Five

Five

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Sir Gevin's quest takes an unexpected turn that might change his plans.

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5.

‘In all things it is better to hope than to despair.’

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

The figure standing behind him would not have stunned him more had it been a ten foot tall giant.  

Instead it was just the opposite.

A busty, fiery redheaded teenaged Halfling girl stood there, her green eyes wide as she stared fearfully at the sword raised ready to chop her in half.

Gevin was too stunned to move for a few seconds, not believing Applemint Pondertort could actually be standing there.  

“Apple?!”  He finally said, slowly lowering his weapon to her immediate relief.

She nodded, still a bit unsure of his state of mind at that moment.

“What…what in the name of Yesh are you doing here?!  Why…how did…what are you doing here?” He was so flabbergasted at her abrupt appearance that he was nearly at a loss of words.   Was she real?   Perhaps this was just another magical manifestation of the forest.   He hoped and prayed that was the case, but something sour in his stomach told him that she was as real and present as he was.

She looked up at him, her lips quivering as if she was terrified that anything she might say would be subject to his anger.   She tried to speak but she couldn’t get started and wrung her hands together.   He noticed they were trembling terribly.

Dear God, she isn’t an illusion! He realized and it immediately dawned on him that she must have wandered in this horrible forest alone, trying to find him.   She was still wearing the same servant maid’s clothing that she’d worn the last time he’d seen her and she had no cloak, pack or any weapon.   She must be scared to death!

Kneeling down, he softened his expression and laid down the sword.

“Apple, good God you’re by yourself, aren’t you?” He opened his arms and that was all it took.  She ran to him like a terrified child and clung tightly to him, weeping as she trembled.   Gevin’s mind immediately went to similar occasions with Lyssa and the comparison was nearly overwhelming to him.   He hugged her protectively and let her cry.   Memories of his little cousin returned to him so clearly that he almost wept from the pain of  them.   It was easy to imagine the Taphelo Halfling girl was Lyssa in that moment and he foolishly allowed himself to believe it for just a short while, figuring it would do no real harm, for Apple certainly needed reassurance and comfort and he felt more compassion for her than he would let her know.  

There would be time for chastisement for her youthful foolishness later.   She buried her face in his chest, her thick mane of copper hair tickling his nose just as Lyssa’s blonde tresses had years before.   Lyssa’s presence seemed to fall upon the Halfling girl.  He’d loved her so much, a pure brotherly love, full of protective concern and genuine interest in her well being.  

Emotion began to stir in his throat, but he fiercely shook it off; he was too old to reopen ancient wounds from his youth.    This wasn’t Lyssa, this was Applemint Pondertort, a headstrong and foolhardy Halfling teenager that had put herself in grave danger.  

Despite his annoyance at her, he allowed her to calm down before he began to ask questions.   She slowly regained her composure and embarrassedly let go of him, shyly looking at the ground as she mumbled an apology.   But then she glanced up and only then noticed the blood on his face from his battle with the tree creature.

“You’re hurt!” She exclaimed and took the apron of her skirt which she’d just dried her eyes with and began wiping the blood away with great care and tenderness.

“I’m alright, Apple, they’re not bad wounds and you’ll get blood all over your white apron.” He quickly said, feeling his face flush for some reason.

“You’re still bleeding, sir!”  Unbidden, she began holding the edge of her skirt against his cheek to assist in the blood clotting.

“Apple…” he said, trying to sound annoyed at her, but her concern was so sweet that he found it difficult to do.

“I don’t have my healer’s kit, sir, but I should wash out those cuts before you get them infected.   Is there any water around here?    Are you bleeding any place else?”

“Don’t worry about that right now, Apple, I want to know what in the world you are doing here?   How did you get here so fast?   Did you tell anyone where you were going?   Do your parents and brothers know where you are?”

“I’m here, Sir Gevin, to stop you from going through that damned gate!” Her tone was much more mature now and it was the first time he’d heard the girl cuss.   She gave him a stern look, but she still looked innocent and sweet doing it, so he had to conceal his smile.

“I don’t think that is any of your business, Applemint Pondertort,” he countered and she frowned at him.

“It is my business, sir!  My family has served you faithfully for many years and my father always told me that we owe everything we have to Sir Gevin.   He told me -and my brothers too- that we must do anything it takes to take care of you, and I’m doing exactly what my father told me to do!   I’m not going to let you go through the Nihility Gate, sir!”

She definitely held his gaze with her brilliant green eyes ready for his challenge.   It was a stubborn streak of a young girl who was testing the waters of adult decisions and confidence, but she made it look strangely charming.   She certainly had inherited her mother and grandmother’s charisma.

Rather than debate it, Gevin decided to move on to other questions.

“How did you get here so fast?   I had my horse at a trot the whole way here.”

“I suspected that, sir, that’s why I took Dart and let him run nearly the whole way, so I could catch you!”  

“You rode Dart?”  Dart was one of his horses, a thoroughbred stallion of the finest eastern steppe stock, which he used on campaigns when unencumbered with plate armor.   Of great endurance and speed, he was also the most challenging and spirited of his horses.

Apple nodded, “Don’t be mad, sir, but I had to get here quickly.   He’s really fast!”

“Apple, he’s also more stubborn than you are!   How in the world could you possibly ride him at the speed you’d need to catch up with me?   You’re not even wearing riding clothes!   Just saddling him takes fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, I didn’t have time for that, sir.   I just grabbed his reins, hiked my skirts up as best as I could, jumped on his back and told him to head west and run as fast as possible.”

Gevin arched his eyebrows, “You just told him where to go?   And rode Dart bareback in a dress?”

“Yes, it’s not the first time, sir.”  She gave him a guilty smile and he realized that she was telling the truth.

“You…a Halfling girl…rode mighty Dart!   Without harness and saddle and in a dress, no less!   Unbelievable.”

“I like horses, sir…I’m sorry, please don’t tell father!   I brought Dart apples from the kitchen when you first got him and just started talking to him.    He likes green apples best, you know.   After a while he’d let me sit on him if I fed him, and one afternoon when you were off with the King on campaign, I decided I’d train him to let me ride him.”

“You trained him…”

“It took a few days, but he’s very smart and likes his apples, sir.   He’ll let me ride him and he knows when I’m situated on him correctly.   I just grab the reins and hug his neck and hang on.”

“How do you turn him?”

“My knees or I pat him on one side with my hand and he’ll usually go exactly where I want him to go.   He wasn’t too happy to run in the dark, but I think he knew it was an emergency.   Did you know that they close the Farmer’s Gate at dark?   I didn’t think of the main gate.”

“How’d you get through?”

“Dart didn’t even slow up, sir!   He jumped over it!  It was incredible!” Her eyes sparkled at the memory.

“You jumped over the Farmer’s Gate?”

Apple grinned, “Well, I didn’t; Dart did the jumping, I just held on for dear life.”

“Apple, that gate is five feet high!”

“Oh, I know that now, sir!  You should have seen Dart jump.”

“He’s not a steeplechaser, Apple!”

“Well you might want to look into letting him try it; he certainly has the knack.”

Gevin just stared at her for a long moment, amazed at her.

“Apple, you could have broke your neck or been killed.”

“I had to take the chance, sir.   If I didn’t, you’d go off and go through that stupid gate.”

“That was incredibly dangerous and foolhardy.”

“So is throwing your life away, sir!  I had a duty to stop you!”

“So when did you get to the forest?”

“It was around dawn; I saw Thallow returning and I stopped him…I feed him apples too, so he likes me.   We weren’t too far from the forest and so I led Thallow and Dart up to the edge of the path and when I couldn’t see you, I sent them both home and hurried down the path to find you.”

“Apple, I can’t tell you how dangerous this all was.   I’m overwhelmed at the very thought of your determination and ability to ride Dart, but that doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t have come into the Great Forest.   It’s very dangerous here - there’s old magic all around.”

