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Chapter 3: The Cabin

Chapter 3: The Cabin

A Chapter by Syren Creates

Getting off of the castle grounds soon proved to be more of a challenge than getting onto them.  The thought of climbing to the other side of the castle to leave the way she had come through the garden didn’t particularly appeal to her.  Especially since she guessed that there would be a change of guard before she got over there meaning the guards would be more alert, making her task all the more difficult.  So, she climbed as low as she dared and clung to the wall above a guard at the base of the wall and waited.

         To Zerlinda, several hours could have easily passed while she clung there, but, in reality, it had been less than half an hour.  Nonetheless, her fingers and toes were starting to burn and ache with the effort of keeping her body from falling directly onto the guard.  She didn’t care if he was the worst guard in the universe, he would definitely notice it if she fell on top of him.  Her tongue ran along her lips as the temptation to relieve her muscles grew stronger by the second, but she knew that she couldn’t risk moving and drawing attention to herself so she pushed the urge aside and kept her eyes on the figure below.

         Finally, the guard sighed and walked away, grumbling and complaining about how his replacement was never on time.  Mentally breathing a sigh of relief at being able to move without the threat of being caught, Zerlinda relinquished her hold on the castle wall and allowed herself to fall to the grass.  She landed on her toes with bent knees to spring up and race to the surrounding wall, scrambling up and over the stone barrier before the next round of guards could show up.

         By the time she made it back to the safety of the forest, the once dark sky was transforming into a lighter shade of blue.  Her eyelids started to feel heavy and her actual eyes felt as if they just had sand rubbed into them.  She was thoroughly exhausted and was taken by an overwhelming urge to sleep under the trees and fading stars, but she knew that she had to get back and forced herself to walk on.  She yawned so many times that her eyes watered, still, she reasoned with herself that sleeping in her bed would be more comfortable than sleeping on the forest floor.  Her other self reasoned that just because she could stay awake for over twenty-four hours didn’t necessarily mean that she liked it or that she should do it, but she continued on nonetheless.

         As she had predicted when she was speaking with Adalric, the sun had risen well above the treetops by the time Zerlinda got back to the cabin.  She breathed in the aroma of Saya’s cooking deeply and her stomach growled loudly in response, reminding her of the fact that she had also neglected to eat lunch and dinner the previous day.  If she hadn’t run into that messenger yesterday, she wouldn’t have felt the need to take the longest route home nor talk with Saya and Agmund about the orcs which meant that she would have eaten lunch and dinner and gotten a night’s rest. An additional thing she had learned:  Just because you could go without a meal or two, didn’t mean it was enjoyable or that you should.  Another yawn forced its way through her lips, reminding her of her great fatigue.  It was one of the worse feelings to be equally tired and hungry at the same time.

         “There you are!” Saya exclaimed from the kitchen as Zerlinda walked in, looking a little like an undead copy of herself. “We were just debating about whether or not you had gotten yourself captured and needed rescuing.”

         “Ha, ha, ha,” Zerlinda replied, dropping unceremoniously into one of the chairs at the table.

         Agmund looked up at her from his seat across the table and took in Zerlinda’s overly exhausted appearance.  Her hair was pulled back in the sloppiest ponytail ever from when it had gotten in her way a little too often and her eyes were only half open and lined with dark circles under them while her lips looked dry and chapped.

         “You look terrible,” he said.

         Zerlinda grimaced. “Thanks,” she said sourly, knowing it was true.

         “I’m guessing that Adalric declined our offer?” Saya said, placing three plates of bacon, eggs, and toast on the table in front of them.  Zerlinda gave her a grateful smile and ate several bites as Agmund promptly inhaled half of his plate.

         “He said he needed time to think about it,” Zerlinda answered after swallowing a bite of bacon.

         “You’re going back, then?” Agmund asked through a mouthful of his own breakfast, spewing pieces of eggs and toast all over the table and causing Saya’s nose to wrinkle in disgust.

         “You know, Agmund, you really shouldn’t talk with your mouth full,” Zerlinda chided him. “It isn’t very proper.”

         Agmund glared at her and swallowed his food. “Since when do you care about what’s proper?” He asked.

         Zerlinda raised her eyes to the ceiling as she thought about it for a second before shrugging her shoulders and returning her attention to the plate of food in front of her. “Fair point,” she relented.

