Chapters 12-17

Chapter 12. The Mother

  Toraldor was relieved. His constant worry might soon be eased. His wife Liandra was so wise. “I think it was a brilliant idea to ask Thorundur to come with us to the palace. My parents are constantly asking me to stop him from running around in the forest with the creatures there, but you know Thorundur. He doesn’t listen to anyone.”
  “At the palace I think he will start to think and behave more like an elf. We have probably given him too much freedom,” Liandra said.
  “Yes, I know, but it’s not easy to control Thorundur. I didn’t mind when he played with the forest creature as a child but he and the girl are growing up and I’m getting more and more worried about how it will end.”
  “I know,” Liandra said. “But spending more time with elves will probably do him good.”

  Thorundur shook his head. “Forest creature!” Was that supposed to be Roe? He didn’t mind to visit the palace, but if his brother and Liandra thought that he would stop seeing Roe they were mistaken.
  “There’s no need to worry dear brother”, Thorundur said silently to himself. “Roe is my sister.”

  Roe had arrived to the meeting place late last night. She looked forward to the competitions that would start tomorrow.
  “Hi, I’m Bear, son of Squirrel and Wolverine”, the boy bowed to Roe and she answered the greeting.
  He sat down next to her and Roe felt a little annoyed. She was thinking about the competitions tomorrow and Bear was disturbing her concentration.

  The first competition was to throw a spear at a target. Competitors who hit the target passed to a new round. For each round the distance was increased further until only the winner hit the target.

  “Bear is the winner and Roe is second,” they judges announced.
  Roe felt that she hated Bear when she saw his content smile. She had tried so hard to win and he had just been lucky.

  Next competition was to run through an obstacle course. In the end of the course the judges had hung a foxtail in a tree. The one that first grabbed the foxtail would win. Roe scratched her hands and knees so that her blood left a track behind her. Normally she would never be so careless but this was not a normal hunt. This was a competition where the winner would be the quickest competitor, not the wisest. Roe felt as if her lungs would explode when she triumphantly grabbed the foxtail.
  “Roe is the winner,” the judges announced.

  That should show Bear who’s the best hunter, Roe thought. To her annoyance he didn’t look disappointed. Instead he looked admiringly at her.

  Wolverine approached Wolf. “Your daughter is a very good hunter,” he said.
  “Yes, I’m very proud of Roe,” Wolf agreed.
  “It will soon be time for her to think about getting a suitable mate. My son Bear is also a good hunter. I think that they would be a good couple. Maybe they could be joined at the next meeting?”
  “We’ll see,” Wolf said. “Roe is still young, but I will consider your suggestion.”
  Wolf had avoided thinking about Roe getting a husband although he had known that it would inevitably happen some day not very far in the future. He had hoped that Roe would find a mate that had a sibling but there were not many young Forest people with siblings. It was too much to ask that a young couple would support four aging parents. The future could be grim for aging Forest people without children. Bear would be the best husband that he could wish for Roe. He was strong and a good hunter. It would probably be good if Roe got a husband soon so that she stopped running around with the elf.

  When many of the Forest people were gathered together the presence of the spirits of the forest and the ancestors were always closer than ever. The flames of the fires, the rhythm of the drums and the dances made the spirits approach the people and everyone was part of an entirety, joined in the passed and the present. That was how it was supposed to be, but Roe’s mind played tricks with her tonight.

  She didn’t feel the presence of the spirits at all tonight; instead images of Thorundur’s face filled her mind. If only she could share this night and experience with him! Then her mind played a new trick with her and another image filled her brain. A toddler was asleep in a hut. It was a child of the Forest people. The child woke up and opened the eyes. Roe could see that the eyes were as blue as the sky.

  Roe woke up. It was still dark and everyone was asleep after the dance with the spirits yesterday. Her throat was terribly dry. She felt an irresistible urge to go to the creek in the forest near the camp. It was full moon and fog was covering the damp ground.
  When she came to the creek there was a woman standing on the other side. The woman was obviously not one of the Forest people.

