, she said, “What do you mean?”
He swallowed hard before pressing on, “Of the shadows. Something happened.”
His mother looked away for a long moment before sliding to the floor with her back firmly against the frame. He stepped towards her to help her up, but she waved him away.
“How could you have known?” she mused before sighing and wiping her still-clean hands across her gown. “Daylor, you do not behave as others do, and that was something difficult for your father and me. Your father is fifty, first-born of his siblings, and we prayed for years for a child.” Daylor listened closely, his body growing cold due to knowledge never spoken around him. “A blessing was given to us, but since I had lost a child late in pregnancy before you, we remained silent until the night of your birth…” She trailed off, rubbing her eyes with two fingers.
“Please,” he pressed, eager but afraid.
“There was a snowstorm the night of your birth, and the rest of our family was at the temple. Only your father and I were here.” She took a deep breath. “Gods help me, do not tell your father I told you.”
“No, of course not.”
She leaned her head back against the frame, her voice drawing out as she recalled the events. “The hearth flames rose high as we brought you into the world. We feared they would burn our home, but even when the flames spread into the room, they harmed nothing. They brightened the room almost like the light of Vhedril, and shadows moved around.” She shook her head once. “I swear I saw faces.”
Daylor sank to his knees, his chest having grown heavy. “Did you tell the Elders? The Council?”
Mirya shook her head somberly. “We thought to allow it to play out. We had prayed for so long for a child that the risk of losing you outweighed any other thought.” She reached out to stroke Daylor’s face, her hand warm against his now clammy skin. “We love you, and still think that it was the presence of the gods. Your gifts are stronger than they should be for your age, and you’ve a will to match them. I know you will do great things, but we’ve yet to see how or when.”
“What am I supposed to do with this knowledge?” Daylor asked, leaning into his mother’s touch.
“How did you know?”
Mirya smiled. “Then you were godsent. Perhaps Kothes of the Wild has sent you for some reason.” She glanced towards the door, her smile drifting from her face. “With the arrival of the humans, perhaps the time is coming that the first prophet spoke of. Perhaps the elder gods will return, and you will have some part to play in our war.”
Daylor nodded without enthusiasm. This burden of knowledge was heavy. The first prophet spoke of a time of a great war, strife and rebirth. She spoke of a time when the elves would travel. After the Great War, one that the elves had minimal participation in, the gods had ascended but not before telling them that one day they would return, just as the prophecy said. One day they would gain further strength, and they would go to war with Thaos.
What part could he have in that? he wondered with a heavy heart and racing mind.
After exchanging hugs and promises of secrecy, Daylor let his mother return to her preparations. While everyone ate and prepared to leave, Daylor remained quiet as he tried to think of what it could mean. Demons were a possibility, though he doubted that since the gods promised the demon god would never return to the islands. The gods had implied his children and their followers would never return either.
If the gods had chosen him, he would have thought that surely the Council of Kothes would have known, or at most the prophet or oracle. The council came from a long line of people chosen by the prophet and sometimes the oracle. Meant to keep the island in balance beneath their monarch, they should have had more insight, wisdom, and strong magic.
With their abilities, one of them had to have known.
Departing the home with the group of men and elves, he promised his mother he would let her know if he saw anything else. She worried that whatever was within him was awakening, that they could no longer hide it from the others. Taught to be selfless, to put their lives and comfort on the line for the good of all, many elves would have encouraged him to venture out and help others, maybe start a family of his own elsewhere. Yet his mother was afraid of losing him, of never seeing him again if he set himself apart from the rest of the family.
Two elves leading the group used their magic to push the dense snow to either side of their party with a wave of their hand. As a result, the thicker, slopped snow hill helped shield them from the cold winds that rushed by.
They inched along with perhaps over a hundred men in line with them, but their trek was not without amusement. A few of the boys, possibly fourteen or younger, had come with them, and they had begun throwing snowballs at one another until the men pulled them back in line by their collars. Daylor smirked at this, hearing one of the men state there was no snow where they came from.
With Berhalis distracted in conversation with his father, Calowen, Daylor fell behind. Smiling to each man he passed, he craned his neck to catch a glimpse of each of them until he walked at the back. He hoped the dryads would cling to their trees in such frigid temperatures. After the guardians of the forest had attacked him, he rarely ventured into the woods because they often intimidated him. He rubbed his hand across his upper right arm, remembering they had not poisoned or killed him, but they had left a thick scar as a reminder.
