It was a warm, comfortable room, full of the sort of clutter that builds up from a combination of too many souvenir-generating journeys and a general feeling of being too lazy to tidy up. Trophies, trinkets, and baubles adorned the tops of the filing cabinets that slouched randomly around the place, the worn and battered wooden coffee table, and the desk at the front of the room. Behind the desk sat a young woman, seemingly in her mid 20s or so, leaning back in her desk chair at a dangerous angle and snoring delicately. Apparently she scorned the many battered and shapeless armchairs and the plush but abused couch, which sat grouped conversationally around the coffee table, looking put-upon. This was no furniture in which passive sitting took place. These chairs were quite actively, and often aggressively, fwumped in.
The door swung open, scraping a path across the wooden floor that was worn smooth by now. A battered bell jingling, a slight creak from the hinges, and the woman in the chair sat bolt upright, sending her chair in an astonishing trajectory which brought it upright into a landing any Olympic gymnast would have envied and was scribbling industriously by the time the door swung shut. The fact that what she was scribbling seemed to be a one-person tic-tac-toe game was a detail of minor importance.
A tall, slim, and dark-haired man, who had just entered the room, blinked, seemed taken aback for a moment, and cleared his throat uncomfortably. The woman raised an eyebrow but did not look up. The man waited for a few nervous moments, and then tried again.
The second eyebrow joined the first, but once again his presence was once again obviously not acknowledged. He wasn't simply being ignored; he was quite clearly being Not Listened To.
"I have got the right place, haven't I?" he inquired weakly.
"Depends on the place you're looking for, doesn't it?" snapped the woman in a crisp, golden alto voice. The first jumped slightly.
"Uh… um, that would be…" he consulted a scrap of newspaper which had apparently been dug out of a garbage can after being discovered under a week-old tuna sandwich. " 'Elves Incorporated, for All Your Elvish Needs. Tavanna Telrunya, Founder and President. Help wanted. Only genuine elves need apply.'"
"Indeed. What of it." It wasn't so much a question as a method of telling him to stop wasting her time, as she had some very important tic-tac-toe business to attend to.
"I'm here to apply?"
Finally, the woman's pen came to a screeching halt. She parked it precisely in a pencil cup which, the man couldn't help notice with some amusement, was made of Popsicle sticks and bore the legend "To Auntie Tav, from Tani."
"Caranglin – Caranglin Raen."
"Mr. Caranglin, we here at Elves Inc. have some very exacting job qualifications that, to be frank, I'm just not sure you can measure up to."
"Well, to begin with, you need to be of the Elven persuasion."
Caranglin sighed. "I had hoped that here, at least, we could dispense with the skepticism." He shrugged and pulled a lock of hair aside, revealing that his ears were gracefully pointed. The woman made to say something but Caranglin held up a hand. "I know, I know. You think that's just a prop. I have better proof." He rummaged in the pocket of his jeans for a minute and pulled out a gracefully crafted ring containing a shining white gem in the shape of a five-pointed star. He caught the other's intake of breath and grinned. She moved to pick it up, then hesitated.
"Elven, yes. Not one of the Great Treasures, but it has virtue all the same. Forged in my home country of Hithdor before the Miklan invasion." He spoke in the tongue of the elves this time. The woman's eyes opened wide, then her face split into a broad grin.
"Fantastic!" she yelled, vaulting over the desk and seizing his hand, shaking it enthusiastically. "You wouldn't believe how many teenagers we get showing up in costume and trying to pass themselves off as real elves. I was starting to think I was the only one of my kind left."
Caranglin grinned back at her. "Same here. I couldn't believe it when I saw that ad in the paper. The most I was hoping for was some kind of freaky role-playing cult."
"Well, I think it goes without saying that you're in." She stepped back, cleared her throat, and tousled her straw-colored hair into a slightly neater position. "On behalf of the rest of the employees of Elves Incorporated, welcome to the company. I'm Tavanna Telrunya."
Caranglin looked around the room. "Um… other employees?"
Tavanna drooped slightly. "Well, me, anyway. Like I said…" she shrugged and smiled wryly. "Until I met you, I thought that I was the last pure-blooded elf left."
She turned and flopped onto the couch, picking up a dog-eared novel that was draped over the arm. After a few moments, she peered over the top of it and gave another of her signature eyebrow gestures. That eyebrow spoke volumes.
"Well, um, the thing is, I was just wondering if I could find out more about the job. I mean, my landlord's running out of space on the door to pin eviction notices and I can only work at any one McDonald's for so long before they start wondering why I'm not aging. You'd think that with over five hundred years education and work experience in various fields, I would have more career options."
"Ah. Basically, what we do is sit around and play darts, watch TV, have board game tournaments, and pretty much just laze around until someone happens to need a ring forged or an evil spirit taken care of or hire a bard for a quest or something. You can bunk in here; the spare bedrooms need some fixing up but you can sleep in the living room until we get that taken care of. I hope you can cook because all I can make is pancakes and salad, and that's not really exciting." Caranglin nodded dumbly. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to pay you in gold coins; my parents left me quite a fortune but unfortunately it's impossible to convert it all into modern currency at once without awkward questions being asked."
Caranglin couldn't believe what he was hearing. "So basically, you're going to give me room and board, in return for which I laze around and cook?"
He couldn't hold back the question any longer. "Why?"
