O follower of the Vision, still|
In motion to the distant gleam
Howe'er blind force and brainless will
May jar thy golden dream
Of Knowledge fusing class with class,
Of civic Hate no more to be,
Of love to leaven all the mass,
Till every soul be free.
Once upon a time there was a nameless world that slowly turned beneath two moons. On this world there was a large forest called Arden surrounded by grassy meadows and gently rolling hills. There was nothing remarkable about that forest, for there were many such forests on that world, even though this particular forest had a village located on each side of it while many of the others didn't. One of these villages was inhabited by large creatures called human beings, but this wasn't remarkable either because most villages were inhabited by human beings. However, the other village was populated by small creatures called elves, and that was most remarkable indeed because most elves always tried to stay as far away from humans as possible.
You see, humans had hated the elves ever since the elves had arrived on that world so many uncountable centuries ago. The humans would delight in torturing and killing any elf they could get their hands on. But the elves who had founded this village had decided that they were tired of running and were willing to fight to make a home for themselves. And that's just what they did. Elves fought humans, and humans fought elves. Many died on both sides, but the much smaller elves suffered far worse. As the generations passed the elves forgot the reasons why they had come to that world in the first place and whether or not any others of their kind still existed. All in all, everyone was pretty miserable.
Spearshaker was the current leader of the elfin village, but not for much longer. The human jabbed his knife into Spearshaker's gut one final time, smiled in satisfaction, and left. It was a good kill, the young man thought; the wound he had inflicted upon the demon was definitely fatal, but it would take the demon several painful hours to die. He would be highly honored by his people when they had found out that he had killed the demon chief, and he had considered taking the evil one's staff as a trophy. He decided against this though, for he felt that a demon's possession might bring evil upon the village.
The other elves found Spearshaker during the last few moments of his life. His daughter, Dreamchaser, was the first one to reach him, and she knelt beside her father, tears forming in her large eyes. Dayroamer and the others stayed a short distance back. They didn't want to disturb this final meeting. With the last of his strength Spearshaker reached for his staff and held it up to his daughter.
"By the passing of this staff," he managed to say with great effort,"I name you leader of the village. You have not been an ideal elf, but I have no other offspring. Please try to change," he coughed up blood, "for our people's sake, if not for mine."
She closed her fingers around the ancient staff. At the same moment his dead fingers released it.
Dayroamer couldn't help but smile inwardly. How characteristic of Spearshaker to criticize his daughter with his dying breath. They had never gotten along, even before her mother, Darkmaid, had been killed by the humans. Her foolish thoughts about better times - happier times with elves and humans living in peace - were a constant source of embarrassment to him. Dayroamer watched Dreamchaser as she stood up. She wasn't upset by her father's words, for she had an understanding and forgiving nature, and she loved her father very much. Now that was foolish, Dayroamer thought. She hadn't looked up at them yet and was just letting the staff hang limply in one hand.
The staff had been brought to this world by the High Ones - the first elves to arrive on their new planet. Legend said that the staff was used to focus and concentrate magical energies, greatly increasing its bearer's powers. Dayroamer didn't know if this were true or not because no one in the village had any magic powers. In fact, not only did he doubt the legends about the staff, but he also doubted that elves ever did control any magical energies. He felt that the staff was just an old walking stick, and that the stories about magic were created by his ancestors just to frighten the humans. But the staff was beautiful to behold anyway. It was made of some strange metal that no one could identify, and, when the sunlight hit it, it shined with a rainbow of colors.
Dayroamer felt it was only fitting that Dreamchaser possessed the staff because the shine of the staff was so much like the shine of her hair. Her hair was brown - sort of - and none of them were exactly sure which shade of brown it really was. It was as if each individual strand was a slightly different shade so that the entire silken mass that fell just below her shoulders would seem to change color as she moved her head. When the sunlight hit it just right, steaks of red, orange, and gold could be seen, and there were those who claimed that they even saw occasional glimpses of blue, green, and violet. But these colors appeared in such brief flashes that they couldn't be certain. Whenever anyone questioned her about this she would just chuckle and say, "Whoever heard of blue hair?" No one could ever tell if she was laughing at the absurdity of their question or at some inner, private joke that she wasn't sharing. Dayroamer loved to watch her laugh, though, because when she did her deep blue-green eyes would sparkle in such a manner that he could feel himself falling into them, getting lost forever, and never wanting to get out.
And Dreamchaser was leader now. She looked up at them and planted her staff firmly on the ground.
"Well?" asked Bowbender, one of the village elders.
"Well what?" She seemed confused, but Bowbender decided to be patient - just this once.
"When do we retaliate?"
Dreamchaser thought about this for a moment. It was only then sinking in that she was their leader, and that for the first time in her life, the others would have to listen to her. An idea was born.
This brought astonished gasps and angry outcries from everyone. Even unsurprisable Dayroamer was surprised. The next few moments, he thought, might be very amusing.
"There will be no retaliation against the humans," she said meekly. Bowbender was the first to jump down her throat.