It never stopped him in his curiosity, however, and he climbed on top of the now high, slopped and hard wall of snow. He walked the edge of the path that way for a while, ducking beneath branches that would have been higher from the ground. He could see the tops of the heads of the men. They were so very different than the elves, and he admired that uniqueness compared to them. Their race was stockier, heavier footed, yet still attractive even compared to an elf. It was said that the elves were created more in the likeness of the gods. He wondered what purpose the gods had in mind when they breathed life into the humans after they had made the orcs and dwarves to tame or mine the world.
Catching a glimpse of deep red against the snow, Daylor tried to ignore it. It was within the woods, and he didn’t want to venture too far from his company. However, the more he continued to walk, the more curiosity ripped at his mind and made it hard for him to breathe.
Jumping down, he looked at the trees above. If they were there, the dryads hid themselves well. He rushed to the spot of red in the snow and leaned down to pick it up. Wondering what a gailenia flower was doing alive in winter and with no vines to help it climb, he plucked it from the earth and brought it before his eyes. Mother Gaia had gifted gailenias, a many-petaled flower, to Kothes, and the elves cherished them. They only grew in winter if they were close to the temples, yet crystals of ice clung to the tips of this one’s many petals, and the long, ice-covered stamen made it appear as detailed glass.
It was beautiful, he thought, raising it up to look at it in the sunlight.
Turning around to run back to the others, he ran into Adalem instead and nearly fell backwards. She grasped her hands before her, her skin bright red from the cold.
“What are you doing?” she asked, glancing at the flower in his hand. “The others are falling farther away.”
His lips parted, uncertain what he should say to her. When he had found her the night before and had shown her to his room, it seemed she had taken every opportunity she could to touch him, and it made his skin burn and the words leave him.
Now she stood in front of him, quieter than anyone he had known.
He shook his head. “I saw this gailenia.” Blinking, he twirled it in his fingers. No one had ever had him at a loss for words before, and it angered him to realize such a thing. He snapped at her, “Why are you following me?”
Her delicate lips tipped upwards. “I am curious, and you were the first one I saw when we arrived. Your father is the leader—”
“He is a leader, yes. We have several here. He has no authority over any other villages.”
She shrugged and, with the tip of her finger, touched the flower he still held before him. Her hands were bare, and the pale flesh turned bright pink when she touched it.
“Your name is Daylor.”
“Yes,” he nervously replied.
“I like your name,” she murmured, her cheeks turning brighter when she looked up at him.
He smiled at her before catching himself. “Your people will worry about you.”
“Do you know the way to where we are going?”
“Then I’ll not worry. You can be my escort.” She wound her arm around his and stared up at him. She was short, lissome, and bright-eyed, and her touch caused his heart to quicken. However, she was human, and their situation was unordinary and apprehensive.
He pulled his arm away, to which she stepped back and clasped her hands once again.
“My apologies,” she murmured, looking away. “We traveled for so long, and my brother told me to make peace with the populace. I do not want our people turned out.”
He bit his lip, seeing the ache of sorrow in her eyes. “I wish I could help that.”
“I see it in you.” She wrung her hands, a still softness on her beautiful, round features. “You want to help people. You want to help anyone. Your eagerness to assist us showed me that, even when the others would not. You are honorable.” He smiled wider than he ever had before, and his back straightened in pride. “Your lover must be very proud.”
“I have no lover,” Taken aback by her again, he stammered.
“Oh,” she whispered, looking at the flower in his hand. “Well, if you did she would be. I know I would be.”
His cheeks burned and all he could do for the moment was stare at her. At last gaining some courage, he placed the frozen flower in her hair. “We should return to the others.”
Unexpectedly, she leaned up on the tips of her toes. When her lips made to meet his cheek, he turned to meet them with his own. It surprised him as much as it did her, and her grip on his arms tightened when he opened his lips to her. Though he would not touch her, he kissed her fully and without shame.
Grabbed by the neck of his cloak and pulled backward, the moment shattered, and Daylor panicked. He feared for Adalem’s safety, and his muscles tensed to react before he saw it was only Berhalis staring down at him with great fervor.
