My First Home
My first home was as close to a home as I could have wished for, and yet I had never truly felt like I belonged. There was always the gap where my birth family should have been, and it is difficult to feel belonging in a place where most don't want you; it is difficult to feel a sense of belonging when you grow up knowing that even those who gave birth to you don't want you around.
My mother and father, or the couple I have always considered to be my parents, found me wrapped in a bundle underneath a bush one night when my mother heard me crying.
"It took me ages to figure out where all that noise was coming from, but as soon as I picked you up, you stopped at once and just looked at me, lavender-blue eyes wide and curious, your little tuft of hair shining white as snow." Around my neck was a note explaining that my name was Ilmra, and begging for my safety and protection, along with a present from my birth parents that I was not to have until later in life.
Salena Hithwen knew when she looked at me that I was not human. My face was a dark sort of brown-black, not dark enough to be a drow but too dark not to be. I might have passed for human were it not for the white hair and tapered ears. She knew what I was, and what I might become if she allowed me to live, yet she brought me into her home anyway. She showed me to her husband, Robert, and they chose to love me as if I were their own daughter. They told me they had always wanted children of their own, but though they tried and tried they had never been blessed enough to have one and by the time they found me, Salena was too old to have children anymore. More than once I wished I had been born to them, for their lives would have been much easier if I had. Raising a child who has any dark elf blood in a human village comes with its consequences, and my parents' lives were destroyed by their mercy. They bought my life with their reputation.
I couldn't fathom, at first, the reason that nobody in Kordunna wanted me around, why I was never invited to celebrations, and why a suspicious eye was always turned to me. I am ashamed to say that at first I thought it had something to do with Mama and Papa, for they were shunned just as much as I was; we rarely went to public functions, going only when it was absolutely necessary, never went to festivals or holiday celebrations, but instead celebrated alone in our home. When I would go with my mother to the market, I watched the other women shy away from her, saw the whispers and stares when her back was turned. It wasn't until I noticed the stares invariably lingering on me that I realized that it was me they were avoiding, and the only way to do that was to avoid my family as well.
I couldn't understand what I had done to earn such shame among my own people. I had known that I was a foundling, and I knew that I looked very different from the other children around me, but I never doubted that I was completely human and every bit as normal as they. It was not until I was nearly eleven, when I first heard the legends of the drow elves from the elders of the village, watching their gaze occasionally shift to me, that I guessed the reason for their fear and suspicion. I went home that night and looked at myself in the mirror, at my dark skin, pointed ears, snowy hair, and I saw for the first time what everyone else saw when they looked at me; a wolf in sheep's clothing, a dangerous assassin, a monster. From then on, I tried to conceal my offending features in the hopes that the rest of the village would learn to see past them, but even with the hood of my cloak constantly up, the villagers knew me as the tolerable but frightening threat to their lives. They never saw my human face; all they saw was the drow inside me.
I was content to live peacefully in the village, not as a member but as a tolerated outsider, for the rest of my life. I could handle the suspicious glances, for although I knew I was not the monster they expected I could not feel justified in blaming them; who ever heard of a dark elf who was not evil? I was content to accept their prejudice and live my life, just myself and my mother and father…the problem was, the other children were not willing to let me alone. Not a day past that I wasn't assaulted by one or another of my peers. Quickly I learned that there was one small benefit to carrying an elf's blood in my veins; those whom I could not beat in a fight, I could outrun. Not that I ever actually fought them; my papa taught me to defend myself with my hands, and being a sword maker by trade, eventually taught me to defend myself with steel, knowing that because of my heritage I would need those skills eventually. But if I had fought the other children in my village, even in self-defense, it would only confirm their suspicions that I was a dangerous killer. And so, with no options left to me, I learned to run. Soon I earned the nickname "Ilmra Quick-Foot" from my tormentors. They meant it as an insult, implying that I was too much of a coward to stay and fight, but I learned to accept it as a compliment, since there was always a note of bitterness in their voice as it was shouted to my fleeing form.
