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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Epic

An Ominous Book

 

An Ominous Book

Nancy Foster

This is a work of fiction. Any references to names, characters, organizations, places and events are merely coincidental.

 

Text copyright © 2016 Nancy Foster, distributed by Shakespir

All rights reserved.

 

No parts of this book can be reproduced or stored by any means including electronic, photocopy, mechanical, recording or otherwise without written permission of the author.

 

 

Table of contents

Chapter 1 – Unwanted visitors

Chapter 2 – A magical chest

Chapter 3 – The perilous voyage to Ayrtain

Chapter 4 – A nation of savagery

Chapter 5 – The ill timing of a moonless night

Chapter 6 – Nelida’s promise

Chapter 7 – The Blue City of the West

Chapter 8 – Ciedel’s care

Chapter 9 – An outstanding turn of events

Chapter 10 – A difficult apology

Chapter 11 – An affable Äimite guard

Chapter 12 – The Elf King

Chapter 13 – Master Lord Salman’s edict

Chapter 14 – Tesafar

Chapter 15 – Söma

Chapter 16 – Two very different visitors

Chapter 17 – A surprising omen

 

 

Chapter 1

“I am totally against it. The idea of taking in two children I never have met before isn’t my responsibility.”

“Come on Spaulding, the kids are a delight!”

Spaulding was sitting in his study room with his arms crossed while he stared outside the window. He took a brief look at his friend who wore medium green robes and spare looking black armor as he drank rice wine with tranquility.

“Look at those savages, unkempt, poorly dressed and making a huge fuss over the architecture of my castle. Bring them back to their land and leave me alone.”

“I swear to you they are your blood relatives Spaulding!”

Spaulding stared at Trevilin with hatred. “What in the hell were you doing over in Ayrtain anyways? I understood that your deployment was going to last well into the autumn this year.”

Trevilin started to grin with confidence. He got Spaulding’s attention all right. “I was chasing a petty criminal across the border.”

Spaulding spat some wine when he heard that. “Is this a joke? You know perfectly well that we can’t cross the border without an…”

Trevilin pulled out of his robe an edict that was signed by an Äimite that guarded a nearby post. Spaulding grabbed the scroll and read it.

“Okay, this seems like a reasonable excuse to cross the border. But why in the hell did you stick around and find those savages to give to me as a gift?”

“Well Spaulding, this is the fun part. The petty criminal happened to be a trafficker that was a member of some gang that wanted to sell those poor children to a foreign land. I was doing the usual when we are in town and found the stingiest looking tavern, sat down on a chair with a few beers and waited to listen to the latest gossip.”

“Ah seedy taverns, the best place to hitch some good gossip.”

“Which is why it’s always a pleasure for me to keep my friendship with you Spaulding because you know what our field work is like.”

Spaulding tied the scroll and gave it back to the black haired elf looking slightly less upset. “Okay, so I presume some stupid humans started to yap about these two children that are from a noble family.”

“I would dare mention from a disgraced noble family my dear friend.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Well, the issue is that their parents are dead. Apparently the father had some outstanding gambling debts and he didn’t want to pay. When someone murdered the father, the regional government took away the properties to be sold in an auction and the mother I believe killed herself to avoid the shame.”

“So the little boy is a nobleman without a coin in his pockets, oh the joy!” Spaulding stood up and stared at the boy with messy black hair that was arguing with his little sister from the upstairs window. His elliptically shaped pupils straightened out and noticed something was missing from the boy’s hand. “Is this some sort of joke Trevilin? The boy inherited a nobility title and he isn’t wearing a ring.”

“Well, you are just not letting me finish my tale Spaulding! Please let me continue. In the tavern I overheard a couple of humans talk about a pair of noble children being sold for very little money and they were planning on having the sale at the southeastern border. They were going to sell the boy as an indentured servant and sell the girl I presume as a prostitute or something of the sort. I didn’t care too much about the petty issues of foreigners, but when they mentioned the name of the middleman, my interest was piqued.”

“A human with an unusual name I presume.”

“You’re correct once again Spaulding. So basically I slugged the men for the fun of it once they left the tavern and they told me where I could find the criminal I was looking for. I passed off as a middleman with a carriage in the assigned meeting spot.”

“So you spent our government’s generous endowments on rented carriages? Keeping things classy like usual Trevilin.”

“Oh you know me, I have ostentatious tactics. The rest of the story is sort of boring. I killed the men, cut the right index finger of the man with a bounty on his head and sealed his bloody fingerprint on the edict and now I was stuck with two human children.”

“Go babysit them yourself! Who cares what happens to those savage creatures!”

“I wasn’t going to leave two orphaned children in the street Spaulding. As you know, I speak human with excellent fluency and I started to interview the poor kids. Turns out the little boy named Richard is from the House of Earlrose.”

“Never heard of the clan.”

Trevilin grinned because he knew Spaulding was hopelessly ignorant regarding foreign affairs.

“I found it strange that the boy was a nobleman with a veritable story that I confirmed when I checked the city auctions registry. I didn’t initially believe the boy because he didn’t have his ring.”

“Even without the ring, you could verify his account of noble birth with a registry office.”

“Which is what I did Spaulding. Turns out that from their maternal bloodline, they are the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the younger sister of your human ancestor.”

Spaulding’s face froze and he stared at Trevilin who was casually seated on a comfortable black leather chair. Spaulding rushed to him, grabbed his shoulders and stared at his face. Trevilin stared at Spaulding’s medium brown eyes and couldn’t help smiling.

“I swear on my oath as a ranger of the Elf Kingdom that those children are your distant nephew and niece.”

Spaulding stared at his eyes and realized Trevilin was speaking the truth. He slouched on his leather chair feeling stunned.

“The boy gave me detailed accounts of the names of his ancestry. Spaulding, these children are not making this up. Richard knew the entire bloodline from top to bottom. The average con artist would need the help of an adult to visit the registry office and in this case, there would be little to gain by trying to deceive you because no human knows about your hybrid ancestry.”

“My bloody mortal curse that is!”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself Spaulding. I wished I could be a mortal like you are. You are still very young but someday if you don’t die in battle, you will die peacefully in your sleep. It’s a perk that immortals such as me will never be able to enjoy. Either we die from starvation or the sword.”

“But you will be eternally young. You don’t know what it felt like seeing your father wither and die.”

Trevilin started to grunt after he heard that. “I saw your father on his deathbed and I was mightily depressed for his loss. But he managed to live a longer life than your grandfather did. With each passing generation, your increasingly pure elvish bloodline expands its longevity.”

“Great, I’ll enjoy another 50 years of youth, big deal.”

“Which is why you became a ranger in the first place despite being a clan leader in order to make better use of your time.”

Spaulding’s face suddenly turned grave. “As my closest friend, I will believe your ridiculous tale that those two humans are my distant relatives. I will not put that into doubt. But why in the hell did you bring them to Tesafar? Give them to a human relative.”

“I didn’t tell you what happened to Richard’s ring.”

“The criminals sold it, big deal. Little use if the registry office states the name of the true heir.”

“Someone else took the ring.”

“This sounds interesting. I presume it was a nobleman.”

“That is a half-truth Spaulding. Their commoner but politically well-connected maternal uncle stole it from Richard and he sold the children to get rid of them. He wanted to con the king into giving him the nobility title with all that it entails.”

“Stupid humans and their greed. So I can assume when they became orphans their idiot uncle took them in only to kick them to the curb the minute they overstayed their welcome.”

“You have learned a lot as a ranger. Your ability to predict human criminals never ceases to amaze me.”

“Basically, you take an elf and remove any fair sense of decency, immortality and most of all their usefulness in the world and there you go. Thinking like a human has never been easier.”

Trevilin couldn’t stop laughing with politeness when a servant entered Spaulding’s office carrying a tray with some elvish cakes. “How nice! The servants brought some sesame seed cream cakes this time.”

“I presume humans don’t eat civilized food either.”

“In that respect, I can assure you that our nation is a better place to live. Humans eat meat with every meal.”

Spaulding shuddered at the very thought of tasting meat. He lived in a society where almost everyone practiced a strict vegan diet out of choice. He looked grave as he had another cup of wine.

“You decided to bring them here because you couldn’t find any decent human relatives?”

“More like I was overstaying my welcome in the human lands. I have to return to my post immediately or else I might risk being stuck working all winter.”

“Ah winter, the absolutely most dreadful time of the year to camp in the forest with our bitter weather. I can understand why you didn’t choose to stick around that much longer.”

“Well, the edict Lord Yuhara gave to me was only good for the human I ended up killing. I could have asked him for permission to locate the family of those children.”

Spaulding started to laugh very loud and seemed more cheerful than before. “You always say the funniest things Trevilin. An Äimite couldn’t care less about the comfort of a ranger much less the lives of two foreigners. From what I can understand, you were stuck bringing those nuisances to my humble castle.”

“Look, try to put up with them for a few months. I swear I will cover any unpleasant shift the guard assigns me and I will bear the brunt of covering a month or two during the winter so that he lets me off the hook sooner and then we can try to locate a more redeeming relative together when the snow starts to melt.”

“Did I just hear the word we?”

“Well, they are your blood relatives Spaulding.”

Spaulding pounded his fist on the desk. “You do realize my next deployment will begin in the spring, right?”

“Well, it is early autumn and you just barely returned from your last assignment. Just try to put up with them during the winter. It will give you something useful to do for a change. When its spring and I am off duty, we’ll take them together and find a human relative that can meddle with the problem.”

“What about Legarha?!”

“Speak to your regional guard and land a good deal to begin your next assignment a few weeks later than usual or make up an excuse that you need to cross the border for some petty criminal and discreetly get rid of those children. In the worst of cases, they will be dead in 60 years and you won’t have to worry about them ever again.”

Spaulding sighed with resignation. “Fine, I will put up with their obnoxious petulant presence in my humble castle for 6 months. I guess I could set them up with some Elvish language classes or something and have someone from my clan put up with their unwanted presence as I rest. What are the names of these children again?”

“The boy’s name is Richard and the girl is Nelida of the House of Earlrose.”

“The boy has a common name but the girl’s name is most unusual indeed.”

“The little girl seems a bit jaded from the traumatic experience so try to be easy on her. She is only 6 years old which for a human can be a bit of a difficult age. Richard is 8 but he does seem rather mature for his age.”

“How long did the carriage travel? Did you get to know the children any better during your trip?”

Trevilin crossed his arms and started to think. “I guess the trip took us 2 weeks. They initially acted like I was a demon and gave me some trouble, but they seemed to have warmed up to staying here.”

“I know you are telling a half-truth Trevilin but I guess I’ll agree to let them stay here for a while.”

Spaulding drank a cup of wine and started thinking attentively. After a few moments, his eyes shone and he put his palm on his face. “I almost forgot Trevilin! Now that these pestering humans will be occupying my limited free time, I was planning on doing something important but it seems like I may need someone else to do the task for me.”

“What kind of task?”

“I need someone that is highly reliable of high noble rank to transport a certain object to the capital as soon as is considered reasonable.”

Trevilin slightly frowned at the comment. “I presume you’d ask me, but because I am not a nobleelf, there would be too many questions asked.”

“Precisely why I need you to request someone outside of my clan of high rank that can do this little favor. If you promise me you will find someone suitable to take something to the capital, I’ll take care of these children without complaint.”

“Well, it seems like a strange request but I guess I can find someone suitable. When do you need that package delivered and how high nobility rank is needed?”

“Doesn’t have to be a clan leader, but perhaps someone of important lineage would be ideal. If the package can be sent immediately it would be even better.”

“I think we have a fair deal Spaulding. I have to leave immediately which is a shame because I’ll miss dinner, but I really thank you for doing this favor. I’ll come by when I am free to help you and I will find someone to fulfill your request.”

Trevilin stood up, put on his black hood and mace, bowed at his friend and promptly left the room. After a few minutes, Trevilin was visible in the garden from the window while he spoke to the two children as they begged him to stay. Trevilin seemed to politely bow and left in haste making the children look visibly upset.

Spaulding saw the scene and sighed with resignation. “The sooner I meet these two brats, the sooner I can leave their care to someone in my city.” Spaulding left the study room, climbed down the round staircase and was soon outside seeing the boy making his little sister cry. He reluctantly approached both of them immediately.

“Pleased to meet both of you. My name is Lord Spaulding, the master of Tesafar Castle. I have already spoken to my acquaintance Trevilin and I will allow both of you to stay in my city for the next few months.” Spaulding politely bowed at the children who looked surprised at his unusually polite demeanor.

“Um… the pleasure is mine Spaulding. I am Richard and this is my sister Nelida.”

“I don’t want to stay here Richard! I want to go home! Why is the black haired demon leaving us in here?”

“Please be polite Nelida. Trevilin already told us many times that the elf we were going to meet is our long lost uncle.”

Nelida’s piercing green eyes stared at the fair elf that wore rather plain looking beige robes that seemed to float as he elegantly walked. As Spaulding stared at both children, she tried to hide her fair face behind her brother with shame.

“I know that this is a difficult situation for both parties. You didn’t know that you had a distant uncle that lived in the Elf Kingdom, and I didn’t know I had any living human relatives that were noblemen without a home or family to take care of them.”

Spaulding knelt and smiled at both children trying to be polite. Richard blushed a little bit at Spaulding’s utter kindness whereas Nelida continued being distrustful.

“This is an awkward meeting for me, but I promise this will only be a temporary solution. My friend had to return to his military post immediately and when the snow melts in a couple of months, we will set off and locate your human blood relatives.”

“I want to come back home now!” Nelida stomped her foot on the ground.

“I’m sorry Nelida but you are going to have to put up with living here. Life is not always fair but I believe both of you will enjoy living in my quaint city. It will only be for a few months and you will soon be able to return to a normal life among humans where you belong. Please enter my home because you must be weary from your long trip.”

As Spaulding invited both children inside, the first surprising thing they noticed was a strange stair with white slippers next to a small wooden closet. Richard stared at the odd sight for a while feeling uncertain what to do.

“I forgot that humans enter their castles and homes with mud in their boots. This stair here is a dividing section between the outside world and our sacred home. We use these special shoes when we are inside of a home and leave our muddy shoes in this small closet. I would greatly appreciate that in order to maintain the order of my home, if you could always remember to remove your shoes when you walk inside.”

Both humans looked at the closet and unanimously frowned.

“There aren’t any shoes that will fit us.” Richard said.

“I’m very sorry about this. I’m not used to having guests at my home and much less children. For today you can walk barefoot inside and I’ll request someone from my town to mend appropriate indoor shoes for both of you.”

Nelida seemed distrustful but both children seemed to comply as a servant placed both shoes in the closet.

“Please come this way.”

The two children followed the strange blond elf that wore his medium length hair in a ponytail as he hastily walked past several narrow hallways with elegant dark bamboo flooring and white walls. Richard stared at the strange but aesthetically pleasing architecture while Nelida clung to her brother’s right arm as they were escorted by Spaulding across several empty large rooms with strange straw mat floors and sliding wooden doors that were fully open. Spaulding proceeded to climb down a light grey granite staircase while the children hurried behind as they walked across another similarly narrow hallway to a bamboo door.

“I am presuming both of you are weary from the long trip. My friend Trevilin told me mostly everything so there is no need to repeat children. This room has a nice bath with comfortable hot spring water. My servants will assist both of you as you have probably never bathed in one before.”

Spaulding moved an elegant violet curtain with the traditional crescent moon and sun symbol of his clan revealing a medium sized room that had several dark bamboo closets with beige robes. Both children looked inside but remained in the hallway.

“Mister Spaulding…” Richard began to speak.

“By the way, as I am a nobleelf, it would probably be most appropriate to address me as Lord Spaulding.”

“I’m sorry Lord Spaulding, but this is very new to me.”

“The servants will assist both of you as I am certain humans have different customs. Hopefully you will both find my hot spring to be most pleasant. There is something I must do so please enjoy your bath and we will be seeing each other for dinner.”

Spaulding politely bowed at both children which surprised them. In Richard’s country nobles never bowed at anyone of inferior social status. The fair faced elf that he just met that chilly day seemed rather hospitable. Without waiting for the servant to direct the children inside, Spaulding raced outside of the main entrance, put on a pair of brown leather boots and walked to the courtyard where he was greeted by another servant.

“Lord Spaulding, who are those strange humans and why did Trevilin leave them here?”

“Apparently they are very distant human relatives of mine from my paternal bloodline.”

The servant looked quite surprised at the revelation. It was well known by everyone that Spaulding was a hybrid but his human ancestor died around 700 years ago. “Will they be staying here for long?”

“I agreed with Trevilin to house them here for the winter.”

“Aren’t you weary from your latest tour as a ranger? You were on duty for 5 months nonstop this time.”

Spaulding sighed from the revelation. “I guess if the children don’t cause me too much problems, I’ll have enough time to rest. Once the ice melts and before I am again on active duty, Trevilin and I will take them together to a human relative.”

“Well, you are the lord of our clan. Are you planning on going somewhere? “

“I am going to visit my friend Hamarin and ask him for a small favor. If the children cause any problems please inform me.”

“Certainly my Lord.”

The servant bowed with politeness as Spaulding walked outside, climbed down a perfectly paved stone road across the white streets of Tesafar while always being saluted with politeness by the small city’s citizens. He soon reached a large wooden house of good decorative taste with a gigantic garden of immaculate beauty. He pleasantly smiled when he found the person he was looking for and approached him.

“Lord Spaulding, what an interesting surprise.”

A tall, thin elf that perpetually exuded an air of sadness on his blue eyes and fair face stared at the elf that approached him. Hamarin always had the penchant for wearing long white robes that covered almost the entirety of his body and liked to wear his immaculate knee length black hair loose to cover as much of his face as possible. He was sitting on top of a carpet drinking tea when Spaulding arrived.

Spaulding politely bowed and after he removed his boots, he sat down. “I am sorry for coming unannounced Hamarin, but a strange incident happened and I would like to know if you could assist me.”

“Certainly my Lord, what is the favor you ask?”

The two elves started to talk with each other for a while that tranquil early autumn afternoon when the servant Spaulding briefly talked to a while ago hastily ran to the garden.

“What’s wrong Floydin?”

“I pardon to interrupt your leisure my Lord, but the little girl is having a terrible argument with the other servants. Could you please come?”

Spaulding put his right hand on his face with frustration whereas Hamarin remained indifferent.

“I presume it’s the culture shock Lord Spaulding. You’re not used to treating with noble humans. I can assure you this will not be the first time those children will give you trouble. You should go and see what the issue is and we’ll continue our chat tomorrow.”

Spaulding smiled with hesitation, put on his boots, bowed at his friend and ran back to the castle. Nelida was wearing a towel while she screamed at a female servant whereas Richard had already changed into a beige and blue elvish robe.

“What seems to be the problem?”

Richard stared at the elf looking concerned. “Lord Spaulding, my sister doesn’t like the robes your servants gave to her after we finished our bath.”

Spaulding sighed when he saw Nelida pulling her dress from the servant’s arms. Spaulding hadn’t realized it before, but Nelida had unusual lilac colored hair in a very short haircut. If it hadn’t been for the dress, he would have assumed she had been a man.

He knelt in front of her with a worried look on his face. “What seems to be the problem Nelida? Did you find the bath to be unpleasant?”

“No Spaulding, that was nice but I hate the ugly robes your servants gave to me and my robe doesn’t fit me! I want to wear my dress but the servant wants to throw it away.”

Spaulding turned around and noticed her dress was tattered and looked unamendable. He placed his right hand on her shoulder with reassurance.

“Unfortunately your old dress is ruined. I am sorry that the robe my servant brought doesn’t fit you perfectly, but unfortunately in our lands it’s very unusual to see children. When you visit my city, you will soon realize you will only see adult elves everywhere. I will request a tailor to come here tomorrow and make human clothes of your size and to your taste so you will either have to wear the robes that don’t perfectly fit you, or you can have dinner wearing that towel and nothing else. However, I cannot permit per the customs of hospitality of my nation to allow my humble guest to eat dinner in a ruined dress.”

Richard stood nearby in contemplative silence when he finally understood the reason why his robe also didn’t perfectly fit and watched how Nelida hugged the elf while she cried nonstop.

Spaulding wasn’t very sure what to do and stared at the boy. “Is your sister always this emotional? I’m not very used to dealing with children.”

“I am also a little bit surprised Lord Spaulding. Your friend Trevilin told us many things are very different in your nation such as the streets are very safe with very few criminals and that this city doesn’t have soldiers.”

“My city is too far up north from the human borders and there is no need for foot soldiers here.”

“There aren’t criminals here?”

“Everything here is very new to you. It’s nice that I finally met a human that doesn’t call me a demonic monster for once.”

Richard had a hard time understanding the elf’s comment.

After crying for a while, Nelida started to calm down. “Spaulding, can I call you uncle?”

Spaulding stared at her tearful face with a certain degree of indifference. “If you stop crying and put on the robes for dinner, I’ll make an exception.”

The girl hugged him as he awkwardly patted her back. Richard timidly smiled at the graciousness of his host. The girl finally calmed down sufficiently to return to the changing room and allowed the servant to dress her as Spaulding and Richard waited in the hallway. Nelida came out a few minutes later looking slightly comical in the long robe that had to be folded with a tight blue belt. Spaulding slightly smiled at the amusing sight while Richard laughed which annoyed her.

“Please come over this way children as you now look presentable for dinner.”

Spaulding once more directed the two children across a long series of similar looking narrow hallways that had several empty rooms with straw mat floors, white walls with a lot of intricate paintings with the clan’s emblem and wooden sliding doors. Richard really liked the pleasant sparseness of the castle whereas Nelida had a hard time understanding the purpose of having so many empty rooms. After a few minutes, they climbed a couple of wooden stairs to a very large room that looked very similar to the other ones, but it featured a large dark wood table. The children were surprised there were no chairs and the table was barely elevated at all.

“Where are the chairs Lord Spaulding?” Richard looked around with incredulity.

“Take a look below.” Spaulding sat on the back corner as the master of the castle in front of a very intricate wall painting of the clan emblem and the children sat on top of two flat pillows next to him. They instantly noticed there was a large hole beneath the table to place their feet.

Richard was incredulous. “I have never seen such a strange looking dining room before.”

“You will get used to it Richard. Human dining rooms just seem a little bit too informal for my taste.”

The children looked at the room and instantly noticed there were a lot of supporting beams made out of beautifully carved wood with intricate golden leaf designs. A servant suddenly opened a lateral sliding door that faced a wooden hallway and farther away a beautiful garden was now visible. Both children were fascinated at the maple trees that were starting to change color that complemented perfectly with the sheer simplicity of the greenery outside.

“I have never seen a garden like that before.” Richard said.

Spaulding casually looked outside being used to seeing it every day.

“I am not that familiar with human gardens, but we generally don’t like to use plants that produce flowers. We kind of like our gardens to have a monochromatic appearance. In a couple more weeks, the maple trees will turn bright red which will give it an interesting contrasted color. The servants will bring us something to eat very soon. Are you familiar with elvish food?”

The children stared at each other looking confused.

“Are we going to be eating lizard eyes and witchcraft potions?” Nelida asked.

Spaulding laughed with politeness. “Is that what the humans in your nation think elves eat? How amusing!”

The children stared at each other wondering why Spaulding was laughing. A couple of minutes later, two servants placed a plate with assorted vegetable based dishes, unusual looking long forks, small knives and a second plate with strange white wafer cakes with assorted fillings inside. A second servant served everyone a ceramic cup with sweet tea and promptly left the room. Spaulding blessed his food and started eating quietly. After a few moments, he noticed neither child was eating anything.

“Is anything wrong? The food is delicious.”

“Lord Spaulding, what is this? I don’t see any meat.”

Spaulding balked at Richard’s comment. “Elves are for the most part strict vegans.”

Nelida turned to face the elf looking more surprised than her brother. “You mean you don’t eat newt eyes?”

“Of course not. We aren’t the demonic monsters humans seem to believe. We can eat meat, but we are simply raised in a culture where eating meat is socially unacceptable unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“But why don’t you eat meat? It tastes delicious.”

Spaulding wanted to belch at Richard’s comment. “You may find it appetizing, but I absolutely detest the flavor.”

“But won’t your body become weak if you don’t eat it?”

“If you take a close look at the dishes, you will see some small white cubes that have a gelatinous consistency. Those cubes are made out of a sort of plant that is rich in protein. I can assure you that our diet is much more nutritious than what you are accustomed back at your home.”

Richard’s hunger took a hold of him and he eventually tried out the food. It had a pleasant soft flavor, not too seasoned and the natural flavors of the vegetables complemented each other. He quickly grinned and looked at his sister. “Nelida, you should really try this! It’s delicious!”

However, Nelida just like a while before stared at her food with disgust. “This is not food! I’m not a cow!” Nelida tossed her plate of food on the table and ran out of the room crying.

“Nelida!” Richard tried to stand up but Spaulding softly tugged his arm.

“Please don’t Richard.”

“But she tossed her plate of food on your table!”

“I expected this behavior from her. I’m glad that you decided to give our food a chance and enjoyed it. I was briefly talking to a close friend of mine in the city and he told me a little bit about how humans raise their noble children. Apparently noble parents don’t even raise their children. They are raised by servants that let them do whatever they feel like and don’t teach them decorum with disastrous results.”

Richard paused as he stared at the mess on the table. He turned around and tried to bow in apology to the elf. “I’m so sorry uncle Spaulding because of my sister’s behavior! Please don’t kick us out of your castle and sell us to criminals like my uncle did!”

Spaulding only smiled with kindness. “I can assure you that elves treat their guests with the most utter respect and I will try to be more understanding with your sister. However, I think this will be a good opportunity for you to experience our nation which is something very few humans ever get to enjoy. Finish your meal and go to rest.”

“What about my sister?”

“As kind as I am, I am not going to serve meat in my humble abode. She can either eat meat with the human laborers that work in our farms like a common peasant or be a noble guest of honorable repute and eat with us. For tonight if she goes hungry, that will be her problem.”

Spaulding quickly finished his dinner encouraging Richard to do the same and once he was done he stood up and bowed at the boy.

“As much as I would like to continue getting to know you better, I am still weary from my recent deployment as a ranger and I haven’t recovered yet. I am going to rest and you might not see me tomorrow morning. The servants will direct you and your sister to your room. Tomorrow you can have a free day wandering around my city and get to know it better. The servants will have a pleasant breakfast awaiting both of you when you wake up.”

“What about my sister?”

“Like I have said before, she can continue starving until she decides she has no other choice but to eat what my castle has to offer or she can eat in the street with peasant humans. If she chooses to eat with the humans, I would prefer it that she doesn’t continue resting in my castle because it would give mixed messages to my citizens of how I treat my guests. I bid you goodnight and I will see you for dinner tomorrow.”

The elf once again briefly bowed and left the dining room. Richard walked outside and stared at the garden that had a small pond with some fish in the distance. He sat on the wooden hallway enjoying the peace and tranquility of his mysterious uncle’s castle until a servant showed up after nightfall and bowed with politeness.

“Good evening Lord Richard. Your guestroom has been fully prepared, please follow me.”

Richard followed the servant that wore simple beige robes in awkward silence. As he crossed the maze of similar looking narrow hallways, he stared at the ceiling and gasped. “What are those things?”

The servant turned around and noticed Richard was staring at a series of strange circular lamps. “In our nation, we illuminate our homes with special lamps that are not made out of fire. Is this the first time you have seen them?”

Richard blushed with embarrassment at his ignorance and nodded. The boy was impressed how the lamps maintained excellent illumination due to some alien technology.

“Please follow me my Lord.”

Richard was soon directed to a pleasant guestroom where his sister was already in a corner crying nonstop. “Nelida, you insulted our uncle by not eating the food he gave us.”

“I want to go home! This place is awful! Those demon beasts eat cow feed, dress in ugly bed sheets and look at the beds!”

Richard turned around and noticed their sparsely decorated room had two flat heaps of thick fabric with elegant blue and violet blankets with the familiar family emblem along with flat pillows. Richard turned around and noticed the wooden closet of the room was open revealing other bed sheets on the shelves.

“Now I understand why the castle has so many empty rooms Nelida. They are actually bedrooms and they store all of the furniture in the closet. What an interesting way to save space and make the castle easier to clean! I don’t know about you, but this is the most awesome place I have ever been to!”

Nelida continued bawling nonstop in her corner which made her brother frown.

“I don’t think you seem to understand how lucky we are that Trevilin came to our rescue and brought both of us to his friend’s residence even though he was going to get into trouble at his job. I had a friendly chat with our uncle a while ago and he seems like the nicest person I have ever met. He isn’t like our other uncle Nelida so stop acting like a spoiled brat because nobody cares about your complaints. Instead of complaining about your pitiful life, you should enjoy staying here. I am actually falling in love with it and I can’t wait to explore the city tomorrow, good night.”

Richard instantly put himself beneath the cover and went to sleep. After freezing in the cold for a while, Nelida grudgingly pulled herself beneath the blanket and realized that the flatbeds were immensely comfortable once you got used to sleeping on the ground level. Her stomach churned nonstop as she cried herself to sleep.

 

Chapter 2

 

“Was the amazing experience I had yesterday a mere dream?”

Richard instantly woke up, stretched his arms, opened the bamboo screen and looked outside of the second floor window. The boy was smiling nonstop as he enjoyed the pleasant view of the small city that was built on a slope that had a nice contrast between the fog, forest and the mostly white buildings that dotted the landscape. Richard instantly rushed towards his sister.

“Nelida, wake up! You have to look outside the window!”

Nelida woke up feeling dizzy from starvation but she seemed considerably calmer than yesterday. The girl rubbed her eyes and stared outside the window. Her green eyes instantly shone at the sight. “Wow, what an amazing city! When we were in the carriage we didn’t get to see almost anything.”

“Uncle Spaulding told me that he wasn’t going to be around today and that a servant was going to have breakfast ready when we woke up.”

“I don’t want to eat that yucky food!”

“He told me that if you want to continue sleeping in his castle that you have no other choice. You can either starve for no reason at all or you can eat all the meat you want and sleep in a hut with some farmers.”

“I am not going to sleep with some peasants Richard!”

“He looked very serious about not relenting to your whims Nelida. Don’t waste your time crying and complaining. I am sure you had a very fun night with an empty stomach.”

Nelida’s stomach started to grumble which made her blush and turn away.

“Give the food a chance Nelida! It actually tastes very good!”

In that instant, a servant quietly knocked on the door. Richard turned to the side to answer. “Who is it?”

“It’s one of the servants of the castle Young Lord Richard and Lord Nelida. I have come to inform both of you that your breakfast is ready. Please accompany me after you have washed up to the dining room.”

A couple of minutes later, both children followed the servant to the same dining room and noticed their plates of food were already served. This time the space reserved for their uncle as the master of the castle lay empty which slightly surprised Richard. Both children sat down on the exact same place where they sat yesterday and started to eat. Richard gorged on his food without even chewing whereas Nelida nibbled on the food more out of a need to stave her hunger than anything else. Richard smiled that at least his sister had the dignity of trying out the food this time. A few minutes later, a servant arrived to serve everyone some more tea and sweet elvish cakes.

“I have a question.”

“Yes Lord Richard? “

“Where is my uncle? “

“He is currently unavailable my Young Lord but rest assured he will be available when you have dinner tonight. A tailor will arrive shortly to make suitable clothing for both of you. After he has finished mending at least one suit, both of you will be free to travel the city.”

“We won’t have a chaperone?”

“That will not be necessary Young Richard. Tesafar is very safe because criminals don’t dare venture in this area especially when the Master is protecting the city and everyone speaks human.”

Richard frowned with curiosity and began to think to himself. “I never realized elves spoke their own tongue. That explains why they speak my language with a strange accent.”

The longer he spent in the country, the more he wanted to learn about it. Nelida seemed ambivalent but at least she seemed decently excited that the tailor was going to soon arrive.

“When is the tailor arriving?”

The servant smiled as she began placing the empty dishes on a bamboo tray. “He should be arriving anytime Lord Nelida.”

“I want him to mend human clothing for me!”

The servant blushed with embarrassment. “I am certain the tailor will mend clothing to your taste my Lord, please excuse me.”

A while later both children were directed to an empty guestroom where two elves with long hair and modest attire were awaiting.

“Good morning my Young Lords. We were ordered by Lord Spaulding to mend robes for you.”

Richard and Nelida smiled and bowed with politeness. Richard was amused to see how the fair brunette elf was taking measurements and writing strange looking symbols on a piece of paper. “I have a question tailor.”

“My name is Hijim my Young Lord. Is there some other change you wish for the design of your robes?”

“That would be fine thank you. I am seeing you’re writing some funny symbols on that piece of paper.”

“That my Young Lord is our native elvish script. Almost every elf in our city speaks human but your alphabet and language is a little bit cumbersome to use so we use Elvish in our lands. I am surprised you didn’t know that.”

Richard blushed from his ignorance and began to think. “I feel embarrassed telling this nice elf that everyone in Ayrtain thinks elves are subhuman demons that eat raw lizards and use satanic curses to scare innocent people.”

Nelida seemed unusually pleased that one of the tailors knew how to make human dresses and was mending a nice lilac one that matched her hair color. “How much longer will it take for you to finish my new dress?”

The tailor blushed and smiled at the fair girl. “Please be patient my Lord. I’m not used to mending robes for children and it’s been a long time since I have last made human robes. But if you are patient, you will soon have a beautiful dress.”

Nelida screeched with excitement and began hugging the tailor nonstop.

“Nelly, stop embarrassing the poor tailor!”

“I’m sorry Richard, but I can’t wait to wear something decent. Why is the tailor mending ugly elvish robes for you?”

Richard grinned as he watched Hijim using a small sewing machine looking focused. “I want to blend in Nelida. I kind of like their robes, it’s something you just don’t see back home.”

Hijim smiled as he soon finished mending Richard’s new robe. “Could you please try it on my Young Lord to make sure it perfectly fits?”

“I’ll be glad Hijim!”

Richard comically rushed behind a screen and a servant assisted him in placing the robes. The boy was embarrassed from the servant’s overt hospitality. “I can dress myself.”

The servant smiled as she correctly accommodated the long sleeves. “You were placing the sleeves of your robe backwards Lord Richard. Elves are going to think you are going to a funeral.”

Richard chuckled with embarrassment. “You make a very good point, but once I get the hang of putting these things on, I’d prefer to dress myself if you don’t mind.”

The servant smiled without having an adequate answer. Within a couple of minutes, Richard paraded in front of the tailors in his new robes.

Hijim knelt by his side verifying the clothes were properly assembled. “The robes don’t seem to need any changes. Are they comfortable to wear my Lord?”

“I feel kind of awkward walking around with them, but they fit me perfectly.”

Hijim stood up feeling pleased. “I’ll be mending more elvish robes during the next handful of days but for today, these robes will suffice. Hey Jerhaima, have you finished the girl’s robes?”

The second tailor smiled as he finished the final touches. “Please try your new dress Lord Nelida.”

Before the elf could finish his sentence, Nelida rudely grabbed the dress and rushed behind the screen to change into her new attire. She was soon rushing outside feeling overjoyed with her new dress. “It’s so beautiful, thank you so much!”

Jerhaima smiled and began assembling his sewing machine. “I’ll be very busy mending more human dresses for you. If you need any modifications, please ask the servants and I’ll return.”

Both tailors bowed at the children with politeness and were ushered from the castle by a servant. Within a couple of minutes, one of the servants returned and bowed at the humans.

“Now that you both have adequate robes, you can now wander the city. Please return before sunset and have fun.”

Both children walked outside looking excited as they were enjoying the strange but pleasant vibe of the small city.

“Nelida, have you noticed something strange about this place?”

“Everything is clean and the roads have no mud. It’s amazing.”

“That is true, but there is something really strange about this city.”

“What do you mean?”

“Not only are there no children, but I don’t see any elderly elves. The only people that are middle age or elderly are the humans that are harvesting the crops.”

Nelida’s eyes shone as she never realized this before. The city was indeed full of mysterious secrets and they were starting to discover a few of them. Meanwhile, Spaulding was seated in a lotus position inside of a dark room as he faced a single white candle that slightly illuminated the room with a warm red light. He wore a very plain white robe and looked focused yet relaxed with his eyes closed. Suddenly an elf wearing a long white robe entered the room and knelt behind him.

“Lord Spaulding, is it a bad moment?”

“Glad that you came Hamarin.”

“I’m seeing that you are once again meditating. Any luck in seeing the violet flame this time?”

“Unfortunately, my mind is having too many thoughts regarding those children.”

“I see.”

“Have they been giving people a lot of trouble?”

“Not at all fortunately. They seemed to have enjoyed the clothes the tailor came to mend for both of them and they are still wandering the city as we speak. I think it was a good idea that you let them venture the city for a while to get used to it before we begin our classes.”

“Have you picked what kind of topics you would teach them?”

“Indeed both of them need to learn a little bit about our nation and culture which will help avoid some misunderstandings like last night. I have also started organizing Elvish language lessons. However, I don’t see why you would bother teaching them our sacred tongue if they will be leaving in a few months.”

“It’s indeed not a lot of time. Just focus on having them speak the language in human script because they will be unable to learn our alphabet that easily. I just feel like it will give them something useful to do and it might come in handy. Not every elf in the country speaks human and in the noble circles among elves, we have no interest in speaking human with each other.”

“In my opinion the real reason you wish to teach them our language is because you believe they will be staying here longer than 6 months.”

Spaulding turned around looking a bit distressed. “I have mixed feelings about Trevilin’s promise of coming back next year to drop the children off. Hopefully we will both be off duty at the same time. In my opinion 2 months would suffice.”

“You would have to write a letter to your assigned guard for permission.”

Spaulding grumbled at the thought of dealing with his supervisor because he didn’t like him that much. “Legarha for an Äimite is rather civilized. I think I’ll be able to convince him in exchange for working a few months later than usual. I also told Trevilin about the huge favor I had to ask him.”

“I am sad that you had to lie to your close friend about the vile content of that chest. Until you get rid of it, I can’t bear staying inside of your castle for long. I can feel its negative energy all the way here.”

“I wished you could travel with it.”

“After what it did to me, I just don’t have the willpower to make such a perilous trip alone, and you don’t have sufficiently powerful mages in the clan except for me to assist you. I still don’t understand why you can’t personally make the trip.”

“I was going to do it this year until Trevilin dumped me with those two children. It would have been a hassle to take the chest alone but if we traveled together, it could have been possible.”

“That isn’t the real reason.”

Spaulding’s eyes started to look stern at the elf’s vacant expression.

“You are like a brother to me Lord Spaulding and I can assure you the excuse of those children taking up your free time is not going to fool me. You just don’t want to see him and so you want to leave the hassle of the transportation of that chest to someone else.”

Spaulding couldn’t stay angry at Hamarin much longer and simply smiled with politeness. “Dear friend, you know me all too well. I’ll do anything to avoid going to that stupid city with its petulant inhabitants and filled to the brim of those disgusting guards. I hope you can keep the existence of that chest a secret for a little while longer.”

“Certainly my Lord as I too have the desire that its content is properly disposed of in utter secrecy. Do you know who will be the nobleelf that will assist us?”

“He was too busy trying to return to his post and apologize to his superior but he promised he would find someone adequate to help. I’m hoping the elf will arrive as soon as possible. If you wish to accompany me in my meditation for a little while longer, that would be nice. Maybe being assisted by the clan’s most prominent priest would grant me the spiritual guidance that I need right now.”

Hamarin’s eyes softened but he didn’t smile. He simply stood up and opened the door.

“The negative energy of that chest increased from the last time I was here a few months ago Lord Spaulding. Maybe nobody noticed it because you just barely arrived a little over 2 days ago, and I have no need to enter the castle when you are absent. Whatever the case, the chest will not be able to contain its power for much longer. You need to have it destroyed immediately. I bid you good afternoon. Please have my students in my home tomorrow in the middle of the day.”

The elf quietly closed the door and Spaulding continued meditating with yet another problem in his mind.

“The power of that hideous artifact is increasing and now even that chest can no longer contain it. We’re running out of time.”

The following day after breakfast, the children were taken to Hamarin’s residence by Spaulding. Both children that wore newly tailored clothes arrived to Hamarin’s beautiful residence and were invited inside a guestroom that faced his garden. Hamarin had a stone board hanging on the wall with a low table that was covered with scrolls. Both children bowed at the elf and sat down.

“Richard and Nelida, I would like to introduce both of you to a very close friend of mine. His name is Hamarin and he will be giving you classes.”

Both children turned in their uncle’s direction feeling surprised.

“Is this a joke?” Nelida faced him feeling horrified.

“Uncle, I have already taken a lot of classes in my nation and know many things.” Richard replied.

“Such as elves eating lizards?”

Both children turned to see the dark haired elf was quietly smiling.

“Hamarin is a dear friend that has lived for many centuries. He is the city’s most renowned priest and I believe he will have the patience to teach both of you our venerable native language.”

Richard once again spoke. “Uncle, are you sure that we need to speak Elvish?”

“Both of you are young so learning a second language will be easier than wasting your time drinking and gambling which are the only things noble humans do all day.”

“I will also teach both of you some of the customs of our lands and a little bit about our geography. The lessons will be comprehensive.”

“Richard, do you know how to ride a horse?” Spaulding asked.

“Not very well. The servants didn’t think I was old enough to learn.”

Spaulding started to laugh.

“What’s so funny uncle?”

“In our nation, elves learn how to ride a horse and swim the second they can walk on their own. In addition, elves of noble lineage learn fencing from a very young age.”

“I have never tried sword fighting before.”

“Unfortunately I won’t have enough time to teach you because I need to rest and Hamarin is not allowed to wield a sword.”

“How come?!” Nelida was very surprised as she stared at the elf that drank tea with tranquility.

“Hamarin is a religious leader so he has learned skills that serve a different purpose than protecting the lands.”

“Uncle, Trevilin told me you have the same job he has.” Richard asked.

“That is correct. Both of us are rangers.”

“I don’t understand what that means.”

Hamarin finished drinking his tea and started to speak with his soft voice. “As you have realized my Young Lords, Tesafar is a prosperous city with little crime that is inhabited by citizens that obey our laws and live in peace. Many larger cities have their own local soldiers that protect the lands but our country has large swaths of empty wilderness that can be invaded by criminals that can cause havoc.”

Richard raised an eyebrow. “But what do the rangers do?”

“Technically during a couple of months each year, I walk or ride a horse long distances in the forest and supervise the lands I guard are free of criminals. I have the legal power when I am on duty to arrest criminals although I usually kill them to save some annoyances.”

Hamarin growled at Spaulding’s sense of violence.

“But why would you do such an uncomfortable job if you own a castle?” Nelida asked.

Spaulding started to chuckle and finally decided to sit down and pat Nelida’s forehead that looked comically confused. “The majority of elves can live forever as long as they don’t suffer a serious injury. Imagine being able to live 2000 years without ever growing old and just spending all of it sitting in your castle doing nothing.”

“I would get very bored.” Nelida answered.

“Now you know why I started to train to become a ranger 70 years ago and spend on average 4 months each year patrolling. You children will start to learn a lot of things from Hamarin because he has lived a very long life.” Spaulding suddenly stood up as both children stared at him feeling worried.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m sorry Nelida for leaving, but I need to rest from my long deployment. Have a lot of fun learning with Hamarin because he’s an excellent teacher.” Spaulding warmly smiled at everyone and left the room.

“Very well, my Lord has just issued me an order. Let the classes commence.”

Spaulding was in his study room one evening after dinner. Out of boredom, he retrieved from the drawer a small lacquered box that contained a stone pipe with dehydrated plants. After carefully placing some of the green leaves in the pipe, he softly touched the pipe and suddenly a small amount of smoke spewed from it and he started to smoke in silence.

He stared at a locked glass case that rested next to his desk which contained a medium length straight sword with a black and red scabbard along with equally colored lacquered leather armor. Hamarin told him the children were showing good progress with their classes which eased his anxiety although he seldom interacted with them.

[_“Just a couple more months and they will be gone for good.” _]Spaulding kept on smoking with tranquility until someone quietly knocked the door.

“Yes?”

“Lord Spaulding, an important visitor has just arrived.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone when he realized it must be important if someone had shown up so late. “I’ll be there immediately!” Spaulding hastily climbed down the circular stairs and appeared in the main entrance expecting a nobleelf of good repute to assist him. “Welcome with such haste to my noble…”

Spaulding’s jaw opened with surprise that the mysterious visitor was a female elf that looked like a human in her early 30’s with bright red curly hair, light hazel eyes and a huge smile on her face. “Yoo Hoo my dear Lord Spaulding, I’m here!”

Richard and Nelida overheard the visitor’s loud voice in their bedroom and suddenly woke up at the same time.

“Richard, who could be visiting our uncle so late?”

“I don’t know Nelida. Let’s take a quick peek but stay quiet.”

Both children quietly looked down the staircase and saw the strange elf hugging their uncle who seemed like he was in a bad mood.

“Who could that strange woman be?”

“Her hair is bright red and it’s very curly. I’ve never seen an elf that looks like her before.”

“Maybe she isn’t an elf. Her ears are shorter and she looks a bit older.”

“Why is uncle Spaulding so angry to see her?”

“I don’t know. Let’s climb down a couple more stairs and listen.”

Nelida smiled as both children spied on their uncle.

“Great, of all of the nobleelves that has appeared this late at my residence the worst one just happened to show up!”

The visitor started to laugh with an obnoxious tone of voice. “You are always such a delightful host! I am so glad that I am having the rare opportunity to visit your city.”

“The ice is starting to form. If you go quickly, you can make it to your northern wastelands before everything freezes Lord Yu.”

“Oh, you are always so comical!” The woman slapped Spaulding’s back with a cynical tone. She removed her thick brown wool coat, tossed it on Spaulding and rudely entered the castle.

Spaulding started to grumble as he gave the woman’s coat to a servant and directed Yu to an empty guestroom. “Why in the bloody hell aren’t you with your clan Yu?”

“Well, I decided this year I wish to spend the winter in the mainland. There are no rules against me wandering in this country whenever I feel like it.”

“I don’t care what you do, but get out of my castle before my invited nobleelf arrives.”

“You mean Trevilin didn’t tell you?”

Spaulding stared at the elf and put his hand on his forehead. “The idiot casually bumped into you and requested you to come visit me.”

“Oh, you are always such a delight Lord Spaulding! I can’t believe how much we have in common.” She suddenly stared at his eyes with a huge grin on her face. “You know that even in this dim light, your left eye has a slight glimmer of green on the side corner?”

Spaulding’s head turned away with disgust.

“Don’t act like that figment of color in your delightful brown eyes are a curse. I do not regret being a hybrid.”

“No wonder everyone thinks the Red Clan are a bunch of socially inept misfits.”

The woman started laughing even louder than before the instant two servants brought a short table with refreshments. Richard and Nelida had a hard time trying to hide in the closet of a contiguous room without getting caught.

“Richard, why are we hiding in this closet?”

“Quiet Nelida, I want to hear the gossip.”

“Isn’t our uncle going to get angry that we are spying on him?”

“I find it strange that someone would visit him so late. Aren’t you curious Nelly?”

“They are speaking in Elvish. Do you even understand what they are saying?”

“I can understand some of it, keep quiet!”

The girl frowned but she couldn’t resist the temptation to continue eavesdropping.

“Oh, how delicious! This rice wine tastes most delightful!”

“Good, get drunk and pass out in this room so that I can get rid of you.”

The elf grinned as she fumbled with her ceramic cup. “Trevilin was at a post when I casually dropped by and he chased after me to request my help. He didn’t choose me to spite you.”

Spaulding started to grumble as he served himself some wine. “Did he tell you anything?”

“He was in a rush to return to his post. Apparently his Äimite supervisor wasn’t exactly too pleased with his lengthy absence and he will be assigning him an extra month of deployment as punishment.”

“What?!”

Spaulding was speechless as Yu began to unbutton her red robes to show some cleavage.

“Oh, you are always so neurotic. You need to enjoy life a little bit more my dear friend. As a fellow mortal hybrid elf, time is an invaluable asset that should be treasured.”

Spaulding grumbled when he realized Trevilin was most likely going to be unable to help him bring the children to Ayrtain after all. “As much as you annoy me to no end Lord Yu, I appreciate that you told me about my friend’s situation beforehand. But there is a second reason why I requested my friend for your assistance. As the heir to the elusive Red Clan, you have a high enough nobility title to do a huge favor for me.”

The elf started playing with her cup grinning nonstop as she tried to seduce Spaulding with her unconventional beauty to no avail. “Oh, and what might the favor be my dearest Spaulding?”

“In the depths of my castle lies a chest that needs to be brought to the capital immediately.”

“That sounds like a strange favor indeed! But my darling, I’m not a courier service.”

“I am conscious that you are not Yu, but I need someone with a high level nobility status to bring the chest to that city.”

The elf started to grin feeling convinced that Spaulding had an ulterior motive. “I am no fool Spaulding. Even though my mother rules the uninhabited northern wastelands and we seldom visit the mainland, you haven’t attended the summer festival in decades.”

Spaulding closed his eyes knowing he was guilty as charged.

“I know that you are under no obligation to attend the festival but as the Kasimma Clan Leader, you are setting a poor example for your clan by never attending the event.”

“I’m always busy as a ranger.”

The elf was laughing so loud that Nelida had to cover her ears at the noise. “Nonsense! You are free as the clan leader to skip your ranger duties during the festival yet you persistently fail to show up. You have no idea how much I missed your enjoyable company this year!” Yu approached Spaulding causing him to get nervous when he saw her cleavage.

Richard and Nelida stared at each other wondering what might happen next.

“Stop making fun of me Yu! It’s not funny!”

The elf smiled and returned to her seat to drink some wine. “We all know you don’t want to visit him Spaulding. You are just trying to use my nobility status to avoid lifting suspicions with the guard.”

“Look, if you are not confident in helping me with my little request, there will be no hurt feelings and I’ll just find someone else that could help me.”

“I never said I wasn’t willing to help you my dearest.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone at Yu with a smile. “I know it’s a difficult favor, and I will have an edict written immediately so don’t worry.”

“What kind of object is it?”

“It’s a large wooden chest and I need you to bring several mages of competent ability to carry it.”

“Oh, so there is something powerful inside of that chest? What is it?”

“Something you would never want to open yourself, believe me.” Spaulding removed the sleeve from his shirt and showed Yu a horrible burn scar on both of his forearms.

She quietly gasped and got even more interested. “It must be an extremely powerful artifact for you to have suffered that my dearest sweetheart.”

“You’re a most annoying person Yu but I know you will be able to give it to the head priest in person. Please assist me this one time and I promise that I will spend a winter in your delightfully cold and miserable lands.” Spaulding bowed very low on the floor which caused Yu to start laughing once again.

“You are always so adorable Spaulding! Of course I will help you! I’ll be back tomorrow evening with some friends and a carriage and I’ll bring your mysterious artifact safely. You can trust me!”

The elf hugged Spaulding, finished her cup of wine and left the castle. Nelida and Richard were still huddled inside of the closet as they heard their uncle’s footsteps climbing back to his study room.

“Nelida, I wonder what is the mysterious object that our uncle wants to be sent to that city.”

“I didn’t understand everything they said Richard. They spoke Elvish very quickly.”

“Apparently that strange woman is someone very important and she is going to come back tomorrow to take a wooden chest to the capital. It must have something very awesome inside like a treasure!”

“That sounds lovely! Maybe tomorrow when our uncle runs off to do one of his errands we should try to find it! But aren’t we supposed to have classes with Hamarin tomorrow?”

“I believe Hamarin is going to have some important ceremony and he will be busy. We’ll have the entire day off.”

Both children smiled hoping they will find the chest soon enough.

“You know the drill Nelida. I’ll search in the upstairs areas of the castle and you will search downstairs.”

“But how will we know we found the right chest?”

“I didn’t understand everything our uncle said, but it seems like it is a heavy wooden chest. He needed that strange elf to bring several elves to carry it.”

“What do we tell the servants if they find us?”

“Tell them we are playing hide and seek. They aren’t used to seeing children so we can get away with it easily!”

Nelida smiled and rushed off to the lower levels. Spaulding was once again absent from the castle on another errand and Hamarin was performing a religious ceremony in a neighboring city which granted the children a unique opportunity to search for the mysterious chest. They only had until that day before Spaulding returned as Yu promised she would be arriving in the evening. The temptation to find out what the chest looked like was too great. While Nelida wandered downstairs to the lower levels of the castle, Richard initially looked at every closet of each of the dozen empty guestrooms in the upper levels of the castle.

“What a shame. Yet another closet that only has blankets and beds.” Richard closed a metallic handle that had the now familiar sun and moon emblem engraved on it with resignation. He bumped into a couple of servants that were cleaning the upper rooms but he was surprised that they simply ignored him. “I guess they are too busy to care.” Richard smiled as he continued searching.

Nelida climbed downstairs and opened the curtain of the spring bath. She started to ponder if the chest could be hidden inside. “That would be a stupid place to put a secret chest.” Nelida shook her head and continued looking at all of the food pantries and closets that were full to the brim of ceramic dishes to no avail.

Richard after realizing he didn’t have any luck realized there were two rooms in the upper levels that he hadn’t searched yet. “The only two rooms that are missing are my uncle’s bedroom and his office.” Richard approached Spaulding’s bedroom but the door was unfortunately locked. “What a shame. I guess I won’t be able to search for it here.”

Richard didn’t have high hopes of visiting the office because Spaulding usually had the door locked, but he was surprised that a servant had finished cleaning the room and was going downstairs. The door was starting to close as Richard barely managed to enter the office on time.

“What an amazing looking room! I could spend all day in here!”

Richard was marveled at the brightly lit circular room with a large white granite desk, comfortable leather chairs, bookshelves with what seemed like hundreds of books that reached the ceiling and next to the desk was a glass case that had Spaulding’s armor. On this occasion, the sword was missing.

“It’s not at all like Trevilin’s black armor. This one is more beautiful indeed!” Richard tried to open the case but realized it was locked. “I would have wanted to at least touch the armor. I know my uncle owns a sword. He must have taken it with him.” Richard slightly sighed and stared at the huge bookshelf in the office.

“I wonder if my uncle has read all of these books.” Richard opened a book from the bookshelf realizing he didn’t understand the symbols at all. “I would like it if Hamarin could teach us how to read their alphabet. It’s so elegant looking.” Richard immediately returned the book and noticed on one of the bare walls of the room hanged something that piqued his interest.

Nelida on the other hand wasn’t having much luck in finding the chest either. She entered each and every room in the lower levels of the castle to no avail. “Maybe the castle has a hidden room or something.”

Nelida suddenly heard the sound of footsteps from two servants that appeared in the lower levels to fetch vegetables from the pantry for dinner. Nelida wasn’t sure if they would get angry at her for being in that section of the castle so she entered one of the closets and hid on the bottom shelf behind some linen. The servant retrieved some silverware from the shelf and immediately closed the door without realizing Nelida was inside. When the servants could no longer be heard, Nelida turned around in the darkness of the closet and touched something behind her that felt strange.

“I didn’t imagine the Elf Kingdom was this large!” Richard bumped into a map of the entire country and although he didn’t understand the script, he stared at the map with fascination. He recognized some of the geography in the southwest where he and Nelida entered the country.

“I remember entering the country from this point. Trevilin explained his small map to us in the carriage.”

Richard’s finger started to pinpoint some of the familiar looking southern cities as the carriage ended up taking a brusque turn to the north. Richard was impressed to learn that most of the populated areas of the country were concentrated in the southwest and central portion of the country. Most of the east was forested wilderness without any established cities.

“I wonder where the capital is.” Richard noticed a huge portion of the northcentral section of the country had a gigantic circle that had no marked cities inside of it. “That is strange. Why would they have a gigantic circle on the map but no marked cities?”

As Richard continued staring at the map, Nelida noticed she was touching a metallic door hinge. She realized the closet was possibly covering a second secret door. “I think I found where the chest might be!”

Nelida was too excited to fetch for her brother and after seeing there were no servants, she carefully pulled the wooden closet open that was aided by some small metallic wheels. She attempted to open a hidden metallic door to no avail. “How sad. After spending all day trying to open the door and it’s locked!” Nelida pouted realizing she was not going to be able to see the mysterious chest after all and sat with her back against the door with frustration.

“You have finally come.”

Nelida’s eyes opened wide realizing she heard something. “Is anyone there?” She looked outside but the hallway was completely empty and she once again sat down.

“I have found you.”

Nelida started to tremble and noticed the voice was coming from the inside of the mysterious room causing her to scream. A servant quickly ran into the hallway and saw her screaming nonstop.

“What is wrong Lord Nelida?”

“There’s a monster inside of that closet!”

“Nonsense there is nothing…” The servant noticed Nelida opened the fake wooden door and shrieked. “Oh no! Lord Nelida, why are you entering the forbidden rooms of Lord Spaulding’s castle?”

“There’s a monster inside! You’re all demons!”

Richard was staring at the map for what seemed like hours when suddenly the door was brusquely opened causing Richard to stare at his uncle who looked furious.

“Richard, what in the bloody hell are you doing inside of my office?!”

The boy started to tremble as he had never seen his uncle angry before. “I’m… I’m so sorry uncle…”

“How many times have I told you to direct me by my noble title Richard?!”

“I’m so sorry Lord Spaulding!” Richard started comically bowing many times in apology.

