Authors: Emigh Cannaday
“Should I take my ring off?”
“I certainly wouldn’t,” he said, as he reached out to stroke her hair. “It’s not a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s very interesting that one of them chose you. They don’t bestow gifts very often. I wonder if it’s because you look so much like Magda.”
Talvi was so close to her, his head just inches from Annika’s. Her eyes wandered up to his, and once again she couldn’t breathe. He was looking at her so curiously, like he recognized her from another life. Annika felt a flash of heat pass through her body; her veins carried it to her neck, her chest, and her thighs.
Why can’t I breathe? Why can’t I move?
Her body felt like a magnet, and Talvi was another one held just far enough away that they couldn’t connect. He reached out and touched the side of her head with his other hand, holding her carefully. He leaned down as though he were about to kiss her, but he froze in front of her instead. She was positive that he was peering into her soul. She could feel his slow, deep breathing against her face, and let her eyes study his nose, his ears, and his broad shoulders.
“Oh, holy shit!” Annika cried, entranced by what she saw behind those shoulders. He twisted around abruptly, then sighed in relief at what had gotten her attention. Two moons were rising above a small tree-covered mountaintop. One was an enormous new crescent five times the size of the only moon she knew of, but very pale. It was only a sliver of light, but it was so large and so near that she thought she could throw a stone over it. The other moon was smaller and had a pink tinge to it. Annika felt if she turned away from the awesome sight that it would disappear.
“Where the hell are we?” she asked. “The other night I only saw one moon, and now there’s two?”
“Badra is usually full,” Talvi informed her. “That’s the one you saw last night. Vega is the large crescent. When Vega’s in full bloom she’s really quite breathtaking. The whole sky is lit up in perpetual twilight.” Even though his words sounded so poetic, Talvi didn’t seem nearly as impressed with the sight above them as Annika did, probably because he was used to seeing it all the time.
“Badra and Vega? I really
in another world, aren’t I?” Annika wondered.
“Yes. I don’t know how else to explain it to you, but our worlds of Earth and Eritähti are intricately connected. It has something to do with physics, which I am just dreadful at. I can tell you which plants out here are poisonous and which are delicious, and I can paint nearly anything you could dream of, but regarding physics I know little more than what goes up must come down. Are you any good at physics?”
“Not really,” she replied. “I suppose as a creative person, I can’t grasp such an absolute concept.”
“Ah yes, that’s right. You play guitar,” he recalled. “Are you any good at it?”
“I’m in a band with my brother and a friend of ours,” she told him. “My brother and I always played music growing up. That’s how we met other cool kids each time we moved.”
“What do you mean by ‘cool’?” He looked confused.
“What? Cool means…you know,
. Not like everyone else.”
“Hmm…different in a good way?”
“Then I think you are a very
girl, Annika Brisby,” he said, trying out the new word.
“Thanks,” Annika said, and looked away before he could see her smile.
Runa, Hilda and Sariel called out in the darkness, all three riding on Ghassan’s broad back, clutching bundles of long, thin branches.
“You’re back already? That wasn’t very long at all,” Talvi said, getting up on his knees.
“We’re starving!” they all said at the same time. Runa and Hilda barely gave Talvi enough time to stand up before they ambushed him with hugs. Annika tried not to roll her eyes as she thought he looked like a movie star being mobbed by his two biggest fans. Sariel just smiled and gave him a nod. They came near to the fire and sat down around it. Hilda and Sariel divided the bundles of wood among each other and took the knives from their boots.
“We found this great wood to make arrows out of,” Hilda gushed. “So we thought we would stock up and take as much as we could carry.”
“Tomorrow we’ll try them out and see how far they shoot.” Sariel said as she whittled away at her branches.
“I used to shoot arrows with one of my neighbors. Maybe I can borrow one of your bows and see if I’m still any good.” Annika said.
“I can help you if you like,” Talvi offered. Runa and Hilda exchanged grins but Sariel only frowned in concentration as she whittled away at a future arrow.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Annika said confidently, playing down his gesture. “I’m sure it’s just like riding a bike. You never really forget how.”