"We must have revenge!"
"Would revenge bring Spearshaker back?"
"Listen, Dreamchaser," he pronounced her name as the insult it had originally been when he had first given it to her and briefly wondered why she had never bothered to change it. "You are leader now. You must put aside your childish fantasies of peace between elves and humans. They understand nothing but killing."
"Are you going to defy my will?" She tried to sound firm but could tell right away that she didn't. Her words had the desired effect anyway. Bowbender paused and Dayroamer realized for the first time just how clever Dreamchaser really was. She had intentionally directed her question only to the elder. Any of the younger elves would have challenged her, defeated her, and begun an attack against the humans by now. But she knew that Bowbender was so caught up in custom and tradition that he would never go against the Way by defying his leader. Bowbender grudgingly backed down, and the matter was settled. None of the others challenged her, because to do so would embarrass the elder. They feared Bowbender's wrath a lot more than Dreamchaser's, a fact that she was also well aware of. Dayroamer smiled in spite of himself. It would seem that there was much more to his new leader than shining hair and sparkling eyes.
There was much grumbling in the elfin village during the seasons that followed. Dreamchaser indicated a boundary in the middle of the forest that she forbade them from crossing unless they had her permission. When this reduced the number of confrontations with humans, the elves had to admit that it was a good idea. Her next idea wasn't as well received. When she insisted that they place a portion of their crops, fleece, and other items in the humans' side of the forest as a gift for them, she nearly had another rebellion on her hands. The elders started shouting and accusing her of trying to bring about the end of elfkind. Many elves challenged her outright. Dayroamer stepped in front of Dreamchaser with a wicked smile on his face.
"To challenge her you will have to challenge me first."
The others hesitated. Dayroamer was a good two hands taller than the tallest elf in the village and considerably stronger. Honor forbade there being more than one elf fighting him at a time. He grinned as the elves once again backed down. He wasn't doing this because he agreed with Dreamchaser. No, he had decided that she was a fool - a beautiful and clever fool - but a fool nonetheless. Instead, he was doing this because he derived a perverse pleasure from supporting a cause that infuriated everyone.
A few days later their first offering was left in a place where the humans would be sure to find it. The humans were very suspicious when they came across it, and suspected that it might be some sort of trap. But after the goods had lain there for several days and some of the more perishable food was in danger of spoiling, they gathered it up and took it back to their village. Once the offerings started coming at regular intervals, the elves could see curious humans watching them from the bushes as they placed the items on the ground. The humans wondered what sort of madness had overtaken the demons, but they always greedily collected the offering anyway. Dreamchaser worked her people very hard and had them increase the size of their crops so that the size of the offering could be increased as well. After a few seasons that size had become considerable indeed.
Dreamchaser crouched atop a hill that overlooked the humans' farm. Three eights of seasons had passed since the elves had started leaving the offerings, and each season she came here to look at the humans' crops. As she suspected, once the offerings had become a regular, accepted part of the humans' lives, they started reducing the size of their own farms, feeling that there was no need to have so much surplus. She saw to it that the offerings were always on time and that each one was more bountiful than the one before - even if her people had to sometimes do without. Dreamchaser compared the size of that season's crops with what her memory told her was their original size three eights of seasons ago and took into account the current population of the human's village. A smile lit her face because the farm was much too small. The humans were now dependent on the elves for food. And she knew that they'd know it by now too. They were all too aware that if they did anything to anger the elves, the offerings would stop and their people would starve. She realized that this dependence probably made the humans hate her people even more, but they had become too used to the comfortable life that the elves had given them to go back to the way things were. In recent seasons incidents of humans killing elves for sport had decreased until they were almost nonexistent, although there were still occasional chance meetings in the forest that resulted in the death of an elf or human - usually the elf. She returned to her village very pleased with herself for bringing about this first step toward her dream.
Calet, chief of the human village, was upset. He had seen the demon chieftess watching his people again, and he hated her for what she had done to them. More upsetting was the fact that only he was aware of the position his people had been placed in because everyone else refused to even contemplate the possibility of being beholden to demons. As soon as he had become aware of the situation he had inadvertently allowed his people to be placed in, he ordered that all demon hunts be stopped for fear of angering them, although some people still went on hunts individually. He hoped that the demons would think these were chance encounters and not intentional hunts. But what upset him most was his confusion. Why didn't the demons stop the offerings as soon as his people had become dependent? Wasn't that their reason for doing this thing in the first place? And if not, what was their motivation? His daughter, Julel, recognized his mood and the thoughts that caused it. She seemed to be able to do this so often, that Calet sometimes wondered if his daughter could read his mind. Whenever he was in this mood she would reassure him by saying that if the demons ever did stop the offerings, they would simply attack their village, kill every one of them, take over their fields and flocks, and that would be that. This seemed logical to Calet but the legends said that there was evil magic in the demon village that could destroy them all.
