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The Redhaired Friend, Chapters 4 and 5

Chapter 4

Humans cannot believe in things they cannot touch.

Days passed by. Autumn was in its full power, and the town was slowly being wrapped into spotted golden-red haze of yellowed leafage. The sun rose later and later and set earlier and earlier every day, the nights became cold. By the end of September, it became obvious that summer came to an end. Autumn came to Dina’s soul as well. At nights she lit up her candles and silently sat in the mysterious twilight – she would paint or read something and listen to the howling of the cold wind and the slashing of the rain.

Everyone got used to Nick in the school. They continued to argufy with Tuna, which sometimes ended in small fights, but nothing of that could compare to the damage caused by that fight during the first day of school. Dina became very close friends with Nick. After the second day of school, he brought her a box, wrapped into green wrapping paper as a sign of his gratefulness for her help in school.

Dina was very much surprised by that gift. There was the most beautiful edition of the book “Hobbit or There and Back Again”, which added to her collection perfectly.

Dina never again saw Nick’s father, even though she never doubted, that it was him, who found that amazing book somewhere in Moscow, since he was looking for a job there. Nick’s mother sometimes showed up at the school. Nick never invited Dina to come to his house, though he was her guest several times. Dina was very interested in knowing what his house looks like, but he was rather secretive about it. During this whole month Dina did not learn neither where he comes from, nor how old his parents were, nothing of his private life. Based on this, she started to think that he was either adopted, or he had a psychological trauma, or his family was hiding something, which did not sound trustworthy.

Concerning everything else, with Dina Nick was always an open and friendly person. Around the twentieth of October, on Saturday, he invited her to go fishing with him. It was already cold, though it had not snowed yet. Dina noted that there is nothing really they can catch, but Nick persuaded her to come to the river at the edge of the town.

* * *

The morning was cold and grey. Dina woke up early, ate her breakfast, took a few sandwiches with sausage that her mom made for her, grabbed the fishing gear and walked outside the house. The leaves have fallen long ago, the wind whistled among the naked branches. Nick was already waiting for her at the gate. He was wearing his green coat, tight pants and high leather boots. They greeted each other quietly, walked down the road and there turned to a path that led through a grove and a field to the river.

Nick walked ahead of Dina, silently and lightly, Dina followed him, watching his olive-green scarf sway from side to side. The day looked like a stormy one, and Dina thought with bitterness that their fishing trip might end up with rain and disgusting colds. The river emerged from the juniper bushes and a few birch trees like a strip of sleek mercury, heavy and still. In silence the friends walked to its shore, overgrown with reeds and sedge, and arrived at a quiet little bay, surrounded by birch trees.

The shore here was sandy, at the water covered with yellowed vegetation. Dina walked to a big rock, where she threw down her backpack and pulled out special seats for fishing. Nick carried a traveling sack, where he had earthworms in a jar, semolina and a linen pouch of homemade cookies.

“The fish would rather come for your cookies, than for the worms,” noted Dina, inhaling a pleasant fragrance of some spice that reminded her of cinnamon, thought it was a little different. “What’s in these cookies?”

“I don’t know, mom made them,” replied Nick and started to unreel his rod.

Soon they both sat on the rock, hanging their legs down, and waited, in silence looking at the slowly wiggling red bobbers on the smooth water. For some time, they kept silence, the bobbers stood still, and then Nick said:

“My father found a job…”

Dina froze. She felt like a hot wave passed through her body, then she felt cold. Well, this is the end of the happy days, when she had a friend…

“We will stay here for a week or so,” said Nick. Dina did not look at him, only gazed at her gloomily floating bobber in silence and did not believe, that the fortune treated her friendship like this. Nick scratched his chin – Dina heard his fingernails shuffle his skin.

“Listen,” he turned to her, lowering his rod. “Listen, do you know how to believe in unbelievable things?”

“What do you mean?” inquired Dina flabbily, feeling broken from his words about leaving.

“If there is something happening in life, something, that is very hard to believe in, would you believe?” asked Nick.

“For example?” murmured Dina hopelessly.

