Chapter Thirteen: Running Away
Nothing was making sense anymore. The world was melting away with each passing tear. The giant faces hanging above her blurred around the edges. Her eyes were fixated on the huge sky-blue ones that stared right back. Raw emotion bubbled inside, and Lelani was forced to look away.
The air hung heavy with anticipation and confusion. Her living platform rose higher, and she looked back up into the boy’s face. There was no look of recognition in it. Only more confusion mixed with… could that be worry?
“What was that?”
A lump took her throat hostage. She tried once more. It came out as a croak, half strangled by the lump that was growing larger by the second. “Fylo?”
But as soon as the name tumbled out of her mouth, she knew it was pointless to try. The complete lack of reaction dashed any sliver of hope she had somehow retained. The look on his face was clear enough. He had no idea what she was talking about. This boy—this giant elfish boy—was not her brother. Who was she trying to fool? An astonishing coincidence—nothing more. There was no other way of explaining it.
“I’m sorry,” she started suddenly, sitting up and wiping her eyes. “I’m always jumping to conclusions. Here I am, making a mess. Sorry, I really don’t know what I was thinking.”
“And what was it you were thinking?” Rexathor’s voice boomed softly behind her.
Twisting around to address him, she found herself flushing with embarrassment. There was no escaping this now.
Why did I have to make this scene? And right when he was going to explain everything to me.
“I made a mistake,” Lelani said at last. “I… I thought you were,” she caught Pharcipeo’s eyes again, “someone I knew.”
“Fylo,” he repeated dully.
He nodded as if to say ‘it’s alright, no worries’ and started to shift the hand beneath her back towards Rexathor.
Lelani realized a moment later that it was her who had just spoken. She threw a hand towards her mouth in surprise.
The hand beneath her jerked to a halt, nearly knocking her off her unsteady stance. “What?” bellowed both boys. She glanced from one huge face to the next, wondering if this would create the reaction she was looking for.
The boys looked at each other a moment, silent, then burst into laughter. Their laughs boomed all around Lelani, and she quickly covered both ears. Apparently Pharcipeo thought it especially funny as his hand holding her dropped towards his lap and quivered with each peal of laughter. By the time they had finished, Lelani was on her knees keeping balance with both hands still clasped fervently around her head.
The hearty laughs falling all around her reminded her how ridiculous this idea was. She tried her best to relax. They were right—it was a ridiculous notion.
“Sorry,” came Pharcipeo’s voice, still laced with a few remaining giggles. “Didn’t mean to make you almost fall.” The platform rose again until it was level with the young giant’s chest.
Lelani got to her feet quickly, but the strange texture and consistent unpredictable movements of his hand made it difficult. “Uh, no worries. Sorry, I really don’t know why I said that. I mean, it’s just that my little brother went missing several years ago. I always wanted to believe that he was alive out there somewhere. And I guess I just projected that onto you. Sorry.” The last part came out in a rush. Suddenly, it felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off her chest.
“That’s alright,” he giggled. “But if I you don’t mind me saying, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard of!”
Lelani pressed her lips harshly together. A sort of fire lighted in her gaze. Crossing her arms sharply, she snorted, “Yes, I suppose it's a little crazy, but you could lay off the laughing, okay?”
But this only made him laugh harder. Lelani was distraught to hear Rexathor chuckling as well. “Come on,” the large boy holding her continued. “How in the world could you ever confuse me as your brother? You are human, aren't you?”
“That's what she says,” Rexathor added from the side.
“Then I have no idea how you could ever imagine that. What would that make me? I'm an istus! How could I be siblings to a human?” His laughter sounded even louder, forcing Lelani to cover her ears once more.
“Quit it!” she shouted over the roar, her cheeks growing red. “I made a mistake, okay? An honest mistake.” Her shoulders heaved up and down.
“Uh, Cip?” Rexathor said in a questioning voice as he placed a hand on his shoulder, soaking in the girl’s body language. “Maybe you should—”
“What?” he asked, wiping a tear from an eye with his free hand. His mouth was still pulled back in a smile. “Just the thought of it is too funny! Even if somehow it were possible that I have a human sister—which it's not—she's the size of an àlainn! How is that supposed to work?”
“I don't know!” Lelani shouted back, drawing his attention upon her again. “All I know is that I recognize that scar, okay?”
The prince looked sharply at Pharcipeo with a furrowed brow. She could tell he was as puzzled as she was about the whole thing.
“Look,” she gasped, “I—I can even explain where the scar came from. My brother, when he was very young, was playing with a knife. Our dad caught him in the act and surprised him pretty bad. He fumbled with it and it just,” she air-drew the shape, “ripped his hand open. It had to be stitched up. Since then, he's had this interestingly shaped scar on his hand.” Her voice was quite. “Just like yours.”
