If you’ve not yet read the first part, you can find it here.
The door opened up on a balcony, and beyond that, nothing – just white. Alene squinted at the light, brighter than what filtered in through the windows, and as her eyes adjusted she made out the horizon that divided the snow covered plain from the pale grey sky.
Holding on to the frame of the door she steadied herself against the swinging of the cabin. She’d spent a lot of time on the train gazing out over the plain, but it hadn’t been anything like this. On the train she’d been warm and comfortable – relaxing on a padded seat, listening to music, and enjoying the ride.
Here, she stood barefoot in her jeans and t-shirt, with the cold winter air against her skin, in a cabin in a tree on the back of a hairy, twelve legged whale. It just wasn’t the same.
She stood up on her toes and craned her neck, trying to see the landwhale itself from where she stood, without letting go of the doorway. Far below she saw the front tip of it, a big furry mass of muscle and fat – the biggest mammal to ever walk on land.
Back and forth the cabin moved, swaying in time with the steps of the beast. Smiling so wide her cheeks ached she released her hold on the frame of the door and took a few unsteady steps out on the balcony, reaching for the railing to get a better look. She’d never seen a land whale before, not for real. Only on TV.
The balcony ran the width of the cabin, and the cabin’s walls extend out to frame its sides. To the right of the door, previously hidden from sight, hung a big, egg-shaped wickerwork chair, and in the chair sat an elf.
The smile on her face disappeared in instant. She hissed, and her fingers curved up like claws. Of course there would be an elf. She’d known all along. How could she have forgotten? The beast hated elves.
Deep within her, something stirred – something small and mean and angry. Her lips pulled back into a snarl and her body crouched down, ready to pounce.
The elf smiled at her.
Alene clenched her teeth and took a deep breath. Her nostrils flared and the hair on her neck stood on end. Inside of her, in her heart and in her soul, in body and in mind, the beast raged.
The elf made no move at all. It – he – just sat there, calmly regarding her from within the chair, gently swinging back and forth with the motion of the cabin. Perhaps he still smiled, but she couldn’t really tell.
Closing her eyes, Alene steeled herself and pushed the beast back down. Forced it out of her mind and wrestled control back over her body. She had no liking for elves herself, but she knew better than to get into a fight with one. The beast did not.
“Hey!” she said – growled, almost.
The elf bowed his head in greeting, but remained otherwise still. “Good morning, young lady.”
“Who are you?” she snapped. “Where am I? What happened?”
Once more, the elf bowed his head in greeting. “My name is Eldumrien Dertindelmun Kilvarmoniem – but you may refer to me as Eldu.” He paused, and nodded down towards the huge beast far below them. “That, down there, is Buru of the Rumbling Wind. I took the liberty of bringing you here.”
“Why?” She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “Why did you bring me here?” Against her will.
The elf said nothing – just looked at her.
Alene turned away. She clenched her teeth and stared out over the plains. What had happened last night? Why didn’t she remember anything?
Eventually, she spat over the edge and turned back to the elf. “I’m Alene.” She should to have introduced herself right away. Elves could be iffy with things like that. “Good morning.” He’d have to make do with her first name. She didn’t owe him anything. She hadn’t asked to be brought her here.
“Good morning Alene. I’m pleased to meet you, but I’d thank you not to spit on my friend.” A hint of a smile tugged at his lips. “Welcome on board.”
Smug bastard. The beginnings of a growl rumbled within her chest, but she coughed and covered her mouth before it could escape. The beast did not enjoy being made fun of. It didn’t like smug people.
She shrugged and cleared her throat. “Okay, yes. Thank you.”
Crossing her arms over her chest she leaned back against the wall at the side of the balcony. “Now, Eldumriel, would you mind telling me why you took me here? I don’t remember agreeing to go anywhere.”
“Please, Eldu will suffice.” The elf tilted his head to the side, and now he definitely smiled. “You were in a bit of a pickle, and it was the safest way to get you out of it.”
“Pickle? What are you talking about? What pickle?” She could have handled herself. She’d have been fine. She didn’t remember being in trouble – no real trouble. “I wasn’t in any pickle.” What had happened? What had she done?
The elf wiped the smile from his face and cleared his throat. He sat up a little straighter. “The young men you were chatting with at the inn last night got a little bit agitated when you started beating up one of them with your bare fists. I decided it would be best to put a halt to it before things got out of hand.”
Alene froze. A cold lump appeared in her stomach. “I did what?” She’d hurt someone. She’d turned. She’d killed people.
Blood. Sweet, sweet blood.
She closed her eyes, pressed them shut, pushed the best down, and took a deep breath to steady herself. For a moment, she just stood there, arms hanging and focusing on her breathing, holding back the beast and trying not to think about what could have happened.
After a while, Alene shrugged, and gave her head a shake, tossing her hair. She dragged a smile to her face, swallowed once, and forced the smile back in place. “Surely it wasn’t that bad?”
“No, because I stopped it.”
Her jaw fell and she stared at him for a moment. “That’s some big words.”
