Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 10
Elven Grace

Salyai FountainBark twitched her long, elegant whiskers. She gazed at the stately willow tree. Its skeletal fingertips did not trace the gentle stream’s surface, but remained stationary and frozen in the thick ice. She turned her eyes to the very top of the tree. A small bird was perched in the upper branches. Her sharp elven lynx senses felt its hunger.

She beckoned to Sola. The small golden cat was dragging a bag of birdseed Salyai had brought to help the needy creatures along their way. Sola stepped forward and laid the sack at her host’s feet. Her thick wool coat shifted as she moved and a billow of cold air stole into her fur. She flexed her tingling feet. Her soft paw-pads were not suited to the thick snow that blanketed the ground. In her hometown of Cremtom, the snow was swept away from the streets by stocky Saint Bernards.

Salyai motioned to Sola to remain silent and lifted a paw to her mouth. After a few moments’ adjustment, she whistled a high song. The small bird fluttered his wings so she whistled again, and dug a pawful of seed out of the sack. After a few moments of silent thought, he swooped down and made a perfect landing on Salyai’s outstretched paw. Sola’s eyes softened as she watched the starving bird peck his way through the seeds. The little gray bird’s feathers were rough, and his eyes dull. He periodically raised his head and peered at her suspiciously.

After a few minutes, the young sparrow flapped off of Salyai’s paw and back to his tree. Salyai smiled. “He will last winter now.” She slid her paw back into the bag and let the seed slip out. “His family is usually much less suspicious, but you are here. He needed to think about it, but he trusts me.”

Sola nodded. “How do they know I’m not an elf?”

“The elven people smell much different. You smell of warm blood, dry stones and sharp metal, I smell of running water, ancient trees, and leaf litter. Even one who never eats meat, but needs it, will smell different from us who don’t eat or need it. ” Salyai responded quietly, watching and listening for other needy creatures. There were more this year than usual; the early snows had taken the animals by surprise.

“I see.” Sola replied. She was quiet as her host scanned the landscape. “I don’t see anyone else…” If they were to reach the capital by dark, they would have to pick up the pace.

“No, no one else who needs our seed is here.” Salyai stared up into the sky. Snow sprinkled down onto her face, but she didn’t seem to notice. “We should go along the tree line. Storm will get worse.” She declared. Sola glanced up at the sky too, but all she saw was a featureless sheet of gray. Well, Salyai was usually right.

“Come, we should hurry.” Salyai swung the pack over the shoulder and launched into a ground-covering lope. The lynx passed under the willow tree and skated across the iced-over stream. Sola tentatively padded across behind her. She had accompanied her host almost everywhere, but she still didn’t trust her footing on the slippery ice as Salyai did.

The elf bounded through the thick drifts of powdery snow towards the trees. The stately trees seemed to welcome the two by stretching out their snow-laden branches. Sola smiled as she passed into their shadow. The thick forest scents permeated her small pink nose, sharpened by the chill air. She loved this place, even in the wintertime.

After several hours’ journey of trudging through the woods, she thought differently. The snow stung her eyes, her nose ran, and her ears felt as if they had been nibbled on by a hundred angry sprites. She pulled back her whiskers in dismay as yet another breeze threw pine needles and stinging snow in her face. Her host turned back to her. “We are almost there. Be patient, young one. The forest hides the palace. We are close.” She shook the wrinkles of snow from her fur and padded ahead. Sola followed wearily.

After ten minutes of silent trudging, the pair reached the main road. They emerged from the trees onto the silent and empty road. It was free from snow and warm as Sola discovered when she set her cold and tingling paws on the smooth white stone. She jumped back and glanced up her smiling host. “It’s all right. The path is cleared by the stone. When a snowflake falls on the path, it is… what is it when water gets hot, and makes fire-air-water?”

“Um, the water boils, and makes steam?” Sola guessed.

“Ah, steam. Snowflake turns into steam. But some heat goes into stone, and makes warm, see? But path always clear, though with lots of – steam,” Salyai replied.

“I see. Elven magic, I suppose? Did the queen cast the spell?” Sola asked. She watched a snowflake twirl down to the white flags to vanish into a warm haze.

“Yes, I think so, a queen long ago, great-great-grandmother of now queen. Good queen.” Salyai responded after a moment’s thought. She smiled as a small raccoon appeared through the snow. His murky swamp-green eyes glittered. She emitted a long string of soft and musical tones, and he responded. The sharpness of his black mask and the stripes down his tail emphasized the points of his claws and teeth. Sola gazed shyly at his impenetrable elven eyes.

He chattered at Salyai, the musical sounds in his voice fading out to sharp sounds like the cracking of a stick. She responded in soft tones, and the snaps in his voice faded.

“Hello, sapling. I am a trail guard for the queen and I am told you have an appointment with Her Majesty. You are Lady Sola, correct?” His speech was exotically tinged with an elven accent but was otherwise perfectly clear and precise. His white teeth flashed as he spoke.

“Yes, I am Lady Sola fá Aureate,” Sola replied, and inclined her head.

