Another installment of The Elfling is upon us! It looks like this will wrap up with 4 chapters. Follow through the break for Chapter 3!
Sleep escaped Naerel’s efforts. Half conscious, he pulled his pillow down under his head. Syllar moaned in her sleep, squirming up against his chest. He pulled his hand free from the tangle of blankets and reached up to stroke her head, but recoiled at the touch. His eyes popped open, sleep forgotten. Her skin had turned dry and rough. He flipped the blanket off his shoulder and stood up. After stretching to release the kink in his back, he glanced about the small hut. His eyes finally settled on the small jar of cream next to the water bowl. He scooped out a small amount and returned to where Syllar slept fitfully.
He rubbed the lotion into her back to soften the skin. He had used quite a bit of it the first two weeks after they left home. Four months ago they slipped off into the night, and the very first day he’d let her get sunburned. After that, he started walking at night to protect her from the heat. After two weeks, they came across a grove of trees covering a few acres of land. In the center of the wooded area, he built the hut that they lived in now.
Syllar cried out. Her skin was still dry, even after the lotion. He picked her up and carried her to the window. Sunlight was just beginning to stream in. Checking her over, he found her entire body was drying out, and the tufts of hair had turned brown.
She twisted around, whining, looking for him. Naerel gasped, despite himself. Her eyes were milky white. Her crying became more desperate as she searched for him. She’s blind. What have I done? What did she eat last night? He searched the table, checking the leaves and branches that he had collected yesterday. He brought back more than usual lately, since her appetite had increased over the last week. He rushed every day during her nap to gather enough for her. He must have accidentally harvested something toxic.
He finished checking through the pile. Nothing there that he hadn’t tested on himself several times. He scooped Syllar up in his arms and carried her outside, hoping that more light would reveal what was wrong. His eyes stung. Maybe the others had been right. Maybe he should have let them take her from him. At least she would have a doctor.
The morning light streamed through the leaves overhead, casting a mottled carpet of light onto the grass. Syllar’s skin was gray and dusty. Where he touched her, the hair tufts fell out. Her whole body was swollen. Her feet hung limp, twitching occasionally when she whimpered.
Her legs stopped moving and her body stiffened. He almost dropped her. He turned her toward him. Her eyes were completely white and dry. So was her skin. Her body curled slightly inward, then a bit more. She was curling into a ball. He panicked and set her on the ground. His heart raced and his palms were sweating. His daughter was dying, and there was nothing that he could do. First his wife, then his baby. He was helpless.
There was a pop followed by a tearing sound. A small wound appeared on her back, but it didn’t bleed. His eyes got wide. What could he do? He watched helplessly as the wound grew to the length of her body. She thrashed, struggling.
He leaned forward and realization dawned. Relief washed over him like summer rain. Syllar pushed and fought against the dry, outer skin. Naerel watched, transfixed as she molted. She wouldn’t need his help, she was his daughter after all.
Her head burst free, and she twisted around, finding him. She squealed and her head bobbed excitedly. He waited. When she managed to pull her feet free, he scooped her up into his arms. He lifted her up over his head and laughed. His daughter; his perfect little girl. He brought her back down and held her close. She was bigger. Bigger around as well as longer. He couldn’t cradle her in his arms like he used to. She was easily three feet long now.
“Come on, Syllar. Daddy’s going to find you some breakfast.” He held her front legs and swung her over his shoulder. She grabbed his belt with her back legs, her front legs gripped his shoulders.
They spent the day together, playing among the trees in the forest. The sun settled low among the leaves of the trees by the time they returned home. Syllar held tight to Naerel’s leg, riding on his foot as he walked.
Naerel reached for the door handle but froze, his finger tips inches away. The recent humidity had caused the door to stick when he closed it. He always made sure to give it the second tug to close it tightly behind him. Now, however, the latch wasn’t engaged.
He bent down and removed Syllar from his leg. After setting her on the ground, he drew the knife from its sheath. Bracing himself, he kicked the door open and jumped through, dropping to a low crouch.
“Welcome home, elf.” The green skinned creature lounged in Naerel’s chair at the small table. One freakishly long arm hung at his side while the other bent upward, his hand stroking the lumpy, shaven head resting on his broad shoulders. A thick scar stretched across his bare chest.
Naerel considered burning the chair at the next opportunity, on principal. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“I am Eternal Al Terbet.” He spread his hands wide and bowed his head slightly.
Naerel stood, but didn’t lower his blade. “Eternal? The eternals are a myth. What do you want?”
The troll smiled, revealing teeth that had been filed to a point. “Come now. Surely you didn’t think when you left home that we wouldn’t take advantage of your isolation.”
A chill ran through Naerel, but he didn’t let it show. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why would a troll care about an elf living alone?”
“Alone? And am I to believe you’re eating all this? Your table is covered in leaves and plants. Plus you have a surprising amount of torageth. If I remember correctly, there is only one thing torageth is used for.”
Naerel clenched his jaw. His blood iced and his muscles tensed. “Get out.” He raised the blade and took a step toward the intruder.
“I know who your wife was. The fact that you would bring the heir out here, alone, before she has matured is reckless on your part. And a bit of serendipity on mine. Where is she?”
“I will give you one last chance to leave. My daughter is none of your concern.”
Knives appeared in the trolls’ hands. His eyes flicked down and back, then he lunged forward, sweeping wide with one of the blades. Naerel dodged it easily before thrusting forward.
The troll dropped back. Flipping the dagger in one hand, he threw it at Naerel. The dagger flew past him, missing by a wide margin.
A scream cut the air from behind him. Naerel spun around. Syllar had crawled into the doorway. The dagger had missed its intended mark, but not completely. Blood ran from a deep wound in one of her front legs.
Naerel turned back toward the troll who grinned at him, exposing a mouthful of pointed fangs. His grip tightened. Rage blurred his vision. He charged.
The troll’s hand came up, but Naerel knocked it to the side. He drove his blade into the troll’s throat. Hot blood flowed down his arm. The troll’s eyes glazed and the body fell away.
Naerel turned back to Syllar and immediately realized his victory wasn’t complete. The handle of the trolls knife protruded from his shoulder. Pain lanced down his arm and across his chest. He grabbed the handle with his good hand and yanked it out. A roar of pain shook the tiny hut.
He dropped the knife and hurried to Syllar. He peeled his shirt off and knelt on it, using his good arm to tear strips of cloth free. After carefully wrapping Syllar’s wounded leg he scooped her up as well as he could and rested her on the bed. What had he gotten her into? Had the troll been an eternal? How could he be expected to protect his daughter if the trolls were hunting them now?
It took nearly an hour to improvise a bandage and sling for his wounded arm. He gathered their belongings together. “Time to move on,” he muttered. Taking what he could, he and Syllar set off into the night.