He appeared surprised that she was refusing his assistance, but he said nothing. Out of the corner of her eye, Annika thought she saw Runa try to hide another smile with her hand, but she pretended not to notice. She listened quietly as they filled Talvi in on the details of how they found her and thought that she was somehow related to them. Annika still had her doubts about fitting into this tight-knit circle. She didn’t trust this elven cad, and Sariel didn’t seem too welcoming of her either.
After dinner the chatter faded as everyone’s eyelids grew heavy, and they stretched out in front of the warm embers. Sariel and Annika curled up alone in their blankets while Hilda, Runa and Talvi were all snuggled together like puppies. It was actually kind of cute, even though Annika didn’t want to admit it. There was something about him that made her want to keep her guard up, but there was something else that made her want to set it aside. She got the vague impression that either way, she’d be sorry.
a smooth operator
Annika felt a soft
of warm air on her face. She opened her eyes to see Ghassan’s huge black nose in front of hers, nuzzling her awake. He gave her a gentle nudge and whickered deep in his chest, like a parent sweetly telling their child that it was time to wake up. Annika stroked his nose and heard shouts and laughter. About twenty yards away, Runa was squealing with delight and Hilda was shouting, “It’s my turn!” Next to Hilda stood a slender man in black, towering over her. A quick glance around their little campsite showed that she had missed breakfast, and Sariel was no where in sight.
“That wasn’t nearly as good as Hilda’s last shot!” he called to Runa. He then turned to Hilda. “You had better give her another go before she starts crying,” he teased. Seeing that Annika was awake, he waved for her to come over to him. She rubbed her eyes and stretched, taking her sweet time. She refused to run obediently to him the way Runa and Hilda had the night before. After inspecting her foot and turning her ankle around a few times, she stood up. It was a little stiff, but the pain was completely gone.
She walked over to where the trio was trying out their new arrows. They were all aiming for a tree far off in the distance which was marked with one of their green sashes. Talvi was concentrating hard with his elbow pulled back, then let go quickly. The arrow moved without a sound through the trees, and hit an inch above the center of the target. He turned towards her and rested his bow on the toe of his boot, wearing an overly proud expression on his face. Runa and Hilda clapped at his achievement, but Annika just gave him a little nod of acknowledgement.
In the bright morning sunshine she could see him almost as if for the first time. His unruly hair was indeed as black as pitch, but his long sideburns turned reddish-brown the closer they crept to his jaw. His skin was fair, but bronzed by the sun during the warmer months. The black suede clothing he wore was covered by intricate designs sewn out of silver thread. It was striking how handsome he was; in fact, he was almost pretty. His lips slowly curled into a mischievous grin as he noticed she hadn’t joined in the clapping.
“Weren’t you going to show me how skilled you are with my bow?” he asked and held the weapon out to her. There was no way she could get out of this situation. She walked closer to him, forcing one foot in front of the other. What if she embarrassed herself in front of all of them, especially after acting so sure of herself when he’d offered to help? He handed over the longbow, and Annika was intrigued to see it was an amazing work of art created from a single solid piece of wood. Intricate carvings decorated the sides and an exotic form of script ran up the length to both ends. After a brief moment of admiration, she took an arrow from him and put it against the string.
“Just like riding a bike, then?” he asked quietly and raised an eyebrow.
“Yep,” she said with her jaw clenched ever so slightly. She went to draw back the string, but he leaned down to whisper in her ear. Runa and Hilda stood off to the left, unable to see him graze her cheek with his nose as he spoke.
“Do correct me if I’m mistaken,” he mused, “but weren’t you telling me last night that you wanted to stay out of trouble?”
She relaxed her pull on the string and looked at him quizzically. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
He returned to his former standing position and began to loosen the strings of his leather arm guard. “I think you’re just asking for trouble, Miss Brisby,” he said with a twinkle in his blue-green eyes.
“Excuse me?” she demanded and lowered the bow. No one had ever spoken to her like this before in her life. It seemed nothing gave him more pleasure than saying the most outrageous things imaginable just to make her squirm.
