Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

        Eithne’s mother was calling.  This was not unusual, and Eithne set aside her book on the table before going to answer her.  Her mother, impatient, called again.  She stepped a bit more lively into the small kitchen where her mother was stirring a pot of stew for supper.  

        “Finally, Darling!  What have you been doing alone in your room for over an hour?”  Her mother inquired with a hint of impatience.  She was a tall, slender elf woman with a sweet and hasty manner about her.  She was quite beautiful still and had many suitors in her youth.  Her long reddish blond hair was knotted into a bun on the top of her head and her brown eyes still held a sparkle of youth.  Eithne’s older sister, Rosalin, looked very much like their mother.  Some people said that Eithne did as well, but she did not see it.

        “I was reading a book.”  Eithne replied simply.

        Her mother let out a practiced sigh of exasperation.  “Why would you want to be inside reading on such a lovely day?  Anyway, there are other, much more desirable, activities for young ladies to busy themselves with.”  

        Eithne rolled her eyes at her mother’s comment.  It was the sort of thing she was often made to tolerate.  “Was there something you wanted me to do, Mum?”  

        “Yes.  Yes there is, Darling.”  She stopped stirring the pot, wiped her hands on her apron, and began sifting through a nearby drawer.  “I would like you to stop by the baker’s and buy a loaf of bread.  While you are out, retrieve your sister for supper.”  

        Her mother took some money and a dark green ribbon from the drawer and walked over to her youngest daughter, who was standing in the doorway.  Eithne pocketed the money and tried to turn away, but her mother stopped her and began to fuss over appearance.  

        “Honestly Eithne, you’re much prettier than this!  Would it kill you to wear a more flattering dress and put a ribbon in your hair?”  

        “It doesn’t matter, Mum.  I think I look fine.  Besides, I’m comfortable.”  She retorted with some pluck.  

        “Nonsense.  You would be just as comfortable in something less plain.”  Her mother smoothed out Eithne’s firey red hair and tied it with the dark green ribbon.  Then she plucked at the wool shift dress Eithne wore as if straightening it out would somehow make it less plain.  “Well, at least you’re wearing green.  It brings out those lovely eyes.”

        Eithne had inherited her father’s eyes, which were a vibrant green, like the color of new spring grass.  

        “Alright, may I go now?  I don’t understand why you always have to make such a fuss.  I’m not like Rosalin anyway.”  Eithne resented that her mother always seemed to try to make her more like her older sister, who was apparently perfect.  

        Her mother sighed at her comment and nodded.  Eithne turned and walked out through the front door of their house.  Her family lived right off the main street of the village, so it would be a short errand.  It would also be easy to find her sister.  All she had to do was look for the adoring crowd of young suitors.  

        The village was solely inhabited by members of Eithne’s tribe, the Aranni tribe.  It was one of the many villages that all belonged to the same tribe as the Aranni were quite large in population.  Once a year all the villages would gather for a festival of several days that would celebrate a great many things at one time.  All of its members were elves, like Eithne, who were characteristically tall and slender.  People mostly lived in small wooden houses, each having a little garden to itself.  Another well-known characteristic of her people were what marked the coming of age of each individual.  Once a person passed adolescence, they would go to see a special shaman in the tribe who would determine their spirit animal guide.  Then, the likeness of that animal would be permanently tattooed on the young elf’s body in a place determined by the shaman.  Eithne had always been quite proud of her animal guide because she knew that no one else in the entire tribe shared her same animal.  A great phoenix had been tattooed on the left side of her body.  Its head beginning just beneath her left breast, and ending with its tail feathers sailing down her thigh almost to her knee.  Of course, no one ever saw the massive display of body art, as tribal elf women dressed quite modestly in long dresses covering their ankles.  Eithne was quietly proud of her phoenix nonetheless.  

        It had rained recently in the village, and the ground was still quite muddy.  Eithne muddied the hem of her dress and her slippers in short time as she made her way.  She first went to the baker’s stall to buy the bread.  There was not much to choose from.  Even though the grain harvest was recent, crops were doing poorly.  She did her best to purchase a loaf that seemed large enough to feed the family for dinner tonight and perhaps have some left over for breakfast.  Then, she set off to locate her sister, Rosalin.  After making a few inquiries to those who may have seen her, Eithne discovered that Rosalin was at the jewel shop with her friend, Gwendalyn.  She should have known.  The jewel shop was a favorite haunt for many young ladies and girls in the village, and Rosalin was no exception.  

