Alexandra is of elven nobility with responsibilities and privileges, but all she wishes to do is visit the woods of her ancestors for some peace and quiet. One day her ride is interrupted by the appearance of a human man who offers to lead her back to the far-away estate of her father after her horse throws her. She grudgingly accepts and learns that the human’s family has an ancient contract with her father, one that holds more than just land as a thank-you for past services rendered.
The outing was supposed to be a quiet, short affair filled with picnics and other delights, but the wolves changed all that.
First, allow me to introduce myself. I am Alexandra Lothana of the house of Stethana, a very ancient Elvish family. I was raised on the estate of my father far from the human world and its influences, though humans knew of us and we of them. It was a very rigid life with strict lessons most of the days with a few hours of time with my father and mother. I was their only child, but some moments I drew the impression that they cared little for me. Perhaps it was my father’s disappointment at not having a son. A son would have inherited the family lands and kept control to himself, but I as a woman was bound to marry and the control of my inheritance would pass to my husband, an outsider.
That was why I had so many suitors throughout my life, and cared for none of them.
They were all young elven men of good families, of course, handsome and brave, but I knew they didn’t care for me. They only wanted the lands and wealth I would obtain when my father passed from this world, though thankfully elves were long-lived and I had little need to worry about such a morose day for many years.
Still, that didn’t stop the suitors from courting me. To make matters more uncomfortable I knew I was not what one would call a beautiful elf. I was plump and short for my twenty years of age, and unfortunately that is the point where many of us cease to age until we reached five hundred years or so. I was no exception, and found myself trapped in a body that would neither thin nor stretch. It was very vexing.
The only comfort I had in those lonely, unloved days was my riding. My father’s estates were surrounded on all sides by hundreds of acres of wild wood. The trees there grew taller than any tower, and sometimes their trunks were so close together that a pin could not have fit between them. In those trees lay hidden meadows of beautiful wildflowers and gurgling brooks filled with fish. There I could be myself.
It was a fine morning when I saddled my horse, Beferon, for one of my rides into the woods, but was stopped in the stables by a voice calling my name. I glanced at the double-door entrance and sighed when I saw it was Steven Arana, one of the most persistent of my suitors. He was a little above average height which accentuated his muscled build. His long blond hair lay free over his shoulders as was the current style, and his clothes of a fine blouse and trousers were impeccable. Any elf maiden would have been proud to have him as a prospective husband, but I knew him better than most. Beneath his smiles was a cruel man. I’d seen him whip his horse for small disobediences too many times to believe he wouldn’t do the same to me.
He hurried up to me and leaned against the gate to Beferon’s stall. “May I accompany you on your ride this morning?” he requested.
I played the shy damsel and smiled sweetly at him. “That is very kind of you, but I would rather be alone,” I replied.
“Ah, but being alone is what I intended. At least for the two of us,” he told me.
Inwardly I gagged at the hidden meaning, but kept my composure. “I am sure I don’t know what you mean, but I will be fine on my own,” I assured him. I mounted Beferon, but Steven grabbed one side of the reins close to Beferon’s bit.
“Alexa, I must know at some time whether I can crack that cold exterior of yours to reach the beautiful woman inside,” he pleaded. I thought I caught some sincerity in the words.
I sighed and shook my head. “I cannot give anyone the answer until my heart has told me it,” I replied.
“Surely your heart has told you something by now. I have wooed you for five years,” he persisted. It had been a long five years.
“My heart is very unkind to everyone, but you will be one of the first to know when it has made its decision,” I assured him. I tried to pull the reins from his grasp, but he pulled back.
A dark look slipped into his eyes and his lips pursed together so hard the blood ceased to flow through them. “Alexa, I have been a patient man for many years. Is this the only answer you can give me?”
“The only answer,” I affirmed. I yanked hard on the reins and managed to free them. Then I kicked Beferon and galloped from the stall and out through the large stable doors.
