Gumber- Year 465
Damien strolled along the road to the local marketplace, carrying the metal pieces he had crafted for this month. Among them were swords, daggers, and smaller treasures that the female elves were prone to find beautiful.
A few moons ago, Damien had no interest in making jewelry. He only recently picked up the skill because of Lila. He enjoyed crafting small trinkets for her, though she was no longer there to receive them. She had been gone at the Fighters Academy for nearly two years and she only returned for the annual winter pause.
Damien missed having Lila around. Though she was older by a few years, she had preferred Damien's company while visiting last winter. They enjoyed handing each other gifts they thought her parents never noticed.
Now that she was off at school again, Damien poured himself into his other tasks. Kallus trusted him with the tools to craft his own weapons-- supervised, of course. Damien was also allowed to go to the market in Kallus' stead to sell whatever they made.
It was a bright day. The weather was warm and the sunlight streamed through the trees. When Damien got to the marketplace, he laid his merchandise out on a reserved table. A handful of regular customers noticed Damien's presence right away and flocked to his table, coins in hand.
"What do we have today?" One of his customers asked as he perused the swords. When he handpicked the one he wanted, he placed a purse of coins in Damien's hand.
"You're sure this is the one you want?" Damien asked.
"I better take it before someone else does."
Damien tucked the coins away in his pocket. "Alright then."
When his last customer walked off, he spotted someone familiar over by the produce tables. She was wearing an elegant white dress covered in a light blue robe. Her long hair trickled down her back. Damien watched her as if he were struck into a dream. Ashlyn had grown much these past two years, possessing a pronounced beauty. Her red lips were plump and her cheekbones were smooth. The last time Damien saw her, she had soft curves. Now, her fifteen-year-old figure made them more defined.
Damien cleared his throat before going over to her. He tapped her on the shoulder, forcing her to turn. Her eyes seemed surprised to see him.
"Damien?" She actively looked at him, noticing the changes in his form. His shoulders, once thin and bony, were now broad. And he was tall for a teenage man, approaching that of a full-grown human. "You've gotten bigger."
"So have you," he said, leaning against the booth.
"Your hair is so thick now."
"I like it this way. When you didn't visit last year, I thought you wouldn't be coming back."
"Yes." She lowered her chin. "I am sorry about that. We were sent to Akarlon to make peace with the High Order there, it was a very long journey."
"So, you're finally back," he smiled. "What brings you to the market?"
"I'm picking up some food for my mother."
"And how is your mother?" He folded his arms. "Well, I hope."
"She is fine, thank you. She told me a most fascinating story: one in which you were a hero."
"Nah, that was more of a group effort."
"Still...thank you for what you did."
"How long do you intend to stay this time?"
Ashlyn shrugged. "Until they summon me back, I suppose."
"Do your sessions start in August like the Fighters Academy?"
"No," she said. "The Mages Academy is far different. It is always pausing or going. In fact, we mages tend to get pulled every which way depending on our work."
"I see," Damien nodded. "So, you only get to visit when they let you."
"In a sense," she said. "How is Gumber treating you?"
"It's not bad. You want to see my swords?"
"Your swords?" she puzzled as he led her over to his table. "You made these?"
"Are you impressed? Kallus has been letting me make my own weapons. It brings in good money to sell them here."
"Wow." She picked up one of his blades. "This is really good work. Almost masterful."
"You want to buy one?"
"You think I have use for a sword?" she laughed.
"They do come in handy from time to time."
Ashlyn placed the blade down. "I think I'll just stick with my focusing staff."
Damien chuckled. "If I crafted you a focusing staff, would you buy it?"
Ashlyn looked at him, confused. "You have no idea how focusing staves are made, do you?"
"How hard could it be?"
She shook her head. "I should get going. My mother wants to cook supper for me tonight and I prefer not to dawdle."
"Ah, yes," Damien grinned. "Are you going to invite me over again?"
"That depends. Would you like to come?"
After a moment, Damien's smiled faded. "There is something I want to ask you," he said. "Preferably over supper."
"Alright then," she nodded. "Look for my invitation."
When Damien completed his sales at the market, he made the short journey back home. He found Kallus and Naelen outside in the front yard, sparring. They both had training swords in hand, clashing together with light chinks.
"I'm back," Damien greeted on his way in. "Naelen, are you still working toward your entrance exams?"
