Frey, p.1Melissa Wright
Copyright 2015 by Melissa Wright
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Crap! I stubbed my toe on a root, one of the pitfalls of living in a tree. It throbbed and I slammed the door in frustration as I left the tree.
It only took a moment to realize what I’d done.
I picked up the pace as Aunt Fannie’s curses came screaming through the closed door. She was determined not to let me forget what a burden it had been to take me in, even if it used every spare ounce of energy to do it.
My mouth twisted, and I shifted into a run until I reached the little outcropping of rock on the west side of the village.
I was still thinking about it when I slowed to climb through the tangle of brush in back of Junnie’s house, but once my fingers trailed the cool rock surrounding the structure, it fell away. When it felt as if I could breathe again, I rapped two quick knocks and then one loud knock on the small wooden door. It was the one sure way she’d know it was me.
A wisp of bright blonde hair swirled around Junnie’s shining eyes as the door swung open, and I decided I must have caught her working; she looked flustered.
Junnie was older than I, but remained striking with the blonde hair, blue eyes, and thin features that seemed to be standard-issue among the village elves. The Council had assigned her as my tutor, citing my advanced age as the reason I couldn’t learn with the others, but I suspected it was my stunning lack of ability that had landed me here.
Junnie brushed a lock of hair aside. “There you are, my Fredora!” She was always trying out new nicknames for me. It was no secret I despised my given name: Elfreda Georgiana Suzetta Glaforia. I decided, not for the first time, my father must have been a drunken imp. Not that I could remember him, but I could definitely blame him because the father was always responsible for naming the firstborn. It wasn’t as if you could get more unoriginal than using the ancient word meaning “elf”, but he certainly hadn’t needed to follow it with a string of ridiculous, flowery—I stopped mid-thought, realizing my tutor was watching me.
“Hey, Junnie,” I said, forcing a smile. “What’s on the schedule for today?”
She smiled in return, straightening the deep blue sash that tied her tunic. “How do you feel about studying the lineages?”
She knew I hated trying to memorize endless pages of names and dates, and didn’t seem surprised by my groan of complaint. “Well, let’s get to it then,” she said, leading me through the tiny living area toward the back room.
She didn’t have or need a great deal of space. Much like me, Junnie was practically alone. Her family had all received the calling “to serve elfkind.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, only that the elf usually left with fanfare and seldom returned in fewer than a hundred years.
It was apparently a very honorable thing, though she never seemed proud.
Just off the living area was the study, larger than the front room, stuffed full of documents and lit by a pair of dim oil lanterns. Dust covered the decrepit scrolls and books lining the walls, but aside from a well-used worktable, the room was clean. Settling onto my usual stool, I leaned forward, elbows on the carved edge of the table to prop my head up for the monotonous hours to come.
It was hard to say how long I sat so, looking down on a huge volume entitled The Great Elves of Varkenshire, pretending to read. But my eyes had wandered from the page to a small thistle where it rested among some other potion ingredients. It had begun to extend its leaves.
I was startled; Junnie was preoccupied with a lengthy scroll across the room and couldn’t have possibly been the source, and I had never made anything grow. I concentrated on the thistle then, eyeing each tiny spike.
I knew the magic, though it had never worked for me before. To my surprise, the leaves turned up and the head began to turn green. The stem reached out new roots and new buds began to form.
Junnie swirled around. “What? What did you find?”
“No, I was just… there was a thistle here…” It was all that had developed, the bulbs and seedlings were undisturbed, and I couldn’t help but think, Oh, sure, the weed grows.
Junnie was across the room in a flash. She glanced at the changed thistle and then, briefly, me, but when I tried to meet her gaze, it shifted to the wall of books. “Well, good for you, Frey. Your efforts are finally paying off.”
I stared blankly at her.
“What do you say we wrap it up for today? I’ve got some business with Council.”
I stumbled off the stool, half numb from being still so long, and made my way outside into the warm sun, unsure of my direction. The idea of lingering within sight of the village center didn’t have much appeal, but I was in no hurry to get back home to Fannie.
Choosing instead a rambling, rarely used path out of the village, I found myself wandering idly through the trees and, eventually, into an abandoned, overgrown garden, where I tried to work out what to do with my now empty afternoon.
Sitting surrounded by the various weeds, my tutor might have urged me to do something useful, like identify the species, but she wasn’t here, and I couldn’t help but attempt to repeat the process I’d used on the thistle in her study. I’d been warned not to practice without supervision, but the field felt alone as I concentrated on one weed and then on each of the others, spinning my charms in an attempt to develop them. I had no luck with the wild flowers and renegade vegetable plants, but a small thorn tree and a couple of noxious strains began to mature in response to the magic.
All this time, I’d thought something was broken in me, that something had happened when I’d lost my mother, but maybe Junnie was right. Maybe I’d just needed to get my focus, to work until it came through.
“Well, well, what do we have here? Is Elfreda making magic?”
Evelyn’s sourness burned through me. It took everything I had to curb my reply, keep myself out of trouble. “Oh, uh, I didn’t realize… is this your…” I was struggling to answer. This wasn’t her field. The forest and surrounding meadows didn’t belong to anyone, only an elf’s home was theirs. But I knew from past experience Evelyn would punish me for being here when she happened along. Sure, not physically—no elf did that. But I could just imagine the way perfect little Evelyn would repeat the story in town. Poor Elfreda, sitting alone in the weeds, couldn’t even make grass grow. What can we do to help her? We should have a Council meeting on it, I’m sure. Poor, poor thing.