Julel sighed, smiled patiently, patted him on the head, and decided to leave him alone with his melancholy. He couldn't help but smile when she treated him like that. Calet loved his daughter very much and so did everyone else in the village, even though they often failed to understand her somewhat unusual sense of humor. She was always smiling or laughing, and she never passed anyone without giving them a kind word or two. He was also very proud of what a mighty hunter she had grown up to become. Why, even though she was smaller than other women her age, she could best many of the men during the village tournaments. Yes, he loved her very much, and that was why he was giving such careful thought as to which man would become her mate. Only the strongest and the bravest would be worthy enough for her. Tibal was a good strong man, but he was much older than Julel. Calet would have to give the matter some more thought.
Dayroamer was walking through the forest again. Dreamchaser had cautioned him against going out alone like that, but he had informed her that caution was for fools. He had entered a small clearing and was casually tossing his unusual knife from one hand to the other as he walked when suddenly one of his legs was yanked out from under him. Startled, he dropped his knife as he was lifted up into the air and found himself hanging upside down in one of the humans' animal traps. When his knife hit the ground, its oddly weighted handle embedded itself in the dirt so that its long, sharp blade pointed straight up into the air at a fool who should have been more cautious.
It just so happened that Julel was also walking through the forest that day and wasn't very far from that clearing when she heard a startled yelp. As she approached the clearing, she was able to see that a demon had been caught in one of the animal traps. She smiled. She had never killed a demon, although she had always wanted to - had never even seen one up close before. Julel stopped at the edge of the clearing to get her first good look at her ancient enemy. She was disappointed. If she was any judge of size (which she was), the demon looked more than a hand shorter than herself, and she was said to be quite small. As the rope turned in the wind she saw the demon's face for the first time. Again she was disappointed. He didn't seem fearsome at all.
Dayroamer looked at the woman who was looking at him for several moments. He decided that she was not going to enjoy killing him if he had anything to say in the matter, and, since he usually had much to say about every matter, he placed his hands on his hips and spoke in the human's language.
"Well? Are you going to kill me or let me down?"
There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice that she found ... interesting. She walked toward him and smiled wickedly.
"I think I'll just let you hang there for a while."
"Terrific. A human with a sense of humor. Just what I needed."
She stopped right in front of him. Their eyes were level with each other.
"And just what is wrong with a human having a sense of humor?"
She was enjoying this far too much, he thought. He folded his arms across his chest and mustered up as much dignity as an upside down elf could.
"I find you people unbearable enough when you're grim." He had never spoken like this with a human before. He found it ... interesting.
She walked slowly as she circled round him, all the while drumming the fingers of her right hand against her thigh. Her casual attitude was most effective, he thought. Then she tripped over his upturned knife, losing all dignity as she fell to the ground. He grinned smugly and was greatly relieved that her false outer image was shattered before his was. In one effortless movement she grabbed his knife and hurled it at the rope that supported him. He was surprised at how true her aim was, and, if he had been any less agile an elf, he would have broken his neck when he hit the ground. Her smug grin informed him that she wouldn't have been too disappointed if he had. He retrieved his knife and thought that the prudent thing to do would be to run away as fast as possible. But Dayroamer didn't have a reputation for prudence and had no desire to obtain one. He sat on the ground opposite where she was still seated from her fall.
Neither said a word. They just stared at each other with their fiercest glares. The sun had moved a considerable distance in the sky, but neither of them had moved or spoken. Dayroamer began to feel that this was the most absurd situation he had ever gotten himself into. He realized that she must have been thinking the same thing because he saw the corner of her mouth start to quiver. He saw her eyes sparkle as brightly as Dreamchaser's. But Julel put up a valiant struggle - and won. Dayroamer laughed before she did.
The first elf-human friendship had begun.
Dreamchaser walked out of her hut and stretched in the morning sun. A soft breeze sifted her luminescent hair. Things were going very well, she thought. Most of her people had stopped grumbling about the extra work it took to produce the offerings for the humans. Some were even starting to take pride in what they felt must surely be the largest farm in the whole world. No elves had been killed for quite some time, and, most importantly, Dayroamer's and Julel's friendship had grown stronger since their first meeting two eightdays ago. This was something she hadn't expected but heartily approved of. She had seen Julel many times when she watched the humans' village and never saw anything she didn't like (except Julel's former hatred of elfkind, but she didn't blame her for that). Dreamchaser smiled as she recalled all the effort Dayroamer had expended to keep the relationship a secret. The poor fellow never really had a chance because she made it her business to know everything that went on in both villages and the forest. She even knew that they were going to meet again that night, but she respected their privacy and never told anyone what she knew. Many of the elves had remarked about Dayroamer's sudden change in personality and wondered why he was always smiling or laughing and never passing anyone without giving them a kind word dr two. Yes, forces had been set in motion by her. All she had to do now was to let Time do the rest. She heard her name being called out, and she groaned softly. Bowbender was rapidly approaching her to give her his daily tirade about her being entirely too satisfied with herself, and that he could feel an ill wind blowing, and that nothing good could ever from her ideas, and a thousand other things. Dreamchaser listened courteously.
