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“Six,” corrected Gwilminawyn.
Gwilminawyn laid the stylus beside the wax tablet and leaned under the writing desk.
“One…two….three….four….five….six….seven….eight,” she said, tapping on each white buttons in the row as she helped Evelyn count. “Now, can you count the metal buttons?”
While Evelyn’s fingers worked on finding and lining up the four metal buttons, Gwilminawyn picked up her stylus and went back to her copy work.
Hand in hand the two girls skipped down the path. The late afternoon sun slanted through the boughs of the pines. Though of a similar size and statue, the two looked like spirits of two opposing elements as they flashed between sun and shadow. Sunlight turned Gwilminawyn’s long elven hair silver, and in the shade it took on a ghostly sheen. Next to her, Evelyn’s riotous curls became a flaming corona as she bounced along, and then just as quickly a burnished cloud.
“Hold still, Gwilminawyn. I swear, I should go back to calling you ‘Minnow’ the way you’re wiggling around today!”
“Not fair, Evelyn. I only want to see!”
“When I’m finished. What happened to this famous elven patience I keep hearing about?”
Gwilminawyn took a deep breath. “That,” she said, “was a low blow. But fine, fine, I am being patient!”
“I’m nearly finished anyway.”
Gwilminawyn watched the last of the aster flowers traveling from the bowl near Evelyn’s hand. She felt another pin slide into place in her hair.
“There. Now, you can look.”
Gwilminawyn stood from the chair and turned around to see herself in the mirror. Cool pink and lavender blooms formed a wreath around the crown of her head. Below the blossoms, fine silver braids hung in delicate loops. Under all this, the rest of her hair hung like a sheen of silk around her back and shoulders. “Oh Evelyn. Thank you. Thank you, it’s beautiful.”
“Well,” said the taller teen with a smile, “you only turn one hundred once. Happy Birthday, dear sister.”
Gwilminawyn pulled herself back to the present. She could not bear to relive Evelyn’s leave taking. The earnest discussions to try to convince the brash young woman to wait. The concern on her uncle’s and parents’ faces. Evelyn’s insistence on traveling alone, without the man she had come to call father. Gwilminawyn sitting at one of the lookout posts, staring at the empty road long after Evelyn had walked out of sight. The sentry gently suggesting Gwilminawyn go home after the last rays of the sun had faded.
Knowing she was close to reckless sobbing, Gwilminawyn stood to take her leave. She wiped her hand over her tear streaked cheeks, a motion that was quickly followed by her mother’s hand caressing the young elf’s face. On other days, Gwilminawyn might have resented being treated as a child. But today she was content to accept the comfort in the familiar gestures of having her face wiped, a loose strand of hair swept back and tucked behind a pointed ear, a kiss bestowed on her forehead.
Her father, she noticed, was sitting with his eyes shut and his fingers twitching rhythmically against each other. Gwilminawyn lips curved to a smile. Surely her father, Master Harpist, was translating his memories into a beautiful melody, a musical eulogy for Evelyn.
Gwilminawyn, on tip toe, kissed her mother’s cheek before mustering the courage to turn to her uncle. She was relieved to see he had slipped into his own reverie. She did not think she could face him, not yet.
Silently, she slipped from the room. The adults would keep their vigil long into the night, she was sure, but youth excused Gwilminawen.
She slipped up the tight spiral stairwell and into her bedroom upstairs. Opening her wardrobe and moving her dresses aside, she pulled out Evelyn’s going away present to her. Unthinking, Gwilminawen had begged Evelyn to wait to leave until Gwilminawen was old enough for them to go together. Evelyn had laughed and reminded the young elf that she would be an old woman by the time her favorite “Glowworm” would be old enough to leave home. Instead, she had left Gwilminawen her practice foil, promising that Gwilminawen’s time to travel would come.
It was this foil that the young elf now held, Evelyn’s parting gift. The metal was cheap, a dull ugly grey next to Gwilminawen’s own pale skin. The end was knobbed, and the long ‘blade’ itself was rounded and would never hold an edge. Still, it was well made and well balanced, even counterweighted to compensate for the cap on its tip.
For one brief moment, Gwilminawen’s blood rushed and her anger pooled. She stood in her room heart racing, considering swearing a blood oath of vengeance. But vengeance on whom, exactly? All they knew of Evelyn’s death was simply that the wards the elves had secretly placed on the bold young woman had been triggered. The spell returned to her uncle with the information that Evelyn’s life had been extinguished. The where, the how, the why….all of those questions were of yet unanswered. So against who or what could Gwilminawen direct her anger?
