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The Redhaired Friend. Chapters 6 and 7

Chapter 6

The Blue Bird

Soon enough Oruell’ made a humble dinner that consisted of mashed potatoes and vegetables. The dinner table was fit next to the entrance to the kitchen, and it was put together before the meal, because otherwise it took too much space. It was covered with a dark-burgundy tablecloth, the candles were arranged in the middle – there was no other light on the house.

Dina gazed around with admiration. No matter how small this house was, it was very cozy. The candles and the fireplace added charm to the mysterious atmosphere of the autumn evening. Oruell’ brought white plates with faded gilding on them from the kitchen and arranged them on the table. Wearing her white apron and her mouse-grey dress she seemed like a caring hostess. It felt like she was giving all of herself to her children. From the room in the far back came a skinny and tall girl, who named herself Orliel. She was Orlando and Orlina’s older sister. It seemed like the poverty and the fadedness of her family made her distressed, because she was wearing a green dress, decorated with embroidery. It did not look luxuriantly because of that, but it seemed not as gloomy as the clothing of her mother or her brother and sister.

Orliel sat at the table at Dina’s left and, sighing heavily, noted:

“Have you been here for long?”

“No, I got to Elvia only today,” replied Dina.

“Really? How interesting,” Orliel glanced at Nicklis, who told of how he brought Dins to Elvia.

“Oh, how fun,” said Orliel. “I always dreamed of going to a different country!”

“I am actually in a different world,” noted Dina wearily. “And everything here is so different…”

“I can imagine!”

“Well, at least the food looks similar,” Dina sighed.

“Not all of it,” added Nicklis. “There are some things that don’t exist in your world, it’s just today the dinner ended up this way.”

“A-ah,” breathed Dina comprehensively.

Once everyone was gathered, Oruell’ put a glass of milk next to Orlando’s plate and, folding her arms over her chest, she made a mystifying speech in elvish. Dina stared at her mesmerized and tried to understand what she was saying, and then she realized that she was praying. The children bowed their heads and were silent. When Oruell’ finished, she said with her soft tender voice:

“I hope you would enjoy our dinner!”

Everyone started to eat. Dina had a ton of questions, but she was so hungry and so tired that she was not ready to say them.

“Nicklis, tell us, how is your expedition going,” asked Oruell’.

“M-m! One second!” Nicklis covered his mouth with his hand and rapidly finished to chew on his piece of potato, after which he continued, “Our expedition is going well, but to bring it to an end I will need to talk to you. That is why I was returned here.”

“Very well. Are you going to question me after the dinner?” Oruell’ smiled sadly.

“We investigated the sources of That World for a while and we needed to correlate that humans have other illnesses, that are not peculiar to us, the same as we have the illnesses that they don’t have. Nevertheless, we came to a conclusion that Orlando’s illness may not be that dreadful. Can you tell me, if his father was chronically sick with anything?” asked Nicklis. “If it’s not too personal.”

Oruell’ sighed deeply and, clinging her fingers together, she put her elbows on the table. She became thoughtful, then she answered:

“Yes, he can faint, just like Orlando.”

“He fainted because of the same situations as Lando? Too stuffy in the room or something really scary?” Nicklis continued to question.

“Yes,” Oruell’ looked at him from her hands pressed together, and her eyes were glistering moistly.

“Thank you very much, this will help us find the solution!” explained Nicklis, smiling guiltily. “Forgive me my persistence.”

“You have the right to ask,” replied Oruell’ and resumed eating. Orlando at that time sat with his eyes widened and his lips squeezed and listened what they were saying. He looked very agitated.

“So,” said Nicklis after a short moment of silence. “Tomorrow after the classes we’ll do to our house and we’ll need to make you faint, so we can take your blood and check out hypothesis!”

“What?!” Orlando was frightened.

“Just kidding,” Nicklis laughed. “I need a tiny drop of your blood when it feels stuffy again^ so that we can check the shape of your blood cells.”

“But I’m afraid of blood…” whispered Orlando, turning pale.

“Nothing is going to happen to you, you hear me? I’m not going to pomp It out of you, I only need a teeny-tiny drop, everything is going to be fine,” promised Nicklis. “Also, we don’t even need to make you faint on purpose, you will already be scared because of the process, don’t worry.”

“Now you scared me…” breathed Orlando.

“Well, it’s not the end of the world,” said Orlina. “Nicklis said it well, nothing is going to happen to you.”

“But I’m afraid of blood, I will faint again, and I don’t like to faint so-o much…” it seemed, Orlando was ready to cry.

“Now you are latched on your fainting,” Orlina snorted.  “Would you like me to come with you?”

“Maybe,” Orlando looked at her gratefully.

“Good, I will come with you,” stated Orlina.

* * *

After the dinner, Orlina put more wood into the fire and lit brown candles on the mantel. Orlando brought a small napless case, sat at next to the fire and placed it carefully in his lap. Nicklis beckoned Dina to come to him and pointed to the couch, where Orlina settled. Dina sat next to the girl, watching them with a mild interest. Orlando took out of the case a small wooden flute. It was a beautiful instrument, decorated with blue and brown strips. At the very end, tied with leather strings with wooden beads, hanged two blue feathers.