A conflicting shadow descended over Pharcipeo’s face. A spark of recognition seemed to flash across his eyes for a moment. But the whisper of any other forms of recognition soon fled his expression.
“That's—that's simply ridiculous. That just goes to show you—it can't be. How could a tiny knife your size leave any kind of scar.” His voice was firm, but his face betrayed the comment.
Lelani's heart rose just a fraction. “Yeah, I guess you're right,” she said softly, unable to hide her own emotions from surfacing as well.
He makes sense. But he senses something. He almost looked as if he... remembered it. It can't be... can it?
“Well,” Pharcipeo went on briskly, “I'm feeling much better. I think we can keep going now.” He stood using the tree for support, sending waves of vertigo through Lelani as her platform of a hand rose many meters back into the air. She wondered if she would ever get used to this up and down thing. Being around all these giants, she figured she would have to learn pretty soon.
“Now?” Rexathor asked, standing himself. “But we've only been resting for a few minutes. You sure you're feeling up to traveling again?”
“Yeah,” he said as he winced slightly. “I'm fine. We need to find a good place for camp, right?”
He's avoiding the conversation, she noted. Like that's going to get him out of explaining this later. She took a deep breath and released some of her building tension.
Lelani turned around to see the wall of flesh capped by slumping shoulders behind her. Above, the face of a boy she could swear to be her brother’s. Her little Fylo. How could you be him? she thought disparately. You're too big. She sighed. Everything's too big for that matter, she thought as a bumpy, brown object came alongside her platform of flesh. Looking, she locked eyes with Rexathor, and then stepped back across onto his hand. She was lifted, thankfully slower, back to her pocket in his tunic.
“Alright, we'll keep going for now. It's wisest we keep moving until we find a good place to set up camp.”
Lelani was about to protest and demand Rexathor tell her everything he was going to earlier, but an awkward hush had fallen over them. She allowed the boys to walk in silence and listen to the sounds all around. The constant pumping of Rexathor’s heart, the ocean-waves of his breaths, the occasional dampened groan from Pharcipeo. The quickly fading light allowed her to also enjoy the beauties of the forest. The trees here were strangely more vibrant and knitting tightly together.
The silence suffocating their conversation forced Lelani to mull over everything she had experienced within such a short period of time. The elf, istus, they had been looking for reminded her so much of her brother, she wanted to believe with all her heart that it was true. But how could such an impossibility happen? But it had to be. Nothing else could explain the strange things happening between them. It was the only explanation. Even Rexathor’s comments and actions seemed to think something of it as well.
Rexathor. Her mind was reeling again. The prince. Of all the people, the giants of this crazy world, she had fallen into the hand of a prince—literally.
Of course, I fall into a world of humans, elves, and fairies. The stuff of fairytales. And I had to find the prince. If that isn't cliché, I don't know what is. She scoffed, a smile creeping onto her lips.
Nonetheless, she was in the presence of real royalty. As it had been when she first heard it, the mere thought still sent her brain into a comatose like state. How was she supposed to do? Or say? Or act? In pure shock, she had resorted to messing with him. Be yourself a little voice reminded inside. Even though he was someone with crazy amounts of power. Either way, he's still very powerful over my wellbeing, she mulled. Same with this Pharcipeo character. I don't know why I entrusted myself with either of these boys to begin with. But... she sighed. It seems worth it. Especially if... No, stop it. Just wishing it over and over isn't going to make it suddenly true. Just stop thinking about.
But her mind would not stop rehashing until Rexathor finally pointed out at a small grouping of trees.
“There. Good enough for tonight. We'll hit Subtun by tomorrow.”
Pharcipeo sighed profusely and doubled over.
“Hey, are you alright?” Lelani called out from her pocket perch. She leaned a bit too far and felt herself wobbling on the edge of the cloth. Much to her relief, pillar-like fingers came up and adjusted her position.
“Just take it easy,” the prince’s voice boomed overhead as his other hand reached out and steadied the boy’s shoulder. He was slumped against the trunk of a tree.
“I’m fine. Really.” His voice was softer now. Not so agitated.
He’s a good kid, she thought. I don’t think he realized how harsh he was coming off earlier. So defensive.
“Well, just relax for a bit,” Rex commanded as he slung his pack off his shoulder. “I’ll get things set up. And here,” he said reaching in for Lelani, “so she won’t be so jostled.”
Lelani was about to protest needing to change positions as his hand came up to her location, but she needed to stretch out her legs anyway. Don’t think you can get me to do whatever you want just because I’m so much smaller than you, the thought pointedly as she climbed onto Rexathor’s awaiting hand. It was a good thing his pocket wasn’t so deep so that it would be difficult for her to climb out. But it still made her feel awkward, like a preforming seal. At least he’s not grabbing me, but letting me move on my own. That’s something…
She was plopped into Pharcipeo’s up-turned hands as the prince turned around and began making camp.