Spaulding simply frowned, opened the glass case with his clan ring and placed his sword inside of it. He soon sat down on the desk looking very angry. “Sit down Richard.”

The boy wanted to run out of the office as he trembled with fear, but decided it was best for him to sit down. He was too scared to face his uncle and looked at the wooden floor.

“I believe I have given the two of you a little bit too much freedom which is something I am starting to regret.”

“Forgive me Lord Spaulding!”

“Please remain quiet while I continue. My servant just caught your sister who opened a wooden closet without permission and found a secret trap door inside of my castle. While I have always allowed both of you ample freedom to wander in my castle and city, I feel deep resentment that both of you wandered into the forbidden sections of my castle. Can you tell me why in the bloody hell did you enter my office?!”

Spaulding’s fist violently pounded on his desk which caused the boy to jump with surprise as tears started to invade his face.

“Please forgive me Lord, but last night I heard you had a strange visitor that made a lot of noise and both of us couldn’t resist the curiosity of hearing your conversation.”

“So you are not only satisfied entering the forbidden sections of my castle, you are also eavesdropping on my personal affairs as well?” Spaulding’s eyes got sharper as he studied the boy that was crying nonstop. After a few minutes, he retrieved his lacquered box and started to smoke. Neither talked for at least 20 minutes as the room was invaded by a pleasant sweet smell.

“Did you understand anything I told that elf last night Richard?” Spaulding stared outside of the window looking a bit calmer than before.

“I don’t know Elvish that well yet my Lord, but I heard the strange lady was coming back tonight for a wooden chest and I just wanted to know what is inside of it.”

“You don’t want to know Richard. The chest contains a very dangerous magical artifact that Hamarin and I risked our lives to secure.” Spaulding showed Richard his scars which caused the boy to shriek. “My scars are minimal and they have been disappearing over time. The reason why I left this morning was to visit a medicinal spring to treat them. If I am lucky, in a couple more years the scars will fully vanish.”

“When did this happen?”

“We locked the artifact inside of that chest 4 years ago. I wanted to bring it to the capital sooner but I have been very busy with my deployments. I was planning on doing it this winter but now that you two humans arrived, I was stuck with the urgent need to request Lord Yu for her assistance.”

“Is that what that strange elf is called?”

“Yes and she is the most obnoxious person I have ever met. Has Hamarin told you about the 36 clans of our nation?”

“He mentioned that there is one clan that no longer lives in the country and another clan where everyone is part human.”

“Looks like Hamarin’s classes are being put to good use. Lord Yu is the heiress to the Red Clan.”

Richard felt more confident and stared at his uncle’s beautiful blue and violet ring. “You’re a clan leader right?”

“That is correct. As the leader of the Kasimma Clan, I am entitled to wearing the official clan ring that I inherited from my father. The Red Clan however is a bit different in regard to inheritance laws of their nobility title.”

“What do you mean?”

“They follow this nonsense religion that encourages elves to become mortals which is what nature intended and try to purposely breed hybrids that inherit red hair. The heir to the clan is always the youngest adult with the reddest hair.”

“So if Yu had a dark haired child, he would no longer be the heir?”

“That is correct Richard. They usually choose the most incompetent idiots to lead the clan instead of someone that is the right person for the job. It’s probably why they left the mainland centuries ago to live in that frozen backwater wasteland. My only comfort is that Yu has some very useful merits which is why I grudgingly accepted her offer to take that hideous chest to the capital.”

“What is going to happen to that chest?”

“I am going to write a letter requesting the chest and its contents to be destroyed. Inside of the king’s palace lies a cave with a powerful magic that can dissolve any malignant object. I hope the next time you and your sister stop meddling into my personal affairs. You are both still very much welcome at my residence for now but I sincerely can’t wait for both of you to go back home.”

Richard sighed feeling sad that he would soon leave Tesafar. “I would very much like it if I could continue living here uncle. I love your country and I want to see it all.”

“This isn’t your country and you are not an elf.”

“I know that, but I was staring at the map on that wall and I realized your country is huge!”

Spaulding exhaled a huge cloud of smoke as he stared at the map. “When all three of us leave Tesafar next spring, you will be able to visit some more cities. Do you know which route Trevilin used?”

Richard nodded and pinpointed the route with his finger.

“So Trevilin wanted to cross the southern route on purpose to avoid being caught by his superior; that is so typical of him.”

“Are we going to go back on the same route?”

“No we won’t. The region that I patrol is further up north from here. We will probably have to enter Ayrtain from the Hugimelar land border that lies relatively close to the southern tip of the northern sea.”

Richard stared at the map for a while and remembered something. “That will be perfect uncle!”

“What do you mean?”

“I have a cousin that lives in a city that is close to that border. He is a very nice person.”

Spaulding smiled as he continued smoking. “I guess I might be able to take you to your cousin and hope his family accepts you and your sister. What is your cousin’s name?”

“His name is Herb.”

“What a strange name.”

“Pardon my intrusion uncle, but you have a very strange name for an elf.”

Spaulding shrugged his shoulders. “My father thought it was an amusing idea to give me a human name because I’m a mortal that will end up dying of old age like he did. I don’t care too much for my name but it’s too late to take it back.” Spaulding chuckled as he continued smoking.

Richard started to relax noticing his uncle was no longer angry. “Uncle, I have a question about the map.”

“What is it?”

“There is a huge circle in the middle with no cities.”

Spaulding smiled with reassurance. “That’s the area where our capital is located.”

“The city is gigantic!”

“Actually it isn’t as large as you think. There is a law in our country where we are not allowed to draw a map that pinpoints the exact location of the capital.”

“Why is that?”

“Mostly out of security concerns to make sure an enemy army doesn’t attack our king. I personally think it’s vastly pointless because the capital is well protected by the military, but the law is the law.”

“Do you know where the capital is?”

“Everyone in our nation knows the exact location of the capital.”

“I would like to visit it.”

“I am too busy with my duties as a ranger to be your tour guide.”

“Well then, I’ll go visit it on my own!”

Spaulding laughed nonstop at Richard’s comment. “Good luck Richard, but rest assured you will never find the city on your own.”

“Why do you say that uncle?”

Spaulding didn’t wish to answer his inquiry but Richard started to smile as he had a pleasant chat with his uncle. That evening, Yu arrived with several foot soldiers as an anxious Spaulding and Hamarin carried the wooden chest upstairs.

“Oh, so is this the great and mysterious chest my adorable Spaulding?”

“This is it Yu, now help me get rid of it.”

Richard and Nelida stared at the rather ordinary looking wooden chest that seemed locked but had no keyhole anywhere.

Yu started to feel the chest with her hand. “The chest is indeed very well made. I doubt any of your artisans were capable of creating such an efficient magical defense.”

Hamarin took a step forward to speak. “I requested a neighboring clan to sell us the chest. They do not know the contents of it and I am bound by my oath of loyalty to my clan leader to not reveal anything else.”

Yu couldn’t help smiling nonstop. “It’s a shame you can’t tell me what is inside. I would love to see it.”

“I am certain you would Lord Yu, but you would risk your life doing it.” Spaulding replied.

Yu started to laugh even louder at Spaulding’s warning. “Soldiers, please take the chest outside.”

Several guards carried the chest and placed it on top of a wooden cart in the courtyard.

Yu then saw the two human children that stared at her nonstop. “Who are these delightful humans Spaulding? Did you finally have children?”

Spaulding balked at her ridiculous comment. “They are my distant relatives: Lord Richard and Lord Nelida.”

“Oh, they are most adorable looking! Do they speak Elvish?”

“Hamarin is giving them classes but they only speak the language a little.”

“Are they going to be your guests for long? I’d love to take them to my city sometime.”

“Lord Spaulding and Trevilin have agreed to return the children to their human relatives in the spring.” Hamarin dryly replied.

“What a shame, they seem most adorable.” Yu suddenly hugged both children and they felt her unusually large bosom smothering their faces. “Hello my dearest lords. My name is Lord Yu and I really hope you can convince your adorable uncle to let you stay and come with him to my city someday. I can guarantee you will have a great time!”

“Thank you for your offer Lord Yu.”

Yu stared at Richard’s blue eyes and couldn’t stop smiling. “I hope you come visit me when you grow up. You are indeed most handsome!” Yu continued laughing nonstop as she left the castle without bothering to say goodbye.

Spaulding became more relaxed and Hamarin sighed in relief.

“We finally got rid of it.”

“Do you mean get rid of Yu or the chest?” Spaulding asked.

“I would say both my Lord.”

Hamarin stared at the children and warmly smiled. “I will need to purify the castle tomorrow from any malignant energy that remains. We shall continue our classes the day after tomorrow, good evening my fair students.”

 

Chapter 3

 

“I will indeed miss both of you my dear students.”

Spring had returned to the nation and Spaulding was securing his armor as both Richard and Nelida wearing elegant elvish travel clothes were both seated on a pony.

“I will miss you Hamarin. I can’t wait to see you soon.”

Hamarin smiled at Richard and while he stared with certain indifference at Nelida he was still polite enough to bow at her. Spaulding pulled the reins of his white horse into the courtyard while being saluted by all of the servants of his small castle.

“Uncle, why aren’t we waiting for your friend to come with us?” Richard asked.

“Lord Yu told me a couple of months ago that his superior caught him sneaking out of the job and punished him with an additional month of service. If we are lucky, we might bump into him on the way to the border.”

“But why won’t we travel in a carriage?”

“I’m sorry Nelida, but my shift is going to start in a couple of weeks, and I can’t travel with a carriage.”

“Where are we going to sleep?” Nelida was getting increasingly impatient.

“Some evenings we will rest at inns in the cities, and other nights we will have to camp in the forest.”

“That is horrible!”

“I’m sorry Nelida, but I have no other choice. It’s the fastest way for me to bring you both to the border without Legarha catching me.”

“Who is he anyways?” Richard frowned from Spaulding’s response.

“He’s my superior and I’ll get into a lot of trouble if he discovers I will be taking both of you across the border. The faster we travel, the sooner I can start my shift without any problems.”

Richard noticed how regal Spaulding looked with his elegant armor that glistened in the daylight. The elf tied his medium length blond hair like usual in a ponytail and mounted his white horse. Spaulding smiled at Hamarin and waved goodbye to the servants. As the two horses crossed the small city, Richard noticed all of the citizens were unanimously bowing at Spaulding as he rode past them. “Uncle, why is everyone bowing at you?” Richard asked as he observed the citizens with confusion.

“It’s mostly out of respect because I am their clan leader and also because I am fulfilling my duties as a ranger.”

With each step to the west, Nelida’s smile was getting larger as she would soon be in human lands again but Richard would often turn his back around to see if he could still spot the castle that was always covered by a layer of fog. The group rode their horses in silence until it became dark.

“Uncle, did you bring a torch with you?” Richard was constantly turning around to observe the darkening surroundings.

“I won’t need one.”

“But it’s dark!” Nelida yelped.

Spaulding smiled at the two children and with an instant move of his right hand, a small ball of fire appeared that started to float causing both children to scream.

Nelida’s hands were trembling from the seemingly impossible sight. “I was right the whole time! Our uncle is a demon!”

Richard raised his eyebrows with incredulity. “What in the hell is that thing?”

Spaulding didn’t answer Richard’s question as the floating ball of fire took the form of a small bird that flew by his side while it illuminated the dark forest. “Is this the first time you humans have ever seen a phantom beast?”

“It’s a monstrous demon!” Nelida expectedly wasn’t convinced with Spaulding’s vague response.

Spaulding couldn’t stop laughing with politeness. “Nonsense! Everyone in our nation can use magic. My Hiratori is completely harmless, don’t worry.”

The small ball of fire flapped its wings as the group continued traveling well into the night. A couple of hours after sundown, Spaulding found an adequate clearing and prepared a couple of hammocks with blankets.

Richard approached Spaulding with concern on his face. “We won’t be sleeping in a tent uncle?”

“In order for our horses to travel faster with less weight so that I can get to my post on time, you will sleep on hammocks that are covered with thick blankets to stay warm. They are comfortable albeit a bit sparse. At least it’s better than sleeping in a carriage seat.”

Nelida looked at the hammock with suspicion but considering her uncle tolerated her nonstop complaining for 6 months straight without relenting to her whims, she didn’t complain. Spaulding served the two children a rehydrated vegetable stew on a small fire he created with his Hiratori with dry elvish bread. The meal was sparse but filling enough.

“Where are you going to sleep uncle? There are only two hammocks.” Richard remarked.

“I personally like to sleep on the ground Richard. I get tired of sleeping on comfortable beds in my castle. It’s probably my favorite part of being a ranger.”

The children were bewildered at their uncle. Richard thought to himself as he began to fall asleep. “Ever since we left Tesafar, my uncle seems more confident and alert than before.”

Spaulding rested his back on a log without removing his armor and held onto his sword as he fell asleep. Hopefully he would never have the need to use it. A couple of days passed as the group continued crossing several small towns in the southcentral lands without incident. Every night they camped in the forest, Spaulding attentively stared at the sky. One evening, his face became concerned that the moon was almost completely covered in darkness.

The following evening, the children were surprised that Spaulding rented a room with twin beds at a small inn.

Richard turned around without understanding his uncle’s bizarre behavior. “Uncle, I am surprised that we will be sleeping here tonight.”

“Don’t worry; we shall spend two additional nights in this town. It will give both of you a chance to rest from riding that pony every day and to wash all of your clothes.”

Richard and Nelida were surprised that their uncle was removing his cumbersome armor with tranquility.

“Uncle, is that armor comfortable to wear?” Richard asked.

“It’s a bit heavy, but I am used to wearing it Richard.”

“I thought you were in a huge rush to take us beyond the border.”

Spaulding winked at Richard with a smile. “Don’t worry, we have plenty of time.”

Spaulding smiled as the two children and accompanied him the following day to the market to purchase supplies for the next leg of their trip. During the next two days, Spaulding would sit on the bed in a lotus position for hours in the privacy of his room allowing the children the freedom to wander the city. They ate lunch in a restaurant when a couple of men stared at them from afar.

“Those are not peasants Earhog.”

“How can you be sure? While they are well dressed those are not nobleman clothes.”

“You are the biggest idiot ever Borgin. Since when do you see children accompanying their parents to labor the elvish lands during the harvest?”

“You’re right! The government only gives work permits for the laborers and the children remain in their home lands.”

“That is correct. The fathers tend the fields during the growing season and spend their winters in their home countries with their families. That is to avoid humans from gaining permanent settlement in this country.”

“Those kids must be worth something.”

“I doubt they are traveling alone. We should keep a good eye on them and hopefully we might get lucky.”

A couple of days later, the group entered another city when they were suddenly approached by an anxious elf that wore armor.

“Lord Spaulding, what a relief that I finally found you!”

“If it isn’t our dear ranger Shimi. What’s the problem?”

“Lord Legarha is furious at you!”

“What do you mean?”

“You were supposed to report to duty yesterday and you are wandering around these lands.”

“I thought I still had another 3 weeks before I had to report to active duty.”

“Trevilin’s superior Yuhara had a friendly chat with him and now he’s onto you. You have to get to Giermela City immediately!”

Spaulding’s face became worried as he stared at the children.

“What are we going to do uncle?”

“Change of plans children. We’ll have to go to that city and I’ll settle an agreement with my supervisor. In a worst case scenario, I might have to bring the two of you back to Tesafar for another year.”

Richard smiled whereas Nelida moaned at the prospect of staying another year in the small city.

“Thank you Shimi for informing me.”

“It’s always a pleasure. I hope to see you soon.”

Both elves bowed at each other and they were forced to take a detour to Giermela. Spaulding rented a room at an inn and kindly invited the children inside.

“What are you going to do uncle?”

Spaulding sighed with resignation. “If Legarha is in a good mood, I might be able to convince him to work nonstop this winter. Cross your fingers that I might be able to land a good deal. In the meanwhile, the two of you should avoid wandering this city alone because there is more crime than in the other places we have visited.”

“But you are a ranger, can’t you arrest everyone?”

“Not without a justified reason such as an edict or being present when the crime occurred. Please stay put while I argue with Legarha.”

The children remained in the room as Spaulding rode his horse to an austere dark stone building and quickly entered it. Everyone instantly bowed with politeness at the elf that climbed upstairs to a large office and softly knocked on the door.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me Lord Spaulding.”

“Get inside right now!”

Spaulding shuddered and opened the door. The office was well illuminated with a giant bookshelf that was covered with books and scrolls along with a pleasant fire. Facing him behind the desk was a medium height elf that wore a black military uniform whose short black hair was tied in a ponytail.

“Get in here Spaulding!”

The elf sighed and after politely bowing at Legarha, he sat down on the wooden chair. Legarha was reading a scroll while he tapped his fingers on the lacquered wooden desk looking clearly furious. Spaulding assumed the worst and was already planning on a way to return the children to Tesafar. After a couple of minutes, the elf finally spoke.

“I’m onto you Lord Spaulding. Your friend Trevilin had a nice vacation paid with government funds in the human lands spending lavishly on a carriage for no reason at all. And where did he go the second he came back to our nation?”

Spaulding sat still while he stared at the Äimite’s piercing brown eyes with indifference. “He visited my city Lord Legarha, but I am unaware of the reason why he was absent from his post without permission.”

The elf pounded on the desk looking clearly angry at him. Spaulding was not some petty criminal that could be easily aroused with normal interrogation techniques.

“I will presume you are innocent of Trevilin’s unprofessional behavior. However, the fact that you didn’t write to his superior immediately after he visited you while he was on duty will go in your record. I am punishing you with the winter shift this year.”

Spaulding deep down inside sighed but he said nothing. “Will he get any punishment?”

“He already worked several extra shifts without pay to compensate for his infractions. He will soon be released from his duties to rest. However starting tonight, you will have to perform a mission in the southern lands.”

“But I need to send something to Tesafar immediately.”

“I don’t care. Take your package to a storage facility and if you catch this group of criminals, I might give you a couple of weeks off in compensation for dragging you to work sooner than usual.” Legarha gave Spaulding a scroll with the names and descriptions of a gang of human criminals.

“Can any of them use magic?”

“I seriously doubt it. You will be alone for this mission. You have 28 days to catch the entire gang.”

Spaulding frowned at Legarha’s edict. Even if the criminals were ordinary humans, catching 40 criminals in less than 4 weeks was going to be a hassle. “Do you want them dead or alive?”

“Kill them if you fancy and stamp their fingerprints with their blood on the edict. If you don’t catch all of them on time, you will work nonstop for 10 months as punishment for your disobedience.”

Spaulding stared at the elf with disgust but remained stoic. “What do I get if I catch all of them on time?”

“I’ll give you 5 months off with no questions asked.”

Spaulding warmly smiled. “It sounds like a reasonable deal Lord Legarha. Do you have a pen to sign it?”

Legarha smiled with a wicked grin as he gave Spaulding a pen and a vial of ink. Immediately after he signed the document, Legarha dropped fresh red wax on the document for Spaulding to sign with his clan ring.

“I forgot to mention something to you.”

“What do you mean my Lord?”

“While I am certain none of these pitiful criminals can use magic, they are well versed in its weak spots. I’d be careful this time.”

Spaulding stood up looking confident and started to leave the room. “Rest assured I’ll have 40 bloody fingerprints on that edict before the 28 days are up.” Spaulding immediately returned to the inn feeling relieved the children were anxiously waiting for his return.

Richard rushed to his side looking concerned. “How did it go uncle?”

“Are you in deep trouble?” Nelida was too impatient to give Spaulding a chance to respond.

Spaulding removed his armor and laid himself on the bed. “As expected, Legarha gave me a ridiculous request but it’s convenient for all of us.”

“What do you mean uncle?” Richard remained incredulous.

Both children huddled to his arms as he kindly hugged them while he stared at the ceiling.

“Lord Legarha ordered me to kill an entire gang of petty human criminals within 28 days. It will be a piece of cake.”

A slight frown appeared on Richard’s face. “So he is forcing you to return to your duty before you expected.”

“Unfortunately, this is all Trevilin’s fault and Legarha is doing this to annoy me for the fun of it. At least he is civilized and if I catch all of them on time, he will give me 5 months off duty. It will be more than enough time to bring the two of you back home.”

“Are we going to return to Tesafar?”

“I don’t have the time to return to Tesafar and fulfill my mission and it’s too dangerous for you to return on your own. You will have to stay in this inn and avoid going outside unless absolutely necessary.”

“How long will you be out uncle?”

“It would be hard to tell. Criminals can sometimes be hard to catch and I only have 1 month to catch all 40 of them.”

“Can’t you find someone to bring us to Tesafar?”

Spaulding frowned as he stared at the ceiling. “All of the rangers in this city are on duty. As much as they would love to help me, I don’t want Legarha to discover your existence. I could get into big trouble with the Äimite if he finds out. I’ll try to rent books from the library that are in human script so that both of you have something nice to read in order to kill time. I’ll try to come visit you as much as I can but please don’t wander outside. This is a very dangerous city and neither one of you knows how to use a sword.”

The following day, both children woke up and realized their uncle was gone much to their chagrin. Richard approached the desk and found a letter written in incredibly pitiful human script. Nelida soon approached her brother and laughed at their uncle’s terrible penmanship.

“Don’t make fun of our uncle Nelida! I would probably write a letter in Elvish with plenty of mistakes too.”

“Dear children, I am durply sorry about this errgand and I will come as oftn as possible so that we have durner together. I left some pooks for you to read. The lady at the inn will bring food to your room and the bath isacross the hurlway. Please be safe.”

Both children smiled at their uncle’s deep concern for their well-being. Spaulding returned a couple of weeks later with an edict that was covered with 40 bloody fingerprints and sighed in relief that he managed to fulfill his mission on time.

Spaulding began to say his thoughts out loud. “I could give the edict to Legarha immediately but I’m worried about those kids. I haven’t seen them in two weeks.” The instant Spaulding entered the inn; he was surprisingly approached by the owner.

“Thank heavens you have returned my Lord!”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“It is most terrible! I went to give those human children dinner last night, but they are gone!”

Spaulding’s eyes shone with terror as he stormed into the room. “Richard, Nelida, where are you?!”

“It’s no use my Lord! They are gone along with all of the money.”

Spaulding noticed most of their belongings were still in the room as his heart was pounding. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to them? Did they ever venture outside?”

“They never left the room my Lord except for the times they were on the hallway upstairs.”

Spaulding ran to the window and noticed the lock was broken from the outside. His face froze when he realized what probably happened to them. “Please take care of the children’s belongings. I’m going outside.”

“Wait my Lord! It’s too dangerous!”

Spaulding ignored the elf’s warning and left the city by horse in order to search for any useful clues. When he was wandering the forest early that evening, his horse tripped and fell from a rudimentary booby trap made out of a piece of rope. He fell to the ground and someone hit him in the head with a club rendering him unconscious.

“Uncle! Please wake up!”

Spaulding opened his eyes and realized he was no longer wearing his armor as he lied on a cold stone floor. The entire cave was completely dark except for a small glass jar with some fireflies that illuminated the cave with an eerily green light. The first thing Spaulding noticed was that despite being rather unharmed by the blow to his head, he was chained by the wrists to the back as he laid face down on the floor. He turned around and heard a familiar voice. “Is that you Richard?”

“You’re finally awake, thank heavens!”

“What happened? Where are we?”

“The other night we were resting in the room before dinner and some humans kidnapped the two of us.”

“What did you just say?!”

“I swear uncle that both of us never broke our promise of staying inside the inn while you were gone!”

“I am certain you didn’t venture outside. Do you know where your sister is? I can’t see or hear her.”

Spaulding could hear the sound of metallic chains as his nephew changed position.

“The men a while after bringing you here took her with them. My sister was crying nonstop because you were unconscious.”

“Don’t worry; it was not a serious injury. I was careless and now these are the consequences.” Spaulding closed his eyes feeling anxious. Suddenly his eyes shot open when he noticed something was very strange about the cave. Humans have very poor eyesight in the night yet the cave wasn’t being illuminated with a fire. “Richard, do you know anything about the humans that kidnapped us?”

“I wouldn’t know but I believe they traffic humans for profit. They were talking nonstop about selling me and my sister into slavery immediately until I told them a little white lie.”

Spaulding turned to face Richard looking surprised. “What did you tell those criminals?”

“They instantly realized we are nobles, but I don’t have my ring because my uncle stole it from me.”

Spaulding started to grin when he realized his nephew wasn’t as stupid as he initially thought. “You lied to those criminals saying I was taking care of your ring. Is that correct?”

“I’m sorry for doing that because you were captured as well.”

Spaulding sighed and with some effort, he managed to sit up. “Damn bastards. They chained my arms to the wall but luckily they only tied my legs with a rope.” Spaulding with some clever maneuvers removed a small dagger from his boot and with a lot of effort, he untied his legs. He immediately passed his arms over his legs and began to touch the walls of the cave.

“Uncle, I have a question.”

“What is it?”

“The cave is very dark, but I can see you are touching the walls and floors with your chained hands.”

“I’m hoping I might find the hinge where they chained us to try to break it with my dagger.”

“I understand that makes perfect sense, but why can’t you use your little fire bird to illuminate the cave? Those insects don’t brighten the cave that well.”

Spaulding stared at his nephew looking surprised. Richard was assuming his barely visible face from the dim lighting meant his uncle hadn’t realized using his fire would be useful. However, Spaulding didn’t summon his beast. “I forgot that you are a human and your senses are not as keen as my own.”

“I don’t understand uncle. Don’t you remember how to create that fire thing?”

“You haven’t realized there is a strange odor in this cave?”

“I only smell mold and moisture uncle. Can you smell something that I can’t?”

Spaulding started to cry feeling useless. “These criminals are no fools. They probably locked us in here on purpose because the air is full of toxic gas.”

“I can’t smell anything.”

“It’s not enough to kill us from inhalation, but if I use my magic right now…” Spaulding collapsed on the floor feeling miserable. “If I summon my beast right now, we both could die in an explosion!”

Richard sat still as he stared at his usually affable and confident uncle that looked defeated. He sat against the wall and started to cry feeling worried about their impending fate. A couple of hours later, two criminals carrying jars with the green insects arrived and stared at the blond elf that was sleeping on the floor.

“Look at our darling little ranger scum. He must be exhausted smelling those toxic fumes after being bludgeoned on the head by Marco.”

The men laughed in unison. They suddenly started kicking him violently until he woke up.

“How dare you capture me vile criminals? Don’t you know who I am?!” Spaulding replied looking furious.

“We know your country well enough ranger to know you are a nobleelf. That is one of the only two reasons why you are still alive.”

One of the men knelt beside him and pulled his ponytail to stare at his face. “Where did you hide the nobleman’s ring?”

“Like you would know!” Spaulding suddenly grabbed his dagger and pierced the human’s throat causing the man to collapse to the ground.

“What’s going on?! I can’t see anything!” The other man hurriedly turned around without understanding anything.

Spaulding attempted to charge towards the second human, but the chains on his arms were too short and the second human managed to violently punch him in the stomach.

“Uncle!”

Spaulding collapsed on top of the human he just killed and his dagger impacted the ground.

The second man picked up the weapon. “Stupid idiot, he was supposed to fully disarm you and now he’s dead.”

“Uncle, please get up!”

The human started violently punching and kicking Spaulding to his heart’s content as millions of ideas raced in his mind of what terrible fate might befall the children that he failed to protect. “I’m tired of playing around with you. Die ranger!”

“Watch out uncle!”

Spaulding didn’t dare move when the walls of the cave suddenly started to glow a green hue as Richard and the criminal turned around looking surprised. One of the walls collapsed and the cave was soon filled with the fresh cold air of the night.

A black haired elf dressed in a black armor that held a glowing mace in his hand suddenly appeared. “Sorry I am late Spaulding. I didn’t expect Yuhara to punish me with so many extra unpaid days.”

Spaulding turned around and saw a familiar friendly face. It was still too dark for Richard to recognize who was the mysterious elf that managed to break a stone wall with so much ease.

“Trevilin!”

The elf smiled and smashed the face of the second criminal with his mace giving him an immediate death. “It’s good that I managed to arrive on time. I saw your horse outside.”

“How did you find me?”

“When Yuhara finally allowed me off duty, I decided to visit Lord Legarha because I knew he forced you back on duty.”

“The brute forced me to kill 40 criminals in four weeks.”

“Ouch, that seems rather harsh. I presume you finished the task but you haven’t brought the edict back to him yet.”

Spaulding smiled and Richard felt enthusiastic. “Can you please destroy these chains with your mace and help me and Richard rescue Nelida?”

“With pleasure Spaulding!”

Without thinking, Trevilin lifted his mace and instantly crushed the chains allowing Spaulding the chance to stand up and retrieve his small dagger. Trevilin instantly destroyed the chains that tied Richard and helped him stand up as well.

“Thank you Trevilin for rescuing us.” Richard’s trembling voice sounded notably grateful.

“I told you I would never break my promise to help bring you and your sister to your relatives. Spaulding, do you have any decent weapons?”

“I have my dagger. It isn’t much but it’s better than nothing.”

Trevilin frowned and tried to search the bodies of the two criminals but they were unarmed. “What a shame. Neither one of the criminals has a decent sword.”

Spaulding briefly grunted. “Then you’re going to have to put your earth magic to better use for a change.”

Both elves smiled as Spaulding stared at Richard.

“Richard, stand behind me while both of us kill the remaining criminals to rescue your sister. By tomorrow morning, we’ll all have a pleasant breakfast in Giermela City and we will start our voyage.”

“That sounds great uncle!”

Everyone nodded and exited the cave from the hole Trevilin created a couple of minutes prior. Spaulding immediately recognized his white horse that was tied up to a tree trunk. Both elves counted in total 8 horses.

“That doesn’t seem like a lot of criminals. It will be a piece of cake.”

Trevilin and Spaulding smiled with confidence as they found a nearby cabin. Richard stared at a window and saw two men trying to fondle a barely dressed Nelida and screamed with horror at the sight. Trevilin instantly blew up a wall with his magic augmented mace and smashed two humans in the face. Spaulding managed to stab the two men that harassed Nelida in the neck with his dagger and killed them instantly.

Richard rushed to his sister’s side. “It’s all right Nelida, you’re safe.” Richard hugged his sister as she bawled nonstop in his arms.

Trevilin and Spaulding smiled at the happy reunion but they noticed they only killed four men.

“Spaulding, do you remember seeing 6 horses or 7?”

“It’s really dark tonight Trevilin. I’m unsure how many horses were tied outside.”

Trevilin sighed, cleaned up his mace and returned it to his belt while Spaulding found his belongings. “Do you want me to help you put on your armor?”

“I can do it on my own. Go find Nelida something decent to wear.”

Trevilin found an ill-fitting elvish robe because her clothes were ripped into pieces and covered her with it. “I’m sorry sweet Nelida that these robes don’t fit you perfectly.” Nelida smiled at the friendly elf and hugged him making him smile even more. He softly patted her on the back and smiled at Richard. “You have grown a little bit Richard from the last time I saw you.”

“Well, I have been in Tesafar for 7 months. It’s a shame that your superior punished you.”

“That is all right. I am used to Yuhara’s temper tantrums.”

“Stop glamorizing the stupid Äimite Trevilin and help me find my sword and rings!” Spaulding’s annoyed tone of voice was easily audible.

Trevilin smiled and after a couple of minutes, he found hidden beneath a trap door Spaulding’s sword, a bag of money and his two rings. Richard never noticed it before but he was surprised that Spaulding not only wore the beautiful clan ring, but he also wore a very ordinary gold ring that lacked any decoration. Both elves stared at the tunnel in silence.

“Could there have been a final criminal that managed to escape?”

“Our priority Spaulding is to take the children back to the city to rest and you must deliver your edict to Legarha before he changes his mind.” Trevilin found the scroll and gave it to his friend.

“I guess I’ll issue a report to Legarha that a criminal is missing and hope he will assign another ranger to hunt him down.”

“Without a physical description, it could be difficult and he might discover the children which could give you a lot of problems. Just report the deaths of these criminals as collateral of your bounty.”

The blond elf sighed and the group returned to Giermela. “Take the children to the inn behind the church Trevilin. The owner will instantly recognize them. I’ll return in a while hopefully off duty and we’ll all have breakfast together.”

Trevilin directed the children back to the inn as Spaulding returned to the office. It was still dark when he entered the building. He was received by a thin female elf that functioned as a secretary.

“Lord Spaulding, what a pleasant surprise. Lord Legarha was worried about you.”

“I seriously doubt it. Is he awake?”

“He’s probably asleep, but I’ll ask him to meet you in his office. Please wait here.”

Spaulding sat down on a chair while he waited for Legarha to wake up. Around 20 minutes later, the secretary returned with a smile on her face.

“Lord Legarha is ready to receive you Lord Spaulding, over here please.”

Spaulding bowed at the elf and entered Legarha’s office. Like usual, the guard was wearing a full-fledged black military uniform while he stared at Spaulding with hatred in his piercing dark eyes that were brightly illuminated by the fireplace.

“Come inside Spaulding and have a seat.”

Spaulding bowed at the guard and sat down. “I managed to finish the task you gave to me on time.”

“I would barely believe that. It’s been 28 days.”

“Not exactly my Lord. The 28 days finish at sundown and it isn’t even dawn yet.”

Legarha grunted with annoyance at Spaulding’s defiance and reached out his right hand. Spaulding stared at the guard´s black onyx and silver ring that rested on his right hand with disdain as he gave Legarha the scroll.

“Looks like a complete edict. Let’s see if the edict was completed with the fingerprints of the right criminals.”

“You don’t have to do this every time I deliver you a completed edict Lord Legarha.”

“As efficient as your track record is Lord Spaulding, I can’t afford to risk you starting to kill innocents passing off as criminals.” Legarha grabbed a vial with green liquid from his desk and carefully placed one drop on the edict that caused the paper to glow a bright green. After glowing for a moment the paper returned to its original color and Legarha began counting the fingerprints.

“Most efficient indeed Lord Spaulding. None of the fingerprints faded away with the potion. I am indeed satisfied.” Legarha placed the edict in a closet and stared at Spaulding’s badly beaten up face. “I do find it deliciously amusing that you were barely able to arrive on time with your face covered with bruises.” Legarha grinned with evil as he fiddled with his tightly combed ponytail that annoyed Spaulding to no end.

“I completed the mission with efficiency my Lord. I do hope my release form is ready.”

“Oh yes, indeed. As much as I can’t stand you Spaulding, an Äimite must stand by their word of honor.”

Legarha grabbed a heavy black book from the shelf, sat down and opened it to the final page. He then started writing text on the paper stating Spaulding’s date of discharge from active duty. After a minute, he signed the paper, placed black wax on it, and sealed the paper with his special ring. He then gave the book to Spaulding who signed the paper and sealed it with red wax. Legarha remained serious as he returned the book to the shelf. “You are officially free from active duty my Lord. I presume you will deliver your package and spend your free time resting in your city.”

“Actually I’ll be leaving the country for a couple of months so don’t go bothering my people asking for my whereabouts.”

Legarha sat on his desk and slightly laughed. “How amusing! You’re finally going to visit a human nation for a change? Do as you please and return to active duty before winter. I do hope that you visit the capital sometime soon. Our Master has been asking me to issue him reports with certain frequency.”

Spaulding smirked at Legarha’s comment. “If I have the time, I might think of visiting the capital but unless our Master issues an edict, I am under no obligation to visit him.”

Legarha grinned with even more evil as he stood up. “I hope you take the annoyance of visiting the capital during the summer festival this year Lord Spaulding. If you keep on dodging those visits any longer, I’ll ask Lord Froylan to drag you there kicking and screaming.” Legarha started to viciously laugh as he left his office to continue resting.

Spaulding sighed with relief that he was finally off duty.

Chapter 4

 

The group ate breakfast and rested that day to give Spaulding sufficient time to recover from his beating. The following morning, Trevilin arrived with a rented carriage and everyone set off for their trip.

Spaulding began to speak in a firm voice. “Did you return the pony Trevilin?”

“I gave the pony to a courier service that will bring it back to Tesafar.”

“Spaulding, why don’t you accompany us in the carriage? It’s a lot of fun being with Trevilin!” Nelida was feeling rightfully insulted by Spaulding’s indifference.

“I’m sorry children, but I like to ride my horse.”

Trevilin frowned but everyone enjoyed the one week trip to the Hugimelar land border crossing. Richard and Nelida stared at the infinitely tall stone wall that surrounded the country with astonishment.

“I’m amazed Trevilin that this land border has a similar stone wall.” Richard looked expectedly amazed.

“As a matter of fact children the entire mainland of our country is surrounded by a large stone wall. It makes us feel safer and avoids humans from trying to take away our lands.”

Richard turned around with widened eyes. “That sounds interesting Trevilin. Have the walls protected the country for a long time?”

Trevilin started to think as the group approached the border. “I would say the walls have been there for around 6000 or perhaps 7000 years.”

“That is amazing! Have you been around when they were built?” Richard asked.

Trevilin laughed with politeness. “I’m very young for an elf so unfortunately I wasn’t born when the wall was built.”

“Well how old are you Trevilin?” Nelida wouldn’t resist the temptation to ask.

Trevilin stared at Nelida who looked excited. She fully recovered her inquisitiveness after the distressing ordeal from the other day. “I’m a little over 500 years old.”

Both children gasped with surprise.

“That’s impossible! You barely look like a young human adult!” Richard gasped.

“Pureblood elves reach their full adult age when we turn 50 and then we stop aging. Most elves you see today are much older than me, but it would be impossible to tell our age by looking at us.”

Richard thought with attention and given Trevilin was receptive to answering those awkward questions; he decided to ask him something. “How old is my uncle and how old is Hamarin?”

“Your uncle is extremely young. He’s only 125 years old.”

“Wow that is amazing!” Nelida squealed with surprise.

“I am not fully sure how old Hamarin is, but I am certain he’s at least 2000 years old.”

Both children stared at him looking amazed.

“How come Hamarin has lived so long?”

“I guess elves that live peaceful lives are less likely to die from the sword.” Trevilin smiled at the children as they approached the border.

Spaulding decided to speak for the entire party with two guards that were dressed in black military uniforms that protected the gate.

“Good morning Lord! Are you a clan leader?”

Spaulding nodded and allowed the guard to look at his blue ring.

“You’re the elusive Kasimma Clan Leader, aren’t you?”

“Indeed I am. Please let me and the carriage with a ranger and two humans safely cross the border.”

“I’ve heard you’re a ranger. How come you aren’t working?”

“Lord Legarha requested me to do a mission and after completion, he gave me a couple of months off.”

The guard stared at Spaulding’s unusually relaxed face and nodded. “I am certain you told the truth. You may cross our border and we hope you return to your lands soon.” The guards unanimously bowed at Spaulding as he and the carriage safely passed the border.

Nelida screamed with excitement whereas Richard stared at the border crossing that was defended by the two guards with sadness.

“Trevilin, will I ever return to the Elf Kingdom?”

“You are still underage Richard. The guards would never allow a human child enter our borders alone. You would have to return accompanied by an elf.”

“Can’t I simply enter the border on my own?”

Trevilin started to think as the carriage continued its path on the muddy road. “Humans are welcome in our nation but you’d have to request a permit from a special guard post at the border once you turn 18.”

“Would I be forced to work as a laborer?”

“In your case, it would be hard to tell what kind of permit they would grant you. You are a nobleman so you can’t request to work as a farmer or as a merchant but without your ring and full rights as the title holder, you won’t be able to enter the country as a diplomat or a special envoy.”

“So does that mean I can never enter the country on my own without my stolen ring?”

“There is a tourist permit which allows you to visit our country for 3 months once a year. You would only be allowed to visit certain cities with it.”

“Could I visit the capital with it?”

Trevilin shook his head much to Richard’s disappointment. “The capital is a deeply guarded city and it’s almost impossible for humans to be granted permission to visit it. You’d need the written permission from a very important member of the government to visit it.”

“My uncle is a clan leader. Can he sign the permit?”

“Unfortunately, that is one of the things Spaulding cannot do I am afraid. You would need permission from someone with a higher title to enter the city. However, the tourist permit allows you to visit many of our southwestern cities so there are plenty of beautiful places you are allowed to enjoy.” Trevilin warmly smiled at the child to try to cheer him up. He then looked at Nelida that seemed enthusiastic with the idea of visiting her cousin. “Nelida, are you ever going to visit our kingdom when you grow up?”

“I don’t think so Trevilin. I can’t wait to eat meat again.”

“I am certain Spaulding must have given you a hard time in his castle. He can be a bit stubborn sometimes and hates the smell of meat. I’m glad that you still had a pleasant 7 months in our nation despite the incident with the criminals.”

“Your country isn’t as bad as I thought at first, but I don’t want to return.”

“Spaulding will probably agree that you belong in your nation, but I would enjoy it if you do come back and visit me when I am off duty. The travel permit will easily allow you to visit Tesafar.”

The carriage continued traveling for a couple of hours until they reached a flat region that was covered with lots of farms.

Spaulding stared at the region looking surprised at his primitive surroundings. “This is indeed a strange savage land. There are so many elderly humans and plenty of children.”

Trevilin politely laughed as Spaulding experienced the new sights and smells. Several humans stared at the children and elves with suspicion.

“We’ll have to purchase human clothes for Richard. Nelida has plenty of human dresses, but Richard requested the tailor to mend elvish attire. They are drawing too much attention.”

“Indeed that is true Spaulding but they are also staring at us.”

“I’m surprised I haven’t seen any elves even in this town that is so close to our border.”

“Elves seldom leave our lands Spaulding. You really need to travel more!”

Spaulding felt slightly insulted but he nonetheless allowed Trevilin to find a suitable tailor in the small town to clothe the children in something that was more inconspicuous.

“Dear elves, do you want us to mend some human attire for you?”

“That will be all right. I don’t care for human fashion that much.” Spaulding was expectedly ambivalent towards the tailor’s kind offer.

The tailor shrugged his shoulders which surprised Spaulding by his apparent rudeness as he measured the two children. Spaulding tapped Trevilin’s shoulder to speak in Elvish without drawing unwanted attention. “Why is the tailor being rude to me? He didn’t bow or salute me.”

“Humans believe elves are a bit too overly polite and don’t understand the purpose of bowing at everyone. The man isn’t being rude I can assure you. You will soon get used to it.”

Spaulding frowned after hearing Trevilin’s explanation. A couple of hours later, the children were wearing newly mended human attire. Nelida was enthusiastic whereas Richard felt ambivalent.

“Richard what is the name of Herb’s city?” Spaulding asked.

“He lives in a city named Chesterwood.”

“Trevilin, do you know where that city is?”

“The fact that I like to visit human nations during my off duty months doesn’t mean I know each and every little city Spaulding. Let me check my map.” Trevilin removed a worn out map from his cloak and with Richard’s help they found the small city. “We are still a bit far. It will probably take us around 3 days.”

“That sounds great. I’ll be back in Tesafar before I know it.”

The idea that in as little as one more week, Richard will be forced to return to a mundane life among humans made him depressed. Herb was the heir to a nobility title and his estate despite being more modest than other nobles, would be a fair return to the normalcy of his life before his parents died. Nelida was obviously enthusiastic of the thought of returning to a sense of normalcy but Richard dreaded it. What initially began as a sense of curiosity of living in a foreign land few noble humans ever ventured turned into a dread for returning to his previous life devoid of purpose. Even though he liked his uncle’s kindness, what Richard liked the most about Spaulding was how brave he was when it was merited. Spaulding had never shown his combat skills in magic but his ability with the sword was beyond amazing. He prayed that he would be able to find a way to return to the kingdom soon enough.

“Uncle Spaulding.”

“What is it Richard?”

“As much as I would love seeing my cousin Herb again, would it be possible for you to bring me back to Tesafar for at least one more winter? I would really love to continue taking classes with Hamarin.”

Spaulding sighed with sadness and knelt beside his nephew. “I’m genuinely sorry that you will miss living in my small city but as much as I am starting to appreciate your company, you are not an elf and you have no idea the amount of problems I might get into if the guard discovers your existence. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if you were a commoner that accepted to learn a trade, but you’re a nobleman and legitimate heir to your family title. Even if I genuinely wanted you to continue living in Tesafar, I could get into diplomatic problems by taking a noble human hostage.”

“Can’t you convince everyone that I am your blood relative Spaulding?”

Spaulding’s head turned aside being unable to face Richard. “Perhaps if the Master wrote an edict granting you authorization.”

“Please ask him to let me stay!” Richard hugged Spaulding wishing to never let go.

Nelida stared at her brother wondering why he would go to such lengths to continue living in that strange country. Trevilin simply stood there in silence.

“King Salman would never grant me permission to do that if I simply go and make him a request Richard. Perhaps if he were more willing, I would suck my pride and visit him for the first time in 30 years but it would be a waste of time. You have never met him but he can be deceitful.”

“Please don’t speak ill of our Master! I know that you may not fancy our king that much, but we all must respect him.”

Spaulding stared at Trevilin with remorse and simply got on his horse. “Children, get inside of the carriage so that we can visit that city as soon as possible.”

Nelida rushed inside of the carriage while Trevilin had to encourage Richard for several minutes to finally get inside. Several days later, they reached a small rural city that was filled with corn fields and several estates.

Spaulding was surprised to discover the human peasants were having a hard time plowing the land with primitive ox carts and some farmers didn’t even have that. He was dismayed that he saw beggars on the mud streets and elders working tirelessly in the fields. “Indeed being mortal is a terrible condition. I pity those poor elderly humans that must tend those fields all day on their own. Richard, where does your cousin Herb live?”

Richard was staring at the window hoping his silence would grant the elves the excuse to return to their country with him.

However, Nelida suddenly gasped with excitement when she saw a familiar estate. “Look Trevilin, that’s Herb’s house!”

“Spaulding, did you hear that?”

“I heard my niece. Let’s reach the gate and drop them off.”

The carriage entered the stone arch gate that had no guards and they crossed endless grassy fields that were covered with wild flowers and willow trees. Spaulding was surprised to see a real human garden for the first time whereas Trevilin was more indifferent as he hugged Nelida nonstop. The carriage and horse arrived to a delightful large brick house of tasteful human architecture and they were received by a middle aged butler that was surprised from the unannounced visit.

Spaulding was the first to dismount his horse and greet the butler. “Good morning, my name is Lord Spaulding. I’m a nobleelf of the Elf Kingdom and I would like to have a word with the master of this castle.”

“I beg your pardon sir?”

Trevilin chuckled at Spaulding’s lack of understanding of human formalities and he greeted the butler with a polite nod and a smile. “What my friend Lord Spaulding has just said my dear friend, is that we would like to have a polite conversation with the owner of this estate.”

“Are you salesmen?”

“I can assure you we are neither vendors nor conmen. Would it be possible if both of us enter with these two children?”

The butler turned around and recognized Nelida and Richard approaching him. “Oh dear! If it isn’t the young Lord of Earlrose!”

“Pleased to see you again Agador.”

“Why didn’t you two tell me you were bringing the Lord of Earlrose to our estate in the first place? Please come in!” The butler warmly invited the elves inside of the nice home.

Spaulding wanted to unconsciously remove his boots but Trevilin tapped his shoulder. “Don’t even think about taking off your boots Spaulding. In these lands, humans enter their residence with muddy boots and have no qualms.”

“What?!” Spaulding felt repulsed at the idea of doing such an uncivilized thing as he saw Richard and Nelida casually cover the wooden floor with mud. “This is indeed a nation of savages Trevilin.”

“My dear Elf Lord, will you please come inside?”

Spaulding entered the living room and noticed it was pleasant with cyan and white walls, a large soft sofa and white curtains of ridiculous taste with embroidered flowers. Spaulding thought the lack of neutral colors to be somewhat tasteless but he was polite as he sat on a corny looking pink chair.

“May I request both of you to give us your armor and weapons? It would be somewhat insulting if the Lord of this residence greeted an armed guest.”

Trevilin immediately started to remove his spare black armor and gave his belongings to a servant. Spaulding was more hesitant but after seeing Trevilin seemed very calm, he imitated him and the servants left the room.

“Would the two of you care for some refreshments?” Agador was speaking with the kindest voice possible.

“That would be most pleasant thank you.” Spaulding dryly replied.

The butler bowed and left the room. Richard and Nelida sat down while two servants hanged their travel coats in a closet.

Spaulding turned his head to observe his surroundings frowning nonstop. “Do all human residences have such appalling decoration?”

“What do you mean uncle?” Richard asked.

“It’s not just the colors that seem excessive, it’s the furniture. Do humans really like filling their rooms with so much junk?”

Trevilin couldn’t help laugh at Spaulding’s initial culture shock.

Richard couldn’t help but smile. “Actually Herb’s residence is rather modestly decorated in my opinion. My grandmother had pink flowers painted on every wall of her room before she died.”

Spaulding shuddered at the thought of visiting such a place. The butler soon arrived with four cups of water and a tray filled with salami and anchovies.

“I can finally eat some meat!” Nelida was expectedly excited.

Nelida started to gorge on the food looking excited. Richard ate some salami enjoying his first taste of animal meat in months, and even Trevilin nibbled on a piece of anchovy out of politeness. Spaulding simply stared at the meat with disgust as he only drank a glass of water.

“Lord Spaulding, aren’t you famished from such a long trip?”

“I’m fine but thank you for your concern.”

The butler stared at him looking confused. “The lord of this estate left to do an errand and he will unfortunately not return for at least a month.”

“What?!” Spaulding became terrified at the thought of staying in the meat loving savage country longer than absolutely necessary. Richard and Nelida smiled at each other because they would be able to spend more time with their uncle. “How horrible! I wanted to speak to the master in person.”

“Well, I can bring the young master right now if you would like to speak to him.”

Richard’s eyes shone with excitement because he knew who would be soon joining them. “Please tell Herb that his cousin Richard is here!”

“Certainly Lord Richard.”

The butler left the room as Spaulding placed both hands on his face feeling horrified.

“This can’t be happening! Am I going to be stuck in this savage country being forced to eat meat?!”

“Serves you right uncle! Now you will have a taste of your own medicine!” Nelida started to rudely laugh at Spaulding’s misfortune which annoyed him.

Trevilin softly patted him on his shoulder. “Don’t be rude and at least try to eat a little bit of meat. You will not die if you only eat it sparingly for a few days.” Trevilin’s tone of voice was utterly condescending.

Spaulding grumbled and nibbled on a piece of salami. He had a hard time pinpointing which he hated more: the grease, the saltiness or the meatiness. He swallowed the thin piece of meat and immediately drank the entire glass of water to try to rid himself of the flavor. Everyone giggled at his ridiculous behavior when a boy with messy shoulder length brown hair and perky light brown eyes ran into the room.

He immediately hugged Richard the instant he saw his face. “I can’t believe you came all the way to see me Richard!”

“Cousin Herb!” Nelida’s shrill voice squealed with excitement.

“Nelida came here too, that is so awesome! I was worried about the two of you when you mysteriously disappeared a couple of months ago. Where have you been?”

Richard felt pleased to answer. “Well, it’s sort of a long story Herb.”

The boy suddenly noticed his relatives were being accompanied by the elegant elves and his jaw opened with awe. “This is so cool Richard! I didn’t know you hired two elves to be your protected escorts!”

Trevilin slightly coughed to draw the boy’s attention as Spaulding had a hard time processing his thoughts. “As a matter of fact Young Herb, we were not hired by your cousin to bring him to your side. My name is Trevilin and my friend who seems to have a hard time understanding human behavior is Lord Spaulding. Pleased to meet you.” The black haired elf bowed with utter politeness at the boy that was a couple of years older than Richard causing him to jump in the air feeling excited.

“Wow! That is even cooler! Richard you know a nobleelf? You’re the coolest person I have ever met!”

“Spaulding isn’t just a nobleelf Herb. He is my uncle!” Nelida stood up looking very proud of issuing the statement. Herb had a hard time processing the thought.

“That is impossible Nelly. You only have one first degree uncle and his name is Reginald.”

“Actually Young Herb, I am more like a very distant uncle.” Spaulding didn’t know how to properly address the boy in such an informal situation.

“I don’t understand. You look very young.” Herb’s voice softened as he stared at the elf.

“I’m older than you think, but it turns out that Richard and Nelida had an ancestor with a sister that married one of my paternal ancestors over 700 years ago.”

“Wow that is amazing! Richard, are you part elf?”

“Not at all Herb, but uncle Spaulding is part human even though it’s hard to believe at first.”

Spaulding blushed at the awkward conversation whereas Trevilin politely laughed as he ate another anchovy.

“That sounds so amazing Richard. So where have you spent the past 8 months?”

“Most of the time I have been living in uncle Spaulding’s home city. It’s an amazing place.”

“What is it like?”

“It’s beautiful. The streets are paved with white stone, it’s located on a mountain that is always covered in fog and his castle is magnificent.”

“What color is the castle?”

“It’s light grey. You would love it.”

Trevilin politely laughed when he realized Herb was falling in love with his country without ever having visited it before.

“But I heard that elves are demonic monsters that eat newt eyes and live in trees.”

“That is absurd. While there is one clan that built their city on top of an ancient forest, most elves live in rather normal cities. I would also like to clarify that we do not eat newt eyes nor are we demonic monsters.” Spaulding crossed his arms looking visibly upset.

“I’m sorry Lord Spaulding. It’s just that my parents tell me lots of bad stories about your nation and the stories our church tells us are even worse. They say your kind sold their souls to the evil spirits to have eternal youth.”

“I don’t know why do humans act that way towards my kind but while it’s true that we are eternally young, most of what humans believe are lies.”

“If that is so, can you invite me to your country?! Please?”

“I will not do such a ridiculous thing! I only came here so that I can request your father to take care of Richard and Nelida because I am too busy to keep on babysitting them myself!”

Herb’s face became saddened by the elf’s rude comment. “What a terrible thing to hear. I thought you had adopted them and only came here to visit me.”

“I am sad to quench whatever silly hopes Richard has of returning to Tesafar.”

“Is that the name of your city? Oh please have a heart! I don’t know Reginald that well, but I heard he is trying to convince the king to give him Richard’s nobility title if he manages to reunite sufficient money to purchase the Earlrose Estate.”

“So that’s the only thing stopping Richard and Nelida to return to their home? While it could be difficult, I could request my king to purchase their old estate and have Richard reinstated as the leader of his clan which is his right. When will your father come back anyways?”

“My father went on a hunting trip with his friends and he will probably go to a lot of balls. My mother went with him. They will probably be having lots of fun all summer.”

“What?! I don’t want to be stuck here for so long!”

“If I was the title owner, I would be glad to allow Richard and Nelida to live with me, but the only thing I can offer you is to stay at my estate for three months.”

Spaulding slumped on his chair in deep thought while Trevilin had a hard time thinking of a better solution. Richard and Nelida were smiling nonstop because it would offer them even more time to spend with the elves.

“Fine, I will stay here for exactly 3 months. If your father doesn’t show up, then I have no other choice but to return Richard and Nelida back to Tesafar for another year and hope your father is present the next time I come.”

“That sounds wonderful. Please enjoy your stay at my humble residence.”

Richard and Nelida couldn’t stop hugging Spaulding who wasn’t in a good mood. Despite disliking the situation he ended up in, Herb was a gracious host that had the hospitality of serving him vegetarian dishes and tried to make his stay as pleasant as possible. In all accounts, Herb seemed like a very decent well-mannered person and it was instantly clear to Spaulding why Richard liked him so much.

“Please hurry up Lord Spaulding!” Herb was growing impatient from the elf’s tardiness.

Spaulding wearing his usual modest beige robes was grumbling nonstop as he followed a notably eager Herb across the muddy streets while being accompanied by his relatives and an always cheerful Trevilin.

“What’s the big rush Herb? I’ve already visited Chesterwood and the entire place reeks of savagery.”

Herb grinned as he walked backwards while he studied Spaulding’s annoyed face. “I am certain the special event I wish to take you will be more to your fancy.”

Spaulding began scratching his head wondering what Herb meant by his vague explanation. After a brief walk across the modest city, they reached a clearing that was filled with spectators and unusually enough a lot of knights in full armor. “Why are there so many human warriors wearing armors?” Spaulding asked.

Richard’s eyes opened and he pounded the palm of his hand. “You’re always so thoughtful Herb! I didn’t know your city was going to host a tourney!”

Spaulding looked at Richard feeling confused. “What is a tourney?”

Trevilin comically chuckled as they approached the horde of people. “It’s a special combat event where knights from many different noble families fight each other to earn a prize.”

“I don’t understand Trevilin.”

“You will soon see. I am certain you will have a lot of fun.”

“That’s what you said of the other festival where humans were grabbing apples from buckets of water with their mouths for no reason.”

Trevilin patted Spaulding’s shoulder and laughed at his endless complaints as they approached some bleachers.

Much to Spaulding’s surprise, they had specially reserved seats with a perfect view of the combats from above. Spaulding felt very pleased as he sat down between Nelida and Trevilin. “I’m very impressed you were able to reserve these seats Herb.”

The boy grinned with pride. “You seem to forget I am a nobleman with a lot of privileges. I am certain you will have a lot of fun today.”

The group of elves and children watched the human knights engage in friendly combat but Spaulding’s favorite part of the festival was the jousting event.

“Trevilin, what are those knights planning on doing?”

“It’s a very dangerous sport Spaulding. Basically they charge at each other with long wooden spears while they ride their horses and try to break the opponent’s spear.”

