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The First Snow. Chapter 1

“The First Snow”

Chapter 1

Sudden Changes in Life

Twilight thickened over the woods. The orange sky started to fade, the sun was long hidden over the horizon, and the bluish fog was crawling from underneath the crowns of the trees onto the prairies, overgrown with yellow feather grass. Every sound was clearly heard in the cold, clear and humid air of late September. But in Obifreemall’s ears there were only the howls of wolves that came from behind his back. His imagination painted scary teeth and mouths, filled with foam, prepared to snap on his neck. Out of fear Obifreemall ran even faster.

His paws were getting tangled in the cranberry bushes, branches hit him in the face and scratched his nose painfully. This made his eyes water. Obifreemall could not tell which direction he was moving, even though subconsciously he knew that he should not allow himself to get lost in the space. The wolves will understand that their prey is going to the side, taking the long circle of a “creature without a compass”, and will surround it. Suddenly Obifreemall stumbled over some snag and fell into a bush of rose hip. Tangling in the branches and getting his paws scratched all over, he let go of the idea to escape. He pressed his ears to his head and covered them with his paws, prepared to meet his death.

Suddenly a smell of smoke and burned fur filled the air. Shrieks of the wolves and crackling of the branches were heard from the neighboring bushes. Obifreemall, very surprised by it, still did not move, hoping to survive. He might not get noticed. Carefully sniffing and listening, he tried to understand what was going on. Smoke! Where did it come from? Fire?.. Obifreemall was afraid of fires even more than he was afraid of wolves, and his heart helplessly shrank. But the fire cannot appear here, out of nowhere! When the fire comes, the air becomes hot and bitter, it is hard to breath, but now it was cold and smelled of moist. The fires happen in summer, in the heat.

Through the smell of smoke came a scent of fresh boot leather and wax, strange odor of wet fabric and… hair. Obifreemall’s heart pounded in his throat. Someone was saving his life! There was probably a fire or a torch! His imagination immediately painted an image of a human, who was protecting him from the wolves. Obifreemall thirsted for society! He wanted to get out of these stinky woods, survive, but he did not know how, he needed a guide.

The boy even lifted his head and looked around. A lanky, uncommonly tall figure stood behind him and its sturdy had held a torch. The wolves were stepping away into the darkness, they were afraid of fire. Obifreemall also was very scared, he was terrified of the tall creature, only the boots of which were about half the size of Obifreemall. Suddenly the flame blinked, and the boy saw the creature’s face. It was an elf. Long blond hair fell upon his shoulders, framing his lean face with blue eyes. He looked at Obifreemall, then threateningly waved his torch at the wolves, and they, growling, went deeper into the forest.

The elf stepped towards Obifreemall, who shrank into a little lump and shook with his whole body.

“Have they bitten you?” asked a sonorous, strong voice. Obifreemall was bathing in these sounds as if he had heard the singing of angels. He had not heard any speech for so long! Thankfully the boy could speak and used his skills in talking to sticks and his prey. Obifreemall shook his head. He did not get bitten, he took off and started running in time.

“You’re so shaggy… where are you from, little one?” the elf squadded and stretched out his hand to Obifreemall. “Can you speak, at least?”

“I am lost…” breathed Obifreemall.

“Ah-h,” replied the elf. Obifreemall felt so sad because of the realization that he was actually lost that he started crying again.

“Well-well, what’s wrong, little one?” the elf seemed frightened, so he carefully patted Obifreemall on the head. “Why are you crying? Let’s go away from the swamps, let’s go.”

Obifreemall could not get up. Because of so much tension his mussels no longer were loyal to him, his whole body was stiff. From the fear he has lived through and the pain that cracked through the fear, the boy lost the rest of his strength. The elf leaned to him, telling him something with his melodical voice, then he lifted Obifreemall. The boy pressed his face to the warm shirt, which smelled of smoke and cinnamon, and entrusted his life into the hands of his savior.

* * *

When Obifreemall woke up, the first thing he saw was the sunlight, which leaked through the green canopy of a tent, becoming strangely yellow. At first Obifreemall got scared that he ended up in another trouble, but then he remembered what happened to him yesterday. He fell asleep in the elf’s arms and could not recall what took place afterwards. It was rather warm in the tent, but wet. Obifreemall lay on a matrass made from a folded plaid, and he felt unbelievably comfortable. He already forgot what it feels like to sleep with a pillow and a blanket. The boy spent so many nights on the bare ground, covered by a skin of a fox, that a wool cape seemed like a duvet blanket and a rolled-up shirt – like a perfect pillow.

