CHAPTER FIVE - SAFE IN MY ARMS
Aethaden stared up into the green eyes of the first human he had ever seen. Whatever he had expected, it was not this. Green eyes, fair skin, and hair as dark as a raven’s wing. He was beautiful. Not coarse or vulgar or anything else that Aethaden had kept as a picture of humans in his subconscious. This human male was looking down upon with concern and wonder. Not lasciviousness. Not hunger. Not evil.
He flashed back to Halleden’s disgust when Aethaden had even spoken of humans. He wondered if his best friend would feel the same way looking up into a face that almost seemed kind to him. Kind and noble. Halleden would, undoubtedly, see a trap in it, saying Aethadan was anthropomorphizing the humans to make them seem like Elves when they were really just animals.
His thoughts were derailed when he felt a soft, wet snout touch his cheek and he saw yet another wonder beyond a human that did not seem intent on raping, killing or eating him and maybe not in that order.
It was one of the rarest of magical creatures. Violines were familiars that accompanied only the strongest of Blades, known as Royal Blades. They were magical spirits that sometimes materialized as wolves, others as ravens, and others still as foxes like this one. The Violine snuffled his cheek and throat, making soft, desperate noises to see if he was all right. The very sight of it caused his heart to soar. To see a Violine meant that a Blade must be nearby. A powerful, Royal Blade. He had been right! There were Blades on Earth! His Blade was there!
What are you doing with this human though, Violine? Where is your true Master? He wanted to ask these questions out loud but he was so terrible exhausted. Nocht had drained him to the very dregs. Speech was beyond him at that moment. But this tiredness was not the same as the one that had plagued him for so long, not the pull of the Black Sleep.
Though the human did not appear dangerous or in any way aggressive - perhaps the Blades had conquered them and made them into servants of some sort - he wanted to be among Elves again as soon as possible. He wasn’t sure how many Blades had been exiled, but clearly, there were some in the area. The Violine’s presence was proof of this. But how to get the human to understand him?
The man said something to him in a language he did not recognize. The man was placing a hand as gently as possible on Aethaden’s shoulder. The Elven King shuddered at being touched and that hand immediately went away though it hovered nearby, ready to return if he needed it.
He is very well trained. The Blades must have truly taken over this place and civilized these mortals. How else would the humans not be attacking me?
He frowned slightly as he regarded the man. There was something of an Elf about him. In the cut of his jaw. In the planes of his cheekbones. In the depth of his green eyes. In the fact that Aethaden actually felt attracted to him. Could the Blades have intermarried and - Gods forbid - created hybrid offspring? Half-Elves?
The man spoke again, still in that same incomprehensible language.
If the Blades conquered them, they did not teach them our language. But perhaps it was beyond the human’s ability and understanding.
The man’s head snapped to the side, gazing back towards where they both had come. Aethaden followed his gaze and blanched. His heart shriveled in his chest. Three Black Knights had managed to follow him through the portal that Nocht had created. He felt the portal shut at that moment. But it was too late. The Black Knights were already here.
And I have no strength! Where is your Blade, Violine? We need him or her to deal with the Black Knights!
The human’s gaze flickered between the three monsters. His nostrils flared. His hands clenched. He was looking at the strange dark green metal beast that he had ridden inside as if it held something important. But if he hoped to hide from the Black Knights in there, he would not make it in time. Aethaden never considered that the human would remain by his side to fight for him as well.
The human’s gaze came back to him and he caught sight of Arthalash on Aethaden’s belt. The man said something. It was a question or perhaps a request or even an apology. The Elven King did not know what he meant but then the man reached for the hilt. Aethaden let out a thin cry, but could not move to stop the human from taking the sword. Touching Arthalash would, undoubtedly, kill a mortal as it would kill most Valore. The man hesitated and said something again. But then the first Black Knight reared back on his horse and the man did not speak, but simply drew Arthalash from its sheath and jumped to his feet.
Aethaden expected the human to scream and turn to white flame as had the few who had attempted to take the blade before. But that did not happen. The human was unaffected. The blade though glowed. An icy-blue white he had never seen suffuse it. The blade seemed like it was meant to be wielded by this human.
How can this be?
The Violine hopped over the Elven King’s body and stood at the human’s side, fur bristling, small mouth opened in a snarl. They were protecting him, he realized.
The Blades have given the humans honor? Or is he just defending what he thinks is his?
The human snarled something that was clearly a threat of violence against the Black Knights. He thrust Arthalash towards them and the nearest Black Knight’s horse reared back, this time in fear. The human’s movements were graceful, fluid and powerful. He was not unaccustomed to a sword in his hand.
