A Thief in our Midst
A small, single-mast sailing ship pulled up to the dock. In the boat, a sailor stood. The seaman had green eyes, pointed ears, and a slender build. His long, dark hair, which hung down to his shoulder blades, was braided into a single column. Despite long hours on the sea exposed to the elements, his skin was fair and smooth. His dark blue trousers and matching jacket fluttered in the breeze.
The sailor lowered the triangular sail and jumped onto the pier to moor his vessel. Surveying his work, he nodded his head with satisfaction; all was in order. He wiped his hands against each other.
Nasty task, he thought. I wish humans would tolerate the use of magic in their lands; it is so much tidier than manual labor. He sighed. Perhaps one day. For now, he would observe these archaic customs.
Let’s go find the Aglari that is allegedly here. I should be able to slip in and out of town without being noticed. The elf smiled at the thought.
The sailor walked up the pier toward the harbor’s entrance. As he went, up ahead of him he saw a small booth, a line of people, and guards standing on either side of the line. Not sure what to do, the sailor continued walking, having no intention of waiting with the others. One of the guards stopped the seaman before he had taken two steps past the end of the line.
“’Scuse me,” the harbor guard said. “Everyone must declare the goods they carry aboard their ships.” He pointed to the end of the line.
“But I’ve nothing to declare,” said the sailor. “I am not a merchant importing cargo. I’ve come for the festival.”
The guard’s eyebrows knitted. “What festival?”
“St. Sebastian’s week.”
“Oh, that.” The guard rolled his eyes. “Not much of a festival, if ya ask me.”
“No?” replied the sailor with disappointment. “I’m surprised. I’ve heard some good things about it.”
The guard’s eyes widened. “Have ya? Well, I suppose there may be something of interest for ya. But if ya ask me, it’s a waste of time.”
“You think so?”
“Because the whole idea of the festival is to support racial tolerance, and that’s pointless.”
“I don’t follow,” the sailor replied, as he scrunched his nose. “How is racial tolerance pointless?”
“Well, it only stands to reason,” said the guard, matter-of-factly. “Think about it. If the dukefs really wanted tolerance between the races, all they’d have to do is return Andropolis to human control and go back where they came from.”
A faint smirk played on the sailor’s lips. “Oh, I see.”
“Not that I have anything against elves or dukefs,” the guard added as an afterthought.
“No, of course not.”
The guard paused for a moment, then scrutinized the sailor more closely. “You ain’t one of them dukefs, is ya?”
“Me?” asked the sailor. He laughed. “Not hardly. I’m just a simple elf from Bryford. I heard about the exhibits on display and I wanted to see them for myself.”
The guard raised his eyebrows and frowned. “All right. Ya’re free to go.”
“Thank you.” The elven sailor inclined his head and strolled off the wharf and into town. Laughing to himself, the elf was amazed at the human’s gullibility. While part of what he had said was true, it was not the whole truth. He had come from Bryford, but that city was not his home. Elvenwood was. The elf had only been in Bryford inquiring about the Aglaril at a College of Bardic Lore chapter house.
Images of the merchants from Clearbrook who had been sitting next to him in the Silver Snake tavern flashed through his mind. Up until then, his trip to Bryford had been futile. That all changed as he overheard the merchants mention that several items were on display to celebrate this week of racial tolerance.
The elf remembered and laughed again.
Racial tolerance between elves and humans is absurd. Humans should die as punishment for the death of King Argol. In this, the dukefs were right.
The merchants had continued talking. One of them had asked, “Anything interesting on display?”
Another had answered, “Not really, except a gem on display at the Grey Horse Inn. I’ve never seen a topaz that small and yet it held my attention as few gems have.”
The sailor had stopped laughing at that remark. Only a magical gem would have that effect, and certainly the Aglaril were known to dazzle the unwary.
Without another thought, the elf had gotten up, paid his tab, and rushed to the docks. He had set sail for Clearbrook that very afternoon.
And if this topaz is one of the gems I am searching for, I will take it, no matter the cost.
Daniel sat in the corner of the great hall, his eyebrows knitted together. He wanted to risk another conversation with Aure despite the disorienting effect the first attempt had yielded. He realized that choice might not be particularly wise, but something inside Daniel drew him to the gem. The teen supposed he identified with the gem because, like him, the Aglari was alone and looking for its family. However, the risk of becoming disoriented again remained and, as a master of the Art, he could not permit any loss of control. Daniel pondered what to do for a moment and concluded that if he felt bewildered again, he would block the gem’s voice as he was doing now.
Dropping the mental barrier he had erected, Daniel listened to Aure talk about the days when the topaz and his brothers had been set into the Crown of Power. Slowly his thoughts drifted and he realized that, for all his study and time living among the elves, he had heard very little about the Elf-gems. As Daniel understood it, there were seven gems of unparalleled beauty created at the start of the world. He assumed they were indeed made by Kaimin when the world began, but he also wondered whether their beauty had not been exaggerated just a bit. Aure did not appear particularly beautiful to him.
Aure continued to weave his tale, and the image of King Argol appeared in Daniel’s mind’s eye. The elven king had long, dark hair with a slight curl, which cascaded down to his shoulders, and bright green eyes that sparkled fiercely.
The image in Daniel’s mind changed:
An open field filled with tents of various sizes arranged in a circle appeared. At the bottom of the formation, guards took turns watching the assembled soldiers come and go. Elves strode about inside the circle wearing mail and carrying long swords and long bows.
Trumpets sounded and the guards at the open end of the circle proclaimed, “The King is coming! The King is coming! Make way for the King!”
Even as these cries were heard, Argol, riding a jet-black horse, thundered into the camp, dust rising all about him. Quickly, Argol dismounted and brushed the dust off his royal purple shirt and his black silk leggings. An elf approached him and knelt on one knee before his sovereign, head bowed.
“Aldandur, arise my son,” said Argol.
Aldandur stood up. “Father, how fared you against the winged demons of Dragonor?”
“They are no more.”
“And Balodol? Where is it?”
“In my saddlebag.”
“I will have it cleaned and made ready for your next battle.”
“Very good. In the meantime, assemble the clans so we can assess what other demons still walk the land.”
“As you command, my liege.”