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Lullabies for the cursed elf

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The knight patiently waited for the elf at the gate, keeping an eye on the environment, even though raiders were supposedly surrounded and defeated, you can never know what to expect in a place like this. When they heard quiet footsteps, they politely turned away and asked: “Are we good to go?” just to hear an almost unintelligible: “Yes”. “Follow me,” the knight waved their hand and started making their way from the elven settlement, “I have a horse grazing nearby, closer to a more beaten path. I decided not to take him here just in case. Also, moving through the forests isn’t the easiest for horses”, - they walked in silence for some time until the forest started to thin out and they’ve walked into a small clearing.
“Hi, there boy!” – exclaimed the knight as they came up to a raven-black stallion and stroked his mane, “How were you here? Did anybody cause you trouble?” The horse neighed answering and they laughed, “Good to know. Meet our new companion…” they’ve turned a little to the elf, still not facing him directly, “I’ve just now realized that we didn’t have proper introductions. I’m Y/N Y/L/N,” they put a hand to their chest as if explaining to a child, “it’s a pleasure to meet you”. The knight waited for the elf to give his name, but he remained quiet. “And you are?”, they prompted. “I haven’t introduced myself to anyone in a long time and I… I’m not sure I remember my name properly. In my fantasy you already knew my name, but I think it is,” the elf paused again, “I think it was something like Orym or Orem, no, Orym sounds about right,” another pause followed and the next sentence was said with such uncertainty that it sounded almost like a question, “the pleasure is all mine”. The human smiled, even knowing that Orym can’t see it, and extended their hand. The elf seemed surprised if not a little afraid, but eventually, put his hand in the knight’s and they exchanged a handshake. The human tried to make it as gentle as possible with their armour glove. After that awkward interaction was out of the way the knight turned back to the horse: “Meet our new companion – Orym. Orym, that’s Shadowmere, he’s a good horse, when he doesn’t pretend to be dumb”, the last part was accompanied by a judgy look addressed to the stallion, “would you like to pet him?” and then, feeling the elf’s uneasiness, they reassured, “he’s not aggressive at all, there’s nothing to be scared of”. Orym slowly approached the horse, stretched his hand toward its neck and tried looking the stallion in the muzzle. The theory about only not being able to see the humanoid faces seemed to be getting more evidence – he was met with a curious look of big brown eyes with a slight shade of red. He very carefully touched the mane, the horse stayed still clearly trying not to scare Orym. The elf emboldened a little and ran his fingers through the dark hair, starting to smile shyly.
Seeing that the introduction went well the knight went back to business: “I suggest you sit in front of me on the saddle. If you sit behind and I have to look to the side or behind me, you’ll have to turn away quickly and I’m afraid you’ll fall off, or something like that. Any objections?” they asked. “I’ve never ridden a horse before,” the elf went very quiet again. He has never seen one that closely, as a matter of fact, but that was not important at the moment. “Don’t worry, you’ll just have to sit there and hold on to the pommel. I’ll be the one driving and again, Shadowy is a good horse, he won’t try to throw us off,” the human tried to calm him, “I can help you get on if you want”. “Please do,” asked Orym, realizing that there’s no way out. “Judging by the way you gave bread to the fish, you are right-handed, am I right?” – the knight queried. “I never thought about it, but I think I am,” why would he think about it if he had never held a quill or a weapon? “Good,” the knight continued, “you are already standing so that the horse is on your right. Now put one hand on the front of the saddle and one on the back”, the elf obliged, “Just like that. Put your left foot in the stirrup,” the knight hummed affirmingly and the elf obliged again, visibly nervous. “I will stand right beside you and hold you a little if it’s okay,” the human asked and Orym said “Yes” again. “You pull yourself up, raise your leg and throw it over the saddle. I’ll push you up, if necessary, and if you start falling, I’ll catch you right away, so just focus on pulling up.” The elf took a deep breath and tried to lift himself. Goodness, was he scared… but then he felt strong hands on his waist and in a few moments he found himself sitting in the saddle and looking right in front, between the horse’s ears. “See? As if you were born on horseback,” the knight mused, “Now, please, get your foot out of the stirrup, so I can get on too,” they asked and when the request was satisfied quickly situated themselves behind Orym and took the reins. “You can put your feet on mine, to steady yourself, if you want,” suggested the human and after some squirming and getting more comfortable they asked: “We will start moving now, is that alright?” and after getting an affirmative answer, however quiet and uncertain again it might have been, the knight squeezed stallion’s sides a little and the two unlikely companions started their journey.
While still going through the forest, Y/N got the horse to go at a slow pace but when they reached a somewhat proper road, they made it trot, so Orym had to hold tighter to the pommel, but at first, he accidentally grabbed the knight’s hand, but the human pretended not to notice. Since they were riding in silence, the elf thought about diving into his usual daydreams but then he suddenly realized that what was happening right now was much crazier than anything he had ever imagined. He was currently riding a horse, already a few miles away from his home settlement, he was looking at a pair of gloved hands in front of him and feeling another person’s chest pressed against his back. Thinking about all of it too much made him even more nervous than before and made a lot of anxious thoughts appear in his head, so he decided just to focus on the surroundings. The forest was still beautiful, after all, the birds were still singing and the sun setting above the treetops was still warming his cheeks very nicely.
