Sleep rarely came quickly for Anladet, even when she was exhausted. That wasn’t surprising for someone who often slept on the streets, wary of strangers and always cautious to stay away from brutes. She had often woke up in full panic over the smallest sounds, ones that sounded too much like footsteps or knives scraping against walls even though they weren’t either. It had taken a considerable amount of time for her to finally cope with the fear and the darkness with her past.
Up until she was twelve year, Anladet had been very happy. She’d had a loving family, a wonderful home, and everything a child could need. Her days were filled with excitement and discovery, laughter and tumbling, learning and expansion. She had figured out that when she picked a day to recount from her childhood, it softened her heart and mind so that she could lapse into sleep without either focusing on the world too much. And there were so many days to choose from.
Anladet had lived with her mother’s people, the Deerborn tribe, in what she had only known as ‘the woods’. Ghenians would call the area ‘western Ashven duchy’, or ‘the Dreelands’. Both were incorrect as far as her mother’s people had been concerned. As much as Ghenians loved to boast about connecting the Ganik and Lanian seas, the truth was there were huge swaths of land along their precious Courdet-Ayiz Corridor they had no authority over. Anladet’s family lived in one of those places.
She was the second of four children, her only brother being the youngest. Her mother was a quiet and pleasant woman, stern when she needed to be, but easy with a laugh when her children were silly. She didn’t know her father nearly as well as her mother, since he was a traveling doctor, but of what she remembered he was a carefree and ideological man who held learning and knowledge in great esteem. He was warm and delighted to explore the world through his children, always interested in knowing how they thought of things. He especially loved what they could figure out with their keen little minds. Rewards for excellent thinking were often dolls or cheaply made jewelry he bought on his rounds in Ashven, Sharka, and Ekistol to the south..
The village was made of several dozen families. Her mother’s two sisters lived there with her uncles and cousins. Her mother’s youngest brother still lived with her grandparents. Two other uncles had left to seek wives in different lands, though they returned occasionally for large festivals. There had been glens in the forest to run through, a pond to swim in, and the imaginations of many children to fill all the hours of the days.
When her father returned from his travels, he would set to teaching his four offspring different subjects. By the time she was ten, she knew how to read, write, and speak Ghenian as well as Arvonnese, the language of her father’s people. She had the education of a wealthy couple’s daughter, complete with mathematics, history, geography, physiology, combined with her mother’s people’s knowledge of the woods and their magic.
There was one thing, however, that had been kept from her.
Raidet, her older sister, had been told on her tenth birthday and not allowed to tell her siblings. Anladet sort of knew what it was about, but never asked about it until the day her mother and father sat with her as the other three played in a field.
“Anla, what do you see when you look at Mama?” her father asked her.
“I see that she looks like me,” she responded. “She has brown hair and hazel eyes.” She was proud of the word “hazel”. She had only learned it two weeks prior, when she was trying to figure out what to say her own eyes were.
“And what do you see when you look at me?”
“You have brown hair and brown eyes.”
“Anything else that seems different?”
She thought about this. Was this the time to ask about her dad’s sickness? The other kids had always said her father was strange, that maybe something tragic had happened to him when he was a younger man. She had been taught it was impolite to talk about people’s issues, so she had held her tongue. “You look different from the other men in the village, Dada. Mama looks like the other women, but you seem bigger. And your ears are round. Mama’s ears are pointed.”
“That’s right,” he said, looking proudly at her. “You noticed a lot of things, Anla. Do you know why I look different?”
“Was it because you were sick at some point? You had a disease where your ears stopped growing, but you also grew too big? Is that why you became a doctor, so that other people wouldn’t get sick with what you had, too?”
Her father looked stunned for a second, then started laughing. “No, darling, though that’s an interesting theory. I look the way I do because I’m a human. Your mother and all the people in the village are elves.”
“Oh,” she said, not really understanding what that meant. Her father seemed to pick up on that and bade her to sit in his lap. She snuggled against his chest, the two of them looking out at the same scene.
“When the gods created the world, they made many different kinds of people, including the elves and humans. Like…The to’ken, the sea folk, who live only a few hundred miles from here. They live on and in the sea. There is an island northeast of here where everyone is tall and lanky, with big shoulders and straw-like hair. They’re known as grivvens or straw men. And there are a few others that live on the other side of the world, too.
“Sometimes different people get along and become friends. Other times, they don’t like each other. Elves and humans don’t get along very well.”
“You and Mama do,” Anladet had pointed out.
“Yes, we love each other,” he said, leaning over and giving his wife a kiss on the cheek. She smiled at him and continued to knit while listening to the conversation. “But it doesn’t happen very often than elves and humans get married and have children. That’s because there is a law in Gheny that says elves and humans can’t.”
“Good question,” her mother muttered.
“I’m not sure, sweetie. Some people got together and said, ‘We don’t want elves and humans together’. And they made a law that said they couldn’t. It was long before I arrived in Gheny.”
Anladet was already thinking ahead and her father let her. “Is this why we play the game?” she asked.
“Yes, Anla. Very good,” he said. “You’ve always been very good at figuring things out and also at playing the game. And now you know why we play it.”
“So that the Gheny people don’t arrest you and Mama?”
“Yes, my sweetling,” he said, kissing her on her temple. “So that we can stay together.”
The game had been something the whole family had participated in since Anladet was very little. Once each year, her father would take everyone to a new destination for something he called ‘vacation’. Her father would buy them all new clothes and see if they could guess as to where they were going. Candy was given to the best guesser. Then, they would load into a horse-drawn caravan with food and suitcases and leave for about a month or two.
There was just one rule during these vacations. Once they left a certain point, they could no longer call their father “Dada”. He was Martin, his real first name, or ‘sir’ if they wanted to pretend he was a knight guarding them. During the vacation, he would stand off a little while the six of them toured places. If anyone asked, he was a hired man who was protecting a rich, elven lady and her children while they were visiting wherever they were. That story wasn’t false nor was it unheard of, but some people did give them strange looks.
It had always been risky. Anladet later understood that her father had thought the education and experience was so important to his children’s lives that he risked his own for it. Where he had come from, in the Tapenstri duchy of Arvonne, not many children received higher education. He had always said it was the greatest gift he could give his children, so that one day they could go out in the world and have the best opportunities
It had taken Anla a considerable amount of time to forgive him for his naive aspirations. He had been too trusting of the good in this world, that the philosophies written in black-and-white bore translations in the hearts of men. It was sadly the best education she’d had, when her eyes were opened and she really understood what people were like when they were cut down to their primal needs.
It was the mathematics, though, that always sat with her. In her mind she wished she could subtract every vacation, every new experience, every little piece of information gained if only she could have her parents back. But math was black-and-white, too, and as she learned, not colorful enough to fulfill wishes.