Two knights started to charge at each other when one of them pierced the other man in the neck spewing blood everywhere. The audience suddenly fell silent when the man gurgled in agonizing pain for a brief moment and died within a minute.

Spaulding was impressed at the brutality of the sport because elves didn’t engage in such pointlessly suicidal activities. “If only the Äimite could have a duel against each other and rid our nation of their petulant presence once and for all, it would be a grand day.”

“You always make me laugh when you mock the guard. Maybe someday your dream will come true and they will invite you to join them.”

“Humbug! I’d rather swim in a sea of meat and eat roasted pig flesh for 1000 years before I ever joined them.”

The children stared at the elves wondering what they were talking about.

“Richard, can you understand the strange language the elves are speaking?”

Richard turned around to stare at the ever inquisitive Herb. “They are speaking a fascinating language called Elvish. A friend of my uncle began to teach both of us but I am only a beginner.”

“It would be really fun to learn how to speak it as well and know what they are talking about. It’s nice that your uncle is having fun.”

“He told me that the other day he went to a church and he didn’t understand the wooden chairs were for kneeling so he sat on the aisle facing the altar and did nothing. A priest thought he was a beggar and offered him shelter. He never felt so offended in his life.”

“That’s so funny! I wished I had an uncle as cool as him. You told me he can use magic, is that true?”

“He can create this ball of fire that floats like a bird and use it as a torch. Trevilin told me he can use it to fight criminals, but I have never seen him use it in combat.”

“That sounds interesting. I would love to see him use magic.”

“Trevilin warned me that elves don’t like to use magic outside of their borders unless it’s absolutely necessary because humans could get scared and try to attack them.”

“I wonder if humans can learn how to use magic as well.”

“I’m not so sure. The elves try to avoid sharing certain topics with me. Spaulding says that it’s pointless to teach me things if I will end up living with you.”

“Don’t get your hopes too high.”

“Why is that?”

“I doubt my father will agree to keep both of you here, but I don’t have the heart to tell your uncle. I’m having a most pleasant summer with his amazing company and his friend Trevilin is hilarious.”

“If your father doesn’t allow us to stay, what will you do?”

“I would love to come with you as a matter of fact! But please don’t tell your uncle.”

“That’s a promise!”

Both boys shook their hands in agreement as Nelida covered her eyes feeling horrified that two knights were viciously battling each other. Spaulding began to enthusiastically cheer for both sides. He finally found one thing from Ayrtain that he enjoyed.

“Lord Herb, your father has just returned to the Antunian Estate!” Agador’s voice was unusually loud for the long awaited arrival.

10 weeks had passed and Herb’s parents finally showed up much to Spaulding’s relief. The elf rushed outside feeling excited to meet Lord Jacinct and felt surprised from the old man’s chubby physique and baldness. His wife Euridice was polite enough but she had a sallow face with no degree of beauty at all.

“Pleased to meet the two of you! A friend sent me a letter stating my son welcomed two very strange guests to my residence, but I never knew the visitors were elves!”

“I’m sorry for arriving with such haste. Could we have a friendly chat in private after dinner?” Spaulding replied with an eager voice.

“Certainly! I would love to see if you can drink like a man!”

The man slapped Spaulding on the back which almost caused him to trip and fall. He wasn’t used to the candidness of humans yet. That evening, Spaulding spent the most horrendous dinner he ever had endured in his life in the estate’s dining room.

“I’m sorry that my son didn’t have the dignity of offering you a decent dinner. I am certain you will enjoy what my servants have prepared for tonight.”

Spaulding and Trevilin became appalled when the servants filled the table with mashed potatoes covered with strips of bacon, chicken pot pies and a gigantic roasted pig with an apple on its mouth. [_“Please don’t tell me I am going to be stuck eating pig meat all evening!” _]Much to Spaulding’s relief, the servants brought some corn on the cob, bread and a pasty white mesh that he couldn’t pinpoint from afar.

Trevilin out of politeness served a little bit of everything whereas Spaulding grudgingly served some corn and a couple loaves of bread.

Spaulding was disgusted that all of the humans munched on the pig meat with huge smiles on their faces inside of the dining room of tacky decoration that was covered with deer antler chandeliers and stuffed animal heads. He had a hard time understanding how could Trevilin enjoy or in the very least tolerate eating the hideous dishes they served.

“Hey Lord Spaulding, are you going to only eat corn and bread tonight? Serve something else or I might think you’re being rude!” Jacinct was clearly looking drunk as he chewed on the bacon with his mouth open and passing it down with plentiful amounts of wine.

Spaulding grudgingly served some of the strange white paste and applied it to a loaf of bread. He started to chew noticing he was eating some sort of sweet corn paste, but he had a hard time distinguishing the flavor.

“Are you enjoying our homemade grits? It’s a secret family recipe. The servants only make it when I’m around!”

“It has a very strange flavor indeed.”

Herb’s mother laughed with politeness. “My dear Lord Spaulding, I am surprised this is the first time you have tried out a dish that contains lard.”

Trevilin paused when he heard the woman speak and he stared at Spaulding not knowing how he would react. Much to his surprise, Spaulding swallowed a piece of bread that was covered with the white paste.

“I beg your pardon Lord Euridice, but I have never heard of the word lard before.”

“Oh you poor darling! It must be terrible that you must live in a land where everyone eats cow feed.”

Spaulding stared at the woman wondering why she would insult their delicious cuisine. “I beg your pardon my Lord?”

“I am so sorry for having offended you my Lord. I heard from the children that you don’t leave your strange country that often and you are unfamiliar with a lot of things. Our secret family recipe was made out of the belly fat from that sweet little pig over there.”

Spaulding was munching on a piece of bread and when he stared at the half eaten pig carcass he spat out the piece of bread that fell on the table.

Jacinct was not pleased in the least from his lack of decor. “You are a most finicky guest my dear elf. I thought you would have appreciated eating something dignifying to give your body some real protein to build some meat on your bones!”

Spaulding wanted to throw up after eating the meal and he spent the rest of the dinner eating bread hoping the ordeal would soon be over. When everyone was finished eating, Agador arrived to take the children up to bed. Like usual Richard and Nelida hugged their uncle.

“Have a good evening children. This might be our last evening together, but please have a good night’s sleep.”

“We will.”

The children and Herb smiled at the elves and left the dining room.

“I am quite exhausted from my long journey. I bid both of you gentlemen a good night.” The moment Euridice stood up, both elves bowed with politeness and she left the room.

Jacinct stared at them looking displeased but less angry than before. “Please come to my private living room to have a friendly chat.”

The two elves followed him to his study room that was covered with wooden walls, an elegant wooden desk and a table with several black chairs. If it hadn’t been for the beheaded stuffed animals that stared at his face, Spaulding would have almost enjoyed the more austere decoration of the room. The man immediately served both of them a most unusual looking drink.

“What is this?” Trevilin asked.

“It’s a specialty from the house, the best drink we have in town. The two of you look dreadfully underweight and I think you will enjoy it.” The man sat on a chair and ignited a cigar with a match. “Would any of you like to smoke?”

“I don’t fancy tobacco that much. What about you Trevilin?” Spaulding became surprised when Trevilin drank from the entire cup.

“Easy elf, it’s a strong drink. Do you like it?”

“It tastes rather strange Lord Jacinct. I’ve never had something quite like it before.”

“Have another glass my friend!” The man eagerly served Trevilin whereas Spaulding smelled the drink with distrust. “I don’t know what the customs are like in the elf lands Lord Spaulding, but in our home we show the courtesy to enjoy whatever our host offers us even if we don’t clearly like it!”

Spaulding felt slightly repulsed at his rudeness regarding his veganism and drank from the cup. The whiskey had a very strange rotten flavor that was hard to pinpoint at first. He stood there smiling nervously while he pretended to continue drinking to avoid stirring unwanted attention.

“Let’s get to business. You both know that Reginald has convinced King Edward to grant him the Earlrose nobility title.”

“From what I understand Lord Jacinct, is that he will only be granted permission if he buys back the Earlrose Estate.” Spaulding replied.

“It will take a couple of years, but he’s a smart businessman that knows how to con people to do his bidding. Unfortunately, I am not caritative enough to purchase an entire estate just for two distant relatives when I have my own debts.”

Spaulding’s eyes tried to study the man’s expression with increased seriousness. “What you really mean is that you will not take those two children in. Is that correct?”

“I’m sorry to say that while Richard and Nelida are my blood, they aren’t my problem. Maybe if he had his title intact, I could be of more help but given he neither has the ring nor any money, I think you should be off to your savage demon lands by tomorrow afternoon and never come back.”

Spaulding became annoyed as he drank the rest of his glass instantly. Trevilin remained neutral and tried to avoid conflict. “I understand and respect your position Lord Jacinct, and thank you for showing the kindness of opening the doors of your residence to a nobleelf for several weeks without asking for anything in return. I will find a way to reinstate Richard to the title he deserves and thank you for…” Spaulding’s face froze when he started to feel nauseated from the strange beverage and instantly left the room.

Jacinct crossed his arms thinking the elf was rude. “Your friend is quite a character Trevilin. First, he barges into my home without even writing a letter to notify me of his arrival and now that he isn’t getting what he wants, he doesn’t accept my fine alcoholic beverage. But I am glad that you show all of the qualities of a civilized guest!”

“Please don’t be mean to my dear friend. He seldom leaves our kingdom and doesn’t understand your customs.”

Spaulding returned to the room feeling relieved after throwing up his entire meal and as he approached the table he noticed the glass Trevilin was drinking had a strange solid object in it.

“Would you like some more elf? Your friend has almost finished the entire thing but if you hurry up, you might still have the last call!” The man laughed with amusement as he served himself.

Spaulding noticed something was very strange about the beverage. He stared at the bottle and instantly shrieked. [_“The brute is serving us a beverage with animal flesh!” _]Spaulding covered his mouth feeling disgusted at the rudeness of his host and felt appalled that Trevilin was nibbling on a piece of animal carcass on purpose. He couldn’t take it any longer and ran outside wishing to throw up again.

“Well, I guess all four of you will be off to your lands where you belong!”

“Thank you for your hospitality, and please forgive my rudeness last night for I was feeling slightly ill.” Spaulding once again wearing his armor bowed at Jacinct and his family with politeness. “You are always welcome to visit me in my home city if you desire.”

“I can assure you I would never visit your demonic country, but thank you for your offer and good luck in convincing King Edward to return Richard’s nobility title.”

Spaulding stared at the man with disgust as he rode by horseback with a newly rented carriage that followed him close behind. Little did he know that he was bringing another unwanted guest back home with him.

“It’s nice that you are returning to our noble lands. Did you enjoy your trip?” The guards looked unusually eager today.

“It was the worst 3 and half months of my life but thank you for your concern.” Spaulding and the group passed the border with ease and they went to eat dinner at a modest restaurant near the border. “What am I going to do Trevilin?”

“You have plenty of time to bring Richard and Nelida back to Tesafar. You have at least 1 more month before you must report to Legarha.”

“Damn waste of my time. Richard, do you know any other relative that lives near the border that could help you?”

“If you couldn’t convince Herb’s father, rest assured it will be a futile effort.”

“Are you trying to lie to me to have an excuse to stay in my city another year?”

“I swear that I am telling you the truth. I am sincerely saddened that my uncle Jacinct didn’t offer to help me. You’re the only decent uncle I seem to have at this point.”

Spaulding covered his face with his hands and tried to think of a better solution.

“Spaulding, you have sufficient money to purchase an estate.” Trevilin responded with a condescending tone of voice.

“Buying the estate isn’t the problem. It’s convincing King Edward to reinstate Richard’s title instead of Reginald. If I couldn’t convince Herb’s father, do you really think I stand a chance with a king?”

Trevilin sighed as he ate some pickled vegetables while Spaulding continued his rant.

“It could be viewed as a foreign nation meddling into unwanted affairs. It wouldn’t be much of an issue if I was a human but as elves, things can be more complicated.” Spaulding turned and noticed Nelida looked unusually relaxed eating dinner. “I am surprised you aren’t complaining too much Nelida. I thought you never wanted to return to my nation again.”

The little girl sighed but she politely smiled at her uncle. “I thank you for trying your best to help me uncle Spaulding. I promise I will not complain about never eating meat again after seeing how you tried to help us.”

Spaulding smiled at the little girl and patted her shoulder. He served another cup of rice wine and sighed. “There is no other choice.”

“You’re going to visit the capital, aren’t you?” Trevilin replied.

“I hate the idea of visiting him Trevilin, but he’s my only hope. If I beg for his cooperation now, I will get into less trouble than if I sneak the children back to Tesafar and he finds out.”

“The guard seldom patrols Tesafar.”

“While that is true, they will sooner or later find out about these two children. If I don’t tell King Salman now and bear the annoyance of groveling over his feet, I could get arrested.”

Richard spat out his drink on his napkin with surprise. “Uncle, the king can arrest you for housing the two of us? Is that the reason why you were so eager to take us back to our country?”

“In part that is true Richard. King Salman isn’t as kind as I am, and convincing him to help you will be difficult.”

“You are once again speaking ill of your king Spaulding!”

“I know that you are undeniably loyal Trevilin, but unfortunately my loyalties only align to myself, my friends and to my clan.”

“You’re lucky a guard isn’t overhearing this conversation.”

“Like they can arrest me for voicing my mind. Leave me alone.”

 

Chapter 5

 

Spaulding left the table in haste and wandered back to the inn feeling deeply upset. When he returned, he noticed someone was sitting on the stairs which caught him off guard. “Is that you Herb?! What in the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m so sorry Lord Spaulding, but I just couldn’t fathom the way Jacinct treated my cousins and how rude he was to you!”

“Thank you for your concern, but don’t you understand that you will be stuck in this nation? I don’t have the time to return you to your city.” Spaulding realized what he just said and collapsed on the stairs of the inn. Herb stared at him looking a bit worried. “How did you cross the border if you are still underage?”

“I hid inside of a box in the back of the carriage when my parents and servants were not looking. My idea was pretty neat wasn’t it?”

“It was a horrible idea Herb. Not only will I get into trouble with my king for illegally housing my relatives, but now I am going to be stuck with you as well.” Spaulding sloughed on the stair feeling defeated at the prospect of being forced to take care of yet another human child.

Herb couldn’t resist the temptation and hugged him. “I’m going to have a lot of fun spending time with you! I hope that they sell moonshine in this country!”

“What in the hell is that?”

“It’s the best alcohol in my city my Lord. I guess you haven’t heard about it, but it’s great!”

Spaulding sat there in silence as Herb started a nonstop rant about a beverage he couldn’t care less about for a while until Nelida ran in his direction looking visibly distressed.

“Uncle Spaulding! Please help us!”

Spaulding stared at the distressed girl and his face became alert. “What happened Nelida?!”

“A gang of criminals just kidnapped Richard and Trevilin was left alone to fight them so that I could run away!”

“Oh no! The two of you, stay close to me at all times!”

Nelida ran behind Spaulding realizing Herb’s plan of entering the Elf Kingdom worked which pleasantly surprised her as the three of them ran off to the restaurant.

Spaulding was surprised that Trevilin managed to kill 4 humans but he looked visibly exhausted. “What happened Trevilin?”

“It’s terrible! A while after you left, a gang of at least 20 criminals ambushed the table and kidnapped Richard! I’m so sorry that I couldn’t defeat all of them but I was worried about Nelida being kidnapped as well! Please forgive my incompetence!” Trevilin bowed in apology while Spaulding noticed several civilian elves ran off.

“We’re going to get into big trouble if a guard finds out you killed these four humans without an edict while being off duty.” Spaulding and Trevilin didn’t know what to do as the two children looked equally disturbed at the awful sight.

“Lord Spaulding, Trevilin, what are you two doing here?” An unfamiliar voice was audible in the distance.

Spaulding became delighted at the sight: “Thank goodness we bumped into a ranger first!”

The group was approached by a stocky elf with short black hair and a comical face that wore bright red armor. “What happened?”

“Trevilin was attacked for no reason by four criminals. Unfortunately neither one of us is on duty.”

“That could be a problem. My supervisor isn’t as lenient as your guards are. He likes to stick to the book a little bit too much. Are there any more?”

“Trevilin had a hard time counting when they ambushed him, but we could lend you a hand if you can help us fix this mess. If we find the rest of them, could you help us with the paperwork?”

“Sure, that won’t be a problem. Do you have a horse?”

“I have one but Trevilin doesn’t.”

“I presume you rented a room at an inn didn’t you?”

“Actually, I didn’t have enough time to rent a room but I simply asked the owner to safeguard my horse.”

“Come back as soon as possible with all of your belongings and I’ll have a rental horse ready for you. Get back quick because if Lord Gurherf catches you, I’m going to get into big trouble.”

Spaulding bowed and Trevilin nodded as they ran back to the inn.

“Thank goodness we bumped into Tamanh. He’ll be able to cover up a good lie for us!” Trevilin said.

Spaulding turned around with a tint of concern. “Do you have any ideas regarding those criminals?”

“I’m wondering if they weren’t from the same gang that kidnapped you and the children a couple of months ago near Giermela.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone with surprise as he carried Nelida in his arms to save time.

“Uncle, what is going to happen to Richard?”

“I swear Nelida that both of us will rescue Richard no matter what! They could possibly be from the same criminal gang from the last time. We have to rescue Richard before they leave the border!”

Herb ran with difficulty realizing it was probably not a good an idea that he sneaked into the kingdom after all but he said nothing as everyone returned to the inn.

Spaulding shoved some luggage at Trevilin’s face with haste. “Trevilin, only take out what is fully essential from the carriage and leave everything else in a storage facility.”

“What about Nelida… and Herb?” Trevilin realized Herb tagged along without permission which surprised him.

“Herb decided he wanted some action and now we’re stuck with him.”

“Are you going to leave them at an inn?”

“After what happened the last time, I can’t risk it. The children will have to come with us.” Spaulding packed his horse with bare essentials while Trevilin returned the carriage and extra supplies elsewhere. Spaulding anxiously removed the dagger from his boot and gave it to Herb. “It’s not much of a weapon and I’m certain you have never learned fencing, but you need it more than I do Herb.”

The boy’s trembling hands grabbed the dagger and tied it to his belt.

“No matter what happens Nelida, I want you to trust us that we will save your brother and take you to Tesafar safely.”

Both children hugged him cheering him up as Trevilin came back in haste.

“Perfect, you go alone Trevilin and get that horse. I’ll see you at the north exit.”

“I’ll be there as soon as possible!”

The group started a goose chase among the northwestern territories of the country following the trail of horse tracks in the forest.

Trevilin’s face was grave as he rode with Nelida and stared at the tracks. “Spaulding these men are no fools. They know our country well enough to be able to travel in the unpopulated forest. At this rate they will arrive to the northern sea in only a couple more days.”

“Don’t say that!”

“I don’t wish to be negative but if those humans reach the sea, you will never see your nephew again.”

Both children became increasingly anxious as Spaulding pounded his fist on the saddle.

“If only I could request a guard for help.”

“Even if you were able to request the guard for assistance, you could risk being arrested.”

“I’ll rather bear any punishment Master Salman has in store for me if it means that poor child is safe. Let’s stop wasting our time and if we ride our horses nonstop, we might arrive on time.”

“And if we use our phantom beasts Spaulding?”

“I am not familiar with the geography of this region. How far is the sea from our current location?”

“Around 170 miles.”

“It’s too much distance to travel at full speed while we carry these children. We must ride as quickly as possible without rest before it’s too late.”

The two elves nodded and they continued the fruitless chase the entire evening. The following morning, the tracks were still easily visible but Trevilin noticed something very strange about them while the children were sleeping on a hammock.

“Spaulding, there is something really strange about these tracks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Call me crazy, but I believe the criminals are riding more slowly.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Even if there weren’t any rangers other than us hunting them down, they would gain nothing by remaining in our lands longer than absolutely necessary.”

“Maybe I injured some of them with my mace without even realizing it.”

“It’s a plausible explanation. Have you slept at all Trevilin?”

The elf shook his head looking anxious. “We haven’t slept in two days but I’d rather travel faster than rest.”

“If we continue to travel without rest, we won’t have enough mana to summon our beasts.”

“They are only humans Spaulding. With our fencing it will be easy to rescue that child.”

“We should awaken those poor children now that the horses are rested.”

Trevilin kindly woke up the two distressed children and within a couple of minutes, they set off. It was a late summer evening when they approached a desolate forest that pummeled everyone with a piercing cold wind.

Spaulding looked unusually antsy as the forest was dreadfully dark and desolate. “Trevilin, where are we? It’s supposed to be summer but this place is dreadfully cold.”

“We are not far from the northern sea Spaulding. This forest rests very close to the Blue City.”

“I’m unfamiliar with that place.”

“If we manage to rescue Richard, we could request the Arima Clan to take care of the children while you visit the capital. I am a close friend of the clan leader and they will be glad to assist us.”

Spaulding looked around the empty forest as Herb was firmly holding his back without understanding what the elves were saying. “Is there any possibility we might locate one of their foot soldiers around here?”

“Don’t get your hopes up too high. The clan has little need to leave the safety of their city.”

The group was suddenly ambushed by a horde of several humans that aimed spears that killed both of their horses instantly. The elves barely had enough time to land on the ground while they held onto the children without hurting themselves.

“What happened?!”

Nelida and Herb became horrified as the weary elves retrieved their weapons and stared at the desolate wilderness. The children were unable to see anything that cold evening as the group was approached by a horde of at least 10 armed humans.

“Hand me the noble children you two!”

Spaulding’s face became firm and turned around. “With what right?” Spaulding seemed like the only member of the group that emitted an image of false confidence from the ordeal.

The men in the group yielding swords and arrows pointed at them while they began laughing. A bald man with a homely face took a step forward. “The children are coming with us useless creatures. I don’t know what you’re planning on doing with them, but we know those noblemen are worth a lot of money.”

Herb trembled behind Spaulding while he stared at the barely visible dark figures that quickly surrounded them in all directions. With a lot of difficulty, Herb nervously began counting the number of bandits and noticed among the bandits stood a skinny middle aged man.

Spaulding was unusually anxious as he carefully studied the men that surrounded them. [“I can spot 13 criminals including that scrawny old man in the background. I’m certain that between me and Trevilin we could finish them off instantly.” _]Spaulding shook his head. [“Protecting Nelida and Herb is a top priority. If we fight these men with magic, they could end up dying in the crossfire.” _]Spaulding’s face became covered with sweat as a man wearing scraggly clothes with a broken nose approached the group while he held a torch.

“Those kids are nobles all right. No ranger would risk their butts protecting a commoner peasant child in the kingdom.”

“You are not taking them! These children are staying with us and if you value your lives, you will let us pass these lands to find the other boy. If you do that, we will not harm you!” Spaulding’s face looked sterner than before while he held onto the sword hilt. Nelida clinched her hand onto Trevilin’s shirt firmly. [_“Even without magic, I could finish 10 petty criminals with Trevilin’s help. I just need to make sure Nelida and Herb are at a safe distance.” _]Spaulding continued thinking to himself.

“You really think you can defeat us! We all know you’re a ranger that uses fire magic and it’s no coincidence we brought you here tonight.”

Spaulding’s face became tenser but he remained silent.

“Uncle, what is going on? Why aren’t you using your Hiratori?” Nelida clung to Trevilin’s shirt with increased fear.

Spaulding didn’t move an inch or say anything while he studied the humans that were aiming at his head with their arrows.

“Leave it to me guys, you take care of the dark haired elf and let’s get it over with. Hopefully we will find that child’s ring in their belongings once they are dead.”

The strange middle aged man that stood in the sidelines approached the group and removed his hood. The man had pleasant facial features despite his age with black hair in a short haircut, a pointed nose and piercing grey eyes.

“Leave it in our hands Emmerd.”

The mysterious man stood there in silence while Trevilin easily dodged two arrows that were aiming for his head as he pushed both children to the ground.

“Stand behind me children!” Trevilin managed in the blink of an eye to destroy both arrows with an elegant movement from his mace. Two armed men began charging at the elf in unison causing the children to panic. “I swear I will protect the two of you!” Trevilin successfully bludgeoned a man with his mace that covered his face with blood splatter whereas Spaulding stabbed a man killing him instantly.

Nelida was astonished at their mastery of fencing. “My uncle and Trevilin are amazing! They just killed 3 criminals in seconds!”

A bulky looking man charged toward Spaulding as he easily dodged the attack and he pierced the man’s chest with his sword causing an instant death. Herb started to show a smile on his lips as he watched the rangers prove an obvious combat advantage against the criminals. The elves managed to kill within another minute, two more humans and they now had 7 enemies left including the man in the grey cloak that quietly stood nearby with a stern face.

When it seemed like the tides were turning in favor of the group, Spaulding barely managed to dodge a huge droplet of water that collided against a tree. The droplet instantly transformed into a block of ice that caused the tree to explode. “Be careful Trevilin, that human is a water mage!”

Within a split second, Trevilin started dodging dozens of water bullets that hit several trees crushing them into pieces the instant they solidified while he tried his earnest to protect the two terrified children from certain death. Spaulding was meanwhile occupied dodging arrows and the new threat.

“I have no other choice. I can’t allow these poor children to die like this!” Trevilin’s face tensed and began to focus. Suddenly the earth below started to rumble causing two humans to stop charging with confusion.

“What is going on?!”

Nelida shrieked when Trevilin suddenly pulled out of the soil a gigantic translucent green beast with his left arm. Herb squinted his eyes at the strange beast with incredulity. The ethereal green beast was twice the size of a horse with 6 tusks and spikes on its tail that resembled a whip. After a moment, both children realized they were staring at a glowing green boar that had appeared out of the soil.

“What in the hell is that monster?!” Herb screeched.

Several criminals stood back while Emmerd’s cold eyes sharpened as he momentarily stopped sending powerful ice attacks at the elves. The boar rested its body on the soil and Trevilin hastily picked up Nelida.

“What are you doing Trevilin?! Where did this demon come from? Let go of me!”

Spaulding didn’t pay much attention because he was occupied fighting against two humans with his sword.

“Please stay put Nelida and don’t move an inch. Herb get on my Javelin immediately, there is no time to waste!” The elf easily managed to place the boy on the Javelin behind Nelida who had a hard time sitting on top of the gelatinous beast. Trevilin’s face became unusually grave as he stared at the two children. “Whatever happens tonight, please stay alive at all costs!”

Herb nodded in agreement when the beast suddenly stood up and jolted at a high speed into the forest.

The cloaked man saw the spectacle with ambivalence. “I’ll take care of these two. Tell the others to catch those children alive at all costs!”

The men instantly ran off and accidentally dropped a torch on the soil. Trevilin was unusually stern as he stared at the cloaked man.

“Just to let you know before you die elf, my name is Emmerd and you have just given up your only hope of surviving this moonless night.”

The man smiled with a cunning grin and irritated Trevilin sufficiently to grasp his mace more firmly with his right hand.

“I don’t need the assistance of my beast to finish you!”

Trevilin charged towards Emmerd and aimed a swift inward blow at his face. Emmerd quickly took a step backwards. With a quick snap of his fingers, he created several small particles of water that instantly increased in size causing multiple small explosions that blocked each and every one of Trevilin’s attacks.

Spaulding continued to think in silence while he tried his best to dodge the never-ending ice attacks. “Perhaps Trevilin’s decision was counterproductive like usual, but neither one of us could think of a better plan for the time being.”

Trevilin became increasingly frustrated that the man easily dodged each and every one of his blows from his mace with small particles of ever expanding ice.

“Maybe if Trevilin called the beast back to assist him…“ Spaulding shook his head and closed his eyes with angst. [_“It would be pointless to do that because the group of bandits would eventually return. I have to kill this mage as soon as possible and hope for the best.” _]Spaulding bit his lower lip feeling anxious from the quandary they ended up in because of the ill timing of the dark night.

“Are you getting tired yet elf? I thought your kind never got exhausted! You make me laugh!” Emmerd jeered while he easily dodged Trevilin’s constant attacks with his mace. He snapped his left hand and created a minor ice explosion that jolted Trevilin’s mace backwards.

The elf was increasingly frustrated when his mace became stuck on a tree trunk. “Dammit!” Trevilin used a clever rotational jolt that instantly released his mace from the tree. The man’s face had a smile that reached his eyelids at the humiliating spectacle he was causing to two much more talented fighters that were putting up such a poor fight.

“I’m tired of playing around with you!” Spaulding drew his sword in an attack stance and aimed for the man’s right side. “Let’s attack him together on both sides. He can only make one ice particle appear at once!”

Trevilin nodded and aimed his mace toward the man’s left side.

“You fools.” The man snapped his fingers on both hands and two larger particles ice appeared that made both weapons bounce backwards.

“He’s only playing with us!”

Trevilin was losing his focus and began fighting more sloppily while Emmerd continued to send several exploding ice particles.

However, Spaulding who maintained his alertness dodged one of the spikes and with a rapid counterclockwise movement; he managed to graze the man’s right shoulder. Spaulding grinned when he saw a faint trickle of blood seeping from his cloak. “He’s not wearing armor under the cloak, perfect.”

The man jumped backwards and with a swift movement of his right arm, he summoned an insect shaped phantom beast made out of ice to protect him. “I’m amazed one of you has some real talent but your luck is going to end. This is my phantom beast, looks like a frozen wasp doesn’t it?”

“I’m not afraid of that beast now that I know what it does!” Spaulding charged towards Emmerd with determination. The mage simply closed his eyes as he entered meditation and his beast easily dodged Spaulding’s attack. [_“He’s mentally controlling the beast; that will give me some time.” _]Spaulding relaxed his face and briefly turned around. “I’ll take care of this human for a while. Why don’t you enter your Javelin’s body and see what the children are doing?”

“Are you sure of this Spaulding? My Javelin runs a lot faster than those pathetic humans and if the children are half as smart as I think they are, they will stay put. I ordered it to run to the Blue City while dodging any groups of enemy humans it can. I think we can attack this guy together…“

“Just do it! Trust me!” Spaulding’s eyes because increasingly grave while he continued dodging ice spikes that were ejected from the wasp’s stinger.

“All right, I’ll only take a short look!” Trevilin genuinely trusted his friend’s gut instinct as he firmly grasped his mace with his right hand and stood in a relaxed pose.

Herb stared at the strange beast without understanding anything. “What is this thing?” Herb firmly held onto his cousin while they rode the translucent green Javelin to an unknown direction.

“I don’t know Herb. My uncle seldom used his Hiratori when we traveled and only relied on his sword to protect me.” Nelida clenched her fist on the back of the beast that easily dodged trees while her face was covered with tears. “What is this horrible thing that Trevilin dragged out of the soil Herb?!”

“I don’t know Nelida but I trust those two elves. If Trevilin created it, I’m sure it will not harm us. At least the criminals have been left behind.”

The beast leaped on top of a small creek causing both children to scream as they momentarily floated in the air.

Nelida attempted to release herself from Herb’s tight hug. “I don’t want to be on this thing any longer! Get me off of it!” Nelida shoved Herb backwards as the beast continued running in a straight line.

“Wait Nelida, don’t get off! We don’t know where we are and if we get off now, we might never be able to get back on this thing!”

“This thing is scary looking. It’s not a living animal!” Nelida shoved Herb with full force and tried to jump off the boar.

“Don’t do it Nelida!”

The beast suddenly turned its head to look at her with its empty hollow black eyes and with a swift movement of its huge tail; Nelida was safely placed on its back. “What kind of thing is this?” Nelida started to scream with deeper anxiety as Herb hugged the girl with kindness.

“I don’t know what is going on, but I think this creature wants to help us go somewhere safe and it won’t let us fall off of it. You have to trust Trevilin and Spaulding Nelly. They want to save Richard from those men just as much as we do.” Herb kissed Nelida’s head to tranquilize her but she still wept in silence for a while.

After a seemingly interminable voyage in the dark forest, Nelida’s eyes were closing from exhaustion but she was unable to fall asleep. The children were suddenly jolted awake when they could hear a familiar voice coming out of the beast.

“Children, are you all right?”

Both children shrieked at the strange voice being projected from the beast’s head. The Javelin’s eyes suddenly turned bright green as it stared at them.

“Is that you Trevilin?” Herb was the only one with enough brawn to assume that was the voice he was hearing.

The boar’s eye seemed to flicker for a second with reassurance. “Yes Herb it’s me Trevilin. I’m mentally talking to you from my Javelin.”

“What is this thing?”

“The two of you must be familiar with Spaulding’s Hiratori, is that correct?”

“I am Trevilin, but I don’t think Herb has seen a magical beast before.”

“Great, then at least Nelida has seen a phantom beast before which saves me some time to explain a couple of things. Basically to make a long story short, anyone that can use magic that trains long enough will be able to create a beast out of their own life energy we call mana. Spaulding’s beast is known as a Hiratori and I can summon a Javelin.”

Both children briefly stared at each other feeling bewildered.

“Are you controlling it or does it have a mind of its own?”

“Actually Herb it’s a sort of both at the same time. When I summon my beast, I can mentally give it simple orders and it will always obey without ever questioning me. Right now I ordered it to take the two of you to an elvish city called Tindenfarel. I have many friends that will protect you.”

“I understand a little bit what you are saying Trevilin, but how can you be talking to us like this if you are somewhere else?”

“Well, I can only give it simple commands but in order to talk to you, I need to mentally focus on controlling it whereas my real body is being left idle.”

Nelida’s face became increasingly incredulous. “What is your body doing right now?”

“Mentally I can’t control both the mind of the beast and myself at the same time. I have left my body defenseless in a trance state to see how you two are doing.”

“Won’t someone attack you?!” Nelida screeched with fear.

“Spaulding is protecting me. I can still feel my real body, but I can’t move it as long as I continue talking to you.”

“Don’t worry about us Trevilin and get back to your body before someone hurts you!” Herb answered with a firm voice.

Nelida was thinking in deep thought and noticed something was very strange. “Before you return to your body Trevilin, why can’t uncle Spaulding use his Hiratori?”

“Spaulding never told you, didn’t he?”

“Tell me what Trevilin?” Nelida responded.

“Spaulding has an affinity for fire which can be summoned anywhere except perhaps beneath the water, but during nights without a moon he can’t summon it.”

The children gasped and observed the sky for a glimpse of moonlight but much to their chagrin, they only saw darkness.

Herb became increasingly anxious. “But you two are all right back there?”

“Unfortunately we are in a bit of a bind right now. One of the humans is a mage and his powers are not affected by the night. He seems to use a sort of explosive water ability.”

“Please Trevilin, let us get off this thing right now and hide somewhere while your beast comes back to help you!” Everyone felt surprised at Nelida’s sudden selflessness.

The Javelin looked at both of them with a blank expression. “I think we can buy a little bit of time before the beast arrives to its destination. Once you arrive to the borders of Tindenfarel, my Javelin will instantly disappear and I will be able to finish this man before sunrise. It’s too dangerous for you two to get off the beast.”

“Don’t worry about us Trevilin. I’m certain I can find somewhere to hide!”

“You can’t see them Herb, but there are still around 30 armed humans including the ones that were chasing you in the clearing. You can trust us, I promise Richard will soon be home safe with both of you.”

Both children smiled as Nelida started wiping the tears from her puffy eyes that were swollen from crying too much. The conversation seemed to be reassuring as the boar’s eyes turned black again and its head turned forward.

“Trevilin! Trevilin! What’s going on?! Talk to me!” Nelida started yelling while she pounded her fists on the beast’s gelatinous back that felt neither warm nor cold.

“Maybe he had to protect his body and finish that guy off Nelly.”

Herb hugged Nelida even harder which allowed her to calm down. The beast fully ignored Nelida’s demands and it kept on running in a straight line in silence. Trevilin’s mind returned to his physical body and heard someone breathing heavily.

“Did you contact the children? Are they all right?” Spaulding was kneeling on the ground as he gasped in pain. If only Trevilin had cut a bit shorter his explanation of a topic that could have been left for a more peaceful time, this wouldn’t have happened.

“Spaulding, what happened?”

Spaulding was gasping in silence for a moment. “Did you contact the children? Are they all right?”

Trevilin didn’t exactly know how his friend became wounded, but he instantly realized from the waning light from the torch on the soil that it was serious. “Um… yes they are fine. I explained a couple of things to them and they will soon arrive to a safe place.”

Emmerd began to speak with an arrogant tone. “I highly doubt that elves.”

“What?!”

“Your kind has always been so arrogant.”

They stared at the wasp with equal disgust.

“Your earth beast can be fast elf but it’s still no match for a horse and an ambush. I knew from the start that you would send the children to Tindenfarel and I set up an ambush at an ideal location.”

Spaulding was feeling increasingly confused as he continued panting in severe pain. “What do you mean?”

“I was initially worried that you might have summoned a water beast like me elf. I knew your blond friend is a fire mage because the men that hired me spied on him for several weeks but I’m glad that you are an earth mage.”

Spaulding wondered what the wasp meant. He was well versed in patrolling the southcentral frontier cities but he was unfamiliar with the western badlands that Trevilin knew very well.

“Spaulding, I think we might have underestimated this man.”

“What do you mean? You were the one that decided to send the children on your Javelin to your friends so that we could fight with any bandits that were stupid enough to stay behind.”

Trevilin briefly closed with eyes with anguish while the wasp watched them. “I didn’t expect one of the bandits to be able to know magic; it was a miscalculation Spaulding. I should have remembered that some humans in the frontier have been able to learn magic either from other humans or from the occasional elf that deemed them worthy to teach.”

“Tell him stupid elf why you are such a fool! I am clearly enjoying this!”

“I’m so sorry Spaulding, but the children are in danger.”

“What do you mean?!”

The Javelin continued running in the dark forest without ever slowing down as it ran at full speed in a straight line. Herb was hugging Nelida with all of his might as he tried to stay awake. The beast without notice halted to a complete stop which alerted the two children.

“What happened? Why did the beast stop running?” Herb’s face was covered with sweat and he looked around.

“Herb, are we in the elf city yet?”

“We’re still in a dark forest but I can’t see anything except for a faraway torch light.”

“Yay! Maybe it’s the elves that have come over to save us!” Nelida seemed overjoyed but Herb was more cautious.

“I don’t think so Nelly. If the beast had found any elves or that city, it would run towards that torch over in the distance yet it seems to avoid it on purpose. Trevilin told us that the beast would vanish once we reached that city but we’re still riding on top of it.”

“Do you think they are enemies Herb?”

“I’m quite certain they are and the torch seems to be coming closer. They probably have seen the beast in the distance because it glows in the dark.”

“If that light is from the bandits then why isn’t the beast moving in the opposite direction?”

“I don’t know Nelly but the beast has been trying to run in a straight line for a long time. Maybe there are enemies in front of us and it feels confused.”

All of a sudden an arrow hit the beast’s face. The beast screeched in some kind of strange pain and although it didn’t sound like the normal screech of a pig being slaughtered it still sounded terrible. Both children covered their ears and closed their eyes.

“What a horrible sound!”

However the beast didn’t lose any blood and the arrow simply sat fully idle on its gelatinous right cheek.

“You idiot! You’re not supposed to hurt the children! Chase the beast into the lake and circle it!”

“It’s the bandits Nelly!”

The Javelin suddenly made an automatic reflex and jolted clockwise at an increased speed. The sudden rush took Herb from surprise and for a split second it felt like he had to grab on the beast’s back with all of his might to avoid falling off. Herb turned around and saw at least 20 horses behind him in every direction that carried torches.

Herb hunched his body to speak to the Javelin’s ear. “Please beast, take us somewhere safe!”

The beast didn’t listen or emit any sound as Herb’s heart was pounding increasingly stronger in agony for his unknown fate.

“What is going to happen to us?” Nelida was getting increasingly impatient.

After about 3 minutes of frantic running, the beast started to slow down. Herb was the first to notice the change of speed as many thoughts rushed in his mind.

Herb spoke once again in a clear voice. “Why is this magical beast slowing down? Could it be because we reached the elf city or because it feels tired?” Herb turned around hoping to see a familiar friendly face but he was only met with despair.

The Javelin walked a slower pace as it was met by a gigantic dark lake and at least 20 bandits riding horses. Two bandits were tightening arrows and aiming for the Javelin while they grinned with contempt.

“Give up children, you are coming with us!”

“Oh no Herb, it’s the bandits! What are we going to do?”

Herb was uneasy at the present situation. He had a small dagger in his belt but he never had any experience in fencing. The boy’s trembling hands grabbed the weapon and closed his eyes. “Even if I lose my life tonight, I would rather die protecting my cousin than surrendering without at least giving a fight.”

Nelida shivered with fear wishing it was only a nightmare that was going to end.

“Nelly, the beast isn’t doing anything. I will attempt to distract them while you try to escape.”

“No Herb, you’ll die!”

“I can’t let them catch us without giving a fight. It would be dishonorable to your brother and our new friends.” Herb drew the dagger in defiance.

“How sweet, look guys the little boy thinks he can fight us!”

Everyone started laughing in unison. One of the bandits behind them approached the Javelin with his now visible brown horse.

“Stupid kid, your little dagger doesn’t impress any of us! But don’t worry; if you give up now and get off that green phantom beast, we won’t hurt you too much.”

“Get off the beast Nelly now!”

Nelida nodded and she tried to dismount the beast but the Javelin’s tail once again smacked her feet back into position. “The beast did it again! It won’t let us get off!”

Suddenly the beast was hit by 5 arrows in different directions making it emit the same horrible screech from before as the arrows became trapped inside of its gelatinous body without causing any other visible damage.

“Let’s attack the phantom beast together guys!”

The bandits began charging in every direction but the Javelin’s tail slashed the spears of 5 bandits and destroyed them instantly with ease.

“Keep on attacking it guys, the elf isn’t around to properly control it!”

Herb anxiously turned his head and noticed the Javelin instantly beheaded 3 horses along with 5 bandits. The beast valiantly charged towards a horse and crushed it’s head with three of its massive tusks spilling blood everywhere. “Trevilin’s beast is killing the criminals Nelly!”

Another horse charged without notice and once again the Javelin pierced the animal’s neck with its tusk killing the poor beast with amazing ease.

“The beast is killing all of our horses!”

Herb’s joy didn’t last very long as he felt a strong tug on his leg from an angered bandit. In a split second, Herb pierced the bandit’s left fist with his dagger and became mightily awed when the Javelin beheaded the criminal with ease.

Herb began to think to himself with and awed look on his face.[_ “How could such a kind and jolly elf as Trevilin bear such a fearful power and why doesn’t he use this amazing power all of the time? With such a beast Trevilin could defeat entire armies and conquer nations if he wanted!”_]

“Hurry everyone, attack the beast!”

The Javelin turned in both directions and surprisingly instead of facing 15 bandits, it charged into the lake.

“Why isn’t Trevilin’s amazing beast finishing off the rest of the bandits?!” Nelida turned around feeling anxious.

“The phantom beast is trying to escape!”

“Dammit, the bloody thing just threw itself into the lake!”

The bandits hopelessly watched the Javelin swim in a straight line.

“Daven, Rulos and Garret, get to the other side of the lake!”

Three bandits ran with their horses in opposite directions hoping to catch the beast while another two bandits attempted to oblige their horses to enter the lake to no avail.

“I think we made it Nelida!” Herb was practically cheering as he watched the bandits cursing in the distance.

“Magical beast, you did it!” Nelida hugged the green beast as it swam in a straight line in the cold water.

Herb sighed in relief as he took the peaceful moment to clean the little dagger and dry it with his sweaty shirt feeling pleased. Herb turned his head and grinned that the torches were becoming fainter. “Nelida, when we reach that elf city and see Trevilin again, we have to congratulate him on his amazing magical ability. I can’t believe such a friendly elf could harbor such an amazing power!”

Nelida turned around and timidly smiled at Herb. “I never expected his magical power was so amazing. I hope we reach that city very soon because my uncle cannot use his magic tonight.”

Herb nodded in agreement as the beast continued an endless journey in the brackish waters in deep silence. As the beast kept on swimming a breeze of frigidly cold wind stroke both children causing them to shiver.

“It’s so cold in here! I thought it was still summer!”

Herb hugged her with reassurance. “Hold tight Nelly and I’ll try to keep you warm.”

“But aren’t we close to the sea? I thought it should be warmer!”

“I heard that the western coast of the Elf Kingdom gets a warm current from the ocean and the coast even at this northern latitude is very mild at all times of the year. However, between the coast and the continent lies a mountain range where some parts are bitter cold even in the summer.”

Nelida’s face became covered with worry. “I wonder if Trevilin has been to every town in this area. Spaulding didn’t seem familiar with this part of the country.”

“Spaulding has lived a long time but it seems like they only send him to patrol the same areas in the south. I hope Richard is all right because I’m so worried about him.”

The instant Herb said that name, Nelida started to cry in silence. The beast waded in the black waters in the cold of the dark night. Herb wanted to hear a reassuring message from Trevilin but there was just silence as the beast swam to be as far away from the bandits as possible. After around 20 minutes, something strange began to happen. “Nelida, look at the beast!”

“What’s going on Herb?”

Green fume started to emanate from the side and head of the Javelin and it was starting to dissolve in the water.

“Is the beast supposed to do that Nelida?”

“I don’t know Herb. I have never seen a green beast before and Spaulding’s fire beast was different.”

“Can you explain Nelly?”

“Spaulding’s fire beast would float in the air at night like a small torch.”

“Maybe the beast is hurt from the arrows and it’s bleeding.”

“But the glowing liquid doesn’t seem like blood Herb.”

“Maybe it’s because this beast is made out of a different material. We should try to remove the arrows and it will not feel any pain.”

The gelatinous powdery material continued to bleed from the Javelin’s ethereal body leaving a glowing trace on the water on the trail it left behind.

Nelida crept over the beast’s gigantic neck and tried to pull the arrow that was stuck on its right cheek. The beast didn’t try to attack her as she wasn’t intending to jump into the water but the arrow didn’t budge from its place. “It’s stuck and I can’t move it!” Nelida responded with frustration.

“Maybe the beast is getting tired and wants to rest. Beast creature, why don’t you rest for a while?”

The Javelin continued swimming while it ignored Herb’s well intentioned suggestion as gelatinous material continued spilling from it. The children watched in anxious silence for a while until Nelida noticed something.

“Herb, look at the tusks!”

Both children shrieked when one of the six tusks started to shrink.

“It’s not just the tusk Nelida, the entire magical beast is getting smaller!”

Nelida’s feet began touching the frigid cold water as the beast continued swimming.

Trevilin observed his friend feeling flustered. “Spaulding, I know you are panting in pain. What happened to you?!”

“It’s just a superficial burn wound on my left thigh, nothing to worry about!”

Trevilin became irritated because he knew Spaulding was lying as they continued dodging the wasp’s ice darts. Trevilin briefly studied Spaulding’s clumsy movements with increased worry.

“Are you having fun elves? Enjoying the prospect the children must have been caught by now?”

“Spaulding, are you sure you don’t wish to rest while I kill this mage?”

“I’m fine Trevilin. Please enter a meditative state to see what happened to the children.”

“I won’t do it if you are injured Spaulding. You can barely protect yourself much less both of us while I am idle.”

“I bet the beast has vanished by now.”

“I doubt it human.”

“Why would you say that?”

“If that were so, I would have summoned my Javelin by now and you would be dead. I ordered it to remain as long as the children were not safe or it had dissolved on its own.”

“Trevilin, please see what happened to the children if just for a second!” Spaulding with a lot of pain and agony managed to incorporate on his two legs. “Please do it Trevilin!”

“All right, but only for a second.” Trevilin relaxed his body and once again regained control of the Javelin.

Spaulding now had the mission to ignore the searing pain of his injured leg and with great effort he continued dodging ice darts with determination. The Javelin started to make some jolting head movements which scared the children.

Nelida screeched when she noticed something. “Herb, the beast is doing strange head movements!”

Much to their delight, the beast’s eyes briefly turned green and stared at them with reassurance.

“Look Nelida, I think Trevilin is controlling the beast again!”

They smiled in relief but the beast suddenly in an instant returned to a mindless state before saying anything to them.

“Spaulding, it’s worse than I thought.” Trevilin woke up looking grave.

“Are the children all right?”

“For the time being they seem to be fine, but the problem is that my Javelin will not protect them for much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“My Javelin is in the middle of the lake and it’s starting to dissipate.”

“Crap, Trevilin move it out of there to safety!”

“It’s in the middle of the lake Spaulding. It will be a futile effort.”

The wasp laughed relentlessly as it spewed ice darts. “I can’t believe a powerful immortal elf was stupid enough to order his earth beast to swim in deep water! If it wasn’t because the children will probably freeze to death, I’d enjoy your ignorance even more!”

Spaulding’s eyes opened wide at Emmerd’s mockery causing him to grimace in anxious silence. Trevilin frowned as he continued smashing endless ice darts. His mind spun with the hope of defeating the mage with his Javelin the second it vanished from the lake. Trevilin’s face became determined as he stared at the human’s idle body with hatred.

“Trevilin, I order you to enter a meditative state right now and warn the children. I swear I’ll protect your body! Do it!”

Trevilin nodded as he genuinely trusted his old friend. His mind once more took control of the beast that was soon going to dissolve. “Are you all right children? I have something important to tell you.”

Both children were overjoyed that the beast finally spoke to them. Four of the six tusks had dissolved and their legs were fully in the freezing water.

“Trevilin, what is happening? Are you two hurt?” Herb answered with an anxious voice.

“My body is being protected by Spaulding. We’re having a hard time defeating the mage that ambushed us but I don’t have any time.”

“What? Save us!” Nelida screeched.

“My Javelin is very powerful, but it has one major weakness. Even if I use my entire concentration and ordered it to swim at full speed to the closest shore, it is going to irremediably dissolve in a few more minutes.”

Nelida’s heart was pounding ever more rapidly. “What are we going to do?!”

“I can’t with my entire power stop the Javelin from dissolving Herb. Whatever happens, try to stay alive as long as possible and start swimming to the shore. The faster you swim, the less likely you will freeze to death. Stay on top of the Javelin for as long as possible.”

Herb tried to maintain his composure. “Will you come back for us?”

The Javelin’s body started to become semiliquid and Nelida’s hands could touch the gelatinous inside of its body which caused her to scream.

“Once the Javelin dissolves, I will be able to summon it instantly and kill the mage that is stalling us. Please stay…” The voice unexpectedly stopped saying anything as the Javelin suddenly dissolved and thrusted both children into the freezing water without notice.

“Oh no, Trevilin!” Both children yelled at the exact same time.

Ignoring any notion of common sense and the searing pain from his terrible leg wound, Spaulding darted in Trevilin’s direction as his body fell. Despite Spaulding’s best efforts, a rogue dart was able to lodge itself into Trevilin’s left neck. The dart instantly began expanding upon contact with his skin and destroyed any tissue in its path.

Spaulding cursed as he thought to himself.[_ “I was so careless!” _]Spaulding without thinking twice, dropped his sword to the ground and he placed his right hand on the elf’s neck. He used his powerful tactile heating magic to melt the dart before it caused more damage. Unfortunately, the magic that melted the dart caused a horrible third degree burn on Trevilin’s delicate tissues the instant he was recovering consciousness from an interrupted meditative state.

“You fool; you just killed your own friend!”

Spaulding became horrified as the elf was gasping in an unrecognizable grunt of the most abominable pain imaginable. Trevilin collapsed to the ground and clenched the soil with as much might as possible from the excruciating pain. “I’m so sorry Trevilin, I’m so…”

The tree trunk right behind them was blasted with a dart and it started to fall on top of them. Spaulding in a split second grabbed Trevilin’s mace and with a lot of sheer force, he pounded the tree truck and blew it up in a rageful fire. The man controlling the wasp woke up and tensed his body with surprise.

“I thought you couldn’t use your magic at night during a new moon!”

“You were wrong and you’re going to pay for it!” Spaulding looked at the wasp with hatred in his eyes while he held Trevilin’s mace. The metallic weapon was burning red from his anger induced fire magic. “I promise you will never see the light of day ever again.”

The children were instantly thrusted into the freezing water without understanding what had just occurred. The lake was inundated by their deafening screams as the water felt like thousands of tiny spears that pierced every inch of their bodies making their minds fall into despair.

“It’s so cold! What did we do to deserve this?!”

“Get on my back Nelida and hold on tight!”

Nelida obeyed her cousin and despite her long dress which made it difficult to properly move her legs, she waded to his back and grabbed onto it with all of her strength.

Herb’s back was warm enough to make the pain a little bit more bearable but the cold water and confusion was confounding. “I’m going to try to swim over to the left Nelly! Hang on!”

“What happened to Trevilin? Will he come back for us?”

Herb grunted with each stroke of his arms while he attempted to swim in the freezing water which felt like an unbearable penitence and a defiance of strong will. “I am not going to fall asleep while I swim to the ledge Nelida. We can’t rely on the elves right now, but I’ll take you as close to the shore as possible even if it costs my life. If anything happens to me, grab my dagger and run into the forest to hide!”

“Don’t say that Herb! We must rescue Richard and go back home!” Nelida didn’t seem to specify which home she was referring to. Deep down Nelida started to wish she was sleeping on a comfortable flatbed in Tesafar. Nelida’s pleasant memories in Spaulding’s castle managed to keep her awake instead of dozing off to certain death.

Spaulding stared at Emmerd’s grey eyes and spoke with a cynical tone of voice. “I’ll finish with you first.” Spaulding grabbed the mace with the most utter hatred at the wasp.

“Don’t believe I’ll make it so simple. The dark of night gives me the better edge!” The wasp was suddenly shooting small ice darts prompting Spaulding to run very fast to the right to dodge the attacks.

Spaulding with a lot of difficulty began making zig-zag movements while he charged towards the wasp. “You are a fool!”

The wasp continued shooting smaller ice darts but Spaulding used the heated mace to melt them and with a strong swing of his right arm, he smashed the wasp. The man grimaced with pain as the beast dissolved. He instantly made another one reappear but it was slightly smaller than the previous one. “What is going on? My Yurmeina is smaller than before!”

“That’s because you used too much mana Emmerd. Why do you think we prefer to travel long distances in horses instead of using our phantom beasts? I thought you were smarter than that.”

The man took one step backwards and ordered the Yurmeina to protect himself when he realized Spaulding made a moot point. Emmerd’s mind continued to think in a garbled whirl when Spaulding hit his skull as his hands were raised in a surrendering stance. In an instant the body burned in a ravaged fire and lay listless on the ground.

“Stupid fool, if you knew fencing like we do, you would probably still be alive. Good riddance.”

 

Chapter 6

 

Spaulding stood up feeling cramps from his exhausted legs and the wound that gushed a lot of blood. While he ignored his pain, he raced to Trevilin’s side. “Are you still alive Trevilin?”

Trevilin was in abominable pain from the burn but he managed to softly grab his left hand. He attempted to speak but the injury to his vocal cords made speech impossible.

“Please don’t speak Trevilin. I’ll take you to a safe place for a few minutes while I save the children before they freeze to death.”

Spaulding instantly touched Trevilin’s wound and used his heat redistribution magic to cool it which helped alleviate the pain. Spaulding immediately covered the wound with a piece of fabric he tore from his left arm. Spaulding attempted to stand up to fetch his sword when he collapsed to his knees. Trevilin made grunting noises at the sight. “Seems like my thigh wound lost a lot of blood because I was too busy fighting that bastard.”

Spaulding clenched his fist and hesitantly placed his left hand on his thigh. The forest became inundated by his deafening screams of pain as he burned his own leg. Spaulding pounded the soil from the pain but he briefly smiled at his worried friend with reassurance. After a few moments, he noticed the wound was no longer bleeding. “Don’t worry my friend. If I use my heat redistribution magic immediately, I’ll be fine.”

As Spaulding touched his left thigh, vapor began evaporating from his wound and within a few minutes, the pain was sufficiently tolerable for him to stand up. He fetched his sword and placed the mace in his friend’s belt. “Please hang onto my back Trevilin while I find a decent place to hide you while I search for the children.”

Spaulding carried Trevilin on his back towards several bushes that seemed to give good coverage to place his body. After he gently placed his friend on the soft leaves, he grabbed a leaf and summoned magic that caused a glowing blue ointment to ooze from the leaf. He began anointing the liquid on Trevilin’s wound that alleviated the pain. “I know it’s not much, but the ointments that will emanate from this plant will reduce the pain and swelling a little bit while I rescue the children. Please stay alive.”

Spaulding stood up and faced the direction where the Javelin ran. He was about to set off when Trevilin grabbed his right leg with his right hand. Spaulding turned around and was surprised that Trevilin removed his mace from the belt and gave it to him. Spaulding immediately understood the motive without needing to hear any words. “You want me to give this to the children to protect themselves while I come back for you.”

Trevilin nodded with a smile.

“I’ll be back as soon as possible and you will show me where the Blue City is located so that they can heal you. Please stay alive!”

The water was feeling heavier with each coming stroke. What initially felt like unbearable seething pain had suddenly become numb.

“I have to keep on swimming without falling asleep or else we’ll die!” Herb thought to himself. Herb’s face softened as he could see the shore lying closer ahead with each stroke of his arms. He had no idea how large the lake was but he assumed the bandits were very much far away. He started to feel sleepy but something in his mind constantly told him to stay alert. “Nelida, are you still awake?”

With a slight whimper, Nelida sleepily responded. “I’m still awake Herb, but it’s so late and I just want to go to sleep.”

