(I've realized a lot of these are probably older than I realized.)
It wasn’t morning. It wasn’t even dawn. In fact, only a Nitera could claim it was time for anyone to be moving about the forest. Iela thus felt she had quite the right to be annoyed with whatever it was that had woken her in the middle of this cold winter night. Pulling her cloak around her with a cool expression over her dark-skinned face, she slid herself out of her tree hole and landed lightly upon the frozen ground. Crouching, she listened again for the racket. There it was, that strangely familiar sound. An uneasy feeling stirred in her chest, moving her to slowly open her eyes and blink at the sparkling snow. Light was somewhere near, crackling — fire!
Her panic hit for only a moment before ebbing. It was not a forest fire. Curiosity replaced annoyance, and she crept towards the light and the strange voices around it. Peering through the branches her heart gave a thud. Humans! She drew back with a sharp breath, memories flying through her mind. She had seen her own reflection many times in ponds and lakes, and knew she was different from the forest creatures who had raised her, but she never accepted her own oddity until she saw these beings here. Her eyes flashed. What were they doing in the forest, her forest? In all her years — somewhere more than 10, somewhere less than 20 — she had never seen one. She now recognized the language... her own. Perhaps she had not been in the forest as long as she believed.
“But my prince,” one human was saying, “your stepsister will surely send soldiers after us. We should go—”
“We’ll be safe in the forest for a time,” another one interrupted. This one dressed in clothing frilly like vines and sparkly things. “She won’t expect us to come in here,” he added.
“For good reason,” another grumbled.
Iela drew away again. No, they were humans. She was not — not anymore. Her forest was her home, its creatures her family. Contentment reigned here, settled like a warm fox on her chest. And yet... she bit her lip. Could this be my chance for change? She drew a breath swiftly and turned away. There was time left to rest before her day was to start. Back to her tree hole she would go. The humans would pass, tomorrow she would watch the wolves assemble for their winter snow dance. That thought brightened her eyes as she crept back to her sleep hole.
Errin stuck his head out into the corridor and quickly looked both ways. It was empty. He quietly tiptoed out, shutting the door behind him. His back to the wall, he crept down the hall until he came to a corner. Just as he was about to turn, he heard voices. Uh oh! He would likely get in trouble for being out of his room, so being caught was not an option. He ducked into the room next to him, fervently hoping it was empty. Luck was with him, as there were no people or furniture. He listened at the door until the voices passed, when he snuck again into the corridor. This time he made it to his destination without mishap. He sighed and relaxed against one of the enormous bookshelves. Hardly anyone ever came into the library, and when they did, they only stayed long enough to select a book. Errin knew every inch of the library, and almost every book. It was his goal to read them all before his 13th birthday. He still wasn’t sure if this was a reasonable goal, as he was already 10, in the 4 years since he’d learnt to read he’d made his way through slightly less than half the library, and new books were added all the time. His father collected books, but hardly ever had time to read any of them. Now that Errin was getting older, his father was assigning him more tutors and more responsibility, which left less time for reading. Errin was very determined, though, and lately he’d taken to giving his tutors the slip, and even blackmailing one to tell Errin’s father that he was doing all his lessons when Errin had in fact missed all but one. Errin felt only very little guilt about it. It wasn’t a very important lesson anyway. All the same, he grimaced as he thought of the test his father was likely to conjure up for him. As he moved to a different shelf, a thought struck him. His test, if on schedule, would’ve been held yesterday. His father had missed before, certainly, but only for good reason. He would have to ask him tonight.
Having skipped lunch to learn that oak leaves were edible if cooked in oil — useless information, he grumbled — Errin was quite famished once dinner came around. As he usually did, he took dinner with his father in the king’s chambers. Errin wondered how to broach the subject of the test without bringing it down on himself right then. He was saved, though not in the words he would have preferred.
“We are having company tomorrow night. I hope you will be prepared.”
Errin nodded. “Of course. Who is it coming?”
“The Countess Laina dy Welan, lately widowed, and her daughter Fy’ona. You might recall the Countess’s husband, Count Welan.”
Errin shook his head.
“No matter,” his father went on, “he was a good man, a friend. His wife was young for him, though. How went your studies today?”
Errin started at this abrupt change of subject, then mumbled something about oaks. The king looked unamused, but fell lost in thought and talked no more.
The countess was lovely and charming. Her daughter was rather quiet, but her piercing eyes took in everything. Dinner went delightfully, and Errin was pleased by his fine performance. He was less pleased when, the next day, his father assigned him a new teacher, this time on etiquette. Errin was very much put out, especially when he could find no way of worming himself out of the lessons. After a month, he realized he truly despised his new tutor. The man was a demon sent from the underworld, it must be. Anger grew in him, and a dark hatred of all his lessons began to form. The anger gradually gave way to annoyance, and then to rebellion. He skipped his classes, and after a time he realized no one was punishing him. His father was too occupied with matters of state, and Errin was free to roam. What joy! What glee! He did, however, attend a few etiquette classes, especially when the Countess dy Welan was invited more often for dinner.
Curled up in her trunk, the forest girl tried to sleep, but only managed a half-sleep. Creeping through her usual thoughts of the forest were visions of the things she had seen earlier. It wasn’t long before she saw only the fire-light dancing on the faces of the sparklies. What things were these, that reminded her of sunlight on water? Finally she shot out of her tree in frustration, and plunged her sweating face into the snow... which was stupid. She wiped the snow from her face, wincing at the cuts the ice gave her. It was no use — she’d never been so curious about anything in her life, she had to look at those sparkling ornaments. She crept back to the fire site, to see it only burning embers. The humans were sleeping around it, some of them making horrid snorting noises worse than a horse. The one who was wearing the ornaments was the only one with a cloth to warm him. Iela sat there the whole night watching the sparklies, and she was absolutely hooked on the beauty and mystery they held. When the humans awoke, ate, and departed, Iela found herself staring longingly after them. What were the sparklies? How were they made? Where did they come from? She also wondered who the people were who wore the sparklies, but that wasn’t as important. Could she, dare she go after them? The forest animals never minded her wanderings, in fact they encouraged them. She’d never wandered far before, though nothing physically kept her here. Curiosity was only natural, and seldom fatal. With much less thought that should be given to the start of life adventures, Iela rolled to her feet and sprang to follow the horses.
After following them the whole day, Iela was ready to collapse in slumber. While they were eating their own supper, however, she saw fit to gather herself some roots to chew for her empty stomach. While she chewed and watched, the younger human, the one with the sparklies, took off the jewels to put in a soft bag. Longing to stare at them more, once the humans were asleep, Iela crept into their camp with muffled footfalls. She just wanted to look at the sparklies spilling out on the ground after she’d upturned the bag, which was satisfying, but temptation grabbed her. I’ll just take one. The red one was lovely as fire, the white like a river, the blue as the sky, the green as leaves. After some time she decided on the forest color, and started placing the rest back in the bag. They chimed softly, she glanced at the humans but they still seemed deep in slumber. A moment later, a hand closed about her wrist. Caught green-handed!
I don't know what comes next. Part of me wants to figure that out right now, but I'll resist doing that until I can devote the proper time to it.