Naeris watched the wood elf from a distance as he embroidered small golden birds onto the green and blue silks piled high in front of him. Dath, one of the other elves had called him. Dath. The elf Naeris had been told to seek out. They studied him as he worked; his blonde hair cut short and ragged, like he’d taken a dagger to it. His clothes, despite the abundance of fine silks, were stained and torn. This was a man who didn’t care about himself. This was a man who had lost something important to him, and never recovered.
He turned, and Naeris caught his eyes; they were the same gold-flecked green that Naeris saw every morning in the mirror. But it wasn’t enough. Not enough to be sure.
“Excuse me,” Naeris tapped Dath on the shoulder. “I’m looking for Dath, I was told you were he?”
“Yes,” Dath replied, without looking up from his work. This close, Naeris could clearly make out the birds—nightingales. Of course.
“My name’s Merilin,” Naeris said. “I was told you’d know where to find my father?”
There was a long pause, Dath’s hands frozen mid-stitch. He turned slowly, and looked up at Naeris. There was pain in his eyes, a tempest of loss and anger–and, underneath it all, the faintest glimmer of hope. “Who are you?,” he asked. “Who sent you?”
“I… Nobody. It’s me. Merilin.”
Dath gave Naeris a long, hard look. The hope was gone, leaving only anger and pain. “Merilin is dead,” he said through gritted teeth. “Is this some kind of sick joke? What do you want?”
“Ada, it’s really me,” Naeris said softly.
“You can’t be,” Dath insisted. “My Merilin is dead.”
“When you and emel left me in the Seat of Kings, I almost was. But I’m not. And I’m here.”
“No. No. I don’t believe you.” He stood to leave. “I don’t know who you are, but this is a cruel trick. What do you want? Money? Do I look like I have any to steal?”
Naeris’ heart quavered. Had this been a waste of time? Was this man so broken that he couldn’t see what stood right in front of him? “I’m not here to trick you, or steal from you. I’m just looking for my father.”
“Well you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t know who you are, but you’re not Merilin. Merilin is dead.”
“No, I’m not,” Naeris said. “You may have left me for dead in that godsforsaken city, but I didn’t die. I survived. And I have been looking for you for years.” Naeris was surprised to feel the hot pricking of tears on their cheek. How could he not see. Did they really come all this way just to be rejected? Again? “For years,” they repeated sadly.
“How dare-” Dath started, but stopped when he saw the look on Naeris’ face. He sighed, long and deep. “My wife and child are dead. I’m sorry. You’ve got the wrong person.”
Naeris took a deep breath, and sighed. “Your Merilin,” they said, “the one you think is dead. Were they a boy or a girl? A son, or a daughter?”
“Neither,” Dath shook his head, “They were a child of the traveller.” He looked at Naeris as if actually seeing them for the first time. “Just like-“
“Me,” Naeris said gently.
Dath looked pained. “You can’t be,” he pleaded. “You and your mother…”
You and your mother
That voice. Those words.
“You and your mother need to be strong, little one,” their father was saying to them. “Help her get everything ready. We’re leaving as soon as I get back.”
“Orelon,” their mother said, “Come back safe.”
“I will, my love,” Orelon said, embracing her.
“Orelon,” Naeris said quietly. “Your name was Orelon.”
Dath blinked in surprise and the anger in his eyes faded slightly. He slumped heavily in his chair, a broken look on his face, unsure whether to laugh or cry. “How? How are you–how did you–“
“After you left me, I got taken in by a gang of street kids. We… survived. Somehow.”
“Left? No, no,” Dath shook his head again. “I was working; weaving banners. One last job to earn enough to get both of you out of that hellish city. But when I got home… you were both gone. We all knew that meant, back then. I looked for you. For days, I looked. But I had to leave. It was getting too dangerous to stay, and… I thought you were… dead.”
Dath looked up at them, at their child, tears spilling down his cheek. He opened his mouth to keep speaking, but couldn’t find the words. Naeris wasn’t sure how to feel. This… this wasn’t quite how they’d imagined this happening. They wiped away their own tears—years of thinking their parents had abandoned them. Of expecting to meet someone who didn’t care. All wrong.
“How did you find me?” Dath asked finally.
“Would you believe the Traveller told me,” Naeris said with a lop-sided grin. They waved towards the holy symbol around their neck.
“A Traveller’s child indeed,” Dath said, laughing. “My thanks to them, for bringing you home safely.” He paused. “Are you staying?”
Naeris shifted uncertainly. “I can’t,” they said. “I… there’s something I have to do. But, once that’s done, I swear I’ll be back. I can take you somewhere a little dryer than a swamp in the middle of nowhere.”
“That’s a nice dream, Merilin,” Dath said sadly, “But where would we go? I don’t have any-“
“Don’t worry about anything, ada,” Naeris said with a wide grin. “I have a small estate on the border of the Green Plateau. A reward for helping overthrow the Divine Regent,” they added with a wink.
“I’ll tell you all about it over a drink,” Naeris said, pulling a bottle of wine from their haversack.