Arctus looked up ahead at the light flickering from the cabin window. He could see all across the large grassy meadow between the edge of the woods where he stood and home. The herdsmen had taken the sheep home by now. He had one rabbit with him and a whole lot of empty snares. There was no denying it. He just wasnt meant to be a trapper. The locals said anyone with elven blood was a good hunter. But then the locals assumed that elves were better at everything, from hunting to singing to walking. What was that they always said? Anything a man can do, an elf can do while balancing on a tightrope made with a single hair, and make it look sleeker and prettier at the same time! But apparently trapping wasnt one of those things. He couldnt remember what hed gotten mad about this time, but whenever he got angry, hed go and check the snares. They were normally empty, but today there was at least one rabbit kind enough to walk into his snare. He rubbed his chin. It felt scruffy. Would that beard ever grow? Then maybe people would stop comparing him with his father. That was one thing elves didnt do better. They couldnt grow beards. Thats what dwarves did best. Sure there was the fact that dwarves were superior craftsmen, and their armies were second to none, but that meant nothing to some rural village on the edge of the woods. Arctus often wondered how his mothers people lived in their hand-carved caves. What could drive them out of the suns light? And why had Mother left that life to be with Father? The townsfolk used to scratch their heads when they saw Arctuss mother. Didnt dwarf women have beards too? Then as he stepped from the grass to the muddy path leading to town his mind returned to a familiar question. Why did Mother and Father get married? Elves didnt breed outside their own kind except with humans. Elves considered humans the closest thing they had to equals, and humans as a whole seemed to be able to breed with anything! Whyd his father pick a dwarf when there were many eligible human girls in town?
He realized hed been standing there in the middle of the path longer than he thought. His cheeks immediately flushed. Standing around like an idiot when he had to get home. The sun was starting to set set. Itd be dark by the time he got home. Arctus started to cross the meadow, trying his hardest not to think. Hed been doing a lot of that lately, trying to keep himself from thinking about his life. It seemed like everyone in town looked at him funny. Its not like half-elves themselves were uncommon. Hells, there were a few in town! But even they viewed him as some kind of freak, always comparing Arctuss mother with their human mothers or fathers. No elf sired children with a dwarf. It just wasnt done. Elves were tall, slim and achingly beautiful, as some milkmaid had once said about his father. Dwarves were short, tough and hairy. You didnt see any of them around in the village. People said it was because there werent enough rocks in the area. As if it was his fault his parents had fallen in love. Theyd been adventurers for years before theyd settled down and had him. They watched each others backs in fights against goblin raiding parties and mighty giants. Hed heard almost every epic poem and heroic ballad that the bards who passed through town each spring would tell. Two adventurers falling in love was something that happened all the time. So why didnt Mother and Fathers marriage make sense? He looked at the rabbit hed caught. It was big and fat, with a very soft light brown coat. Not a bad catch, actually. Another pelt to go on the pile for market later that season.
He started walking again, and then his mind wandered to the first time Father had taken him hunting. It was summer, and he was still young, even by human standards. The day was hot, but comfortably dry. Father was teaching him how to set a snare. It had taken a few tries, but hed finally gotten it right. Then Father told him all he had to do was wait. Arctus sat in the bushes for hours staring at the snare. Every so often some small animal would come and sniff at the bait, but then would leave. He finally got tired of waiting and smashed the snare in frustration. Father had laughed. Hed said hed forgotten that Arctus wasnt as patient as he was. Patience for an elf, his motherd often said, is a day longer than anyone elses. He asked when hed be able to use a bow, or even a sword, like hed seen over the mantle. Father said he didnt use his bow for this kind of hunting. Thats only for bigger game, like deer. There arent any deer in this part of the woods. You dont need a bow to hunt rabbits and squirrels.
Of course, Arctus had seen deer in the woods before. Some of the other huntsmen in the village would come back with large deer, and then theyd sell the venison at the market. Father just didnt try hard enough, he figured. The sword was not something to get excited over, Father had told him. It belonged to your mothers grandfather. Its all she has to remind her of home. Arctus wondered what good a sword was if it wasnt used? The sword wasnt some kind of decoration. Hed seen the nicks on the blade, the faded stains of some beasts blood. This sword had seen battle. Neither Mother nor Father had said whether it was magical or not. Mother commented that if it were magic, itd have been sold long ago. But Arctus wasnt convinced. There was a sense of wonder he felt every time he looked at it. That kind of wonder didnt come from any ordinary blade. None of the stories were like that.
