“So you don’t know where your tribe is?” asked elder Vell.
“I know where my tribe is,” I insisted, “I don’t have any idea where the Plains of Serenity are.”
“The Plains are right here.” She gestured to the plains outside the camp.
I stared at her. She laughed. A hand thumped my shoulder. This granny sure liked her jokes. And yes, she was a ‘granny.’ Noel said Vell was the second oldest elf in the tribe, coming in at a whopping 827 years old. Considering how the oldest elf in the history of the tribe had lived for exactly 1000 years, Vell was absolutely ancient, even by elf standards.
Yet, she didn’t look old at all. Her hair was a lustrous blonde, and there were no wrinkles around her eyes. She had puffy cheeks and a pointy chin, and was as energetic as anyone else. Honestly, she looked like one of the twenty year old college students that had worked as a counselor at my summer camp.
She agreed to let me stay with the tribe, insisting that Noel’s grandfather, who was the other elder, wouldn’t mind. He was a pushover, according to her. He was the type to nurse injured baby Farro Birds, even though they’d never repay the favor.
Vell led us all the way to a rocky outcropping at the back of the camp. There was a small cave with an entrance so small we had to crouch to get in. By this point, the smoke from the fire had caked Noel’s face in soot and I was willing to bet mine wasn’t any better. The flames cast dancing shadows on the walls as we went deeper and deeper inside. A light appeared up ahead. It didn’t look natural. In fact, it looked like the light coming off the stick in my hand.
“Starry you old coot,” said Vell, “you’re always here with the blessings. Can’t leave them to welcome your own granddaughter after she braved The Terrible?”
Another young looking elf was sitting in the middle of a large open space. He was Noel’s grandfather, Starry. There was a crack in the ceiling, but most of the light in the room seemed to come from the dozens of fires lining the walls. There was a large pile of wood and tinder next to Starry, probably to help fuel the flames.
“Noel, you’re back!” said the elf as he got up. “And you brought a friend?”
Noel provided the story for the third time. It would’ve been more efficient if we’d gathered everyone and told them the story in one go, but it looked like we were gonna have to go over it with every single elf one by one.
“I see,” said Starry. “You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you need to, young Caspian.”
As a side note, I had no idea if his name was as cool in his own language, but my translation magic had given him a phenomenal one. My name on the other hand…
“Please, call me Cas,” I said.
“Cas? I must say, I have no idea what that name means. Perhaps that is the limit of your magic. Your elders must have been quite gifted to have been able to give you such a gift. You simply must let me study it!” said Starry.
“Don’t mind him,” said Vell, “he’s obsessed with magic. I swear he’d rob the Oracle blind if he thought he could understand her magic.”
Starry laughed. His smile was bright and cheerful. He totally didn’t look like a 921 year old geezer. His silver hair and silver eyes were as bright as Noel’s. His skin was unwrinkled, his face unblemished, and his teeth so pristine they looked almost unreal. The only marks of age seemed to be the many cuts and callouses on his arms and legs, as well as a particularly nasty scar that cut across his shoulders where his brown tunic fell under his collarbone.
“Let’s put your blessing where it belongs,” said Starry as he grabbed Noel’s offering stick. He looked at me. “You’re going to have wait a little. I wasn’t expecting another blessing, I’ll have to make some space.”
I told him I had nowhere else to be. Vell chuckled. Sharun offered to help, which startled me because I had forgotten he was there. Starry told Sharun he didn’t need any help. Matters of magic were best handled by the elders, he explained.
Starry placed Noel’s offering stick upright on a pile of wood and tinder. He pressed his face to the wall above the flame, inhaling the smoke deeply. He muttered some words, prayers perhaps, and moved back. The stick would gradually burn down, setting the tinder and wood alight.
He went to the back of the cave and stuck his hand into a hole in the wall. He pulled out a small ball of black resin. He brought the ball of resin to his face and kissed it. His whisper carried far in the quiet cave, where the only other sounds were the crackling fires:
“This son of Jora thanks his ancestors. Accept the blessing brought by our son. Sanctify it with this holy Perpetuum.”
He pressed the black resin, which he called Perpetuum, flat against the wall, then rolled it up before shaping it into a swirl. Around the swirl he added some timber. He placed the whole thing next to Noel’s fire and piled up some wood. After putting my offering stick on top of the pile, he repeated his prayers. Vell joined in the prayer, followed by Sharun and Noel. I mouthed the words because I had no idea what to say.
It wasn’t like going to church back home. It felt more individualistic, yet communal at the same time. The fire and smoke gave it a medieval vibe, kinda like the orthodox church I’d been to in Greece. But the focus on ancestors and family rather than gods or theology was fun, but also very unusual. I didn’t know how to reconcile it with my previous experiences so I decided to approach it on its own terms.
We left the cave when another elf came to take over from Starry. The sun was further down and the air had cooled a bit. Starry kept asking me about my translation magic, and I explained all that I had been able to deduce. He didn’t care about linguistics, though, and kept pushing for me to tell him about the magic. Since I had no clue about it, I told him the elders made me fall asleep before they performed it so I had no clue what they had done.
“It must have been a necessary part of the magic,” concluded Starry. “The secret must be dreams! I’ll begin investigating immediately.”
You have fun with that buddy, I mused to myself.
“Ignore that magic nerd for a second,” interjected Vell. “I don’t know how it worked at your tribe, but since you just had your coming of age ceremony, does that mean you don’t have any experience hunting with a party?”
I nodded. “I foraged with the other women and children. Ah, I don’t recognize the plants around here so I might not be much help with foraging at first.”
“So you’re saying you’re useless?” she jibed.
“No, I’m a fast learner! Show me some of the things you forage or take me to a couple of hunts and I’ll pick it up in no time,” I said.
“That’s good.” Vell punched Sharun on the shoulder. “This guy here is the best hunter in the tribe. How about you head out with his party in a bit? You can watch from the back or help carry things for them. Sound good Sharun?”
“Anything you say, elder,” said Sharun. “Should I take Noel out too?”
“Sure, why not. We could use another female hunter,” said Vell, “though Starry over here might not like putting his precious granddaughter in danger.” She chuckled.
“No,” said Starry, “this will be helpful. Noel always wanted to be a hunter like her father and uncle, didn’t you Noel?”
Noel nodded. “We’re going to keep the Dragon’s Tooth in our family!”
Vell shook her head. I saw the elder’s tent come into view around the corner. There was a flurry of activity, with all the flint-working areas empty. There were no shouts or screams. In fact, there were no loud noises at all. Unsettling.
We quieted down too. Vell stopped a moving elf and whispered: “what’s going on?”
The elf leaned in close to Vell’s ear and whispered. Vell’s eyes opened and she nodded. She patted the elf on the shoulder and let him run off. She leaned back toward us and gestured for everyone to close in.
“An injured Sativus Hog has appeared nearby. Stay quiet, we don’t want to scare it away,” she said. She gestured at Noel and me. “Looks like you’ll get your first taste of hunting a little sooner than expected. Sharun, you better grab your weapon.”
Sharun nodded and grabbed our shoulders. He gently pulled us towards a large tent by the side. Noel nodded to a couple of young elves who were staying near the tent. Sharun went inside to get his weapon. What was it called again? Right.
The Dragon’s Tooth.