She was worried and angry, though mostly worried. The old man starring at her from within the newsstand at the other end of the platform really didn’t make it any better. She’d spotted him talking to a customer when she stepped on to the platform. He’d looked up the moment she did so and his eyes had filled with hate.
Normally such hostility didn’t bother her, much; it was one of the sad truths of life among humans. Normally she wasn’t alone among them though; normally someone from the Hill would be with her. Normally, but not this time, and that was the cause of her anger and worry.
The old man at the newsstand was just a nuisance. He wouldn’t cause any trouble and his customer, who would likely be on the same train as she, seemed more curious than anything else. It was the hostility in itself that unnerved her. It reminded her that her kind wasn’t appreciated here. It was rare that humans were openly hostile but it was common practice for an elf to have someone accompany them when they ventured outside Emerald Hill, the elvenhome part of the city. Even then Kul Viller wasn’t that bad. She’d lived in places far worse. It was just better to be safe than sorry – you never knew.
It had started out fine. She’d had an appointment for a job out in the suburbs and Veneylien had accompanied her to the client’s house. He would have waited there until she was done and then they’d both make their way back to Emerald Hill together all safe and sound, careful and secure and with no problems.
That hadn’t happened. Just a couple of minutes after they’d arrived at the client’s house Ven had gotten a phone call and left. He hadn’t said what it was about, only that it was important and that he’d be back well before she was done for the day.
That also hadn’t happened. She’d forgotten about time as she worked, as she always did, and when reality finally caught up with her it had been far too late for her to dare travel home alone.
When she’d realized Ven still wasn’t back she’d thought to call him, only to discover she’d forgotten her phone back home, and with that all her phone numbers. Rather than bother her clients more than necessary, but also not to show weakness and to avoid admitting her worry, she’d decided against borrowing their phone to try and call him – not that she’d have remembered his number anyway. They were happy to let her stay the night though.
The client was a young human housewife named Ellen and her husband Rich. He was a successful businessman and they’d recently settled down in one of the more fashionable new suburbs of Kul Viller. Their house was small, modern and comfortable and had come with a large garden, which was why they had enlisted her help.
Her name was Yalinea Timmolean and she was a journeyman tree shaper. She’d been hired to help out with the young couple’s garden. Ellen Whittbred wanted her trees to have a beautiful canopy under which she could set a table and have tea in the garden with the other young housewives. She wanted a pretty garden to show off to her friends but didn’t have the patience or skill to shape it on her own. Neither had Rich, but he had the money to hire a tree shaper, even if just a journeyman one.
So it came to Yalinea to transform the garden into the little paradise Ellen was dreaming of. Rich didn’t seem to care much about how it went. He’d mentioned something about a hammock but that was about it. Ellen on the other hand was a woman on a mission. She’d presented detailed plans right from the start and knew exactly how she wanted her garden to look.
They’d first met a few months ago at the initial meeting to discuss the plan, set up a schedule and agree on a price. Many more people had been in attendance that time; Duvanelle Mistlinger, the city’s resident master tree shaper; Alphonse Legat, Duvanelle’s agent and lawyer; two representatives from the city’s Architecture and Logistics office; Rich and Ellen themselves as well as a friend of Rich’s who was some sort of advisor and finally Yalinea, who would be the one to do the actual work.
Rich’s friend, whose name she could no longer remember, had originally objected to having Yalinea do the work instead of Duvanelle. The master had assured everyone of her journeyman’s competence and they were eventually happy to accept Yalinea as the one doing the handiwork. It probably hadn’t hurt that Mr. Legat mentioned how much it would cost to have the master do the work.
Since then Yalinea had been out to the Whittbred’s house every two to three weeks. The changes needed were significant and had to be done a little bit at a time. The trees needed to settle into their new shapes and regain a bit of their strength before they could be grown further. Had they been large full grown trees it would have been quicker, but they weren’t. Yalinea had to not only shape them into the shapes her client desired, but also grow them larger reducing a process that would have taken decades into a mere few months.
This had taken time, as she was only able to grow a tree so much before it became weak and unable to support itself. The patience had been worth it though. Yalinea could see the end of the road now; only one or two more sessions would be needed before her work was done. At this stage the trees were looming high over the garden, more then capable of supporting a small elf climbing their branches and bending them to her will.