Arctus didnt understand why Mother and Father werent comfortable telling him about adventuring when he was a boy, but he figured he understood why now. Hed heard tales of half-breeds like him struggling to find acceptance and showing the world what they could do by becoming famous heroes. Of Dessan Urtagen, the son of an orcish warchief and a human peasant, who led an orc army and carved a kingdom that still stood today. Of Peralynn, the half-elf who overcame blindness and the close-minded elven community she lived in to become a famous mage. Of Jergan Stone-Eyes, a rare half-dwarf who became one of the greatest smiths of his time, creating swords that according to legend could cut through the very stone! The sun flared in his eyes. He was almost home. Why couldnt he be some kind of hero? When Mother first told him not to touch the sword, he thought it was because hed break it. Now he understood better. They didnt want him to leave and become an adventurer. Hed told Mother about it the day he figured it out, and she told him it was true. There are better ways to make a living than getting cut up and burned everyday for a few coins and an old helm or two. Hed run out of the house after she said that. When she asked where he was going, he yelled back that he was going to check the snares. They were empty, as usual. What did they expect him to be? A trapper? Some trapper he was. Or maybe theyd give him the farm. But hed never liked farm work. It moved too slowly for him. He figured a few coins and an old helm or two would have been preferable to an empty snare or staring at a field waiting for it to grow. Why did they think he couldnt handle the adventuring life?
He was halfway home, and he still hadnt stopped thinking. He wanted to get out. Explore this vast world. Meet with wizards and kings and such. Thats how itd always happened in the stories hed heard. Adventurers wandering from place to place, fighting evil in caves and ruins and coming away rich with plunder, like Keldus Korran, the mercenary whod fought for twenty three kings; Thomas Hannovershire, the thief who stole the crown of an emperor right off his head; or Saint Aravar Taerûn, the holy warrior who supposedly became an angel. Hed often daydreamed about being one of those heroes. A knight in polished armor one day, a mage with a powerful staff the next. He remembered how he used to go and watch the other children in the town pretend to be adventurers in the square. They never let him join. They told him all manner of excuses, usually involving what Mummy or Papa said to them. It was a good enough reason back then, but these same children were now grown men and women, like him, and they still avoided him. It seemed to him that being an adventurer was the only way hed be able to get people to stop looking away when he went to help sell Fathers pelts. People bought them all the same, but they never stopped to talk. The ladies never gossiped with Mother. And yet life still went on as if nothing was wrong.
By now Arctus was at the fence gate. He was home. The lamps inside were lit. Sometimes when he was upset and hed go to check the snares, and he wouldnt be back until very late at night. More often than not, the lamps were already out when he got home, and the door would be locked, so hed sleep in the loft of the barn. They were waiting for him tonight. What would he say to them when he came in with one rabbit? He stood still for what seemed like hours. Still, he had one rabbit. Most of the time he came home empty-handed. Hells! Maybe theyd be proud of him this time. Maybe this was just the start. Maybe next week thered be two rabbits. Maybe hed make it as a trapper. Feeling more proud of himself than he had for a while, he strode up to the door.
Sure enough, the door opened easily and there they were, sitting at the table. Mother, a short, plump woman with dark hair like Arctuss, with strong hands that spoke of a lot of work with the men from the village shed hired to help on the farm. Father, tall and lean, with an angular face and hair that was starting to go white. Arctus opened his mouth to apologize for being out so late, but Father raised a finger to his lips with a wry smile.
We have a present for you. Mother said.
Its not my birthday."
That doesnt matter. She handed him a long, thin object, wrapped in leather. Arctus slowly undid the binding; half-assuming what was in the parcel was some sort of farm tool or something. His eyes grew wide when he saw the glint of polished metal beneath the leather. He looked over at the mantle, now bare, and then at what he was unwrapping. Sure enough, it was the sword.
Your mother and I spent some time talking after you left. We know youve had your eye on this for a long time.
I. . .I guess so.
I think you understand why. Mother said.
Ive never really liked the quiet around here. I wanted something more. And I thought this thing was it.
One sword doesnt make you a hero, Arctus. Your father and I went through many hardships before we settled down. We lost a lot of friends throughout our lives, and we took countless more lives. The life of an adventurer is hard, gritty and sad when compared with the easy life we have here.
But we cant hold you back forever, Father continued. There comes a time when you should be making your own decisions. And this is your day.
I know you must not think much of us for what we are, but youve got the best of both of us.
You have always wished for a chance to prove you are something more than the sum of your parts. Father said. Now, with this, you have that chance. An ecstatic grin spread across Arctuss face, and he grabbed his parents and hugged them more strongly than hed ever done before in his life.