The night and the new day
When, after taking Net-net to the stables for the night, Nicklis and Dina entered the house, they heard the sounds of a violin. Dina sat down on a bench and started to untie her shoes, listening to the music with admiration. It flowed in an incessant current, as if it was played fresh, it was never written down on paper before, as if it was the music of the musician’s heart itself. The melody seemed slightly worried and at the same time quiet, it streamed quickly, and suddenly froze, flinched, waved, as if it hit a barrier, and then flowed once again in a tide of mesmerizing feelings. Nicklis, standing in the shadow and not entering the living room, was watching from behind the corner, smiling lightly. Dina came up to him and peeked into the living room too.
All the candles were already lit, and their warm light was reflected on the furniture and on the shiny candlesticks, and played with golden threads in Eldar’s long hair. His figure stood like a tall shadow by the window, and Dina saw the outlines of his fine face with closed eyes and slightly lowered eyebrows. His chin softly and at the same time surely pressed into the polished body of the violin, and the fiddle-bow in his lean fingers was sliding, rising up, and falling far down. And so did the sound of this wonderful instrument. It seemed like Eldar was dreaming, away from this world. He did not hear and did not notice anything around him, only he and his violin existed in his world now. Finally, Nicklis took the liberty to step into the room, and Dina followed him. Eldar started, the music broke, and he lowered his instruments without turning his head.
Nicklis froze in place, his lips were pressed, and Dina also felt uneasiness. They interrupted him so ignorantly, maybe, they should have waited… Eldar turned around, his face had its usual expression of calm sadness, though Dina noticed anxious gloss of his eyes under the long red eyelashes.
“Good evening,” said the elf in a calm and neutral voice. “How was your outing?”
“It was very nice, lord Eldar,” said Dina, taking Nicklis by the elbow and leaning on his shoulder. “Very nice…”
A strange expression appeared on Eldar’s face. It looked as if a smile touched the corners of his mouth, but the expression of his eyes and eyebrows did not change.
“Yes… Dina agreed to become my wife,” added Nicklis, staring at his face. “We had a wonderful evening.”
“Well… M-m…” Eldar continued to smile, and unwittingly his face was gaining a more and more friendly look, which clearly embarrassed him, so he lowered his gaze.
“Well,” continued the elf with his thoughts finally gathered. “Well… I have the right to bless your union, and I shall do so.”
He came closer to them slowly, left the violin and still had not lifted his eyes. Then he dared to look at Dina.
“I am informed of your young age, Dina,” said Eldar, keeping his eyes in place. “But I am looking at you, and I see wisdom in your gaze that is not usual in the eyes of women of your age, and I can entrust you with my son. You’re a brave and noble woman.”
He took Dina’s head, lowered it, and kissed her with a long, fatherly kiss on the fair hair. Dina accepted it with politeness and virtue that could do honor to any elf-maiden. When Eldar let her go, she lifted her eyes and boldly looked at his light face which was desperately trying to hide the emotions and said:
Eldar bowed to her smoothly and turned to his son.
“In regard to you, my dear Nicklis,” he glanced at Nicklis with a completely different look. “You’re young. Young, like the green leaves in the spring, which are swayed by the wind. But the wind had not torn you off the branch, and because of that I am proud of you. You found a truly worthy companion in life, and I am hoping you will become a husband who is just as worthy of her. I will tell you the truth, I was afraid you would not be able to find a truly noble persona, but I was mistaken. You have as much reason as feelings, and you have not made a thoughtless choice. Now then, may the Blue Bird bless you. You deserve my praise.”
Slowly Eldar kissed Nicklis’s forehead, and the latter closed his eyes with a surprised and touched expression on his face.
“Thank you, father…” whispered he, when Eldar straightened his back. “Thank you…”
Eldar nodded his head majestically, took the violin, and started to walk up the stairs. On the third step he stopped and turned around.
“Mom is in the greenhouse, she’s painting. Let her know of your arrival,” said the elf, and slowly continued his way.
Nicklis quietly, happily, and thoughtfully sighed and led the way to the dining room and from there to the greenhouse. Dina followed him. There was no light in the dining room, and it smelled nicely of candles and oil paints in the greenhouse. Annuil, in her puffy sleeve covers, dotted with spots of paint, in her long apron, and with her hair tied up, was painting in quick strokes. Her long brush was sliding and flying, Annuil was submerged into her work not lesser than Eldar into the music of his violin. However, Annuil noticed the visitors way faster than her husband, and in her eyes shined a visible question. She froze with her brush stopped on the large palette and stared at her son.
“It’s alright, mom,” said Nicklis, approaching her and catching Dina’s hand as they walked. “It’s all good.”
“Ah, my dear!” Annuil came back to life and went into congratulating them. “Ah, I’m so happy for you! My darlings! Come here, I need to kiss you!.. Ah-ah-ah, I lived till this day!”
She threw off her apron and the sleeve covers, fluttered to them, and hugged them both, lowering her head between their shoulders.
“Does father know?” asked she, straightening out and kissing Dina into the cheek and then forcing Nicklis to bend down, and kissing him too. “Have you told him?”
“Yes, he gave us his blessing,” said Nicklis, smiling. Annuil’s face was wet with tears.
“Ah, I’m so happy! Dinochka, I’m so glad you’ll become part of our family! Ah, my foxy, you found such a wonderful creature for your house!” she hugged Dina again, pressing her head to her chest.
“I’m also very happy,” confessed Dina into her dress.
“Ah!” sobbed Annuil and let her go. “Oh, what’s wrong with me… Come! Dinner is ready, let me only warm it up, and we can eat! Then I’ll show you your room, Dinochka!”
She fluttered through the greenhouse into the dining room.
“My foxy, please, lit the candles!” sang she and slipped into the kitchen. Nicklis smiled.
“Where’re the matches? I can help,” suggested Dina.
“That is quite unnecessary,” chuckled Nicklis and snaped his fingers over one of the candles. A reddish flame sparked in the air, and the candle lit up.
“Oh!” breathed Dina. “How cool!”
“A little bit of good old magic,” Nicklis smiled. “The problem is that not all elves can do magic or want to learn it. For that faith is needed.”