“I’m not wrong.”
That smug smile again. Elves. Always knowing whatever. Always doing as they pleased with everyone. No one wonder no one liked them.
Alene stared at the elf.
The elf gazed at Alene.
The cabin swung – back, and forth. Back, and forth.
Eventually, Alene sighed. “Okay then… Eldumriel… How bad was it. Did I hurt anyone.” She took a deep breath and steeled herself. “Did I do anything… ‘strange’?”
Eldu shrugged, the first movement of anything beside his face and head. “A broken nose, some cracked lips. Black eyes. No worse than a regular bar fight. Nothing that won’t heal in it’s own time.”
Alene chewed at her lips and stared down at the floor. She hadn’t killed anyone. Wooden planks. Rough and cracked and bent. “Okay, that’s good, I guess…” They couldn’t have been oiled in ages – if ever. Someone should see to that. Not too badly hurt.
“Those men didn’t like being beaten by a woman though. It’s not part of their world.”
“Well, sucks to be them.” Alene sneered and her lips curled back. “They shouldn’t go messing with people they don’t know then.”
The elf let his head fall back, and a long breath escaped him. “If only…”
“What?” snapped Alene.
Eldu drew himself up. “And no, you did not turn.” He tilted his head and winked at her. “Don’t worry. I stopped you in time.”
“Oh…” She cast down here eyes and refused to look at him.
Of course he’d know. He was an elf. They always knew. That’s what made them so annoying – they knew everything and thought they understood and had their opinions and honors and duties and it just drove her insane.
Sure, her condition really was their fault, but that didn’t mean she needed all that pity whenever she came near one.
“Your secret is still safe.”
“Mhm…” Alene hunched up her shoulders and rammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
She stood like that for a while. Glaring out over the plain – grumbling at the world. Eventually she drew herself up. There was no use in whining. She’d just have to deal.
“Okay then, Eldu… You knocked me out, scared everyone off, and dragged me home to your lair. Is that it?”
Smiling, the elf nodded. “Yes.”
“What about me then? You could have asked.” Alene tapped her fingers against her chest. “What if I had other plans? I had a train to catch. I’ve missed that now.”
“What do you mean no? I’m not going to catch my train now, am I?” She spat the words at him.
“No.” Eldu lowered his eyebrows and fixed her with a stare. “I couldn’t have asked. It was much too late for talking.”
“Oh…” Alene shrank back.
The elf’s eyes softened, and a faint grin found its way onto his face. “You’d rather be sidetracked and delayed, than locked up and killed – would you not?”
She glared at the floorboards at her feet. “I’d have managed,” she grumbled.
“No. You wouldn’t.” Eldu sighed. “You’d have turned and killed someone and then they’d have to hunt you and put you down.”
When Alene looked up the elf had turned his face away from her and sat looking out over the plains. Like she wasn’t even there.
She crossed her arms over her chest, hunched up her shoulders and waited. Sure, maybe she wouldn’t have managed, but maybe she would. She put up a good fight. She’d have thought of something. She’d have managed.
Eldu said nothing.
Very well. She was here now, and it didn’t seem like there was much she could do about it one way or another. No way she’d go back there. The train had left and there was no point picking a fight with the locals again. She’d just have to deal.
That didn’t mean she had to like it.
With a sigh she placed her hands on her hips. “Alright then, where’s my stuff? My bag, my boots – did you think of that? I need my things you know.” Smug bastard would have left her things at the inn.
“Inside. Wardrobe.” The elf tilted his head back towards the cabin.
Alene turned and took a step towards the door, but stopped with her hand on the knob. “It’s locked. I checked.”
“There are clasps at the top. You’ll reach them easily.”
Alene wasn’t tall – shorter than average even – but she reached the clasps easy enough now she knew they were there. They did sit right up on the edge though. No wonder she hadn’t seen them earlier.
Flipping the clasps she grabbed at the door knobs and pulled. One of them came loose in her hand and for a moment she just stared at it. Old wood, polished smooth by countless hands, or maybe just one. Elves got old.
With a sigh she tossed the knob onto the swinging bed. It would have to wait for now, she’d fix it some other time. She’d probably yanked it too hard in her fit of rage earlier.
Turning back to the wardrobe she pulled the doors open, a little more carefully this time. Inside, boxes and bundles and little bags of this or that sat neatly arranged on shelves all the way from the top and down to the floor – all of it neatly secured by little straps or tied shut by pieces of string.
Leaning back and forth with the swaying of the cabin Alene studied the display before her. Order. Everything in its place. Neatly tied up and packaged and secured. Her fingers itched to untie just one of knots keeping something in place.
Her backpack lay on the lowest shelf and tucked in behind it she found her boots. She knelt down and began pulling it out, but stopped herself. She’d found it, and her boots too. Now that she knew where her things were they could stay there. She wouldn’t leave just yet.
Where would she go anyway? She was in a cabin in a tree on a landwhale somewhere on the green sea. This was probably the safest place for days. Not that she cared that much about safety, but it would pointless to go running off just for the sake of running off – even if there was an elf here.