Only one boy was ever content to just let me be. James Storesværd was only a year or two my senior. He never went out of his way to be nice to me, but he never once joined the others in tormenting me, and for that I was always grateful. I couldn't say I ever blamed him for his lack of either friendship or defense, because that would only have shifted the attacks from me to the both of us. It was too dangerous to be my friend. Besides, we were destined for paths that couldn't mix; James was in training to become a Paladin of Kord, and with my heredity, I wasn't going to be anything except at home with my parents the rest of my life. James would be too busy having adventures and saving people to carry on a friendship with the likes of me.
Shortly after my twenty-first year began, our paths crossed in a way that, for better or worse, turned my sense of home and love and family completely upside down, and sent my life spiraling away from the path I'd always imagined into one full of twists and turns and a host of unknown destinies awaiting me.
I was by this time old enough to venture out of the house on my own, though I rarely did so. This time I was in the market, for my mother had been feeling ill that day and was not up to going herself. I was on my way home, and as I turned a corner down a narrow alleyway I found myself nose-to-nose with Jonah, the mayor's son, and the leader of my tormentors. His colossal form blocked my path, meaty arms crossed, leering at me in that cruel way of his that told me I would need to start running, soon.
"Let me pass," I said calmly, knowing that he would do no such thing. He didn't even bother with a reply, only stood their smiling at me. I tried to back away, but as I started backwards, he followed. His arms uncrossed and he started to crack his knuckles. I backed up more quickly, but as I turned to run he lunged, grabbing my arm. The basket of food fell to the ground, spilling vegetables and bread everywhere, eggs shattering in the dirt. His grip was so tight that I started to lose feeling in my fingertips, but I fought to get free anyway.
"I have business with you, Quick-Foot," he sneered, and raised a fist.
I threw up my free hand, trying to deflect the blow I knew was coming, and suddenly the hand on my arm released me. He cried out in surprise and horror as a sphere black as night surrounded him. I could not see him, and from his screams of terror, he could not see me either.
Had I done that? I hadn't meant to make anything happen; I had only been trying to block his fist. I didn't know what the thing was that I had created, and I didn't know how I'd done it. I didn't want to leave him in case the thing I made turned out to be harmful, but I didn't know how to remove it or how to help him escape it.
After a few brief moments the orb of darkness faded away, and in his panic, the man ran into the wall of the alley. I heard a sickening crunch, and when he turned around, his nose was broken and blood was streaming down his face.
"Damn you!" he screamed, his eyes watering from the pain. "What did you do to me, Drow?" He advanced again, but before I could move another step away, a tall, muscular figure shot in front of me, shoving my attacker away, slamming him back into the alley wall. Jonah crumpled, slid down the wall, and collapsed in a heap, unconscious and I stared open-mouthed at my savior.
It was James.
He spun around, fire burning in his light blue eyes, his flaxen hair ruffled, his pale face flushed as if he'd run a great distance. His hand drifted absentmindedly to the sword belted at his waist, but he did not draw it.
He pointed behind him to Jonah's unconscious form. "That ass," he panted, trying to catch his breath. "Has had that coming for a long time."
"James, I…I don't understand…"
"You think I don't know what he's been doing to you? Did you think I didn't see when his pack would go after you?" he put his hands on his hips. "I knew they were beating you," he said, and his own voice was filled with shame. "It was difficult not to notice, especially after the church incident." Suddenly he smirked, "at least, they would beat you when they could catch you, Quick Foot." The smile faded. "I knew it was wrong, but I never tried to say anything."
"You think what they were doing was wrong?"
James looked surprised at my question. "You don't? What reason did you ever give Jonah and his lackeys to hurt you?"
I felt a grim smile twitching the corners of my mouth. "I'm half drow, James; what more reason do they need?"
"Are you evil?"