Obifreemall did not want to climb out of this comfort, he especially liked the plaid. After tinkering a little and making himself cozy, he hid his face in the fabric. It smelled just like the elf last night, of cinnamon. Obifreemall turned to lay on his stomach and pressed his ears to his head. He fell thoughtful. He did not have his shirt on, and his bag with his belongings lay next to the “pillow”.

Suddenly the door of the tent was lifted, and the elf walked inside. Obifreemall recognized him right away, it was his yesterday’s savior. It was probably him, who put Obifreemall on the plaid.

“Good morning, little one,” said the elf, squatting and lowering his head, since even in this pose his shoulders were touching the ceiling of the tent. Obifreemall was rather scared, because the elf was so big, but there was warmth shining in his bright-blue eyes.

“I am Neroln,” said he, stretching his big hand towards the boy. Obifreemall shied away, pressing himself to the side of the tent.

“Are you afraid, little one? Why? I mean you no harm,” noted the elf with strange sadness. Obifreemall could not put together his courage to start talking to him.

“When you’re greeting someone, you need to shake hands,” said Neroln, gazing into Obifreemall’s deep-blue eyes.

“Neroln?..” repeated the boy, barely pushing the words out of himself. He wanted to speak so badly! But he could not find a way to start.

“Neroln,” the elf nodded. “What is your name, little ranger?”

“O-bi-free-mall,” slowly said Obifreemall, carefully trying to pronounce the “r”. He burred, so the “r” still did not sound very convincing.

“Pleased to meet you, Obifreemall,” Neroln still insisted on stretching out his hand to the boy. Obifreemall carefully gave his little paw with four fingers and cautiously touched the elf’s long, thin palm.

“When you learn somebody’s name you should to say “it’s nice to meet you” or just “well met”, better would be saying “glad to meet you”,” said Neroln instructively.

“Nice to meet you,” breathed Obifreemall.

“I’m not going to bite you,” noted Neroln, laughing. “Don’t be afraid.”

“I just… just… I never talked anyone… late,” said Obifreemall, mixing up words and burring even more.

“You mean you haven’t talked to anyone in a while?” inquired Neroln.

“Yes!” Obifreemall got excited.

“Where are you from, weirdo?” asked the elf.

“Do not remember…” murmured Obifreemall shyly.

“Who are your parents?”

“Do not know… my dad spoke to me in folien language, and mama the one about we are conversating,” replied Obifreemall.

“So, you lived in a folien tribe?” Neroln livened up.

“Yes!” Obifreemall heard a familiar word. He was a folien. Foliens were a race which combined both human and fox features in one body. Obifreemall possessed large fox ears, a wet black nose, and claws instead of nails. His body and face were human, but his skin was covered in short, velvet fur the same color as the skin. It was black on his arms-paws until the elbows, as if black gloves covered them. Male adult foliens gain a black mask around their eyes, but Obifreemall has not gotten it yet.  He had deep-blue eyes and long – light like sand in the river – hair. That hair became very long while he was wandering in the woods and very entangled.

“How old are you?” Neroln continued his questions, trying to pull at least some information from his foundling.

“Don’t remember,” murmured Obifreemall. “Probably ten. Four winters passed while I was in the woods.”

“The woods?” Neroln seemed confused.

“I’m lost,” explained Obifreemall, muddling the words together. “I’m lost, you see?.. I was six winters old, I live through six winters, and then I got lost… And was trying to be found for long-long…”

“A-ah,” nodded Neroln. “That explains your language…”

“I know,” the boy also nodded.

“Well, would you like to eat?” asked Neroln.

“Yes-s!” Obifreemall looked at him with respect. The one who offered food was bound to be a great person.

Neroln led him out of the tent. Next to the entrance of the tent a small fire smoked, and some soup was being boiled in a pot on top of it. But Obifreemall did not see anything except for the huge expanse of a plain spread before him. Giant blue sky covered the world over the whole horizon, the earth, so smooth and the vegetation so low. To see so much sky at once was a shocking event to Obifreemall. He could not recover from his excitement that he can see so much of this azure color. His dream came true. The annoying woods were left behind, nothing was hiding the sun for him, now his sky was all around him and not in the little window over his head.

