It's time for a holiday tradition here at Trav's Thoughts, and so once again I present my original story.
The Yuletide Star
by Travis Cody (copyright 2007)
Kalfan peered from between the branches of the tree and observed a yellow haired young Human woman sitting on a split log. He knew less than many of his Elven brethren regarding Humans. However Kalfan did know enough to recognize that this one was crying.
It was none of Kalfan's business what had made this Human cry. He told himself he should leave quietly and go on about his own tasks. That is what he should do, and that is what he would do.
As he began to replace the branches of the tree to hide any trace of his presence, another Human entered the clearing. This one was an older woman, with an air of authority over the younger. Kalfan remained where he was to watch, cursing himself for a fool because he knew he should not, and did not understand why he did.
Kalfan had a passing familiarity with the Human language, from customary basic greetings to the assorted necessaries for communication between the races. He could also speak High Dwarf, and make himself understood in the guttural and thoroughly throat constricting sounds that passed for language among the Gnomes. Thus it did not surprise him as he listened that he recognized the series of sounds the older woman spoke to the younger, from greeting to name to question about her presence here. Kalfan pronounced the name softly. Jatay was as close a rendering as he could manage in his own tongue. The sound as he barely whispered it was pleasing to him.
It was a beautiful calling in Elven, thought the young Elf, to go with a shockingly beautiful young woman. Ordinarily the beauty, or its lack, in a Human was something to which Kalfan would be indifferent. However the yellow hair possessed by this Human woman was uncommon in Elven kind. The oddity gave Jatay a grace Kalfan could identify with his own people. Kalfan imagined that if he drew closer, he might see that the woman's eyes were gray, a feature more common to his own kindred than for Humans.
His speculation bordered on the curious, and this did surprise him. Kalfan wondered if perhaps the absence of yellow hair among his people and the possibility of gray tinted eyes in a Human were the reasons for his interest. Such an odd mix was somehow fitting for a being so beautiful, regardless of her heritage.
Kalfan used this reasoning to excuse his curiosity and justify moving to the furthest limbs of the tree, still concealed yet nearly in the open. He quieted in the manner of his kind, and watched.
The older woman made a gesture Kalfan thought was an attempt to coax Jatay from the clearing. The younger woman clearly did not wish to follow. She shook her head and held near to a hastily arranged grouping of stones, wild flowers, and moss.
Kalfan nearly gasped, for this arrangement was Elven. It was a bereft Elf's Wishing Ritual. The stones represented the solid home from which a traveler had left and to which he might return. Wild flowers reminded the one who Wished of the loved one lost. Moss was believed to guide the weary traveler who had lost his way. Combined, the symbols provided a foundation for a Wish from the heart that a lost loved one be shown the way home.
Elves believed in the Wish as a powerful part of their magical heritage. But the symbols and Wish were only a part of the process. A wish was merely a longing for something. To fill the wish with any power, and to expect any response to it, one must cast a True Wish upon the Yuletide Star.
Now the scene of Human young woman and Elven Ritual became clearer to Kalfan. She had lost and was attempting to Wish the lost one back to her.
The older woman finally won the battle of wills, as elders of any race generally will. Jatay meekly followed her from the clearing. Kalfan waited a time to be sure that they would not return, and then climbed from the tree to survey the young woman's preparations.
Everything was correct and in place. The arrangement followed the proper form. All that remained to be added was something personal belonging to the subject of the Wish, and the presence of the Yuletide Star.
Kalfan considered. It was truly none of his business that a Human had begun an Elven Ritual, although the very idea was of general interest to his people. Further, it was none of his business whether this Ritual succeeded. It was also, he reminded himself, none of his business to meddle in the affairs of Humans.
Relations between Human and Elven races had been strained in recent times. The Elves waned in power and desire to remain in the world as it gradually changed. There were fewer places where Kalfan's people could reside without the intrusion of Human growth. Kalfan was young enough to concede that many Human advances had proven beneficial to his kindred. But he was also Elf enough to understand that many precious and promising Elven lives had been lost in battles, fulfilling alliances with Human and Dwarven kind against the encroachment of evil influences.
Kalfan surveyed the young woman's preparations a final time. Concluding that he could do nothing to aid in the Wishing Ritual, and convincing himself finally that it was truly none of his concern, Kalfan strode quietly from the clearing.
