I've been writing a bunch of short stories to fill in some details about the world and characters of Elf Mastery. They are a bit rough, and subject to change, but thought I'd post them here! Feel free to leave feedback! I'll probably include them in a future release that includes all 3 books, as well as a glossary.
Kyla sat on the wide stump Mom and Dad used for chopping wood behind the shoe store. She looked up at her room, which extended in the tree branches overhead. She caught a glimpse of a squirrel as it leaped from one branch to the next, but it soon disappeared in the leaves. That was the most exciting thing that had happened all morning.
Mom sat on a blanket a few yards away. She was, as usual, fussing over Bit, who clutched a handful of rotting foliage he must have grabbed from the forest floor. He was trying to shove it in his mouth, and Mom was trying to pry it away from him. Mom won, of course.
Kyla ran her fingers along the center of her scalp, to part it in the center, and each hand grabbed a side and pulled her long strands so each fist clutched a horse-tail. She pulled it under her chin, so the long parts hung down her chest.
“Mom!” she called. “Mom! Look. I’m a dwarf.” She made her voice as low as she could manage. “Ho, hum. An ale for a pittance, and a yarn for your time.” She didn’t know what it meant, but Lofin Redbeard said it in The Last Lord of Dander’s Run. Mom always used a deep voice when she told it.
Bit, trying to reclaim his lost treasure, opened hand closed his hand in the direction Mom had thrown it. He grunted, but he didn’t cry for once, but he was squirming and Mom maneuvered her arms around him so he couldn’t escape. She didn’t give Kyla a single look.
Kyla hopped down from her stump and dropped on all fours. She crawled toward Bit, who smiled. She grabbed his clean hand and placed it in her mouth.
“Hey, Mom!” Her voice was muffled as Bit’s fingers grabbed at her tongue. She gently clamped her teeth over them. Bit laughed, but then his face soured, and he yanked his hand away and started to cry.
Mom sighed. “Leave your brother alone.”
“But I bit Bit! See?”
Kyla grabbed his hand again, and Bit’s face brightened, and he smiled as she put it back in his mouth, but when she lowered her teeth against his skin, he again began to cry.
“I said stop it!” Mom snapped. She slung Bit over her shoulder and gently patted him on the back.
“He likes it, though, Mom,” Kyla explained. “He always laughs when I do it. He cries so I’ll do it again.”
“I’m a bit busy, Kyla. Why don’t you go play with Doran?”
Kyla wrinkled her nose. Doran was a neighbor boy, and a few years older. He was friendly, and sometimes gave Kyla berries, but he often hung about with Ulan, who was mean and said Kyla was short.
Mom only ever wanted to spend time with Bit nowadays. Kyla jumped to her feet, trying to look as angry as she could. “I can play by myself.”
Her show of frustration went unnoticed as Mom sang in her soft voice into Bit’s ear.
Well. Kyla didn’t need Mom. And she didn’t need Bit. All he did was eat and cry and poop. She walked around the family’s oak tree to the front of the shop. No one was inside. Dad was in the shed skinning rabbits. She looked at the array of shoes along the shelves and ran her hand along the backs of them as she circled the room and tried to whistle. She hadn’t figured it out, just yet.
She climbed the ladder into the common room. There was a large pot of water by the window, and a small table set with two grown-up chairs, and a stool for herself. Only three seats. Nothing for Bit, because he couldn’t even eat proper food.
Her bedroom was out the door to the left, which led to a narrow wooden walkway. It sloped upward to her room, which was the second highest in the house. Only her parents slept higher. Bit didn’t have his own room yet, but when he did it would be on the low branch that jutted out just over the shop.
She pulled herself from her window onto the thick branch that supported her bedroom in the oak tree. She looked down at the roof of the shoe shop, which was covered in curling cedar shingles.
There was a smaller branch that curled at an angle from above Kyla’s room. It wasn’t strong enough to support a grown-up, so Kyla often climbed up to escape her mother’s unjust anger. It was Bit who had set Kyla off, after all.
She pulled herself onto the branch and slid toward the trunk. She supposed she could get higher yet. Mom would have to be impressed if Kyla could get above the starling nest that rested in the crook of the branch over her head. It was still thick enough to hold her weight, she supposed. She slowly stood, clutching at the tree as she shuffled her feet against the trunk and reached up to test the strength of the wood. She pulled down to ease the load of her weight onto it until she was confident it would hold her. Satisfied, she took a half-step away before pulling herself up so as not to disturb the little nest.
The branch bent as she pulled her right leg over it and sat upright, straddling the branch until she could get a good enough grip to swing her left leg over, so that her legs now swung over one side.
“Hey, Mom! Look at me!”
Kyla held up her left leg as she balanced, her arms outstretched as she teetered back and forth.
Mom didn’t even look up as she fussed with Bit. “That’s nice, dear.”
“Mom!” she shouted.
Mom looked to the side, and then back at Bit.
“Mom! Up here! Look how high I got!”
Kyla waved her arm and leaned to the side to give Mom a better view, but this shifted her weight. Her eyes froze wide open as her hand returned to its position clutching the branch as it cracked. It didn’t snap, not entirely, but it bent sharply and her bum slid along the slick bark. She shrieked as she tried to grab the part of the branch above the break, but then she dropped. Her stomach tightened and her breath escaped as she dropped onto the branch below, but now she was off-balance and rolled backward. Her hair whipped over her head as she fell backward, fighting to find a grip as she fell, but this branch was too thick for her small hands.
She screamed, expecting to fall back onto the roof of the store, but instead of falling straight down she swung and dangled as something pulled hard on her scalp. She reached up and grabbed fistfuls of hair, trying to ease the pressure as her body swung back. But then gravity won, and there was a sickening tear as she fell again, this time hitting the sloped roof of the shop below as she rotated forward. She hit with her knees first, and then fell onto her stomach, and rolled off the side of the roof and landed on her back.