Neroln took the pot off the fire and put it on the ground in front of Obifreemall. The boy excitedly examined the food. Neroln gave him a spoon. Obifreemall wanted to look well-behaved. He took the spoon – he used to have things like this a very long time ago – and started to eat, burning himself with the hot broth. Neroln sat down on the crumpled feather grass across from him, hugged his sharp knees and meditatively gazed at the plain. To the left of their fire small groves appeared from time to time, melting together into a wall of gloomy forest at a distance. To the right stretched the vast plain.

Obifreemall’s eyes were chained to that plain. He saw thousands of lovely colors and shades. The wavering feather grass created them endlessly. Insatiably breathing in the fresh, clean wind of freedom, the boy was rejoicing with all his heart and relished his life. It was one of those beautiful moments when he truly knew – he was alive! Neroln thoughtfully stared into the distance, his eyes were the same color as the sky by the very horizon: a bright and clear color. Obifreemall tore his eyes away from the plain and continued eating the soup. This soup was made with meat broth and pieces of rabbit meat, potatoes, and some herbs unknown to the boy.

Obifreemall ate all the soup, drank the broth and as a sign that he found the meal very tasty, licked out the whole pot with his tongue. When he lifted his satisfied face, Neroln’s expression was priceless. This procedure obviously evoked disgust in him, mixed with surprise and horror. But the elf sighed and took the shiny pot from Obifreemall.

“Tasty,” said the boy.

“Did you like it?” Neroln seemed delighted as if the soup could have been bad.

“Very,” Obifreemall faced the sun.

“You need some proper shirt. Yours is very torn,” noted Neroln with some despondency on his face.

“That’s fine,” said Obifreemall livingly. “It’s okay, I’m not cold at all. I have fur.”

“I suppose fur is good clothing,” muttered Neroln. “But you need to look properly. We will go to Elvyi today. Over there, by the mountains and the prairies.”

“Really?!” Obifreemall glanced at him admiringly. “What is Elvyi?”

“It’s a city,” said Neroln. “Humans live there, and, well, a few elves. I’m in service to the king of that city, this country.”

“What country is this?”
“We are standing right now on the lands of Elvia, the lands of the human country. Over there, behind the mountains and to the south-east we can get to Orlind, where I am from. Elves live there and they are governed by the great Queen Nerl, she has wings,” Neroln clearly was trying to make an impression on Obifreemall by that name.

“She is probably beautiful,” said the later, dreamily glancing about the plain.

“Very much so,” Neroln nodded. “If you walk through this plain all the way to the mountains you can get to the country of Taere. But if you turn before the mountains, which separate Taere from the rest of the world, to the left, you’ll get to the lands of fairies, where you should not go.”

“Why? Who are fairies? Who are humans?” asked Obifreemall. Neroln was washing the dishes and talking down his tent while they were talking.

“Fairies – they are like elves, but their skin is darker, their hair is black, and the eyes are narrower. They are also small, well, a little bigger than you, but they never grow tall. They don’t like aliens and don’t let anyone into their country. It’s dangerous to enter their lands, by their laws they have the full right to shoot you,” said Neroln seriously.

“I will not go to the fairies!” stated Obifreemall with his ears pressed to his head. “If they are so dangerous!”

“Don’t go,” approved Neroln. “And humans… you’ll see humans and learn who they are.”
“Okay,” Obifreemall gave himself a task to study humans.

“Well, grab your stuff and let’s go,” Neroln gave the boy the rest of his shirt and his bag. Obifreemall quickly threw the shirt onto himself, put the bag on his shoulder and ran behind his tall companion by the plain. Neroln was a little over two meters tall, so for tiny Obifreemall, who was not taller than a seven-year-old child, he seemed to be a real giant. The elf’s light hair was brushed off his forehead and braided. The remaining free locks had a few feathers tied to them. Neroln’s face was narrow, with widely placed, large eyes, which he kept squinting not because his vision was bad, but because he liked to screw up his eyes. Narrow, smooth, and sharp nose, straight eyebrows and rather flat lips perfectly combined together with the rest of his appearance. Neroln talked without intonations, with a very even and calm voice.

His outfit was one of a kind. To not freeze on his journeys, he put on a cape over two shirts – one was light, made of linen, and the second – of wool, with shorter sleeves. The long sleeves of the inner shirt were tucked into leather braces, and the hem of the shirt reached further than his knees. Skinny pants gave away his long slim legs. They were wrapped into wool up to the knees and tucked into huge boots. Obifreemall was afraid of those boots. But he was very interested in Neroln’s belt, which held in millions of different things. There were little bags, substituting for pockets, a knife in a beautiful sheath, different sticks of unknown purpose, little leather cases, and fabric envelopes. Obifreemall dreamed of looking into each and every one of those.