The night was warm. The two full moons shone down on the little clearing where Dayroamer and Julel met. Insects murmured softly, and the balmy fragrance of green and growing things sweetened the air. This was their special place, and they had met there many times. But that night felt different. That night felt magic. They looked at and into each other for a long time. Both of them were afraid to move, as if the slightest motion would shatter the enchantment in the air. And then they moved as one. They became fully aware of each other as they joined for the first time that night, fully aware of how much they truly loved each other, and completely unaware of anything else.
They were certainly unaware of the fact that they had been observed.
When Tibal told Calet what he had just witnessed in the forest, the village chief was horrified. That his daughter could do such a thing with a demon - an evil one - was unthinkable, but he knew that Tibal wouldn't dare lie to him, especially about such a serious accusation. Tibal had been growing suspicious of Julel's excursions into the forest and had decided to follow her this time. He'd been feeling very possessive toward her ever since he had found out that Calet was considering him as a possible mate for his daughter. He wanted this mating very much (not due to any affection he felt for Julel, but to the fact that her mate would be the next chief).
Calet didn't know what to do. There weren't any precedents. Never before had any human performed such an obscene act. Death seemed to be the only fitting punishment, but he couldn't bear the thought of his daughter's death no matter what she had done. Tibal agreed that her death would serve no purpose - especially since it would destroy his chance for leadership - and even asked his chief if this incident would affect his plans for her lifemating.
"Would you still want her in such a tainted condition?" Calet asked.
"Nothing could alter the love that I feel for your daughter, my chief," he replied with as much sincerity as he could.
"You are a good and loyal friend, Tibal. I did well in choosing you. But what will everyone else think?"
"Knowledge of her transgression need not be made known. And, if we destroy that demon, her soul will be purified." Tibal was lying now, for he knew nothing about such matters and was only saying these words to placate his chief. He wanted nothing to thwart his ambition for leadership, and this purification ritual should also appease any villagers who might find out about the incident.
Calet believed his every word and listened carefully to Tibal's plan for purifying Julel. Tibal laughed inwardly. Calet would be very easy to dispose of once Julel and he were mates. After all, he thought, didn't I once kill a demon chief?
It was just before sunset on the following day when Julel started to leave her village to go to the clearing. She enjoyed arriving at their special place before Dayroamer did, and she smiled to herself in anticipation. She hadn't yet reached the edge of the village when Tibal and another man stopped her. She had a feeling that something was terribly wrong.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded with uncharacteristic anger.
"Your father wishes to see you," replied Tibal and they not-very-gently escorted her back to her hut. Calet was waiting for her there.
"Why have I been detained, Father?" she asked with a growing worry tinting her voice. He placed a comforting hand on her cheek.
"Do not be afraid, my child," he said gently. "We are going to save you."
"Save me? From what?"
Tibal had left them, and she now saw him enter the forest with two other men. Suddenly she realized exactly what was going on. She had to get away somehow and warn Dayroamer not to go to their clearing. The man who escorted her with Tibal grabbed her before she could move. She struggled to break free.
"Let me go!" she screamed.
"What we are doing is for your own benefit. You will thank us when you are well again." Calet's gentle, patient tone infuriated Julel. Her frustration grew as the man threw her into the hut. She jumped to her feet and tried to push past him, but he stood firm at the door. Tears of fear, anger, and betrayal formed in her eyes.
"You don't understand, father!" she cried.
"You must remain in your hut until your soul has been purified." He turned to leave her.
"They're not demons! They're not evil!"
Calet bowed his head in sadness as he walked away from her. Her corrupted soul was already beginning to affect her mind.
"Father! I love him! Please don't!" Her voice was heartrending. He almost gave in to her desperate pleas, but he managed to strengthen himself with the knowledge that what he was doing was for the best and that she would be her happy, carefree self again very soon. He went to the other side of the village where he wouldn't be able to hear her cries.
It was sunset over the elfin village. Dreamchaser felt very tired and decided to go straight to bed. She caught a glimpse of Dayroamer entering the forest, and the cheerful spring in his step told her exactly where he was going. She smiled, went into her hut, and promptly fell asleep.
Julel was frantic. Night had fallen, and she had not yet been able to escape and warn Dayroamer about the trap he was walking into. The guard standing outside her door had seen to that, and there was no other way to get out. A resolve born out of desperation consumed her as she realized that there was only one way to escape. She looked around her hut and saw a small pot that the elves had given her people in one of their offerings. She smashed the pot on the ground and picked up a large, sharp piece. The guard heard the noise and entered the hut to investigate. A moment later Julel was running into the forest with the guard's knife clasped in her trembling, white hand.
Dayroamer was happier than he had ever been in his entire long life as he strolled through the forest. He paused to chat with a squirrel for a moment, and then, with a polite tip of his headband, he continued on his way to the clearing. As he approached it, he could see a figure moving in his and Julel's special place. He smiled. She always seemed to arrive there ahead of him. When he reached the clearing it was empty. He called out.
