When we arrive at Groa and Alaeifr’s farm, it’s in the midst of producing a good summer crop. The fields are full of ripening wheat, and a steady stream of smoke pours from the opening in the sprawled out house.
That’ll be Groa fussing over supper. As I learned from my last visit, when I brought them news of Hlifundr and his daughter Sigrun, Groa’s a skilled herbalist, and she puts that talent to great use in her cooking as well. Alaeifr is probably out in the woods hunting, or else he’s home dressing some game that he’s already caught.
“Now, they don’t speak much Anglish, so just be nice and try not to do anything too,” I glance at Ewythr, who’s tapping the side of his head like he expects something to come out, “crazy.”
He stops tapping long enough to give me a puzzled look.
“Just let me do the talking, alright?”
As we walk up to the door, I scan the treeline to see if I can spot Alaeifr, but he’s nowhere in sight. I knock, and wait for a response.
“Yes? Who’s there?” Groa calls in Elvish.
“It’s Erin,” I reply.
There’s shuffling and the clatter of something being set down quickly, then the door opens and Groa pulls me into a tight hug. “Erin!” she cries.
It feels good being hugged by Groa. It reminds me of the kind of hugs my mother used to give me. Not that Groa bears much resemblance to Mom. Groa’s about a head shorter than me, and her black hair flies around in strands that resemble ruffled crow’s feathers, where Mom was almost on eye level with me when she ran off, and she had true flame red hair, not my dull brown that only shows red in twilight.
“You are back so soon,” Groa says, switching to Anglish.
“Yeah, I missed you so much that I decided to come back,” I joke.
Groa thinks for a moment then says, “How is your father?”
“Oh, I haven’t been home yet.”
Groa looks past me at Ewythr. “Who is this?”
“Oh, Groa, this is Ewythr. I met him on the road, and I’m traveling north with him.”
She knits her brows briefly, then extends her hands in welcome. “Please, come inside, both of you.”
I follow her through the door, which opens onto the house’s large common room, where they cook and eat meals. Spaced regularly around the circular room are doorways that lead to other rooms, including Groa and Alaeifr’s bedroom, their respective workshops, and an extra room that Groa told me belongs to Hlifundr’s daughter. It’s where I slept the last time I was here.
A large pot of soup that smells delicious sits on the fire in the middle of the room.
Groa ushers us towards the table where they take meals. Ewythr, thankfully, sits down without incident.
“Tell me again, why are you back so soon?”
I point to Ewythr. “I’m traveling north with Ewythr. He’s,” I pause, thinking how to phrase it, “not well, so I’m helping him get where he’s going.”
Groa looks Ewythr over, apparently concerned. “What is wrong with him? Besides being old?”
I read in Dad’s books that elves don’t show signs of aging after a certain point. Groa and Alaeifr are over two hundred years old and have never left Northumbria, so I suppose an elderly human is something of an unusual sight.
I’m not sure how to put it delicately, especially with the language barrier, so I decide to put it bluntly. “He’s mad.”
“What? He looks calm.”
Ewythr sits passively, looking like a perfectly normal old man.
“No, he’s mad. Crazy. He isn’t all there.” I tap on the side of my head, and Ewythr joins in, apparently reminded of whatever he was thinking of when we first approached the farm.
Groa looks between us, trying to puzzle out my meaning. “Where did you meet him?”
“He was getting beaten by a drunk in an inn where I was staying on my way home. I helped him, and then he helped me, I think, and we ended up on the road together.” I scoot my chair closer to Groa and add, “He seemed so helpless that I couldn’t leave him alone on the road, and he really wanted to go north, so I decided to come back this way.”
“Does your father know?”
I nod. “I sent a messenger as soon as my plans changed. And I’m going home as soon as I get Ewythr wherever it is he wants to go.”
Groa turns and smiles to Ewythr. “I am sorry. We must speak alone.” Then she grabs my arm more forcefully than I expect, and drags me into her workshop. It’s still much like it was when I left, filled with bunches of herbs hung out to dry and various jars sitting on a table containing mixtures and powders that Groa’s been working on. She shuts the door and then rounds on me. “Erin, if that man is crazy, you do not know where he is going! He might be going to the sea to jump in! He might not have any place in mind at all!”
I sigh, exasperated. “I know that, Groa, but he’s pitiful! He was going to get beaten to death, and then I couldn’t leave him after helping him.”
“Nonsense,” she huffs. “You are stubborn like Hlifundr. You did not want to go home, and you found an excuse not to.”
“Groa, that’s not fair!”
“It is true.”
“You don’t know that!”
She waves towards the door. “You left here a month ago. You were going home. Now you are back, and you have not seen your father, and you plan to go farther north. He is worried about you, Erin!”
“He’ll be fine!” I nearly shout. “I’ve been there for Dad for twenty years, and now he has to get by on his own for a few months, so he’s the one who’s the victim?”