“Whatever you do Nelly, don’t you dare fall asleep. If you do that, you will never wake up, trust me.”

“But it’s so hard to stay awake and I’m so cold!”

“You can either help me swim faster by kicking your legs to keep the blood flowing or bite your tongue. Maybe the pain will help you stay awake.”

Nelida chose the first option and kicking her lethargic legs helped Herb move a little bit faster.

“I wished your dress wasn’t so long because it makes it hard to swim. Maybe you should cut it with my dagger.”

“I am not going to do that Herb!”

Herb giggled from Nelida’s protest which helped him stay awake. It seemed like the shore was getting more and more visible as they approached it. “Keep on talking to me Nelly. You’re helping me swim faster.”

Nelida seemed to be pensive as she kicked her legs with all of her remaining strength.

“What is Tesafar like Nelida?”

“Why do you want to talk about that city right now?”

“It helps me stay awake.”

“Well, the streets are white and clean and Spaulding’s castle is kind of nice. However if I were a queen, I would like to live in a castle made out of glass crystals that made a rainbow inside each room as the sun passed through.”

Herb chuckled at such a strange wish. “I don’t think making a glass castle would make any sense Nelly. It would break into pieces with a hammer.”

“Then I shall make one with diamonds!”

By then Herb’s laughter was deafeningly audible in the desolate lake. He felt like his body was gaining more strength from the laughter as the blood flowed faster through his veins. “I have never seen a diamond even half the size of my hand Nelly. That is simply impossible!”

Nelida became quiet as she started to think. “If you could learn to use magic, what would you do?”

Herb swam more slowly in deep thought. “I thought only elves could use magic Nelida.”

“Didn’t you hear Trevilin’s voice coming out of that green beast? They were being attacked by a human that was good at using magic.”

“Do you think humans can learn how to use magic?”

“I didn’t before, but if a bandit could learn magic, I think we can too!”

“Did Spaulding ever teach you two magic when you lived with him?”

“He never used it when we lived in his castle. He always spent his time resting or reading books in his office. He would sometimes sit in front of a candle for hours but I never knew why he did that.”

“If we see him again, we should ask him. If I could create a magical ball of fire and make it fly around, I’d use it every day instead of sit in front of a candle doing nothing!”

“I have concluded he does that because elves are weird.”

“I don’t know Nelly. I find them to be fascinating.”

“Are you sure Herb?”

“I don’t know why humans in our country see elves with disrespect or fear. Spaulding isn’t my blood relative, but I kind of wished he was my father.”

The conversation seemed to take a respite as the shore was getting close. For some instances, Herb’s feet started to touch the rocks beneath him. “I think we are getting close to the shore but there are a lot of rocks. Be careful Nelly and stop kicking.”

Nelida obeyed and she grabbed onto Herb’s back as he clumsily dodged countless invisible rocks. A couple of them hit his legs causing some bruises but he didn’t usher complaints. Nelida was more fortunate than him but a sharp rock ripped a piece of her dress as it floated on the shallow water. Within a couple of minutes, the children reached some rocks and with great difficulty they climbed on top with their numb arms.

“Can we just lay on this rock for a few minutes Nelly? I need to rest my legs.”

The rock was uncomfortable with irregular and sharp edges, but it was large enough for both children to lay on their weary backs and pant for a short breath. The jolt of energy Herb used to safely swim to the shore had given up its last strength and he could now barely move.

“Take off the dress Nelly. It’s only dead weight and you will catch a cold.”

“Are you serious?! A lady never undresses in front of a man!”

“Richard told me when you first met Spaulding you ran all over his house half naked. I don’t see much of a difference.”

“But you’re a man!”

“I am your family. I don’t think it’s weird at all if you undress in front of me. Besides, you still have all of those clothes beneath. It’s not like I will see anything.”

Nelida wanted to slap her cousin in the cheek for saying something so disrespectful but she was too weak to do anything. Herb had a hard time keeping his eyes open as the sky changed into a lighter hue and the temperature began to drop.

“Please don’t fall asleep Herb no matter what you do!” Nelida was getting more anxious than before.

“I can’t avoid it; I am so cold and tired. We haven’t eaten anything in almost a day. I wish I was sleeping on a comfortable bed or at least on the ground next to a warm fire.” Herb’s voice was getting more silent as he felt like sleeping.

Nelida sat up to try to stay awake when they heard something in the distance.

“We finally found them!”

Nelida’s eyes opened wide as she turned her head in the direction of the strange voices. “Could it be uncle Spaulding and Trevilin?” Nelida wondered out loud.

Unfortunately the voices were from someone else. The children were soon approached by two bandits that carried a torch.

“Herb get up, it’s the bandits!”

Herb suddenly woke up and he tried to grab his dagger. A part of him felt like he should draw the weapon to protect Nelida but another part of his mind felt that if he tried to engage in combat they will not hesitate in hurting him. Herb decided not to wield his weapon and remained motionless as the bandits approached them. “I don’t wish to get captured but I’m certain they will start a campfire to keep us warm until the elves come to save us.” Herb thought.

The men easily snatched both of them and they were taken to the sandy shore. A third bandit was standing in the shore with some ropes in his hands.

“Good job Jerry, how do they look?”

“Freezing cold from the lake water and with a few bruises but otherwise they look all right.”

“Good Ambrosius, I hope Emmerd got rid of those idiot creatures by now. It’s a good thing we ambushed them when we could.”

The two children were promptly tied up and their mouths gagged with old pieces of cloth that smelled like dirt. Herb’s dagger was taken away out of precaution.

“They are freezing Ambrosious. Shouldn’t we start a fire?”

“Not until we find the others Garth. I’m not taking any risks.”

“Do you think Emmerd finished those two rangers?”

“Who cares, at least he managed to stall the elves while we caught up with the kids. Let’s carry them to the camp.”

The children dreaded the possibility the elves were probably killed. Nelida’s face was covered with fear of the unknown and wished with all of her might to see her uncle’s serious but calm face and Trevilin’s inquisitive smile.”

“Stop slouching children and start walking!”

With difficulty, both children stood up and they started walking. The men were laughing when suddenly they felt a jolt from behind and fell down. Garth’s body had tumbled on top of the children motionless.

“Garth! Who did this to you?!”

Ambrosius was barely able to grab his sword on time before his chest was stabbed.

“What is going on?!” Jerry yelled.

Herb anxiously turned around and noticed Ambrosius’s body suddenly become motionless as it fell on the ground.

Jerry’s face became more firm. “I’ll kill you intruder!”

Jerry was the first to draw his sword and managed to hit someone’s sword twice, but the invisible enemy was faster and slashed his neck. Nelida shrieked when Jerry’s body tumbled in front of her and bled to death within a minute.

[_“Who could have killed these three criminals with so much ease?” _]Herb was expectedly awed and tried focusing his vision trying to pinpoint his mysterious savior to no avail.

“Are you two all right?”

“Spaulding!”

A thin blond elf wearing black leather armor approached them with a smile. He was covered with blood, but he seemed otherwise all right as he knelt and cut the ropes. “I’m so happy you two are all right.”

The children hugged him so hard he had a lot of difficulty breathing.

Nelida accidentally pressed his wounded leg with her right knee which called him to grimace in pain. “Are you injured uncle?” Nelida asked.

“Just a small cut, it’s nothing serious.”

Herb turned around. “Where is Trevilin?”

“He is seriously wounded but alive. I managed to kill the mage. Sorry it took so long to get here.”

“Oh my, where is Trevilin? Is he safe?” Herb’s face tensed when he realized he was nowhere to be seen.

“I treated the wounds as best as I could and hid him in the bushes several miles away from here. I’ll go back and rescue him when I put you two in a safe place.” Spaulding noticed both children were shivering in the freezing cold. “The two of you are going to freeze to death if we don’t do something.”

Herb tried to rub his trembling hands. “Are you going to start a campfire or use your magic bird? I could use some fire right now.”

“It’s too risky to start a campfire at night with enemies still out there and I can’t summon my Hiratori until dawn. But I have another idea, follow me.”

Spaulding and the children walked in awkward silence while the elf searched for an appropriate spot in the shore. Both children had a huge desire to ask him endless questions but they were too weak and cold to say anything. After walking for a few minutes, he found a small cave that was hidden behind some bushes. “This place looks perfect.”

The children followed the weary elf towards the small cave that had a little pool of shallow water. Spaulding knelt and pressed his hands on the water. Within 30 seconds, the little pool started to cover in vapor while the children watched his feat with awe.

“I thought you couldn’t use magic tonight Spaulding!” Herb’s eyes glistened after he saw Spaulding’s sorcery for the first time.

“I can’t summon my Hiratori along with most of my advanced techniques Herb. But I can still use some minor magical abilities such as changing the temperature of objects that touch my body.”

“You’re so amazing uncle! But what do you plan to do with this hot water?”

“I expect both of you to remove your wet clothes and enter the hot water to warm up before you become sick. Get inside while I go and fetch Trevilin before he dies.”

“I’m not getting naked with my cousin!” Nelida demanded.

“I don’t understand why you would protest after I just saved you. Stop being a spoiled brat and remove the dress. You still have an underdress beneath you right?”

Herb removed his clothes except his underwear and got into the comfortable water. There were some sharp rocks everywhere but he started to feel his arms and legs again which felt wonderful.

“I’ll place your clothes over here so that they start to dry. Hold onto Trevilin’s mace for protection. I know it’s a bit heavy and it has some blood but hopefully you won’t need to use it.” Spaulding noticed Nelida didn’t want to budge. “I won’t waste my time arguing with you. Either remove that dress and enter the pool with Herb, or I will have to grab you and drop you into the pool. I suggest you to abide by my order and enter the pool under your free will.”

Nelida grimaced at her uncle but she instantly relented. She started removing her dress with Spaulding’s help. Spaulding spread the tattered dress on top of a branch hoping it would start to dry.

“Herb, turn your back to the other side and if I catch you staring at me, I will slap you!” Nelida entered the comfortable hot water much to Spaulding’s relief.

“Okay Herb and Nelida, I am going to fetch Trevilin. If I am lucky, I might kill any remaining bandits I see on the way as well. Do you know how many are left?”

“When we arrived to the lake, there were about 20 enemies but the green thing attacked at least 5 of them.”

“Knowing Trevilin’s Javelin, I am sure those bandits are dead. So there are around 15 bandits left?”

Herb nodded and continued to speak. “Right after the green creature got into the water; one of the bandits ordered three men to ride their horses to the other side of the lake. Did you see any of them?”

“I only killed those three men on foot when I rescued you two so we still have 12 enemies nearby and 3 on the other side of the lake. That doesn’t seem too difficult.”

“But you have a wounded leg and they are all riding horses Spaulding.” The joy on Herb’s face briefly vanished.

“Don’t worry about me. Stay quiet and don’t make any noise until I come back.” Spaulding left the pool and walked with sheer determination. He seemed more tranquil now that he knew the children were in a safe hideout and half of the bandits were dead. The determined elf began to think to himself. “As long as those children stay put with dawn approaching, I think we’ll be all right. I’m vastly worried about my nephew but until my friends and family aren’t in the safety of that city, I’ll just have to hope for the best.”

Spaulding walked back to the place where he hid Trevilin. So far there were no enemies anywhere as he approached Trevilin who was still gasping in pain but still alive. With care Spaulding picked up his friend who was barely conscious and he walked with a slow but steady pace to the lake. “I found the children Trevilin, they are safe so don’t worry. Just stay alive long enough for us to find your friends. In an hour I will be able to use my magic again.”

Trevilin couldn’t say anything but somehow in Spaulding’s mind he knew Trevilin understood him. Unfortunately, the peace had been cut short when Spaulding approached a part of the lake where the three men he killed a while ago laid. There were 7 bandits on horseback waiting for him.

“The elves are alive!”

“Emmerd wasn’t able to finish them off?”

Everyone jeered in unison.

Spaulding softly laid Trevilin on the ground and he stood in a defiant stance at the 7 enemies that surrounded him. “I’m sorry to say this but your luck ends here.” Spaulding’s face became covered by a huge grin.

“Emmerd told us that you can’t use your magic tonight and it’s not yet dawn. Your luck is coming to a close and we have your little friends.”

Spaulding grinned with arrogance. “I don’t need my magic to finish you 7 off!”

Two of the men drew their spears but Spaulding touched the fuller of his sword with his left hand and the metal began to glow a bright red. Spaulding charged at the spears and easily killed the men along with their horses. Spaulding now had 5 enemies left to kill. He ran past the group and entered the shallow water.

“You are indeed an idiot. Why in the hell would you purposely run into the water making your movements slower when we are armed with horses and spears?”

Spaulding thrust his magic augmented sword inside of the water tossing boiling vapor that scalded man and beast alike in seconds. The sky was filled with screeching pain as Spaulding took advantage of their confusion and killed all three of them. “Just two more useless bandits left!” Spaulding chased behind the final two bandits when one of them pierced his right arm causing him to screech in pain. “You bastard!”

Spaulding thrusted his heated sword and pierced the man’s neck killing him instantly. He quickly turned to his left and with some effort due to the piercing pain on his arm; he kicked the man in the stomach with his right leg and stabbed his chest. “Idiot criminals, I’m glad that I managed to kill them all.”

Spaulding turned around in the hopes of taming one of the horses that survived but the animal jolted away in fear much to his dismay. The elf guarded his sword with difficulty and stared at his badly injured arm. “Damn bastard managed to wound me.”

Spaulding grimaced as he ripped a piece of cloth and tied it on his arm. He returned to the shore to retrieve his wounded friend. Spaulding carried Trevilin on his back and they reached the cave where the children were hiding. As he looked at the sky, he noticed dawn was approaching which made him sigh in relief.

“Look Nelida, Spaulding and Trevilin are back!” Herb approached the cautious elf with a huge smile. The boy’s face soon became grave when he noticed Spaulding had a new wound on his right arm and Trevilin looked terrible. Trevilin’s face was pale like a corpse and he barely moved in fear of losing more blood from the wound on his neck.

Spaulding placed Trevilin on the sand and grabbed Herb’s shirt. “Dawn is approaching making it easier for me to use my powers again. Let’s see if I can get these clothes dried up.”

Spaulding held Herb’s clothing causing vapor to emanate into the atmosphere and dried them within a couple of seconds. He gave the clothing to Herb who proceeded to put them on and then dried Nelida’s clothes with ease. “Nelida when you are ready to get out of the water and put your clothes back on, you might want to remove that white undershirt first. Would you like me to dry that as well?”

“Yes uncle, thank you.” Nelida took off her undershirt and Spaulding dried it instantly. After getting dressed, she climbed to the shore and shrieked when she saw Trevilin. “Spaulding what happened to him?” Nelida asked.

“He suffered severe burns when I tried to stop an ice dart that nearly beheaded him. We need to get out of here and hide somewhere while I search for help.”

“Did you find other bandits Spaulding? What about the horses?”

“I killed 7 of them and unfortunately killed most of the horses. None of the remaining horses will dare let me ride them because I scared them with my fire.”

Spaulding picked up Trevilin and carried him inside of the forest while the children treaded behind. Everyone was quiet to avoid attracting unwanted attention but the forest was silent. After an hour, Spaulding found a suitable cave that had enough space for everyone. Nelida was walking right behind them but Herb was quickly trailing behind.

“Hurry up Herb! I found a suitable place for you three to hide while I search for help!”

“I’m sorry Spaulding. I don’t feel very well.”

Spaulding turned around feeling worried that Herb perhaps had a serious wound but he fortunately only had a couple of bruises.

Nelida touched Herb’s forehead and gasped. “Uncle, Herb has a fever!”

“Great, we have yet another infirm. Hurry up Herb and hide in the cave with the others. I’ll get some water to drink.” Spaulding placed Trevilin on the ground while Herb huddled in fetal position as he felt cramps from the fever. Spaulding touched his forehead with certain worry. [_“I feel sorry for leaving this poor child here in such terrible misery but his fever isn’t life threatening.” _]Spaulding thought with remorse.

Spaulding turned around and sighed in relief that Nelida only had a couple of bruises but she was otherwise unharmed. Spaulding left the cave and a few minutes later, he returned with some water in a cup made out of a leaf. He knelt by Herb’s side with reassurance. “I know this isn’t much, but drink some water Herb. It will make the fever a little bit more tolerable.”

Herb drank with some difficulty and he collapsed on his back. Spaulding approached Trevilin and offered the beverage. Much to his chagrin, Trevilin was unable to swallow anything as blood started to spew from his mouth. Spaulding’s face was covered with sadness and remorse.

“I am so deeply sorry for your suffering my dear friend. I’ll find the city on my own and hopefully their medics will be able to heal you.”

Spaulding stood up and attempted to summon his Hiratori, but the meager flickers of fire disappeared within seconds. Spaulding’s face seemed grave.

“I used too much magic and my wounds and exhaustion doesn’t allow me to summon my beast even in broad daylight. I’ll have to walk. Nelida, I know you are tired and starving, but I need you to stay awake and keep an eye on Herb and Trevilin. Do you need some water?”

“No uncle, I’m fine. Please come back soon!”

Spaulding nodded and promptly left the cave. The elf stared at a fearsome mountain range in the west with resign. “I don’t know where this elvish city is but I’ll presume its passing those mountains.”

The day continued and nobody appeared in the vicinity. Nelida felt hopeless as she watched Herb panting from his fever and Trevilin grimacing in silent pain with the constant risk of his wounds opening. Trevilin was barely conscious but he watched Nelida huddled in a corner looking fearful and impotent. With what little strength he had left, Trevilin touched the ground and a bright green light emanated from his hand.

Nelida turned around and screeched. “Are you going to summon your beast here?”

Instead of the gigantic fearful beast that appeared the first time, Nelida was surprised when a small piglet that was barely larger than Trevilin’s hand appeared from the ground. The piglet stared at Nelida without walking anywhere. Trevilin closed his eyes and concentrated on the tiny beast. “Don’t worry Nelida, Spaulding will be back.”

“Trevilin, you can speak!”

“You forgot I can control my Javelin and make it speak if I want it to.”

“You should save your energy, the wound looks terrible.”

“You have no idea how badly it hurts, but I couldn’t stand seeing you look so sad Nelida. I can’t keep the beast active for long, but rest assured I don’t regret saving the two of you and we will save Richard.” The beast suddenly disappeared and Trevilin fell unconscious.

“Wake up!”

“Calm down Nelida. Let him rest.” Herb replied.

Nelida didn’t say anything and she decided to take a look outside of the cave being careful not to raise her head above the bushes. “I don’t see anybody outside, what a relief.” She reentered the cave and without hesitation, she ripped a piece of her dress.

Herb’s eyes widened at the sight. “What are you doing Nelly?”

Nelida poured some water on the ripped cloth and placed it on Herb’s forehead that alleviated the pain. Herb smiled at her but he was unable to say anything. Nelida stared at Trevilin’s unconscious body with sadness. “I wished I could feed him some water, but maybe I can do something else for him.”

Nelida noticed Trevilin’s lips were entirely dehydrated. Without thinking, she carefully placed a few droplets of water around his mouth if only to alleviate the discomfort. “I can’t do anything else for you dear Trevilin but I hope you will feel a little better with this.”

Nelida kissed the elf’s forehead and she rushed to the cave’s entrance looking alert. “I promise I will be brave like my uncle if only for today.”

 

Chapter 7

 

Spaulding climbed the interminable cliff with difficulty. He was better off than his friend but he had lost a lot of blood, hadn’t eaten anything in over a day and he could no longer remember the last time he slept. “I can’t faint at a time like this. I must find those elves at all costs!”

He finally reached the top of the cliff and found a giant valley ahead of him that was filled with greenery but much to his dismay, he saw no sign of any dwellings. The sun was above him allowing a proper view of the lake behind. “What a gigantic lake. No wonder the Javelin vanished.”

Spaulding continued to walk across the mountain range with difficulty feeling increasing anxiety with each passing hour of grueling travel. “Where is that damn city? If only I was able to summon my fire wings, I would have found it by now!”

His right arm started to feel numb as copious amounts of blood fell on the leaves. He continued walking up an endless mountain range with increasing despair that the hopes of saving Trevilin’s life diminished with each passing hour. “I should have tried to tame one of those horses and carry Trevilin and Herb to that city.”

After walking for another 20 grueling minutes, he tripped on a rock, lost his balance and fell backwards on his back as his head hit a rock causing him to feel piercing pain. Consciousness started to evade him and everything turned black.

A mysterious person was staring at an unusual sight. “Now this is a strange sight.”

An elf wearing strange looking asymmetrical blue leather armor was looking at the valley and lake in the distance. The woman was wearing tall leather boots with loose lilac colored pants and a long lilac tunic that protruded beneath the long armor like a dress. Her face had slender and fine features with asymmetrical cyan colored hair that was covered by a blue leather helmet that was tied with black straps beneath her jaw. Her violet eyes were staring at the pitiful creature at her feet with confusion.

“I wonder who this is.” She bent down and gasped when she recognized a pair of long ears. “It’s an elf and he’s still alive but who is he?” She knelt by his side and noticed there was a lot of blood that seeped from the right arm and head causing her worry. The woman started to violently shake him. “Wake up! Please, wake up!”

The elf grimaced for a moment and recovered consciousness. He stared at the face of the strange woman who was looking at him with concern and sat up. His vision was blurred from the blood that fell on his tense face.

“Who are you?”

“Good to know a fellow elf is still alive on my watch. My name is Seiran and I found you lying unconscious on the outer borders of our city. What happened to you?”

Spaulding didn’t pay much attention to the elf’s presentation or to her curiously distinctive attire but he turned his head to the sun that was close to setting. “Oh no Trevilin and the children I…”

Seiran grabbed Spaulding by the shoulders looking worried. “Do you know Trevilin? Is he all right?”

“He’s my friend and he’s badly wounded. I was searching for a nearby elvish city to request help.”

Seiran smiled with pride and summoned her Elyria. Spaulding was indifferent at the cyan beast that had the head of an eagle with a slender body that was covered in scales. “I’ll help you get on my beast to take you to our city and later on I’ll fetch Trevilin. Do you know where he is?”

“I thank you for your concern, but we need to rescue Trevilin immediately.”

“Don’t worry, the city is nearby. I’d like to take you there first.”

Spaulding looked adamant at Seiran. “Trevilin is gravely injured and he could die in any minute.”

Seiran’s face became grave as she immediately understood Spaulding was not going anywhere without him. Without protesting, she helped Spaulding sit on her Elyria and she mounted it as well. “Okay then mysterious elf in need, where do we go?”

“I left him down by the lake on the west side inside of a hidden cave.”

“All right, let’s go!”

The Elyria ran downhill and within a few minutes, they arrived to the cave. Nelida was instantly alerted as she stood watch. When she heard the noises getting nearer, she grabbed the dagger and tried to attack whatever enemy was approaching.

“Nelida, it’s me!”

Nelida’s face was filled with joy and she ran to hug Spaulding who fell to his knees with exhaustion from the events of the day. Seiran observed the terrified human girl and entered the cave. She had a brief glimpse of a human boy with messy brown hair that tried to sit up despite the fever and gasped when she saw an unconscious Trevilin.

Seiran rushed over to his side fearing for the worst. “These wounds look terrible!” She sighed in relief that she could feel his weak pulse while Spaulding was anxiously watching her. “He’s still alive, but he won’t last much longer unless I take him now.”

“Take him and the boy if it’s possible. They are in worse shape than I am.” Spaulding responded.

“But you look terrible. The children can wait here.”

“No, take Herb and Trevilin immediately. I’ll wait here with the girl.”

Seiran wanted to continue arguing with the elf, but she was too worried about saving Trevilin to continue wasting time. Spaulding managed to help Seiran carry Trevilin on top of the Elyria and he returned to the inside of the cave for Herb.

“Spaulding, you should go first.” Herb responded with a firm voice.

“You have a fever and you can’t protect Nelida if any bandits appear.”

“Your name is Spaulding?”

“Yes, and take Trevilin and Herb as soon as possible.”

“I’ll order someone from my city to fetch the two of you. Hopefully someone will arrive within one hour.”

The Elyria ran off at an amazing speed and within seconds, it was no longer visible. Feeling relieved that Trevilin and Herb were now in the safe hands of a fellow elf, Spaulding collapsed on a rock at the entrance of the cave.

“I’m sorry Nelida that I couldn’t ask Seiran to take you with her, but I doubt her beast could run fast with 4 people on top of it.”

“That is all right uncle. Why did it take you so long to come back?”

“I lost consciousness when my head fell on a rock. Seiran gave this to me and I want to give it to you.” Spaulding handed Nelida a small leaf package that was wrapped with a rope. Nelida cautiously opened it and noticed it was a small elvish bread cake.

“But you need to eat too!”

“That is all right. I already ate something.” He looked wearily into the distance with his healthy left arm while he held onto his sword in silence. Nelida started eating the cake trying to contain her tears now that the ordeal was almost over. “You don’t have to pretend to be strong with me Nelida.”

After finishing the cake, she immediately hugged Spaulding and began crying profusely. Spaulding feeling truly sorry for the little girl softly held her back and hugged her with his right arm that finally stopped bleeding. Nelida continued crying until she fell profusely asleep in the safety of his arms. A little while before sunset, Seiran returned with several elves that wore similar blue uniforms. Seiran was glad Spaulding was still conscious.

Spaulding’s face became concerned. “Is Trevilin going to make it?”

Seiran tried to remain optimistic. “I can’t say for sure, but the medics in my city are treating him. They are also treating your human friend. Is the little girl all right?”

“She is only exhausted but fortunately she doesn’t have any serious wounds.”

“Are you a ranger from the central plains?”

“How did you know that?”

“Trevilin has told me a lot about you. It’s a shame we had to meet in dire conditions, but I am excited to meet you and I am certain you will enjoy your stay.”

“There is little time for leisure. This little girl and the other boy you rescued are nobles from Ayrtain and we were chased by bandits last night.”

One of the accompanying guards grunted feeling insulted. “Bandits in our lands? No fool would dare do such a thing!”

Spaulding faced the guard that accompanied Seiran looking grave. “Well believe me or not, Nelida’s brother has just been kidnapped 3 days ago by them. We were ambushed by a human mage who badly wounded us.”

“A human mage did this to the two of you? Where is he now?” Seiran asked.

“I managed to kill him and at least 15 bandits but there should be others hiding around somewhere including the bandits that kidnapped Richard. Take Nelida to the safety of your city and give me a horse so that I can go rescue him.”

“Nonsense, we need to take you to our city immediately!”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I am in perfect condition to search for Richard.”

Seiran frowned and crossed her arms. “If that is so, then show me your magic!”

Spaulding attempted to summon his Hiratori but he was disappointed when his fire flickered for a second and vanished instantly.

“Don’t be a fool Spaulding. You are never going to rescue that human with such pitiful magic. Leave the rescue to us and come willingly to our city unless you want us to tie you up instead.”

Spaulding didn’t like Seiran’s sense of humor, but he mounted the beast of one of the soldiers while Seiran personally picked up Nelida who was still sleeping.

Seiran turned around. “Go search for any remaining bandits Gandin and Tamarel. Kill all but one of them for interrogation. If you find any bodies, you know what to do with them.”

“Aye Lord Seiran.”

The soldiers rushed off as the beasts carrying everyone jolted in the same direction Spaulding had taken earlier. Darkness was settling in the summer sky as the beasts ran with amazing speed uphill and across a small road Spaulding hadn’t noticed earlier in the day that passed through two mountains. After running across a narrow passageway, another valley appeared and the temperature suddenly became unusually warm.

“Are you awake Lord Spaulding?” Seiran asked.

“Why is it so warm here?”

“My city rests on the side of the ocean and we get warm weather from the current. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”

“I’ve mostly been to the central regions that I patrol.”

“Well that’s a shame Spaulding but I’m sure you will enjoy the Blue City. It’s one of a kind!”

Spaulding didn’t know what Seiran meant by the nickname and he became awed when the two water beasts ran even faster than a while ago now that it was sunset.

“Hold on Lord Spaulding or you might fall.” A guard said.

Spaulding grabbed the soldier’s left shoulder with his left hand as the beast ran downhill across a winding road that was surrounded by several waterfalls. As they approached the city, he noticed some waterfalls that streamed water on top of strange looking fields but it was too dark to clearly see them. Spaulding briefly turned his head and noticed several scattered buildings that were entirely surrounded by fields. “We must have reached the outer borders of the city where human peasants live.” Spaulding thought with an awed face.

After around 20 minutes, the group reached a protective wall that surrounded the formal city. “Look Marvero! Lord Seiran and her foot soldiers have returned.”

“Open the gates immediately!”

The group didn’t need to decrease their fast pace as the wooden doors were opened instantly.

Spaulding’s eyes jolted open at the beautiful city that was in front of him. [_“I’ve never seen an elvish city built on a bay facing the ocean before. I’m indeed amazed that such a densely populated city was on the other side of those frigid wastelands.” _]Spaulding was marveled at the city lying ahead.

As they raced past the narrow cobbled streets, they soon approached a series of large buildings in front of them.

“Is this the city palace?”

Seiran smiled feeling pleased. “We have just arrived to Tindenfarel Castle. I’m convinced you will soon feel welcome here and enjoy your stay.”

“I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I just need to rest and my magic should be back to normal by dawn. I’ll leave the protection of the children and Trevilin over to you in the meantime.”

“Nonsense, leave the rescue of that human to me and my troops. You should focus on getting better.”

Spaulding preferred to avoid arguing with Seiran as the group entered a large garden that faced one of the hexagonal shaped towers of the palace. Seiran got off her beast and carried Nelida who was still asleep while the guard helped Spaulding dismount the other beast. A group of elves were already awaiting them.

“These are the other two injured guests?” A tall woman that looked a lot like Seiran with an elaborate dress and headset looked at the blond elf and smiled. “Welcome to Tindenfarel. Please come this way.” The mysterious woman smiled.

Seiran followed the strange elf as she carried a still dormant Nelida while Spaulding treaded behind with a notable limp.

The woman looked behind with a frown. “I’ll call for our medics to bring a stretcher for you Lord Spaulding.”

“I’m fine. Just show me to my room and prepare a bath if it’s possible.”

The woman frowned at his persistent stubbornness and they soon bumped into a tall and slightly corpulent elf that wore a white coat and a cylindrical shaped hat. “Let me present you to Ciedel. He’ll take care of both of you.”

“My name is Lord Spaulding of the Kasimma Clan. Where’s my room?”

Ciedel’s smile turned into a frown when he realized the elf was half covered with blood. “It’s over here, please come.”

A female elf wearing a white robe took Nelida from Seiran’s arms and carried her to an undisclosed location in a hallway. Spaulding treaded behind Ciedel in awkward silence as they walked across several stone cobbled hallways. The simple looking hallways had several oval shaped arches that were illuminated by the familiar spherical white lights.

[_“I’ll presume this so called Ciedel is one of the clan leader’s most important servants who is wasting his time showing me around this stupid building. The second I can summon my Hiratori, I’ll be leaving to locate my nephew.” _]Spaulding thought to himself feeling repulsed.

Spaulding was too focused on rescuing Richard to care much about the beauty of the palace or the frown on Ciedel’s face as he slowly trailed behind. After an endless walk, they reached his assigned guestroom.

“Please follow me Lord Spaulding.”

He was welcomed into a large room with an elevated bed which seemed unusual to him as most elves slept on flatbeds on the floor. He turned around and noticed the sparse room had a chair and a lot of medical equipment on a tray which confused him. Spaulding collapsed on the chair and sighed.

A female elf dressed in white robes smiled at the wounded elf. “Here is your dinner Lord Spaulding. Would you like me to serve you some tea?”

“That would be most appreciative.”

The elf offered him a tray with vegetable soup and some warm sweet tea. Spaulding grabbed the spoon with his left hand and quickly ate the food while Ciedel watched him.

“Would you like some more Lord Spaulding?”

“That is enough. I’d just like to take a bath.”

“Don’t worry; we will have that arranged my Lord.”

The female elf turned to face Ciedel with worry and quietly left the room. Ciedel approached Spaulding who accidentally dropped his sword on the floor.

“I’m sorry for leaving the sword on the floor. I’ll pick it up.” Spaulding tried to stand up when Ciedel firmly grabbed his left shoulder and pressed a needle on his forehead. “What’s going on?”

“Sleep Spaulding.”

Spaulding within seconds passed out and everything turned black. Spaulding woke up in a sudden drowsy jolt from the bed. He had no idea how long he slept, but his entire body was aching nonstop.

“What happened? Why does my body hurt me so much?” For a few moments he laid on his back on the bed as he stared at the ceiling while he tried to remember something important, and then his fuzzy memory came back to him. “I knew it! The bastard was a medic and he drugged me on purpose to treat my wounds!”

Spaulding sat up and noticed there was sunlight outside of the window. The room had very little decoration which seemed odd for a palace. “I know that I like to keep my palace spare without much furniture, but this room doesn’t have any decoration.”

He touched his forehead with his left hand and noticed someone placed a bandage on it. “Perhaps my head bled more than I initially thought when I hit that rock.”

He then looked at his right arm which had a thick bandage that covered his entire forearm. “Seems like I didn’t need a cast. It was probably just a flesh wound and the bones were not fractured.”

He tried to move his right hand. but even the most minimal movements caused him a great deal of pain much to his chagrin. “The arm wound is probably worse than I initially thought but I can still manage with my left hand.”

Spaulding decided to check if his magic had returned and with a swift movement of his left hand, a small torch of fire quickly turned into the familiar shape of his fire bird. “Good, then all I have to do is take a look at my…”

He turned his face to look at his left leg and growled at a gigantic fabric cast that covered his entire leg. “What in the bloody hell is this? I didn’t have a broken leg. Why would they put this hideous looking thing on me?”

With some difficulty, he managed to remove the cast and noticed his left leg had some inflammation. “I can understand bandaging the wound, but why in the hell did those idiots put a cumbersome cast on my leg?”

Spaulding’s thigh had a lot of tightly placed bandages but he decided not to remove them. He turned around and much to his relief, his clothes and armor were placed inside a closet on the other side of the room. “Thank goodness they didn’t hide my belongings. I was worried I’d have to wander outside in this robe.”

Spaulding felt his hair and grumbled when something was missing. “Those damn bastards removed my ponytail and they never bothered to put it back on! Never mind, I won’t be staying here much longer anyways.”

Spaulding turned around and saw a tray with food next to the bed. With some difficulty, he sat up and opened the cover. “What kind of insulting treatment is this? This food looks like something they would serve in a prison.”

Spaulding grumbled at the barely palatable paste. He promptly ate all of the food and drank two cups of the dull tea feeling repulsed at the flavor. After he finished his meal, he stood up with a lot of difficulty. The pain from his wounds was unpleasant but bearable. Spaulding managed to approach the chair and he started to put on his clothes. After he finished securing his armor, he tied his sword to his belt looking more alert.

“There is something missing in this closet.” He tried to look for the elastic band to tie his hair but he couldn’t find it anywhere. Despite disliking having his hair loose, he resigned to the idea he will have to fly with his hair blowing everywhere. “I’m certain the children will be well protected in this city. I just hope they managed to save Trevilin’s life.”

Spaulding approached the door but he stopped in the last minute before he opened the doorknob. “Walking across these hallways with my injuries could risk my escape.”

The elf approached the window and with some effort, he summoned a pair of fire wings and flew outside without making any noise. He flew in the air and realized it was barely dawn. “The timing for my escape couldn’t have been better. I’m certain the foot soldiers of the city will never notice anything unusual.”

Spaulding floated in the sky as he studied the unusually shaped series of hexagonal shaped blue stone buildings that were connected with each other by stone hallways. He briefly turned around and noticed some of the buildings had patios with pleasant gardens that had a nice view of the ocean.

“It’s a beautiful palace in its own right despite the odd shape, but my priority is to rescue my nephew immediately.”

Spaulding flew in the air and viewed the Blue City from the sky. On one side was the northern sea, and on the other side was the mountain range along with the remainder of the Elf Kingdom. The elf was amazed at the strange architecture of the city.

“Now I understand why Seiran called this place the Blue City, all of the buildings even the streets are made out of a bright blue stone. The city has a lot of fountains as well, how strange.”

Spaulding turned his attention to the southwest with determination. “I’m certain if I fly quickly in that direction, I’ll find those scumbags soon enough.”

Spaulding flew above the palace but after attempting to cross the southern stone wall, he was completely unable to pass. “What is going on? Is there an enemy stopping me somehow?”

He looked around but there were no elves or phantom beasts nearby which gave him some assurance. He tried to fly the sky a second time but once again, an invisible barrier forced him inside of the palace area. Spaulding frowned with both confusion and annoyance at the mysterious energy field that didn’t let him pass. “Maybe there is an energy field that doesn’t allow enemies to enter the palace. I’ll fly higher and see if I can pass through.”

Spaulding attempted to fly higher but after reaching a certain height, he was once again bounced backwards into the proximity of the palace by some invisible energy. It was not painful, but it felt like a shot of slight energy that shook his body which started to frustrate him.

“What kind of barrier field is this?”

He flew very slowly and pressed his left hand against the invisible field. There was a slight sting that was annoying to the touch but he was unable to find an opening anywhere. Spaulding suddenly noticed two guards that were changing shifts noticed him and started to yell something unintelligible from the distance. They had just noticed his presence in the sky and it looked like they were in a hurry.

“I doubt they have beasts that can fly but my plan to leave the city unnoticed seems to have failed. I need to get out of here as soon as possible before they bring a guard that could fly up here to stop me!”

Spaulding became more desperate as he flew in different directions around the palace while he tried to find a gap in the invisible energy field that didn’t let him pass. He even attempted to fly to the highest portion of the palace and the barrier field once again forced him back inside. “The energy field has a circular shape! Maybe if I used my sword I could destroy it.”

Suddenly the invisible energy field started to glow and small white markings with a strange ethereal pattern were visible. “This is a phantom beast!”

Spaulding immediately looked around but he couldn’t find the air mage that summoned the beast. He stared at the garden and noticed the guards were pointing in his direction in the sky. He turned his head and was surprised that Ciedel was floating right behind him looking clearly annoyed. Spaulding noticed the elf’s hand was touching the wall of the field as he seemingly floated in the air and he realized who summoned the barrier.

“Why did you leave your room? You’re badly injured and you need to rest.” Ciedel was expectedly not even remotely pleased.

“You already know the reason. Let me leave this energy field.”

“Seiran and a group of guards left the city yesterday to look for your human nephew. I suggest you to stop wasting your energy and return to your room to rest.”

Spaulding was surprised at Ciedel’s response. “How long was I left unconscious?”

“One and a half days have passed since you arrived.”

“I was asleep for so long?!” Spaulding got anxious and with his left arm he clumsily withdrew his sword.

“That is not going to break the energy field. Stop wasting your time.”

Spaulding ignored Ciedel who floated in the air looking uncannily calm which angered him even more. Spaulding lashed his sword at the energy field, but he was surprised that the sword simply passed the barrier without any effort as if it wasn’t even there. “Impossible! I attempted to pass the energy field and it didn’t even let my fingers pass!”

“That’s because the energy field only appears if a part of your body attempts to pass it. Anyone else and physical objects can pass the barrier without any difficulty. I suggest you to return to your room before you hurt yourself.”

“That’s bullocks! It can be destroyed with magic!”

Ciedel sighed but he decided to let Spaulding attempt a futile escape if it meant he would return to his room on his own free will. Spaulding flew very high and with a lot of difficulty, he touched the fuller of his weapon with his wounded right hand. He attempted to pierce the energy field causing his fire wings to momentarily vanish as he fell from the sky. The sword passed the barrier without any effort as he was falling but his left hand was unable to pass the energy field.

“I recommend you to summon your wings before you fall from this height and hurt yourself even more!”

Spaulding summoned his wings and landed on the floor of the connecting hallways of the external wall while he thought about his next move.

The black haired elf sighed in relief. “Seems like he finally gave up and he will go back to his room peacefully, thank goodness!” Ciedel floated to Spaulding’s side as some guards on the ground ordered someone to retrieve him. “It’s useless. Magic and physical attacks cannot make the barrier disappear no matter how hard you try. There is only one way to make my phantom beast disappear which will allow you to leave this barrier.”

“I can assume the only way to make it disappear is by injuring your Ciedel. I have nothing personal against you, but if wounding you with my sword or magic means I’ll be able to leave, then so be it!” Spaulding tried to swipe Ciedel’s chest with his sword but he was able to easily dodge the blow by floating backwards while he continuously touched the barrier field. “I’ll use a different technique instead!”

“It will be futile I can assure you Lord Spaulding.”

Spaulding summoned his Hiratori and ordered it to charge against the barrier but the beast passed through as if it didn’t exist at all which no longer surprised him. “How can this be?!”

“I already told you Lord Spaulding. There is no way you will be able to escape the barrier field. Don’t even bother trying to dig a hole in the ground because the barrier is completely spherical and impenetrable.”

“Then I will have no other choice than to kill you!” Spaulding summoned his wings the instant a guard reached the higher stone hallway with the intention to summon his own beast.

Ciedel made a hand movement ordering the guard to stand still. “Lord Spaulding, please listen to me. If you kill me, the mark on your shoulder will never dissolve which is part of my power and you will be trapped in this area forever. Even if you died, your body will still be trapped due to the curse.”

“What are you saying Ciedel? I don’t recall seeing any mark on my shoulder!” Spaulding turned his head and saw a strange white mark on his left shoulder which he never noticed before. “When did this thing appear on my body?!”

“When I placed the needle on your forehead to knock you out the other night, I placed a curse on your shoulder. It’s the basis of my magical power and it’s extremely powerful.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a medic and when you arrived to the palace, I knew you were going to cause me trouble. Lord Saiylan told me before you arrived to keep you in this city until your wounds healed and I simply obeyed her.”

“I am a clan leader too and I order you to remove the curse from my body!”

“Unfortunately I can’t do that Lord Spaulding.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t have the power because I am pretty sure you can remove it.”

“Even if Master Lord Salman ordered me to remove the mark, I wouldn’t be able to do that I am afraid. I am deeply sorry but you can rest assured Lord Seiran will save your nephew. There is one way that can assure the mark will fade away and you can go on your way.”

“Well tell me what is it and I will do whatever is needed to get out of here!”

“It’s actually stupidly simple my Lord. Once your wounds heal, the mark will fade away on its own. Unfortunately the burn on your left leg is very serious so it could take a month. I cannot predict how long the mark will stay on your body as it greatly depends on how well you take care of yourself.”

Spaulding stared at Ciedel with a blank look on his face. Another guard appeared on the other side and he dropped his sword on the floor.

“That can’t be possible. It’s insane that you can force me to remain here!”

“If you kill me, you will remain trapped in here forever. In my opinion waiting a couple of weeks for your wounds to naturally heal seems like a better fate than spending the rest of your life trapped inside of this palace.”

Ciedel smiled as he landed on the passageway. The instant he released his hand from the energy barrier, the markings were once again invisible and he had to walk. Spaulding looked at the stone floor showing signs he was resigning to the idea that escaping the palace was going to be impossible for the time being. He noticed 10 guards were quietly staring up at him from below while they carried a stretcher.

“If I return to the room, I am not going on the stretcher.”

“You have little choice but to obey my recommendations Lord Spaulding or else the mark on your shoulder will take longer to fade away.”

Spaulding closed his eyes and he punched the stone of the passage way with his left hand which caused slight pain.

“Oh please Lord Spaulding; you have enough injuries including a third degree burn on your left leg. Could you stop adding wounds to the repertoire?”

“I’m sorry Ciedel, but I’m so worried about Richard and Trevilin.”

Ciedel walked towards Spaulding with a more reassuring face. “The little human girl Nelida didn’t have any serious injuries and she is already exploring the city with a trusted guide that will protect her. The human boy’s fever has receded but he still has the flu. In a couple of days he will be fine and the mark will dissolve as well.”

“You put a mark on everyone?”

“Well, I couldn’t risk any of you running off to search for Richard.”

Spaulding suddenly realized Ciedel’s white robe was covered with someone’s blood.

“I can see you have noticed my robe is covered with Trevilin’s blood. I was busy cleaning his wound when a guard told me you were trying to escape. During a brief moment of distraction a blood vessel burst and an assistant had to place a clamp to stop the bleeding.”

“Trevilin is still alive?”

“I don’t know exactly what happened to him, but I can assume you caused the burn wounds. The fact that he must have been wounded for half of a day without getting any decent care didn’t improve things. Some of his burns have started to heal poorly.”

“His wounds aren’t healing?”

“His burns started to contract because his neck was lying sideways I presume to avoid blood loss. Luckily my assistants were able to construct a makeshift restraint to keep it in the right position until artisans in the city finish one made out of ivory and metal for him to wear at all times.”

Spaulding started to cry because he didn’t know how badly he wounded his friend.

Ciedel walked closer and held his left shoulder with his right hand. “Trevilin’s wounds are not yet infected and he isn’t feeling any pain. He is peacefully asleep and for the time being, he won’t be able to receive visitors. I will do my best to save him, but please go back because I am wasting my time talking to you.”

With those words, Spaulding finally gave up and he nodded at Ciedel. He summoned his fire wings and obediently allowed the guards to take him back to his room in the stretcher. The instant he returned to his room, a nurse that looked angry at her patient immediately shoved a needle on his forehead and once again he lost consciousness.

Chapter 8

 

It was hard to know how many days had passed but when Spaulding finally woke up; he was conscious but drowsy and barely able to move his body. “They once again put one of those annoying casts on my leg.”

Spaulding frowned as he stared at the cast on his left leg that was suspended from the ceiling with some ropes. His right arm was still bandaged and covered with a splint which made it feel more comfortable. He looked around and didn’t see his clothes anywhere. “Damn bastards took away my belongings to remove any incentives to escape this dratted place. What in the hell is making the room smell like cinnamon and tree bark?”

The table next to his bed had a blue ceramic device that constantly released incense. The smell was somewhat pleasant but it caused him to be insanely hungry and at the same time made him feel drowsy. He tried to move his left hand, but they tied his wrist to the bed much to his chagrin. A part of him was still worried about his nephew, but he realized trying to escape would be fruitless as long as the mark of his left shoulder remained. “I hope Seiran found my nephew on time.”

Spaulding gazed at the boring ceiling of the room for a long while until a nurse that wore a facemask arrived with a tray that had a glass bowl. The nurse sat down beside Spaulding and offered him several spoonfuls of a beige paste that he anxiously ate despite its terrible flavor without even grimacing.

“I will come back in a while with more food Lord Spaulding.”

The nurse politely bowed and she left the room. An hour passed and another nurse that pushed a tray with medical equipment entered the room and bowed at the elf with politeness.

Good morning Lord Spaulding. I’m going to change the dressings on your wounds.”

The nurse removed the bandage from his forehead and she noticed the stitches were healing well. After she finished cleaning the wound and placed a new bandage, she did the same with his right arm. She observed his arm and despite having a lot of inflammation, the wound didn’t look infected. She finally removed part of the bandage of the thick cast on his left leg and her face turned grave because the burn looked terrible.

“Is this the reason why Ciedel trapped me inside of this building? What happened to my left leg?!”

Spaulding was finally able to see the wound on his thigh and despite the effects of the incense he was horrified of the sight. His leg was covered with a thin layer of gangrenous black tissue that looked like charcoal greyish mush that didn’t cause any pain when she pressed it. The nurse turned her head and she immediately placed a needle on his head.

“Please rest my Lord.”

Spaulding lost the sense of time but during his brief moments of consciousness, they were intermixed between eating the disgusting paste, the nurses cleaning his wounds and a couple of occasions watching how Ciedel and other medics removed dead tissue from his leg. Every time he wanted to speak to Ciedel, the medic would calmly place a needle on his forehead knocking him unconscious. During one moment of brief clarity, he could hear an elf speak in a grave voice.

“It’s useless Ciedel. Unless the gangrene recedes, we won’t be able to implant new skin to the leg. We’ll have to increase the frequency of dressings on the wound.”

“Let me remove more dead tissue.”

Spaulding noticed the borders around the leg wound were regaining some color feeling unsure if that was a good or bad sign. His face was covered with worry that the wound didn’t show much improvement from the first time he saw it. He briefly looked at his right arm that was covered with a smaller bandage.

“At least my right arm is showing improvement but the unknown fate of my poor nephew is a far worse punishment than the risk of losing my left leg.”

Many anxious ideas sometimes passed on the back of his mind because he was barely able to do anything else to pass his time. The room was continuously filled with the odor of the familiar incense in what seemed like an eternity.

“What happened? Why does my right leg hurt all of a sudden?!”

Spaulding during a brief period of alertness noticed a horrible pain on his right leg which hadn’t been there before. He was able to move his right arm without the same amount of pain as before and felt his right leg. There was a fresh bandage with blood on the bandages.

“What did they do to me now?”

Spaulding with some difficulty managed to take a look at his arms. They removed the rope from his left wrist because he was too oblivious of his surroundings to leave the room. His right arm still had a bandage, but he could now move it without as much pain as before. He felt his forehead and the bandage was no longer there causing some relief.

“Good, seems like most of my wounds are healing.”

He turned his attention to his left leg and noticed he was no longer wearing a cast. The leg was still slightly elevated and the wound was covered by fresh bandages.

“If they finally removed that hideous cast, then I’ll presume my left leg is showing improvement.”

Spaulding was tired of lying on his back and with some effort, he managed to partially sit up for the first time in countless days. The windows were covered by screens that merely allowed some sunlight to pass through.

“Seems like it’s the daytime although the screen makes it difficult to know what time of day it is.”

The table the nurses usually served the foul tasting paste was devoid of any dishes much to his relief. He managed to completely sit up causing a brief spat of dizziness, but he eventually got used to the sensation and with some effort he was able to stand up. The elf attempted to walk, but he felt an unbearable pain that caused him to once again sit on the bed.

“Dammit!”

Spaulding turned around and saw a pair of wooden crutches near the bedside which he grudgingly grabbed. He sat on the chair feeling notably annoyed that he wasn’t wearing any decent robes as he waited in a crabby mood for whoever entered the room first. After a short while, Spaulding heard the loud noise of a wheeled tray in the hallway causing him to grin.

“It seems like a nurse has finally arrived.”

A few moments later, a nurse entered the room while she carried a new ceramic incense vase that hadn’t been ignited yet. The nurse was so used to seeing Spaulding lying quietly on the bed by now that she didn’t realize he was sitting on the chair in the opposite side of the room. As she bent over to ignite the incense, the ceramic blew up into pieces causing her to jump.

“Lord Spaulding, why are you awake?”

“It seems like the effects of the incense ended long enough for me to finally wake up.”

“Please Lord Spaulding, get back on the bed. Your leg wounds haven’t healed yet…”

Suddenly Spaulding’s fingers on his right hand snapped and the second incense vase blew up with a small fireball. The nurse was shivering with fear at his unpredictable behavior while she studied his facial expression.

“Please bring Ciedel over here. I’ll be waiting for him.”

The nurse took a quick look at his defiance and ran outside with a shriek. Spaulding remained seated on the chair while he watched the ceramic vases he blew up in silence. A handful of minutes later, Ciedel brusquely entered the room with an annoyed look on his face. The nurse who was still wearing her mask was right behind him.

“I assume you want me to discharge you right now.” Ciedel said looking condescending.

Spaulding remained calm while he sat on the chair. “How many days have passed since your assistant drugged me with a needle?”

“It has been 14 days Lord Spaulding, but your leg wound hasn’t fully healed yet.”

“Why is my right leg bandaged?”

“We needed to make a skin graft on the wound on your left leg with healthy skin so we took a sample from your right leg.”

“Will it heal?”

“It will heal very soon without leaving a scar with our treatments. I can’t say the same regarding your left leg. If you had arrived here right after suffering the burn, the scar wouldn’t be as noticeable.”

“I presume the mark on my shoulder hasn’t faded yet.”

“It will soon but it will take a while longer.”

Spaulding sighed because he already knew the answer to that question. He sat idle on the chair and stared at the wall with annoyance. Despite feeling grateful for Ciedel’s care and his efforts to save Trevilin, their personalities were incompatible.

“I obviously can’t leave the energy field, but could I at least leave the room for a while in some presentable looking clothes?”

Ciedel nodded at Spaulding’s polite request. “I’ll ask my nurses to bring you a suitable robe. I can’t give you normal clothes because you haven’t been formally discharged yet.”

“That is fine. How is Trevilin?”

“We have been able to stabilize him and the artisans finished a neck brace that will help his scarring. Rest assured it’s likely at this point he will survive, albeit I don’t have high hopes his voice will recover.”

Spaulding clenched his right fist when he heard that and he turned to look at Ciedel’s worried face that genuinely seemed sorry he couldn’t give better news about his friend. “Will I be able to at least see him?”

“Because of the gravity of his wounds, we keep him constantly asleep but perhaps when you are formally discharged you can see him for a few minutes.”

“What about the children?”

“Nelida and Herb are perfectly fine. You will probably see them today and the other boy has been located.”

“Did Seiran rescue him?”

“I am not perfectly sure Lord Spaulding. You will have to ask Lord Saiylan yourself.”

“Is she the Arima Clan Leader?”

“Yes and Seiran’s mother at the same time. You have already met her but you were never formally presented.”

Spaulding suddenly remembered seeing a tall woman that looked a lot like Seiran the evening he arrived to the city but he mostly ignored her because he was focused on rescuing his nephew. For a moment he almost felt foolish having insulted her, but it was too late to apologize. “I’m sorry for having been so rude with you Ciedel. Thank you for taking care of my friend.”

Ciedel bowed at Spaulding and promptly left the room. Spaulding remained seated on the chair under the constant watch of a nurse that decided to keep an eye on him because she felt worried he would do something incoherent in his mental state. A while later, a nurse arrived with some clothing Spaulding considered to be sufficiently acceptable. They assisted him in putting on the clothes which somewhat annoyed him but he decided it was better not to protest.

“Their serviciality is annoying, but I’m glad that Ciedel is finally allowing me to go outside.”

Under their constant watch, Spaulding used the crutches and he slowly crossed the hallway to a patio that faced the ocean with some tables. He sat on a chair and stared at the ocean. After the nurses realized he looked comfortable, they decided to leave him alone as they talked to each other in a hushed tone.

“Good morning Lord Spaulding. I was ordered by Ciedel to serve you breakfast.” A servant arrived with cordiality.

“Thank you for your hospitality.”

The servant carefully placed a tray with fresh fruit and a kettle with warm rose tea. Spaulding didn’t have a particular penchant for rose tea but he didn’t complain. Spaulding smiled at the servant that rushed away leaving him mostly alone to eat grapes and warm tea in peace. After a while, Lord Saiylan approached him from a hallway accompanied by an unusually young elf that didn’t look much older than Richard.

“I see you look a lot better than the last time I saw you.”

Spaulding initially had the urge to try to stand up with the assistance of the crutches to bow.

“There is no need to stand up Lord Spaulding but thank you for your politeness.” Saiylan sat on a chair while the young blond elf wearing elegant blue robes stood by her side.

“Thank you for your hospitality but I’m still angered that your dearest medic Ciedel forced me to eat the most hideous paste I have ever recalled eating in my life.”

Saiylan started laughing profusely. Spaulding noticed her long dark cyan hair was tied in a strange round bun that circled her back in a gravity defying style.

“Ciedel might be a bit of a bore but he’s very competent at his job. He knew you were going to want to run off the moment you had a chance so I ordered him to find a way to force you to stay. I hope you could forgive me.”

“I don’t care too much about myself but I desperately want to rescue my nephew.”

“You have nothing to worry about my dear Lord Spaulding. My daughter rescued Richard at least 7 days ago and they are heading towards the capital as we speak.”

Spaulding spat a mouthful of tea when he heard that last sentence. “You mean King Salman has requested my nephew to be brought to his presence? Why did you allow that?”

“I am sorry my dear Lord Spaulding, but he issued an edict to all of the clan leaders when he discovered your crusade hiding two noblemen that are your blood relatives in your city. I heard he wasn’t exactly ecstatic about your little secret.”

Spaulding grumbled as he ate a few grapes without saying anything. “Do you have any idea if he will harm my nephew?”

“I seriously doubt it, but depending on what Richard says might determine what your fate might be.”

“Do you mean I am also being held here prisoner due to that edict?!”

“Don’t be such a neurotic fool Lord Spaulding! If the king really meant that, the Äimite would have taken you to the capital by now. I ordered Ciedel to keep you here to heal your wounds.”

“Is that so Lord Saiylan?”

“Ciedel told me he wasn’t sure he would be able to save your left leg, but it seems like you will get to keep it after all.”

Spaulding looked at his left leg with wonder.

“The fact that you still have a left leg is proof of his competence and interest in your well-being even if that went against your personal wishes my dear Lord Spaulding. If you arrived to the city just a couple of hours later, he would have been forced to amputate it.”

Spaulding gasped at the woman’s comment.

“Yes that is right, you would have probably ended up as an invalid and unable to do anything for the rest of your life except sit on a chair and watch how the leaves fall from the trees. I think bearing some inconveniences for a handful of weeks for the sake of saving your leg was well worth it.”

A servant arrived from a different hallway carrying a tray with tea, cheese and some elvish cakes and promptly left without ushering a single word.

“I didn’t know my leg was so badly injured.”