Neroln’s clothing was all sandy-green color, he could almost blend into the background of the plain, overgrown with waves of feather grass. A quiver and a bow with its string let loose were thrown over the elf’s shoulder. A simple sling added to them, and a long sword was dangling about Neroln’s side. Obifreemall always wanted to touch one of those.

Neroln led his foundling to the river, to the right of the woods. Obifreemall glanced around in excitement. There was not a lot of water in the river, even though it was the biggest river of Elvia – Alvin. It stretched from the far northern mountains to the southern sea, where it created a great delta. In the spot where Neroln decided to cross the river the tall shores were very picturesque with their laminated sides and rocky beaches. A stone levee was crossing the river here making a river roll. In spring and summer, the water was much higher than that levee and it did not bother the boats, but now the stones were visible.

“We will cross here,” said Neroln. “It will be easier to stop for the night in the mountains.”

“Okay,” agreed Obifreemall. Neroln demonstrated how to cross. Lightly and silently, with a great grace in his movement, he jumped from on rock to another. Obifreemall was in awe from his elegancy. He started to climb from rock to rock. Where Neroln needed to slightly jump the distance could have been up to a meter and a half. Little Obifreemall did not know what to do. He had to choose other rocks. After half an hour had passed, he finally reached the shore.

“I’ve got tired of waiting,” growled Neroln in discontent.

“Sorry…” murmured Obifreemall, and they walked up the bank and continued their way. The hills appeared here, which soon grew into beautiful mountain ridges.

Until midday they walked by the side of the foothills, by a well-trodden path. The scenic plain excited Obifreemall, but he got tired of the bright light of the sun and of hard, rocky road. By two in the afternoon Obifreemall asked about lunch.

“Eat again?” Neroln was surprised, looking at him with his huge eyes.

“Well, I’m actually hungry already…” muttered the boy timidly. “Should not real warriors be warriors for food as well?”
“Well,” Neroln hesitated. “It depends. You’re a folien, I’m an elf, I’m not going to get hungry until evening. But well, let’s stop for lunch.”

“Yay!”

“But you’ll have to eat bread, we don’t have time for cooking anything,” stated Neroln.

“Why are we hurryupingling?” inquired Obifreemall.

“Not hurryupingling but hurrying. I’m a scout, you see,” replied Neroln. “I need to bring some very important information to the king of Elvyi. His name is Tarn the Tenth.”

“A-ah,” said Obifreemall, digesting the word “hurrying”. “What information?”

“About the camp of the Castaways, here, in the forests,” noted Neroln.

“What castles?” Obifreemall was confused.

“Cast-a-ways,” pronounced Neroln distinctly. “Not long ago all the nations from Orlind to Taere united into one bigger union – The Gathering of the Seven Seas. Five nations are included into it: The Woodland Kingdom of the Elves or Orlind, the Free Kingdom of Elvyi, the Kingdom of Taere, the Woodland Country of Fairy, but we call it The Darkwoods, and the Mountain Kingdom of the Dwarves. On the territories of Elvia there are many different tribes, nations and races, which agreed to unite, that’s why it is called Free. But not all wanted to become a Union. Those who were against it gathered in the Northern Woods and created an army, which declared a war on the Union. They were named the Castaways.”

“A-a-ah,” said Obifreemall, even though he understood only half of what he had heard. The long names did not mean anything to him. He did not even know what a kingdom was, since he only had lived in a clan of foliens, with a chief. Every clan had its own chief and elders. Neroln was looking at the boy intently, trying to understand what he achieved by his explanation.

“When are we going to eat?” asked Obifreemall again, as that question bothered him the most.

“Soon,” Neroln nodded to a nice little hollow between two boulders. Obifreemall walked into it and sat down on a rock. The air was much warmer now, during the day. The sun was shining happily, but coolly. Neroln extracted bread and a bag of dry meat from his skinny backpack. He cut the bread on the rock with his knife, which he kept on his belt, and gave Obifreemall his lunch.

“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed the boy, grabbing the dried-out pieces. While he was eating, Neroln was sitting with his back to him and redoing his wool wraps. When he put his boots back on, the food was gone. Obifreemall ate all of it.