Orlando whistled a little, checking the flute’s condition, then he gently started to play a quiet mysterious melody. He sat at a small step at the fireplace, and Nicklis found a place on the carpet, next to his friend. He listened to the music carefully, and then he started to sing lightly with his ringing boyish voice. He sang in elvish, and Dina could not understand anything, but the music itself told the story, filling the room from the floor to the ceiling with an unearthly atmosphere. The melody was rather slow but then it quickened, Dina’s breath was taken away by the troublous notes, that slipped somewhere down, by the leg of the couch. Talkative, gurgling music came along, sounding like a voice of a stream combined with the bird’s warbles, and the melody became calm.

Silence fell over the room, just the wood in the fireplace crackled. Dina gazed at the fire and her eyelids felt heavy. She felt like all this was an astonishing and beautiful dream. Orlando gently placed his flute back into its case.

“I hope, I played okay?” he asked with guilt in his voice.

“It was magnificent,” stated Nicklis. “Now it’s time to sleep. Tomorrow is a new long day.”

Dina fully agreed with him. Oruell’ asked Orlina and Orlando to bring a matrass from the attic and the bed sheets. Dina was given a place on a couch, and Nicklis’ bed was made on the matrass next to the fireplace.

“I hope, Orliel’s pajamas will fit you. All our girls are so skinny that, I’m afraid, for a normal child their cloths are too small,” noted Oruell’ with sadness, giving the folded white lump of the night gown to Dina.

“Thank you so much,” Dina went to change. When she was back, they all were seating around the fireplace again. Oruell’ prayed another prayer in elvish, and only then everyone went to their rooms. All the candles, except for a little lamp on the mantle, were damped down. Dina lay on her couch, in the cozy warmth, but the sleep was not there. Her legs ached because of their marathon, and the thoughts crowded her head.

The room was wrapped in velvet silence, entangled with the spiderwebs of darkness. Dina examined Nicklis’ shoulder, covered with a wool blanket. It seemed the boy was already asleep. Dina never could fall asleep that fast, and she was extremely interested to know how did elves sleep, but she had so many questions that she carefully called:

“Ni-ick…”

Nicklis turned to his back and glanced at her with his eyes flickering in the darkness. He bent his eyebrow inquiringly.

“Nick, tell me what were those prayers that Orlando’s mom read?” whispered Dina. Nicklis sighed and sat up on his matrass.

“Prayers to the Blue Bird,” he said quietly. “The Blue Bird made our world, She is our hope and protection…

“So, she is a deity?” clarified Dina.

“You can say that too,” replied Nicklis. “Her name is holy, we respect it. In your world almost no one knows of Her existence, and, even if they do, they don’t what to share. It is very sad, because without Her life is full of suffering and fear. Orlando, probably, would have gone craze, if She did not strengthen his soul day after day.”

“Nick, is it really possible? You just believe that, if you say, “help me”, she’ll just help and that’s all?”

“At first it was this way, Dinka, until one day I begged with all my heart, and She gave me what I needed. She saved me. Did you see the scar on Orlando’s face? When at the end of summer our Order was attacked by orcs, we were training in the woods, some distance from here. Our teacher was not near – he needed to leave earlier, and we didn’t know of the orcs in the area. We were attacked, I got hit in the head, and I didn’t wake up right away, probably for the best, because the orcs didn’t pay any more attention to me. They were sure that Orlando died and went away. When I woke up, I found him with that dreadful wound. I didn’t know what to do, I could barely stand myself, and then I turned to Her, begging to give me advice, to give me strength to save my friend. And, Dinka, my thoughts came to order, I realized what I need to do, and I did. I carried Orlando as close to the village as I could, my father was already searching for is, and we were found soon enough. Orlando was saved, and I learned to have faith. Some time, if you would want to accept Her spirit in your soul and you would walk Her way, She will let you see what it means to have faith,” Nicklis fell silent, gazing at his friend. Dina listened to him, her eyes widened.

“Impressive,” said she after a moment.

“Yes. I was impressed too. For my whole life, probably,” Nicklis chuckled.

“What do you tell Her?” asked Dina.

“I-i… don’t really know what I tell Her,” Nicklis traced the blanket with his finger thoughtfully. “It’s just a very strong feeling. Every evening we pray with words, but the real prayer is created by the heart.”

“Hm…” murmured Dina wistfully.

“I always liked to feel being under Her protection. I don’t get to doubt that she protects me, because I know that for sure. After being saved one cannot not believe in the possibility of that salvation,” added Nicklis.

Dina felt something weird. She thought, she always knew of that Blue Bird, but She never before understood that she was so real. Here, in this house, in these lands, in this company Her presence was obvious. Dina found it foolish to try to deny it. Something strange, very pleasant, bright and warm feeling hid in the depth of her soul, like a bud, which has not opened yet.

“Nick, why no one told me anything of Her before?” asked Dina quietly.

“I don’t know, probably, no one around you knew of Her, like you did. But if you grew up in different conditions, you don’t have to stay in them. Everyone has a moment in their life, when they are offered a choice: to follow Her or to stay where they are. Some grow in the connection with her from childhood, like Orlando and I, for example, but even we faced that choice. Sooner or later, you need to choose. The question is, would you want to believe in Salvation,” said Nicklis.