“It didn’t hurt you that much because you probably burned it so terribly that the nerves were damaged and you mostly stopped feeling pain. It took Ciedel several hours to be able to remove all of the charred fabric and necrotic tissue from the wound that started to be filled with purulent liquid that easily oozed from it with the most delicate touch. He felt relieved two days later the leg despite its sorry state didn’t seem infected anymore. If you take proper care of it, your leg should heal very soon.”

Spaulding felt disgusted at the woman’s salacious recount of his care and continued eating grapes. He lifted his eyebrows the instant Saiylan ate a piece of cheese with pleasure. “Do the elves in this city eat animal meat like those savage humans?”

“Most elves in this region abstain from eating meat but we consider it to be acceptable to eat dairy produce. This is goat cheese; would you like to try it?”

“I am not interested in eating that Saiylan, but thanks for the offer. Do you have any reasonable idea how much longer am I going to be stuck in this place?”

“If you think I can order Ciedel to allow you to leave just because this is my city, I am sorry to inform you that the only person that can answer that is him. Would you like him to come over right now?”

“I’d prefer not to look at his face if I can avoid it.”

“I can see you don’t like him.”

“As a matter of fact Saiylan, I don’t like any of you all that much. It is clear to me that the reason why an idiot like Trevilin would like the elves from this city is the reason why I would dislike them. You all seem like a group of rabid savages which I hope you don’t take to insult.”

“All apologies accepted but I find it to be sad that you would want to leave so soon my dear Lord. Your nephew will be perfectly fine with Seiran.”

“I’m not worried about Seiran protecting my nephew. I have full trust she will protect him.”

“It’s because he’s going to see our Master, is that correct?”

“Exactly. I can’t stand him and I fear what he might do to that poor child.”

Saiylan frowned after hearing that but she seemed relieved he was venting his frustrations with her instead of someone else. Despite his coarseness, he seemed like an interesting person. “Why are so worried about Richard meeting Master Lord Salman? Are you afraid he will have the children deported?”

“To be honest, I would actually like him to have those humans deported. Herb left his home on his own free will and if it hadn’t been for Richard’s kidnapping, I would have brought him back home by now. I am sure his parents would have accepted him instantly.”

“I see your point. So the problem is Richard and Nelida.”

“I tried to convince Herb’s family to accept them, but they denied taking them in because they didn’t want to buy back their estate.”

“That is most unfortunate but Lord Spaulding, what if you bought their home?”

“I initially thought about that because I can easily afford to purchase it. However, I don’t know their king and I have never ventured beyond Herb’s province. Herb told me their king doesn’t like to deal with elves and I risked getting into bigger problems than I already am.”

“I am certain that if you request Master Lord Salman to repatriate the two, it will be an easy task. However, I think you should raise the children yourself. Herb in particular seems very happy to have come here.”

“He has his own family waiting for him and he’s still a child. Keeping him longer than absolutely necessary would be considered kidnapping. I’m surprised they haven’t hired mercenaries yet.”

“I doubt the average human mercenary would dare enter our lands. Anyone foolish enough to enter these lands would probably charge a fortune that was greater than the perceived worth of the boy.”

Over in the distance hurried footsteps were audible.

“Lord Saiylan, we should go back inside.”

The young blond elf ushered to Saiylan’s ear prompting her to stand up without finishing her meal.

“I hope we get to talk again.”

“Equally so Lord Saiylan.”

Saiylan stood up and left with the young elf. Spaulding didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings when he was surprisingly approached by Nelida and Herb who seemed overjoyed to see him after so many days.

“Uncle, you’re all right!” Nelida gave Spaulding the warmest hug which was a pleasant surprise.

Herb stood behind smiling and waving his hands.

“Seems like you two have been busy.”

Nelida nodded. “We’ve traveled all over this city uncle.”

“And outside of the city, they have these amazing tiered farms that save water! I have never seen something like that!”

“That must be what I saw when I entered the city the other night.”

“You haven’t seen them up close Spaulding?” Herb asked.

“This is the second time I’ve left the room they assigned me ever since we arrived.”

“That means Spaulding that we should go there together right now!”

“I don’t think that will be possible for the time being Herb but thank you for the invitation.”

Herb suddenly realized Spaulding wasn’t wearing his usual beige attire and black armor. Nelida hadn’t noticed anything out of the usual in her uncle except that he gained some weight and he had recovered his usual stern facial expression. And then it hit him, Herb noticed a pair of wooden crutches that rested behind the table.

“Spaulding are you still injured?” Herb looked concerned.

Nelida suddenly noticed Spaulding wasn’t wearing his usual attire as well.

“That is correct Herb. My leg wound will take a while to heal which is why I haven’t left the palace yet.”

“But what about my brother? I heard that Seiran was going to rescue him the other day but I haven’t heard any news since!”

“I was told that Richard has already been rescued Nelida and that he is fine.”

Both children were overjoyed by the good news and felt excited.

“So when is Richard going to arrive Spaulding?” Herb was getting increasingly ecstatic.

Spaulding slightly frowned because he didn’t know how to exactly give the children the bad news. “Richard is not coming to this city for the time being.”

The smile vanished from Herb’s face. “What do you mean?”

“By orders of Master Lord Salman, Seiran was ordered to bring Richard to Capital City. I am not sure why, but I presume I am going to have to take the two of you with me when I am feeling better.”

Both children were surprised that they will be unable to see Richard and show him around the Blue City but on the other hand, they became excited they will visit the capital.

“I heard that very few humans have ever been inside of that city. Is that true?”

“You are absolutely correct Herb. The city is protected by a powerful magic that makes it very hard for non-mages of any race to casually visit it.”

“Why would you make it so hard to find a city? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“For many elves it makes perfect sense Herb. Think about it; all elves are immensely loyal to our king and would be mad if we tried to assassinate him. On the other hand, many humans and other beings would be glad to kill him and destabilize our nation. If you tried to invade the city it would be completely invisible.”

“So how will we ever see the city? Is it going to be invisible for us?”

“If Master Salman writes an invitation letter, you can accompany me and enter the city without any major problems.”

“And will we be able to walk around?”

“If the king writes an edict stating you cannot leave your rooms, there will be absolutely nothing I can do to repeal it. If on the other hand he grants you permission to wander around, you will probably be accompanied by a guide at all times.”

“Has the letter arrived yet Spaulding?” Herb was frantically grabbing Spaulding’s shoulder with excitement at this point.

“As far as I know, the letter hasn’t arrived and I am not even sure if you two will even be invited.”

“Can you visit the city without a letter Spaulding?”

“Elves can enter the capital whenever we feel like it.”

A frown appeared on Nelida’s face. “How come you never like to visit the capital uncle?”

“I don’t see any reason why I would go there more than necessary and enjoy resting in Tesafar instead.”

“I can’t wait to visit your castle and learn magic with you!”

Spaulding jolted with surprise and he stared at Herb with a confused look on his face after hearing the request. He had never heard of a human asking him for such a strange favor before. “I can’t guarantee I will be able to do that Herb.”

“But both of us are dying to learn magic Spaulding! You don’t know how useless I felt that I couldn’t do anything to help you and poor Trevilin!”

Spaulding looked at both children for a moment with resignation. “If it was for me, I would be glad to teach both of you if you wish to learn so badly.”

“But why don’t you want to teach us Spaulding?” Herb’s face with filled with disappointment.

Spaulding didn’t feel capable of answering that question but as he saw the anxious faces of the two children he took a sip of tea. “Look Herb and Nelida, you haven’t been in this country for a very long time and you don’t understand how things work around here. If the decision was only mine, I would be willing to teach you the basics in my city and see if you can learn anything.”

Herb raised his eyebrow. “But I presume there is a catch, isn’t there?”

“Unfortunately there is one Herb. I still don’t know what Master Lord Salman will choose to do with the three of you.”

“What do you mean uncle? Is he going to separate us?! I don’t want that!” Nelida was about to burst in tears after hearing his dire comment.

Spaulding placed his bandaged right hand on her forehead to calm her down. “There is a good chance he might consider letting you stay with me in Tesafar while we wait for his petition to have the three of you safely returned to Ayrtain. However, there is another possibility that he might choose to have the three of you living in Capital City instead.”

“How can you be so sure of that? Can’t you convince him to do otherwise?”

“I will kindly request him for permission to take you to Tesafar, but I guarantee you absolutely nothing. If the king says he wants the three of you in Capital City, his decision will be irrevocable and there will be nothing I can do about it. Don’t even think about creating a scene Nelida if that happens.”

“What if they take us without you?”

“As long as my wounds aren’t healed, I can’t leave this city anyways but if the king decides to have the two of you brought to his presence before my wounds heal, you will have to leave without me. In that scenario, I will get to Capital City and see you when it is possible.”

Nelida started crying in his arm in uneasy silence.

Herb seemed sad but he remained thoughtful regarding Richard and Trevilin. “Let’s say that the king allows us to be with you. How long will we be allowed to stay?”

“I sincerely have no idea Herb.”

Nelida stopped crying and she looked at his face with a slight smile. “But uncle Spaulding, what if I wanted to stay living with you for longer?”

“I can assure you Master Salman will not agree to that Nelida. The three of you are only children and except for Richard, you are not the current clan leaders. In the eyes of your country, if we don’t repatriate you immediately, it could be considered kidnapping which could cause problems. The reason why our nation has tried to maintain peaceful relations with other nations is because of good diplomacy.” Spaulding began to feel tired after talking to so many people. “I am going back to my room children. Why don’t you continue exploring the city?”

Both children nodded and they stormed off feeling excited about Richard’s rescue. Spaulding smiled and with some difficulty, he walked back to his room. He would have liked to venture around the palace within the confines of the barrier field, but the leg wound made walking even short distances cumbersome. He entered the semicircular room which much to his joy didn’t contain one of those obnoxious incense ceramic vases. The room seemed empty and he sat on the chair for a while as he dozed off.

“I beg your pardon my Lord, but could you lie on the bed so that we could change your bandages?”

Spaulding laid on the bed and watched the nurses change the bandages being finally able to see his leg wounds. The right leg had a superficial layer of skin scraped off that would probably heal within one week. The left leg that always caused Ciedel anxiety didn’t look as terrible as he initially feared. It didn’t look infected anymore and the new skin was attaching itself to the surface. “What do you two think of that wound?”

The nurse was surprised at Spaulding’s question. She was probably so used to see him unconscious that it surprised her to hear his voice. “The medic will tell you how the wound is doing but the new skin is attaching to it very well Lord Spaulding.”

“Will Ciedel arrive to see me later?”

“His shift ended a while ago and a different medic will see you later today. He will be back tomorrow morning.”

“Do you know how much longer will I have to stay here?”

“Ciedel is the only person with the authority to give that information.”

Spaulding frowned at the lack of coherent answers from the nurse but he appreciated she was at least kind to him.

The nurses finished changing the leg bandages and proceeded with his right arm. The stitches were removed and there was just a pink wound that was almost closed. “If the wound closes completely tomorrow, we will remove the bandage on this arm Lord Spaulding.”

“Are you going to bring that hideous incense vase in here?”

“Ciedel considers that incense to be no longer needed Lord Spaulding but if they catch you running off without permission, he will probably reconsider it.”

Spaulding frowned at the thought of experiencing that again. He decided he had one last question before they left the room. “How is Trevilin doing?”

“Neither one of us has been assigned to care for him Lord Spaulding. I have heard that he’s improving.”

“Good to know that.”

“Would you like us to bring you something to read?”

“I am not interested in doing anything right now. Do you know where my rings are?”

“They will be returned to you when you are discharged along with your other belongings.”

The nurses were getting annoyed at his questions and they hastily left the room. The window screen had been removed which allowed him to at least see the sky. After watching the sky for a while, he fell asleep as there was nothing else he could do for the time being.

 

Chapter 9

 

“Light up the campfire guys. I’m famished!”

Richard was rudely tossed on the hard soil of an abandoned forest after another tedious day of interminable riding by horseback with his captors.

“Drag the kid to that big tree over there!”

The bandits grinned at the exhausted boy that was grimacing from the pain of the bruises on his legs after riding countless hours on the hard saddle.

“Get up kid or else you won’t be eating anything tonight!”

The man rudely grabbed Richard’s clothes forcing him to stand up and he stumbled the whole way overhearing the jeers from the criminals to a large tree truck. A muscular criminal he nicknamed Gorge chained his ankles to the tree.

“Sit down and be quiet kid and maybe we won’t be feeding you muddy water tonight!”

Richard closed his eyes while he watched his captors laughing nonstop as they approached their campfire. He stared at the filthy peasant robes they dressed him in that made his back itchy. He attempted to scratch his back, but the chains on his wrists didn’t give him enough maneuverability. He sat against the tree and stared at the dark forest with resign.

“Where could we be anyways? I’m surprised we have never bumped into any elvish cities. It’s been countless days since I was kidnapped and after that night a few days ago we have been riding longer hours than before.”

Richard began to think for a moment while the handfuls of criminals were removing the saddles of their horses. “After that evening, there are fewer criminals than before and very few horses. I hope my uncle and Trevilin managed to kill those bastards.”

Richard grinned and he briefly closed his eyes. “The criminals have been treating me worse ever since that mercenary named Emmerd was killed. I never got to meet that elf but I hope uncle Spaulding was the one that defeated him.”

A while later, a lanky criminal that smoked a cigar rudely gave him a small ceramic cup with muddy water and tossed leftovers on the soil with disdain. Richard sighed at his meager dinner.

“Enjoy your meal kid. I still can’t believe you were so easy to snatch. But don’t worry, we will be selling you into slavery real soon when we meet our buddies in the northern wilds and get your ring.”

The man patted his messy hair with amusement and he returned to the campfire.

Richard with a lot of difficulty grabbed the half eaten rabbit meat and removed the dirt from his pitiful meal. “I’m glad that they caught me instead of Nelida. She would have starved to death by now.”

Richard frowned for a moment as he thought about his sister. “The criminals always taunt me that my elvish friends were killed that night. But if my uncle and Trevilin had been killed, wouldn’t they have caught Nelida and brought her here by now? Or maybe my sister managed to escape and she is hiding in that forest.”

Richard stared at his chained wrists with sadness as he had a hard time moving his arms. “Ever since I was captured, they have never removed these hideous things even once. I can now understand how hopeless my uncle felt when we were trapped inside that cave.”

Richard began nibbling a piece of meat in deep thought. “I wonder what the inflammable gas my uncle easily detected smelled like. I would love nothing more than to see his smile again.”

Richard’s face was covered with tears as he finished his meal and fell asleep on the cold soil. A while later, he felt a painful kick in his badly bruised legs that stirred him to a jolt.

“Enjoy your sleep boy? Time to go.”

The bandits never mentioned their names, but he usually traveled with two different men on alternating days one of whom he nicknamed Stumpy because of his short legs and bald head, and he named the other Gorge because he would eat without chewing.

“Which of you two wants to carry the kid today?”

Stumpy grumbled with annoyance. “I’m not interested in carrying that nuisance today.”

Gorge yawned with boredom. “I’ll carry the kid on my horse.”

Once again he was carried by Gorge’s strong arms that never let go as they rode among the northwestern elvish territories in cleverly chosen uninhabited areas. After around 14 hours of nonstop riding, in the midafternoon Richard woke up from the doze and noticed the bandits were riding more slowly.

“Where are Jimmy and Fallon?! I can’t see them anywhere!”

Suddenly a strange metallic object flew in their direction and a horse was hit in the head causing a bandit to fall to the ground. Gorge turned his horse around allowing Richard to catch a glimpse of the action as the strange metallic weapon went flying back into the forest all by itself.

“Sorcery! It’s the work of demonic power!”

Jimmy was startled after he fell on the ground. He tried to grab his mace when the triangular weapon suddenly reappeared killing him instantly.

“Faggots, what is going on?”

Fallon who suffered a broken arm from the fall attempted to hastily grab his sword with his left arm when the same weapon reappeared all of a sudden and killed him with a frightened look on his face.

“We must be facing an entire army of demons!”

The surviving bandits stared at the forest with fear and they decided to force their horses to run as fast as possible. Richard was unable to see anything but he heard the sound of more horses around him falling to the ground followed by curses and screams of bandits being killed one by one.

“Don’t even think we are giving you up so easily kid.”

Gorge grabbed Richard so hard in the stomach it almost caused him to faint from the pain. All of a sudden, the horse carrying Gorge and Richard was hit as well and they collapsed on top of a thorn bush and musty grass.

Richard moved his head with difficulty and watched the fascinating battle that made the penitence of capture worthwhile for that very moment. [_“This is so amazing!” _]Richard was star struck as he watched the battle.

The criminals were surprised to know they were facing only one elf which had just caught up with them while he rode on a strange water beast. The elf threw a strange triangular sword towards the bandits killing them one by one at long range.

“Surround the demonic creature Harris and Germaine!”

The mysterious elf dismounted his strange beast and he faced the remaining 12 surviving bandits including Stumpy and Gorge with amazing confidence. Richard was speechless as he watched the elegant combatant behead the remaining criminals with ridiculous ease.

[_“I had never seen such a thing before. How can the sword return to him?” _]Richard thought to himself.

The criminals were perplexed at the weapon that moved on its own free will without noticing the elf’s blue beast had vanished without notice.

“Let’s attack him together!”

The 6 remaining bandits charged in unison at the mysterious warrior and the elf began engaging in an amazingly one sided combat. When one criminal thought he was about to kill the elf, a mystical invisible force would push the bandit off balance and his neck was either beheaded or he collapsed on the ground by a stab wound to the face. Stumpy met his demise with an initial stab in his left eyeball which prompted him to stumble backwards. He was pushed once again by a glowing blue light into an awkward position and the elf instantly beheaded him in one amazing blow.

“He’s amazing! He’s even more powerful in combat than Spaulding and Trevilin! How can someone defeat almost 20 enemies and 12 horses with so much ease?”

Gorge was the only surviving bandit who decided to charge towards the elf that wore bright leather blue armor with a lilac long shirt.

“It seems like you’re the last one!” The mysterious warrior said with a grin.

The man was suddenly shoved by the phantom beast leaving him off balance. The elf rushed towards him and beheaded Gorge with an amazing stroke of his weapon for a grand finale.

[_“Who is this elf? He just killed everyone in less than 5 minutes!” _]Richard’s face became pale as he watched the elf decapitate their corpses.

After making sure there was nobody alive, while he still carried his triangular sword in his left hand, the elf searched for something in the pockets of each of the bandits. “Great, they are here!” The elf in the blue armor approached Fallon’s body and found a key. He turned around and saw Richard in the distance. The elf walked towards him with a huge smile in his face.

“Please don’t behead me elf! I’m not with these criminals, I swear!”

“Don’t worry Young Richard. I am your friend and I have come to rescue you! My name is Seiran.” The elf placed her triangular sword on the ground and with gentle care; she grabbed Richard from the thorn bush and patiently removed the chains.

Richard’s legs gave up from the harrowing experience and he fell down as he stared at the elf. [_“I’ve never seen an armor of such a strange color before. It’s like staring at a lake but it shines in the sunlight.” _]Richard thought with awe.

Seiran smiled at Richard nonstop without saying anything as the elf removed thorns with utter care from the tattered clothes.

“How do you know my name?”

“I am an old friend of Trevilin and I promised Spaulding I would save you.”

“Do you know what happened to my uncle?! Where is everyone?”

Seiran only smiled at Richard but said nothing as she continued to remove thorns from Richard’s messy hair. Suddenly Richard could hear the thumping of horses arriving which made him cautious. Seiran looked at Richard and just continued smiling at him while she ignored the impending danger.

Richard frowned with incredulity and began to think.[_ “Is this elf insane or is he so confident he will kill anyone that approaches us?” _]Richard calmed down when they were approached by an elf wearing a blue armor that held a spear.

“Why did you dismount your horse Lord Seiran to ride your Elyria? We were instructed by Lord Saiylan to kill the bandits together.”

“I’m sorry Gareif, but I thought I could take care of them all by myself. As you can see, we only need to dispose of the bodies and the boy has just been rescued without any harm.”

The guard frowned at Seiran and circled around the scene on horseback while he poked the beheaded bodies with his spear.

“Has my servant arrived with the preparations Gareif?”

“Yes my Lord. They will arrive in a few more minutes.”

“Perfect, have you brought the boy decent looking clothes and some water to give to him? He looks dehydrated.”

“I only have my water canister my Lord.”

“That is all right. Give it to me.”

The guard gave the canister to Seiran and Richard cautiously grabbed it. He was still speechless after seeing the elf kill so many bandits with so much ease.

“Don’t worry Young Lord Richard, everything will be fine. A servant is going to arrive soon with everything else so don’t worry.”

Richard had no idea what did this elf mean by such vague words. “Would he be bringing a chest with dead bodies or something equally gross?”

Richard sat on the muddy ground and drank fresh water from the canister which seemed to calm him down. Seiran took a handkerchief from her armor and she proceeded to clean her triangular sword. Richard had never seen such a strange weapon before.

“He must be extremely physically strong to wield such a heavy and cumbersome weapon with so much ease.”

Richard took a better look at the elf as she cleaned the blood from her sword with the handkerchief. She was indeed taller than Spaulding, probably 5’10 or maybe a little bit taller than that. Her skin was slightly tan with cyan hair that had the strangest haircut imaginable as the entire right side of her head was shaved for no logical reason. The clover leaf shaped helmet was also very strange. Richard was staring at the elf’s fair face with amazement as he watched her clean her weapon. [_“I’ve never seen an elf with violet eyes before.” _]Richard eyes shone as he continued to stare at the elf.

After a couple of minutes, Seiran finished cleaning the sword and she guarded it on her back.

“So that is why he shaved his hair. He didn’t want it to get tangled with his strange weapon.”

As she stood up to stretch her muscles, another four guards with similar uniforms showed up in horses.

“Lord Seiran, what are your orders?”

“Great to see that you four finally arrived. I want two of you to get rid of the bodies and the others to set up a camp.”

“Yes my Lord.”

Two elves immediately dragged the corpses with the hooks on their spears to a pile while the other two elves began to assemble a tent and prepare a wooden tub with magically heated water.

Seiran then approached Richard. “Would you like to take a bath Young Lord Richard? I can’t let you eat food without washing your body.”

Richard timidly smiled and he was led by Seiran to one of the guards who directed him to a wooden tub. As the human finished his bath, the guard felt relieved the human only had a couple minor bruises and he helped him change into elvish attire of good taste. Richard approached Seiran who was removing her armor with the assistance of another guard. She noticed Richard was approaching her and smiled.

“Come over here Richard and sit down!”

He timidly approached the elf and noticed there was something strange about her now that she had the armor removed that he didn’t notice from afar. As Richard stood, he gasped. “You’re a woman?!”

Seiran stared at him with surprise and laughed. “You never noticed I am a woman? That is the funniest thing I have ever heard!”

Richard blushed with embarrassment as the elf was washing her face. A guard approached them and placed an elegant blue carpet with a moon motif on the ground.

“Please sit on the carpet Young Richard and let’s have something suitable to eat.”

The boy smiled and after removing his shoes, he sat on the carpet and the elf promptly imitated him.

“I don’t think I have properly presented myself. My name is Lord Seiran and I am the heiress to the Arima Clan of the city of Tindenfarel, also known as the Blue City of the West.” She finished drying her feet and sat with her legs crossed in a lotus position while she stared at Richard with fascination. The guards hadn’t removed her helmet which caused her to look almost comical.

“Where are we Lord…?”

“You don’t need to be formal with me Richard, just called me Seiran. We are in the wilds that are reasonably near a city called Garmendenhel in the northwestern territory. The bandits knew these lands very well and avoided visiting cities, but luckily they were no match for me and my men.”

Richard stared at the two guards in the distance that were sharpening some wooden sticks with their weapons. Another guard started a fire to burn the corpses in the distance.

“What are the guards doing?”

“They are performing the northwestern elvish sense of justice.”

Richard looked at her with utter confusion as a guard placed a sharp stick on the severed heads.

“Lord Seiran, we are almost done here. I will return to Tindenfarel to deliver the heads. My partner will properly dispose of the horse carcasses.”

“Proceed as usual and good luck.”

The guard bowed decorously and with another three guards Richard hadn’t seen before, they placed all of the severed heads in large burlap sacks and left with their horses.

“What are they going to do with those heads Lord?”

“Please don’t call me that, it’s embarrassing. When we find and kill a human criminal, we behead the bodies and place them out of our lands to serve as a deterrent for humans not to mess with us.”

“I never remember seeing any of that in the cities I traveled in.”

“I have never been to Tesafar but from Trevilin’s description, it’s too far north from the border. You must have entered our lands from a land border right?”

“When I first entered the country with Trevilin, it was during the night and the times when we passed the Hugimelar gate, I didn’t see anything unusual.”

“Maybe it was for the best. Your sister Nelida seems awfully emotional even for a human.”

“What happened to my sister and the elves?!”

Seiran once again smiled at the child without really saying anything which disconcerted him. A couple of guards suddenly arrived with plates, bowls, forks, spoons, a bottle of wine and a tiered lacquer box with layers of hot elvish food. Seiran started serving buckwheat noodles on Richard’s plate out of politeness. She then proceeded to serve herself but she manually encouraged Richard to make a brief elvish prayer.

“I thank the flame of violet for the nutrients our Mother Earth has granted us and bless the nutrients for my body and soul.”

Richard had gotten used to praying before eating his meals but Spaulding always did a very brief prayer without saying anything.

“This needs more Swalamod. Gumiere, where is my Swalamod sauce?”

A short and stocky guard with messy brown hair and his hat falling off stumbled in a rush with a small glass of a thick green liquid. “Here it is my Lord.”

Seiran grabbed the vase, gave a quiet nod of thanks to the guard who hurried off somewhere and poured all of it on her noodles. Her face blushed with embarrassment when she saw Richard’s curious face. “Oh my, I got carried away and poured it all without offering you some.”

“That is all right Seiran. It doesn’t look that appetizing.”

“You have no idea how tasty this is Richard, but I am pretty sure you will enjoy the wine that I brought from your country.”

Richard stared at the wine and realized what a strange offer Seiran had just given him. “But I am only a child. Children are not supposed to drink alcohol until we are adults.”

“Is that so? I am not used to interacting with humans so I didn’t know I made a faux pass. But I would encourage you to at least try it.”

Before Richard could even voice his opposition, she hurriedly offered him a cupful and literally shoved it into his hand with a strange smile on her face as she drank some herself. Richard frowned at her rudeness, but he decided to accept the beverage. It burned his neck and had a strange fermented flavor but it was pleasant to drink and it seemed to tranquilize him.

“Now that you seem more relaxed and eaten a little, everyone is alive just to let you know.”

Richard didn’t understand the full meaning of such a vague answer. “What do you mean with that Seiran?”

“Around 5 days ago, I felt a strange kind of magic outside our city. We usually don’t patrol beyond the mountains but the magical energy being released was enough to attract our attention so I went to investigate on my Elyria. Did you ever get to see anyone that night?”

“I was chained to a tree in a campsite when everyone suddenly got nervous and I was dragged half asleep on a horse. I only know after that day, the bandits rode their horses in the forest and they were always angry about the death of someone called Emmerd.”

“That must have been the name of the human mage Spaulding killed that night.”

Richard spat some food after hearing Seiran’s casual answer and almost choked by accident. “But I always thought the mercenary the criminals hired was an elf!”

“You didn’t know that humans can also learn how to use magic? That is interesting. I thought Spaulding had told you when you lived with him.”

“I didn’t think it was even possible.”

Seiran looked at the early evening sky while she thought about an appropriate explanation. Gumiere approached them and clumsily placed a small lamp that emitted a familiar white light.

“I am not sure why Spaulding never told you such an obvious statement. Maybe he didn’t think you would care to ask him. I guess us elves can be a bit blunt sometimes. While it’s very easy for elves to learn how to master magic, with proper training humans can learn how to master it as well.”

“I understand. But is everyone all right? You told me a while ago they are alive but you said nothing else. I am so worried about them!”

“Nelida was perfectly fine when I met her. She was very scared and emotional but she only had a few bruises. Herb had a fever from swimming in cold water and he caught a cold. It’s likely he has healed by now and he is probably exploring the city with Nelida.”

“My cousin Herb is with them as well?!”

“Yes, I briefly met him.”

“So Herb managed to sneak into the kingdom after all. It’s good to know my sister and cousin are all right, but what happened to my uncle and Trevilin?”

Seiran frowned at him hoping she had better news. “When I left the city with my search party, both of them were unconscious in the infirmary.”

Richard gasped when he heard that answer. “I can’t believe the two of them were wounded bad enough to be hospitalized! They were so powerful! Did that guy Emmerd do something to them?”

“He had no fencing skills but it seemed like he was a competent water mage. I don’t know exactly how his magic worked because the children escaped without seeing the combat. From the looks of it, he shot some kind of explosive attack on Spaulding’s left leg that caused a serious injury and Trevilin suffered a life threatening neck wound.”

“Did you see the wounds?”

“I didn’t see Spaulding’s wounds that well because his armor and clothes hid them. I only saw the wounds on his forehead and right arm that were bleeding. Trevilin’s neck was almost obliterated; you could see all of the organs inside of his throat. The wound was profusely bleeding the second the medics removed the bandage Spaulding hastily placed. The worst thing was…”

Seiran paused for as she thought how Richard would react but she decided to swallow some saliva and finish her recount.

“I presume in order to save his life, Spaulding had to cause third degree burns on his entire neck and he was unable to bring him to us sooner. By the time the medics saw the wound, it was already starting to get infected. Trevilin couldn’t even scream in pain because his vocal cords seem to have been destroyed.”

“He did that to save me?”

“Don’t feel so guilty Richard. He could have suffered that wound anytime in a battle as a ranger. It’s a risk they accept when they take up the profession. But rest assured I am sure Trevilin will survive although I don’t think he will ever be able to work as a ranger again.”

Richard stared at his food with sadness. He initially had a very pleasant meal with the eccentric elf but the whereabouts of his family and Trevilin saddened him. [_“If only I didn’t tell the bandits Spaulding had my ring none of this would have ever happened!” _]Richard started crying profusely after he heard Seiran’s dire tale.

“I can assure you will see them soon Richard. Elves have stronger bodies and we can resist disease better than humans. The medics in my city are some of the finest in the entire nation and they will be perfectly safe.”

Richard cried for a while in austere silence and after calming down, he stared at the food and wine. He decided if his friend and uncle sacrificed themselves to save him, the best thing he could do was to at least finish his meal. The wine was starting to have some effect on him and he soon felt more relaxed which made Seiran smile. “When are we going back to your city Seiran?”

“Unfortunately I have bad news for you Richard.”

“What do you mean? Am I going back to my own country?”

“Not for the time being, but I have been ordered to take you to Capital City and I am forbidden from disobeying that order.” Seiran retrieved an elegant looking scroll from her robe.

Richard carefully opened the scroll and attempted to read it but it was written in elvish script. The letter had a twin griffin gold wax emblem pasted on the paper. “What does this letter mean Seiran?”

“The letter was written by Master Lord Salman himself. He has ordered me to locate and safely bring you to his presence in person as soon as possible. I have now accomplished the mission of saving you and now my mission is for us to rest here tonight and set off tomorrow to arrive to the capital as soon as possible. If we set off early tomorrow, we should be there in less than 2 days.”

“But it took us two weeks to reach Tesafar from the border and the circle in the map was north of that city.”

“You are correct on both accounts. However, we will not be traveling on a horse or by carriage.”

“Then how will we be able to travel so quickly to the capital Seiran?”

Seiran summoned her phantom beast which stared at Richard for a few moments causing the boy to jump with surprise. The beast vanished as quickly as it appeared.

“Spaulding’s Hiratori was very small and he used it as a torch when we traveled by horse. I didn’t know you could ride one of those things.”

“Once you manage to summon your phantom beast for the first time and train, you can change the size to your desire.”

“But I never saw Spaulding or Trevilin cause their enemies to trip and fall when they fought with their weapons.”

Seiran started laughing with a lot of amusement and she served more wine to Richard. “Both of them are indeed very honorable fighters and they never wanted to learn how to use their beasts in more convenient ways. I am however not as honorable as they are, and I like to use my Elyria to distract my enemies and to help retrieve my weapon. Don’t tell Spaulding I fight like that the next time you see him. I am certain he will protest.”

She winked at Richard while saying this hoping he would keep the secret. Richard seemed to agree with Seiran, but he was surprised to know phantom beasts could be used as means of transportation.

“Seiran, I have a question for you.”

“What is it Richard?”

“Spaulding always liked to patrol as a ranger by riding a normal horse. If riding a phantom beast was so much more convenient and faster, why doesn’t he ride his beast everywhere?”

“That is a very good question Richard. You probably think it’s very easy for us to fight with our beasts, but in order to summon a phantom beast you must use your own life energy. We call it mana and you can only produce a finite amount of it unfortunately. If you waste your mana senselessly, you might run out when you really need it. Spaulding is a fire mage which carries a major defect.”

“What do you mean?”

“Spaulding’s power increases during the day and weakens during the night. When it’s a new moon, his power becomes almost completely obliterated rendering his magic useless. I am surprised he managed to defeat that mage without relying on magic, he is quite impressive. I would indeed like to have a friendly combat with him someday.”

Richard stared at Seiran feeling completely fascinated at her tale.

“Richard, there is something I have wanted to ask you ever since I met you this afternoon but I have finally decided to bring the topic up. You haven’t been in our country for very long, but what do you think about our nation?”

“I think I love everything about it. Your country is so amazing and each city I have been to is so beautiful. I do miss my home country but the longer I stay here, the more I feel like I will miss this country than my home.”

“If you had a choice, would you prefer to continue living with Spaulding instead of going back to Ayrtain?”

“I would do that in a heartbeat Seiran!”

Seiran smiled profusely at the boy’s enthusiasm.

“Seiran, can you tell me what Capital City is like?”

“It’s a gigantic city with a lot of things to see and the king’s palace is probably the size of a mountain. The architecture is beyond beautiful and there are almost no humans or other beasts.”

“How can you know where it is?”

“All elves know the location of the city. You will soon find out and I dare not spoil the fun for you.” Seiran winked at the boy causing him to blush. “I will tell you that regular humans that cannot use magic would never be able to enter the city.”

Richard gasped with surprise at her statement. “If the city doesn’t allow anyone that can’t use magic to find it, how will I get inside?”

“The edict I showed you is not an ordinary letter Richard. It contains a powerful spell that will allow you and only you to enter the city. If I brought the wrong human by mistake, the person would believe he was inside of a forest but rest assured you will indeed see the city very soon.”

“Will I ever get to see Nelida and Herb again?”

“The Master will decide your fate when he meets you. I am positive he will write another edict to invite your relatives as well. If we are lucky, he might request them to be brought by your uncle in person. I am certain you will see them soon.”

“Will he behead me if he doesn’t like me?”

“You humans always seem to be so distrustful. We elves are more simple minded creatures and we have a just and kind ruler. He has been our king for more than 2300 years Richard. I don’t know if he will let you stay indefinitely in our lands, but I am certain he won’t have you executed.”

Richard sighed in relief and felt surprised about all of this. He didn’t know Spaulding retained so much valuable information about his country from him which perplexed him even more. “Seiran, what is the Elf King like?”

“Well, to tell you the truth when I met Spaulding, for a moment I thought he was the king.”

“Is that true?!”

“When you meet him, you will probably notice what a candid physical resemblance they share with each other. Finish your dinner Richard and try out the sesame seed cakes. You will like them a lot.” Seiran began putting on a pair of black socks that were resting next to her boots and after carefully putting on the boots; she stood up and stretched her arms. “I am going to take a look at the corpses and see if the horse’s carcasses have been properly buried.”

“Your guards didn’t burn the horses along with the criminals?”

“Even though the bandits knew right from wrong, the horses they rode were innocent creatures and unfortunately, I had to kill them in order to make it easier to kill the bandits. From the looks of it, none of the horses had an elvish clan mark meaning they were not stolen from our people. The guards are probably about to finish digging the tombs for the animals to have a proper burial. A priest will mostly likely arrive by tomorrow to bless the area to remove any negative energy retained from the battle.” Seiran bowed deeply at Richard with a huge smile on her face. “A guard will direct you to a tent so that you can sleep in comfort. You probably haven’t slept in a decent place for several days.”

Richard nodded at her as he ate some sesame seed cakes that were placed in the lower tray of the lacquer box and drank the remainder of the wine. Seiran smiled at him and after putting on her armor and sword, she summoned her beast and left the area. 20 minutes passed and the guard that helped Richard bathe a while ago approached him.

“Please come with me Lord Richard to rest.”

The boy followed the guard to an elegant octagonal shaped blue tent.

“If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask us.” The elf bowed with politeness and approached a campfire where several guards were laughing and drinking rice wine.

[_“Some of those guards are smoking the same plant my uncle likes to smoke.” _]Richard entered the small tent which had several layers of bamboo mats to retain the moisture and heat. Richard left the shoes outside and the second he collapsed on a comfortable flatbed, he immediately fell asleep.

 

Chapter 10

 

“Wake up Young Richard!”

Richard woke up several hours later feeling incredibly refreshed from the long rest and turned around. He crawled to the opening of the tent and saw Seiran smiling at him. He wondered if she even slept at all but he dared not to ask.

“Did you sleep well?”

“The last time I slept this well was in Tesafar.”

“That’s good to hear Richard. It’s almost dawn and we need you to get dressed into more appropriate travel clothes because we need to leave as soon as possible. We will eat a brief breakfast during the day.” Seiran immediately gave Richard warm travel clothes looking more serious than before.

“Couldn’t we have breakfast first and leave afterwards Seiran? It seems so early.”

“Unfortunately an Äimite has arrived and he ordered us to leave right now. I’m sorry, but you have to hurry up.” Seiran looked unusually serious and she swiftly walked in the direction of a strange brunette elf who was wearing a black military uniform with a black and silver armor that stared at Richard with a menacing face. He didn’t look like a ranger prompting the boy to be fully dressed within a few minutes. Richard walked in Seiran’s direction while she talked to the Äimite guard.

“Good to see that you are fully dressed Richard.” Seiran summoned her Elyria and she helped Richard sit on the beast. He was surprised at the translucent gelatinous consistency of the creature that glowed bright blue. Seiran immediately sat behind him and stared at the Äimite.

“Use the northwestern gate Lord Seiran. I will be in front of you making sure you have free passage.”

The elf politely bowed, summoned a fire beast that looked like a sort of wolf and left without even bothering to look at Richard or salute him. Seiran bowed at her guards that were disassembling the tent and without wasting time they ran off in the same direction as the Äimite.

Richard had to grab on the beast’s neck as it ran at an incredible speed. “Seiran’s magical beast is even faster than a horse riding at full speed!”

The Elyria was riding so fast that Richard had to firmly grab its neck. He turned up to stare at Seiran’s face that briefly smiled at him but she watched steadily ahead looking completely concentrated. “I’ll presume that in order to make sure the beast run so quickly, she has to use all of her mental energies to control it.”

They were traveling for the next 6 hours in the cold morning in endless forests that had no roads or traces of civilization when the beast after jogging for a few moments came to a full stop.

Seiran got off the beast first and stretched herself. “I’ll help you down Richard. It must be uncomfortable getting off by yourself with all of those bruises on your legs.”

Richard stumbled for a second and stood up while he held onto Seiran who didn’t seem in the least annoyed from his clumsiness. Richard turned around and didn’t see anything of interest in the area. “Where are we Seiran? Why did we stop?”

“I told you we were going to have a late breakfast. It’s around 2 hours before noon. We are in the wilds close to the northwestern gate. In order to make it possible for you to enter Capital City, you are going to have to pass a magical arch with me while I hold the invitation edict. If you had been an elf we could have taken a quicker route.”

“You mean there are other things that one must do to enter Capital City along with an invitation letter from the king?”

“That is correct Richard. It’s a sort of magical defense mechanism to make sure someone doesn’t steal an invitation letter and attempt to enter the capital. There are several gates and they are patrolled by at least one Äimite guard at all times.”

“Who was the elf that we saw in the camp a while ago?”

“He is an Äimite guard named Kakellin and he’s anxiously waiting for us to cross the gate as soon as possible so that you arrive to the capital by tomorrow.”

“Is that the same as a ranger?”

“Rangers are a much lower category of special soldiers whose main purpose is to guard the general population from meandering invaders and criminals. If you are talented enough in fencing and sorcery, and you don’t mind working several weeks or months at a time guarding large territories, pretty much anyone can be a ranger if they want.”

“Then what are those Aite warriors?”

“They are called Äimite guards. They are the most powerful elvish warriors in the entire nation.”

“What do they do if they are so important?”

“They are basically the Master’s personal guardians whose main purpose is to protect him with their lives at all costs. Most of them guard Master Lord Salman in Capital City, but they can be seen guarding specific posts all over the country. They can also have secret missions to preserve national security.”

“You are very powerful, but you’re not one of them right?”

“I can tell you this; the elf you saw a while ago is probably strong enough to kill me without too much effort even if I tried fighting him with all of my might. They not only choose the most talented elves in the nation, but they extensively train them to become full-fledged guards.”

“So are they stronger than Spaulding and Trevilin?”

“Indeed they are although Trevilin told me once that Spaulding is capable of using water magic. It’s extremely rare for someone to be able to use two magical elements at the same time making him a potential candidate to join them.”

“And what about Trevilin?”

“Trevilin is a passionate fighter and his Javelin is very fast, but they would never choose him when there are so many talented elves out there. Is there a force like that in your country?”

“Well, our king has a legion of knights that are trained fighters that protect him but they don’t have secret missions or use magic. I think anyone that has good combat skills can train to become one.”

“As far as I know, while our king can recommend a talented elf to be considered, it’s the Äimite that choose new candidates for themselves. I know someone that was one day approached by them with an offer to join the guard.”

“What did he do?”

“After considering it for a short while, the elf kindly declined.”

“But if they are so powerful and amazing, why would someone choose not to be one?”

“Because once you become one, you renounce your previous life and become the shield that protects and blindly follows all of the orders of the king without question. An Äimite cannot disobey their king even if they are morally against an order their Master issues them.”

“So joining them is a life-long commitment, isn’t it?”

“That is also correct Richard.” Seiran warmly smiled looking excited. “Now let’s sit down and have something to eat. I am sorry if the meal will not be as pleasant as last night.” Seiran sat down on a rock and retrieved from her backpack several cold elvish cakes and a canister of water that they shared together.

Richard was now very curious about meeting the mysterious Elf King and learning more about the Äimite guard. “I have a question Seiran.”

“What is it Richard?”

“How many guards are there?”

“I cannot give you an exact figure, but there must be at least 3000 of them. They accompany the Master everywhere he goes which can be a scary sight!” Seiran started laughing at the sheer thought of being constantly surrounded by the most powerful mages in the entire world.

“Can the king go wherever he feels like without them?”

“I wouldn’t fully know because I don’t visit the capital that often, but the handful of times I’ve interacted with Master Lord Salman they accompanied him everywhere. Are the knights in Ayrtain like that?”

“Actually I am starting to think you are mad Seiran. How can a king have a personal army of warriors that are so powerful and obedient but they won’t allow their king to walk in his own lands without following him everywhere?”

“I don’t know Richard. It’s just the way things are done in our country. Finish eating your cake while I stretch a little bit. We still have to travel a bit before we reach that gate and if I arrive there too late, the guards might show up and drag you to the city without letting me accompany you.”

Three weeks had passed ever since Richard was rescued by Seiran and safely brought to Capital City. Nelida and Herb received no news of Richard’s whereabouts and while they were enjoying their time in the Blue City, they wondered when they will see him again.

Nelida sat on the beach while she wore an amusingly intricate water dress which is what elves liked to call bathing suits. The dress didn’t reveal as much skin as an underdress but for the sensibilities of her country it was indeed very revealing attire. “Herb, don’t you think this city is strange?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there are no children anywhere.”

Herb thought about Nelida’s observation for a moment. “What about Siri? He’s only three years older than me but he is Richard’s height.”

Nelida remembered the kind blond elf that showed them around the city the first few times they ventured outside the palace a month ago. “But Siri is the only child in the city and I’ve heard the population is at least 60,000 elves. Everyone looks the same age, it’s just so strange. I have also noticed there are no humans inside of this city.”

“I’ve seen a few fishermen in the bay. Siri told me there are a few humans that work in the fields that surround the city.”

“I can’t believe how those crops work, after plowing the land, it is always wet. How can they do that?”

“Siri told me the other day that they dug mounds of land on the paths of waterfall water and in the bottom layer placed sand and rocks that allowed water to seep through to the lower levels with ease.”

“We don’t have that technology back at home. How come our country doesn’t look like this?”

“I’m glad I got into that carriage. I wouldn’t trade my adventures here for nothing in the world and I can’t wait to visit the capital!”

“Has Siri told you when we are going there?”

“He said they are expecting something called an invitation letter that might arrive any day now.”

“I wonder why can’t we enter the city right now, Spaulding seems to feel fine. He could take us.”

“I don’t know Nelly.”

Both children continued enjoying one of their last days in the walled city.

Spaulding was inside of an elegant office wearing regular clothes looking impatient. He was dangling his fingers on a desk with irritation. “When is the letter going to arrive so that I can leave this place?”

Saiylan raised an eyebrow. “It should arrive in a couple of hours Spaulding. You should enjoy your stay in this city now that you have recovered. I’m pretty sure you can pass the barrier field.”

Saiylan was calmly drinking tea in the other side of the room while she remained seated on a cushion. She was once more wearing a very distinctive blue dress and her long hair was tied in an oval bun.

“I’m not interested in touring your city Lord Saiylan. I just want to leave this place.” Spaulding didn’t look even remotely pleased.

“You know you could enter Capital City right now without the letter.”

“I want to bring the children with me personally and without the letter I cannot do that. By the way, when are you going to return my belongings? You told me the other day you would give them back to me when I was well enough to pass the barrier.”

“You are right Lord Spaulding I almost forgot!” Saiylan manually ordered a servant to approach her. “Bring Lord Spaulding his belongings right now.”

“But Lord Saiylan, does that include the sword and armor?”

“That is correct. I want you to bring everything right now.”

The servant politely bowed and hurried off. Saiylan continued drinking tea while Spaulding impatiently stared at a window.

“When will I be able to see Trevilin? I heard his life is no longer in danger.”

“About that Spaulding, I heard you can visit him right now. Unfortunately you won’t be able to hold a conversation.”

“What do you mean? Did your medics do something to him? If they have I swear I will behead them personally right now!”

“They tried everything they could but he can’t speak. Perhaps in a few months when the inflammation diminishes he might be able to speak again, but there is no way to communicate with him. It must be emotionally terrible to be unable to say anything. I am deeply sorry.”

Spaulding frowned at the prospect that if he did things differently, this wouldn’t have happened. “I know that the right side of his neck wasn’t damaged, so why can’t he speak?”

“It’s probably because of the intense inflammation from the burns you caused Lord Spaulding. If he ever speaks again, it will be because the right side of his neck was still reasonably undamaged.”

“He is supposed to return to his post as a ranger in a couple of months!”

“The king wrote an edict permitting him to stay here indefinitely if he so chooses. Our climate is very mild during the winter so his stay will be comfortable once he is discharged.”

“If he wanted to leave, when could he be allowed to travel?”

“I can’t say for sure Lord Spaulding but perhaps in another 2 or 3 months although the forest surrounding the city will become bitter cold in a couple of weeks.”

The servant returned with a lacquer box with intricate shell designs along with the armor and sword. Spaulding anxiously stood up to take a look at his belongings. He gently removed the sword from the scabbard and observed the metal.

“I ordered my artisans to have your sword polished and sharpened. I hope you don’t mind.”

“They did a very good job Lord Saiylan, the sword looks beautiful.” Spaulding returned the sword to the scabbard which was also polished. He noticed they replaced his leather belt.

“Your old belt was damaged from excessive usage and I decided it was best to replace it. Why didn’t you get a new one in your own city before you left?”

“I didn’t think it was necessary but that is all right.” Spaulding noticed the artisans thoroughly cleaned any trace of blood and dirt from his armor along with careful replacement of any leather scales that had been scratched beyond reasonable repair. “I can see the artisans took a good deal of care to avoid damaging the decoration of my armor. Your city seems to have very talented artisans Saiylan, I am indeed pleased. I think I will forgive you for taking away my belongings when I first arrived here.”

Saiylan smiled profusely as the servant took his sword and armor to his room. He opened the box and put on the two rings noticing they too were carefully cleaned and polished. The ring with the family crest never looked so glossy in decades. “I made sure the best artisans in the city polished your rings and fixed any dents.”

“Thank you Lord Saiylan. I truly appreciate your hospitality.” Spaulding sat down on another cushion mat looking more relaxed and ate a couple of crackers.

A guard wearing the familiar blue leather uniform appeared rather abruptly. “I’m sorry for appearing in such haste my Lords, but a messenger has just arrived with the invitation letter! He’s…”

A rather muscular elf with many scars and a menacing look on his face suddenly stormed into the room without needing to present himself because both elves knew he was an Äimite guard. Only a guard could wear such a distinctive uniform and emit an eerily menacing presence wherever they went.

“My name is Lord Misirel. I was commissioned by Master Lord Salman to deliver this invitation letter to Lord Saiylan, Leader of the Arima Clan and defender of the Blue City of the West.”

The elf politely bowed while he held in his right hand a beautiful scroll. Saiylan stood up to return the courtesy whereas Spaulding with a stern look on his face only gave him a polite nod. Ignoring Spaulding’s apparent lack of respect, he gave the scroll to Saiylan.

“Whose names are included in the invitation Lord Misirel?” Saiylan asked with politeness.

Spaulding stood up to make sure the letter was complete.

“The letter is an invitation for Lord Spaulding of the Kasimma Clan and his two human companions the noblemen Nelida Earlrose and Herb Antunian. You are ordered to depart for the capital upon dawn tomorrow without delay.”

Spaulding took a casual look at the letter to make sure the elf was not misguiding them and he confirmed the letter was correctly worded. “I see that the edict explicitly states we are to travel by carriage. Wouldn’t it be preferable to travel on a phantom beast?” A frown appeared on Spaulding’s face.

“Master Lord Salman has determined that upon news of the injuries you sustained, it was best to travel by carriage. If you cannot have a proper carriage ready by tomorrow Lord Saiylan, we can make the arrangements personally.”

Spaulding frowned at the guard that seemed to underestimate his abilities once again but he said nothing.

“That will not be necessary Lord Misirel. I have already made arrangements beforehand.” Saiylan replied.

Misirel stared at Spaulding with a certain look of disdain, his hazel colored eyes specifically studying the green blight on Spaulding’s left eye.

“Would you care to eat a midafternoon refreshment?” Saiylan asked with politeness.

“Your hospitality is widely appreciated but unnecessary Lord Saiylan. I must return to the capital to report to my Master that all three invitees will be soon arriving. I hope to see you soon in more presentable attire Lord Spaulding.”

He once again looked at Spaulding with disgust and left the room without saying goodbye. Saiylan didn’t in particular like his lack of civility, but Spaulding was so used to dealing with their arrogance that he no longer cared.

“I would like to visit my friend Trevilin right now if it’s possible Saiylan. Have a guard tell the children they should get ready to leave as well.”

An hour later, Spaulding was directed to Trevilin’s room that was located in a different building of the medical wing of the palace. Much to his surprise, the windowless room was separated into two sections where he was greeted by two nurses and Ciedel himself. Spaulding made a grimaced face when he approached Ciedel but he maintained his politeness.

Ciedel seemed enthusiastic Spaulding looked well enough to be able to visit his friend. “Welcome Lord Spaulding. I have been expecting you would come here.”

Ciedel bowed with vehement politeness. Spaulding returned the kind offer although he didn’t bow nearly as much as Ciedel did.

“Have you visited the city?”

“I don’t have any interest in leaving the palace.”

“How strange. You seemed determined that other day to leave the palace grounds. I thought you were at least minimally curious to tour the city instead of seeing it from a window.”

“I’m only here to see my friend because I am leaving tomorrow for Capital City. I presume I will be able to pass the barrier.”

“The effect of the curse faded from your arm five days ago. You will be able to pass the perimeters of the palace without any difficulty.”

“That’s good to know. I presumed I would need you to manually unlock the curse or something.”

“My phantom beast doesn’t work like that. While I need to apply the curse by tact, once the conditions have been met, it fades away. How is your leg, does it still hurt?”

“The leg is fine albeit I presume the scar won’t fade away.”

“If the wound was caused by your magic, it’s unlikely there will be much that can be done for it I’m afraid to say.”

“I don’t mind. How come Trevilin is in a different building?”

“The medical units are divided by several sections depending of the gravity of the wounds. You merited care but I knew from the start your life wasn’t in grave danger like Trevilin’s was. This wing is designed specifically for the gravest patients that need constant attention. As you can see, the room is much larger than yours and it’s divided into subsections.”

Spaulding turned around and noticed he was in a sort of washing room that had a shelf to store the visitor’s belongings, racks of aprons and facemasks along with a closed door to the side. The ubiquitous door stroke Spaulding’s attention instantly.

“Most of the room makes perfect sense to me, but what is that door for?”

“It’s a dormitory for medical staff.”

“You and the nurses slept there?”

“I took turns with other medics and nurses. We take turns between caring for the gravest patients, the stable patients in other areas of the infirmary and having time off.”

“I presume I have to put on the apron first before I wash my hands.”

“I will assist you in putting everything on Lord Spaulding.” A female voice was audible nearby.

A medium height nurse with bright green eyes that were visible from the facemask approached Spaulding from behind which slightly surprised him. The nurse dressed him in the apron, placed a metallic mask on his face and covered his long blond hair in a hat with utter care. He was about to wash his hands when another nurse brought a pair of slippers.

“What is this for?”

“Your shoes have been in the outside world and they are contaminated. Before you wash your hands, please remove your shoes and wear these slippers.” Ciedel responded with tranquility.

Spaulding complied and he then proceeded to wash his hands thoroughly.

“Please follow me.”

Trevilin’s windowless room was three times larger than his room with bright blue walls. However the room had almost no furniture and it was notably brightened with spherical white lamps on the austere ceiling. Trevilin was seated on a chair in the right corner of the room while he patiently listened to the conversation from the intermediate room.

Spaulding instantly recognized the elf from afar. [_“In the darkness of the night, I didn’t notice the extent of Trevilin’s burn.” _]Spaulding thought to himself.

Spaulding’s face became grave when he noticed his friend had lost a lot of weight, his once decently muscular arms were now extremely thin and his overall appearance was very frail but with the usual smile and demeanor of always. “I’m surprised Trevilin hasn’t made a sarcastic comment about my tardiness by now.”

Spaulding suddenly froze and recalled that Trevilin was for the most part mute. He rapidly noticed the room had a different temperature from the hallway. “I wonder why the medics purposely keep this room colder than the hallway. At least it feels decently comfortable.”

Spaulding walked slowly to meet face to face with his friend and noticed something strange about his appearance. Trevilin was wearing some sort of strange collar that elongated and straightened his neck. He knew his friend had severe burns and remembered Ciedel mentioning the city’s artisans were designing a neck brace but this was the first time he saw it.

“I presume you are wondering about the neck brace, right Lord Spaulding?”

Spaulding turned around and noticed Ciedel was standing behind him slightly to the left.

“Because of the extension and depth of the wound, if we hadn’t placed a custom made neck brace, the new skin would have grown poorly and his neck would have been forever tilted to the left. As a matter of fact, when he arrived here his skin was already starting to show signs of this problem, but we were able to correct it on time with a temporary neck brace.”

Spaulding listened with attention and noticed his friend was resting on a comfortable chair beneath a thick blanket which was slightly reassuring. Spaulding approached Trevilin who kept on smiling at him without uttering a sound. He knelt in front of his friend and from a back pocket without saying anything; he retrieved a large napkin that revealed a round white stone.

Ciedel instantly became furious. “Are you bringing something contaminated into the room so that your friend gets ill and dies? Are you insane?” Ciedel was about to take the stone away from him when Spaulding stared at him with determination.

“It’s all right Ciedel. I personally made sure the stone was washed thoroughly and then boiled in hot water for at least 30 minutes. I am certain he won’t get sick by touching it.”

Ciedel stooped in his place wondering what Spaulding planned on doing with the object. Spaulding placed the stone on Trevilin’s right hand with kindness. The stone was immediately surrounded by a green energy and a piglet sized Javelin suddenly appeared on top of his lap.

“This is preposterous Spaulding! He’s still too weak to even stand up and you want him to use magic?! Do you have any common sense?”

“That’s all right Ciedel. You don’t have to worry about me. It’s nice to hear the sound of my voice even if it’s from my phantom beast.”

Everyone turned around and noticed Trevilin was in a meditative stance while he communicated with his beast.

“What a great idea Spaulding to bring a stone so that I could communicate from my Javelin. There have been so many times I was frustrated being unable to voice my complaints. I deeply thank you for doing this for me.”

Spaulding felt happy that Trevilin enjoyed the gesture. “When Lord Saiylan told me you couldn’t speak, I thought this would be a useful solution for you. Does the burn still hurt a lot?”

“They constantly give me numbing ointments that makes the pain barely noticeable but the first few days were the worst. I am still unsure how much time has passed since I woke up in here.”

“It’s been approximately 5 weeks. Have they told you about the children?”

