Each man held a torch in his hand, only waiting for Garet to give the signal to burn the ships. Garet looked over where Chanlis hid in the oak-leaf bushes. Chanlis shuddered. His eyes shifted from side to side, trying to catch a telling sign of movement. It was all too easy. By the nervous jaunt of Garet’s shoulders as he eyed the ships, Chanlis knew he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. When Chanlis made no sign to stop, Garet nodded to the soldiers.
Chanlis buried his hands deeper into the dirt, searching for some sign. His gaze flickered over one of the soldiers fiddling with a piece of flint. Chanlis’s brows furrowed and he stretch out his senses, waiting for the earth to speak to him. He felt it! A quick touch, a brush of an arm over bark and then it was gone.
It had to be them. Chanlis didn’t know how many there were. They were shielding themselves from his senses. He fisted his hands in the dirt, concentrating. His concentration broke as a familiar sound filled the air. Chanlis and the soldiers looked up.
Elven arrows darkened the sky. The soldiers had no time to react. Their advance towards the ships had left them exposed. Growling, Chanlis gathered the energy into his gut and then pushed. It spilled off his skin in a thick. Rage fed his power. The earth trembled. As the arrows fell to pierce down on the group, the ground rose up, surrounding the band in a hard shell of earth. The arrows buried themselves into thick dirt instead of soft flesh.
Sighing in relief, Chanlis broke free of the thicket and ran towards the earthen shell. Arrows screamed through the air at him, but every shot was blocked by trees that suddenly bent and roots that tore from the earth, dragging the arrows down to the ground. Chanlis finally reached the sphere protecting the soldiers. He pushed past the hard earth as if it was merely air, until he was hidden behind its walls.
Garet glared at him. “Why didn’t you tell us we were surrounded?”
Annoyance crept over Chanlis, but he shrugged it away. “Didn’t know we were.”
Garet gave him a searching look before he nodded.
“We need to retreat.” Chanlis turned to the men. “They’re still hiding and I can’t locate where they are. They’re shielding me somehow.”
“But the ships.”
The soldiers looked at each other, their eyes darting around the wall protecting them.
“We’ll have to come back for it.”
“No.” Garet fastened a steady gaze on Chanlis. “If we don’t get rid of the ships now, Monisi will fall.”
Chanlis met Garet’s eyes. Lips tight, Chanlis turned his back on Garet and his group, distancing himself from them. “I’ll do what I can, but even I have my limits.”
Chanlis almost believed he did. Almost.
Garet’s voice was firm with command as he looked at his band of soldiers. “We’ll have to be quick. Get those torches lit and the deed done as fast as possible. Chanlis will hold them off for as long as he can.”
Sounds of assent went up behind Chanlis, but he knew it wasn’t exactly sincere. No one expected to die. They expected Chanlis to keep them safe and alive. No matter how many lives he saved before this moment, none of them would account for even one life lost now. Failure was betrayal. The knowledge always hung over him, even as he knew that eventually his luck would run out. He just hoped it wouldn’t be today.
Garet squeezed Chanlis’s shoulder and for a moment Chanlis almost felt he was part of Garet’s small band of soldiers.
Chanlis narrowed his eyes. The earthen shell shattered, broken pieces of clay shot out, piercing into any elf that had been foolish enough to get close. Unfortunately, not many had. The elves were a patient race, and as soon as the shell broke a volley of arrows shot down on them.
This time the elves didn’t risk using their limited supply of magicians against him. Their magic would have only backfired on them. Gavion had chosen her side, and no nature magic drawn on this land would be used against her chosen son.
Bursts of earth rose up, blocking the arrows. Garet and his soldiers ran for it, heading towards the ships. By the sounds of surprise, it was obvious the elves had assumed the humans would try to escape instead of continue with their plan. Several of the elves began to approach with swords. Suddenly, he could sense them again. What had changed? Roots pushed up from the ground, wrapping around the legs of the elven swordsmen, staying their movement. They chopped at the encumbrances, but to no avail. As soon as one root was cut down another replaced it with startling speed. The roots wrapped around the elves’ bodies and pinned their arms.
Even with their comrades trapped, the arrows continued to fall. Elven screams mixed with human ones. Chanlis saw an arrow embed deep into one of the soldier’s leg, but the soldier continued. He limped towards the ships, gritting his teeth as he lit the torch. Chanlis snarled. He had to be better. He raised their defenses. Beads of sweat popped over his forehead. He wouldn’t let another arrow get through.
Chanlis trembled from the strain of trying to fight and protect. He narrowed his eyes and pushed. Roots and bands of steely vines rose up, slithering and darting over the ground until they buried into yielding flesh. Screams filled the air. As the plants rose up, grabbing at the elven swords, he finally felt the archers.
They were hovering above the earth, careful not to touch or even brush against tree or leaf. How the hell were they floating? Magic? He smirked. It didn’t matter in the least, now he knew where they were.
He knelt down, fisting his hands into the earth. A sweet connection and then wave after wave of power rushed inside him. He let it dance against him and with it came a song so sweet that he could only listen to its call. It pulled at him just as it filled him. His lips parted and the tree branches reached out, stabbing forward, piercing into muscle. Where flesh wasn’t available it tightened around armor, squeezing. Screams of terror sounded in the air until nothing else could be heard, but still he continued.
The pull was so sweet, so encompassing, and the more he used it the more it tightened around him, striving to take him to a home he could never leave. Mud rose up, swallowing the elven archers, spilling into their mouths and taking their last breaths away. Dimly, behind him, Chanlis could hear a different sort of sound, but he ignored it. He focused on the power as the elves’ skin and bone were taken over by root and soil.
