Mist clung to the ground. Fine tendrils of thick fog snaked over the roots of the lower district of Eld’rin as the door to Ilrin’s home opened, and she stepped out, her mother following her.
Ilrin’s mother was about as old as Dilmir’s aunt, perhaps a few years younger. She was tall, even for an elf, and strongly built, but had a handsome face. She was well known by her neighbors for her kindness to all. Ilrin was her only child, and she loved her above all else.
“Ilrin,” she said, as Ilrin made to leave. Ilrin turned, looking back at her mother. “Who do you train with in the afternoons?”
Ilrin paused, a confused look crossing her face. “Dilmir,” she said. “You know that.”
Ilrin’s mother smiled. “Yes,” she said, “I just wanted to be sure. I heard something strange about him yesterday.”
“What?” asked Ilrin, though she thought she knew the answer already.
“I heard he’s been acting… differently, of late. They say that he has been casting spells in the morning that are difficult even for mages. Is this true, Ilrin?”
Ilrin was about to reply, but then paused. “No,” she said finally. “He’s just getting better at magic, that’s all.”
Her mother looked at her, and then decided to go on. “I heard also,” she said, “that he beat you at swordplay yesterday.”
Ilrin had not expected this. She had only been beaten last night. She hadn’t told her mother, but that had been because she was too tired.
“I watched the two of you train not that long ago,” continued her mother, “and I know he could never have gotten past your guard.”
“He just got better,” repeated Ilrin. “I was tired, and he was faster than I was.”
Her mother did not reply, but looked steadily into Ilrin’s eyes, her own filled with nothing but concern.
“Ilrin,” she said, “are you sure nothing is wrong with Dilmir?”
Ilrin was on the verge of saying, “Yes,” but stopped. It was evident that whatever rumors her mother had heard had been exaggerated somewhat, but it was still true that Dilmir seemed to have improved with magic overnight. Still, she thought to herself, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. She looked up at her mother, and said, very firmly, “Yes. He’s fine.”
Her mother searched her face for a moment, and then rose. “Very well,” she said. “You had best hurry, otherwise you’ll be late. Tell Dilmir to be here at seven. You’ve been trying to get him over here for dinner for weeks, perhaps now would be a good opportunity.” With a wave of her hand, she motioned her daughter away, into the mist.
Ilrin turned and walked the familiar path down the root. The houses of the lower district were grown from the thick roots that grew there, all spreading from four large trees in the center. Each house was small, though big enough for an average family. The entire district was lower than the rest of Eld’rin, which meant that the early morning mists lingered there for several hours after the rest was burned off by the sun.
Ilrin had always found that she liked walking in fog. She could barely see where she was going, let alone her surroundings, but she new the path so well that she knew every detail of every branch in her way. One could get lost in the mist very easily.
Ilrin suddenly stopped as strange voices met her ears. It was common for elves to meet in the lower district in the morning, as there was less chance of them being discovered. What made her stop was what they were saying.
“…Alfimir was right to attack him, he’s too powerful,” a rough voice said. Ilrin stiffened, listening carefully. There was only one elf Alfimir had ever attacked.
“I agree,” said a thinner voice, from much closer by, “but the council refuses to act. I tried to make them see reason, but they continue to be blinded by his false play.”
“He seems to be having trouble with that now, though, doesn’t he?” said a deep voice. A general murmur of ascent followed this statement.
“That’s right,” said the first voice. “I heard he nearly blew himself up yesterday. And that tree, it must have been fifty or sixty feet high!”
“He’s too powerful,” said the thin voice, and Ilrin realized that the speakers must just be on the root next to hers. “He must be stopped.”
“He hasn’t done anything harmful yet though,” said the deep voice ponderously.
“What then? Are we to wait until he does? No, I say we act now, while we can still control him.”
“I agree,” said the first voice, “He can’t stay here, it’s too risky. He’s a danger to himself, as well as the rest of us.”
“And if the council refuses to act, then we need someone who will.”
A brief pause followed this statement, until it was broken by the thin voiced elf. “The others should be warned to stay away from him; he’s too unpredictable. That girl that trains with him, what’s her name?”
“Ilrin. She meets him every day to train. She should be told.”
Ilrin didn’t wait to hear any more. Heart pounding at what she had heard, she raced as quickly as she dared through the fog down the root, until she came to the center of Eld’rin. There, as he had been every morning for seven years, stood Dilmir, waiting for her. She slowed her pace to a walk as she came out of the frothing mist, and he stood to greet her.
“What took you so long?” he inquired as they set out together towards the main gate.
Ilrin shrugged. “My mother wanted to say some things,” she said noncommittally. It was second nature to an elf to keep secrets, at least until he knew exactly what results they would have when told. All elves were taught to mask their faces so that others could not determine their emotions, and Ilrin kept what she had heard from Dilmir almost automatically. More than that, however, she was aware of the trouble that now pressed down on him, and did not want to worry him further just yet.
Dilmir looked ahead, satisfied, but Ilrin remained looking at the ground, deep in thought.