Sunrises; they were never the same. Some mornings they were unimpressive, covered by thick clouds or masked by heavy rain. There would be nothing to look at, nothing to see except the color of the sky slowly changing from dark indigo to soft blue. Other days, however, they were stunning enough to make you forget how to breathe for a while. The sun would slowly creep up into the sky, tearing itself away from the distant horizon in a majestic show of colors. Those were the kind of sunrises I loved, the ones I longed to see every morning as I got comfortable in my favorite spot, perched high up in one of the branches of the huge oak near the stream.
The thing I loved the most about sunrises though was their reliability. No matter how poorly or how well things were going in my life, no matter where I found myself or how confused I was, they were always there. The sun never failed to make its appearance, and it was always the same sun. That thought, as odd as it may sound, was very comforting. It was one of the very few things I could count on to be the same both in Virginia and in Elsmeria. Everything else was utterly confusing.
I twirled a leaf between my fingers as I scrutinized the morning sky. Fluffy pink clouds were sailing across the sun, but they weren’t big enough to cover it completely; its orange rays were still noticeably visible. I was thankful for the soft summer breeze that ruffled my hair, as it brought relief from the pressing heat that was present even so early in the day. Not bad, I decided, but there have been better mornings.
Unfortunately, the sunrise wasn’t the only thought that was plaguing my mind that morning; I would be leaving for Virginia in barely a few hours. I couldn’t quite decide if that bothered me or pleased me. On one hand, I was eager to get back to the place that had practically become my second home. On the other, it always saddened me to leave Elsmeria. Virginia –like the rest of the human world- never seemed to be clean. The air was always tight and heavy, and it made my lungs ache and yearn for the pure air that we gave for granted in Elsmeria. The landscapes were obstructed by large buildings and nature was basically inexistent.
I could understand why everyone here at home despised the human world; it was cruel, bare and tainted. But there was also something about it… a kind of spell that always made me want to go back at the end of each summer, made me miss the place when I was away from it, and made me able to forget about the polluted air and the lack of nature once I was there. I couldn’t quite explain it, but for some reason the human world didn’t feel as evil to me as it did to everyone else. Perhaps it was just the fact that most of the other elves had never actually visited, much less lived in the human world, while I had been living there for ten months a year for the last five years.
When my father had first suggested the idea of sending me to study in the human world, I had been shocked to the core. He had said it casually, a passing comment mentioned over dinner one random evening, but his words had penetrated my brain and stuck there. I hadn’t been able to think about anything else for days. How was it possible that my father, who despised the human race more than anyone I knew, who never ceased to remind me of the ruthlessness of humans, who never grew tired of telling me the stories about how humans had driven elves into hiding millions of years ago, was even considering sending me into the human world? For some reason, the idea had appealed to me from the very second the words had left his lips, and naturally, being as curious as I was, I had brought it up again barely days later, unable to wait any longer for him to do so. He had tried to shake me off, to get me to forget he had ever said anything, obviously regretting his words, but now that this new possibility had entered my mind I was not letting it go. My imagination had gone wild –I was only the equivalent of a human ten-year-old back then after all- and every day my eagerness to see the human world I had heard so much about grew, my hunger for this new adventure occupying my every thought. After weeks of negotiating, arguing and well -why not admit it- bribing, my father and I had finally come to an agreement: I would be sent to the human world to study for ten months –no more- with my trusted tutor, Eliah.
I was thrilled about the idea, and so was Eliah. He had been my tutor for as long as I could remember and he had taught me everything I knew, but I was also aware of how much more knowledge than me he still possessed. Eliah had made several trips to the human world before, years ago, to gather information he needed for a book he had been writing, so I knew he would be essential both for my preparation before I left and my well-being once I was there. And quite frankly, I don’t think anyone could have done a better job at getting me ready than Eliah did.
In a few months he taught me the basics of the English language I would need to be semi-independent in the human world. Latin is my first language, and seeing as English doesn’t come from Latin, as other human languages do, it wasn’t easy to learn at all. Then I needed to learn fundamental aspects of human society, as elfic society is as different from it as you can get. Names, places, history, laws… it took a while to learn everything but eventually I was ready to go.
It wasn’t until I started living there, studying and interacting with humans that I really got to understand their world, their minds and their points of view. It was truly nothing like I expected it to be. Humans surprised me more than I can put into words; they are so different from elves, but at the same time, it’s almost like we’re the same creatures. I made friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and gained experiences and memories of good times that I will most likely cherish forever. By the time those ten months were over, I was more convinced than I had ever been of anything that I needed to persuade my father to let me go back the following year.
And so I did.
When I came back home to Elsmeria after my second year in Virginia my father almost expected me to ask him to allow me to go back a third time, so it was no surprise when he agreed to my petition. After that we sort of gave it for granted; he didn’t ask me if I wanted to go back, and I didn’t ask for his permission to do so, I just left without a doubt at the end of the summer.
By now I’m used to the human world, although it still amazes me at times. My English is almost as good as a native’s and I just blend in so well no one thinks of me as strange any more, I’m just one more kid in the class. Of course there will always be differences, and noticeable ones at that, but my classmates are accustomed to seeing me easily solving mathematical equations for a random senior who is struggling in calculus class. Seriously, human brains are just so small and simple I surprise myself by not falling asleep in the ridiculously easy classes we take at school. My friends and classmates have long given up asking me where I’m from though, because my answers vary every time they ask me. One week I’m from Italy, the next from Canada and a month later I’m from Sweden. The truth is I really can’t tell them I’m from Elsmeria, as the whole point of the country is to provide a safe haven for elves to hide away from humans, but they just believe I like to keep what they call my “mystery guy” profile.
