Something seemed to tickle the back of her mind, and the pressure on her feet fading. She risked opening an eye, and immediately felt a rush of pleasure. She was half her length off the ground!
Unfortunately, the tickle stopped. Taiva opened both eyes, and found herself falling. Even before she could let out of yip of dismay, her feet slammed into the ground. Off-balance, she reeled backwards, and sat down. Hard. There was a stifled giggle. Jumping up, Taiva looked around, then glowered at her companion. "It isn't funny!"
Drifting with envious ease under the silver moon-light, Vaerrain's brown-gold eyes glittered with mirth above her hands. "I'm sorry," she said -- not sounding entirely contrite -- "but you did look funny." Drifting forward, she continued, "Why don't we try lock-sending again? Maybe if we can touch each other closely enough, you can feel how it's done, instead of me trying to explain it in words."
Taiva thought about it, wrinkling her nose. Vaerrain's more powerful thoughts always frightened her a bit, making her feel as if she couldn't breathe. Of course, the adults were always encouraging them to practice sending and other magical things. More importantly, she wanted to learn how to glide. It didn't seem fair that Vaerrain could glide so easily, while she herself could barely float, and only for a few moments at a time.
"Okay," she said slowly. Then, she added, looking up at her friend wistfully, "I just wish it was as easy for me, as it is for you. You have so much fun ..."
Vaerrain smiled smugly. "Well, after all, my father was a Firstcomer, and my mother can glide, as well. Your parents are only born-heres, and neither one of them can do anything. Especially Tinar ..."
Taiva looked away, brown eyes filling with tears of a sudden hurt. Maybe it was true that neither of her parents were particularly gifted, but why did Vaerrain have to be so, so pleased about it? It wasn't their fault --
A sharp ripple in the air made Taiva turn around. In the entrance of the cave that was their home, Tinar stood, scowling, his gaze fixed on the older girl. Taiva sensed a sending, but it was private. Whatever it was sent a wave of color up Vaerrain's face. She looked down, nearly as discomfited by her friend's embarrassment, as by the earlier condescension.
**You two can practice later. The stew is done -- and Vaerrain, if you don't like the taste, next time don't add so many tear-bulbs.**
Body stiff with tension, Vaerrain stalked into the cave. Taiva trailed after, but stopped by Tinar. **Father?**
**What did you say to Vaerrain, that upset her?**
He considered her a moment, then dropped down to a squatting position, which put his eyes on the same level. **I explained to her why she shouldn't have said what she did to you. She should not have hurt your feelings like that.**
**But she was telling the truth, father. Wasn't she?**
**Yes ... but, Taiva, it wasn't that she was telling the truth, but the way she told it, and why. She was trying to make herself feel better by making you feel less better. And that's wrong. Sometimes, you may have to state a painful truth -- but it should be from love and compassion, not to hurt. Do you understand?**
She frowned, thinking. **I - I guess so. When she hurt me, if I had said back, that at least I had a father, and a mother who could do lots of things her mother couldn't -- I would have been as wrong as she was, wouldn't I?**
A smile lit his square face. **Yes. You do understand, daughter.** He tousled her rambunctious, pale curls with affection. **Shall we go eat?**
**I'm hungry.** She waited for him to stand up, then took his good hand. **Did Vaerrain really put too many tear-bulbs in?**
**It probably depends on how much you like them,** he returned wryly. **But, let's be considerate, in how we suggest she could improve. Right?**
Vaerrain had already divided the stew into shaped bowls by the time they arrived. Taiva very quickly decided, that yes, the older girl had indeed put too many of the sharp-flavored bulbs in. Nevertheless, she ate steadily, for even in her eighth summer, she had sharp memories of being hungry. As it was, the stew had very little meat in it, the amount used balanced against the slender supply that must last until the other elves came back from their hunting trip. Finishing, Taiva took the bowls and cleaned them in the small stream of water that had been diverted into and through the front part of the cavern. Placing the bowls on the proper shelf, she trotted back to the front section, hopping over the water. "Father, do you think we could -- Father?"He raised his head, and slowly opened his eyes. "Taiva ... ?" he muttered.
"Are you all right?" she asked, suddenly scared.