Finally, the screaming stopped. The call shifted and grew even stronger, trying to drag him deeper into its grasp. The land shuddered in wild abandon. Chanlis felt a hand tighten on his arm. He looked up through glassy eyes until they met the flinty grays of Garet’s.
“Chanlis, it’s enough. They’re dead.”
For a moment all Chanlis could do was look at Garet, trying to connect with what he was saying. They were dead, all dead. He killed them all. Chanlis struggled to part his hands from the earth, wobbling as he stood up. A soft hum of power lingered on his hands and then released him with a sigh. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The scent of lilacs and blood wafted into his nostrils. Chanlis opened his eyes and shuddered.
“The ships?” Chanlis’s voice was thick and scratchy.
Garet nodded and turned to his soldiers. Their torches burned, but the ships remained unlit. The soldiers looked at Chanlis with varying expressions on their faces. He did not meet their gaze.
Garet signaled to his soldiers and they went to the ships. It didn’t take long for the wood to catch, and then they were running back to Monisi, trying to ignore the dead elves on the ground, tangled in winding vines with a thick film of moss already covering their skin. The very nature they were known for being bonded with took them over.
Some of the group shivered and gave sideways glances at Chanlis. Chanlis wondered if they were thinking of the shell he had put them in when the arrows first came down; of how they could have turned out the same as the elves. Chanlis’ lips set in a grim line. The journey back to the city was made in silence.
Shouts of triumph greeted them at the successful news of burning the elven ships. Though Garet’s group met the shouts with zeal, there was an uneasiness surrounding them.
Chanlis ignored them and headed to his rooms. At the feast, he would lose himself in his masquerade of merriment. For now he enter his room and sat on the edge of his bed, looking down at his hands until the image of his calloused skin and white palms covered up the picture of flesh turned into bark. It wasn’t long before Chanlis heard his door open. He lay back on his bed with a sigh and placed an arm over his eyes. His visitor didn’t go away.
“What is it?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
Chanlis sighed and finally looked at the hard features of the man before him. Sometimes, he wondered if Garet had forgotten how to smile. He could remember that smile. It was before the elven invasion, before Garet became a young leader of men. Chanlis squinted his eyes, trying to imagine the man before him with that expression. He failed.
“If you’re not here to tell me that troops have been sent to us, then I would ask that you please leave.”
Garet sat on the edge of Chanlis’s bed. “The King has finally been decided and they are sending troops.”
Chanlis blinked and sat up. No matter how many messengers they had sent out, no soldiers had come to help combat the elven siege. “They are?”
Garet shook his head. “You said I had to say it, not that it had to be true.”
Chanlis took a deep breath and held it and then let it out in a weary sigh. “If only the Kamiers would step in.”
Garet shook his head. “The guardians can only protect but never meddle.”
It was annoying. Did they have to be at the point of extinction before the divine Kamiers brought it on themselves to get involved?
Chanlis glared at Garet before plopping back down. “Go away Garet.”
Chanlis sighed. “Fine, then say what you have to say.”
“Today, what happened?”
“It’s what always happens. I stopped the elves.” He didn’t have to turn around to know that Garet was frowning.
“Is it always like that?”
“What do you think? You’ve been there to clear the fields before.”
Garet was silent. Chanlis wondered if he was remembering. The faint scent of lilacs mixed in with decay. It was a smell that stuck with a person.
Chanlis winced, hearing the apology in Garet’s words. It was the same apology that the council gave him, that everyone gave him; an apology for ripping him from his childhood at the age of ten to kill elves, to save their city. Chanlis hated it. There was no need for them to apologize. Monisi was his city too. He wasn’t so unlike them.
“It was different today,” Chanlis admitted.
Chanlis could try to explain how he felt the earth inside him. How each time he drew more power he could hear Gavion’s song calling to him. The earth wanted to claim him, claim it all, and each time it was getting harder to resist. This time, he hadn’t wanted to resist at all. Chanlis said none of that. Instead he shrugged.
By the time of the banquet Chanlis recovered his good mood. If his laughter was a little louder than usual and his cups emptying much faster, no one mentioned it. It was the latter that many of the city would state was the reason that Chanlis did what he did.
Their festivities were interrupted when a woman was dragged into the banquet hall by two guards. She was cloaked in shimmering blue robes that looked like stars painted against midnight sky. Over her head was a veil of similar design obscuring her face. Some of the council stood up at the disturbance. Chanlis just drank deeper.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“We found this woman snooping around the city walls.”
“A spy? Then why haven’t you locked her up?”
One of the guards pursed his lips and lifted a scroll with the symbol of the elven king. The gaiety drained from the room. One of the council nodded at the man and he brought the scroll forward. On of the council read it and a quizzical smile curled her lips.
“It seems that the elves wish a truce.”
A councilman laughed. “Tired of starving probably; even an elf needs to eat.”
The councilwoman continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “And this woman is a gift to the great Chanlis as a symbol of their truce.”
Chanlis blinked and leaned forward. “What?”
The councilwoman nodded. “The elven king has given her to you.”
Chanlis arched an eyebrow. “What would you have me do with such a ‘gift’?”
The councilman answered readily. “Kill her. She’s only a spy. What do these elves take us for?”