  “Roe of the Forest people I have been waiting for you. We missed you yesterday. Everyone but you joined their mind with us.” The voice sounded distant although the women stood there right in front of Roe.

  “Who are you?”
  “Don’t you know, I’m your mother.”

  Roe thought that she must be dreaming a very strange dream. The woman in front of her didn’t look anything like her mother, Otter.
  “Is this a dream?”
  “Look into your heart and you will know.”
Roe concentrated but her heart didn’t tell her anything. She could feel the cold of the night touching her skin but maybe that was possible also in a dream?

  “You will have to make a choice in your future and that choice will affect many people. Be careful to make the right choice.”
  “How will I know the right choice?”
  “Your heart will tell you. Keep your mind open and follow your heart. But remember that your heart can also delude you.”
  This was really not very helpful, Roe thought. Was the woman joking with her? Roe didn’t think so.

  “The dawn is getting closer and I have to leave, but remember my words, Roe with the brave heart. This is a gift from me to you, my favourite child. It will keep your spirits up when times are difficult.” The woman put something on a stone besides the creek. The mist became denser and the woman turned around and disappeared as if she had been absorbed by the night and the fog.

  Roe went back to sleep. When she woke up together with everyone else in the morning she didn’t know if she had dreamt a very strange dream or if she really had met the incarnate Forest people’s mother during the night. She touched the necklace around her neck, the necklace that the woman had put on the stone at the side of the creek.

Chapter 13. Full Moon

  “One of the songs I heard yesterday seemed to be about life after death” Alexander said to Aliendre.
“Do elves go to the same place as humans?”
  “No, of course not, only immortals can go to our place. We cannot die by age, but yet many of us have already left this world. I don’t know what happens to mortals. It seems so sad to have such a short life,” she said thoughtfully.
  Alexander thought that maybe this last part had been a bit tactless of Aliendre but he didn’t say so. He wouldn’t have minded to live forever like the elves did.

  “Humans who are brave and give proper sacrifices will go to a place where there are no sorrows,” Alexander said. “There will be joyful games and banquets all the time. All wounds from the fighting games will heal before the night falls. We will meet our beloved that went before us and we will be together with them forever.”
  “And humans who are not brave?” Aliendre asked.
  “Humans better be brave,” Alexander said.
  “My parents had a son, my brother, who died hundreds of years before I was born. He was killed by the Dark elves during the war. Don’t think too badly about us because of what you have witnessed here. There are reasons for our actions”
  Alexander didn’t know if he agreed that a war hundreds of years ago really could be a good reason to take away the memory from a teenage boy and let him perish in the wilderness, but said nothing about it. After all, what did he know about Elven politics? "I would have had two brothers and three sisters if they hadn't all died as infants before I was born," he said. "Probably that's why my mother is extremely overprotecting."

  There were always visitors that came and went in the Elven palace. One day a teenage boy arrived. He was only the third elf that Alexander had seen who was not an adult. There was something about the boy, except his age, that made him differ from all other elves that Alexander had seen.

  Somehow the young boy made a more human impression than other elves but at first Alexander couldn’t figure out why. Then he realised! Elves usually moved very smoothly and never did these small and unnecessary movements with their hands that humans usually do. They even blinked much less often than humans. But this boy seemed to talk constantly and lively, underlining his words with gestures. Alexander had never seen such a lively elf before.

  Thorundur heard the rhythm of a heart beat. The sound was load. No, it was not a heart beat ..... it was drums. Who could be playing the drums in the middle of the night? The rhythm was primitive and suggestive, and there was a fire. He saw the flames dancing around him but they didn’t burn him because he was one of them and he couldn’t resist moving with the rhythm. Soon he was dancing wildly together with the flames of the fire with his heart beating with the same rhythm as the drums.

  Sweat covered Thorundur’s body when he woke up from a disturbing and strange dream. He remembered that there had been a child in it. Something had been strange with the child but he couldn’t remember what it was. The room was really warm; no wonder that he had dreamt about fire. He needed fresh air.