"It isn't that difficult a question, Ilmra." James crossed his arms and leaned closer to me. "Are you an evil person? Were you ever cruel to them? Did you ever do anything to hurt them, or anyone else?"
"No; I don't need to have done something for them to hate me."
"If they hate you for your birth it's them that has a problem; you can't change what you are, and to be honest you shouldn't want to change something as trivial as what you look like, and it is wrong of them to punish you for it." He pulled back a bit. "I'm preaching to the wrong person, telling you this," he muttered softly. "I should have been saying that to them, to the council, to someone, but I was too much of a coward."
There was a long pause; he didn't justify himself to me, and I didn't object to his self-criticism. I had never blamed him for not interfering, and I didn't blame him now, but I wasn't going to make excuses for him either. "So why now? Why show up and defend me now?"
A few embers sparked in James' eyes again. "I was in the square today, and I heard what he was planning…"
He wouldn't meet my eyes, only shook his head in disgust. "Something that I was not going to let happen. I owe you an apology, Ilmra. I owe you twenty years of apologies. I'm sorry it took me so long to do the right thing."
It was a simple apology, and one that I didn't feel I was owed, but I was touched all the same. I put my arms around his shoulders, embracing him. "Thank you, James."
He froze, and seemed shocked that of all things I would be hugging him after everything he'd just confessed. Slowly I felt him relax, his arms closing around me, and we stood there for a moment, friends.
A noise behind James caught my attention. I glanced up over his shoulder and saw Jonah, now awake, staggering to his feet. He had shattered an empty crate when he fell, and he picked up one of the planks, heading for James and I.
"Look out!" I shouted, and shoved James from me. James hit the ground hard but managed to dodge the blow Jonah had for him.
James kicked Jonah's legs out from under him and as he fell pulled the sword out of its sheath. "Get out of here!" he barked as he scrambled to his feet.
"I'm not going to…"
"GO!" he swung his sword up just in time to catch the thick wooden plank, nose-to-nose with Jonah. "Go home, now!" He brought his knee sharply up to the fork of Jonah's legs. Jonah grunted in pain but did not fall as James intended.
"James, just leave him!" I shouted. I waved my hand, hoping to make the sphere of blackness appear again, but nothing happened. I looked on the ground behind Jonah and saw more broken wood, two pieces with sharpened ends, about the size of the twin swords my father taught me to use. I picked them up, but before I could do anything with them, I heard James scream from over my shoulder.
I spun around in time to watch Jonah pushed James back, throwing him to the ground. James landed on his back and was completely winded, unable to get up. His hands were clutching at his left eye, and his fingers were red with blood.
Jonah was apparently uninterested in James as long as he wasn't putting up a fight. While James tried desperately to catch his breath and staunch the bleeding, Jonah spun on me. There was a rage in his eyes I'd never seen before, and for the first time in all the years I spent running from him, I was frightened. This was just a childhood bully no longer; there was murder in his heart.
I saw James pull something out of his boot, and with one hand still covering his eye, he raised the other to throw. I didn't know how good James was at throwing knives with both eyes intact, and I wasn't about to stand around to see how well he could throw half blind. I dropped my crude wooden swords and leapt out of the way.
I rolled into and came up to see Jonah frozen, his eyes wide in shock. He staggered for a moment, and then collapsed at my feet, face-down. The knife stuck out of his back, above his right hip.
As I knelt to check Jonah's pulse, James was trying and failing to get up, one hand still over his injury. "Ilmra…" he panted, "get out of here…now!"
Faint, but there. He was still alive. Praying he would stay that way, I moved on to James. "How badly are you hurt?"
"Don't worry about me," he protested, swatting my hands away. "Get out of here!"
"I can't just leave the two of you; he could…"
"Ilmra this was not your fault, understand? He attacked you; if he dies it's his own fault. I will try to help him, but you cannot be here. They don't need another reason to hate you. Now go!"