Dina shook her head knowingly.
* * *
Dinner in the company of Eldar and Annuil was calm and cozy. Annuil twittered how glad she would be to help make Dina’s wedding dress and where to find the best tailors in the city, what they should serve to the guests as far as food and about all the other details of their wedding about which they themselves have not yet even thought. Dina was slightly uneasy about it all. She had not yet received her parent’s permission, and she was afraid to dream about such unbelievable things. If it all does not happen, all her dreams would fall, would suffer such a collapse… everything would collapse, her whole life. Annuil made a delicious dish, dinner consistent of little rabbit steaks grilled over the coals, potato slices baked under sour cream, beans, and little white buns with butter. For tea she brought out thin crispy cookies again.
After dinner everyone moved to the living room. Nicklis brought an album with their family tree, and they sat down on the couch in front of the fireplace – Nicklis with the album in the middle, Dina and Annuil at his sides, while Eldar placed himself in a chair close to them. Dina listened to Nicklis’s stories about their relatives, about the living part of their large family, and she was comforted by the thought that she can join their family life, though, anxious uncertainty still had not left her. She felt she could never know for sure what her parents would think about her agreeing to marry an elf, and about her needing to leave to settle in a different world… People move to other countries, why can she not move as well? Nicklis’s heartbeat was peaceful and soft, deep inside his chest, and Dina, who had lowered her head on his shoulder, listened to this soothing, manly rhythm.
Around ten o’clock in the evening Eldar stood up and, wishing them a good night, left for his room. Annuil ordered Nicklis to show Dina her room and promised to bring everything needed in a few minutes herself. She fluttered into the kitchen, then silently flew up the stairs and disappeared in her bedroom. Nicklis helped Dina up, and they also walked to the second floor, where it smelled nicely of candles and soap. The corridor was illuminated with a few candleholders.
“Here’s your room,” Nicklis opened the door, next to his own bedroom. “Linsi used to live here before, but she’s away studying, and she lives on the Island.”
“Alright, thanks,” Dina entered the cozy room with a tall bed by the left wall, a table by the window, a few bookshelves, and dressers across from the bed. This room reminded Dina so much of her own room, that she grew incredibly impatient to meet Nicklis’s sisters.
“Mom will see you,” added Nicklis. “If you need anything at night, don’t hesitate to knock, I’ll be right there, next door to you.”
Dina nodded with a smile.
“Good night,” he lingered, fumbling at the doorknob. Dina threw off her backpack by the bed, came back to the door and, wrapping her arms around Nicklis’s neck, gently kissed him on the cheek.
“Good night,” said she. Nicklis squinted his eyes in delight, smiled and left, closing the door.
Dina made a deep sigh, listening to his quiet steps on the boards of the floor. Then she sat down on the side of the bed and thoughtfully stared right in front of her. What a life… She has not yet finished meditating on all the unusual situations presented to her by her fortune, when someone knocked on her door, and Annuil entered silently, holding a basket, a pitcher with warm water, and a towel in her arms.
“Here, I can help you wash your face,” suggested Annuil, smiling. She walked up to a small and elegant dressing table, which was standing in the corner of the room, and placed the pitcher and the basket there.
“Thank you, I would appreciate that.”
“I brought you some soap, I don’t really know what you, humans, use for this… Here’s soapy with jasmine, it smells so nicely, I couldn’t resist. It’s for your face. This soap is good for your hands, it has cinnamon, it also smells good. Elves use special oils for the ears, so, I also wasn’t sure if you needed it. Honestly, it’s a very beneficial thing, it strengthens the hairs on the ears, makes your hearing better… And here’s some hair foam, with the fragrance of a blooming apple tree. It’s very refreshing before bed,” explained Annuil, placing wooden soap dishes and little bottles on the table.
“Oh, it’s so interesting! Thank you,” Dina examined the bottles. “I like these things…”
“I’m so glad! Dinochka, so glad,” Annuil sat down on a soft footstool by the bed, waiting for Dina to change and looking to the side not to embarrass her. “I’m so incredibly glad you’re going to be part of our family… You know, I couldn’t even think of a woman who would’ve been so perfect for my Nick. You’re sent to us for above. I don’t even mind that you’re not of elvish blood and not from our lands. What matters is that you understand and love each other so badly, that no force could separate you… You fascinate me, Dinochka, but I like you very much.”
“Thank you,” whispered Dina quietly, glancing at her light hair which was spread over the shoulders, and looking for her things in the backpack. “You’re so kind to me…”
“Are you afraid?” inquired Annuil softly and affectionately. Dina once again froze in surprise. How well she understood her feelings…
“A little bit,” confessed Dina and, approaching her, sat down on a footstool next to her. “It’s all so unfamiliar to me, but… I like it all. I like this world… But at times I’m terribly scared… I’m especially worried about my parents…”
And she quietly told Annuil about all the fears that were eating her up, concerning the conversation which took place between her and Nicklis then, in the shadow of the green square.
“Dinochka, I understand your troubles very well, and I wish with all my heart that you will be able to deal with them all. I’m ready to help you in any way possible,” Annuil, who was watching her all this time with her keen light-blue eyes, now leaned forward and softly hugged Dina with her warm arms. Dina lowered her head on her thin shoulder. “You’re brave, Dinochka. And for that bravery you’re gifted with so much. You were not afraid to believe, and I respect you deeply for it… I also had to make a hard decision once. My husband is far from being a “regular” creature. Ah, Dinochka, if you only knew, how much I had to go through with him, but I still love him crazily, and I understand him… And every woman is put in this role of a wife because she is able to handle it. Each in her own way. And you’re in your place because there is a reason to it.”
“Thank you,” whispered Dina into the sleeve of her dress. “You know, I feel like I’m so little, still a child… And I need to make such important decisions, solve such problems… And no one can solve them for me, because this is my life, and how will I live, if it was not me who decided which path to take?”
“If you can know your age so soberly, then it means you’re old enough to make those decisions,” said Annuil, looking at her face again. “Yes, you’re still young, but you’re both young, and I see nothing wrong in that. Trust me, Nicklis is probably jumping on his bed in excitement, and I wouldn’t call that mature in any way. However, in every one of us lives a piece of a child, and it is very-very important in life.”