Nods of assent moved among the council and they began to debate on different way to dispose of her. Chanlis let them argue and headed towards his gift. As the council bickered, Chanlis reached out and lifted the veil. The woman flinched and then remained still. The veil slipped from her head and he looked upon a woman with sad but determined green eyes. Black locks fell over her shoulders in rivulets. She had delicate red lips, upturned like rose petals, and smooth creamy skin with a hint of pink. Chanlis was sure he had never seen anything more beautiful.
Behind him the arguing stopped. Chanlis didn’t turn around. His gaze drifted over the curve of her face to the slightly pointed ears, not nearly as sharp as her elven comrades. He looked back at her eyes. She stubbornly stared back. He leaned closer. She smelled of rich spices.
The councilman from earlier spoke up. “Of course, they wouldn’t want to risk their precious full bloods.”
Half-elves weren’t loved by the elven king, but then again they weren’t well received by humans either. “I’ll keep her.”
The silence that hit the room was stunning, and then every voice rose up in protest. Chanlis ignored them all.
“What is your name?”
She looked at Chanlis confused, a slight hesitancy in her voice. “Desira.”
Behind him he could hear the shouts of discontent. Chanlis didn’t care. His gaze was caught by Desira. Fire burned in her eyes.
To her credit, it took her a full week before she tried to kill him in his sleep. A gasp spilled from her lips when a cocoon of branches wrapped around him, hard and thick, causing even her elven blade to break against it. It was the gasp that woke him. He opened his eyes and the branches retracted. She tried to run, but he caught her, staring at her before mumbling to himself. She struggled as he dragged her to the door of his rooms.
She paled at the call and her struggles became more vehement. She was strong, but he was stronger. The guards came and he gave them their instructions, if anything the half-elf went even paler.
A few moments later they returned with the chains. Thanking them, Chanlis went back into his room and chained the half-elf to a small hook embedded in the wall, which was usually used for chaining pets. He chuckled a bit at that, and he gathered the half-elf knew why, because she glared at him as if she would set him aflame if she could.
Letting out a yawn, he went back to bed. Since she was a half-elf, the iron would only sting a little. He felt her heated gaze on his back. He smiled as he fell asleep.
Desira’s second betrayal took a month after that. For an elf, or a half-elf, she was very impatient. Still, he couldn’t help but find her newest approach amusing. She had decided to try to coerce information from the guards. She wasn’t a very good spy to say the least. It was quite obvious what she was doing. Her change in behavior didn’t go unnoticed by the guards and she was often asking them to share stories of Chanlis’ mighty feats. The guards were wary, but eventually they loosened up enough to tell her stories, usually ones about killing elves, which resulted in Desira storming away in anger to the guards’ mirth. Since Desira wasn’t allowed to be out of his sight, Chanlis got to witness many of her attempts.
“If you’re in need of stories about my life why not come to the source,” he said as she paced the room, practically hissing with indignation.
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Source?”
“Of course, me. Who better to know of all my amazing deeds than myself?”
She rolled her eyes. “Braggart.”
He frowned and turned away, folding his arms. “Well if you’d rather hear about dead elves you can always talk to your guard friends.”
The glare again, he felt it burning through his back, and it was hot enough to make him wonder if it was really true that half-elves were incapable of magic. A voice sounded behind him, so sickly sweet and docile, a total contrast to its owner that he couldn’t help cringing a little.
“Sire, it would give me no greater pleasure to hear about all that you’ve accomplished.”
Schooling his face into one of seriousness he turned back to face her. “Of course, there is no better story around. Even elves wish to hear of my greatness.”
Desira physically winced at that, and even Chanlis thought he might have laid that one on thick. Desira didn’t say anything else. Instead she slid to the floor, folded her legs, and somehow managed to look like a princess waiting for a bard to began his tale. For a moment, Chanlis could only look at her. Who was she?
Desira’s lips tightened and she stared back. Chanlis straighted up and started in on an elaborate, and completely untrue, rendition of his fight against a great bear at the age of seven.
How she managed to sit there and listen through the whole thing without storming off in disgust he would never know. Instead, at the end, she nodded her head.
“You were very brave.” She didn’t quite hide the slight curl of her lip.
Chanlis raised an eyebrow. “You think so?”
Chanlis laughed. “You’re not a very good liar, you know.”
For a moment a flicker of what could have been amusement flashed over her face before vanishing behind a scowl. He wished to see it again, and after that they often passed the time away with stories. The fabrications turned into stories of half-truths until finally every once in a while he would include real stories of his childhood.
“Where are you parents now?” Desira frowned. “I’ve never seen them visit you. Actually, I haven’t seen many people talk to you besides that one soldier.”
“So you’re just now noticing that?” Chanlis laughed. “Well unfortunately my friends and family were killed by elves in the first raid. That soldier you speak of, Garet, is the only friend that managed to survive your people’s little visit.”
Desira paled, realizing she had probably overstepped her boundaries. Despite her rebellious attitude, she had to be aware that she was alive only by Chanlis’s whim. Even now the council waited in the wings for him to tire of her.
He wasn’t sure what to make of her apology. “Don’t worry. Unlike other children, I was able to get my revenge pretty swiftly. It took a scent maker to throw an entire bucket of sandalwood on me to get me back to my senses.” He chuckled. “The scent was so overwhelming that all the plants shriveled up and I fell over like the dead.”
Chanlis pretended not to notice the sharp intake of Desira’s breath.
Not long after, while doing another round of attacks on the elves — the ‘truce’ not being in effect yet since the elven king had delayed a meeting between the two races for special reasons — Chanlis found himself doused in sandalwood. He was amused to see the astonished face of the elves when nothing happened to him. After giving them a good beating, he chuckled as he headed back to the city. Desira’s stared at him.