James was in no condition to help anyone. He was right, but I couldn't leave him there either. I stood and started running back up the alley, screaming for help, looking up and down the street for someone, anyone, to listen. I got passing glances, but no one offered to help. Nobody cared; why would they help me? If I was in trouble, there was a better chance it benefitted them to stay out of it. The probably thought it was just another day, just another game of trying to outrun another tormentor.
I slammed right into Papa in my haste as I rounded the next corner.
"Ilmra! What…" Papa saw my face and stopped. "What's happened?"
As quickly as I could, I told him what happened in the alleyway.
"…and I didn't know what else to do, so I just started running for help."
"Go home," Papa ordered when I was finished. "I will go back and help the boys. You need to go home, now. Tell your mama what happened, and then stay inside until I come back. Do you understand me? Do not leave the house." He took off in the direction I had come without waiting for me to respond, trusting me to obey. As much as I didn't want to, I did as he said, and ran home as fast as my quick feet could carry me.
The door crashed open and I darted inside without waiting for it to close. "Mama?" I called, sprinting up the stairs two and three at a time. "Mama!" I burst into their bedroom, but she wasn't there, either.
"Ilmra?" a frail voice called from behind me.
I spun around to find Mama in the doorway, still in her bedclothes with her shawl wrapped around her, her gray hair in a loose braid and damp, as if she had just washed it.
"Ilmra, what's happened?" Her worry lines appeared between her forehead again, and her watery eyes tightened in concern.
For the second time that day, I relayed what had happened as quickly as I could.
"…and then Papa sent me back here." The fear I had been holding in since Jonah appeared was starting to come out; I felt myself about to break down. "I don't know if he found them, or if…"
She grabbed my arm, dragging me out of her bedroom and down the hall. "Come with me."
"What?" I pulled against her, trying to break her grip. "Aren't we going back to help?"
"No," she said firmly, hauling me into my bedroom despite my protests.
"Mama, James needs my help!"
"If that boy stood up for you, sticking around to get hit again isn't a good way of repaying him!" she threw me into the room and shut the door. "You need to stay right here until your father comes back with news. And we need to get you ready."
"Ready for what?" I asked, afraid to hear her answer. I had never seen my mother so worried, so determined. What had I gotten James and I into?
She did not respond right away. She made me wait in the room and left, returning shortly with a traveler's pack, a pair of dark, brown leather breeches, a dark purple tunic and matching cloak, a belt, and soft, black leather hunting boots. She tossed all of these things to me, and when I looked into her eyes, they were glistening with tears. "We need to get you ready to run, Darling." She proceeded to strip me of my dress and my shift and made me kick off my shoes.
I dressed quickly, feeling a heavy sadness descend on me as I did so. I understood why she was sad; this had been our home for twenty years, and had been their home for almost as many years before that. As much as we were disliked in this town, we still hated to leave.
When I was finished, Mama handed me a folded, worn piece of parchment. "This was from your birth parents," she said quietly, "It was with you the night we found you. Your father said that when you were ready, we were to give it to you. His letter said it would lead you to something important."
With trembling fingers, I opened the parchment, and found a map inside, leading to the mountains, which weren't far from home. "So, is this where we're going?" I asked.
Then I realized that Mama was not dressed to travel, as I was.
"Aren't you going to change?" I asked.
She would not meet my eyes. "Come," she said and led me down the stairs, into the kitchen. In the center of the room was a rug that my mother had been given as part of her dowry. The rug was a beautiful spiraling creation of garnet and golden wool, if a little faded from forty years of sitting out in the sun. Mama moved the rug out of the way, revealing a square trapdoor large enough for one of us as a time to fit inside. A hole sat in the center, with a string running from the rug through the door. Below it was the cellar, where we kept the salted meats and vegetables during wintertime.
"Inside," she ordered, and followed me in my descent. She shut the door over our heads, and pulled the string to put the rug back into place.
I took a seat on the earthen floor. "Mama, what's going on?"