“For example, if I would say that I am an elf, would you believe?” Nick stared at her attentively. Dina lifted her head, shuddering, and gawped at him. She did not know. She did not know, if she could believe what she saw or not. She thought she always knew it, always knew that he was not a human… Nick looked at her, his eyes shining, surrounded by red eyelashes, and from underneath his hair there were sticking the tips of his long ears. Pinkish, warm, soft ears, covered with tiny light fluff, like a skin of a peach. Dina mechanically stretched out her hand, but Nick recoiled.

“Humans cannot believe,” said he with an unrepeatable sorrow, looking at her intently and shrilly with his glowing eyes. “They don’t know how to believe in things they cannot touch. Until you would touch them, would you not believe that they are real?”

Dina moved away from him too. She did not like his tone, his doubt of her. His words sounded as if he was very disappointed. “You didn’t believe, but I thought you would…” his eyes were saying.

“So, I will not believe,” said Dina offendedly – she felt so many incomprehensible feelings at the moment, it was easy to miff her.

“I knew it…” Nick lowered his head and closed his eyes. Dina thought it is not a boy right in front of her, it is a watercolor painting that got under a rain and lost its colors. He faded, became sad and seemed so heartbroken…

“Well, what if you let me touch them?.. Can I?.. Please, I am a human, as you told me, I cannot believe right away,” noted Dina carefully. Nick opened his eyes and gazed at her.

“I hoped we are close to each other by our souls, and that you would understand me…” said he sadly.

Dina sighed, defeated her indignation, her resentment about his doubts, closed her eyes and fell thoughtful. She became a sense herself. Why not? Why can’t she believe him? Nick is real. Even if his ears are not real, what is the matter?..

“I believe you,” declared Dina. “I believe that you’re an elf.”

“Nay,” said Nick slowly, playfully smiling. “I know. You will not believe me, until you’ll really know me. I can open a door for you into my world. It’s impossible to show it to you fully, the would is endless. But I would like to let you see my world, the question is, would you like to see it?”

“I would,” breathed Dina, not fully understanding his words.

“Let’s go then!” Nick stretched out his hand to her with his palm upwards and stood up from his seat. Dina stared at his fingers, lean and straight, and tried to decide, because she knew something incredible was about to happen. She stretched out her arm and grabbed his hand. Nick squeezed her fingers tightly and pulled her to himself. Dina gasped in surprise and indignation, because he pressed her to himself and hugged her with his arm. At the same moment the wind rose and the leaves around them whirled, the water splashed out of the river, as if it was a huge funnel. Dina was scared to death. The world around her was distorting and changing. Scents and sounds were so frighteningly entangled and felt so unfamiliar.

Dina realized that she was glad, that Nick hugged her, because she hid her face on his chest and squeezed her eyes shut. Everything around them calmed down exactly as it turned into a storm. The wind grew weaker, the air tingled with light frost. Dina opened her eyes and sprung back in embarrassment. Bright sun blinded her and for almost a minute Dina could not understand where she was and what happened.

Everywhere around her spread a spacious plain, overgrown with high feather grass, covered with a layer of dazzlingly shinning hoarfrost. At Dina’s right there stretched a ridge of hills, and far behind her, in the bluish illusive mist, towered the mountains. At her left, the plain was crossed by a few groves and tickets of bushes, where a shiny river dodged. Upfront the plain ran far and stretched all the way to the horizon. Only a few bushes and small trees challenged its line.

Dina turned around and gazed at Nick with her eyes wide open and filled with tears. Her heart was beating fast, she felt pain in her chest from the fresh air and the sense of a miracle. Something incredible happened, something that felt like a game of her imagination. From her drooping under the autumn rains town, she mover here, to this amazing plain. Nick, smiling, wearily sat down into the grass. Dine sat too and closed her eyes to calm down.

“Welcome to Elvia,” said Nick’s voice. “To the lands of the Elvish Kingdom of Orlind. It’s the twenty fifth of October today, just like at your home.”

“Oh, God,” whispered Dina. “What’s wrong with me?..”

“What happened?” Nick seemed alarmed.