He nodded. “Were you worried about me? Don’t concern yourself about that. I’m fine, nothing that a good bath won’t cure. Come, scrub my back for me.”
Desira’s eyes flashed at the realization that she had been tricked, but she said nothing, instead grabbing up a rag and storming in with it to rub his back raw in fury.
The third betrayal took three months and this approach was much more delightful. She had decided, probably after observing his lack of companionship, that she would seduce him. Her attempts at seduction were laughable. It was the moments of accidental beauty where the problem came in.
“Chanlis, you really need to talk to the council. They are getting edgy about this truce.” Garet balled up his hands.
“What concern is that of mine? They should take it up with the Elf King. It’s him delaying it, not me. I’m just a tool.”
Garet reached out and whacked him against the head. “You’re being an idiot! Stop pretending you have nothing to do with any of this.”
“It’s not my great battle tactics or ambassadorial skills they’re after, Garet.”
Garet grabbed his ear, as if tugging on it would make Chanlis listen to him. “It’s because that’s all you make them think you are. If you only-”
Their argument was interrupted by the sound of laughter. Not the sweet musical trilling sound most people associated with elves, but a full-body guffaw that had Garet and Chanlis staring at Desira. She was laughing so hard that tears flowed freely from her eyes.
Chanlis let his irritation show. “Glad we can amuse you.”
“You two look ridiculous.”
Chanlis’s eyebrows rose and he turned to Garet who looked just as surprised, but Chanlis noticed Garet’s lips were twitching. Chanlis shook his head and sighed dramatically.
“If you’re trying to seduce me Desira, this is not the way to do it.”
Desira straightened up in surprise, but still couldn’t manage to hide her laughter. “I’ll try harder, promise.”
Chanlis was lying. He had already fallen under her charms and coy glances had nothing to do with it. Beside him Garet placed his hand on Chanlis’ shoulder, gaining his attention, and shook his head.
“You’re playing a dangerous game.” Garet’s voice was tinge with worry.
Later that evening, while he enjoyed the feel of Desira’s hands on his shoulders while she massaged his back with oil, he leaned back and said softly, “Tell me about yourself.”
She stiffened. “There is nothing to say.”
“Come now, there must be something. I’ve told you many stories about myself.”
“Really, there is nothing. I’m a half-elf. I do not know who my mother is. Perhaps if I did….” She shook her head as if dismissing whatever thought had entered it. “It doesn’t matter. Whether with the elves or with humans, I remain something accepted by neither.”
Chanlis was quiet for a moment. “Shall I tell you a dream I’ve had?”
She paused and then kept massaging. “If it pleases you.”
“I dreamed that I was running, and with every step I took great trees rose up in my wake. Nature itself had chosen me as its child. I felt this sense of something greater than myself overwhelming me, and as the sensation grew stronger it began to take over until I felt that I was part of it.
“My limbs began to change. First my arms turned into branches, leaves springing from them. My chest became hard dirt covered with a thin layer of moss and my legs turned into tree trunks.”
Desira stopped her massaging. “How frightening, to be swallowed up.”
“Perhaps.” He twisted around to look at Desira and noticed she looked anything but sincere. He chuckled and turned back and looked down at the bathwater. “It didn’t end badly. Suddenly a bird came flying down with wings of blades and cut off my hair, and I was once again flesh, merely a normal man. It was a strange dream.”
He felt Desira stiffen and then returned to massaging his back. She was quiet the rest of the night.
A few days later, walking with Desira, he was ambushed outside of the city. When the elves attacked, Desira rushed forward and grabbed his hair. He let her and watched her pull out a knife to cut his hair instead of his throat.
It didn’t take him long to defeat the elves. Desira tried to run, but she only got four steps from him when a root shot up from the ground and wrapped around her ankle. She fell face down into the grass. He went over and kicked away her knife and plucked her up and draped her over his shoulder.
“I was in need of a hair cut.”
Inside, he unceremoniously dropped her on the floor of his room.
“You liar, are all the words you speak untruths?”
“Ah, you mean the dream. It was true enough in parts. The ending I might have made up.” He shrugged. “Still, I don’t think you’re quite in a position to scold.”
“Perhaps not, but I have never pretended otherwise.”
Chanlis looked at her in disbelief and then leaned down. “Is that so? Then we should finish the final stage of your seduction, should we not? My bed grows cold.”
Desira shuddered, but she held her head up high, and stood up. She began to slide off the sleeve of her gown, her face set in determination. Chanlis stepped forward and then swiftly walked pass her and climbed into his bed.
“Go to sleep.”
He buried himself under the sheets and closed his eyes. He listened to the soft pad of her feet and then the soft shifting as she climbed onto the pillows that made up her bed. Once she had settled, roots rose up and fastened the chains around her. He began to drift off when he heard her voice.
He didn’t need for her to explain. She was here and alive. “I don’t know. Maybe because we’re both misfits.”
She was quiet. This time it was he who spoke up.
“Why are you doing this for a people who hate you? Everyone is aware how much the Elven King hates half-borns.”
Silence, and then, “What else can I do?”
Neither of them spoke, and sleep was slow in coming.
The truce continued to be delayed. Envoys went back and forth between the elves and the humans, negotiations were made and rejected. During it all the attacks continued and the humans continued doing all they could, cutting off the elven supplies and burning their ships. Despite this, some began to hope that peace might come. The battle between the elves and the humans had been a difficult one. Some hoped, but most did not.
“The treaty is a trap,” one of the council said. “They are merely trying to wait us out. As soon as Chanlis grows too old to fight they will be upon us.”