Mama was staring at her feet. "Your papa and I knew something like this would happen eventually."
"Love, it isn't your fault." Her eyes met mine, and she sat on a crate of potatoes beside me. She drew me into her arms, settling my head on her lap and stroking my hair the way she had when I was a child. "What I mean is that your papa and I know our neighbors; we knew it wouldn't be long before one of them went too far, so we made sure we had a plan to keep you safe when it did. Do you remember the incident right after your fifteenth birthday?"
I nodded, wishing I could forget it. Jonah and his friends had thought it would be funny to chase me into the church, which I had been forbidden to attend both because of my birth and because I was not a follower of Kord, whose disciples had never exactly given me a good reason to worship him if they were the embodiment of what he found important in life. They had chased me as far as the foyer of the church, and then the clerics inside found me. It didn't matter who had begun the disagreement, I was the one who was banned from the place and therefore I was to receive the punishment. Had Papa not intervened, I'd have been given twenty lashes. Instead, he bore my punishment, and received another five for daring to challenge the clerics of his god. Mama and I nursed the welts on his back for two weeks.
"After your papa recovered, we discussed things, and we knew that it would only get worse for you here, but neither of us were willing to part with you yet. Instead, we came up with a plan of action for when things hit their boiling point. We hid all the necessities you'd need, and we altered my rug to help us conceal this cellar so it could be used as a hiding place. We have food and water here to sustain us, and the only people that know how to find this are your papa and myself." She kissed the top of my head. "Everything will be alright, Love, I promise."
We sat down there for what seemed hours, mostly in silence occasionally broken by Mama's cough or my asking for the thousandth time what was taking them so long. I was sure night had fallen by the time we heard the door to the house open again. A silent look from Mama was enough to keep me in place, and we waited for them to find our hideout. The trapdoor opened without warning, and Papa descended holding a lamp. Behind him was James.
"Robert!" Mama leapt from her crate and ran to embrace Papa.
James's left eye was covered by a thick layer of gauze, held in place with a leather strap. His face was bruised and his lip was bleeding, and he was moving very gingerly.
"What happened?" I asked.
James limped to Mama's crate of potatoes and took her place. "Robert dragged Jonah to the physicians, and then came back for me," he said, touching the bandage on his eye and wincing. "By that time the mayor and the rest of the council had come as well. It took Jonah a while to come around, but once he woke up the idiot started telling everyone how you'd attacked us. I tried to tell them the truth, but they wouldn't listen."
"Jonah's truth is easier for them to believe," I said, resigned. "So what happens now?"
The half of James' face that I could see was sad. "They're after blood, Ilmra. They want you dead."
I felt as if I should have been afraid, or surprised, or even angry at the injustice of it all, but honestly it was nothing I hadn't expected. I was more surprised that it took this long for them to decide they wanted me dead.
"Don't worry, Child," Papa said sharply. "They won't touch you."
"Agreed," said James, with a surprising amount of fierce determination in his voice. James barely knew me, so why was he so intent all of a sudden on protecting me? "I will stay here with your wife, Robert. You take Ilmra with you." He stood and walked over to me, his face very close, and took my hands. "I'm sorry I waited so long to do the right thing. I should have done it a long time ago. Maybe if I had, I could have stopped all the other attacks. Maybe we could have been better friends, like I had wanted. Maybe we could have…" he stopped, and shook his head.
He just shook his head again. "It doesn't matter; you need to go, before they come here looking for you."
Papa grabbed my arm and before I could say a word, I was being dragged up the stairs and out into the woods.
"Why are they staying behind?" I asked once we had left the house and made it into the tree line, far from safe but also far from any prying eyes.
"Because," Papa began, and I heard his voice break, "your mama and I will not be coming with you."