“Are you a masochist, or are you so tough that you don’t mind a little string-slap?” he asked with that smug smile he wore so well. She immediately felt her face turn red with embarrassment. It would’ve been very foolish and very painful for her to not use an arm guard. She’d acted like a know-it-all and he’d caught her. He couldn’t have looked more pleased with himself if he tried. She said nothing as he slipped the leather guard onto her left arm, determined to keep her composure.
“I get the distinct impression that you are a little of both,” he said under his breath, but she ignored him. She concentrated hard, but she swore she could feel him inhale next to her ear. How was she supposed to focus if he was constantly distracting her? She pulled backwards and shot the arrow so high into the branches of a tree beyond the target that it wasn’t likely to ever be found. She wanted to slug him in the face. Hard.
“Hmm, that wasn’t too bad,” he commented, looking surprised.
“How can you say that when I didn’t even hit the right tree?” she finally erupted.
“Look at the bows they’re using,” he said, motioning to the nymphs, who were preoccupied with their own skills and seemed oblivious to their private conversation. “Now look at how large mine is. It’s much more difficult for a petite girl like yourself to use. I’m impressed by your skill.”
Annika felt a little burst of pride, but it didn’t last long as he continued. “Even though you can’t manage to wrap your little fingers around it completely, I think you handle my bow
well.” She took a deep breath and pursed her lips. Was this guy for real? Who the hell said things like this to a woman they just met? Who the hell said things like this at all?
“Well, thanks for the lesson. It was very enlightening,” she said coolly, handing the bow over to him. But he only crossed his arms. He refused to take it back, and it was far too fine an object to be angrily thrown on the ground.
“Try it again,” he said. She glared at him and took another arrow.
“Keep your feet farther apart. No, no, not like that.” He walked behind her and nudged the inside of her leg with his own until they were shoulder width apart. “You mustn’t be so shy about spreading your legs,” he breathed into her ear. Annika’s head suddenly went fuzzy as her blood ran hot, but she did as she was told. He stood close to her without touching her at all. He only lifted her elbow gently with a couple fingers, helping her perfect her form. It was a wonder that she could focus at all, given the amount of sexual energy he was bombarding her with. Even in his voice, she could imagine him giving her instructions in the bedroom.
“Yes, that’s right. And pull your arm straight back, not down. No, higher. Higher. Yes, that’s good. Hold it right there. Now release.”
Annika let the arrow go and this time it narrowly missed the tree, whizzing right past it. She shot quite a few more times; every now and then Talvi would lightly lift her elbow with his finger, but for the most part he just stood aside and watched her. Finally one hit the targeted tree. And then another. And another. The samodivi looked over at her.
“Well I guess that settles it,” Hilda said as she shot one of her own arrows into the tree. Annika looked at them both.
“That settles what?”
“You need to go get some more of this wood if we’re going to have another archer in our circle,” she said with a silly grin.
to go?” Annika asked.
“You’re losing more arrows than the rest of us combined,” Hilda explained. “So you should be the one to go get more. It’s only fair.”
At this, Annika looked to Runa for help, but Runa only shrugged and gave an equally silly grin, clearly agreeing with her sister.
“I don’t have a clue what kind of wood to get,” Annika said. “How am I going to know exactly which trees you found last night?”
“Bring Talvi with you,” said Runa, and sent another arrow into the target. “It’s his forest. He knows every tree that grows in it.”
Annika’s eyes grew wide. There was no way she was going to agree to that idea, especially not after the comment he’d just made about her legs and his bow’s girth. She stood like an idiot with her mouth hanging open, looking for a discreet way to refuse his company. She wondered if she was being set up by Runa and Hilda. Maybe that was the reason why they’d giggled so much back in the cave when they said she’d wish she’d never laid eyes on him.
“Runa, you’re so bossy. Maybe he doesn’t want to go,” Hilda chided. But Talvi had already gathered Ghassan’s reins and was leading him towards Annika. He touched her shoulder to coax her along, and they started off walking away from the samodivi. Annika didn’t know what to think. She felt as if every step she took was that much closer to her doom. It was nearly ten minutes before either of them said anything.