“Oh, I know that, sir,” Apple said in a near whisper, glancing all around her as if invisible fiends were hovering nearby listening, “When the forest just closes over you, it’s very scary.   I was in such a hurry to get to you, I didn’t have time to pack anything and it got really dark the further into the forest I went.   I acted like a scared child, sir; I should have kept running to catch up, but it was like the forest didn’t want me to run and it…compelled me to walk.   It was almost like there was etiquette that had to be followed here.    I caught up to you in that clearing with the shrine in it.   I heard you talking to someone and I have to confess that it scared me, for some reason, so I… I hid until I heard you move on and then I followed you.   I wasn’t sure if…if…this is embarrassing…I didn’t know if you were really you, sir, if you get my meaning.   But when I saw that tree attack you I knew it had to really be you.    What happened to it anyway?   As soon as you pulled that sword out of the trunk, it stopped.   I wanted to go help you, but…I was too scared.   I’m sorry, sir.”

“Apple, I’m glad that you didn’t; it would have killed you.”

“What happened to the knight, sir?   Where’d he go?   Why did he leave his armor?”

“I don’t think there ever was anyone in the armor, Apple.   It was animated just like the tree.   When I was looking at it, just before you touched my shoulder, I felt a strange compulsion to try the armor on.”

“So that’s why I scared you so much when I touched your shoulder?   I thought you were going to cut my head off!”

“I nearly did, Apple.   This place is supernatural.   To be honest with you, I’m not completely satisfied that you are really here yourself.   This could be more magic.”

“There is one sure way to find out, Sir.”

“How?”

“Leave the forest with me!”

“Apple-“

“Sir, please listen to me!   You’re not thinking straight!   You’re unhappy and lonely and you want the pain to end and you think the Nihility Gate is a solution.   But it’s not, sir!”

Gevin smiled at the girl’s considerable charm.   If she was this persuasive at such a young age, she’d have everyone eating out of her hand in a few years.   Even feisty Dart submitted to her.    She’ll make someone an incredible wife, he thought once again.

“You seem to have me all figured out, Apple.”

The girl shrugged, “No, not really, sir, but it doesn’t take much wisdom to see how lonely you are.    You don’t smile much and you just keep to yourself at court.”

Gevin snickered, “Maybe I just don’t like people.”

“That’s not true, sir.   I think the reverse is the truth.  You like people and they are sort-of afraid of you because you’re half Elven, so they are awed of you.”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that, Apple.”

“I’m sure it is, sir, but surely you should at least talk to someone about what you are going through.   I don’t mean me, sir, I know you think I’m just a silly little girl, but you could talk to my parents - they really respect you!”

“They’re good people, Apple, but if you don’t get back home, they’re going to be panicking.   You shouldn’t scare them like that.”

Applemint shrugged, “You left me no choice, sir.   You lied to me about being hungry so you could get away.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry I had to do that, but you wouldn’t have let me go and I was quite certain that I wasn’t going to convince you to see things my way.”

“It’s never a good idea to do something that could kill you without a good reason.   That’s what Grandpa Tam always says.”

Gevin chuckled, because he’d heard Tamfeld Pondertort say those very words numerous times.   Now it was a family proverb.

Seeing him in a better mood, Applemint decided to push a bit harder.   She leaned over and touched his hand, “Sir Gevin, please!   If you’ll just come with me back to Whiteberry and talk to my father - or anyone you respect- I’m sure you’ll see how foolish throwing your life away really is.”

“Apple, you are a maddeningly charming young woman that I suspect will have nothing but great things happen for her.    You are amazingly persuasive and shockingly perceptive in your analysis of what troubles me.    But what you don’t realize - and nobody back at Whiteberry understands either- is that I don’t see things like everyone else.   I’m very old, Apple, and Half-Elves, sadly, don’t age after they reach maturity.”

“So I’ve known your grandparents as young people, I remember your father’s birth and I remember seeing you less than an hour after you were born.    Your father showed you to me and said ‘Here’s the Apple of my eye, sir.’   Your mother pointed out your green eyes, which your grandmother Tori shares and she said, ‘They’re green like mint leaves.’  Your father grinned and said to her, ‘She’s an Applemint’ and that is how they named you.   Apple, I was there for all of that.   I’ve seen nine wars and twice as many close encounters that almost grew into wars.   I’ve served three generations of kings.   I’ve watched as the grandchildren of people I knew as youths at court, die of old age.    It’s one thing to live in this world, growing up, living a set number of years and then growing older and dying.   It’s the way of life for all the races, Apple, except for the fae people.”