“What will you have us do?” another council member asked. “We’re not even sure if our efforts aren’t for naught. They might outlive us all.”
“We should get rid of them. All of them.”
Chanlis sat in the back of the council as always, but he spoke up at the last comment.
“Do you wish for me to go there and slaughter them all.” Chanlis raised an eyebrow. “When did we become murderers?”
The councilman narrowed his eyes. “It is not murder. It’s war.”
“Perhaps.” Chanlis folded his arms. “There are women and children there. I don’t wish to repeat what they have done to us.”
Some of the council shifted uncomfortably. No one said anything more on that. Soon after the Council adjourned, but they all knew that it wasn’t the end of it.
“You’re growing soft Chanlis. Don’t let that half-breed delude you. Peace is the furthest thing from the elves’ mind,” a councilman said.
“You’re probably right.” Chanlis smiled. “But let me hold on to my hope for a little longer.”
Longer ended up being a year, a year with Desira by his side. After the last betrayal Desira stopped trying to find his weakness. She was restricted to his rooms most of the time, so he was safe in the knowledge that she wasn’t searching for weakness within the city itself. He didn’t know exactly why she gave up. It might have been the humiliation of her previous attempts, or maybe she was biding her time. Whatever the case was, they fell into an unlikely companionship.
She looked for ways to argue with him and even sided with Garet from time to time. They shared their meals together and went on strolls afterwards. Chanlis continued telling her stories from his life, to which she always listened with some wariness, but seemed to enjoy anyway. To his surprise, Desira began to share her own stories with him.
“I remember that as a child father used to tell me stories about my mother. His voice was warm when he spoke of her. I don’t really remember them anymore. He stopped telling me them when I was eight. A servant overheard him and reported it. “She paused. “I used to wish that my mother would come for my father and me. She would bring us to the human lands and we would live happily together.”
Chanlis looked at her in surprise. “You did?”
Desira nodded with a half smile on her lips. “It was a silly thought and I soon dismissed it. Humans hate half-breeds just the same as elves. No matter what side I’m on, I don’t belong, but at least I knew what to expect from the elves and my father cares for me.”
“Do you miss your father?”
“Yes.” A flicker of emotion passed over her face, too fast for him to see what it was.
“I make no promises, but I can try to let you visit him from time to time. You’re my gift after all, not my prisoner.”
Desira scoffed at that, but there was surprisingly little bitterness in it. “No,” she said after a while. “I’d rather not see him. Not now.”
She said nothing more and they rested next to each other. Chanlis’s hand brushed against hers. Desira didn’t pull away.
There were many times when Desira didn’t pull away from him. Instead she moved closer. A year with Desira, and the young boy who had watched his family die before his eyes — who was blessed by Gavion — finally knew what happiness felt like.
The year came to its end with a visit from another envoy. He was a slim man, but even to the humans he seemed old. His back curved as if a weight heavier than he could carry was on his shoulders. He came with several elven guards, but he waved them away as he moved to greet the council. In his hand was a treaty and this time it looked like the truce might really come into being. As the council argued over negotiations, the old elf looked up with searching eyes.
“Please don’t mind me, but is there not an elven woman here?”
The council looked up warily, but it was Chanlis who answered him. “Yes. If you’re concerned we’ve gone and killed her you don’t have to worry.”
Visible relief crossed the elf’s features. “May I see her?”
Chanlis looked at the man for a while, and then signaled for a guard to bring Desira to him. When Desira entered the room and her gaze landed on the elf her eyes widened.
“Desira.” The elf held out his arms to her.
She hesitated and then she rushed forward. “Father.”
A short respite was called by the council and Chanlis invited father and daughter to his rooms to share a meal. They talked excitedly to each other and to Chanlis’s surprise they spoke in the common tongue instead of reverting to elvish. His respect for the elf grew. Soon though, the council was called back and to Chanlis’s surprise, they agreed to the treaty. Desira’s father nodded.
“There is still one last condition before the treaty will be rendered.” Desira’s father turned to him. “It is the King’s wish that Chanlis come to a banquet to be held a month from now. He will be the first to sign the treaty.”
Murmurs filled the room.
Chanlis nodded. “I agree.”
The council began to argue and tried talking him out of it, but Chanlis shook his head. “I’ll go and we shall see if a truce is really what your king is after.”
Desira’s father nodded and soon he and his guards departed. As soon as the elf left, the council burst into discussion and they even called Garet in to try to talk some sense into Chanlis, but he would hear none of it. Instead he laughed.
“Think of it as this, council, if it’s a trap then you shall have that slaughter you were demanding. In either case, a conclusion will be had.”
Nothing more was said from the council on the matter. Chanlis returned to his rooms with Desira, only to have Garet coming in soon after, anger contorting his face.
“What are you thinking? Any idiot can see that it’s a trap. The Elven King has made it clear that he believes humans are beneath elves.”
“Even so, we cannot deny our people a chance at peace, even if it is a slim one.”
Garet gritted his teeth. “And if you die? What of the city?”
Chanlis folded his arms. “Weren’t you the one to say that it’s not good for the city to depend on only one man? I know you Garet. You’re prepared for the outcome if I fail.”
Garet shook his head, his eyes looking around the room as if searching for some answer to change Chanlis’ mind. His gaze landed on Desira. “You, after all this time, do you hate him so much that you will let him go to his death?”
Desira bit her lip and looked away.
Garet growled in frustration. “You’re a fool.”
