Anilla rode slightly ahead of the group. As she saw the tightly packed buildings of Shendar City in the horizon, her heart skipped a beat. She was both excited and nervous to be home. She wasn't sure how much things had changed since she'd left, and she was almost afraid to find out. Tobias nuzzled her cheek.
Ellie rode up next to her. "You okay, Anilla?" She looked concerned.
Anilla stopped staring at the approaching city, looked at Ellie, and smiled. "Yes, I'm fine. I'm just a little anxious, that's all."
Ellie nodded, but continued to ride next to Anilla and to glance at her occasionally.
As the group entered the city gates, one of the first things that they all noticed was that there was a lot of people out. It was just past eight in the morning, and people were out and about. Anilla watched as the humans around her made their way to their places of work, or to places to eat their breakfasts. She also saw some women hanging their clothes out to dry and keeping their children out of trouble. And, of course, she noticed quite a few men, women, and children alike staring, pointing, or glaring at her. Anilla was used to this sort of treatment, though, and was determined to hold her head high despite the rude welcoming.
Erissa moved to the front of the group, and led them to a nearby inn. The group put their horses in the stable and then met out in front of the building.
"We're going to be staying in this inn," Erissa told the group. "Don't get yourselves lost, please." She seemed to look at Kippen when she said this, which made Anilla smile. Then Erissa glanced at Anilla and added, "And watch yourselves, too."
Kippen stood up a little straighter. "We'll be fine, miss Erissa." He took Ellie's hand, and she blushed. Anilla, despite the very deliberate comment that Erissa had made, couldn't help but smile at the couple.
Erissa nodded to the group, turned, and walked off, presumably to do something of importance.
Byorne wrapped his arm around Kilana's waist and made an exaggerated bow to the group. The pair walked off into the crowd, laughing. Anilla felt herself blushing, and quickly looked at the ground to make sure that no one noticed.
Amara looked around. "I'm go-going to head to the li-library." She smiled and walked off towards the nearby library, which wasn't far from the inn.
Kippen turned to Ellie. "Wanna go inside and get some food?" She nodded in agreement. "Want to join us, Anilla?"
Anilla smiled and nodded, and the three of them went into the inn. It was crowded, and there were a lot of people sitting at tables as well as at the bar. Anilla noticed some men with drinks, and wondered how they could be drinking this early in the morning. Maybe they were still here from the night before, she thought.
The cubs found a small table in the corner and sat down. They ordered eggs, toast, and in the case of the girls, sausage. The three of them ate hungrily, talking about nothing in particular for most of the meal.
Kippen looked at Anilla and asked, "So, Anilla, are we gonna meet your family?"
Anilla tried not to blush. "I...I guess so. I mean, if you want. They won't be expecting me or anything, so they may not have the hut ready for visitors."
Kippen shrugged. "I don't care. I just wanna meet your aunt and cousin. You too, right Ellie?"
Ellie nodded in agreement, but added, "If you don't mind, of course. We're not going to force you to let us meet them."
Anilla smiled. She was really grateful to have such nice friends. "Of course I'll let you two meet them. Maybe we'll go over later today."
The three cubs continued to eat their breakfasts, and as they did so, Anilla looked around the inn. She didn't see any other half-elves, but she didn't expect to since the inn was still a fair distance away from Elftown. She noticed some humans staring at her, some of whom looked away when they met her gaze. Others, however, just tried to look threatening when they saw that she noticed them. Anilla tried to smile, but this didn't help much. She also noticed a man or two who winked or made crude gestures at her, but these she just ignored. She wasn't going to let these humans get to her.
When Anilla returned to the conversation, she saw Ellie staring at her in concern. Ellie had obviously noticed the people around the inn and how they were acting towards Anilla, and she didn't like this one bit.
Ellie turned to Kippen. "Maybe we should go back outside now, Kippen."
Kippen looked a little confused at first, but then looked around and nodded. "Yeah, we can start to walk towards Elftown or somethin'." He stood up, and helped Ellie out of her chair. Anilla stood up as well, grateful that Ellie was the first to bring up the subject of leaving. The cubs left some money on the table, and Kippen and Ellie walked towards the door, a little ahead of Anilla. As they walked towards the exit, Anilla noticed a couple of humans (men, mostly) watching her leave. They all had one of two different general expressions on their faces: hatred or lust, and in some cases maybe both. As she walked by the bar, she noticed one man sitting with his half empty drink. He looked to be in his mid-forties, he was dirty, and he looked like he hadn't slept in days. He had messy dark hair, and his face was in desperate need of a shave. What Anilla couldn't understand was that he had a totally different expression on his face: he looked both in shock and terrified of her. For some reason, this man made her more nervous than the others, if only because his response was so strange.
Anilla tried not to make eye contact and walked from the inn quickly. She walked straight past Kippen and Ellie and led the way towards Elftown. Ellie kept looking behind them, and then back at Anilla. She was worried about something.
Once they had walked for a good ten minutes or so, Anilla slowed down her quick pace. She looked around at the city, and made her way towards Elftown. She knew exactly where it was, so she wasn't afraid of getting lost. When she glanced over her shoulder, she saw Kippen and Ellie holding hands. Kippen was looking around at the different shops and houses, pointing things out to Ellie. Ellie was trying to listen to him, but she kept looking behind her own shoulder. Anilla, confused by Ellie's actions, looked further back in the crowd. To both her surprise and horror, she saw the same strange man that was in the inn. He was definitely following them. She met his eyes, and he didn't even pretend to not see her. He looked right at her.
