Amelinda marched doggedly on into the morning, stewing. Somewhere, in the back of her head, she knew that it wasn't Dalak's fault she was angry, but he was something to be angry at. And she was angry. The whole situation was one huge mess. How dared anyone send an assassin after her? How dare Dalak tease her?
It was almost noon before she worked up the guts to ask herself the real question.
How dare her father not want her anymore?
Part of her mind, the part that had been trained so well by the Rikshian noblewomen, was utterly shocked. She ignored it, caught up in anger. She stopped in her tracks and blazed at the sky.
Dalak watched apprehensively from the shrubbery as vines writhed and twisted and gnarled thorns sprouted from the ground. The earth began to shake, and he crouched, his hands over his ears. Her hair began to fly around her face in a sudden wind, and little tornadoes of dust spun around her. She shouted something into the wind, but it wasn't audible.
He warred with himself briefly. More than anything he didn't want to get near the maelstrom of power that was Amelinda, but she was going to hurt herself if she went on much longer. Carefully he stood up and walked towards her, his hands shaking no matter how tightly he clenched them. He got closer and closer, any second expecting her to notice him and turn on him, incinerating him.
But she did not notice him. She was staring straight ahead, her eyes unfocused and scary and her hands curled into fists at her sides. Slowly, turning his face away, he reached out to touch her arm.
The vines fell to the ground with soft whumps, and the tornadoes died out as quickly. Her head turned towards him, her eyes focusing on his face, the hair around it bright scarlet, with only a strand here and there the muddy color she'd associated with him. His amber eyes were narrowed, and he looked feral and inhuman.
"Dalak?" Her voice was faint and distant. "What…"
He watched her eyes, warily.
"Who are you?" he asked, flatly. His sarcasm had disappeared. "Who the hell are you and why are you here?"
She paused, thinking. Her eyes were big and beginning to well with tears. He tightened his grip on her arm.
"My name," she said, slowly, holding back tears. "Is Crown Princess Kalasim Muriel Amelinda, Heir to the Throne of Faenamor."
Dalak's eyes narrowed.
"Sure, and I'm a turtle. I bet you're some sort of elemental demon. In human form."
Amelinda's head shot up, eyes glittering.
"You don't believe me?" She sounded so shocked that Dalak momentarily doubted himself. He pulled on one of the strands of crimson hair hanging over his ears, his eyebrows pulled down into a V, and glanced up at her, anxiously. He let her go, in a thoughtful sort of way. Slowly, he reached under his cloak, and pulled out a hidden, red stone sword with a metallic scraping sound. Still moving slowly, he pointed it at her, mouth in a grim line.
"Dalak," she faltered, stepping back. Her eyes were wide and pleading, and beginning to fill with tears. His sword trembled. He couldn't kill an innocent girl, no matter what he suspected of her. But he also couldn't just let her go. He lowered his sword, watching relief explode over her face.
"I'm still not sure I believe you," he said, breathing hard. "But if you're telling the truth, I can't let you go. What if you take after your father? Start hunting the elves? I have… friends who are elves. It's those friends I need to take you to. They'll be able to tell if you are who you say you are."
She stared at him, and her eyes narrowed.
"Friends who are elves?" she said, slowly. Her gaze flicked to where Dalak's ears were under his thick mop of hair. A vine caressed his cheek, pulling his hair back. He swung at it with his sword, lopping it off. It was too late. The very tip of his pointed ear showed in the light, and his face paled. He tugged his hair back over his ear and started twisting one of the strands between his fingers frantically, staring at her. He was trembling, she saw, whether from fear or anger she couldn't tell.
She'd meant to crow about being right, but something about his stricken face made her pause, and soften her voice.
"Don't worry, Dalak," she said. "I won't tell anyone. You're a blood elf, right?"
He nodded, and then shook his head, his face still whiter than the marble in the Rikshian palace.
"Half," he said, hoarsely. "I'm a half-blood. My da was human."
"Ooh," she breathed, momentarily sidetracked. "How did that happen?"
He gave her an odd look.
"My ma got discovered and some people tried to kill her," he said, his face slowly returning to normal. "My da was a peacekeeper who worked in that area, and he saved her life, fell in love with her. She married him, and had a little one. Me. Then when I was ten she decided that she didn't want to live with a human who was starting to grow old, and she lit off with the next elf who passed through."
He noticed with some surprise that her eyes were sparkling dreamily.
"Oh, that's a lovely story. Tragic, but lovely. And real. I need to remember that one." She didn't seem to be talking to him anymore. "So sad. Poor man. He probably never recovered." She reached for her pocket in an absentminded way and groped around in it for a bit. Dalak waved a hand in front of her face.
"You all right, kid?"
She came back to earth with an almost audible thump. She stared cross eyed at his hand for a second, and then her gaze flicked up to meet his. He felt much better when he saw the look on her face.
