Arcanae Limarin was happy…despite her situation. “Her situation?” you ask? She sought revenge on something that didn’t exist. She wanted the blood of the bloodless, the demons brought to life by a false god and equally false prophets. The Fireheads told her it was Nosikeet responsible for the Unmentionable, not a roaming band of raiders. Anna, grief-stricken and lost, had had no other choice but to believe them. In the months that followed the Unmentionable, she made herself forget. It was always easier to forget. Still, the empty lust for revenge was left like an unexplainable scar, prompting questions and answering none. Of course, she still remembered the Event, but buried it so deep that it would take a team of dwarves ten years to uncover it. The elf held her head high, smiled without guilt, and went about her life. She fed Beyrluk, hunted, and taught the children how to survive out in the wide world. Her life was good. She was numb.
To her familiars, though, she was anything but. When her cousin and current Engspäni, Aithia Krydat, summoned her, Anna spent the day ignoring her instead, rushing about the Mountains on her bear-like wolf, Beyrluk. Two rabbits, tied together by strings around their back legs, were slung over her shoulder by the time the Engspäni could convince three warriors to seek her out in the forests. A dark bearskin cloak was pulled up over her hair, light as dead wood and just as bleached by the sun, proving to be poor camouflage against the pines she hunted in. The usual midafternoon snow had yet to take the patch of deep green needles and cold, dark shadows had yet to be frosted with white. Usually, it was too cold for the sun to melt the snow as it was, but the past week had seen the forest dripping with snowmelt. Anna, always looking for an opportunity to leave the City, has decided to take advantage of the fact to pick off a few rabbits that inhabited the valley.
The warriors caught her mid-hunt; snowy fingers drawing her bow back with a red feathered arrow notched and poised to strike.
“Limarin!” The leading warrior yelled, “The Engspäni wishes to see you!”
The rabbit Anna was tracking bounded off through the forest, much to the elf’s despair. “Dammit, Huric! You scared off your wife’s dinner!”
She lowered her bow and snarled at the man, cloak falling away to reveal the distorted, angry face beneath it. The elf was a stark contrast to the dark wood, the normal gray marbling or striping that usually mixed with the pale whites of her race were absent on her face, leaving it snowy and plain. The earliest signs of patterning were splashes of light gray on her neck and ears, as well as stripes hidden beneath her clothes. She decorated her face in elaborate paint to make up for her bareness; red and blue adorned her chin, deep red on her upper lip, grey lining her eyes, and wolf-like markings of the same shade elsewhere. Sharp teeth bared, she brought Beyrluk around to meet the warriors. Huric, Ailitha’s husband, gave his companions, Melkat and Turin, a desperate look as if to say, Don’t let her kill me!
“What does the Engspäni wish to see me so desperately for?” Anna growled, crossing her arms across her chest.
“It was not my business to ask,” Hurik responded, a sigh withheld on his voice. “She wants to talk to you and I volunteered to find you. Here you are. Now go. Ailitha may not be able to order you, but I am your elder and you will go.”
Anna scoffed and turned away, urging Beyrluk off into the ravine below them. Of course, Huric was right and, not too long after she was out of sight, the elf was away to the City.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Anna finally made her way to the Engspäni’s home. She strode along the broken stone streets, flipping a coin to a bard singing the Exile chant, his nimble fingers plucking a small harp. Her Ulvsik padded along beside her, Anna’s rabbits across his back. Two small children played outside Ailitha’s door and greeted the new arrival with gusto.
“Arcanae! Arcanae! Isapai made us toy swords to play with! Look! Watch!” The boys clacked their wooden weapons together a few times, but they were scuffling in the dirt before too long.
“Boys, boys. What will your Mornai say when she sees you two covered in dirt?” Anna gave them a smile and ruffled their hair as she passed them without needing an answer. They had stopped and began to clean up. The elf knocked on the door, but the younger child piped up. “Mornai said to let you in, min gospina.”
“Thank you, Loril.” Anna nodded and stepped past the door into a warm, inviting room. A fire crackled in a fireplace on the right and the Engspäni sat writing at a table on the opposite side of the room.
Anna stood hesitant and silent for a moment, the scratch of a quill pen and the crackling firewood the only sounds in the room. “Min gospina?” she prompted after a minute, “You wanted to see me?”