“Apple, that is why there are no Elves around today.    The fae races can’t stand to live in a world where everyone ages and dies.    That is why most of them lived in isolated kingdoms or communities separated from other mortal races.    It is heart-breaking to see friends…or even loved ones… grow old and die while you stay the same young person --physically at least-- for countless years.”

“Elves living in secluded kingdoms with other Elves, Nymphs living in small isolated groups or even half Elves living with at least their Elven parent and perhaps some half-Elven siblings or friends, have someone like them that understands and it gives them family that is like them.    People have to have community with people similar to them that understands what they are going through.    Fae that are immortal and do not age do not belong -alone- in a community of short-lived mortals.”

“Apple, that is what I am experiencing and the more years that go by, the more difficult it becomes to accept.    There have been no Elves that have come to the king’s court in a decade and many think that there are very few left in the world.    Who knows, Apple, I could be the very last one.   It’s too hard to keep going like that for decade after decade.    My memories haunt me, Apple, and there is no escape from them or way to exorcise them.    That is why I want to go through the Nihility Gate.   I need to leave this place where I fit in less and less each day.   I don’t know if you understand this, but as Yesh as my witness, that is the truth.   God help me…”

A wave of anguish came over him for some undetermined reason and he sighed deeply and hung his head, just barely fighting the urge to bitterly weep.

He had hated to explain everything in such a bleak manner to the girl who was so optimistic and full of life, but he had to make her understand how alien his outlook was to everyone else.

Her hand, which had been touching his arm now slipped sympathetically into his.

“Sir Gevin, haven’t you had anyone who is like you to love?” She asked so softly that he looked up, touched to see that tears were filling her eyes.

“My father took my mother as a captive, raped her repeatedly and locked her in his castle as he went off to war.    She had me alone, surrounded by human women who hated what she was and probably shunned her.    The strain was too much for her and when she heard that the Black Duke had been killed in battle, she took me in her arms and jumped from a tower in an attempt to kill us both.    I survived, covered, I was told, with her blood, still cradled in her arms.    They sent me to Shellington, where unwanted b*****d children of nobles are sent and the Lord and Lady of the manor were harsh and showed no affection.   Then the King at that time had a daughter by a Nymph woman he’d captured.   The Nymph died, but the daughter lived and came to Shellington.   She was my cousin and I loved her like a little sister, but when she still needed me, I was pulled away from her to serve elsewhere as a squire.”

“What happened to her?”  Apple asked tenderly.

“She disowned me, though I didn’t know it until later when, after four years I got to see her.    She’d managed to convince herself that she was no different than the humans around her and her father wanted to marry her off to a foreign prince to seal an alliance, so she treated me coldly and it was clear that she now hated me.   She later committed adultery with her husband’s brother and was executed for it.”

“Oh my God!   How horrible!”

“It was devastating to me, Apple.   I’m still greatly haunted by her, for she was the only family I ever knew.”

“But there used to be Elves, surely you could have found a friend amongst them!”

“I thought I had once, very briefly, but she was an assassin trying to kill the king’s son and she tried to kill me as well.   I ended up pushing her out of a window and saw her die a painful agonizing death.   After that, I was finished with any sort of close relationship with anyone.”

“Oh, Sir Gevin, that’s so sad, you poor man!”  She was crying now and he flushed slightly, hating to be the center of attention.

“Don’t cry for me, Apple, I really don’t deserve it, because I am an anomaly here.   Humans and Elves should not have children; I firmly believe that.   It brings nothing but misery.   I survived, Apple, and I’m pretty good at that, but just surviving wears a person thin sooner or later and my time has come.”

Apple now had both of her hands clutching his, “Sir Gevin, if you can survive all of that, surely you must believe there is a reason for all the pain you’ve gone through.”

“Reason?” he blinked in surprise, for he had never thought of any real reason for the bad things that had happened other than it being his lot for being jinxed. 

“Yes, my momma says that everything happens as a part of a bigger picture - it might be a small part or a large part, but it’s all connected.”

Gevin nodded, “I guess that makes sense; I didn’t know Halflings were philosophers of the ebb and flow of life.”

