Years after Avarrin and his son returned to the forests and left their cave, the area where it stood became a settlement known to mortals as the mountain province of Lavinium, named after the earth goddess. The hills were rich with minerals and so, soon enough the locals began to extract salt, metals and precious stones for trade with other regions. The province then flourished and cities grew.
On top of one of the hills the locals constructed a temple in honor of the goddess Lavinia. It was massive, beautiful and white, a flat-topped triangular monolith decorated with sculptures of the goddess. At night the priestesses would light a series of candles in each corner, which they each kept lit until dawn every day. Each autumn many would journey to the temple from other regions with offerings of flowers, fruit and other crops. There they prayed to Lady Lavinia, asking her to grant an abundant harvest.
A short walk from the temple lived a ten-year-old girl called Laradi with older brother Aren. They had lost their parents a few months earlier, caught in a sandstorm returning from the nearby desert province of Niralis, never to be seen again. Since their disappearance, Aren had taken up his father’s profession as a trader whilst Laradi spent much of her time in the house or up in the hills minding sheep.
One night she awoke to a curious noise – the sound of children laughing. She gazed out of her window and looked at the surrounding houses but every light was off and the streets were empty. Her eyes skirted beyond the hill where Lavinia’s temple stood. There under the mountains, she noticed sparks of bright green light flashing in the sky and the silhouettes of what appeared to be two small figures flying around in circles. This went on for a few minutes, before the noises stopped suddenly and the lights vanished.
“This is a dream…it can’t be real. Oh Vea. Lady of the stars, thank you,” she thought to herself as she drifted back to sleep.
The following morning she continued with her usual daily routine until after her brother came home. After they had finished their dinner, she left the house and headed down the hill to fetch some water from the stream. By time she had filled both buckets, the sun was setting over the hills. A she was about to turn back, she heard the same laughter again, though now from further in the distance. Intrigued, she left the pails on the ground and walked towards the noise. At the top of the hill, she came across – two identical looking girls, roughly her age, splashing around in the stream. Yet there was something very odd about them – they were no bigger than ordinary children, but their hair was silver, their eyes blue and they appeared to have tiny transparent wings stretching out from their shoulders. She remained silent, simply watching them play for a while until she realized it was time to return home.
She hurried down the hill to collect the buckets when her foot slipped and she fell down. Picking herself up she noticed a fresh cut on her knee. Then all of a sudden she saw one of the girls flying towards her. The winged girl landed by her side and then placed her hand on the wound and whispered a spell. Laradi was shocked to see the cut slowly disappear, then the other girl cried out – “Cri!!”- and the first girl joined her sister and flew away together towards one of the caves on the mountainside.
A little dazed, Laradi picked up the buckets and went home. That night she couldn’t find sleep. Hesitantly, she woke up Aren and asked him if he had ever seen any children in the mountain caves. To this he replied: -“The land beyond the temple is dangerous. Few people venture up there and I haven’t seen many come back. They say that the mountain Enai, servants of the goddess Lavinia, live in those caves. And they’re hostile to us humans.”
So Laradi tried to forget everything that had happened and what she’d seen. Then two years later, one cold winter’s night, Aren had gone out drinking with a group of friends when a snowstorm broke out. With the blizzard coming, Laradi pressed to get her sheep inside their pen and rushed home closing the doors from the chill as they arrived. There under the howling winds, she waited for her brother’s arrival. Yet even when the storm eased Aren did not return. Once morning rose, Laradi visited several nearby houses asking if anyone had come across her brother. She discovered he hadn’t been seen since leaving the tavern the night before. Together with Aren’s friends, they searched the area until they found him lying on the ground, scarcely alive, heavily wounded and bleeding. His friends helped carry him home as others went in search of a medic. Sadly, despite their best efforts, no one in the city had the skills to heal Aren’s wounds.