         “So when are you going back to the castle?” Saya asked, returning the conversation to its previous topic as Agmund pushed his empty plate away and leaned back in his chair, patting his full stomach.  Zerlinda looked at him, shaking her head slowly.

         “It’s a wonder how you never choke on your food, Agmund,” she said. “It truly is.  And, um, I told Adalric that I would be back in two nights.”

         Saya nodded pensively. “Do you think he’ll join our merry little band?”

         “Maybe,” Zerlinda said, taking another bite. “Though, to be honest, I don’t think it’s likely.  He was pretty reluctant to leave last night; his loyalty hasn’t diminished one bit.  But, you know … something did strike me as odd …”

         “What happened?” Agmund asked curiously, pressing his elbows into the table as he leaned forward.

         “Well, when he first saw me �" and recognized me �" he acted scared. Like he thought I was there to kill him.  He kept talking about how he tried to convince Achan of our innocence and such, but…” She paused, thinking about it.

         “But?” Saya prompted.

         “But even though he seemed to believe that his life was being threatened, he never once tried to call his guards in.  He just begged me not to kill him.”

         “Perhaps he still fancies you,” Agmund suggested, waggling his eyebrows at her.

         “Oh, he basically told me that he does before I left.  Still, if I was in his position and seriously thought my life was in danger, I would at least try to call my guards in, wouldn’t you?”

         “Not necessarily,” Saya said, thinking her words through carefully. “If his feelings for you are strong enough, he might rather you kill him than you go to prison and be executed.”

         Zerlinda looked at her with a befuddled expression. “That’s crazy,” she said bluntly.

         Saya shrugged. “Love’s crazy,” she replied. “What did you do when he told you that he still loves you?”

         “I told him the truth; that it would never work.”

         “That was cold,” Saya said, a hint of disappointment in her voice.

         “The truth hurts,” Zerlinda countered, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.  She loved Saya like a sister, but sometimes her romantic side could get the better of her.

         “I doubt he’ll let it be, Z,” Agmund said. “He’s persistent, that one.”

         “And I’m stubborn,” Zerlinda shot back, swallow the last bite of her breakfast. “Can we please get off the topic of my love life?  Or lack thereof,” she added in a mutter under her breath, standing up from the table. “I’m going to bed.  Good night … morning … whatever.”

         Now that her stomach was full, the lack of sleep was seriously starting to affect her normally touchy attitude.  Knowing that she needed rest, her two friends simply nodded as she walked into her room.  They shared a look between them and Saya stood from the table.

         “Clean up the kitchen,” she said over her shoulder and Agmund complied, grumbling.

         In her room, Zerlinda closed the door behind her and hung her cloak on a bedpost before removing her daggers and hanging them on the wall in their respective places next to her quiver of arrows, bow, and sword; all of which she could fight exceptionally well with but tried to avoid using as she was most comfortable with her daggers and hand-to-hand combat.  Sleep was washing over her quickly as her eyes felt heavier and heavier.  She managed to stay awake long enough to remove her belt, toss her boots into a corner and lay down on her bed.  She was out before her head had the chance to his the pillow.

c  d

         Her sleep was a deep, dreamless one.  Or, rather, if she did dream then she forgot it as soon as she woke up as most people do.  However, Zerlinda was not focused on dreams, but on the sound of her bedroom door slowly creaking open.  Her muscles remained relaxed and her breathing steady, giving the appearance that she was still asleep as she had trained her body to do when woken up by unnatural disturbances.  And her body was very sensitive to unnatural disturbances.

         Her keen, pointed ears listed to the soft footfalls approaching as the intruder moved closer and stopped beside her bed.  Sensing that the time was right, Zerlinda grabbed a dagger from the wall and had the intruder pinned under her on the bed with the sharp blade digging into the soft skin of the neck in less than a second.

         Eventually, her groggy mind caught up with her instincts and the situation and she climbed off, giving the body below her a rough shove as she did so.

         “Damn it, Agmund!” She exclaimed, replacing the dagger on the wall.

         “Reflexes still as sharp as ever, I see,” Agmund grunted ruefully, sitting up and rubbing his neck where the blade had been.

         “How many times do I have to nearly kill you before you get it through your thick skulled head that you shouldn’t come into my room when I’m sleeping?” Zerlinda asked testily, completely ignoring his comment �" she tended to be very irritable when she first woke up.