"Just ... tired ..." Taiva watched anxiously as he shook his head, thick eyebrows coming together. "Shouldn't be ..." He tried to stand up, but failed. "Mustn't ... mustn't sleep ..." His head lolled, eyes closing.
Taiva leapt to him. "Father?!" She shook his good shoulder, but he didn't respond. "Father! Wake up!"
"Oh, don't be so upset -- he's only asleep." Taiva whirled. Vaerrain grinned at her, jumping to her feet. "Come on -- let's go exploring. Tinar's asleep, and can't tell us not to."
Open-mouthed, Taiva stared at her. "We - we can't!" she said finally. "Something's wrong with Father, and we're not supposed to explore!"
Vaerrain gave her a pained look. "Oh, come on -- why do you think I used so many tear-bulbs? So he wouldn't taste the sleep-root powder I put in his bowl!" She grinned. "Let's go -- I've been wanting to see the rest of the cave system for four years, and so have you. We won't get a better chance -- that stuff will keep him out for at least a day, and the others won't be back for at least five."
"But - but we can't just leave Father here! Not all alone! Something might happen!"
"Nothing's going to happen -- how can it? No predator will come in with all the fire-smell around, and there's not been one sign of humans! Now, come on -- or are you afraid?"
"Course not. But ... "
"But it's wrong! And they'll find out! And Vrayl will be angry, and so will Mother and Father!"
Vaerrain laughed. "They'll only find out if you're silly enough to tell them. Now, are you coming or not?"
Taiva bit her lip, slowly edging towards her older playmate. She shouldn't. It was dangerous, and it was wrong. Yet she did want to see the rest of the cavern system. More than that, she didn't want Vaerrain to enjoy herself alone, while she stayed behind. She didn't want to be scorned again. Vaerrain could do so many other things better than her. She didn't want to give Vaerrain more things to laugh at. Following the older girl, Taiva squeezed through the crack in the back of the storage cave. The torch-light reflected off walls, revealing shaped marks pointing the way back to the living quarters. But they did not stay in the marked passage very long. Vaerrain squeezed through a crack barely big enough for their slender bodies. Taiva protested. "We can't go that way! We don't know what's there -- we'll get lost!"
"No we won't!" Vaerrain put her head back through, looking annoyed. "I brought something to mark with, so stop being a baby -- you're taking all of the fun out!"
Taiva flushed, and pushed through the crack. Stalking after Vaerrain's torch-lit form, she did not look around, blinking back tears. Vaerrain was usually such fun to be with; why did she have to be mean? Didn't she care about her playmate? Couldn't she feel what her mean words could do? Maybe that was why she didn't send more than she absolutely had to, so she wouldn't have to feel what her words did. And, so what, if Vaerrain's father was a Firstcomer? He was dead, and there was something wrong about how he had died, because none of the adults would talk about it, or him, even though they frequently mentioned the other Firstcomer who had died during the trek. How could Vaerrain be proud of a father no one wanted to talk about? How could she make fun of Tinar, when he'd survived what everyone else said would have killed them? How could she be so mean, sometimes, to the person, who, in warm weather, was not just a father, but teacher, protector, playmate, and storyteller?Vaerrain said something, but Taiva didn't hear the words. The tunnel branched, then branched again, but Taiva was unaware, as she concentrated on her resentment. Vaerrain thought she was so great, just because she could glide even better than the adults, because she could send images so clear you could almost smell and hear. But how much good did magic do in a hunt? Gliding didn't help when following a trail, or tossing a spear. Just wait until they were both old enough to hunt. Vaerrain wouldn't be the best then. Her own vision was better, and she could throw a stone harder and more accurately -- at least as long as Vaerrain didn't cheat. She'd be lots better than Vaerrain. But she wouldn't be like Vaerrain, and talk about it. Oh, no. She would just smile, when Vaerrain came in empty-handed, and she'd just stroke the hides she'd gotten--
Oblivious to the externals, Taiva stepped on a loose stone. It rolled on the decline, and her feet shot out from under her. With a startled yelp, she slammed into Vaerrain, who had paused to mark the wall. The torch arched into the air as the older girl cried out, her own legs cut from under her. Neither had a chance to recover in the narrow, steepening tunnel. With screams and a rattle of loosened stones, they fell ...
he last, small rock stopped clattering, leaving silence, and blackness. Taiva stared into the nothingness, quivering inside, trying not to be afraid. Most of her just ached, but her arm hurt. They were in trouble.