Chanlis chuckled. “That hasn’t changed much. I haven’t seen you show this much anger since we were kids, Garet.”
Garet glared at him, but behind that stare he seemed lost. Chanlis sucked in his breath.
“Will you steal away the last piece of my childhood with the death of my friend?”
“I’m not an easy man to kill.”
Garet glared and then stormed out. Chanlis realized that maybe he hadn’t been as alone as he first thought.
That night he strolled the city with Desira. She was strangely quiet. For a long time they walked in silence. Desira stopped, peering down at the flowers, their colors dulled by the night. Chanlis bent down and plucked one of the purple flowers he knew Desira was particularly fond of. He placed it in her hair, smiling at her.
As he pulled back she reached up and grabbed his hand and pressed it against her cheek.
His eyebrows rose in surprise, and then he frowned. “Then it is a trap.”
Desira was silent. Chanlis looked over the garden. Each lost in their thoughts. Then slowly, achingly slow, Desira lifted her hand and slid it into his.
“Don’t go, Chanlis.”
He chuckled. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said my name.”
She squeezed his hand and he jerked her forward until she was pressed against his chest. She tensed up and then relaxed against him.
“Tell me about you, Desira.”
For a while she was silent before softly she began to tell him about everything. About her life raised among the elves, how half-elves weren’t even given the same rights as full-blooded ones, that her father, despite the stigma of having a half-breed child, had risen up in the elven court. They stayed like that a long time, her voice a soft murmur of heartbreak.
“They said I had three years to somehow bring you down or my father will die in your place. Three years, such a short time for an elf, and today they have made it even shorter.”
“A month?” Chanlis asked, brushing his lips across the top of her black silken hair.
She shuddered and then nodded. “A month and then everything he has earned will be for naught, because of his half-breed child. It was impossible, just an excuse for the King to get rid of a man who got away with loving a human.”
In her words Chanlis could almost hear the apology, but then again it could’ve just been his own desires projected onto her.
“When I was ten I lost everything because of the elves; my family, my friends, and finally my childhood. I became a weapon for my people, for the very earth.” He took a breath to calm himself. “Since that time I have heard the earth calling me. She waits for me to pay my debt. Each day I begin to long for that day, until….”
He tightened his arms around her. “Desira, tell me I can trust you.”
“My father or a man I have known for only a year and a half.” She shook her head against his chest, and looked up at him, her green eyes filled with regret, for not only her life but his as well. Her choice was simple. “You can’t.”
“I know, but I want to anyway.” He took a deep breath. “I do have a weakness.”
“No, no, no.” She shook her head and pushed against him.
He tightened his hold. She buried her face against his chest.
“Gavion whispered it to me. If there is no earth under my feet or my skin doesn’t touch some type of nature, then slowly my abilities will leave me and I shall be nothing but a normal man. “Chanlis could feel the wetness on his shirt. “Desira, you have my weakness.”
“You’re cruel, Chanlis, too cruel.”
“Perhaps.” He loosened his hold on her and tucked a finger under her chin, lifting up her tear-streaked face. “Perhaps.”
When their lips met it was sweet with longing. It tasted like goodbye.
In the morning, lying on rumpled sheets, he didn’t have to reach over to know the spot beside him would be cold, but he had hoped, just for a moment.
The month went by quickly. After Desira’s disappearance there was no doubt that the banquet was a trap. Despite this, Chanlis insisted on going. An outcry rang from the council. They threatened him and tried to coerce him into rethinking his decision, but he held stubbornly to it. Many called him mad, especially when he refused to go on some of the raids. Instead he spent every spare moment of his time reinforcing the city and helping Garet train the soldiers. Chanlis was always at Garet’s side. Regardless of the time they spent together, there was tension between the two men, which often exploded into Garet railing at Chanlis while Chanlis just stood there and said nothing.
The day Chanlis was to go to the banquet he refused the guards the council tried to send with him and went alone. He got a quarter of the way from Monisi when he was stopped by a familiar figure.
“What are you doing here Garet?”
Garet folded his arms. “I’m coming with you. I won’t let you have all the fun by yourself. Not anymore.”
Chanlis laughed. He laughed long and hard. He laughed because he could not cry. He looked at Garet and shook his head.
“Go back. They need you.”
Garet hesitated and then shook his head. “No, I’ll come with you.”
“Same goes for you.”
“Aye, I think you’re right.” Chanlis raised his hand. Roots shot up from the earth, wrapping around Garet’s legs and torso.
Shock and then anger crossed Garet’s face. “Chanlis! Don’t do this!”
Chanlis patted his shoulder. “You’ve been a good friend, better than even I knew. I’m sorry for not recognizing it sooner.”
He walked away, ignoring Garet’s shouts.
The banquet the elves prepared was elaborate. Women dressed in silks danced and sang across the beautiful wooden floors. The smell of sautéed meat, ripe fruit, and spiced wine made his mouth water. The exquisite display of food was more stunning, especially with the knowledge that the elves could ill afford it.
Chanlis’s arrival caused a dip in the festivities, but the elves quickly recovered. His gaze was immediately drawn to the man who sat high on a dais before his people, observing them with cold blue eyes. For a moment their eyes met and the King grinned. Chanlis grinned right back at him.
Chanlis was escorted to a table surrounded by richly dressed elves that he could only assume were nobility by the slight distaste in their glances. As he sat down, he noticed the King signal to several guards who immediately left, probably checking to see if there were any human soldiers laying in wait.
Chanlis pretended to eat the food and drink, but his eyes were always searching for a glimpse of her, but he saw no sight of Desira or her father.