Anilla felt her heart beat faster, and she looked around for a place to hide. She pulled Kippen and Ellie towards her and they headed off into the midst of a particularly tightly-packed group of people.
Kippen looked around. "What's wrong, Anilla?"
Ellie answered him. "That man...he's following us. Who is he, Anilla?" She looked like she was afraid to hear the answer.
Anilla shook her head. "I...I don't know." She moved deeper into the crowd, trying not to lose Kippen and Ellie.
Kippen stopped dead in his tracks. "He's followin' us? Well, I ain't lettin' that happen." He turned around and started walking back towards the man.
Ellie looked frightened. "Kippen, no! Stay here!"
But Kippen didn't stop. He walked right back out of the crowd, and once he had room, he strung an arrow into his bow. He stood his ground and waited for the man to reach him.
Anilla grabbed Ellie's hand to keep her from running after Kippen. "Just stay here...he can handle it himself." But Anilla didn't sound terribly confident.
The man walked right up to Kippen without hesitation, and the man began to talk to him. Anilla and Ellie were too far away to hear what was said, and they both held their breath in anticipation.
In just a minute or two, Kippen lowered his bow and put the arrow back in his quiver. He walked back towards the girls, and the man followed him. Ellie squeezed Anilla's hand tightly.
Kippen shrugged his shoulders as he approached them, and then nodded towards Anilla. "He says he needs to talk to you 'bout somethin'. He says it's important, somethin' 'bout how you're supposed to be dead, but you ain't..." He trailed off, as he realized that he better let the man talk before he sounded totally crazy himself. But he made sure to stay right nearby, and he took Ellie's other hand and held it tight.
The man walked right up to Anilla, and he grabbed her free hand without taking his eyes off of hers. Instinctively, she pulled back, and then she moved backwards, scared.
The man's eyes started to fill with tears. Anilla didn't know how to react to this. Why was he crying? What was going on here?
Anilla looked to Ellie and Kippen for help, but they looked just as lost as she. Anilla tried to start the conversation, since the man just stood there, staring at her and crying. "Umm...can I help you, sir?"
"Tia," said the man breathlessly.
Anilla was taken aback by this word. It was not something she expected to hear. "You...you know my mother?" She could feel Ellie's hand tighten around hers.
The man looked confused by this question. "Mother...? I don't understand, Tia. Where have you been all of these years? Why do you not remember me?"
The crowd around them was beginning to thin out as people moved on to different shops. Anilla was scared of this man, but she had to figure out who he was, and how he knew her mother. "My name is not Tia. It's Anilla. Tia was...she was my mother."
The man's tears seemed to stop quite suddenly. "Anilla? Tia's daughter? Not Tia?" He didn't seem to understand, or else he didn't want to understand.
Anilla shook her head, somewhat reluctantly. She had the very distinct feeling that she was breaking this man's heart. "My name is Anilla Liadon. I am the daughter of Tia'wen Starheart and Darin Liadon. I don't know who you are, sir, but if you knew my mother..." She trailed off, not sure what to say to him.
The man's mouth was open a bit, and he continued to stare at Anilla in a very disconcerting manner. "Daughter of Darin Liadon..."
Anilla was getting very anxious now, not sure what was going on and eager to find out. "You knew my father too?"
"I think I remember now...yes, I remember. I did have a daughter..."
Anilla shook her head in confusion, but then what he said slowly sunk in. Her mouth felt very dry all of the sudden, and she couldn't find the words to say what she was feeling.
The man's face seemed to have lost all emotion altogether. "My name is Darin Liadon...and if you're not Tia'wen, then you must be my daughter..."
Anilla felt her legs weaken. She prayed out loud, mumbling to herself. Kippen caught her just in time, and set her down on a nearby rock. She tried to stand up again, but her legs just wouldn't support her. It had been all so sudden...this wasn't how it was supposed to happen...
Darin's face continued to show no emotion. He talked softly, almost to himself. "You were supposed to be Tia...I was so sure of it...Even now, you look exactly like her...There must be a mistake..."
Anilla felt her eyes get hot, and she knew she was on the verge of tears. Here she was, sitting right in front of her father, the one man in all the world that she had wanted to find...and he wished she was her mother...
Anilla was determined not to cry in front of this man, her supposed father. She motioned to Kippen and Ellie, and they helped her stand up. She let them support her. She spoke to her father with as much confidence as she could gather. "I can tell that I am hurting you. I never wanted to hurt you. I am going to go now..." She swallowed hard as her voice cracked, and she let Kippen and Ellie help her walk away as her eyes filled with tears. She had turned away just in time...she didn't want her father to see her cry.
The cubs had already walked a good distance away when they heard Darin speak almost inaudibly. "Don't go."
Anilla stopped, and so did Kippen and Ellie. She just stood there, not turning around. She was sobbing.
Darin's voice reflected the state of his heart, whose wounds had opened up again. "Come back. Please don't go."
Anilla slowly let go of Kippen and Ellie, and she turned around. It was quite obvious that she was crying, but she didn't care anymore. Kippen grabbed Ellie's hand and held it tight as Anilla walked slowly towards her father.
The next thing she knew, she was being held. She had warm, loving arms wrapped around her body, and she buried her head into her father's shoulder and cried hard. The world seemed to go completely quiet, except for her father's voice.
"I'm so sorry, Anilla. I was so sure that you were your mother...I wasn't thinking straight. She told me to raise you, and I didn't. I was so distraught when I lost her...I couldn't bring myself to raise you without her. Please, please forgive me...I love you..."
Anilla spoke as best she could through her tears. "Of course I forgive you...I love you, father." She didn't let go of him for a very, very long time.