I stayed where I sat, forcing my eyes to the ground. But then I pictured the smirk on her face as she mocked me to the villagers, to Council, and couldn’t stop the resentment from boiling up. My ears rang with it.
I glanced up at Evelyn through the jagged line of my bangs.
“A… a… choo!” she wheezed.
Elves didn’t sn
I couldn’t help it. I giggled.
Evelyn shot a glower at me. And then she whirled, storming away, and as she glanced back, her parting expression was so priceless I wished I could see it again.
“Achoo!” “Choo!” “Hachoo!”
My ears popped as I burst out with laughter. Evelyn began to run toward town and I couldn’t stifle it, despite the fact that it was absurd something as insignificant as a sneeze would give me such pleasure. I wondered briefly how I’d delight in a choking fit and then tugged the lobe of my ear as it popped again. Apparently I wasn’t used to laughing. I strode off toward home, taking the long route despite my good humor.
As I approached the old tree, its twisted and gnarled limbs reaching into a cloudless gray sky, I caught sight of an aged elf leaving. My stomach dropped; it was a Council member. Tassels hung around his neck depicting lines and accomplishments: sky blue for receiving the calling, deep crimson for service to the guard. His chest bore a personalized crest, an oak leaf on an unbroken shield of gold and acorn brown. I watched from the trees as a rainbow of a half dozen tassels fluttered behind him where he rushed down the path toward the village.
When I walked through the door, I saw immediately Fannie had not expected company. The telltale signs of a hurried cleaning spell were everywhere. I slipped into one of the low chairs to enjoy a bowl of berries set out for company under the guise of politeness. We didn’t often have visitors, and I could count on a new spruce twig the times we’d had fresh berries. Might as well enjoy them.
I popped a ripe juneberry into my mouth as Aunt Fannie rounded the corner. She was on her way into the room, having dashed back to her stash of wine as soon as the visitor had hit the door. She peered at me out of the corner of her eye, twisting the cork free of the bottle. Maybe it annoyed her to see I was eating her berries. Not that she’d picked them; I was sure she’d just set a charm on an unsuspecting squirrel to make it perform her manual labor.
“Company?” I was enjoying the bitterness of a spireberry now.
“It seems there was some trouble in town today,” she said. “The elders are in an uproar.”
I didn’t question any further. Town trouble was usually of no interest to me. Actually, I couldn’t think of the last time the town had had trouble… She huffed and I knew it was best to indulge her. “What sort of trouble?”
“Apparently, Evelyn of Rothegarr came into town from the meadows at full speed wheezing and sneezing. She reached the village center, grabbed her throat, and fell to the ground without a breath. Dying.”
I stopped chewing, my mouth gone dry.
Fannie continued, “They found a common thistle caught in her airway.”
My stomach curled into knots. I whispered, “A thistle?”
“Mmm. Council thinks she must have been working a spell that went awry.”
Fannie peered at me; I might have turned pale.
She threw the cork at me. Hard. I must have quit breathing because when I drew in a breath, it was sharp in my lungs. My thoughts twisted, but Aunt Fannie wore a mean grin.
“Something else?” I asked, my voice barely audible.
She was enjoying knowing something I didn’t, dragging it out. When I glared at her, she shrugged. “The Council was just able to save her in time. Almost couldn’t find the right words to turn the spell.”
The pain escaped my lungs in a rush. Evelyn was alive.
Fannie continued to talk, probably berating me for looking so dumbfounded. But I was oblivious; my mind was doing somersaults like a pixie on sweet pea. All I could think was, Impossible.
And then the questions. Had the Council known she’d gone running because I laughed at her? Had the thistle grown as she stood beside me? Was that what had caused the sneezing?
Evelyn would tell them I was there. They would come for me. There would be another inquisition.
What had the Council member told Fannie? He must have known I was a witness, why else would he have been there? I could still see the anger on her face. She would accuse me, I was sure. Somehow, Evelyn would make this my fault.
“Well?” Fannie hissed, leaning over to glare at me.
I jerked back to reality, no idea what she’d been saying.
“Where were you during the commotion?” she repeated. “I’d think if you were at Junnie’s, you’d have known all about it. Why didn’t you warn me?”
My mouth opened and closed. “Well,” I said, “Junnie sent me home early because I learned a spell.” Fannie looked incredulous, so I backpedaled. “Well, not a spell, but I grew a… flower. And then I was so excited I was going to run home and tell you… but I took the back way and then…” I swallowed. “Well, and then I got lost. Sorry.”
Aunt Fannie was incensed, her curses flying out in a rant that felt as if it would never end.
The years of listening to it seemed to coalesce, and I was suddenly exhausted. “I think I’ll go lie down.”
“Do you think you can just sleep when you want to sleep? Whose tree do you think this is? You’ll lie down when I say you’ll lie down…”
I bit down on a groan, eyes running over the wood grain of the table as I tuned her out. I knew the outcome if I didn’t, and I was already in trouble enough.
Shortly after her tirade insisting I stay until I had earned permission to leave, the one-sided argument ran its course and Fannie tired of looking at me and sent me on my way.
I trudged out of the kitchen, through the main sitting area, and into my room. It was dark except for a small beam of light from a knothole in the wall. Fire was the one magic I had mastered; I had been able to light lanterns and candles for as long as I could remember, but I didn’t bother. If I was in this room, I wanted to be alone. And in darkness I felt more so.
Frey by Melissa Wright / Fantasy have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on17 votes