Sun setting… “Where are we going to sleep today?” Orym worryingly asked the knight. “We’re going to go a little further, then go off the road, find a place to set camp and, well, sleep there. I have a second bedroll,” noted the human. Orym wanted to say something else but decided to keep it to himself, so they’ve ridden in silence again until about half an hour later Y/N slowed the horse and faced it towards the forest. After going along the edge of the wood for some time, the knight spotted a nice clearing, got off the stallion and led him there. “Let me help you get down,” said the human, “You can put your hands on my shoulders and look down”. Orym did as asked but then either his foot slipped from the stirrup, or Shadowmere decided that he has been a good horse long enough for today, but he started falling. After a few moments, he realized that he was clutching at the knight’s shoulders and forcefully keeping his eyes closed, while the human firmly held him in their arms. “There, there, it’s okay. Let’s put you down now, shall we?” Orym dropped his eyes and pretended to be busy straightening his clothing, while Y/N quietly chuckled, noticing how pink did the elf’s cheeks get and went to dig in the saddlebags to start setting the camp.
“How about we do it like this: I will go and enchant the territory so that we don’t have to keep watch, and you’ll collect some brushwood for the fire?” they suggested. “ ’Enchant’? But you’re a knight…” the elf sounded confused. “Me being a knight, doesn’t mean that I can’t learn some basic spells or use some magical trinkets,” Y/N shook a small amulet in their hand, “it wouldn’t take long, I’ll be back in a dozen minutes to help you”. ‘Collect brushwood’, that sounded easy enough and Orym tried to focus on it and not to watch his companion walking around the future camp, fidgeting with the amulet and the trees and grass lighting up with an unusual violet glow for a brief moment. When the knight made a full circle around the clearing and put the trinket back in the saddlebag, the elf was already finished with his task. “Now, if someone or something bigger than a fox comes closer than a quarter-mile to us, I’ll be alarmed,” they said satisfied with their work, “Next step is a fire”. They constructed a simple campfire, clicked a fire-steel and there it was - a merry fire dancing on dry wood. “Here we go,” if Orym could look them in the face, he would have seen that the human smiled, but then seemed worried again. “What do you eat? I mean, do you have any food restrictions?” they quickly corrected themselves. The elf was a little surprised with such a question but quickly answered that no, he doesn’t. That answer seemed to appease the knight and they offered Orym bread, goat cheese and some freshwater, they’ve collected from a spring not long before meeting him. The human finished their food faster than Orym and went to fetch the bedrolls. When the elf was done with supper, it was almost completely dark. Y/N pointed to one roll: “This one’s yours. Good night”. “Aren’t you going to take off your armour?” oh, he should have held his tongue, now the knight is going to think that he’s weird. Even if they did think something, they didn’t flinch a muscle, “No, I need to be always prepared for anything, most probably to defence us. Also, I’m pretty used to sleeping in it at this point”.
They lied down - Orym got inside the bedroll and the knight just lied on of theirs. The elf was exhausted physically - not used to horse riding - and especially mentally, he couldn’t even begin to process everything that happened today. He left a place he lived in his whole life. Left with a person, he knew for just a few hours. Left with a human, no less. He tried to calm himself down. To distract himself. He thought of his favourite pond and the coi, it used to always soothe his mind, but this time even the imaginary coi seemed agitated and kept swirling and flashing around. He, in his turn, kept turning and tossing and then ... “You’re awake,” that was not a question, but a statement, “Can I help you sleep somehow?” Orym got embarrassed, he didn’t mean to disturb Y/N: “There’s no need, I’ll fall asleep by myself,” he paused, “eventually”. “I can sing you a lullaby,” unexpectedly suggested the knight. “Don’t make fun of me!” Orym was almost offended. “Oh, no, I’m deadly serious,” said Y/N, “I don’t want you falling asleep astride tomorrow. I’m not a half-bad singer, or so I was told, at least”. The elf hesitated a little but decided that it couldn't make worse, “If you think it can help ...” “Well, I'll try my best,” the human turned to the side, “My mother used to sing these to me when I was little. The first one is about a little polar bear, who doesn’t want to sleep,” and they started singing. Their voice was a little rusty, but generally sounded nice and even though Orym didn’t understand a single word, he felt his eyelids getting heavier. The whispered explanation of the second song he heard already half asleep. By the end of it, he was dreaming. Dreaming of boundless snowed expanses and northern light, he had never seen but heard about long ago, in his childhood.
Songs’ translation (just for you, “in-universe” they are being sung in the original and the elf does not understand them):
From “Umka” cartoon 1969
Stirring snow with a spoon,
The big night is coming
Why are you, silly, not sleeping?
Your neighbours, polar bears,
Are sleeping
Sleep and you soon, baby.
We're floating on an ice-floe
As on a brigantine,
In gray harsh seas.
And the whole night the neighbours -
Stellar bears
Are shining to distant ships.
From “Circus” movie 1936
Sleep comes to the doorstep
Sleep soundly
One hundred ways
One hundred roads
Are open for you!
Everything in the world is resting:
The wind dies down
The sky is sleeping
The sun is sleeping
And the moon yawns.
Sleep, my treasure,
You are so rich:
All is yours,
All is yours -
Stars and sunsets!
The sun will wake up tomorrow
Will come back to us again.
Young,
Gold
A new day will begin.
To get up early tomorrow
To meet the sun
You need to sleep,
To sleep soundly,
Dear little man!
A hare and a monkey are sleeping,
A bear sleeps in a den,
Uncles are sleeping
Aunts are sleeping
Sleep you too, baby!