Flowers in the Forest

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It had been a clean kill. The trap had punctured a major artery, he guessed, and the stoat had quickly bled out. Tovor was far happier that way; a quick death for the creature, and a pelt less damaged by desperate attempts to free itself. Often times, particularly with larger animals, he found them still struggling with the trap when he came around, perhaps days later, maddened with pain and thirst.

It didn’t worry him unduly, it was part of the job. Still, he preferred the clean kills.

Easing open the jaws of his trap, Tovor quickly checked over the carcass. As he suspected, the jagged metal had torn through the upper thigh, leading to rapid blood loss and death with minimal damage to the rest of the body. After brushing off a few fallen leaves and moss, he tossed the dead stoat into his sack.

It hadn’t been a bad day, he considered, as he reset the trap, laying out another piece of bait. Three stoats, a beaver and a grey fox in just one morning was a reasonable return. His bag was starting to weigh him down, which was an encouraging problem to have. He would make a trip back to his cabin before heading back out for the afternoon.

Satisfied, he climbed to his feet again, tossing his sack over one shoulder. With a sigh, he mopped his brow, squinting up into the forest canopy. The late spring sun had been coming on strong all week, which meant he needed to be timely on his catches, particularly if he wanted to sell on any of the meat to the butcher in town.

Tovor knew the deep forest east of Low Gadrotan as well as anyone could. As a child his father had started his schooling early, taking him out into the wilderness day after day almost as soon as he had been able to walk. He had thought it an adventure, and took pride in the apprenticeship and the skills it taught him. None of his friends had half the knowledge of the area that he had, and none could fire a bow half as well either.

When his father had lost his left leg below the knee following a fall that almost took his life, Tovor had been thrust into the role of hunter and trapper while still a wilful teenager. He had protested at the time – he wanted to stay in town, chase girls, follow his dreams of the big city – but the old man would have none of it. The idea that someone else outside the family could move onto the land he had roamed for the better part of four decades was too much to bear.

And so Tovor followed in the family tradition, taking on the long, lonely work he had been trained for. His father, not one to wallow in what he had lost, had joined the town council, and was a good ally to have when he wasn’t breathing down his neck about some trivial matter or other. On feast days he could rely on his skills with the bow and blade to impress visiting girls from nearby towns and villages, and he rarely wanted for coin.

Rarely wanted, but still not rich, and a sack of bloodied stoats wasn’t going to be changing that any time soon.

Around midday he returned to the small hunting lodge his father had built by hand in his own youth, in the years before he’d even met Tovor’s mother. The place was fairly ramshackle, but sturdy, and the cellar was ideal for keeping his catch cool until he had time to deal with it. After a small meal and with much of the day still remaining, he shouldered his bow and headed back out into the forest.

The afternoon’s pickings turned out to be rather slim in comparison to his morning checking traps. One wild, frustrated arrow at a large hare was the closest he got to any quarry, while multiple deer tracks led him on winding paths to nowhere.

After a few hours of fruitless toil he concluded that the gods were not smiling on him, and he started meandering back towards town, following the sun as it slowly made its way west.

With his focus now dissipated and the sun beating down on his face, Tovor became more and more aware of how hot and sweaty he had become scrambling through the forest. His knees and elbows were scuffed from clambering over rockfalls and when he ran his fingers through his short red hair it came back with twigs in.

“Ain’t gonna have much luck in the pub tonight like this,” he grumbled aloud.

Before long he came to a stream he had a vague recollection of from previous wanderings. Putting aside his bow, Tovor knelt on the bank and dripped his hands into the cool water, sighing contentedly. The chill seemed to run up his arms and across his tense shoulders, sapping the heat just enough to be satisfying.

After roughly scrubbing his hands and forearms, he dipped his flask into the stream, refilling it before taking a long drink, and then repeating the process. The coolness now spread through his body, dispersing some of the stuffy weariness that had started to settle in.

Thirst quenched, he then rocked forward on his knees, bringing his face close to the water. His own tired face stared back at him, an apparition shimmering on the crystal-clear water as it flowed on by.

With a grunt, he splashed his face and hair, scrubbing brusquely urfa escort until the face staring back at him was just a little more presentable.