Dina fell thoughtful again. She needed to think all this over and grasp it. Maybe, right now she must decide her future way, maybe, right now she is standing on the fearful divarication. Darkness or light? Is there darkness and light? Or is the whole world grey like a rainy day? Nicklis said, there was, and Dina wanted to believe it, because she felt two of those mysterious powers that were able to rule and command. The darkness, that allured with powers, scared the one who didn’t want any powers, it scared Dina. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and then she decided to change the subject of their conversation, to ask all the questions and think of the purpose of life later.

“Nick, what happened to Orlando’s dad?”

“No one know for sure,” replied Nicklis. “Shen Orlando was eight months old, at one of the weekends, his father went hunting with his eldest son – Orlando has an older brother – and they never came back. Everyone except for Oruell’ believe that they died. But she loved her husband, and her feelings may betray her. My mom says I’m mistaken thinking that her feelings are deceptive, but for now I’m not changing my point of view. Oruell’ believes that her husband is alive, and she wears black clothing and does not acknowledge his death. He was a noble elf, he had good money, but since Orlando is too young, his older sister – she is already married – took all the inheritance and refused to support her mother. That is why Orlando lives in such poverty.”

“O-oh…” breathed Dina with sympathy. “I didn’t know elves can have such poverty…”

“Our world is as full of sin as yours,” said Nicklis sadly. “And there’s no way out of it. We may look magical or beautiful, but in reality, we have the same problems in life as everyone else does. We just learned to be beautiful and live beautifully. And even this house is cozy and warm, no matter how sad the fate of this family is.”

 Dina listened to him in silence, frozen.

“I’m glad you’re going to come to our Order,” confessed Nicklis, suddenly changing the subject and starting to smile. “You’ll learn what our school looks like!”

“Yeah, that’s interesting,” agreed Dina.

“Now let’s get some sleep, I am exhausted today, I need to sleep,” said Nicklis, settling on his matrass. “To bring us both through the Elvia’s protection barrier you need like five horsepowers, but I was alone.”

“You needed for that?” Dina was surprised.

“Yes, I just decided not to ruin your first meeting with this world, so I brought us both using my strength,” explained Nicklis. “Good night.”

He turned to the fireplace. Dina gazed at the orange back of his head and smiled. Her attitude towards this strange boy changed during the day twice. His remarks about her human weaknesses pushed her away from her friend, but now she realized the reason for those remarks. He was afraid to fail himself. And now Dina forgave Nicklis’ arrogance. He just wanted to look strong, she knew how it felt.

Chapter 7

School is school everywhere

Dina was awakened by voices. It was still fully dark in the room, but Nicklis was out of bed already. He whispered with Orlando about something. Dina sat up on the couch, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

“Good morning! Sorry that we woke you so early,” said Nicklis cheerfully. Dina realized that yesterday he looked worn out. Today his freckled face was fresh and lively, and his eyes glittered like two green lights.

“The school starts early, in the darkness,” added the boy, mounting the handle of the chair.

“Okay,” Dina climbed out from underneath the blanket and started to get ready. Within the next half of an hour everyone was dressed and seated at the table, with a scanty breakfast, which consisted of an omelet, bread and pieces of fragrant cheese. Orlando brushed his hair and was dressed into an old worn grey camisole. It was too short for him, but it looked nice, much nicer than a torn shirt and a vest, half-eaten by moth, that he wore yesterday.

After the breakfast Oruell’ brought Dina a small wooly camisole with scratched clasps.

“It’s cold here. Take this, you won’t freeze and will blend in with the kids a little better,” said she. “Boys, tell the guys that Dina doesn’t speak elvish. Let them train the general language.”

“Okay,” agreed Orlando.

“You speak so freely in two languages… it’s amazing,” noted Dina.

“We have to. Actually, the general language is the human language, and humans don’t bother learning elvish,” said Nicklis.

“Oh well,” Dina sighed and slipped into the sleeves of the camisole. Oruell’ affectionately, just like her own mother, fastened the buttons covered with fabric and straightened the collar.

“You look great. I assume, Nicklis gave you a hood or a cape,” said she, offering Dina a narrow belt with a graceful buckle.

“Yes, I have a cape,” confirmed Dina and put on the belt.

“Orlina will share her boots with you. Your little shoes seem a little too cold for the snow,” noted Oruell’.

“Alright, thank you,” replied Dina.

Soon everyone was ready. Orlina brought Dina her tall leather boots with a small heel and put on Orlando’s summer boots over thick wooly socks herself.

“What feet you have,” complained Orlina, fixing the little belts on the sides. “They are like of a rabbit. So long.”

“I’m not in charge of you being a girl,” Orlando snorted. “And it’s not my problem that my size doesn’t fit you.”

“I’m glad I am a girl. There’s less leather needed to make my boots,” Orlina laughed.

Dina walked back and forth around the hall, getting used to the new boots. She never wore anyone else’s shoes, and it was strange to feel a different shape of the insole. Finally, they went outside.

