hwack! Aerva caught the loose end of the slingshot, slipped another stone into the pouch, and whirled it above her head. Whish. The second stone missed the sapling, rattling through a bush behind it. Frowning, the young elf prepared a third shot. Thwack! Bits of bark flew.
"You stop that!" Aerva jumped, her fourth shot slamming into the grass. Whirling, she glowered at the black-haired sprite leaning out of the cave. The smaller girl glared back. "You're hurting it!"
"I am, not! It's only a tree!"
"Aerva." Tayalli leaned out, her unbraided hair drifting down like a black cloak. "Find another target. Better yet, come inside and work on your sending with Liria."
Aerva scowled. "Yes, mother," she muttered. Turning away, she stalked towards the sapling to retrieve her precious stones. She only had ten, found in painstaking searches of the nearby brook. Dropping them into a pouch, the young girl looked around for something she could use as a target. But there was nothing that would not bring a complaint from someone. All of the deadwood around the caves had long since been used up. Using the bare exteriors of the caves would bring protests about the noise, even if she didn't risk chipping her stones. She considered asking one of the adults for a piece of leather and some rawhide ties, but dismissed the idea. They wouldn't give it to her if they asked. Too 'wasteful.'
Scowling more ferociously than ever, the ten-year-old entered the cave. Skirting mother and younger daughter, who were seated on either side of a mound of soil, locked in trance, Aerva headed towards the back wall and its series of shaped shelves and storage holes. A tiny lamp near the ceiling glinted off two heads of gold-white hair, marking where Daleur sat with his daughter Aelin in yet another trance. Resolutely setting her mind against the flow of magic, Aerva stepped up next to them, reaching for the shelf that jutted out a little away from the others. Since she couldn't practice, she decided, she'd go fishing. If she could just catch something with the bone hooks she had painstakingly carved the winter before --
As she touched the shelf, it turned liquid. With a yelp, she leapt back, lost her balance, and fell down. The liquid rock poured to the floor, the finger-length bones sinking into the stream and disappearing. Meeting the floor, the stone began to solidify, first into a knee-high column, before spreading out into a flat, round surface.
"My fish-hooks!" Jumping to her feet, Aerva grabbed Daleur's arm. "Give me back my fish-hooks!"
Daleur blinked, shaking his head as he tried to concentrate on the young girl. "Fish-hooks?" he echoed blankly. "What--?"
"My fish-hooks!" Aerva barely kept herself from shouting. "The ones I spent all winter making! The ones that were on the shelf you made go away!"
Frowning a little, the rockshaper looked at his daughter. "Aelin, I thought I asked you to make sure everything important was removed from the shelf."
The six-year-old's expression was guileless. "I did. I only left a few scraps of bone -- nothing important."
"Those were my fish-hooks!"
Aelin's expression turned sulky. "Well, how was I to know? You never told anyone what you were doing with those stupid bones. And anyway, it's not as if they were magic."
Daleur's arm forestalled Aerva's attempted jump at the younger girl. "Aerva, if they were that important, I'll replace them with stone hooks. Later. Why don't you go work with Liria -- I know she wants to see if you can learn to self-shape or heal."
Aerva whirled away and ran towards the cave mouth, tears brimming. It wasn't fair! It just wasn't fair -
Her momentum carried her and the other elf out of the cave entrance, down to the ground a good elf-length below the cave's entrance. Landing on top, Aerva pushed herself up to her hands and knees. Beneath her, Soriaythek groaned, one fist against his temple, his face twisted in pain. "Are-are you all right?" she asked uncertainly. "I-I'm sorry I ran into you."
**Cursed - stupid - feather-head - why didn't you watch where you're going!? I had a headache before you ran into me!**
"If you stopped trying to fish with magic, you wouldn't get headaches," retorted Aerva, leaning back.
Soriaythek's eyes slitted open. **At least I try, little one. That's more than you can say.**
Aerva flushed. "Just because I don't want to spend every waking moment doing magic --!"
"Enough, Aerva." Liria slid to her knees beside Soriaythek, giving the girl a sharp look. "Losing your bone carvings isn't reason enough to be angry at everyone. Go back inside and join one of the lessons."
