The breadseller and the nine-fingered elfling are already in the skiff. The boy kneels on the floor of the skiff, looking at everything - the ship, the ocean, the shore, me and his other fellow passengers - with interest. His hand is wrapped in fresh cloths. Behind him, the merchant sits awkwardly on the low plank, her hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. Our eyes meet.
“You saved him,” I nod toward the boy, “That was a hero move.”
She blushes uncomfortably and looks away.
When we are some distance from the ship, I risk a glance at my weapons. Both the sickle and throwing knife have been cleaned. I look up to see Enturi watching me. He winks knowingly, looking self-satisfied. He must have cleaned the blood off while I slept, looking after me. I bite back a smile and look away, across the water, to shore. Funny. You’d think a guy who can hear the faint sounds of a rat skittering through a wall over a pounding deluge would have been able to figure out Enturi was a friend. Well hell, we all have our blind spots.
The skiff lands on a small beach below the elven refugees, who are gathered in small groups eating bread and bits of dried fish. As we walk through the crowd, I can see that the elves are subdued. Some are worried, some scared. But overlaying these rational feelings, I can see a tentative sense of hope, an inner resolve that has grown since I sang these elves to courage in Rien’s warehouse. It bodes well. Maybe this is the beginning of their reawakening.
And then I see the elf who was a whore, her arm in a sling, glaring at me balefully. She turns to whisper venom to the elves beside her and they give me dirty looks as I pass. I don’t even know her name. But she knows mine.
I frown. Rien wants me to sing as we march, to keep spirits up and to educate the elves about a land and culture they have never known. From deep inside, I can hear Nana Romina pushing me to do the same. To take some responsibility for the welfare of others. To help. To lead.
But I’m not sure I’m ready for that. How many of these elves have I stolen from? How many of them have I threatened? How many of them have I hurt? How many have family members or friends who I killed? Now that I have a choice, I don’t want to live my life as a brutal killer. But for some – shit, many – of these people, that is who I am. I don’t think a few pretty songs are going to change that.
“Gilon! Gilon! Gilon!” I hear someone call off to my right, with a voice of pure joy. The voice of a child. I turn.
A beautiful little elf-girl, very young, is running toward a boy in front of me. The nine-fingered boy. He turns surprised, a slow smile spreading across his face at the sight of the child. He drops to his knees, spreading his arms out, as the girl throws herself at him, almost knocking him over with the impact. The two hug each other, crying and laughing. So the nine-fingered boy has a name. Gilon.
“Ayda, come away from there,” a voice calls sternly. Two elves approach, a tall male and a long-tressed female. It is the male elf who spoke.
The two adult elves are mates, lovebonded. I can see traces of Gilon in both elves. This is his family. But if he has a family, why was he living in the street?
Gilon’s mother grabs his father’s shoulder.
“Dearest,” she says. “It doesn’t matter now, does it? We’re free. Gilon can come home now, can’t he?”
I feel a deep uneasiness within me, like I’ve eaten a bad bit of fish stew.
The male looks uncertain. Emotions blow across his face like ghosts before he swallows, a decision made.
“I guess he can,” the tall elf says. “Gilon, come here.”
Gilon disengages from his sister, standing up. The girl wraps her arms around his thighs, not ready to stop hugging her brother. Above her, Gilon looks at his parents with fear.
“It’s all right,” his mother says softly. “You can be with us again.”
The tall elf’s mien softens.
“My son,” he says, smiling. “It’s true. Come here.” He holds his arms out in a gesture of welcome.
Looks like the nine-fingered boy may get his happy ending after all.
“No!” The boy’s cry is defiant, angry, hurt.
“You threw me out! You told me I didn’t have a family! That I was no one. You said if you ever saw me again you would kill me yourself. And you never even told me why!”
The boy’s words hit me like a sucker punch. In my mind’s eye, I see my own father’s cold, angry face. We’re not your family anymore, he told me. You stay out of this ward or I’ll see you dead. Then he slammed the door of my home closed, leaving me outside. Alone. In the rain.
The cold, stinking, dirty rain of Elftown.
I have hated the rain every moment of every day since.