  The summer night was peaceful and refreshing and the moon was full. He wondered if Roe was looking at the same moon as him. She would be at the Forest people’s meeting by now but she was probably sleeping at this time of the night. Thorundur had arrived to the palace two days ago and liked it. Everything was beautiful here. Most beautiful of all was the Princess. He hoped that he would have the chance to get to know Princess Aliendre better.

Chapter 14. Farewell

  “This is Thorundur. His brother’s wife is a distant relative to the Queen.” Aliendre introduced the boy.
  Alexander bowed and said “It is nice to meet you Thorundur.”
  Thorundur’s bow was almost imperceptible. There was a wrinkle between his brows and he did not say the expected polite phrase in return.
  “Where are you from Thorundur?” Alexander tried to converse with the boy but Thorundur only murmured something inaudible while he thoroughly studied his shoes. The Elven boy was not as lively and talkative when Alexander tried to talk with him as he’d been with the elves.
  “Thorundur will be our tracker on our hunting excursion,” Aliendre said. She looked as if she was embarrassed by Thorundur’s behaviour.

  Alexander was excited about today’s hunting trip. According to Aliendre they would have an excellent tracker. Although Thorundur had not made a very good first impression Alexander decided to give him second chance. Maybe he’d just been shy.
  “Thorundur has learned how to track from his friend,” Aliendre said. “She belongs to the Forest people and has horns on her head.”
  Alexander didn’t know if Aliendre was joking or if there really existed a people in the forest with horns on their head. He had never heard of such a people, not even in the fairy tales.

  Alexander couldn’t deny that Thorundur really knew how to track. They found all the game they could wish for and the hunting party returned home in high spirits. Alexander had proved his skill with the bow when he struck down a deer and had enjoyed the elves’ admiration, especially Aliendre’s.

  “You’ve been a great help, Thorundur.” Aliendre thanked the boy when the hunting party got home after a successful day.
  Alexander was astonished. He hadn’t known that elves could blush but Thorundur’s cheeks turned deeply red when Aliendre thanked him.
  “I think the boy has a crush on you, my dear princess.” Alexander knew that it was mean of him to tease Thorundur but he couldn’t help himself. Thorundur needed to be put in place.

  Thorundur’s cheeks turned even redder while he turned his head to look steady at Alexander with lowered eyebrows and an expression that could not be mistaken for embarrassment. If it would be possible to fire arrows with the eyes, Alexander was certain that he would have been hit by one.

  Alexander often found Aliendre together with Thorundur but the boy always left with a sullen face without acknowledging Alexander’s presence when Alexander arrived. Thorundur’s behaviour was really getting on Alexander’s nerves. After all he was a prince and was treated with respect by all the other elves. He felt relieved when Thorundur left the palace a few weeks later.

  Alexander and Aliendre were never alone. There were always elves from the court accompanying Aliendre. Alexander suspected that they constantly were keeping an eye on him too. As a prince he was accustomed to have a suite following him, but sometimes it could be really annoying to never be left alone.

  “I see that you and my daughter go along well together,” Eraldor said.
  Alexander agreed and Eraldor asked about what Alexander had learned the last week. “You speak our language very well now,” Eraldor said. Then he changed subject again.

  “Elves and humans are very different. Therefore a human and an elf can never marry and live together as man and wife. This has never happened because it would have disastrous consequences.”
  Alexander felt as if he shrank under Eraldor's gaze. If he only would blink! He nodded to show that he understood and Eraldor told him about what the consequences would be if an elf and a human fell in love and decided to share their lives.

  Alexander was depressed. It was clear that Eraldor thought that he’d fallen in love with Aliendre. Maybe Eraldor was right Alexander thought. But after what Eraldor had told him he knew that such a love would be hopeless and disastrous. It was also obvious that Eraldor would never approve and Alexander couldn’t blame him.

  Alexander couldn’t believe how fast the time with the elves had passed. He had been with the elves longer than the year that had been decided and had to return home before the winter when travelling would be more difficult. The human guards that would escort him home had arrived. He said goodbye to everyone and felt like he was about to leave a lovely dream and return to real life.

  It was the last afternoon before Alexander would start the long travel home. He saddled Galaxy, his faithful friend, and rode to the place where he and Aliendre had practiced archery for the first time more than a year ago.