         “Well, excuse me for coming in here to wake you up for lunch,” Agmund said indignantly, standing up and squaring his shoulders.

         Zerlinda was not to be deterred. “You could have just yelled or knocked on my door,” she suggested sardonically.

         “How would I have known if it had worked, though?” challenged Agmund.

         “Because it’s worked on the rare occasions that you actually tried it?” Zerlinda replied in a tone and expression that suggested that such a thing should have been obvious.

         “You know, Z, you could at least say thank you for getting you up for lunch,” he pouted.

         Looking at him with an expression before rolling her eyes and giving him a mock curtsey, she said, “Thank you, dear Agmund, for waking me for my meal. In the future, however, I would suggest that you perform the task in such a way that will not get you killed!”

         Agmund caught onto her overly proper wording and tone and glared at her. “I hate you.”

         “At the moment?  The feeling is mutual,” Zerlinda snapped, walking into the combined kitchen and small dining area.  She grabbed her plate, filled it with food and joined Saya at the table. “That boy has a death wish,” she told Saya as Agmund filled his own plate. “I swear he does.”

         Saya shook her head. “I told you, Agmund.  That wasn’t the best way to wake her up.  Especially after not sleeping for an entire day.”

         Agmund shrugged nonchalantly and grinned as he took his place at the table. “I like to live dangerously.”

         “No,” Zerlinda corrected him, pointing her fork at him. “You like to live foolishly.”

         “They’re one and the same,” he said, waving her off.

“Are you feeling any better?” Saya interjected quickly before a fight could erupt and lunch was ruined.

“A little,” Zerlinda answered, failing to stifle a yawn.

“You don’t look much better,” Agmund said, still a little irritated by the fact that he was unable to sneak up on Zerlinda, even when she was in a dead sleep.

“Better than you, I imagine,” she shot back, raising an eyebrow at his ever messy hair, which seemed to stay that way unless there was a formal occasion.

“At least I don’t have black circles around my eyes,” he taunted.

Zerlinda raised a fist at the challenge. “Keep it up and I’ll give you some.”

“Agmund!” Saya snapped, glaring at him to stop provoking their friend to violence then turned her attention back to Zerlinda. “Are you looking forward to seeing Adalric tomorrow night?”

“I don’t recall you becoming my mother,” Zerlinda replied, smirking a bit at the suggestive tone in Saya’s voice.  Not unlike the one a mother would use when asking her daughter about a crush.

Saya rolled her eyes. “Just answer the question.”

“Of course.  There’s nothing like breaking into a castle that you’re banished from to have a chat with a guy who doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the words ‘it won’t work’.”

“Was it hard?” Agmund asked with eager curiosity. “Last night?”

“Breaking in?” Zerlinda laughed. “Nah, it was actually quite easy.  None of the guards recognized me, and the only ones who stopped me were the ones at Adalric’s door.   Even then, all I had to do was tell them that the King had sent me to deliver a ‘message of great importance’ and they let me in.”

“Did you have your cowl down?”

“My hair and cowl were down.  If Achan only knew how slack his guards were, he probably would have all of them fired and wouldn’t have any guards left.” Her grin faded as a thought occurred to her. “Saya?”

Her friend hummed in acknowledgement.

“I know it’s been a while, but how bad were the guards before you were banished?”

Saya’s brow furrowed as she thought, remembering. “I don’t know.  They complained a lot, but never left their posts.  I mean, they were new for the most part but not amateurs; they had some discipline.  Why?”

Zerlinda shook her head slightly. “I was just thinking … the guards I saw at the castle were amateurs. They left their posts when they thought their time was up, they were falling asleep while on duty.  I’ve always known Achan to keep several guards around for at least half a decade to keep the newer ones in check, but I didn’t see any of that and you were banished, what?  Four years ago?  And I didn’t recognize a single face.”

“Well, the orcs are approaching,” Agmund shrugged. “Achan’s probably gathering all the help he can get.  He asked you for help, didn’t he?  Desperate times and all that…”

“Still,” Zerlinda persisted, her gut telling her that something wasn’t right. “Saya, you said the guards you knew were new, but disciplined.  These guards had zero discipline.  They’re complete amateurs; Achan wouldn’t do that.  He might as well leave the castle unguarded and save the money if he’s going to do that.”