“Nicklis told me that, if I wish to, I can become an elf,” noted Dina. “Can you give me advice on what to do?..”
“We have no right to intervene in your decision about this question,” said Annuil with guiltily sad eyes. “But Nicklis will have to approve your conclusion, because it’s his strength that will be needed to make you part of the elvish race, if you will think in that direction.”
“His strength?..” inquired Dina. “He didn’t tell me about it…”
“You see… he told you about the forces, right?”
“Yes, so one can pass strength to another?” wondered Dina.
“Indeed, and sometimes it saves lives!”
“I knew it! When Nicklis had come to our world and injured his shoulder, my mom made him stay at our house for a few nights to heal it. He had a fever and raved, and I was next to him… Honestly, I’ve never seen people rave before,” confessed Dina. “But I remember taking him by the hand and almost dragging him out of the illusions, if that makes any sense… I kind of pulled him, and it took some of my strength… is that how it’s done?”
“Almost,” Annuil was smiling with that mysterious smile of soulful joy that had appeared on Nicklis’s face when Dina had told him of such things. “It can be wielded, if learned properly. Nicklis and Eldar both know how to do it. Knowing my son, I can say that he most likely forgot to even think about his role of giving his strength to you to change your race, because there was no point in it. He would’ve never offered you something for which he wouldn’t have been able to pay…”
“But it’s the strength of his life, it’s probably dangerous…”
“Well, in some ways.”
“What’s needed to recover that strength?” inquired Dina guiltily.
“Sleep,” Annuil smiled. “Rest, the worst that can happen is Nicklis might sleep twenty-four hours. It happened to him before when he was younger. Especially when he just became an adult, he was ready to share his strength a little too much. He often would go too far, and then sleep a lot. To give more than half of the strength is risky, that’s true. Three quarters of the strength is quite a lot, but Nicklis is strong in heart, trust me, I’m sure he’s ready to sacrifice anything for you, he would be glad to do it. Ask him about all this, though, of course, but for now let it be this way.”
“Alright… How hard is it to be an elf-maiden, can you tell me that, at least?” asked Dina.
“Hard?.. I’ve never been a human,” Annuil thoughtfully hugged her chin with her fingers. “All I know about it is that elves are lighter than humans and have better immunity against illnesses, but I think the moral side of the question is more important than the physical. Would you be able to submit to the fact that your life will not have an end, and you will be bound to live until a sword, or a sickness takes you or Nicklis away from this world? Would you be able to bear the understanding of the living forces of the world? But there’s a different question, this time about your human self… Would you be able to live, knowing that years will take what’s theirs and that old age will seize you, and time will bend your body, while Nicklis will be left watching how it eats you away, and he will be unable to help? It will inevitably destroy him after you. If one of you dies the other would not be able to remain in solitude, for I feel your hearts are already bound together with an incredible power. I give you the right to choose your fate, don’t think that I might not approve your decision no matter which way it goes.”
Dina was sitting with her eyes dry and wide open, and she was pale because of the powerful battle that was going on inside her. She was thinking of mom, of her family. She will outlive them, if she would become an elf, and she will be bound to see them leaving this world… But the mere thought of the pain which Nicklis would have to endure watching her age made her even more sore. She loved them all so much! All this world! She was only eighteen, and she needed to think of death! This seemed unfair, cruel, and tormenting. Why did life put her in this position, why she, out of the whole huge world, needed to decide such horrible things?.. Then a comforting though visited her, submerging her into a deafening, freezing obliviousness. She has an opportunity to choose. It is not given to anyone. If she really was faced with such an opportunity, then, it means, she must take it…
Dina closed her eyes and started to pray. She hadn’t been doing it often, but somehow it felt easier to silently say the sacred words addressed to the Blue Bird in this house and in this company. She talked in her mind for a while, and when the words were all gone, she knew that there was nothing more to say, she knew where she decided to turn on this doubling of the life’s road. There was no other way. She could not throw away such a chance, even though she understood that now before her lay a hard path, a path that is given only to the chosen, to those who are able to bear anything that might take place on it. She lifted her head and looked at Annuil bravely and with a hidden sadness in the depth of her gaze.
“I have only one choice,” said Dina, and a smile touched her lips. “Nicklis offered me a chance to become part of his life, to come to his house, to his family, and I will do so. I will come into his world, and I will take his traditions, and I agree to let my blood become elvish blood. Besides, our love must not die with me. We must preserve it for as long as a life of an elf allows.”
Annuil was shining with a smile, tears glittered in her eyes.
“No, Nick did not make a mistake,” she took Dina by the shoulders. “There is no creature in this world that would’ve fit him better than you, and he – you.”
She softly kissed Dina’s forehead and offered to brush her hair.
For a while they sat in the cozy quiet room, talking, discussing life, and Dina felt like she was filling up with all the experience that Annuil shared with her. Her movements were smooth and caring, and all the liveliness she had during the day was left behind, leaving space for a calm seriousness of a veteran of family life.
In the room next to Dina’s, stretched on the mattress, with the blanket kicked off, and with arms thrown to the sides lay Nicklis, watching with his shining eyes the window, where on the pale sky the first stars winked to each other. They will disappear again in a few hours, stepping aside to give way to the early summer dawn. His window was thrown open, but he still was burning and suffocating, and his heart wanted to break free, inspired and drunk with the greatest feeling in the world.
* * *
Dina though that every good feeling that she possessed had turned into horror and despair. She stood in the middle of the road, and her heart pounded quickly and loudly. She stood and looked on the ground right in front of her. Dad said no. He didn’t let her. And her life broke apart. She knew it would happen. It was all just a fairy-tale, a wish, a fantastic dream, but dad said no, and life returned to its normal ways. But Dina was not there anymore. She stood in the middle of the road, scared to death, and everything around her was dark and gray, and she kept staring at the road. It was finished. Everything was finished. In front of her on the road lay a body, and to her feet spread red hair, wet and trampled into the dirt. He lay in front of her on the road, the back of his head was covered in blood, and under his motionless hand shone an empty revolver. He was gone. Gone. And she was gone. Her life was gone…
* * *
Dina was quite sure that she screamed as she sat up on her bed with a sharp jerk. She was shaking and soaked in sweat from fear. But a second passed, she realized where she was and that she was alright in the cozy and calm elvish house, and that Nicklis was very close to her, in the neighboring room, sleeping peacefully… Dina jumped off the bed, she was getting sick from her fright. Barefoot, with a disheveled braid, she unlocked the door and slipped into the hallway. It was dark and quiet here, she rushed to the closest door, and knocked on it with her hands shaking.