  Aliendre was already there and for once she was alone.
  “I hoped that you would come,” she said.
  They sat down and talked about numerous pointless things. It was getting dark and they should return home. They started to walk slowly towards the horses without speaking.

  Suddenly Aliendre stumbled on a root and Alexander caught her swiftly before she hit the ground. Before any of them knew how it happened their lips found each other. Alexander didn’t know how long they kissed because it was like an eternity and a fraction of a second at the same time. They parted, both knowing the hopelessness in the love between and elf and human.

  They didn’t speak much on the ride back to the palace and said goodnight with heavy hearts. Soon Aliendre would be like an unreal dream Alexander thought. He hoped that Eraldor would never find out what had happened. Although the Elven king had always been kind to him, Alexander hadn’t forgotten how scaring Eraldor’s powers could be. The Dark elf that had been caught too close to the palace was probably dead by now.

  When the humans left early in the next morning Aliendre looked after them until they were out of sight.

Chapter 15. A Day at the Lake

Roe felt refreshed after the swim in the lake. The late summer days were very hot this year.
"How was your time at the palace?" Roe asked.

“It was good. Princess Aliendre is magnificent. She’s beautiful and kind. But there was a rude human prince visiting the palace. He constantly tried to flirt with Aliendre as if an Elven princess would care about a human.”

Roe’s eyes became wide and she jumped up. “Did you say human?! Do you mean that humans exist for real?! Did he try to kill you?”

Thorundur laughed. “Roe, of course they exist. Why would he try to kill me? After all it was only a human.”

Roe was upset. Her worst nightmare was true. Humans might come and force her people to leave their homes just as the storyteller had said when she was a child. But Thorundur didn’t seem to be worried or frightened. Maybe the storyteller had exaggerated?
“What do they look like?”

“They are not very different from elves but much uglier of course. Their ears are small and the adult males have hair in the face. Some of them remove the hair from the face while other let it grow.”

“Hair in the face, ugh.” Roe laughed.

“How was your meeting Roe?”

“I won three competitions.”

“Wow Roe! Of course I knew that you would do well. And more?”

“There was a boy named Bear who was really annoying. Dad thinks that I should take him as my spouse at the next meeting but I don’t really want to think about getting a spouse already. I can’t imagine how depressive a life with Bear would be.”

Thorundur was quiet for a long while which was something very unusual. “I don’t want to grow up,” he said finally. “I want everything to always be like it’s now. When you have a spouse you won’t have time for me.”

Roe knew that what Thorundur said was true. She could hardly run around in the forest with Thorundur when she had a husband and a family.

“I don’t want to grow up either,” she said.

“Elves don’t marry until they find the love of their life, even if it takes several hundreds of years, but I know that your people are expected to have a family as soon as you grow up.”

“It’s warm, I want another swim,” Roe said to change subject. She didn’t want to think more about the time when her happy days with Thorundur would come to an end.

If anyone had seen them he would probably have found the sight very odd. The young Forest girl and the Elven boy were playing like children in the water, laughing heartily as if there were no worries or dangers in their world.

They were lying in the sun letting the warm sun beams dry them after the swim.

“Did Bear give you that necklace?” There was a strange sharpness in Thorundur’s voice.

“No, You’ll never believe this!”

Roe told Thorundur about her meeting in the forest with the Mother. He looked at her with large eyes.

“If it wasn’t for the necklace I wouldn’t believe it myself. You’re the only one that I’ve told about the meeting with the Mother. To everyone else I said that I found the necklace in the forest.”

“I believe you. You’re the most incredible person I know Roe. That necklace is clearly not Elven handcraft. It looks very old.”

“I didn’t even know that the spirits could show themselves as people. No one that I have asked has heard of such a thing.” She didn’t tell Thorundur that she hadn’t felt the presence of the spirits during the dance because she’d been thinking about him. If he knew how she felt she was afraid that their friendship would change. There was no sign at all that he thought about her as anything else than as a very dear friend.