“Taphelos are, at least in my family.   If you have gone through that much pain, sir, there is a grander reason other than just making you miserable; you just haven’t seen it yet.”

“Well, I’m getting worn out in the wait, Apple.”

“You just need to find somebody that does know what you’re going through.”

“There’s very few of them still around.”

“But there still could be some out there!   A solitary Elf lady who feels as lonely as you do, or maybe a Nymph woman somewhere.   We’ve just got to find her!”

“That would be a long, bitter quest, Apple.”

“Maybe not; you’ve got to try.   What if there is a lady out there going through what you are going through, desperately needing someone like you, but unable to find you?   If you give up looking for her, she would never find happiness either.   My father could figure out a way to help you locate her!   I’m sure he could!   I’ll help you too!   What do you have to lose?”

Gevin sighed, worn down by the persistence of the girl, “We’ll see, Apple, but first I guess I have no recourse but get you back to your parents.”

Apple squealed with delight and in a burst of sheer joy, happily hugged him.   To his shame, he found her affection rather pleasant.   He couldn’t take her with him through the forest, for he had no idea how far he had to go and she’d certainly not want him to go through the Nihility Gate.   If he could get her back to her parents, perhaps he could return and finish his quest in a day or so.   Most teenaged girls burned passionate about something only briefly, then moved on to something else and he had no doubt that he was simply her cause of the hour, fuelled by proper upbringing by her parents.

She’d be quite a woman very soon, but he couldn’t let himself be foolish enough to believe that she really was as concerned for his well-being as she claimed.   Oh, she probably thought she was, but teen girls were probably the most fickle of women.   Once he got her back with her parents, her mind would clear and she’d focus on things more appropriate to her age.

Still, she was as charming as she was lovely so he had to get her home before she began to tempt him.   The mere thought horrified him, for he knew how easily women were domineered and ruined by lustful men.   She was far shapelier and physically mature than her age would usually indicate, which was a legacy she’d received from both her mother and her father’s mother.    He didn’t want anyone to think anything unseemly happened between them as that would probably ruin her reputation.   Neither she, nor her parents deserved that.   So he’d get her home quickly and then he’d rethink what he should do.   It would merely be a few days difference - that wouldn’t matter, he figured, so he gently pulled free from her embrace and stood up, shouldering his pack again.

As she stood up, he noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes.

“Apple!  You didn’t put on any shoes before you left out on Dart?”

She wiggled a dainty Halfling foot, lightly graced with delicate fiery red hair as was common for the species, though in the Taphelo subspecies, the foot hair was far less dense than their shorter, stockier brethren.

“I didn’t have time sir, but I’m a Halfling; my soles are as tough as thick leather.   I walk on gravel all the time; it doesn’t bother me.”

“Well, okay; we’ll have a long walk back to the entrance in the forest and it’s got to be late evening now.    Would you rather wait until morning?   I don’t think it would make much difference, really, but there might be slightly more light.”

“I’m okay with walking now, sir; if that’s okay with you.”

“Fine by me,” he glanced down at the enchanted suit of armor and as he did, the same strong urge to try it on came over him again.   For a few moments he stared at it, but with great effort, pulled away and gestured for Apple to join him.   He put her directly in front of him so he could guard her back and still see anything -or anyone- that might try to surprise them as they retraced their steps.

But as they neared the point in the clearing where they had entered, they both were startled to not be able to find the path.   For a while they said nothing to each other, both figuring that the dwindling daylight was to blame, but it slowly dawned on them that somehow - perhaps by the same enchantments that controlled the forest- the path leading back had simply disappeared.    It was as if it had never existed; there was only dense underbrush and trees that would make any attempt to hack through it impossible.

“That’s crazy!”  Apple said finally.

“Let’s see if the path going deeper into the wood is still there,” He suggested and neither one was surprised to see that it remained distinct and clear even in the growing darkness.

“Sir Gevin, does that mean that we can’t go back?”  She asked as they moved into the center of the clearing.

“Maybe it will change by daylight.   I don’t know right now, Apple.”

“So we might not be able to get out of here except by going deeper into the woods?” She was trying her best to sound calm, but he could detect the apprehension in her voice.   He knew he had to calm her down before she began to panic.

