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Chapter Nine- A Day at the River

22 September

"Kallus." Lanara's voice echoed along the walls of the forge. Her husband was occupied with a smithing project, and he was having Damien assist him. Lanara drew Kallus' attention by coming over. "I would like to take the children out to the river."

Now that Lanara was in his space, Kallus stopped what he was doing. "That sounds perfect," he said. "They've been studying hard, they could use a day off. You three have fun." When he continued hammering, it was clear that he had misunderstood.

Lanara folded her arms, shifting her weight. "I mean all of us," she said. "That includes you and Damien."

"You mean today? Lanara, we are busy here."

"And you've been working at it for a full week. You and Damien could use a break. It'll give the children a chance to bond."

Kallus turned, examining Damien as he worked near the fire. "What do you think, boy? You want to go with them?"

Damien placed his tools away and wiped the soot sticking to his hands. "Sure."

Kallus nodded, looking back to his wife. "Alright, then."


They gathered up Damien, Lila and Nihilan, all dressed for their outing. The five of them were clumped within the entryway as Tenila waved them off.

"I will have supper ready by the time you return," Tenila said. "Have a wonderful time."

Lanara smiled at her housekeeper. "Thank you, Tenila."

She reached out and opened the door. To her bitter surprise, there was a guest standing on the front porch. He was a slender elf with spiky hair. Lanara knew his face well. "What is it now?" She rolled her eyes at the messenger.

Behind her, Kallus' tall figure was pushing past the children and to the front. He made eye contact with the messenger. "Is it urgent?"

The messenger seemed to regret calling on Kallus so late in the afternoon. "I'm sorry, my lord. The Tribunal summons you. I do not know if it's urgent or not."

Kallus glanced at the ground, then he faced Lanara with a grimace. "Let me deal with this today," he said. "Perhaps we can all go out tomorrow."

"Tomorrow is no good," Lanara said. "I have too much on my schedule between shopping and training."

"I understand," Kallus sighed. "You all have fun without me."

He grabbed his thin coat before following the messenger out. When he had walked out of sight, Lanara turned to the children with a plastered smile. "Are you all ready to go?"

Lila and Nihilan both nodded at her. Damien was not so quick to respond. Lanara paced out the door with a slowness in her step. Her children easily out-sprang her as they moved. Lila and Nihilan knew the path to the river well, so they led a few feet in front of the others.

Damien found Lanara uncomfortably close to him now as they traveled. It was if she could sense his unease because she wrapped her arm around his bony shoulder. It was a gesture of protection, but it made Damien flinch to the side.

His reaction had Lanara confused. Damien often flinched when harmless people tried to touch him.

"Were you hurt as a child?" she asked bluntly. Her question seemed to make Damien shy away from her.

"I don't want to talk about it." He looked down. "I just want to forget."

"You want to forget your past? That doesn't sound healthy."

"What do you mean?"

"Damien." She locked her gaze. "Never forget your past. That is not our way."

"I don't understand."

"Perhaps in time you will. It is our past that makes us who were are. We honor those who come before us and make better use of what they leave behind."

"But I'm not one of you," he said. "I hate the people who came before me."

"It is just as well." Lanara gave him a faint smile. "We cannot choose our ancestors. The only comfort is I can do better with what yours left behind."

The river that coursed its way through Gumber was widest before the mouth of the eastern waterfall. It was a popular spot for the local elves to fish and swim. The waterfall itself was a glistening attraction. Children and other youths were often found flooding the spot, jumping the thirty-foot fall into the deep basin below.

Lanara and the children had brought all the necessary supplies with them. They set out their blankets along the grassy bank to sit. After a brief snack, Lila and Nihilan took off their outer layers, revealing their swim clothes underneath.

It was a cool day with a crisp autumn sunlight. The river was cold but not freezing. Damien watched as the two of them ran into the shallow river bed, kicking up troves of water. They were friendly with the other local youths that were present.

"Go on and join them," Lanara pushed Damien forward. She was relaxing in her spot, enjoying the cool sun.

