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A furtive meeting

Chapter 1 – Final

It didn’t take Aerin long to reach the meeting place. It was a bit chilly outside the city walls, but she hadn’t brought her cloak with her. There, near Príbora, were the ruins of a small, ancient, forgotten castle, almost like a watchtower for which there was no longer any need. It dated from a time when tensions between the elves and the fairies were greater, for the ruin was close to the edge of the Blackcrystal Forest.

(The city of Príbora was close to the fairy territory.)

The worn stone structure was in round shape, just tall enough to tower above the canopy of forest trees that blocked the frontal view.

Inside the tower, a small fire was crackling. She could see because there were holes in the walls and a huge hole in the ceiling. Probably Gareth had lit it to warm the place up a bit.

The light mist that night made everything look like a painting from a fairy tale.

This place had become a sanctuary for the two friends. They could meet there, talk freely, without fear of anyone bothering them. Aerin had taught Gareth to read and write since they were teenagers, because there was no access to education in the human villages. Sometimes, however, he would defy the city guards and sneak into the city to meet her and the few other friends he had there.

And he was indeed in the old tower, waiting patiently for her. The firelight danced on Gareth’s blond hair, making it glow like gold. As soon as he saw her, he stood up and opened his arms. His green eyes were gentle, full of warmth. He was too handsome for a human. In her romantic mind, Gareth looked like he belonged in a fairy tale, not in this broken world.

Aerin ran to him and hugged him tightly.

They sat down by the fire.

“When do I get my reading lessons again?” asked Gareth with an amused smile.

“The city has been very crowded and busy this week because of the celebrations.” Aerin explained, “I even saw people coming from Tiberium, a city much further north. That would not be wise.”

Gareth nodded with a smile on his face. “I see you brought some goodies.” He pointed with his chin to the basket the girl had carried.

“Oh, yes!” she said as if she had just remembered. “I brought some pieces of cakes and pies. They are delicious!” Aerin smiled. “I thought you would like them.” She opened the basket and handed him a piece of strawberry vanilla cake.

“Hmm, of course!” He took the cake she offered him. “Thank you for thinking of me,” he said with a funny expression that made Aerin laugh.

The two talked for a while without realizing that they were no longer alone. Someone in the shadows was watching them from afar.

“What is that look?” Gareth asked her, a little confused.

Aerin blinked, not realizing she was looking at him silently for a long moment. She didn’t know what to say. “What look? I don’t have a look.”

“You were looking at me weirdly.”

“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aerin said, looking away.

Gareth frowned and sat down beside her. “Is something bothering you, Aerin? You know you can count on me.”

“Gareth… I…” she looked at him and noticed that the corner of his lips was stained with vanilla cream. She smiled and ran a wiping finger, but when she turned to face him, he was watching her intently now. Her smile faded, and her heart ‌beat faster.

Aerin then brought her face closer and pressed her lips to his in a sweet, lingering kiss. Gareth placed his hand on her waist, pulling her closer to him. His lips parted to let her in further, and soon the two battled for dominance. Both wanted to feel every bit of the other’s mouth. Her fingers played with his hair as his grip tightened on her waist. Their kiss became a little rougher each minute, and suddenly Gareth realized his mistake and broke the kiss abruptly.

“Wait… We can’t… Sorry…” He said breathlessly.

“Why?” Aerin asked, almost pleadingly. “Gareth…”

“You know, Aerin.” He said, without being able to hide his sadness. “We already talked about this. The gods know how I wish things were different.” He gently touched the girl’s beautiful face. “But I’m human. I will grow old and die. While you… you remain beautiful and young and will live… forever!”

Aerin opened her mouth to protest when there was a noise. The two jumped up and Gareth drew his sword.

“Stay here,” he ordered and Aerin obeyed.

“Be careful.” She whispered.

Gareth came out to have a look outside. He returned a few moments later, guarding the sword. “I found nothing.”

