I ran. There were monsters in the village where I lived, and they were killing everyone. I could hear the screams; screams of terror, fear, pain, and death. I just ran. The winter cold whipped at my face, and the ground was frozen with it. My feet were bare, and the pain was excruciating, but it didn't matter; I was running for my life.
The forest finally came into sight. I hoped that none of the monsters would see me, and I would be able to get away. But that didn't seem likely. They were everywhere; they came out of the shadows and disappeared back into them before you could be sure they were real. Then someone would scream, and you would see one of them looming over a body.
I reached the edge of the forest, and didn't dare look back. I could still hear the shrieks, and I just kept running. Here, though, the shadows attacked my fears. There were no signs of animal life, but the branches of dead things clawed at me as I ran. My fear and imagination made me think they were the arms of the monsters, and I ran harder. I didn't know where I was going anymore. My clothes were torn, my arms were scratched, and my feet were numb from pain. I didn't care; I ran.
I raced deeper and deeper into the forest, still scared that they were chasing me. I turned to look, and one swooped down from the shadows. I woke with a start, panting and covered in sweat.
I was six years old when it happened. Eleven years had passed, but I still woke breathless from the nightmare. I had dreamed of nothing else since that night, and it always seemed so close. I tried to calm myself, and lay back down to catch my breath. I remembered when I was running, and though there had not actually been a monster in the woods with me, it always seemed like there was. I wasn't allowed in the woods as a child, and even now I was too afraid to enter them. I made myself remember the rest; it was the only way I know to calm down.
I had run to almost the other side of the forest. I finally collapsed and retreated into a knoll, where I hoped the monsters would not be able to find me. I fell asleep for a long time; the amount I'm still not sure of. When I finally woke, someone was carrying me, and I immediately became frightened again. I thought the monsters had found me. I tried to get away from him with all my strength, but he just held me closer.
"Don't be scared, child. You're safe now," he said. This didn't sound like a monster. It sounded more like a song. I looked up into his face, and instead of seeing a nightmare, I saw an angel. He was much taller than anyone I had ever seen, and much stronger, too. He seemed to glide through the forest; through thickets, over rotting stumps, and around large trees without any sort of difficulty. He smelled like sunshine, and I stopped struggling. I did feel safe with him, although I had no idea who – or what – he was. I relaxed in his arms, still staring at his face, until he brought me into a house. More of them were there, and they dashed over to him.
"Where did she come from?"
"Who is she?"
"Where did you find her?"
"What happened to her?"
"Where is her family?"
"Were there more of her kind?"
The last question was odd to me, but my mind focused on the one before it. My parents had been killed by the monsters. I had seen it, just after my mother told me to run, and I had heard their screams as I ran into the woods. Silent tears fell as I burrowed back into the man's arms.
"Oh, dear," one of the women said, and scooped me up. "It's alright, dear. You're safe now. How about a bath? That would make you feel better, eh?" She carried me up some stairs, with a couple more women following and cooing at me. I could hear the man who had found me answering questions in a soft voice as I was carried upstairs.
"She was in the woods. It looks like she got lost in there. She was terrified when she woke up, but then calmed a little when I told her she was safe. It looks like she's been through an ordeal. Perhaps we'd better send some scouts to see what's happened on the other side…"
Now, years later, I still relive the memory every night. The man and woman, now known to me as Gade and Sula, had taken me in as their own child. They were Elves. I was only a human, but they never treated me like one. I was always considered one of the family, although I could never hope to have their Elvin abilities.
After calming down from my nightmare, I finally climbed out of bed. Although I was human, I was still expected to live as an Elf, which meant my days started at sunrise. After getting dressed, I opened my window to catch the painted sky while straightening my room. Sula hated seeing my things strewn across the floor. In Elvin culture, women are the housekeepers, so I guess it was reflective of that if there was a mess. Either way, I was only human, right?
I watched the sun come up the rest of the way over the hills before finally going downstairs. Gade had already left, and Sula already had fresh fruit waiting for breakfast. As I came in, she was putting the bread on the table with it. Elves never had to eat much, but with me being human, and a teenager now, Sula always had to make a little more. I felt bad in a way, but as soon as I take that first bite of Sula's cooking, I soon forget how much I'm eating.
"Ann, dear, are you going to work on your sewing today?" She wanted me to be a homemaker too, but I think I was kind of disappointing to her.
I groaned. "It just takes so long. Isn't there a way to make it go faster than sitting there stitching every single one by hand? It takes forever that way!"
She just smiled. We'd been through this before. "Now, sweetie, you know that's the way it has to be done. And as soon as you've finished with it, you'll be able to start on your cooking. I'd love to have you make dinner tonight."
"Ugh." There was no winning with her. I knew she was just trying to raise me right. It was pretty tough when most of the village didn't think I should be there in the first place. She stood up for me against them, and the least I could do was show that I could be Elvin, in some ways at least. "I'll work on it, I guess." I pouted, of course, and started eating.
That conversation was over. Sula know that was about as good as a commitment from me, and she sat down to eat with a smile on her lips. I just rolled my eyes, but smiled, too. I couldn't help but love her.
