James slowed the boat as it flew over the entrance to Clearbrook harbor. He spun the steering wheel a quarter turn counterclockwise and the vessel moved closer to the surface of the water.
James nudged Evan. “Do you see a pier we can dock at?”
“Yes,” Evan said. He pointed. “Over there.”
James glanced in the direction Evan indicated. The pier was the same one the vessel had left from earlier in the day. He slowed the ship to a crawl and lowered it until the hull skimmed the water. As soon as they were close enough to the pier, Evan jumped out of the craft and moored it to the dock. James released the rudder and the ship rocked a bit as it sank into its berth.
Evan helped his companions out of the boat and together they walked up the pier. They met Sam Hartshorn at the end of the dock. With him were Eric and some of the town guards.
Eric raised his eyebrows as he saw his friend. “Evan, this is a surprise.”
Evan smiled. “I’m sure. We’ve had a time of it.”
Eric glanced at the ship. “Is that the thief’s sailboat?”
“It is. You’ll find the thief tied up in the boat.”
Eric furrowed his brow. “How did you …?”
Evan put up a hand to interrupt the questions. “It’s a long story. Perhaps James can tell it. Right now, I think we all need to get back to the Grey Horse and put Tindolen’s gem back in its display case.”
“You mean you got it back?” asked Eric in disbelief.
The priest grinned with satisfaction. “Yes. Now if you don’t mind, we should be getting back. They have jobs to finish and I need to rest.”
Eric ordered the town guards to escort Ebalin to jail. Sam went back to his office to record Evan’s arrival. Nearby, harbor guards looked on and when Evan and his companions proceeded toward the harbor entrance with Eric, they let them go.
“Must have business with the cap’n,” one guard murmured to himself.
Evan and his companions strolled back to the Grey Horse slowly. Eric, walking beside Evan and James, joined them.
“So who is going to tell me what happened?” Eric looked from Evan to James and then back again. “You or James?”
Evan laughed. “All right. I’ll do it.” He related the story as well as he could. They entered the main square as Evan finished the tale. Eric looked up at the clock tower; it was late in the afternoon — later than he realized.
Turning back to Evan, the guard lieutenant said, “The town has been in an uproar ever since the theft of the gem became common knowledge. Mayor Bigsbee has been especially upset and he ordered me to go over the harbor with a fine-toothed comb to make sure no clue had been missed.”
“Bigsbee realizes the theft occurred at the Grey Horse, doesn’t he?” Evan asked as they exited the quadrangle.
Eric shrugged. “I assume so. But as I understand it, Tindolen told Bigsbee that he searched the Inn for clues.”
In the distance, Evan could see a crowd in front of the inn. As he got closer, he saw the people were standing in an S-shaped line that stretched out of the double doors and into the road.
James’s eyes widened. “Are all those people waiting to get into the Grey Horse?”
“It would appear so,” said Evan.
“How do we reach the entrance?” asked Iriel, her eyes round and her brow furrowed.
Eric smiled. “Leave that to me.” He waded in to the crowd. “Coming through. Official guard business. Coming through.”
Slowly the throng parted. Evan and his companions followed the guard lieutenant and made their way to the great hall. The top of the display case was still up and Tindolen and Molin were standing next to it answering questions from the local townsfolk. When Evan and the others pushed into the room, Tindolen interrupted Molin, who was explaining how the gem had been stolen.
“A moment, Molin,” said the gem merchant. “I believe there’s been a development in the story.” He pushed into the cluster of people nearby and gestured for them to move aside. The townsfolk complied and Evan and the others made their way to the front of the hall.
Tindolen smiled at his old friend. “Evan, good to see you again. Were you successful?”
Evan gestured to Daniel. The lad reached into his pocket, pulled out the topaz, and held it between his thumb and his middle finger. It shone a bright yellow, as if alive.
A big grin spread across Tindolen’s face and his eyes sparkled like emeralds. “Marvelous,” he exclaimed. Taking the gem from Daniel, he placed the topaz back on the velvet lining in the display case and closed the glass lid.
Turning to face his fellow citizens, Tindolen addressed them, “If you’ll excuse us, I’d like to talk to Evan and the others in private.”
“We have to leave?” asked one man, an annoyed expression on his face.
“If you don’t mind.”
No one moved. Evan sighed and glanced at Eric. The guard lieutenant shook his head and stepped up. “You heard the man. He’s just recovered his lost property; give him a few minutes alone with the people who retrieved it.”