Liria blinked, leaning back on her heels. "'What for?' Stars, child, what kind of question is that? So you can learn to use your powers, little one. So that, someday, we can all go back to the Palace and leave this dreadful world."
Aerva jumped to her feet. "But what if I don't want to learn? What if I don't want to leave this world?" Liria stared at her, mouth agape. "Maybe I don't want to learn shaping and gliding and sending! Maybe I don't want to go live in a stupid old palace that doesn't have any trees or flowers or anything! Maybe I want to stay here!"
And with that bit of heresy, the young elf known as Aerva fled.
ar listened silently to the outraged reports as the small band butchered the buck and the half-dozen smaller carcasses he and Maelain had brought back from their hunting trip. **I can't believe she said that about wanting to stay here!** sent Liria, hands clenched. **I'd give almost anything to be away from this world! Anything!** Murmurs and nods backed her up.
He glanced at the two girls hanging up strips of meat on the drying racks. "And what about you two younglings? Do you like learning magic? Do you want to take the Palace back to the stars someday?"
Two pairs of wide eyes glanced at each other, then at him. "We like learning magic," said Aelin. "It's more fun than trying to learn to scrape hides or dry meat." She inspected one bloody hand and made a face. "Ew, yuck."
"We like stories 'bout the Palace," added Solarn. "Aerva doesn't."
Var studied them, tilting his head to one side. "And, of course, you like being able to do something your older sibling can't, hmmm?" Offended innocence looked up at him, and he had to keep himself from smiling. "Back to work, you two. Someday we'll soar the stars again, but for now, we have to worry about keeping our bellies full."
Adults as well as children took that as a hint that the discussion was finished. Frowning a little, Var concentrated on cutting the neat, thin slices that would dry quickly in the sun. But one part of him brooded on what to do about the first-born. This morning's outburst was only the latest. Aerva had been becoming more temperamental for over a year. Was it just the emergence of the younger girls' magic, while hers remained dormant? He didn't think so, even though the hint of smugness in the two girls bothered him almost as much as Aerva's wildness. It wasn't right that they should feel ... superior? ... to Aerva simply because their magic appeared first. No one knew if their precocity was normal. In fact, no one knew if they were doing right by their children or not, he thought sadly. How do you raise children on a world inimical to your kind, when you haven't raised children within living memory? When those few memories Maelain could find within her searches had no relevancy to their situation? All he knew was, if Aerva was having problems, it wasn't her fault. It was theirs.
here is she likely to be?"
Tayalli leaned against the exterior wall of the cave, roughly pulling her long hair in front of her shoulder. "I-I don't know," she finally admitted. "She's never run away like this before--we were all so taken aback by what she said, we didn't realize she'd disappeared. I think she's not that far away--I can almost feel her, but she won't answer sendings." Raising a hand to her face, she wiped away a sudden tear. "Var, what do I do with her?" she asked in a desperate whisper. "She never sits down and tries to learn anything unless I insist, and she's so-so sullen when she does! Solarn loves teachings; she's happy to do anything I ask, but Aerva--what do I do?!"
Var slipped his arm around her narrow shoulders and hugged her. "All you can do - and all anyone can ask - is that you do your best with her. We're learning how to raise our children as we raise them. It's not Aerva's fault that we may make mistakes about her, that we won't with others. It's just her misfortune."
She shivered, tears filling. "It's not fair."
"No." Var pulled her into his arms and held her for a long moment. Glancing up at the darkening sky, he released her with a final caress. "Go on inside, Tayalli. I'll find her."
Wiping away the tears with her fingers, Tayalli nodded and obeyed. Var waited until she had disappeared before leaving the clearing, walking in the direction that the elves had agreed was the one Aerva had disappeared. He did not go far. Leaning against a tree, the Firstcomer closed his eyes, concentrating on relaxing the control on his senses that allowed him to function on this magic-poor world. He did not desire to alert the child to his search by actively sending. But if he could somehow 'scent' the direction of her mind, and follow--
A wisp of other flickered through his awareness. Astonished, Var opened his eyes. **Kayeer?!** he sent. **I assumed you returned to the palace!**
A sense of a shrug, of a head shake. No. Pale flashes of images--Aerva and Solarn. Recognition. Then, more faintly, Aelin's image.
