Run. I must run! I must keep moving!
This was the thought I repeated in my head as I darted through the trees. It became a mantra, a life-altering mantra. Fear...I didn't feel it. I didn't have time to feel it. I only had time to remind myself to keep moving.
Because...if I stopped...I was dead.
I would be swallowed in flames, just like my village was. They were hungry, eating up my village, filling the sky with their warmth of death in a matter of minutes. Everything, everyone, perished with them. Everyone but me.
Tears streamed down my face as I ran. All I had were my blades, my mother's bow, the clothes on my back and the ground beneath my feet. The night seemed to rush by me, as if it itself was in a hurry to speculate the tragedy of another burning village. Even the stars themselves seemed to have abandoned their post.
Run. I must run. I must keep moving!
I must keep moving, for those that were lost. I must keep running, I must survive.
My name is Laera LightSinger. And I am on the run from my father.
"Laera! Hurry now, or you will be late!" Saelena called from the ground.
I rolled my eyes as I glanced down at her. Her bright green eyes glared back up at me. "I don't need anymore bow lessons, I am a half-elf! I can shoot just almost as well as you and Taryn, and certainly better than any human, orc, or dwarf."
She huffed, putting her hands on her slender hips. "Be that as it may, you still need to bond more with your mare, Ellefrae. So, get down here, and mount your damned giant of a horse!" And with that, she turned around and glided off back to the cottage, her golden hair catching in the wind.
I sighed. It has been nearly seven years since the night my village was burned to the ground. I was still a child, only thirteen years old. I ran for three days without looking back, making it to the only safe place I knew of; the home of Saelena and Taryn, both close friends with my mother. They all grew up together in their elven city of Lissan. After serving as royal ambassadors to King Calan and Queen Mardia, they went off to explore the world as representatives for the Elvish race.
Somewhere in that time, mother fell in love with a human man, and soon after I was born. But...things went awry, and mother had to vanish with me to keep me safe. My father hunted us for thirteen years before he finally caught up to us. My mother knew that one day it would happen, and that when it did, I needed to be ready.
Suddenly there was rustling right beside me, shocking me out of my reverie. Saelena had climbed up the tree, and was sitting next to me. She stared at me with a look of pity on her long, angular face. "Laera," she said softly, "You have to stop thinking about the past."
I scowled. "And you need to stop reading my mind."
She shook her head. "That time, I didn't have to. I could see it written all over your face. Your mother wouldn't want you to keep troubling yourself. There is so much that you are not ready for-"
"That's because I don't know what to be ready for, Saelena." I replied, angry. "You and Taryn have been training me every day ever since my mother...ever since she..."
Saelena nodded. "I know. But...you have to understand, we cannot tell you everything yet. Just trust us. We are trying to keep you safe, and to make sure you can keep yourself safe."
"What's the point?" I grumble before jumping out of the tree, landing squarely on my feet. "I can't protect myself if I don't know what I am protecting myself from."
"You are protecting yourself from your father." She replied, following close behind me.
"Oh really? Goodness, I had no idea!" I said in mock surprise, turning to face her.
She glared at me. "Laera, stop it."
I shrugged. "I know only one thing, and that it's not just my father that I have to protect myself from. It's whatever drives him, whatever makes him do what he does. And I don't know what that is."
"Laera," she said, "perhaps there isn't anything that influences him. Perhaps he was just born that way."
"Doubtful," I growled. "Mother wouldn't have loved him in the first place if he was. If you knew her, you would know that too." I shook my head as I turned, storming off along the wooded path.
She followed silently as I headed to the meadow, whistling for Ellefrae. Once I reached the clearing, I stood there for a moment, waiting for her to come to me. A moment passed before she appeared at the edge of the wood. I chuckled a little, thinking that Saelena wasn't wrong in calling her a giant. A good sixteen hands tall, she towered over me. I patted her head lovingly, running my fingers through her mane. She whinnied softly at me, bowing her head down a bit more.
