Ash was sitting on top of his bed. He was still reflecting over the events of the day before. How long had he been sitting there? How long had he done nothing but being astonished at the short, yet powerful burst of resolve, he had suddenly felt?
Realizing that sitting up to do something was probably for the best, Ash jumped out of bed. His muscles were sore, especially the ones around his back, which had been flogged for hours on end. Thankfully, his back had been patched up and was no longer hurting as much as it could’ve done. Although that was as it was, the young elf couldn’t help but direct a malicious thought at the priests and priestesses, who had done nothing to heal him, even though they could do it much more efficiently than the nuns.
The elf opened the door that led out of his small, dusty, and square room, before proceeding to head down the hall that encompassed all the monks’ lodgings.
The wooden doors that led to each of the rooms were all akin to those you would find in a prison cell. The rooms, too, were very depressing, but no-one complained. After all, they had been taken in by the church, so who could blame them for spending money on mere orphans.
Ash could. He most certainly could, for he was no orphan. In fact, he had only recently been transferred to the church after his previous master’s untimely death. The young elf had been a slave for as long as he could remember. If anyone told him he had been born into slavery, he would’ve most likely believed them, if not for the priests’ firm reminders that he wasn’t meant to be around humans.
Still pondering over the events of the night, the slave opened the double doors at the end of the hallway. The doors that led to the courtyard and Ash’s only source of light.
In many ways, the young elf was like a plant that had been removed from the light. Placed in a basement so he would never get the sunlight he so desired; so required. Ash had become sickly pale, sickeningly pale, and now looked like an ex-convict who hadn’t seen the outside of a cell for years on end. In short: he wasn’t looking too good, especially not with the scars that covered his once beautiful face and body. So when the sunlight touched his skin, which could almost be mistaken for that of an albino, a slight tingling sensation crept up his arms, as the sun, which was as good as alien to the young man, crept up his arms, his neck, and his face.
His entire body was becoming sweaty, as the hot, southern sun warmed him. Scorched him. Branded him. Drops of salty water dripped from his long, unwashed black hair, and dropped to his eyes; irritated the sensitive eyes that were still getting used to the blinding light.
Ash searched his shabby pants for the knife, which served as his one and only possession. Aside from the rusty, old knife the young elf owned nothing; not even himself.
Swiftly, and dripping with sweat, the elven boy headed toward one of the four big rose bushes that surrounded the massive tree, which stood in the middle of the courtyard. His physique was poor from being torn to shreds every so often, so his otherwise short five-meter walk to the bush was a hard one.
He reached the plant and sat down on his knees, before beginning to tend to the plant which had grown a bit out of shape. Its long, thorny twigs acted as if they intentionally reached for his naked, fragile fingers. Pricking them. Cutting them. An especially nasty thorn slit a vein on his wrist open, allowing fresh, red blood to drip onto the bush’s jagged, green leaves.
A tear fell to the ground, mixing with the puddle of sweat, which was rapidly forming on the ground, creating a salty, muddy substance that dirtied the shredded rags that the elf was wearing. Time had made them brown and prone to crumble, when handled too roughly, so they were really only slightly better than wearing no clothes at all.
The elf bent forward, trying to reach the innermost branches. He endured multiple cuts as he tried his best to reach with the fragile knife that only stayed in his shaking hand, because of his stubborn nature. He was supremely proud when he finally reached the ugly, crooked piece of dry wood he had been going for.
With great pleasure, he severed it, wiped his forehead, and continued. Time went on, flew by, and eventually became a blur of blood, sweat, and throbbing hands. That was, until something hit him in the back of the head, sending him headfirst into the thorny, murderous plant before him.
“Great throw, brother Alfred!” someone exclaimed behind Ash.
The young elf pulled himself out of the prickling hell with great difficulty. He almost didn’t get hurt on the way out, but he still felt hurt. Violated.
He turned around and saw two monks, who had stopped to look at the hard-working young man who was practically sitting in his own sweat and blood. They were both smirking slyly at the young elf, who could do naught but to look at them with a defiant look in his eyes. A look that wasn’t much unlike that of a caged animal.
“Look, brother. Completely like an animal. He’s fascinating, isn’t he?” jeered the monk who was called Alfred.
Ash stood up. Knife in hand.
“A-are you sure he’s safe to be around? I heard he murdered his previous master,” said the still unnamed monk.
Alfred was still smiling in the same, condescending way. He started walking closer and closer to Ash, who was still standing completely still.
The young elf had yet to say anything at all. He just stared at the two boys, who were as old as him, yet acted as if they were his seniors.
In the end, Alfred stood in front of the elf. His smile was still quite apparent on his face, which was like that of a spoiled noble’s. From his blue eyes to his golden, blonde hair, the monk looked completely like a prince. Except he wasn’t. He was a monk, just like Ash.
“What do you want?” Ash asked, trying to sound as indifferent as he could.
That was something he was good at. Where others were good at running, tending to plants, or studying, Ash was extraordinarily good at acting. Seeming like he was feeling differently from how he actually felt. He couldn’t afford to do otherwise, if he wanted to stay alive.
“I think I dropped a rock in your direction. Would you be as kind as to pick it up for me?” Alfred asked.
“No,” Ash firmly responded. “Get it yourself.”
A small crack appeared in the prince-like monk’s smiling mask. His grin suddenly appeared even faker than Ash’s smile felt.
“Give me the rock,” he stressed. “Give me the rock, elf!”