"Don't call me that!" she said. Her face had gone pink. It was quite funny, actually. She stood up, arms crossed, and Dalak realized for the first time how short she really was. She seemed tall. She exuded tallness, and it was a shock to realize that he was at least a foot taller than her. He couldn't resist, and he felt his familiar sly grin creep across his face.
"My apologies, O small child," he said, with a mock bow, and watched her face go beet red.
"Excuse me?" she said, in a voice that was a bit higher than normal.
"Look at you, you're not exactly tall… and then there's the question of maturity..." He let his voice trail off and watched with great interest as she mouthed several words he was certain she wasn't supposed to know and then stamped her foot several times. It was one of the most entertaining things he'd ever seen.
He sat down against a tree and leaned back, watching her, with his eyes half shut. After a while she shut her eyes and stood very still, her hands folded together as she took several deep breaths. It wasn't nearly as entertaining as her temper tantrum. He let his eyes shut all the way.
By the time she was calm enough to look back at him, he was asleep. He looked almost angelic in his sleep, with the smirk wiped off his face and replaced with a solemn, childlike expression that brought a smile to her own lips.
She decided to let him sleep. He'd been up early, and he was probably worn out, what with his injury and having to deal with an angry, apparently all-powerful girl…
Come to think of it, she was tired too. After all, she was the one who was throwing rocks around with her mind. The enormity of that began to sink in, and she shuddered, twisting a fold of her gown. Her mother had never quite told her exactly what a royal could do, only that in some mysterious way they were tied to the land.
Tied to the land…
With a sinking heart she reviewed the past few days. Ever since she'd crossed the border strange things had been happening to her. Flutter had shown her to that cave… and it had seemed as she'd ran that behind her the trees were moving, blocking that horrible man's way. She swallowed, her hands shaking slightly, as she remembered his blood-streaked, insane face.
The sun was beginning to set, and she lay back, arranging her multitude of skirts and watching the sky. The sky darkened, and the stars began to come out, one by one. With her index finger she traced the constellations, from the Dragon to the Giant's Eye.
There was something like a star flickering at the edge of her sight. Cautiously she turned her head, and just caught the tail end of a pair of glowing wings. A pixie.
She didn't know how to call it down, though. There was some sort of dance that summoned them to come dance along, but she didn't know the steps. And she was so tired…
Slowly her eyes drifted shut.
The pixie alit on a branch above Dalak's sleeping head. A smile lit up the pixie's glow. She made a little whistling sigh, and flicked her wings pensively. She had been looking for Dalak everywhere.
She fluttered down and landed on his chest, staring at his huge face. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he wasn't even twitching. It was a sign of how much time she'd been spending with the humans that she didn't immediately wake him up.
But the pixie could wait, and she did, curling up in the space between his chin and shoulder.
And there was silence in the glen.
Amelinda woke up to find something pulling on her hair. She swatted at it blindly, then sat up, full of remorse.
"Oh, Flutter, I'm so—"
It wasn't Flutter. A pixie jabbered at her, looking as worried as someone with such a tiny face could look. It was a girl pixie, dressed in a gown made out of what looked like flower petals. It glided over and landed on Dalak's sleeping form, her glowing form illuminating his scowling face. His eyes were shut, and he was twitching, whispering things in his sleep.
"No—Da, don't let them. Da! Da! Not the fire, please, please not the fire, no, NO!"
His voice was full of anguish. Amelinda stared at him, not quite daring to wake him up.
"Please…" he said, in a hoarse whisper. "'S not my fault I'm half elf. I'm no monster, please, you've got to believe me, don't burn me, please!"
He screamed a horrible, pain-filled scream, and woke himself up. He sat up with a jerk, knocking off the pixie, and glared at Amelinda.
"What?" he demanded. She realized she was staring at him in horror, and immediately dropped her gaze.
"Nothing," she said, and lay back down, turning her back to Dalak. A tear dripped off the end of her nose as she drifted back to sleep.
Dalak sat up for a while, looking at her back, and wondering what that look meant. He didn't think he'd made any noise, except for maybe that scream, but she looked like she'd been up for a few minutes at least. He glanced down and saw the pixie.
"Oh," he whispered, picking her up. "Finuviel. I'm terribly sorry, Finny, I promise it won't happen again."
She scolded him, shaking her fist at him, and then pointing at Amelinda.
"I wasn't mean to her! She's just nosy, annoying, talks too much… I don't need her to know my life story. And frankly, she's probably the last person on earth I want knowing that I have nightmares."
The pixie said something else. Dalak glanced sharply at Amelinda.
"You mean she is the princess? That would have been helpful to know earlier. Where've you been, Finny?"
The pixie looked at him dryly.
"I know, I know. Top secret and all. I better go back to sleep. We have a long walk in the morning. Good night, Finuviel."
He lay down and was asleep almost instantly, a heavy, dreamless sleep.
Finuviel fluttered her wings a few times, pensively. Dalak and the princess needed to get along. It was very, very important. Perhaps she'd try again tomorrow. She went and curled up with Dalak again, tucking in her wings.