**The children draw you?** Var frowned as he tried to interpret the spirit's barely detectable reactions and projections. **Can you lead me to Aerva?**
Reluctance. **You can, but you don't want to? Kayeer, she's alone out there. It's getting dark; it's not safe. I have to find her.**
Images flickered palely in his awareness. Aerva curled into a tight ball, sobbing, surrounded by an aura of anger and hurt and despair. Var winced. **I know she's upset--that's why she ran away.** He combed his hair back from his face. **If you know how I can help her--tell me,** he continued. **I don't want her this way--I want her to be safe, I want her to be happy. But I can't help her out here. Please show me where she is.**
The spirit did not respond for long moments. Finally, it drifted away, deeper into the woods. Var had felt no assent, but he followed anyway, knowing that Kayeer would not--ultimately--mislead the friend who had promised to care for the two children as his own.
full Child Moon had the sky to itself as Var paused at the base of a cliff. Frankly scowling, he looked up, well aware of the small cave hidden behind behind the trees that grew along its base. **How did she learn about the cave?** he demanded. **We never discussed it when the children were awake!**
Kayeer made no answer, slipping away from Var's awareness. The Firstcomer studied the rock face for several moments longer, lips thinned. He had expected to find Aerva curled under a bush somewhere, or possibly, if she had become upset enough to forget the rules, up in a tree. Until they had forbidden her to climb trees last year, he recalled, Aerva had spent much of her free time in the trees, gleefully climbing to the very tops. Her predilection had kept Tayalli in a frequently anxious state (despite her own fondness for climbing). So much so, that after Solarn had scraped both legs and twisted her ankle in an unsuccessful attempt to follow her sister, Var had felt forced to make the new rule. Aerva had protested angrily that the rule hadn't been fair, he remembered. Had kept arguing until he had asked her -- or was it told her? -- to be quiet. She hadn't climbed any since. But now, she'd climbed up something even more dangerous.
Var drifted upwards, following the hand- and foot-holds he knew were in the rock because he had helped Daleur put them there, as well hidden from casual observation as possible. They had found the cave shortly after settling at the current site, and had improved it, thinking of it in terms as a either a second cave, should they need it, or as a bolt-hole if the humans were too close to return to the main cave. But he knew they had never mentioned it to the girls. So how had Aerva learned of it?
erva sat in the back of the small cave, arms tightly hugging her legs, trying not to shiver, and trying not to start crying again. Not fair not fair not fair!! She hadn't meant to hurt Liria's feelings, she hadn't!! Liria was awful nice, even if she did have that silly revulsion towards meat, but she had such a pretty voice when she sang to you and that wonderful way of making you feel better and she hadn't meant to hurt her feelings! But why didn't anyone ever care about her feelings?! They were always hurting her feelings and always telling her what not to do and it wasn't at all fair!!
A faint scrabble of sliding rock came to her ears. Jerking her head up, she saw a form silhouetted in the entrance. Aerva clutched her legs, afraid and angry at once. **Go away!** she sent with all her strength. **Go away!!**
**Not so hard, child,** Var's terse reply came. He eased the rest of the way into the cave, crouching to avoid the ceiling. **No need to 'shout' when a 'whisper' will do.** He walked forward until he could straighten. **You are not hurt?** he asked in a milder tone.
Aerva dug her chin into her knees and stared through the darkness at the ground. **Of course I'm not hurt. Why should I be?**
**There are many dangers beyond the cave, and you do not know what they are or how to avoid them,** he sent. He paused a moment, then added, **You should not have run away.**
Aerva glared harder at the darkness, not answering. Var pulled something off his shoulder, then sat down beside her, putting an arm about her. She resisted the implicit invitation. She knew what he wanted. He wanted her to go back to the cave, go back and apologize, go back and never run away again, go back and do nothing but sit there and sit there and pretend to be like her sister and her sister's friend and it wasn't fair!!