Laradi suddenly remembered as if from a dream, her encounter with the Enai girls. She left Aren resting by the fireplace at home and climbed her way towards the caves. Following the dancing lights flickering inside one cave, she swiftly found the same two girls dressed in long grey tunics twirling around the entrance. Though as she approached them, a fresh voice cried out from within: “Cri! Dri!” followed by a string of strange words in an unrecognizable tongue. The girls ran inside and Laradi watched as another came out of the cave. This time it was a male Enai, older than the girls with a muscular build, with shorter silver hair, and heavy blue eyes, though he had no wings. He pointed a spear at Laradi before shouting, using words that she could understand:
“Go away and leave us alone! We do not want your people here!”
Undeterred Laradi took a few steps back before replying:
“Please…I mean you no harm. I am not here to hurt your girls. They healed me once. Now my brother is wounded and I need your help.”
As she spoke, one of the girls appeared by the cave entrance and shouted – “Lietr, lietr…,” before an older Enai, doubtless the twins’ mother, dragged her back inside.
“Li-etr…” Laradi attempted to pronounce the word which she assumed to be the mountain elf’s name. The Enai the girl called “lietr” slowly held back and put his spear away.
“Hvis, you may call me Hvis. Lietr is our word for father,” he answered.
“Hvis, please can you help my brother?” asked Laradi once more.
“No,” he replied bluntly.
Laradi took off a silver necklace once given to her by her mother and she handed it to Hvis.
“Please help my brother. If you heal him, you can keep the necklace and I promise that I’ll never bother you or your family again. All you have to do is help us,” she begged.
The Enai put the necklace on before responding:
“I do not have to do anything. These are our lands. My duty is to the Lady Lavinia and to my family. I care not for you or your brother.”
Once again one of the girls appeared by the entrance and she insisted on speaking with her father. Under the pressure of his daughter, Hvis finally gave in and agreed to help on the sole condition that Laradi would forever stay away from the cave. That night he followed her home to where a semiconscious Aren still lay groaning in agony.
The Enai examined his wounds before responding:
“I can heal some of injuries but the one on his side is very deep and it looks infected. I might be able to find something to ease his pain,” he told her before heading back up the hill immediately.
Only minutes later Hvis returned with a wooden cup containing a warm sweet-smelling purple paste.
“Take this and slowly apply it over his wounds,” he said handing the salve to the girl along with a thin spoon.
Hvis uttered a spell to heal the smaller wounds while Laradi carefully applied the paste onto her brother’s stomach. Then they waited. Not long after, Aren woke briefly and coughed up some blood before again passing out.
“This is not working,” Hvis stated while examining the wounds once more. “I have done all I can. I am afraid there is now nothing left to be done, we can only make him comfortable. He doesn’t have long left,” he finally added.
Laradi tried to stop her tears before she replied:
“Is there really nothing else you can do? I’ve heard stories of Enai with the power to revive the dead.”
Hvis shook solemnly his head and replied:
“No, we cannot. Lord Makar forbids it. There would be dire punishments. For the sake of my family, I cannot risk it. I am sorry.”
Laradi burst into tears, leaving Hvis powerless. He clutched a wet cloth and proceeded to clean Aren’s face before finally speaking:
“I should go. My family needs me.”
She dropped down next to her brother, then at last she turned towards Hvis and replied:
“Thank you for your help Hvis, I will not forget it.”
Before leaving Hvis took the silver band off his neck and handed it back to Laradi.
“Place this in his grave when you bury him, as a gift for Lady Morae. Then she will listen to his plea,” he proffered his final advice before stepping out of the house and turning back towards the caves.
Alone Laradi stuck by her brother’s side through the night, sobbing as his body grew cold. When morning appeared, Aren’s friends arrived finding him dead, they helped Laradi bury her brother close to the hill where Lavinia’s temple stood. Tearfully, Laradi set the silver necklace around his neck before his body was covered by the deep earth. Under the morning light, they all said a prayer to Lord Makar and the Morkrai, asking them to grant Aren safe passage to the underworld. Though soon, with Aren laid to rest, they each headed home.
Over the next few months many friends and neighbors visited Laradi trying to offer her comfort. Some brought food and toys with them, others even offered to have her stay with them for a while but Laradi always refused.