“What’s my imagination doing with me?.. I went crazy…”

“No!” exclaimed Nick, holding her hands. “No! Touch me, see, I’m real! You’re not crazy, everything is real! Think of it this way, it’s like you’re in a different country! On the same land, just a different country, okay?”

“But it doesn’t exist on the map,” Dina still sat with her eyes shut. “Just tell me right away, I got cran-ky.”

“Dinka, please, trust me,” begged Nick. “Your head is perfectly fine. You believed me and allowed me to take you here. If you didn’t believe I could have done that, it wouldn’t have worked. Now calm down and listen, please. Now I can tell you everything that I couldn’t tell you before.”

Dina lifted her gaze and looked into his freckled face with a long intent look. He instilled hope into her heart that she really was mentally healthy.

“In your world I had to change my name, so that I would not seem suspicious. Here my name is Nicklis. Nicklis Keteroe. We did not come to your world just because, we have a mission. And it is not completed yet. The thing with my father looking for a job in Moscow – that’s is nonsense. We had to make that up to hide. The true story is this. I have a friend. He is my age, he lives in a poor family, without a father, and he has some problems with his head. He faints several times a day. When he was little it was all fine, but lately it worsened. We tried to find the reason why he faints, but in our world, we don’t have the level of medicine needed. My father is a lord, and he is close with the Winged Queen Nerl’, so he asked her Majesty to allow us to search for a solvation of the issue in your world. She gave us her permission and helped us move to your world. We didn’t know where we might end up and so we ended up in that town. My father went to Moscow, looking for an answer for the question of how to help my friend, and now we have a few assumptions. We could not examine him in your world, because that would have revealed that he is an elf. Now I must figure out what is that reason. And I was allowed to take you with me,” explained Nicklis.

Dina stared at him in silence, thinking, and then replied:

“Well, I am most certainly crazy.”

“Din, I beg you, forget about that!”

“Okay, what else can I do about it? What’s now?” asked Dina, deciding that in any case, this was promising to be an interesting adventure.

“Now I need to eat a few cookies and restore some energy ‘cause I just can’t feel my legs after dragging us both here. And then we’ll go o-over there, to those woods,” said Nicklis, taking his bag off his shoulder.

“I have sandwiches,” noted Dina. “With sausage.”

“That’s very nice,” said Nicklis and took out the cookies.

“Here,” Dina gave him the sandwich.

After eating, Nicklis cheered up. Even the tips of his ears rose a little and became pink again. In this world it was cooler, than at home by the river, and Dina felt frozen. Nick pulled out of his bag something folded in a piece of paper and gave that to his friend.

“It’s a cape. I took it with me, so that you don’t freeze. A mortal with a cold would be a burden to us on the road,” he laughed. Dina took the paper and unwrapped it. The sides of the package fell apart, and there was folded greyish-brown fabric, that looked like wool cloth, lying in her lap. Dina ran her hands into the soft folds and instantly felt warmer.

“Put it on,” said Nicklis. Dina straightened the cape that looked more like a huge hood. Once she pulled it on, she felt that all the shivering is leaving her, and a comforting warm is spreading through her body.

“Can elves get a cold?” asked Dina, smiling.

“They can, but it happens rarely,” said Nicklis, standing up. “Let’s go.”

He stretched out his hand, and Dina got up. The wind almost threw her off her feet and it pricked her cheeks, but the cape protected her from the cold rather well.

“We should get home before evening. It will be freezing at night, we’ll be tired, and we wouldn’t hold for long,” clarified Nicklis already on his way.

“Well, more accurate would be to say that I will get tired, you wouldn’t” Dina snorted. “You’re an elf, you don’t get tired.”

“Maybe,” Nicklis shook his head.

“And you wouldn’t get cold. Don’t hide from me that I am the issue,” chuckled Dina.

“That doesn’t matter!” exclaimed Nicklis. “We need to get home and that’s it!”

“Okay,” Dina fell silent.