“Well, it’s too dark to walk anyway; we’ll just make camp here tonight and see things more clearly in the morning.   You’re probably tired and hungry.”

“Yeah, I am, I guess, but I’m worried about that disappearing pathway, sir.”

“Don’t worry about it tonight, Apple.   It could just be the forest not wanting us to venture out in the dark.   Let’s build a fire out of the branches of that tree monster.”

“Oh, I don’t know, sir!   Is that safe?”

“There is only one way to find out,”  He poked some of the limbs of the thing with the sword that he’d pulled from the trunk, but they didn’t move or respond and so he piled some of the lose branches together, then hacked off a few larger ones for fuel.   The magic sword cut easily through the wood.   When he was finished, he tried sliding the sword into the scabbard that had housed the sword he’d broken in the battle and he was surprised to find it was a perfect match, though he suspected magic aided the fit.

Apple had watched him cutting the wood, anxiously at first, but then began helping him move the pile of wood into a tighter shape that would burn better.

He pulled his flint and steel from his pack and after some effort and the help of gathered old leaves from the floor of the clearing, he had a reasonable fire going.    The warmth from the blaze revealed just how much the temperature had dropped as they had talked.  

“If only we had some water,”  Apple said wistfully as she warmed her bare feet close to the fire.   A moment later he handed her a full canteen and she looked at him questioningly. 

“Go ahead, I have two others in this pack.   Unlike some people, I prepare before I start on a journey into the unknown.”

She smirked at his gentle rebuff and uncorked it, then started to take a drink, but paused, remembering her place and offered it first to her lord.

“Go on, I’m not thirsty.”

She took a long gulp, sighing in relief and savoring the drink for a few moments.   Then, smiling shyly, she pulled her apron up and dampened it with a bit of water.    As he sank down on the ground next to her, still rummaging through the pack by firelight, she stood up and began carefully dabbing at the cuts on his face.

“I’m okay, Apple, you don’t-“

“Shh!” She touched her apron to his lips, “you don’t want to have scars, do you?”

He shrugged and she frowned slightly and retorted, “Well, I don’t want you to have scars; they’d give you a sinister appearance and you’re not like that, sir.   So please hold still and let me clean them up.”

He sighed, knowing that resistance would be futile.

“I wish I had my healer’s kit, sir.   I just didn’t have time to grab anything.”

Her hair seemed to almost glow in the orange light of the fire as she stood inches away from him, focused on his cuts.   She was extremely fetching up close and he blushed at her proximity which she didn’t seem to notice either due to her complete absorption in her work or due to the tainted color of the firelight.

He felt her breath on his nose and cheek as she leaned in to examine his wounds and the sensation made him shiver in the richness of it.   Stupid!’ he chastised himself for reacting to her touch like that.  Now he brought up the dance he’d shared with Tamcia years ago and that was a memory he didn’t want to try to recreate.

Thankfully, Apple finished her doctoring about then and stood back to scrutinize it.

“Well, I got most of the dried blood off, but you’ll need some salve on it soon.  Did you take a healer’s kit with you, sir?”

“No, I’m afraid not.   Don’t fret about it, Apple, it feels better already.   You did fine.”

She shook her head with a slight frown, “I did what I could without proper supplies.”

“Are you hungry?” he asked, already pulling stuff out of his backpack.

“I’m alright, sir,” she answered, but he noticed her interest in what he was doing.

“I have some fresh jerky - a lot of it actually- a big container of mixed nuts, some dried fruit and bread.”

“But that’s yours, sir.”

“It’s ours, Apple and there’s plenty for both of us.   I don’t have any plates, though and your apron is rather soiled, so…”  he unfolded an extra tunic from his pack and used it as a setting for the meal.   Opening up the containers, he offered some to the girl who seemed reluctant to show how hungry she really was, but finally took a bit of each type of food.

“Thank you, sir,” She said as they ate by the fire.   He passed her the canteen for a drink and she hesitated again until he nodded for her to drink.   She took a hearty swallow and passed it back to him.

“Nothing beats camping out,” he commented wryly as the wood crackled.  

“Have you noticed that there aren’t any bugs flying around the fire?”  Applemint asked and she was right; usually a fire after dark brought out a multitude of interested insects, but there were none to be seen.   It was disconcerting to Gevin and another indicator of the magic of the place.