Saya shot her brown eyes over at Agmund, not knowing what to say. “I-I don’t know, Z,” she stuttered. “It could be something, but �" as much as I hate to admit it �" I think Agmund’s right; Achan is just getting desperate.  The orcs aren’t an easy force to fight and, considering they’re planning to take Treewood, there are going to a great number of them.  He probably asked you for help hoping that you could give some insight on them since you were with them for so long.” She stood up. “You still look exhausted.  Go back to sleep.  I’ll wake you up for dinner,” she added, glaring in Agmund’s direction.

For her part, Zerlinda glared at both of them, but took Saya’s suggestion as she was still feeling tired. The two of them watched her disappear back into her room and Saya sat back down.

“She has a point, you know,” Agmund said quietly. “It doesn’t make any sense for Achan to spend all that money to pay untrained amateurs to ‘guard’ his castle.  If he was really desperate, he would be using that money on supplies for the army.”

“I know,” Saya sighed. “But she’s already attacked the King’s messenger and declined his request.  There’s no use in letting her think about conspiracy plots or that King Achan’s up to something if we’re not going to get involved.  Besides, she looked dreadful and needed more sleep.”

“But what if she’s right and Achan is up to something?” Agmund pressed.

“Agmund, you know what Zerlinda did for a living. She sees three different conspiracy theories in practically every abnormal behavior and it’s gotten worse since her banishment.”

“That’s because it’s the only thing that’s kept her alive,” Agmund countered. “The only reason she survived.  The whole reason as to why she was so good at what she did.  How many times do you think she would’ve been killed if she didn’t think the way she did?  Yes, I admit that she is extremely paranoid, but it’s because she thinks of every possibility to be prepared.”

“What’s your point, Agmund?” Saya asked, irritated at being lectured.

“My point is that maybe she is paranoid, but that doesn’t mean you should just blow her off and send her to bed like a child.  She has good instincts and the more I think about it, the more sense Zerlinda’s theory makes.  What if Achan is up to something?  Wouldn’t that be something worth knowing?” Saya said nothing and he added, “Besides, I’m pretty sure Zerlinda only says something like that when she’s sure it’s possible.  I don’t think we even know half of the conspiracy theories that go through her mind on a regular basis.”

Saya narrowed her eyes at him in a glare for a moment before standing up from her seat. “Be sure to clean up the kitchen,” she reminded him as she walked out of the kitchen.

“I cleaned up this morning!” Agmund protested, but Saya ignored him and he complied, grumbling but unable to shake the feeling of smugness he felt at having won a verbal argument with Saya.

From within the confines of her room, Zerlinda listened to the argument between her two friends from where she was laying on her bed.  She was aware that she shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but old habits died hard and they weren’t exactly being quiet which made it a bit hard to not listen to what was being said.  In truth, she had grown used to Saya’s maternal instinct.  Even though she had never had any children of her own, Saya had helped raise many of the children in Treewood and had a slight way of mother-henning the people she cared about, even if they were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

Unlike Zerlinda, who had grown up practicing combat, helping her grandmother around the house, and helping her grandfather with the castle’s horses.  Her parents were away often, performing various tasks in the name of the King.  She loved her parents very much, but their jobs kept them away most of the time and her grandparents basically raised her.

At first, Saya’s mother-henning had irritated Zerlinda as she had felt like Saya was trying to undermine her by implying that she needed somebody to take care of her.  In time, however, Zerlinda got to know her better and realized that Saya wasn’t trying to imply anything.  She was only showing that she cared.  At times �" such as when she would send Zerlinda to her room after having gone longer than usual without any rest �" Zerlinda would still be annoyed, but curbed her temper by reminding herself that Saya meant well.

When there were no longer the raised voices of her friends to keep her awake, Zerlinda’s eyes slid close of their own accord and she fell into another deep slumber.  Moments later, or so it seemed to her, Saya knocked on her door and informed her about dinner being ready but Zerlinda’s mind was unwilling to stray too far from sleep and, mumbling that she wasn’t hungry, rolled over and went back to sleep.

The next time she awoke, she was feeling much more rested and less irritable.  Breathing in deeply, she stretched, pointing her toes until her foot and calf cramped up at that same time.  Wincing, she sat up and massaged them until the pain subsided, then laid back down and relaxed.  She could hear and smell Saya cooking in the kitchen.