Before he could react, two pairs of human hands pinned his arms to his sides and lifted him off the ground. He struggled and kicked ineffectually. Tibal grabbed Dayroamer's knife and flung it aside, just in case the demon broke free. Its weighted handle embedded itself in the ground. The two humans holding him tightened their grip and smiled, but it was the malicious grin that slowly crawled up Tibal's cruel face that stopped his struggling. He could only stare in horror as Tibal slowly unsheathed his knife.
The elfin village was quiet. In her hut Dreamchaser abruptly woke up from a sound sleep. She shuddered. Something was terribly wrong in the forest.
When Calet discovered Julel's almost empty hut, he immediately knew where she must have gone. He was frightened as he ran through the forest, and many people followed him to find out what was wrong.
The first thing Julel saw when she reached the clearing was Dayroamer's mutilated corpse. A thousand emotions flooded through her small body. She looked at the laughing men who hadn't seen her yet. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her fingers tightened around the knife. Rage built up within her. And EXPLODED. She sprang at them, and the first man died even as they became aware of her presence. The second's throat was opened before he could react. Only Tibal remained and he backed away, not sure what to do. If he killed her he would lose his opportunity to be chief, but the way she dispatched his comrades and the fire in her eyes told him that he had no choice. She sprang at him and he barely managed to dodge her killing strike. Faster than he would have thought possible, Julel was on her feet again, and they circled each other for long moments. His arm stung where her blade had bitten it. With a speed that terrified him, she struck again. He pulled back and clutched the gash in his side. It was as if all the demon's speed and agility had been transferred into her, and Tibal became aware of how close to dying he truly was.
That was when he really began fighting back, pitting his skill and strength against her skill and demonic rage. But Calet had chosen well when he determined that Tibal was the strongest, and they were both bleeding from a dozen wounds when his powerful arms finally managed to encircle her in a fatal embrace. Julel's arms were pinned between them with her knife pointing harmlessly upward. Tibal tightened his death grip around her, and she could feel the life being crushed out of her body. She struggled to move her arms out of their useless position. She couldn't breathe anymore, but she finally managed to turn her hand just a little. Julel felt her ribs cracking as she summoned up more strength than she had ever believed she possessed and thrust her knife deep into Tibal's heart.
Calet arrived at the clearing out of breath.
The last thing Tibal did before collapsing dead was push Julel away from him. Weakened from her wounds, she lost her balance and fell backwards - right onto Dayroamer's upturned knife. Julel didn't make a sound. The expression on her face was more surprised than anything else. Her small and bloody body convulsed once. A faint smile flickered across her lips. And she died.
Calet couldn't make himself move. The clearing was now surrounded by humans and elves. All were silent. They stared at each other with hate-filled eyes, and a full scale war would have erupted there and then if the silence hadn't been broken by a screamlike gasp from the forest.
Dreamchaser burst into the clearing, ignoring everyone, and dropped to her knees beside the dead bodies of Dayroamer and Julel that were lying so close together. Her eyes were wide with horror and disbelief as she stared down at the slain lovers.
This couldn't be real. This couldn't have happened. Everything was going so well. Dayroamer and Julel had become a living symbol of her dream. They couldn't be dead. She looked at her staff as she instinctively clung to it for support. This couldn't be - and she wouldn't let it be! She raised the staff high above her head.
"High Ones, hear me!" she cried as loud as she could. "This staff was once the focus of great magical energies and can be again. I now call upon that ancient power to restore the lives of these two lovemates!"
The elves gasped, and even though the humans couldn't understand her words, they sensed her intent and started shifting nervously. Tears were streaming down Dreamchaser's cheeks.
"High Ones, I beg of you. This can't be right. This isn't right! I can sense that magic isn't gone from the world! Please! Just this once! I beg of you! GRANT ME POWER!"
The staff seemed to glow brighter in the moonlight than it ever had in full sunlight. The forest was preternaturally silent. The entire world was holding its breath. A moment passed. And then another. And another.
No, something had happened. Dreamchaser's world had shattered. Her dream was as dead as the two lovers. She sank to the ground in utter misery. All the anger drained out of the grim spectators. They gathered up their dead and returned to their respective villages.
Calet sat in his hut for several days. His daughter had been his whole world ever since his beloved mate had died so many seasons ago. And now Julel was dead too. The entire village was silent, as if his people's spirit had died along with his daughter. That one scene kept replaying itself in his mind: running through the forest; the slain demon; Julel falling onto the knife; the demon chieftess bursting into the clearing, raising her gleaming staff above her head, and crying out in her strange language as tears streamed down her face.
Then one morning Calet, with more determination than he had ever felt before, entered the forest. There was something that he had to do.
Dreamchaser was sitting alone on a large rock in the clearing. She was born into a world where humans killed elves both out of hatred and for pleasure. That was how her father had died, making her leader of a people that ridiculed her dream of peace between humans and elves. But they had to follow her. It was the Way. And even though humans still hated them, no elf had died at human hands for quite some time.
