Elly had never even taste alcohol before tonight. But when the glass in front of her had been filled high, to her surprise, she found that she liked it. Well, she didn’t like the flavor. But she liked the way it made her feel, even if she was a little dizzy.
Two hours into the banquet and Elly was starting to get overwhelmed. It wasn’t the food, which was delicious, or the three glasses of wine she drank (she hoped no one would tell her mother) but the noise. There were people laughing and cavorting all around her, telling stories and clinking glasses together. It was all starting to blend together, and it was way too much for her to take. She waved one of the maids to bring another flagon.
Elly was starting to become a big fan of wine. It made the loneliness she felt a little less lonely. She was seated at a long table, surrounded by folk of all sort, and they were all speaking with one another. There were so many people talking that Elly could scarcely make out a word, and none of them were talking to her.
She missed Melody and Wendy. The only friend she had in the palace was Reed, and she was a guest of honor. From her place at the long tables, Elly could barely see Blake and Reed. The high table seating the royal family was so far away from her she couldn’t even make out their faces, and even the king’s uproarious laugh sound muffled at this distance, carried by an echo.
There they were, Reed and Blake, dressed in fancy silks. And Elly, with her peasant blouse, looking up at the two of them an island away.
With nothing to ease her loneliness but the wine in her hand, she looked around the hall to search for her mother for the hundredth time that night and slumped down in her seat a little lower, hoping that no one could see her. She let out a sigh and nursed her cup, before taking another swig.
Her mom wasn’t here. Of course she wasn’t. Fie had said that she was working tonight, but the queen would have never allowed an elven maid to serve dinner in the great hall. Elly’s head was starting to spin, and her vision was swimming as she squinted up to where Reed and Blake sat, beside the cage that held the dragons. Blake was passing scraps through the bars of the cage to the small beasts.
What surprised Elly was the fact that Fie was standing beside their table, serving them. As far as she knew, neither Blake nor Reed had much experience with nobility and their customs, but even someone on the outs like her knew that the head maid of a castle served the lord of that castle. For the king to have her serve his guest, even a guest of honor, was an incredibly privilege, a privilege neither seemed aware of.
Lucky them. Part of Elly wished she could be sitting up there, laughing with her friend and maybe even making a new one in Blake, but at the same time she would have hated to draw the queen’s ire.
She set her cup down and turned her attention to the food being passed around. In honor of House Harker, traditional cuisine from that region was being served, and a lot of those meals were prepared with intensely spicy sauces and herbs, like the dragon-hair pasta in front of her. She scooped some onto her plate and passed the pot, taking a bite.
She nearly coughed it out. It might not have been meat, but she was wondering if she could digest something this spicy. She picked at the rest of it and sighed, taking another longing look at Reed’s smiling face as she chatted with Blake.
She missed Wendy and Melody.
By the time the banquet had ended and the guests were on their way home, Elly was well and truly sloshed. She didn’t know how much she’d had to drink, but she knew that she was having trouble seeing straight, like she was underwater. She clung to the side of the hallway to stay upright, and with every step she took it was like the ground was going to give out from under her.
That dragon-hair pasta was coming back up, and she wasn’t able to stop it. She knew spicy food didn’t agree with her.
A warm hand landed on her shoulder and she turned, burping slightly.
“Who issshit?” She managed to drawl out. Her mouth wasn’t working the way it usually did, and everything was blurry.
“Wow, you’ve had quite a lot to drink, look at how red your face is!” Reed’s gentle laugh calmed Elly’s nerves and made her feel a lot better.
“Oh… Reed… g’deveningg,” Elly giggled, reaching out and hugging Reed tightly, burying her face into Reed’s chest. Breasts were one of the things about humans Elly envied. Elves were slim and slender, or at least, she and her mom were, but girls like Reed and Sabine…
Elly giggled into Reed’s boobs. They were so soft and squishy like pillows! “Reed… sho big! Suuuppper soft, ooowiee…”
“Oh! Well, hello there,” Reed gasped, patting Elly on the back of her head. “You, uh… didn’t expect you to get so handsy girl, and- whoa now!”
