It was like something from a nightmare, made all the worse because she knew it was her own damn fault.
Growing up, she had heard the same tales as the other elven children about the great heroes of her people and one thought had stayed the same throughout each tale:
So why had she thrown herself into such a situation, a situation where she would be constantly assaulted by the worst possible thing…
Up on the parapets, the half-elf Arobyn had come to her aid when she was overwhelmed by the stares, cheers and friendly pats (They actually touched me!!) after finding a chink in the dragon’s armoured hide with her bow (with a little magical assist), but the young warrior was nowhere to be found now.
Walking out of the armoury with fresh arrows for her quiver (free; perhaps it wasn’t all bad…), there was a small group of Greenest villagers waiting for her. Her eyes widened in terror as she shrank into herself, up against the hallway wall, face down now as they smiled and looked at her with admiration.
She was sure she would vomit. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad; they’d surely leave her alone after that, wouldn’t they?
“What was it like?” asked a young woman excitedly.
“How are you strong enough to pull that bow?” asked a militia guard with undisguised awe.
“Are you married?” asked another one, with a little too much enthusiasm.
“Is it true you’re a princess?” queried a young girl, clutching her doll.
Whisper sank back, the bombardment of attention practically paralyzing the elf, when a voice of salvation rang out behind the well-meaning crowd.
“Ladies, gentlemen, please, if you would kindly release the ‘Hero of Greenest’ to me; there is an important council her presence is required at.” The crowd turned to see the friendly yet imposing figure of Luther Tallstag. He stood with arms folded across his chest and a warm smile across his face, making sure not to make eye contact with Whisper. While still quite young, Tallstag’s voice had an air of authority to it, backed in no small part by the stories circulating of his leadership in bringing dozens of citizens safely to the keep during the Dragoncult raid.
A chorus of “of course”s and “certainly”s mixed with a liberal dash of “awww”s eventually led to the crowd parting, allowing Whisper to pass through to walk by Tallstag’s side down the hallway.
“Thank you for that back there.”
Luther inclined his head. “Pardon me? I’m afraid I didn’t hear you.”
Whisper gritted her teeth and tried again. “Thank you.”
Luther nodded, smiled, and kept up his brisk pace. “Not at all. The least I could do.”
A frown had crossed Whisper‘s face. “I’m…not used to being ‘saved.'”
Luther barely held back a grin. “I’m sure that’s true. Still, if we are to be allies, we should be willing to accept help from one another, don’t you think?”
Whisper drew her cloak around her shoulders as she walked and contemplated what the young paladin had just said.
They walked for a while in silence, until Whisper broke it with a theory. “There’s no council, is there?”
Keeping his gaze forward, Luther was quick to answer “Oh, yes, there definitely is.”
Whisper‘s almond-shaped eyes narrowed, ever the investigator. “But…?”
Luther‘s mouth upturned so slightly anyone other than the detail-obsessed elf would have missed it. “But it is not for many hours yet.”
Interesting…maybe I’ll be able to get along with him after all; not so straight-laced as I thought.
They continued on, again in silence, until Whisper summoned up enough courage to try something.
“I…I am glad to see you up and around after the fight with the half-dragon.”
“I’m sorry, could you say that again?” requested Luther.
Whisper had an inward sigh of frustration. It was hard enough to do that once! Steeling herself, she tried again. “I said I am glad to see you’re ok.”
“Oh, well thank you,” replied the paladin. “Here we are, the others are inside. Come in,” he finished with a smile.
A smile that, to the ever-vigilant elf, gave him away.
She seethed. He had bloody well heard her the first time.
Whisper entered the room glaring at Luther who pretended not to notice. Sitting on a small stool in the corner was Arobyn, polishing his blades and wiping dried kobold blood from them. Sitting not far from him was the boy-bard, Scribe, writing down something as Whisper noted he was wont to do.
She felt a twinge of regret for him; while she still wasn’t sure how she had gotten mixed up in all of this, it must be much worse for him. He was talented, no doubt; the music he spoke in her ear had definite elven-tunes, no doubt something he picked up from one of his parents. But it was obvious that he was still naive to the ways of the world; reading about things and doing them are entirely different, as she well knew from her days at the Academy.
Her keen sense of smell picked up the scent of herbs, soil and spices from behind her; the druid Foluwa must have returned. In his loud, melodic voice, he greeted them. “Hello, friends. It’s good to see we have all recovered fro…Luther? You shouldn’t be walking around, boy, not after what you’ve been through. What did Foluwa tell you?”
Luther looked down, properly scolded. “You said…”
“I said,” the druid interrupted, not waiting for the answer, ” ‘You took enough lightning to fell a tree. You are no tree; Foluwa knows trees and you are not one. You are lucky to be alive and you will lie in that bed until we can be sure there is no lingering wound to aggravate!’ That is what I said!”
Silence filled the room. Everyone was looking to see what would happen next.
Everyone was doing their best to stifle a laugh. Finally, Luther could not hold it in anymore and began laughing so much it infected the others, and soon everyone in the room was laughing; even Whisper had to purse her lips tight to not join the spectacle.
Foluwa stood impassively amidst the laughter. Finally, when it had died down, he looked at Luther “You are funny. You are a boy. We will see how funny it is, the next time I treat your wounds. Foluwa can be funny too!” That brought a new round of laughter, with the druid joining in this time.
Whisper fell into her defensive stance, shoulders hunched in to protect her. “It was nothing.”
“You used magic,” piped up Scribe. “Are you a magician?” he asked, ready to pen her answer.
“Not exactly, no.”
“What do you mean?” asked Foluwa. ” ‘Magician’ means ‘someone who uses magic.’ Are you a trained magician or not?”
Whisper fidgeted. “Sort of. All elves receive some magical training, to see if they have the gifts for the Academy.”
Scribe became very interested. “Are you part of the Academy?”
“…it’s a long story.”
“I love those!”
Arobyn laid a hand on Scribe‘s shoulder to try to restrain his enthusiasm, nodding at him once as he did so. Addressing Whisper, he added “We don’t want to pry, of course. It’s just that if we are to all be allies…”
There’s that word again.
“…it might be a good idea to get to know each other.”
She looked them all over. Time to take a calculated risk, she thought. “I was in the Academy. My instructors all told me I had a bright future in the study of magic. I liked it…and I was good. When the final Test came, I was expelled for cheating. I was exiled from the Academy, lost any goodwill and station I had earned and ended up having to find my own way.”
The group fell silent again, exchanging glances amongst each other.
Damn it! thought Whisper.
She turned to go. “…call me when this council is being held.”
Luther nodded. He seemed about to say something, then held back.
Whisper took them all in with a look. “And thank you.”
“For what?” asked Arobyn.
She drew her hood over her head before answering and leaving the room. “For not asking me if I was guilty…”