Eric motioned to the other guards and together they slowly prodded the townsfolk out of the room. Once the townsfolk were out in the foyer, Eric closed the door behind him, as he left the great hall too.
Tindolen placed a hand on the shoulder of each mage. “Molin, Brashani, if you would assist me for a moment.” The mages looked at the merchant quizzically.
“How can I help?” asked Molin.
“You need me?” Brashani asked.
Tindolen nodded his head. “Yes, a bit of strength from each of you will help me reset the wards on the display case and make them stronger than before.”
Molin inclined his head. “All right, proceed.”
Brashani sighed. “Very well. You can have what’s left, but I’m pretty weak from all the spell casting I’ve been doing.”
“Thank you,” replied Tindolen. “I’m sure it will be enough, Brashani, and I’ll try not to drain you too severely.” He waited for the two mages to place one hand on his shoulders and then complete the circuit by doing the same with each other. Once that was done, Tindolen prepared himself for the warding. But before the merchant could begin, electricity enveloped the elf and fire mage, sparking and illuminating the room. They collapsed on the floor a moment later. Molin raised the lid of the display case, reached in, and seized the gem.
Evan had his back to Tindolen, but when he heard the electricity spark, the priest turned, drew his sword, and stepped forward.
Molin turned to face Evan. His eyes were slits and his mouth a snarl. “Stop where you are. I’ve got the gem and I’ll use it. So, no sudden moves.”
Evan frowned. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“Money,” said Molin. “The necromancers will pay lots of money for this jewel; enough so I can retire completely.”
Evan raised his eyebrows and his eyes became ovals. “You’d side with them?”
“Why not? Who else is there?”
“We can restore the House of Richmond.”
The wizard laughed. “Ppfff! The House of Richmond isn’t worth spit. I gave Kenilworth thirty years of loyal service and Leonard dismissed me without a second thought. I should’ve been able to retire in the peace and dignity that I earned from all those years of faithful service. But instead I’m forced to work here, doing parlor tricks and hoping I don’t run out of money before I die. It’s degrading. If an heir lives, we’ll all be better off leaving him where he is.”
Evan narrowed his eyes and set his jaw. “That’s your opinion, but as a member of His Grace’s court, I must act for the benefit of the kingdom and it needs its king or queen back.”
“The kingdom,” Molin scoffed. “Bah. Better to let that die too.”
“I can’t let you have it,” declared Evan and tightened his grip on his sword.
Molin raised an eyebrow. “Let me?” he said, incredulously. “I don’t think you have any choice. I have the power and I’ll use it if you force me to.”
“You can’t escape. There are too many of us; you can’t take us all on at once.” Evan hoped he was right about that. The sad truth was that few really knew the full power of an Aglari. If Molin could tap it, he might be unstoppable.
“But I have the gem.” He held up his hand with the jewel in it. “I outpower you all,” he boasted.
“Perhaps individually, but not as a group.”
“Care to test that theory?” the wizard asked, mockingly.
“And where will you go? Even if you kill me, others will come after you. You’ll never have the peace you claim to want.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Daniel had watched and listened to the exchange between Molin and Evan and decided it was time to act. He had promised Aure to help, and he couldn’t stand by and witness someone else walk away with him again.
Aure, are you all right?
Daniel, I am fine.
I can’t let you be stolen again.
If you move against him, he will kill you. I can’t permit that.
Then how do we stop him?
There is only one way: he must take possession of me; otherwise, he will kill you all.
James eyed the door to escape; but he was afraid that if he moved, Molin might use the gem to kill him. He glanced at Iriel. She still carried her bow in one hand, but she had not nocked an arrow.
Is she too close or is she just scared?
Meeting her eyes, he saw her looking at her uncle. She’s probably concerned for his well-being. Hope he’s not dead.
Electricity crackled around Molin’s raised hand and James looked at the wizard.
Evan raised his sword and prepared to strike.
Lightning shot out from Molin’s fist and stunned Evan, Iriel, and James; they collapsed. A second lightning bolt crackled and struck the side of the great hall that faced the street; it blew a hole in the wall large enough for Molin to step through.
“Hello?” said a voice from the other side of the door. “What’s going on in there? Is everyone all right?”
Ignoring the question, Molin emerged onto the street through the opening he’d just made. He laughed and lifted himself into the sky.