The other woman stopped her writing and left the chair to greet her cousin. Anna had always been jealous of Ailitha. With her snowy white hair falling in ringlets at her shoulders, and perfect grey freckles adorning her painted face, she was the face everyone wanted to see running the City. The older elf was the definition of soft. Her brown eyes offered empathy to whomever they looked upon, and even the tarnished ring hanging under her nose seemed to be there for the “people’s best interest.” Anna’s sour mood vanished under her cousin’s soft smile.
“Anna, min gospina. How are you today? I trust my husband did not trouble you too greatly. You know men, after all.” She laughed a warm, light laugh and the smile brightened.
“No, I don’t actually. All the men were too busy going after you in our Times. Something about you being gorgeous turned them off me. Didn’t help I stuck to you like pine pitch, did it?” Anna laughed along, her crossed arms falling at her sides. “You called me, though. We can save our chatter for dinner.”
Ailitha hesitated, playing with her hands and turning her gaze toward the door.
“I have children now, Anna. Obligations. People I care about dearly in my heart. If…If there is one thing I have learned by my position, it is that one must not be tied down if they wish be fair and just. And, despite what our elders tell us, I think a young Engspäni will do our people good. We live so long, it is nice to get a fresh opinion. Think you the same?”
“Well, of course, Thia. But the people trust you t-“
“They trust our family, Anna. The Limarins have been Engspäni for centuries.”
“If you haven’t noticed, Cousin, we are limited on qualified family members.”
“No, we are not. You, Anna. You must lead our people so that I may raise my boys without worrying where the next hunt will occur or what trades are being made. Please, for your cousin.”
The younger elf just laughed and shook her head, hands firmly placed on her hips. “No way! I’m trained for fighting, not peacemaking! Let another family take the burden!”
“The people do not trust another family. They trust us.”
“I cannot believe you would let my –our- family suffer for your stubbornness.”
“Loril and Terimun will be fine. They’ll grow up learning about peace and compromising. Surely that will benefit them.”
“At the cost of never seeing their Mornai….” Ailitha sighed and gave Anna a sad look. “I am sad it must come to this, cousin, but I have been forced to come to a decision.” She signed the paper on her desk and turned back to her younger relative. “You are now wed to Kori’Aenen of our woodland brothers. I am sorry. The people want you to lead, Anna. With this agreement, we will be uniting our clans again and they will force you to take my position.”
Anna took a step toward the documents, her mouth gaping open in shock. Her own cousin would betray her in such a way? She would rather die than marry a dark skinned forest elf!
“How dare you!” she spat at Ailitha, reaching for the paper to tear it to shreds. The other elf snatched it away and gave Anna another sad gaze.
“It is for your own good, my cousin. You will be wed, bear a child to him, and be a sign of peace between the two races.”
“Kiss my arse!”
Anna stormed out the door and away on Beyrluk, rushing away toward her house. How dare she! How bloody dare she! Everyone knew Anna hated even the thought of marriage. And to be married to a wood elf? Disgraceful! She wouldn’t do it. She couldn’t. She would rather slay Nosikeet with her bare hands than bear a child with a wood elf! She would rather eat fire and cut her hair short and drink muddy water for the rest of her life! She felt sick. There were very few powers the Engspäni actually had, and one of them was marriage. Dammit. She had to get away.
The elf grabbed rucksacks from her quarters and shoved into them everything she would need. A short sword, more arrows for the quiver strapped to her back, a knife, food, water sack, pelts for warmth, extra clothing. Ulvsik could carry a great many things. When she was finished, the small house looked bare and empty and Beyrluk was starting to get anxious. He wanted to know where they were going and why.
“We need to leave,” Anna spoke to him, “Unless you want to live in a courtyard for the rest of your life and eat nothing but house mice.”
The wolf growled and lay down for her to mount his back. Away they were into the dusky night, headed east away from Anna’s beloved mountains and the world she knew.
It was the middle of the night by the time Anna made camp in a clearing near the entrance to the Southern Pass. She was already farther away from home than she’d ever been and the thought was taking a toll. Beyrluk had gone to hunt. A fire lit at her feet, she huddled around it, cloak drawn up over her head. She sang softly as she roasted a rabbit on the fire, her voice dampened by the snow that fell slowly around her.
