Aure the Topaz: Book 1 of the Aglaril Cycle

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In Love with an Elf

James sat in the common room and sipped coffee. He yawned and wished he were still in bed. His performance last night had run extremely late … later than usual. He had only gotten up now because it would give him a chance to be alone with Iriel before the Grey Horse opened and the Inn’s patrons kept her too busy to talk.

What time is it, anyway? he wondered, idly. He could not remember whether the clock tower had rung five or six times when he had awoken that morning.

James took another gulp of coffee and thought about the previous night’s performance. It went well. I told lots of tales. The one about the carpenter’s wife was especially well received. He chuckled to himself. Yeah, that’s always good for a laugh. The audience must have thought so, too; I made twenty-five silvers in tips. That’s not bad. It’s certainly better than my best night at the Silver Snake. I think on my best night there, I earned five silvers.

He sipped more coffee. Of course, that was because the owner of the Silver Snake, my old boss, Ralph Gustuvson, took ninety percent of the tips to pay for his overhead. Not exactly fair, if you ask me.

It was one of the reasons James had left Ralph and the Silver Snake, and traveled south to Clearbrook without lining up another job first.

Lucky for me, Frank was hiring, James thought in passing. I might have had to perform in the town square otherwise.

Iriel came out of the kitchen carrying two plates. James gazed up at her as she entered. Her green eyes sparkled and she smiled at him. Her loose white blouse rustled as she moved and a matching apron covered her waist and thighs. Her dark hair was tied back with a strip of leather and a wooden dowel, leaving her temples and pointed ears exposed.

And I’m lucky to have met her too, he mused.

James still could not believe that Iriel was interested in him. Him. A bard.

And not the best, by any means. What is it she sees in me?

He had a vague notion. Iriel, for all her years, was still very inexperienced in the ways of the world. James, on the other hand, had traveled much of the kingdom and had seen many things. From this, the bard concluded that Iriel was attracted to him because of his knowledge, but that was only a guess.

Iriel set one plate on the table in front of James and the other on James’s right. She sat down and began eating.

James looked at his food: two eggs, toast, and fried potatoes. He glanced at her plate; it was covered with green leafy things.

Iriel raised her head and paused after swallowing the first taste of her food. “How was the show last night?”

The show? James thought. Iriel’s Thalacian needs a little work. He tasted his food before answering. “Good,” he said after he swallowed some eggs. “The crowd was lively and enjoyed my performance. They tipped well too.”

“That’s nice,” she said then yawned and stretched. “I want to view your show, but Mr. Jones works me so early in the morning, I go to sleep by nine.”

“I know,” said James. “It’s all right. You have to work. We all do. So, you’ll come when you can; maybe on your next day off.”

She smiled at James and kissed the side of his face. “How did you become so understanding and so giving? Most humans are intolerant oafs,” she said and smiled warmly at him.

James did not answer the question; it seemed rhetorical. But he did pause for a moment. Giving? Why did she say that? And that smile … usually she looks at me that way when she wants something. James considered what scheme she might be hatching and realized he was too tired to sort that out.

She continued without pausing. “I am most fortunate … or as you taught me to say, I am … lucky.”

He smiled at her. “Yes, we both are lucky to have found one another.”

Iriel ate a little more of her food. James heard it snap as she folded one leaf of greenery in quarters with her fork. “Did you meet the dishwasher Mr. Jones hired?” Iriel asked.

“No,” said James. “But I saw him sleeping in the room we share. Blond hair wearing a white coat and matching pants. He looks a little young to be working here.”

“His name is Daniel. He’s fifteen and a Qua’ril master.”

James sipped his coffee while Iriel spoke and nearly choked when she included that last part. His fatigue vanished, replaced with surprise.

He coughed a few times, then asked, “A Qua’ril master? A human fifteen-year-old? How’s that possible?”