Pre-dawn twilight filled the air, cold, tinkly and prickly, like a blade of a well sharpened sword. Behind the old fence lay still cold and dark forest, covered with mysterious frosty mist. The mighty trunks of the pines rose in bluish silhouettes in front of Dina’s gaze. She was taken by that quivering delight of from the contemplation of this antient forest. The frost covered everything around, but without sunlight it did not sparkle and made the branches of the trees ghostly white. They stood out on the background of the dark woods as if they were drawn with white chalk on the paper of the color of wet asphalt.

“That way,” said Nicklis, pointing somewhere into the woods.

“Do you always go to school in such darkness?” inquired Dina, once they passed the gate and were on the path that led into the blackness between the trunks.

“Usually I, Nicklis and his sisters meet here and go together,” said Orlando. “It’s not quite safe to go alone here.”

“If it’s not safe, why don’t your parents take you there?” Dina wondered.

“My father always takes us to school,” answered Nicklis. “But today he’s not here, and we decided, we can do it ourselves. Orlando’s mom is going to leave for the city, so she cannot take us.”

“Okay,” muttered Dina.

“Here,” Nicklis gave her a long dagger in a sheath. “This’s for you.”

Dina took the sheath and stroked the narrow handle, wrapped with leather.

“Just in case. It’s nice to have a weapon,” said Nicklis. “Put it on your belt.”

Dina found a metal buckle at the end of a leather strap on the sheath and soon attached the dagger to her own belt.  It was an amazing feeling – to have a personal weapon.

“We have a few lessons that we take together, with the whole wall. And then we get separated. We all have our own mentor, who gives us other needed lessons and teaches as to do sword-fighting and archery. Orlando and I have different mentors. You may come with any of us, whoever you would like most,” Nicklis laughed. “My mentor is tougher. Orlando could not be trained by him.”

“Okay,” said Dina in surprise.

“We will introduce you to everyone,” Orlina promised.

“Fine.”

The forest started to absorb some light. Dina, who was a little alarmed because of her friends’ phrases about orcs, listened carefully to any rustle. But the trees were filled with silence. Dina as well understood that her elvish friends should have ears that are two times sharper than her own.

Soon, they walked unto a tall hill and stopped at the side of a cleft. Dina gazed down there with amazement. The land broke off right in front of her, and the walls of this strange hole in the ground had caves dug in them. Children were running there.

“Welcome! This is our Order,” declared Nicklis, laughing. “We study in these caves, and the rings for trainings are further in the forest.”

“How cool,” breathed Dina, watching the life of this wondrous place with her eyes open wide.

“Let’s go,” called Nicklis, and they walked by the side of the cliff and went down using the stairs, carved in a huge boulder that lay on the side of the steep. There were many children of different ages, and they all talked in elvish. Dina turned around to Nicklis, not to get lost, and found out that Orlando already hid behind his friend’s back. She felt how much this boy was afraid of the crowd.

Nicklis led them both to a cave in the further corner. Dina noticed a few adult elves. They were beautiful tall creatures. In the corner, next to the cave stood one of those older elves, leaning on the wall with his shoulder. He was dressed in a greyish-green camisole with embroidery and a tall collar. Long hem covered his legs down to the middle of his shin. High boots without any heel, long-tailed hood and an elegant leather belt added to his outfit.

Dina found it strange that almost no one here wore hats. This elf also did not have a hat, his fair hair, touched by whiteness, was thrown from right to left in an amusing fashion. Noticing the friends, the elf pushed himself away from the wall and straightened.  

“Good morning, boys,” said he in a quiet velvet voice.

“Good morning, master Ferli,” said Orlando and Nicklis at the same time.

“This is Dina, she is from a different world,” Nicklis introduced his friend.

“Pleased to meet you, Dina, my name is Ferli,” said the elf and, bending down, offered her a hand. Dina already got used to their strange way of greeting each other and allowed him to kiss her wrist.

“Would you like to take part in our lessons?” asked Ferli with a smile, straightening.

“Yes, if it’s okay with you,” answered Dina politely.

“No, I am always happy to see new students,” said Ferli. “Today I will teach your cartography class.”

“Yay!” exclaimed Orlando. Ferli smiled once again and, limping on his left leg, walked into the cave. Dina noticed a few tables there and three boys-students.

“Come in,” invited Nicklis, and they entered the classroom. On each desk, made from dark wood, lit lanterns were placed, which casted yellow light unto the tabletops.

“The desks are big, for three people. Nicklis and I usually sit together, but today we can all sit at one table,” said Orlando.

“Okay,” agreed Dina.

Ferli walked to his tall table-cathedra, pulled from underneath of it a few pieces of yellow paper and hung them on the wall. There were a few shabby maps among them. Ferli took a leather bag, distributed a compass to each table and gave Dina a few sheets of parchment, a bottle of ink and a nib. Dina stared at it in amazement.

“Can you write?” inquired Ferli cautiously.

“Of course, I can,” replied Dina with resentment.

“Just making sure. Then, should I do the lesson in the general language?” asked Ferli with curiosity.

“If you can… Of course, I am not against listening to elvish, but I just would not understand anything,” said Dina guiltily.

“They question is, do you want to understand,” Ferli smiled thoughtfully. Dina had already heard similar words. Nicklis had said them. Why do they all like that phrase?

