Aure the Topaz: Book 1 of the Aglaril Cycle

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St. Sebastian's Week Ends

After he finished his meal, Evan went up to his room and grabbed his first-aid kit. Then he went back downstairs and stood in the doorway of the great hall. He peered into the room as he looked for James and Daniel. Evan saw the hall was full of people standing around waiting to catch a glimpse of the Aglari. He scratched his head.

How am I ever going to find them in that throng?

He sighed, pushed into the room, and excused himself as he slipped among people. Evan headed toward the corner of the room where Daniel usually sat to meditate. With luck, the lad would be there and would know where to find James.

A few minutes later, Evan stepped in front of Daniel, surprised to see James sitting next to the teen.

“Why are you sitting on the floor, James?” Evan asked.

“My voice is nearly gone,” James said, hoarsely. He coughed. “So I’m trying to rest it.”

“Well, roll up your sleeve. I want to examine the burns from the lava.”

“Oh, right,” said the bard. “I’d mostly forgotten about them. They don’t hurt any more.”

“Nevertheless, I need to make sure the burns are healing properly.”

James rolled up his shirtsleeve and Evan undid the bandage from the day before. To his surprise, the skin under the bandage was new and pink; most traces of the wounds were gone. “Iriel’s salve works well. I don’t think you need another bandage.”

The bard looked at his arm and grinned. “Amazing. I’ll have to ask her how the salve is made. It might come in handy later.”

“Daniel?” said Evan. “Can you hear me?”

The lad’s eyes popped open. “Yes.”

“Give me your injured hand. I want to examine the burns on it.”

Daniel extended his hand and Evan removed the bandage from it. Several small burns pocked the back of the lad’s palm. “Have Iriel apply some salve to these burns. If it works as well on you as it did on James, these should be healed in a day or less. In the meantime, I’ll put a fresh bandage on your hand to cover the burns and keep them clean.”

Evan stood after he completed his work. Daniel closed his eyes again.

“Where are you off to now?” James asked.

“To the stables to check on Alsvinn.”

“Okay. See you later then.”

“See you later,” repeated Evan.

The priest pushed his way through the crowd again and reached the lobby several minutes later. He went back up to his room, put away his first-aid kit, and then came back down before leaving the Grey Horse altogether.

His first stop, as he had told James, was to check on Alsvinn. He hadn’t had much time to supervise the grooming or feeding of his horse; now seemed like a good time to correct that oversight.

When Evan walked into his steed’s stall, Alsvinn seemed happy to see him.

“Sorry for neglecting you, boy. I’ve been busy.”

The horse brayed and nodded his head.

Over the next few hours, Evan examined the equine, talked to the grooms, and made sure his saddle and riding gear were in good order. The clock tower was striking noon when he left and headed toward the town square. As he crossed to the north end of the quadrangle, Evan saw Eric coming from the other direction. The priest waved to his friend; the guard lieutenant changed direction and approached Evan.

“Where are you headed?” asked Eric.

“To jail; I’m going to interrogate the elf.”

“I’ll come with you. I want to hear what he has to say.”

They reached the prison a few minutes later. The jailhouse was a small brick building with iron bars on all the windows and a heavy portcullis for a door. Guards stood on either side of the entryway and saluted Eric as he approached. Eric returned the salute, pointed to Evan, and said, “He’s with me.”

“Yes, sir,” acknowledged the lead guard, as he opened the gate.

Eric went inside and led the way down a narrow corridor to Ebalin’s cell. They moved past several doors on both sides of the hallway before the guard lieutenant stopped and drew out a ring of keys. He inserted one into the lock on the door to his left and opened it. Then he gestured for Evan to enter.

Evan stepped inside and saw Ebalin chained to the wall. Manacles encircled his wrists and ankles and a gag was tied around his mouth. Eric entered the room, closed the door, and locked it. Then he drew his sword and pointed it at the elf.

“I’m going to remove your gag,” announced Evan to Ebalin. “If you try anything like casting a spell on me, my friend here will run you through, understand?”

Ebalin nodded his head.

Evan removed the gag. “I have a few questions for you. If you cooperate, I’ll talk to the magistrate on your behalf.”

Ebalin worked his jaw briefly and finally said, “All right.”

“We’ll begin with you. Are you an elf or a dukef?”

Ebalin smirked. “Do you know any dukef that would work with a human?”

Evan didn’t get the joke. “No, but most elves wouldn’t assist dark mages either since necromancy is a perversion of the natural order, which elves love so much.”

The elf half shrugged. “But stealing a gem to make a magic item isn’t necromancy.”

“Not technically, but why would you give aid and comfort to a necromancer?”

“Why not? He pays well.”

“I see. Where did you meet Jormundan?”

“Elvenwood, at a tavern.”

“Was it a prearranged meeting?”

Ebalin shook his head. “I live in Elvenwood. I had gone to the tavern to relax. He approached me and said he wanted to hire me for a job.”

“To steal any Elf-gem you could find?”

“No, just to locate them, initially.”

Evan narrowed his eyes. “Why you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because most elves would refuse and report his interest in the Aglaril back to King Everron.”

“But not you?”

“No, I happen to believe the dukefs are right about humans.” He smiled maliciously. “‘Better dead and red.’”

Evan grimaced. “I see. But why did he need an elf rather than a human or a dwarf?”

“Because only elves can get into the Vault of Legends.”

Evan paused, one eyebrow raised. Tindolen had mentioned the Vault of Legends the other day. If Ebalin had been there too, then he knew as much about the fabled jewels as there was to know. If he passed that information along to the necromancers, they would have inside information on the Aglaril. Perhaps that is how they had learned to enchant the jewels so effectively.

