It didn’t usually snow in Eld’rin, but with the cold they were having, Dilmir wouldn’t be surprised if it did. The fog which constantly covered the Lower Quarter had spread out into the middle of Eld’rin, where Dilmir was waiting, and now covered everything. All he could see was a dense mist.
He got more comfortable against the root he was leaning on. Walking together with Ilrin to training in the morning had been something Dilmir had done ever since they became friends. He couldn’t say exactly why; he supposed he just enjoyed being with someone who wasn’t afraid of him or thought he was out to conquer the elves. Either way, he waited for Ilrin to join him in the middle of Eld’rin every morning.
Things had definitely improved for Dilmir. He used to dread training, where he would be forced to endure the thinly veiled dislike of the elves. He had tried his best to avoid all elves except for Ilrin, and even she had needed to work hard in the beginning to become his friend. He had always been afraid of what would happen if his magic slipped out of him, always cautious, always looking over his shoulder.
Now things were different. He had friends, and he didn’t worry about his magic anymore. Yes, the elves disliked him more than before, but as Ilrin had said, he couldn’t do anything about that. Not until Eltuthar found a way to lift the Curse, anyway. No, on the whole, things were much better. Dilmir smiled to himself in the predawn darkness.
Eventually, a shape appeared, bobbing through the mist towards him. The shape quickly resolved into Ilrin, tired and a little disheveled from sleep. She barely greeted him as they turned toward the main gate, but Dilmir knew she’d wake up soon enough.
The mist began to dissipate as they walked, the dark gray of the sky slowly turning to light gray. Even at this hour, Eld’rin was alive, other elves going to training just as Dilmir and Ilrin were. They kept a good distance from Dilmir, some giving him scowls, some hurrying by with fright, most just ignoring him. Dilmir was used to it.
Ilrin did indeed begin to wake up as they walked, the movement and fresh air serving to rid her of sleep. Dilmir smiled to himself as they walked, looking forward to the day. Another day of training, another day of practice. No secrets or plots to worry about, no enemies lurking in the shadows.
Except for one. A figure detached itself from where it had been hiding next to a root and stepped forward, into the early morning light. The elf didn’t approach them, but just stood there, directly in their path.
Dilmir recognized him: it was Aldir. Aldir was only two or three years older than Dilmir, but he was an agent of the Council, a spy tasked with making sure the laws were upheld. That was all Dilmir really knew about him. He was a ghost: an elf with no history. The Council had erased any record of who he was, allowing them to plant him into any situation without suspicion.
Ilrin saw him and stopped walking, glaring at Aldir with a hatred Dilmir rarely saw. He knew why.
Aldir had been the one who had gotten Dilmir banished two years ago, but that wasn’t why Ilrin hated him. Aldir, unseen, had watched Dilmir and Ilrin together for several days, and had deduced that if he pretended to get close to Ilrin, and let Dilmir see them together, Dilmir might react without thinking, using his magic to retaliate.
The plan had worked perfectly. Aldir had asked to see Ilrin, and she, not knowing who he was at the time, had agreed. Aldir had made sure Dilmir had seen the two of them together, and before he had known it, Dilmir had caused a branch to fall, aimed straight for Aldir’s head. He had already been struggling to keep his magic in, and that brief moment of distraction was enough for it to flood out of him.
Aldir had gotten out of the way in time, but the damage had been done. Dilmir had been banished by the next morning. Ilrin, quickly discovering that Aldir had orchestrated the entire thing, had hated him vehemently ever since. Not just for banishing Dilmir, but for the way he had done it: using her to get to him. Dilmir couldn’t say he blamed her.
“Aldir,” he said, a little warily, unsure what his motivation was for appearing.
Aldir nodded, but his eyes were on Ilrin. “Can – Could I speak with you?” he asked.
Ilrin didn’t even bother replying. She continued to look at him as if her venomous gaze could kill.
“Please,” Aldir said. “I need to say something.”
Dilmir glanced at Ilrin. She wasn’t about to talk to him. “Say it, then,” he said.
Ilrin might hate Aldir, but Dilmir himself didn’t hold him any ill-will. He disliked him, of course, but in an odd way he understood him. Aldir served the Council, and he had just been doing his job when he got Dilmir banished. Dilmir was sure that, in his eyes, he had been serving the elves.
Aldir looked briefly at Dilmir. He clearly wanted to speak with Ilrin alone, but Dilmir returned his glance with a look which clearly said that wasn’t going to happen.
Aldir took a small step closer to Ilrin. “I – I just wanted to say that” —he seemed worried that Ilrin might lash out at him any moment— “that I – I’m sorry. For what I did.”
Ilrin glared at him silently.