They walked on through the plain. The wind kept blowing strong, throwing into the air sparkling whirlwinds and making everything glitter and shine in the sun. Dina gazed around excitedly, she already forgot about the cold. The world was gaining more and more magical and fabulous lineaments – before her eyes stood a giant pinewood forest. Such woods are bright and clear, because the crowns of the pines start very high up. These trees were four times higher than usual trees, to which Dina was accustomed at home. The mighty tops of these pines were covered in clouds, it seemed.

But the forest was still rather far away, and Dina did not recognize its true size. She examined the hills and the mountain slopes, overgrown with trees that looked like green waves or soft folds of a cloth cape. The sparkling frost added airiness to their look, and the whole world seemed like it was made from millions of tiny, beautiful crystals. Light-blue sky, frost and pale-brown grass came together amazingly good, and Dina felt irresistible excitement from the contemplation of this landscape.

Nicklis walked on lightly and very fast. His high boots barely crumpled the grass and protected him from the crumbs of hoarfrost, when Dina’s ankles started to get cold, because the frozen powder kept cramming into her boots. They walked in silence for some time, then Dina started to fall behind, and Nicklis noticed it.

“There will be another league to the forest,” he said, climbing on a rock and shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. “About five kilometers. Can you do it?”

“Some five kilometers? Of course, I can do that,” snorted Dina, standing by the bottom of the rock.

“And then there will be a league and a half through the woods,” noted Nick.

“I can do it,” stated Dina, though she did not feel as much certainty. Ten or more kilometers – that is not as easy as five. They moved on again.

“I have some water in a flask, if you’d get thirsty, but in the woods there are creeks and springs, there we can restore our supplies,” said Nicklis.

“Ten kilometers – that’s about three or four hours of walking,” estimated Dina. “If we’ll be walking as fast as this, we’ll do it in two or three hours for sure. But I think we’d want to make a halt. Also, I have a thermos with tea.”

“Ah, so we have good stocks,” Nicklis livened up. “If we’ll do halts, add forty minutes. The sun will be down in… five hours, so we better hurry.”

“Isn’t it morning?”

“Yeah, ten in the morning.”

“When does it get dark here, then?”

“At three o’clock it’s night already,” said Nicklis. “During winter there are almost no days here and a sunny day like today – those are rare. Now it’s still good, in November and December the day is only two hours long.”

“Awful,” noted Dina. “Though, at our place during winter the sun sets early and rises late.”

“Well, then you don’t need to get used to that,” Nicklis smiled. “At the edge of the woods we’ll make a halt, but now we should walk without stopping.”

“Yeah, while the strength is present,” agreed Dina, and they confidently lunged for the woods. After a few moments of walking in silence, Dina asked:

“So, your parents are also elves?”

“Well, who else?” Nicklis chuckled. Dina called to memory Eldar with his silver hair and lean fingers, and young Anna… Yes, now she understood that they looked like an elven couple. Even though those facts seemed strong and accurate, Dina still could not fully believe, that all this was true.

* * *

The woods drowned in mysterious shimmering haze. The rays of sunshine were shining through the fir and throwing huge light spots on the thickets of lingonberry. Dina stood, few meters away from the edge of the woods. She stood with her head thrown back, gazed into the mighty tops, and a quivering excitement overwhelmed her together with the fear that made her motionless. This forest was mighty. So mighty and so majestic, so noble and so ancient, that it seemed it hid within it something, which could not be touched or seen by a mere mortal. An intimate secret hid somewhere deep, in the heart of this immense and gorgeous woods, drowned in this unusual haze.

“Come on,” Nicklis called out. “When I told you, we’ll stop at the edge for a break, I meant that we’d stop somewhere between the trees, not right here!”

Dina stood still, gazing at the trees and could hardly hear his words. She could not move until Nicklis, who found calling her useless, came back and took her by hand.

“Come on, Dinka, it’s nothing to be scared about,” he said softly. “This forest has some magic in it, which makes the timid stop, but you aren’t timid. You must see my homeland.”

And he led Dina along. Dina walked, unwittingly squeezing his hard and warm hand, and her heart stopped every now and then, when she made her step on the grounds of majestic ancient Orlind. It seemed like the forest inhaled with his green lungs, and a strong blow of the wind flew into her, almost making her choke. There was pain in her chest, as if the air was too fresh, and Dina thought her lungs suddenly unfolded and became wider than they were before. This fresh wind brought strength into her body, these new big lungs made her muscles springy. Dina fastened her steps, caught up with her friend and understood that the woods accepted her.