But now this. Dayroamer and Julel were dead for committing no worse a crime than falling in love and wanting to be happy together. And it was all her fault. Her father would have known that something like this could have happened. He would have forbidden the relationship for Dayroamer's own good as soon as he had found out about it, just as she should have done. But she was so obsessed with chasing her naive dreams that she never even bothered to consider the possibility that things might not work out wonderfully.
At least she'd never make such a mistake again. Dreamchaser now realized that her dreams were foolish. She realized that elves and humans could never live together in friendship. She even realized that the High Ones had all died long ago, and that the elves were entirely alone.
Her people saw how this experience had changed her and some, like Bowbender, felt that it was for the best. Now she would forget about that nonsense of giving humans offerings and would become a proper leader. But others were saddened by the change, for the sparkle was gone from her eyes, and her hair had lost its multicolored shine. Even the colors reflected from her staff didn't seem as bright anymore.
She wiped a tear from her eye as she heard a sound from the edge of the clearing. She looked up and saw the human chief, Calet, cautiously looking at her. How long had he been there? When he saw that she was aware of his presence, he slowly started toward her. Dreamchaser didn't move. She didn't care. If this was the kind of world that she had to live in, maybe it would be better if her life ended here and now. It was a long time before he spoke, and when he did she could tell that he was uneasy.
"The other day," he pointed to her staff. "What were you doing?"
She answered him in the human's language, and he noticed that she used that odd tone of voice that one uses when talking about one's own foolishness.
"I was trying to use the High One's magic to bring your daughter and Dayroamer back to life."
This seemed to be the answer he was hoping for. He took a breath.
"Why didn't it work?"
She paused and then let out a weary sigh. The elves had done much to insure that the humans believed that they still controlled magical energies. This superstition was the only thing that prevented the humans from launching a direct attack on their village. But, if she was going to die, she wanted it to be with the truth on her lips.
"Because my people do not have any magic powers."
"But the legends say that you demons -"
"We're elves, not demons and yes, long ago when our ancestors - the High Ones - first arrived on your world, many of them had great power. But those whose magic was strongest were slaughtered by your kind, and the rest eventually forgot how to control magic during the struggle to survive."
She immediately regretted the bitterness in her tone, but it seemed to start Calet thinking.
"Why would you try to save one of my people if we have treated you so badly?"
Dreamchaser realized that he didn't intend to kill her after all. He just wanted to talk. It would seem that even she was susceptible to the ancient prejudices. Again she answered honestly.
"I don't think it's right for anyone to have to die before their proper time. Julel was a good person. She and Dayroamer were in love. All they wanted was to live in peace."
She watched his face closely and gradually became aware of his thoughts.
"Could those ancient ones have returned my daughter to me?" he said after a pause.
"Yes," she said with a confidence she didn't feel. Somewhere in the back of her mind one of the smoldering embers of her dream sparked to life again.
"Why do you leave food and so many other things in the forest for us to find?" The question was almost a command.
"We wanted to be friends."
She kept her answer short on purpose. The words had more effect that way. She held her breath as once more Calet thought long and hard. When he did speak, he chose each word carefully, as if he were speaking an alien language for the first time.
"Hatred between our races killed many of your people. It killed my daughter, and it killed the magic that could have brought her back."
He looked straight at her, his eyes pleading for an answer to the question he was trying to ask but couldn't. To ask it would be blasphemy against everything he had grown up believing, but he finally managed to speak in a barely audible whisper.
"Why do we hate each other?"
She paused, not quite sure what to say but then decided that the truth would once again be best. Her voice had the patient tone of a mother instructing a beloved child.
"Hatred grows out of fear. Fear comes from ignorance and from a lack of understanding."
Her simple statement was followed by Calet's longest pause yet, and she could read his face quite clearly. She could almost see his thoughts working their way through every part of his mind and she was very much aware that the next few moments would determine the fate of two races. She cautiously placed her hand on his bare arm. He flinched at first, for being touched by a demon was said to bring instant death. He was genuinely surprised when nothing happened, and even more surprised to feel how soft and warm her fingers were. As soft and warm as those of a human woman. He looked at her face as if seeing it for the first time. Perhaps he was. Her large blue-green eyes glistened up at him. Her lips curved into a gentle smile. He realized for the first time how beautiful she was. Could such a lovely being truly be evil? Julel had said that he didn't understand. She had said that the demons weren't evil. It was the last thing that she had ever said to him.
He was very confused. The world as he knew it was breaking apart. New ideas were being born in his head. Old ones were dying. Too much was happening. Too fast. He couldn't think. He wanted to scream. No sound came out. He saw her looking at him sympathetically. Understandingly. He was a child again and she was his teacher.
"I want to understand," he said in a voice so small that it seemed like a last plea for hope from one who was utterly lost in the deepest pits of hopelessness. She knew that feeling all too well, for she herself had been there only moments earlier.