“Agmund!” Saya called. “Wake up Zerlinda for breakfast.  And don’t go into her room this time!”

Pouting slightly in disappointment from his place on the couch, Agmund huffed. “Z!” He yelled. “Wake up!  Breakfast!”

Zerlinda rolled her eyes, but sat up and left her room. “Thank you, Agmund,” she said dryly as she walked by him.  He smiled overly sweetly up at her and followed her lead into the kitchen.

“Porridge!” Agmund protested, staring at his bowl’s content in distaste.

“If you don’t want it,” Saya said patiently. “Give it back and make your own breakfast or don’t have any at all.”

Agmund huddled over his bowl protectively at the implied threat, but still didn’t look too pleased with the day’s breakfast choice.  Seeing that her message had registered, Saya turned to Zerlinda.

“How are you feeling?” She asked. “You look better, if hungry.”

“What did you expect?” Agmund said. “She slept through dinner.”

Zerlinda glared at him from across the table. “I feel much better, Saya, thank you for asking.  And I am hungry, but I needed my rest considering I won’t be getting much tonight.”

“Oh, yes,” piped up Agmund with a smirk covering his face. “You’re going to visit Adalric tonight.  Any thoughts on how you’re going to break in this time?”

“The same way I did last night, I suppose,” Zerlinda said with a shrug of her shoulders. “Through a conveniently open window.”

“What if none of the windows feel like being convenient?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied with a bite of sarcasm to her voice. “Perhaps I’ll throw pebbles at his window and ask him to toss me down a ladder.”

Agmund snorted in laughter at the mental image of Zerlinda tossing rocks up at the Prince’s window and singing love ballads to him in the moonlight, but ended up coughing violently as he choked on a mouthful of stew.  Zerlinda leaned over the table and slapped him on the back several times until he recovered with his light brown eyes watering.

“I’d like to see that,” he rasped, taking a sip of water from the cup Saya had retrieved for him.  He cleared his throat and resumed eating; still grinning at the absurd picture his mind had painted.  Zerlinda rolled her eyes.

“Don’t hold your breath,” she replied, sitting back down in her chair.

“Maybe you should just walk into the castle,” he suggested. “You said none of the guards recognized you the other night, so it should be a piece of cake.”

“I’d rather do that on a more dire, need-to-do basis,” Zerlinda rejected. “I don’t want to show my face too much around the castle; it’ll start to look suspicious.”

“You know, Zerlinda,” Saya offered. “If you want me to, I could go see Adalric in your place.  We were close before I was banished, so it’s not as if I’d be a complete stranger.” But Zerlinda was already shaking her head before the sentence was finished.  She appreciated the offer, but couldn’t accept it.

         “No thanks, Saya.  It has to be me.  I’m the one he’s expecting and if I don’t show up then he’ll think something’s wrong.”

         “You were lucky that it wasn’t the King and Queen’s window that was open,” Agmund pointed out through a mouthful of porridge. “Because then you would have been in some serious trouble.”

         “Don’t be silly, Agmund,” Zerlinda reprimanded. “The King and Queen’s room is on a higher floor and opposite side of the castle.  Besides, it was dark so I figured whoever was in it was sleeping.”

         “Who’s room had it been that you climbed into?” Saya asked curiously.

         Zerlinda paused before answering the question. “A child’s,” she said slowly.  Silence washed over them as Saya and Agmund stared at Zerlinda with wide eyes, processing the information they had just been given.

         “A child’s?” Saya repeated in shock. “At the castle?”

         Zerlinda nodded her confirmation.

         “Was it a boy or girl?” Agmund asked.

         “Oh, it was definitely a girl,” Zerlinda assured him. “The room was positively drenched in purple and lace.”

         In the elfish culture, purple was the primary feminine color and green the masculine.  Colors such as red and blue were seen as good neutral colors if the expecting parents didn’t want to wait until the birth to reveal the baby’s gender before decorating the room.

         “Lace?” Agmund reiterated. “She must be royalty �" that stuff doesn’t come cheap.  I bet Achan isn’t too thrilled about having a daughter.”

         “No,” agreed Saya. “Actually, I’m shocked he didn’t give her away.  The way he talks about females … you’d think the last thing on earth he’d want is a daughter.”