“In order to keep my hopes up despite being unable to communicate, they told me what the kids were up to and I believe they told me about Richard’s rescue even before you found out.”

“That’s good to know. At least they treated you with kindness despite it all.”

“Ciedel told me one day that you foolishly attempted to leave the barrier the second you woke up. I couldn’t stop mentally laughing when I heard him say that.”

“You knew the whole time about the barrier field?”

“You probably haven’t realized this, but I visit this city frequently when I am off duty and I have known Ciedel for a long time.”

Spaulding noticed Ciedel was blushing with embarrassment. “If you knew this city so damn well, why didn’t you bloody tell me it was passing the mountains and I would have tried to get there sooner?”

“It would have been impossible to summon my Javelin long enough to have told you because I was badly burned and suffocating in my own blood. I also assumed you wouldn’t have a hard time finding the mud road that leads to the city.”

Spaulding frowned but he let the comment slide.

“You are leaving aren’t you?”

“I received the invitation letter from a petulant Äimite a while ago.” Spaulding once more procured an object from his tunic.

The piglet watched attentively as he retrieved the letter and showed it to him. “It’s a shame you couldn’t stay here for long. I would have loved to enjoy your company for a while more.”

“I would enjoy nothing more but I have two reasons I need to visit the capital.”

“I presume one of them is to reunite with the children. I am certain the second reason isn’t to have a drink with Master Lord Salman and sing with the Äimite guards in a party.”

Spaulding grumbled at the idea he’ll have to see Salman and closed his eyes with disgust.

“You haven’t been to the capital in 5 years. I presume you must have another good motive for going there.”

“There is an important motive but I can’t tell it to you for the time being. I’ll tell it to you when the issue has been resolved but it has nothing to do with you or the children. When will they start letting you outside? You look like a corpse I dare say.”

Ciedel frowned at Spaulding’s rudeness but Trevilin seemed amused. “We’ve started giving Trevilin liquid food for the past few days. If he gains more weight, he’ll probably be strong enough to walk soon.”

“You mean he hasn’t eaten in an entire month?!”

“Calm down Spaulding, you’re hotheaded like always. They inserted a sort of tube on my chest to feed me. I didn’t notice it because I was usually unconscious, but it was probably what saved my life as I couldn’t swallow even the smallest amount of water because my neck was bleeding nonstop.”

Spaulding stood up wondering if he still had it.

“They removed it days ago Spaulding and the scar will probably disappear soon.”

The piglet’s eyes turned black as Trevilin regained control of his body and briefly showed the healing scar from his left side. Trevilin reentered meditation and once more the piglet’s eyes glowed green.

“When will you be able to leave this city?”

Ciedel decided to answer. “Trevilin’s burns are healing fine and the worst seems to have passed Lord Spaulding. He might be able to travel in 3 months but if the weather is too cold, he won’t be able to leave until the following spring.”

“If that happens, please visit me Spaulding and bring the children here with you.” Trevilin said with a joyful tone.

“I am not even sure if the king will let them leave the capital and I have little interest to stay in either one of the two cities.”

“The capital in my opinion is pleasant. You only dislike it because Master Lord Salman lives there along with most of the Äimite guards.”

“The idiots are arrogant punks who think they are better swordsmen than I am.”

Trevilin’s piglet started laughing profusely. He indeed missed Spaulding’s complaints about everything and was sure Ciedel hated treating him half as much as Spaulding detested being stuck inside the barrier field.

Spaulding smiled at his friend. “Glad to see you are doing better. I have to see if the children are getting ready for tomorrow’s trip. If Master Salman doesn’t have me arrested the second he sees me, I’ll probably return to Tesafar.”

Spaulding bowed low with utter respect for his friend and tears fell from his eyes. “I’m truly sorry for what happened to you. If I had been more responsible and less arrogant, I would have had been able to kill that pathetic excuse of a mage before he wounded your neck. You have no idea how remorseful I feel that I burned your neck even if it was to save your life.”

Trevilin didn’t muster any words from the piglet feeling emotional from Spaulding’s heartfelt confession that must have been very difficult for him to say. Spaulding stood up, bowed at his friend and swiftly left the room.

 

Chapter 11

 

“How strange. Lord Spaulding didn’t bother to show up for dinner in the grand hall.” Saiylan said with a smirk on her face as she studied the entire dining hall and frowned from Spaulding’s absence as she dined with everyone while she drank copious amounts of rice wine.

Nelida turned around and noticed his absence as well. “I wonder where he is now.”

“Maybe he’s busy Nelly. Hey, did you try this green sauce?” Herb answered.

“No, what does it taste like?”

“I don’t know. Like a mixture of algae with something sweet like orange.”

Nelida tried a little bit of the sauce and didn’t like it. “It tastes like something spicy that is spoiled or something.”

Spaulding wasn’t in the mood to be with everyone. He quietly left the palace when nobody was looking and walked to the bay. He eventually found a comfortable flat rock that faced the sea and he calmly sat down. Spaulding took out a box with a long stone pipe with a bag of dried plants and began smoking as he stared at the sea. He brought with him a small ceramic bottle of rice wine and served himself a cup while he peacefully waited for dawn to arrive.

“I hope those petulant inhabitants of this city don’t show up to ruin this rare moment of solitude.”

As he drank and smoked for around an hour, someone appeared behind him. Spaulding turned around and was surprised to see the white shadow of a young woman who stared at him as she pointed to the lands beyond the sea. He turned to the west wondering what the semitransparent shadow meant as he rubbed his eyes. “What do you mean by this?”

His head turned back but the shadow faded away. “Maybe I smoked a bit too much salvia or something.”

Noticing he was finally completely alone, he sighed in relief, placed his coat on top of the rock to serve as a pillow and laid down. The elf stared at the sky with contemplation and fell asleep.

“Wake up Lord! What are you doing out here in the cold?”

Spaulding woke up with a haze on his face from the wine and felt surprised it was still night-time. He was surprised to be aroused by the strange young elf from the other day. “Who are you?”

“I am surprised you don’t know my name Lord Spaulding. I’m Siri, Lord Saiylan’s only son.”

Spaulding was confused when he discovered the young elf that seemed a lot like a younger version of himself with very short blond hair was a nobleelf. “Your hair looks awfully short for a nobleelf and your clothes make you look like a servant.”

The young elf instead of feeling offended, grinned with a strange smile. “Nelida said I should cut my hair because I looked too much like you and she chose the clothes I am wearing. I think she has good taste in clothes just like everything else.”

“Whatever, leave me alone. I know how to get back to the palace on my own.” Spaulding served another cup of wine, drank it in one gulp and laid down when Siri suddenly pulled off his jacket causing his head to hit the rock with certain force. “Ouch! Why did you pull away my jacket?!”

“To convince you to return to the palace before it’s dawn. Why are you sleeping here on top of a rock in the middle of the night instead of a guestroom?”

“Because I’m tired of sleeping on a comfortable bed while being surrounded by people and this seemed like the most solitary place in the entire city.”

The young elf stared at him with a strange look on his face and decided to sit down and open the wine bottle. Instead of feeling offended, Spaulding gave him his own cup to serve as he prepared more salvia on his pipe to smoke.

“Obviously from the looks of it, you won’t leave me alone. I prefer to put up with you than return to the palace.” Spaulding laid down on the rock and rested his head on his left arm as he began smoking with disinterest.

“Saiylan would prefer it if you returned to the palace for comfort because you are going to travel a long distance to the capital in a couple of hours.”

“I know and I can assure you I will be back by dawn so leave me alone.”

“Saiylan also told me that if you refused, I had to stay with you and make sure you don’t run off.”

“Fine, you can stay but leave me alone.”

Siri frowned at the elf’s rudeness as he stared at the stars. “You’re upset about your friend, aren’t you?”

“You’re partly true but I am also upset for another reason.”

“Is it because we didn’t treat you well or was it something Saiylan said?”

Spaulding took a long inhalation of the pipe and released a large cloud of smoke that drifted to the dark sky. “Did you know I haven’t been to the capital in over 4 years?”

“Really? You haven’t been there even during the summer festival? Why wouldn’t you want to go if you are a clan leader?”

“Because I don’t want to see the king but I will concede this time. If I had another choice, I wouldn’t go there but the edict forces me to visit the city.”

“I don’t know why you dislike our king, but if you don’t arrive to the carriage on time, Saiylan will embarrass herself in front of the Äimite guards.”

Spaulding sat up in a jolt and stared at the young elf who was calmly serving his second cup of wine. “I thought your guards were going to come with us to the capital! Why would the Äimite waste their time with such a mundane task?”

“I am not really sure Lord Spaulding but that’s partially why I was tasked to find you because they won’t accept you to be late.”

“All right, I’ll get up in a few minutes but I have a question for you Siri.”

“What is it?”

“What is beyond this sea? I know the sea eventually collides with most of Ayrtain, but I heard there is a desertic wasteland that only a handful of humans live in.”

“Have you ever traveled beyond our borders Lord Spaulding?”

“I know the central and southern regions of our country very well and I have visited some of the upper northern territories. But with the exception of the southeastern fringes of Ayrtain where Herb’s family lived in, I have never really ventured beyond.”

“So that is why you had a hard time finding our city! Well, beyond the northern sea is indeed a small autonomous country called the Haraaldi wastelands. I have been there several times to assist the human merchants.”

“What are those lands like?”

“Have you noticed that on the eastern side of our city we have a huge mountain range that separates this city with the western territories?”

“Yeah, most of the region is forest wilds that are dreadfully cold even at this time of year.”

“And have you noticed our city is unusually very warm despite its northern latitude?”

Spaulding inhaled the pipe and noticed that he didn’t feel cold even though dawn was just a few hours away. “You’re right! I forgot that the city is unusually warm the first night I arrived.”

“You never noticed this before?”

“I was inside a room for the majority of the time I have been in this city.”

“That makes perfect sense.”

“So what does this have to do with those regions being wastelands?”

“We are being fed by a warm oceanic current that keeps this area relatively warm and semi desertic in the southern tips but we are protected by the mountains to the east which feed us with fresh water and the ability to grow crops any time of the year.”

“Nelida told me about some stone walls that grew crops or something.”

A timid smile appeared on Siri’s face because he was the elf that told that to Nelida. “The Haraaldi lands on the other hand are very flat and have no rivers.”

Spaulding became mildly surprised at Siri’s comment. “If the land is useless and there is no fresh water, how can humans even live there?”

“There are some underground caves that get filled with water during the rainy season.”

“If the land is desertic, it probably doesn’t rain that often.”

“The land gets pummeled by vicious rainstorms during two months each year causing major floods which makes it difficult to grow crops.”

“Idiot humans and their primitive technology. If they learned elvish technology to divert the water and change the soil to make it flood less easily, they wouldn’t have that problem.”

“Master Lord Salman wrote an edict stating our country cannot assist them with our technology or teach those humans magic several centuries ago.”

Spaulding sat up with surprise at Siri’s comment. He never heard of that before.

“We are only allowed to give limited humanitarian assistance in exchange they tend to our crops and don’t stay here indefinitely once the rains end.”

“And the humans are actually okay with this arrangement? Why don’t they emigrate to Ayrtain if their situation is so dire?”

“The tribes living in those lands are apparently descendants of barbarians and common criminals that were evicted from more prosperous human lands.”

“If things are so bad, those lands would probably be better off being administered by our nation.”

“The king cannot do that for obvious reasons. I’m surprised you haven’t realized this.”

Spaulding stared at the sea wondering what Siri meant by that and he suddenly understood his words very well. “Because if we invade those lands even if it was for humanitarian motives, surrounding human nations would think it’s an act of war.”

“That is correct. Those lands are not ours but the Haraaldi are not the historical owners of those lands either. They are pretty much exiled newcomers that have nowhere else to go.”

“It seems rather odd that Master Lord Salman would have a vented humanitarian interest for lands he cannot possess that are worthless anyways.”

“I’ve heard legends that several thousands of years ago when there was more ice in the north those lands used to be swampland.”

“How old are you anyways Siri?”

“I am 15 years old Lord Spaulding.”

“You’re barely only a couple years older than the children but you seem to know the entire history of these lands.”

Siri smiled at Spaulding’s approving comment. He stood up and offered his hand with a smile. “I think you had a good chance to enjoy our bay and to spend some time alone but you should come back or I will be scolded by my mother.”

Spaulding smiled and he accompanied the young elf to the palace. As they crossed the city, Siri was talking nonstop about the history and economic activities of the city but Spaulding wasn’t paying any attention. [_“Why does King Salman have such a vented interest for lands that are functionally worthless?” _]Spaulding thought looking incredulous.

They soon arrived to the palace where several guards sighed in relief that Spaulding had returned on time.

“Why does everyone in this city make a huge fuss over me? I’ll never understand it.”

“Well Lord Spaulding, you’re an important nobleelf that voluntarily works as a ranger when you have no need to work in such a dangerous profession.”

Spaulding frowned at Siri’s comment but he said nothing.

“You should return to your room and sleep for a few hours. If you like, I could arrange someone to bring you something to eat even though it will probably be cold.” Siri said.

“That would be nice thank you.” Spaulding was casually about to climb a flight of stairs when someone snatched the bag with the wine canister. Spaulding turned around and noticed Siri grabbed it.

“You drank more than enough wine Lord Spaulding. The Äimite might scold us if you don’t look presentable when they arrive.”

Spaulding shrugged his shoulders without getting angry, returned to his room and passed out on the soft bed. After the curse faded from his shoulder he was assigned to a regular room but the room’s decoration still felt too sterile for his taste.

“Wake up Spaulding!”

He was surprised to know the person that woke him up wasn’t a guard or Siri but it was Herb who seemed very excited to be leaving that morning. Spaulding merely yawned and noticed he never touched the food that was brought up to his room. If there was one thing that enough rice wine could do, it was to make you pass out when you least expected it. Spaulding incorporated himself with a slight headache but he was otherwise sober.

“Spaulding it’s already dawn and we are all waiting for you!” Herb was expectedly anxious.

“Yes uncle, get up!”

Spaulding yawned as he stared at the two children. “Well at least let me have something to eat first.” Spaulding opened the lacquer box to serve himself some cold noodles and pickled vegetables and he started to eat in silence. “Why don’t you two eat some of the food?”

“I’m too excited to be leaving for Capital City to eat anything.” Herb replied.

“It’s a long trip. We will be traveling for at least a week.”

“I can’t wait to see Richard uncle!”

Spaulding smiled at his niece feeling relieved the two children would be finally reunited after nearly 2 months. “I’m glad that the edict Master Lord Salman wrote allowed the two of you to come with me. I feared he would drag you to his feet with one of his Äimite guards.”

The two children stared at each other looking surprised.

“Spaulding, what is an Äimite?” Herb asked.

“Don’t tell anyone once we leave what I’m going to say because I might get into trouble, but they are the petulant army of our king.”

“What are they like?” Nelida was indeed very curious as she watched her uncle grimace while he ate.

“They are amazingly powerful elves that wear black uniforms. I already told you what my supervisor Legarha is like.”

Nelida recalled something. “You always complained about him.”

“Despite my qualms with that elf, he’s actually very decent and mild-mannered. Most Äimite are a bunch of arrogant brutes and unfortunately Lord Siri told me we are going to be stuck with a group of them in a while.”

“I thought Saiylan’s guards were coming with us.” Herb became curious as he watched Spaulding eat.

“Apparently things changed in the last minute and we are going to be chaperoned by them. It’s going to be a miserable week. I wished I was able to travel with my phantom beast, but the edict clearly states we must travel by carriage.”

Herb chuckled with politeness. “I thought you hated traveling in carriages!”

“Unfortunately the bandits killed my treasured horse. I really liked that fair beast but even if my horse was still alive, I wouldn’t be able to ride on it because of the edict.”

“I forgot about that. With the entire commotion, I never realized the bandits killed the horses we were riding in. Why aren’t you allowed to ride on a rented horse?”

“I presume Master Lord Salman is worried about my leg wound.”

Herb’s face became slightly grave. “You haven’t shown us the wound Spaulding. Is it bad?”

“Ciedel with his care covered the burn with some skin from my right leg and I feel fine as long as I don’t push myself. I’ll unfortunately end up with a scar, but its menial in comparison to Trevilin’s suffering.”

Nelida slightly screeched. “Were you finally able to visit him? How is Trevilin feeling?”

“He seems to have recovered his sense of humor but he can no longer speak. Ciedel told me that if he is lucky, he might be able to speak again in a couple of months but his career as a ranger is unfortunately finished.” Spaulding closed his eyes with sadness. “I feel so guilty that I put him under such dire suffering.”

Herb’s face became saddened by the bad news. “Can’t someone use magic to heal him?”

“Because I used my magic to purposely burn his neck to stop the blood loss, the damage is most likely irreversible.”

“What?!”

Spaulding nodded and he continued to eat in silence for while he fully ignored any further inquiries of the children. Within several minutes, Siri softly knocked on the door. “Come inside!” Spaulding replied.

The blond elf wearing unusually elegant blue robes bowed at everyone with a smile on his face.

“Have you finished eating Lord Spaulding? The guards have already arrived and they are waiting for the three of you to come down immediately.”

While both children smiled looking excited, Spaulding sighed and put on his armor in silence. After he was fully dressed, he retrieved the scroll and entered the courtyard where Saiylan was awaiting along with 5 Äimite that bowed at him unanimously. Spaulding was surprised at their unusual politeness and bowed as well. Nelida and Herb felt the guards instilled a sense of fear in them and stared with awe. A tall guard with wavy brown hair and dark brown eyes that was wearing a black cape approached the group.

“Pleased to meet you Lord Spaulding. I am Lord Pieran and I have been tasked to accompany you personally to Capital City with a few of my men.”

“I’m surprised I will be escorted by such an unusually polite Äimite. Are you sure you picked the right profession?”

The guard politely chuckled without taking any offense at his snide comment. “Lord Legarha has told me a lot of things about you. He told me you were a competent ranger but you are obstinate and insubordinate.”

Spaulding slightly balked but he remained polite. The elf stared at the two children that hid behind his back.

“That little human girl is your niece, is that correct?”

“Nelida is a very distant niece from my paternal mortal bloodline Pieran whereas I share no blood in common with Herb. The two children are cousins.”

“They seem kind of shy. I haven’t met Richard but the guys say he was also kind of shy when he first came to the palace.”

“I’m not in the least surprised because Master Lord Salman has kept him as a hostage in National Palace.”

“Not at all, he has treated Richard with utter respect as a gracious host. I’m certain these two children will enjoy their stay in the city.”

“Before we leave in the carriage Pieran, why couldn’t we simply travel to the city on a phantom beast and arrive there sooner?”

“Master Lord Salman heard about your serious leg wound and determined he didn’t want you to risk your health senselessly. It’s starting to get a little bit late so if you don’t mind, I’d like to leave the city immediately.”

“That is fine with me.” Spaulding bowed at Lord Saiylan and Siri with utter politeness. “I hope you can forgive my rudeness during my stay in your city. Despite the dire circumstances, I will be forever in debt with your clan for everything you did.”

“The pleasure is mine Lord Spaulding and I hope I can see you in the summer festival next year so that we can get to know each other a little better.”

“I will think about it. I hope you can continue taking care of Trevilin until he’s healthy enough to travel. He is always welcome in Tesafar.”

Spaulding once again bowed and he entered the carriage along with the children. He was modestly annoyed that Pieran got inside of the carriage as well and sat right in front of him. The children were slightly surprised and although they were initially afraid of the guard after noticing Pieran was unusually affable they seemed to like him instantly.

“Lord Pieran, are you an Äimite?”

Pieran grinned at Herb looking confident. “I am a division captain in the guard. Why do you ask?”

“Because Spaulding told me all of the Äimite are scary!”

Pieran laughed while Spaulding stared outside of the window in an attempt to ignore the menial conversation. “Good to know that you two fear the guard despite being foreigners.”

Spaulding grumbled when he heard Pieran speak.

Nelida’s eyes shone as she stared at the guard’s beautiful armor. “It’s a very pretty armor, but isn’t it heavy?”

Pieran grinned at the girl looking confident. “We get an extensive training before we are allowed to wear it and it’s not as heavy as it seems.”

“Can I touch it?”

Pieran looked at her and grinned even more. “Sure, go ahead.”

Both children stared at each other and they felt the hard lacquered black leather plates and silver chainmail that was beneath it.

“I heard only the most powerful elves in the nation can become guards. Is that true?”

“That is definitely true Herb although the only guards that can issue invitation letters have to be higher ranked guards such as myself.”

“That is so cool! Can you invite Spaulding?!”

Spaulding froze and stared at Herb feeling clearly insulted.

Pieran couldn’t stop laughing and shrugged his shoulders. “Lord Spaulding killed a competent human mage protecting the two of you and his wounded friend during a new moon. If it weren’t because of his stubborn insubordination, we would have invited him a long time ago.”

Spaulding stared at the elf with hatred in his eyes. “Rest assured I would have never signed the invitation letter.”

Pieran chuckled with politeness. “I kind of like your attitude Lord Spaulding. It’s a shame your clan doesn’t have any other suitable blood relatives to become the heirs of the Kasimma Clan.”

“I have several relatives.”

“They are all political relatives and this little girl can’t inherit the title even though she is your niece.”

“Rest assured when I inevitably die of old age without leaving any heirs; Master Lord Salman can pick a suitable replacement.”

“Come on Lord Spaulding, when are you planning on getting married?”

The elf got annoyed and crossed his arms while he stared outside of the window. “I wished Master Lord Salman dumped Froylan in this carriage instead of you. That way I could have enjoyed a peaceful trip without saying a single word.”

Pieran couldn’t stop laughing as both children stared at each other looking curious. “Lord Froylan is too busy with his administrative duties to be wasting his time chaperoning you Spaulding, but this is definitely going to be a really fun week.”

The carriage continued traveling and that evening several guards prepared a tent with a campfire for everyone.

Spaulding got off the carriage with some difficulty and sat on a log to see how his leg wound was faring. “Damn, the wound is starting to bleed again.”

Pieran approached him looking slightly worried. “I didn’t expect the wound to be so serious. If the pain is unbearable, I could take you personally to the city on my phantom beast and arrive within a few hours.”

“The edict clearly states I must arrive by carriage along with the children. I’ll be fine.”

The guard frowned but he didn’t take offense. If Pieran had been a ranger instead of a guard, the two of them could have easily become friends. The carriage traveled another day and during the middle of the third day, they reached a massive stone arch that was guarded by two Äimite. Pieran got off the carriage and approached the guards to talk to them.

“Spaulding, what is this strange arch? Have we arrived to Capital City yet?” Herb asked.

“Siri didn’t tell you what this arch is?”

“He only told me we needed the king to give us an invitation letter that would allow us to visit the city.”

“While that is indeed true, in order for the magic to work, you need to cross one of several entrance points such as this one. They do it to prevent unwanted invaders to try to pillage the city which is why it is being guarded by Äimite.”

The two children stared at the large grey stone arch that unusually looked very ordinary without intricate carvings.

“The arch doesn’t look extraordinary Spaulding.”

“Don’t let the nondescript appearance fool you Herb. The arch has very powerful magic.”

Nelida felt the urge to participate in the conversation. “I have a question uncle.”

“What is it Nelida?”

“Once we pass this arch, how far are we from the city?”

“We are a little over halfway through. We should arrive to the city by tomorrow late at night. You will probably be asleep when we arrive.”

Pieran approached the group with a second guard that stared at the children with suspicion. Spaulding decided to exit the carriage to immediately speak to him.

The unfamiliar guard began to speak. “Good afternoon Lord Spaulding. Do you have the edict?”

Spaulding hastily gave the edict to the guard who read it while Pieran stood nearby.

“I presume the children inside of the carriage are Nelida and Herb. is that correct?”

“Yes. Can we pass the arch already?”

The guard secured the scroll and rudely gave it back to him.

Spaulding turned to face the children in the carriage. “Nelida, Herb, come with me immediately.”

“We’re coming Spaulding!”

Herb helped Nelida exit the carriage and they approached Spaulding looking slightly nervous at the guard that was standing alongside Pieran.

“Aren’t they adorable Hirifa?”

“Not in the least Pieran. I can’t believe our Master is requesting the guard to accompany Lord Spaulding to bring the nuisances to his venerable palace.”

Spaulding smirked with contempt at the arrogant guard. “Hopefully Master Lord Salman is going to assist me in repatriating these noble humans to Ayrtain. Just let us cross the arch already.”

Hirifa wasn’t impressed at the elf but he remained calm. “Bring the children and cross the arch.”

Spaulding smiled at both children. “Follow me children and hold my hand. The magic is useless if you cross without touching my arm while I hold the edict.”

The children complied and they approached the gate alongside Hirifa. Both children stared at the ordinary gate that stood over 100 feet in the air with awe. They immediately crossed the arch and much to the children’s disappointment, they didn’t feel anything particularly magical as they passed it. Spaulding calmly placed the edict in his cloak and he waited for the carriage to cross the arch.

“I expected something spectacular would happen when we crossed the arch Spaulding.” Herb muttered.

“Are you sure the magical letter worked uncle?”

Spaulding smiled at both children. “I can attest that you will see the city with your own eyes very soon. Get on the carriage.”

The carriage crossed the arch and Pieran directed the children inside. Hirifa wasn’t impressed but he said nothing as Spaulding entered the carriage that soon set off.

 

Chapter 12

 

The voyage continued without any interesting events until the carriage arrived to Capital City nearly two days later in the middle of the night. The two children were sound asleep sitting alongside Spaulding on his lap as he stared outside of the window with boredom.

“When we arrive to National Palace a room will be assigned to you.”

“I was hoping I could leave the children off and rent a room at an inn.”

Pieran started to chuckle with a smile on his face. “I wouldn’t be certain of the circumstances, but apparently Master Lord Salman doesn’t want to give you any excuses to be absent during the morning meeting in the throne room tomorrow. Apparently the last time you came to the city, you didn’t even bother to announce your visit.”

“Just because I am a nobleelf doesn’t mean there is a law that forces me to announce my visit to the king every time I visit the city.”

“That may be true, but it was still rude.”

“We shall see tomorrow morning. Will the children spend the night with me?”

“I wouldn’t be sure. It all depends on Froylan’s mood.”

Spaulding grumbled but he remained quiet as the carriage crossed the large paved streets of the city although the dark evening made visibility impossible. After around an hour, the carriage finally came to a halt in front of a large bridge that was surrounded by a fearsome stone wall.

“Seems like we have finally arrived to the palace entrance. Let me get out and talk to the guards for a moment.”

Pieran left the carriage while Herb started to rub his eyes. “Are we there yet?”

“We have arrived to the entrance of the Elf King’s palace.”

Herb’s eyes shone as he sat up but much to his dismay, everything looked very dark outside. He noticed Pieran was absent from the vehicle. “Where is the guard?”

“He’s talking to the guards to grant the carriage permission to pass the first security bridge.”

Herb stared at the elf looking confused. “Isn’t the castle right in front of the city?”

“It’s too dark to see Herb, but the National Palace is the size of an entire mountain.”

“That sounds really impressive! Are we very far from the entrance?”

“Sort of. The palace is completely surrounded a desolate forest. It’s protected by two stone walls that have watchtowers and it only has one entrance.”

“How far are we from the second wall Spaulding?”

The elf started to think for a moment. “I guess around 2 miles. I really can’t remember.”

Herb looked very impressed and wished it was daylight to see the palace. “Is the castle very large Spaulding?”

“It covers most of the mountain but I have barely ever ventured inside.”

“That seems like a waste. I wonder where Richard is.”

“The palace has hundreds of guestrooms. I am pretty certain Richard is sleeping in one of them somewhere.”

Pieran approached the carriage with a smile. “We’re in good luck Lord Spaulding. The guards gave you permission to pass the first bridge in this carriage.”

“What about the second bridge?”

“There will be a few guards that will summon phantom beasts to take you the rest of the way.”

“Are you coming with us?”

“From this point forward, you will be on your own as I’m officially off duty. Have a good evening.” Pieran politely bowed and the carriage continued riding for a couple of minutes.

Spaulding stared at the window with boredom while he patted Nelida’s head that remained sound asleep. Herb stared outside with excitement at the decently well illuminated stone cobbled road that had several guards that stared at the carriage as it reached the second bridge. Herb eagerly left the vehicle with excitement.

“Don’t wander off too far Herb.”

Spaulding picked up Nelida and exited the vehicle. The elf grumbled that he was surrounded by 20 guards that stared at him with contempt. Herb became slightly nervous but Spaulding seemed indifferent at their presence.

A tall and muscular elf with a hardened but fair face with medium length light blond hair in a ponytail and a short black cape approached them. “Long time no see Lord Spaulding.”

“Why am I not surprised that Lord Froylan himself was going to welcome me to National Palace.”

The guard grinned as he approached the group. He stared at the girl Spaulding was carrying that remained sound asleep and then he studied the face of the young boy with messy brown hair that tried to hide behind Spaulding. “The kids seem to like you.”

“The boy is named Herb and the girl is Nelida.”

Froylan grinned and he knelt to have a closer look at the boy who was terrified. “Pleased to meet you Herb. I am Lord Froylan, the commander of the Äimite guard and the right hand of Master Lord Salman.”

“Plleee.. pleased to me… eet you too Froylan. My name is Herb.” The boy cautiously approached the guard and offered to shake his hand.

“This human hasn’t been in our nation very long, hasn’t he?”

“He sneaked inside of the Elf Kingdom a little over a month ago when I wasn’t paying attention. I hope that isn’t an inconvenience.”

“Not at all Lord Spaulding.” Froylan shook the boy’s hand with politeness and he studied Spaulding’s face that stared at him with ambivalence.

“I presume you will personally take me inside of the palace.”

“Indeed I will Lord Spaulding. I’m not letting you wander off so easily like the last time you came to Capital City.”

“I wasn’t expecting anything less from you, but I doubt your phantom beast can carry all four of us.”

Froylan grinned and a second guard that had tanned skin, medium brown eyes and shoulder length brown hair approached them.

“Pleased to meet you Lord Spaulding, my name is Tameer and I will ride with Herb.”

“That is fine with me. Herb, accompany Lord Tameer on his phantom beast to the palace.”

“I have also been assigned to bring Nelida with me.” Tameer said.

Spaulding frowned at Froylan. “I am not in the least surprised. You wish to separate me from the children.”

“I’m sorry Lord Spaulding, but it was a verbal order from Master Lord Salman.”

“Then I guess I can’t oppose. Please take care of the two of them.”

“When am I going to see you Spaulding?” Herb asked.

“I will probably see you sometime tomorrow. Have a good night and obey whatever the guard orders you.” Spaulding gave Nelida to the guard and bowed at Herb as he returned the gesture.

Tameer summoned a green beast that resembled a giant anteater. “Please get on my Yerjaha Lord Herb.” While he was carrying Nelida so that she didn’t wake up, Tameer helped Herb got on his Yerjaha and they were soon out of sight.

“So am I under arrest Lord Froylan?”

“Not at all much to my chagrin. Get on my phantom beast so that I can sleep for a couple of hours before the morning meeting.” Froylan summoned a phantom beast that resembled a large lizard with two tails that was constantly enveloped in flames.

“I didn’t know you could summon a Levanant Froylan, suits you perfectly.”

“Stop wasting my time and get on it already.”

Spaulding shrugged his shoulders and sat on the back whereas Froylan sat in front of him flapping his black cape on Spaulding’s face as he sat down. Spaulding was certain he did it on purpose with the sole purpose of annoying him. He turned around and frowned.

“Froylan is sure having a ball annoying me. Why did he order so many guards to summon their phantom beats to chaperone us?”

The Levanant ran past the gigantic bridge and across the stone paved road. Spaulding’s face was constantly being hit with Froylan’s cape which annoyed him to no end as the beast ran up the road that eventually took them to a large stone courtyard that was surrounded by 100 Äimite. The group of guards riding behind with their phantom beasts dismounted and stood at a safe distance.

A guard approached Spaulding and bowed with politeness. “Welcome back to National Palace Lord Spaulding of the Kasimma Clan. My name is Lord Niera and I have been ordered to disarm you.”

Spaulding bowed with indifference at the affable guard and gave him his sword and dagger without wishing to engage in friendly conversation.

“I will also need your armor for safekeeping.” Niera said with a polite smile.

Spaulding frowned and he turned to face Froylan who crossed his arms.

“You know the rules Lord Spaulding. Only the guard and Master Lord Salman can enter the palace with armor and weapons. Stop complaining and the sooner you remove your petty commoner armor, the better.”

Spaulding felt insulted that Froylan mocked the armor he inherited from his father but he remained quiet. After a couple of minutes, Niera picked it up and took it to a nearby wooden building for safekeeping.

Froylan observed Spaulding’s ordinary looking beige travel robes and frowned. “I still have a hard time believing you are a clan leader Lord Spaulding. You always have a penchant for wearing peasant attire and you look hideous in that hairstyle.”

“That’s my problem and there are no rules against rangers wearing whatever we feel like while we´re on duty. And for the record, I wear my hair in a ponytail on purpose because it’s convenient when I’m flying with my Hiratori.”

“Unfortunately for you, once you enter the palace, you become my responsibility and I can’t bear the embarrassment of my Master seeing you in such pitiful rags.”

“I will presume you have already prepared ceremonial robes for me.”

Froylan grinned once again. “I have already chosen a suitable violet, white and blue robe of the heraldic colors of your clan and an adequate room for you to rest in.”

“I am certain the robes you chose for me to wear will be atrocious.”

Froylan chuckled as they started to walk across the stone pebble pathway to a wooden staircase while they passed several beautifully maintained gardens. “How is your leg wound doing? Do you need the palace’s chief medic to see you?”

“My leg is fine as long as I don’t push it.”

Froylan tried to read Spaulding’s emotionless face as they reached a room with wooden shelves so that Spaulding could remove his travel boots and wear slippers inside of the palace. Froylan changed into clean Äimite boots that could be worn inside of the palace grounds. “Lord Saiylan sent me a letter a month ago that you were found in a pitiful state and almost lost your left leg.”

“I unfortunately had a hard time with a competent human mage, but I managed to kill him with my fencing.”

“I am quite impressed to hear that.”

Spaulding stared at the guard and slightly chuckled. “I’m surprised I’d get a felicitation from the leader of the Äimite.”

“Actually I’m not as impressed as you might think. If you were half as good as you think you are, you would have never suffered that leg wound and your friend wouldn’t have ended up as an invalid.”

Spaulding’s face became furious wishing with all of his might to punch Froylan in the face but he showed restraint. Froylan looked pleased that he was able to play around with the elf and grinned nonstop as they continued walking in the palace’s narrow bamboo hallways while being saluted by many Äimite guards standing watch.

“You’d be surprised to know that Master Lord Salman for a moment considered bringing you kicking and screaming to the palace when word came out that you were wounded, but Lord Saiylan beat me up to it and she ordered one of her citizens to place a powerful curse on you to keep you there.”

Spaulding continued walking trying not to show a slight smile on his face. He started to feel glad he was stuck in Tindenfarel due to Ciedel’s ability. “It must have been such a shame for all of you to have missed my pleasing company.” Spaulding stared at Froylan and smirked with a grin on his face as they continued walking.

Froylan didn’t look even remotely impressed at Spaulding’s defiance. “I couldn’t care less what happens to you Lord Spaulding, but Master Lord Salman believe it or not actually worries about you.”

“Humbug! I decided on my own free will to become a ranger decades ago and I had several dire battles. He could have written an edict long ago forcing me into early retirement but he never did.”

“That’s true, but none of your previous battles risked your health like this time and your secret sort of opened his eyes a little bit.”

Spaulding bit his lip and briefly showed the green diamond shaped jade incrustations on his canines which amused Froylan.

“I didn’t know you had jade incrustations placed on your teeth Lord Spaulding. You indeed have good taste!”

“If you like them so much, why don’t you have some placed on your teeth?!”

Froylan started to laugh as they approached a centric guestroom that was completely surrounded by hallways and intersected with four bridges. Each bridge had a guard standing alert.

“I presume you specifically chose this room for me to sleep in for my amusement.”

“As the leader of the guard, I’m just making sure you don’t wander off and embarrass your clan by skipping the morning meeting. Go get some rest Lord Spaulding. You will see your human nephew in a couple of hours.”

Froylan began laughing nonstop without even having the decency of bowing as another guard accompanied Spaulding inside. The windowless room had tasteful decoration with beautiful painted murals on the walls and an ostentatious wooden ceiling. The straw floor looked awfully similar to his own castle with a flatbed already prepared for him. A servant was standing inside while she held a white nightgown.

“Is there anything else you need Lord Spaulding? Would you like some refreshments?” An accompanying guard asked.

“No thanks, but I appreciate the hospitality of the Master’s palace.”

“If you need anything, please feel free to ask us.” The guard politely bowed and Spaulding returned the courtesy.

The servant kindly dressed him in the sleeping robe and he was soon left alone feeling annoyed there were at least 4 guards surrounding his room in each direction.

“This is why I didn’t want to stay in the palace, stupid Äimite I can’t stand them. Hopefully I’ll find a chance tomorrow to run my urgent errand.”

Nelida woke up the following morning in the ostentatious guestroom with a large window. Spaulding’s castle was pleasant, but the guestrooms in Tesafar save for the tasteful insignia murals and nice carvings on some of the wooden beams were sparse with mostly white walls and ceilings. In comparison, the entire ceiling of her guestroom had gorgeous gold paintings of birds and wildlife with intricate murals of plants and pheasants on every single wall. The straw floor and flatbed was similar to Tesafar, but the room was rather large and spacious. She turned around and realized Herb was eagerly staring outside.

“It’s great that you finally woke up Nelly. You have to see this view, it’s amazing!”

“Are we in the Elf King’s castle?”

Herb nodded smiling nonstop. Nelida immediately stood up realizing she was wearing an elegant blue and violet silk nightgown and she raced to the window. “This is amazing!”

The two children realized the entire castle was completely different from Tesafar and Tindenfarel Castle. National Palace had very few large buildings and it was an entire confusing maze of low level wooden buildings that were interconnected with each other by endless wooden hallways along with beautiful gardens.

“How big is this place?” Nelida asked.

“Spaulding told me the castle is the size of an entire mountain.”

“Wow!” Nelida observed the pleasant guestroom that had two chairs and a low level table with no other decoration except for the two red flatbeds with a golden twin griffin insignia and realized they were alone. “Herb, do you know what happened to my uncle and Richard?”

Herb shook his head. “You were asleep when we arrived last night, but a guard named Tameer brought the two of us to this room and a couple of servants changed you into a sleeping robe. Your uncle remained behind with a blond guard named Froylan.”

Nelida’s eyes shone looking surprised. “That seems very sad. I hoped they wouldn’t separate us!”

“Spaulding promised we would see him in the morning meeting, and hopefully Richard will be there as well. I am so excited to finally meet the Elf King!”

“I am so excited to meet King Salman! I have never met a king before!”

“I met King Edward once during an accolade of a trusted warrior into my family’s house.”

“When did that happen Herb?”

“It happened three years ago when my family was invited to Capital Palace.”

“You were invited to the castle of our king and you never told me?!” Nelida started to playfully strangle her cousin who couldn’t stop laughing feeling utterly happy.

“Despite all of the hardships that we went through that horrible night, I don’t regret sneaking into the Elf Kingdom.”

Nelida smiled feeling very proud. “Hamarin told me that very few humans have visited the capital. Imagine how jealous your family is going to be that you woke up in the Elf King’s castle!”

“When I come back to Chesterwood, everyone is going to be so jealous of my adventures!”

“I can only imagine Agador’s face!”

Herb became slightly serious when he thought about his parents and he stared at the pine tree forest that surrounded the outskirts of the castle in the distance. The guestroom they were assigned to sleep in didn’t have a view of Capital City. “I hope my parents aren’t too sad that I ran off.”

“I am so jealous that you still have your parents.”

Herb slouched on the window feeling remorseful for running away. “I could never get along with my father, but I hope my poor mother forgives me. I sort of miss her smile.”

“But uncle Spaulding promised he would bring the three of us to Tesafar to teach us magic!”

Herb’s eyes suddenly shone and he then faced his cousin. “Remember what Spaulding told us Nelly. We are forbidden from telling anyone in this castle that he wants to bring us to his city to teach us magic because he could get into a lot of trouble. That guard Froylan looked very scary and I’m worried Spaulding might be in a lot of trouble because of us.”

“I promise I will not tell anyone.”

The children did a pinky swear when they heard someone softly knocking on the door.

“Who is it?”

“I am a servant and I would like to know if I can come inside.”

Herb ran to the entrance and opened the slide door. He was greeted by a servant that was surprised at his lack of propriety. Herb suddenly froze when he saw an Äimite guard standing in the hallway prompting Herb to bow for forgiveness.

“May I come inside Young Lord Herb?”

“I’m so sorry if I did something wrong!”

The servant slightly smiled and entered the room. She bowed at both humans and closed the door. “Did the two of you have a pleasant night in this guestroom?”

“I slept great!” Herb replied.

Nelida softly smiled and nodded.

“It’s good to see that our noble guests had a pleasant evening. I am here to prepare you for the morning meeting. Please follow me to an adjacent room to have a bath.”

The servant offered both of them travel slippers and directed them outside to a beautiful wooden hallway as the same fearsome looking Äimite guard followed them close behind. The servant directed them to a large room that was very similar to the bathing room of Tesafar Castle with elegant wooden tubs. A while later after they bathed, they accompanied the servant back to the same guestroom.

“This servant will dress both of you in elvish ceremonial robes for today’s meeting.”

The servant bowed and left the room. Both children approached the second servant and noticed she carried several pieces of elegant silk robes in the heraldic colors of the Kasimma Clan. Herb was about to grab the clothes but the servant shook her head.

“That will not be necessary Young Lord Herb. It is my duty to dress you.”

The boy’s face blushed with embarrassment. “But I changed into my nightgown last night and bathed on my own!”

The servant’s face became grave. “I will have to report the lack of propriety of the servants that committed such a heinous faux pass my Young Lord. In National Palace, we are entrusted to serve our guests with the respect that they deserve and it is our duty to dress our guests for them.”

“But you’re a woman elf and I’m a man!”

The elf smiled when she realized the human boy was very considerate yet he didn’t understand elvish customs. “I can see that humans are raised differently from our kind. Rest assured I am here to make your stay comfortable but respecting the traditions of our nation. The morning meeting is going to commence very soon and I need both of you to be properly dressed.”

Nelida’s face began to blush after she realized something. “I can’t undress in front of Herb!”

The servant approached the closet to retrieve an elegant screen for privacy. “Please come over here Lord Herb.”

The boy blushed nonstop as the servant changed him into an elegant ceremonial robe that surprisingly fit him perfectly. The servant changed Nelida into equally beautiful attire. Both children stared at each other and noticed they wore clothes of the exact same colors.

“This is strange Nelly. The clothes are clearly different but the colors are exactly the same!”

“Servant, did you make a mistake? Everyone is going to think Herb is my brother!”

The servant smiled with a reassuring face. “I will presume you wore regular clothes in Tindenfarel, is that correct?”

“We wore normal elvish clothes when we stayed in that city.”

“When I lived in Tesafar, I wore human dresses.”

“Both of you are foreigners that have never visited National Palace before so I will give you a brief explanation because we are running out of time. In order to maintain propriety and decor in the personal abode of our venerable Master Lord Salman, our guests must wear appropriate attire in particular during official events like the one both of you will enjoy in a couple of minutes. Because you are the blood relatives of the Kasimma Clan Leader, you must wear clothes of the heraldic colors of the clan which are the ones you are wearing right now. Lord Richard and Lord Spaulding will be wearing robes of the same colors for the meeting.”

“But I am not Spaulding’s blood relative.”

“I was not informed of that Lord Herb. However as a guest of Lord Spaulding, I think the colors will be most suitable. If the Master determines both of you must remain in this palace, you will always wear clothes of these colors. I hope you will not issue any complaints because I might get into trouble.”

“Don’t worry, that is all right.”

The servant smiled at the unusually affable noblemen and bowed with politeness. “Now that both of you are appropriately dressed, you must accompany the Äimite guard that is waiting outside to take you to the throne room.”

Both children bowed at the servant and upon leaving the guestroom, they approached the same guard that followed them a while ago. The guard bowed at both children with politeness.

“My name is Lord Mirite and I will accompany you to the venerable throne room. Please follow me.”

The children followed the fearsome guard and noticed the palace was an entire confusing maze of interminable wooden bamboo hallways that lead to endless gardens and empty guestrooms. There were many Äimite guards patrolling the palace everywhere which made them uneasy.

Herb was afraid of angering the guard and spoke to Nelida in a low voice. “National Palace is amazing.”

“There are so many elves wearing the same black uniform. It’s kind of scary!”

“I wonder where Spaulding and Richard are.”

The guard turned behind and frowned. “Please remain silent my honorable guests. We will soon be approaching the throne room where your seats have already been assigned.”

Herb blushed feeling worried. “I’m sorry guard!”

A couple of minutes later, both children were directed to a large wooden and light grey stone hallway that had a handful of elves wearing elegant ceremonial robes that were surprised to see them. The guard climbed several stone staircases and patiently waited for the children to follow him due to the cumbersome long robes. Mirite escorted them to a large stone arch that welcomed everyone inside to a large rectangular room that was covered with an elegant red carpet along with straw mats on the two sides that had many small crimson cushions. Both children were amazed at the more austerely decorated throne room that had an arched stone roof with intricate murals that was brightened by small windows in the upper arch and large spherical lamps that emitted a bright white light.

“These are your seats my Young Lords. Please remain here until the meeting is over.”

The guard bowed and left the stupefied children alone as they sat on the small cushions. There were very few elves seated and everyone else was chatting with each other while they ignored their presence. They turned to the right and noticed they were very close to the throne.

“We are going to be seated very close to the Elf King! That is so cool!” Herb was getting more excited than ever and noticed the king’s large throne had a drab green and gold staircase that directed to an elegant gold wooden and stone chair of intricate craftsmanship with red velvet cushions. “So that is the chair where the king will sit in. It looks very comfortable!”

An equally amazed Nelida noticed someone was politely tapping her on the shoulder. She turned around and almost screeched but Herb covered her mouth to avoid making a scene.

“Please be quiet Nelly or we might get into trouble!”

Herb stared behind and his jaw opened at the sight. Both of them were seated right behind Richard and Lord Seiran who were both giggling that neither one of them noticed their presence when they initially sat down. Nelida’s eyes were filled with tears while her brother smiled at her nonstop as he wore a beautiful robe of the same heraldic colors. Both children hugged each other without caring about making a scene.

“I am so happy to have finally found you brother!”

Richard softly patted Nelida’s hair smiling nonstop. “I’m so glad that you finally arrived. I was starting to get bored spending my time with Seiran.”

Both children turned their heads and noticed the beautiful elf was wearing a medium blue robe with a striking blue hat and a long veil that reached her knees. She covered her face with an intricate blue silk fan.

“Why didn’t you come back to the Blue City Seiran? We only saw you for a little while!” Herb was slightly insulted.

The elf smiled at the bewildered children. “Even though I have the liberty of leaving the capital, I didn’t want Richard to be alone. We have spent a very pleasant month getting to know each other a little better.”

“I heard that Seiran rescued you from the bad guys. Is that true Richard?” Herb asked.

The boy smiled. He certainly looked very regal with the elvish robes, but his hair still looked slightly messy giving him a familiarly informal appearance. “Lord Seiran is an amazing warrior. She defeated almost 20 bandits all on her own! It’s a shame that you weren’t around to see her in action!”

Seiran rudely slapped Richard in the back while she hid her face behind the fan. “Please stop saying that Richard, you are embarrassing me! I am very happy to have saved Spaulding’s beloved nephew, and it’s a pleasure to see both of you under more pleasant circumstances.”

Herb became very excited. “How was your stay in the king’s castle Richard? Did you get to meet King Salman?”

Richard crossed his arms and closed his eyes looking very proud as several elves were starting to sit on their assigned chairs everywhere. “After I arrived and a palace medic ascertained my bruises were not serious, I rested in a beautiful guestroom all alone. I was nervous the first night being separated from Seiran but after my first morning meeting and breakfast in the dining hall, I was invited to talk to King Salman in a private room.”

“I am so jealous! The king invited you to speak to him?!” Herb was indeed very impressed and almost wished the bandits had kidnapped him instead. “What is the king like?”

Richard had a hard time thinking of the right answer. “He sort of reminds me of my uncle in a way.”

Both children gasped at the same time. A nobleelf sat nearby and observed their infantile behavior with a frown.

Herb was increasingly impatient. “How similar are they Richard?”

“King Salman physically looks a lot like uncle Spaulding. For a moment when I first saw him on the throne, I initially thought I was staring at my uncle.”

The two children turned to face Seiran who smiled.

“When I met Spaulding in the outskirts of my city, I also thought they looked mightily similar. But their personalities are very different.”

Nelida stared at her brother wishing to find out more, but she noticed more elves were sitting down everywhere while several guards were assessing the staircase that lead to the throne chair. Both children were bewildered.

“Richard what are the guards doing?” Nelida was the first to ask.

“Every time there is a meeting in the throne room, the guards touch the ground that splits the staircase to the throne chair from the rest of the room before Master Lord Salman enters but I don’t understand why they do that.”

Seiran politely coughed as the children turned to face her in unison. “The Äimite guards have many tasks that are to ensure the safety of their king and they are capable of using magic to create a powerful invisible barrier that separates the throne.”

A guard summoned a slightly white energy that briefly reflected light like a sort of glass window and instantly vanished.

Richard turned around. “What happens if something crosses that barrier Seiran?”

“I am not really sure. Nobody would ever be foolish enough to try to cross the energy field. For your safety, you shouldn’t find out.” Seiran smiled again as everyone was sitting down.

Nelida turned to her left and noticed a cushion was fully empty which surprised her. “How strange, they left an empty chair, but nobody seems to have shown up to sit here.” Nelida frowned at the sight.

The throne room suddenly had 4 guards that stood in front of the green staircase looking alert with 2 guards standing at the entrance to the room.

“Please remain silent children. Master Lord Salman is about to enter the throne room and he will get very angry if you are playing around. You will have all day to play later.”

The three children nodded in unison and they turned to face the throne. Nelida briefly noticed the large throne room only had around 30 elves. Suddenly the familiar blond guard that Herb met last night stood to the left of the throne chair followed by a thin elf with light blond hair that was dressed in a beautiful gold and white ceremonial tunic with a gold overcoat. Salman wore a magnificent gold diadem crown with maple leaves that made him look even more regal.

Nelida realized King Salman looked almost identical to her uncle albeit Spaulding’s brown eyes were very kind. Nelida’s eyes shone at the elegant looking elf with a beautiful face that had a hardened and arrogant expression with pale blue eyes. Herb stared at the king with his mouth open feeling speechless. Salman suddenly stood in front of his chair while he faced the throne room. Both children were surprised when they heard a guard ushering a familiar phrase.

“Please rise for Master Lord Salman in his throne room!”

Nelida and Herb unconsciously stood up in unison to bow at Salman and imitated him as he sat down on his throne.

Froylan began to speak. “Today we shall commence an important morning meeting in the venerable throne room of Master Lord Salman.” Froylan whispered something in Salman’s left ear causing his eyes to widen looking slightly surprised.

He instantly turned his head and stared at Nelida and Herb looking pleased. “Greetings my dear Lords of Ayrtain, and please feel welcome in my humble palace. My name is Master Lord Salman and I am the king of the Elf Kingdom. It’s a pleasure to finally meet the sister and cousin of Lord Richard.”

Both children froze when they realized the Elf King with his strong voice and piercing face was specifically talking to them. Nelida was speechless but Herb swallowed some saliva feeling very bold.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you King Salman!” Herb kowtowed on the floor which made Salman smile as he crossed his legs.

“I am glad to have finally met you. Lord Richard told me Lord Nelida is his sister and you are his paternal cousin. Is this true?”

“That is correct King Salman!”

Nelida felt very impressed that her cousin was speaking to the most important elf in the world with so much confidence.

“Richard told me a lot about the two of you. Apparently he and his sister Nelida are distant relatives of the obstinate leader of the Kasimma Clan, but Herb shares no blood in common with my citizens.”

“That is correct!”

Salman smiled with an arrogant grin on his face. “I was briefed by Richard that he is the heir to a nobility clan title but he was abandoned and Lord Spaulding took him under his wing. I am indeed curious to know why he didn’t inform me immediately of your plight when you first arrived to Tesafar.” Salman stared at Richard who was too nervous to say anything. “Don’t worry children. None of you are in trouble and I will not harm any one of you.” Salman’s face suddenly turned grave. “Guards, please bring before me that petulant sorry excuse of a clan leader!”

“With pleasure Master Lord Salman!”

The two guards in the hallway invited inside a medium height blond elf with a pleasant but stern look on his face as he walked across the hallway with confidence. The children were awed at the elf that was wearing an elegant white and violet robe with a blue overcoat made out of silk and an interesting rectangular shaped hat.

Richard was the first to gasp when he realized something. “Impossible! That elf wearing elegant robes is uncle Spaulding!”

The children gasped in unison when they realized they were staring at Spaulding who was barely recognizable in the ceremonial tunic. The guards stood behind him holding their sword hilts as Spaulding knelt in front of the king looking serene.

“Stand up Spaulding and let me see those defective hybrid eyes.”

Spaulding obeyed without question and he stared at his face. Salman hunched on his throne chair looking amused while he studied the elf’s facial expression for a couple of moments.

“It has been at least 30 years since I last saw those eyes of yours. You have indeed aged my dear Lord Spaulding.”

The elf remained there in silence. Salman was growing impatient with his rudeness, and suddenly his clenched left fist hit the armrest of the throne chair causing a loud echo in the room. Everyone slightly jumped in unison seeing that the king was angry but Spaulding didn’t budge.

“I can see that you have not yet learned how to respect your king.”

“Please forgive my rudeness for being absent from the New Year Festival.”

“And could you please explain to me why haven’t you fulfilled your clan leader duties Lord Spaulding?”

“I have been very busy on deployments to fulfill my duties as a ranger for the well-being of our nation.”

“That is a bunch of lies Spaulding and you know it! As a clan leader, you not only have the right to be absent from your deployments, but you also have a moral duty to visit my humble palace at least once a year!”

Spaulding bit his lip and decided to vent off his frustration a little bit. “Pardon my rudeness Master Lord Salman, but there is no law that stipulates that a clan leader is obliged to be present during the summer festi…”

Spaulding was suddenly brutally punched in the stomach by one of the Äimite that stood behind and nearly collapsed to his knees. The children and Seiran had the urge to stand up and help him, but they were too afraid of aggravating Salman’s anger and remained frozen with fear. Spaulding gasped in pain but he managed to stand up and immediately stared at the king without complaining.

“You are indeed obstinate and arrogant my dear Lord Spaulding. It’s a shame you didn’t inherit the sense of obedience of Noeru. I’m glad that in a couple of decades you will wither and die of old age like he did 90 years ago.”

Salman laughed with cruelty while Froylan relished Spaulding’s despair. The room was completely silent in fear of what might happen to the elf.

“The punch in the stomach you received as a gift from my servant is for your imprudent visit to the capital 5 years ago without having the dignity of announcing your visit beforehand. You should feel glad me in my eternal sense of kindness will let you scot-free from that lack of respect.”

“I am deeply sorry for my rudeness my Master and from now on, I will visit Capital City more often.”

Salman loudly laughed with amusement. Herb who was initially excited to finally meet the mysterious Elf King now started to harbor a discreet hatred for the elf because of his cruelty.

“I will be very happy to see you come by more often now that you have been temporarily dismissed from active duty.”

“What?!”

Salman’s eyes sharped relishing the moment. “That is correct my dear Lord Spaulding. Your imprudent visit to Ayrtain kidnapping a fellow nobleman that isn’t your blood relative for your sick personal motives, and then ending up severely maimed after killing petty criminals without an edict is motive enough to send you to rot in prison.”

Spaulding’s face started to get covered with sweat worrying he might be soon arrested without explaining himself. Froylan was enjoying every minute of it whereas Salman couldn’t stop grinning.

“Don’t look at me like that Spaulding; I would never stoop down to arresting you. Despite your lack of respect for the laws of our nation, I will let the issue of the criminals and Herb’s kidnapping slide for this one time.”

“What are you doing my Master?! Lord Spaulding should be thrown in prison right now!”

Salman turned to look at Froylan with a wicked grin. “Perhaps he should, but then his pathetic clan might rebel and we could end up having to clean up the mess such as the last time a clan rebelled against me.”

Froylan took a step backwards and bowed with politeness while he stared at Spaulding with hatred.

Spaulding felt very surprised when he realized he wasn’t going to prison after all. “If I am not going to be arrested for my disobedience, then what kind of punishment am I going to face Master Lord Salman?”

“For the time being, you will remain unable to work as a ranger unless I feel like allowing you to return to active duty.”

Spaulding’s mouth opened wide from Salman’s dismaying punishment. His right fist trembled as he stared at the floor of the room for a moment in silence.

“I was expecting you would have shown more gratitude that your punishment is so lenient.”

Spaulding wanted to run out of the throne room in shame but after swallowing some saliva, he stared at the king and bowed with politeness. “I will be forever indebted to my Master’s kindness and gratitude.”