For a moment no one answered, and Dina, crying and trembling with her whole body, sagged down to the floor and put her forehead against the cant. Suddenly she heard the lock click, and Nicklis opened the door, peeking outside in surprise.
“Nick…” breathed Dina.
“Dinka?.. Golte Evere, what happened to you?” Nicklis bent down to her. “Oh, you’re all wet, what’s wrong?”
“A dream…” whispered Dina, clinging to the sleeve of his shirt. “Creepy…”
“Ah, come in,” Nicklis took her by the elbows, helped her up, and led her into the room. He settled her on the mattress and hurried to open the window and light up the lamp.
“Y-yes,” Dina was breathing in the fresh night air.
“I’ll make you some herbal tea, you need to calm down,” said Nicklis worriedly. He was standing by his dresser, next to the lamp, wearing his long night gown and his skinny pants, and with his hair spread over his shoulders.
“Can I come with you?..” whispered Dina. Nicklis glanced at her doubtfully.
“Will you not fall again?”
“Well, alright, come,” Nicklis stuck his feet into the narrow wool slippers, took the lamp, and opened the door.
Together they walked down the quiet stair and, leaving the dark living room behind, entered the kitchen. Here Nicklis put the lamp on the table and got himself busy with boiling the water and brewing the tea. While the herbs were sitting in the teapot, he turned around and asked:
“What was your dream about?”
“Well… It was that my dad did not let us be together, and… and that you shot yourself…” whispered Dina, shuddering with her whole body.
“Of course, many things may happen in life, but don’t consider me prone to suicide,” said Nicklis in an offended tone, but he soon recollected himself and softened his voice. “Forgive me, yes, that is really uncomfortable…”
“It’s just a dream… But I was so scared… Life ended, everything ended, and you were gone…” Dina sat with her eyes wide open. Nicklis examined her face, illuminated by the light of the lamp, with genuine compassion and worry.
“Just a dream,” he repeated and sat down on the stool next to her, affectionately and reassuringly patting her on the back. “And it ended.”
“What if it continues, when I fall back asleep?..”
“I don’t think so, it happens rarely and usually because you want it to be so,” replied Nicklis. “It’ll be alright.”
“I worried too much,” Dina sighed weakly. “And so, I got a dream about it… It’s just so scary… what if it’s prophetic?..”
“Have you had prophetic dreams before?” asked Nicklis with alarm.
“No,” breathed Dina.
“That’s good,” Nicklis smiled. “Most likely this dream was also just the consequences of anxiety.”
He got up and poured the tea into a cup.
“Here, come upstairs, its warmer there and much calmer,” suggested the elf, and Dina, taking the clay cup, warmed by his hands and the hot tea, followed him up the stairs.
The tea smelled of mint, chamomile, and valerian root, and simply the fragrance of it calmed Dina a little. They came up to Nicklis’s room, and Dina sat down on the mattress, while Nicklis took the chair.
“Don’t drink the whole thing right now, take it sip by sip,” suggested he, lessening the light of the lamp and closing the window, through which the wind kept blowing.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Yes, a little… could you hug me?.. Please…”
Nicklis cautiously got off the chair and sat down next to her on the mattress, wrapped her into the blanket and hugged by the shoulder. Dina pressed her cheek to his chest.
“Thank you, it’s much easier this way…” said she quietly and sipped a little tea from the cup.
“Okay,” Nicklis placed his head, cuddling his chin into the top of her head. “You can stay here for the night, I can guard your dreams…”
“What do you mean?..”
“When you fall asleep, I can feel everything you’re feeling as clearly as my own emotions,” explained Nicklis. “When you’re awake you can hide those feelings away from me, most likely, you don’t even realize it. But when you fall asleep, your mind becomes vulnerable, and the dark thoughts may visit you… Same with me. You can learn anything from my head when I fall asleep.”
“O-oh,” breather Dina is weak fascination.
“I’ll sit right here, on this chair, and guard your mind, so that no black idea can enter it,” suggested Nicklis.
“But… what about you? How will you sleep?..”
“I’ll be fine, I have had enough sleep already,” replied Nicklis, smiling. “In any case, I’m an elf.
“Well, alright… Are you sure?”
They were silent for a few moments, then Dina faced him and looked closely into his eyes. The radiant smile evaporated from Nicklis’s face, and he lifted his eyebrow in confusion.
“Your mom told me that in order for me to become an elf-maiden, you will need to give me three quarters of your strength,” said Dina worriedly. “Why didn’t you say anything about it?”
Nicklis blushed, the tips of his ears lowered a little.
“You think I would not agree to give you all of my strength to keep our love for centuries?..” asked he, looking at her with his head bowed, but eyes still on her.
“No, I don’t doubt you, but we needed to discuss this, otherwise how am I to know?..” Dina lowered her gaze guiltily.
“It’s not a problem, Dinka, don’t even think of it. I’m ready to give you as much strength as you need, I am ready to support you, especially in such a decision. I’m just not allowed to make you become an elf-maiden or remain a human,” explained Nicklis, also guiltily. “Have you come up with anything on this subject?..”
“Of course,” Dina smiled, fighting the awkwardness. “Of course, I have.”
She was looking into his eyes happily, and Nicklis started to laugh.
“You’re beautiful!” stated he. “The best, the best ever!..”
He bent down quickly, kissed the bridge of her nose, and stood up.
“I’m ready to share anything with you. The house, the life, and all the ages that are set for us, and the strength, if it is needed, so that all this becomes reality,” said Nicklis, smiling.