“Good. Follow me,” The guard ordered, and they quickly complied. The trees thinned and parted, and Salyai caught glimpses of elven dwellings crouching in the shadows. Tree houses perched in the sturdy branches of oaks and elms. Front doors peeked out from their cradles in the massive roots of firs and maples. Clumps of rushes and reeds lined tendrils of the SilverShine River like honor guards paying their respects to the river’s strength. Trails from the main road to the streamside were the only sign that other aquatic creatures lived here as well.

Sola slowly became aware of a gentle sound, like a flute, wafting through the leaves of the enormous trees. She listened intently, but another melody stole into her ears, a splash of harp. Bells tinkled and gonged, and a trumpet declared something. Rain splashed through leaves, and wind whistled in the grass. She smiled at the orchestra of sounds. She knew they were not the voices of instruments, but of elves, their musical language painting a beautiful song in the winter air. The path dipped down steeply and widened, then passed through a thick tapestry of hostile undergrowth. She gasped as she caught her first glimpse of Fiyoara.

The elven people hated stone walls and metal bars. Their walls and bars were of a different nature than most fortifications; a dense growth of intertwining trees and prickly brambles surrounded the city. Thin rope bridges connected the treetop homes like natural vines. A wooden spiral staircase wound around and around each tree. It connected the treetop village to the sprawling town on the land. Large, airy houses dotted the rough acres of land. She stared at the nearest. A beautiful apple tree, easily six hundred-years-old with a gnarled trunk, cradled an elegant house. The gentle fruit tree’s leaves dappled the ground and its stately limbs caressed the air. Nearby, a small gopher family chattered at each other noisily in front of their small front door, a perfectly square blue door set in the ground, defiant of the snow.

Sola followed Salyai blindly, her gaze flicking through the town’s many dwellings, marketplaces and workshops. She noted a furniture workshop where a burly woodchuck gently coaxed an elegant chair from a block of bright scarlet redwood. It was so finely wrought that it seemed as if had been formed from some sort of syrupy red liquid. The snow whirled its way across the doorway and the woodchuck’s assistant shut the door against the cold, blocking her view.

A nearby inn boasted three different kinds of rooms as it wound its way up a monumental Eucalyptus tree: river, land and sky. She followed the raccoon guard away from the hotel, and crossed the river on the main bridge. It was formed of the same white stone as the main road, but many elves chose to forsake its pristine white surface in favor of the crystalline frozen river. Sola watched a deer family skate across on their delicate hooves, their small fawn wobbling uncertainly on his twig-like legs.

The palace rose up before them. It was surrounded by twenty tree sentinels. Their glossy, green leaves were at odds with the snow and bare twigs around them, but they were, after all, Mayornas. Soft pale green grass washed up around them and a short white picket fence was visible through them, the palace’s only walls. Sola bowed her head to the lovely, vibrantly alive trees.

The raccoon swiftly addressed a bell-like call to the sturdy deer guarding the gateway. The deer replied, his deep green eyes shining in welcome. “Hello, Salyai and young sapling. The queen told me this morning to expect you. Welcome to the palace.” Sola smiled shyly and entered, but stopped in her tracks. The ancient Mayorna was watching her.

She stared at the ten thousand-year-old trunk. Before Sola had left for her new post as a warrior, she had visited the construction of Aerema castle. Even the main tower of Aerema seemed small in comparison to this massive column of wood. Like the other trees she had seen, buildings were nestled in the roots, but these halls were enormous structures of wood and stone, speckled with windows, doors, balconies, and staircases. Their domed roofs swirled into a wide staircase that spiraled swiftly up the trunk. Each smaller stairway connected to the main staircase that rose out of view in the upper branches. It was veiled with chill clouds and snow.

The raccoon chimed a remark to the deer guard, and trotted out of the living gate. The deer gave Sola a nudge with his rack, and they proceeded. She stumbled out of her trance and proceeded through the rich gardens that swelled from the lower halls. Flowers spilled from flowerbeds and brightened the gray winter day. Verdant pathways of healthy green grass filled in the gaps between flower, marble and root.

“I’m sure you are very tired, for it is a long way on a winter day from Salyai FountainBark’s post to the city. We have a room ready for you in one of the lower halls. Feel free to come to the hall’s kitchen when you are hungry. There is always someone on duty, and something to eat,” the deer informed her. He had a deep voice, and a very imposing rack of antlers. “Your room is on the second floor, room six.” He left the two cats and trotted back down the road.

Salyai smiled at the Sola’s small and tired face. “I have to go now, back to my home. I see you again in a few weeks?” she said kindly.

“You mean, right now? You’ll travel at night?” Sola asked, incredulously. She would miss Salyai. She was frightened; Fiyoara seemed so large and strange to her.

The lynx nodded. “Yes. I love dark hours,” she said. “You will love it here.” She reassured Sola, “I did, and do. You will see. The Mayorna will look out for you.”

Sola smiled. “Thank you… Good-bye, Salyai.” She turned and slipped into the hall after a last glance at the Mayorna that towered over her head.

 

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