“When did theft become part of the plan?”

“A few months later.”

“Why the change in plans?”

The elf shrugged again. “I don’t know.”

“How long have you been looking for the Elf-gems?”

“Several months.”

“How many have you found?”

“Before this, none.”

“What parts of the kingdom did you search?”

“I’ve traveled over all of northern Mirrya, including much of Thalacia.”

Evan scratched his head and furrowed his brow. I would have thought after several months of searching, he would’ve found at least one or two of the other Aglaril. Has the prophecy somehow prevented Ebalin from finding any gems? Is it really guiding events, as Tindolen said? And what of Daniel and the others? Will they fare any better?

Evan had no answers to these questions and, after a moment considering them, moved on.

“What plans did Jormundan have for the other Elf-gems?”

Ebalin snorted. “I have no knowledge of any other plans he may have had.”

“I see.” Evan looked at Eric. “Any questions for Ebalin?”

The town guard shook his head. “No, I’m all set.”

“All right.” Evan replaced the gag over Ebalin’s mouth.

Eric unlocked and opened the door. Evan went out into the hallway, followed by Eric, who locked the door again.

“We didn’t learn much, did we?” asked Eric.

“I rarely do,” said Evan. “Necromancers, and their associates, almost never say too much. Ebalin, however, was more talkative than most. So I learned more than I expected.”

“Really?” the guard lieutenant inquired with a quizzical look. “Some of what he said seemed of no importance to me.”

Evan smirked. “I understand. Remember, I have more of the big picture than you do.” He snorted. “Although not much more.”

“I don’t envy your job. It must be hard getting information from the few wizards you capture.”

“It’s hard sometimes, but worth it, considering the alternative is to be overrun by demons and to live in anarchy.”

Eric nodded his head in understanding.

Evan returned to the Grey Horse as the clock tower chimed two in the afternoon. He went into the common room to have lunch.

A few minutes later, Mayor Bigsbee stepped into the Grey Horse. No one had warned Frank that Bigsbee was coming. When His Honor did waddle through the Inn’s double doors, the chambermaid on duty at the registration desk gawked at the sight. Then she collected her wits and ran off to find Frank.

Behind Mayor Bigsbee trailed two of his assistants. The crowd hushed as His Honor stood in the entrance and looked around, a pleased look on his round, red face.

Frank came running out of the common room and pushed through the crowd, with Evan and Iriel right behind him. “Mayor Bigsbee, welcome to the Grey Horse.”

“My pleasure.” He smiled with satisfaction. “You have a cozy little place here, Jones.”

“Thank you, your Honor.”

“Now, where is the gem exhibition?” asked Bigsbee, his eyebrows knitted.

“Over here.” Frank gestured toward the great hall. The room was still full of visitors; the townsfolk, seeing Bigsbee approach, got out of the way.

Bigsbee entered, squeezing through the doorway, his round face growing redder from the effort. Bigsbee paused a moment to catch his breath and straighten his checkered vest and mottled gray overcoat. That done, the Mayor of Clearbrook stepped up to the display case. The townsfolk filled in behind him as Bigsbee moved. He glanced at the jewel, then Bigsbee turned toward the crowd and raised his arms. He beamed at them, as if proud of something.

“My friends, this has been a historic week for our quaint little town. We have witnessed not only the beginning of our awareness about elves, but also the foiling of evil plots to steal Tindolen’s precious gem.”

The crowd cheered.

“And for that brave feat of heroism, I now present a hero’s medallion to each of the guards who spoiled that evil scheme.”

One of Bigsbee’s assistants opened a leather case he was carrying to reveal its velvet lining and five engraved bronze medallions with a leather cord attached to each. Bigsbee took the first medal. “Iriel, of the clan Mealidil.”

The elf emerged through the press of people. She smiled and a hint of color showed on her face. Bigsbee placed the medallion around her neck. Iriel accepted it and kissed Bigsbee on the cheek. Frank laughed; he didn’t think it was possible, but Bigsbee’s face went dark red like a fine elven wine.

Flustered, Bigsbee fumbled for the next medallion. “Er … James Claymont.”

The bard looked up as he heard his name, his eyes round and full. He stood and stepped forward, with a smile. “Thank you, your Honor,” James said. He accepted the medal and shook Bigsbee’s hand.

“Daniel Salvatori.”

Daniel opened his eyes and sprang to his feet. He approached, bowed, and accepted the medal. He looked at it, his head cocked to one side.

James knew that look. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t understand what purpose this medallion serves.”

“Later, Daniel. I’ll explain later.”

Daniel bowed again.

“Brashani Khumesh.”

The wizard slowly made his way through the crowd and at last pushed his way to the front, where Bigsbee shook his hand and placed the medallion around his neck.

“Thanks,” said Brashani.

“And finally, our own favorite son, Father Evan Pierce.”

From the doorway, at the back of the crowd, Evan looked up, surprised, and came forward slowly.

“Your Honor …” Evan began.

Bigsbee put his hand up for silence. “I know we disagreed about how best to protect Tindolen’s gem and it seems more precaution would have been prudent. Nevertheless, you have foiled the schemes of both thieves, so please accept this medallion with the thanks of the town and as a personal apology from me.”

Evan was speechless. Bigsbee had never apologized before; at least Evan could never remember him asking for forgiveness for anything. Humbled by the moment, Evan inclined his head and accepted the medal.

Bigsbee addressed all five, “You all acted, charging forward into danger to recover the gem. For that one deed alone, you all deserve our praise and hearty thanks.”

The crowd applauded.

Bigsbee raised his arms again and smiled.

“And on that cheery note, I proclaim St. Sebastian’s week concluded.”

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