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‘Perhaps the greatest courage of all
is that of the lone individual
who speaks out against an
existing climate of hate.’
Artur Klaas (1347-1401)
‘Where are we going, Rowf?’ Malina was tired and sore, her insides an ugly, anxious knot from having to ride in the company of Elf soldiers. It was a mixed consolation riding with the big Human; though reassuring, his presence was a distracting torment to her. The feel of his strong arms against her sides, made inevitable as is was he who held the reins, made her breath short with a physical excitement she had to struggle against. And yet she was glad that there had been no room for her in the wagon; though in torment, it was not a torment she would have chosen to avoid.
She gasped as Ralph gave her a gentle squeeze that sent a maddening thrill of unfulfilled anticipation throughout her body. Oblivious to her predicament, he replied to her question.
‘Sorry! Did I hurt you?’ When she didn’t answer, he said, ‘Pran told me we’re going all the way past Narvi to some place in the mountains called Mirrindale-’
The very sound of that word was enough to strike a chilling chord of fright throughout her being!
‘No, Rowf! I cannot go to Mirrindale! Let me down! I want to get off! Let go of me!’
Before he could grab hold of her, she quickly leaned forward, ducked beneath his arm and, twisting herself around, slipped from the saddle to the ground facing back the way they’d come, intending to make her way against the flow of traffic. Ralph reacted instantly, reaching down none too gently, though there was no alternative, catching hold of her collar and pulling her back onto the saddle, and out of the path of the team of huge dray horses that had come within inches of trampling her.
Pran, who was riding beside the wagon bearing his wife, the children and Deborah, witnessed Malina’s near-mishap and quickly rejoined them.
‘You cannot leave this cavalcade!’ he said to Malina with stern concern. ‘Not on foot, and not in this traffic. Besides, where would you go? Would you attempt the journey back to the forest, alone, and without your Power? Do you not understand that there is no longer a place for you there? Were you to leave our company, I fear that you would be slain by the first gang of ruffians to notice your presence; perhaps even by an unscrupulous soldier or civilian, for whom you would be easy prey.’
Struggling in Ralph’s grasp, choking back a sob, she retorted, as angry as she was frightened, ‘I will not fall prey to the predations of your courts again, nor will I spend another minute in one of your Elven prisons! I will end my life first! I will kill myself! Let go of me, Rowf!’
Ralph held Malina tightly, fearing to lose hold of her, but his eyes were on Pran. In his arms, Malina trembled with fear. In a low tone, devoid of emotion, he said, ‘What’s she talking about?’
To Malina’s surprise, for the first time she heard the undisguised threat of violence in Rowf’s voice; the same sort of tone Pran used, when there was a very real possibility that he might draw his sword, intending to use it.
Briefly, tersely, the Elf iterated all that had happened to Malina concerning her capture, torture, imprisonment, treatment at the hands of the Elven judicial system, and her subsequent banishment.
‘As well,’ Pran added, ‘there is going to be the problem of explaining her presence in Mirrindale. She fears to go there for good reason.’
‘Then I’ll give them an explanation,’ Ralph said without hesitation. ‘She’s with me.’
Pran shook his head as though Ralph’s words were incomprehensible.
‘With you? In what sense? If the uttering of such words sufficed, any one of us could say as much.
‘However,’ he said, ‘Malina, at least some of your fears are groundless. The Thane would have nothing to do with imprisoning you, or having you arrested, or ordering a continuance of that mockery of a trial you were subjected to. That was the doing of Prince Cir and his minions. It is the soldiery, the citizens, and the Merchants of Mirrindale who may present a problem. The Thane himself, in his way, is a Pixie friend, though he has never declared such openly. You see,’ he said to Ralph, ‘those of Faeriekind may be treated as any individual of Elvenkind sees fit, and with absolute impunity. Even though the Thane expressly forbids such behaviour, still, there is little that he can do under existing Elven law.
‘But-’ he added quickly, seeing Ralph’s reaction, ‘I will speak to Birin, and ask him in turn to speak with Loriman and Dornal, to make it clear to all that-’ he looked at Ralph levelly, ‘if anything were to happen to Malina, such a transgression would carry the gravest of consequences.’
When Ralph reluctantly acquiesced, Pran added, gauging them, ‘There is another matter, which might help assure Malina’s personal safety, and also carry some weight where Elven law is concerned.’
Malina and Ralph waited silently for him to continue.
‘Under Elven law,’ Pran told them, ‘for Malina to be taken seriously, indeed, to be acknowledged as a person, she must have some sort of official title; that is to say, the sort of title that is recognised under Elven law. For example, my former title was soldier, and is now landowner. My title carries over to my property and those who live upon it, my wife, and my children.
‘For those that are not landowners, title refers to their trades, however humble.’
‘And for those who don’t have a viable trade?’ Ralph asked, frowning.
Pran winced at this, ‘That is where Elven vagrancy laws apply. As you might guess, our vagrancy laws are never applied to Elvenkind. The most shiftless thief, cutthroat, and vagabond, is considered above those of Faeriekind. Excuses are made, and the most ludicrous of activities are labelled as “occupation” whenever such a wretch comes to trial.