The following autumn, as the harvest season approached, Laradi traveled to the temple along with many of other locals bringing fruit and other offerings for the earth goddess. That same night, she dreamed of the copper-haired Lady Lavinia dancing barefoot in a field, surrounded by a numerous mountain Enai, chanting and waving their hands up in the air causing sparks of multicolored lights to flash through the sky. The following day as she took the sheep outside and looked to the mountains, she thought of Hvis and his family in their cave. Though she also remembered her promise to never again disturb them, so she continued with her ordinary, solitary routine. Yet each night she would wake to the sound of chanting and she would gaze from her window to see sparks of iridescent light in night the sky. A few weeks later, one sunset, she put the sheep back in their pen before picking up some bright flowers growing outside her house. Tempted by her curiosity, she climbed up the hill, beyond the temple and towards the cave. Yet when she arrived she noticed there was no light within their home, so she decided to wait outside and lay down by the entrance.
The following morning as Laradi woke, she was surprised to find herself inside the cave. She heard what sounded like a heated discussion between Hvis and the twins’ mother. Seeing her awake the female Enai approached and handed her a bowl of warm raspberry porridge. Laradi thanked her and quickly proceeded to eat.
Once she had finished her bowl, Hvis turned to face her and said placidly:
“My wife, Nor, says that you may stay with us for a while if you wish”.
Laradi nodded and then smiled at the twins, Cri and Dri, who seemed to be pleased with this decision though Hvis remained silent . He turned away from the girls and continued to eat his food alone by the fireplace.
And so Laradi came to live in the cave with Hvis and his family. Cri and Dri would often ask if she’d play outside with them but Nor always insisted that it was safer for the girl to remain in the cave, afraid of how other Enai would react if they saw a human living among them. In time Hvis grew used to having Laradi around and he even began to teach her some of the mountain Enai ways. She struggled to learn their language and showed little interest in metal work, but she remained fascinated by their extensive knowledge of herbs and their healing techniques. Nor too helped Laradi and explained that the children of their clan have wings which later fade away as they come of age. She also described some of their traditions to Laradi like the annual Elori harvest ritual.
As if in a blur ten full years passed. Laradi was now a young woman and twins had grown and they lost their wings but gained many of the same powers as their parents. One night, as the girls slept, Hvis decided it was time to discuss Laradi with his wife.
“It’s been ten long years. We cannot keep living like this. At some point Cri and Dri will want to marry and start their own families. What will we do if a suitor appears on our doorstep one day? She is not a little girl anymore and we can’t hide her forever. We’ve taught her more than enough for her to survive on her own. It is time for Laradi to return to her own people,” – he decided.
To this Nor responded: “Nobody has come looking for her in all this time. She has no one but us”.
“She is not one of us. I know the love you feel for her though that doesn’t change the fact that she is mortal. Like all her race, she will age and eventually she will die. One day we will have to cope with her loss and a corpse to dispose of outside our home. Then they will come looking for her,” Hvis explained carefully.
“What do you suggest?” – asked his wife.
Hvis went over his plan before waking the twins. Soon Dri and Cri silently whispered “goodbye” to their friend, together with their parents, they formed a circle around Laradi, whispering a spell as she slept, and finally they gathered all their belongings and left the cave.
The following morning Laradi awoke to find herself in an empty cave with no memory of the Enai or how she ended up there. Still in a daze, she returned to her house to find that it was now occupied by another family who believed the girl who had once lived there had long perished in the mountains. Seeing her old home brought back the memories of her childhood, the brief and carefree life she and Aren had once led before her parents’ disappearance. She strolled through the streets of the city in vague hope of seeing at least one familiar face, but all the locals kept their distance from this strange young woman, who now bore little resemblance to the girl they had once known. Somberly she paid a visit to Aren’s grave by the hill and wept. She had no candles nor flowers to decorate it, instead she took out a small knife she’d found amongst her belongings in the cave and used it to carve a short message on his tombstone: ‘Beloved brother and friend. Forever in my heart, – Laradi’.
Lost to both worlds, she found a place in Lavinia’s temple where she joined the order of priestesses. There she would live out the rest of her days, gaining a reputation as a highly skilled healer, renowned throughout the continent for her a vast knowledge of herbs and elixirs.
Cri and Dri art by Megan Johnson