The Elves get the chance to meet Shadowforth, and end up with even more questions.
It was hard for Fayne to stand even after he woke up. Scout offered to carry him to the healer’s house, but he rejected him quickly enough for half of the chimeras watching to leave, irritated by Fayne’s hostility. He leaned heavily on both Safiena and Nayila as we walked, and wasn’t looking up. Anne was staying close to Harold, who was clearly also struggling, but not to the same extent. And Valla was looking around but trying not to make eye contact too often with people; clearly interested in everything around her, but trying not to be overbearing to us.
By the time we reached our mother’s house, Storm was waiting for us, with a couple of our younger siblings sitting at his feet. “They’re here,” he yelled into the house.
“Show them where they can rest,” our mother yelled back out. Storm nodded and smiled, motioning to the elves. I let them walk in front of me. Valla trailed behind a little bit, looking around at the houses and looking up at the cloth. She hesitated next to me.
“Is the cloth for keeping the dust out?”
“I’ve never heard of a village like this, is all.” She smiled, and walked by. I followed her onto the platform, where Safiena and Nayila had helped Fayne lie down, before sitting down next to him, ignoring that there were enough blankets laid out for all six of them to have one. Harold and Anne sat next to each other on one, waiting patiently for our mom to come out and see them. And Valla lay down on one farther away from the others, and closer to where our mom kept her herbs and other tools. She curled up on her side and watched the other elves, and Storm, and Scout, and me.
“Where’s mom?” I asked.
“Taking care of Lily; he fell and got a nasty cut on his arm, and then Kit started crying because she was worried, and the kids who are beginning to work or learn to do so haven’t even gotten home yet.”
I sighed. Scout furrowed his brow, before going into the house. I heard him and our mom talking, but their voices were low so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Knowing Scout, however, he was probably offering to look after my siblings while my mom helped the elves. Sure enough, within a minute, she was walking out of the house onto the porch and looking at the elves, and I could still hear Scout inside talking to the children.
“This is a surprise,” she said, her voice soft and unusually difficult to read. Her eyes were warm but… she looked like she had been crying, or maybe had been on the verge of crying.
“You must be the healer we’ve heard so much about,” Harold said, giving her a nod.
“I suppose I am. I hope you’ll forgive the state everything is in, both in this house and in the village.” She walked to her supplies and tools, and pulled out some wood to throw into the fireplace. “Storm told me you’re all experiencing what the dust is capable of.”
“Yes,” Harold said. “Fayne is experiencing the worst of it, however, so if you need to save resources you can treat him first. The rest of us… seem to be stable at worst. Though…” He glanced at Valla, who narrowed her eyes at him. “We do have our princess with us, which means… well, we need her to stay alive.”
Our mom nodded at him. “I understand. Where are you all from?”
“We’re from Akalai, the Elven kingdom.”
Our mom sighed, closed her eyes, and nodded. “That’s good to hear. As I’m sure my kids and mate have told you, humans are not exactly our friends.”
The elves nodded, with Nayila and Anna glancing towards me. I narrowed my eyes at them.
“We’ve definitely gathered as much,” Harold said, looking at the ground. Our mom glanced up at me, and let out a soft chuckle.
“I take it there was… some conflict with Gray?”
“You could call it that,” Storm muttered with an amused smile, letting his wing nudge me a little bit..
I growled a little, making Anna, Harold, Nayila, and Safiena a little nervous. I was a little surprised that Valla didn’t seem intimidated; Fayne had already fallen asleep again.
“Gray doesn’t mean any ill will by her actions,” our mom said, smiling at Harold again. “She’s a rough person, to say the least. She’s also usually one of my first children to step up when I need help with something, and the first to go hunting when the village is starving.”
I looked away, hiding my cheeks growing red.
“We’ll all probably need something to eat when there’s a chance, Mom. Want me to get something?” Storm asked. “It’s a little crowded in here, after all…”
“No; I told Copper and Rain to grab something on their way back, since they’re working with Torchlight and Dew a lot anyway. They’ll be getting enough to last us the next day… well, what would have been enough, anyway. That may not be the case any more, but we’ll make do anyway. If we need more, I can always wait to eat until we get a chance-”
“No,” Storm and I said at the same time, narrowing our eyes at her.
“Miss… it won’t be necessary for you to refrain from eating for our sake,” Harold said. I glared at him, until I noticed the genuine concern in his face and eyes. “I’m doing fairly well, all things considered, and-”
I growled again, this time directly at Harold. “I swear that if this turns into who can out-martyr everyone else, I am going to march out of this village and hunt until we have enough food to feed the village for the next week.”
Mom smiled, and let out a soft breath. “And there you see what I mean,” she said. Harold nodded at me, letting his head hang as he spoke.
“You’re right, Gray. I apologize; I just don’t want us to be any more of a burden to your kind than we have to be.”
Our mom pulled out a glass bowl with a few layers of waxy animal fat at the bottom, and put a few blackberry leaves on top of it. Burning the leaves was only used when there was someone who, for whatever reason, couldn’t have blackberry leaf tea. I glanced at Fayne and the other guardians. His sister was the only one of the guardians still awake, and she was staring into the distance. I had to wonder… had we not gotten them inside fast enough? Would they all have gotten sick anyway if Fayne hadn’t tried to look at the dust…?
Valla sat up and watched my mom as she prepared to start burning the leaves. “Is that another way of helping prevent the sickness from the dust?”
“And helping those afflicted with it to feel better,” Mom said. She smiled at Valla. “Are you the princess of Akalai?”
“I see. Are you a healer then?”
Valla was silent for a long moment. “Kind of… I have the magic but it’s not really that interesting. And it doesn’t work with the dust anyway.”
“Oh, I know that much. It was one of the first things I tried. But I digress.”
Harold and Valla looked at each other with wide eyes for a second. Valla then looked back at Mom, who had seen them and was now avoiding eye contact.
“You have healing magic then…?” Valla asked. Mom gave her a hard stare for a split second, before sighing and looking away.
“Yes, but that means nothing in Chirad, and you’d all do well to remember that. Princess, are you interested in learning more about healing the effects of the dust or not?”
Valla took a deep breath. “A little, yeah, but… I consider myself more of an anthropologist than anything else. I’m not great at healing magic…”
“Neither am I,” Mom said. “I’ll teach you when you feel better.”
“I’m not that sick.”
“You haven’t seen how quickly it can deteriorate even if it seems to be better, then?”
“Take my advice: rest. You don’t want that to happen, okay?”
Mom lit the blackberry leaves on fire, and the fat below them began to glisten and melt as she walked over to Fayne and began to look at him to see just how bad it was. Within a second, she looked back up to Valla.
“Yeah. If he was exposed to enough dust to cause this, you’re all in danger and need to take it really easy. Storm?”
“Now might be a good time to go get some extra food, we need to make sure we have enough for them to eat at least one good meal for strength.”