“I do want,” said Dina.

“Wonderful!” approved Ferli. “Actually, I always enjoy when new children come into the class. New thoughts, new ideas…”

“Master Ferli, I thought, this’s a cartography class, not a philosophy one!” shouted one of the boys from the back row. Ferli stopped talking, embarrassed, but soon pulled himself together and spoke:

“Mr. Larenon, be kind enough to sit down and take away your machine, I do not want to get more paper balls behind my collar and complaints from the parents.”

“I don’t want to put it away,” replied Larenon impertinently.

Dina, who was seating at the right side of the desk, together with Nicklis and Orlando, turned around and looked to the back. Tall, strong and blond, with bright blue eyes, Larenon looked older than all the other kids in the class.

“Larenon, I do not want to repeat what happened last time,” said Ferli in a strict manner.

“Today you wouldn’t be able to do “what happened last time”, cripple!” Larenon, grimacing, suddenly stood up and threw his nib with a metal point into his teacher. Ferli darted back behind his cathedra, but it was too late. The nib flew amazingly straight and pierced his left leg.

Ferli turned white, clinging to the sides of his cathedra, but managed to keep standing. His look was stern.

“Larenon, get out of here!” ordered Ferli with an icy voice. Where did the charming and gentle Ferli, whom Dina met at the entrance of the cave disappear? Now it was a tough, steadfast warrior, strict, stern and cold.

“I will not,” Larenon smiled gloatingly. Ferli’s eyes flashed. He let go of the cathedra and, limping, but very confidently went to the further desks and grabbed Larenon by the collar.

“I said, get out!” Ferli pulled him from behind the desk and dragged him to the doors. Larenon stood up and became a head taller than his teacher. Dina watched their fight with a fright. Ferli managed to escape all of Larenon’s lunges, and the elf threw his student out through the door.

“Well, this is what happens when parents bring their children up as if they were kings here,” stated he, returning. Disheveled and pale, Ferli stepped behind his cathedra once again. He smoothed down his hair and gazed at the silent class.

“Don’t even think of repeating that,” declared the elf and pulled the nib out of his leg. “Otherwise, what happened to Larenon may happen to you as well.”

The lesson started. Soon Ferli recovered and calmed down. In his eerie warlike character he scared Dina. In essence Ferli was a kind creature, and the girl felt it. His icy voice he used only in case of emergency. Ferli explained them how to deal with the scale on the maps and how to keep track of the cardinal points using a special net of lines, drawn on the paper with a pencil. Dina liked this lesson. It was the dream of her life to work with parchment, ink and nibs. However, the dagger, that pulled on her belt, excited the girl not less than the maps.

Once the lesson was over, Ferli collected his papers and waddled out of the class.

“O-oh, it’s going to be a mess!” exclaimed Nicklis, grabbing his head.

“What mess?” asked Dina.

“With this Larenon! He is behind on the curriculum, because he is too lazy to study. But he fights so well that not every teacher is brave enough to talk back to him,” explained Nicklis.

“Scary…” whispered Orlando, who was afraid to stood up from his seat. “Oh, so scary… once he almost broke all my ribs…”

“Keep lying, Chicken Wing!” said one of the boys and slipped out of the class.

“You will answer for the “Chicken Wing”!” shouted Nicklis in reply. “You’re a Dead Fish yourself!”

“Oh, stop it, he’ll continue to tease you,” noted a girl, who was seating behind them. There were seven students in the class, not counting Dina.

“I’ll have him answer for this!” Nicklis fumed. “I have not beat him up for the “Redhaired Donkey” yet!”

“And then you’ll walk around with a swollen eye,” the girl laughed. “He never shows up without Larenon. Even now he escaped. They will beat you up more surely, than you’ll do that to them.”

“I will take revenge! And my revenge will be dreadful!” Nicklis sat back down on his bench. “And it doesn’t matter if they will beat me up or I will them. What matters is, I will fulfill my duty.”

“What’s your name?” asked the girl, turning to Dina.

“I’m Dina,” she replied.

“Nice to meet you, Dina, I’m Ellean,” said the girl. Dina nodded politely.

“These are my brothers, Rafael and Fanael,” added the Ellean, pointing to the two blond boys who were seating at the next desk. “The one who ran off with Larenon is Narelle. Such a beautiful name, but such a bad character…”

“I’ve not even thought that elves could be this way…” admitted Dina.

“You’re a human, right?” asked Ellean.

“Yeah,” confirmed Dina.

“Cool. Though, I thought humans know a little more about us…”

“I’m from a different world,” replied Dina sadly.

“O-oh…” breathed Ellean.

“Nicklis brought me here,” said Dina. “I would not be here long, I think… Actually, Nick, does the time still go in my world? My poor parents will go crazy…”

She realized this so late, that she felt heat filling her body, then it turned to cold.

“Don’t worry. You will return back the moment you left,” replied Nicklis. “We can control it. Here it will be several days, there – one second. No one will even notice that we disappeared for a moment.”

“Nice,” endorsed Dina.

