“Me? You’re assessing me?” I sputtered.
“Of course, when ever people meet they are always assessing each other.”
I knew that; I was used to be scrutinized by strangers. It happened every time I represented my father, or attended a function. Heck, it even happened when I was in a group of my own peers at the academy. So why was this stranger, a friend of Fallen’s, able to ruffle my feathers when the others couldn’t? Even Fallen, who goaded me constantly, never incited this response. Letting out a deep breath I asked, “Alright then, how’d I do?”
“I’d been led to believe that you were a stick in the mud, totally focused on learning your role as ruler for when you took the crown.”
“So…let me guess,” I began clenching my fists, “Fallen is acting as your guidance counselor, informing you about the local populace?” I asked.
“It came up in conversation while he was showing me around,” Turin said in a matter of fact tone. “However, my findings are much different. Mind you though, it will take time for a full evaluation.” He winked while repeating my phrase and smiled.
“You toad,” I said throwing a pine cone, hitting him in the shoulder, both of us breaking into laughter.
He opened the leather pouch, deposited a few nuts into his hand, and then offered it to me. “How did you meet Fallen?” I inquired shaking a few nuts into my palm.
We were nearing the switchbacks which was the shortest, yet the steepest part of the trail. My breath was steady, but I could sense the pace was stressing my body. I’ve been meaning to push myself anyway I told myself increasing my speed. Halfway up the switchbacks I caught up with Turin and smiled until I passed him. My legs ached and my lungs burned, but I wouldn’t slow down. Turin stayed on my heals; breaths coming in short gasps. We rounded the last bend both calling forth our last bursts of speed each trying to reach the top first.
One foot in front of the other I told myself over and over; my lungs worked overtime trying to deliver enough oxygen for my body to function and then it happened. My legs stopped listening, they just turned into rubber bands, and I fell.
It was several minutes later that I noticed Turin had collapsed on his hands and knees beside me. We laid there gasping looking at each other and began laughing. “Glad we got that out of our systems,” Turin began, maneuvering into a sitting position.
“What, assessing the opposition?” I counter, rolling over.
“The opposition is it? Well, how’d I do?” he asked.
“It will take time for a full evaluation, but you receive high marks for this part,” I said.
He chuckled taking a small leather bag from his pocket. “That’s good to know. Now, let’s see how you faired.”
“Huh, looks more like a path to me,” he teased.
“To the average elf, it might,” I said, “it starts easy on the flat, then steadily starts to climb, ending in switchbacks near the top of the mountain. Think you can handle it?” I added in challenge.
“Lead on,” was all he said before I started jogging down the path. By the end of the flat only the sound of steady strides could be heard putting me into the zone, enjoying the peace that came with it when Turin’s voice broke in.
“Are you finished warming up?” he asked smiling. The meaning of that smile took me by surprise. It wasn’t cocky, but genuine, like he didn’t want to interrupt my normal sequence.
“Huh? Um…yeah; do you want to set the pace?” I asked.
The tempo he chose was comfortable as we climbed steadily up the mountain, but I wanted to know what he was capable of. “I need to challenge myself a bit more,” I said, “keep following the trail and catch up when you can,” then sped off.
It wasn’t long before I heard him approaching and smiled. Catching up, he matched my stride and smiled. “Okay, I met your challenge; let’s see if you take mine.” Before I could say anything, he was sprinting ahead.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said opening the door, “this is our pantry.” Stepping inside, I found the drying rack’s cord and began lengthening it lowering the rack. “Just loop the bundles over the pegs,” I began, then noted the familiarity he showed with this task. “Huh, guess you’ve done this before.”
He chuckled, “Yeah, we did a lot of the same things even though we lived in the human realm. What do you think? Do I pass?”
“It will do,” I said pulling the rack back to the ceiling then tied the rope to a wall peg, “ready for that run?”
“Lead the way,” Turin responded, holding the door open.
We silently walked down the short corridor in silence until the sweet smell of pine greeted us as we stepped outside and onto the training field. “This is where you’ll train,” I said pointing to a large flat area surrounded by tall trees and ferns.