And then I understood. The tears, the sadness, and I understood why nobody had consulted me. Because they knew that if I had known what they were planning, I'd never have let them do it. And I still wouldn't. This was not going to happen. I would not leave them to face the angry mob that was after me, had been after me all along. It was my sin of being born half drow that had caused my parents so much suffering for the last two decades, was my sin of birth that had ruined any chance of acceptance for them in this village. It was my sin of birth that drove Papa's business down when men went outside the village to other blacksmiths who did not have a drow for a daughter, my sin of birth that made Mama educate me herself, rather than send me to school with the others. My sin of birth made my parents into abominations like me, it broke Jonah's nose and almost killed him, it injured James's eye, and it brought a mob to my parents' front door. It was not going to get the only people who had ever loved me killed.
I dug my heels into the ground, forcing Papa to stop. "I'm not leaving without you!" I cried.
Papa tried to muscle me back into motion. "Ilmra, we don't have time for me to argue with you! I have to get back to the house before…"
"Before the mob comes to burn it down?" tears were stinging my cheeks. It wasn't fair.
"Before they realize that I've helped you escape!" He let go of my arm. "If I can get back there before they do, they may think that you just ran away, and nothing more will happen. But If I don't get back soon, they'll know that you aren't far, and they'll come looking."
"Why can't you come with me?"
"You'll be harder to follow alone. Your mama and I can buy you some time if we can get the villagers to go the wrong way." He took the map from my hand and held it up in front of me. "Where does this say to go?"
I pointed north.
"Then go there. They gave you this map for a reason, Ilmra. There is something up there that you need. Find it. Find them. Figure out where you come from, and how you came to us. Your mama and I did the best we could to keep you safe, but our village isn't safe for you anymore. All we can do now is help you get away." Tears were in his eyes and mine too. He pulled me into one last embrace. "I had hoped I'd never have to do this to you, but he warned me that I couldn't keep you forever. They knew that you'd have to find them eventually." He kissed my forehead. "When you do, please don't forget about us."
I pulled away, crying uncontrollably. "He is my sire, but you will always be my papa," I choked.
He nodded and kissed my forehead again. "Ilmra Hithwen, your mama and I will always love you, no matter how many other parents you find, no matter how far away you are." And he left. I watched him until I couldn't see him anymore, and through the tears still in my eyes, I consulted the map in my hands to decide where to go from there.
I followed my sire's map, and it led me to a cave high in the mountains. The journey was rather uneventful, which didn't surprise me; I kept just behind the tree line as I traveled, ensuring that I could see any trouble that might come from the people I'd just escaped. Being just behind the trees rather than further in also meant that few animals would disturb me; most of the animals in this area were game, like deer and rabbits, and they had learned from generations of men hunting them and their ancestors that it was to their advantage to stay as far inside the forest as possible. I was bothered by neither man nor beast until I approached the mouth of the cave.
As I looked more closely at the map, I saw written on the drawing in a strange handwriting were the words Go down the chasm. I searched the cave for a few moments, and at the back I found another tunnel leading deeper into the mountain and in the corner opposite I found the mouth of a large, dark chasm in the floor. I folded the map up into a pocket of my cloak and cautiously lowered myself into the opening. It became darker and darker as I lowered myself down, and ten feet into the chasm it was dark as pitch, but being half-drow, seeing in the dark had never been a problem for me, so I was able to climb carefully down without any need for light.
The tunnel was rough, with several places to put my hands and feet, but I noticed that there were no places where the rock jutted out, no places where I could sit. I had originally thought that my parents might have left something there for me, but now I was beginning to wonder if perhaps they were waiting for me at the bottom of this vertical tunnel, and the thought of that made my heart start pounding.
After fifteen minutes of climbing, I finally saw a ledge appearing, and I stopped to rest. I sat down and jumped so badly I almost fell down the dark passageway. Something long, thin and hard was already sitting there.
It was a bundle with a piece of parchment on it, reading For Ilmra, half-drow child, when she is ready.