Kalfan climbed without a sound from the branches of a tree, notching an arrow to his longbow. He could make out the tips of the stag's antlers. Quietly, he crept forward, keeping himself down wind as he had been taught.
Suddenly, the stag raised its head and stood listening. Kalfan crouched silently, barely breathing. The stag scented the wind, remaining still, statuesque and beautiful. Then it bounded behind dense foliage and was gone.
Kalfan did not swear. It was a simple fact of a hunter's life that, on occasion, prey would catch the faintest warning. The young Elf took this in his stride, knowing that as he grew in experience, such failure would be less and less frequent. He sighed, slung his bow and replaced the arrow in his quiver. Still crouched, he took a sip of water from the skin at his belt, and contemplated his next move.
Capping the skin, Kalfan froze. A soft sound came to the Elf’s ears. It was singing, nearly as pleasing to the ear as the clear notes his mother played on her lute. Kalfan cocked his head and presented more of his ear to the sound. Indeed, the gentle voice rivaled the music of his mother. That was no mean feat nor idle compliment from the Elf, for his mother was the foremost minstrel in Elven Home.
Kalfan's curiosity took the better measure of his sense. Younger Elves were generally more inquisitive than their elders, though the discovery of new sensory pleasures was enough to pique any Elf's impassivity. Kalfan followed the sound quietly, as calm and careful as previously he had stalked the stag.
After winding his way through the trees and bushes, Kalfan came to a small thicket. Concealed within the dense foliage he peered through a slight gap in the leaves and found the source of the soft, sweet music.
It was the same young Human woman he had seen days before. Jatay, he recalled. She was sitting cross legged upon a bed of soft grass. Before her on the floor of the thicket was another Wishing Ritual. Her eyes were closed, and she was humming softly.
Kalfan was no more than six strides from the young woman. He could view Jatay's face, as well as the Ritual she had laid before her. It was closer to true than the remains of the first try Kalfan had witnessed. This time, Jatay had included a personal item of the person she had lost. It was a leather strap, possibly a belt, with a small leather pouch.
All that remained for the Ritual to be attempted in earnest was a visit from the Yuletide Star.
The Yule season was a time of extreme emotional poles for Elven kind. It was a time of birth as well as a time for those grown weary of life in this world to leave it and seek the Eternal Place of Elven Lore. It was said, and passed from generation to generation by those versed in the lore, that any of Elven blood may seek the Eternal Place simply by Choosing the Path.
The Ceremony for the Choosing of the Path was performed on the third night after the appearance of the Yuletide Star in the Elven sky. The Elven sky was that portion of sky that traversed between the branches of the Great Tree found within the exact center of Elven Home. The Yuletide Star itself was known by Humans as the northern star, and it was visible to all peoples year round. Only during the special Yule season did it become the Yuletide Star to Elven kind. At that time, as the Star passed resplendent between the branches of the Great Tree, many things were possible in the reflection of its precious light.
Births during the shining of the Yuletide Star were doubly blessed. The journeys of those seeking the Eternal Place of Elven Lore were best embarked during this time. Thus the two emotional poles, birth and the life beyond, were celebrated during the Yule season, beneath the light of the Yuletide Star.
Jatay stopped singing. Kalfan could see again the tears on her face. His heart was saddened. Troubled, Kalfan wondered why the distress of a Human woman should so affect him.
The young woman heaved her shoulders in a sigh of discontent. She opened her eyes, and Kalfan was struck by the distinct gray color and Elvish slant. As he looked closer, Kalfan realized that this woman was more Elf than Human. Now he had the answer for many things.
She was a Halfling. That explained how she could know of an Elven Wishing Ritual. It also explained the enchanting way she sang, and the nearly irresistible need in Kalfan to know who she was and why she tried the Ritual.
Kalfan rose quietly and stepped from his concealment.
The young woman did not react as one might expect. She was not alarmed by the other presence. Nor did she seem disturbed that the other was an Elf. She looked directly at Kalfan, but she did not smile.
"Many pleasant greetings," Kalfan said. He bowed at the waist, never taking his eyes from the young woman's.
Jatay nodded, but did not speak.
Kalfan moved closer. He did not sit until invited, following Elven custom. He surveyed the young woman's preparations and as he did so, he stole several glances in her direction. She watched him.
"I Wish," Jatay said. She spoke in his own tongue which, while it did not surprise Kalfan, nevertheless gave him pause. He stepped back a pace.
"Do you wish me to go?" This was a polite inquiry among Elves when a greeting has not been returned.