After a long while in silence, Var sighed and withdrew his arm. Leaning back against the stone wall, he drew one leg up to clasp it lightly. "I wish I knew what I could say or do that would make you happier, Aerva," he said softly. "I wish we had the knowledge that surely any human parent has -- or even just the instincts of a wolf or a bear-- about how to raise children. We have only guesses, based at most on the dimmest of memories, or observations of how animals raise their own. And we have our love for our children; our caring, our desire to keep them strong and healthy--and, if the stars grant so kind a fate--happy.
"Have we failed you, Aerva?" he continued after a short pause. "Surely, running away is not a wise thing. It would be ... terrible ... to have something happen to you."
Aerva glowered at the darkness, trying not to hear the concern in his voice. She concentrated on her anger and sense of unfairness, refusing to answer.
He waited for an answer, then sighed again when it was obvious she wouldn't. "We should go back, Aerva. We're out of sending range, and the others will be worried."
"What if I don't want to go back?" she muttered.
He shifted his position, half-turning to face her. "Why shouldn't you want to go back?" he asked, puzzled. "Even if you knew how to survive out here, you'd be alone. You can't want to be alone."
At least then she'd be able to do what she wanted to do, she thought sullenly, but didn't quite dare say. There wouldn't be anyone to say 'don't to that' and 'don't do this', while expecting her to be happy sitting around trying to make her head do things it just didn't want to do.
Var reached behind him and pulled the object he'd earlier dropped forward. "I brought you something to eat. Maelain and I had a good hunt." He placed the leather bag next to her, then stood up. Turning, he started to walk towards the entrance.
Sudden fear splintered Aerva's sullen anger. "You're not just going to leave me here?!" she squeaked, scrambling to her feet. "Va-ar--!"
She could not see his expression as he turned back. But the next instant, he was beside her, enveloping her thin body in a hug. **I would never leave you against your will, Aerva,** he sent half-fiercely, nearly squeezing the breath out of her body. **First-born, do you not realize what you are to us? You are our hopes, our futures! Our dreams! We love you, we need you, we want nothing wrong to ever happen to you!**
**But you won't let me do anything!** she wailed, the sudden fear and his response dissolving her intent not to speak about what she knew -- just knew! -- would only upset them and get her even more restrictions. **Everything I want, I need, all you ever say is no!**
**What do you mean?** Var held her away, peering at her through the darkness. One hand touched her face. **Aerva ... we're not -- we don't feel that we're keeping you from anything you really need ... **
**You are!** She slammed a fist against his chest. **You're keeping me from everything! You won't let me hunt, you won't let me track, you won't let me learn how to use a spear! You won't even let me go out with you to gather berries and roots and bark! You just say sit there and learn magic, as though sending and shaping and gliding could keep me from being hungry and cold! And I don't want that! I don't!**
He captured her fist to keep her from hitting him again. **Aerva, you're too young to do those things. I told you that the last time you asked.**
**But that was three years ago!!** she protested. **And why should I wait!? Maybe I'm not big enough to go after deer, but what about ravvits and suntails and, and animals like that!? Humans don't wait 'til they're full grown to go gathering and hunting, so why should I?!**
Var drew back from her a little. **Who told you that, Aerva?**
She stiffened in his arms. **I -- what difference does it make? It's true, isn't it? Isn't it!**
ar made very sure that all three children were asleep before he gave any explanation of where he had found Aerva or how he had persuaded her to return. Waiting until everyone was sitting in a loose circle around him, he let the full extent of his concern and anger show in his first sending. **Who told Aerva that the humans let their youngsters hunt!?**
Five pairs of eyes stared back at him with varying levels of surprise. When no one answered, Var centered his icy gaze on Tayalli. She bristled, hands tightening into fists on her thighs. **Don't blame me, Var,** she warned, green eyes black in the flickering torch-light. **I didn't entirely agree with you when we first had this discussion, but that was before Solarn nearly broke her neck trying to follow her sister. And I would not break consensus--none of us would.**
**None of us wants our children to make the sacrifices we have, learning to kill,** sent Maelain, leaning over to place a hand on top of his. **Nor would any of us give Aerva more reason to dispute your decision. Please. Tell us what happened.**
Sighing, Var forced himself to relax, dropping his head onto his hands and combing his fingers through his hair. **I know none of you have told her what should not be known, and yet I do not know how she knows what she does.** He described his search, including his contact with their deceased friend. Tayalli straightened abruptly, but did not interrupt. **I couldn't deny that humans let their children hunt. She became so insistent that if they could hunt, so could she .... I ... I finally agreed to consider it, if she would come back with me.**
**Could Kayeer have told her?**
Everyone turned to stare at Tayalli. **That seems rather unlikely, doesn't it?** asked Var, eyebrows knit in a thoughtful frown. **I could barely sense him, and Aerva has yet to show she can receive anyone's sending more distant than a tree-length away.**