* * *

Literature and history classes went calmly. Larenon did not return to the classroom. Literature was taught in elvish, and Dina did not understand a thing. She watched the teacher – he was a tall pureblooded elf of Orlind with pale-blue eyes and the facial features as if he was a Greek statue. Pale and languid, he taught with passion and nobility, and Dina liked his deserved pride. His antique chin lifted high up and his big eyes slightly covered up by long eyelashes did not make him arrogant. He looked as of his pride was not to be denied.

The history class was led by Nicklis’ mentor Reuben. The name of this marvelous creature fully corresponded with his appearance, which amazed Dina from the first glimpse. Not very tall, slender, with thin light skin, he came into the classroom, dressed in a long brown camisole with a knitted scarf and a fine belt, which elegantly wrapped around his hips. His high leather boots with a rather high heel, laced up from toe to knee, demonstratively peeked out from the long hem of the camisole and hid back in, when Reuben walked. He held a small leather briefcase in his hands.

His face was serious and melancholically thoughtful at the same time. Something deeply noble and wise filled his whole nature, and the sight of his clear grey eyes told of his insight and aspiration to learn and comprehend new things. Dina has already heard of a biblical name Reuben, and she found this elf, who breathed with ancientry, dignity and wisdom to be worthy of this name.

Once the lesson was finished everyone, except for Nicklis, Orlando and Dina, who followed her friends everywhere, stood up and slipped outside, telling goodbye to the teacher politely. Ferli entered the classroom.

“Good morning,” said Reuben to him.

“Hi,” Ferli took a sword that Reuben gave him. Dina realized with surprise that, even though these elves had very different body types, they seemed alike: they had identically straight noses, with a little hump, high cheekbones and sharp chins. On the other hand, Ferli seemed more gentle and more easygoing than Reuben, even soft dimples under his eyes and the all-together shapes of his face looked smoother and warmer. Reuben seemed much older.

“Should we do the training together today? So that we wouldn’t leave Dina out,” suggested Ferli, taking the sword out of the sheath and examining the blade.

“I thought of that too. I can practice the exercises with Orlando, if it’s still hard for you to do the stance,” replied Reuben.

“I would be very grateful, but Dina is with us today, and she can help as well,” Ferli smiled, pulling the corners of his lips up and to the back a little. Reuben nodded in agreement.

Dina returned the nib and the ink to Ferli, and soon was ready to continue her adventures.

“We are going to battle!” exclaimed Nicklis cheerfully. “What can be better than a training?”

“There is one thing,” replied Orlando gloomily. “It’s absence.”

“Lando, I thought, you enjoyed the trainings too,” noted Nicklis.

“We-e-ell… It’s a controversial feeling,” Orlando shrug. “I feel sick so often that I started to dislike the trainings…”

“How do you survive? You always feel sick,” noted Dina in surprise.

“It’s hard to live,” Orlando sighed. “But what can I do? Sometimes even I have good days.”

“Here, Orlando,” Ferli came to their desk and placed something, wrapped into wax paper in front of Orlando.

“O-oh!” Orlando grabbed this bundle. “Thank you, master Ferli!”

“You’re welcome. Eat it before training,” Ferli wicked and walked with Reuben out of the classroom.

“A rolly with beef… M-m…” Orlando started to unwrap the paper.

“Ferli loves you, as if you were his son,” Nicklis chuckled.

“At least someone loves me,” replied Orlando, biting a tiny piece of a round flattened roll made from light dough.

“Lando, why do you think that no one loves you in this beautiful world?” asked Nicklis, hugging him with his arm by the neck.

“Because that’s how it is,” Orlando bit the roll again.

“What about your mom? Who loves you more, than she? And Ferli? Every day we have a sword-fighting training he brings you the beef roll. Can’t you see it, Lando?”

Orlando ceased to eat and gazed at him with a silent surprise.

“I see it,” he answered after a moment. “But don’t feel it for some reason…”

“Maybe, we are not supporting you in a right way?” Nicklis wondered.

“I don’t know,” Orlando started to eat his roll again. It has not become smaller yet. “Ferli is kind…”

“You see?!” Nicklis stood up and stretched. “O-oh, I’ve been sitting too long! Dinka, you are so quiet today, I almost forgot that you’re with us, I’m sorry!”

“I’m here,” snorted Dina, a little offended that she was forgotten.

“Don’t frown, I’m sorry,” Nicklis burst out laughing.

“I’m not frowning!”

“I see you’re offended by me,” Nicklis climbed out from behind the desk. “We’re going to go to the ring, if Orlando will ever be able to eat his roll!”

“It’s not a roll, it’s a rolly!” exclaimed Orlando, pressing his dainty to his chest. “I’ll eat it… You know, I can’t eat fast. It hurts, when I eat too fast…”

“I know, it’s alright,” Nicklis snorted.

“I’m so tired,” Dina placed the palms of her hands to the sides of her forehead. “And the day has only started. When are we going to have lunch?”

“After the training. In an hour or so,” said Nicklis. “Yes, we have hard lessons. How do you like our history?”

“Wonderful, as master Ferli says,” declared Dina. “I liked it all, especially the rewriting of the ballad. I could almost hear it’s sound.”

“Master Reuben knows how to teach a lesson,” agreed Nicklis. “He and master Ferli are brothers.”

“Really?” Dina was surprised.