“That’s very odd, but not necessarily a bad thing,” he replied to not worry her more. 

“Sir Gevin, what should we do about that armor over there -I don’t mean to sound like a scared rabbit, but it makes me very nervous…I keep expecting him…or it… to get up.”  She shivered a bit and glanced back at him apologetically.

“It’s something magic,” he replied, “It draws me in for some reason, it wants me to put it on.”

“That makes it sound alive,” Applemint whispered, sliding over closer to him after a cautious glance across the clearing to where the armor pieces were scattered on the ground.

“It could just be part of its enchantment.   Many years ago - long before either one of us was born- they say that magic was common here in the world.   This sword is enchanted too.”  He patted the blade of the weapon that he’d placed beside them.

“Yes, but that doesn’t seem so creepy, sir.”

“I understand.”

“Is it safe enough to go to sleep here?   I guess we really don’t have any other option, do we?”

“Not unless you want to take a nighttime walk deeper into the forest.   Yesh, have mercy, your poor parents are probably frantic about you right now!”

Applemint nodded bleakly with a deep sigh, “Oh, what a rotten day.   Everyone’s mad at me.”

“Everyone?”

“My parents, my brothers, probably, you.”

“I’m not mad at you, Apple.”

“Sure you are, sir, I know you are.”

“Apple, I’m really not mad at you, I’m frustrated that I couldn’t have slipped away from Whiteberry without anyone seeing me, so you wouldn’t be dragged into this whole mess.    If anyone is to blame, it’s me.”

“That’s for sure,” she replied, leaning against his shoulder slightly and giving him a playful yet shy smile.

He sighed and shook his head, unable to keep from smiling at her gentle rebuke.

“I’ll get you back home, Apple…somehow.”

“Oh, I know you will, sir, but then you’ll probably just try to sneak off and do this again, won’t you?”

“I don’t know what I’ll decide, Apple.”

“If you do go off again, it will break my heart.”

“Oh, I doubt it would break, dear girl, but thanks for saying so.”

“Sir Gevin, you don’t think anyone really likes you, do you?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled.

“There are people who really care for you, sir.   My family is very fond of you; you’ve been so kind to them.   It’s not just because you are our lord, either.   So many knights look down on their servants, but you are always so polite to all of us.   Even teenaged girls who mess up your plans.   That’s something we common folk don’t see too much, sir and so there are people who really like you and some who…some who really like you…a lot.”

She turned away from him, having nearly embarrassed herself, but he was genuinely touched by her words.

“Apple, I have seen a lot of people over the years; mostly humans and Halflings and a scant few Elves and others, but your family is by far my favorite one.    They are loyal, kind and hard workers and you are a shining example of the very best of them.   I really didn’t think much about what my actions would do to your family and how it would affect them.   I didn’t know it would upset them…and you…so much.   I’m feeling more and more foolish about the whole thing the longer I’m around you.   Maybe I’ve been too focused on feeling sorry for myself.”

She turned back to look at him and he saw a twinkle of a tear in her eye, “You have, sir, I’m sorry to have to agree, but I think you’ve hurt for so long that you shy away from those who want to tend to your wounds and help the hurt go away…as much as possible.   I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to stop aging and I’ve pondered what you said about the pain and sadness of watching people age and die around you while you stay the same.    But even immortals need companionship and love.   We just need to find you someone immortal.”

Gevin laughed, “That’s a tall challenge, Apple, and when I hear you say that, it sounds so arrogant and selfish on my part to have such lofty needs.”

“It’s not really lofty or selfish; you were born needing your own people.   You said your mother killed herself and tried to take you with her, your father was a cruel man who had raped and imprisoned her;  no wonder you feel alone!   You have no family now!  I can’t imagine living in a world where my whole family; my parents, grandparents, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins were not there.    I imagine Elves value family as much as Halflings do.”

“Well, my mother didn’t…or maybe she actually knew better and thought it would be better for both of us to die rather than let me go through the very thing I’m experiencing now.”

Applemint snorted in disgust, “No mother would ever kill her baby, no matter what the reason!   My mom would have loved any child she bore, even if he was green and had teeth like an Orc.”