**She won't concentrate on learning, so who knows what her true range is?** was Liria's acerbic comment.
**And yet ... there was a bond between them, remember?** sent Maelain. Both hands rose, cupping an unseen form. **Even when he wasn't aware, I remember-- putting her in his lap always calmed her. It was her hunger that roused him that last time. And didn't you say, Var, that his last words to you were about the children?**
**He asked me to be the parent he couldn't be.** Var shifted his weight, hands rubbing up and down his thighs. **Stars know I've tried ... but what do we do about Aerva?! We can't let her run away again!** When no one responded, he looked anxiously at Maelin. **Surely you have an idea!**
She shook her head once, looking troubled. After a moment, she blinked. Her mouth quirked. **We could ask Kayeer what he thinks...**
erva rarely remembered her dreams, but she knew that she was much happier in them, than while awake. Curled up on her sleeping pad of dried grass covered by a softly-tanned leather, underneath a drift of ravvit fur, a small smile crept onto her face as she slid into dreaming.
As was often the case, Kayeer's image was the first thing she became aware of. Father! With impetuous joy, she flung herself into his arms. Oh, father, I'm so glad you're hear!
As am I, little daughter, he greeted her.
She leaned back in his hold to look up into his wonderful, beautiful, amber eyes. Where are we going? Will you show me the Home again? Please? Please say yes!
He shook his head, the smile fading from his face. I would make you happy, Aerva, but there is something important you must know. All of you must know. Come. The bright, vaguely meadow-like atmosphere around them faded into gray nothingness. Stay with me.
Aerva found herself clinging to his hand, floating beside him. For a moment, the surroundings shivered a little. Then, without warning, they were moving, the grayness turning black. The young girl gasped and clung tightly, more than a little scared. This had never happened before! Kayeer had shown her many places and other times, but they had always just been there, with no more than a thought.
They came to a halt. Look.
Aerva looked around. Look at what? she asked timidly. Father, there's nothing to see.
There is. Concentrate. Look. Let your feelings guide you.
Aerva hesitated, then closed her dream eyes, trying to conjure up a sense of where she should look. Opening her eyes, she looked 'down'. At first, she saw nothing. Silently, she continued to stare, trying not to think of anything but seeing. A hand touched her head, the other pointed, shifting her gaze ever so minutely. The darkness paled to a mist as something began to glow. She strained to make out the object. It was familiar, and yet oddly distorted. It almost looks like the Palace, she said finally. But something's wrong--it doesn't look like the other times you let me see it.
It is the Palace, Kayeer returned bleakly. The Palace as it is now, in this time; not in the past, in memory, as I gave it to you before. Look. Can you perceive what is?
She continued to stare, not quite certain what she was looking for. Understanding came in a single, clear image, as if, for a moment, she was physically present above the elvin home. Cold shook her to her very bones. Ice! Father! The ice! It's buried in ice!! Shivering violently, Aerva sought the warmth of the spirit beside her. So cold! It's all so cold!
Ah. He gave no other reaction, except to clasp her hand once again. Enough. Come, child.
They swept back into darkness and motion that was not, and were back in a more familiar dream-scape. But it was not summer in her dream now, but winter. Shivering, Aerva clutched her arms, looking up at Kayeer. Father ...