Chapter 16. The Jousting Field

Although Alexander would rather die than admit it, it felt good to be in his mother’s arms again. He had really missed Cecilia’s loving care even if she often tended to exaggerate. It was good to be home.

“Tell us about the longears now, Alexander!”

Alexander took a gulp of his mead while he thought about what to say. It was as if everything had changed. Or rather, he had changed while everything else remained the same. He would for example not use the word “longears” about the elves after he had met Eraldor and Aliendre. It seemed so….inappropriate. A gap had developed between him and his friends but they didn’t seem to notice.

He put down the goblet and swallowed. “Their world is like a dream where time has stopped,” he said, feeling that he could not find exactly the right words to describe what he had experienced the last year.

“I believe that Alexander has become a poet. Have some more mead old friend,” Arne said and laughed. “Were there any pretty girls there?”

Alexander didn’t want to talk about Aliendre with his friends and thought quickly. The tribunal against the dark elf should distract them and give them something to think about. He did the most he could of the story, dramatizing all the spectacular details. Arne and Stig were enthralled.

Autumn was followed by winter and things went back to normal even if something within Alexander would always be changed after the visit in the Elven realm. He studied harder than ever and practiced martial arts with even more enthusiasm than before. Spring came early this year and the jousting tournaments started again.

Excitement and anticipation filled the air. Bookmakers were busy. The unknown knight, Stigbert, and the popular knight Sigvard were still undefeated and today’s victor would be settled in the final fight. Banners swayed in the wind and people were shouting their favourite champion’s name. Stigbert and Sigvard spurred their horses and approached each other in an appalling speed. The well known sound of shattering wood was heard when Stigbert’s lance hit Sigvard’s shield and threw him off the horse. Stigbert was thereby today’s winner. A short silence was broken by the people’s ovations.

When “Stigbert” removed his helmet and was identified as the Prince the ovations increased to a deafening thunder. It was intoxicating and Alexander wished that this moment could last forever. He was finally old enough to participate in the games at the jousting field. It had, however, been a bit complicated in the beginning. As soon as it became known that he was one of the participants, other participants usually withdraw because of the risk to injure a royalty. He suspected that the few participants that had courage enough to meet him didn’t do their best but gave the victory to him. Therefore he often chose to compete under disguise as he had today. Although he had done well in previous tournaments this was the first time that he had won a final under disguise. It was one of the best moments of his life and he wanted to remember the feeling forever.

Queen Cecilia was not very enthusiastic about Alexander’s participation in the jousting tournaments. King Magnus was, however, of the opinion that it was important for the future king to demonstrate his bravery. There was no doubt that Alexander’s success and sportsmanship increased the royal family’s popularity.

As people became more and more adjusted to see Alexander as a competitor he found that the fear to harm him because of his royalty diminished. It became possible to compete under his real identity. Today he wore his family’s colours. His cousin Erik would participate in the same tournament. The rumours about Erik’s success in the jousting field and his popularity had reached also Alexander but he had not seen Erik since he went to the Elven realm.

“Hi cousin nice too meet you, Alexander said.”

“Hi little Prince. Nice to see you too. I’m glad that you haven’t turned into an elf. I look forward to look down on your face when I throw you out of the saddle in the final.” Erik laughed and patted Alexander hard but friendly on the back.

“I’m sorry that I have to disappoint you cousin, but you will look up to my face.” Alexander smiled. He liked his cousin best of all his friends. People were drawn to Erik because it was almost always fun to be around him. He could often be found in the centre of a laughing crowd. Not everyone liked Erik unreservedly, however. Father’s and husbands who had heard about him kept an extra eye on their daughters and wives when he was nearby.

Erik had been at least partly right. They both made it to the final. Although Erik had won several glorious victories in the jousting field they had never met in a tournament before. Erik had always been the better of them when they had practiced martial arts together. For a fraction of a second Alexander saw the surprise in Erik’s eyes when his lance hit hard against Erik’s shield. Erik was thrown out of the saddle and hit the ground with a hard thump.

“You did well, congratulations, little Prince.” Erik bowed for Alexander. He moved stiffly. Luckily he had not been seriously injured but he had hit the ground hard. There was something in Erik’s eyes that disturbed Alexander despite the polite phrases and the wry smile.