        Rosalin was exactly there, exclaiming in an animated fashion over a gold and ruby pendant with Gwendalyn.  Eithne, who was now impatient to get home for supper, wasted no time approaching them.  When Rosalin saw her little sister, she smiled brightly.

        “Eithne, isn’t it beautiful?  I wish it could be mine.”  Exclaimed Rosalin as she gestured to the pendant.  

        Eithne glanced at the pendant passively.  “Yes, it’s lovely, but Mum wants us home for supper.  I’ve already bought the bread.”  She held up the paper parcel with the small loaf of bread inside to further illustrate her statement.  

        “Don’t be so serious all the time!”  Rosalin chided in a very similar fashion to their mother.  “Why do you always sit around reading books instead of coming out with Gwendalyn and I sometimes?”  

        Gwendalyn smiled a polite smile.

        “I’m just not very interested in shopping, I suppose.”  That wasn’t true.  A part of Eithne desperately wanted to do all of those silly, girly things, but she also didn’t want people to think that was all she was either.  

        “Well, you should be.  I would love to see you in some new dresses, and maybe some jewelry to match.  I have even heard one of the boys saying that he fancied you.”  Rosalin gave Eithne a wink and placed her hands on her hips.  

        Eithne sighed internally.  Her sister simply did not understand.  “Rosalin, you know I don’t care to talk about things like that.  Besides, I don’t have to worry about it until you’re married off.  Now, Mum has supper ready, and I’m hungry.  Are you ready to go?”

        Rosalin gave her a suspicious look for a moment, but did concede to leave.  She said ‘good-bye’ to Gwendalyn with a shared cheek kiss, then hooked her arm with Eithne’s as they walked out.  Eithne noticed the clerk noticing Rosalin as they left.  It was nothing out of the ordinary.  She had always thought that her older sister was more beautiful than she, and though she hated to admit it to herself, she was secretly quite jealous.  Rosalin was practically the picture of their mother in her youth.  She also had long wavy reddish blond hair that fell gracefully down her back, and sparkling brown eyes.  She was slightly taller and a bit more robust then Eithne, and she smiled a lot.  Rosalin had more suitors than any other elf maiden in the village.  Eithne had none.  

        As they walked back through the busy streets, Rosalin chatted to Eithne about her day and whatever other thoughts passed through her mind at the time.  Eithne’s attention waivered in and out depending on her sister’s discussion topic.  It was during one of her episodes of not paying much attention that she found that they had stopped walking.  Eithne looked up to see a male elf standing in front of them.  His name was Darian MacAllow.  Eithne and Rosalin knew him from childhood, though the sisters did not know him so well as an adult.  Darian was very accomplished for his age.  He had already risen to the rank of Captain of the Guard for the small military force in their village.  Everyone knew that he had much greater ambitions however.  He had sleek black hair that was pulled back and tied with a leather thong at the nape of his neck, as was the fashion for men in their tribe.  His eyes were a piercing steely blue, and his skin was tanned from practicing outside with a sword regularly.  

        “Good evening Rosalin, Eithne.”  Darian bent low and kissed Rosalin’s hand, then politely inclined his head toward Eithne.  Eithne returned his nod, only a bit more curtly.  Rosalin flushed with pleasure as he greeted them.  “Where are you ladies going?”  Darian asked.  

        “We were just on our way home for supper.”  Rosalin replied.  “Are you off to your home for the same?”  

        “Yes, in fact I am.”  He seemed somewhat awkward and at a loss for words, but Darian still wished to chat idly.  Eithne rolled her eyes from impatience.  How long was this going to last?  She just wanted to eat.  The deficient conversation continued for several moments as Rosalin blushed and smiled prettily for him.  Occasionally, Darian glanced at Eithne and gave her a small smile in order to give her the impression of being included in the conversation.  She would smile or nod back and then look at her sister to see when the painful display would end.  

        When they threatened to move on to an even more menial subject then the weather, Eithne interrupted.  “Well, I’m really very hungry, dear sister.  Perhaps we should get going and you two can continue your conversation another time?”  