"T-taiva?" Vaerrain's voice trembled with pain and fear. "A-are you all right?"
"My arm's broken, I think. What about you?"
There was a sob. "I - I c-can't move! A-and, and, my leg -- it's hurting, r-r-really bad! A-and it's dark, and I - I can't see!"
Taiva took a deep breath, somehow her own fear lessened by Vaerrain's panic. "I think I'm on top of you," she said. "Let me try to move off." With her good arm, she felt around, then with both feet and one hand lifted herself and moved crab-wise, until she could seat herself. Not very comfortably, as they were both sitting in water. Cold water.
Vaerrain whimpered. "We-we're trapped!" she wailed. "W-w-we're going to die!"
"No, we're not," retorted Taiva, feeling a bit disgusted. "Even if Father's sending can't reach the others, they'll find us when they get back. The worst thing is we'll get awfully hungry."
"B-b-but there might be animals around! Mean animals, that want to eat us!"
"Well, if there are, you are certainly making it easy for them to find us!"Vaerrain unsuccessfully tried to stifle her sobs. Taiva felt a stab of shame, remembering all the nice things that Vaerrain did for her. Just because Vaerrain acted mean sometimes was no reason for her to do the same. **Vaerrain?** she sent timidly. **I'm sorry. I'm scared, too.**
**It's so dark!** returned Vaerrain, her thoughts edged with relief as well as fear. **So dark --!-- and - and I'm cold, and my leg hurts so! What are we going to do?!**
**We have to be calm, and think about what to do,** sent Taiva slowly. **First, we should fix our hurts -- like Vrayl did for Morthrek, on the Mountain of Despair, remember? How badly is your leg hurt? Is it bleeding?**
"I d-don't think so," said Vaerrain, sniffling. "B-but how a-are we g-going to make splints? We-we're not rockshapers."
Taiva frowned to herself, trying to find an answer. "We're not shapers ... yet," she said. "But we're still real young, and nobody knows if we can or not. Maybe ... maybe if we tried really, really hard..." She moved her hand around in the water, and came up with a chunk of rock. "Here." She extended the stone carefully until she brushed it against Vaerrain. "Touch this. Now, let's think about the rock really, really hard, and think of it growing long and thin. Like you tell me to do for gliding, only for shaping." Taiva extended her sending star again, and felt Vaerrain's agreement. Concentrating on the stone, she willed it to change shape. She remembered a time when Vrayl, in response to her questions, had gently brought her mind into his, while he was shaping a new shelf in the storage cave. She had felt the minute crystalline structure of the rock, and how the magic flowed through it, whispering a different form to it. With all of her determination, Taiva tried to think only of the stone in her hand, of how she wanted it to move, to flow, to shape --
Light flashed before her eyelids. Vaerrain let out a yelp as Taiva opened her eyes, startled. The light disappeared, not quite instantly. "Wh-what was that?!" stuttered Vaerrain, her fear increasing. "Where did it come from?"
Taiva didn't answer. She stared through the darkness at the stone in her hand. She thought -- she thought! -- that, for just a moment, she had seen a dim glow in the middle of the stone. And she didn't think it could be her imagination -- how could anyone imagine that a stone could glow? But she wanted to be sure, before she said anything to Vaerrain. So, closing her eyes, she tried to do exactly what she'd done not long before. The stone, the memory of how things felt to Vrayl, her will to shape --
"It's happening again!" As the light flared, Taiva tried not to be distracted. Only the stone! "Taiva! It's - it's the stone! It's glowing! You're doing something to it, it's glowing!"
Her guess was right! Taiva opened her eyes, trying to keep her concentration up, staring at the mass of quartz in her hand. The light faded a little, but it was still glowing, scattering rainbows of color through its rough facets. The young elf girl stared at the silverly light, enthralled. It was so beautiful!
But her head began to ache, behind her eyes. Taiva suddenly remembered how tired the shapers were, after working with the stone. This was a brand new thing, but it still must be using magic, and she was going to need her strength.
"No!" Vaerrain protested, as she let the glow vanish. "Bring it back! I don't like the dark!"
"I don't know how long I can make it glow, Vaerrain," said Taiva. "It's like any other magic, doing it tires you."