I didn’t look back as I rode down the stable path and onto the wide graveled road that was the main thoroughfare to the estate. To my left and behind me lay the manor, a grand building of wood hewn from the logs of the ancient trees several thousand years ago. It was an impressive, three-floor building with many stained-glass windows that were as bars to me and many rooms that were merely cells. My freedom lay in the open forest, the home of my ancestors. We were once a forest folk, but civilization forced us to build homes and partake in the businesses of agriculture and mercantile profits. My family had grown rich in these ventures and that was how we became so powerful and ancient a lineage.
For my part the call of the forest still ran through my veins, and I sought the solace of the trees whenever time would allow. I raced along the gravel road until I reached the entrance to the trees, and then I veered off onto a narrow riding path little used except by myself. The trees sped by as blurs of beautiful green colors. They waved to me with their branches and whispered to me as the wind through their leaves. Beferon’s hooves pounded against the hard dirt path, and I raised myself in the saddle and breathed deep the scent of the woods. If only I could remain in the luscious green forever, I would die content.
My quiet, serene mind didn’t pay any heed to the distance we traveled. Beferon was slightly cantankerous by nature and he would eventually refuse to go farther than a few miles from the estate. Today was different. He galloped onward through the path until the way narrowed to a footpath and signs of activity were etched in the stumps of downed trees. I didn’t notice any of the changes until a figure stepped onto the path ahead of us.
Beferon skidded to a stop and reared up in fright. I, unprepared for his terror, was thrown from the saddle. I crashed into the brush on the side of the path, and Beferon turned and fled back from whence we came. It took me but a moment to free myself from the branches of the bushes, but that was a moment too long as I stumbled onto the path and looked for Beferon. The last I saw of his well-manicured tail was it disappearing around a bend in the trail. I was abandoned in a small clearing made so by the fallen trees.
A sound of footsteps behind me caught my attention, and I turned to find the figure striding toward me. It was a man, a human man, and slung over his shoulder was a large ax. His face was half-covered by a bushy beard and his long hair was tied behind him in a tail. He wore a rough suit of animal skins and boots that thunked loudly against the ground.
His voice was gruff, but not unpleasant. “Are you all right?” he asked me.
I stumbled away from this wild man. I’d heard tales of elf maidens being taken by these sorts of men and ravished. “S-stay back!” I ordered him.
He stopped and raised an eyebrow. “I only want to help you,” he insisted.
“I’m quite fine, thank you. I can find my way back,” I assured him. It was a straight path to return to the estate.
“If you’re from the estate then it is a straight path, but there are wolves out these last few weeks,” he warned me.
I had no doubt I was face-to-face with one of those ‘wolves.’ “I’m sure I will be-” My words were cut off by the distinct howl of a wolf. The color drained from my face and I whipped my head to and fro in search of the source.
“You were saying?” the man asked me.
“I-I was saying I can find my way back,” I stubbornly insisted.
The man shook his head and chuckled. “You are a stubborn breed, you elves. Too proud to ask for help, or take it when you need it,” he commented.
I bristled at the insult. “You dare to insult me?” I spat at him.
“I dare, but that wasn’t an insult, it was an observation,” he countered. “Now if you’d like me to lead you back that’s fine, but I’m willing to follow you back if that’s what it takes to make sure you do get back,” he told me. As though to end the conversation he tucked his ax handle in his belt and took a step toward me, but I wasn’t finished.
“I do not need a chaperon. I have enough of that at the estate,” I argued.
“Ah, so you’re one of the family of the estate, or a close friend,” he guessed. I frowned and turned away. This was a cunning human, though I admit I’d had little experience with them. I turned back when I heard him move closer to me. He stopped when he noticed me stiffen. “I’m not going to harm you, I just don’t want you to harm yourself,” he insisted.
I raised an eyebrow. “What would my being injured matter to you?” I wondered.
His beard moved to indicate a smile beneath it. “I don’t allow beautiful women, even high-minded elven women, to be hurt, and it’s a terrible end to be eaten by wolves,” he pointed out.
His gallantry was marred by his recurrent rudeness, but the sound of the wolves had shaken my independent spirit. “If you wish to come with me then do so, but follow behind,” I ordered him. I wanted to make sure I was downwind from his stench for the man reeked of sweat, though he did have the pleasant scent of the woods on him.