“Yeah, but master Reuben is about twice as old as master Ferli,” explained Nicklis.

“Actually, where is Orlina?” asked Dina.

“She takes lessons for the healers, they are a little different from regular ones,” said Nicklis.

“A-ah,” pronounced Dina. “You have a whole university here.”

“Yeah!” Nicklis laughed. “Orlando, have you eaten your roll?”

“Rolly!”

“Sorry, rolly.”

“Yes, I have,” Orlando sighed.

“Well, come on!” Nicklis grabbed his bag and slipped out of the cave into the sunlight. Dina followed him.

They walked along the Order, by its light limestone walls and caves-classrooms, walked up the stares to the edge of the ravine and went through the cold, a little bit misty forest, illuminated by the rays of the sun. Dina walked on and time to time glanced at her feet in high leather boots under the long hem of her brown camisole. She never wore such clothes before. It was comfortable and warm. Dina felt happiness. Acknowledging that she probably really got crazy, she surrendered to the excitement that came from the amazing world.

After getting around a few huge boulders, the friends found themselves on a smooth ring, covered with white sand and thoroughly cleared from any fallen branches and unnecessary vegetation. Reuben and Ferli were already there. Ferli silently sat on ledge of a boulder, stretching out his legs and folding his arms over his chest. Noticing the students, he stood up.

“Dina, if it is alright with you, Reuben and I decided that you should do the training with Orlando and me,” said the elf.

“I’m alright with that, but I thought it would have been better, if I just stayed on the side and watched you, so that I would not disturb you…” noted Dina embarrassedly.

“You would not disturb us, that is for sure. You could help me,” Ferli smiled. “Orlando needs to work on one of the basic stances, which he did not learn to do from the very beginning, so your help could be very useful.”

“Okay,” replied Dina.

“Just don’t hit me in the head,” asked Orlando. “It already hurts since morning…”

“I would not hit you in the head,” Dina was horrified. “Why would I do that?”

“Because that stance implies protection from the hitting in the head,” explained Nicklis. “That’s why he’s afraid.”

“A-ah,” Dina understood it. Reuben and Nicklis walked a little to the side and started the warm-up, and Ferli, cheerfully smiling, asked Orlando:

“Well, do you have more strength?”

“Yes,” answered the boy quietly.

“Wonderful. Here, Dina – this is what we train with,” said Ferli, giving her a stick, wrapped into soft fabric.

“Thanks,” Dina turned the stick in her hands.

They started from a warm-up, then Ferli showed them the exercise for the training. Orlando and Dina worked in a pair. Orlando was a delicate and cautious warrior. He never stroke in vain, never missed. It was hard for Dina simply because she did it for the first time. Ferli helped her, every time fixing her arm in the blocking position before hitting.

During a short break, Dina glanced at Nicklis. He was doing push-ups on the ground, he probably did something wrong. Then the boy got up, took his stick and started running around Reuben, trying to strike him. Reuben stood in one place, steadily blocking all his lunges. Nicklis made up his mind to do a desperate move. He caught his mentor’s strike unto his sword, dashed forward, freed his weapon and hit Reuben’s thigh. At the same moment a blow was dealt unto his back and the boy was thrown away so that he fell to the ground.

“Good, my little friend, magnificent,” said Reuben with a chill smile. “This time you did it.”

Nicklis sat up, covered in dust but happy.

“Dina, should we continue?” asked Orlando carefully.

“Sure,” Dina turned to him. Orlando nodded, guiltily pursing his lips, took the stance and waited for her to start.

“You’ll practice a little bit more, and then we’ll do sparring,” declared Ferli, rubbing his hands and sparkling with his eyes. “You and Nicklis, then Dina and you, then Nicklis and Dina. I would have enjoyed fighting too, but I can’t move properly, my leg doesn’t obey me yet.”

“O-oy…” Orlando shrank. “Sparring?”

“Yes!”

“Okay,” Orlando sighed wearily and calmly dealt a blow unto Dina’s shoulder, noticing that she set her sword too far to the front.

Soon they were done, and Nicklis came to his friend, already prepared for fighting. His disheveled hair was collected into a shaggy bun, and his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. Orlando, on the other hand, seemed tired and sluggish. He obviously did not want to fight. But there was nothing he could do. Putting on their training helmets, the friends walked to the different sides of the ring and prepared for battle.

Dina sat on a rock and watched the scene. Ferli commanded to start. Nicklis jumped off the spot and rushed to his friend as if he was an arrow. His sword whiffled, but Orlando dodged and hit him with a shield into the stomach. Nicklis was thrown back, raked the sand with his heels and stopped at the point of his start. Orlando made a few steps forward and prepared for defense. Nicklis did not wait a second, he rushed to attack and hit Orlando in the head and the leg a few times.

Ringing and crackle filled the air over the ring. Dina watched this mash with amazement. The friends fought desperately and confidently, and still the tactics of each were clear. Orlando played with defense, energetic Nicklis attacked. But as well as Orlando’s defense was, Nicklis acted more nimbly. He was visibly stronger than his friend. Soon, the two minutes of the fight were over. Ferli asked them to stop.

