Naira, Heart of Flame - Part 3, A Piece of the Puzzle

Half an hour later, James sank onto the living room couch in utter confusion. He stretched out, resting his back against one of the arms. He buried his face into the soft pillows, and tried to sort out his thoughts about Naira. She was changing, or so he hoped, into some of his sister's clothes. He had changed into a dry pair of shorts and a fresh t-shirt. His hair was a little wet still, slightly curled and unruly.

Could she really be an elf? Naira balked at almost everything she had seen in the house, as though she really had never seen light switches or a telephone before. She had been silent since she had said thank you to him on the beach, merely staring at the cottage. It didn't really classify as a cottage, he thought to himself. His mother's second husband, Tony, had bought it for their family to use. Tony was disgustingly rich, but his son Grant was just plain disgusting.

The very thought of Grant made James lose his appetite sometimes. Grant had a tendency of lying, being unfaithful to his girlfriends, and forging Tony's signature on school documents, among other indiscretions. James really didn't bother with Grant though, he accepted the fact of his step-brother. Grant was a senior in high school now, and James was in his sophomore year of college, and life was much easier when they were apart.

James picked his head up, and looked upstairs in the direction of Clara's room. What could she be doing up there? He sat up slowly, placing his feet on the floor. I didn't see a boat, he thought suddenly, and I know I didn't see her swim out there.

"I saw her fall in, though..." he whispered to himself, afraid of what it might mean. He got up quickly and jaunted up the stairs two at a time to his bedroom. The door to Clara's room was till closed, he noted. James strode over to the bookshelf and grabbed a volume without even needing to look for it. He flipped to the end, looking desperately for something, anything, to help him. Pointed ears, sudden appearances, and disbelief in everyday things... There were only three explanations possible. She was either the most gifted liar he had ever met, had complete amnesia, or she was telling the truth. He needed something concrete to make him believe.

Meanwhile, Naira was standing in front of Clara's closet in utter agony. No woman wore clothes like these! She had never thought women could wear pants, let alone such revealing barbaric tunics. James's odd hobbit-like attire was one thing, but this was different. She had never considered wearing pants, and her eyes started to tear up when she thought of the strips of fabric in a drawer that he had called underwear. Cautiously, she reached out a hand to sort through the contents of the closet. She could dress herself, it couldn't be that hard. Naira held her head up proudly, determined to be strong. Flimsy sleeveless shirts, bulky knit tops, clothes she had never imagined could exist were at her fingertips. She thought of her sisters, and the fun they would have with the contents of this closet. After staring at a shirt that had every color of the rainbow swirled on it that she found particularly hideous, she found the perfect thing. A dress, at last!

She carefully lifted it off the hanger, and laid it on the bed. The bed itself was puzzling, covered in brilliant flowers that looked like they had been drawn on with a brush. This land must have very skilled weavers, she thought. She walked over to the drawer that supposedly held undergarments, and gingerly looked through it's contents. Her own shift and pantaloons were itchy and clung to her, so she selected a pair of rather plain cotton underwear. On closer inspection, it was clear that there were two holes for the legs to go through. Pleased with herself, she proceeded to get dressed. She brushed her hair with a thick, silver brush that had stood on the top of the chest. It reminded her of her own, which was packed in a trunk somewhere.

"Don't cry, don't cry, just be strong..." she said to herself out loud. She thought of her brother, Encaitar. Somehow, knowing that he would probably not rest until she was found made her feel better.

She turned around and her own reflection stared back her from across the room. In the full-length mirror, she looked like a complete stranger. The dress was short, it ended just below her knees, and the sleeves were almost non-existent and the neckline was rather low. She quickly folded her damp clothing, and placed them in a neat pile on the bed.

James didn't hear her open the door a few minutes later, engrossed in his own thoughts. She caught sight of him through his open door down the hall, and walked with poise to the doorway. She didn't want to interrupt him just yet, curious to see what other oddities filled his dwelling. Naira looked around the room, which had wall engravings like she had never seen before. A border of ran around the room in a geometric pattern. Without thinking, she laid her fingers on it, surprised to discover it was smooth like parchment.

The light of the rising sun slipped through his window coverings, which had vertical slits in them. Everything was strange, unfamiliar, and frightening to her. For the millionth time she wondered where she was, and why Gandalf hadn't stopped the ship. He had to have seen her go over, he had been standing mere inches from her on the deck! She sighed.

James looked up then, and was amazed at what he saw. She was looking out the window, her hand caressing the wall paper border on the wall. Her mouth slightly open and sorrowful. Yet, in that sorrow he found incredible beauty. Her hair had dried to the color of gold and he longed instantly to run his fingers through it. She had changed into a pale blue dress that he knew well. Clara had worn it to his graduation two years ago. On Naira it looked different, as though it belonged on her. Her graceful figure was apparent in the way it hugged her curves. James was suddenly aware of the surreal beauty she possessed, and his heart told him what he had suspected for some time now. She had to be an elf.

Suddenly conscious he had begun to stare, he looked at the book in his hands. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien was printed in large letters across the cover, and it held the complete work and indexes. He looked back at the girl in front of him, and realized in horror that she must never see it. How do you explain to someone that not only are they from a book, but they aren't even a character in it? He got up, and placed it back on the shelf with haste.

"You look nice," he said as he walked over to her, hoping she wouldn't ask what he had been reading. James stopped a few inches from her, and she looked up at him. At that moment, a ray of the sun caught her eyes. So deep and soulful, they drowned the rest of the world around them out. For a moment, he felt like he couldn't breathe.

"Thank you," she said. He was looking at her in a way no man ever had before. He probably thinks I am plain, she thought, and doesn't want to offend me. She stepped back and said, "I didn't know where to place my garments. I left them in the other room." He looked startled, and he flushed ever so slightly. Idiot, he thought to himself, she's scared out of her wits and you're trying to hit on her. Elf or not, she's off limits... besides, he though guiltily, you just want someone right now anyway. Lena flashed across his mind as he stepped past Naira to fetch her clothes and take them down to the laundry room.

"Follow me, and we'll get you feeling better in a jiffy," he said.

"What's a jiffy?" she asked, puzzled. He stopped just short of Clara's door, and looked at her. Her face was drawn up, and he could tell she was embarrassed for having to ask. He made a mental note to try to avoid slang from that point on. He smiled broadly, and he said gently, "It means in no time at all." He ducked into the room, and picked up the perfectly folded clothes from the bed. James turned to leave, and he felt something slip out of the middle of the pile and fall to the floor.

Shifting the clothes to one arm, he knelt down to see what it was. In the middle of the carpet gleamed the most exquisite jewel he had ever seen. Fire red, encircled in silver, the jewel hung on a long, delicate silver chain. James was puzzled, he felt as though he had seen it before somewhere. However, he hadn't remembered Naira wearing any jewelry. With his free hand, he gently picked it up. Looking at it thoughtfully, he walked back to Naira.

"You dropped this," said James as he offered it to her. She looked at what he held, and she gasped. Her brilliant emerald eyes raised to his warm gray ones. James was confused but waited patiently while her mind raced. Suddenly she understood. "It isn't mine, but I think I know what it means."

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