Finally, the King sat up from his throne and clapped his hands together. Every eye looked at him and the King looked at Chanlis.
“A special event we have tonight. In honor of our guest we shall have a show by our greatest magicians!”
Chanlis remained relaxed and shouted out with a wide smile. “Bring on the show!”
The Elven King scowled, but it was quickly wiped away. He nodded and a large door was thrown open. Several elves came floating in. Chanlis stiffened just the tiniest bit. The King grinned and clapped his hand once again. The magicians began their magic and Chanlis slowly relaxed. Theirs was the magic of the country of Landryl, but this wasn’t Landryl. This was Gavion and she protected her human children.
As they did feat after feat, Chanlis decided to speed things up. He waved his hand and under the magicians feet the wooden floor began to spring brambles that climbed up their legs and sprouted roses, their scent filling the air. Alarm went through the magicians and they looked at their king.
“Worry not,” Chanlis said over the assembly. “I just thought I’d add a little to the show. Please continue.”
They paused for a moment and then carried on with the show. Their magic was mesmerizing, swirling before his eyes, and then something changed. Pain racked through his body. He blinked and saw what was wrong. As he enjoyed their hypnotic display another magician had begun to cause all the guests to float, not exactly an attack, harmless to everyone else. It could be the only reason the magic had worked against him at all. The pain was so strong and sudden he couldn’t hide it. It was all the King needed.
Suddenly all of the magicians focused their powers on him, causing him to rise from the ground and then the hall was flooded with soldiers, attacking. Pain swelled over Chanlis’ body, but still he managed to strike out. The floor changed into a chaos of roots and clawed branches, reaching out to grab at men, piercing through flesh, while others reached for Chanlis’ feet to help bring a connection, but it wasn’t enough. He was already weakened from his separation from the ground. His powers were leaving him as if a great chasm had been torn through him, and still he floated.
Before he knew what was happening, chains were placed around his wrists and elves stationed on either side of him as he continued to float in the air, swallowed by the awful pain. He thought the agony would consume him. They flew him out of the banquet hall until he was in the midst of the city square where an apparatus of steel pillars rose up, only interrupted by a metal bar towards the top. Many elven hands must have burned while building such a thing.
He was guided to the metal rod where his chained hands were fastened. Abruptly, he ceased floating and was left hanging by his wrists between the pillars, his feet dangling in the air. The strain of his weight made his arms feel like they were being ripped out, but still he hung there; a spectacle for the elven nation.
“Bring her,” the King said.
Shuffling and muttering followed and then she was standing there, proud and straight. Beautiful Desira. The king looked at her and then back at Chanlis.
“You have done well Desira, and as your reward I will do as I promised. Your father shall keep his place in court, as well as his life, and you and your line shall be considered an equal to any elf.”
Chanlis stared at Desira, dressed in silks, her head held high, but her eyes never quite met his. She kept her gaze steady on the King.
“Thank you, My Lord.”
“No, Lady Desira, I should be thanking you.” The King chuckled.
Desira bobbed her head and turned.
“Not yet Lady Desira, come and appreciate the act of your loyalty.” The King signaled to a servant, who approached with a pot of steaming coal. A poker of elven steal was buried inside, throbbing red.
Desira paled, Chanlis only watched her. He didn’t turn his glance from Desira, not even as the King floated to Chanlis’s side. The King lifted the poker to Chanlis’s eyes. Chanlis never broke his gaze from Desira. He could almost swear, right before the heat pierced his eyes and pain wiped out everything else, that he could see the tears roll down Desira’s cheeks even if they remained dry.
They kept him alive. He was an amusement; a symbol to be jeered at. They shouted and threw rocks at him, but he remained silent, focusing instead on the pain, hoping that somehow Garet was holding up the city. Days blurred together. Sometimes they would bring him food and water, just enough to keep him alive.
His one moment of peace came late in the evening, when most of the city slept. The soft pad of slippers brushed against the ground, followed by shifting as she sat underneath the pillars. He could imagine her face looking up at him. Her smile was always sad.
“Tell me a story.”
It always started this way. Chanlis remained silent.
“Ah, none then.” Her voice was strained with forced cheerfulness. “Shall I tell you a story instead?”
Silence for a moment.
“Did I tell you the story about the dove? Ah, I haven’t? Well, there once was a girl. She was a healer and very kind, so kind that the animals shared their secret language with her.”
Desira always told him tales. The stories were never about her or what was going on in the world. Desira only told fairy tales, sometimes stories about legends, sometimes ones he was sure she had made up. It was like she was sweeping them both away into a magical journey, but always her stories ended and they were back to where they started — Chanlis and Desira.
The silence was always longest at the story’s end. Desira would sit there for a long time and then she would whisper.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was choked with tears she fought not to shed. Then she rushed away, trying to beat the flood of sobs that spilled from her throat, but Chanlis always heard her.
Sometimes she came almost every day. Other times, days would roll by and he would feel his sanity starting to leave, and then she would return, saving him with a new story. One evening it changed.
“Tell me a story.” Her voice was a little more desperate than usual, but still he didn’t speak.
“Please, Chanlis, please.”
Silence and then the shuffle of feet, clothes sliding against metal.
“Chanlis forgive me, forgive me. The city, Monisi, has fallen. They’re all … all of them are gone.”
He said nothing and this time Desira didn’t run. She simply wept. He listened for a long time.
Not until Desira had left and the city was covered in silence did he open his mouth. His voice was cracked and harsh from disuse. “Please, just this last time.”
Underneath him a flower began to bloom.