“You’re saying I’m the best, but I think it’s you who are the best,” replied Dina, giving him the cup. He took it, she pulled, forced him to bend in surprise, and softly kissed him on the lips.
“That’s the goodnight kiss,” explained she, letting go of the cup. Nicklis glanced at her eyes with his own, shining with green light, playful, kind, and selflessly honest.
“Good night,” Dina quietly lay down on the mattress, tucked the pillow with her hand.
“Good night,” said Nicklis and fixed the blanket on her shoulder. “See you tomorrow…”
The striped pillow smelled softly of snowdrops, and Dina dug her face into it. Nicklis sat down on the chair, like he promised, put out the light and silently stared into the window. For a few minutes Dina lay motionless, listening. Nicklis froze like a statue, and the light of the early morning shone upon his fine face, so dreamily calm at that moment. Dina fell asleep with her eyes still fixed on his moveless silhouette.
* * *
When Dina lifted her eyelids, the small room was illuminated with the spacious sunlight, which was casting out all the shadows out of the corners and piercing the blanket with which Dina was trying to guard herself. Nicklis was sitting on the same chair, but he was already dressed and combed, and the sun was playing on his freckled cheeks. His eyes were closed, his posture was straight, so he was not asleep. Dina sat up on the bed, looking at him guiltily. As soon as she pulled off the blanket and got ready to stand up, Nicklis opened his bright green eyes, sparkling in the sunshine, and smiled. Soft dimples charmingly formed under his eyes.
“Good morning,” said he.
Dina yawned and rubbed her eyes.
“I truly cannot leave your mind at peace,” Nicklis laughed. “Even when you sleep.”
“Were you digging in my head, while I was sleeping?” asked Dina, who was not in the mood to joke right from the morning.
“Forgive me, but I couldn’t have protected your mind, if I couldn’t have felt you, and when I feel you, I know what you’re thinking. Also, I thought you don’t have secrets from me,” Nicklis lifted his eyebrow.
“No, I shouldn’t have secrets from you,” said Dina and stood up. “Thank you, it was a nice sleep.”
“You’re very welcome,” Nicklis also stood up. “Mom’s preparing breakfast, so, when you’ll be ready, you can come downstairs. I’m going to go talk to father.”
“Listen…” Dina lifted her eyes at him. “Is it okay that I came to you at night?.. I know we aren’t supposed to stay on our own together, but…”
“It’s quite alright, don’t worry about it. You were scared, and I couldn’t have been able to help you and support you otherwise. You didn’t do anything unlawful. If you would’ve asked me to lay down next to you, that wouldn’t have been good, but… You knew it’s unacceptable and you didn’t do it,” explained Nicklis. “It’s alright.”
“Okay…” Dina lowered her head. “I was really scared…”
“I know,” Nicklis came closer to her. “I felt it. But you found comfort, and everything is left behind… A new amazing day is awaiting us!”
He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead.
“The morning kiss?..” Dina caught his eyes.
“Well, alright,” Nicklis bent lower and kissed her on the lips, lightly and warmly.
“I won’t be long,” promised Dina, touching his flashing ear and making him wince – she knew that every touch of his ears was very ticklish to him, but she could not resist doing so. Nicklis smiled, and she walked barefoot to her room.
* * *
After breakfast, which consisted of delicious oatmeal with raisins, dried berries and banana, everyone started to pack for the trip. Annuil put together several baskets and bags with everything needed to make sandwiches and eat them at Nicklis’s place, because they did not have time for any other meal. Their luggage was placed on the horses, it got tied to the saddles. Eldar brought his and Annuil’s horses to the front yard. The stallion which was the elvish lord’s ride was rather young and had as much pride and inaccessibility as his master, however Eldar managed to subdue him with a surprising agility. Annuil’s horse was of a soft-beige color, with pink nose and hooves, and blue eyes. Her mane was braided with white ribbons. Annuil’s saddle was also white, and she rode sideways, as it was appropriate for a lady.
Dina, who watched Eldar help his wife place herself on the horse, though that she could probably learn to ride just as elegantly if she wanted to. For now, though, she was not ready to try something new, especially when it involved a more dangerous way of riding a horse. When Annuil was settled, Eldar gently gave Dina a lift, and she climbed onto Net-net, sitting down normally, astride. Nicklis had not joined her yet, and she sat in the saddle for a while, waiting for him. The saddle had its own benefits, the blanket on the horse’s back on which Dina usually sat was not as comfortable and fitting.
However, soon Nicklis nimbly hopped on the horse, and Dina had to give up the saddle. He rode with a great posture, very straight and confident in his movements, and Dina liked feeling his calmness. He was at home, he was in his domain, he was doing things he was used to doing since childhood, and his skill at all those things was evident. Dina dearly wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing herself to his back, hiding her face in his thick red hair. It smelled sweetly and freshly of snowdrops, and Dina dove into them, closing her eyes.
“You ready?” asked Nicklis, turning around.
“Yeah,” Dina sighed quietly in happiness, and they started.
Eldar’s stallion ambled, and Nicklis explained that Eldar loved horses with that gait. Even though they could not perform maneuvers as well as regular horses, the steps were much softer and more comfortable for the rider. In addition, it looked very noble and graceful. Net-net’s gait was not soft at all, and Dina silently decided she understood why Eldar liked horses with smoother movements.
The woods were clear, fresh, and pierced by the rays of the morning sun. A skylark was singing its lungs out somewhere at the side of the road. It smelled of moisture, bark, herbs, and horses. Dina sat with her head thrown to the back and stared into the emerald canopy of the tree crowns high up, into the light lines of suspended bridges and stairs, into the intertwines of the bronze branches, which were shining in the spots of sunlight. The woods grew thinner, giving way to the swampy lowlands, but sometimes the trees would suddenly rise like walls, and the thickets of blueberry and wild rosemary would cover the hilly ground of the landscape like a wooly carpet. With delight Dina gazed at the gigantic boulders overgrown with moss, which started to appear more and more often, and the layers of granite which came out of the ground here and there, bathing their smooth sides in the sunlight.