"Oh, shut up Damien," Naelen said between parries. "Like you can do better?" His words were unsteady as he strained for breath.
"How many times have I told you?" Kallus instructed. "Control your breathing, Nihilan."
"Right." Naelen struggled to focus on two things at once. His father kept coming at him with harsh blows while he sought practical ways to conserve energy. It was indeed taxing. "Is there a rune for breathing?" Naelen asked, panting harder as he fought.
"No," Kallus said. "If there were, it would make your job too easy."
From the side, Damien was laughing enough to throw off Naelen's focus. It caused Kallus to frown as he twisted his son's blade out of hand. The training sword spun around once before hitting the ground.
"And you," Kallus pointed at Damien, "try not to be a distraction."
"Sorry." Damien controlled his laughter, averting his gaze. Before he could pass inside, however, Kallus called over to him.
"I have news for you, boy. It appears Ashlyn has returned once again."
"Yes, I just saw her actually. It figures you're always the first to know it."
"Word travels quickly around here, especially when Ashlyn comes to grace us with her presence."
"What's so special about her, I wonder?" Damien questioned. "She shows up and the whole village stirs with gossip. Is it because she's human?"
Kallus chuckled. "Listen, boy. Ashlyn may look human on the outside, but you should never make the mistake of crossing her."
Damien folded his arms. "Ash happens to like me."
"She likes you because she pities you." Bending down, Kallus retrieved Naelen's sword and handed it back. "You two go and wash up before your studies. The smell of teenagers rotting in the sun has turned rancid."
On cue, Damien and Naelen turned and went inside. In the kitchen was a metal faucet hanging over a large wooden basin. Naelen was quick to take off his sweat-ridden shirt and splash the cool water on his face and chest. Damien was slower to take off his shirt. For him washing was not a beauty ritual as Naelen seemed to think of it.
The two of them started laughing as Naelen sprayed him with the running faucet, soaking his eyes and hair. Damien gave Naelen a push that sent him back a ways.
"You're such an ass," Damien laughed. He blocked Naelen from reaching the faucet, spraying him in return. Their roughhousing caused a good amount of water to drip onto the floor.
Behind them, Tenila was making her way into the kitchen with a clay vase. When she saw the mess on the floor, she cursed at them. "You boys! Get out of my kitchen at once!" She beat them away with her free hand, watching them scurry out. Tenila cursed again as she pulled out a towel and wiped the floor down. "You have to go and ruin a good kitchen, don't you?"
"Sorry, Tenila," Damien apologized. "Naelen started it."
"Hey," Naelen frowned. "Talk about a rat in the company."
"Oh, I know it was you, Nihilan," she said. "You are the resident trouble-maker."
Naelen shrugged. "Someone has to be."
In the library, the two boys sat at desks side-by-side reading their assigned study material. An hour passed before Damien heard Naelen's sigh of annoyance.
"Shards," he cursed. "I'm tired of reading about the sunken wars of the merfolk. That's not even our history."
"Does it have to be?" Damien looked over. "Not everything is about you Lor elves. Has it occurred to you there are other places and cultures on Ishtara?"
"Pssh. Honestly, I like reading about the conquests of my grandfather."
"Your grandfather is an ass from what I hear."
Damien continued his reading, trying to ignore Naelen's ongoing gibbering. He finished the fourth chapter when Tenila came into the library with a small letter in hand.
"The young master Damien has an invitation," Tenila said while handing it over. She smiled before making her exit.
Damien turned, unfolding the letter. "Well, that was fast."
"What is it?" Naelen leaned over to peek. "Oh..." his blond eyebrows lifted in flirtation. "You have a date with Ashlyn. Be sure to put in a good word for me."
Damien frowned. "It's not like that at all, Naelen. Besides, why would I do you any favors?"
"Because I'm the better option for Ashlyn, obviously. When she marries, she'll need someone with status. And I have status."
"I don't think Ash is looking for marriage prospects," Damien said, closing the invitation.
"Then why is she inviting you?"
"Because I asked her to."
"You asked her to? What, are you two involved in some secret plot?"
"Secret, yes. Plot, no."
"Ah," Naelen grinned, lifting his chin. "I knew it. I knew there was something weird going on between you two. I want to know the details."
"Sorry." Damien rose from his desk, closing the book. "I have somewhere else to be."