*****I meet up with the Guide outside his safehold. Frozen grass crackles beneath my boots, and I blow into my hands to keep them warm. The Guide's feet hit the ground just as I'm about to knock. His milky colored see-through wings look so fragile. Yet, even flapping his wings barely ruffles the surface.
"Good morning, Blaine," he greets me as he folds them.
I almost ask him not to, almost ask him if I can touch them, but I smile and greet him back.
The Guide is not a tall man--in my platform boots I'm taller than he is--and his thin, waifish figure and bob-line cut, ash-blond hair give him a very androgynous appearance. He inclines his head and gives me a warm smile. "Shall we go in?"
"Are you sure?" It's not every day the tables are turned. I'm here to interview him, after all, not ask him for guidance.
"Of course. It's too cold for you to sit outside," he says as he leads the way.
It is, though he doesn't seem fazed by the cold at all. It's comfortably warm inside, and serene. Like the church I used to visit, but much smaller, and far more intimate.
The Guide pours each of us a glass of laros juice, sits cross-legged on the wooden floor, and invites me to do the same.
There are no chairs in this room at all, so I sit, pressing the heels of my boots together and straightening my back.
He hands me one of the glasses. "Now. What did you want to ask me?"
Grabbing my notebook from my bag, I try to remember whether there were questions I wasn't allowed to ask, aside from his name, but nothing comes to mind. I clear my throat and take a sip of the tangy laros juice. "When did you know you'd be a Guide?"
"Oh, very early on. I must have been eight, nine, maybe. Of course, I didn't know all it would entail at that age, but," he shrugs, "when the time came, I was quite willing to give it up."
This wasn't the topic I'd wanted to start the interview with, but now that he brought it up... "You're talking about becoming a eunuch."
"Yes. The recuperation wasn't very pleasant, I admit, but it made me feel more whole, more like who I was supposed to be." He looks at me. "I know this must seem strange, but it wasn't the hardest sacrifice to make."
"Losing your name was harder?"
His smile is indulgent, friendly, patient. "My name isn't lost; it lives on in my home."
"But it was the harder sacrifice."
"It was. I cannot deny I felt I lost my identity when I had to give up my name. And it took me a long time to learn that having but few allowed to use it only makes it more precious, not lost."
"Your parents, you mean?"
"Yes. I treasure their letters, always."
"Because they don't live in the village?"
"One cannot become a Guide to the tribe one is born to. So, no. They live across the mountains, due south. Mother is an elder there. Once the snow has melted, I plan to visit them."
I scribble that down in my notebook. "And beside your parents? Who else would be allowed?"
He raises an eyebrow. "The one I vow myself to. But you knew that."
"I did. But the readers might not. They might think you're like a Catholic priest, single and celibate."
"Guides have never been forbidden to vow themselves, or to have sex. Though, the latter isn't what I'm interested in." He sips his laros juice and straightens himself. "But I am still single, yes."
He laughs at that. "I have been kissed before, if that's what you're asking. But it's been a while since I've been in a relationship."
"How would that work?" I slap my hand to my mouth. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to come out that way. I meant professionally. If you're seeing someone, would you still be their Guide?"
The Guide is shaking, though I'm not sure whether he's shaking his head at me or shaking in laughter. "Ideally, I would not. Everyone deserves someone they can confide their secrets to, and that would include a Guide's mate. I'd refer them to my novice, Darver, in that case."
"But, they can choose to keep you as their Guide?"
"It's their choice, yes, but they rarely do." The Guide's expression turns serious. "It's not easy, living with a Guide. They'd need someone outside the relationship to confide in."
"Can you tell me what being a Guide means to you?"
"It means everything to me. There is nothing more fulfilling than helping my elves unload their burdens, helping them choose their paths in life, and guiding them through their last moments before they join Ma'terra." He looks up then, a serene smile on his face.
"When you free their essences? At the end?"
The Guide nods. "Yes. Seeing them freed from pain or hardships is very rewarding."
"How do you cope with the hardships? Like poor Cyine's murder last year?"
"The first lesson any apprentice Guide learns is that we can't help those who don't want to be helped. Of course, at that age, we still think we can do anything, that it is in our power to help anyone. But the hard truth is that we can't force our elves to confide in us, we can only let them know we're there for them. We are taught to be grateful for every elf we can help. And I am. Very much so." He closes his eyes for a moment. "In times like that, I take flight. I rise high above the trees where I can sense their essences all around me. They dwell there, watching over those still living in the village, their family, their friends, their vowed, their tribe. Some days, I can even feel them brushing my wings. It makes me feel very humble."
And I thought being a mother was a hard job. Silence surrounds us as we finish our laros juice. "Thank you for answering all my questions so candidly. But, before I leave, there is one more thing I've been dying to ask."
The Guide sets his glass down. "And that is?"
"What's up with all those cryptic sayings?"
His laughter echoes through the room. "Because easy answers aren't always the solution. Some elves need a bit more incentive to make them think. And some just like to solve puzzles."
The Forester II: Lost and Found – Now Available for just $3.99!
"The Guide mentioned puddles, but I envisioned lakes, deep treacherous lakes, and I was drowning."
One turn has passed, another Solstice is just around the corner, and having an illicit affair with not one but two lovers—smith Ianys and shunned Forester Taruif—is taking its toll on Truth Seeker Kelnaht.
If it isn't sneaking around to find some quality time with his lovers, it's heavy rainfall hiding traces of a missing stripling, or waiting for the elders to decide whether or not to set Taruif free.
And if that's not enough, Kelnaht fears that in gaining one lover, he might be losing another, as Ianys seems to be pulling away from them, and it looks like someone is, once again, trying to frame Taruif.
Blaine D. Arden is a purple haired, forty-something writer of gay and trans* romance with a love of men, music, mystery, magic, fairies, platform shoes, and the colours black, purple and red, who sings her way through life.
You can find Blaine at blainedarden.com, twitter,facebook, and goodreads.
Enter to WIN The Forester II