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ENG1WFI Story: Half-Elf

by Caroline Seawright
Year 1 Essay for Writing Fiction at LaTrobe University, Jun 2011.

 

Half-Elf

The arrow flashed through the air, hissing softly as it flew, and sliced into the target with a solid thunk.

Before the half-elven girl had the chance to lower her longbow, a second arrow also struck the target. She grimaced as she stared at the vibrating shaft, firmly embedded in the bullseye. Her own arrow sat a forlorn finger-width below the other.

Glaring back at her opponent, she saw what she had come to expect in a full-blooded elf - a complete acceptance of events. His tilted, almond eyes held neither elation nor disdain. He was tall, yet slightly built, with all the delicacy of his elven blood. He unstrung his bow with a deft hand, belying his slight frame, and strode to the target to retrieve his arrow.

The two were in a shaded glade, surrounded by oak and ash trees. Bluebells and purple orchids dotted the small clearing where the elves practised their archery. Butterflies danced amidst the flowers, announcing the early arrival of spring. Somewhere in the dense forest, a siskin trilled.

"Can't you at least have the decency to look pleased that you won, Lithônion? Are you sure your bow isn't enchanted?"

"I did only as nature granted me the power to do and no more."

She ground her teeth. The attitude had always been the same for as long as she could remember, and it infuriated her. She had lived for two-hundred years and had never understood how a race of people could be so acquiescent. Although she had their blood in her veins, her blood ran hot. It showed itself in her flame-red hair, which tumbled down around her shoulders, as unruly as she.

"Come, Elvellonwen. Let us return to the village."

With bad grace, she tramped across the grass and plucked her arrow from the target, not caring if it got damaged. "My name is 'Caramiriel'." She switched from Elvish to the Low Tongue and said, "I hate that name, 'Friend of Elves'! Like I'm not even one of you!"

Lithônion pretended he could not understand the pidgin language of the traders and strode from the glade. It was a grievance which Lithônion had heard many times over the years, but could do nothing about. For all that Elvellonwen was a daughter of an elven lady, she was still not one of them. The elven temperament was one of cool composure. She was all fire and passion. The name 'Caramiriel' suited her - in the Low Tongue it translated as 'Red Jewel' - but no-one called her by this name. She somehow had to first earn it.

He glanced back to see her following him. Her face was finely featured, her fingers long and dextrous and her ears were pointed as were his own. They both wore the supple leather pants and tooled boots of village hunters, with thick poplin shirts which had been dyed green with certain mushrooms. She was, however, much too voluptuous to be a full-blooded elf and her hair was the astonishing colour of winter's bright holly berries. One could easily spot her in the village; a blaze of red amidst the gold hair of his people. To him, she smelled of meadowsweet flowers, wild-honey and sun-baked earth. She walked with poise as she picked her way up the trail, though her bow was slung haphazardly across her back.

***

It was only a short walk to the village. A feasting hall dominated the large forest meadow in which the village was nestled, its heather-thatched roof almost as tall as the oak tree under which it stood. Smaller roundhouses dotted the dell, set amidst low, flowering shrubs. Golden-haired people moved purposefully around the village as they went about their daily lives. Here and there brown-haired humans stood behind trestle tables, hawking exotic goods such as cultivated wheat, foamy beer or woollen cloth. The hum of the village was loud to Lithônion's ears after the peace of the forest.

He strolled to the feasting hall, allowing her to catch up, and stepped through its open doorway. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness, although the girl seemed to have no problem as she walked straight to one of the larger tables to greet her mother. The older elf was wearing a long, woad-dyed blue dress of the softest doeskin and a simple woollen shawl around her shoulders. The mother and daughter were so different, the mystic and the huntress, yet their eyes were the same bright green. He watched the two women in the torchlight which illuminated the windowless room, and pondered on the half-elf's origins. Whatever blood filled her veins, it was not that of a human. All knew that humans lived such a brief time, but she had aged even more slowly than he himself. Her hair glimmered in the light, seeming to almost come alive under the flickering flame. That hair was a mystery. Each species had its own hair colour, so should any discover the source of such red hair, they would know her ancestry. Perhaps then she would be granted the right to be called by her elven name. Then she could join one of the Societies, and be allowed to be wed to another should she wish. Until then, whilst she would not be outcast, she could not truly belong. She would remain 'Elvellonwen'.

***

Greeting her mother with a kiss, Elvellonwen sat down at the table, putting her bow and leather quiver down next to her. She picked up a carved wooden goblet from the centre of the table, and filled it with wild-honey mead from the adjacent jug. She took a sip, closed her eyes and savoured the spiced, sweetly golden nectar for which the elven race was famous.

