Chapter 15: Meeting
The following evening Gilmir and Hobble were waiting outside the same tunnel door Gilmir had emerged from. They had concealed themselves in the shadows of a large ash tree. The moon was up, and a few stars were already showing. The air was brisk.
The evening before Hobble had taken Gilmir to an inn and brought him food and wine. He had eaten well and managed to avoid complaining about the wine. The halfling had rented a room, and Gilmir slept in a bed for the first time in years—two years one hundred and sixty-nine days—to be precise. With the halfling’s dagger, he had even cut his hair. Gilmir could not remember ever being in so much debt to another person.
When he woke, he felt better than he had done in months. He was not actively dying. Sure, he might as well be trapped in the gout-ridden body of an eighty-year-old human, but still. He felt better! That was all that mattered. If he improved every day, or most days, he would eventually regain his strength.
In some ways, it was fitting. If he was to start a new life, it was suitable that he started from scratch. In some ways that would be easier. Glancing at the halfling at his side, he wondered about the little guy’s motives. Why had he helped him? Was he some sort of investment? That was the most likely explanation. If so, Hobble would guard his investment until it started to pay off. Or, until he lost faith in the project and decided to cut his losses. Either way, he expected to be safe until after they retrieved the starfall stone. After that, he would have to be on his guard.
Hobble nudged him with an elbow to his ribs. Gilmir came out of his reveries and followed the halfling’s gaze. Dick and Shark emerged from the tunnel. They glanced around and started down the path heading south. Hobble waited until the two men were almost out of sight before he started after them. Gilmir let the halfling take the lead. Hobble showed himself to be a skilful stalker. With a slight shake of his head, Gilmir had to admit that even here, he played the part of the weakest link in the chain. At least the pace was measured, and he managed to follow without collapsing.
A quartermark later, they arrived at an abandoned farm. The two men stopped at the outskirts, beneath a great oak. Hobble crept up behind some bushes by the side of the path they had been following. It was a suitable spot. They would be hard to detect for any following the path or coming from the farm. Shark sat down by the oak. Dick did not stay still—pacing the clearing in front of the tree. Gilmir tapped Hobble on the shoulder, pointed to his eyes and into the forest, in the opposite direction from where Hobble was staring. Many a spy had lost their life staring at a target and not paying attention to their surroundings.
Hobble nudged him. ‘Someone is coming,’ he whispered.
Gilmir turned his head and saw a dwarf approaching from the farm. He wore a broad-brimmed hat cloaking his face in shadows. A dark grey beard fell down over his chest, and he carried an axe at his hip. Shark got to his feet and exchanged a few words with the newcomer. After that, the trade went fast. Shark handed over a pouch and got something wrapped in cloth in return. Gilmir turned his gaze towards the forest again.
‘Okay, they have the stone, and we can go about getting it,’ Hobble whispered. ‘They are two, so I need a distraction. Remember the clearing where the path went by that boulder?’
‘Good, good. Do you think you can get there ahead of them and meet them from the other side?’
‘I think so,’ Gilmir said and started planning a route through the forest. ‘What do you need me to do?’
‘Oh, no, nothin’ much. I just need a distraction for a moment. Walk up—ask a question or somethin’.’
Gilmir started off. Soon, he entered the clearing where the boulder sat in the middle. He was short of breath, and sweat ran down his chin. The two men in front of him stopped. Dick twitched and laid a hand on the hilt of the sword hanging from his belt. Shark only smiled showing his crooked teeth.
‘Good evening, master.’
‘Good evening to you, fine sirs,’ Gilmir replied. He did not leave the path but stopped in front of the two men.
‘Can we help you with something?’ Shark asked.
‘I suspect you can, Shark. Please tell me where this path leads,’ Gilmir said and made an exaggerated movement with his arm, pointing up and down the trail.
‘Sorry, I think you confuse me with someone else,’ Shark said, while Hobble crept up in position behind him.
Gilmir shook his head. ‘Oh, no, I don’t think so!’ He looked down the path in the direction he came from. ‘You see, I lost my friend’s trail somewhere down there. And now you are coming here, I would say you are defiantly the one I am looking for.’
Behind the man, Hobble seemed to finish his work. With a nod to Gilmir, he disappeared behind the boulder.
’Definitely, you mean.’
‘Oh no, sir, she is called Beatrice, and she is a lovely specimen.’
The two men glanced at each other. ‘Best of luck finding your friend,’ Shark said and started past him. ‘You sick bastard,’ he added in a mumble.
Gilmir smiled and let the two men pass. He stood watching them disappearing down the trail, before he returned to Hobble behind the boulder. Together, they walked into the forest. After a while, Hobble stopped and gave Gilmir the cloth-wrapped object. The elf opened the package with trembling hands. He took the stone in his hand, a smile spreading across his face. The shard was dark grey, with spots of red and silver. And a little larger than his thumb. This was what he needed, this stone would give him strength. Life. Power. With this he could start his new life.
His smile fell away while he lifted his gaze slightly and found Hobble’s eyes. ‘Why did you let them go?’
‘Let them go? You have the stone haven’t you?’
‘I do. But what do you think the two thugs are going to do when they find the stone missing?’
‘They won’t. Not for a while, at least. They have another stone.’
‘One looking like this?’ Gilmir held up his hand displaying the shard.
’No, of course not, I didn’t know the exact appearance of the shard. But they have a stone, and will probably not find out for some time.’
‘I assumed you needed a distraction so you could take them out. Leaving such loose ends is …’ He trailed off when he saw the expression on Hobble’s face.
‘Did you think I was going to kill them for you? Kill two people to give you that stone? Do you realise how insane that is!?’
Gilmir did not respond. He stared down at the halfling. After several moments he broke out in a smile. ‘Nah, I’m jesting, you did a fine job there.’ He clapped Hobble on the shoulder. ‘Let’s head back to town.’
The halfling started limping away, supported by his staff. His left foot, which appeared fine a moment before, was once again bent at the ankle.