The day was settling into a cool shade of twilight. Summer breathed upon the air in thick, humid layers. Naelen was in his room, packing enough of his belongings to make the long journey to the northern region of Careth. With him was Lanara, folding up her son’s clothes before he placed them in a large leather bag.
“Have you considered everything you need?” Lanara asked while pulling open another bottom drawer.
“Yes, Mom, I have.” Naelen rolled his eyes without allowing his mother to see. “We can expect a two week journey, and I have exactly fourteen pairs of pants, twenty shirts, three different vests, two heavy coats…” The list went on as he accounted for his necessary clothes and supplies.
“All right,” Lanara said when he was done, “sounds like you have considered everything.” Then she raised her hand to his jaw. “Oh, it’s going to be so lonely once you leave.”
“Well, you have Dad,” Naelen shrugged. “And Damien and Tenila. Have you even met the groundskeeper yet?”
“I mean I will miss my own flesh and blood,” she laughed. “But a mother has to let go at some time, right? If you ask me…your sister left us too quickly.”
“Yeah, she did,” Naelen agreed. “I don’t blame her…being in a rush to get out. She knew what she wanted and took it upon first chance.”
“Yes, but I do miss her.”
Naelen smiled, taking his mother gently by the shoulders. “I’ll tell her you miss her, and that you send your love.” Then he kissed her forehead, and Lanara beamed with tearful joy.
She lingered, wiping her eyes dry. It would be difficult to let him go, Naelen could tell. In truth, the thought of leaving home made him more nervous than he had once predicted. His whole life was here. How could he pack up his childhood and carry it with him in a bag? The truth was he couldn’t, so he opted to be brave enough and leave it behind. Only the essentials.
Once they were done packing, Lanara left him to get some rest before the journey. “Don’t leave without your father’s parting gift,” she said before closing Naelen inside his room.
The packing was done, but Naelen was not feeling sleepy. “Ohh.” He huffed out a long breath while collapsing onto his bed. His chin rested on a pillow as he began to relax, but the tiredness was still far off.
Swift waves of movement drew his eye. Outside his window, he peered down to see a figure moving behind the branches of the evergreen. Damien was nearly covered by the leaves, but not impossible to see. His body twisted and turned, slashing the air with a steel sword that shimmered in spite of the world growing dark around it. It was a beautiful sword, with a curvaceous edge on one side. The blade was long, fit for an adult swordsman, and the handle was made of refined, tanned oak.
Naelen couldn’t hold back his laughter as Damien darted across the yard and kicked the evergreen’s trunk with his full might. He was about to hack the trunk with his sword but paused before shaking his head and continuing to slash at the air. Though Naelen could not hear it from his bedroom window, he knew by Damien’s moving lips that the boy was speaking to himself, playing out a fictional scene in his mind.
Not so long ago, Naelen was prone to doing the same, before his training became serious, before his father started drilling him with runes in combat. The time of pretense and playful innocence seemed so far away now. It brought him a sense of relief to see Damien living it now, swept up in the fun of swordplay rather than the work of it.
He watched Damien fighting imaginary villains until at last sleep began to take him over. It wasn’t so much the movements of his brother, but the sword that kept his attention. It was fascinating how it moved against the sky, like a snake’s fang that struck with speed and precision. However, Naelen could no longer keep his eyes open. Tomorrow would bring about a long journey, and it was necessary to have good rest before it.
The next morning, Naelen went downstairs to have his final breakfast with his family. The meal was indeed pleasant: Tenila had cooked his favorite recipe for quiche, with little chunks of pork and slivered potatoes. A good start to his last day at home.
After breakfast, Kallus disappeared to his basement for a moment before returning with a gift wrapped in clean leather. Kallus had a smile on his face as he handed it to Naelen.
“This is for you,” he said. “I crafted it to suit your particular style.”
“Oh shards.” Naelen grew excited as he opened the leather casing. Resting inside was a sword, the beautiful one that Damien had been playing with last night. It was even more glorious to examine up close, his fingers brushing the metal for himself. Engraved on the blade were three elvish runes, the first for speed, the second for strength, and the third for silence. “Thanks, Dad.” Naelen looked up and met his father’s eyes. “But…where are all the good runes? You know, flame, destruction, shielding…?”
Kallus smirked. “I chose the three you are most gifted with. Swiftness, steadiness, these are your strengths, son. You always keep a level head.”
“Well, yeah, but–“
“You have yet to gain control of flame and destruction.”
To the side, Damien clamped his mouth to stifle his chuckling.
“Shut up, Damien,” Naelen barked at him. “You would be disappointed too. If you could even do runes…”
“That’s not what’s funny,” Damien said after a moment. “The three runes you wished for…Kallus put on Lila’s sword.”