The young elf was about to respond, when someone suddenly grabbed a hold of his shoulder, as to tell him to hold his tongue.
He turned around and saw a woman in white robes, similar to robes a priest might wear. There was something different about hers, though. They were substantially more beautiful, because of the stars that were embroidered on each of her shoulders. She had long, blonde hair with strands of gray in it. If Ash were to guess, she would probably be in her early fifties.
“What’s this?” she asked with a voice as mellow as the morning sun.
Her slightly wrinkled, smiling face was nice and soothing to look at. Ash could almost see the motherly aura radiating from her face, as she stood with her hand softly grasping his shoulder.
“Nothing, ma’am! We’re just helping-“
“Are you sure you were just helping him?” she asked, breaking the monk off mid-sentence. A certain, ominous undertone lurked in her voice, further strengthening the aura of authority she gave off.
Alfred looked at the woman, halfway smiling. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, before opening it again, this time doing it for a while. In the end, he made himself look like a frog that was contemplating whether or not to croak.
‘What an idiot,’ Ash thought to himself, allowing a more real grin to surface and overtake his lips.
“But he’s just-“ he tried, yet again, but was halted by the woman, who held up a hand as to tell him to shut up.
“An elf?” she finished, apparently well-knowing of which words had been left idle on Alfred’s lips. His pupils had started darting around in his eyes, looking for any way to leave. Any excuse.
Ash, on the other hand, was just enjoying the show. He stood in awe, as the woman, whose name he didn’t even know, passed him by, positioning herself right in front of the blonde monk. The young elf’s face was all smiles as the prince-like character tried his best to match the woman’s friendly smile.
“But he’s a murderer, ma’am. He deserves punishment.”
The woman let out a pleasant laugh that in no way matched the intimidating vibe she was giving off.
“If he truly was a murderer, would you really let him wield a knife to cut the roses?”
She waited for a few seconds, as if she expected Alfred to respond in some way. But no reply came, in the end, so she smiled warmly, before saying “Now go on. I’m sure you both have things to do.”
And so they did. They ran; sprinted, actually, until they were completely out of sight, and safely inside their respective rooms.
“Thanks,” said Ash, completely taken aback by the ease with which the monks had been defeated. “Why’d you defend me?”
The woman turned to Ash. Her smile wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t as warm and accommodating as it had been when she was talking to Alfred. In a way, she seemed more real, now that she was facing the young elf. She appeared less intimidating, and, even though her smile wasn’t giving it away, had a far milder look in her eyes.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why don’t we start with introductions? I’m Angela. Pleased to meet you.”
“Ash,” said the young elf, hurriedly, while gesturing for her to answer his question.
Her smile, which was slowly turning into a tired one, spread slightly further across her aged face, radiating nothing but warmth. It truly matched the sun, which had risen high into the sky behind her, obscuring her features slightly with it’s heavenly light.
“I was listening to your conversation. I also saw what they did, and in short, I do not approve of such behavior. Not against elves either.”
Suspiciously, the young elf nodded. He felt like thanking her, but he couldn’t bring the words to his lips. They were stuck in his throat, whilst he reminisced of the night’s events. Could she really be trusted?
“I see. I’ll be on my way then,” said the young elf, and tried to act on his words, when Angela grabbed him by the shoulder again.
“You see, I was wondering about something. I know Wilfred has taken a certain dislike to you, and wondered if you’d come to my cottage for tea sometime? You know, to be sheltered, even if only for a while. I could use a helping hand tending to my tea plants, as I’ve found myself short on time, recently.”
The elven monk turned around and looked the woman in the eyes. They were a beautiful shade of grayish blue, sparkling with life and energy.
“Will there be payment involved, if I decide to help out?”
“Then the answer is yes, Angela. I would love to work for you.”
“Is there a particular reason as to why you need money? There isn’t much to be bought in the church, after all.”
The young elf reached for something in his pocket. It was a piece of paper, which he pulled out and showed to Angela.
“This is my declaration of monkhood. One that I want to pay my way out of. By working for you, how long would it take for me to pay this off?”
A troubled look came over the elderly woman’s face, as she accepted the document. She quickly skimmed her way through it, mumbling the text aloud as she read.
“It looks like this contract wasn’t designed to be paid off in the first place. Why in the world would you sign something like this?” she asked, sternly.
“Would you rather have had me lay my head on the chopping block?”
Angela mumbled “Well, I suppose not,” before folding the yellowed piece of paper and handing it back to the elf.
“The price is ten gold coin; around five times the average farmer’s yearly earnings. If you’re willing to work for me, then you’d be able to pay this off in a month’s time. That is, if you perform a few odd-jobs, too. I do like my tea a lot, after all,” she said, smiling. “Now, I best be on my way. If this is the sort of salary you expect, I cannot idle about. Ask Wilfred where to find me, whenever you’re ready to work. Actually, ask anyone. They all know,” she said, letting out a pleasant chuckle.
It had all happened so quickly, so when the old lady finally left with her grayish, golden hair following her like a cape, the young elf could do naught but stand, staring in awe.
‘This is an opportunity,’ he thought to himself. For once in his life, he couldn’t wait to wake up the next day. He couldn’t wait to finally do work, not just for others, but for himself, too.
With all that swirling around his head, Ash went back to cutting the roses. For some reason, he was finally able to completely ignore the throbbing cuts on his hands. The young elf began humming a merry tune, as he finished his work.