“You didn’t leave anything for me?” Neroln seemed horrified, as he glanced into the bag.

“O-oh…” Obifreemall got scared.

“Well, that’s alright,” muttered the elf, wincing and putting away the empty bag. He took off the sling on which his long sword in a scabbard was hanging. He placed the sword on the rock and started to search for something in the grass. This sword was the lust for Obifreemall. All his life he wanted to be a warrior. He had never held a sword in his hands before, but the boy saw one of those in his father’s house. This sword, however, was different, it was thin, with a forged hilt and a beautiful cord wrapped around the handle.

Obifreemall stretched out his paws and touched the pommel. It was cold, smooth, and shiny. The winding hilt around the guard was playing with the cold colors of metal. Obifreemall put his paw on the handle. His little palm took up only the quarter of its space. The boy took it with both paws and pulled it. The long, shiny blade slowly came out of the scabbard. It was glowing in the sun and was as sharp as a razor.

“Obifreemall!” uttered Neroln’s domineering voice. “Who allowed you to touch my sword?”
Obifreemall dropped the blade, and it ringed as it rolled off the rock. The boy shrank into a tiny ball.

“You shall not touch other people’s things, you shall ask before you do,” stated Neroln scowlingly. He quickly walked to the rock, easily picked up the sword and placed it back in the scabbard.

“Sorry, I… I… just… I wanted so badly… to touch… to look… it’s so shiny,” Obifreemall hid his face between his knees and started to weep. He got so scared and so ashamed that tears rolled down his furry cheeks on their own. Neroln stared down at him.

“Well, don’t cry, little one,” relented Neroln. “If you would’ve asked, I would’ve let you.”

“I…I…” Obifreemall could not breath.

“Calm down, you hear?” Neroln squatted. “Here, you can look at it.”

Obifreemall lifted his wet eyes.

“Really?” he got all excited. “My dad always punished me when I’d do something not good… He would slap me…”

“I’m not your father,” noted Neroln strictly. “And do not dare call me that.”

“I didn’t mean to…” whispered Obifreemall in a small voice. “I just remembered my dad… he always was very angry… and he slapped… So painful…”

“Well, alright, forget it, here, look at it, if you want it so bad,” Neroln gave the sword to the boy.

Obifreemall took it out of the scabbard. The sword was longer than his height, beautiful and magnificently shiny. Once he satisfied himself by examining the blade, the boy gave it back to its owner. Neroln quickly ate some little grass, which he winkled out from underneath the rock, and, throwing his bag on his shoulder, he walked on. Obifreemall almost had to run to follow him. Neroln walked lightly, with an easy, springy gait, holding his head high and keenly looking around with a sharp eye. He moved silently and very quickly. Obifreemall tried to not fall behind. Neroln was very tight-lipped. The boy had to ask him several times before the elf would reply. However, Obifreemall himself was not an angel. He asked twenty questions a minute, so by the end of the day Neroln stopped replying to him at all. He also started to limp weirdly and place his left feet on the edges.

Obifreemall got very tired and brutally hungry, but the elf still walked and walked on. The boy inquired about the overnight camp. Neroln said they would walk until darkness, and then they would make a fire. Obifreemall could not wait for the night to cover the world. He was mentally worn out and trotted ten paces behind his savior. When the deep twilight settled Neroln decided to stop. A few stones lay here, creating a little hollow, hidden from the winds. Since at night in the prairies, especially by the end of September, the winds can be very strong, a good covering was essential. This hollow was perfect for the night.

Neroln placed his backpack in the depth of the hollow and told Obifreemall to wait for him. The elf took off the sling with the sword, the quiver and the bow, forbid the boy from touching the weapons, took a rope and went away. Obifreemall was sitting in the hollow, his ears apeak, and looked around the darkening plains. In the darkness it seemed even more unusual. White feather grass swayed in waves – the wind was getting stronger. Half an hour passed. Obifreemall started to worry where Neroln could have gone. The boy looked around anxiously, he even climbed out of the hollow, but he was blown off with the freezing wind. Whisking back into the hollow, Obifreemall waited.

When one is hungry and his head is filled with the most unpleasant thoughts about the disappearing of his only friend, the waiting can become unbearable. Obifreemall started to worry more. He had managed to learn to love Neroln through the course of the day, he very much liked his tall companion. Finally, the elf’s well-shaped silhouette appeared in front of the darkening sky. Obifreemall was unspeakably happy.

