No sinister shape flew before the moon, which now shone bright and clear on the falling waters of the fountain which Ilrin watched with great interest. Dilmir stood a step or two behind her, allowing himself to relax in the cool night air after the day’s constant training. Elves were far hardier than men, and could duel for hours on end, but the process was still incredibly wearing.
Aimim, Dilmir’s aunt, had sent him to show Ilrin about the house while she finished dinner. The two of them had washed the day’s sweat from their faces, and Dilmir had then shown Ilrin the curiously curved rooms of the house, all of which had been grown from a single tree. The entire house, in fact, was a tree, still very much alive, though hollowed in places to form rooms. The center of the tree was gone, so that it formed a wreath, wrapping around a small courtyard filled with young saplings. At the center of this courtyard, a lively spring bubbled from an elegantly grown stump, and splashed down to be absorbed by the wood and sent up once again. Ilrin, who lived in a much smaller house, had never seen anything quite like the spring, and was thoroughly fascinated by it.
After a few more moments of gazing absently into the bubbling water, Ilrin asked without turning around, “How did your aunt get this house?”
Only the large or wealthy families had such large houses as Aimim, though she was neither.
Dilmir paused. The answer was simple, and yet he feared to give it. Guarding his words carefully, he said, “An ancient relative of hers once did the king a great service. This house has been passed down her line as gratitude.”
“Hmm,” said Ilrin, gazing into the spring, unaware of Dilmir’s moment of hesitation. “I wish I had a house this big. It’s so spacious, I feel like I can stretch out properly here.”
“I like your house better,” said Dilmir, after a moment of reflection. Ilrin turned to him in surprise. “This place is too big, it feels empty to me. Your house is a lot closer together; it feels more like there’s something there.”
“You mean it’s a lot smaller,” said Ilrin, turning back to the fountain with a smile.
“No,” said Dilmir hurriedly, “It just feels… better.”
Ilrin turned back to him, but at that moment, Aimim thrust her head out of one of the four doorways leading into the courtyard, and announced that dinner was ready. Soon afterwards, they were seated around the large table – growing from the floor, as did nearly all the rest of the furniture – eating a hearty meal of food that can only be found on Feylund.
“It makes no sense,” Aimim was saying, “children separated from their families at the absurd age of ten, and then taken far away to train. It seems to me they would do far better with their families watching. Wouldn’t you agree?” she asked suddenly of Ilrin.
“Oh,” said Ilrin, taken by surprise, “I don’t know, I think they do fine.”
“Yes, but your family is here,” persisted Aimim. “Most others must make a new home when they come here.”
“My parents usually don’t watch me while I train,” said Ilrin, “I think I’d do far worse if they did, knowing that they were there. What I don’t like,” continued Ilrin, before Aimim could reply, “is how the Dark Elves keep watching us.”
Dilmir remembered the solitary elf dressed in black, standing at the edge of the training field. He hadn’t moved a muscle but his eyes for nearly five hours.
“What do you mean?” asked Aimim. “They were there again?”
“Just one this time,” answered Dilmir. “They’re trying to recruit again, aren’t they?”
“I don’t know that they ever stopped,” sighed Aimim. “But I wish Eltuthar would stop sending them.”
“I thought Sonlen killed him, Eltuthar,” said Ilrin glancing up.
“Oh no,” said Aimim, “he left him alive, he was bound to do so by the council, but he broke him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had killed him anyway though, after all that he did. Families torn apart, trees in flames, blood in the rivers; and all because of his endless thirst for power. We’re well rid of him.”
“His elves seem well enough though,” said Ilrin. “Well,” she added, at a look from Dilmir, “I mean they just stand there, watching. They never do anything.” Ilrin looked up ponderously at the ceiling for a moment, as if trying to remember something. “Although,” she said slowly, “he did seem more interested in our duels than anyone else’s.”
Dilmir hastily looked down at his food. He had hoped that she hadn’t noticed that small detail.
“Really?” asked Aimim, looking up, “Why?”
Dilmir looked up at his aunt, trying to catch her eye, but she was watching Ilrin. Ilrin, however, merely shrugged and continued eating.
“I don’t see why they would want to watch us, though,” Ilrin continued, having swallowed. “I thought they only recruited those that have completed their training.”
“They seem to be going after younger and younger elves these days,” agreed Aimim. “I suppose the younger the elf, the better what they have to offer sounds.”
“What’s that?” asked Ilrin, unaware of Dilmir’s renewed attempts to attract the attention of his aunt.
“Oh, they promise power to whoever will listen,” said Aimim vaguely. “Not openly of course, the king would never allow it. They get elves by themselves and talk them into joining them.”
Ilrin frowned. “But,” she said, ponderously suspending a piece of meat in the air with her fork, “there must be something to what they say, otherwise the elves would come back, wouldn’t they?”
“Eltuthar the Black was a powerful mage. I’m sure he has a few tricks that he can show them, even if he can’t use them himself anymore.”
“What exactly did Sonlen do to him?” asked Ilrin. Across the table, unnoticed, Dilmir fidgeted uncomfortably. Ilrin seemed far too curious about these things.
“Only he knows,” replied Aimim with a shrug. “Though I’ve heard tell it was some sort of powerful curse.”
A silence fell over the table, while Ilrin ate slowly, clearly thinking. “I wonder,” she said, half to herself, after a minute or two. “Do you think he’ll ever try to come back, Eltuthar I mean?”
“Come back? I doubt he can,” said Aimim. “He’s had enough followers for a long time now though; if he were going to try anything, I think he would have done it long ago. He didn’t dare do anything while Sonlen was still lived, but he’s been dead for over thirty years now.”
“There’s still Alfimir,” said Ilrin.
Aimim sniffed. “Yes, but he’s not nearly as powerful as Sonlen ever was. If Alfimir ever encountered the full power of Eltuthar the Black, I doubt he would last a second.” Her expression had suddenly darkened as she said Alfimir’s name, and Ilrin looked momentarily startled at her look.
Deciding that the time had come at last for a change of topic, Dilmir said, “Have you seen Ilrin train, aunt?”
Aimim’s expression cleared almost at once. “No,” she said, “I really should watch sometime soon. If you’re half as good as he says you are,” she said, turning to Ilrin, “it ought to be quite a sight.”
Ilrin laughed, nearly as grateful at the change of topic as was Dilmir. “He’s been improving a lot,” she said to Aimim. “He nearly beat me today.”
Dilmir thought this was a bit of an overstatement, but made no comment on the remark. Instead, he said, “Just you wait, Ilrin. I really will beat you tomorrow.” They both laughed, neither knowing just what tomorrow would bring.