"Wait a moment!" I exclaim, looking back at Enturi, realizing the full import of his earlier words. Apparently I am a bit slow on the uptake.
"When you said you're drawn to me," I say cautiously, "You meant more than that you find me enjoyable company, didn't you? You meant that you like me-" I pause, trying to suppress a smile. "-romantically."
Enturi's face colors a deep red and he turns away from me, at least as much as the shackles and chains will allow.
"Maybe," he mutters grudgingly, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Arq. I really am."
He spits out his response like the words are corroding his mouth.
"Because it's wrong. It's unnatural."
His words strike me like the mailed fist of a human guard. I feel rage rising again. A lot of the time, I feel like I'm the only real elf in Elftown. But now I wonder if Enturi is. I realize how wrong I have been about him and I am ashamed.
I have long sensed that he was twisted somehow. That there was an aberration within him, something alien and wrong. But I was misreading it. I was misreading him.
The aberration was in his efforts to hide the magic within him. But not just that. It was also his efforts to suppress and hide his elven feelings of attraction. The elves of Elftown have so bought into the human culture imposed upon us by the Ruran Empire that what is natural seems unnatural, and what is good and elven seems wrong and foreign. Because the Ruran humans have inflicted their belief upon us that it is wrong to love another unless one is male and one is female, Enturi has lived in a private isolated hell of fear and self-loathing.
I wonder how many others have suffered as Enturi has, and I feel guilty. My bitterness seems small against their internal struggles. Maybe I should have disregarded Nana Romina's oaths earlier. Or maybe, even if I obeyed her and didn't sing the songs, I could have reached out to other elves and shared the knowledge of our nature held within the songs and helped them understand themselves.
Well, it's too late for that.
"Enturi," I snarl. "Shut your damn mouth."
He looks at me, hurt.
"You're wrong," I tell him. "Those words are human words. You're not a human, you're an elf. I swear to you that elves are different than humans in this. I know a song where two male elven warriors fall in love; amidst the darkness of war and discord they find each other and bind themselves to each other. I asked Nana Romina about it and she said they were beloved heroes and all elves knew of their brave deeds together. And think their love is romantic."
I offer him a genuine smile.
"The fact that you like me is some piss-poor judgment on your part. But there's nothing wrong or unnatural about it. So you're a male elf who is attracted to another male elf. It happens - to elves at least. It's no big deal."
Enturi seems to be having some difficulty assimilating the information I have given him.
"You mean-?" he stutters. "I'm not-?" He takes a deep breath. "This is natural - for an elf?"
"As elven as dancing in a meadow under the moonlight. As elven as the magic that courses through your veins. As elven as an epic song."
"And," he looks at me shyly. "You're okay with it?"
Damn it. I really didn't want to take the conversation in this direction. He seems so relieved, so unburdened.
"I don't mind it," I say honestly. "But I feel bad for you, because I don't have those feelings for you in return."
He looks away.
"I already knew that," he says, a faint touch of bitterness returning. "I thought maybe you had them for Lynae."
I shake my head.
"You know what?" I respond. "It's like I said earlier.. I don't like anyone - at least not that way. Maybe because I know what we are supposed to be like and so I have trouble connecting with elves that aren't. I don't know." I pause. That explanation doesn't seem to make him feel any better.
"Listen, Enturi. I know it probably doesn't matter much to you, but . . . I've come to appreciate you the past few days in a way I didn't before. As more than a fellow enforcer. As a friend."
He looks at me, surprised. Eyes glistening.
I hear a door opening down the hallway outside, and the hallway itself gets brighter. There is the sound of approaching footsteps and then a key turning in the lock. That's fine. I really didn't have much more to say to Enturi on this subject anyway. The stench of awkwardness in the air dissipates as the door opens and Lynae enters, followed by two older elves.
I say this isn't a lost cause! I'll still hold on to hope and continue shopping these two! This is too awesome!! I liked Enturi before, I absolutely love him now. Too cute 🥰💙.
And I agree with E.V., this is massive progress for Arq. Small steps, we'll get there 😉
As an enforcer for Jet, a petty elven crime boss, Arq has it better than most in Elftown, the prisoner of war slum of a human city. It's violent work, but it provides him with a little more money than he needs to survive, a little status, and a little free time.
When a prostitute under Jet's protection is brutally murdered, Jet sends Arq and a team of enforcers - including his creepy, ambitious rival; Jet's dangerously alluring girlfriend; and a chatty dwarf-of-all-trades - to find the killer and make an example of him. But when they uncover the dark reason for the murder, the delicate balance of power in Elftown begins to crumble.
To avenge a friend's murder, Arq must contend with betrayal, warring crime bosses, deadly monsters, underworld plots, and forbidden magic that, if discovered by the humans, will send a red tide of death through Elftown. His greatest challenges, though, will be grappling with his own bitter, violent nature, and trying to figure out what it means to be an elf in a place where the humans have taken away everything that makes life worth living for elvenkind.
Author: A. Harris Lanning
Cover Art: Xavier Ward