“Yay!” exclaimed he, stretching out his paws. Neroln placed tied up branches next to his backpack.

“What’s wrong?” asked he. Only his glowing pale-blue eyes were visible in the darkness.

“I was scared for you,” murmured Obifreemall “I was afraid something happen to you.”

“Well, there’s no need in worrying,” Neroln snorted, putting the branches to make a fire. Obifreemall watched him attentively.

When the wood was carefully placed, Neroln waved his hand over it, then smoothly lifted the hand, clapping his fingers together. The wood flared up and the fire started. Obifreemall sighed admiringly and wanted to ask how that happened, but Neroln looked sternly and obviously was not going to answer the question. The warmth pleasantly touched the boy’s fur. He curled up in a ball on the rocks and stretched his paws to the fire. Neroln brough a pot with water and placed it over the fire. While the water was warming up, he sat down next to Obifreemall and took off his boots, grumbling something wrathfully. The boy noticed wet pink spots on the elf’s white socks. Neroln placed his boots by the fire to dry them – they got soaking wet when he was bringing the water for their dinner – and untied his wool wraps, which revealed his short pants.

Obifreemall watched him take the socks off horribly callused feet, wash the feet with warm water from the pot, and then pull on dry clean socks. He finally settled down, warming his feet by the fire.

“The calluses are so bad,” noted Obifreemall worriedly.

“Don’t pay attention to that,” replied Neroln. “The boots are new, I need to wear them out.”

“A-ah,” Obifreemall nodded. “I don’t have boots.”

He wiggled the toes on his bare feet.

“And you aren’t cold?” clarified Neroln.

“Not at all,” Obifreemall shook his head. Neroln reluctantly stood up to his knees and started to put shreds of some savory herbs and pearl barley into the boiling water.

“What is of dinner?” inquired Obifreemall.

“Not “of” but “for” dinner,” corrected him Neroln. “Soup with rabbit meat.”

“Ooh!” Obifreemall was delighted. “I love rabbit meat. It’s soft and not at all stinky. Animals that eat grass sometimes stink, smell, but rabbits don’t. It’s strange that foxes and wolves, I mean predafors, aren’t stinky.”

“Predators,” mumbled Neroln.

“Maybe, it’s because flesh doesn’t rotten inside them…” murmured Obifreemall thoughtfully. He lifted his gaze and saw Neroln’s expression, clearly showing disgust.

“Usually, my boy, when food is being prepared or eaten, it is proper to avoid such subjects,” noted the elf quietly but with a very icy tone. Obifreemall was greatly embarrassed.

“Forgive me! I didn’t know!” exclaimed he in fear.

“Don’t yell,” snapped Neroln. “I know, that’s why I told you.”

“A-ah,” Obifreemall lowered his head. He was silent for a moment, then he inquired:
“What are we going to do in the city?”

“First of all, I want to get rid of you!” stated Neroln forthrightly, not even trying to hide his disaffection to the boy. Obifreemall stared at him in wonder.

“What do you mean “get rid of”?” asked he, and Neroln knew he was not seeking the definition of the phrase. The elf heard notes of fear and plea in his voice.

“I meant that I would give you to an orphanage, where you will be taken care of better, than what a rogue-elf could have done,” explained Neroln, burning in shame. He was stupid in his rash. Who tells such things to a poor foundling? In addition, Neroln had noticed that Obifreemall became attached to him and was even worried for him. The elf scolded himself for the lack of pedagogy.

“But who lives there? In the orphanage? Who will take care of me?” asked Obifreemall in fear.

“Other kids live there, like you. And adults take care of them,” continued Neroln.

“What adults?”

“Regular ones. You are a child, and I am an adult,” expatiated Neroln.

“M-m,” murmured Obifreemall. “But I don’t want any other adults. You are the best.”

Neroln smiled warmly.

“Little one, I cannot give you what you are seeking,” said he. “I’m alone, I wander around the prairies, get into the enemies’ camps, there is nothing for you with me.”

“But I like you,” noted Obifreemall. “You’re a cool elf. And you cook good.”

“No, little one, I cannot keep you,” replied Neroln. “I cannot.”

“But, Neroln…” sobbed Obifreemall. “I’m afraid… There will be strange adults! I don’t want anyone except for you!”

He moved closer to the elf and buried his face in his chest. Neroln, slightly confused, froze in an uncomfortable pose, waiting.