Feeling a little more human, Tovor followed the stream bank for a time, making the most of the easier passage while it broadly tracked towards home. The gurgle of running water was calming.

After a short time he came to a spot where the stream crested a rocky ridgeline, descending through a series of shallow waterfalls with water pooling at the base. Trees crowded the area, and vivid purple lavender bushes spilled out of the forest verge suffusing the air with a gentle scent. He could see the tell-tale signs of animal tracks all around. Forest pools were often teeming with life, and he took a few moments to orient himself.

The place wasn’t particularly close to his more common trails, but it was still somewhat familiar from his travels over the years. Given the apparently abundant fauna, and how the rest of his afternoon had gone, maybe there would be some merit in revisiting sooner rather than later.

Nudging through the undergrowth, Tovor made his way down towards the largest pool at the base of the tumbling waterfalls. With any luck, there would be fish, or berries, or something else of worth. He could even take the opportunity to bathe.

As he approached the edge of the treeline, catching glimpses of the water through the brush, the relative silence of the forest was suddenly broken by a voice. Despite his hunter’s training, Tovor almost cried out in surprise, dropping to his haunches. He almost never met anyone else out in the forest, and certainly not this far from the town.

After a few moments he realised that what he was hearing was actually singing, but not in any language he was familiar with. The voice was plainly that of a woman, with a high, clear tone that seemed to float through the forest as though it was emanating from the trees themselves.

For a time he just crouched in place and listened, mesmerised, by the loveliness of the sound. The song had a slow and calming, with an almost mournful feeling to it, and he felt a little emotional listening even without understanding the words.

He wasn’t sure how long it was when the mysterious siren finally fell silent, but his knees were aching when the final sweet note echoed out through the forest.

Straightening a little, Tovor flexed his legs, trying to shake off a little stiffness. His mind was alive with possibilities; who could the singer? Surely, out in the eastern forest, so far civilisation, singing so sweetly in a language he didn’t know…

Tovor had only seen elves a handful of times before, and only ever from a distance. Mostly traders when he had happened to find himself in the city of Rochorc, never in Low Gadrotan. He knew they were out there – the forest east of the town straddled the unofficial border of Elven lands – but he had never truly thought about it. Even his father’s stories of meeting rangers on some of his deeper hunts had sounded far-fetched. After all, he had seen no such thing in all his years stalking the old forest.

But what else could it be?

Still crouched, Tovor crept forward, soundlessly easing through the undergrowth. Pressing up against the trunk of an old beech tree, he stole a look out over the pool.

He snapped his mouth shut, years of discipline silencing his surprised gasp before he could voice it. Across the clearing, by the far bank, was a vision of loveliness quite unlike any he had known.

Facing away from him, the elf was washing in the pool, the water up to her chest as she ran slender fingers through her long blue hair. Her pale blue shoulders were slim, the lean muscles bunching as she worked. The afternoon sunlight arced through the clearing above the pool, highlighting the water droplets on her smooth skin, the water around her glittering.

For a few moments he could only stare, drinking in her elegant form. The gentle sound of splashing water echoed through the trees, and high above in the canopy two songbirds chirruped back and forth enthusiastically. It was like a scene lifted straight from an old fairy tale.

An elf, here. He was quite a way from the town, but certainly not in the deep forest. Just a little beyond his normal ranging in reality, and far from the furthest he had ever travelled.

As he had surmised from her voice, it was clearly a woman, unless elves were even more different than he had been led to believe. She had her back to him, but the slender shoulders and delicate neck were distinctly feminine, and as she worked he was sure he caught a glimpse of the swell of a breast.

A big part of him felt guilty for spying, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. Even in his most feverish dreams could he ever think to come across such beauty, and yet here she was, naked before him. In just a few moments more it would all be over; she would vanish into the forest, never to be seen again, and he would be back to his humdrum balıkesir escort life.

He knew he should stop, leave her be, but he didn’t want the dream to end.

Seemingly satisfied with her hair, the elf lowered her arms back into the water, then pushed herself backwards away from the bank. Her long hair fanned out across the water as she sank to her neck. Floating idly, she started singing once more, her delicate voice joining those of the songbirds above in another eerily melancholic hymn.