"I Wish," repeated Jatay. Her eyes clouded and she began to cry. In the Human tongue she said, "I Wish for him to return."
Despite every policy of his people, despite every Human custom that he did not know, despite every caution he should employ, Kalfan dropped to his knees beside Jatay and gathered her in his arms while she cried.
After several moments, she composed herself. Kalfan noticed that she was older than he had at first thought. His own people found judging age in other races difficult, since theirs is a long lived race. Humans age and die at a much faster rate, and Halflings are doubly difficult to gauge. Kalfan now guessed Jatay to be in her middle to late teen years.
"Do you fare better, now?" Kalfan asked.
Jatay wiped her eyes and sat straighter. "Yes, thank you," she answered in Elven. She continued in the Human tongue. "Do you understand if I speak this language?"
"Some," he confessed. "But you must speak slowly."
She smiled. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you."
"No matter. I have seen you before. Your Ritual interests me."
Her eyes clouded. "I have no right to perform it."
"You have every right. If I see correctly, you are more Elf than Human."
"These things are not well-looked upon by my people."
"Then why do you stay with them?" Kalfan did not understand non-acceptance. Humans were of such amazing diversity that this seemed a contradiction. The Elven way was to accept all Elves as they are. This young woman, Halfling or no, would be counted Elf in Elven Home.
"I stay for my mother," Jatay replied. "I have no one else, since he left, and nowhere else to go."
Kalfan decided to let that lie. She may not accept that she could find a home among Elven kind, especially since she had been left behind by the Elf who was her father. She was of two peoples, trying to make a place with those who rejected her, based on her perceived rejection by her father.
"For whom do you Wish?" Kalfan surprised himself. He sought confirmation of his speculations, but this was a highly personal question, and one which an Elf should never presume to ask of another Elf.
"My father," Jatay answered promptly. "He left many years ago, to fight in a great battle. I know very little of him, save some of the things he taught me. I was so young and remember so little, save this Ritual."
"He told you of this?"
"I remember clearly. He made me repeat the instructions until he was sure I could recall them. Then he told me that if I ever had need of him, I should Wish, and he would come."
Kalfan pointed to the belt and pouch. "These things are his?"
"Yes. He left them with me as remembrance. I like to think he loved me, but I remember so very little."
"You have done well in your preparations. These items reinforce the Wish."
"Inside the pouch is a gemstone my father gave to my mother. I am told he loved her at one time. I thought the gemstone would help."
Kalfan looked at her seriously. "The gemstone is a more potent personal affect than the leather of these other items. Gems will hold the essence of a person far longer, and they are more likely to capture the essence of an Elf."
Carefully, Jatay extracted the gemstone. Kalfan gasped, stunned by what his senses told him. Tensely, he reached for it. His finger moved slowly closer to it, until the tip rested gently against its polished surface.
Kalfan's hand jerked back, startling Jatay. The Elf sat back on his heels and began to speak slowly in his own language.
"For Elven kind, kinship is a thing of great reverence, measured through the ages by unbreakable bonds. Gemstones, such as the one you hold, are elements by which kinship can be identified. When we touch one, we can sometimes tell whether the one who possesses it is related to our particular kin line. When I touched your gemstone, I felt your kinship to my clan. In our common history stands an Elf of my clan, and I strongly suspect that this Elf may have been your father."
Kalfan looked at Jatay to see the shock registered on her face. Jatay had known her father was Elven, but she had never expected to meet another, much less one who would admit kinship to her.
"You would say this, without knowing me. But the people of my own village whom I count as kin, by blood and by marriage, disavow me."
Kalfan smiled. "You do not know enough of Elven ways to understand. As I said, kinship is as important to us as breathing. We are so few in number as a race, and it is rare for an Elven couple to have more than one child. When we find a lost kinswoman, we embrace her, regardless of the circumstances of her birth. Or the mix of blood in her veins. Elf is Elf."
"Lost kin," Jatay said sadly.
"I can think of three Elves of my clan whom you may call Father,” Kalfan said gently. “He would know you in an instant, since such close blood ties as parent to offspring are stronger than any other bond. These three Elves fought in a great battle a number of years ago. It may be than one of them is the father you seek."
"Why would he not have returned?"
"My only answer to you has to do with the difference in Human and Elven years in this world. Your father has generations of Human lifetimes ahead of him. Your mother is soon to leave this world by the inevitable sands of time that bring death to Human kind. Perhaps, he did not wish to watch the ravages of age, if as you say he truly loved your mother."