“It was wrong,” Aldir said. “I should never have—”
“I don’t care what you think,” Ilrin hissed, cutting him off. Aldir took an instinctive step backwards.
Ilrin was one of the kindest people Dilmir knew, but something about Aldir seemed to have gotten to her two years ago. She had never forgiven him, and her hatred for him now was as strong as it had been then.
Aldir stepped forward again. “I just—”
“Go,” Ilrin said. “I don’t care what you have to say. Just go.”
Aldir seemed to teeter for a moment on the edge of staying, but Ilrin’s look finally seemed to convince him otherwise. He turned, and left, quickly being swallowed by the shadows.
Dilmir waited a good ten seconds before speaking. He rarely saw Ilrin so angry. “It’s been two years,” he said.
Ilrin shot him a dark look, and Dilmir promptly fell silent. She wouldn’t hear it. Based on her reaction, Aldir had committed the most heinous of crimes, and there would be no redemption for him.
Dilmir knew when to remain silent. He moved forward, heading for the main gate, and training. After a moment, Ilrin followed him.
Aldir was not one to let things or people get to him. He was an agent of the Council, trained since he could remember to consider only whatever mission he was on. It was not his job to get involved, not his job to care.
But he did care. He couldn’t deny it: what he had done two years ago was wrong. Using Ilrin had never sat well with him. Even before he had gotten Dilmir banished, there had been doubts. Ilrin hadn’t deserved what he had been planning.
He had told himself repeatedly that he was acting for the good of the elves, and he believed that. Even now, he still did. Dilmir was dangerous, and did need to be removed from Eld’rin, for the safety of all. But somehow, that didn’t justify what he had done.
It wasn’t as if anyone had gotten hurt. That was something else Aldir kept telling himself, but it didn’t seem true. The simple fact was that he had callously used Ilrin to get to Dilmir, and even to Aldir, that was low.
The words broke Aldir from his silent thoughts. He was in one of the massive trees which made the four corners of Eld’rin; he must have wandered here after trying to speak with Ilrin. Before him, Delarthen, head of the Council, stood. Of course. He wanted a report.
“Nothing new,” Aldir said.
“Nothing?” Delarthen repeated.
“Nothing,” Aldir said again. “Dilmir practices his magic at night like he always has, but it’s hardly enough to banish him over.”
“And the others?” Delarthen pressed. “What of their use of the magic?”
Aldir frowned. “They’re not involved,” he said, looking Delarthen in the eye for the first time.
Delarthen raised an eyebrow. “Not involved?” he repeated. “They’ve learned magic from Dilmir, and practice it almost daily. They are nearly as much a threat as he is.”
“No,” Aldir said. “They’re no threat.” He pressed on before Delarthen could interrupt him. “You set me to watch them. That’s my job. Well, I’ve watched them for months now, and I tell you they are not a threat.”
“Deciding that is not up to you,” Delarthen said, his eyes narrowing dangerously. “You are merely there to observe, and tell me if they do anything dangerous.”
“Anything you can possibly banish them for,” Aldir corrected.
Delarthen watched him silently, but Aldir wasn’t afraid of him. He just didn’t care anymore.
He waited until Delarthen opened his mouth to speak, and then interrupted him. “They’re elves,” he said. “Citizens of Eld’rin. We’re sworn to protect the citizens of Eld’rin, not hunt for excuses which don’t exist.”
“We are sworn,” Delarthen hissed, “to remove threats, wherever and whoever they may be. You would do well to remember that.” He glared at Aldir.
Aldir held his gaze coolly. Was that a threat? Had the head of the Council actually just threatened him?
Delarthen seemed to calm down slightly. “You do your job well,” he said, putting his hand on Aldir’s shoulder in what he clearly hoped was a fatherly fashion. “Try not to lose focus. Sometimes keeping threats from the elves requires doing things we would rather not. Just remember that everything you do is for their good.”
“Everything?” Aldir repeated. He shrugged Delarthen’s hand away. “Even betrayal of those who have no part to play?”
Delarthen nodded. “Sometimes, yes. Remain focused, Aldir. Consider what really matters.”
“I’ve done that,” Aldir said. He paused a fraction of a second. “And I’ve decided. Find someone else to watch Dilmir and the others. I won’t do it any longer.” And then he turned and walked away.
He had considered what really mattered. He had joined the Council to protect the elves, not spy on them or betray them. But that was all he had done: spy and betray. He couldn’t leave the service of the Council; he had nowhere else to go. They were his life. But that didn’t mean he had to like what he did.
He wouldn’t be a part of it anymore. Dilmir was a threat, yes, but not Ilrin, and not the others they met with almost every night, Endir and Inilidin. They were just normal elves, people Aldir had joined the Council to protect.
He was done playing the Council’s games.