"My dear daughter, how did you fare?"

She opened her eyes and frowned at her mother. Her mother was old, nearing seven-hundred years, yet she had lost none of her elegance. Her golden hair was streaked with grey and she had a few wrinkles around her almond-shaped eyes. Her slight frame no longer held the strength of youth so she walked with great care, but Tawariell carried her age with grace.

"It was only practice. Spring's here and we'll soon be able to feast again. Maybe some of your wood-pigeon, mushroom and sorrel stew?" She bit her lip, and slipped into Low Tongue, "Though I was rather hoping for some sweet venison; it's been a while since we had freshly killed red meat."

Tawariell sighed softly as she selected a slice of acorn loaf from the plate, nibbling at the delicacy to avoid another discussion with her daughter about her unorthodox desires.

"Mother, I think it's time you told me about Father. I'm two-hundred already, and I'm sick of being 'Elvellonwen'."

The bread dropped from Tawariell's fingers. She stood up carefully, turned her back on her daughter, and stalked out of the feasting hall without a word.

The half-elven girl sighed and dropped her goblet on the table. She did not bother to wipe up the mead which slopped out onto her wrist; instead she stared morosely at the grain of the wooden table-top.

"You are always saying things you should not," said Lithônion.

Elvellonwen started, then looked up into his blue eyes. Her own eyes seemed almost to glow in the torchlight, shimmering with unshed tears.

Taking her mother's vacant seat, he placed a hand on her shoulder. "Please calm yourself. Tawariell will tell you in her own time."

"I've waited decades and she's said nothing."

"I know. Your time will come." He squeezed her shoulder sympathetically.

"But I want my name now!"

"Yet it has only been ten years since I, myself, earned my name."

"I was born first." She thumped her fist on the table. "But I'm treated like a child."

"We are different, you and I, but I promise that things will change soon."

She looked up at him, and this time her tears fell in silent drops, rolling down her cheeks. He did not know what to do. Crying was something private, not an action for so open a place. Embarrassed for her, Lithônion lowered his gaze and stared at a drop of mead - or a tear - which had fallen on the table-top.

***

High clouds hid the face of the almost full-moon as the half-elf tentatively entered the darkened roundhouse which she shared with her mother. It was a single circular room with a central hearth surrounded by benches with a cooking pot suspended above the fire. Their sleeping platforms lay against the walls, piled high with furs and deer skins stuffed with duck down. The fire was low and the room still warm, but her mother was awake and staring at the hearth coals. She tried to sneak to her pallet, but her mother stopped her with a few words.

"Your father is dead, my daughter."

Tawariell's voice was tired, something which Elvellonwen had never heard before. It worried her.

"He was killed by a human."

This time Elvellonwen heard her mother's voice break. She rushed to her side and threw her arms around her, clasping her tightly. Her mother's aspen leaf and wild-rose perfume soothed her, yet Tawariell's body felt almost brittle to the touch, almost as if she would break and crumble away.

"Please don't, Mother. I can wait. I hate to see you hurt like this."

Tawariell took her daughter's enthusiastic embrace in her stride and gently patted the girl's shining red hair. "My dear one, you remind me so much of him..."

"I'm sorry, I take it all back. I'll earn my name myself."

"You will, my dear, as I can stop it no longer. The eve of the full-moon is nigh and before then you will know who you are."

It had the sound of a prophecy which Tawariell did not like.

She disentangled herself from Elvellonwen's arms and picked up a pendant from the ground at her feet. It was made of something rarely seen in the village - gold. She took her daughter's hand and placed the necklace on her palm. Closing her fingers over the jewellery, Tawariell said softly, "I am bound by a promise never to speak of your father to you until you are of age, my daughter. However this can show you that which you desire to know. It belonged to your father."

Standing up, Tawariell kissed the half-elf softly on her cheek. "Good night, my sweet child. I pray that it will not be too painful a lesson for you to learn."

Elvellonwen was still staring at the pendant in the dying firelight, unaware of the darkness, when her mother fell asleep on her pallet.

***

"Humans are an emotional and short-lived species, but why would they kill someone? Especially my father."

Elvellonwen sat outside in the afternoon sunlight, on a stump by the archery target. A light, crisp breeze blew through the trees, bringing with it the sounds of birds chirping. Lithônion watched her play with the gold pendant as he started to string his bow.

"You can never tell what a human will do from one moment to the next," he noted as he tested the flex of his weapon. "They are a very flighty race."

Elvellonwen frowned slightly and looked at the design on the gold necklace. There was a faint bas-relief of what could have been a large bird and some writing in a strange language:

Ə ðraig gɔχ

It was not Elvish or the Low Tongue. Her mother had refused to say anything about it and neither she nor Lithônion could read the words.