Gevin chuckled, “Have you ever seen an Orc, Apple?”

“Well…no, but I’ve heard about them in old stories.   Are there any left?   Have you ever seen one?”

“A few, long, long ago, they may have just been half-orcs actually, but even then they were rare.   They were serving as mercenaries for a merchant who had come from the east, over the mountains.    There may be some in other parts of the world, but I’d say most of them are long extinct here.”  Gevin sighed softly, wondering if Applemint was right.   Maybe if he’d been around some of his mother’s people, he would have felt different.   He had felt really alive when he’d danced with Tamcia, but she’d been cold and murderous in her heart, and she was an Elf just like his mother.   Perhaps not all Elves were like them, but he wondered if he would have felt any happier among them.   It was a moot point now, because any of them still surviving in the former Elven lands would have heard about how he’d killed Tamcia and he would be hated by them for stopping her.

No, he was truly alone.

But once again the Halfling girl seemed to almost see his thoughts and respond.

“Sir Gevin, there are probably Elves in other parts of the world, too!  You could locate them and -“

“I don’t think the King would approve of me leaving his court and going around the world looking for Elves,” He replied, regretting cutting her off in mid-sentence.   She was genuinely trying her best to help.   He softened his expression and smiled again at her, “Apple, legends say that most Elves are not too keen on half-breeds by humans.   Since humans are responsible - directly or indirectly- for the shrinking of their lands and kingdoms, they wouldn’t be too thrilled to take a half-blood from around the world into their numbers.   That is assuming that there are still Elves in other places.”

“But you don’t know until you try, and there could be other half-Elves like you that are feeling as outcast as you do, sir!”

“Maybe there are some out there somewhere, Apple, but the world is a huge place and I don’t intend to go searching for something that I’d probably never find.   It’s too late for me.”

“No, it’s not!   Sir, listen to me!”

“Apple, it’s getting late and I imagine you are as exhausted as I am.”

A slight pout caressed her face, but she knew her place and nodded meekly.

“I thought so,” He answered as he rummaged into his pack for a moment and brought out a thick woolen cloak, which he handed to her.

“Here, use this as a blanket, I’m afraid I don’t have a pillow, but the canteen we’ve been sharing is now halfway empty and the leather is soft, so it would make a nice pillow; why don’t you use that too?”  He leaned over and handed it to her.

“But what about you, sir?   Won’t you get cold?”

“Me?” He laughed as if it was a silly question, “Why, I’ve had to sleep outside for many, many years on campaigns for the king, Apple.   I’ve slept soundly on the flat ground still wearing plate armor more than one time.   With the fire here, I’ll be just fine.”

Applemint seemed dubious of his reply, but hesitantly unfolded the cloak, then put the water container on the ground.   As she seated herself , preparing to wrap herself up in the cloak, she paused and looked at him.

“Sir Gevin, you won’t try to sneak away tonight and leave me here, will you?”

“Apple, I swear to Yesh that I won’t do that.   I wouldn’t dream of leaving you alone in this forest, so don’t worry, my goal is to get you safely home.    Just lie down and try to get some sleep.   I’m going to put the food up and put some wood on the fire and then I plan to rest as well.   Don’t worry, I’ll be here in the morning.”

“Okay,” She replied with a shy smile and a nod, then covering herself with the heavy cloak, she wiggled down until her head touched the soft canteen and with a weary sigh, closed her eyes.

Gevin repacked the food containers and stoked the fire with a bit of wood from the destroyed tree monster, then examined the enchanted blade to make certain there was no damage to it.    Satisfied that it was without flaw, he stretched out on the ground near to the fire, with the sword close at hand.   It was growing rather chilly, even with the warmth from the campfire and he curled up slightly into a ball for warmth, forced his mind to not dwell on anything and to his delight, sank down into an exhausted, though slightly miserable slumber, shivering as he drifted in and out of unconsciousness until something deeper washed over him.



© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 14, 2020
Last Updated on November 14, 2020
Tags: Synomenia, Nihility_Gate, fantasy, elf, sword_and_sorcery, magic, knights, Halflings, Drow


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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A Chapter by Eddie Davis