Every elf who saw Nashtra stopped what they had been doing and held out their hands to him. With those near enough to him, he grasped their hands and gave them a greeting in softly-spoken words. With those further away, he held his hands towards them, open, palms raised, and spoke the same greeting.
Several children ran up to him, wrapping their arms around his legs. He laughed and smiled down at them all. Several other elves, presumably the children’s parents, came down the path after them. They called out to the children, who giggled as they went back to them. The things that struck Cerys the most was that not all of them were women. Some were men, as tall and lean as Nashtra, and they did not seem at all off-put by the idea of looking after their little ones.
“Are those your children?” Cerys asked him in a hushed voice once they were gone.
Nashtra looked to her, his face a mixture of humor and disbelief. “That would be impossible,” he told her.
“Really?” she asked as they went on walking, slower now. “Why is that?”
He chuckled softly. After thinking about it for a moment, he shook his head. “I fear that there is no polite way to explain it.”
“Oh…” Cerys replied. “I think I know what you mean. But wait… how could you have never been with a woman when earlier you were talking about your lady? Re-something, wasn’t it?”
Nashtra smiled again. “I think you misunderstood me,” he said. “Lady Rynelle is not the name of anyone who lives in this village. In our culture, that is the name of the ancestral woman. For those of us not bound to a mate, it is the name we use when we want to speak of a woman without naming a specific one.”
“So it’s a hypothetical name?”
He sighed. “I am afraid that I do not know that word,” he admitted. “I learned the language of the humans of Summerlay, but your kind speaks in ways that even they have never heard.”
“Well… it kind of means that the name is an idea, an ‘if,’ really,” Cerys explained.
“Ah, I see. Then yes, Lady Rynelle is, as you called it, hyphothetal.”
“Hypothetical,” she told him. Then she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I should correct you like that. Himeko always tells me that it’s not polite.”
“You have done no harm,” Nashtra told her.
Cerys gave him a relieved smile. “I am glad to hear that! So… If you don’t mind my asking, have you really never been with a woman?”