Iriel told James what she had learned about Daniel the previous afternoon: he had been taught the art of Qua’ril by the elves. They had raised him because elven rangers found him as an infant after his parents died. After relating all she knew, she added, “As a Qua’ril master, he commands great respect from all elves.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“The study of the elven martial arts requires concentration and a deep commitment to a special way of life,” she explained.

James thought he detected a reverent tone in Iriel’s voice, but that made no sense. “Like a human monk?” he asked.

“Similar, but not exactly the same. There are no vows to be taken. Only an inner dedication to the Art and the way of life it requires,” she replied.

“I see,” said James. “I’m sensing you like Daniel.”

“Yes, of course. And respect him too. There isn’t an elf alive who would not treat a Qua’ril master in this way.”

Yeah, there’s definitely a reverent tone. Wonder why? James ate a bit more of his food and swallowed. “If he’s so important among elves, why is he in Clearbrook?”

“He’s looking for his family.”

“Do they live in town?”

“He doesn’t know where they live. He plans to search the whole kingdom.”

“He does?” James furrowed his brow. “That’s a tall order.”

“But he does not have to, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you tell me there are books with names in them that trace family lineage?”

“Yes, that’s true,” he nodded. “Families with a coat of arms or other crests are recorded in the Heraldic Registry of Names. The information is maintained by heralds throughout Thalacia and the Heralds’ Guild circulates the records among the chapter houses in various towns throughout the kingdom.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Iriel.

James chewed a bit more food and swallowed. “But that option may not apply to him if his family is too poor to have even the simplest of crests. And even if his family has a crest, he’ll never be able to search the records himself.”

“Why not?”

“Because the heralds who maintain these records guard them jealously. You usually have to pay a fee before they will share the information they have.”

“Would they let you search the records for free?”

“Probably, if I asked. The Guild of Bardic Lore and the Heralds’ Guild have an arrangement to share information.” James paused as he realized where this was going. He swallowed with a gulp and wanted to groan. Iriel was beautiful and was one of the nicest people he had ever met, but sometimes she wore her heart on her sleeve. So far in the last week, she had gone out of her way to help three lost kittens, two stray dogs, and an injured sparrow. James had understood at the time; she was an elf and helping animals was part of her nature. Besides, helping animals was one thing; helping people was always more complex and more trouble.

He put down his fork. All the pieces finally fit and Iriel’s scheme was now clear to him. “You want me to help him, don’t you?”

“I promised we both would.”

“Without asking me?” Iriel did not answer. “Well, forget it. I finally have a job I like. I’m not giving it up to help a stranger.”

“You would let a young boy wander the countryside … or even worse — your untamed cities and towns alone?”

“Yes, if it means giving up this job. Besides, you said he’s a Qua’ril master; he can take care of himself.”

“Would you do it for me?” she asked and smiled sweetly at him; her eyes widened and appeared innocent.

James felt the attraction that had drawn him to the elf in the first place. It was like a magic spell she had turned on suddenly and James felt his heart sink. As much as he hated what he was about to say, he heard the words escape his lips. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Thank you.” She kissed him again, this time on the lips. “I knew you would help.”

James smiled weakly at her. “What makes you certain he’ll accept our help?”

“He seemed willing yesterday … when I offered it.”

James sighed and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. He was afraid of that. Daniel had already accepted the aid Iriel had offered.

“And just when is all this supposed to happen?”

“Once we save enough money.”

James’s mood brightened. “Oh, well, then there’s plenty of time to prepare.” He returned to his eggs.

Iriel shrugged. “I suppose. How much money will we need?”

“Depends on how long the search will take,” said James. “But if I had to guess, I’d say a hundred gold sovereigns … each.” He knew that figure was high and would take forever to save, but with that much money in his pocket he could probably retire, in which case he would not mind giving up his job.

“All right,” Iriel said as she stood. “Introduce yourself when he wakes. Try to help him locate any family in town.”

“I’ll do my best,” replied James as Iriel took her plate away and returned to the kitchen.

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