Gradually her pulse slowed. Her rage dissolved into weeping that refused to be held in check any longer. When she had finally exhausted her store of tears, her room and fallen into the shadow of evening.
Without really knowing why, Gwilminawen took the foil and headed out to the small balcony off her parents’ bedroom. Slipping the foil’s strap over her shoulder, the girl climbed over the banister and shimmed down the thick vine clinging to the side of the circular home. It wasn’t her intention to sneak out necessarily, but only to spare her mother more worry. She told herself that going out through the downstairs doors would bring questions and disturb the hushed vigil. Once outside, she kept well away from the arched windows of the front room, leaving her mother’s well designed garden through its back gate.
Elven dwellings are often widely spaced and at this time of day, with most families at dinner, Gwilminawen met no one else as she made her way along the paths. Belatedly she wished she would have thought to slip her feet into some coverings since the fallen pine needles along the paths were prickly. She was not usually so careless.
Soon enough, the soft dirt path gave way to a simple flagstone walk, which in turn became proper stone as it wound nearer to the edge of one of the many cliff-like ravines that formed the landscape of her home. Down she walked, disappearing into a crevice in the rock. Smooth steps had been carved into the stone and rock walls rose to either side of her. Along her right, rough tree roots twisted and turned where they were ever working to pry the stone farther apart. Along her left, elven script carved in raised relief harmonized with the sinuous roots opposite. When she was younger, she had loved to run her hands along roots and script alike. But, now that she was older, she knew that each contact with the carvings, however miniscule, hastened their ultimate removal. She let her eyes delight in the texture instead of her fingers.
The end of the staircase opened onto a natural promontory near the top half of a massive, water carved hollow in the cliff face. Below and to her left, the hollow formed many wide deep shelves, all covered with a carpet of green moss, draped with delicate ferns, and rimmed with low walls so skillfully constructed they blended seamlessly into the vista. It was here where the elves gathered to pray and to offer songs of thanksgiving. Gwilminawyn remembered her uncle explaining that humans sometimes mistook elves worshipping in spots of natural beauty with elves worshipping the natural world. Whereas Gwilminawyn knew the truth was that elves choose to pay homage to the Creator in places where His artistry and masterwork were most prevalent.
Gwilminawyn turned to her right and began descending down a path which hugged the wall of the outer cliff. Soon enough, the path turned back on itself and, still descending, headed toward a gracefully arched bridge that crossed the space between the two arms of the cavern. As it joined with the bridge, the path widened and passed around both sides of a large stone. The top of the stone was flat save for a perfectly round bowl which the elves kept full of fresh water, even in the driest months of summer. Gwilminawyn paused here, dutifully checking the level of the water. In the center of the tiny pool someone had floated a perfect circle of narrow yellow leaves, connecting them stem to tip, stem to tip, one to the other. Gwilminawyn inspected the leaves as well, ensuring that none were so waterlogged as to be in danger of sinking and disrupting the circle. The neverending circle represented the Eternal and three connected circles, the Eternal Three-In-One. Gwilminawyn smiled, pleased that she had, after years of puzzling, been able to find the other two circles present here.
Across the bridge, she took another flight of steps down to the very bottom of the ravine. It had been a several weeks since the last decent rainstorm. In the spring, a waterfall spilled over the edge of the cliff high above in several shimmering strands. Now, in early autumn, it had dwindled to a few glistening drops seeping from the rock. The streambed, where Gwilminawyn now stood, had dried and left behind many elongated ponds.
Gwilminawyn picked her way across the rocks with ease. The evening cast the ravine into deep shadows, but like a cat, Gwilminawyn’s silver eyes reflected the lingering light. She stopped at the object of her journey, a large wedge shaped stone which perfectly split the mountain stream, forcing the water to run to either side of it. Now, a pool formed in front of the stone, and only a trickle of water dribbled to either side.
It was a good place to come to make a decision. Gwilminawyn had last been here with her mother who had explained, “As the waters split before the stone so too where there will be times in life when the flow of our lives hits an obstacle. We will have a choice of paths to carry us beyond the obstacle. We also choose in what manner we move beyond the obstacle. We can be like a leaf and just be swept along with the current, or we can be like the swimming fish who navigate the stream.”
Gwilminawyn sat cross-legged on the stone with Evelyn’s foil across her knees. She felt like a leaf, spinning out of control in a current she was powerless to change. She had crashed hard against a cold, unyielding rock. But she did not want to be swept away. How could she change from a leaf to a fish?
She ran a pale grey fingertip down the dark steel of the foil.
Read the conclusion here.