* * *

They did not make a halt. Dina felt as if she was filled with energy, and Nicklis agreed not to stop. The sun started to go down to the horizon, and the woods were illuminated with orange rays. Nicklis apprehensively looked to the north-west, where the tarnishing luminary glowed, and hurried his friend. But after some time of walking, Dina, who was filled with emotions and impressions from too many marvelous things, started to get tired.

Inside the woods were filled with mysterious nooks. Time to time gloomy boulders appeared in their way, covered with moss and lichens. Nicklis led his friend by his own way, there were no other paths around. He explained it by saying that this part of the forest was very close to the border. No one lived here now, and there were no walkable paths except for the deer trails. At one of the huge boulders friends stopped to rest.

Nicklis spread some fabric on the ground, where they both sat down and ate cookies with tea. Dina’s legs were soar from the long walk. Her shoes made her toes ache. But she courageously stated that she can make the four left kilometers. The girl was exhausted by the long way, and the excess of excitement made her sleepy. The cookies and tea cheered her up a little.

“There’s not much left, and, if I remember the directions correctly, within fifteen minutes we’ll be on the road,” said Nicklis, shaking the little tea leaves out of his cup. “There it will be easier to walk than through the woods.”

Dina nodded and took his cup.

“If you’d like, I can take your backpack,” offered Nicklis.

“Thanks, I can handle it,” Dina did not want to look weak. Nicklis shrugged.

“As you wish,” he stretched out his hand and helped her up.

Once everything was packed again, they walked on. As Nicklis had said, within short time they reached the road.

“I didn’t spend two years running through these woods without a compass in vain!” he stated proudly, standing on the side of the road.

“How did you know where to go?” asked Dina, examining the deep brownish-green tunnel of treetops, interlocking over the road.

“This forest is my home. It prompts me where to lead my way to find what I am looking for,” said Nicklis. “But to do this you need to understand its delicate language, and that is hard to learn. Our pathfinders can’t always find the right way! Today we are in luck, this path was straight, and I have already been here before.”

Dina mumbled something indistinct as a sign that she adopted this information. They walked on into the depths of the woods. The sun was still setting at the time.

“You aren’t good at seeing at night, right?” asked Nicklis.

“Well, not very good,” replied Dina.

“Okay. I have a small flashlight from your world, but I don’t want to turn it one, because it really disturbs you, if you can see in the darkness,” said Nicklis.

“If you’ll let me know where a ravine or a ditch is, I’ll make it,” noted Dina.

“Very good. For now, we’ll be walking by the road. The twilight will stay at least ‘till half past three, we should be able to reach the village by that time,” said Nicklis, and they quickened their steps.

Long suspended bridges that crossed the road started to appear over Dina’s head. They were located on a dizzying height and were almost invisible in the twilight. Soon Dina saw lights in the branches. Elves who lived there lit them at night. While the friends were walking by the road, they noticed a few streams. In the darkness it was impossible to see them, but the water jingled, and Dina liked that sound. The night had fallen completely, when Nicklis said:

“We are almost there.”

“Yay,” sighed Dina, taking his hand again to avoid falling. She kept stumbling over the bricks of the road.

“See there, in the distance there are the lights in our village,” Nicklis pointed in the direction, where between the mighty trunks flickered barely visible lights.

“So far…” noted Dina.

“That’s not far now,” Nicklis quickened his steps, and Dina felt him stagger. It seemed, he got tired too, but he would have never admitted that it was so.

Chapter 5

A ray of hope

The elvish village appeared from the darkness unexpectedly, and it splashed Dina with a wave of unusual feelings. Everything around her was covered in little lights, and the street seemed constructed from thousands of small twinkles. For such dark and cold time of the day it looked very lively. There were many elves around. All of them talked on their native language, and Dina could not understand them at all. Nicklis decidedly led her onward, past the houses and the bunches of the elvish youth. Weariness prevented Dina from catching all the fineness of this astonishing place.