Silence from the other girl, but Taiva could feel Vaerrain struggling with her fears. Then, she sent, with a careful questing she rarely displayed. **The glow-stone. Taiva, do you, do you think we could figure a way out of here, using it?**
**We can try.**
ix days later, the two girls recounted their tale a second time, neither one quite willing to look up at the two rows of grave-faced adults. They described how they had escaped: "I pulled myself up behind Taiva, and hugged her real hard, then lifted while she lit the clear-rock," said Vaerrain. "It was hard, and, and I was afraid at one point I was going to fall. But I - I kept reminding myself of Father, and - and how he managed to carry others up a cliff almost three times, and, and it was my fault we were in such a mess, and Taiva was so brave and clever, I - I couldn't let her down."
"We were really tired when we got to the top," added Taiva, as Vaerrain paused. "We rested a while -- well, actually, I think we both slept. When we started again, I walked, concentrating on the rock, and Vaerrain floated behind me, with her hands on my shoulders, so I'd keep going the right direction. We stopped several more times -- I don't remember how many, and finally, we found our way out."
"It was daylight when we got back," continued Vaerrain. "We were really tired -- all I wanted was to go to sleep. But Taiva insisted that we build the fire back up, change clothes, and have something to eat. Then she said we had to try and wake Tinar. I didn't think we could, but we tried, and, well, we did. And, and the rest you know ..."
Taiva looked up as the silence fell and grew. The adults were obviously sending among themselves, excluding the two girls. She glanced anxiously at her parents. Aerva was sitting behind her lifemate, one hand on his good shoulder, her face turned towards the others. Tinar, however, was staring at the ground, his scarred face set and unhappy. Taiva felt uneasy. What were the adults saying to each other? Surely, they couldn't, couldn't -- "Please, don't blame Father!"
The adults looked at her, puzzled or startled. Vrayl frowned slightly. "Why do you think we would blame Tinar?" Taiva blushed, feeling uncertain, even embarrassed. But the words refused to be restrained.
"Because he's been feeling so guilty, and, and he's not taking part in your talking to each other! But, but don't you see, it could have been anyone watching us! Sleep-root works just as good on Morthrek or - or you, and we still would have gone exploring, and still gotten into trouble!"
Vrayl nodded, forestalling Tinar with an upraised hand. "You have a valid point, Taiva. We do not blame Tinar for what happened. Nevertheless, because he had responsibility for you, he feels the weight of having failed that responsibility. Just as I feel failure, for making the decision, that one elf, alone, could keep watch over two very active, and very imaginative, young girls. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Taiva frowned, trying to work it out. "I'm ... I'm not sure," she confessed finally. Vrayl smiled at her sympathetically.
"If you like, we can discuss it later," he said. He glanced at the others. "What do you think?"
Diirla spoke first, trying to hide a smile, Taiva noticed. "They are back safe, with a new use for magic, and I think their broken bones will help make any lessons be remembered. Especially if we don't let them have any pain-ease."
"Diirla!" Vaerrain yelped a protest, but Taiva remained silent. Tinar hadn't been certain of the dosages of pain-ease, and what he had given them hadn't helped. Much. She sighed to herself as she saw nods go around the half circle.
"I think it's probably time we started teaching them hunting," said Morthrek. "At least Vaerrain. And one at a time, so they don't have a chance to think up mischief together."
"I agree with Diirla, I think that their broken bones are lesson enough," said Aerva. "However, they should both promise -- in sending -- not to go off on their own again without permission."
No one else offered suggestions. "We'll go with what's been said," decided Vrayl, after a long pause. "Younglings, you'll give your word to me, not to go off on your own, either together or alone, unless an adult gives permission. Next summer season, you'll start learning to hunt -- I'll decide then who takes responsibility for whom." He nodded at their disappointed expressions. "I know you both want to start as soon as you are healed. But by the time you're healed, the warm season will be almost over, and we'll be spending all of our time hunting -- I'd rather start teaching when we're not so busy. Besides," and he grinned, "you two have another task to accomplish." He waited until they looked puzzled. "You have to figure out how to teach us adults to glow rock! Think you can do it?"
Taiva thought about it, then grinned back. "Sure! It'll be fun!"
And so it was.