My name is Hiramel.
I was born a girl, but named and raised as an elf.
A foundling — a polite term for a baby with no future in its original home, exchanged for another. Humans called us changelings.
Humans have the wrong idea about why elves take their children and leave changelings. An exchange isn’t simply a matter of convenience — the elves are more kind and perceptive than that, more altruistic. They want to give both children a better chance to survive. Since they are closer to nature and better recognize when emotion wars with reason, they readily identify those at risk of dying soon after birth.
Of course, the elves have charms, but no medicines. Healing rituals, but no prayers. So if one of theirs is ill, it is sent to those who can better care for it, keep it safe from drafts and hunger with a warm hearth, mother’s milk, and the contingency of a medicine man or priest.
They take in its place one who perhaps cannot digest milk, or one that is quiet, knowing it will thrive in a hidden forest and underground, better suited to the foraged berries and honey.
I may have been small and quiet for a human, but not for an elf. Of course, I didn’t fit in. I looked perpetually younger than my age, with coarse features. My body was too big and my head too small. I had to be far more careful than my elven siblings not to be noticed when we wandered outside the safety of our community, due to being heavy-footed and having a voice that carried more like a bear’s bellow than a songbird’s warbling. Thus I earned the nickname Brute.
“Hey, Brute,” called my younger sister Merriel, managing to make her demand for attention charming. “Could you lift this branch off our table? It came down after the storm.”
All my elven siblings had especially unblemished skin, a particularly upturned nose, and delicate ears. Even among elves they were beauties. Unfortunately, at Merriel’s age, she lacked the strength to lift hardwood any longer than her arm, which made me useful —I easily removed the branch. I was loved, despite being a “brute.”
“More block the way to the village green,” she told me. I dutifully followed her to the deer trail adjoining the stream, letting her clear the twigs — the heavier ones, suitable for construction, we settled upon my back.
At the meadow, I stacked the collected wood for others to use as needed. Merriel urged me onward. The next stretch of the trail had no nearby dwellers, since it was left in its natural state as wild berry fields. I humored her, since there were fewer trees on its upper side, and in any case, the first blackberries would be edible.
We had cleared several widely scattered branches when Merriel exclaimed that she was tired and hungry, and how fortunate that we were surrounded by ripe berries. I smiled, knowing this had been her plan all along. We consumed handful after handful of the aromatic fruit, when she went still and shushed me.
“There’s a strange elf staring at us,” she said.
I disentangled myself from a thorny bough and looked down the trail. It was elf-like in size but dressed as a small human, not quite the age of a first-time mother. Her mouth was open stupidly and she seemed to have difficulty breathing.
The oddest thing of all was her uncanny resemblance to Merriel. If her head hadn’t been covered with cloth, I imagined it would reveal the same flowing blue-black hair and upturned ears.
Merriel spoke out to her, politely but firmly, insisting on her clan affiliation and an explanation for what she was doing so far from where she must belong.
The elf-like human cocked her head, eyebrows contracted, and focused her attention on Merriel.
Couldn’t Merriel see the resemblance?
“Merriel!” I tugged her arm, desperate for an easier explanation. “Do we have any cousins we haven’t met yet? Who’ve maybe entered human society?”
“Like an ambassador, you mean? Or a spy? No, only...” She looked at me, eyes widening, then at the girl child again.
“Who are you?” she demanded again.
Without answering, the stranger walked to her, laid a hand on her cheek, and sobbed. Merriel might not see it, but this one knew exactly who she looked like.
I pointed at Merriel and spoke her name. Then I pointed to myself. “Brute.” Then I pointed to the girl, no longer a stranger.
“Branna,” she said.
Merriel and I laughed.
Another word for brute.
Marta Tanrikulu is an American writer and editor of stories in various genres. Tanrikulu’s work has appeared in Mystery Weekly and in magazines and anthologies published by Red Stylo Media, GrayHaven, Aazurn Press, Stache Publishing, and others. You can find more of her original work online at vizyonentertainment.com
The Brute is a Fiction War Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @noctous_