Pamela heard the pounding of drums as they made their way to the foot of the Firebrand Mountains. The sound only grew louder as they pressed onward. As the Sun burned soft and orange through the pines wispy pines, she caught her first glimpse of the source.
A group of wood elves danced gayly around the fire. Men, women, children: all danced, hand-in-hand, while the band beat away at their instruments.
“Oh good. We’re just in time,” Smoggit said.
Pamela’s brow furrowed, but she said nothing.
The wood elves were quick to notice them. Amidst a collect of chirps and coos, she could hear them calling out Smoggit’s name. An elder elf, grey of skin and bedecked in vines, waddled over to him. They embraced.
Smoggit turned to Pamela. The elder turned with him.
“Pamela, this is my friend, Esäk; Esäk, Pamela,” he said.
Esäk chirped at her.
“Esäk says hello,” Smoggit added.
“Hi,” she said.
Smoggit clapped his hands together.
“Now that we’re all acquainted, I suggest we get to celebrating,” he said, “do you like gooseberry wine?”
She scratched her head.
“I don’t think I’ve ever tried it,” she said.
“Oh, then you’re in for a treat! The wood elves are master vinedressers, and we caught them at the height of harvest season,” he said.
Esäk chirped again. Smoggit waved them on.
“Come. The party bell tolls,” he added.
They approached the center of the gathering. Many hugs were shared, especially between Smoggit and the elves. Pamela was a lot more reluctant with her affections; but, with a couple sips of the gooseberry wine, she became a lot more open to the idea. As the elves and music and bonfire twirled about her, she pointed at the wine.
“This is powerful stuff,” she said.
“I know! Isn’t it fantastic?!” he said as he downed his third glass.
Smoggit’s face turned a merry shade of pink and he would occasionally hiccup and laugh in the same breath. Pamela had never noticed it before, but he had the loveliest dimples.
After introductions and drinks were liberally shared, the drummers fell back into position and, with no absence of pomp and flare, began passionately beating the heads as one (not in unison, for one played one part and second a second and a third a third; but, it all seemed to work seamlessly together, as if it were just one drum playing).
Smoggit raised his empty wineskin up into the air.
“Farrekåñna!” he said.
The elves repeated back the phrase.
Pamela leaned in, more closely than she anticipated, but she chuckled of their near-collision and continued.
“What does that mean?” she said.
“Lord of the Dance,” he replied. He took his arm. “I’ll show you.”
He pulled her into the ring. One elf took one arm, another elf took the second. Smoggit disappeared into the center as the elves began to move around in the circle. Spinning, spinning. Everyone laughed and laughed and sang nonsensical songs. Pamela was so beside herself that she eventually joined it, spouted gibberish for gibberish’s sake. The experience was very freeing. A little while later she spotted Smoggit amongst the percussionists, blowing away at a pan flute. This made her laugh even more, to see a master wizard pittering away on a penny whistle.
Eventually the music and the dancing and the wine died down, and Pamela found herself beside Smoggit, the elder, and a select few others as they told stories and reconnected around the dying embers.
Esäk chirped at her. Smoggit leaned over to her.
“He says you’re quite pretty,” he said.
She put a hand on her chest.
“Thank you,” she said.
“He always says you’ve got a nice smile, when you dare to use it,” he added.
He chirped again.
“He also sees the makings of a great warrior in you,” he concluded, “quite the impressive collection.”
“Tell him I am quite the impressive girl,” he said.
He translated and Esäk giggled approvingly.
“I told him about Xocotí,” Smoggit reported, “he asks if you have a weapon.”
She shook her head. Esäk ran away. She reached out her hand to beckon him back, but the elf moved too quickly. She lowered her hand again and turned to Smoggit.
“I don’t believe in violence,” she said.
“Trust me, you’ll believe in this,” he said.
Esäk showed up shortly thereafter with a diminutive pouch and handed it to her. She reluctantly took it and opened it up. Inside was a glass decanter full of an effervescent, purple liquid.
“It’s kalaharañ´îo juice,” said Smoggit. “It will boost your magic threshold ten fold. You will need ever drop of it to take down Xocotí.”
She eyed Smoggit and began intensely studying his facial expression.
“With your help, of course,” she said, “right?!”
“Of course,” he said as he cracked a bittersweet smile.
She tucked the vial into her chest.
“Thank you,” she said.
Esäk gave her an effulgent bear hug.
“So, what now?” she said.
Smoggit yawned and stretched.
“Now, we stretch. We have a full day ahead of us. Maybe, if we make excellent time, we can cross Masari Meadows and reached the borders of the Telánquo Swamp by nightfall,” he said.
“Did this answer upset you?” he asked.
“Yes. No. I don’t know. I was hoping I could stay longer. It has a good vibe,” she said.
Smoggit and Esäk looked at each other and smiled.
“I suppose we could do that, yes,” he said. “It would be nice to get in an afternoon game of Barato ball before shipping out.” He slapped the elder’s thigh. “Besides, we haven’t got the chance to catch up in some time. He’s lived quite the life, you know?”
“I could imagine,” she replied.
Esäk chirped and cooed.
“All right. That settles it then: we’ll stay a bit longer,” he said.
“See you all in the morning, then?” she said.
“Yes,” Smoggit said, “sleep well.”
She did not sleep well. Something about the evening made her toss and turn. Still, it was one of those nights where she wished she were asleep; so, throughout the entirety of the night, she opened her eyes only once.
When she did so, she saw him, Esäk, emitting a slow, soft purr as sleeping Smoggit’s back. She moved slightly to catch a better look. The elder instantly cast his gaze to meet hers. They locked eyes for a fraction of a second, then he disappeared, leaving Pamela in the space between dusk and dawn.