“Don’t leave me! I’m already left by everyone, by the whole world!” Obifreemall slipped to the ground, hid his face in the hem of Neroln’s shirt and wept. Neroln was sitting and watching him with his blue eyes wide open. Obifreemall could barely remember his relatives. It has been so long since he snuggled to somebody that the feeling of Neroln’s warm, but hard body strangely soothed him. The boy felt to be in safety.

Obifreemall would have never forgotten his mother’s embrace. His father caressed him very rarely and the most he did was pat him on the head. When Neroln put his hand on the boy’s back and hugged him, Obifreemall wanted to cry even worse. But he restrained himself and calmed down a little. Maybe, it was the first and the last time that he could hug Neroln. Obifreemall felt very lonely and lost.

Neroln made some soup. They ate, and the elf told the boy to go to bed. Obifreemall settled on his blanket made of fox’s fur because it was becoming much colder. Neroln covered him with his cape and sat down, his back to the fire. Obifreemall did not feel sleepy, even though he was very tired. He was thinking. What will happen to him now? Why is the world so cruel to him: he found a friend, thought him to be his only support, and tomorrow, when they would reach the city, his friend and protection will be taken from him. Obifreemall was longing for tranquility. He always needed to be alarmed in the woods.

Obifreemall fell asleep, but he had uncomfortable dreams. All night long he felt like someone was taking things from him. With sunrise Obifreemall was awaken by the shouts of a partridge. The boy jumped up, ready to run in case of danger, but there was no danger. Neroln was standing to the side of their hollow, with a bow in his hands. The partridge landed in the grass, and the elf ran to find it. Obifreemall grew numb during the night. He climbed out of his shelter and stretched. What a horrible day was to come! When Neroln returned, carrying the body of the partridge by the legs, Obifreemall asked a question very unsettling to him, without even saying “good morning”:

“When you’ll give me to the orphanage, would you visit me there? Will we meet again?”

Neroln looked at him with sorrow.

“I do not know,” replied he and put the partridge next to the fire. Obifreemall got even more upset. He was sitting and watching the plain with sad wet eyes.

“Don’t be grieved,” said Neroln, plucking his prey. “You hear me, child? I mean you good.”

“You’re leaving me,” replied Obifreemall straight forward. “I will lose you. I can’t not be grieved.”

“Child, if we could find your parents, I would have gladly helped, but I have no idea where to look for them. They will be able to find you on their own in the orphanage and take you from there,” noted Neroln. Obifreemall buried his nose in the knees. Then a thought dawned on him.

“Let’s find my parents!” he livened up, his ears went apeak.

“I can’t, I’m working,” replied Neroln. “I don’t have time to search for them.”

“But you said you would’ve helped me!” exclaimed Obifreemall. “Then help me!”

Neroln sighed and looked away.

“You are betraying me?..” whispered the boy, quietly in fear. He felt such emptiness in his soul that he almost bursted into tears again. The tips of Neroln’s ears became pink, apparently, he was having a battle in his heart.

“We’ll see,” said he suddenly. “I will think of this.”

Obifreemall’s heart jumped in his chest. “I will think of this” is already not a straight refusal, it moves the decision to an undefined time, and that is good!

“I’m hungry!” stated he, lively again.

“We’ll eat soon,” Neroln started to fry the partridge over the coals.

They had breakfast and then moved on. The day was not as sunny as yesterday, and from time to time it started to drizzle. Obifreemall’s fur became wet, and he started to shake. Neroln gave the boy his cape, folded in two. It still dragged on the ground. Obifreemall warmed up right away in the thin, but warm wool. They did not stop for lunch, ate the leftovers of the fired partridge as they walked. Obifreemall was annoyed with the cold lunches, he wanted some hot food, especially in such weather. If he was alone, he would have stayed in his camp, if it was raining, drank warm water and ate something hot.

By the evening the weather worsened. The rain poured now. Neroln was wet to the skin, his clothes became sticky, and his hair sagged. Obifreemall in his cape with a hood was not as wet, but his feet were freezing from the mud and water. Thankfully the yellow lights of the city were already visible – Elvyi peeked out from the shadows of the mountains laying over it.  Obifreemall, even though he was hungry and shaking, was astonished by the look of the city. There were so many people speaking there!