"Perhaps it's ... Dwarven?"

"No, we would recognise it. Or you would have, had you paid more attention during your education."

She looked at him sharply, but there was no expression of either contempt or derision on his face. He was as calm as he always was and it grated at her. "Fine. It's not Dwarven, Elvish or Human," she commented. Determined to show her knowledge, she continued, "The Sylvan races don't write, nor do the Merfolk of Eversea. Oh, and the Barbarians of the Northern Snows can't write."

Lithônion took aim at the target with his bow and sighted down the arrow. "That is a reasonable summation. The races which are left are purely mythological."

"Like the gods of the northern Barbarians."

As he shot the arrow, Elvellonwen slipped the pendant around her neck and shook out her hair. At that moment her hair seemed to catch aflame, burning ferociously. Jumping up, she screamed and grabbed at her tresses; yet before her next breath, everything had returned to normal.

"Perhaps you should take it off," said Lithônion.

She looked to him, adrenalin still flowing through her and saw that his face had become pale. She fumbled at the necklace's catch.

"I can't... help me, Lithônion!"

She bent over, wracked with pain, as Lithônion raced to her side. Every pore felt like it was being stabbed by scorching pins. She fell forward onto the grass, thrashing around on the ground in a vain attempt to rid herself of the pain.

Lithônion pulled her into his lap, her skin burning hot as she sobbed with agony. He snatched up the golden pendant, snapping the chain as he pulled it free and hurled it away into the trees.

The pendant bounced on the grassy ground, spun on the spot and came to rest against the base of a sapling. The eye of the strange creature embossed on it glowed red for a moment before winking out.

A scream was wrenched from Elvellonwen's lips as blistering pain seared into her shoulder blades. She tossed herself forward, falling off Lithônion's lap, to land face down and unconscious in the grass. Her last scream continued to echo through the forest.

Tawariell, despite her great age, came running down the path and into the clearing. Blonde hair flying, her long blue skirt held up almost to her knees, she rushed to her daughter's side.

"Help me sit her up, Lithônion!"

Without a further word, the two elves managed to wrest the writhing body of the half-elf into a sitting position. They could now see that her back was crawling with unnatural motion, as if rats were scurrying under her shirt.

"Now hold her by her arms. Do not touch her back."

Lithônion moved in front of Elvellonwen and held her by her upper arms. She slumped against him, her head resting on his shoulder. Glancing at the sun, he knew it would not be long before dark fell and the full-moon rose.

Tawariell pulled a small flint knife from her pouch and slit the back of her daughter's shirt. Pulling the shredded fabric apart, she stared at what lay beneath. Slowly, she backed away.

One step.

Two steps.

"What is it, Tawariell? What is happening to her?"

Three steps.

Four.

"She is discovering who she is. It will soon be over."

The sun sank lower in the sky and over Elvellonwen's shoulder Lithônion could see something starting to emerge from her back. Scaled and red, two protrusions rose from her shoulder blades. The sharp, coppery tang of blood filled his nostrils. He shuddered slightly and looked to Tawariell. The older elf stared with a fascinated horror.

The bloody red bulges grew in length and suddenly jerked out and open.

Lithônion was now staring at two, giant bat-like wings.

"No, not bat wings. Dragon wings," he whispered.

Elvellonwen moaned slightly and stirred. She awoke, opening her eyes as the sun set. There was no more pain, but she was different. She had been reborn.

She looked up at Lithônion. Her upturned face held the slight glitter of mythic dragon skin. Her whole body shone with iridescence. Her two huge wings seemed to hold all the colours of the rainbow in every scale.

"This is your heritage and your legacy," Tawariell said as she picked up the fallen amulet and placed it in her daughter's hands. "I was young and travelling the world when I met your father. He was the last of the Draconic race; a shape-shifter who took elven form to seduce me. We were wed shortly after you were born." Her eyes held a deep sorrow as she continued, "I think he might have even loved me. Yet still he cast a spell on me which, even after death, held me bound that I might never utter a word which could betray him. Now you have broken his enchantment, Caramiriel."

As the golden-red colours of the sunset filled the glade and the full-moon came into view above the treetops, Lithônion reverently helped the half-dragon to stand.

She stretched her new draconic wings and shivered in fear. She now realised that she could never be accepted. "I don't want this. I ... I just want to be Elvellonwen again."

Lithônion said, "You are who you are: Caramiriel, the last of the Dragons."

Caramiriel looked between her mother and her friend and started to cry.

Seawright, C , Half-Elf, Fantasy, <http://www.thekeep.org/~kunoichi/ kunoichi/themestream/ halfelf.html>.


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