        Darian looked a bit embarrassed, but gave his accord to Eithne’s suggestion.  He bade them both a good evening and stepped aside so they could walk past.  He stood and watched the pair of sisters walk down the street.  Eithne looked back as they went and made eye contact with Darian.  He quickly turned away.  She thought there was no need for him to be embarrassed.  Lots of men watched her sister as she passed.  

        For the rest of the evening, Eithne heard about nothing but Darian MacAllow.  Firstly, on the rest of the walk home with her sister, which was mercifully short.  Then, as soon as Rosalin mentioned his name and the encounter to their parents, they became too excited and would not stop talking about him either.  Of course, his good looks were the foremost topic discussed.  Even though Eithne was annoyed with the conversation, there was no denying that Darian was a very handsome elf with his straight, chiseled features.  Next, her parents went on and on about his accomplishments as the Captain of the Guard at such a young age.  It was also true.  That discussion only lead to the topic of Darian’s most distinguished military lineage.  Both his father and grandfather had been high-ranking officers who held much respect in the tribal elf communities.  Even Darian’s mother had been a nurse to injured soldiers in times of war.  

        Eithne managed to suppress a yawn.  She wondered when she could be excused from the table and her mind wandered to more entertaining thoughts.  Her musings were interrupted when she realized that she was expected to participate in the monologue of Darian.  

        “Darling, are you even listening?”  Her mother chided.  “Rosalin was just saying that Darian had expressed a desire to court her for marriage yesterday!  Isn’t that exciting?”

        Eithne should have been more excited, and she would have been if a new man didn’t express his desire to marry her sister every week or so.  Though, Darian was probably the best option so far.  Not only for Rosalin, but also as a brother-in-law.  

        “Yes, very exciting indeed.  He seems like he would be a good husband.”  Eithne said sweetly.  There was genuine warmth in her voice.  “I mean, he certainly has an even temper, and doesn’t get angry easily.”  

        “Why would you say that?”  Father asked, curious of his youngest daughter’s insight.  

        Eithne was just on the spot, and could only blame herself.  She had said too much.  She knew this about Darian because he had good reason once to be very angry with her in the recent past.  He had found her practicing with a sword, which was strictly forbidden of elf women in the tribe.  Women were not allowed to learn any fighting skills or how to blacksmith.  It was considered to be quite the egregious offense, and any elf woman caught doing such things met with harsh punishment.  Eithne had been just such a lawbreaker for many years now.  She would sneak off to the training fields to watch the men practice, trying to learn the proper techniques.  She had also stolen a sword from the weapons chest at the training fields, another horrible offense, and had been using it for a long time.  Eithne had always found a secluded place to practice.  Only a few short weeks ago she thought she had found a new, perfectly safe spot.  A pristine little meadow that was not far from her home.  Little did she know that Darian also thought the meadow to be an excellent place for sword practice.  Eithne had been in the middle of figuring some new maneuver when she turned to be confronted with the dark, glaring gaze of those steel blue eyes.  He did not say anything for what felt like forever, and Eithne had never been so terrified, her heart beating wildly in her chest.  He had every right to explode in a rage and drag her in front of the tribe’s elders by her firey hair right that second, but he did not.  He thrust his hand out and briskly demanded her sword.  She gave it quickly.  Then, he told her to go home and never come back.  Again, she did exactly as he ordered.  Darian was good at giving orders.  She had never spoken of it, and he, to Eithne’s great and profound relief, never breathed a word of the encounter to anyone.  He also continued to treat her normally.  Eithne would be forever in his debt, for it was no small gesture on his part.  If anyone ever found out that the Captain of the Guard had allowed her to get away with such prohibited behavior, he would be in just as much trouble as she.  

        “Well Darling?”  Her mother prompted, and Eithne realized she had taken far too long to answer her father’s query.  

        “I’ve just never once seen him lose his temper.  That’s all.”  Then Eithne attempted to deflect the attention from herself:  “You know, all part of being a good leader.  Darian is quite the natural, don’t you think?”  

        “Yes, he is.”  Rosalin answered dreamily.  

        “You two would make a smart match, Sweetheart.”  Father said affectionately, and the conversation lapsed back into all things Darian MacAllow.  

        Eithne breathed a sigh of relief.  She waited a few more minutes before excusing herself from the table and going to her room.  

Next Chapter: Chapter Two