Alene checked her backpack. It looked the way it always had – faded black oilcloth with yellow plastic zippers. It seemed fine. It probably was, and her boots too. Smiling to herself she put her bag back in its spot, stood up, and closed the doors of the wardrobe. She even remembered to close the clasps at the top.
– – –
Closing the door to the cabin behind her, Alene stepped out on the balcony.
“Did you find your things?” said Eldumrien.
“Yes.” Alene nodded. “Yes. I did.”
Eldu said nothing, just looked at her.
Alene looked back for a bit and then turned to stand and gaze out over the plains. This must be what the sea looked like, except blue, not white – a pale, grey white, whipped clean of its shine by months of howling winds. Here and there, grass peeked through the snow like reeds in a marshland. Over it all, the sky, as pale and grey and free of life as the land below, stretched as far as her eyes could see – nowhere else had she seen a horizon as straight and unbroken as here.
This land was not hers, she wouldn’t know how to get by here. She knew she would, but not how, and she wasn’t too keen on the idea of having to find out and learn on her own. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all.
Things might have turned out bad back there – real bad. She could have escaped by foot across the plains, but where to, and how far? The locals knew these lands. They would have been able to track her down and catch her. She did have to sleep and eat, and they’d trap her somehow.
They’d cage her, taunt her, kill her.
Alene shrugged and wrenched her thoughts back to herself. She would not go there. That way bad things lay. She’d been there and she knew it and she wouldn’t go again. Elves were bad news, but at least they were well intentioned, on the surface, to start with – mostly.
He’d probably try and get some benefit out of her soon enough, or just stroke his ego by being overly kind and generous and trying to make up for the sins of his species.
Beside her, in the swinging wickerwork basket chair, the elf cleared his throat. “In a few days, maybe a week, we will pass close to Ryrsk. You can step off there if you want.”
“Ryrsk?” Alene raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a trading post. It stays active throughout the winter so you should be able to find a caravan out of there before long.” He tilted his head and smiled at her, perfect white teeth showing. “Or you could stay there. It’s not a bad place I hear.”
Alene crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him. “Uhu, and if I don’t want to?”
Eldu shrugged. “There’s nothing else. If you don’t step of in Ryrsk you’re in for the long haul.”
He gazes out over the plains for a moment and then sighed. “Five, maybe six months. We’ll keep going west and won’t be stopping until we hit the Snaggfell foothills.”
“Oh…” Half a year, with an elf, in a swinging cabin, on a land whale.
He tilted his head at her and grinned. “You are off course free to step off at any time you choose, but I advice caution. The deep plains in winter is a very hostile environment – even if the cold itself does not bother you.”
Alene looked at him. She chewed her lip, dropped her gaze and then turned back to face the plain and the horizon. It taunted her – so straight, so vast, completely unbroken. She could stay or she could leave. Get a job on caravan. Travel north find the train get a ticket go away – or she could stay.
She didn’t know this Ryrsk place.
What would the people there be like? Plainsdwellers. Set in their ways and unused to outsiders, and in a place like that they wouldn’t come more outsiderly than she – a short brown woman with carrot red hair and a temper to match. No thanks.
Then again. Six months on an empty plain with only an elf as company wasn’t exactly high on her list of things to do.
Alene shifted on her feet. She fidgeted, picked at a crack in the balcony railing, and eventually she closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m not sure… We’ve got a few days, right? I can take some time to think it over?”
“Yes, of course.” Eldu nodded. “Take all the time you need. You’re stuck here anyway – provided you don’t want to walk back to Lisk.” Chuckling, he grinned at her.
“Uhm… no… thanks.” Alene squirmed. Was that meant to have been a joke? “I’ll stay here for now – if that’s okay of course?” She paused, looked away for a moment, and then cleared her throat. “Uhm…”
Eldu raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“Where do I stay?” She turned to him and nodded towards the door of the cabin. “I guess you’ll want your place for yourself.”
“I most certainly do.” Eldumrien lowered his eyebrows and gave her a stern look, and then his face cracked up into a smile and he chuckled again. “This is the guest cabin. You will stay here, and I will stay in my own cabin, over there.” He tilted his head over towards the left. “We will not spend much time together.”
Alene’s face heated up. “That’s okay.” Bastard.
“I thought so. There is not much to do here, but there is value in that too. Perhaps it’s what you need.” Still smiling, he gave her a nod, and then turned to gaze out over the plain again.
Just her and the horizon in the ever swinging cabin. “Maybe…” They wouldn’t see each other much. The beginnings of a smile tugged at her lips. She could live with that.
It’d be long though. Six months. When had she last called home. It had been a while already. Her mother would want to know. Maybe she could try and get her a message from that trading post. You shouldn’t make people worry – not people who cared for you. She’d figure something out, somehow.
Frowning, she gazed out over the horizon, weighing her options, considering her future. Go or stay? When and where?
Her belly rumbled, and her face grew as red as her hair – at least. “Ehm… what do you do for food around here?”