“It’s small for a colony with this many students. Do you practice in shifts?”
“No,” I said with a smile, “this is a private training area. I travel a lot with father making it inconvenient for regular sessions. I use this one since Xander had already created it for evaluations, diplomats who want to secretly hone their skills, and private lessons. But this is where we’re headed,” I continued pointing to the right of the field. “That’s the track.”
I turned to see Turin walking through the door bunches of herbs already tied and ready to be hung. “Where do you want these?” he asked Xander holding up his bundles.
“Place them in the cupboard…” Xander began.
“I’ll show him,” I volunteered.
“If you’d like,” Xander replied, eyebrows raised.
“Maybe we can go for a run when we are done, unless you have other plans,” I suggested looking between the two of them. “Or feel you can’t keep up,” I goaded Turin.
Xander sent us of with a wave of his hand, smiling.
“Follow me,” I said walking past Turin leading him up the stairs that followed the curve of the stone wall and crossing to a naturally lit room that was mostly exposed to the forest. “This is where most of your time will be spent when you study,” I said gesturing to the large room. “It’s set up for light elves, but I’m sure Xander will let you use his study if you prefer.”
Turin turned to look at me, “Are you asking if I’m a dark elf?”
“No, just stating a fact,” I said turning towards a large door hidden in the earthen wall.
“I’m not,” he continued.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said opening the door,
The next morning greeted me with a beam of light shining across my face and a quail sitting on the windowsill sounding an alarm.
“Thank you,” I said as the bird nodded making his top notch wobble then flew in the direction of his covey.
“Shoot, I’m late,” I announced to myself throwing the covers back and racing to the bathroom for a quick shower. My mind kept wandering to last night when Xander told me Turin would be attending class with me. I objected, but Xander confided that this was a special placement, requested by the council, so Turin could be watched closely. So, I’m not the only one who suspects that Turin and Fallen are up to something. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.
I quickly dried and dressed for the outdoors since Xander had asked that I assist Turin in finding herbs to replenish our stock. It seemed there was always a need for more herbs since we traded what was native to our area with the other colonies in our realm. This was a perfect time to begin my observations.
“Good morning Xander,” I greeted entering his study, then stopped and looked around. “Where’s the new student?”
“Good morning sleepyhead. Unlike some, Turin was up early and is in the woods to gather herbs,” Xander’s voice gave no indication of being irritated or amused.
“Who did you send with him?” I asked.
“No one,” he responded.
“Aren’t you worried he will get lost?”
“Who will get lost?” asked a voice from the threshold.
I watched him approach Silima, bow, and exchange pleasantries then move to Veryan, repeating the process.
At least he has good manners; maybe some of it will rub off onto Fallen I thought.
Daeris… Xander chided.
Turin glided to me while Xander began the introduction.
“Princess, may I introduce Turin, son of Randir, who is returning from the human realm to further his education as a diplomat and warrior.”
“Your Highness, it is my pleasure,” Turin said, inclining his head.
What is he up to? I said more to myself than to Xander.
What makes you say that?
He is a high placed noble who happens to be friends with Fallen. That could only spell trouble, was my response.
Are you sure of that, because that description also fits you. Perhaps you need to observe him to see if he subscribes to Fallen’s philosophy before jumping to conclusions. Xander quickly pointed out.
Point taken I responded.
“Princess,” Turin’s voice interrupted.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” I apologized.
Looking at Xander then returning his gaze to me, Turin gave an understanding smile, “I asked if I could escort you to the hall since I’m the last guest to be introduced.”
“I’d be honored,” I replied offering my hand.
We had a wonderful time watching our daughter graduate from the UW, meeting her friends, and spending time with family.
However, today I set my imagination free as I resume writing.
Life is full of joys and this weekend our family will be celebrating my daughter's graduation from the University of Washington. I will resume posting segments of my rough draft on Monday.
Michelle Craig Snively sees the world through the lens of an artist. Life is not simply black and white, but an array of beautiful hues that blend to create stories of magic and mystery.