"That's a good girl." I murmured. "Stubborn as you are, I think we get along just fine." I stroked down her neck and along her back, getting rid of a few burrs and bits of dried mud. "In any case, you were a lot better company than an overbearing elf, that's for sure." Saelena sighed but kept quiet. I grabbed a handful of mane at the base of Ellefrae's neck, jumped into throwing my leg over her back, and mounted up. She looked back at me, as if to say So, that's why you were being sweet.
"Oh don't look at me like that, I really do love you." I said with a smile. Saelena gave a look of approval, and pointed to the right of the clearing.
"Taryn is that way, about half a mile. He already has your practice bow, and targets set up in the trees."
I sighed. "Alright." I gave Ellefrae a slight nudge with my foot, gently urging her into a canter.
"Oh, and Laera? We will be learning something new tonight, so do not tire yourself too much!" Saelena called from behind me. Before I had time to ask, she left the clearing and went back to the cottage.
Ellefrae and I took our time reaching Taryn. I wanted to enjoy the scenery. It was already Winter Waking, the leaves of the very trees around us were turning all kinds of colors. The animals of the forest were scurrying to prepare themselves for the coming cold, gathering food and burrowing their homes. The sun peeked through the canopy in patches, almost as if it was showing particular beautiful things of the forest. Ellefrae slowed to a walk, sniffing the ground until she found a nice piece of moss to eat. I let her, feeling grateful for her compliance today.
It was easy to spot Taryn, his silver hair caught the sun, gleaming as bright as a burning torch. He was already mounted on his own horse, a sturdy beast named Jarun. "Laera!" He called with a smile. "You're late!"
I smiled back. "I am well aware Taryn. I wanted to take in the season. The forest is beautiful this time of the year."
"Oh, but Laera, the forest is ever beautiful. It is ever blooming, ever changing." He responded as he handed me my practice bow, my empty satchel, and my quiver. "Now, no more wasting time. Notch your arrow and bring me back my targets, if you would please."
I took my bow from him and and gave a slight nod. "Shall I meet you back here when I am finished?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Meet us back at the cottage. We have something else to teach you before the night is through."
Hm...I thought, that's twice now. I wonder what it is they want to teach me about this time? Maybe they will finally show me how to forge my own two handed sword? Or perhaps it will be a new lesson in history?
Taryn chuckled. "Do not look so speculative. You will find out soon enough." He waved his hand toward the forest path, "Now go!"
I rolled my eyes and nudged Ellefrae, galloping along the path. Every fifty feet there was a new target, but I never shot those. Instead I shot the ropes that were attaching them to the tree branches. This went on for nearly a half mile deep into the wood, but it only felt like a moment. There were 54 targets, just small bags filled with sand, and only 20 arrows used. I double counted the targets and put them back in my satchel.
After I was done, I took my time getting back to cottage, the sun was setting and I decided to go to my favorite spot. I took Ellefrae about a mile east, trotting through the forest as the sun began to rest. After coming to a stream at the base of a small cliff, I dismounted and let her drink her fill. Then, I walked over to the cliff and found the familiar foot hold, climbing up the cliff's face in just a few moments. Ellefrae whinnied condescendingly beneath me, as if to say Saelena and Taryn will be disappointed that I wasn't there at nightfall. They're elves, I thought to myself, they can wait.
When I reach the top of the cliff, I was about thirty feet above the forest trees, able to see for miles in every direction. This has been my favorite place ever since I started living with Saelena and Taryn. It was a place where I could think, a place where I could just watch the world around me with it being none the wiser. I watched the sun set, watched as the sky changed from pink to purple to deep, dark blue. I smiled at the sky. Somewhere up there, mother is watching, and I hope she's smiling too. In that quiet, I allowed myself to think back, to remember the times that I miss the most.
Mother used to sing to me every night before bed. "Ala neana lovi dey alaki. Ala neana gride waya ter sola." I sang softly out loud. Let love light the night of darkness. Let love guide your way to the sun. Every night, she would sing this to me, until I knew it by heart. She never spoke common with me, she believed in using the ancient tongue, the Bethetae On'l. Very few know it exists, and even fewer understand it. It was something sacred between her and I. Every night, I sing that verse, and every night, I think of her. Some nights, I am angry. Other nights, I am sad. And sometimes...though not very often...I feel happy that I am able to remember her so well after so long.