But then Nicklis turned to a less crowded lane, walked past a few houses and stopped in front of a small gate. White rickety fence surrounded s little house in the depth of the garden. The light was elucidating the windows from the inside, and there were sparks flying into the sky from the chimney. A small porch was illuminated by a few weak lights. Nicklis carefully put his hand behind the gate, unlocked it and entered the garden.

“Close it, please,” he turned to Dina. She shifted the latch on the gate and walked by a narrow path to the house. On the porch Nicklis stopped.

“So,” he said, glancing at Dina guiltily and cautiously. “This is the house of my friend. They are very poor now, and, if they will give us a scanty welcome, by no means, do not make comments about it. It will very-very much upset them. About my friend… Just so that you don’t get frightened, he is pretty ghastly. I got used to his features, but at the first glimpse he may seem like a nightmare. He is extremely raw-boned and he has a fresh scar of his left cheek. He got it not long ago, and there are still stitched there.”

“Gosh,” Dina winced.

“Just don’t get scared, he is very much worried about his appearance,” pleaded Nicklis. “When people get scared of him, it feels like a stab to his heart.”

“Okay, I’ll do my best,” agreed Dina. Nicklis nodded and nocked. At first all was silent, then something creaked, and the lock clicked. The door slowly opened.

“Who’s there?” a boy’s voice asked.

“It’s me, Nicklis,” said Nicklis, smiling

“Lis!” the door was thrown open, and Dina recoiled, horrified. An eerie bareboned creature, that appeared as a dark silhouette in front of the lightened corridor, jumped forward and clung to Nicklis. They started talking in elvish. Dina examined this wonder in silence. It was a boy, about the same height as Nicklis, though he seemed taller because of his sickly thinness. He wore a short, quilted jacket with patches on the sleeves, a shirt and way too long, worn out pants.

“Dinka, let me introduce you,” said Nicklis. “Orlando, my friend. Orlando, this is Dina, she is from That World, and she doesn’t know elvish.”

Orlando turned around, and they both stared at each other with identical horror in their eyes. Dina could not fight her fear, tears came to her eyes, and she turned away. Orlando’s huge eyes glimmered in the darkness with purple light. His skinny pale face with sharp nose and pitifully bended eyebrows was deformed by a creepily branched black scar. Dina felt unwilled shiver going through her, she could not make herself turn back, she was afraid to see him again.

“Pleased to meet you,” said Orlando and, after a moment, cautiously stretched out his hand towards her. It was a hand of a skeleton, covered with half-transparent skin. A big palm with long and strong fingers. Dina did not look at him, she did not have the strength to lift her head.

“Dina,” said Nicklis with rebuke and at the same time a plead in his voice. Dina glanced at him, trying not to see the hand offered to her. Nicklis looked at her and spoke with his eyes: “it’s not that scary. A beg you…”. Dina plucked up her courage and glanced once again upon Orlando. Suppressing an impulse to turn away again, she made herself look into his huge violet eyes, and she saw consternation and despair. Orlando felt that he made her badly scared.

“I’m sorry,” he said, catching her gaze. “I…”

Dina stretched out her hand and shook his narrow cold palm. Even the tips of Orlando’s ears rose up. He carefully touched her wrist with his lips and smiled. This lopsided smile lit up his face, and Dina felt that in the life of this frightened and weak creature sparked a ray of hope. She greeted him, and he was happy.

“Come in the house,” offered Orlando. “Mom hasn’t returned from work yet, but she’ll come soon!”

Dina entered the corridor. There was a lamp on the shelf on the wall, across the room from it several capes hung on the hooks. Dina had never seen so many old-fashioned capes, hanging as if they were regular jackets. She untied her shoes and stepped on the cold wooden floor. Orlando locked the door and led his friends into a small living room. This little, humble house contained three tiny rooms, a living room, a kitchen and a large attic that was also a storage room. There was also a little cellar, where the food was kept. Two tiny windows in the right wall of the living room were made from thin plates of isinglass, next to one of the doors a miniature fireplace was located. A door in the left wall led to the kitchen. The living could room barely fit a big chair, upholstered with threadbare red velvet and once decorated with golden wood carving. This chair, a beautiful, forged fire iron, that looked too long for that tiny fireplace, though it comfortably snuggled next to it, a narrow and tall stillage with dark wood carving and a few lovely, trimmed with golden cords and thrum, pillows, made from the same red velvet as the chair, reminded of the elder days. Orlando’s family was not always this poor.