Groa’s mouth tightens, and she clenches the table like she’s restraining herself. “Yes. He is the victim. You are still young, Erin. You do not know what it is to worry about your child.”
“Groa, he’s fine. Anyway, I’m old enough to make my own decisions. Ewythr needs my help, and I want to help him.”
Deep lines crease her face as she frowns. There’s a long silence between us before she finally says, “You are not my daughter, so I can not tell you what to do. But I do not like this.” Then she wraps me in another of her hugs that’s far stronger than it should be. “I will send a message to your father that you came back here in your travels.”
I don’t know how to respond, so I just hug her back and bury my face in her wild hair. “Thanks,” I mumble.
“Groa!” calls a voice from the common room. It’s probably Alaeifr.
She breaks the embrace to rush back out of her workshop. I follow behind to see Alaeifr standing in the doorway with a doe draped over his shoulder. He clutches at his bow, staring at Ewythr who’s still sitting calmly at the table, watching dust motes or something else.
Groa starts talking rapidly in Elvish, and I can only catch my name and a few words like “visitor” and “traveling.” She gestures to Ewythr as she walks towards Alaeifr and collects his bow and quiver from him so he can better carry the deer.
When Alaeifr turns to see me, he smiles and waves. He’d give me a hug if he weren’t carrying a fresh kill. “It is good to see you again, Erin!”
“You too,” I say.
“If you will excuse me, I need to address this,” he motions towards the doe, “but I will come visit with you and your friend shortly.”
I smile and sit back at the table while Alaeifr carries the deer to his workshop. As he passes the table, he nods curtly to Ewythr.
Ewythr spits into the fire in response.
“Be nice,” I chide him. Knowing that Groa disapproves is stressful enough, and I suspect she’s filled Alaeifr in on her opinion already. Ewythr acting out is the last thing I need.
After a few minutes, Alaeifr returns from his workshop without the deer. He sits down at the table breathlessly, positioning himself between me and Ewythr. “I am sorry to be brief, but I must clean the deer soon so I can dry the meat.” He turns to Ewythr. “Do you know where you are?”
Ewythr locks eyes with Alaeifr, staring. There’s a tense moment, then he smiles and says something in fluent Elvish.
Alaeifr and Groa look as surprised as I feel. They ask Ewythr a few more questions, all in Elvish, and I feel like the one left out.
“What are you talking about?” I demand.
“Hush, servant,” Ewythr snaps, but Groa ignores him.
“He claims he is the rightful king over Albion–”
“No just Albion. I am sovereign over all Britannia,” Ewythr interrupts.
“And he is going north to reclaim his power,” she finishes.
“It is nonsense,” adds Alaeifr, “though his Elvish is good.” He stands. “I must attend to the deer. Excuse me.”
After Alaeifr returns to his workshop, Groa goes to check on her soup. She scoops out a couple of servings and places bowls in front of us.
“You both look hungry. Please eat.”
I gulp the soup quickly, nearly burning my mouth. It’s spiced with a little pepper, so after the heat’s gone I still feel a little burning in the back of my throat. “This is delicious, Groa.”
Ewythr slurps his soup enthusiastically.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about buying some food,” I say hesitantly.
Without looking at me, Groa nods. “You did not plan for a long trip with a companion.”
“No,” I say.
“I will give you some bread. You should speak with Alaeifr if you want to buy meat. We can not afford to give that away.”
I stand up and walk towards Alaeifr’s shop. “I’ll go do that then.”
“Erin,” Groa calls.
I turn to look at her.
She glances at Ewythr, who’s retreated into his personal visions. “even after hearing what he thinks he is, you will still go?”
I look at Ewythr, who’s smiling vacantly. His eyes are glassed over, and he seems completely unaware of us. “What else can I do? It’d be cruel to abandon him now.”
Sighing, Groa shakes her head. “I do not know.”
Anyone who followed along as I wrote my novel from last year (all two of you) may remember Groa and Alaeifr as characters that appeared briefly there. This section was a challenge to write just because I was working with the concept that my elf farmers wouldn’t be familiar with my fantasy world’s equivalent of English. Of course, when writing through a time crunch, I decided to forego that device in favor of them being relatively fluent but with slightly stilted syntax (there’s some handwaving about this, though realistically it makes no sense for a couple of novices in a foreign language to improve so quickly without a more experienced conversation partner). Also, Ewythr is a troublesome character throughout this section of the story because he’s supposed to be bonkers, but it’s a challenge writing his dialogue so that he sounds crazy while also not being totally nonsensical (I’m wondering how long it will take for people to recognize where I’m pulling a lot of his dialogue from).
Anyhow, I’m still on track with my daily word quota (somehow) even though a lot of what I’m writing feels pretty rough to me. If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below; as a writer, I bear the unfortunate affliction of loving to talk about myself and my work, and will definitely respond rapidly (when I should be writing more).