Authors: Emigh Cannaday
It was easier for Annika to ignore the goose bumps on her arms when she felt a familiar gurgle in her stomach. She found some stew vegetables and cut them up with Runa’s ebony-handled knife, but they were still out of water. She wished Hilda and Sariel would hurry back with the canteens. That raven staring at her had given her the creeps. Bite-sized chunks of potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions had nearly filled the cooking pot, and the stars were now springing up by the dozens, but there wasn’t a sign of Sariel nor Hilda.
Through the dim light, Annika saw shadows jumping all about, caused by the leaping flames of the campfire. She noticed that the deer suddenly all looked up in the same direction, and she followed their stare into the shadowy treetops. It was that raven again. It glided down to the lowest branch near her and cawed, looking at her with its beady eyes. She was trying to decide if she should wake up Runa or ignore her growing uneasiness. There were noises in the distance, but they weren’t coming from the direction that Sariel and Hilda had gone. She heard her heart pounding in her chest, growing louder and louder, then realized it wasn’t her heart at all, but the sound of hooves hitting the ground. At first they were a soft
, but as they neared they thundered louder. There was no way it could be a deer; it was something much heavier…and bigger. Annika saw a dark figure emerge from the woods and walk straight at her. She tightened her grip on the dagger and gave Runa a hard shove with the other hand.
“Runa! Runa, wake up!” she pleaded, and clumsily stood to her feet. Runa opened one eye, then the other and stretched, unconcerned. In the starlight Annika could tell it was a huge horse coming nearer, tossing its head and walking leisurely. The dark animal with one white foreleg stopped too far away from the fire for Annika to see its rider, but Runa ran to them with a gleeful squeal and a big smile on her face. The rider swung a long leg up and over the horse’s shoulders, landing on the dry leaves with a light crunch. He reached down and embraced Runa tightly.
“And how is my favorite little samodiva?” a velvety soft man’s voice asked her. Annika’s skin prickled yet again. She knew that voice. It was silky smooth, yet carried a bold confidence. He walked with his arm around Runa back to the fire where Annika stood, still leaning down to hear her chatter.
“I didn’t think we’d see you until tomorrow night,” Runa sighed happily. The man lifted his head as he stepped into the firelight, and his eyes grew wide when they met Annika’s, whose were just as large. For a split second she couldn’t breathe. It was the young man from the bookstore.
They regarded each other for what seemed an eternity while Runa’s sing song voice became mere background noise. Neither of them spoke. He seemed to be searching for words, but they wouldn’t come. She was lost as well, mesmerized by this gorgeous man which stood before her. She never imagined she’d see him again. He still wore the black leather pants with silver buckles running up his black knee-high boots, but he’d replaced the shabby dinner jacket with a matching suede one, cut to fit his sleek form perfectly.
!” he looked as visibly shaken as Annika felt, but he was recovering a lot faster than her. His expression took on the appearance of a wolf catching the scent of a nearby rabbit on the wind…a wolf that hadn’t eaten anything in a while.
“This is Annika, remember, from the bookstore in Sofia?” Runa informed him, as if he were as much of a ding-a-ling as she was. “She has the mark of a samodiva, but she says she comes from a place called Aberica.”
, love,” he kindly corrected her. He smoothed her hair fondly, even though he was still looking at Annika. “How could I ever forget a saucy girl like you, Annika Brisby?”
She didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended, since his arm was still draped around Runa’s shoulders. He turned his head towards Runa to give the impression he was interested in her rambling story, but his eyes did not leave Annika’s.
“Annika somehow found our home and then the gate began to close on us when I pulled her in…” Runa gushed. “We almost didn’t make it! It was so scary, and now it doesn’t go back to the usual place. It leads to somewhere terrible, and Annika can’t go home. Sariel didn’t know what else to do, but she thought your father could help.”