They rode for quite a while, often slowing the horses to a walking speed instead of a trot, and thus they reached the village where Nicklis lived only after an hour and a half. For the most part they followed the White Road, which had astonished Dina’s imagination at the very beginning of their trip to Orlind by its magnificent green tunnel. At the end of their journey, however, they turned into a narrower road, which, wiggling, led them through small bogs with bridges into a narrow valley which lay between two hills, where a tiny village was located. Two dozen of houses were scattered across the slopes of the hills on a good distance from each other, and the slow life of this countryside was almost invisible in this hour. A few elf-maidens worked in their cozy gardens, fenced in by wattles and small palisades. In the center of the village, on a paved square in front of the bakery, sat a few elves at the wooden table, enjoying the coolness of the pines’ shade.
Dina noticed three cows, which were grazing on one of the slopes behind a long fence. Nicklis rode on, greeted the elves on the square, and they joyfully replied to him in elvish, clearly asking whom he brought with him. Dina smiled guiltily, not understanding their conversation. Then they turned passing the bakery and walked up the narrow path to the top of the hill, from where they saw a view, which amazed Dina to the bottom of her soul. At the foot of the hill, surrounded by the mighty boulders, the slopes of which rolled sharply down, lay the transparent mirror of the lake, glimmering dimly. On the shore of the lake was a small sauna, and to the left of it, on the side, Dina noticed the house, hidden in the thick greenery of jasmine and some other plants, unfamiliar to her. The porch faced the lake, and the roof, covered with shingles and rained on with the needles of the pines, was almost invisible in front of the woods.
“My home,” Nicklis’s arm drew a wide semicircle, showing the buildings and the lake. “Welcome.”
“Nick…” breathed Dina. “This is so beautiful!..”
“I agree,” Nicklis was smiling, Dina could not see his face, but she felt his heart, pounding quickly in happiness.
“The lake… it’s so clear…”
“We can go swimming after lunch,” suggested Nicklis, chuckling. “But the water is rather cold, this lake never really gets warm. And I don’t know how deep it is. I guess, very deep… It doesn’t have the shallow part; it dives down right away.”
“It’s a little scary to swim,” noted Dina. “But it’s very pretty to look at…”
“I do swim in it,” Nicklis shrugged. “When the sun is burning your head, and you have such a nice basin right next to you, it’s a sin not to go in.”
“Well, that’s true.”
They started down the hill.
“I haven’t been home for three weeks now,” explained Nicklis in concern. “So, it may be really dusty…”
“That’s alright, I understand,” Dina stroked his shoulder, hoping to ease his anxiety.
Further to the left of the house, almost behind it, a small stable was located, and next to the lake was a hitching post. Nicklis tied Net-net to it, helped Dina down and, leaving his parents mind the horses and lunch, they went to the house. Dina looked at the door in the shadow of the roof, at the wooden steps, the golden pine needles, and the small fluffy moss on the roof and at the bushes by the porch. Her thoughts were flying far. She quietly mused that it may be that this house will be her house, and that she will come up these steps and under this roof covered in pine needles more than once… How far will her life send her? May it all be real?..
Nicklis walked up onto the porch, a step creaked. He fished a bunch of jingling kyes out of his belt bag and opened the door. The hinges silently gave way, and dust breathed into Dina’s face. Nicklis was standing at the threshold, smiling funnily, and was putting away the kyes. Dina touched the door. Real. This is all real, and she looked into the dark dusty corridor with her eyes wide open. She breathed in the air and desperately let herself loose in the stream of her thoughts and feelings, she had to live through this moment. Nicklis entered the house first, took off his boots and walked into the living room. He hastily started drawing back the curtains and opening the windows, and fresh summer air sugary sweet from the fragrance of jasmine burst in.
Dina cautiously took off her blue shoes, placed them under a small wooden bench, next to Nicklis’s boots which seemed so big to her, and quietly stepping, left the corridor. Its walls were decorated with dark wooden panels, and a cape and a warm coat added to the beauty of the hanger. Greenish sunlight, which pierced the leaves by the windows, flooded the living room. The dust played in its warm ways, golden and quick in the wind.
“Such beautiful light,” noted Dina, throwing her arms out and spinning a little across the half-empty living room, seemingly spacious, though rather small. Next to the entrance to the corridor was a fireplace, by which lay a pile of wood and stood a basket with kindler. In front of the fireplace in the sunlight posed a green couch and a chair, very similar to the furniture in Eldar and Annuil’s house, but of a darker green.
Behind the couch there was nothing else, except a bare stillage with books by the back wall and a big, old, brown chair, casually sprawled between the shelves and the wall. To the left of the stillage was the entrance to the dining room, the door into which was open. Three tall windows in the right wall let in this magical green light, which fell on the opposite wall, where another dark door was located, this time shut, and a few paintings. There was coziness in this house – dark color of the wood allowed the eyes to rest from the brightness of sunlight, the couch and the chair surrounded the fireplace, the corner for reading in the nook behind the stillage seemed very comforting. But Dina had not noticed a single carpet in the floor, the shelves with books were not full, and the whole atmosphere of the house had a quiet, calm, but aching loneliness. Dina felt that this house was a house of a person without a family, it was too big for him. He needed this family so desperately: at least a wife, for a start, a mistress, who could surround this house with care and wake up all the coziness hidden in it.
“Can I help you clean?” asked Dina, facing her friend.
“Of course, if you want to,” Nicklis smiled. “This is my living room… The door to the attic is in the corridor, behind the bench; that way is my study, and there’s the dining room.”
He pointed to the door by the stillage, then looked around.
“You see, I’m a scout, and there’re a few of my comrades living in this village,” said the elf slightly thoughtfully, with businesslike seriousness on his face. “Besides, it’s only three leagues from here to the border, that’s why there’re so many bushes around the house. No need for unnecessary eyes to see it.”
“A-ah,” replied Dina. “I like it, the light is so nice this way…”
“I’m glad,” Nicklis smiled with a thoughtful, happy smile.
“It’s hollow here,” Dina spread her arms out. “But I think it’s really cozy. At least, I know, it can be really cozy, but it must be dreary to live in such a house alone?..”
“I-i…” Nicklis winced confusedly. “Honestly, yeah, rather lonely. But I have friends over fairly often, and there’s quite enough space for company, but yes… There’s the dining room, but I never eat there alone, it’s too weird… But now I’ll have you.”