Dreamchaser smiled, took Calet's large hand in her small one, and led him to the other side of the forest where the elfin village was located.
Their arrival in the village caused a panic. Calet saw demons running everywhere - some into the forest, some into their huts. But most grabbed any weapon they could find and started toward the human chief. Then Dreamchaser gave such a fierce command for them to be still that all sound and movement in the village stopped. Their instant obedience was due not so much to loyalty as it was to the surprise each elf felt at their leader's uncharacteristic ferocity. Never before had any of them seen such strength in her bearing or heard such command in her voice, and the powerful glare she gave each one of them assured everyone - even the village elders - that any disobedience on their part would yield them a fate far worse than anything a human could dream up. When she was certain that she had gotten her point across to them, she slipped into a more characteristic stance and smiled sweetly.
"Thank you for your attention," she said. "This is Calet, chief of the humans. He wishes to see our village."
Calet felt every eye carving into him as he looked around from the spot where he and Dreamchaser had stopped. He didn't notice that she had stepped to one side because he was too occupied with trying not to show any of the fear he was feeling. He was very uncomfortable, but the surprising appearance of the demon's village - now that he had gotten a good look at it - drove all other thoughts from his mind.
It looked just like his village, including many of the minor details. Of course the huts were shorter, but that was because the demons were smaller. The second surprise was the expressions on all the faces that were still trained on him. Even though he was greatly outnumbered and most of the demons were holding weapons while he was unarmed, they looked much more afraid of him than he was of them. And every face, even those of the males, was just as beautiful as Dreamchaser's.
A frightened whimper caught his attention. He turned just in time to see a small demon child hide behind the demon that must have been its mother and cling to one of her legs with its tiny hands. Julel used to do much the same thing when she was young and saw strangers in the village. Calet felt his throat tighten as he thought about his daughter whose death - although it had happened so recently - seemed to have happened so long ago. He felt an urge to comfort the child, to tell it not to be afraid. But then he saw that its mother had already placed her arm around the little one and was doing just that.
A demon mother showing affection for her demon child? A demon feeling love? He had never even thought about such things before.
He took a step toward the dem- toward the elfin mother and child. The elfmother stiffened, drew her son closer to her, and started to back away. Dreamchaser stopped her and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. By the time Calet reached them, the child had once again hidden behind its mother's legs. Calet crouched down and waited.
After a few moments the child's curiosity overpowered his fear, and he peeked out at the tall, nervous human. They stared at each other for a long time. Neither blinked or moved. Calet couldn't believe that something so tiny, so beautiful, and so innocent could possibly be real. He slowly, cautiously, extended his hand as if believing that only touching the elfling would prove its existence. The child flinched, for he had heard that being touched by a human would bring instant death. The elfmother caught her breath. Calet ran his fingers through the child's silky-fine hair. As if in response, the child timidly reached up and, with one small finger, touched the human's strangely round ear. They looked into each other's eyes. Calet smiled. The child smiled aback.
And a new age began.
Ushering in a new age wasn't easy. There were outraged cries and much resistance from both elves and humans, but Dreamchaser and Calet were a team that everyone both feared and respected. So although there was still considerable hostility on both sides, there were no more incidents of violence. Some elves and humans even united together to oppose Dreamchaser and Calet. They would meet late at night in the forest, spend hours declaring how much they hated each other, get stinking drunk, and swear eternal solidarity toward their goal of separating elves and humans forever. Eventually they forgot about their goal and would just meet late at night in the forest to get stinking drunk.
Most of the adult humans never did stop hating elves, but the children were quick to make friends once they had gotten over their initial fears. They were delighted to spend as much time as they could in the elfin village among grownups who weren't much bigger than they were and enjoyed playing in huts that seemed as if they had been built just the right size for them. Not a day went by when several human mothers didn't have to come to the elfin village to collect their little ones who should have been home performing their daily chores. Occasionally one or two of the women would linger in the village longer than necessary to inspect the looms that produced a finer quality cloth than anything in their own village or to spend a short time away from domineering mates.
And oh, how the human youngsters were fascinated by the elves' large, pointed ears. When they first started coming to the village they always insisted on touching them to see if they were real. This, and other mischief they constantly got into, often angered many of the elves - especially Bowbender and the elders. But once the children became accustomed to elfkind, and proper groundrules were established, they settled down. Some of the elves even grudgingly admitted that the young humans were kind of cute - when they behaved themselves.
Dreamchaser loved having the children around and had her ears tweaked red many times to prove it. They'd spend many happy hours talking and watching the myriad colors dancing across the surface of her staff while some of the braver girls would run their fingers through her hair trying to figure out exactly which shade it really was. She knew that most of the adults would never feel friendship toward elfkind, but she didn't mind because she had won the children over to her side. Someday soon they would be the adults with children of their own. And that would be that.