Aerin sighed.

“How are your fighting lessons with Idrimis going?”

“I haven’t practiced for a few months… Maeglor doesn’t like it. He says it’s dangerous.” Aerin answered awkwardly.

Gareth swore and shook his head. “You should let go of this man.”

“I know…but it’s not that simple.”

“Orcs are attacking travelers and traders on the old road,” he commented worriedly. “You shouldn’t even be here alone. It’s not safe, and you should continue classes with Idrimis.”

Aerin nodded, but all she could think about was the kiss they’d shared. She was sad, disappointed… She just wanted to go home. “I better get going then.”

“I will accompany you.” He offered, but she declined.

“Gareth, you don’t have to.” Aerin managed a faint smile. “I appreciate it, but it’s unnecessary. The city is right there.” She pointed to the walls.

He hesitated for a moment. “All right.”

The two hugged. Gareth sighed as he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Be careful, will you?”

Aerin nodded and left, making her way back to the city, but this time passing closer to the edge of the forest.

She walked along a narrow, weathered path that led to the city gates. The path was already almost entirely overtaken by large patches of grass, which faded into patches of bare earth at the bases of some ‌‌trees.

Far to her left was the edge of the Blackcrystal Forest, which marked the boundary between the Elven region and the Fae region. Many feared getting too close to that place, but Aerin never felt that fear. In fact, she always had a fascination with the forest. A curiosity to know what it’s like on the other side of it. It was something she had felt since she was a child… as if the forest itself was a great magnet that drew her to it.

Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t notice someone approaching swiftly.

“It’s not safe to wander alone outside the city walls.” A male voice spoke behind her, causing her to stifle a startled scream.

Aerin spun around to face Maeglor.

“You scared me!” she complained with a hand on her chest. “Why are you here?” Was he following her? How long had he been there?

“I should ask you the same question, right? What are you doing here, Aerin?” He asked harshly, crossing his arms and eyeing her suspiciously.

Maeglor was a tall elf , with blond hair that was partly pulled back, leaving his face exposed. His green eyes  were clouded with anger and jealousy. He had a handsome face, but it was twisted into a scowl. He looked like a madman, not a lover. And he was not happy to see her with another man.

Aerin felt irritation replacing the fear inside her.”I don’t like you talking to me like that. I don’t owe you any explanations!”

She walked away from him, but Maeglor cursed and turned her back violently.

“Don’t turn your back on me while I’m talking!” he muttered menacingly. “You’re my girl! You-“

“But I don’t belong to you! You suffocate me, Maeglor!” She was almost screaming now. She was tired!

“You were with that damn human again!” Maeglor said through gritted teeth, barely containing his anger.

Aerin looked at her indignantly. “Were you spying on me? Did you follow me?”

“You were about to spread your legs for him!” he spat out the words in anger.

She gaped, shocked. “Enough!” And with that, she turned again to go and one more time, he pulled her back. But this time, Maeglor received a slap in the face. So hard that he took a step back.

Maeglor looked at her in amazement, as if he had never been slapped before. Running a hand over his sore face, he commented sourly: “Seeing someone so delicate, sometimes I forget how strong you are.”

Aerin shook her head. “I’m sick of all this! I’m done with you, Maeglor!”

Suddenly, his face became tense and worried. He frowned. “What do you mean?”

Aerin tried to walk away again, but this time he stepped in front of her, preventing her from continuing.

“Alright! I’m sorry!” He stretched out his hands in a sign of regret and apology. “I shouldn’t have followed you.”

Aerin sighed wearily. Her delicate shoulders were slumped in utter dismay. Brylla’s words still hammered in her mind. Gareth’s refusal still hurt her… she didn’t want to argue right now. She just wanted to go home.

“Let’s go home.” She heard herself say.

She didn’t protest when Maeglor removed his cloak and placed it around her shoulders. And in silence, the couple headed for the city.

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