They walked the planks of the floor, covered in sunlight, into the dining room, and with a smile Dina threw open the dusty curtains. A long wooden table stood there, surrounded by rows of beautiful chairs with soft green paddings on the seats.
“Nick, I just hope this is all possible…” Dina touched the back of one of the chairs. Nicklis looked at her with worry.
“In any case,” said he. “In any case, no one can stop us from dreaming.”
“Dreaming doesn’t always mean living,” said Dina quietly.
“Dinka,” Nicklis looked her in the eyes. “Never in my life have I had a moment, when I knew so well that you are the one for whom my heart longed all these years, who can come into my house and add to it, bring real life into it. I can’t do it alone…”
Dina’s heart shrank painfully in this feeling which enveloped them both.
“And I feel like a found the one who can add to my life… and I made everything I could to ensure us staying together, but I cannot know what my parents will think,” her eyes tingled from the tears of desperation.
“If so many things came together and went so smoothly, then it will happen,” said Nicklis. “If Golte Evere wants us to be together, nothing will stand in our way, and I believe that she intertwined our fates for a reason. She will connect them.”
Dina was looking into his face with hope, and the faith in his shining green eyes gave her strength. She sighed, hiding the tears, and her breathing evened out.
“It cannot be a random chance,” Nicklis lifted his hand and touched Dina’s round ears that were always sticking out so funnily. She closed her eyes.
“It cannot,” agreed she quietly.
With affection Nicklis put his large palm on Dina’s thin waist and went with her to the door which led to a corridor with a multitude of other doors. To the right of them was a small, incredibly snug room, where a table stood under the window with two chairs by it.
“Usually I eat here,” explained Nicklis. The place seemed very romantic, especially with its beige curtains over the window, illuminated by the sun, and the shelves, covered with books, small paintings, dishes, little jars, and bottles.
“Here’s the kitchen,” Nicklis opened the door to the room next to the little dining room. “And the door to the back yard.”
The whole right wall of the kitchen was taken up by the doors of the pantry, by the left wall was a stove, a keg on a stool, drawers and shelves with more dishes, seasonings, and instruments for cooking. By the door on a lonely hook hung a dark-brown apron, covered in something similar to flour.
“Yeah, it’s tricky to keep the kitchen neat…” Nicklis glanced at a bucket, where a few plates, covered in mold, happened to be forgotten for who knows how long.
“I can tell, but that’s fine,” Dina looked around the room knowingly. “Have you lived here long?”
“No, I’ve been here for a year and a half,” replied Nicklis. “For a while I lived in the city, in a tiny apartment, but then I got sick of it, so I saved some money, graduated from the university, and bought this house.”
“I haven’t even bothered to ask, what profession did you choose?..” Dina lifted her eyes.
“I’ve graduated from two universities,” Nicklis chuckled. “At first, I wanted to study exclusively warfare and got the education of a scout, but in case of emergency I can lead an army. I can’t really imagine how that could happen, I don’t have an army of my own, I only have the title of an officer and I’m captain of our scout squad. Usually, I’m just part of the scouting missions and watching of the borders with my squad. My second degree, though, is in education. I can teach sword-fighting, cartography, and history.”
“All three at a time?” inquired Dina.
“Yep, all three, they go together,” explained Nicklis. “It’s just, scouting is already going well for me, and I didn’t stop my career. Whenever I decide to quit, I can be a teacher.”
“That’s useful,” noted Dina. “And cool.”
“Yes, elvish life gives you quite a lot of time for studying,” said Nicklis. “Father really wanted to see me as a warrior or an officer, though, I think, I worry about my comrades too much, it distracts me. Being a teacher is more to my liking.”
“To be honest, I’m glad,” Dina laughed.
“I’m sorry…” Nicklis lifted his eyebrows guiltily.
“Nick, don’t be sorry,” Dina stood up on tiptoes and kissed him in the chin. “You’re the way you are, and I love you like that.”
Nicklis smiled with a quiet happy smile. They walked together passing a small bathroom and a closet on the way to the bedroom.
“Usually,” Nicklis went on explaining. “Guests don’t go to the bedroom, like I told you before, but since you’re planning to be my wife, I don’t think you would mind it too much.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t,” agreed Dina, examining this quiet room: there was a bed, made with a green quilted cover, a bunch of pillows on it, the dark-brown curtains over the big window, the soft bench under the low windowsill, a pillow on it, the closet in the wall, the bedstand, a few bookshelves and a dresser in the further corner, on which stood a lamp and a few candles. This was the only place in the house where the empty spaciousness was not as obvious as in other rooms. The bed, the pillows, the curtains, finally the carpet spread out on the floor in the middle of the room, close to the bed, – everything made this place feel lived in.
“The window’s so big,” noted Dina, examining the thickets of jasmine behind the glass.
“Yes, at night you can see the stars. There’s a spot over here, through which the sky’s visible between the leaves,” said Nicklis, carefully opening the window and looking out.
“You’re a romantic after all,” chuckled Dina, glancing at him upward.
“I can’t deny it,” replied Nicklis, smiling and still looking into the sky.
They walked from the bedroom to the study, where Nicklis kept all his weapons and battle equipment. With a smile Dina examined the chain mail that hung on a wooden holder, the old and shabby training shield from the times of the Order, which was hanging on the wall along with a piece of a split stick that was used by Nicklis to practice hitting for sword-fighting. In the corner stood a sword in the sheath, over it hung a bow and a quiver full of blue arrows.
On the long narrow table by the door Nicklis kept his arsenal of knives and daggers, which interested Dina greatly. Looking at all these things and thinking that they seem to be used on regular basis, she sighed. Her sword was only needed for her costumes, but it looked like Nicklis was using his sword quite often.
“I hope that the fact that I’m a warrior doesn’t frighten you?..” inquired Nicklis, as if he could hear her thoughts. He never dared to ask this before.
“On one hand, it does scare me, on the other, it delights me,” replied Dina, smiling. “I know that warlike spirit, I feel you there.”
Nicklis smiled happily.