Salman smiled looking very pleased. “It’s nice to see that you are learning how to obey your Master and owner Lord Spaulding. You might think you are important just because you are a clan leader, but there are another 34 clan leaders that bear rings such as the one resting on your right hand. You are not as special as you think. In addition, your little incursions as a ranger risked your life which is something I will not tolerate. You should feel grateful you get to keep your freedom for this one occasion.”

Spaulding bowed once again which pleased Salman even more. After he realized his punishment for all of his past ill deeds seemed minor, he gathered the courage to stare at the king’s smug face.

“I am so sorry to make such a vile intrusion my Master, but will I suffer any punishment for bringing three noble humans into our lands without asking for your venerable permission?”

“I almost forgot about the three humans. The orphaned siblings are not much of a problem because nobody in Ayrtain seems to want to deal with them, but Herb whose family is accusing you of kidnapping is causing me trouble.”

“Will I be arrested for Herb’s kidnapping?”

“Despite hating you to the core Spaulding, I think the pain and suffering from your leg wound knowing your body will be marked with an unsightly scar for the rest of your days is punishment enough. I will relish every moment of guilt that you have left your pathetic friend Trevilin invalid for the rest of his life.”

Spaulding stared at the ground realizing Salman was enjoying his guilt because of his imprudence even more than Froylan was.

“Regarding the humans, I already began negotiations with their king but because the winter is starting in both countries, it will be very hard for me to be engaging in lengthily exchanges of letters and visits of envoys from both parties. Consider yourself fortunate that if I promise to give King Edward and Lord Antunian a generous monetary donation, that neither will press charges.”

“I will be glad to pay the debt from the money I earned from my deployments.”

“It will not be sufficient money, but if you agree to receive far less money during a certain amount of years from your annual dowry as the Kasimma Clan Leader, it will suffice.”

Spaulding bowed once again in agreement. “I will be glad to sign the edict as soon as possible.”

“We shall do that when I have the time.”

“I have one final request from you my Master.”

“And what will that be?”

“I will bear any economic penalty and even agree risk going to a debtor’s prison for as many years as you wish if you could grant me assistance in restoring Richard’s nobility title so that he can freely return to his lands.”

Salman’s face showed no emotion from Spaulding’s petition. “You are getting ahead of yourself and while I would love little else than to see you writhe in ever bigger misery, the money I am offering to King Edward is actually already for that purpose.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone causing him to smile whereas the children simply watched the unintelligible conversation with awe.

“It will not be easy, but I am already requesting Richard’s nobility title to be fully given back to him although I do not know how long that may take.”

After Spaulding realized Salman seemed to have become more agreeable for the time being, he decided to test his luck and hope that his bargaining skills were up to par. “I have a final request and I will promise I will never miss a New Year Festival ever again.”

“And what shall that be?”

Spaulding stared at Salman’s eyes with regained empowerment. “While the diplomatic channels are being addressed, I would like to request my honorable Master for permission to bring the three human children to Tesafar so that they are not a hindrance to the invaluable duties you perform for the well-being of our nation.”

Salman grinned enjoying the ego stroke from the elf. Froylan was not buying Spaulding’s bluff and stared at him with disgust. “If you promise to stay here for at least two weeks and never miss one single meeting in the throne room without complaint, I will consider your request.”

“Thank you my Master!” Spaulding started to relax hoping Salman would choose to accept his petition.

“You are free to sit down Lord Spaulding and I do hope you pay attention to the meeting.”

“Yes my Master!”

Spaulding’s face showed a sense of relief that the punishment was relatively lenient and he sat down on the pillow next to Nelida. None of the children had the heart to speak to him during the rest of the morning meeting which continued for another hour regarding very mundane issues.

“This meeting is over!”

Everyone once again stood and bowed at the king as he left the throne room followed close by Lord Froylan who seemed to be in a bad mood.

Spaulding was positive his lenient punishment was the cause of Froylan’s ire. “Serves him right for mocking my friend Trevilin.”

 

Chapter 13

 

The guards made the barrier vanish and the elves started to leave the throne room. Spaulding ignored the children and darted outside.

Seiran stared at Spaulding who left the room while he held onto his stomach with sadness. [_“The guard must have punched him really hard, poor guy.” _]Seiran turned to look at the worried children that were hoping for an answer. She calmly smiled at all three of them. “Did you understand the conversation during the meeting?”

“I speak Elvish better than Herb and Nelida and only understood part of the conversation. I still can’t believe King Salman had his guards punch my uncle in the stomach. I could only think of the pain he suffered to help me.”

Seiran patted Richard’s shoulder and she knelt to stare at all of them. “Your uncle indeed loves you very much Richard. The king is very angry at Spaulding because he doesn’t visit the capital very often, and the last time he came to the city, he never announced his visit and left the following day.”

“Did my uncle tell the king why he stayed for so little time? The king told my uncle he hadn’t seen him in 30 years or something.”

“I was hoping you and Nelida would know the reason of that visit.”

Both children stared at each other looking confused. Nelida’s eyes shone when she remembered something. “Maybe it has something to do with the magical chest Spaulding asked that strange elf to bring to the city last year.”

Seiran’s face became grave. “I didn’t know your uncle requested someone’s help to bring something to Capital City. Do you know who that elf was?”

“Nelida and I were eavesdropping one night when a very noisy female elf with short ears showed up. They mostly spoke Elvish, but my uncle looked angry the entire time she was there.”

“Interesting, but do you have any other hints? Our country has many citizens and I can’t pinpoint who that visitor is.”

Richard began to speak. “Her name was… Yu. She had curly red hair and wore a red robe.”

Seiran’s eyes shone whereas Herb was increasingly confused. “I don’t understand anything!”

“It’s extremely rare for an elf to have red hair. I’m certain Spaulding requested the assistance of a nobleelf from the Red Clan.”

Richard swiftly pounded his fist when he remembered something. “You’re right Seiran! I had a conversation with my uncle that he wasn’t happy requesting Yu’s help but he had little choice. He told me he doesn’t like the members of that clan for some reason. I thought Yu was a delightful person and I would love to visit her city.”

Seiran started to giggle while she hid her face behind the fan. “Almost everyone in our nation likes to make fun of the Red Clan. They are hybrid elves like Spaulding and follow very strange customs that confuse most elves.”

“My uncle told me the leadership of the clan isn’t necessarily passed by blood and that they chose to become mortals.”

“Your uncle told you quite a lot of things Richard. They follow a strange religion where they await death with a sordid excitement where everyone cheers for them instead of mourn them. Apparently they believe their souls have culminated their ultimate purpose in our world when their bodies burn to ash the instant they perish.”

“That sounds very strange!”

“I agree with you Nelida. I have never heard of a case of someone in the clan that burns to ashes instantly after death. I’ve heard that if that happens to one of them, they will be forever venerated as a god or something of the sort. They are indeed very strange people!” Seiran smiled more warmly seeing the tense atmosphere was relaxing now that the king and guards were gone.

“Seiran, I am certain King Salman punished my uncle with something to help me. Do you know what the punishment was?”

“He agreed to buy back your nobility title along with a generous ransom to Herb’s family in forgiveness for kidnapping him.”

Herb pouted feeling insulted. “I wasn’t kidnapped! I came here on my own free will!”

“Nelida briefly told me before I left Tindenfarel that you sneaked inside of the carriage without permission. While you might think it was a funny joke, your parents thought the elves kidnapped you. It seems like Spaulding’s punishment is very minor for the accusation.”

Nelida’s eyes shone when she realized something. “How will uncle Spaulding be able to buy back my home? It’s very expensive!”

“Spaulding earns money when he goes on deployments as a ranger and it seems like he has been saving the money instead of spending it. He promised Master Lord Salman he would write a letter agreeing to use all of his savings and whatever remains will come from the annual dowry the king issues to each clan leader.”

The children stared at each other with worry.

“As the heir to the Earlrose title, I learned from my tutor that part of that money is given to the citizens of the city you rule!”

Seiran nodded looking slightly serious. “His people will probably not suffer that much. I have never been there, but from Richard’s recount, the city is prosperous and it doesn’t have any crime due to its secluded geography. I would be unable to know how long will the punishment last, but hopefully it will only be for a few years.”

Herb’s face became covered with tears. He knew all along that Spaulding was willing to help Richard in any way possible, but his intrusion into the kingdom causing Spaulding hardship was something he never intended to do. “I will apologize to Spaulding the next second I see him Seiran! The day I become the title holder of my family, I will repay that sweet elf all of the hardships he went through!”

Seiran warmly smiled and hugged the three children. “I am not used to interacting with human children but despite it all, I am glad that at least two of you are Spaulding’s family. Apparently Master Lord Salman might grant your wish to come with Spaulding to Tesafar as well.”

The three children’s eyes shone with excitement.

“That sounds so great Seiran!”

Herb was very surprised and then his face became grave when he remembered how Spaulding was punched. “I wanted to punch the king when the guard injured Spaulding.”

“Master Lord Salman is not as cruel as he might seem. Your uncle has been very disrespectful for his lengthy absence from the New Year Festival which is a moral obligation for all of the 35 clan leaders. Spaulding promised he will never miss one single festival again so don’t worry.”

“How long will we stay in this city Seiran?” Richard asked.

“It seems like the king will allow you to return to Tesafar in around two weeks.”

Nelida and Herb’s faces became serious.

Herb’s face became riddled with disappointment. “That means we won’t be able to get to know the capital that well. And to think we had to pass so many hurdles to visit it.”

“When you become legal adults and Richard and Herb become clan leaders, you can always visit Spaulding and ask him to accompany you to the capital. He has been forbidden to deploy as a ranger for the time being and he will have plenty of free time.”

The three children gasped.

“Why was my uncle punished? He loves working as a ranger!” Nelida screeched.

“His leg wound was very serious. The day before I left Tindenfarel to rescue Richard, our chief medic Ciedel was worried he might be unable to save his leg. Despite having disagreements, Master Lord Salman worries about Spaulding’s health.”

The three children were surprised at the interesting turn of events. Suddenly they were approached by Mirite who seemed irate that they were still hanging around the throne room.

“Can the four of you leave the venerable throne room? Please go to the grand hall to have breakfast already!”

Everyone nervously bowed at the guard.

“Please forgive the rudeness of these humans guard. I take full responsibility.”

The guard’s medium brown eyes studied Seiran’s violet eyes and he nodded. “You know where the grand hall is Lord Seiran. Please take the humans there immediately.”

“Yes my Lord.”

Seiran directed the children to follow her across several confusing hallways that all looked the same. Richard was surprisingly very familiar with the path which prompted Herb to softly tug his robe.

“Do you know how to reach the dining room Richard? I feel lost in this gigantic place!”

“I have been here for an entire month Herb and I have eaten breakfast and dinner almost every day in the grand hall. I am starting to memorize at least some parts of the palace.”

“I am so jealous!”

“You shouldn’t be jealous Herb. You got to enjoy Seiran’s city that has a beautiful beach. The guards have never allowed me to leave the palace during the entire time I have been here.”

Herb and Nelida unanimously felt sad for the boy.

“When you become a legal adult Richard, I will be glad to invite you to my city. You will love it!”

“Seiran, will we ever have the chance to see Capital City? National Palace is a beautiful castle, but I feel sad that I have only seen the city from afar and I have never been allowed to leave this building even once.”

“Now that Spaulding has been allowed to assist you without getting arrested, and the three have been safely reunited, I might be able to convince the guards to let you accompany me.”

“Can Spaulding come with us?”

Seiran frowned without knowing what to say. “It might be tricky for Spaulding. The guards are kind of angry at his behavior. Just because they didn’t arrest him, doesn’t mean he can leave the palace.”

“My uncle is a prisoner in the castle?!”

“Well technically, Master Lord Salman can do that Richard, this is his private residence after all. If we are lucky, Spaulding might be able to take you to the city before you return to Ayrtain.”

The group eventually reached a large hallway where they were greeted by several guards and they entered a gigantic dining hall with rather austere walls that reached an arched stone roof. A large wooden table that faced a high stone pedestal with a stone arch was visible in the back corner. Nelida and Herb were surprised at the high pedestal as they sat down together.

Herb couldn’t resist the curiosity for long. “Seiran, what is that high wall over there? I can see a chair with a private corridor.”

“That is where Master Lord Salman eats my dear Herb.”

Both children gasped with curiosity. Richard seemed ambivalent because he was so used to eating in the hall by now.

“I thought that the king would eat with us! King Edward eats in the corner of a normal table.”

“You cannot see it, but when Master Lord Salman eats in the hall, the guards always create a barrier field. The king is able to see everyone in the room at all times on his elevated chair.”

The two children were most impressed.

Richard decided to participate in the conservation. “When I visited King Salman in a private guestroom, I was always surrounded by many armed guards that never left the room.”

“That sounds scary!”

Seiran smiled at the children. “The guards are there to protect our venerable king from any danger. They might be fearsome due to their training, but you do not have to fear them senselessly. Richard has started getting used to their company and it seems like Spaulding doesn’t fear them at all.”

“My uncle is amazing.” Richard said with a smile.

Seiran politely giggled as they imitated the surrounding elves and sat on their assigned flat pillow seats. Much to everyone’s surprise, a guard started to speak in a loud voice.

“Please rise everyone for our venerable Master Lord Salman to the grand hall!”

Everyone unconsciously stood in unison and bowed at the pedestal as Salman hastily entered with Froylan and a second guard looking relaxed. The king sat down and everyone immediately imitated him while several servants started to serve everyone. The guards stood behind the king’s chair to stare at the room looking alert.

Herb whispered in Richard’s ear. “I am surprised that the king came to eat food with everyone. Don’t you get nervous?”

“I am kind of used to seeing him eat with us Herb. He usually doesn’t speak to anyone so don’t worry and enjoy your meal.”

The children started to eat the delicious elvish cuisine as Salman studied the room carefully. He noticed someone wasn’t present. He immediately turned to face Froylan who instantly approached him. “I can’t see Lord Spaulding anywhere.”

“He might have gone to the infirmary. Hasama punched him pretty hard.”

Salman’s eyes sharpened feeling slightly worried his guard might have gotten carried away. “I want you to stay here, but ask someone to find out where he went now. He is exempt from eating if he went to the infirmary but drag him here kicking and screaming if he went anywhere else. Make sure he doesn’t leave the palace without my explicit permission.”

Spaulding took advantage of the distraction from the amount of elves that were leaving the throne room at the same time and rushed across the palace with acute pain from the brutal punch to the abdomen. Luckily none of the guards bothered him as he walked across the maze of hallways. He seldom visited the castle and didn’t know every room by heart, but he was familiar enough to venture to a long wooden hallway that oversaw a large garden with several ponds and some wilderness. He ignored the beauty of the immaculately pruned garden and continued walking for a long time until he arrived to a series of staircases that reached a more desolate area of the castle that had almost no guards anywhere.

[_“Good, there isn’t a lot of security today which facilitates everything.” _]Spaulding thought to himself.

Spaulding continued walking down the staircases and eventually arrived to another long hallway that crossed a large wall of the mountain until he reached a wooden temple in the other side. He stared at the beautiful building that faced the forest and entered it. He smiled when he recognized an elf wearing an intricate white uniform and approached him with a smile. The elf saw him and bowed in return.

“Lord Spaulding, what a pleasant surprise.”

“I’m glad to have found you Head Priest Gimiri.”

“To what honor have I been granted your unexpected visit?”

Spaulding saw two assistant priests sweeping the wooden floor and his face became grave. “Can we have a private conversation in the cave?”

“Certainly my Lord, please follow me.”

The priest directed Spaulding across a narrow dark staircase that was hidden inside of the temple and they soon reached a secondary entrance of a dimly lit cave. Spaulding summoned his Hiratori to use as a torch as they ventured down an interminable flight of wooden stairs. After an endless descent, they eventually reached a wooden porch that oversaw a valley that was covered in a strange fog.

Spaulding’s face softened when he stared at the strange mist that floated beneath him. “Did Lord Yu bring a wooden chest a couple of months ago?”

The priest bowed with politeness. “Lord Yu brought a disturbing anonymous letter several months ago that had no signature or clan seal begging me to destroy the contents without opening it. I was initially hesitant to follow such an order but Yu used her authority as a nobleelf to convince me to follow though.”

Spaulding started to smile when he realized Trevilin made the right decision to request for her help. “Please bear my forgiveness for being rude because I was the elf that wrote the letter. I was worried if I signed it, the guard might have given you a lot of trouble.”

“I will presume the contents of that chest were very dangerous for you to choose risking arrest.”

Spaulding nodded and he showed the priest his barely visible scars which mildly surprised him. “My scars are menial. Hamarin’s entire body has been forever maimed by severe burn scars from the artifact.”

“I do recall Hamarin’s visit to an important festival in another city two years ago. He was wearing a very long robe and his face looked more serious than usual. He even wore long robes during the waterfall purification ceremony which I found to be odd. Has he visited any springs in the hopes the scars might vanish?”

“He has tried everything I can assure you without much improvement. They are no ordinary scars and I doubt they will ever vanish. I just hope his sacrifice was worth it.”

The priest warmly smiled. “The chest was starting to fail and I could sense a very dangerous negative energy emerging from inside. Rest assured we were able to burn the entire chest in a sacred fire and the ashes were ceremoniously deposited into the fog of resolve.”

Spaulding’s face became relaxed as he stared at the mysterious fog. “I have always wondered what would happen to you if you fell inside of this fog.”

“It’s a mystery my Lord. We only know that once you fall inside, there is nothing that can be done to bring you back. Not even the most powerful air mages in the world can move the fog an inch. It’s the reason why we use it as a last resource to destroy negative magic. It’s a good thing you asked Lord Yu to assist you in destroying that object. Our nation could have fallen into grave danger if it fell into the wrong hands.”

“I further appreciate your assistance Priest Gimiri.” Spaulding bowed very low trying to contain the pain from the punch. “I have to return to the grand hall before I get into trouble again. I am glad that I had a chance to talk to you in private. Thank you for everything.”

“It’s my greatest pleasure in assisting you Lord Spaulding. Out of the 35 clan leaders, I will always have a close appreciation for the noble blood of the Kasimma Clan.”

Spaulding’s face blushed with embarrassment as both elves started to climb up the stairs. Once they reached the main hallway, Spaulding turned back to face the priest.

“I am going to use the second route to return to the palace so that you don’t get into trouble.”

The priest nodded and he returned to the temple while Spaulding reached a well illuminated hallway. Much to Spaulding’s surprise, the second he left the cave, he was surrounded by 10 Äimite that didn’t look too pleased with his erratic behavior.

“Now where in the hell do you think you are going Lord Spaulding?”

Spaulding swallowed saliva feeling nervous. Everyone that ate breakfast in the grand hall were alerted by the loud noise of the doors slamming open as the guards literally dragged Spaulding to an empty cushion that was relatively close to Salman’s pedestal and forced him to sit down. He held his stomach with slight pain as he sat on his chair in silence.

Salman gleaned at his face. “It’s a pleasure that the ever elusive Kasimma Clan Leader finally had the dignity of having breakfast with his Master.”

“Forgive me for my rudeness my Master. From now on, I will not skip any official events without your explicit blessing.” Spaulding bowed at Salman with difficulty.

“You look like you are in pain. I’m sorry that my guard punched you so hard. Once you finish your meal, I will order my guards to accompany you to visit the infirmary. I am worried about the severity of your leg wound.”

“I appreciate your concern my Master.”

Salman smiled as Spaulding ate his breakfast in awkward silence. Froylan didn’t look too impressed at Spaulding’s ever inconsiderate behavior but he remained stoic during the meal. The children watched him eat from afar wondering why he was in trouble this time without understanding Elvish. When he finished his breakfast and stood up, 3 guards directed him outside. He passed the children without looking at their worried faces. The second Spaulding left the room, Salman stood from his chair as well.

“Please rise for our venerable king!”

Everyone automatically stood in unison and bowed at Salman who rushed outside accompanied by his two guards in haste. The children were left with more questions than answers.

A thin elf dressed in a white uniform with black hair that was hidden in a white hat was examining Spaulding’s leg wound “Your leg wound is healing very well Lord Spaulding.”

The guards directed Spaulding to a separate large multistory building that was surrounded by several gardens. He was in an examination room of the palace infirmary dressed in austere robes. Spaulding was amused to see the elf’s fair face had small spectacles that partially covered his blue eyes. “I presume I will get to keep the scar.”

“Unfortunately that may be so Lord Spaulding, but there are no signs of infection and the new skin is healing very well. You should keep the skin away from sunlight at all costs for at least 3 years. Hopefully the pink skin might change into a more discreet color making it less noticeable.”

“I guess tolerating Ciedel’s boorish personality was well worth the hassle.”

“I have never met him, but he seems like a competent medic. I will request my Master to ask him to visit National Palace to exchange our knowledge.”

“Don’t rush it. Ciedel is busy treating my friend Trevilin.”

The medic’s face became grave. “I heard you were forced to use your fire and severely burned your friend’s neck.”

Spaulding sighed with sadness. “I hope Ciedel can save his voice. When I briefly saw Trevilin, he needed to use his phantom beast to speak to me.”

“Your friend should be patient as the burn is very recent. Maybe in a couple of months, the inflammation will recede and he will be able to speak again. His voice might not sound the same as before, but at least he will be able to communicate.”

“I feel responsible for his suffering.”

The medic warmly smiled as he prepared some tea. “Lord Seiran briefly spoke to me when I examined your human nephew when he first arrived. She told me your friend is resilient and he didn’t seem to regret what happened. Your profession is very dangerous and you were lucky you didn’t lose your leg. Trevilin is always welcome to see me in case his voice shows no improvement. As Master Lord Salman’s personal medic, I might be able to help him.”

“Thank you Dezan, that is encouraging.”

Dezan finished preparing a tea and offered it to Spaulding with a smile. “It’s a shame the guard punched you so hard. He left a very nasty bruise, but fortunately it doesn’t seem to be serious.”

Spaulding rapidly drank the tea and stared at the two guards that kept a close watch at him with disdain.

“The tea will reduce the pain and swelling, but you should take it easy for a few days.”

“Will I have to stay here? I’m kind of jaded of being at an infirmary.”

Dezan politely laughed. “Rest assured you can stay in your guestroom Lord Spaulding. I am somewhat busy treating a gravely wounded guard that recently arrived but I could check on you tomorrow.”

“I’ll be fine. Just have someone send me the tea.”

Dezan waved goodbye and left the room.

Spaulding kindly smiled at the friendly medic. “Dezan seems like a very nice chap indeed.”

A servant assisted Spaulding back into the elegant robe and the guards returned him to his guestroom. Several days passed and one day the children found Spaulding standing inside of a large room.

“We have finally found you!” All three children said the exact same thing at the same time.

The children hugged Spaulding feeling clearly happy. Seiran entered the room with a pleased face.

“I’m sorry about my rude behavior children. The guard punched me a little bit too hard and I was ordered to remain in my guestroom for a few days but I feel fine.”

Seiran approached the elf looking grave. “Did you sign the edict Spaulding?”

“I will sign it tomorrow when Salman has enough free time.”

The children noticed the room had a strange instrument made out of lacquered white wood.

“Spaulding, what is that strange object over there?” Herb asked.

Spaulding turned his head and blushed. “Is this the first time you have seen a piano?”

“What is a piano?”

Spaulding smiled at Nelida. “It’s a musical instrument. I’m surprised that you have never seen one before.”

The children became excited and they ran to stare at the instrument. Spaulding sat on the chair and touched the lacquered wood.

“It’s amazing Spaulding! Do you know how to play it?” Herb was eagerly impatient like usual which embarrassed the elf.

Seiran remained at the entrance of the room with her arms crossed.

“You might have never realized it, but I took extensive piano lessons when I was a child.”

Richard looked rather incredulous. “I never saw a piano in Tesafar uncle Spaulding!”

The elf blushed with embarrassment. “That’s because when my father died and I inherited the clan ring, I burned the piano to the ground.”

Seiran started to chuckle leaving the children confused.

Herb was the first to reply. “You don’t like to play the piano Spaulding?”

“I hated every single moment of it. I gave Hamarin a really hard time growing up.”

“Hamarin was your teacher as well uncle Spaulding?”

“Well, he is over 2000 years old Richard. It’s only natural he would teach every leader of my clan as we are mortals with short lives.”

“Can you play something for us? Please?”

The three children begged Spaulding with their eyes which made him smile once again.

“I hate playing the piano and I haven’t played it for almost 100 years. But for you three children, I will make a rare exception if you promise you won’t make fun of me if I miss a note. I’m out of practice.”

The children smiled nonstop and sat on the leather chair next to his side. Spaulding carefully opened the wooden cover revealing the instrument keys.

Herb was awed as he stared at the white keys. “It looks so complicated uncle Spaulding.”

“It’s a very difficult musical instrument to learn how to play. I started to learn when I was a child and it took me almost 20 years to become decent at it. I am going to start warming up and test the sound of the keys and I will soon play something nice for you.”

Spaulding pulled back the long sleeves on his arms to give him space and he started testing each key. He then began doing exercises to warm up as the children stared at him attentively. “I have warmed up a little bit. Please pay attention to the tune I am going to play. I hope you enjoy it because I’m not going to play a piano ever again.”

Spaulding winked at the children as he started to play a beautiful melodic tune. Seiran closed her eyes enjoying the beautiful tune that curiously didn’t have one single wrong note. Two guards standing outside of the room were surprised at Spaulding’s competence playing the instrument and smiled as they listened to him play it. After around an hour, Spaulding finished playing and he stared at the children.

“I hope I didn’t play too poorly.”

“I want Hamarin to teach me how to play it!” Richard yelped out loud.

Spaulding’s face blushed once again.

Seiran clapped her hands as she approached him. “You are indeed one box full of surprises Spaulding. Do you have any other innate talents other than annoying the guards and getting into trouble?”

Spaulding politely laughed at Seiran’s vulgar inquiry. “Nice touch Seiran. I can understand why Trevilin chose you to be his friend. There is another thing I am good at, but for that I would need Master Lord Salman to give me permission. Cross your fingers that he relents to my selfish petition before we leave for Tesafar in a couple of days.”

The following day, Spaulding was directed by two guards to a large room that faced a beautiful garden.

Salman was seated on a chair while he waited for him with a smile. “Please come inside Lord Spaulding.”

The elf bowed with utter politeness and sat on an adjacent chair. Froylan like usual was present standing next to Salman looking calm.

Spaulding turned around and wasn’t surprised the room had 8 guards staring at him in unison. “I guess we won’t be able to have any privacy Master Lord Salman.”

“The guard is bound by an oath of silence. Whatever is spoken inside this room will not be heard by the civilians. Would you care for something to eat?”

“I guess some picked vegetables would be suitable.”

Salman nodded at a guard standing beside the door that immediately left the room.

“It seems like the Äimite are your obedient lapdogs Master Lord Salman. I could never convince Lord Legarha to do anything for me.”

Salman’s face grinned with arrogance while he ate some grapes. “The Äimite will only obey one elf in the entire world which is their king and master. Even a senior guard has more political power than you Lord Spaulding, and Froylan is the second most powerful elf in the nation. If you weren’t so rebellious, they probably would have invited you to join the guard a long time ago.”

Spaulding politely chuckled. “Rest assured I would have never signed the letter, but I appreciate their interest in my talents.”

“It’s a shame you are a rare dual element mage being a mere mortal hybrid Spaulding.”

“I can barely do the most minimally simple water magic spells. I doubt extensive training will improve that.”

“I hope that you are not too angry that I ordered a guard to punch you. I heard that you were formally discharged by Dezan the other day.”

“Thank you for your concern Master Lord Salman and I now feel perfectly fine.”

The guard soon returned and he offered Spaulding a tray with assorted pickled vegetables.

“We are indeed having a most pleasant conversation. I missed your visits indeed. I hope that now that you have ample free time, you will come visit me more often.”

Spaulding slightly frowned. “Is the edict ready so that I can sign it?”

“Are you so eager to end up in poverty?”

“It’s a small risk I will bear with open arms if it means helping those children.”

“You will gain nothing from this Lord Spaulding. Those children have no chance of becoming the rulers of Ayrtain. King Edward has 6 children and he might have another handful before you know it.”

“You would never allow my relatives to live in Tesafar indefinitely.”

“They call our nation the Elf Kingdom for good reason. Maybe if they married an elf of good repute and had hybrid children, I could grant them permission but they must leave our nation very soon. I’m sorry about my bluntness.”

“No offense taken Master Lord Salman.”

Salman smiled and Froylan approached both elves with an unsigned edict that he gave to Spaulding. “I have not yet signed it. You must sign it first agreeing to the conditions.”

Spaulding read the edict and noticed something that made him timidly smile. “You are indeed considerate Master Lord Salman. The reduced dowry will be for a decade and it was only reduced by one third.”

“I cannot allow the Kasimma Clan to fall into disorder Lord Spaulding. Hopefully you will learn your lesson and be more obedient from now on.”

Spaulding immediately signed the document and he sealed it with his blue ring. Froylan gave the edict to Salman and he signed it as well. Salman gave the scroll to Froylan who left the room.

“We are now settled. Lord Seiran told me the other day that you request my blessing to visit Capital City with her and the humans. Now that you signed the document and are healthy, I will grant you permission for today only. You must return before nightfall. Tomorrow morning after breakfast in the grand hall you will be allowed to leave National Palace and return to your city.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone.

“I will even let you bring that human named Herb if you wish.”

“How much time will I be able to take care of them?”

“I would say around 6 months. Enjoy their obnoxious company while you still can.”

“Will a guard be assigned to Tesafar?”

Salman shook his head. “As much as your behavior annoys me to no end, I am not going to waste my precious Äimite to babysit you. When the time comes, a guard will arrive with an edict to take the children immediately. I will presume you wish to enjoy the city you haven’t visited in nearly 5 years while it’s still daylight.”

Spaulding smiled, stood up and bowed reverently at the elf. “I thank you for your kindness Master Lord Salman.”

The elf smiled as Spaulding left the room looking pleased.

 

Chapter 14

 

“Where are we going uncle?” Richard asked.

“I’m not telling you yet.”

Spaulding looked very proud as they walked across the long road that connected the first and second perimeter bridge. Everyone was wearing nice informal elvish attire except Spaulding who decided to stick to an extremely modest beige robe. The guards didn’t allow him to leave the palace with his sword, but the fact that he was wearing clothing and his hair in the style he liked made him pleased.

Seiran was trying to study his facial expression. “I know what you’re planning on doing Spaulding.”

“What do you mean?”

“You wish to take me to one of those seedy love inns!”

Spaulding’s eyes shot open with embarrassment causing him to laugh.

Nelida’s face became covered by a frown. “Uncle, what’s a love inn? I thought we were going to spend the night in the king’s castle.”

“Children, please ignore the nonsense dribble of this vulgar excuse of a nobleelf. You share so much in common with Lord Yu it’s almost scary.”

Seiran started to chuckle enjoying Spaulding’s company. “You seem awfully serious Spaulding, but I can indeed see why Trevilin likes hanging around you so much.”

Nelida hugged Spaulding feeling possessive. “My uncle is mine!” Nelida stuck her tongue at Seiran as she laughed even more.

“I’m grateful King Salman granted me permission to take the children with me to the safety of Tesafar and we will leave for my city tomorrow morning. I’m so excited to return home.”

Seiran stared at the elf with concern. “What are you going to do about the reduced dowry Spaulding? You have been left in poverty.”

The children’s faces became grave as they accompanied the elves.

“I don’t spend much money living lavishly. I’ll probably have to order my servants to only clean the castle once a week or even less than that to save money.”

“I can’t imagine you doing the cleaning of your castle Spaulding. It sounds humiliating.”

Spaulding stared at the children who understood his sacrifice for their well-being. “Please don’t stare at me with such sad faces children. I will be fine. If I wag my tail like an obedient lapdog for a handful of years, Master Salman might feel inclined to let me return to active duty as a ranger to earn money and kill time.”

“You could always spend a winter with the Red Clan now that you have a lot of free time uncle.” Richard said.

“I’ll consider it someday, but this winter I wish to spend the time with you in my city. Please hurry up children because we are still a very long walk away and we must return to the castle before nightfall or else I risk getting arrested.”

Everyone increased their pace as they passed the final security bridge. They soon crossed a handful of large streets and finally reached Capital City.

Herb was the first to speak. “I didn’t expect the elf capital to look like this.”

“I could agree I’m not too keen on the lack of greenery on the streets and all of the buildings are beige but the city has its charm. As you can see, you are probably the only humans in town.”

The children looked around everywhere in the hopes of seeing at least one human merchant but found none. The elves that surrounded the streets everywhere stared at the children looking curious at the odd sight.

“I didn’t expect to draw so much attention Spaulding.”

“It’s only natural Herb. All three of you realized how hard it is for a human to enter this city. It’s very difficult to convince Master Lord Salman to grant a human permission and even more because you are still underage.”

“Can someone else write the invitation letter?” Herb asked.

Seiran tapped Spaulding’s shoulder because she wanted to answer this question making the elf nod in approval. “My dear human children, our government has 8 state secretaries that have a lot of overreaching powers above the clan leaders. It’s the most important civilian post an elf could ever attain in our nation and all of them can write one of those letters.”

Richard began to think. “I saw a couple of elves wearing strange long white robes with colorful overcoats in the palace.”

“Those are the uniforms of the state secretaries. A part of their uniform is the heraldic color of the clan they come from and the rest is white.”

Herb turned around. “Do they live in the palace Spaulding?”

“Actually they live in private residencies scattered all over Capital City. They come to work most days of the month in the palace for a handful of hours and then return to their palaces. I don’t have much of a relationship with them because I seldom visit this city.”

Nelida thought for a moment as the group crossed several bustling streets. “Uncle Spaulding, can those scary guards write letters?”

“Lord Froylan can definitely write them because of his political power. I don’t know how many senior guards exist, but all of them are issued special rings that can write invitations.”

“What about the guard that traveled with us on the carriage, can he write a letter?”

“Lord Pieran is a division captain which is a lower rank in the guard. He wasn’t wearing a particularly elaborate black ring on his right hand. I doubt he can write an invitation letter.”

Richard became curious. “Herb, you told me about that elf. What is he like?”

“He wasn’t scary like Froylan. He was always saying funny jokes in the carriage. I wonder if he is very powerful.”

“You children lack experience in combat, but I can assure you that Pieran is a powerful mage. I wouldn’t know what his abilities are but I wouldn’t underestimate him.”

“I never got to see him in the palace. I would have wanted to meet him.” Richard felt slightly sad as they continued walking.

“Froylan organizes the guard to work in different posts all over the kingdom. Pieran was probably ordered to chaperone us to the city and he returned to his post somewhere. Not all of the Äimite live in Capital City.”

The children were surprised to see many Äimite patrolling the streets.

Nelida became worried at the sight. “Uncle, there are many guards everywhere. Are you in trouble again?”

“I seriously doubt it. The Äimite live close to National Palace in their special castle. The guards walking across the streets are probably off duty.” Spaulding reached a smaller street and smiled. “We have almost arrived.”

Everyone stared at the elf with curiosity as he directed them to a residential area with endless similar looking houses.

“Spaulding, you know that you can’t spend the night over here. I doubt there are any taverns or stores in this area so why are you wasting the limited hours you have to enjoy the city in a place like this?”

Spaulding smiled at Seiran. “You will soon find out the best kept secret of Capital City.”

Everyone was getting increasingly curious as he directed them to another small side street with even more houses and they crossed a small bridge. They eventually ended up in a dead-end alley with houses and a nondescript white sign that had a red arrow with paint that was falling off. Spaulding grinned as everyone stared at the nondescript sign with curiosity. Spaulding turned behind and after making sure there were no guards nearby, he walked in the direction of the arrow. “Please follow me everyone. We have finally arrived to the best joint in town!”

Everyone followed him to a two story building at the end of the alley that seemed like an ordinary house from the outside. When they passed through the door, they realized they entered a very unusual looking tavern.

The owner immediately recognized the elf and approached him looking excited. “It was about bloody time that you finally came to pay your tab Lord Spaulding!”

The elf chuckled with embarrassment as everyone entered the tavern.

Seiran observed her surroundings looking awed. “Spaulding, this is an indeed a very interesting looking tavern. It looks more like someone’s private house without the stinginess of normal taverns.”

The elf approached Seiran and bowed with politeness. “Welcome to Jo’s Tavern! My name is Johan and I’m the owner. Please come inside.”

Johan directed everyone to a wooden oval shaped table in the middle of the establishment. Everyone was surprised at the sheer simplicity and cleanliness of the place. “Will you order the same as usual?”

“Give me the No. 27 special Jo.” Spaulding replied.

Seiran was increasingly curious as she sat down. “It’s indeed a most unusual tavern Spaulding. I’ve never heard of this place before.”

“Only a handful of elves in the entire nation know about this tavern. Since I will be forced to visit Capital City more often, I’ll probably be coming here when I’m in the mood. Jo serves the best beer, the best food and the best ambience.”

Everyone noticed the place was empty.

“There isn’t anyone else here today.” Seiran said with a frown.

“It’s very early, but after dark the handful of elves that know about this secret tavern like to come. I used to come here all of the time with my father when he was still alive.”

Jo smiled and passed him a pint of beer.

Spaulding eagerly started to drink it. “Your special craft beer never ceases to amaze me Jo.”

“I’ve been perfecting the family secret recipe for the past 1500 years Spauls.”

Seiran lifted an eyebrow. “Spauls?”

Spaulding shrugged his shoulders. “It’s a pet name he gave to me when I was a child while I tagged along my father. As long as nobody else starts calling me that, I kind of like it.”

Everyone smiled as Johan gave everyone a pint of beer. The children stared at it looking surprised.

“Don’t worry children; the beer I served you has no alcohol. Spauls used to drink it nonstop as a child.”

The elf returned to the adjacent open kitchen and everyone watched him prepare food.

“Cheers!” Seiran frantically clinched her glass with everyone and she started drinking.

“Seiran, I have a hard time believing you’re a woman. You dress like a man, talk like a man, and even drink like a man.”

Seiran rudely grabbed Spaulding’s hair and rubbed it with her knuckles. The elf had some difficulty escaping from her muscular arms laughing. The children smiled when they realized Spaulding looked very much content in the small tavern.

“You have indeed a lot of fun perks Spaulding. I hope you will visit the Blue City and hang along with me and Trevilin now that both of you are indefinitely off duty.”

Jo approached everyone looking surprised. “Did the two of you finally retire?”

“Trevilin unfortunately suffered a devastating wound that has left his career finished and Master Salman punished me by forbidding me to enter active duty. Hopefully he will someday relent now that I have become penniless.”

Jo frowned with incredulity. “You are still wearing your ring. Did you pick up a penchant for gambling Spauls?”

“Far from it, these three human children are noblemen of Ayrtain. Richard and Nelida are my distant blood relatives and I spent most of my savings buying back their estate along with restoring Richard’s nobility title.”

Jo saw Herb seated in the back of the table. “What about the other human over there?”

“Herb wandered into my care against my wishes and I was forced to pay a generous ransom to his father who thinks I kidnapped him. The entire Kasimma Clan has been punished with a reduced dowry for a decade.”

Jo studied Spaulding’s eyes looking serious. “Seems like you will not pay your tab today after all.”

“I won’t drink too much today Jo, I must return to the palace in 3 hours tops. However, I promise next time I’ll pay that tab.”

“You always say that and you never do Spaulding.” Jo reentered the kitchen to continue cooking.

“Spaulding, if you are so poor I could pay the tab.”

Spaulding winked at Seiran. “Don’t worry; Jo has been a friend of my paternal bloodline for centuries. My father paid him handsomely 150 years ago to refurbish the kitchen and Jo is only repaying me the favor.”

Seiran smiled and she noticed there was something interesting in the distance. “What is that strange wooden circular disk hanging on that wall Spaulding?”

“That is the tavern’s knife board.”

The children stared at the object looking surprised.

“I didn’t know elves liked to play human tavern games.” Herb was particularly incredulous.

“Actually this is the only tavern in town with such a game. Would you like to play with me Seiran?”

“It sounds like fun!”

“Jo, pass me the knives!”

“Coming up!” The elf passed a wooden tray with 6 small straight knives, paper and a pen with ink.

Spaulding gave the paper to the children. “Can you help keep up the score for us? I’m going to get too drunk to write.”

Herb grabbed the paper and wrote the names of the two elves feeling proud of keeping the score.

Spaulding grabbed his knives and Seiran cautiously grabbed hers. “Please come over here Seiran and stand behind the white line. Each space on the board has a numerical value. We all start with 501 points and we’ll subtract the points depending on where your knife hits the board. The elf that reaches a perfect zero in the last turn wins the game. If you surpass 501, you will lose. Each turn we get to throw our three knives and in the final turn, you must hit the bullseye that is worth 60 points.”

“The game has some very strange rules but I’ll be glad to try.” Seiran stared at the board and after carefully studying it; she threw her three knives which all hit the bullseye with ridiculous ease.

Spaulding and Herb’s eyes opened wide from the elf’s feat. “Jo, bring the pitcher right now. You have got to see Seiran play!”

“Coming right up Spauls!”

The jolly elf brought a tray along with a huge pitcher of beer as Spaulding served himself another glass with amazement. Jo was impressed at Seiran’s feat.

“It’s your turn Spaulding.”

Spaulding threw his three knives reaching a total of 73 points.

“You’re not so bad Spaulding.”

Both elves continued taking turns and much to everyone’s surprise and dismay, Seiran scored a perfect game in only 9 moves. Jo was left speechless.

“Spaulding I don’t know where you found this woman, but you must marry her!”

“What?!” Spaulding stared at the elf that was drinking from an entire beer pitcher with her muscular arms with no sense of elegance. “There is no way in hell I am marrying man-arms!”

The children laughed as Seiran set her glass pitcher on the table.

“Maybe if you ate some meat Spaulding, you could grow some real muscle on your scrawny arms!”

Everyone laughed as Jo served delicious vegan tapas dishes.

Richard in particular smiled as he had never seen this unknown facet of his uncle before. Despite all of the sacrifices, Spaulding didn’t seem to regret wounding his leg and ending up in poverty for his well-being. [_“I promise you uncle that I will repay everything you have ever done for me.” _]Richard thought with a smile.

Seiran started to giggle and then realized the sun was starting to set. “Spaulding, we have been having so much fun that we never realized it’s almost nighttime!”

“Shoot, I’m going to get into serious trouble with Master Salman again! Jo, I’ll pay the tab next time, thank you for everything!”

The group rushed outside and they noticed the sun was setting.

“We will never reach the palace on time walking. We’ll have to travel with our phantom beasts and meet at the first perimeter bridge. Herb, you are the heaviest of the three, you’re coming with me. Richard and Nelida, get on Seiran’s Elyria!”

Seiran summoned her Elyria and she placed Richard and Nelida on top of it. Spaulding much to everyone’s amazement summoned a strange variant of his Hiratori. Instead of summoning his small torch, the elf summoned a pair of elegant feathered wings that firmly adhered to his back. The three humans stared at his sorcery with awe.

“I didn’t know you could create magical fire wings!” Herb exclaimed.

“No time to waste explaining things unless you wish to spend the rest of your time in the kingdom stuck in National Palace.”

Spaulding flew back to the bridge whereas Seiran’s absurdly fast beast reached the meeting point even sooner than he did. Several guards were staring at the odd sight but they didn’t attack them.

“About bloody time you decided to show up Lord Spaulding! Froylan was about to send a couple of guards to search for you.”

“I’m certain he missed me dearly. It’s a good thing this will be our last night at the palace.”

The guards were not impressed at Spaulding’s usual rudeness. The following morning after breakfast, the group was standing in the courtyard that was next to the second perimeter bridge. Spaulding was putting on his armor while Seiran was still wearing ceremonial attire.

Froylan was unimpressed with the nuisance elf that was about to leave. “I’m glad that we are getting rid of you. Your penchant for embarrassing our nation with your pitiful peasant attire nauseates me.”

“I will equally miss you every day Froylan and I can’t wait to see your smug face soon.”

Froylan grinned with evil as he stared at the children. “Master Lord Salman will not send any Äimite to babysit you in Tesafar. However, you are forbidden from taking those children anywhere else. When King Edward approves the repatriation of the children, I will come to Tesafar in person to fetch for them.”

“Oh, please don’t tell me you will terrorize these poor human children by forcing them to travel in a carriage with you!”

“I don’t like the idea being cooped up with humans in a carriage for a week either but Master Lord Salman already wrote the edict and I can’t disobey.”

“It would be fun to give you such pitiful orders and grin as you obey me without restraint.”

“Not in a million years Lord Spaulding. Get out of the palace before I change my mind and beg my Master to lock you up in the catacombs.”

Froylan returned to the palace laughing nonstop as Seiran hugged the three children.

“I had a wonderful time with all of you! When you turn 18, please send me a letter so that you can visit my city!”

“Why won’t you come with us Seiran?” Richard was the most disappointed of the three children.

“I’m going to spend a couple more days in the capital and then I’ll see how Trevilin is doing.”

Spaulding stared at Seiran. “Tell him to meet me in Tesafar when his health has improved.”

“I will.”

Spaulding and the children entered the carriage and they soon left the city. They arrived to Tesafar two days later much to Herb’s enjoyment.

“Your city is so quaint and small Spaulding!”

“I’m certain my people will not be too happy about my newfound poverty. I hope the three of you can lend me a hand cooking and cleaning.”

The children warmly hugged him making him smile once again.

“Tomorrow when you are rested, I will begin the first phase of training.”

Richard looked confused. “Training for what?”

“I promised Nelida and Herb in Tindenfarel that I will teach all three of you how to use magic.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell this to me?!” Richard clenched his fists feeling offended.

Herb became saddened and began to speak. “Spaulding ordered us to keep it a secret from everyone while we were in the capital. I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you.”

“You saw beforehand how cruel King Salman and Froylan can be. What I am going to teach you might get me into a huge heap of trouble. However, I can’t allow you to become kidnapped ever again by petty bandits.”

Herb turned around. “Will I learn how to make fire wings Spaulding?”

“There is no guarantee any one of you will learn how to awaken your magic at all. I have never taught humans before, but I do know that even with the best teacher some humans never awaken their magic. 6 months is very little time to make you competent in using it but when you return to Ayrtain, you will have plenty of time to train before you become legal adults.”

The carriage reached the castle and Herb was marveled at the more austere and quaint decoration of the castle. “Your castle is very beautiful Spaulding.”

“Thank you; I personally don’t like National Palace too much. The murals are just too ostentatious and I’m glad I can wear whatever I feel like in my home. Please rest children because tomorrow we will be very busy with our training.”

The children hugged Spaulding and they went to sleep after a modest dinner.

“Wake up children!”

The three children that slept in the familiar flatbeds with violet blankets began rubbing their eyes in unison wondering what was going on.

Richard began rubbing his eyes. “Is something wrong uncle Spaulding?”

“If you wish to start learning how to use magic, you better wake up as soon as possible.”

Richard and Herb’s eyes shone and they stared outside the window in unison. It was still very dark outside.

Richard simply frowned as he stared at the sky. “How early is it uncle Spaulding? It’s still night-time!”

“It’s late fall so the days are shorter than a couple of months ago. I requested my tailor to mend specially made beige robes for all three of you. If you wish to learn magic, please get dressed as soon as possible and meet me at the entrance.”

The boys got dressed without thinking.

Nelida was rubbing her eyes feeling sleepy. “Richard and Herb, what are you two doing getting dressed right now? It’s still dark outside!”

“Uncle Spaulding is going to start teaching us magic Nelida. Get dressed and come with us!”

Nelida wasn’t too happy about going outside in the cold wearing such unappealing attire but she immediately accompanied the boys to the castle entrance.

Spaulding was wearing his beige robes with his usual ponytail looking very happy. “It’s good to know that even Nelida decided to come. I’m very excited to teach all three of you. I barely managed to sleep!”

Herb stared at the elf feeling excited. “So are we going to make magic fire birds and griffins appear?”

Spaulding shook his head. “It’s great that Master Salman forced me off duty granting me a lot of free time to commence your training. Before you are capable of awakening your magic, we need to first strengthen your bodies.”

“What do you mean with that Spaulding?” Herb asked.

“None of you knows fencing and you’re all out of physical shape. In order to awaken magic, your bodies need to be prepared and your minds need special training as well.”

Richard thought for a moment and he remembered something Spaulding did that he always found to be odd. “When Nelida and I wandered in those cities, you would sometimes sit on the bed at an inn and do nothing.”

“In order to awaken magic and to strengthen it, you need to learn how to master your mind. I will teach all of you how to meditate which is obligatory or else you will never awaken it.”

“It looks sort of boring uncle.”

Spaulding smiled at Nelida and patted her hair. “Nobody said that mastering magic was easy. I had a bit of a hard time when I learned it. I won’t have enough time to teach you how to fight with magic, but awakening it is the most difficult part. Once you awaken your magic and summon a phantom beast, the more often you do the exercises I am going to teach you, the faster your phantom beast will grow.”

All three children stared at each other feeling excited about being able to summon their own phantom beasts.

Herb stood forward feeling particularly emotional. “Will I be able to summon a Hiratori like you?”

Spaulding shook his head much to Herb’s disappointment. “You cannot choose which of the 4 elements you will be attuned to, it just comes naturally and once you awaken your element, you cannot change that. Furthermore, you cannot choose what kind of phantom beast you will create. If you are a water mage, hopefully you will be able to summon a beast that can survive outside of the water such as Seiran’s Elyria.”

“You mean there are phantom beasts that are essentially useless?!”

Spaulding stared at the ceiling and thought for a moment. “Summoning a water beast that depends on breathing water constantly is a huge hurdle and many elves find ways to overcome that problem in ingenious ways. As a matter of fact, my Hiratori is sort of useless riding with a passenger on its back. I had to train for many years to only summon the wings to fly with it.”

Herb’s face softened after he heard Spaulding’s tale. “Your wings are amazing Spaulding. Don’t they burn your back?”

“You can change the temperature of your fire so that it doesn’t burn your skin which also requires training. If you have the bad luck of summoning a phantom beast that is hard to master, once you turn 18, you are always welcome to train with me. Once you become adults, even if Master Salman discovers you learned magic, you can always tell a lie that a human mage taught you.” Spaulding winked at the children making everyone smile. “It’s getting a bit late and we are going to start a long walk.”

“What?”

“From now on no matter how cold and miserable it will be outside, before sunrise we will walk 8 miles in the exact same path in these desolate mountains and reach the exact same place to learn how to meditate. It will be difficult and uncomfortable because of the winter, but you will be repatriated to Ayrtain before the summer so I have little choice.”

“That sounds a bit harsh. It seems like a long distance!” Herb exclaimed.

Spaulding smiled once again. “Your muscles will ache and your feet will be covered with blisters at first. I will use my water magic now that it has become more powerful from the autumn weather to heal your feet so that you can train without interruption.”

Richard was however more optimistic. “So we will be doing a lot of exercise. When will we awaken our magic uncle?”

“You need around 4 months to sufficiently strengthen your bodies. At first we will go very slowly and I will start teaching all of you basic fencing with lightweight wooden swords. As you three progress and become stronger, I might be able to lend you a real metal sword.”

“I thought you don’t need to use a sword to use magic!”

“That is true Nelida, but fencing might come in handy even for you someday. Many fire and air mages use magic on our weapons. Well, are we ready children to begin our training?”

“Let’s go!”

Spaulding nodded and they began an uncomfortable walk in the darkness of the night that was lightened by his Hiratori torch in an interminable mud path across the dense foggy forest. Spaulding that first day walked at a leisurely slow pace so that it wasn’t too exhausting for the children and despite needing to rest a couple of times, none of them complained. After walking for almost 3 hours, they reached a beautiful waterfall.

“We have arrived to the place where we will learn meditation.”

The three children stared at the waterfall looking surprised.

Herb touched the water in the small river. “Spaulding, the water is cold!”

“I know it will be uncomfortable at first. We won’t meditate under the waterfall for long the first couple of days so that you can all acclimate.”

Herb turned around feeling concerned. “Won’t we get sick Spaulding?!”

“From now on, we will all eat a special diet with herbal teas that will improve our defenses so that none of us becomes ill. I would have preferred to use the candle meditation method but I don’t have enough time to teach you. I need you to awaken your magic before Froylan takes you away. Please come inside.”

Spaulding entered the waist deep cold water and shivered as he waded entirely inside to acclimate. He then helped the three children who screeched in unison as they entered the water.

Herb was unusually more distressed than Nelida. “This reminds me of the time I was in that frozen lake with Nelida!”

“This is the reason why I also chose this meditation method because I need you to train your mind to ignore the bad memories that will distract you from awakening your magic. Please swim over to the waterfall and sit on one of the stones in a lotus position.”

The children followed Spaulding who sat on a large stone. The river didn’t move with a fast current and despite the water pounding nonstop on the children’s heads obstructing their view, everyone managed to sit down.

“Feel the flow of water falling on your heads with patience children and concentrate only in your breathing. Feel your bodies relax from the toes and then go upwards to the head.”

The children imitated him, but they realized they were all starting to have thoughts of hunger and the uncomfortable cold water pounding their heads.

Nelida was naturally the first to protest. “Uncle, this isn’t working! It’s very hard to do!”

“Patience Nelida, you will not master meditation on the first day. We will be doing this every day and before you know it, meditation will come naturally.”

The group meditated beneath the never-ending pounding of cold water for an hour. Spaulding after feeling very much relaxed waded once again into the miserably cold water and he helped each child wade to the shore. Spaulding got outside of the water and he stared at the children that were freezing with a smile. “I’m impressed that none of you complained about the cold water. Let me help you before you become ill.”

Spaulding knelt and touched the forehead of each child. A powerful jolt of magical energy could be felt by their bodies and within seconds their bodies and clothing became dry.

“Wow, this is amazing uncle! Why couldn’t you use this power when we were in the lake?” Nelida stared at Spaulding’s face feeling amazed.

“My magic becomes almost worthless during a new moon Nelida. However, it’s now daylight which allows me to use all of my magical abilities. Drying clothes is something that is very easy for me to do. Touching your foreheads also serves a second purpose as I am feeding your relaxed bodies with the sense of magic. Over the course of the following few months, I will be touching your foreheads when you meditate to awaken your mind and body to the sense of magic. As you can see, the sensation isn’t painful. I won’t be able to do that during the short winter days with new moons, but the sole meditation will be sufficient. Let’s return to Tesafar on the same path so that we can have our breakfast.”

The children followed Spaulding back to his castle and instead of having several servants serve them food in his quaint dining room, they entered his kitchen.

Richard turned around. “Why are we in your castle’s kitchen uncle?”

“I am now penniless and I can no longer afford my servants to cook and clean for us. We will have to do the cooking and cleaning ourselves. It will also be good training for your minds and bodies.”

The children smiled in unison when they realized that even in such dire circumstances, Spaulding wanted to assist them in awakening their magic.

Richard watched Spaulding cut a plant root with efficiency. “I have already seen you cook when we were camping in the forest uncle but you are really good at this!”

Spaulding smiled at Richard while the other children were busy washing dishes and cleaning the floor. “Unlike many nobles, I kind of like to do things my own way and I feel no shame in doing menial tasks. It’s probably the same reason why I decided to become a ranger because I could never fathom the boredom of a leisurely lifestyle doing nothing all day.”

Richard poured the sliced vegetables into the pot of boiling water and decided to quench his curiosity. “Uncle, I have a question.”

“What is it Richard?”

“How do you become a ranger?”

“Basically you write a letter to the Secretary of Defense in Capital City and request to take an exam. They will answer your petition and you will demonstrate your basic fencing and magic skills.”

“What happens if you pass the exam?”

“The secretary will write an edict inviting you to start a special 2 year course known as Ranger Academy. They enhance your fencing, improve your control of magic and teach you how to patrol the lands.”

“Do you learn anything else?”

“You learn the structure of the profession and the cities where an Äimite supervisor works. They are not only there to make your life miserable by giving you paperwork but if you find a very dangerous criminal that is too powerful to beat, you can request for their help.”

“Did Legarha ever help you?”

“Now that you mention it Richard, in the nearly 70 years that I worked as a ranger, I have never requested for his assistance. I know he is an earth mage, but I have no idea what his combat abilities are or what his phantom beast is like.”

“You told me he issued you edicts with wanted criminals.”

“Ranger Academy teaches you all about the paperwork and techniques on locating wanted criminals. You can arrest criminals and send them to prison but I would usually kill them and burn the bodies with my fire.”

Richard shuddered at the thought of his sweet uncle that seemed so harmless was talking about such grim things with tranquility. “You are amazing uncle. I’m surprised you are not an Äimite guard.”

“I would never do such a thing. Luckily you have the freedom of not joining and I wish to keep things that way. I’m surprised you maintained your sanity after spending your days with them in the palace for an entire month.”

“Not all of them were scary uncle. Some of them were very friendly even though we seldom spoke to each other. Most of them didn’t like to speak human and my Elvish is deficient.”

“If your training goes very well and all of you help me keep my castle clean, I will personally give you language classes. I can’t read and write human script very well but I would very much like to speak to the three of you exclusively in Elvish to improve your fluency faster.”

Richard nodded in agreement as Spaulding finished cooking a modest but satisfying breakfast. That afternoon he directed the children to the castle courtyard. Spaulding gave the three children wooden swords and everyone practiced basic arm exercises.

“Spaulding, when will we start fighting with these sticks?”

