Chapter 4: The Arrival
Ritto's story the night before had definitely changed something. Nerbane didn't feel the silence was directed at her anymore. Maybe that was the purpose of the story, to make the sisters a team again. She wondered if Ritto had made it up, as she had never heard of Tara's jealousy before. Storytelling was the Elves' passion, so why hadn't she heard of it before if it were real? These thoughts troubled Nerbane, and she forced herself to think of something else.
She looked around herself. The trees were completely unfamiliar. She had never traveled this far from home before, and she wondered how far they had to go before they reached the school. A sort of chill flew down her spine, like someone had traced a cold finger down her back, at the thought of school. All Elven children heard rumors of that place, the place for all the troublemakers so that the rest of the Elven population could live in peace while the troublemakers learned to behave. It just was not fair that she and her sister were being sent there for doing nothing wrong, although Nerbane admitted that she probably did deserve it.
"Nerbane," Nahhan whispered suddenly.
"What?" Nerbane whispered back.
"Is Ritto's story from last night true?"
"Are you saying Ritto is a liar?" Nerbane's voice was a little harsher than she had meant it to be. Wondering if an elder had made something up was one thing; saying such outloud was another.
"No I'm not!" Nahhan defended herself, still whispering.
"It sounds like it."
"But I'm not! I was just thinking... Have you ever heard that story before? I haven't."
"No, I haven't. But stories of the Stars are not things to be taken lightly, and I think Ritto of all people knows that."
It was curious, though, that they had heard it for the first time now, at their ages. Most Elven children were familiar with all the stories of the Stars by the time they were Nahhan's age. In fact, if last night's story had come from someone other than Ritto, Nerbane wouldn't have even given the story a second thought before deciding it was made up.
Suddenly they reached a large clearing, so large that Nerbane could not believe it had not been cleared out by Elven folk. The only trees inside of it were two large ones in the middle, each with a lodge built into it, on either side of a long cabin. The cabin had several doors from what Nerbane could see, one door at the short end and two on the long end. Nahhan carefully looked around Nerbane and studied the buildings as well, curiosity being stronger than her fear of falling off the horse.
"Here we are," Ritto told them, turning to look at them briefly before leading the way to the cabin.
They stopped by the closest door, and Ritto dismounted and then helped the girls down. The young Elves stared around themselves in awe. Nahhan tried to think what each building was for, and Nerbane wondered what games the other Elves played here. She sincerely hoped that there was a running game.
"I need to go inside and meet with the elder here," the older Elf told them. "Why don't you two eat your midday meal while I'm checking on your arrangements?"
Nerbane's thoughts were now on the line of unknown trees encircling the clearing. She thought it would be really good to get to know them a bit before she ate. Maybe she could even find a more secluded spot for eating and have her meal there.
"Stay by the horses, now, and don't make things hard for yourself on your first day here; behave."
Nerbane stared at Ritto, and her jaw practically fell open. Was it just coincidence, or had he known what she was thinking? Considering how his eyes were twinkling at her, she figured he somehow had known. But how could he possibly have known? She watched as he went inside. When the door was closed, she turned to Nahhan.
"I think he can read minds." Nerbane said seriously.
Nahhan stared at her in bewilderment a moment, and then started laughing. "That's the silliest thing you've ever said!"
Nerbane looked like she was going to to yell at her sister for making fun of a serious comment, when suddenly she started giggling, too. "It was pretty silly, huh?"
"Why did you say it?" Nahhan asked, in between laughs.
"I didn't even look at the trees, but I was thinking about exploring when he said to stay by the horses."
"No, Nerbane, you're not going exploring!" The seven-year-old was suddenly serious. "We're supposed to stay by the horses."
"I know we're supposed to, I heard him say it," Nerbane said crossly. "There's nothing wrong with my ears."
"Then don't even talk about going into the trees."
"I'm not! I said I was thinking about it, when he said that. That's why I said I thought he could read minds."
"Oh. I'm sorry." Nahhan replied.
"It's alright, let's just eat some food." Nerbane got out some bread and an apple for each of them.