         “He probably would have if he didn’t already have Adalric,” Zerlinda pointed out.

         “Rosalyn most likely convinced him to keep her so that he could marry her off for an alliance of some sort,” Agmund concurred. “The woman’s an incompetent queen, but she’d do anything for her children.”

         Zerlinda nodded. “That’s certainly true.  It would have broken her heart if Achan took her daughter away at birth, so she doubtlessly said anything she could think of that would convince him to allow her to stay.”

         “Do you think she’ll ever become queen?” Saya wondered. “The princess?”

         Agmund snorted at the thought and Zerlinda gave Saya a look before letting out a deep sigh and replying.

         “I suppose anything is possible, but let’s be realistic, Saya.  There’s never been a queen to rule alone and we all know how Achan feels about women.  So he would have to die and Adalric would either have to die or release his claim to the throne since he’s the eldest of the two for her to be queen as I doubt Rosalyn has any interest in ruling alone, which is certainly good.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Quite frankly, I’m just hoping whoever takes the throne next will be better than Achan.”

         “Shouldn’t be too hard of a demand to meet with the way he’s been,” Agmund joked.

         “But it’s an important one,” Saya added seriously. “And it’s one that certainly won’t be met if the orcs take over Treewood.”

         Zerlinda looked at her, meeting her gray eyes with her own sapphire blue gaze. “You want to fight for them.” It wasn’t a question.  It was a statement.

         Saya sighed. “Zerlinda, it’s not that I feel much loyalty for them, but we live close enough to West Wood’s borders for this to affect us.”

         Zerlinda continued to look at her apprehensively.  Saya was the newest member of their little family and both Zerlinda and Agmund knew that old loyalties died hard.  It was tough not to feel the need to protect those you would have once given your life for without a second’s thought.  They knew this because they had had to go through the same adaption.

         As traitors, they had all been banished from West Wood, which was King Achan’s domain.  Treewood, the capital, was near the northeastern part of the border and Zerlinda, being the first to have been banished, settled in the abandoned cabin close to that part of the border about eight years previously and the others joined her when they were banished.

         The cabin was about a three to four hour’s walk away from the capital.  Or, it was for them.  The part of the forest where they lived was surrounded by a tangle of trunks, leaves, branches, and vines.  Anyone who wasn’t familiar with the forest could easily take three to five days to get from the cabin to the Forest City.  That particular part of the forest was also believed to be haunted by evil spirits, keeping the more superstitious elves at bay and the trio may, or may not, have played a little on the superstitions to keep the less superstitious ones away.

         “We’ll see,” Zerlinda said, thinking it over. “Achan might not even need our help.  Elves are a tough race, after all.”

         “We’re living proof of that,” agreed Agmund and Zerlinda smiled slightly at him.

         “As long as they don’t get too arrogant,” Saya acknowledged cautiously. “And Achan has a bad habit of becoming arrogant.”

         Zerlinda frowned a bit and lifted her chin in recognition of the fact. “We’ll see,” she repeated.

         When they had initially been banished, Achan had sent troops after them with orders to kill the “traitors”.  After witnessing the death and injuries of a few of their friends, however, most of the troops were more than eager to forget their orders and ride back to the capital and face the wrath of their superiors.

         Saya stood up and stretched her arms towards the ceiling. “Well, I’m going to shoot some arrows.  Agmund, it’s your turn to do the dishes,” she reminded him as she walked into her bedroom.

         “It’s been my turn for the past two weeks!” Agmund moaned.

         “And it’ll continue to be your turn for the next month and a half because you decided to sneak off every time it was your turn for two months,” Zerlinda said reasonably.

         Agmund groaned unhappily at the thought.

         “And if you keep whining about it, you’ll be stuck cleaning up for another month.”

         Agmund grimaced and glared at her.  Zerlinda met his glare without even a hint of a flinch and gave a small smile that held nothing but contempt and satisfaction as he didn’t say another word.  Saya returned with her bow in hand and quiver of arrows hanging from her shoulder.

         “What are you going to do?” She asked Zerlinda.

         “Stretch. I haven’t done it for the past two days and my body feels as stiff as a board.”

         “Care to join me outside?”

         Zerlinda smiled. “Why not?” And they left Agmund to continue grumbling as he gathered the bowls for cleaning.  Zerlinda shook her head.  Most men just don’t get it, she thought.

