PART THREE: MANIPULATING MAGIC
The good weather of the spring persisted into the summer and Falnora's crop yields were reaching record proportions. There was just enough rain to keep the fields moist and the plants growing, but not so much as to cause floods. The days were warm and often sunny and the nights pleasantly cool. All-in-all, few long-term inhabitants of the Halcyon Meadows could remember a better season.
The two newest arrivals in Falnora passed the summer in different ways. Ebb, a gregarious man, quickly found favor with his new neighbors and was accepted as a fellow hard-working farmer. He did not disappoint; his fields were among the most productive in the village. He was also an talented storyteller, especially when plied with several mugs of ale. Each night, the crowds surrounding him at the community hall grew as his reputation for weaving good tales spread. On those occasions when Ebb was not farming or recounting a story, he was helping to put right the many ills of his new house.
Bre, on the other hand, did little work and made few friends. When Wil realized that she was an accomplished writer, he offered her the job of village scribe, which she accepted. She soon learned, however, that it was more of a title than a duty, since Falnora rarely had contact with the outside world and word-of-mouth was good enough for messages within the settlement. There was also little need to record for posterity; the village was a static place. Other than farming and enjoying the outdoor life, little happened in Falnora.
An excellent knitter, Bre spent much of her time sitting on a bench outside of her house with her needles clicking away. Occasionally, she would go on long, solo walks, but she never lifted a hoe to help her father in the fields, nor was she willing to do more than insignificant work in making the house liveable. While her father never rebuked her for refusing to lend her aid, many gossips in the village were not so understanding and her reputation tarnished.
The only friendship Bre established was with a shy, blind girl five years her junior. The two developed an unusual but sincere relationship. During their time together, they rarely talked, but spent hours in companionable silence. Words, they both learned, were often less meaningful than quiet. Often, holding young Rea's hand, Bre would guide the girl on excursions beyond the ambiguous borders of Falnora. Rea's parents often worried during these journeys, but Bre always brought their daughter home safely and in good spirits.
Ebb was friendly with everyone. He received numerous dinner invitations, and would have gotten more if he didn't insist on bringing the dour Bre with him to every one. Men and women alike were charmed by his easy manner and good nature, but, as time passed, he developed a special relationship with Lora.
Many evenings, the two of them would sit outside Wil's house, occasionally talking, but mostly enjoying each other's company as the stars emerged in the darkening sky. Whenever Ebb came to eat with Wil and his family, Lora did the cooking, and, on those occasions when Ebb was home alone, Lora would travel the short distance to his hut to help with whatever repairs he was currently engaged in.
On the evening before Midsummer's Day, they were together as usual on a bench in the flower garden that Lora had become accustomed to cultivating each summer. The sun hung above the horizon, fat and crimson, but with the anticipation of the upcoming festival in the air, most of the farmers had stopped working early. Besides, food was so plentiful this year that a strict sunrise-to-sunset regimen of labor was not necessary.
"You will like Midsummer's Day here," Lora assured Ebb. They sat close to each other, perhaps closer than human propriety required.
"I like all Midsummer's Days. It's fun in the city, but different. Everyone gets falling down drunk."
"It is not so different from here, then. There is much gaiety, and alcohol to supplement it. Three years ago, I drank so much that I could not see straight. Since then, I have been careful to modify my intake."
"I thought elves couldn't get drunk."
"It is a common myth. Our tolerance to strong spirits is related to our age. The younger we are, the more susceptible. Elvish elders can drink barrels of ale before feeling its effects, but a few mugfulls will render me senseless."
"I'm sure there's lots of dancing," said Ebb.
"That too. In the houses, in the fields. Just about everywhere. There are several engagements celebrated each Midsummer's Day."
Ebb reached down and took her hand, marvelling at how tiny and perfect it was. Just like a child's. She enchanted him, this elf girl. She was like no one he had ever met. Even his late wife had not beguiled him so.
Lora favored her companion with a kind smile and made no attempt to pull away from him. For elves, intimacies such as touching and kissing were common even in casual relationships. She was aware that more importance was placed on those things for humans, but she was not concerned that Ebb would misinterpret her reaction. He had always been understanding.