The Black Knight to their right drew its flaming blade and challenged the human. The unearthly cold they brought with them iced the ground over. The human though did not shrink before them though Aethaden himself felt terrified. The Black Knights would surely overcome this mortal and the brave Violine. There was simply no chance of success. Aethaden was sad that this poor child of man had gotten involved. If only he had been brought directly to a Blade then all would be different!
Aethaden looked about him for Nocht. Perhaps he would have enough energy to send a blast of plasma towards them. But that was when he realized that Nocht was still clutched in his hand and he didn’t even feel it. It seemed merely a staff of plain wood with no magic whatsoever. His eyes widened in shock and horror. He was powerless.
The Black Knights’ horses tossed their heads and then all three Black Knights extended their swords as one and urged their mounts to charge the slender human. Arthalash glowed even brighter. If the human were Aethaden’s Blade, Arthalash would grant him ever enhanced speed and power. But this was simply a human. It would not grant him anything. But then the human moved and Aethaden’s mouth dropped open.
He moves like a flame in the night!
Aethaden’s sight was dimming - it must have been dimming - as he swore it seemed like the human moved much too fast to even see. The Black Rider to the left was the first that he took down. Arthalash arced up, leaving a trace of light in its passage as it sliced through the Black Knight’s leg. The armor disintegrated under Arthalash’s power. The rider, unbalanced, fell from the saddle and the armor broke apart upon impact with the ground. The rider was vanquished. The Violine snapped at the massive horse, which took off into the woods in terror in response.
The man was then beset by the middle rider. Again, he moved like quicksilver. The only thing that Aethaden could follow was the echo of the glowing blade through the night air. The man jumped up and slashed the blade down in a vicious maneuver, it cut through the flaming sword that was aimed for the man’s head, and opened up the front of the rider’s armor. The Black Knight pitched backwards in his saddle and fell end over end onto the group where the armor shattered into a million pieces and disappeared. Once again, the Violine snapped at the horse until it reared back and galloped off into the darkness.
The third rider’s blade swooped through the air and would have cloven through the man’s neck, but he ducked and rolled away from the blade and leaped to his feet in one fluid movement. He spun around and slashed the back of the third rider’s horse with Arthalash. The horse let out a scream as it broke turned into ash. The Black Knight landed on his feet even as his horse disappeared beneath him. Then the sword fight began.
The rider and the human circled around one another. The Black Knight feinted right then left, but the man did not fall for these false movements. He was eerily calm. His green-eyed gaze was locked on the Black Knight. He wasn’t breathing hard or strained by the combat in any way. This fighting style was beyond the things that Aethaden had heard of Blades, or rather, this was the stuff that Blade legends were made of.
The human danced around the much larger Black Knight. He moved with lightning quickness out of the slashing distance of that three-foot long flaming blade. The rider stabbed towards him and the man dodged, rolled forward and sliced at the rider’s left ankle. Just in time, the Black Knight shifted out of range. The human was on his feet again, spinning around to block a blow from the rider’s blade. Arthalash was like living fire as the blades met and sprang apart. There was a large chip in the rider’s sword from the contact. The Black Knight let out a hoarse roar and slashed the air viciously. The flames licked the night sky. But the human was simply too fast for the rider who seemed almost ponderous in comparison.
The rider was put off balance as he swung the sword in a deadly arc to cut the human in two. But the man went low then sprang up behind the blade. With Arthalash he sliced up and then made another ferocious strike across the rider’s throat. For one moment, the Black Knight stood motionless and then slowly with a terrible creaking, the armor fell apart, leaving nothing of the Black Knight behind.
He defeated three Black Knights! By himself! Inconceivable!
The human stood there with the Violine at his side, breathing heavily now, eyes open yet unseeing, and Arthalash still held high. The silence that fell after the clash of blades and grinding of armored feet against the ground felt almost heavy. Then slowly the night insects began to whirr again, the soft rustling of animals in the underbrush and the soft call of night birds in the trees filled that silence and made it light.
The man’s head swung towards him. His expression was one of shock and joy. The human was surprised as well by how the fight had gone even though his skill showed he should have expected no less. He lowered Arthalash. Again, the man spoke in that incomprehensible language, but the tone was gentle. The Violine immediately came in bounding leaps towards Aethaden and began to snuffle his face and throat again. The soft warm licks were soothing. The human was suddenly down at his side, too.
The human held up Arthalash and said something about it with a rather wild smile. Aethaden could tell that the human was impressed by the blade.
A worthy blade for a worth warrior? Could it be true that a mere human be worth of Arthalash?
Aethaden was thinking as a king at that moment. Whatever else the Valore thought they knew about the humans, if all humans could fight even a fraction as well as this one had with even a quarter of the courage then the Elves should be glad that the humans did not have access to the Elven Realm for the Elves might find themselves with another enemy as powerful as the Riven on their doorstep.
The human gently slid Arthalash back in the sheath at Aethaden’s waist after cleaning it on his pants leg. Not that it needed cleaning. The Black Knights had no blood or flesh to stain the blade and Arthalash burned away whatever filth the riders did leave. The human was speaking with him again, gesturing towards the green beast he had arrived in. He clearly wanted to lift Aethaden up and carry him to the beast.
He must have been taught by the Blades to fight like that. He must serve the Blade that this Violine belongs to. A strong, Royal Blade. I will go with him and he will take me to safety.
Aethaden nodded his assent to the man picking him up. He tensed as the human’s hands slid underneath him and lifted him up from the ground as if he weighed no more than a feather. Aethaden surprised himself when he laid his head on the human’s broad shoulder. His eyes were sliding shut against his will as well. He called out wearily to Anam to follow after them. His beloved steed whinnied in response. The Violine crawled up the man’s pant leg and settled on the center of Aethaden’s chest, a light, warm, comforting weight.
I will sleep and when I wake I will be with my people again. With Blades. Perhaps with my Blade.
Aethaden fell into the deepest sleep he’d experienced since before he turned his 1000th year. He did not dream.
“Twig, did that just happen? Did you see what we did? What I did? That blade! It felt like it was made for my hand! And the monsters, it was made to kill them!” Ciaran babbled as he carried the beautiful Elf - for that had to be what he was, for if monsters were real then why not their opposite? - towards the Range Rover. There was simply no chance that this being was a cosplayer or had plastic surgery to make himself look like an ethereal, immortal being. No, this was an Elf. A real Elf. Just like those were real monsters.
Twig chittered softly in agreement, but she was too busy taking care of the now unconscious Elf to fully pay attention to him. She was always kind to people, eager for pets, and not shy, but this reaction to the Elf was unusual. She had gone to him almost as if she had known him, almost as if he was the same as Ciaran in her eyes. He wasn’t jealous of this exactly. Looking down at the beautiful being in his arms, he could understand why Twig was obsessed. He felt rather obsessed with him, too. His need to protect was on full alert.
Ciaran’s blood was sizzling in his veins from the fight. He had never felt so alive. All the pain and exhaustion that had plagued him for so long was gone as if it never had been. He couldn’t believe that he was dying now. No one would believe it!
He opened the back door of the Range Rover and as tenderly and gently as he could, slid the sleeping Elf across the back leather bench seats. The Elf let out a soft sigh and then settled in on his side, expression serene. Twig leaped off of him and into the front seat, but she still kept an eye on the Elf. Ciaran shrugged off his leather jacket and arranged it over the sleeping form. He then softly, but firmly shut the back door before looking around him.
There was no proof of the battle that had taken place here. There were two of the black horses of unnatural size somewhere in the woods but of the armored riders there was nothing to be seen. They had disappeared like magic after he had slain them. Just like the one when he was fifteen. So, other than the Elf, there was no proof of what had happened here.
Proof … Ciaran froze, but then he wheeled around to look at the sleeping form of the Elf. What would people do if they knew Elves were real? Monsters were real? Some would be like my dad and refuse to believe it no matter what. But others? Others would want to hurt him and others would want to imprison him. I can’t let the world find out about him. It’s too dangerous!
His initial thought had been to take the Elf to the Gallifreys. Dr. Gallifrey was still Forest Fall and the surrounding towns' physician. But though Ciaran remembered them as kind and trustworthy people, he couldn’t trust the existence of this Elf even to them. Being exposed to the supernatural or whatever this Elf was could engender unexpected emotions in people. His instincts told him to take the Elf to the cabin and keep his existence a secret.
He was broken out of his thoughts when the Elf’s horse nuzzled his side. He turned and studied the beautiful animal. He couldn’t leave it here. He would take it with them, which meant that he’d have to hold onto the reins and keep the Range Rover at a crawl so that the horse could keep up. That wasn’t too big of a deal as the turn-off to the cabin was only about five hundred feet away.
He ran his hands down the front of the horse’s head, whispering soothing things to it. The horse’s ears flickered and it whinnied softly as if understanding him.
“I hope I have something to feed you once we get to the cabin. You deserve an apple or carrot or sugar lump, but grass might have to suffice until I shop,” he told it. “You were such a brave horse not to run away while all of that was happening.”