         The majority of elfish women �" like most women in the societies she’s experienced �" stayed at home to clean and care for the children while the men worked.  It wasn’t that it was against the law for women to work, but they had to work harder to prove themselves in certain professions.  Most of the women who did work made and repaired clothing, cooked, taught and cared for children, or cleaned.  Zerlinda knew at a young age that such a life was not for her and worked extra hard to get a job that she actually enjoyed.  Much like Saya had.

         Agmund’s mother had typically done the cleaning and so he pitched a fit whenever it was his turn to do it.  Saya and Zerlinda would just roll their eyes and carry on with whatever it was they were doing.

         Outside, the sun was shining brightly; its warm rays peaking through the tree’s green leaves.  Wind blew gently, keeping the temperature tolerable and stirring the water of the lake that was behind the cabin.  Saya began setting up targets while Zerlinda warmed up her muscles by doing pliés to prevent pulling any muscles and practicing her foot control with dégagés en croix.  Saya looked up as she assembled the last target and watched Zerlinda.

         “Could you move those feet any faster?” She asked.

         “Perhaps,” Zerlinda replied, increasing the rhythm of her next round of dégagés.  She stumbled slightly in the beginning, but quickly regained her balance.

         “Shouldn’t have asked,” Saya muttered under her breath, walking over to her bow and quiver, which had been left leaning against the cabin wall.

         As Saya started shooting her first dozen arrows, Zerlinda slid into her right split and held it for several minutes before twisting her body and leaning forward until her stomach rested on the grass as she stretched her center split, then stretched her left.  Once she was satisfied, Zerlinda stood up and began working on her extensions, raising her right leg until it was a good ways above her shoulder without any support, holding it there, then cupped her heel in her hand to overextend it before slowly lowering it back down to the grass with control and repeating the process with her left leg.  At one point, Saya stopped shooting and glanced at Zerlinda then, shaking her head, resumed her former task.

         Zerlinda’s grandmother had been a dance teacher and used to give her lessons as a girl.  Though she had much preferred her combat lessons that her parents gave her when they weren’t away, she knew that her grandmother’s lessons enhanced her fighting abilities and continued the exercises after her death to maintain her strength, balance, flexibility, and control.  With her primary forms of fighting being hand-to-hand combat and daggers, she did a lot of kicks and found flexibility incredibly useful.  Her elasticity surpassed that of her friends by far.

         Saya, on the other hand, had incredible balance.  One year, her father had given her a bow and a quiver of arrows for her birthday.  The gift was highly frowned upon as she was only a little girl at the time, but Saya had loved it and her father taught her how to shoot it properly.  She practiced daily and had eventually grown bored of shooting with both feet on the ground, so she started shooting from tree branches, going higher and higher as she became comfortable with the lower heights; much to her mother’s fright when she saw her daughter high up in a tree one sunny afternoon as she was hanging up some laundry to dry.  Her father had rushed out at the petrified scream of her mother, but laughed when he noticed Saya and congratulated her on her achievement before going back inside.

         Agmund, by far though, had superior physical strength.  This is typical, though, as males naturally had greater strength.  Having been a knight before his banishment only added to his buff.  From what Zerlinda could gather from Saya and little snippets while eaves dropping around Treewood, he was a good knight; not the sorry excuses for knights that Zerlinda had encountered at the castle recently.  It was expected for Agmund to follow in his father’s footsteps and he had started his training at an early age.  A much earlier age than the ones who had to wait to be chosen for the training that probably no longer existed.  Years of drills and wielding a sword were what consisted of the majority of his childhood.

         Not that Agmund’s great strength meant that he could easily surmount his two female companions.  On the contrary, the two girls had proven to provide him with a challenge whenever they did duel.  He figured out that if he could get to close quarters with Saya, he could gain an advantage since she was better at fighting from a distance. However, getting close was difficult for him as his bulky form had trouble following her as high into the trees.  It was a different story with Zerlinda whose specialty also lay in fighting at close quarters, though with daggers as opposed to a sword.  He had yet to get the better of her in a duel.

         “Oh, come on,” Agmund said, walking out with his sword and saw Zerlinda deepening her left extension. “Doesn’t that hurt at all?”