“Uh,” Pharcipeo said nervously as she was deposited into his hands. A deep blush formed on his face as his eyes met hers. His gaze quickly darted away in embarrassment. Instead of looking away as well, Lelani kept her gaze fixed upon his huge face.
Rexathor proceeded to unroll mats for their beds, gather some wood for a fire, and preparing some food, only glancing at his two companions a few times. The silence grew as awkward as a clumsy elephant attempting to tap dance. She tried to find something to say, but after several attempts, just shut her mouth closed. She settled for studying every inch of his face. Even when his ice-blue eyes darted back to her, Lelani didn’t avert her gaze for a second.
“Here,” he finally said, lowering his hand to the ground. “I… I’m sorry about earlier. But I’m not who you think I am.”
She had to watch her step over the miniature hills and lumps that made up the flesh of his hand. “I know,” she responded, not even entirely sure what she truly meant by that.
His brow loosened and a smile tugged at his lips.
“That about does it,” broke Rex’s voice from a distance away. Lelani turned her attention to the work that he had done. He had already started reheating some meat over the fire. She was surprised he had accomplished that much in such a short span of time.
“So are you going to tell me what you were talking about earlier?” Lelani started slowly.
His eyes darted towards his companion, stress pulling at the corners. Pharcipeo nodded slowly, growing solemn.
The prince tensely groaned. “Well… here,” said after a while. He hastily cut some meat off of the pit roast and deposited it onto a plate. He passed it to Pharcipeo, who accepted it dejectedly. Placing a sliver of the meat onto a knife like he had before, he placed it a few yards in front of her.
The air was tense. A crackling fire marked time passing awkwardly. Pharcipeo gnawed half-heartedly on his food. Lelani didn’t feel particularly hungry, but sat down next to the knife and began pulling at the meat with her fingers.
Finally Rexathor began to speak. His tone was low and controlled.
“I promised you that I would explain our situation. And as involved as you are, it is only fair.” He paused.
Lelani silently mulled over this comment as she patiently waited for him to continue.
“As I have told you, my father… no longer walks among us. It was not a natural death. The night he was found, I saw my brother. He looked so… frantic. He must have seen father.” Rexathor shook his head. “He didn’t answer my questions. ‘Goodbye,’ he said. And then he left. I… I…” He paused and Pharcipeo placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Then the shouting began. The guards had discovered father’s state. The Chancellor kept yelling, ‘It was the High Prince! Don’t let him escape!’ But by then, he had already had ridden his horse out of the castle grounds. Didn’t know what to think, didn’t know what to say. Something inside was telling me the Chancellor was right. But to think Altunus could actually…” His voice teetered off.
“The palace was in an uproar,” Pharcipeo offered. “I sat in my chambers, staring off into space. His Majesty was like my own father…” He stopped, looking straight down.
Lelani looked off into the dancing shadows. “How had he died?”
Finally Pharcipeo spoke up. “He was found in His Majesty’s chambers, lying on his bed… His neck was snapped.”
All three were silent.
“I was just so… angry,” Rexathor continued after some time. “I felt so consumed by rage. How could Altunus? How could he? I knew he was frustrated with the way father was doing things, but to do something to our only father… To do something so… horrific just to become king…” A pause. “After a few days had passed, and Altunus hadn’t been found, I could tell the Chancellor was getting angry. He kept screaming for justice, and I understood his pain. But then that all changed when he said I was also to blame. I was at such a low point, I didn’t quite understand at first. He decided that both Altunus and I had worked together to… kill father. It was then that I knew the Chancellor was setting all this up for his own gain. When he went as far as to suggest that Pharcipeo was also behind this, I knew our lives were in danger. Pharcipeo and I fled with the help of some trusted friends.” The boy nodded slowly in agreement as he stared deeply at the ground.
“The Chancellor is usurping my father’s throne. The throne that rightfully belongs to my brother. But the lies the Chancellor has spread through the country have been taking some hold. Many believe that my brother and I are at fault. That is why we need to know where the loyalties of our people lie. We need to find where Altunus is hiding. And… and I need to ask him the truth. I need to learn what he knows of that night.”
Lelani felt awkward looking up at the two emotionally upset giants.
Pharcipeo started sniffling. Lelani’s focus was stolen away by his huge, watery eyes. She so wanted to comfort him. Even though he was meters bigger than she, she couldn’t help but want to give him a hug. A sigh escaped her tensely pressed lips.
Fylo. If it is really you…
“It’s okay to cry,” she said softly as she stretched out her hand toward his giant knee concealed within his trousers.
“I’m not crying,” he sniffled softly as he rubbed an arm across his eyes. “And it’s not Rexathor’s fault!” he said with a sudden fury. “It’s not Altunus’ fault either!”