As she drifted lazily on the water he got a first glimpse of her face. Even at a distance he could see that she was as beautiful as the stories said, her features fine and fair, large eyes closed in rest.

His eyes followed her feverishly as she moved slowly across the water, gliding towards the middle of the pool, then back towards the bank, singing softly as she did so. From time to time her eyes would flick open, and each time Tovor shrank back, though he was unable to pull himself away completely.

It was an ethereal scene, and one Tovor wasn’t sure he was truly seeing at all. Perhaps he would awaken, face down in a steep gully, having fallen and cracked his head on a rock. Perhaps he was at home in bed, enjoying the type of dream where Lilvia or Yolindra would visit him.

After a while the elf made for the spot he had seen her at first and started to wade out of the water.

With a mixture of guilt, arousal and awe, Tovor took this as his cue to leave. The last thing he wanted was for her to stumble across him lurking in the trees once she had dried. That would hardly be the best first impression to make on the forest rangers.

He retraced his steps carefully, anxious to avoid making a sound or leaving any obvious evidence of his presence. Once he was clear of the immediate surrounds of the pool he picked up his pace, wanting to put as much distance as he could between himself and the elf.

He made straight for the cabin, not bothering to watch for potential quarry. His mind was totally elsewhere, and he dealt with the take he had managed for the day in a dull, half-awake fashion. When he closed his eyes he could still see her, clear as day, the water glistening on her smooth blue skin.

By the time he ambled down into town later that evening Tovor had recovered his composure somewhat.

He arrived at his usual haunt just as the place began to fill up with people coming off the fields or shutting up shop for the day.

He was greeted just inside the door with an enthusiastic yell from his old friend, Pillidis. The son of a farmer, they had spent much of their childhood together, forever underfoot at the farm, or exploring the very edges of the forest domain of Tovor’s father. Pillidis enjoyed a laugh and a drink more than anyone Tovor knew, but for all his outward idleness, he worked hard. In their way, they both toiled under the well-meaning but firm hand of the old man who had gone before, although in Pillidis’ case his father was still very much involved in running the place.

Pillidis waved him over enthusiastically, tankard in hand, and Tovor eased through the crowd to join him. Sharing his table was Yolindra, the mayor’s daughter, who inclined her head politely as he approached.

His friend clapped him on the shoulder as soon as he sat down, waving over a serving girl as he did so.

“Good to see you back in civilisation, Tov.”

“I wouldn’t call this dump civilisation,” he replied evenly.

“Pah, what will Lilvia think if she hears you talking like that?”

Lilvia was the new barmaid who had taken a shine to Tovor in recent weeks. She was of an age with him and his friends, and cheerful and pretty to go with it, he had been enjoying the sport. Given his day, however, he wasn’t sure he would be able to bring his mind around to anyone other than his mysterious forest vision.

“If you want a dump, Rochorc has got taverns that will put this place to shame,” Yolindra said blandly.

“Why Yolindra dearest,” Pillidis laughed, “have you been frequenting disreputable establishments?”

“It’s easier to trust a merchant who’s just taking a break from his whoring to do business,” she replied with a shrug.

“Mhmm, and no dabbling yourself?” Pillidis waggled his eyebrows absurdly, and Yolindra rolled her eyes.

“I’m quite satisfied in that regard,” she replied, with a tone of finality.

The final member of their usual quartet was another of Tovor’s childhood friends, Lyreiss. Along with Pillidis they had made a close coterie throughout their youth. In their teenage years Lyreiss had grown into her gangly figure, becoming elegant and fair while still retaining her adventurous spirit. At the time Tovor had rather fancied the idea that something more might grow between them.

That was until one summers day, in a shady courtyard around the back of the town hall, he’d stumbled across his friend engaged in a passionate embrace with the mayor’s youngest daughter.

And trabzon escort so, in peculiar circumstances, Yolindra had been drawn into their circle, and there she had remained ever since.

“Where is Lyreiss tonight, anyway?” Tovor asked.

“The blowhard has her working all hours to prepare for the festival,” Yolindra said with a frown. Lyreiss was a clerk for the town council, working closely with the Yolindra’s father.

Tovor offered his friend a sympathetic look. Yolindra wasn’t the most expressive of people, but she cared deeply for Lyreiss, and always felt her absence keenly. Lyreiss, for her part, could be utterly oblivious to such things if otherwise distracted.

