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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 81: Brown 79
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As Derek spied the elves, his instincts were to remain perfectly still. His abilities were not going to permit this. He had rather carelessly emerged from the tree carrying the large leather pouch and moved into the air. He could not stay still in the air. Had he been a girl, he might have managed to hover. That would still have required the rapid movement of wings, and wings that might not have been strong enough to hold position while supporting the added weight of the darts pack. It would later seem painfully obvious to him that he could have returned to the entrance of the tree and perhaps been thought a bird or squirrel, but at that moment he could not think of anything he could do, nor do anything he could think. The result was that his efforts not to move meant he was moving in the most erratic and attention grabbing way he could, bobbing and weaving in a small area, like a moth trying to escape a light bulb. He might have been less obtrusive had he flown directly through their midst, or plunged to the ground like a rock. Before he could so much as recognize how very obvious he was, he recognized that they had seen him.
Although they had clearly seen him, they didn't seem to know what he was. That is, they were talking to each other in a language Derek did not know or understand, but in a highly animated fashion with gestures that indicated they were arguing about him. It wasn't an angry argument, but certainly a disagreement. Derek was trying to decide the best direction to flee when abruptly, on the lead of one, all five rushed over to him.
He wasn't exactly surrounded. There was always up. However, the pouch was to some degree holding him down, and he would have to ascend slowly or drop his prize. The latter he was unwilling to do, as too much was riding on it. The former might overtax his wings, and still might not carry him out of reach before they grabbed him. Besides, it seemed better not to show his fear, but to signal that he was not afraid, so they might think him dangerous.
They were still talking to each other as they encircled him. Derek was glad he had his mental eyes in the back of his head, and made full use of them at this moment. One of them said something short, and reached out for the pouch. Derek evaded the grasp by dropping down and right, eliciting a surprised laugh from the group. Mentally he targeted the one who had moved for him, and tried to send his thought to that one's mind.
It's really not polite to take things from strangers.
It apparently heard him, as it exploded with another burst of astonished sounding speech. This got the others all talking at once.
It's also impolite, Derek added, to talk in front of someone in a language they don't understand; although as to that, I suppose you don't know any English or Spritish and I don't know any Elfish, so we're probably stuck. But you could try thinking back to me, so I had some clue what is happening here.
The elf said something short that might have been an apology, then seemed to be scolding his companions, perhaps insisting they be quiet, Derek concluded, as that was what they did. Then the elf thought back to him, How do I do that?
Just like that, Derek sent. I've established the link; you just put the thoughts you want me to hear up front, where you're hearing the thoughts I'm sending.
He said something else to his friends, who all burst out with what must have been questions. He asked one.
What are you?
I'd have thought that was obvious, Derek replied. I'm a sprite.
This time the ensuing discussion contained several repeats of a word that sounded quite a bit like sprite, and at least a couple that might have been pixie or fairy. For all the computer role playing games Derek had played, he was not at all certain whether pixies and fairies were different creatures or other names for sprites; he supposed that they might be the same in some worlds and different in others. He did not have long to consider this, as the next thoughts came.
Boraniri says that sprites don't exist.
Yeah, tell me about it, Derek thought. Neither do elves. But that didn't seem an appropriate response.
You don't have legends of a time when sprites and elves shared the forest, before Tonathel led the sprites to their new home?
Oh, there are stories about sprites, but no one takes them seriously. I don't know who Tonathel is, though.
No, Derek supposed it unlikely that the elves would have preserved the tale of how they accused the sprites of treachery and drove them from the forest. Then, he wondered, what sort of tales did they have? Perhaps that was something he should ask. On the other hand, maybe he didn't want to know; and more to the point, maybe he didn't want them recalling whatever it was that their elders had tried to teach them about his people. He decided not to pursue it at the moment.
I was just headed home, Derek sent. It was nice meeting you.
Wait! the thought returned, accompanied by a sudden word that probably meant the same thing. The speaker then got control of himself, and continued with thought alone. Wait. Why have I never seen a sprite before?
That's easy. We don't live around here anymore. We moved, many generations ago, at least as sprites live.
So why are you here now?
That would require explaining some things Derek did not know how to explain. It's a long story, he suggested. I came here looking for something I had lost; I can't explain how it got here, but I found it.
So, what is it? the curious elf asked, and Derek saw that he was going to have to explain more than he had hoped.
Could I land somewhere, perhaps? It's rather heavy, and I'm not used to carrying anything this big when I fly.
The elf suddenly looked like he had abruptly remembered his manners, and looked around as if he hoped to see lawn chairs lying about the forest floor. I'm sorry; of course. Where should we sit?
Derek didn't have the answer to that. I could put this down in that tree behind me, and sit on the edge; or you could suggest someplace more comfortable for you.
The elf indicated that the tree would be fine, and Derek did a wingover into a quick corkscrew flourish to build up a bit of speed which he suddenly powershifted into a rising forward glide toward the tree. It took only two extra flaps to lift his burden over the edge; and already he was hearing the sounds of an impressed audience.
That was cool, came the thought. Derek wondered at the way elf thought translated into his vernacular, but decided that probably the telepathy gave him the ideas and his mind supplied the language. He wondered whether there were translation problems with such a method. He did not wonder long, for as he settled onto the edge of the tree he realized that he didn't know what to tell the elves, or how much.
Sprites don't kill, he began. It seemed the best place to begin. We hunt for our food, but we won't kill sprites, or elves, or gnomes, or men. Creatures who are made to be like The King should not be killed.
That's a very noble idea, the elf responded, but what do you do if they attack you?
Yes, Derek agreed, that is the problem. The answer to that problem at the moment is that we flee and we die. It's not a good answer. Men are killing sprites, and sprites can't fight back because we won't kill them, we won't even risk killing them. I have to find a better answer; but the better answer can't be that we kill men, because then we would be like them in the worst ways--meaning no offense to you, if elves disagree.
None taken. So what's in the bag?
A very long time ago, in a distant land, someone gave me that bag. On my way home, I lost it. In it are some large darts that are tipped with a kind of venom that doesn't kill but puts to sleep. I am hoping that I can study this drug and find a way to make more of it, or something very like it, something we can put on our arrows so that we can shoot at men and knock them out without killing them. My people would use such a potion, and it would force the men to stop killing us.
The elf laughed aloud. Derek was taken aback. Is that all you need? he asked; then he spoke to his companions before continuing. We can teach you how to make such a potion. It's easy. You need the leaves of the torando tree and a seed from the barber plant. Come home with us, and we'll show you how to do it.
Derek was so surprised at this that he was not at all certain how to respond. It took him a moment to recognize his wonderful good fortune, and agree. Retrieving the pouch he had dropped into the tree, he joined the elves on their walk through the forest.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #191: Versers Travel. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: