anaan curled into a ball and tried not to think of anything. He didn't want to be found. They knew his secret now. Everyone knew. And if they found him, they'd make him use his secret. He wouldn't get to be just a boy anymore. He'd never get to do what he wanted to do. Tears welled out of the midnight-blue eyes, as the young elf bit down on a grimy fist to keep from making a sound. Sendings searching for him flickered in the air; tightening his curl, Danaan told himself not to reply. He was not here. He was not here!
here is he?** On top of the mound that covered the caves shaped into the Isle, Dlen turned slowly, searching the protective fringe of brush and trees, holding her hair away from her face. **Why is he hiding like this, Whlen? They only want to talk to him!**
**He's afraid, Mother.** The tall, strongly-built elf flexed his bare feet into the grass, ignoring the wind. He glanced at the dark clouds hiding the tips of the western mountains.
**I know that,** she sent, with a tinge of frustration. **But of what? He can't be afraid of the Elders -- they'd never hurt him!**
Whlen shook his head, then pushed his hair out of his eyes, favoring his mother with a wry grin. **Wouldn't you be afraid of the Elders, if you were an eight-year-old child with a precocious talent you didn't want? Are you going to tell me, that you never wished that you weren't a healer, that you hadn't been set apart from the other children?**
Dlen turned to meet his gaze, dropping her hands to her side. After a moment, she sighed. **I suppose that I did occasionally -- but most of the time, I've wished for more talent, not less.** Her eyes darkened as she looked away. **It's so hard to watch someone die, knowing that it shouldn't have to be so ...**
**You do better than anyone else, my mother, and no one's complaining.** Whlen gave her a quick, careful hug. **I'll go find Firetop. I know his hiding places better than anyone, and he'll answer to me. If I'm alone, anyway.**
She smiled up at him. **I'm so glad he has you to look after him. I almost regret having another baby while my youngest is still a child, and with being so busy during the summers, I see less of him than I want. I sometimes think he loves you more than me or your father.**
**I wouldn't go that far, mother, but I do love taking care of him.** Whlen shifted his grip. **Here. I'll take you back down ...** Suiting actions to words, he glided into the air, then drifted gently downwards towards the cave entrance. Landing gently, he continued. **Now don't you worry. I'll find Danaan and bring him back before the storm hits, see if I won't.** The teasing humor in his tone brought a short laugh from her. He gave her another quick hug, before sauntering towards the cave entrance.
**But that's not where you'll find Danaan!** she protested, though not without an amused guess as to his intentions. His broad shoulders lifted in a shrug.
**Now, Mother, if Danaan isn't feeling half-starved by now, then I'm a tree-cat!**
**And a fine one you'd make, too!**
o the elders, who had been holding sway in the entrance room since the boy's abrupt disappearance, Whlen made his explanations and request. With a laugh, Diirla, mistress of that part of the Isle's supplies, stood up in a swirl of green and gold. "Bait a hook to catch a red-haired fish? And a few delectables usually saved for feasts might reassure him?"
"I was not intending to get anything special, Diirla," the younger elf relied, a trifle stiffly. "It is only that he has not had anything to eat since before we went on the lake this morning."
"And if we chose to celebrate the discovery of his talents, even if by so nearly a disastrous method, you will say us nay?" Whlen hesitated, then shook his head, unable to find an argument, though he felt uneasy about it. Even more so, when, having followed Diirla into one of the rooms shaped into the depths of the Isle, he watched her prepare a tiny crock of honey. "You'll tell him, that we are not angry with him," she admonished him, as he carefully placed the rock jar into a bag slung over his shoulder.
"Annoyed, perhaps, but not angry." Whlen turned to face Vrayl, who had followed them down. The Isle's leader was leaning against the wall, arms folded over his chest. Caught in the elder's gaze, Whlen was unable to look away, until Vrayl allowed him. "You knew, didn't you," said Vrayl, with considerable edge to his voice. "Some time ago -- and you didn't tell us. Why?"
"And betray my brother's trust? I have known, yes -- he came to me, a year ago, afraid and confused by what was happening to him. I helped him all I could, talked with him, tried to persuade him to let you know. But he's afraid, and he insisted that I promise not to tell."
"You didn't have to promise!" The dark-haired elf leaned forward, straightening. "You should have made him come to us!"
"No, Vrayl -- that wouldn't have solved anything. You can't force elves to use their talents, especially one as sensitive as Danaan may be."
He faced Diirla, frustration clear on his face. "Don't you think I know that! But if we could have talked to him -- you know how hard pressed Tinar is, to keep in contact with all of the elves on the shore. I don't want to use a child, any more than you do, Diirla. But we need him! And just because he's too young to understand how important he is ..."
"I don't agree, Vrayl." Whlen met his great-grandfather's irritated gaze. "He understands too well. That's why he's afraid."
he combined voices had stopped calling for him. But that didn't fool Danaan into thinking that they had forgotten him. Squirming around in the tiny hole between the exposed roots of a tree, he tried not to think how hungry and tired and cold he was. He mustn't fall asleep. His mind would betray him then, dreaming and unwary. They mustn't find him! Though how he was to stay hidden, on a small island, with everyone looking for him, he didn't know. He only knew that he didn't want to be found.
A wordless voice reached him. Startled, the young boy looked up, but there was no one near him, he was sure. And it wasn't any voice that he knew. Danaan stared out over the lake, shivering as a gust of cold air penetrated the bushes. The voice seemed to come again, this time, joined by a second. Except, they weren't exactly voices. More like presences, almost like Tinar had felt --
Danaan realized what he was "hearing", guessing from the memories he had endlessly been taught. Go away! he thought fiercely. I won't be Elzrian for you! I won't! Go away and leave me be!
But they did not. Their presence became stronger, even insistent. There was love in them, and a desire. Danaan felt his sensitivity soar. The Isle became crystal clear, each elf on it a flickering, moving flame of life and emotions and awareness. He could feel his senses reaching outward to the elves on the shore, resting quietly during the day. He could feel even the growing strength and energy of the storm, and the flood of living, fighting, striving, that filled the summertime valley --
"No!" With a scream, Danaan burst out of his hiding hole as his senses threatened to overwhelm him. With a splash, he landed in the water, crying, barely aware of the numbing cold. "Leave me alone!" He scrambled to his feet, slipped in the mud, and fell. Trying again, he half-scrambled, half-crawled until he was just barely out of the water. His hyper-awareness began to fade as the presence retreated. Shaking with sobs, the boy barely noticed. He didn't want to be like Tinar, like Elzrian! He just wanted to be himself! He just wanted to grow up like any other boy. He wanted to be like his brother, big and strong and brave, not little and weak... and stupid. The accident ...
He hadn't meant to fall in, he hadn't! His first time ever in the boat, with his father and brother, fishing in the pre-dawn. He'd known what to do. His father and brother had made sure of that, had made sure he would swim. But in the excitement of hauling in the heavy net he'd forgotten, standing up and leaning over to get a better grasp on the strands. The narrow, sensitive boat had promptly capsized. And that would have been bad enough, except that he had somehow gotten tangled in the net. He had panicked, struggling madly and fruitlessly to free himself, until he had somehow found himself floating in an eerie blackness that felt of nothing. Only when Tinar had shown up, had he suddenly realized "where" he was. And when he had woken up, with all the Elders around him, along with his parents and siblings, he had sensed their feelings, not only their relief that he was safe, and their reaction to his stupidity, but the sudden awareness of what he was, could be, and had hidden --
He jerked his head up, biting back his sobs. They were looking for him again! Then the call came again, and the young elf realized that it was Whlen. He hesitated, but some inner sense told him that his brother was alone. Whlen wouldn't betray him. He had kept his brother's secret for almost an entire year, even though he hadn't wanted to. Whlen was not only his brother, but his very best friend. He could trust Whlen.
The response to his timid sending was quick and warm. Very soon, he heard, then saw Whlen stepping through the brushy undergrowth of this part of the Isle. Seeing him, the older elf paused for a moment, his face lighting up with a smile of relief and some amusement. Danaan stared back, wistfully envious as usual. So tall and strong! Despite the nip in the air, Whlen wore virtually nothing, his lightly-tanned skin evidence of his daytime habits. His eyes were as blue as Danaan's own, but his hair was thick and curling, and deeply brown.
Whlen laughed and walked forward. **You are a mess, my little brother!** Reaching down, he picked up the shivering boy and placed him on his hip opposite the leather sack. Danaan pressed his face against his brother's chest. **How did you get so wet this time? I don't see any boat.**
Danaan sensed that Whlen was trying to tease him into cheering up, but he did not want to be reminded of the morning's accident. Worse, he felt the spirits drifting back towards him. **Make them stay away! They make me see too much -- make them go away!**
A hand tilted his head back. Whlen looked down at him, puzzled. **Make who go away, Danaan? There's no one here but us.**
**Them! Elzrian, Liria and the others! They want me to do something, and I won't, I won't -- make them go away, Whlen! Make them go away!**
Startled, Whlen looked around him, absently trying to soothe the nearly - hysterical Danaan with one hand. The spirits of those who had gone on? Danaan able to not only sense them, but identify them? How much ability did his little brother have? And what were they wanting Danaan to do -- couldn't they sense that he wasn't ready to accept his powers?
Danaan began to struggle, trying to get away, crying out incoherently. Momentarily, Whlen thought of trying to contact the spirits, but realized that was neither the simplest nor most likely solution. Instead, he lowered his head, and sent part of himself into Danaan.
The boy met his sending with a cry of relief, "lunging" towards him. **Make them go away! Make them stop making me see things!**
**Shhh, Danaan, little brother, it's all right.** Whlen deepened the sending, trying to offer comfort and support for his terrified sibling. **I'm with you. There's no need to be afraid. I'm here. Let me help. Show me what you're seeing.**
**No! Make them go away, make them stop!**
**They're not making you see, Danaan. It's your own ability. They're just making it stronger. There's nothing to be afraid of. Won't you let me help, little brother? I'm here. Share my strength -- let me share what you are seeing.**
There was a shivering moment of indecision. Then, as he had done all his short life, Danaan turned to Whlen for help, thrusting the terrifying visions at the person he trusted above all else.
Whlen was unaware that he nearly fell, as the impact of the shared impressions shook him. He felt Danaan's fearful reaction, but for himself, he felt awe. To "see" so clearly, and so far! To know where every elf was, to feel like warm wind over skin the tumultuous life of the valley! And and he could almost see how it was done, could almost sense how he himself might do such a thing. Oh, never so clearly, so easily, but to be one with the lake, the valley --!
And the spirits were made almost tangible through his brother's mind; not a single, barely detectable presence, but entities, not quite identifiable. His relatives, his ancestors. Elzrian? Daleur? First-comers? A shiver went through him. He wanted more than anything to be speak with them, learn from them, be with them. They were his past, all of it, a past only half-remembered ...
**If you like it so much, then you be the one to help Tinar!** Startled, Whlen tore his awareness from the images, now starting to fade, and concentrated on his brother's angry thoughts. And they were angry, he realized in bewilderment. Angry and resentful.
**Danaan? Why --?**
**You liked what they do to me! They hurt me, they make me see things I don't want to see, and you liked it! You liked it!**
**But, Danaan, they weren't hurting you. They were just --**
**They were hurting me! And you're like everyone else -- you want me to be just like Tinar, like Elzrian, you don't want me to be me, just, just that thing they make me be!**
**That's not true --** But Danaan had wriggled out of his hold, Whlen realized as came back to full awareness. Jumping down, he was running away. **Danaan! Come back -- you don't understand!** But the boy continued to run, refusing to listen. Whlen reluctantly started after him. He had never done anything to force Danaan against his will; he had always enjoyed his relationship with his sibling. He could not remember ever having Danaan upset with him. What should he do? Glancing upwards, he saw the storm was rapidly approaching. The wind was picking up, changing direction and driving down the temperature. He should go after his brother, get him inside the caves before the storm struck. But to pursue Danaan, when he was so upset ... what should he do?
ou've got to get him back in here before that storm hits -- then we'll try to calm him down.** Vrayl's advice was adamant, but Whlen still hesitated.
**But how? Vrayl, I -- I can't just grab him and carry him back whether he likes it or not! He trusted me! I've already upset him enough, by my reaction to what he shared with me -- I -- I can't abuse that trust -- I can't hurt him again!**
**There's no choice! If he's half out of his wits now, I don't want to think what he might do, when that storm gets overhead! I'm sending others out to search for him -- I want Danaan back inside.**
**But, Vrayl -- we can't just make him do what we want!**
**Whlen.** The sending abruptly softened. **If the weather was fair, I'd let him stay outside until he got hungry enough to come back. I know how upsetting this day has been for him. I don't want to upset a child, let alone ask him to do something most adults can't. But I can't risk leaving a child outside, under the trees, when there's apt to be lightning and high winds. I'd rather have to put with his sulking, than have another fright like this morning.** Whlen sighed. Vrayl's logic was unassailable. The thought of something happening to his little brother, and so soon after this morning ... (And by the Palace, he had felt so cold when he had finally cut his little brother free, and brought him up, and gotten the body to breathe, but had been unable to touch the mind within! If he had not known about Danaan's secret, had not been able to guess what had happened, and send desperately to Tinar for help, what could have happened --!)
If only his little brother would understand!
leaned up, wrapped in warm furs, Danaan lay with his face towards the wall, refusing to let go, either to the sleep that tugged at him, or the minds waiting outside the small room. Hunger gnawed at his belly, but he scarcely felt it. They had made him come in; Whlen had followed him, and others had come from the opposite direction and cornered him, then picked him up and carried him back, ignoring his cries and struggles. But he hadn't given in, and he wouldn't. He wasn't going to be Danaan-sit-in-the-corner while Teesha and Murienell and Little Buck laughed and played and looked forward to roaming the shore with everyone else. He wasn't going to be Tinar, wearing himself out during the summers and taking half the winter to recover. He was Danaan, and would be like his brother, and go where he wanted to go, and do what he wanted to do! Even if Whlen himself didn't want him to be.
Steps approached his room -- slow, hesitant steps that identified the walker as Tinar. Shivering, Danaan pulled the fur closer to his chin, hoping the elder would be going somewhere else. But Tinar stepped into the room, seating himself on some cushions. He said nothing, but Danaan could feel his eyes, watching, thinking. "Go away!" he said, trying not to feel those eyes on him. "Go away and leave me alone!"
"Ah, Danaan." Tinar's sigh was half amusement, half regret. "Haven't you fought yourself long enough? Don't you want to talk about what's happened with someone who might understand?"
"No! You wouldn't understand! No one understands -- even Whlen!" Danaan struggled against the fresh storm of tears. "He liked what I was 'seeing', he wanted me to keep 'seeing'!"
"I thought what he wanted was to learn to 'see' like that for himself."
"He can have it -- I don't want it!"
"You wouldn't understand!"
"Try me. Talk to me, Danaan."
The young elf struggled against his tears and his inclination to obey the gentle order. But he was tired, deeply tired, and scared, and the thoughts that had been circling all day were suddenly on his tongue. "You don't understand! I'm not, I'm not like you! I don't want to sit around all day, keeping this group in touch with that one, just 'cause they're so far apart they can't send to each other directly! I don't want to sit around all winter, 'cause I'm too tired to have fun! I want to be like my friends, I want to play and have fun, and when I'm old enough, I want to be like Whlen, big and tall and strong, I want to go to the shore, like everyone else, and be a gatherer and hunter and fighter! I don't want to be different, I won't! I won't!"
**Ah, Firetop, I might have guessed, what your fears were.** Hands lifted him from the fur. He tensed, then flinched as a stab of pain flashed through the elder's mind. **You felt that --?-- My apologies, Danaan, I must be more tired than I realized. Here, now. Take your time and cry yourself out, then we'll talk. Though I must say -- surely, you realize you couldn't make yourself like me, not if you tried eight-eight-eights of years.**
Danaan glanced up through his tears. "What do you mean? That's what you want -- all of you want -- you want to make me like you!"
The older elf smiled. "We would like to see you performing some of the same tasks that I do, Danaan, but that is scarcely the same as being like me."
"It is, too!"
"Now, Danaan. Look at me. Think about the hunters ... oh, say your sister Brownstone, and Stalekian. Both hunters, with bows, both rockshapers. Now, tell me, are they much alike?"
"No, but ... but it won't make any difference!"
"Danaan, do you realize how long it took me to learn how to do what you did in a moment of panic?" Danaan looked away from the dark eyes. "We don't want to force you to do anything, Danaan, even though you could help me immeasurably. And it wouldn't tire you like it does me -- your ability is far greater than mine. You have great gifts, my child, and yes, we do want to see them used, for the Isle."