I picked at a scuff on my boot for a few moments, humming that song. Once the sun sank below the horizon, I stood up, glanced up at the stars peeking out of the night, and began to climb back down. Ellefrae was waiting for me, resting at the base of a nearby tree. After I mounted her, we galloped into the shadows, welcomed into the night as if we were it's very creatures.
"So," Taryn said as I approached the cottage, "did you enjoy your ride home?" He asked with a raised eyebrow.
"As a matter of fact, I did." I replied while leading Ellefrae to the water bucket. "I needed time to think."
"About?" He asked as he started to count the targets that I brought back.
"Mother." I said without looking at him. "I miss her."
"Ah," he said softly. "Aye, so do we." He put a hand on my shoulder, and smiled. "But, we both know she would not approve of you being out in the forest this far after sun down. Come on, let us go inside and eat dinner. After that, there is something that Saelena and I want to discuss with you."
I nodded, and then followed him inside. Saelena looked up when we both came in. "Laera!" She smiled, "I was beginning to worry! At this rate, we might as well put a cot up on that cliff and call that your home." She chuckled and set down a dish covered in cut vegetables and hand picked fruits and nuts.
"Oh but Saelena, I could not leave you both here. Ellefrae would not want to have to watch two elves." I said, hiding my smile behind my mug of water.
She smiled and shook her head. "Always with the wit as sharp as a the finest sword. You are certainly your mother's child."
Taryn sat down at the table, chuckling. "Of course she is." He bowed his head before his plate and murmured, "Bless those who's divinity that has given us this food, bless those who have the fortune of enjoying it."
Once Taryn said his blessing, we began to eat. "So Laera," Taryn said after a few moments, "What do you know of dragons?"
I blinked in a moment of confusion, before clearing my throat. "Honestly, not much. All I know if that they were once fierce beasts that had their own will. But, the last dragon was seen nearly a thousand years ago. They do not exist."
Taryn nodded his head thoughtfully. "Fair. There really isn't much that can be said about dragons."
When he doesn't say more, I pressed the matter. "Why do you ask?"
He shrugged. "I just wanted to know what your mother told you."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "Why would it matter?"
Saelena spoke up then. "Because, Laera, your mother used to have a dragon companion."
I laughed. "You cannot be serious...mother would have told me about something that important."
Saerena sighed and gave Taryn a look. "I told you she would not believe us."
Taryn grimaced, which shocked me, because he was ever happy. "Come, Laera. There's something we need to show you." He stood up and walked outside of the cottage, and across the clearing.
"Where are we going?" I asked, following them.
"We are going to the Seeing Waters." Saelena said over her shoulder.
"'The Seeing Waters'? What are the Seeing Waters?" I asked, nearly tripping on a stone.
"You shall see. Be patient."
We walked for about a quarter of a mile, coming to a stop at a small pool of water. I paused, staring at it. It was not pitch black like water would be in the dark. Instead, it was glowing. It was glowing a bright, almost luminescent shade of blue. The light from the fire beetles and lantern flies reflected off of it's surface, making it look even more surreal. Saelena knelt next to it, and looked back at me.
"Come," She said, pointed to the ground next to her. "Sit."
I pressed my lips together, questions burning on my lips, but I said nothing as I sat down beside her. Taryn stayed back a little ways, leaning against a near-by tree.
"Laera..."Saelena said softly, "Before you look into the Seeing Waters...There is something you must know."
"Yes?" I said, feeling something between worry and curiosity.
"Your mother did what she could to protect you. Never forget that. What you are about to see may hurt you." She replied, looking into my eyes.
"...what am I going to see, Saelena? What are you not telling me?" I asked.
She bit her lip before answering, something she's only ever done when she was nervous. "What you are about to see is the truth of that night, the night you had to run."
I swallowed, my throat as dry as a desert. After a moment, I nodded, and then I leaned over the water. Saelena gently dipped her finger, and within a moment, I was lost within the ripples of a memory long past.
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