They sat in silence for many minutes, enjoying the end of the day. The noise level in Falnora was already elevated, with children laughing and yelling to each other, and music emerging from the meeting hall, where a dance was being held. At midnight, everyone would gather in the center of town, where a huge bonfire was to be lit to celebrate the beginning of the festival. There would be little sleep for anyone tonight.
"If I were to ask you to spend some time with me tomorrow, would you?" asked Ebb.
"Would you dance with me around the bonfire, and during the Evening's Dance?"
Ebb swallowed hard. "And, after that dance, if I were to ask you to accompany me into my fields..."
Lora knew what he was going to ask and didn't let him finish. "I cannot."
He nodded. "I understand. We've only known each other for a short while."
"It is not that," said Lora. "Sexuality for elves is different than for humans. The one that we give our virginity to becomes bonded to us for life. It is a bond that not even death can break. We experience intense physical pain if we attempt to mate with another."
"And you don't want that kind of bond with me." It was difficult for Lora, inexperienced at reading emotion, to tell from his tone and features whether he was relieved or disappointed.
"No. What I want is irrelevant. I have already been bonded to another, although he died before I came to Falnora. His name was Dav and he was the father of Reg and Eya - and of my lost daughter, Mora."
It was the first time in fifteen years that Lora had spoken of those two. For short-lived humans such as the twins, they were no more than dim, painful memories, but for Lora, the mention of Dav and Mora triggered a tide of anguish. Time moved differently for elves, a decade passing more rapidly than for other races. Events of years ago were still fresh, their impact clear and precise.
"I'm sorry," said Ebb, sensing more than seeing her pain in the gathering darkness. He did not possess her elf's ability to see at night, but could tell by the clasp of her hand in his and the rigidity of her posture that something was wrong. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Perhaps sometimes pain is beneficial. It helps us to remember that life is not all mornings and Midsummer's Days."
"Father," said an unexpected voice from several feet away. Startled, both Lora and Ebb turned. Where Ebb's human eyes discern only the shape of a woman, Lora saw Bre standing there, her face set in a grim mask of disapproval.
"Bre, what are you doing here?" asked her father.
"I was sent for. To write a missive. That's my duty, in case you've forgotten."
"There are no duties in Falnora," began Ebb, reciting the settlement's unwritten creed.
Bre didn't let him finish. "I know, I know. I've heard it enough times. But I was asked to come here to write something, so here I am."
"Why didn't you bring a torch or lantern?"
"I know my way, Father. The stars are bright enough to travel by for such a short distance."
"And you like the darkness," added Lora. Bre's penchant for embracing the nighttime was well-known. With some people, it had become a running joke.
"Yes." She liked it, a lifeless force of nature, better than most of the people in Falnora, including this elf with whom her father was nfatuated. From the beginning, Bre had been wary of Lora because she was not human. It wasn't just her features that were different, but her entire culture. No matter how much a part of the settlement she might seem to be, the differences were obvious. However, what had started out as mistrust grew into dislike as Ebb fell deeper into the elf's thrall.
Yet there was little she could do. On those occasions when she had tried to broach the subject with her father, he had stated that he was unwilling to hear "a fine girl like Lora" slandered. He had accused Bre of prejudice. Perhaps he was right, but it was her belief that men and women should look to their own kind for sexual partners. Elf/human pairings were doomed to failure. There were enough examples of that in history.
"Go inside," said Ebb. "They won't wait all night for you to write the missive. I'm sure they'll want to participate in the bonfire lighting."
Bre let out a snort of derision. She didn't know what was worse, standing out here watching her father and the elf, or going into the house to face whoever needed her services. She didn't like any of the members of Wil's family. She found the Apath and his wife to be condescending, always willing to give advice that she neither wanted to hear nor was willing to accept. Their son Gav was a pompous ass, believing himself to be a serious thinker and forcing everyone to endure his pretentious diatribes. Then there were the twins. Eya was a cool bitch who liked to look down her nose at everyone. Perhaps she had the right, because she was an Apath, but her brother Reg acted with the arrogance of a wizard even though he possessed none of the power.
"Hurry up!" prompted Ebb, making a shooing gesture with his free hand.
Without enthusiasm, Bre went to do her duty.
Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Fourteen
On to Chapter Sixteen