Chapter Four

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Estela remembered little of the night's journey, for, although the horses galloped hard across many terrains, she was physically and emotionally exhausted and spent the trip in a hazy half-waking half-sleeping state, barely conscious enough to grasp the fair-haired warrior's waist from behind. The last thing she vaguely remembered was being helped off the horse by strong hands and laid in a strange but comfortable bed, just as the first hints of dawn were appearing.

She awoke to the warm noon sun filtering through the leafy boughs of great oak trees onto a smooth wooden platform. She realized that she was lying (quite comfortably) in a type of hammock which was made of a sturdy yet soft and pliable cloth stretched between two trees over the platform. Noticing two warriors standing alert nearby, she decided to lie still and feign sleep until she could better take stock of her situation. At the end of the platform furthest from her stood the fair-haired leader, engaged in deep conversation with another warrior, who seemed to be some kind of a second-in-command. On several other platforms in surrounding trees the remaining warriors, almost 40 in all, were busy tending to their wounded, cleaning and sharpening their weapons, and conversing in hushed voices. These, she realized, were the ones who had stayed behind to fight off the dark warriors the previous night.

"They must've arrived while I was asleep," she thought. "Apparently I've been sleeping all morning. It's got to be almost lunchtime already. But what am I to do? I can't figure out if they've saved me or captured me. How will I ever get home?" But even as she thought these things, another part of her replied. "What home? The place where your landlord hates you, your neighbors laugh at you, and your friends mock you?" She felt a sob rise in her throat, but quickly stifled it.

With a start, she noticed that one of the two guards, a more brawny man for their kind (for none of them were very brawny-looking; indeed, they were nearly all tall and slender of frame, though, as she had seen, not a one of them was lacking in strength or courage) was staring at her, and she realized that he discerned the nature of her pretentious slumber. He suddenly turned and strode toward the leader and said something inaudible in his ear. The fair-headed warrior glanced at her with a frown and gave an inaudible reply. As the brawny warrior strode back toward her, she got a better view of him. His face was stern and bore a brown scar running from his left eye down his neck. His hair was long, dark, and shining and, like the all the other warriors, his ears were strangely pointed. His unimpressive green and brown garb and armament were alike to the others except for a great war ax that he carried in contrast to the apparently standard weaponry. Altogether he was an intimidating sight.

Her heart pounding, Estela sat up as the brawny warrior stood before her. To her surprise, he bowed and said in a deep voice, "Welcome to our company. I am Belegorn, and this is Malkawa." He gestured toward the other guard, an equally brawny dark-haired man bearing a great golden bow as his weapon. "We are to be your guards and we are at your service for whatever you may require."

"Oh," she stammered in reply. "Um, if you please, who is that tall blond-haired man over there?"

"He is...Well, he is simply the Ohtar, the leader of our company."

"What does he want with me?"

"He will speak with you himself in a few moments. Meanwhile, we must be ready to leave whenever he commands."

"Oh! Where are we going?" Estela asked, rather alarmed by this last statement. However, there was still a part of her that was curiously excited by Belegorn's words.

"The Ohtar will tell you all you need to know," he replied, showing signs of irritation from her many questions and turning to take up his former position once again.

"Wait! Er, excuse me, but if you don't mind my asking, who are you? I mean, what kind of—of people are you?"

Belegorn turned with a thoughtful expression on his face. "You might know us as Elves."

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