The fortress, build from white stone, was hiding among the sloped of the mountains and was protected by the river from the west. Because of the rain there was much more water in it. Multitudes of towers and flagpoles with multicolored flags made the fortress almost toy-like, especially from a distance. However, the tall walls and the guards, placed in a war-time order made a big impression on Obifreemall. He started to want to become a warrior even stronger. Neroln led him into the city. Houses here were white, with red tegular roofs, streets – narrow, and all the windows – closed with the shutters. The streets were filled with water up to the knee, everything was glittering because of it. Obifreemall started to shake even worse, the light which escaped from the gaps in the shutters reminded him of the warmth.

The dreadful minute was becoming closer. Obifreemall was worried about Neroln’s decision. When they entered a two-storied building with narrow, tightly closed windows, Obifreemall realized they were there. They ended up in a room with a few doors in the walls, at the far end of which stood a tall desk and a person in a beret with a feather was sitting behind it. In wonder Obifreemall examined this strange headgear and the golden curls, which fell onto the man’s red coat. It was warm and dry in the room, Obifreemall fluffed up his fur with delight. Neroln stood, leaning forward, since he touched the ceiling with his head. The ceilings here were for some reason very low.

“Good evening, how can I help you?” inquired the man in the beret, looking up for the letter he was writing.

“Greetings,” replied Neroln, sitting down on a stool by the table – it was uncomfortable for him to stand. “I found a boy in the woods, I would like to get him a place here.”

“A-ah…” sighed the man in the beret. “Name?”

“Whose?”

“Yours.”

“Lord Neroln Einanroe,” the elf was looking at him fixedly.

“An elf?” clarified the man in the beret.

“Yes,” replied Neroln sharply.

“And the boy’s?”

“Obifreemall, to the best of my knowledge,” said Neroln.

“Great,” the man in the beret glanced out from behind his desk and looked at Obifreemall. Wet, in a dirty cape, the boy stared at him fearfully with his blue eyes.

“A folien?” the man in the beret seemed surprised. “Well, alright, we are trying not to take kids anymore, because it’s wartime, and we don’t have resources. But well, we’ll take him. We need more working hands.”

Neroln looked at him with alarm. Obifreemall came closer and took the elf by the leg.

“I will work?” whispered he. Suddenly a girl with a basket came from the neighboring room as if to illustrate the situation.

“Master Gwendrichi, we went over all the cotton and even took it out of the boxes, even though you didn’t ask as to do it. Can each of us get another piece of bread with butter?” asked she. A few snub-nosed children’s faces peeked out from door. They were unwashed, shaggy, covered in ragged clothes, and they looked in fear at Gwendrichi.

“I didn’t ask you, so you shouldn’t have done it, varmints! I think I told you, you shouldn’t be here when I have visitors!” exclaimed the man in the beret. The girl whisked back and shut the door. Obifreemall pressed himself to Neroln’s leg and stared at Gwendrichi with huge eyes. He had never been this much terrified. The boy was scared that if he would let go of Neroln’s leg, he would disappear and never come back.

“Oh, idiots, they get wherever they were not asked to get,” said Gwendrichi in anger. “Uh, well-well, what have we here. Ah, yes, Obirfeemall.

“Obifreemall,” corrected Obifreemall.
“Ah, yes, right,” the man in the beret nodded. “Here’s your paper, go to that door. You will get bed linens and a coat for the next three months.”
Obifreemall flinched. The paper with a big signature handed to him scared him. He pressed himself to Neroln’s leg and shut his eyes tight.

“Take it and go!” shouted Gwendrichi.

“Wait,” Neroln pushed his arm aside. “I’m afraid I cannot leave a child in such conditions. We will look at a different place.”

“There are no others! They closed everything because of the war,” replied the man in the beret. Neroln looked at Obifreemall: wet, skinny, disheveled, with huge blue eyes – the boy was a pitiful sight.

“Thank you for your help,” Neroln stood up. “But I will not give away a child, if he will be treated like this. Farewell.”

“But… but!” the man in the beret jumped up. Neroln took Obifreemall by the hand and walked out. Obifreemall was not yet realizing what happened.

“Wait…” he stopped and looked at the elf. “You…”

“Yes, I’m keeping you,” Neroln sighed. “We’ll go to…”

Obifreemall exhaled happily and hugged his legs.

“You are the best, I told you!” exclaimed the boy.

“Well-well,” Neroln affectionately stroke his head. “We’ll go to my brother, he lives here.”

“Yay!” Obifreemall forgot about the rain and hunger, he ran, skipping, holding Neroln’s hand and laughing wholeheartedly.

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