He put both hands on her shoulders. You are a true daughter of our people, Aerva. You have many gifts within you; some which grow as you grow, some of which will take many turnings of this world and much inner labor to find and bring to fullness. Though you are Tayalli's daughter, it is Maelin from whom you should ask learning, for what she still possesses on this bitter world is closest to what you will have.
Aerva tensed and pulled away. I don't care about learning magic! I want to learn to hunt, to find food! I don't want to learn magic!
Do you not? her father asked. Without magic, could I have saved your mother? Could I have saved any of you in the time of the Great Hunger?
She shivered. But it's all they want me to learn! It's not fair! How can I make them let me learn what I want?!
Amber eyes studied her in silence, tight, auburn curls flickering in the wind. I cannot give you answers, daughter, he told her at last. What I was could not cope with the world you live in. Spirit fingers combed her tangled locks back from her face. Just remember who and what you are, Aerva First-Born. All of what you are.
erva sat up abruptly, shivering. She pulled the ravvit-fur blanket around her shoulders, clutching it tightly. She was so cold! The dream had seemed so real! For a moment, she wondered wildly if winter had suddenly come back to the cave. Hearing the rhythmic sussuration of the summer-night's insect chorus, Aerva knew her thought was silly. But she was still cold. Slipping silently to her feet, she tiptoed around the limp forms of the younger girls and peered out the entrance of the small inner room. The adults were unmoving, probably in some sort of trance. Aerva stole into the larger room, settling herself by the shaped hearth. She would stay only long enough to warm up, she promised herself. Only a little while...
here is he?!** Var tossed his head back to relieve the tension in his neck, feeling a drop of sweat roll down his forehead as he did. **He led me to Aerva, I know he is near, why does he not come to our call?!**
Tayalli touched his bare shoulder with one hand as she rubbed her forehead with the other. **I wish I knew. I can feel him also. But he responds to me no more than to you.**
**Nor to me.** Maelain stretched, arms over her head. **We shall have to try something else, I suppose--what are you doing out here, child?!**
Var snapped his head around to follow her gaze. Aerva shrank back against the wall. "I - I was just cold," she stammered. "I - um, I just wanted to warm myself up.**
Eyes narrowing, Var studied the slender child. **Don't talk; send,** he sent tersely. **No sense waking the twain if any of us are to get some sleep tonight. And the truth, child.**
The girl pulled the blanket more tightly about her shoulders, looking away. **I-I woke up feeling cold ... I just wanted to sit here and warm up for a while.**
**It's the middle of summer: you shouldn't be cold. Why did you wake up feeling cold?**
Color heightened in the girl's thin face. She shifted her position, but sent nothing. **Aerva,** sent her mother. **Please don't try our patience now. You know you're normally asleep now--if something's wrong, we need to know.**
**It was ... it was just ... it was a dream,** she replied finally.
**And what happened in the dream?**
Aerva shifted her seat so she was half-turned away from the adults, leaning against the wall. **You won't like it.**
**That doesn't mean we don't want to know. Tell us, daughter.**
Her hands fidgeted under the blanket. **I ... I was above the Palace.**
**The Palace?** echoed Var, puzzled. **Why would you dream about the Palace--you never want to listen to us talk about it.**
**I ... it was cold,** Aerva refused to look toward her elders, her hands drawing the blanket tightly about her shoulders. **It ... it was dark, then lighter. I saw it ... **
**And ...?** prompted Maelin.
**It ... was ... covered ... by ice ...**
For a long moment, none of the Firstcomers reacted with anything except vague puzzlement. **Why would you dream that the Palace was covered with ice?** asked Maelin. **That's certainly not in any memory we've given you children. It doesn't make sense!**
**Unless...** Liria's thought turned the attention to her. **Could she have been dreaming of the palace as it is?**
As everyone pondered the possibility, several faces began to pale. **If it's buried in ice,** Soriaythek's sending was barely 'audible,' **then how many more will we need to reclaim it? How much longer will we be exiled here?**
**It will take as many generations of children and their children, as it will take,** sent Var with an audible sigh, rubbing the bridge of his nose. **If she did dream the present Palace, I want to know how.** Lowering his hand, he fixed Aerva with his gaze, with one part of his mind, wondering yet once again how a child could look so much unlike either of her parents. She tried to look away, color rising to her cheeks. **Aerva. Tell me now.**
She trembled, visibly fighting his order. Var refused to relent, even as he felt her desperation and his own flicker of conscience. If the child had awakening talents, he had to know about them. He had to know what each of his small group could and could not do, if he was to make decisions for them. He was not going to invade her mind and take what she wanted to hide, but he was tired of her rebellious ways. She would him what he wanted to know.