Elly just wanted to hug Reed and never ever let go! She was soft and warm and smelled like apples, just holding her made Elly feel nice and tingly inside, like everything was going to be okay. She felt so much cooler, like she wasn’t gonna… gonna…
Oop. Her stomach was grumbling again, she was gonna.
“BLEeeaaaghehh!” Elly barfed her spicy pasta sauce all over Reed’s chest, the world spinning around her.
The cool wind blowing through the open air palace baths felt soothing to Elly, and the longer she sat in the warm water with the winter chill tickling her ears, the more she felt herself sobering up.
And as her thoughts began to clear, and vague flashes of memory returned, she felt nothing but shame at what had happened.
“I’m so, so sorry, Reed…” Elly said, aghast. She glanced towards the blonde she had barfed all over. She felt absolutely horrid, even worse than she felt right before she threw up.
“Don’t worry about it!” Reed laughed, running a washcloth over her arm. “It’s fine, totally fine! I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”
Elly let out a sigh, sulking. Reed was just so sweet and amazing! She’d puked her guts out all over Reed, and all the girl was worried about was how SHE was feeling? She couldn’t believe Reed was so perfect. “But I ruined that nice dress of yours…” She mumbled, sinking deeper into the water and gurgling some bubbles out in a sigh.
“A dress is a dress,” Reed laughed, waving her hand, like that dress hadn’t cost more wingal than anything Elly owned. “I have an apple orchard now, Elly, did you hear? An apple orchard!”
Reed lifted her head up high and put on a smug, snooty grin. “I’m an orchard woman now, Elly, those fine dresses are nothing to me!” She said, her voice a mockery of pompous arrogance that Sabine would be proud of.
Elly snorted and sputtered into the water, Reed knew how to crack her up.
“Trust me Elly, it’s fine, I can get a new dress later,” Reed assured her. She scooted up close to Elly and patted her on the back. “Are you feeling okay? You’re not going to throw up into the water I hope!”
Elly blanched, shaking her head. “I-I won’t, I swear!” She said, the thought of throwing up in the fancy outdoor baths making her want to… well, throw up. But she didn’t. All that escaped her lips were a hiccup and a burp.
Reed’s soothing laugh was like a nice chime blowing in the wind, making her feel relaxed. The girl could be annoying by constantly clinging to others, but in Elly’s eyes she made up for how annoying she could be by being one of the sweetest most soothing people Elly had ever known.
If she and Reed had sat together, Elly wouldn’t have felt the discomfort that made her seek solace n a wine glass.
“Sorry we couldn’t chat during dinner,” Reed said, turning over and resting her arms on the lip of the bath, bearing her back. “Did you like the food okay?”
“Uh-huh…” Elly muttered, studying the intricate design inked across Reed’s skin so intently she barely paid attention to what the girl was saying. But when she worked it out she quickly gasped. “O-Oh, well, um, maybe it was a little spicy,” she admitted.
Reed laughed. “You think that’s spicy, you should try some firegrass bread! Stuff’ll have you spitting fire like a real dragon!”
Elly wasn’t sure why Reed was laughing, the image she had conjured in Elly’s head was terrifying. Elly shivered, and not just because of the cold gust of air running over her.
“I-I think I’ll stick with my usual salads,” Elly mumbled.
“True, it’s definitely something you have to acquire the taste for,” Reed admitted. “Though, so’s wine, and you seem to have developed a taste for that…”
Elly blushed. There was absolutely no way she was going to get that drunk again. “I’m sorry,” she apologized again. She didn’t know how many more times she would say she was sorry, but she knew she hadn’t apologized nearly enough.
“Just make sure you take it a little lighter next time,” Reed teased. “I think your limit is about five glasses less than tonight. …No, make that six.”
Elly nodded blankly. After how many cups she’d had to drink she couldn’t quite be sure what her limit was, but she knew it probably wasn’t going to matter. “I’m not going to drink again anyway, so it’s no big deal,” Elly assured her friend. “It don’t want to make a fool out of myself again.
Reed laughed, and gave her another hearty pat on the back. “Come on, Elly,” she laughed. “No need for all that melancholy!”
