He remembered the moment he met her as though it had only been seconds ago.
He had been playing with his brother and sister in the fields by their home, which was nestled into the green hillside. All you could see of the house, once you were a good ways away, was its windows and it door, which looked almost like a tree stump from a distance. The house was hidden in shadow—but the fields were sunny, and the woods beyond had a stream and a pond, which was wonderful for skipping stones and hunting for frogs.
They played at tag for a long while, but his brother wasn’t very big yet and so he always ended up being “it” and unable to catch anyone else. The game dissolved, his siblings panting on the ground—his brother, relieved; his sister in a bit of a sulk.
He stood, still, and looked about him, eager to move to whatever game came next. He saw the edge of the forest and thought of the stream and the pound beyond it, and took off at a run, barreling towards his destination.
“Where are you going?” his sister called, but he was past replying. He had plunged into the pines, the russet pine needles crackling between his toes and he nimbly dodged the pine cones poking up through the straw like dragon’s teeth. That was it. Dragon’s teeth.
He grabbed a long stick that was jutting up from the ground and gave it an experimental swish or two. Every slayer of dragons needs a good sword, he thought as he ran, keeping a weather eye out for any villain that might be lurking in the dappled shadows.
He came to the stream. Not a stream now, but a roaring river—and the log he often used for crossing it was a rickety rope bridge, swaying dangerously in the wind. And below him, rearing its scaly head from the frothy current of the river, was a three-eyed water dragon, hissing and snarling. But with a few deft slices from his wooden blade, the creature burst into a shower of sparks which sizzled in the water. He ran on, victorious, unstoppable.
At last he reached the pond. In his mind, it was an enchanted lake—if you stared into it long enough and hard enough, the good elf who watched over the lake would show you your future. No one had told him this—he alone knew the lake’s secret. He knelt at the lake’s edge as he had many times before, staring into its depths hopefully. But all he saw was his own brown skin, his own pointed ears, his own wide blue eyes, and the pendant that swung from a leather cord around his neck.
He grasped the pendant with his gritty fingers and turned it up towards the light. The golden shape had always puzzled him. His father told him it was in the shape of the sun. But the sun was round, not oblong like the pendant. And the real sun had rays all around its face, unlike the shape on the leather cord, which only had rays curling out from one side. It had always seemed to him that the pendant was broken somehow—incomplete. It was interesting enough, he supposed, since it shone rather regally in the light and had a diamond-cut amber stone set in the middle. He suspected his sister was a bit jealous of the gem, but Father had told him the pendant was only ever passed down from father to son, and never to daughters. A pity, he though, since it seemed girlish to wear a necklace all the time, but his father told him he must never take it off.
He used the stone to catch the light and reflected it down on the water. The little point of light shimmered on the pond’s surface—it was a pond once again, now that he had lost the enchanted lake to other thoughts. He pivoted the pendant in his fingers, moving the little point of light further and further out, until it had danced to the pond’s other edge.
His heart stopped. There was a face on the other side of the pond, peering out of the rushes. He blinked, and it was gone.
He reached down and gripped his stick, but could not convince himself it was a sword. The presence of a real enemy frightened him out of make-believe. He heard rustling in the reeds around him, like an animal clawing towards him. He stood up, but found his feet were rooted to the spot. He could only cast his eyes about in terror, waiting.
Suddenly, a white blur tore from the reeds. He flinched, expecting death, but only received a stinging flick on his arm. Whatever it was, it was coming at him with a weapon like his own.
He anticipated the next blow, and the next. The creature was moving too quickly for him to see what it was, but he darted his long stick out again and again. The crack of stick on stick echoed through the clearing. Before long, the thing had backed him up to the stream, which gurgled menacingly behind him as he parried over and over.
He tripped on a root by the water’s edge. He felt his stomach lurch sickeningly as he toppled backwards.
But he did not fall in.
The thing was holding him up by the chord around his neck. It was too sturdy, and he was too light for it to break, so he hung there, his feet on the brink and his body suspended over the stream. For the first time, he looked into the eyes of his attacker.
They were brown.
He looked at the face that housed them. They were a girl’s.
A girl with long brown hair that fell in a tangled curtain around her small, round face. She was wearing a long, shapeless dress that must have been white, once, but now bore all the smears and stains that childhood play inflicts. It hung down to her toes…which had little black claws instead of toenails.
And a long, gold-colored tail swished behind her slowly.
“What’re you?” he said, his nose wrinkling.
“What’re you?” she countered. “You haven’t got any tail. Did it get chopped off?”
“Of course I don’t have a tail.” He gulped. “Let me go.”
“Not sure I should,” she said, smiling mischievously. “You’ll get awful wet.”
“I mean, up—help me up.”
She pulled him forward, and he was on solid ground again. He couldn’t bring himself to thank her—his ears were still red from embarrassment. Instead, he gestured vaguely at her stick with his.
“Thank you,” she said, straightening to her full height—equal with his. “I know.”
That was when he saw it. Around her neck, hanging by a chain, was a silver crescent moon, a round, clear stone set in its middle.
They both started at the sound. It was his sister, calling his name.
“Zon, where are you? Come back! It’s time for supper!”
He looked back at the girl, who was staring past him, startled.
“I’ve got to go,” Zon said.
“Will you come back anytime?” she asked, smiling a tiny smile, almost shyly.
“Sure,” he said. He knew he should say something else—something clever to make up for his embarrassing defeat—but all he could manage was:
“What’s your name?”
“Ameryn,” she said simply. Then she turned and disappeared into the woods.