The next day, the festivities were loud as the elves proclaimed their victory over the human city that held them back from their invasion of Gavion these past ten years. The people taunted him until they grew bored. On such a day Chanlis could not be forgotten for long. The king himself came out to gloat before the blind man.
“How does it feel to know everything you have loved is gone? All of it, because you foolishly put your trust in a half-elf.” The King laughed, his voice rubbing raw over Chanlis’ senses. “Come! Let’s see the woman who has helped to bring down the fall of a ‘great’ nation.”
Even with all the people around, he could recognize Desira’s tread.
“My Lady,” the King said. There was the shuffling of feet and a soft gasp that was followed by cheers. “Now for some entertainment.”
Chanlis didn’t know what was happening until the whip hit his back, welts forming on his sun baked skin. Strike after strike lashed over his body until the King halted the torturer and took his place. The King’s strikes were harder, Chanlis’s skin breaking and blood falling down his back like rain, spilling on the flower below him. As each strike hit, something inside Chanlis built and built, until he could smell the earth inside him, thick and full. Strike, strike. No longer could he contain it. It leapt.
A root shot up from the ground, cutting through the air to wrap around the King’s wrist, halting the fall of the whip. Stunned, the crowd froze. Then the earth rumbled. Roots and vines surged up, reaching out to cup Gavion’s fallen son and breaking the bar Chanlis hung from, leading him back to the earth.
Chanlis touched earth once more, falling to his knees, weeping. His hands buried into the soil and he could feel it filling him. From above him he heard a shout and screams ripped the air and then they were running. The earth showed him the soldiers rushing towards him. It was useless. None of them could touch him. Trees rose up, branches piercing hearts, but still it wasn’t enough. Gavion filled him.
His eyes were still gone, but Gavion showed it to him, through leaf and branch, through the soil, flower, and every vine that shot up from the earth.
Chanlis raised his hands and the earth opened, swallowing elves into its mouth. Where buildings stood vines broke through, crumbling them, reclaiming what was its. The cries around him didn’t pierce his heart, for his heart was not his own, but belonged to Gavion.
A shriek of rage made him turn. The Elven King chopped himself down from the root that held him. He was once again on the ground, advancing with sword raised. Chanlis let him come. He remembered his mother and father. He remembered the beauty of Monisi and the council that he both loved and hated. He remembered Garet. He struck. His hand molded itself into thick green vines, ripping through the soft belly of this King, this elf, who though himself supreme over all others.
Blood spilled from the King’s mouth as his eyes widened in disbelief. The vines squirmed and then burst through the elf’s back, curling up and around the fallen king’s arms and legs, ripping the limbs from his body. The elven king’s corpse fell to the ground, the blue eyes dull and lifeless.
It wasn’t enough, none of it. He felt Gavion spread her rage and the more power he sucked in, the more he became hers.
He turned, and she was there. His Desira. She pushed against the crowd, trying to get closer to him, while everyone else ran away from him. Desira who had betrayed him, who told him stories, Desira, who, even now, he could not hate. He lifted his hand and she froze, acceptance in her stance as she closed her eyes.
Around her branches began to cover her body, wrapping her in a twisting mass until she was completely surrounded by them. White and violet flowers blossomed over her prison. She was safe until his debt was paid.
He didn’t stop, not until the screaming was covered in silence. All that was left was the rustle of the wind through the leaves and the scent of lilacs sharpened by the tang of blood. Then, and only then, did Chanlis let go, collapsing to the ground.
The branches around Desira became brittle and broke as she burst forward. Purple and white petals fluttered in the air.
“No, Chanlis.” She collapse at his side, clutching at him. “Don’t.”
Chanlis reached for her. The earth’s last gift was receding from him and with it the earth sight. But even with her face just a blur, he knew she was beautiful, would always be beautiful.
“Smile for me.”
She grabbed his face, kissing him, and he wished he had the strength to kiss her back, but he was already fading, collapsing into himself as he slowly became grains of sand and returned to the earth. All Desira was left with was dust in her hands.
Desira didn’t know how long she sat there. Her hand clenched around the sand as the wind tried to blow away the only pieces she had of Chanlis. Everything was gone. Behind her she heard the crunch of feet over grass newly sprung. She didn’t bother looking up. Perhaps it was someone come to end this pitiful life of hers.
The steps continued, bypassing her to stop a foot away. A man bent down, picking up the broken shackles that once held Chanlis prisoner. She looked up.
A Kamier, one of the thirteen guardians of the world stood before her, but even so, she couldn’t make herself move.
He knelt down beside her, the chains of Chanlis clinking in his hand. “Rise, child.”
“I cannot.” She wanted to stay here, to waste away and join Chanlis among the earth.
“Rest is not for you child, not yet.” The Kamier placed his hands on her shoulders. “You must go to the elves, bring to them your story.”
Slowly, reluctantly, she nodded. Taking a deep breath she rose, opening her fist and watching as the last bit of sand was taken with the wind. She took another breath and looked at the Kamier and the chains he held.
“What will you do with them?”
He looked down at the chains. “I will honor the story of a man and a woman.”
Desira closed her eyes and took a breath. She could taste the earth on her tongue, and smell the scent of blood and lilacs. All around her was the satisfied rustle of leaf and bark and the faint touch of a hand that she would never feel again. She opened her eyes. The Kamier was gone and she was once again alone.
When she went to the shore a boat was waiting for her. It did not surprise her. Desira stepped into the boat and crossed the sea to Landryl with nothing; nothing but a legend that would not be forgotten.