“Am I to understand you’re coming home with me?” he asked her, then looked at Annika with a bemused grin. There seemed to be wheels of thought spinning madly behind his eyes. “Well then…where are my manners?” He let go of Runa and sauntered over to Annika gracefully, taking her free hand in his.
“Talvi Marinossian, at your
” he introduced himself with a deviant smile. Annika was shocked, not only by this hint of double entendre, but also by his appearance. She was expecting Talvi to be a tiny elf with huge ears and goofy shoes, resembling a wrinkly old man; certainly not this beguiling, yet brazen creature that stood before her. She could clearly see his ears come to a soft, subtle point as he bent down low to kiss the back of her hand, which was probably why Runa had insisted he wear that ridiculous red hat in Sofia. Annika didn’t think his ears were all that noticeable. What
noticeable, however, was the sensation of the tip of his warm tongue darting between her fingers. It happened so quickly, so subtly that she wasn’t even sure if he had done it. But he definitely had. He let his chin graze her hand in a sensuous manner as he looked up at her.
” he murmured, looking quite smug. Annika’s eyes opened wide. She was appalled that he could act that way right in front of his girlfriend.
“I was expecting someone small,” she replied, flabbergasted. She could feel her heart begin to thump loudly again. Still holding her hand, Talvi stood up close to her, tilting his head to one side with interest. He squeezed her hand just enough to make her glance down to where he was holding it strategically below his belt. In a very low, seductive voice that only she could hear, he said, “I assure you, I am anything but
Annika jerked her hand out of his, trying not to appear flustered, but it was too late. He threw a shameless smirk in her direction and took a step backwards.
“Cazadora, come,” he called at the tree, and the raven landed on his shoulder. He nuzzled his cheek against her black wing. “Thank you so much for leading me to the girls,” he said to her. “I truly cannot thank you enough. Would you tell Finn that I’ve found the samodivi and one particular Annika Brisby?” The bird flew up into the starry night while Annika sat down and tossed the knife beside the pot of cold vegetables.
“I wish Sariel and Hilda would hurry up with the water,” Runa whined. “I’m hungry.”
“Yes, that doesn’t look like much of a stew to me,” Talvi snickered, glancing at the sorry-looking pot of raw vegetables. “If Sariel went, you might be waiting a long time. I’d bet you my bow that she’s not coming back for a while. There’s a grove of trees out that way that make the best arrows.” Talvi walked over to retrieve a canteen from his saddle. He poured the entire contents in the pot and placed it over the fire, lifting it as if it weighed nothing.
“If you two want to go find them, I’ll wait here and keep an eye on your dinner,” he offered as he sat down beside Annika.
“Annika should rest. Her ankle is still pretty sore,” Runa said. “But I think I know where they are. I can go by myself. You should stay with her since she doesn’t know Srebra Gora at all.” She reached down to poke the vegetables with a wooden spoon. Was she hiding a smile?
“Well, that does make sense,” Talvi said, as his eyes flashed at Annika, making her squirm.
“Oh you don’t have to leave, Runa,” she said, trying to avoid looking at Talvi. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
“You don’t know Sariel very well,” Runa replied. “She would gladly pass up dinner just to gather wood for arrows. Besides, Talvi will take care of you while I’m gone.”
That’s what I’m afraid of,
thought Annika. Talvi gave a little snort, as though he had heard her thoughts out loud.
“Would you let me take Ghassan?” Runa asked. “I think the deer are tired.”
“Yes, but don’t let him run until the moons rise,” he said, shaking a finger sternly at Runa. He stood up and walked over to her, lifting her up into the saddle, but he was still smiling when he glanced at Annika and added, “You know it can be quite dangerous in the dark.”
“I promise I’ll be careful,” Runa assured him. She looked so tiny on the massive animal, compared to the slender deer they’d been riding. She was so petite that her feet didn’t even come near to fitting in the stirrups. Talvi waited until Runa and Ghassan had disappeared before he turned to Annika.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. Why did you run away from me that day?” he asked, walking back to her.