Just then, a few of the neighborhood buys were running by, shouting to each other. "Should we go to the field? There's plenty of room to practice out there!"
My eyes shot up to them, and then to Sula. She knew I loved to duel.
"You're doing your sewing today," she said a bit sternly. She knew I loved it, but I knew she hated it. Swords were for boys, and I was supposed to be a good Elvin girl. I pouted some more. There had to be a way to go.
"And if I get all my sewing done?" I asked hopefully.
She glanced up and raised her eyebrows. "Then we'll start your next lessons."
Ugh. There was no way out of this. I would sneak out, but I was caught last time, and I knew she'd be checking on me every few minutes now. I was going to have to sew. Ick.
By the time Gade got home I had finished my sewing and cooked dinner. I was on my best behavior, and he caught on fast.
"So, what happened today?" He asked casually, but with a glance to me, as we sat down to eat.
Sula didn't catch on so fast. "Ann did all of her sewing, and then started her voice lessons. Did you know she could sing? And then she cooked this dinner all by herself. Isn't this your favorite, dear? I'll bet it's just perfect, too."
Gade cut her off then, and turned to me. "It is my favorite. And you worked on your lessons all day, too?" He raised his eyebrow just enough for me to see, but Sula, of course, missed it.
"I know she worked on them all day," she cut in again. "She wanted to go dueling with those boys today, so I kept a good eye on her so she couldn't sneak out again." She turned to me. "Honestly, I don't see what's so fascinating about waving those swords around. They're extremely heavy, besides…"
Sula kept going, but I was having a silent conversation with Gade. Sula just told him what I wanted, and I know that if he was in a good mood, he would duel with me himself. Gade would have wanted a son, if he and Sula had ever been able to have children. He enjoyed doing all the 'boy' things with me behind Sula's back, just as long as I appeased her with all her 'girl' duties during the day.
When Gade turned up a corner of his mouth, I knew we were on for tonight.
"And then, we haven't had to fight anyone for ages. I don't see any reason that we'll need soldiers now. There's no reason those boys need to be playing swordfight all the time." Sula was continuing her conversation.
Gade turned to her and finished that line of thought before it would get to the point that she wouldn't let him duel anymore. "You would keep sewing even if there was no mending to be done. It's the same principle."
"Oh," she said with a thoughtful smile, and turned back to her food.
Gade just winked at me. I ate in a hurry.
Just after dinner, Gade told Sula he needed my help with something. We stole away while she was doing dishes, and picked up his swords on the way to the field. They were old and worn, but perfect for me. He had them from his days as a soldier. Now he was transferred to the fields because of his age, but he still had these tokens, passed down from his father. Unfortunately, he couldn't officially pass them down to me, but they felt like mine anyhow.
The field was a short walk outside the village. Far enough that we wouldn't wake anyone up, but near enough to hear the calls if there were an emergency. I had to walk a little slower for Gade, but he could tell I was excited to get there.
"Now, don't you dare tattle on me, or we'll both be in big trouble." He said this every time. He didn't want to face Sula's wrath any more than I did.
Then he passed me the smaller sword, and we raised them to duel. He had been giving me lessons, but I had gotten through those quickly. Now we just sparred, and every once in a while I would beat him. I didn't know if it was just because of his age, though. He was 76 years old, and turning gray. He was still stronger than me, but definitely slower than the boys who were dueling here earlier today. I would never have the speed of an Elf – almost blurring to the human eye when they moved at top speeds – but I liked to think I was fast enough to take them on. I could anticipate their moves well enough to block them, but I hadn't beaten any of the boys my age yet. I didn't know if I ever would, but I liked to try.
Gade was still a little faster than me, so I had to concentrate to beat him. I would block his attacks and try to throw him off balance. That was the only chance for me to attack at all. Sometimes it would work, but it exhausted me fairly quickly. I had to try to end it before I couldn't hold the sword up anymore. This made practices for me only last half an hour or so. I could get to an hour if I took breaks, but Gade said I'd never be able to take them in a real fight, so I should get used to it now.
Tonight I had my adrenaline kicking from anticipating this all day, so I wond the duel before I was too tired. Gade smiled proudly at me – his almost-son he always wished he had. We lay on the grass for a while, watching the gray clouds move against the darkening sky. We had to wait and catch our breath before we could return home.
"Isn't it interesting," Gade said, "how the sky can be ever constant and ever changing? It is always there, yet never looks the same. In a single day, it can turn every color imaginable, but still remains constant somehow."
I turned to look over at him. I didn't really like his tone – much too foreboding, I though. And Gade always had a way of knowing things before they happened. He saw the look I must have had on my face, but he didn't change his. It was almost worrisome.
"Life is the same way, I guess. Always changing, yet we still have our constant. We still look at life from our own perspective, and nothing can change that. But it will continually change colors. In a single lifetime, our view of the world can change unimaginably, and several times.
"I had a dream last night," he finally explained. "Life is going to change. I don't know how, and I don't know when. I don't think there's any way to get ready for it, but to just know that it's coming."
We lay there for a while longer before returning home. We talked some more about happier things, but as I lay down in bed and watched the light in the sky give way to night, I couldn't help but wonder what was going to change.