“You’re probably the only person other than Filnara, who is interested in this,” he noted. “But Filnara has a different attitude towards such things. She is a good warrior herself, and she envies some of my weapons and is proud of her own stuff rather than finding it amazing.”
“She’s your sister,” Dina snorted. “And I’m your friend, I can admire it.”
“Yep,” agreed Nicklis and opened the door to the living room. “Well, now I’m going to try and sweep and mop the floor, and you can brush the dust off the shelves and furniture, if you want to help.”
“Alright,” said Dina. “What should I use for that?”
Nicklis brought her a bunch of towels and a washbowl, started the stove, got water from the well and boiled it. His house had a very convenient location of rooms, it could be walked round. Once she got the warm water – Nicklis made sure her hands were not cold – Dina started to wipe the shelves in the living room and the windowsills, moving the books in the stillage and cleaning the candlesticks. In the meantime, Nicklis found a broom and started to sweep the floors. Upon stopping on the middle of the living room, he glanced at the fireplace with sadness and noted:
“I need to buy a wood stand… or make one. The wood looks like a plain pile this way!”
“It’s a nice pile,” said Dina, turning around. “But a carpet would’ve been nice here.”
“That’s true, the bare floor doesn’t look too good,” Nicklis sighed.
“A carpet makes it cozier,” explained Dina, brushing her bangs behind the ears so that her hair would not get into her eyes. “And makes a living room a true living room, glues things together.”
Nicklis nodded and started to sweep the floor with a doubled eagerness. Dina lovingly washed one shelf after another, fixing the curtains, leveling the paintings, and this calmed her troubled soul. A house. How nice it was to have a house; how nice would it be to have a house… An uncomfortable shiver of doubt went down her spine. What if it will not happen?.. She was afraid to even think of that question, it made her whole body shrink and stiffen, and her thoughts seemed to freeze in the cold breath of fear.
* * *
The cleaning took about an hour and a half. Once everything was wiped and brushed to shine, and the carpet along with most of the soft furniture was shaken outside, Nicklis asked Dina to come to the porch. He took a rag and a bucket of water and mopped all the floors. Finally, the elf came out of the house disheveled, wet, with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbows – he got rid of the coat a while ago.
“How often do you give yourself such an exercise?” inquired Dina, watching him with laughter. She was standing barefoot on the grass, and next to her stopped Annuil, also barefoot, and her small light feet were peeking out from underneath the long hem of her creamy dress.
“Not too often,” Nicklis threw the rag into the bucket and straightened out, wiping his hair off his face. “Honestly, last time I mopped the floors was six months ago… When mom made me do it.”
He looked at Annuil, squinting laughably, and poured the dirty water under the bush by the porch. Dina laughed. Annuil walked up the steps and glanced into the corridor in a businesslike manner. Upon observing the shiny floor, she said:
“Good work. We prepared everything for lunch on the shore, you can come eat.”
“Mom,” pleaded Nicklis. “Did I scrub this in vain?! I mopped it, so that we could eat in the dining room…”
“Well, the floor is still wet,” noted Annuil.
“It doesn’t take long to dry. It’ll be quick. Bring everything here for now,” Nicklis took off his socks, barefoot walked on the wet painted boards of the floor, rustled with something in the closet and started to wipe the floor with a dry cloth. Dina could only wonder where he got all the zeal to clean out his house. Eldar and Annuil brought the baskets from the shore. When they approached, the house was sparkling with cleanliness.
“Give me fifteen more minutes, please,” asked Nicklis, taking off his belt with the belt bag and a hunting knife on it. “I can’t come to the table looking like this.”
“Alright,” agreed Annuil. Nicklis turned and raced down the path covered in long pine needles to the shore of the lake. Dina, laughing, ran after him, but before she could catch him, he made a few long leaps and jumped into the lake. The floating raft by the shore swung a little, setting long smooth circles over the mirror-like surface of the water – Nicklis dove with his hands over his head.
Dina was not ready to follow him further and stopped on the steep boulder right by the shoreline. She smiled, watching Nicklis’s white shirt turn blue under water, and then he emerged, coughing, and laughing from the coldness of the water.
“A-ah, what can be better!” he yelled, slapping the water with his hand, and then starting to eagerly swim in circles to warm up.
“Isn’t it cold?” inquired Dina, smiling.
“Incredibly cold!” and Nicklis set off in a graceful crawl style to the other side of the lake. His arms took turns to fling out of the water, causing a cascade of splatter, which shone in the rays of the sun, to draw a resilient curve, and to cut the still water like razor blades. Nicklis turned around, made an identical series of perfect strokes, and grabbed the edge of the raft.
“Much warmer now,” stated he, climbing out and wringing out his hair and the hem of the shirt.
“You’re cool,” noted Dina. “You swim very well.”
“Well, thanks,” Nicklis walked up the shore, leaving dark footprints of his narrow feet on the warm rock.
“I’ll change quickly, and we can have lunch. And then we should go to your house right away, so that we can be there by dinner time.”
* * *
During their absence Annuil had set the table. Since Nicklis’s dishes were not as rich as his parents’ the number of plates decreased to two as well as the amount of silverware. For ten minutes Nicklis was gone to his bedroom and came back with his hair thoroughly dried with a towel and smoothly brushed, wearing a fresh coat, and having a few branches with leaves tucked into his hair above the ears. In his house he had the right to sit at the head of the table, even though he seemed to be a bit unconfident in that position. Dina sat at his right hand, Annuil placed herself next to her, and Eldar sat down across the table from them.
Nicklis kept gently touching Dina’s foot under the table, and she felt as happy as she possibly could, even though she was still worried about the upcoming conversation with her parents. The sandwich seemed to be the tastiest food on earth, tea in the cups spread the soft aroma of jasmine, and the cookies in a basket smelled of cinnamon and sugar. Dina watched the green living room, the rays of sunlight, piercing the leaves, Nicklis’s still wet red hair, and the simple beige table-napkins over the mossy tablecloth, and she could not believe that such a beautiful and romantic place could be her future home. She never even though that she could visit such a place, never thought she could ever look at such a place as if it could be her own, and of course, she never even thought she could have a chance to marry an elf.