othing else existed except for those terrible blue eyes pushing against her will, demanding her obedience. It hurt, that pressure, and it scared her. She didn't want to reveal her one real secret, the thing she treasured. They'd forbidden her everything else she'd really wanted -- they'd forbid this, too, for all she knew! And she couldn't--she just couldn't! She couldn't give up her dreams of her father! She couldn't!
"No!" Somehow, with desperate effort, she broke free of that terrible gaze, wrenching her eyes closed and jumping up. Feet and blanket tangling, she went down. "Leave me alone--just leave me alone!" she wailed, pulling her hands over her head as her mind flared with pain. "I won't tell you!" She sobbed, hands clenched in the fur sheltering her upper body. It's not fair! she added in thought, biting her lower lip to keep her thoughts from blurting out. If only her father was really present, and not just a dream! He wouldn't let them do this! He wouldn't! If only he was real!
**But I am here.**
Under the cover of the blanket, Aerva's eyes flashed open. A voice speaking within her--she knew that voice! **Father?** she thought to that voice. **How can I be dreaming when I'm awake?**
Amusement drifted to her. **You aren't dreaming.**
**But ... if I'm awake, how can I 'hear' you? I thought you were dreams?!**
**I came to you in your dreams,** he corrected gently. **Your mind is more open to me, then--I did not want to --force-- you to be aware of me.**
**But I can hear you now!**
**You wanted--needed-- to hear me.**
Aerva closed her eyes, shivering a little. She could feel her father, like a warm center glowing within. It felt good--but she felt a surge of wariness. Would he now tell her what she should do? Would he be yet someone else that demanded she do nothing but magic?
**As one who can not keep aware of time while in flesh, who am I to tell you what to do?** Kayeer responded to her thought. **You must make your own choices, daughter.**
**But that's just it! They're always telling me what to do! They won't let me do anything I want or need!**
Kayeer did not respond for a long time. **I can't tell you what to do, Aerva, though I wish I could. Just remember -- whatever you do, you are my daughter. And I am with you.**
ar watched the huddled form tautly, feeling the shivering tension in the small circle. Aerva had never displayed the will that had broken his hold on her. She was only a child who didn't even want to learn magic--how had she managed that? And now her huddled form was invisibly glowing with presence, though so focussed inwardly that he hesitated to try contact.
She stirred, slowly sitting up. The fur fell away as she scrubbed her wet cheeks with a grubby hand. Her eyes were lowered, staring at the floor. Var told himself to wait, as did the hand on his wrist. She finally flicked a brief glance in his direction.
"Would you tell us what is going on, Aerva?" he said as quietly as he could. Maelin's hand tightened slightly. "Please tell us."
She risked another glance, biting her lower lip. Hands clenched, she stared at the ground for long moments more. Then, finally, drew a deep breath and met his eyes with no more than the smallest flinch.
"You hurt me," she said flatly. "Trying to make me tell."
"I believed it was important that you tell us how you could 'see' the Palace in the present," he replied. "I still believe that."
Her face was pale, and the recent activity had done nothing to improve the wild tangle of her hair. Her fists were clenched even more tightly. "You keep taking away what I want. I couldn't--I was afraid if you knew about my dreams, you'd take them away, too."
Var studied her a long moment. "I'm not getting back into that argument, Aerva. But I wouldn't know how to take your dreams away, if I wanted."
Her expression was skeptical for a moment, but then she looked down. "The Palace ... Father took me there, in my dream. He's in my dreams a lot. I--I thought it was just dreams, but they're not." Her head came up again. "He's -- he's real. And he's here. In me."