Orlando breathed heavily, Nicklis was all sweaty, but his lips were pursed, and, it seemed, he did not feel any fatigue. Ferli and Reuben in turn explained to them some niceties and mistakes. Nicklis got a chance to rest, and Dina was supposed to fight with Orlando. She put on her helmet. It was rather uncomfortable to battle in such helmet, but it glittered in the sunshine and Dina felt pride and happiness. She was about to show that she can fight not worse than Orlando.

Ferli gave them the signal to start. These were the longest two minutes in Dina’s life to the point. The fight lasted endlessly. Jumping over the whole ring, Dina diligently defended herself and attacked. Ferli explained to her a few basic moves, but here Orlando had obvious advantage. He hit way more aptly and neatly, he hit without missing. He well enough beat off Dina’s left thigh, which was not protected by the shield and hit her head several times.

But by the end it became clear that he was worn out. He ceased to attack and only flabbily stopped Dina’s assaults, which filled her heart with hope, and she pluck up her courage. It was much easier to attack than to keep defense. Although Dina could not make those wonderful savory smacks that Orlando gave her, but she could do a hard slap in the knee. Finally, the time was up. Dina stopped, all wet, out of breath and hot from the fight. She definitely liked this.

“So hard to breath…” said Orlando suddenly, nervously untying the straps of the helmet. Ferli helped him take it off.

“Do I see a bruise on your neck?” asked he with alarm in his voice.

“There are no bruises there…” replied Orlando frightenedly.

“Your head hurts, right?”

“Yes, and my neck,” whined Orlando.

“You must check your temperature, when you’ll get home. This is not good,” said Ferli.

“What can it be?” whispered Orlando, his lilac eyes round in horror.

“Blue fever, but maybe it’s just a bruise. It’s alright, you can rest,” Ferli encouragingly patted his shoulder. “You did a good job.”

“Thank you…” breathed Orlando and went to where Nicklis has been seating.

“For the first fight you did great, Dina,” said Ferli. “Just try to hold the shield closer to your body, and don’t hit into the blocks, only to the open parts. In time you will get it, look for holes in the stances. They are always present.”

“Okay,” replied Dina.

“Make your stance lower,” Reuben voiced his thoughts. “Did you see how low Orlando goes? This way there is less of your torso open to the opponent.”

“Alright, I will do that,” said Dina.

Nicklis came to them.

“Just don’t hit me like you beat Orlando,” asked Dina with a smile.

Nicklis smiled back slyly and took his side of the ring. Dina prepared to fight to death and was in a very warlike mood. As soon as the signal to start was sounded, Nicklis did the same thing he did with Orlando. He leaped forward just like a snake, attacking its prey, swiftly and abruptly. And so swiftly and abruptly Dina felt that her feet were torn from the ground, and she, thrown with a mighty strike by a shield into a shield, was falling somewhere down.

A few seconds later Dina already jumped out of the thick blueberry thickets, surprised but self-collected. Nicklis rushed at her again, but for the second time Dina would not have been knocked off, she caught the strike and pushed Nicklis in response. The battle started for real. Nicklis fought like all boys fight: desperately, without a certain tactic, until he was breathless. His blows were falling like a hailstorm, it overwhelmed Dina. She froze, shrinking into a small piece and covered her head with the shield. Nicklis freed her, made a step back, waiting for her to straighten up. As soon as Dina opened her head, he brought down on her helmet a series of short and sharp hits that deafened her and confusing her vision.

“Dina, don’t shrink!” shouted Ferli. “It will not help! Look him in the eyes! Reply!”

“Nick, keep hitting,” Reuben started to speak. “Keep beating up, don’t let go!”

Dina was angered by these words, and Ferli’s phrase gave her courage. Desperately sticking out her shield and sword, she felt that the strikes stopped reaching her head. Inspired by this, the girl leaned forward and pushed Nicklis to the side of the ring. She hit him a few times in the legs and head. Nicklis stroke hard and without a stop but missed often. However, the number of strikes and the strength of them soon wearied Dina down. Panic took over her, she shrank again. Nothing except for a break could make her straighten back now.

The fight was over. Nicklis shook his friend’s hand and smiled encouragingly. Dina felt that despite the deafening blow of strikes and pain, he was still her friend. Ferli patted Dina’s shoulder and complemented her for a good fight. Nicklis received a few remarks from Reuben, and then they were free. Orlando sat sadly on the boulder, hugging his scrawny body with his arms and pursing his lips, and stared at Nicklis.

“Will we go to your house? Or should we have lunch first?” asked he tensely.

“Let’s go to our house first. It’s not going to take long,” said Nicklis. “It would be enough for me to smudge a drop of your blood on the piece of glass and look at it through a very enlarging loupe. It wouldn’t take even half an hour.”

“O-oh,” sighed Orlando.

“Don’t be afraid,” encouraged him Nicklis and glanced at Dina. “You hit hard.”

“Hm,” replied Dina.

“Come on. I’m hungry like crazy!” declared Nicklis, throwing a bag over his shoulder.

“We need to take Orlina with us!” begged Orlando.

“Yes. And then straight to our house, with no unnecessary delays,” said Nicklis.

“Okay,” agreed Orlando.

They went back to the Order, where they came to one of the classrooms based right underneath the stairs, which led up the wall.

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