“You seem to be doing fine on that foot,” he observed.
“Yep,” she said, looking straight ahead.
“It’s not causing you any pain, is it?”
is making you uncomfortable,” he insisted. “Perhaps you’ve got a pine needle in your knickers?”
Annika stopped in her tracks and whipped around to face him. She could feel her blood pressure starting to elevate.
“Has anyone ever slapped that grin off your face?”
“Oh, there have been countless attempts,” he said, grinning wide, “However, as you can see, none of them were victorious.”
“I can’t believe I let Runa talk me into coming out here in the middle of nowhere with you.”
All the frustration she’d kept bottled up since she got lost threatened to erupt as either violence or tears. She turned away and blinked vigorously as adrenaline began to seep into her bloodstream.
“Hmmm,” Talvi looked the other way for a moment, trying to think of what to say. “Yet here you are. Do you really think Runa and Hilda would send you off with someone harboring ill intentions? Do you think I would do anything you didn’t want me to do?” There was an overall sincerity in his tone that soothed Annika’s frustration.
“It’s hard to say. I don’t know you that well.”
Annika started walking again. Talvi trotted up to her and grabbed her hand. Immediately she could feel that electromagnetic connection between them. He coaxed her near to him, and for a moment she smelled that honeysuckle and spice she noticed from inside the bookstore.
“Well, what do you want to know?” he asked. “Ask me anything.”
“Do you give all the girls archery lessons like that?”
“Not all of them,” he said with an impish grin.
Annika said nothing at that remark but dropped his hand.
“Are you jealous?”
She finally burst out laughing at his response.
! Jealous of
?” she cried, still laughing. “I’ve never met a guy who was so full of himself! You must think just because you’re hot that you’re automatically entitled to sleep with whoever you want. Give me a break! If you try anything with me, you’re going to be so sorry. I wouldn’t think twice about breaking your nose. And the crap that comes out of your mouth, well, you might as well save your breath, buddy.”
“What?” he pretended to be offended, but it was clear that he wasn’t.
“Plus I know you and Runa have something going on,” she said. “You could at least wait until her back is turned around completely before you hit on me!”
“What makes you say that?” he asked, trying his best to look innocent.
“I see the way you act around each other, and I’d rather not get involved with whatever freaky game you two are playing. Just leave me out of it,” she warned.
“Do you think that I have no decency? I can’t help that my best mate is a samodiva,” Talvi said and chuckled.
“I don’t know how decent I would call that comment about my legs.”
“Well, you weren’t standing correctly,” he said. “I was only trying to help you.”
“Oh, right, helping me by whispering in my ear about your big bow?” she said sarcastically. “Why don’t you save those lines for Runa? I’m sure she’d appreciate it a lot more than I do.”
At that last comment, Talvi made a face like he’d just tasted sour milk.
“I could never speak to her like that. She and I are just friends,”
“It would be pretty difficult for
to just be friends with her if I were a man,” she quipped.
“It’s a good thing I’m
a man or I would most definitely be a lost cause in her company,” he quipped right back.
“I thought Runa was your girlfriend,” Annika pointed out. This time it was Talvi’s turn to feel embarrassed.
“Runa is my best mate,” he explained. “I’ve never thought of her in that way. We grew up together…she’s like one of my sisters. I could never imagine snogging her!” He wrinkled his nose at the thought.
“Oh,” she said, and felt a bit relieved. So he wasn’t as much of a creep as she’d thought. She gave him a questioning look. “So what were you doing last night? Were you trying to kiss me?”
“I was reading your mind,” he told her. “It’s far easier to see your thoughts if I can look in your eyes. In regard to kissing you, I thought about it, but I don’t know you that well,” he smirked. At that she delivered a playful punch into his arm, and all the awkwardness between them dissolved.
“I wish I could read minds the way you can read mine,” Annika said after another few minutes of walking through the leaves. “That would be pretty awesome.”