The elves, on the other hand, were another story because they had suffered far more at human hands than humans had at theirs. She couldn't use the same technique on them since elves lived so long and had fewer children. Of course, many of them were more than happy to get the village's drinking water from the human's river which was considerably closer than the river they had previously been using. And the joint hunting parties that Dreamchaser and Calet had established (against numerous objections, naturally) brought back many more and much larger beasts than either village had ever seen. It seemed that, while elves were quicker and more agile than humans, humans had considerably more physical strength, and joining forces yielded a team that was invincible. Even the most stubborn of the elves and humans were forced to admit that there were advantages to this idea at least.
So, as the seasons passed, most of the elves' feelings toward the humans softened, and a number of them became friends. Later on there were even a few elves and humans who lifemated as Dayroamer and Julel had wanted to do so many seasons ago, but there were never any children from these joinings.
There were also a number of elves who absolutely refused to change their opinion of humans. These would spend most of their time out in the fields or tending the flocks far away from other elves whom they considered to be "traitors to the blood." Some even decided to leave their land permanently to seek their destinies elsewhere. Dreamchaser and Calet saw to it that they were given ample provisions, wished them well, and told them that they would be given a grand welcome if they ever decided to return. Some eventually did. All in all, life was pleasant.
Dreamfinder sat on a grassy hill that overlooked the wide meadow where the flocks were grazing, her staff resting on the ground to one side of her. On the other side and off a ways was the forest that had been her home for so long. She hugged her knees to her chest as she thought about Calet. She didn't think about him as much as she used to anymore, but on the day he died she promised him that she would come to this, their favorite spot, and think back on their time together whenever she had a spare moment. He had been gone for almost three hundred turns of the seasons now, and she missed him very much. But they had been happy together during his life, and those were the times that she thought about.
She felt it was sad that humans lived for such a short time, and she knew that some of them were envious of the elves' long lifespans. (She had stopped referring to the elves as "her people" the day she first brought Calet to her village. All the inhabitants of the twin villages, the forest, and its surrounding areas were her people now.) But there were even some humans who poo-pooed the idea of being immortal - as she now suspected elves were - by saying, "Why, whatever would we do with so much time." Of course, none of the humans ever tired of hearing stories about their ancestors from elves who had actually known them. Their favorite stories were about Calet, who had become an almost legendary figure. Dreamfinder had seen to that.
This started her thinking about her own ancestors, the High Ones, and how little she really knew about them. It would seem that most of the legends about them were just that - legends and not fact. For countless generations elfkind had been doing nothing more than looking backwards and trying to live up to an ideal that couldn't possibly have existed. But now, thanks to her, elves and humans were no longer interested in what was. They were striving forward toward what ought to be, and she knew that was the way the High Ones would have wanted it.
She wondered if any other High Ones, besides those who had founded her village, had survived as well. She was positive that elfin magic was not just a legend and that it still existed to that day, for she could feel it in the air every time the wind blew and softly caressed her slender body. Might there be other elves living somewhere else on this big wide world? Maybe she should send out a few expeditions to look for them.
The humans' short life spans made them want to accomplish as much as they could during their lives. This need to constantly reach for higher goals made them more industrious by nature than elves. But this attitude was starting to rub off onto the younger elves who had grown up along side human children. Dreamfinder approved, for she had always felt that having goals gave a person reason for living. Offhand she could think of several elves and humans who would jump at the chance to go on this quest that she was contemplating.
She smiled to herself. She had been having these thoughts for quite some time now, but she hadn't mentioned them to anyone else. If the elders ever got wind of them, they'd undoubtedly change her name back to Dreamchaser and once again start bemoaning the fact that she could never leave well enough alone.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of childish laughter, and she saw a group of children - human and elf - emerge from the forest at the base of the hill. They waved respectfully to her when they saw her sitting there but they didn't bother to wait and see if she'd wave back before they resumed their playing. She smiled and waved back anyway. Human children were very playful and much more numerous than elfin children, so the elflings always had many playmates their own age. How different from when she was young! She remembered what it was like to be the only child in the village - as happened occasionally - and not all the memories were happy. Having no one but adults to associate with could be lonely sometimes because they would only put up with so much childishness on the part of a child, and she was forced to grow up a lot faster than she would have liked. She certainly never had as much fun as those children below her seemed to be having.
Yes, both villages had benefited in many ways since joining - some obvious, some subtle.
She watched the children until their game carried them back into the forest and out of sight. She smiled, stood up, and slung her staff casually over her shoulder - an irreverence that never failed to infuriate Bowbender. Perhaps the staff didn't have any magic powers, but then again, who's to say that great beauty isn't magical? The sunlight caused a dazzling array of colors to reflect off of her staff and onto the meadow and trees below, while her hair glistened with varied colors even more numerous. And brighter than all of this was the sparkle in her eyes as she walked back to the twin villages.
She was Dreamfinder, leader of the happiest
people in the world. And maybe chasing a few more
dreams wouldn't be such a bad idea after all . . . . . . .
Next story: Nightfawn and the Gleam
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