"But what about me? I would hope he could at least take me with him, once my mother has passed. I am part Elf."
"I cannot say further what motivates another Elf, Jatay. But you may come with me to Elven Home and find out these things for yourself."
"I have yearned for this,” Jatay said, so quietly that even Kalfan's sharp ears barely heard. He waited quietly, and watched as emotions he did not completely understand played across her face.
“Perhaps my Wish has worked,” the young woman finally said. “Perhaps meeting you is in part a response to my Wish. I would go to Elven Home, if you will take me there."
Kalfan smiled again. "Of course I will take you. We can make your wish properly in two days time. On the eve of the day after next, the Yuletide Star will shine bright between the branches of the Great Tree in Elven Home. On that night, we will face the northern sky, and you will prepare the Ritual again, and make your Wish. On the following day, we will arrive at Elven Home, and we will know the truth."
Jatay and Kalfan sat quietly in yet another clearing, leagues away from where they had met and spoken two days before. The night was dark, sparsely lit by the glow of a thousand stars in the night sky. One star alone concerned the pair. The Yuletide Star shone brightly in the northern sky, just as Kalfan had promised.
Jatay laid out her Ritual, as Kalfan had seen twice previously, but this time with the gemstone placed in the middle of her mix of stone, wild flowers, and moss. The gemstone glowed softly in the air of anticipation surrounding Halfling and Elf.
Kalfan instructed gently from his place at the edge of the clearing, behind is newly accepted kinswoman.
"You must find the Yuletide Star and place an image of it in your mind's eye. Then close your eyes, but keep that image strong, as though your eyes remained open and you were looking directly at it. Concentrate on the image, and form the Wish in your mind. Speak it three times aloud, then open your eyes and gaze immediately upon the Yuletide Star. As you see the Star with your physical eye, say the Wish again."
Jatay calmed her mind and took several deep breaths to soothe her heartbeat, making ready to follow Kalfan's instructions. As she did so, the Elf felt serenity settle about her, and a soothing peacefulness filled the clearing, engulfing them both. The prejudices she had endured relaxed their hold as she fully embraced this most Elven part of her.
Kalfan thought that fear dictated much of Jatay's former unease. She had endured such pain because of her Human kin's unwillingness to understand or accept difference. All her life she must have craved the acceptance of those she considered her people and her peers.
"Kalfan," she called, her voice barely a whisper in the stillness. "My Wish has come true."
"I do not understand."
"The Wish was never for my father to return to me, though those were the words I spoke. I realize it now. What I wanted was to belong. To be accepted for who and what I am. But I didn't truly know who or what I was."
"I cannot pretend to understand these feelings of yours. What makes this moment different from all the rest?"
Jatay turned to the Elf. "You have shown me. The way toward acceptance from others is to be at peace with myself. That is what I must have, but it cannot come through wishing."
Kalfan pondered this. He did not understand Jatay's need for this soul searching. Nor did he understand the confessed need to belong and to be accepted. For him, it was a matter of course to know his place in Elven Home. He was secure. But he was pleased to be a small part of her journey to this knew knowledge of herself. Jatay's two halves may war on the outside, her two sets of kinsmen may distrust one another, but within her, those parts that made up her being would never be in opposition again.
"Will you still come with me? You have suffered needlessly. I have told you how we value kinship in Elven Home. Your father would value you, as all Elves would, as I have learned to do in just the few days of our acquaintance. You are my cousin, and I would have you near."
Jatay smiled and Kalfan felt light in his heart.
"Yes, Kalfan, I will still come with you. I have come to know many things about myself in these last few days. I accept myself, and the knowledge that this is all I need. Still, it would be nice to hear that others of my people want and need me."
"Jatay," said Kalfan, rising to cross the clearing. He knelt next to his kinswoman and circled his arms about her. "We must love ourselves, it is true. But never think that acceptance and love of others is unnecessary or even secondary to love of oneself. This is why we gather together as a people, and this is what makes life worth living. To think as one, to be as one, and to live as one is to be lonely. But all thinking as one, all being as one, and all living as one, this is truly to be as one."
Together, in the brilliant light of the Yuletide Star, Kalfan and Jatay turned their steps toward Elven Home.
It's time for a holiday tradition here at Trav's Thoughts, and so once again I present my original story.