A small and hard by the look couch huddled next to the chair, on front of the fireplace. On the couch there sat a girl. She held a round hoop and embroidered something with red thread. Her ash-brown hair, as ash-brown as Orlando’s, were made into a disheveled bun. Her grey wool dress and a shawl made her look like an older teenage girl, but when Dina came closer, she realized, she was the same age as she herself was.

“Nick!” exclaimed she, seeing Nicklis, and pronounced a few incomprehensive words.

“Aha,” Nicklis smiled. “But well, I’m here. And with me is my friend – Dina, she doesn’t speak elvish.”

“I’m Orlina,” said the girl, standing up and doing an elegant curtsy.

“Nice to meet you,” replied Dina, with amazement noting how much she resembled Orlando. Orlina, though, looked much more beautiful than her brother, but she was still dreadfully skinny.

“I’m his twin,” chuckling, noted she. “Unfortunately… Orliel’, our older sister is doing her homework, she’ll come out later. Sit down. Mom will come and we’ll eat.”

“Make yourselves comfortable,” said Orlando, spreading his arms. “Give me your coats, I’ll hang them.”

Nicklis climbed out of his coat, and Dina realized that he was wearing a green camisole made from thin wool cloth, not the regular cloths from her world. Orlando took Dina’s jacket and went to the corridor.

“Good job,” whispered Nicklis to Dina. “Good job handling yourself.”

Dina nodded. Orlando returned from the corridor and sat down on the shelf next to the fireplace, his back to the fire. He shoved his hands between his knees and looked at Nicklis with a smile.

“There will be the celebration in the Order the day after tomorrow,” said the boy. “The return of all the winter birds!”

“A-a-and… your Birthday!” Nicklis laughed.

“Yes, and my Birthday,” Orlando nodded and glanced at Dina shyly. “You’re a human?”

“Yes,” answered Dina. “I’m from That World, Nicklis took me with him here.”

“A-ah…” breathed Orlando. “So, how is it there? In That World?”

His eyes started to glister lively.

“Everything is different,” said Nicklis. “Completely different. They have things that are unknowable to us. Cars, for example.”

“What cars?” Orlando got confused.

“A brougham without horses,” explained Nicklis. “Can you imagine? A person sits and controls the steering wheel, like on a ship, presses the pedals and rides! But cars need fuel, and it smells horribly! The first time I met such a monster, I almost suffocated.”

“A nightmare,” Orlando looked into the ceiling with a muse and obviously was tried to imagine “such a monster”.

“But they have their own advantages,” said Nicklis.

“Did you… find anything about me?” asked Orlando.

“Yes!” Nicklis extracted a notebook from his bag. “We searched for a while, at first we thought of taking you with us and doing an examination, but then we realized, it would become obvious that you aren’t a human, and then it would be a nightmare. That’s why we made a list of your symptoms and by that we found a few illnesses. Tell me, did your father have anything like this? If you know, of course…

“I don’t know,” Orlando shrugged guiltily. “Ask my mom, she should know…”

“Okay then, we’ll leave this talk for later,” said Nicklis.

“Fine,” agreed Orlando. They were silent for some time. Dina, examining Orlando, noted that if one looks closer, they can find that he is not that creepy. He had a handsome face: sharp nose with a little pretty hump, thin straight eyebrows, small triangle chin and huge round eyes, surrounded with short but thick eyelashes. His ash-brown hair was assembled into a ponytail at the back of his head, and a long bang fell over the right side of his face. But his thinness and the dark circles around his eyes, the sickly paleness and his eerie scar at the first glance came forth and distorted his fine features. One thing that made Orlando’s form slightly funny was his large ears that were stickling out. They were placed at the right angle and looked rather ridiculously.

