Clever title, no?
Anyway, I’m all settled in at the new host. The address has changed to www.jandrewjansen.com I dropped the /blog/ bit for ease of use.
Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, let’s get to the new story. I’ve begun work on a story world that will hopefully play host to several books. One of the features of the world is elves, and their childhood. This started on a whim in a discussion a couple years ago now that questioned why, in stories like Lord of the Rings or other elf-featuring tales, you never see elven children.
The answer, obviously, is that they are born as larva and pupate. I’m finally putting the finishing touches on this theory and am therefore ready to share it with all two of my readers! Right now I expect 4 installments, but it may stretch to 5.
Follow along through the break to get started on Elfling, Chapter 1!
“What’s wrong?” Naerel’s eyes burned into the birthing nurse while he clutched his wife’s hand. Sylphia’s grip twisted his fingers, her face contorted with pain. The sterile white color of the walls, floor, and ceiling were unsettling. Even the wooden bowls and jars on the counters were white.
“I’m not sure. Birthing is not a difficult process.” The nurse looked up and met his gaze for a moment, then bent back down over his wife, muttering to herself.
“Not difficult?” He wiped the sweat from Sylphia’s brow, brushing back the ebony colored hair as it fell across her face. “What do you call this, then? What good are you? Go get someone who can handle this.”
Sylphia opened her eyes. Piercing blue, she turned them up to his face. “Hush, Naerel. Let her work.” She sucked her breath in and held it, her face twisting in pain again.
“Do something,” he shouted at the nurse. “Why do you make us come here if you can’t do anything?”
The nurse ignored him. “Sylphia? You need to push. It’s time.”
His wife pressed her chin to her chest. Closing her eyes, a scream tore from her throat. Naerel drew his lips together, the corners of his mouth turned down. Her hand clamped down on his, turning his fingers purple.
She threw her head back as she sucked her breath in. Her body went limp. Naerel’s eyes widened and his head jerked around. “Sylphia? Sylphia!” His free hand found her face, and he cupped her cheek in his palm.
Sylphia’s eyes cracked open, barely. “Is it over?”
“It’s done,” the nurse replied. Naerel turned to look, maintaining his hold on her hand. Sylphia lifted her head to see. The nurse held up their child. “Will it be a boy or a girl?” she asked.
“A daughter,” Sylphia replied, her voice weak yet clear. “Can I hold her?”
She held her arms out, releasing Naerel’s hand. Anxiously, she accepted her newborn daughter. “Syllar,” she whispered.
Naerel ran his hand along Syllar’s back. Her skin was emerald green, nearly phosphorescent, with short puffs of hair sticking out in tufts. Her large eyes stared out from either side of her head, one at him, one turned toward her mother. Flecks of blue floated in her eyes, the same azure as her mother’s.
“Larva are very delicate until the first molting,” the nurse began. She spoke while she gathered bandages from the counter, her voice coming in bursts. The wooden box clattered to the floor as she pulled the cloths from it. “She should molt in about 6 months. After, her skin will be thicker. Bring her back after each molting. If you want to ensure she is female, she will need to be fed torageth leaves daily for the first year. When you bring her back, I will make sure you are doing it right.”
Naerel was only half listening. He was staring at his daughter. “She’s beautiful,” he whispered. He cupped his hand gently on the back of her head. Syllar clicked happily at his touch. He turned and looked into Sylphia’s eyes. She nodded at him silently.
Syllar squirmed and twisted her caterpillar-like body in her mother’s arms. Two legs in front, four in the back, three abdominal segments between. She was perfect. Naerel held his hands out, and Sylphia gently handed her over to him. He stood, clutching his daughter against his chest, admiring the tiny toes on each of her feet. Her head nestled into his left elbow, her tail into his right. Naerel’s heart swelled. A surge of joy pulsed through him, making his face crack open into a grin, despite his efforts. He felt light headed, but didn’t care. He was a father. For a moment, nothing in the world existed outside himself, his wife, and their daughter.
Caressing Syllar’s head, he grinned at Sylphia. She looked back at him, biting her lips for a few seconds. Then her mouth turned up, and she laughed quietly at him.
“What?” he asked, unable to stop smiling.
“You,” she answered. “In all our years, I have never seen you make that face.” She smiled softly at him. “You’re happier than I have seen you in a long time, Naerel.”
He sighed. “I am, Sylphia. I am.”
Sylphia’s head fell back onto the bed. She lay there, staring at him. Her face grew paler. “Let me hold her, please,” she whispered.
Naerel set Syllar back in her arms. Sylphia eyes flickered. Naerel turned back to the nurse. “Now what are you doing? What’s wrong? I thought it was over.”
“I’m trying,” she snapped back at him. “She lost — is still losing a lot of blood. I can’t find where it is coming from though.”
Naerel turned toward the door, but a brush at his arm stopped him. Sylphia’s looked up at him. Her face paled, the blue of her eyes and the black hair standing out in stark contrast against her skin. “Stay with me.”
“I need to get someone who can help. This woman is worthless. I have to do something. I can’t just let you…” He couldn’t say it. Not his wife.
“Stay with me,” she repeated. “It’s up to you now. Promise me…”
His throat closed. “I can’t,” he whispered. “You’re the one that has to pass it to–”
“I pass it to you, and you will pass it to her.”
He nodded, taking her hand into his and caressing the back with his thumb. The corners of her mouth twitched up.
Naerel had watched men die. Men under his command, men who commanded him, men whom he had killed. On the battlefield, there is seldom time for more than an acknowledgment of the death. Not always, though. Sometimes you stopped, and you watched. You saw the fear in the young man’s eyes as his life slipped away. His breath fades to short gasps as his eyes draw wide. You comfort him and assure him of whatever reward he believes in. He clutches at you as his eyes grow dim, then turn to glass. The last gasp escapes in a sigh, and his body falls away.
Naerel reached out his hand and pressed the lids of his wife’s eyes closed. He pressed his lips together and denied the tears in his eyes. Deep in the pit of his stomach, a scream built. The wail of anguish pressing up into his chest, squeezing his heart. He forbade it passage to his lips. Instead, he turned on the nurse. “You,” he growled.
She staggered back. Eyes wide, her mouth hanging open. Her hands reached behind her, searching for something to brace against.
“You killed my wife.” He stepped toward her.
Her arm swept the counter behind her, knocking the jars and bowls to the floor. She didn’t seem to notice, though. Her eyes were locked on his. “Sir, it was nothing I did. Something was wrong with her. Some defect or deformity perhaps. The doctor will be able to tell what–”
“My wife was perfect,” he roared at her. His body shook, the tendons in his neck stretched until he thought they would snap. “Don’t you dare speak of her that way.” He lunged, catching hold of the apron she wore and pulled her in. “You killed her, and you will pay for it. Pray, nurse. Pray to your goddess. I–”
A wail sounded throughout the room. Starting low, it quickly rose in both pitch and volume. Naerel hesitated, looking behind him for the source.
Syllar pressed against her mother’s chest, ducking her head repeatedly in attempt to get under Sylphia’s arm. The blue flecks of color in her eye pierced through him.
Naerel pushed the nurse to the floor. Stepping back, he scooped his daughter into his arms, holding her tightly against him. He glanced over to where the nurse lay. “We’re leaving,” he said. He paused to lay his hand in the side of his wife’s face. Her locket lay in the hollow at the base of her neck. He scooped it up and with a flick of his wrist, the silver chain gave way. A moment later the door swung shut silently behind him.