“I…I don’t really know why,” she stammered as he sat closer to her than she would have preferred. “I guess I didn’t want to get in any more trouble.”
“Well, you can’t run away now. Does that mean you’re in trouble?” he said, running his fingers through his hair seductively.
will be if you don’t back off!” she snapped. She was astounded by his suggestive manner, and wondered how soon Runa would come back. She frowned at him a little and looked away, wondering what self-defense moves she could use effectively with an injured ankle.
“What happened to your foot?” he asked. It was so odd how he seemed to know exactly what she was thinking.
“I fell off one of the river rocks outside Runa’s cave. Hilda put this bandage on it,” she said in a very business-like manner. “It’s getting better. Hilda doesn’t think it’s broken. I can even walk on it a little.”
“Oh, you poor little dove. Does it hurt?” he asked sympathetically.
“It’s not so bad,” she lied. She didn’t want to appear to be the wounded and helpless girl she actually was. “But I should probably see a doctor just to be sure. Do you have a phone I can use?”
“What about back at your place?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said with a shrug. “We don’t have them here.”
“Of course you don’t,” Annika muttered, wincing as she took off her sneakers.
“May I see your ankle?” She cautiously swung her leg in his direction and he brought it to his lap. He carefully took off the bandages and brushed off the dried paste that Hilda had applied earlier. He held her ankle in his warm hands and shut his eyes for a few moments. His hands seemed to grow incredibly warm the longer they remained on the skin. In the silence she felt some of the pain dissipate.
“It seems fine to me,” he said. She turned it in a circle one way and then the other. It did indeed seem much improved.
“What did you do to it?” she marveled.
“It’s just a trick.”
“Does it have to do with you being an elf?”
“Perhaps,” he said and smiled mysteriously.
“Well whatever you did, thanks.”
With her ankle now hurting much less, she temporarily forgot about what a jerk he’d been earlier. The two sat in silence for a few moments.
“You have interesting names for your animals,” she eventually commented, trying to make polite conversation.
“Thank you. I collect names from my travels,” Talvi said as he poked the fire with a stick. “Ghassan is Arabic for youth, and Cazadora—”
“Is Spanish for the huntress,” she interrupted, showing off. “Do you use her to help you hunt rabbits and stuff?”
Talvi smirked at her assumption.
“No, only young ladies wandering about the forest after dark,” he clarified. “Wood elves don’t eat animals. She’s my brother’s pet, and he lets me take her out sometimes. She flies up ahead and tells me what she sees, whether there is a mountain I must climb or a river I must cross. She’d been out flying and saw that the samodivi were coming this way with a new friend. I left as soon as I woke up this morning.”
“That’s amazing,” Annika marveled.
“No it’s not. What
amazing, is how you acquired something so rare on your left hand,” he stated casually.
Annika touched the huge ring on her finger. “A lot of people wear diamonds,” she said, trying not to think about the man who’d given it to her. “They’re not
“It’s not the stone I’m referring to,” he said quietly. She wasn’t sure if she should tell him anything more about it or not. He didn’t seem like the most honorable guy to be spilling secrets to, but the nymphs did say that he was very old and wise, even if he didn’t look it.
“I…I got it just the other night,” she said.
“At the hot spring farther south. Why? Do you know something about unicorns?” she asked. Talvi looked at her with a serious expression.
“Just be mindful of whom you tell,” he said. “The samodivi are lovely girls; it’s not them I worry about. Unless you tell them, they won’t notice it. They can’t read minds like I can. But what they don’t know can’t harm them. Do you understand?”
“Yep,” Annika said. “I’ll keep it on the down-low.”
“I don’t care where you keep it, as long you keep it to yourself,” he said, looking at her strangely. “Perhaps we’ll look at one of my brother’s books when we reach my home. He has a few on unicorns, and their powers.”