Var started, as gasps arose. He stared at the slight figure, realizing finally the source of the presence he had sensed earlier. Beside him, Tayalli whispered something, leaning forward. Aerva looked at her, and hesitantly extended her hand. Mother and daughter clasped hands for a long moment, the older elf's eyes closing. **It is Kayeer,** she sent softly, as she leaned back with a tremulous smile. **Why we couldn't call him to us ... dream-walking with Aerva ... Kayeer...**
"And Kayeer thinks I should be trying to learn magic, too." Aerva's voice was forlorn, but without the resentful, rebelling edge. "And maybe I should. But shouldn't I be learning other things, too?" She stared at him, pleadingly, but with a steadiness she'd not before displayed. "We're not going back to the Palace and the stars for a long, long time, are we? That means we have to live here -- live here and eat here, and make clothes and keep warm -- and that means hunting. And -- and I guess it's good, that you want to protect me and the twain, you don't want us to learn how it hurts to kill. But Var ... what if something happened to all of you? Then we'd have to learn anyway -- and nobody'd be here to teach us. We'd have to learn like you learned."
Var flinched. He did not like remembering those first years. The thought of the children having to go through that was horrible. But so was the thought of destroying youthful innocence by letting it hunt. Young spirits with no blood on their hands, on their souls--
And her eyes captured his. Brown, highly-slanted eyes, neither Kayeer's nor Tayalli's--Aerva's. A pointed chin and narrow face under a brown mass of hair more unruly that the spirit within. Aerva's eyes were steady, locked with his, not without pleading, not without residual hurt and unease, but open and unwavering.
And less innocent than he had assumed--**Aerva--**
**You think I don't know where my food and clothing come from?** she asked. **I know it comes from creatures that live and feel, like us. I know it hurts to kill. But other things hurt, too. And I'm not afraid to hurt.**
She was Aerva First-Born on the World with Two Moons. She was not her parents. She was not an exiled star-roamer: to her, the Home was as distant in reality--if not in meaning--as it would be for a human. This world --her birth world-- was what she knew, and it set limits on the direction of her growth. Of hers, and all those born here.
Var looked down, hurting in the realization of how different the born-here were from their parents--and how different they might become. And yet, that very difference might be what would allow all his kind to survive long and well enough to return to the stars. "Very well, Aerva," he said, voice barely above a whisper. "You have convinced me. I will discuss how we should teach you. I just ask--that you do try to learn magic--"
He was nearly bowled over as Aerva jumped into his arms. "Oh, thank-you!" she cried, all child once again. "Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!"
Underneath her surge of joy, he sensed faint laughter. **She'll learn,** sent Kayeer. **She'll learn.**
"Can we learn to hunt, too?"
Arm braced to hold himself upright, Var almost lost his balance again as he twisted to look towards the entrance to the inner cave. The twain, he saw, were awake--and had obviously been eavesdropping. He glared at them. "I thought you two liked learning magic."
"Oh, we do," said Solarn, eyes wide and innocent-looking. "But if Aerva can learn to hunt, we can, too."
"Teaching Aerva is one thing," he half-growled. "But you two--"
"Will have to wait until you're older," Tayalli cut in smoothly. As Var glanced at her, she gave him a shrug, a lifted eyebrow and a one-sided wry grin. "Now back to bed, you two."
"Aww..." "But what about Aerva?"
"She'll be back to bed, too. Now, go."
"Yes, mother." "Yes, Tayalli."
The two younger girls left. Aerva sighed into Var's shoulder, then slid lower as he pushed himself upright, leaning her head against his chest. **Aerva...**
**I know,** she sent, yawning. **Just a little while? It feels so good to be held--and, and I'm sorry I got everyone upset...**
Var smiled, pain easing. Different the children might turn out to be, but still, they were their children, and always would be. And holding, and being held--born-here or Firstcomer, it still felt good. **For a little while,** he agreed, his chin brushing the top of the untamable mop of her hair. She sighed again; a sigh of contentment.
**Do you think,** she asked, **I could learn to glide?**