“It’s alright, Cip,” Rexathor’s voice came, not quavering as before. “That’s what we’re going to prove to everyone. What a low, coward man the Chancellor is.”
Lelani’s meat grew cold in her hands and she suddenly noticed it again. She put it aside, not very hungry in the first place. “I didn’t realize how much your lives were in danger,” she said lowly. “But I still don’t understand what you meant. You said that I’m involved.”
“I left out that part, didn’t I?” he said, blinking. “The Chancellor isn’t only after us. He’s after you too.”
“What?” she said sharply.
“He saw you. When you were at the castle with us.” Rexathor ignored her raising eyebrow and continued. “You were by yourself when he found you, but you managed to get away. He realized you were hiding out with us, or so you said.”
“But that makes absolutely no sense. Even if I really was here when you say I was, why would he be so desperate to find me?”
“You never told us,” Pharcipeo added in. “But we took your word for it.”
She rolled her head downward. “As if I didn’t have enough to worry about,” she groaned.
Pharcipeo stood up, wiping his hands on his trousers. “Prince, if you don’t mind, I’m going to try and get some sleep now. If you could take the first watch and wake me later…”
“That’d be fine,” he answered with a nod.
The boy with strange features walked some distance from the fire and began to straighten out his bedding. With a grunt of pain, he lied down, his back to the fire.
Lelani cautiously turned back to Rexathor and shrugged. He sighed, shook his head, and continued to tear into his food. For a few minutes, the sounds of the fire filled the silence. Lelani finished off her cold meat as best she could.
With this kind of traveling, I don’t know when I’ll be eating next, she mused darkly.
“You know,” the massive prince started after a while, “I think you may have something about Pharcipeo.”
“Really? You didn’t seem to think so earlier.”
“Well, I’ve never seen him so defensive before in my life.”
Her eyes flaring, she pointed behind her. “Is this really the time to be talking about this? He could still be awake!”
Rexathor casually looked over his shoulder. “No, he’s out. He always knocks out right away like that. Plus, I’ve been thinking about what the two of you said. And, well, I’m not sure… but you might be right.”
She scoffed. “Yeah, but you guys have a point. He’s Istusen or whatever, and I’m human.”
Pushing the fire around with a stick the length of a house, he said, “He’s always been odd for an istus—we thought so ever since we first met him, my brother and I. True, we never had another istus to compare him to, but he never really fit into our ideas of what an istus should be.” The fire crackled some more. “When we would ask him of his past,” he continued, “he would always have a hard time remembering. But sometimes he would have random flashes of memories. He did mention remembering a sister—never did say if she was older or younger. But now that I know you, I can see a similarity in the two of you.”
Lelani clasped her hands together, staring at them intently. “I can’t explain why, but I do still think he could be Fylo…”
“If anything, I’ll keep an eye out for clues,” he said, standing up and wiping his trousers. He reached his long arm over Lelani and grabbed his leather bag. He dug through the bag a bit. “It’s getting late,” he murmured lowly. “I was thinking that sleeping in here would be more comfortable than sleeping out in the open.”
Lelani rubbed her arm. “Yeah, I guess. Thanks.”
Setting the bag down before her like a cave, he propped the flap slightly open for her.
“I arranged a bed of sorts. Nothing fancy… but it’s better than what we’re sleeping on,” he managed with a smile. Curious, she peeked her head inside to see a long bed-sized square of green material. Probably another one of his slices of bread.
She turned back to him. “So I have to wonder. Since you’re the prince, is sleeping on a makeshift bed out here in the wilderness really uncomfortable?”
His building-sized shoulders shrugged. “It’s no palace bedchamber. But I’m used to this. This is what we do during extended hunting trips.”
A smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. “I guess that makes sense.”
The prince settled against the trunk of a tree. “Well, goodnight to you,” he said. His eyes were trained on the fire.
Lelani could only wonder what was going through his mind as she made her way into the cave of his bag. The inside smelt strongly of old leather, cheese, and paper. Behind her little bed, she could see an assortment of things wrapped in cloth in the back of his bag. Though her mind was tingling with curiosity, she climbed into her makeshift bed. The bread under the cloth, though hard, had a slight give to it.
It’s actually more comfortable than my bed back at the orphanage, she realized. There were several other spreads of cloth, so she bundled one to act as a pillow and threw the rest over her. Lying on her side, she watched as the light from the fire danced through the opening of her cave. Far above, she heard a long, muffled sigh coming from Rexathor.
Her eyebrows scrunched, her mind wandered over the day’s events.
“Altunus…” she heard softly rumbling through the leather walls.
Unsure if she should go out and talk with him, Lelani could only roll over on her back. She did her best to fall asleep, but it was a long while before her mind’s whirling groaned to a halt.