“Patience Herb. Your arms are very weak and I cannot risk you suffering from an injury. If you tear a ligament, you will lose precious months recuperating. It’s best that you learn things the correct way before losing time with injuries from getting ahead of yourselves.”

“Will we ever become good swordsmen like you?”

“6 months is very little time children to master fencing. However if your arms are stronger and you learn the basics, you will have plenty of time in Ayrtain to continue improving. Like any skill, practice makes the master.” Spaulding winked at the children.

Nelida was struggling more than the others but she seemed to enjoy the exercise the most of the three children.

 

Chapter 15

 

The next 4 months, the children spent their time taking long walks to meditate in the same cold waterfall that never fully froze during the mild winter and they spent the rest of the day cleaning the castle and taking classes. One day Spaulding made a surprise visit to Hamarin’s home.

“Are you home Hamarin?”

“Please come in Lord Spaulding! What an unusual surprise!”

Spaulding smiled and saw Hamarin reading a book in his study room. Spaulding bowed and sat down on a nearby chair.

“This is the first time that you have come visit me ever since Master Lord Salman left you in poverty almost 5 months ago. I was getting worried you would be going out of your mind with nothing to do.”

“As a matter of fact, I have been dreadfully busy.”

Hamarin’s eyebrow was raised with suspicion. “Are you smuggling contraband or something?”

Spaulding crossed his arms and comically stared at the ceiling. “It’s probably not fully legal, but there are no rules in the book that I can’t teach those humans magic.”

“Is this a joke Lord Spaulding?”

“I am completely and totally serious Hamarin. I have spent the past 4 months training the children’s minds and bodies. They even helped me keep my castle clean which has helped me save money.”

“While I understand your strive to save money for the well-being of our clan, I am wondering why are you doing this Spaulding. You could get arrested or worse if Froylan finds out.”

“Which is why I have very little time Hamarin. The children will be repatriated to Ayrtain in around 2 months. I urgently need to speed the process and awaken their magic.”

“Why are you teaching mortals magic anyways? They will age and die without living long enough to truly appreciate it.”

Spaulding’s eyes became cold and stared at Hamarin. “You haven’t seen the terrible burns Trevilin suffered because of my carelessness. Richard was kidnapped twice by bandits and even though he will soon return to Ayrtain with his home and restored nobility title, he will still be vulnerable. I cannot allow my dear nephew to become harmed ever again.”

Spaulding raised his robe and showed Hamarin the terrible scar on his leg which notably disturbed him.

“I can see that you made a terrible sacrifice for those poor children.” Hamarin stared outside the window and saw the snow fall from the sky for a while. “I will indeed assist you my dear clan leader. However, I have my doubts about Nelida.”

“What do you mean Hamarin?”

“I would rather not awaken Nelida’s magic if it’s possible.”

“Why are you saying this Hamarin? I can agree she was initially spoiled rotten but she has indeed matured and I have enjoyed her company every day. I will never regret opening the doors of my home to those poor creatures! Please consider!”

Hamarin clenched his right fist that showed his burn scar and he stared at the lacquered table with sadness. “If it’s a request from my dear clan leader, I will relent and help you awaken her magic. I just hope I am making the right decision.”

Spaulding grabbed his hand with gratitude. “I will forever thank you Hamarin for your assistance. I am certain Nelida will become a grandiose mage and legends will be written about the sibling noble mages of Ayrtain that learned magic from their elvish uncle.”

Hamarin smiled and closed his eyes feeling appreciative for Spaulding’s compliment. “Please bring those children to my residence in 10 days at midday. Don’t be late. The sooner the children begin the fast, the sooner we can do the ritual.”

“As a matter of fact Hamarin, I already went ahead of you and we have been doing the fast. Tomorrow will be the 10th day.”

“I’m impressed Spaulding, you are indeed not wasting your time. Have the children complained of not eating any food for the past 2 days?”

“They are too excited to perform the ritual. I already explained it to them so we can get to the point. We will not sleep tonight either in order to mediate together.”

“I can see your determination to teach them magic quickly my dear friend. However even with the ritual, there is no guarantee they will awaken it.”

“If they need to take it a second time, so be it. The 1 month minimum waiting period between rituals is cumbersome, but hopefully Froylan will not arrive so soon.”

“Why would Lord Froylan come to Tesafar?”

“Master Salman already wrote an edict to order him to personally take the children to Ayrtain in a carriage in approximately 2 months. I think sending the Äimite leader to do such a menial task is nearly comical.”

“I would be careful Lord Spaulding. If the children partially awaken their magic the first time, then don’t risk a second ritual. He is very dangerous and you have no idea what kind of horrible things he could do to you or the children if he finds out.”

“Let’s hope the children awaken their magic on the first try. Thank you for your help and we shall see you tomorrow!” Spaulding stood up, bowed at the elf and ran off.

Hamarin’s face became worried from his recount as he continued reading his book in silence.

“I’m so excited uncle!”

“You should be Nelida. I know that you three must be exhausted from the lack of food and sleep, but weakening your bodies is an important part of the training. The magical potion Hamarin will give to us in a while will not work very well if you are well rested and fed.”

“When can we eat and sleep again Spaulding?” Herb asked.

“Once the effects of the potion end and we return to our normal selves, we can eat instantly without any problems.”

Richard became curious. “You already explained to us that this potion is very powerful, but what does it exactly do uncle?”

“It will cause a disturbance in your perception of space and time Richard and you might even experience hallucinations which are perfectly harmless in themselves. The most visible effect will be a sensation of being split from your bodies. You will stop feeling like you are Richard and will feel like you are living the life of a human named Richard Earlrose. Your past memories and anxieties may either be fully set aside as something of menial importance or if you fight against the potion, your negative emotions and memories will come back at full force giving you a terrible experience.”

“But your training will help prevent that right uncle?” Richard wasn’t fully convinced.

“Every person reacts differently from the potion. It’s hardest when you drink it for the first time because you have no idea what to expect and wonder if you will return to your normal self ever again. The potion only works for 6 hours at the most but you feel like time ends up in a standstill. I once had an experience that felt like it lasted 3 days even though in reality it was only a handful of hours.”

“Why are you going to drink it if you can use magic Spaulding?”

“That is a good question Herb. Because the experience can be slightly traumatizing when you drink the beverage for the first time, it’s always best to have someone that is experienced to serve as a guide to help you relax. Whatever happens, please remember that there is nothing to fear and you will not lose your mind. In a couple of hours we will be eating dinner. We have almost arrived children, hurry up.”

The group reached Hamarin’s familiar home as he stood at the entrance with a smile. Nelida and Richard hugged him immediately whereas Herb stood at a distance feeling shy because Hamarin seemed so regal and elegant.

“Welcome humans to my home. Lord Spaulding, you never told me you brought a third human to Tesafar. May I know who he is?”

“I’m sorry for being so blunt Hamarin. That human is named Herb Antunian and he’s the cousin of the siblings. He entered the kingdom without permission and part of the reason why I became penniless is because I had to pay a ransom to his family for alleged kidnapping. He will be leaving with Richard and Nelida very soon.”

Hamarin stared at the boy for a moment and then smiled. “He looks like a kind hearted human that is eager to learn magic. I think you have chosen to train a most suitable candidate. Please come inside children.”

The children hurried inside his elegant residence and they were directed to the guestroom that faced his garden. Everyone noticed a strange ceramic bottle and three ceramic cups that rested on top of the table.

“Please sit down everyone. I didn’t know I would be giving söma to another person. I’ll come back in a minute with another cup for Herb.” Hamarin quietly left the room as everyone sat down on each corner of the table.

The children were nervous but Spaulding looked very relaxed.

Nelida began to have second thoughts. “Uncle, I’m starting to have second thoughts about taking this drink.”

“Everyone feels nervous the first time they drink it. It took my parents forever to convince me to drink it my first time. I can assure you that as long as you stay relaxed and trust the training, everything will be fine.”

Herb felt courageous and decided to speak. “Spaulding, is there a way to know if we will be attracted to an element while under the effects of the potion?”

“That’s an interesting question Herb. The second time I drank söma, I stared at the sun until Hamarin feeling worried I might go blind, had to drag me inside his house.”

The children started to chuckle feeling more relaxed.

Herb began to speak. “What happened after that Spaulding?”

“He ignited a fire and I stared at the flames for what seemed like an eternity. After a while, I placed my hand on the flame and noticed the fire didn’t burn me. A couple of days later I summoned my Hiratori for the first time.”

The children became impressed at Spaulding’s recount of how he summoned his beast.

“I thought you were able to summon your bird the first time you drank the potion.” Richard observed his uncle and fidgeted with his fingers on the table.

“It’s sort of curious because most elves become attuned to an element on the first try. However on my first attempt, I drank water nonstop as I initially felt attuned to water but I was unable to summon a water phantom beast much to everyone’s disappointment. At the end, I discovered my first attempt with the potion was far from a failure because I am slightly attuned to water magic.”

Richard’s eyes shone. “That is so cool uncle! Do you think one of us will be able to use two elements?”

Spaulding shook his head with a smile. “Being attuned to two elements at the same time is very rare and even among the Äimite there are few guards that can use two elements. It’s most likely you will only be attuned to one.”

Hamarin returned with another cup. He served everyone a cup of the transparent liquid that seemed to have an oily texture. The children stared at the drink with suspicion.

“Don’t be fooled children by the inconspicuous appearance of the beverage. What you will be drinking does not taste like water, but I can assure you the flavor will be pleasant albeit slightly bitter. It is best that you drink it very slowly allowing you to appreciate the flavor in your mouth so that the effects are stronger. If you drink it in one gulp, the effects won’t last enough to have made it worthwhile.”

Spaulding grabbed his beverage and swallowed the liquid with tranquility. The children noticed he was relaxed and garnered enough courage to imitate him. The drink was not unpleasant, but it indeed had a sensation they were drinking bitter tasting oil that reminded them of a plant root with a slightly earthly flavor. Spaulding started to meditate and the children imitated him while Hamarin summoned his air phantom beast that filled the room with white particles that created a relaxing atmosphere. After around 30 minutes, Spaulding’s eyes opened wide and he stared at the children.

“How are you feeling children?”

Herb and Richard were having a hard time trying to discern the sensation but Nelida started to softly pant.

“Uncle, this feels strange. I think I don’t want to learn magic anymore.” Nelida said.

“Don’t fight it. Everything will be fine and try to relax.”

Nelida continued to pant which worried Hamarin but after a couple of minutes, her eyes opened wide and she stared at her cup nonstop without moving. Herb and Richard’s eyes opened wide at the same time and both of them decided for no reason at all to walk to the outside garden while they wore their indoor slippers.

Spaulding stared at the boys with a smile. “I guess the boys have reacted very well to the potion. I hope they find their tuning element in the garden. Hamarin, did you supply something of each element outside for the boys to observe?”

“I placed a kite and started a small campfire outside Lord Spaulding. The pond is partially frozen due to the weather and the garden almost has no plants unfortunately.”

“I know that it’s hard to improvise during the winter. At least there isn’t a lot of snow today. How are you feeling Nelida?”

The girl didn’t respond and she continued staring at her cup with attention.

Hamarin slightly frowned. “Lord Spaulding, maybe you should keep an eye on the girl. I’ll watch over the boys for you.”

“Thank you.”

Hamarin put on a pair of boots and walked outside to watch the two boys wander in the garden to observe everything. Herb initially stared at the trees and the kite but after a while, he became bored and simply sat in front of some bushes with sparse vegetation to stare at them.

“Perhaps Herb will become an earth mage?” Hamarin wondered out loud.

Richard sat in front of the campsite and watched the fire. It seemed like Richard secretly wanted to become a fire mage like Spaulding, but after a while something else attracted his attention. The boy stormed to the pond and became excited. Without thinking with any sense of logic, the boy removed his clothes and waded in his underwear inside of the freezing cold pond. He waded his hands beneath the cold water feeling fascinated.

Hamarin couldn’t help but warmly smile. “It seems like Richard will be a water mage. I’m certain he wanted to be a fire mage like Spaulding, but unfortunately one does not choose their element.”

The boys were showing very good progress with the potion looking very relaxed. However Spaulding was starting to get worried about Nelida. She hadn’t moved an inch ever since she drank the potion.

“Nelida, wouldn’t you like to come outside with the boys to explore?”

The girl stared at the elf and shook her head. “I am not Nelida. Who are you?”

Spaulding frowned at the girl’s strange response. “Would you like to explore outside?”

The girl didn’t answer and she simply stared at the cup nonstop looking more anxious. Spaulding was starting to get worried that perhaps Nelida was probably never going to awaken her magic.

“Perhaps Nelida wasn’t destined to become a mage. What a shame.”

A couple of hours later, the two boys started to return to their normal selves. Herb tried to vomit in front of the plants whereas Richard barely felt discomfort and sat inside the freezing pond looking relaxed.

Hamarin suddenly heard a terrible scream. “Oh dear, it must be Nelida!” Hamarin rushed inside but the guestroom was empty. “Where could they be?!”

“Please make it stop!” Nelida ran to the basement and pounded a pantry door.

Spaulding chased after her looking worried. “Please calm down Nelida, it will be all right!”

“I can hear horrible voices! Make it stop!” Nelida pounded the wooden door with more force as Spaulding anxiously hugged her.

“Please calm down Nelida, it’s only the effects of the söma. It will soon wear off.”

Nelida was crying nonstop as she pounded on Spaulding’s arms that hugged her in an attempt to calm her down in vain. Tears started forming in his eyes.

“The pain is in your head Nelida. Everything will be all right.”

Hamarin managed to reach the basement and he activated his phantom beast that filled the area with a soothing sensation that relaxed Nelida enough to make her and Spaulding fall asleep. Hamarin’s face became strained and tears started to fall from his eyes as the room was being filled with a strange energy. “I pray that Nelida hasn’t awakened her magic.”

A while later, the boys returned to their normal senses feeling unusually relaxed. Herb realized Richard had a hard time leaving the pond.

“You’re covered with mud Herb!”

“I’m not the dummy that waded half naked in a freezing pond!”

The two boys grinned looking very proud and they sat together in the campfire to warm up.

“What a strange experience. I now understand why my uncle wanted to train us beforehand.”

“I wonder if we will be able to use magic.” Herb punched the air with his fist but nothing happened.

“Remember what uncle Spaulding told us Herb.”

“I know. He told us that we don’t summon our phantom beasts the instant we wake up, but I’d like to know if I’ll summon a Hiratori and fly in the sky like Spaulding.”

“You are covered with mud Herb. You are probably going to summon an earth beast.”

“Or maybe I am a rare mage that can use two elements and the next time I drink söma, I’ll sit in front of the campfire. I saw you sit in front of the fire for a while, why did you enter the pond?”

“A part of me wanted nothing more than to be a fire mage like Spaulding but something in the back of my mind told me that I wasn’t destined to be a fire mage.”

“Can you explain further?”

“It’s like there was something in the back of my mind telling me where I must go. I stared at the pond and the water was simply talking to me that I needed to come inside and feel it and I couldn’t resist the temptation!”

“Didn’t you feel cold?”

“Not at all, the water felt very warm and comfortable. I guess I am going to be a water mage!”

The two boys smiled feeling very proud.

Hamarin approached the boys and after he noticed they were relaxed he sat on a log and smiled at them. “I can see that both of you had a good experience with the beverage.”

Richard spoke with an unsure voice. “It was a strange experience Hamarin. I just wanted to sit in the pond and feel the water in my hands!”

Hamarin smiled at the boy. “You have a lot of innate talent Richard. I can assure you it was no coincidence you entered that pond. I know you wanted to be a fire mage, but you were destined to become a water mage.”

Richard’s eyes shone feeling glee. “Did you sense real magic inside of me Hamarin?”

The elf nodded with a smile. “I don’t know when it will happen, but you will summon your phantom beast when you least expect it Richard. The amount of mana your body produced a while ago isn’t much but rest assured you are going to be a water mage.”

Richard was instantly jumping in joy and effusively hugged the elf.

Herb stared at Hamarin looking emotional. “I’m so glad for my cousin. Will I become an earth mage?”

Hamarin’s face lost emotion as he stared at Herb. “You might need to have the drink a second time Herb. Even though you seemed to feel a connection with the earth beneath your feet, I could not sense any mana in your body.”

Herb frowned feeling sad. “Spaulding told us that we might need to wait another month to drink the potion again.”

“That is correct. Because your body needs to recover from the fast, you need some time to recover before having the beverage again. However in my honest opinion, it might not be advisable to risk it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Lord Spaulding told me that Lord Froylan will take you to Ayrtain very soon.”

“He told us we still had another month.”

“Unfortunately we don’t know how many days we still have. He could appear the very day you have the beverage a second time and your uncle risks arrest if he finds out. Do not underestimate that elf, he is very dangerous.”

Herb’s face became grave with disappointment. “Does that mean I will never become a mage like Richard?”

Hamarin smiled with reassurance. “The second you turn 18, you can request a permit to enter our nation and return to Tesafar to train.”

“But I won’t turn 18 for another 7 years!”

“I understand your concern Herb, but our government will not allow you to enter our nation while you are underage. Don’t give up your hopes of being a mage someday. Many elves need to drink the potion a second time such as Spaulding and once you turn 18, you will be able to train magic with Lord Spaulding without fear that the Äimite could arrest him.”

Herb felt reassured by Hamarin’s encouraging comment and smiled.

“Is there something that Herb can do right now so that he becomes a mage more easily?”

“Continue meditating once every day if it’s possible and learn fencing. I am against violence, but everyone including myself had to learn basic fencing during our childhood to awaken our magic.”

The boys felt encouraged and then noticed something was off about the conversation.

“Where are Nelida and Spaulding?” Herb turned around looking worried.

“Lord Spaulding is resting in his castle along with Nelida.”

“Does my uncle feel ill or something?”

“Lord Spaulding feels slightly exhausted but he will be fine. However, Nelida had a poor reaction to the potion and I had to give her a magadalit potion so that she could fall asleep.”

“What is that potion?!” Richard became slightly riled.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a poison. It will allow her to fall completely asleep and hopefully she will wake up tomorrow without remembering anything.”

“Did Nelida awaken her magic?”

Hamarin had a hard time thinking of a correct answer. “It would be hard to say. She didn’t show any interest coming outside like the two of you. In any case, I will not risk giving any of you söma for now. I have prepared a bath for the two of you, please go upstairs to get cleaned up and we shall have dinner together.”

The boys cautiously smiled wishing they had dinner with Spaulding and Nelida as well but they couldn’t refuse the elf’s invitation. The following morning, Spaulding woke up in his bedroom and stared at the familiar rectangular paper lamp that hanged on the sparse white ceiling. After thinking for a moment, he sat up feeling surprised to be in his nicely decorated bedroom.

“How did I end up in here?!”

Spaulding realized he wore the same sparse robes from yesterday with a strong grumble in his stomach. He suddenly smelled food in the air. “I didn’t order a servant to come today to cook breakfast.”

Spaulding stood up and packed the violet flatbed inside of his closet. He changed into a different beige robe, placed his old clothes in a small basket next to the door and left the room. He climbed down the staircase and entered the dining room being greeted by the boys and Hamarin.

“Good morning uncle!”

Herb was smiling nonstop. “Please come have breakfast Spaulding!”

“I’m impressed that you three came here to cook for me. How did I end up in my bedroom?”

Hamarin smiled at Spaulding. “Forgive my intrusion my Lord, but you fell asleep in my residence and I carried you to your bedroom. I hope you are not offended.”

“Not at all Hamarin but I am indeed famished. I wanted to have dinner with everyone.”

“You were very exhausted last night Spaulding but I do hope you enjoy the breakfast the three of us prepared.” Hamarin offered Spaulding his place as the master of the castle and he calmly sat down.

“Did the boys have any luck awakening their magic?”

“Herb unfortunately hasn’t but rest assured Richard will summon a water beast very soon.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone and he stared at Richard feeling very proud. “I am impressed Richard. I hope the beast you end up summoning will be able to breathe outside of the water.”

Richard blushed as he continued serving plates of food on the table. “Stop embarrassing me uncle! I really wanted to be a fire mage but it seems like I will be a water mage instead.”

“Don’t feel ashamed Richard, every element has its pros and cons. You will never have trouble using magic any time of the month.”

“Are there any drawbacks to water magic uncle?”

“Your magic will weaken during the summer and in the desert. If you summon your beast and send it running in a desertic climate during the day, if it walks far enough away from you, it will vanish. However, you will be able to travel in the ocean with it which might come in handy someday.”

Richard’s face became excited when he realized being a water mage had many benefits. Everyone sat down but Spaulding noticed something was strange.

“Where is Nelida?”

“I was forced to give her a magadalit potion my Lord.”

Spaulding’s jaw opened and he stared at Hamarin feeling slightly offended. “What happened Hamarin?”

“As I feared, she had a very poor reaction to the potion. In my humble opinion, Nelida doesn’t have the right traits to become a mage. Please forgive my brashness my Lord.”

Spaulding stared at his plate of food feeling disappointed. “I presume she didn’t awaken her magic did she?”

“For the time being, it seems like she hasn’t my Lord. She will probably be disappointed when she wakes up later today. Hopefully the magadalit potion will erase her memories of taking the söma.”

The boys stared at the elf feeling sad.

“Nelida will feel so sad that she didn’t awaken her magic. She was so excited to learn!”

“Perhaps it was for the best. However, I hope Herb comes back to give the söma a second chance when he turns 18.”

“I thought we’d give the söma a second chance in a month Hamarin.”

“I cannot risk you facing arrest Lord Spaulding. We don’t know when will Lord Froylan arrive and I can only imagine what he would do to you if you are arrested.”

Spaulding stared at the table feeling sad. “Thank you for your concern Hamarin. I’m so sorry Herb that you couldn’t awaken your magic on the first try. Rest assured when you become an adult, I will extensively train you until you become a mage. I can’t wait for Richard to become a clan leader so that he can come here as a special envoy.”

Richard’s eyes shone after hearing Spaulding’s comment. “Does that mean I can come back before turning 18?!”

“That is correct Richard. Once you become a clan leader, you can request a special permit from our government and visit me. I am not a particularly talented water mage, but I can help you learn how to summon your phantom beast and get you started.”

“Will I need to enter the country with a guide?”

“If the correct permit arrives, you can enter the border alone and remain in the country for a year at a time.”

“Will Nelida be able to accompany me?”

Spaulding shook his head. “She can only come when she turns 18 but if we are lucky, the government might approve a special permit as the relative of a clan leader to remain more than 3 months.”

“Wouldn’t you like to visit my estate in Ayrtain now that you have a lot of free time?”

Spaulding crossed his arms and frowned. “As much as I appreciate your generous invitation to visit the estate I purchased for you, I will need to think about it. I didn’t enjoy your country that much.”

“Please forgive my rude father Spaulding. When I become the title holder, I hope you can come visit my home and I will make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible. You had a lot of fun during the tourney.”

“Thank you for your hospitality Herb and I am certain you will become a great clan leader. I hope you will someday awaken your magic to train you as well.”

Everyone had a pleasant breakfast. Nelida woke up later that day without any memories of her disastrous experience with the söma much to Hamarin’s relief. Spaulding had a hard time calming her down but she eventually relented when he promised he’d give her a second chance when she turned 18.

“I wished I could be a fire mage!”

“I know Nelida. It seems like all three of you wish to summon a Hiratori. If there is one thing you can all do for the time being, it is to continue the exercises I taught you and practice fencing which can be useful even if you never learn magic. When you return to Ayrtain, I hope you avoid the ills noble humans do such as gambling your fortune away or being cruel to your subjects and hopefully commit to a life of virtue.”

“Won’t you feel lonely Spaulding now that we will soon leave?”

Spaulding warmly smiled. “I will be all right. Please send me letters because I will have a lot of free time.”

 

Chapter 16

 

One day while everyone had lunch, someone knocked on the door.

“Who could be visiting us right now?” Richard asked.

Nelida turned around. “Could it be the scary guard?”

“Please sit here children. I’ll greet the mysterious visitor.”

Spaulding stood up and casually opened the door. Much to his surprise, he was staring at a black haired elf that was dressed in a medium green robe. He was wearing a familiar neck brace that elongated his neck. Spaulding’s face smiled as he hugged the visitor. “I’m so glad that you came to visit me Trevilin! Please come inside!”

The elf smiled and he entered the castle. Much to Spaulding’s surprise and relief, he started to speak albeit in a very soft barely perceptible voice.

“Seems like you were able to keep your castle tidy without the servants Spaulding.”

“You can speak! I was worried you’d lose your voice forever!”

“I can only speak for brief amounts of time and my voice isn’t the same as before.”

“Does your burn still hurt?”

“Not anymore my friend. I feel fine.”

Spaulding stared at the neck brace. “That collar on your neck looks very uncomfortable.”

“I remove it in the evenings when I do my muscle exercises. It’s actually very comfortable to wear even though I can’t turn my head when I use it.”

“How much longer will you have to wear it?”

Trevilin thought for a moment. “Ciedel told me I will need to wear it for another 2 years.”

“It must be terrible for you to live like this. Will you ever return to active duty?”

“Master Lord Salman wrote a letter to discharge me a couple of months ago. I am forbidden from returning to active duty for the time being.”

Spaulding’s face became grave. “What are you going to do now that you cannot earn a living?”

“You forgot that when you are discharged from injury, the government grants you a generous disability salary. It’s not as much money as your regular salary, but I can live comfortably with it.”

“Where do you plan on living Trevilin?”

“I’m thinking of buying a small beach house in Tindenfarel.”

“You wish to continue living in that city? Aren’t you sick of being there?”

“As much as I enjoy your company Spaulding, your city is just too small and boring for my taste. I hope you aren’t offended.”

“Not at all. I suppose once the scar heals enough for you to remove the neck brace, you will start to wander the savage human lands now that you have a lot of free time.”

“I will be glad to visit Richard’s estate.”

“Please come inside. The children will be glad to see you!”

Trevilin smiled and he entered the dining room to greet the children.

Herb hastily stood up. “You’re all right Trevilin!”

“We were so worried!” Nelida squealed with excitement.

Richard’s face became covered with tears when he saw Trevilin’s pitiful state and the neck brace that looked uncomfortable. “Please sit down Trevilin. I am so sorry you suffered so much to rescue me!”

“I do not regret trying my best to protect you. I already told Spaulding the government will be paying me a decent salary now that I cannot be a ranger anymore.”

The children frowned in unison at the elf’s confession.

“Don’t feel sad children. I was thinking of leaving the profession anyways. I entered the gig to save money and I now have sufficient money to buy a nice home in Tindenfarel next to the beach. At least I can still speak and in a couple of years, I will be able to remove the neck brace.” Trevilin stared at Richard who looked grief-stricken. “I heard Master Lord Salman managed to restore your nobility title Richard and you will soon return to your estate.”

“Uncle Spaulding ended up in poverty to buy back my title.”

Trevilin’s eyes turned to face Spaulding who was eating with tranquility. “I heard you ended up in poverty from Seiran. Are you sure you will be all right?”

“As long as I keep my castle tidy and don’t live lavishly, I have sufficient money to survive. It was almost a blessing my horse was killed in battle because I would have been forced to sell it.”

“Can’t you beg Master Lord Salman to reinstate you to be a ranger?”

“I will be fine my friend.”

“I’m certain you will be economically fine, but won’t you get bored out of your mind without anything to do?”

“Actually I have been very busy these past 6 months Trevilin.”

“I know entertaining the children must have killed your time.”

“I was doing more than just entertaining them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Show him Richard.”

The boy nodded and he summoned a strange blue salamander that floated in his hand.

Trevilin’s eyes shone looking shocked. “Impossible! Richard can summon a Stütgat!” Trevilin stared at Spaulding with awe. “Since when can Richard summon a phantom beast Spaulding?!”

“He started summoning it a couple of days ago after a rainstorm. When he drank the söma, Hamarin instantly knew he would be a water mage and it was only a matter of time before he could summon his phantom beast.”

Trevilin stared at the small salamander that floated in the boy’s hand. “I am indeed impressed Richard. Not only have you been able to learn magic at such a young age, but your phantom beast can survive outside of the water. Stütgats aren’t the fastest beasts but they have a lot of good defensive capabilities. You are indeed very lucky to be able to summon one.”

Nelida suddenly dumped her cup of tea on the table and angrily ran out of the room crying.

Trevilin’s face became covered with concern. “I will presume Nelida couldn’t awaken her magic.”

“Unfortunately Herb and Nelida were unable to do anything and Hamarin isn’t willing to risk giving the children the beverage a second time because Froylan is going to arrive anytime.”

“Lord Froylan is going to take the children back to Ayrtain?”

“Unfortunately Master Lord Salman already wrote the edict. As much as I would love it that Herb and Nelida could awaken their magic before leaving the kingdom, it’s too risky.”

“She must be devastated because her brother could awaken his magic so easily.”

“Maybe it’s for the best. Hamarin didn’t want her to learn magic for some reason.”

“That is strange. Did he ever tell you why?”

“Not really.”

Trevilin faced Richard with some difficulty because of the neck brace. “I am very proud of you Richard. Try to practice magic as often as possible in the privacy of your home. Remember that the more often you practice magic, the sooner your beast will grow to become large and someday your Stütgat will protect you.”

Richard suddenly gasped with exhaustion and the beast vanished from his hand.

Trevilin smiled looking very happy. “Maybe Seiran can someday train you. It’s usually best that you are trained by a mage of your same element. What about you Herb?”

“Hamarin noticed I was playing in the mud when I drank the potion. I don’t know if I will be an earth mage.”

“If you become an earth mage, please feel free to send me a letter and I will be glad to come to your city and train you. As a fellow earth mage, I might be able to help you overcome the weaknesses of my element.”

“Maybe I’ll be able to summon a Javelin!”

Trevilin smiled at everyone. “I was initially worried that Spaulding may have ended up mad with boredom or despair but it seems like you are doing fine. Please feel free to visit the Blue City this summer my friend.”

“I have to visit the capital for the summer festival.”

Trevilin politely chuckled. “I forgot that you have to behave like an obedient clan leader from now on.”

“Like I told Seiran, if I behave like an obedient lapdog sooner or later Master Salman will allow me to return to active duty. My clan hasn’t suffered much from the reduced dowry and in a little over 9 years, things will return to normal. When the children become legal adults, they can visit me whenever they feel like.”

Trevilin surprised everyone and stood up.

Richard’s face became filled with disappointment. “Where are you going Trevilin? Wouldn’t you like to stay here?”

“Ciedel only gave me permission to briefly visit you because I was so worried about your welfare. I’m not officially discharged yet.”

Spaulding frowned. “I briefly spoke to the nation’s chief medic in National Palace. You are always welcome to get a second opinion.”

Trevilin softly chuckled because his voice was starting to become fainter. “My voice is still sensitive, I can’t force it. If you like, I will go to Capital City and we can have some beers at Jo’s Tavern. Seiran apparently had a lot of fun and she wants to take me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there.”

“It will be fun for the three of us to hang out there together. I hope you can help pay the bill.”

Trevilin smiled as his voice was starting to get very raspy. He bowed at everyone with difficulty and approached the door. “Pleased to see everyone is doing fine despite the hardships. I will visit Ayrtain very soon to spend some time with you children.”

“Please come to the Earlrose Estate Trevilin!” Richard waved goodbye to the elf.

The elf smiled and left the castle in a rental carriage. Spaulding felt relieved his friend was showing improvement from the last time he saw him. A couple of days later, Froylan knocked on the door to the castle.

Spaulding opened it with indifference. “Lord Froylan, what an unpleasant surprise!”

Froylan rudely entered the castle without bowing. He turned around to observe the modest abode. “Seems like you have kept busy keeping the pigsty clean without relying on servants.”

“The children helped me keep the place tidy to kill time.”

“Did you have fun babysitting them?”

“We had a grandiose time together and all three of them have become more fluent in Elvish.”

“Why in the hell would you waste your time teaching them Elvish anyways?”

“Hopefully the government will allow them to visit the kingdom sometime.”

“As a matter of fact Spaulding, Master Lord Salman ordered me to give you this edict.” Froylan casually gave Spaulding an edict and he hesitantly opened it.

His face became concerned after he finished reading it. “The Master is forbidding the children to come back until they turn 18. I had high hopes of seeing Richard once he became a clan leader.”

“Master Lord Salman thinks you should enjoy your decade long punishment of boredom without distractions. You are still free to visit them in their savage lands.”

Spaulding grumbled as he secured the scroll. “After enjoying a most unpleasant visit, rest assured I have no interest in eating their disgusting cuisine anytime soon.”

“The Master will be glad to see you during the upcoming summer festival.”

“Rest assured I will fly to the capital on my Hiratori.”

“What happened to your horse? Too poor to feed it?”

“Actually my steed was killed when we were ambushed. At any rate, if the horse had survived, I would have been forced to sell it.”

Froylan slightly grinned but he said nothing. “Well, the sooner I take those annoying pests to the border, the sooner I can return to the capital to fulfill my duties.”

“Give me a second to fetch the children.”

Froylan crossed his arms and stood in the hallway with impatience as Spaulding climbed upstairs to the guestroom. All three children were wearing elvish travel clothes looking nervous.

“Our delightful Lord Froylan has come in person to take you back to Ayrtain. I really enjoyed the 6 months I was able to spend with you.”

“I swear I will pay back the money from the ransom you paid to my father.”

“Lord Jacinct probably already spent the money on his gambling debts. I doubt you will be able to pay me back soon Herb, but I appreciate your concern. Rest assured when you turn 18, we will attempt to awaken your magic.”

“I’m glad that you managed to convince the king to bring me to Tesafar; it’s indeed a lovely city. I only got to see four cities in the kingdom but I loved them all. I can’t wait to come back.”

“I will be anxiously waiting for your return Herb. I am pleased to have met you and I’m glad my relatives have at least one human relative of my utter trust. You will be a great clan leader someday.”

Nelida warmly hugged Spaulding. “I am so sorry for all of the hard times we went through uncle. I love you!”

“I don’t regret allowing you to live in my home Nelida. Hopefully when you turn 18, you will be able to come back and spend a couple of months in my city. By the time you become an adult, my clan will once again be paid its dutiful dowry and I will be able to afford you a nice banquet.”

Richard stood forward feeling confident.

“I am deeply impressed at your magical feats Richard. Keep on practicing every day in the privacy of your home and when you turn 18, I will continue to train you.”

Richard’s cheerful face became grave. “I thought when I became a clan leader; I could come here immediately for as long as I wish.”

Spaulding opened the edict and showed it to Richard. He noticed it had the familiar gold wax seal of the king. “I know you can’t read elvish script, but the edict states you will not be issued a travel permit to enter the kingdom until you turn 18. I am so sorry but Master Lord Salman wants to punish me on purpose.”

“That is so disheartening. I hope you come visit me in Ayrtain.”

“The edict doesn’t prohibit me from visiting your country. I cannot easily afford to rent a carriage but I will try to save what I can to visit you at least once. Please don’t serve me grits when I visit you.”

“I promise I will never serve you anything that contains meat. I hope I can redecorate my home to resemble elvish architecture.”

“That won’t be needed Richard. As long as you don’t decorate your home with pink walls and stuffed dead animals that will be sufficient.” Spaulding stood up looking proud at the three children. “I am so happy to have met all three of you. Please don’t feel sad about my situation. I may be mortal, but I will live a very long life and 10 years for me isn’t that much time. My clan will be fine and hopefully someday I’ll be able to work as a ranger again.”

“I’m scared of spending a week with that guard. He frightens me!”

“I can’t blame you Herb. However, just try to be polite with Froylan and don’t even think of telling him about our secret training. If he asks you anything, just tell him you helped me clean my castle and took Elvish language classes. He will be impressed that you three learned the language so quickly. Someday I’ll teach you how to read the script.”

Spaulding exited the room and approached Froylan along with the children.

He didn’t look too impressed at the humans and stared at them with disdain. “I still can’t believe my Master is punishing me with this menial task.”

“The sooner you take them away from me, the sooner their suffering spending time with you will end as well.”

“I thought you’d make a bigger scene saying goodbye to your blood relatives.”

“I am certain I will see them very soon. I hope you can get out of my private residence before I start to have a penchant for actually enjoying your company.”

Froylan chuckled at Spaulding’s mockery. “I’m glad someone as useless as you isn’t the king.”

Spaulding grinned at the guard and he smiled at the children as they entered the carriage. Spaulding shed a tear as he saw their faces waving at him and soon left the courtyard. When they were no longer in sight, he closed the door to the castle, sat against the door and cried.

“Those human pests haven’t left my city and I miss them already.”

A couple of months passed with no word from the humans much to Spaulding’s disappointment. He knew Trevilin was still recuperating in Tindenfarel so he had little to do except keep his castle tidy, practice fencing and meditate. Spaulding would occasionally visit Hamarin to have tea but he usually spent most of his time alone in his castle. A week before the summer festival, Spaulding had an unannounced visit knocking the door of his castle. He opened the door and much to his surprise he saw a familiar Äimite guard.

“Welcome to my humble abode Lord Pieran. What an unexpected surprise.”

The cheerful guard delivered him a scroll which he began to read.

“Why in the bloody hell is Master Lord Salman ordering you to accompany me to the capital for the summer festival?”

“Apparently he wasn’t too pleased that you told Froylan you were planning on traveling to the capital on your phantom beast.”

Spaulding frowned as he read the letter with incredulity a second time. “This doesn’t make any sense! I’m perfectly capable of flying on my own.” Spaulding annoyingly rolled the scroll and approached the main entrance. “Come inside please.”

Pieran calmly entered the castle’s dining room. The guard seemed to like the simple decoration of the small castle as he sat down on the table. “You don’t have to serve me anything to eat Lord Spaulding.”

“That’s fine for me but at least allow me to get drunk first so that the trip with you to the capital is more tolerable.”

Pieran slightly chuckled at the comment.

Spaulding soon returned with some wine and a cup and served himself. “Do you want any?”

“I’m on duty, but thank you for your consideration.”

Spaulding rapidly drank a cup and read the letter a third time. “Do you have any idea why is Master Salman using the guard as a courier service?”

“Froylan told him your horse was killed in battle and Master Lord Salman thought it wasn’t correct that a nobleelf arrived to the city on a phantom beast.”

Spaulding placed his hand on his forehead looking annoyed. “Can I at least stay at an inn?”

“Unfortunately, Master Lord Salman insists that you spend the week in the palace.”

Spaulding grumbled and drank another cup of wine. “If you can give me a couple of minutes to change into travel attire and lock the doors, I’ll be back.”

“Sure, take your time.”

A while later, Spaulding returned once again dressed in his armor looking clearly displeased at the arrangement. He accompanied Pieran to the carriage and arrived to the city a couple of days later. The minute he arrived to the courtyard, he was surprised to see Master Lord Salman was already awaiting him looking clearly pleased with Froylan standing by his side with indifference.

“Thank you Lord Pieran for accomplishing your mission, you may rest.”

The guard bowed with utter politeness at Salman and left for the Äimite Castle. The guards immediately disarmed Spaulding and helped him remove his armor.

Salman smirked at Spaulding’s inappropriate appearance. “I still don’t understand why you bother to come here in your petty armor if the guards force you to disarm the second you pass the second bridge.”

“I’m surprised the guard allowed you to remain in the courtyard while I’m still armed.”

Salman politely chuckled and welcomed Spaulding inside. “Please come this way so that we have a pleasant chat.”

Spaulding shrugged his shoulders and he accompanied the king while being followed close behind by Froylan.

“Has your clan rebelled against you for leaving them in poverty?”

“For your disappointment, they are still fiercely loyal my Master. The servants were slightly displeased that I couldn’t afford to have them work in my castle, but they were understanding.”

Salman politely chuckled as they changed into walking slippers and started pacing across the confusing hallways of the palace. “Froylan told me the human pests were helping you clean the castle. Now that they are gone, you must have plenty of enjoyment doing the tasks of a peasant. It must be humiliating to have fallen so low.”

“As a matter of fact, I kind of enjoyed these past few months of solitude.”

Salman slightly frowned but he remained polite. “I sometimes forget you liked to do recon missions as a ranger for months like a hermit.”

“Camping in the forest and walking in solitude were probably my favorite parts of the job.”

“If you think I will reinstate you, I am sorry to tell you that at least during the 10 year punishment you have no chance of working as a ranger.”

“The punishment is fair enough my Master and I’m still grateful for your mercy in assisting my nephew.”

“Don’t think it was humanitarian. I need to maintain diplomatic relations with the neighboring human nations. However, it seems like a sorry excuse of a clan leader such as you couldn’t care less about the issues of foreign nations.”

Spaulding didn’t feel like answering the king as they entered a large reception room that faced a garden. Both elves sat down and a guard offered them some elvish cakes and tea.

“I’m surprised you didn’t order Froylan to immediately give me heraldic attire to enter the palace.”

“Rest assured I can’t stand your peasant robes Spaulding but I’m always very busy writing invitations at this time of year. I could barely spare a moment to at least speak to you in private.”

Spaulding noticed the room had 10 guards and he sighed. “Being surrounded by guards doesn’t seem like a private conversation.”

Salman grinned but he said nothing. “It seems like you are not suffering too much from your punishment much to my chagrin. I don’t have any means to arrest you, but perhaps there is one thing that might make you think twice before giving me problems again.”

Froylan approached both elves carrying 2 unopened letters. Spaulding instantly knew they were written by Richard and Herb.

“If you were wondering why your human relatives hadn’t written to you, it’s because I wrote an edict forcing the guard to retain any correspondence. Froylan.”

The guard nodded and he activated fire magic that burned both letters instantly much to Spaulding’s disappointment.

“You are for the time being free to visit your human relatives in Ayrtain if you can afford a horse but every time your relatives write to you, my dearest Froylan will personally burn the letters in your presence during the summer festival. Be grateful I have never bothered to read whatever dribble those humans write to you.”

Spaulding stared at the charred ashes of the letters that fell on the straw mat floor with sadness. Salman felt pleased at the elf’s face.

“I think a little bit of solitude to think about your past behavior is punishment enough. The only comforting thing is that those humans will be dead from old age before you know it. Be grateful I will allow them to enter my lands once they become adults so that you can have a handful of chances to spend time with them before they perish of old age.”

Salman rapidly finished eating one of his cakes and he stood up.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in the palace. I ordered my guard to force you to remain in the palace during the entire festival and once it ends, you will be accompanied by a guard back to Tesafar. Enjoy your stay in my humble abode and have a happy new year.” Salman grinned with evil as he left the room along with Froylan who enjoyed Spaulding’s disappointed face.

Spaulding remained alone on the chair as he stared at the garden with remorse. “Dammit, first he orders his guards to punch me. He then leaves me penniless and unemployed and now he wants to isolate me from my family. I hate him.”

 

Chapter 17

 

The summer festival came and went and while Spaulding had a brief affable chat with Lord Saiylan, and an awkward conversation with Lord Yu, he deeply regretted he couldn’t even accompany Seiran to the city. He was unable to see Trevilin because his status as a commoner civilian meant he wasn’t allowed to enter the palace. Salman’s plan of isolating him was disheartening, but the punishment was tolerable because he knew he would be able to see the children in a few years. When the festival ended, Spaulding stood at the entrance while he waited for his carriage to arrive.

Tameer exited the carriage and bowed with politeness. “I have been assigned with the order to accompany you back to Tesafar. Please enter the carriage immediately.”

Spaulding grumbled at Tameer’s perceived rudeness and spent a slightly awkward trip back to Tesafar with him. Both parties traveled on the carriage barely uttering a single word during the entire trip because their personalities clearly clashed and neither one of them was happy about traveling with the other to the small city. Spaulding spent the next 9 months in the relative peaceful solitude of his castle trying to keep things tidy, meditate and practice his deficient water magic using a plant branch he stored in a pocket inside of his modest beige robes. One evening, Spaulding was meditating in front of a candle when something felt very strange prompting him to open his eyes with worry.

“What is this strange sorcery?”

Spaulding stood feeling notably alert and anxious at the strangely familiar energy. His heart started to rapidly beat feeling like a part of his body was vanishing.

“I have to get to my study room!”

Spaulding raced to his office, opened the door and anxiously unlocked the glass case with his clan ring. He managed to grab his sword and tied the belt to his waist on time before he passed out. His eyes suddenly shot open without having any idea how much time had passed.

“Where am I? Am I alive?”

Spaulding noticed his body felt heavy and numb. His vision was initially blurry but after a couple of minutes, he noticed he was in a seated position with some sort of strange belt that secured him to a chair.

“Could I be under arrest by an Äimite or something?”

Spaulding’s eyes that were the only part of his body that had freedom of movement noticed he was inside of a strange hollow structure and there were metallic chairs in front of him. From his current position, he was unable to see much else but he realized it was bright and sunny on the sides from what seemed like small glass windows.

“This doesn’t seem like a prison. Where could I be?”

Spaulding closed his eyes and noticed he could hear a strange vibrating noise he had never heard before in his life. After sitting still for a few minutes, he noticed although his mind was awake and sharp, his body remained fully numb and it was nearly impossible to move it. He soon became anxious and with a lot of effort, he started to meditate in an attempt to fully relax his body. After a while, he managed to mentally order his noncompliant right arm to move to a front pocket of his robe, retrieve a plant branch and with a lot of effort he placed the branch in front of his lips.

“I hope my training bears fruition!”

Spaulding inhaled the branch and began to concentrate. With some effort, he was finally able to release his body and collapsed on the chair feeling slightly exhausted. After panting for a couple of minutes, he frenetically moved his fists until he could finally move them. He then proceeded to rub his forearms and then his thighs until his body started to fully react.

“I feel glad that that I trained my deficient water magic this winter. It seems like I was trapped under some sort of paralysis spell.”

Spaulding soon regained movement of his neck and he first stared at the strange object that fastened him to the chair which confused him. He initially feared he had been tied up with a rope, but he was surprised to see a strange leather belt he had never seen before. After fumbling with it for a moment, he managed to unlock the device and removed the strap. The elf initially stumbled but with some effort, he was able to finally stand up.

“Thank goodness I’m still armed.”

Spaulding smiled and he grabbed the branch with his left hand. He turned around and noticed he was inside of a strange cylindrical metallic beast with many humans that were seated in rows of chairs.

“What kind of sorcery is this?”

Spaulding stared at the strange humans that that wore tasteful elegant clothes that were seated next to him. For a moment he presumed they were deceased and he opened the eye of one of the strangers. The humans were alive but they were in a sort of strange trance which left him bewildered.

“Could it be that I was able to fight this spell because I am a mage? These humans don’t look like peasants. Who could they be?”

After carefully dodging the humans without harming them, Spaulding reached an aisle to have a better view of the strange beast.

“I have never seen such an object before. Is it a sort of magical dragon made out of metal?”

The metallic structure seemed rather large and after staring at the humans that sat idle on their chairs he counted at least 200 people.

“All of these strange humans that are wearing noblemen attire are in a trance. I don’t see any elves for some reason.”

Spaulding was starting to get anxious about the strange situation he was in and noticed on the sides of the metallic beast were several small circular glass windows that allowed him to see the blue sky. Spaulding decided to carefully approach a glass window. His eyes shone in shock at the sight.

“Impossible! What kind of sorcery can allow so many people to fly in the sky without using a phantom beast?!”

Spaulding tried to discern what lied beneath the blanket of clouds but they were so high up in the air that it was very difficult to see the ground. Spaulding’s increasingly anxious eyes stared at the side of the metallic dragon and noticed it had a metallic wing with a strange metallic helix that made a vibrating noise as the propellers moved nonstop.

“What in the hell is this thing and where are we going?!”

Spaulding stared at the humans that didn’t seem to react and returned to the aisle. He turned both ways, and noticed on one direction there was a metallic door with a glass window in the distance, and to the other side was a curtain. He decided to turn to the left for the strange door and tried to open it. The door was locked but he could briefly visualize a strange looking room with two empty chairs, machines with a lot of buttons that didn’t make any sense and a glass window that showed the sky.

“This is no phantom beast! What is this thing?!”

Spaulding became increasingly anxious and observed the room that was filled with strange humans. He hoped he could spot a familiar face but he couldn’t recognize anyone much to his dismay. After an anxious 20 minutes of trying to make sense of what happened, he turned to look at the brown curtain and approached it. He took a deep breath as he pulled the curtain open and realized it was another room that was filled with even more unfamiliar humans that were seated on metal chairs. He cautiously entered the room with fear in his eyes and instantly recognized three humans seated to his right. He knelt beside them looking anxious.

“Herb! Lord Jacinct, and oh my, Herb’s mother is here as well!”

Spaulding became dismayed as he observed the three humans that were calmly resting on their chairs with their eyes closed. Spaulding frantically tried to shake Herb’s body. “Please wake up Herb! Where are we?!” Herb didn’t budge but Spaulding suddenly froze with anxiety when he heard laughter in the strange room.

“I didn’t expect one of my honorable guests to be awake before the grand finale.”

Spaulding’s eyes shone when he turned to see a most horribly unexpected sight. His face froze with horror at what he saw. “This is impossible! This can’t be happening!”

Spaulding stared at his dear niece Nelida who stood at the end of the aisle with a smile. Instead of feeling joy, Spaulding’s face was covered with fear when he realized his dearest niece was holding a familiar white book in her left hand. Spaulding was unable to move or say anything at the impossible sight.

“Are you surprised uncle? Thank you for helping me awaken my magic so that the book that fused with me could fully activate.”

Spaulding’s bewildered face was starting to fill with tears as the child he loved and missed so much had lost her kindness and became replaced with a face that was full of cruelty. Nelida calmly approached him while she carried the white book that was supposed to be destroyed 2 years ago.

“This is impossible! You were unable to awaken your magic.”

“You’re wrong. My magic was awoken the instant I savored the söma, but my body didn’t manifest any mana at the time in part because of the potion Hamarin gave to me. Rest assured the potion only stalled the process.”

Spaulding took a step backwards in fear of the child and what she was capable of doing. “Dearest Nelida, what happened to you? You were the kindest child in the world. What are you doing?!”

The child smiled and opened the white book that Spaulding was unable to open. She read a page and laughed with cruelty. “I don’t understand why you feared this magical artifact uncle. It’s a magnificent piece of sorcery. It’s a shame you didn’t appreciate its knowledge because it has taught me magic beyond what is considered to be possible.”

Nelida stared at Spaulding with coldness in her green eyes and he noticed something was wrong. The vibrational noise was suddenly no longer as audible as before and the dragon was no longer fully horizontal.

“What is happening?!”

Nelida once again loudly laughed. “The Ominous Book taught me a spell of extremely advanced air magic to summon objects that seemingly should not exist. You are inside the creation of my phantom beast.”

Spaulding anxiously turned around without understanding what was going on. “This is your phantom beast?!”

“Not quite. I possess a very unique invisible phantom beast that with the knowledge of my book can create and transform objects. I once had a dream about flying and the book not only allowed me to create the object of my dream but it allowed my entire family to come fly with me!”

Spaulding’s pupils froze and he anxiously stared at the room that was filled with somnolent humans. He couldn’t recognize anybody but all of the humans wore elegant nobleman attire. “Who are these humans Nelida?”

The girl smiled looking very arrogant. “I am proud to present you to the entire royal family of Ayrtain!”

Spaulding’s jaw opened wondering how it could be possible that his niece was capable of placing her entire family inside of the strange object that was starting to descend. “What is the purpose of this Nelida? Why am I here as well?”

“The book taught me a couple of interesting things my dear uncle. Apparently your human ancestor was a noblewoman of the royal family.”

Spaulding stared at the child looking speechless. “I thought I was related to your commoner family.”

Nelida smiled even more. “Just because my maternal family didn’t have a nobility title doesn’t mean they didn’t have royal blood. Look over to your left, my dear uncle Reginald is here as well!”

Spaulding stared at a corpulent middle aged man with black hair. He had a hard time processing the situation as the metallic beast continued descending. “I’m a nobleman of Ayrtain?”

Nelida nodded with a grin. “I had a hard time believing it, but the Ominous Book told it to me and I couldn’t resist the temptation to invite you to our little party.”

Spaulding suddenly realized they were descending without understanding anything. “What are you planning to do Nelida?”

“I’m going to wipe out the entire royal family to become the queen of Ayrtain and rule with my brother!”

Spaulding’s face became covered with anxiety when he realized standing beside Nelida was Richard who seemed to be in a sort of strange trance. Richard was now wearing his clan ring looking unresponsive to the environment.

“Did the book possess my nephew and corrupt his mind as well?”

“The Ominous Book only responds to a mage of their corresponding element and Richard is a water mage much to my chagrin. He has no idea where he is but rest assured when this dragon crashes, we will be the sole survivors. It’s a shame you are going to perish as well uncle but I can’t allow you to compete for our kingdom either!”

Spaulding knelt in front of Herb and tried to awaken him fruitlessly. “Please wake up Herb!”

Richard approached Spaulding and raised his right arm activating powerful magic in the little branch. Much to Spaulding’s surprise, the twig suddenly grew into a small tree that pierced a large hole into a glass window and blasted Spaulding outside.

“Herb!!!”

Spaulding briefly stared at the kind child that remained fully unresponsive as the air vortex sucked him outside. His face clenched with pain when his unprotected chest collided against a thick glass shard that lodged itself into his body. Spaulding’s heart was pumping nonstop as he was thrown into the sky and had a glimpse of something that flew outside of the broken window. He blinked for a moment being unable to process his thoughts as he fell from the air.

“Where am I?!” Richard blinked for a moment and realized his unconscious usage of water magic caused him to fully awaken from the trance. He had no idea what he was doing inside of the strange metallic object but noticed there was a lot of air blasting everything outside. He briefly turned around and saw his sister who held her Ominous Book. While he firmly held onto the chairs, he approached his sister. “Nelida, what happened? Where are we?”

The child stared at her brother with evil in her eyes. “It is too late dear brother. My vision that we will become the last survivors of the Ayrtainian royal bloodline will come true no matter what you do. Rest assured when this metallic beast crashes in a few moments, we will be the sole survivors and the throne will be rightfully ours.”

Richard couldn’t process his thoughts as he stared at his sister who was completely unrecognizable. “Since when can you use magic? What is going on?!”

The child comically laughed as the metallic beast was starting to incline in a more vertical angle.

Richard with a lot of effort tried to awaken the humans that were asleep. “Wake up, please wake up! We have to get out of here!”

Nelida approached him and grinned with arrogance. “It’s pointless to awaken them Richard. The spell can only be broken in two ways: They will wake up when the beast crashes to their inevitable death or they can attempt to awaken on their own if they can use magic. Rest assured both of us will survive the crash thanks to my powerful magic with no memory of how we miraculously survived, and no knowledge we learned how to use magic either.”

Nelida grinned with evil when Richard realized the grim truth. The nearby mountains were now visible and Richard realized he was running out of time.

“Maybe I can use my Stütgat that has grown large enough to place someone inside so that I can at least save one person in my family!”

“It will be a waste of time. In less than a minute, the dragon will crash.”

Nelida smiled as Richard frantically tried to turn around to locate someone he held dear.

“If I can at least save Herb!”

Richard walked around the aisles during his final seconds and managed to find Herb causing him great relief. He summoned his Stütgat and was about to envelop his cousin with it until he noticed a girl with curly long blond hair that sat behind which attracted his attention. His eyes shone as he stared at a strange black stone that rested on her neck. Without thinking, Richard touched the stone and everything turned black.

“Richard!”

Spaulding’s weary eyes shone open as he was falling to his death while he saw the beast crash into a lake in a grandiose explosion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

To my family and friends that had to put up with my obnoxiousness, you have my complete gratitude.

To my cat that is always so excited to see me arrive at home from my job every Friday night.

Note to all of my readers

Thank you for reading my work that was an effort that took nearly 2 years to complete. I hope to reach more readers and to also know what they think about my work without preference or bias. Love it or hate it, I’d love to read reviews and valuable ideas which will help me become a much better writer!

An Ominous Book Series

  1. An Ominous Book
  2. Separation
  3. Exile
  4. Diaspora
  5. A Calamity
  6. Quandary
  7. Harlequins (coming soon!)

 

About the author

Born in Minneapolis Minnesota and established in Mexico City when I started 4th grade without knowing a word of Spanish, and assumed my newly found country was going to be a tropical city covered with palm trees (boy was I wrong!). I grew up with the culture clash and economic crisis of the 1990’s and a passion for Japanese animation, figure ice skating and cats.

When I’m not practicing medicine or fixing busted typewriters pro bono, I’m traveling to foreign countries to see spectacular nature, hard to reach pyramids and the occasional military museum. Who knows, perhaps you will bump into me in a youth hostel in Tokyo or a whale shark snorkeling tour.


An Ominous Book

Lord Spaulding's life seemed perfect. The perfectly stable life of the elusive mortal elf that rules the Kasimma Clan and lives in the quaint but pleasant city of Tesafar has ended up in haywire when his best friend Trevilin left two unwanted guests at his doorstep one autumn day: two orphan children from a disgraced noble family that just happen to be his long lost blood relatives Richard and Nelida Earlrose. Spaulding must now find the way to bring these two children back to their nation and along the way destroy a dangerous piece of sorcery that is hidden in his castle before King Salman and the Äimite guard find out.

  • ISBN: 9781370725380
  • Author: Nancy Foster
  • Published: 2017-04-02 00:20:15
  • Words: 99081
An Ominous Book An Ominous Book