With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!
I stood at attention, war-drums and flutes playing in my head. If I’d had the time, I would have made inspirational headbands and signs that read: ‘Save the Orchard!’ But without such things, I was just standing there in front of the Faralind household, trying to look important in the early light of dawn. I stared at the team in front of me.
Mia, her father Mister Faralind, and Madam Claire (disguised as Miss Bradleton) all awaited my orders.
I took in a breath. “We are gathered here this fine morning to find out who is sabotaging the trees!”
Mia let out an inspirational cheer and her father followed suit. Madam Claire raised her hand in a less-than-enthusiastic ‘Yay.’
“I have spoken to the trees,” I informed, pacing the yard, “and discovered that they are in good health thus far. Therefore, we must watch over the orchards and find out who is attacking them. Mia and her father will tend to the grounds during the day,” I pointed to them, “while Miss Bradleton and I will keep watch at night.”
Mia was fired up already. I could tell from the excitement in her eyes that she believed in our mission whole-heartedly. I just hoped I wouldn’t let her down.
“Pardon me,” Mister Faralind interjected, “but why is Miss Bradleton helping us?” He then waved his hands nervously. “Not that I’m upset, I just don’t want to bother the kind lady.”
Madam Claire flipped her disguised brown hair and held up her chin. “Because I am a dignified sort!” she declared. “When my neighbor is in trouble and an elf asks for my help, I will not turn them down!”
I struggled not to laugh at Claire’s acting. She didn’t seem like the meek little woman-next-door. Rather, her charisma was too hard to deny.
Mister Faralind looked doubtful, but Madam Claire waved her hand and a sudden lull came over him — as though he were placated by her magic. “I see then,” the man nodded, accepting the story without further question.
Suddenly, I was very glad that Madam Claire was on our side.
Clearing my throat, I continued. “Our second goal is to gather as much fruit as we can. Mia and her father have survived on inheritance so far, but the failed crops over the years have caused that money to dwindle. We want to make sure this year’s harvest goes to market.”
Mia interjected next, waving her hand. “Roki!” she called. “Even if we manage to keep the fruit alive, we still have one problem.” She gestured to the group nervously. “I don’t think the four of us can really harvest all these trees in time. My father is getting older. I’m not very fast myself…”
I glanced over the long, winding fields. Mia had a point. Even with all four of us, unless we used Claire’s magic, we wouldn’t be able to gather the harvest in time. I didn’t think we could hire someone to help on such short notice — not to mention that the rumors would keep people away.
Then I realized I knew someone. I knew someone fast, strong, and willing to do anything to help Mia.
My expression dropped.
“I have an idea,” I admitted. “But I don’t like it.” I stole a glance at Mia, wondering what I should do.
Mia tilted her head to the side, blinking innocently.
Searching through Rivasvale’s back alleys, I looked for one person in particular — or to be more exact, I looked for one half-beast in particular. The village wasn’t that big, I thought it would be easy to spot a cat-eared boy in the crowd.
Yet, I wasn’t the one to find him first. Madam Claire’s shadowy blackbird fluttered its wings, trying to catch my attention. She gestured towards the village’s main thoroughfare, and I followed her guidance.
I hurried out of the alley and rounded the corner, towards Rivasvale’s marketplace.
There, amid the humble stalls and wooden structures, stood the half-beast I was looking for. But it was no wonder I missed him.
He was wearing the most ridiculous outfit.
“Hail, traveler!” the half-beast called, holding out a sampler tray of cups. “Rest your weary legs and have a glass of ale at the Kelpie Inn and Tavern — drinks inspired by the mystical beasts that inhabit our lakes!”
I tried so hard not to laugh. I really did. How could I judge the poor man? After all, I’d worked part-time as a mascot for my little league team one summer. I knew what it was like.
But seeing a cat boy dressed up like a seahorse was too much!
Even Madam Claire couldn’t withhold her giggling as she landed on my shoulder.
A smile broke out on Toren’s face as he recognized me. “Mister Roki!” he cheered. “I thought you might’ve caught a caravan to another town!” He encouragingly held out a cup. “Care to spend a copper on a drink?”
I shook my head, graciously passing on the offer. “I see you’re still taking on odd jobs, Toren,” I noted through my laughter. “Weren’t you here to see Mia?”
“W-well I…” Toren nervously looked away. “I’m not sure if I have enough money to face her just yet.”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. How, exactly, this young man could wear a seahorse costume with pride, but still be too shy to talk to his childhood friend — I really didn’t know.
Toren suddenly squinted. “Rokkun,” he questioned, “weren’t you wearing a hat last time?”
I let out a gasp, feeling over my blonde hair. I’d left the hat of illusions in my cottage. The hat didn’t work much in this village anyway, since it only disguised me as human to people who didn’t already know that I was an elf. I’d completely forgotten about it.
...Also, wait, Rokkun? What kind of nickname was that?
Before I could call Toren out on the nickname, the half-beast rested his tray of drinks on a nearby table. His tail waved in the air, as he put a hand on his chin and considered me closer.
“Your hair is so shiny, and your features are so delicate,” Toren mumbled, “and your ears...they’re so slender and pointed.”
I gulped, awaiting the inevitable.
“Rokkun, could it be…” Toren stared at me very hard. “...that you’re actually a woman?”
“I’m an elf!” I shouted in exasperation, pointing towards my ears. “A male elf, alright? Got that? E-L-F!”
“Right! Right! Sorry!” Toren put his hands up in apology, laughing at my aggravation. “Wait, if you’re an elf, then do you know that elf-guy that proposed to Mia? Is he staying around here?”
I ran my hands over my face. How dense could this cat boy be?
“I’m the elf that proposed to Mia,” I admitted. “That was me.”
“Oh.” Toren mumbled. A smile stuck on his face, but it faltered into a disbelieving chuckle. “You’re kidding, right?” he laughed. “You wouldn’t. I-I mean, you gave me that coin. You’re such a nice...elf…”
It seemed like the meaning behind my words finally settled in.
I took a sharp breath. I didn’t want to hurt the young man’s feelings, but it was better to get this over with sooner rather than later.
“Hate me if you want,” I said though a sigh, “but Mia needs your help. If you won’t listen to me, that’s fine, but at least help her.”
Somehow, I could tell Toren wasn’t paying attention. The half-beast was reeling in revelation, trying to make sense of what was happening. He shook his head, and seemed to come to a conclusion.
His cat ears folded back, his yellow eyes glared at mine, and his expression turned into a scowl.
“Let’s settle this right now, then,” Toren grumbled. He put up his fists. “Let’s fight.”
His words were, perhaps, a little less intimidating while he was still wearing a seahorse costume. But I could tell he meant the threat.
Out of respect for Toren’s courage, I put my fists up in return.
“Roki!” Claire interrupted, her bird on my shoulder pecking at my forehead. “What are you doing? You can’t win a fight against a half-beast!”
“I know,” I whispered to her. “But sometimes you have to respect a challenge.”
“Oh for the love of—!” Claire flapped a wing over her face. “Where do you get all this stubbornness?”
The wind blew through the thoroughfare, howling against the buildings and kicking dirt into the air. Toren lowered his stance. I readied myself to dodge. In baited breath, we waited for the other to make the first move. The world seemed to go quiet.
Then, a sweet voice broke through the tension.
“Roki!” Mia shouted, waving and smiling like an angel. “Did you find him?”
Toren took one look at her, and went absolutely still.