         “I always stretch until it hurts,” Zerlinda replied with the same answer she always gave.  She hooked her arm around her leg to bring it higher. “Otherwise I wouldn’t improve.”

         Agmund scowled at her. “Show off,” he muttered, setting up a dummy he had made to practice his swordsmanship back when he first began living at the cabin after his banishment.

         Zerlinda stuck out her tongue in response, disregarding how immature it was to do so.  She was, mostly, a very modest person.  Her flexibility, however, was something she couldn’t resist showing off on occasion.  There were few fighters who could match her flexibility and it was always amused her to see the shocked faces at her ability to move her body into some of the most unnatural positions with seeming ease.

         The three of them continued to practice their individual activities for the rest of the day.  Eventually, the sun began to set and they cleaned up their supplies before going back inside the cabin.  Saya started dinner in the kitchen as she usually did, being the best cook of the three.  Agmund sat on the couch and started sharpening his sword while Zerlinda lit some candles and started yanking a brush through her thoroughly knotted strands of golden hair.

         Finally, she managed to disentangle her hair and walked into the kitchen where Saya was busying herself over dinner.

         “Anything I can help with?” Zerlinda offered, but Saya shook her head.

         “I got it, thanks.”

         “Alright,” she said with a small shrug of her shoulders.  She walked into the living area and flopped into the armchair, sitting in the most unlady-like fashion with one leg hanging over one arm and her back resting against the other.  Not that she really cared much.  None of them really paid any attention to the “proper” way of things since it was just the three of them in the cabin more often than not.  They never got any visitors, which, with their situation, were for the best, as any visitors they would get would probably be attempting to kill them.

         She closed her eyes and began to doze as Agmund left the couch to replace his sword in his room.  One of Zerlinda’s blue eyes opened when the door creaked before closing again.  A few minutes later, the door creaked again and Agmund walked out, dressed for bed.  A delicious aroma was coming from the kitchen, making Zerlinda’s stomach grumble in anticipation.  She climbed out of the chair and walked back into the kitchen.

         “Go get changed,” she told Saya. “I’ll look after dinner.”

         Nodding her head, Saya handed the wooden spoon over to Zerlinda and walked out.  Zerlinda continued to stir the stew in a counter-clockwise motion, making sure that none of the ingredients stuck to the sides or bottom of the pot.  A growling stomach behind her alerted her to Agmund’s presence.

         “Is dinner ready yet?” He asked.

         “No.”

         “Is it going to be ready soon?”

         “Yes.”

         “When?”

         “When Saya gets back.”

         He glanced around. “Where is Saya?”

         “Getting changed.”

         Saya reentering the room in a long, loose nightdress cut the moment of silence that followed.  Seeing her, Agmund eagerly moved to retrieve three bowls from one of the cabinets.  Zerlinda filled the bowls with the pot’s contents as they were handed to her, passing one to Saya then Agmund before taking her own to the table.

         No one spoke for the longest time as the sounds of dedicated eating filled the room. In spite of the quiet, none of them felt the slightest bit uncomfortable since it was not uncommon for their meals to be eaten in this fashion.  After living with each other for some years and not having any jobs to attend to everyday, they simply did not have much to talk about.

         Eventually, Agmund broke the elongated silence as he refilled his bowl.

         “Are you ready to see Adalric tonight?” He asked.

         “Don’t have much of a choice,” Zerlinda replied, staring at the bottom of her bowl.  She needed to be leaving soon.

         “Are you sure you don’t want me to go instead?” Saya asked. “Or Agmund? He and Adalric were friendly enough…”

         “No,” Zerlinda said, cutting her off. “I told him I would be there, so I will be there.” She looked at the window and saw a sliver of the silver moon through the leaves. “I should get going.”

Neither of her friends said anything as she stood from the table and fastened her cloak around her shoulders. They watched her style her hair into a braid and secure her belt with her daggers on her waist before walking out the front door at a brisk pace without even a glance back.



© 2014 Syren Creates


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Added on June 19, 2012
Last Updated on July 3, 2014
Tags: Elves, betrayed, fight, orcs, traitor


Author

Syren Creates
Syren Creates

Rock Hill, SC



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Hobbies: Dancing (mostly jazz and lyrical, but I also do a ballet techniques class), writing, drawing, painting, reading, singing, doing puzzles, sudoku, word finds, fill ins Movies: Harry Potter, .. more..

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