“What is the Order?” asked Dina, breaking the silence.

“It’s like your school,” said Nicklis, settling himself more comfortably and crossing his legs. “But a little different.”

“What are your schools like?” asked Orlando with interest.

“Regular ones. Eleven grades, crowds of kids and teenagers…” explained Dina.

“Eleven grades in one room?!” Orlando seemed horrified.

“Eleven years of school,” said Dina. “Each grade has two or more groups of students, class “A”, class “B” and so on…”

“It’s like the walls,” added Nicklis.

“A-ah!” Orlando finally got it. “So, each course has several walls!”

“Exactly, just the names are different,” said Nicklis.

“Do you have school tomorrow?” asked Dina.

“Yes, tomorrow is Friday,” Orlando nodded. “If you’d like… We could take you with as to the Order, probably…”

“Honestly, I was thinking of not studying tomorrow because we need to get your fainting cleared, but, I suppose, we can do that after the classes. On the way back we’ll just go through our house,” said Nicklis. “Would you like to come with us?”

“Well, yeah,” replied Dina. “It’s interesting to see how you study.”

“Tomorrow is cartography, literature and history, and the last one is the training,” noted Orlando.

“You have a cartography class?” Dina was amazed.

“Yes, and you don’t?” Orlando snorted.

“Nay,” Dina sighed.

“Well, you ‘ll get to a cartography class and to the sword-fighting training… or is it archery tomorrow?” asked Nicklis.

“Swords,” confirmed Orlando.

“You, kids, are trusted to have swords?”

“Of course, elves need to know how to handle weapons since childhood. If you get into the bad times, you’ll use your skill. We have long lives,” explained Nicklis.

Dina shook her head slowly. They sat there and talked for a while, then Orlando brought a few of his drawings and a shabby notebook with some sketches. Nicklis placed the notebook in his lap, and Orlando demonstrated two of his watercolor paintings to Dina. She acknowledged that his remarkable hands could make his whole image beautiful. Orlando painted magnificently. Dina examined his work for some time and realized that she was jealous. She loved to paint, but she could never do things that good.

“Is it so bad?” quietly asked Orlando, for the third time stretching out his hand to take his paintings back.

“No! No, it’s so cool!” replied Dina. “I didn’t expect you to draw so well for your thirteen years of age!”

“Actually, I’m twelve,” said Orlando guiltily. “Thank you…”

“The day after tomorrow you’ll be thirteen!” Nicklis laughed and opened the notebook. Orlando sat at his left, Dina at his right, and she, accepting that she probably has gone mad, enjoyed the presence of so many elves around her.

Orlando’s sketches were not as epic as his watercolor paintings. Many of them he drew fast, but Dina still liked them. She could sit for hours, flipping the pages of this notebook. As soon as they were done, the front door opened. Dina lifted her eyebrows in a question, and Orlando jump up from the couch.

“Mom has come!” exclaimed he and ran to the corridor. Nicklis, smiling, stood up and whispered to Dina:

“When an adult enters the room, you should get up.”

Dina rose. She was warm because of the fire and felt like she could fall asleep, if the hunger did not torture her this much. A young woman, rather tall and slender, entered the living room. She looked very weary. Her ash-brown hair was tied up into a disheveled bun. There were dark circles under her large moist eyes.

“Oh, Nick!” She pronounced a few incomprehensible words, that sounded a lot like what Orlina had said before.

“Good evening!” replied Nicklis, smiling. “This is my friend Dina, she is from That World, and she doesn’t speak elvish.”

“I’m sorry,” said the woman, by fast movements fixing the locks of her hair behind her long ears. “Welcome, Dina, I’m glad to greet you here. I hope, the guys welcomed you well.”

“Yes, thank you,” said Dina quietly, scrutinizing her.

“I am Oruell’” the woman introduced herself and, after giving to Orlando her coat, made in the fashion of the nineteenth century and decorated with faded embroidery, went to the kitchen. Dina was surprised of how humbly and how discolored she was dressed and how thin was her form. There were wide black cuffs on her wrists, and a few pins with black pebbles stuck into her hair.

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