A Thin Layer Of Trust
by Christine Haggerty
Rienna watched her fingers in the moonlight as she brushed the stray hair from her sleeping son’s cheek. His skin was darker than hers, more like that of the southern elves.
More like his father’s. Rienna smiled sadly. He is strong like his father as well, but he gets his beauty from me.
She held on to her pride, using it to fill the void in her soul as she stepped outside the stronghold to wait.
To wait, but not to grieve.
The night smelled of rich loam and damp bark, the scent of ice still sharp in the early spring.
The hard winter drove the humans into our forest, but what drove them to kill? We were willing to share so long as they did not trespass on the heart of what is ours.
A breeze ruffled the strands of Rienna’s warrior braids and brought with it a faint scent of timber and ash. She peered into the trees, her elven eyes able to pierce all but the darkest shadows.
But ever as a creature of the night, Rienna smelled the blood before she saw them coming.
The hunting party approached silently except for the weighted steps of the last warrior. Haast, an elf chief with broad shoulders and centuries of wisdom, carried a body over his shoulder. Limp and smeared with blood, his warrior’s braids so long they brushed the forest floor before Haast lowered the body at her feet.
Rienna knew by the rending of her soul and the vast emptiness left in that chasm that her soulmate was dead. She knew, but even knowing she was not prepared to see her lover’s body. Kendaar, the name was empty as she thought it, the spirit that had given it meaning gone. She refused to drop to her knees and mourn. With her soulmate dead, she would follow. It was not a choice but the gift and consequence of being an elf, and she did not have weeks or days or even until dawn. Her soul would follow her mate’s within a matter of hours. Most of those hours were already gone. She could spend what she had left grieving, or she could spend it on revenge.
Rienna wanted revenge.
“Where are they?” she asked Haast even though she already knew she needed only to follow the scent of burning.
Vaanu, a young male with his first warrior braids and rash judgment, answered her. “They are camped beyond the Silver Ridge. Cutting trees and soiling the streams. I told you they were vermin.”
Rienna drew her knife and pointed it at Vaanu, but it was Haast who spoke. “Enough, Vaanu. They have asked for war. We will give it to them.”
No, I will give it to them. Rienna lowered her knife but did not sheath it. When she was done killing and her soul fled to join Kendaar’s, she would miss the weight of the blade in her hand, the smooth worn bone handle, the way the metal flashed in the moonlight as it shed blood. She thought of her son, sleeping in the burrow of their home. I will miss more than my knife.
Vaanu looked at Rienna. “Let me go with you,” his wide elven eyes flashed. “We can kill them while they sleep, cut their throats so quickly they don’t even cry out.”
“That is slaughter, not war,” a female warrior spoke up.
The argument found a life and grew among the seven who had been with Kendaar in the hunting party. The only thing they agreed on was that the humans had killed Kendaar purposefully and without known cause. For Rienna, their voices became a blur and all she could see was the path through the trees that led to the Silver Ridge.
As they argued, however, doubt dug its sharp claws into her spine. Humans are clumsy and slow. How did they manage to kill an elf? A warrior with more braids than any other fighter in the tribe?
She studied the others who argued, Vaanu more vehemently than any other, and rage snaked through her belly along with the growing conviction that he, who hated the humans so openly, had done some deed to instigate their violence. She wished she could be sure.
I need more time. But it didn’t exist. Even now Rienna felt her soul trying to break free and she had one sliver of a chance to kill her soulmate’s betrayer. She stepped over Kendaar’s body, passed through the fighters, and spoke softly. “Vaanu may come seek revenge with me.”
The young elf squared his shoulders and gave her a grim smile. As Vaanu lifted his chin with pride, Rienna watched the heartbeat at the base of his throat and her blood quickened. Such a thin layer of flesh.
The other elves fell silent as Rienna stepped into the deeper shadows of the trees. Vaanu brushed past her, eager, and in a matter of steps they were out of sight of the others. The only sound the young elf made was the sighing of his throat when Rienna ran her knife across his windpipe.
Just as Vaanu said, cut their throats so quickly they don’t even cry out.
She laid the young elf’s body in the brush, making no more sound than the breeze through the trees. She traced her way back along the trail for one tear, one final glance at Kendaar’s body on the grass before her own soul fled. With her soulmate’s body in view, she slumped to the forest floor.
Haast stood near Kendaar’s body, his arms across his chest as the other elves resumed the argument over what provoked the humans to attack. The chief’s knife hung from his belt, his leather sheath freshly stained with streaks of blood. Next to the knife, tucked inside his belt where they could hardly be seen, were three human fingers.