Reed turned herself over and stretched, leaning back against the wall, and Elly gazed enviously at her friend’s body. Reed’s skin had such a shiny glow to it in the evening orica, and Elly knew from experience just how soft and warm it was. But it was the other girl’s figure that Elly really envied. As an elf, even half, she knew that her body wasn’t going to develop much further past where it was now. Sure, she’d have growth spurts and get taller, but she couldn’t count on growing… like Reed did.
Reed had the kind of figure that Elly had always wanted. Trim and lean, but also soft and curvy in all the ways that men desired. Where Reed had large swells flesh, Elly’s fields were slim pickings, scrawny and meek. Elly, like all elves, were more on the skinny side.
Maybe if Elly had been raised in an elven village, she would have learned how pointless it was to discuss the figure of humans, especially breasts. She could even picture the lines, they came straight out of her books. “Ugh. I will never understand the human fascination with those useless lumps of flesh.”
…Okay, maybe Elly was being a little bit bigoted. But she was right that elves didn’t tend to judge each other based on a sexual characteristic that other species possessed. What, would the next thought that bothered them be the fact that they didn’t have tails to chase like malkins? Ridiculous.
But sadly, Elly HAD been born around humans, and so, though she couldn’t explain why, she still found herself getting bothered by the femininity of her closest friend.
Instead, she turned her attention to the other thing that she was curiously thinking about.
“Those tattoos on your back,” Elly said, pointing at the curved black lines spreading across her body, mostly hidden away by the girl’s clothes normally but now plain for all to see. “What are they?” She asked.
“These? I thought I told you,” Reed said, glancing over her shoulder. “They’re traditional tattoos that Dragon Dancers from the Harkers get,” she explained. “They have enchantments weaved into them to protect me from heat.”
Elly’s eyes widened and she took another look. The dark symbols curved over Reed’s upper back, spreading out in lines like fire. They wrapped over her shoulders, moving down her arms and towards her chest, as well as up her nape. Elly thought it was really cool.
“It’s pretty,” Elly smiled.
Reed turned to her, her eyes shining with excitement. “You want one?!” She asked eagerly, splashing through the water and grabbing Elly by the hands. Elly blinked, and another wave of nausea rose up as her head began spinning.
Reed seemed to take Elly’s silent dizziness as consent to keep talking, explaining all the perks of the tattoo to Elly, who was just trying to focus on not throwing up.
“…And it’ll give you a lot of resistance to fire, and- Elly? You good?” Reed asked. It was the most Elly could make out, and she nearly passed out then and there.
“Been in… too long…” Elly mumbled, pulling herself out of the water. She barely kept her balance enough to keep from falling in, but thankfully she-
…Nope, nope, the bath hall lights were spinning in her eyes, she was going down.
A strong hand caught her back, keeping her from falling. Reed’s concerned face filled her eyes.
“…Let’s get you somewhere to lie down, okay?” Reed sweetly whispered. Everything spun around Elly even more, and it wasn’t all because of the wine still in her system. She took a breath, and finally a bright light caused her to wince. She was staring up at a… chandelier? She squinted, that’s what it looked like. She wasn’t in the outside air bath hall, anymore, she was… somewhere blurry.
“W-Wha…?” Elly asked, rubbing her eyes. She wasn’t sure where she was, but what she knew was that the carpet on her back felt softer than anything she’d ever felt before. She sat up. “Where am I?” Elly lowered her hand, but still everything was a blur. By the time the room stopped spinning, she had a better idea of what she was looking at. She was in one of the guest rooms!
“I brought you to my room,” Reed said, helping Elly to her feet. “Let’s get you dried off, and then you can sleep it off in my bed, okay?” She had a smile on her face that reminded Elly of her mother.
Elly smiled in gratitude at her friend. She opened her mouth to thank Reed, to express her gratitude for everything the older girl had done for her.
Instead, she bent over and threw up all over the floor.
“…Well!” Reed said, chipper as always. “Let’s forget the change of clothes, then!”
“Ueeeeeh…” Elly barely heard her over the sound of her stomach ripping itself apart.
A pounding headache greeted Elly when she awoke, eclipsing everything for a brief second. As the pain in her skull died down, she opened her eyes to the blinding light of the morning sun shining in through the window, causing her to curl up in the soft bed.
Elly didn’t remember falling asleep. And she didn’t remember what she dreamed about. Throwing up was the last thing she remembered, and it was a memory she wished she could forget. That was twice she’d barfed on Reed, much to her shame.