“Phil!” Mom’s voice rang through the trees, though it was dulled in Kyla’s pounding ears. Warm fluid oozed through them, and Kyla stared in horror at her hair still swinging from a branch above, a bloody mass hanging on the end.
There was a lot of fuss, and screaming, and Bit was crying, but Kyla’s mind couldn’t piece together any meaning. She was bald, now, and her brains must have fallen out, for when she touched her head it was soft and tender and burning and her thoughts were scrambled and falling out.
Someone picked her up, and then she was being jostled as she stared up into the trees, which were moving quickly.
She closed her eyes, just for a few seconds, but then she was jostled awake and a blurry woman was looking down at her.
It wasn’t Mom. Where was Mom?
“Kyla, can you hear me?”
It was Maia Pelinai, Doran’s Mom. Kyla hoped Ulan wasn’t here, because he’d make fun of her for being bald.
“Where’s Mom?” she asked, though her voice was weak and dry.
Mom appeared next to Maia and knelt. Dad stepped behind her, holding Bit, who was crying again.
“Wester’s fetching your hair,” Mom said as she stroked the palm of Kyla’s hand with her finger. “Maia’s going to sew it back on.”
“Tea’s ready,” Maia said, and she shuffled away.
Kyla looked at Mom, and Dad, and then at the Pelinai’s ceiling. Her head still burned, a bit, but otherwise she felt okay. She would be okay. They could sew her hair back on.
Maia brought her some tea, and Kyla sat up with some support from Mom. She took a sip, and warmth flowed through her body. Yes. She would be fine.
Only, she wasn’t fine. As the warmth of the tea flowed through her body, so did a wave of pain. Her scalp burned, and her knees felt broken, and her chest and back hurt, and there was blood on her hands and arms and chest. She could feel sticky ooze on her face, though mother fought her exploration with a warm cloth.
She spat the tea back in the cup. Why would they give her this? One of them said something about shock. Kyla lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling.
There was a banging sound, and Wester ran into the room with a mass of hair and blood. Someone – Kyla couldn’t tell who – forced her back into a sitting position placed the bloody mass on her head. Kyla flinched as someone dabbed a cloth at her head, which made it burn even more.
Strong arms lifted her, and a soft voice, Dad’s, whispered in her ear. “You can do this, Kyla. You need to hold still. We have to clean the wound so you don’t get infected. Then we need to sew your scalp back together.”
Kyla shook. Her numbness continued to melt away, so the pain burned deeper and fear enveloped her. She shook and buried her head in Dad’s chest. He made a slight adjustment with his arms.
“I won’t let go. Just hold still,” he whispered.
Kyla nodded, only very slightly, and clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. She let the unseen hand dab at her head. Meanwhile, someone else was poking and prodding at her body, pressing on the sore spots and pulling aside her clothes and dabbing her with hot water. It was hard not to flinch each time. Tears streamed, and sobs and brief wails frequently escaped, but she focused on staying still. Then, the needle came. It hurt less than the cleaning, though each tug of thread through Kyla’s scalp made her stomach want to leap out of her mouth.
Kyla tried to place herself in some of her favorite stories. She fought a dragon, and rode a unicorn, and sang with a dryad. It helped a little, to carry herself far away in her own mind, but it was impossible to entirely ignore the pain and terror.
It felt like it took ages, but finally it was done.
“There!” Maia smiled. “Look at that lovely long hair. It just needs a good wash and you’ll look like a proper elf again.”
Kyla’s scalp still burned and her body ached and throbbed in several places, but she was too exhausted to cry. She lay limp in Dad’s arms as he carried her home and placed her in bed.
Kyla watched as the moon passed by her window. It was visible through a break in the trees, and was nearly full. It was the seventh passing since Kyla’s fall. Her body still ached, though it was improving. Days two and three had been the worst, even more painful than the accident itself. She still throbbed and ached, but she could now eat by herself, and sit up and look out the window.
Could she get out of bed? Mom and Dad wouldn’t like it, certainly, but they would remain asleep unless Bit started crying. Besides, their room was on the other side of the trees. She whipped off her blanket, and grimaced as she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She let her weight down slowly, unsure if her knees could support her. Though they ached, she could stand well enough, and though she walked with a bit of a lilt, she could make her way to the door.
The walkway to the common room was tricky, so she clutched carefully at the bark. She slid through the hatch and down the ladder into the shop, and out the front door.
Even the nearly-full moon couldn’t break through the trees, so the forest was full of large dark patches. Kyla worked her way around them, staying to the most well-lit paths, until she found Dad’s shed. It stank of dead rabbit and whatever foul chemicals he used to treat the skins, so she drew her night robe over her nose and took shallow breaths as she opened the door. It was dark inside, nearly too dark to see, but she knew where he kept his scissors. They were heavy, and cold. Designed to cut leather and hide. She picked it up, and found a bright spot among the trees, where she could see the moon looking down at her.
Proper elves had long hair. Proper elves climbed trees. Kyla now knew these two things did not belong together. So, she must not be a proper elf. She had to choose between them.
The decision, of course, had been made days earlier as she lay in bed and looked at the trees outside her window. She wasn’t going to give up climbing.
So she grabbed her hair with one hand, and held up the scissors with the other, and with several snips in the moonlight, watched as her long brown hair drifted onto the cold forest floor.
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Bryant Reil currently resides in Kelowna, BC. Recent accomplishments include completing a Master's degree, and having finished two books, Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt. The third book, Elf Righteous, is underway.