Inkyrius looks up from the mixing bowl, one eyebrow quirked in concern at the sudden disruption. ‘Imtaviel?’ Ze carefully puts down the spoon and crosses the kitchen, scooping up the small howling child in hir arms. ‘What is wrong, Little One?’
‘WAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ The child is only able to howl inconsolably, and so Kyrie spends a few minutes gently bouncing hir and stroking the bright orange hair, murmuring soft incomprensibilities. Kyrie loves hir adopted youngest every bit as fiercely as ze does hir other two children, but even ze must admit it: what an odd-looking hodge-podge of a child. At nineteen, Tavi is small and chubby, short for an elfling of hir age and likely to stay that way even as hir age-mates grow up around her. Bright fiery red hair, pale skin, a galaxy of most un-elven freckles scattered across the blunt little nose. Right ear round and stubby, left ear proudly pointed high, right foot broad and thickly furred, left foot small and delicately pointed. But hir eyes – ah, Tavi’s eyes are the most beautiful clear, deep, dark amethyst, and when ze looks up at Kyrie with that irresistible expression of love and trust, the elf knows that it’s the closest ze will ever be to seeing Suvie’s face again.
‘Now, Little One. Why are you crying?’
Tavi chokes back a sniffle. ‘It was Luci an’ Vashti. They were weedin’ the garden, like you said, an’ I wanted to help but they said I’m too little, and, and I said I’d tell an’ they said… sniff… they said I’ll always be too little an’ I’m not a proper elf, an’ I… WAHHHHH!’.
Kyrie’s normally serene face turns thunderous and ze stalks to the back door.
Lucien and Vashtarius, a pair of, lean, rangy forty-five-year-olds, look warily up from the vegetable bed they’ve been weeding.
‘What is it, Parent?’
‘Don’t play innocent with me, young elf!’
Vashti’s dark green eyes widen in shock. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You know perfectly well! I will not have you two bullying poor Tavi!’
Luci jumps to hir feet, shaking red hair out of hir face ‘But we –‘
In Kyrie’s arms, Tavi bursts into a new spasm of wailing.
‘Don’t make it worse by making excuses please, Lucien. I’ve had about enough of this behaviour from both of you! Now, you two will finish weeding that garden, and then you can both go to bed without supper!’ Kyrie turns on hir heel, and sweeps back into the house. Back in the kitchen, she sits Tavi on a counter-top and gives the child the spoon covered in banana-nut muffin batter to lick.
‘They are only being foolish, Little One, and you must not listen to them. Every elf is a real elf, and anyone who says anything different is simply misinformed.’
Kyrie begins to grease the baking tray as the child devotes hir wholehearted attention to the spoon. Eventually though, Tavi looks up, slightly the stickier for hir encounter.
‘Yes, Loved One?’
‘Will you tell me the story again? Of how you got me?’
Kyrie smiles. ‘Again? Have you not heard it enough times already?’
‘Want to hear it again!’
‘Very well’. Kyrie glances out the window: the twins are continuing their weeding peacefully enough, although with deeply hard-done-by expressions on their faces. Never mind: they must learn that they should show their younger sibling the love and respect that ze deserves as a member of their family. Poor Tavi will have enough battles to fight in hir lifetime without speciesist bullying from hir own siblings.
‘Once upon a time, there was an elf who was the prettiest and the bravest and the cleverest elf I ever did know’ Kyrie begins, truthfully enough. There is no point adding adjectives like ‘stubborn’, ‘arrogant’ or ‘unbelievably, truly staggeringly self-centred’ to the litany: it would do Tavi no good to hear it, and besides Kyrie’s anger has long since faded over the years, leaving only love and sadness. ‘And this elf was a wonderfully powerful wizard, who could do all sorts of amazing things. Do you remember the name, Little One?’
‘It was V’suv’ius!’ Tavi beams. ‘An’ that elf was Vashti an’ Luci’s Other Parent, too!’
‘That’s right,’ Kyrie smiles. ‘And that elf lived right here in Ivyleaf, with Parent and Vashti and Luci, until one day we decided together that Vaarsuvius should go and learn even greater magic. This was when the twins were about your age, Loved One. So we said goodbye, and for a long, long time Vaarsuvius was away, having lots and lots of adventures!’
Kyrie very deliberately does not mention the nature of said adventures. She’s never sure how much Luci and Vashti remember of their ordeal at the claws of the Ancient Black Dragon, and has always hoped that they see it as something like a scary dream, gone with the morning and best forgotten. And there is little point dwelling on the recriminations of the past, the divorce proceedings, like so much else, are no subject to be discussing with a nineteen-year-old elfling.
‘But one day I was making walnut bread, right here in this very kitchen, when someone came to visit us! They were a human lady, and a fearsome halfling warrior.’
‘Tell about them!’
‘Well, the lady was pretty, and very nice, and she was a very good friend to your Parent, Vaarsuvius. And as for the halfling, he was the strongest and the swiftest and the most terrible halfling I ever did know. And he was your Other Parent, Tavi!’. Once more, Kyrie makes sure to tell hir child nothing but the truth, while leaving the more… unpleasant details out of it. The less Tavi hears about hir father’s personal habits, manner of speech or table manners the better, and ze certainly doesn’t need to know what he did to the best upstairs guest room. ‘And they brought something with them. Do you know what it was?’
Tavi waves the spoon in the air. ‘It was me!’
‘It was you! And Luci and Vashti and I were very, very sad, because they told us that our Vaarsuvius had died giving birth to a beautiful baby elf. ‘ Kyrie would not dream of allowing the phrase ‘and also disgusted beyond belief at the very idea of Suvie having anything to do with the obnoxious little creature currently trashing hir house and insulting hir cooking’ to cross hir lips, but that doesn’t mean ze isn’t thinking it.
‘But we were very, very happy too, because they gave you to us, and asked us to look after you because they were Fearless Adventurers, and they had to go on a quest to save the world!’
‘And did they save it?’
Kyrie looks around hir. ‘Hmm, Little One, I don’t know! Let me check – are you still here?’
Tavi giggles. ‘Yes!’
‘Am I still here!’
‘Course you are! Silly Parent!’
‘Well then, I guess they must have! But then, a little while later, I had a Sending from the leader of their party. And I was sad again, because he told me that your Other Parent had died saving the world from something called the Snarl. But I was happy too, because he said that if I wanted, I could keep you so that you and me and Vashti and Luci would be together forever! And do you know what I said?’
‘YES! I said yes! And anyone who has TWO elven Parents who love hir very much, AND a halfling Other Parent who saved the whole world, is about as real an elf as any elf can be! Remember that, Imtaviel’.
Noticing that the child is wriggling slightly, Kyrie scoops hir off the counter and sets hir down on the floor. ‘There. Now you’ve distracted your poor Parent enough! I have to get these in the oven now or there’ll be no banana nut muffins for supper! Run off and play, and don’t take any nonsense from your Older Siblings.’
Tavi beams like a freckle-faced angel, and slips quietly out the back door. Ze is right down the bottom of the garden and safely up an apple tree before hir Older Siblings finish the weeding and head upstairs to discover exactly what ze has put in their beds.
Ze chuckles to hirself as the shrieks of pain and outrage filter down the garden, and wonders what stories ze will make up about them to tell hir Parent tomorrow.