Chapter 17. Bear

   “Thorundur seemed to enjoy the visit to the palace but now he’s running around in the forest with that girl just like before.” Toraldor felt helpless. He loved his brother and therefore he also worried very much about Thorundur’s behaviour.
   His wife Liandra looked thoughtful. “I think I might have an idea. Thorundur seemed to like Aliendre very much. According to what I have heard Aliendre would like to travel a little to look around in the realm. Maybe we could ask if she could stay here with us for a while. It would be a great honour for us of course but I think that it might be possible that our offer would be accepted.”

   “I have good news Thorundur. Aliendre will come and visit us.” Toraldor smiled when he saw his younger brother’s enthusiasm. Thorundur was so lively and his feelings were always so easy to tell.
Once again Toraldor felt very lucky to have such a wise wife. If Toraldor would have had the gift to look into the future he would probably not have felt the happiness that he felt today. It is often true that ignorance is a blessing.

   Wolf looked up from the skin that he was preparing. His eyes were large and his mouth wide open. Roe turned her head and looked in the same direction as her father. Bear, Wolverine and Squirrel were approaching their home.

   “We were just passing by and thought that Roe might like this basket that Bear made.” Squirrel said.
   Forest people never “just passed by”. It was obvious that Bear’s family had walked all the way from their home just to give Roe a gift. There was a skilfully prepared deer skin and a hunting knife in the basket. This was a very generous gift indeed. Too generous, Roe thought. The elders sent Roe and Bear to get some roots to eat with the meat that they would share for dinner. Obviously they wanted Bear and Roe to spend time alone together.

   When the visitors had left Wolf sat down to speak with Roe. “Bear thinks that it’s too long to wait for the next meeting to be joined with you. He would like you to be joined already this autumn, and I cannot see any reason to delay.”
   Roe looked down. “I don’t know if I really want to have Bear as my spouse at all”
   Wolf lowered his eyebrows and looked as if he tried to understand such a strange statement. “You cannot expect to get a better husband. He’s an excellent hunter and strong. You’re old enough to start your own family.”
   Roe knew that there was really nothing wrong at all with Bear. He was kind and skilful. He had only one fault, but that fault was very big… he was not Thorundur. As if he had heard her thoughts Wolf hesitated and said, “I should probably have talked with you about this a long time ago Roe, but I hope that you don’t have any fantasies about the elf. He can never be your husband.”
   “Why?” Roe wished immediately that she had not asked. She had not meant to reveal her feelings about Thorundur.
   “An elf can never be happy with one of our people and you would never be happy with an elf. They are different from us in many ways. Most importantly they are immortal. You will grow old while he will remain the same. The elf will never choose you. He will marry an Elven girl one day.”

   Roe was hurt. She needed to be alone. Thorundur liked her. She was his best friend. Somehow it had to be possible to make him feel about her as she did about him. She couldn’t accept what Wolf had said. Her parents, Bear and his parents expected her to be joined with Bear before winter but her heart felt as if it would break when she thought about a life without Thorundur.

   Thorundur had decided that he wanted a bear skin. I was early spring but he had seen fresh paw prints outside a male bear’s den and figured that the bear had wakened early. Roe thought that the idea to hunt a bear at this time of the year was stupid. It would be skinny and hungry but she had more important things on her mind and had not objected. Roe was walking in her own thoughts because she had decided that she would tell Thorundur about her feelings for him. It frightened her but she couldn’t see that she had much to loose anymore. Suddenly a deep roar broke the peacefulness and Roe realised that she had been unforgivable careless to get lost in her own thoughts like this.

  Thorundur was running with an angry and wounded bear after him. His eyes were glowing, and there was a big smile on his lips. It was obvious that he was enjoying himself. Whatever strange plan Thorundur might have had to get himself a bear skin was ruined when he fell over a root.

   The enraged bear rose on its hind legs. Thorundur was lying helpless on his stomach and Roe realised with horror that there was no chance in the world that she would be able to get to him in time. Her scream echoed in the forest.

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