I kneel in front of the dying tree. Enturi kneels behind me, his hands on my temples. My right temple is still sore to his touch, but not enough to interfere with my concentration, hopefully. I place my hands on the dry, rough bark. I sense nothing. Until I start singing. As the notes of the bow-making song leave my throat, I feel a surge of awareness flow from me into the tree and back.
The girl is in there, a dull ball of pain and despair. There is no other spirit within the tree; she is the tree. It is with her that I must create the communion required for the making. I reach out to her with the song, trying to bring her back from the dungeon cell she has walled herself in. She is punishing herself. She resists me, but I persevere. I feel magic from Enturi flowing through me to her.
Suddenly, she is awake.
She recognizes me with a blast of fear and repulsion and raw wounding pain that almost causes my song to falter. She hates me more than she hates Calmorien. Part of her wants to believe that he did love her, even though he used her, even though he took her friends away. As I struggle to keep singing, Enturi soothes her, calms her, helps her understand what is happening.
Her name is Ireth.
I change the song in little ways as I sing. I have to draw all of her spirit into the bow as the song shapes the weapon, because the tree is doomed. I hope it works.
Time seems to slow as I sing the song. It is not a long song, but when I reach the end it feels as though I have been singing from waking to midday. As I sing the last verse, I pull a curved line of wood from the tree, shaping it into the form of a bow. Small branches grow out of the top of the bow, complete with needles and berries, while roots emerge from the bottom. I place my fingers where the bowstring would be, and a tiny gold line of magic materializes, running from nock to nock, a bowstring made of the elf-girl’s spirit. The song ends, and the music fades, leaving Enturi and I in the silence with the magic bow that we have created, thrumming lightly with the power of the spirit within.
A weapon created from the soul of a girl that will save elves. Damn. No wonder the humans fear our magic.
Enturi is staring at me with a look that I can’t decipher.
“What?” I ask.
“You did hate her,” he says. Damn it. How much of my mind did he see?
“So, why-“ He licks his lips and then gestures at the bow in my hand. “Why did you do this? You don’t need a bow this badly. You’re supposed to be backup at the bridge tonight. To fill in if one of the others gets killed.” Interesting. No one told me that. “Why make a bonded weapon out of someone you hate; someone who fears you more than anyone else?”
“I don’t know. I changed my mind. I just felt that I ought to do something to try to save her.”
Enturi frowns. “How does this save her?”
“Well, I don’t know how to turn her back into an elf again. I don’t even know if that’s possible. But I think that if we get home, I can turn her back into a tree again. Or someone can, anyway. See the roots and the branches? The bow is a tree.” I nod my head in the direction of Alvar’s painting. “If the tree stays alive long enough, maybe I can plant it in the homelands. Then the painting will have been a prophecy, at least as to Ireth.”
He nods thoughtfully. “It’s possible.”
“Hey,” I say. “Thank you for your help. This was important to me.” I mean it.
He blushes. Heh.
“You’re welcome, Arq.”
As we climb out of my old hideout for the last time, he puts his hand on my shoulder and pulls me around to face him.
“Why did you change your mind about her?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
It sounds lame, even to me. But I suppose maybe it is pity that motivated me. She was just a kid, a kid manipulated into doing horrible things. And like I realized earlier, if I am going to give myself a shot at redemption, why not everyone else? Maybe together she and I can kill a few humans tonight, save a few elves.
Enturi is staring at me.
“What?” I joke. “Turned to stone?”
He shakes his head.
“Come on,” I say. “I’ve got a place near here, with a stash of coins and some other things. We’ll need the money if we get out of here tonight. Since you helped me out, I’ll give you half. Fair enough?”
Enturi shakes his head again.
“I appreciate the offer, Arq, but I have my own hidden stash,” he says, patting his wide belt. “I believe in carrying most of what I own on me.”