The horse nickered its agreement and Ciaran leaned down and kissed its soft nose. Holding onto the reins he opened the Range Rover’s driver’s door and slid in. He pushed the button to lower the window and threaded the horse’s reins through it so he could hold onto them with one hand while he drove. The engine was still on, purring softly. He slowly did a u-turn on the road, the horse following along as if understanding which direction he needed to go. Then they started to inch along the asphalt towards the turn-off.
Ciaran glanced over at Twig. She was standing on the armrest between the seats, watching the Elf sleep. Her ears were perked and her whiskers twitched. She glanced over at him and chattered a moment. He felt that she was telling him the Elf was fine, just sleeping, because he was exhausted after the journey here.
The journey from where?
Ciaran tried to remember everything he’d seen before the Elf had appeared. The portal had been electric blue and beyond it he’d thought he’d seen a forest and … and a castle? Yes, a castle on a mountain. It had seemed a fairytale castle to him all white with turrets and towers and airy bridges. But it had only been a momentary glimpse before he’d seen the Elf. He could be making that all up out of whole cloth.
The riders have come here before. I killed one when I was fifteen after all.
His blood seemed to sing then. He hadn’t been crazy. That had been real. He had faced off against a monster and won. He’d done it again now. Against three of them! And he felt … he felt amazing. He couldn’t remember when he had ever felt so well in his life.
What does it mean?
His gaze went back to the Elf that slept on his backseat. That was such an incongruous thing. An Elf in a Range Rover covered by his leather jacket. An Elf so beautiful and fair that he felt a bit like some kind of gallant knight rather than the sickly man he’d been defined as all his life. His hands beat a light tattoo on the steering wheel of pure joy. The horse whinnied and Twig chittered in question. He shook his head and let out a soft laugh.
“I’m okay. I’m just a little … jazzed after that battle,” he answered them. He realized that he was talking to animals and he expected that they understood him. And why not? The world seemed so full of possibilities now when before everything before had been grim.
What if this is just the end phase of the disease? What if I’m hallucinating all of this?
A current of fear ran through him. He immediately looked at the Elf again and then at the horse. No, both were still there, looking and feeling incredibly real.
If this is some bizarre end hallucination, I’ll take it. I’ll go out as a hero helping someone. That’s better than any alternative I can think of.
The turn-off to the cabin was right ahead of him. He told the horse that the turn was coming and the horse responded easily as he turned the Range Rover onto the gravel drive. They followed the winding track for another half a smile and then through the trees he saw lights. Mrs. Gallifrey had left the lights in the cabin burning for him.
The two story, sprawling structure looked welcoming and right to him. He drove the Range Rover up towards spot by the stairs to the wrap around front porch. The Gallifreys had even pulled some ancient, but still serviceable rattan furniture and cushions out of storage to populate the porch.
Already, Ciaran could imagine sitting in them while the sun set behind the trees and the chirr of crickets filled the air. For one moment, unbidden, he imagined turning his head and seeing the Elf sitting in the chair beside him, smiling serenely. In this vision, he looked down to see their hands linked together, fingers laced through one another’s. Twig was sitting on the Elf’s lap, happily. This image was so strong for a moment that Ciaran almost ran into the porch. He slammed on the Range Rover’s brakes just in time. The horse had already stopped a foot earlier.
“Nerves,” he said with a fey smile at the two animals.
He put the Range Rover into park and turned off the engine. Silence fell again except for night sounds. There was no one for miles around. They were truly alone, but he didn’t feel afraid. The riders were dead and gone or whatever they were. There had only been three of them that had gotten through the portal before it had closed.
But more could come. Like the one that attacked me and the one Mom saw, he realized.
But he did not feel their presence nearby. His sixth sense was telling him it was safe, but still he would make sure that the cabin was securely locked and he would stay with the Elf all night.
He got out of the Range Rover and led the horse over to a fenced garden. There wasn’t anything growing there, it was mowed, but no vegetables or plants of any sort were planted there. He opened the gate and the horse entered the fenced area. The horse stood patiently as he inexpertly removed the bridle, saddle and pad from the animal. Once freed, the horse immediately began to chomp on the sweet grass and clover.
After closing the gate securely, he carried the tack to the porch and laid it down on one of the chaise lounges. He hoped that would be all right. He had no idea about horses or anything about riding them. He then hurried back to the Range Rover.
His breathing became a little easier when he saw that the Elf was still sleeping just where he’d left him. The hallucination - if it was one - was still ongoing smoothly. Twig raced over to him and curled around the back of his neck. Just at that moment, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw that he had two text messages. One from Aiko and the other, surprisingly, from his father. They were both asking the same thing, which was: did you arrive safely?
He paused a moment before he texted back: I’m safe. Everything is … just as it should be.