“Look,” Berhalis hissed, pointing outwards. Daylor did as he was told and saw wooded, naked figures standing in full view. Many female dryads surrounded a male, his horns of wood rising high beneath a thick head of hair and leaves. Their blackened eyes narrowed at him. They would never forget the day he killed a deer for sport, not food. At fourteen, he did it intentionally to try and catch a glimpse of them, and it worked far better than he intended.
Berhalis pushed him towards the trail, removing an unwanted presence from their forest. Adalem rushed after them, keeping her face covered with one hand. Though they found their feet back on the cleared trail, the dryads continued to stand at the edge of the forest.
Down the path, Thallan and Calowen stood with matching pursed lips while the men talked among themselves. When the dryads came into their sight, the men’s faces paled and their hands grasped the hilts of their sheathed swords.
“What were you thinking?” Berhalis snapped, pushing his cousin’s shoulder again. Dropping his voice so no other heard them, he leaned into Daylor and added, “You know you are not allowed to go into the forest without an escort.”
“I saw a flower.” Daylor laughed, tilting his head to one side. “I only meant to grab it and then be on my way.”
“Instead you kissed a human,” Berhalis snarled while pointing at Adalem. “We are called to protect them, not mate with them.”
Adalem, without the confidence she had in pursuing Daylor in private, rushed back towards the men who took her and shielded her within. Shortly afterwards Thallan and the others led them away, understanding that, despite Daylor not wanting him to, Berhalis would bring him back.
“Why do I have to keep constant watch over you, Daylor?”
Daylor snorted. “Because our family tells you to, and you obediently listen.”
“Would you rather bring destruction to the island?”
He gritted his teeth. “Of course not.”
“I’m surprised.” Berhalis leaned in towards Daylor who stared at the ground in anger. “You were caught helping and healing a Moon Elf at twelve instead of turning him in. You tease the dryads. You defy the gods by taking offerings from the altars of Gaia. You kiss a human. And you’ve nearly burned the village on several occasions. What is next, cousin, you will sell your life to Thaos?”
“Despite anything I have ever done, I love our gods,” he tightly replied, “and I love our homeland.”
“You fail to think.”
“I fail to understand the difference between us and other beings.”
Berhalis scoffed, glancing off into the distance. “I grow weary of watching you.”
“Then do not follow me,” he snapped, eyes burning hot on his cousin. “Leave me be. You have your promised lover that you will have to take care of and, gods willing, children. Can we accept that I am different? And with the coming of the humans, we may need someone to think another way, to lead differently.”
“They will not stay.”
“You do not know that.”
Berhalis grabbed his arm. “I do know. The balance needs to be made—”
“Let go of me!” he yelled, pulling his arm away from Berhalis. “I see something and I go for it, Berhalis. I see someone in need, I have to help them. Moreover, I need to know what we can do as elves before we are hurt. It is the only way we can test boundaries and become better able to help others. The gods told us they would return, that we were to watch over the world not just the islands. The prophets have told us they will return, and that the elves would go to other lands.”
“Expect us to do what they show us to do, or what we feel is right to do.” Daylor stepped towards Berhalis, glancing at the dryads on the edge of the forest who continued to stare at their interaction. “I regret provoking the dryads, the first creatures born before the elves. However, I do not regret being able to see them now every time I enter the forest. Change is coming, Berhalis; we cannot stop this, we can only make it easier. And if the gods are telling me, or if I feel something is guiding me, why should I not follow that prompting as much as you follow your warnings of danger?”
“That is different,” Berhalis said, pointing at him.
“No, I don’t think it is.” He took a step back. “I am confident in my abilities. I am confident in my gifts, and with some recent knowledge, I am confident that everything I am doing is right.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Daylor grinned, chortling. “For the past month or two I’ve had dreams pointing to the day the humans would arrive, I’m certain of that now. And now my dreams have shifted to something else and, since I saw the humans coming, I think I should talk to the Elders about it.” He took a deep breath before continuing, “Please, even if our family says to watch me as I know they’ve always done, be my friend but allow me peace.”
Berhalis dropped his gaze, shaking his head. “I will always keep an eye on you, cousin. But if you want to learn this lesson your way, I will let you. I only pray they’ve not come to harm us.”
“I doubt they have.”
His cousin shrugged. “The coming days will tell.” The dryads shifted in the glimmers of light raining down from the canopy. It worried Daylor, and he had never found a way to properly apologize to them. Berhalis pushed Daylor in the back, urging him to walk. “Let’s get to the temple before they attack you.”
Daylor had little doubt they would.
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