After convincing himself to go in, Damien pulled off his outer layers and let them pile together on the ground. His feet stung at the touch of cold water, but it didn't put him off. He trudged in, meeting Nihilan and Lila where they played.

Lila was puzzled by the way Damien stood still. One hand clutched his arm as if he were chilled. "You've never been in a river before?" She bent down and flung some water at him, making him even more chilled. "Ha ha," she giggled at the fun.

Nihilan splashed Damien, too, though he was less playful than Lila. Within a few minutes, however, Damien had adjusted to the cold temperature of the water. When they splashed him, it no longer made him shiver.

"So..." Damien looked at his nature-filled surroundings. "What are we going to do?"

Nihilan pointed to the waterfall. "We can all jump together," he said. "I want to see if you have the guts." His elf feet carried him swiftly to the edge of the fall. Lila and Damien met him there, staring down at the bottom. Nihilan nudged Damien. "Come on."

"I can't exactly swim," Damien said.

"Just keep moving your arms when you're down there," Lila said. "Follow my lead."

Like a scrape of the wind, she jumped off and crashed to the bottom with beautiful form. Her head popped up from the surface and her arms waved as she called out. "Now you try, Damien!"

Looking down, Damien noted that the fall did not look scary, it looked fun. He jumped, hitting the surface feet first. His body sank down like a stick, and he struggled to surface. He felt Lila's arm pulling him up. When he could breathe again, he felt the rush of adrenaline pumping through him.

"Keep moving your arms." Lila instructed him by gesturing in a circular motion. Damien copied her movements and found that it was easier to float when he did. "See?" She smiled. "Now you can swim." She moved to the river's edge and climbed out. After figuring out how to propel through the water, Damien followed her.

There was a well-beaten pathway that led back up to the top of the fall. Lila and Damien met back up with Nihilan there, all wet and dripping.

"Look at you having fun," Nihilan smirked. "Now, watch me."

He flipped off head first and dove into the water.

"Pssh." Lila scoffed as he surfaced. "He likes to show off."

"I can tell." Damien smiled.

Nihilan met them back at the top, feeling proud of himself. "Did you see that, Lil? I kept a straight form."

"Yes, I'm very proud of you. Get out of my way." She pushed her brother aside and did a flashy dive of her own. She had more experience than Nihilan when it came to diving.

Damien's face was bright as he watched her. Lila was gorgeous for an elf, and her swim clothes left all the right parts of her skin bare. But before his imagination could run wild, Nihilan was there to ruin his mood.

"Don't look at my sister like that. She's too good for you."

Damien averted his gaze, saying nothing. Then he felt Nihilan pushing him toward the edge of the fall.

"Stop it." Damien slapped his arm away a little too harshly.

Nihilan recoiled, pretending like he felt no pain. "You're stronger than you look. Are you a freak or something?"

"Just leave me alone."

Damien made his way back over to Lanara and sat down. The fun was over for him. Soon, Nihilan was there standing over him.

"Whatever you do, don't touch me. It won't end well for you."

Damien met his threat with a scowl. "You don't frighten me, Naelen. I've had to face worse."

Nihilan's face went red. "Naelen? It's been a week and you still can't remember my name?"

"Boys," Lanara interceded, "it's time to cool down. We're not here to brawl. Nihilan, put some space between you two."

Dropping his temper, Nihilan sat down on the other side of Lanara. The two boys stayed docile for a long while, using Lanara as a barrier. Several minutes later, Damien started chuckling.

"I think I will call you Naelen," he said. "It suits you better."

"That's it." Nihilan curled his fist. He went over to Damien and began to strangle him. Lanara reacted by pulling them apart. Her son kept tearing at Damien, so she slapped Nihilan across the cheek.

"That's enough!" She enforced. "What's come over you?"

Nihilan went still, rubbing his sore face. "I can't stand him, Mother. My life was perfect before Damien came to live with us."

"No one's life is perfect, Nihilan. You need to straighten your attitude." She turned to Damien and checked for any bruises. "Has my son been treating you poorly?"

Damien nodded. "Yes."

Then she scowled at Nihilan, causing him to sink. Her words came slow and threatening. "Your Father will hear of this."
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Teacher by day, writer by night.

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