They had just sat down to eat when the nearest door on the cabin's side opened and a group of twelve young Elves came outside. They were talking and laughing until they saw the two Elves sitting by the horses. Nobody said anything, or made any noise. The sister Elves stared at the small crowd, and the small crowd stared back. Suddenly, they started talking about the two strangers sitting on the grass.
"Are they new?"
"Don't be stupid, Akra, of course they're new."
"Wonder what they did to end up here."
"I bet the guy we saw talking to Orvtre is their dad."
"Are you serious, Liea? You're stupid, that wasn't their dad!"
"How do you know, Danria?"
"Didn't you notice that he looked like an elder?"
"So?! Nanriha, do you even pay attention to your classes?"
"Of course I do!"
"Then you know that elders don't have children from your social class."
"If they are his kids, that could be reason in itself for their coming here."
"How can you even pass any of the tests? If they were that elder's kids, they would have grown up here."
"Can we stop being rude, please?" An Elven girl about Nerbane's age spoke up, quieting the entire group. "I mean, seriously. They're sitting right there, and they can hear everything you say. Even if they didn't, you'd still be the rudest Elves in the world!"
Nerbane and Nahhan watched as the girl left the group and came towards them. She smiled at them. "My name is Ookivart. What're your names?"
"Nerbane," Nerbane answered, and then, when Nahhan just stared, she gestured at her sister. "And Nahhan."
"May the sun shine on your face," Ookivart said cheerfully.
"And the moon on yours." Nerbane looked past their new friend at the group of Elves still standing there, watching.
"Don't worry about them. They're jerks. They won't start to get to know you until you've been here a few days – and then they'll pretend like they've been friendly all along. Some of them are okay, but they're scared of what their friends think of them."
"Why are they just staring?"
"Um..." Ookivart turned and looked at the group, then back at Nerbane. "I don't know. I guess because it's better than aimlessly wander around out here with nothing to do on their break."
"They don't play games?" Nahhan finally spoke up, very timid.
"Not nice ones." Ookivart shrugged.
The door the Elven children had come out of opened once more, and Nerbane was relieved to see the group of Elves break up as the individuals went their own way. She didn't care where they went, just as long as they stopped staring at her and Nahhan. Ritto and an elf the sisters assumed was the elder here stepped outside and closed the door behind them.
The two elder Elves came over to the three girls. "Ritto, this is Ookivart," Nerbane politely introduced.
"Nicely met, Ookivart." Ritto said, slightly bowing his head to her. She returned the gesture with a deeper head bow, but Nahhan noticed their new friend was holding back a giggle while she did. Ritto turned to his charges. "Nerbane, Nahhan, this is Orvtre, the elder here."
"May the sun shine on your face," Nerbane again said, politely. Nahhan merely nodded her agreement with her sister's greeting.
"May the moon shine on yours," Orvtre answered with a smile.
"I must head out now, Nerbane and Nahhan," Ritto announced. "I have to return home, and I have to return your family's horse to his home. But I have checked your arrangements, and things will, I think, be pleasant for you here."
"Farewell, Ritto." Nerbane choked on the words as waves of fear rolled over her. This was it. She and Nahhan would be left on their own now.
"Goodbye," Nahhan whispered. Nerbane grabbed her younger sister's hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
"Try to behave yourselves," Ritto told them, as he gracefully swung onto his horse's back. Clicking his tongue to the other horse, he set off. Nerbane and Nahhan sat silently, watching him go with fearful and saddened eyes. As soon as he had left the clearing, their eyes focused once more on Orvtre, who would decide their fate from now on.
"Ookivart, would you show Nerbane and Nahhan the lodge, and let them pick a vacant room?" The elder Elf asked.
"Yes, sir," Ookivart answered quickly. She turned to the sitting girls, and gestured. "Come on, this way."
Nerbane and Nahhan glanced at each other before they got to their feet and timidly followed the cheerful Elf in front of them. Nerbane felt sick as she realized that this place would be home for an indefinite period of time.
This isn't as great as I wanted it to be, but I think it's acceptable. I wrote this several times out before I began to get the feel for what the chapter needed to have in it. And of course, I would have preferred a different 4th chapter (Ritto's story about the Stars Tara and Calamos), but the original idea just wouldn't fit with the style of the rest of the book. Sigh. Oh well. I'm excited to be getting on with the story.