I supposed I was ready now, or I wouldn't be here. I picked up the bundle, but as I went to re-ascend the tunnel, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not I should keep going down; maybe they were still waiting down there for me? What if they were, and I just left without checking? I looked down at the bundle in my hands. If they were really down there, if they were waiting here for me, they wouldn't have left this alone for me to find. They'd have kept it and given it to me themselves instead of leaving it like a treasure hunt. Resigned, I carefully climbed one-handed back out of the hole.
When I reached the top, I threw the bundle onto the cave floor and then hauled myself out. I decided to read the note first, more concerned about why it had been left for me than what it actually was.
The note read:
I am sorry that this is the way you must claim your birthright, but unfortunately, this was the only way we could keep it safe. There is so much I wish that I could tell you, but so much of your story has to be kept secret, for your safety as well as your mother's and mine. If ever our paths cross, I will answer all the questions I know you must have for me, but until that blessed day, please try not to hate us too much for what we've done.
I brought you to this cave because I am sentimental, and this cave was my first home when I came to the surface as a young drow of only one hundred. The items in the bundle are gifts from your birth family in the hopes that they will protect you, since we cannot. The scimitars were mine; they are the finest weapons I have ever wielded, and I hope that they serve you well. Your mother and I watched the couple we hope have adopted you for some time before we left you with them, and I noticed the husband favors twin swords. These are not much different, and if he teaches you his craft, you should know enough to wield my blades.
The chainmail tunic was your mothers; it has protected her in many of the battles we have fought together. It is fine quality as well, and will protect you against most direct attacks.
The tiara is a gift from your grandfather, your mother's father. He is the only other soul besides her and I who knew of your existence. When we told him, he fashioned this for you. He says it is made of pure silver, and it is meant more as a symbol of your heritage than for protection; your mother and I both come from noble families, and it will serve as a reminder to you that no matter what anyone else might think, you come from good people who love you and are not the daughter of some random thieves or assassins.
I hope that someday your parents will give you my map, and I hope that you come and find us some day, either because you are curious or even if it is because you hate us and wish revenge. I know that your life will not have been easy by the time you read this, for I have lived first-hand the consequences of being a dark elf who tries to walk the surface with humans. People judge us for the crimes of our race, and unfortunately you look too much like me for you to pass as human. It will be hard, but I know that you are strong enough to overcome it, because although you do not know them, I have seen the families that you come from, both my own and your mother's, and for all the faults of your mother's family and all the evils of mine, you come from strong, enduring people, my sweet child.
I could not give you the life you deserved, and I could not protect you by keeping you, but I want you to know that I loved you with all my heart, and so did your mother. Carry that knowledge with you, my love, and whether you find your way to us or not, live blessed and change the world for the three of us.
I stared at the note for a long time, unsure of how I should feel. I hated him for daring to call himself my father, for daring to suggest that he and his human wife were my family, but I was incredibly touched at the sincerity of the note. They hadn't dropped me at some random farm; they had taken the time to watch the people they left me with and made sure I would be loved and cared for. And he did not devalue my parents by giving himself the same title; he acknowledged that all four of them were my parents, because they all four loved me, and had all four gone to extreme lengths to ensure my safety.
I opened the bundle and found the gifts my birth father had left me. I slipped the chainmail tunic over my head and picked up the sheathed scimitars. He had left a fine leather belt with them, and so I belted them around my waist, drawing one from its sheath. I had been trained by my papa to tell good steel from bad, but the metal of this scimitar was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was beautiful, flawless from hilt to tip. Near the top was an engraving in Elven, but since I could not speak Elven, I had no idea what it said. Slipping the scimitar back into its sheath, I picked up the tiara. It was sturdily made but intricately braided, functional yet beautiful, a simple but elegant half-circlet of woven silver. I slipped it on, the metal resting against my forehead and running under my hair.
The last light of sunset was fading from the sky as I watched from my shelter. Off in the distance, no more than an hour or two's walk from my cave, I could see the silhouette of a town. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I made plans to go there in the morning and see what they could tell me.