Ways of Shadowed Days

Chapter One

James opened his eyes and that was the first sign that everything had gone completely and utterly wrong. The second sign was the throbbing pain in his head, the third was the way his agonized moan made his throat burn before he managed to roll onto his side and vomit profusely.

It couldn't have been so long, he realized, since he had been submerged in the frigid waters, his life draining away from him, because when the contents of his stomach poured onto the ground it still tasted like the salmon he'd had for lunch.

A cool hand rested on his shoulder softly, another holding back his shoulder length hair.

He jerked at the touch until realizing that it only made sense that someone was caring for him. He was in a bed, and more importantly, he was alive.

He coughed the last of the bile from his throat, and tried to wipe the tears from his face as a glass of water was held to his lips.

He took it without a question and rinsed his mouth out, spitting onto the previous mess he'd made before taking a long deep swallow.

"How do you feel?"

James looked up at his caretaker blearily.

He saw the pale blue hair first—almost a silver—before he saw the ears.

"You're an elf," he said.

Said elf took the glass from his tired hands and pushed him gently back into the cushions.

"Yes," he said softly. "And you're a human. A very foolish one I might add."

James shut his eyes. He opened them again as he realized that the elf had moved to the other side of the bed to clean the mess.

He pushed himself up clumsily and grabbed his arm.

"I'll clean it," he said. He had always had to do the dirty jobs. It didn't matter to him, but to an elf—

The elf smiled softly, an expression that matched his musical voice perfectly.

"Don't be silly," he said, pushing James back down.

He watched him mopping it all up with a towel and shut his eyes, turning his face away so that it wouldn't happen again.

He took deep calming breaths, praying that the nausea would subside but as it did his consciousness began to slip away with it.

Before he was gone completely he asked.

"Where are we?"

"In my home," said the soothing voice. "You're safe here."

***

As James slipped from the strong embrace of sleep this time the circumstances which had led to his near drowning replayed in his mind. The fear and panic accosted him so powerfully that he woke up with a jerk, the entire bed slamming against the wall at his movement.

He sat up gasping, his eyes searching through the darkness for any familiar signs as to where he was, and only then did he remember the strange elf with the large grey eyes and delicate frame.

"Hello?" he asked to the darkness.

When no one answered, he sat in the silence, waiting for his eyes to adjust.

A minute passed, two, before he could see where the door was.

He pushed out from under the covers, shivering as his feet touched the cold wooden floor. He glanced down at himself, surprised to note that he had been dressed in thin blue pajamas. His own clothes lay folded on a chair by the door.

He touched them, finding them dry. How long had he been here?

He pushed open the door and was accosted by the soft spring breeze. He wrapped his arms around himself and stepped into what he realized at once was the Nama forest. It only made sense that he would still be in it. He could hear the sound of rushing water not too far away and shivered at the memory of it.

Despite himself his toes led him through the soft grass toward the river. He could scarcely see through the shadows of the trees but went forward anyway, his ears leading him.

Finally he emerged from the trees, the moonlight, now seeming brighter than before his search through the forest, struck down at the river, illuminating every bump and lurch of the rapid waters below him.

The water level was lower here, then where he had fallen in from, but the drop seemed infinitely longer. He stared down at the surface, his toes inching nearing to the edge.

How easy would it be to just fall in from here?

"You should be in bed."

James started and swiveled around, nearly falling into the rushing water below him, but the elf reached out, swiftly catching him by the arms.

He pulled him away from the river bank, backing up until they were both on even ground and then he smiled at him gently.

"Don't make me rescue you twice in one day," he said.

James tried to move his lips into coherent words but instead they just opened and closed foolishly. The elf's eyes in the moonlight looked almost empty of any colour at all.

If he noticed James' staring, he ignored it.

"Are you feeling alright?" he asked.

James nodded mutely.

"Well, you should rest for the rest of the night anyway."

He wrapped an arm around one of James' and led him easily back to the cabin through the dark woods.

James climbed back into bed shivering and watched as the elf lit a small fire.

"What's your name?" he finally thought to ask.

The elf glanced at him, brushing a strand of silvery-blue behind his ears.

"I'm called Aldis," he said. "Of the Kai."

James' eyes widened.

"The Kai?" he asked. "What are you doing here, so far from the sea?"

Aldis smiled softly.

"You should sleep," he said. He came to the bed and touched a cool hand to James' forehead.

Almost at once his eyes drifted shut.

"You're coming down with a fever," he heard, but even those words on Aldis' sweet voice lulled him into sleep.