Normally she preferred to work trees naked, to get more in touch with the being she was shaping, but human moral sensibilities demanded she make concessions. A tight top and shorts were usually sufficient and in fairness they didn’t impact her work in any meaningful way. She was able to interact with the trees just as well dressed as undressed – it really was just a matter of personal preference.
She’d once heard one of the other journeymen compare it to the difference between an analog and a digital sound recording; imperceptible to the untrained ear but significant once you learnt to appreciate the difference. Be that as it may; when Yalinea worked among humans she covered herself and performed her craft and no one who wasn’t a trained tree shaper would be able to tell the difference between bare and covered work.
At first she’d scoffed at the humans and their moral outrage at nudity, but with the years she’d come to understand, if not agree, with it. This job had been a prime example of why covering up, even if just a little, was a good idea. More than once Yalinea had noticed Rich looking at her when he thought she wasn’t paying attention - looking at her in a way that would have caused his wife to slam doors had she seen it.
This wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last time a human looked at her like that. It made her feel uncomfortable in a way she never experienced among her own kind. It wasn’t that elves wouldn’t look at her with lust or desire if she were climbing around naked in a tree, but that was ok; they were elves and it was natural and while it sometimes made her feel awkward it wasn’t wrong.
When humans did it though, that was different; it was wrong and unnatural. In the end Yalinea was happy for her clothes, and she usually left a robe close at hand for when she came down from the trees.
When she’d informed Ellen and Rich she wasn’t able to get hold of Ven and asked if she could stay the night they’d offered her their guest room. It was next to their bedroom and would one day serve as sleeping chamber for their child, though that was still some years off. The thought of sleeping that close to the humans, with only a thin wall separating them had unnerved Yalinea more than she’d expected for reasons she didn’t fully understand. She’d managed to keep a straight face and explained that she would sleep in one of the trees – if she could borrow some blankets though, that would be nice.
She’d located a spot in the largest tree, a couple of meters above ground where the trunk of the tree split up into the bearing branches of the requested canopy. Here was enough space for her to rest with reasonable comfort and with minimal risk of falling down if she twisted or turned in her sleep. The night was warm with no risk of rain and she wouldn’t really have needed all the blankets she’d borrowed. Yalinea preferred to pull something over herself when she slept though; it was comfortable and made her feel less exposed so the blankets were welcome.
The tree had been hard and uncomfortable but the long day’s work had taken its toll and exhaustion finally drove her to sleep. When she woke up Yalinea felt rested and relaxed and a lot more comfortable than when she first had lain down to sleep. She was delighted to discover that while she’d been sleeping the tree had shaped itself to accommodate for the pressure of her body against it.
This had never happened to her before and it wasn’t the first time she’d spent the night sleeping in a tree. It was an important step forward in her career as a tree shaper, being so attuned to a subject tree it spontaneously bent itself to her subconscious needs. Yalinea would have to bring this up with Duvanelle, her master, as it signified her need for more advanced training, or perhaps a closer working relationship with the master.
Her elation subsided as she came down from the tree and remembered why she was still in her client’s garden. Veneylien had left her and not come back and now she’d have to make her way back to Emerald Hill on her own. She’d be safe now though, in the mornings people were too busy minding their own business to bother a lone elf.
Yalinea gratefully accepted the breakfast she was offered; a bowl of yoghurt with pieces of banana in it accompanied with a glass of grapefruit juice and a slice of rye bread. She ate quietly while Ellen spoke about her plans for the house and garden and for her future life with Rich. There would definitely be at least one kid in the near future; Ellen wanted more but Rich was hesitant to agree to more than one just yet, apparently.
Before she left Yalinea made some minor adjustments to the tree she’d been sleeping in. Some of the branches had curled slightly during the night. She doubted Ellen would notice, but it was a point of personal pride to Yalinea to make sure she did her best. She did leave the vaguely elf-shaped indentation at the top of the tree as it was though.
Once done she’d walked down to the station to take the commuter train back into the city center and then the subway to Emerald Hill and home. Now here she was, alone at a train stop in the suburbs, deserted by her friend and with an old human staring at her hatefully from a distance. As the train pulled up to the platform it started to rain.