“What?” Naelen puzzled. Then Kallus revealed a second blade wrapped inside the leather.
“I made a twin set,” he explained. “You are going to join your sister in Careth and I thought it would be appropriate to give you both these swords. A family gift I suppose. For the both of you.”
“And she gets all the cool runes? That’s not exactly fair, Dad.”
“Son…” Kallus came up, taking Naelen by the shoulders, “I have been watching you these past few years. I know your strengths and your weaknesses. In time I believe you will make excellent use of this sword, in a way that no elf can. Do you not trust my beliefs?”
“Ur, fine. Thank you for the sword, Dad. I’ll…do what I can with it.”
“Tell your sister I love her,” Kallus said, closing up the leather casing. “And, it would do you both well to know these swords work stronger together than apart.”
“Of course there’s a riddle to go with.” Naelen rolled his eyes, smiling. “Is there anything else you want to send with me?”
He watched as Damien stepped forward, holding a metal necklace between his fingers. “If you have room in your bag, give this to Lila. I thought she could use another piece in her collection.”
Naelen took hold of the necklace, scanning the intricate symbols engraved on the pendant. It nearly made him vomit. “Why don’t you just come with me and give this to her yourself? It’d be far less embarrassing.” Of course, he had meant it as a joke, but Damien’s face went solid and his cheeks slowly turned red.
“Could I do that?” Damien turned to Kallus. “Can I go with him?”
“And what of the forge?” Kallus asked. “What of your steady clients? If you wanted to travel you should have prepared for it. Besides, I think Nihilan can deliver your gift just fine.” He cupped his fingers around the back of Damien’s neck, a subtle gesture but a gut-wrenching one.
Damien lowered his head. “Right. Right, I’ll uh…I’ll focus on my work.”
When all his luggage was tucked into a covered wagon, and all the farewells were given, Naelen of Gumber finally set off on his own. Parting with his parents had been a bit tearful, especially on his mother’s end, but overall it was a happy memory. He even kissed Tenila on the cheek, apologizing for the sixteen years of difficulty and mischief he had forced on her. But saying goodbye to Damien…it had been hard to break away from him without feeling some measure of guilt.
It was obvious that Damien was unhappy in Gumber. Back there, Naelen came close to allowing Damien to come with him if only for the companionship. It was no secret Damien missed Lila– though Naelen did not enjoy pondering theories as to why, but it was understandable. Lila had been kind to him, treated him with care and respect long before Naelen did. Perhaps Damien still longed for her care and respect, even more now that Ashlyn had left him here.
But…it was not Naelen’s place to speak out. Kallus didn’t like the idea of Damien being so far away, not even for a short amount of time. There was no winning that battle, not in the least.
A few hours down the road that led him north, Naelen sensed the presence of Gumber shrinking behind him until it was no more than a horizon lined with trees. It was still a long journey yet, but Naelen was now out of Gumber, out of his father’s reach.
It was here he stopped and got off his horse. He needed to take a piss and the nearest travel outpost was still miles away. There was no one nearby, and the underbrush was green and leafy. He stepped off the road just for a moment, unzipping his trousers, when he heard noise and movement coming from the back of his wagon. Naelen jumped, pulling out his new sword to defend himself, but what he saw made him curse out loud. He knew the person who had stowed away in his luggage.
“Shards, Damien, why do you have to make everything more difficult! Go back home. Now!”
Damien hopped out of the wagon and stood in the underbrush. “Thank goodness you stopped, I have to piss.”
Naelen shook his head, cursing again. “My father will come after you. And me. I–I can’t let you go further.”
“Nonsense.” Damien unzipped his own trousers. “It’ll probably take until tomorrow for him to even notice, by then we’ll be long gone.”
“Urg!” Naelen came forward, pointing his sword at Damien’s back. “Go home, Damien. Last chance.”
Craning his head, Damien formed a smirk. “No.” He had come prepared with his own sword, though it was little more than a dagger in a young man’s hands. After zipping up his trousers he unsheathed his black-handled weapon and clinked the blade against Naelen’s. “I’m going to Careth, whether you agree with it or not.”
“Ahhh!” Naelen slammed his blade against Damien’s sword just for the satisfaction of hitting something. “And what happens when we get caught, huh? My father won’t just let you go.”
“Eh, we’ll worry about that later. Come on, where’s your sense of adventure? Two brothers against the world! It’ll be fun.”
Naelen lowered his sword. “Did you just call me…brother?”
“Eh, don’t let it go to your head.” Damien tossed his weapon back inside the wagon and hopped in after it. “Let’s get a move on, shall we? Careth is a long way from here.”
After sliding his sword back in its sheath, Naelen remounted his horse and started into a trot. The wagon came strolling along behind him, with Damien intact. The elf rolled his eyes, chuckling. “Against the world, huh? Please.”