But just as she was hoping to curl up and die, a hand touched her cheek. It was warm and soft. Gentle. Familiar.
Elly gasped and turned in bed, her eyes landing on the smiling face of her mother, framed by a soft curtain of chestnut hair. Those warm green eyes of hers, as welcoming as the summer grass… she was home. Glee rose up in her chest and she sat up in bed, overjoyed to see her mother after so long.
“Mom!” Elly cried, throwing herself out of the bed and hugging her mother tightly.
“Good morning, moonchild,” Elly’s mother whispered, her arms wrapping tightly around Elly and hugging her back warmly. Elly forgot all about her headache in her mother’s arms, warmth and love filling her up.
“Ahem.” A cleared throat broke Elly out of her joyful hug, and she pulled back from her mother to see Reed standing a few feet away, fully clothed now in a shirt and trousers.
…Which was a lot more than Elly could say about herself, now that the morning chill was setting in. She looked down at her naked form and gasped, pulling the sheets over herself. Thank the Celestials it was just her mother and Reed, if Blake had been here she would have died.
“Don’t worry, Elly, when I heard what happened, I brought a change of clothes for you,” her mother laughed, patting Elly on the head. “So tell me, how have you been, moonchild? How is school going?”
“MOOOOM!” Elly exclaimed, her face heating up as she scrambled out of bed and grabbed the tunic her mother had left on the bed. “Don’t call me that in front of my friend!”
She looked desperately at Reed, hoping she hadn’t heard the childish nickname. Reed averted her eyes and looked like she was trying not to laugh. Elly drooped down and tried not to die of shame.
Elly quickly pulled on the tunic and glanced back at her mother. Rynae was beaming at Elly, and she looked happier than Elly had ever seen her. At first, Elly thought it was just a yearning for her mother and her own joy at seeing her again after so many months that made Rynae’s face look so happy, but no, she really was wearing one of the brightest smiles that Elly had ever seen.
“Mom? What’s up?” Elly asked, confused.
“Who’s your friend, Elly?” Elly’s mother asked, nodding to Reed. “She’s quite a sweet girl, aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Elly gasped, how could she have been so rude? “Right! Mom, this is Reed Rivers! Remember how I told you about her all those times? How I thought she was so cool and amazing?! Well you won’t believe it! We’re friends now! And she’s just the best person ever!”
Rynae nodded, her smile growing brighter. She shared a look with Reed that suggested they’d already introduced each other, which Elly was just now picking up on. She looked back and forth between the two of them.
“Wait, what’s going on?” She asked suspiciously. Her mom always liked these playful little teases, even when she was being nice.
Reed snickered. “We’ve met, Elly,” she explained through peals of laughter. “We just had a great talk about you while you were sleeping.”
“But then why did you-?!” Elly looked at her mother in confusion. Rynae wore a smirk that reflected Reed’s, and then her coy expression turned warm and loving.
“Because you looked so happy, moonchild,” Rynae laughed, that familiar giggle like the summer breeze that Elly knew and loved so well. “Talking about your dear friend.”
Elly blushed, her face heating up. She glanced at Reed, and the care in her friend’s eyes only made Elly feel even more embarrassed.
Rynae beckoned Elly over and Elly quickly ran to her mother’s side.
“You’ve cut your hair, Elly,” Rynae murmured, running her fingers through Elly’s hair. “And your eyes are so much brighter. I’m glad you’re having a good time at school.”
“She has a lot of friends,” Reed volunteered. “She smiles all the time, too!”
Elly wasn’t sure if she was more embarrassed by what her mother was talking about in front of Reed, or what Reed was talking about in front of her mother.
But what she did know was that she felt a lot warmer inside. She didn’t feel awful like she had last night, she felt warm and fuzzy inside. And, for once, glad to be home.
“I want you to tell me all about your friends,” her mother said, cradling Elly’s cheek. “But first, I think we should talk about what happened last night. I hear you’re a fan of wine? Now, where did you learn a habit like that, I wonder…?”
Reed burst out laughing and Elly gulped. The look on her mother’s face sent a chill down Elly’s spine. That warm and fuzzy feeling departed to places unknown.