‘The purpose of the vagrancy laws,’ he added bitterly, ‘is to facilitate the forceable and ruthless removal of Faeriekind from their own lands-
‘However, as to Malina’s title, I have given the matter some thought, and have conceived of a solution, though I thought I should first seek your approval, Malina, before uttering it.’
She looked at him doubtfully, waiting.
‘You shall be,’ he said, ‘an Emissary of Faeriekind, from Ralph’s world to our own. Since the title does not concern those of Elvenkind, it is unlikely that you will be questioned on the matter. As well, as Ralph’s world is a world of Men, such a title will carry weight, even with those not kindly disposed towards Faeriekind.’
‘But it is a lie!’ she protested. ‘And if I am called out on the matter, all will know it.’
‘Actually, it is not a lie; not if we use the Elven Law against itself,’ Pran told her with grim certitude. ‘As Ralph, here, is one of the few people from his world to visit ours, he can rightly claim that he speaks for his people. Under Elven law. That is his right and privilege.
‘Conversely, as you are the sole member of Faeriekind to have visited their world, while in their world, you were, whether you knew it or not, an Emissary of Faeriekind, because the laws of Elvenkind do not apply to their world.
‘In turn, because you now accompany Ralph, he has the right to uphold your title, regardless of the fact that you are now back within Elven jurisdiction.
‘Such a title, Malina, is yours for life, unless revoked by your peers; an occurrance which, under the present circumstances, I deem unlikely.’
She fidgeted, wanting an end to this conversation, wishing she could either escape the cavalcade or bury herself in Rowf’s protective embrace.
‘What will I have to do?’ she muttered, thinking of formal behaviour she had witnessed on a number of occasions, having found it unnatural, stiflingly stilted and rigid, frightening and incomprehensible.
‘Hopefully nothing,’ Pran told her. ‘Something unforseen may come up, but as yet I can think of nothing.’
She frowned. ‘So, that is all there is to it? That I am an Emissary of Faeriekind, who has visited another world, and that is my title, so I will be left alone?’ She said this slowly, as though memorizing, trying to keep things straight in her mind. The truth, however, was that she looked for hidden traps or flaws in these words.
‘Hopefully, yes,’ Pran replied.
Pran watched her for some sign, but she stared ahead unseeingly, considering. After some time, it occurred to him that she didn’t seem to realise that she had a choice in the matter. He was about to mention this to her but stopped himself, realising that doing so might only serve to confuse the matter in her mind, or weaken her resolve. With a nod to Ralph, he left to rejoin his wife and children.
‘Will you stop squirming like that? I can’t tell if you’re fidgeting, or just . . . itchy.’ He didn’t mention the kind of itchiness her movements conveyed, and wondered if she knew, herself. He doubted it. Hoping to distract her, he said, ‘Are you hungry?’
To his relief, her urge to flee seemed to have passed, and she nodded. As they shared a meal taken from the saddlebags, he noticed her intense discomfort at being in such close quarters with so many, especially the Elf soldiers, whom he knew from their past conversations and her reactions, evoked in her habitual feelings of suspicion, distrust, and fear. He remembered her mentioning that in the past, her very survival had always meant remaining safely hidden from their eyes. Riding now in their presence, Ralph could see, was a sore trial for her. But he could also see that, perhaps aided by the appearance of her strange attire, or perhaps because he accompanied her, the Elves seemed to accept her as Ralph’s companion, and paid little attention to her presence.
In the isolation of her own thoughts, Malina realised that Pran had been right about one thing: she was having to become reacquainted with her own world. In many ways it would be easier to deal with circumstances as they arose were she a total stranger: not her expectations, her surroundings, nor herself could be trusted any longer, for even as she had changed, so had her relationship to everything external to her own being. Where is this life taking me? I begin to wonder if I am still truly Pixie, she thought to herself, and without thinking about what she was doing, as though the act came perfectly natural to her, leaned back against Ralph tiredly. Mirrindale! The home of the Thane himself!
Suddenly remembering, she stiffened, then sat bolt upright once more. But she was tired to the point of exhaustion, giddy with lack of sleep, and occasionally she would nod, her head snapping up with a jerk. Wordlessly, Ralph, ignoring her feeble, sleepy protests, remedied her discomfort by removing a blanket from where it was tied above one of the saddlebags, wrapped it snugly around her, and drew her to him, comfortably. She fell asleep almost instantly.
As she slept, from time to time, Ralph ventured a worried look behind, trying to catch a glimpse of the wagon which bore Theuli, Deborah, and the children. But the wain was far behind now, and he could see little through the ranks of mounted Elf soldiers. He sighed, taking the cool night air deep into his lungs. Inadvertently, the clean smell of Malina’s hair filled his nostrils; he found that he was unable to ignore the almost impossible softness of her white-blonde hair and the feel of her cheek and her warm breath against his neck; shortly after falling asleep, he had shifted her crosswise so that she could lay more comfortably and securely against him.
Yet he found his thoughts drawn irresistably to Nevana, and found himself wishing guiltily that it was the Elven girl who rode asleep before him. Even as such thoughts intruded themselves, Malina’s very essence seemed to change from that of a desirable young woman to that of a young girl tagging along on a date, sent by her parents to act, without her knowledge, as chaperone.