Cold as the northern winds
In December mornings,
Cold is the cry that rings
From this far distant shore.
Winter has come too late
Too close beside me.
How can I chase away
All these fears deep inside.
Anna felt her voice rise above the snow, the ancient song gripping her heart like it did all her people.
I’ll wait the signs to come!
I’ll find a way!
I will wait a time to come!
I’ll find a way home!
My light shall be the moon
And my path – the pines!
My guide the mornings star
As I walk home to-
“Well men, we’ve got ourselves a bard.”
Anna’s skin turned to ice and she brought her head up as five armored men stepped from the shadows to slink toward her. The one that she assumed had spoken (for he appeared to be their captain or leader, having an confident air about him the others did not), scoffed and let out a chuckle. “An elf! Away from her mountain! Well, knife-ears, we just heard you singin’ and thought we’d say hello.”
The elf stood and gave a cold laugh. “And I would want greetings from Men why? I’m surprised I didn’t smell your stinking hides from the moment you came in range.”
“Oh look, a feisty one,” a sandy-haired man joined in, sheathing his sword, “What should we do with her, Ser Marshall? An elf out of her territory would bring in quite a bounty! We should bring her back with us.”
The others agreed, much to Anna’s dismay. She did her best to look unimpressed, crossing her arms and offering them a sharptoothed yawn. “Or you could walk away with your lives, you simple fools.”
The humans laughed up a storm at this one and suddenly the one called Marshall was at her, hand gripping her chin and nails digging into her cheeks. “You’ll watch what you say, elf bitch. We knights ain’t afraid of usin’ our swords.”
“Oh yes,” Anna managed to say with a roll of her eyes, “I’m very certain you lack the intelligence to fear a weapon. Idiots, you people worship mine! You will surely be stoned for killing such a rare and beautiful creature, yes?”
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. The knight slapped her across the face with a gloved hand, the metal cutting across her face and instantly bruising. She fell to the ground with a thump and was grounded with a kick to her side.
“Stupid bitch,” another man spat, his hands balled into fists. “I say we kill her, Ser.”
The leader chucked and kicked Anna again, the steel boot colliding with her stomach. “You know…I rather fancy teachin’ her a bitch’s place, first, don’t you, men?”
There were shouts of ‘aye!’ and the elf girl scrambled to her feet, backing away with her hands outstretched. “Only if you want to die, cretins!”
“Hear that men? The bitch is gonna kill us! Hahahahaha!” Marshall pointed his sword at Anna and smirked. “Take off your clothes, elf.”
“W-What? You do you think I am? Some easy wench who’ll sleep with a man for nothing at all?” She laughed, though her heart was racing and she wanted desperately to cry out for help.
“No,” the sandy-haired one jeered, “We think you don’t have a choice in the matter.”
She turned to run, but Ser Marshall caught her around the stomach and pressed her to him, letting his hands roughly move over her body. Anna was going to be sick. She fought him, elbowing and kicking and thrashing back, but two more of the humans grabbed her feet while the other two secured her arms. Marshall released her while she desperately tried to jerk away, the tears of frustration already coming. They were stripping her down into nothing, the cold air making her shiver beyond control. They forced her onto her knees as she silently sobbed, the air of defiance and calm still plastered upon her face. Anna spat on the ground at Marshall’s feet and raised her head to glare at him. “You will release me,” she commanded, “Release me, now!”
“Look at you,” the man muttered, holding her chin between two fingers as he ignored her, “Wild. Fighting. We’ll soon see an end to that.” He began taking off his armor and chainmail, much to the whoops and hollers of the other men, and much to Anna’s horror.
“Please,” she whispered, “Please. Let me go.”
Marshall once again ignored her, instead gripping her hair and pulling her up by it, issuing a scream from the elf. “No!” she demanded, openly sobbing, “No!”
“Shut up, elf!” he yelled back, slapping her again. He shoved her down into the dead leaves and replaced himself over her.
Her screams grew louder as she tried to get away from him, clawing at the ground until another knight kicked her side and surely broke a rib or two. Then, Marshall silenced her with a hand clamped over her mouth and forced her legs open, insuring his own death sentence.