“You know how she gets when she’s got a project,” Pillidis said, “I doubt your old man has much to do with it.”

Yolindra made a sour face, but didn’t deny it.

“You gonna win the archery contest this year, Tov?” Pillidis nudged him in the side.

“Maybe,” he shrugged, “the old git has barely picked up a bow in months. He’s got to get rusty one day, right?”

Despite the loss of his leg years previously, Tovor’s father was still deadly accurate on the range. His own skills had come on steadily, but he’d still never quite caught up.

“You need to be on your game,” Pillidis said enthusiastically, then nodded his head with all the subtlety of an ox towards the bar where Lilvia stood cleaning glasses, “gotta impress, right?”

“I don’t think a few arrows are going to make or break on that score.”

“Won’t hurt. Maybe things’ll move faster than your old dad climbing the stairs then, eh?”

“Sod off, Pillidis.”

His friend guffawed, clapping him companionably on the shoulder.

“I hear we may be having special guests this year,” Yolindra said after a moment, “so you might have to settle for a jar of whatever jam Melly doesn’t manage to sell.”

“Oh-ho, guests?” Pillidis’ attention swung around to the mayor’s daughter.

“Lyreiss said it was a secret,” Yolindra said blandly, “so don’t go telling anyone.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t tell us, then?” Tovor smirked.

“That’s hardly fun, is it? If she didn’t want me to tell you she wouldn’t have told me.” Yolindra said, cheerfully ignoring the logical gap. Or maybe it wasn’t – their mutual friend would almost certainly assume any interesting gossip she told her girlfriend would find its way to Tovor and Pillidis in short order.

“So what’s the news?” Pillidis asked, rocking his chair forward and resting his elbows on the table.

“Forest fairies,” Yolindra said gravely, “the fair folk are coming to town to guess the weight of Rundyan’s goat and see who has the biggest turnip this year.”

Pillidis guffawed and thumped the table, before taking a swig of his drink. Tovor’s grin strained a little; what was the likelihood?

“It’s true,” Yolindra continued, frowning in that way she had when you could never be sure she was being serious, “the council have been exchanging letters with their…what do they call it? The elf-Count, the one who rules this bit of forest.”

“Why now?” Tovor asked.

“Why not? We’re neighbours, and there’s not been an elf in town in our lifetimes.”

“Because there’s piss all in Low Gadro’,” Pillidis said.

“Right, so that’s why it’s been thirty years,” the mayor’s daughter said, “but we’re still neighbours. It’s like how your family goes and spends an evening at Kacyth’s place every year, even though they burn cow shit on the hearth. But never more often.”

Pillidis sniggered.

“So we’re like the stinky backwards yokels you keep sweet to stop them making a fuss?”


Tovor stayed for much of the evening, enjoying the ale and company. Eventually Pillidis’ elder brother came to drag him home, as he often did, and a little after that Lilvia joined them as the bar quietened down. Between two of the prettiest girls in the village – albeit one decidedly off limits – and the elven beauty waiting in his mind each time he closed his eyes, it felt like a rather good way to spend a day.

When he finally left, an amused Lilvia following him to the door, he was decidedly unsteady on his feet. Her eyes seemed to be asking a silent question of him, but his foggy mind was already carrying him elsewhere, back into the forest. Bidding his friends a fond farewell, ignoring Yolindra’s exaggerated eye rolling, he made his way back through the night, to home, bed, and dreams.

The following day Tovor set out into the wilderness at his customary early hour, just as dawn was breaking. He was no stranger to waking with a dry mouth and a heavy head, but getting outside and moving always served him better than laying around feeling sorry for himself.

Sticking to his usual routine, he checked his traps in the morning, this time bringing a few with him along with the quarry they had snared.

In the afternoon he made his way back towards the isolated pool, bearing his traps with him. Whatever his other motivations, he had seen plenty of animal tracks leading to and from the water, and it was doubtless a sound place for plying his trade. He made sure to set up on the near side of the pool and the stream that fed it; he was sure an elven ranger, should she ever return, would have no issues with spotting anything he left, but it would be prudent to play it safe.

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