"Nyeh? Oh yes. I remembered what a tough time I had before my parent's lawyers contacted me with the news that I was the sole heiress to the Telrunya fortune. I had to travel all the time; I couldn't stay more than five years in one place, and I couldn't come back to anywhere until I was sure that anyone who would recognize me was either dead or senile. Because of my constant moving around I got labeled as a drifter, and I couldn't get a job. I tried staying in one town for longer than that and I couldn't hold down a job anyway, because people are so creeped out by a person who doesn't age normally. I tried to pass it off as having a really good plastic surgeon, but when you're bringing in minimum wage that story doesn't really hold water."
"Wow. It's like hearing a recording of myself talking." Caranglin shook his head and gingerly fwumped into a chair.
"So when I got the fortune I came back here, which is about as close as you can get to my birthplace when you take continental drift into account. I bought an old house, fixed it up, got a business license, and I paid a pretty good sum to have the local paper run my ad until further notice. Considering the amount I paid, they seem to think I'm a tolerably eccentric madwoman, but since my desire to run the ad will possibly extend past the concept of newspapers, I think it was fair enough. It gives me a way to support fellow elves without insulting their pride; after all, they have a job here that's just as important as mine." Tavanna's mouth twisted wryly, and she went back to her book.
After a moment, she glanced back up again. "Caranglin, you're still staring at me."
Caranglin jumped. "Huh? Oh, sorry. It's just…" he blushed slightly. "You're the first female elf I've seen in… oh, man, almost eight hundred years. I'd forgotten how much more beautiful than human girls – Gah!" He choked and turned fiery scarlet to the tips of his ears. "That is… I mean, uh, hem…"
Tavanna smiled frostily. "Highly complimentary. Anything else you'd like to mention, while you're looking?"
"No, er, I, that is, um, no," he stammered awkwardly. "I'll just go and… get my stuff from my apartment. I'll see you later." With that, he fled.
The elven woman watched the door swing for a few seconds, then shook her head. Poor fellow. I know it was rather harsh, but still. We can't have any romantic attachments developing.
She snuck a glance at the portrait tucked into the front of her book. No, that wouldn't do at all. Yet…
Out of the corner of her eye, she peeked at the mirror over the mantelpiece, studying her face. Beautiful, hmm? She noted the arch of her eyebrow; the curve of her nose she had always wished could be a little more delicate. Hardly. The poor man's just been deprived of Elven company too long. Beautiful? Ha!
And with that, she opened the book firmly and returned to the story.
People dodged and scattered as the five-foot-tall ballistic missile of a girl ricocheted through the crowd, aiming more or less straight towards the tall shape of her cousin. Reaching a small clear space, she launched herself at his neck and clung like a limpet. The fair-haired man reeled and laughed, lowering her gently to the ground.
"Anie! My favorite little cousin! I was starting to think you wouldn't show up."
The girl gave him a beaming grin. "How could I not, silly? I got up two hours early to meet you."
Curudae and Anie embraced. When they parted, Anie was sniffling back tears, all traces of a grin gone from her face.
"Curu, I wish you didn't have to leave."
Curudae brushed a lock of flaxen hair out of Anie's face, her sadness mirrored in his own dark eyes.
"I'm sorry, Anie, but you know as well as I do that I have to keep moving around. I love this place," he said, looking up and staring out of the big glass airport windows, "and I love living near you, but I don't have any options."
Anie clutched him tightly around the waist. "Then let me come with you! Curu, I don't want you to leave me alone! I don't know if I'll ever see my parents again. You're the only family I've had for hundreds of years."
"Cousin," Curu scolded gently, "we've been over this a thousand times. Too many of us too close together arouses suspicion. Cuivie's a good fellow; he and his friends will take good care of you." He smiled weakly. "Cheer up. Here, I have something for you."
Anie tore aside the silver paper with a curious gleam in her eyes. Her fingers touched something cool and smooth, and she gasped as she pulled out an exquisite collar of opals and moonstones.
"Oh, Curu, this must have cost you an arm and a leg!"
Curudae laughed. "Hardly. It's one of the great treasures of Hithdor; forged by my great grandfather. He passed it on to me, but I can't think of anyone better suited to wear such a pretty treasure than my own little Anie."
Anie laughed as she fastened the collar, then turned around so her cousin could admire her. "How does it look, Curu?"
His eyes were bright as he gazed at her, then gave her a kiss on the forehead. "You're beautiful, Anie. I will miss you." The man brushed a tear away from his cousin's face. "Cousin, I want you to promise me something. If something goes wrong and Cuivie can't take care of you, can't protect my little treasure from that big scary world out there, I want you to call out to me with all your heart. I will hijack a plane if I have to and fly right back to your side, and I will never leave you alone again."
Another embrace, a whispered goodbye, and Curudae was gone.
Author's Note: Fwumped is, too, a word. If you have never fwumped in a couch, have never flopped so enthusiastically onto a piece of furniture that it made that satisfying sound which can only be described as "Fwump," well, you haven't lived, my friend. (Fwump is the noise most often coaxed from leather couches and chairs, though a sufficiently well loved cloth or plush couch will produce a fwump rather than the whump or sproing normally associated with them.) It is also possible to fwump gingerly, as Caranglin demonstrates. This is done by sitting normally until the posterior is almost in position, then fwumping as normal. Now go find a chair and try it for yourself!