Works like a charm with the ladies, my friend James once said. And it’s true; I practically have the girls lining up at my front door. Not that I actually try, but it isn’t my fault elves are so much better looking than humans. To them, my looks are just unbelievably stunning, while in Elsmeria I don’t really stand out as anything special…not for my looks anyways.
But today, for the first time, I was having my doubts about going back to the human world. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back, of course I did. I missed my friends and their crazy ideas, my motivated teachers that turned those boring and simple classes into something to look forward to, and most of all, the heavenly ice cream parlor across the street from school where we spent hours debating the best strategies on how to get Macy Stinson to agree to go to the school dance with Michael.
It was a conversation I’d had with my father a few days ago that was bothering me. As we both knew, I would be starting tenth grade this fall, which meant I only had three more years of high school left before I graduated. I had said this to my father, and then mentioned that I would miss school once I finished it. My father had immediately gotten accusatory and defensive.
“Is it that you no longer enjoy spending time in Elsmeria? Are you implying that the human world appeals to you more than your own country?” he had asked me.
“I never said that father; I was merely stating that I will miss my school when I graduate. Of course I enjoy spending time in Elsmeria; it is my home after all. The human world could never compare to it.”
“Is that so? You seem to feel quite at home there.”
That’s when I had realized he had been reading my mind again. I can usually feel it when my father is searching my mind for thoughts or memories that for one reason or another he has a particular interest in, and I try my best to put up my mental barriers, like I have been taught, and keep him out. But while I can keep almost any other elf in Elsmeria out of my head quite easily, my father is –unfortunately for me- just about the most powerful person around. It’s basically impossible for almost every elf in the country to keep my father out of their minds, he is simply too strong. Trying to resist to his mental games is almost psychological torture, trust me, I’ve been there often enough. But to my great surprise I hadn’t realized he had been reading my mind that evening; I must have been really distracted.
“But it is not my home,” I had replied weakly.
With raised eyebrows, my father had pulled the card I hated the most, reminding me of my future responsibilities: “No. It is not, and you must understand that, Nicholas. You will never be able to go back there once I die and you are crowned king of Elsmeria. Your first duty shall always be your country and your people. Do not forget that.”
And with that he had stood up, excused himself and left. It was his way of reminding me I was getting too comfortable in Virginia, that it was not my place and would never be. And as always, his way of reminding me of my unavoidable destiny. As humans would put it, sometimes it really sucks to be prince, and heir to the crown of Elsmeria.
I for one hate the idea. I never wanted to be royalty, I wish I could have just been born some random person from the city, son to some completely random and middle-classed parents and be raised just like any other child. But no, I had to be part of the royal family. Sure, it has its good parts, like living in a grand palace with everything I always wanted, getting a stellar education from a private tutor, and being more powerful than most when it comes to performing magic. But quite honestly I would have been much happier living in a humble house in the city, going to school with everyone else-like I did in Virginia- and having a moderate amount of magical power. I try not to think about it; what-ifs never got anyone anywhere.
My father’s words had been nothing out of the ordinary; he was always reminding me of my responsibilities, but it was the context in which the words had been placed that bothered me. What he had said was true, why bother to spend so much time in the human world, to get close to my friends there and get used to their customs and ways of living if I’m never going back there after I graduate? I know my future is in Elsmeria, nowhere else, I have always known. And for some reason that annoys me too, I know it shouldn’t, but that I don’t have the freedom to choose where I want to be, that I don’t have an option at all and that my life is set out so precisely like I’m just a pawn in a game of chess… it frustrates me.
But it also worries me. I shouldn’t be having these thoughts, I should be happy to stay in Elsmeria; the human world is evil after all, right? It’s just that, after seeing the world beyond the territories of Elsmeria, after seeing what other cultures –the human one in this case- are like, my own country seems oppressive. And the worst part of all is that I’m not sure I prefer it to the human world anymore. I’m happy in Virginia, despite its obvious flaws and drawbacks. I’m carefree and as independent as a fifteen year old can be, with no one pressuring me to be perfect, or barging into my mind, invading my privacy and demanding why I didn’t do such thing in such way, which, of course, would have been way better to how I did it myself. It’s really not easy to be happy in a place where everyone expects so much of you just because you were born the king’s son. And most certainly it’s not fair. I think that’s why I appreciate the human world so much; no one expects me to be faultless there, no one knows I’m a prince and I’m not supposed to be sitting in the back of the class not paying attention and passing notes. They just know I’m a regular kid who makes mistakes like everybody else. And it feels good to be that kid.
So while part of me was desperately wishing the time to go by faster so I could get back to the human world, the other part of me was guilty because of my feelings, and wondering whether or not spending so much time in the human world was the right decision.
It was Eliah who finally interrupted my train of thought, calling for me to come down from the tree.
“Nicholas! I strongly suggest you start making your way back to the palace now! You have to get ready to go!”
I smirked at his choice of words, strongly suggest, nice one. He couldn’t really tell me what to do, since I was the prince and he was just a tutor from the court, but Eliah could always think of a smart way to order me around without him sounding like he was giving me actual orders.
“Coming!” I called out. With swift movements I started climbing down the tree, not stopping until my feet touched the damp grass. I looked up at my tutor with raised eyebrows while he took in my messy appearance. I knew what he was implying with that look of his, that I couldn’t just walk into the palace with twigs sticking out of my hair and dirt-streaked clothes; but it’s hard to look perfect when you’ve just spent a few hours running around the forest and climbing trees.
As always, Eliah’s silence was more powerful than his words could ever be, and after a few minutes I gave up to those commanding and authoritative blue eyes, not being able to keep a straight face.
“Alright, you win,” I said with a laugh before attempting to smarten myself up.
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