Istanneniel wiggled her fingers, feeling the soft, cotton-like cloth slide against her skin. Her whole body felt warm and comfortable, and the air smelled sweet and light. Slowly, she opened her eyes…
Golden sunlight cascaded over the elaborately carved sill of the open window across the room.
Then, a sudden stab of fear shot through her as she realized that none of her present surroundings was at all familiar. Throwing back the blankets, she leapt up, bringing a hand to her mouth to stifle a yelp at the searing pain in her legs and feet. She dropped back onto the red cushions of the couch where she had lain, bending forward to examine the cause of her pain. …The legs seemed well enough. The feet, however, were wrapped in once-white cloth that now was stained with crimson.
The recollection came to her of how she had received the wounds, and with it a flood of other memories: the troop of orcs; the endless black trees; the cheerless, hopeless, lifeless darkness closing in around her. …The fair, young man in the forest. The very thought of those intense, penetrating, green eyes plunged her mind into a whirling fog. This time, she pulled herself out.
The rhythmic sound of approaching footsteps echoed through the hall, reverting her attention to the present. There came from the wooden door the soft noise of a key in the lock, and the silver knob began to turn.
The guard, as she took him to be by the look of his garments (and the dagger at his side), crossed the room towards a large cabinet on the far wall. Istanneniel watched through slightly parted eyelids as he rifled through its contents, which were apparently not in very good order. He winced at the reverberating clang produced by a metal bowl as it struck the marble floor. With an anxious glance at the woman, who was apparently still sleeping, he hastened to pick up the bowl and place it back on the shelf. He slipped a small vial into his pocket, locking the cabinet afterwards.
Now, he was walking towards Istanneniel. Despite the incessant pounding of her heart, she retained control of her breath, managing to hold it at a steady pace. She did not flinch when he took one of her tender feet in his hand, turning it over for inspection. Seeing an opening, she swung her free leg into his ribs with an audible crack; the force was enough to send him sprawling on the floor.
Ignoring the pain, Istanneniel sprang to her feet and past the guard, who only narrowly missed at an attempt to snag her ankle when she passed. Her hand grasped the doorknob…
She spilled out into a long hallway with many doors like the one from which she had just emerged. Not stopping to consider what might await her on the other side, she tried the nearest handle. …Locked. The guard was hauling himself up all too quickly, though he gave a brief cry when one of his broken ribs stabbed him inside. She could see no end to the corridor in either direction, and she had to move… She had to move now.
One of the candles that lit the hallway flickered and blew out as she passed, leaving a faint trail of smoke. She heard the man’s voice behind her.
“Wait! Stop!” he called. He shouted something else in a language she could not understand…
Pushing her aching legs as fast as they would carry her, she rushed down the hallway, like wind over the ocean. As she ran, a pair of looming double doors began to take shape before her, while the blood that still oozed from her feet painted a vermilion streak on the floor. The footfalls grew nearer, but she dared not look back. Without warning, she felt her feet slide out from beneath her, and her knees struck against the marble. Almost in the same moment, before she had time to realize what happened, she was thrust downwards by a blow between her shoulder blades. She heard the harsh crack of bone against stone…
Lifting her head, Istanneniel saw the guard lying motionless on the floor, a stream of blood running from his temple. She crawled over to the body, cautiously turning it over, and pressed one ear over the heart… he was unconscious, not dead. It occurred to her instantly that she should take the dagger from his belt. Fingering the hilt, she saw that it was set with glittering gems: rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. She rose, and turned to the heavy, wooden doors. However, a pang of sympathy came upon her heart, and she glanced back at the crumpled creature on the floor.
His body was not particularly heavy for a man’s, though it did take some effort for her to drag it. Leaning his back against the wall, she blotted the blood off his face; nevertheless, it only ran back down again.
His skin and hair were fair, and he was unmistakably handsome (despite the swollen purple ring developing around one eye), but the face was unfamiliar. She brushed the blonde hair back, uncovering his ears. A gasp escaped Istanneniel’s lips at the sight of them, for they were elegantly pointed at the tips. She had heard of Elves before… but she had never actually seen one.
A sudden noise came from the far end of the corridor, and a voice called,
More words followed, but Istanneniel did not stop to listen. Scrambling for the door, she leaned into it, pressing down on the latch… It gave a little under her weight, allowing her to slip into the room behind it.
Soundlessly, she pulled the door closed.