"No!" Danaan tried to pull away. "I want to be with my friends, I want to be like Whlen! I don't want to be like you!"
Tinar held him firmly, refusing to let him scramble away. Sullenly, rubbing tears from his face, Danaan gave in. Still, Tinar didn't speak. The silence continued, until the boy wondered if the elder had gone to sleep. Then, the left hand reached up and began to stroke Danaan's ultra-fine, fiery-red hair.
**I wish,** he began thoughtfully, **I wish that I could promise you, that you could use your talents, and still continue to grow up exactly like the others, grow up to follow your brother. I can't. We've not let your mother take many risks, because of what she is, and I'm sure we won't let you. I've not objected to spending most of my time here, but then, even before the humans crippled my shoulder, I wasn't a very good hunter. I wanted to be able to speak far, because I felt I could contribute more to the Isle that way, if I could help us hunt far and wide and long enough, to fulfill all our physical needs during the warm months.** He paused again, apparently remembering. **You'll have to find your own reasons, your own acceptance. But, tell me, Danaan. Why do you want to be like everyone else?**
Danaan blinked, staring up at the one-eared elf's face. "Because ... because ... because I don't want to be different!"
There was no smile on the elder's face. "You are already different."
"No, I'm not! I won't be! I'm going to be tall and strong just like Whlen!"
Tinar shook his head very slightly. "You and Whlen are two very different elves, and I mean that physically. Look at yourself." Danaan stared at him, uncertain as to his meaning, and unwilling to admit it. Tinar took one of his wrists, and held it between them. "Look at yourself," he repeated. "Danaan, you are the most slender, fine-boned elf I've seen born. I think you will always be that slender. You take after -- if you take after anybody -- your great-grandmother Liria. A First-Comer. And your talents may match theirs -- I've certainly never been able to take in the Valley with a single glance, even with their help."
"No!" Danaan tried to pull away again, wanting to deny what Tinar had said. "I'm not like that, I don't want to be! I won't!"
"You can't deny what you are, Danaan. What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid!"
"Not afraid to use your talents, for the sake of the Isle?"
Danaan trembled. "It's not fair!" he burst out. "I - I just want to be like anybody else! I don't want to be like this! I don't want it -- it's not fair!"
**No, it's not,** he felt Tinar send, through his sobs. **But it's the way things are. To do things that are needed, even if it is not our desire. To do what must be done, even when there's not enough strength, or skill. It's your decision, Danaan -- we won't, we can't, force you to learn to far-walk with me, to speak to the shore parties, to search the valley for dangers. It's not a fair decision to ask of an eight year old. I wouldn't let you be asked that, if it were just for my sake. But it's for the sake of the Isle, for the sake of those go to the shore, who risk their lives to gain the supplies we need. The Isle can survive without your talents, survive without mine, for that matter. But at what risk, to those we love?**
anaan sat on the mound, staring out over the southern beach. The skies had been clear at dawn, leaving the ground muddy and the air frigid. Whlen and his father were repairing the net; the other children were trying to help. Smoke was drifting up from fires as other adults prepared the fish that had been caught earlier for drying. Tinar was seated on a bench under a tree near the entrance to the cave, slumped with exhaustion from the morning's contacts with the hunters and gatherers. The rest of the elves would be inside, or on the shore, taking turns, watching and sleeping. Watching. For humans, or other dangers. Knowing, if the danger were too great, that they could send to Tinar for help. Knowing that someone would hear them.
He still didn't want to sit down and help Tinar, not now, not yet. But how could he not? Tinar's last question to him, the night before, had haunted him the rest of the night, between tears and nightmares. He hadn't thought about it that way, didn't want to think in that way, but once stated, he couldn't. What if something happened to his family, his friends, because he hadn't wanted to be a far-walker and talker? Because he had been, been afraid? He didn't want anyone to be hurt, because he didn't do something. Somehow, he knew, it would hurt him worse than doing what he was afraid of. So he was going to have to use his unwanted abilities.
Standing up, the boy shivered as the breeze hit him, pulling the leather cape more closely about him. He glanced at the beach again, listening wistfully to his peers' bright chatter. Would he ever be like them again? Carefree, happy, free of responsibilities? He hoped so, but, as he walked to the shaped steps, he rather doubted it. He wasn't just a boy anymore.
Danaan Firetop would never be just a boy again.