In a time before recorded history, before time as we know it even began, there was a land called Londstede that has since gone forgotten by time. It was a place unlike any land discovered or inhabited since. It was like Wyoming, only it was surrounded entirely by water like an island and it was bigger like a small continent and it had more people and a slightly different climateâ€¦Okay, so maybe it was nothing like Wyoming, so just forget what I said. It was really more like Australia anyway, but without all the cool animals like dingos and wallabies and kangaroos.
Humans did not dominate Londstede, they were not even the only, or most civilized people. Other cultures flourished; other species existed, some peacefully, others not so peacefully. There were elves, a tall and beautiful race of immortalsâ€”donâ€™t ask me what happened to them, I donâ€™t know either, I wasnâ€™t there when they disappearedâ€”that lived in hidden villages in the forests. There were the dwarves, a race of chubby, short and ornery peopleâ€”the latter possibly a result of the first two. Their men made great soldiers and their women made great apple piesâ€”Iâ€™m not saying this was a sexist culture, this was just a weird genetic trait. There were faeries, who, by the way hate being called fairies and get very violent when called such, so I donâ€™t recommend trying it. They were an altogether unintelligent species, but they were only about five or six inches tall so they didnâ€™t have very large brainsâ€”only about the size of a peanut. There were sprites as well, all different kinds of sprites: tree sprites, air sprites, diet sprites, but water sprites were by far the most interesting. Water sprites bored easily and enjoyed popping out of lakes and rivers handing swords to gullible townsfolk while telling their victims that they were destined to rule.
It is in Londstede, this land before time as we know it began, that our story ends. It was a Wednesday. April 27th.
Bob Acwellan pushed the heavy doors of the Great Hall open easily and strode in. Leahtor, Leax, Iermthu, and Weorthan Lac behind him; Unnyt, the faerie, sat on Iermthuâ€™s shoulder so she could keep up.
Bob stepped over to the table, pulled a small box out of his supply bag and all but tossed it to Lord Healdend.
â€œI hope this is worth the hell we went through to bring it to you,â€ Bob stated gruffly.
â€œOh, it will be,â€ Healdend said as he put his fork down to open the box. â€œYou have no idea the power this has.â€
â€œOh, I do,â€ Bob replied with disinterest. â€œI have seen its power and I hope to never see it again.â€
Healdend pulled the small gold ring out of the box and held it up to examine. It was a gaudy and ridiculous ring encrusted with jewels in a flower design. â€œExquisite, isnâ€™t it?â€ he asked nobody in particular.
â€œIâ€™m sorry if I donâ€™t share your enthusiasm,â€ Bob said, â€œbut weâ€™ve suffered too much to see its beauty anymore.â€ He lied, they had never seen its beauty as it truly was an ugly piece of jewelry. â€œNow if youâ€™ll just pay us, weâ€™ll be on our way.â€
â€œYes, of course,â€ Healdend replied. He put the ring back in the box and walked over to a large chest and opened it. It was filled to capacity with gold pieces. â€œI believe this is our agreed upon price. How you split it is up to you. Would you like to join me for dinner?â€
â€œNo,â€ Bob said, again speaking for the group. â€œLac, help me with the chest. Weâ€™ll split it at the inn.â€
Bob sat alone at a table marked â€œReservedâ€ in the Empty Bucket Tavern in the small town of Medoburh slamming down his tankard of ale when a young woman walked in. She wore a hooded cloak, but the hood was pushed far enough back that he could see her face; she couldnâ€™t have been more than twenty. She was a human, too tall or short to be most any other species and she didnâ€™t look arrogant enough to be an elf. She looked around and it seemed to Bob that their eyes met for a second. She smiled at him, but headed toward the bar.
â€œFigures,â€ Bob mumbled to himself as he finished his tankard. He slammed the empty, wooden mug back on the table and was stunned to see the woman sitting across from him.
She smiled and pushed another tankard towards him.
â€œLord Healdend called you here, too?â€ he asked.
â€œYes,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m Iermthu,â€ she introduced herself.
â€œBob Acwellan,â€ he replied.
â€œBob?â€ she questioned. â€œThatâ€™s an odd name. Iâ€™ve never heard it before.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™m not from around here,â€ he replied as he took a sip of aleâ€”a bit more civilized now that he had company to impress. â€œWhy are you going on this silly quest to find this mythical ring?â€ he asked, hoping it sounded conversational. â€œYou donâ€™t look like the adventurous type.â€
â€œThe gold mostly,â€ she explained. â€œI would also like to leave here,â€ she added. â€œIâ€™ve lived in my father’s house here in Medoburh since I was three and I need to leave. Iâ€™m treated as an oddity.â€
Bob was about to question as to why when an elf strode in gallant and proud like he was too good to be there. â€œDamn, elves,â€ Bob commented. â€œPompous asses, the lot of â€˜em. Think theyâ€™re better than everybody else.â€
Iermthu smiled politely, but said nothing.
The elf walked up to their table, took one look at Iermthu and sat as far away from her as he could without sitting too close to Bob. Like most others of his species the elf was a beautiful creature, his tapered ears seemed to stick out in front of the jet black short spiked hair.
â€œHello,â€ Bob greeted him.
â€œHello,â€ the elf replied as if to a servant.
â€œIâ€™m Bob Acwellan and this is Iermthu,â€ Bob introduced them.
â€œI know who you two are,â€ the elf stated.
â€œReally?â€ Bob asked. â€œHow have you heard of us?â€
â€œYou are the famous warrior that defeated the ogre army at Westen.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re ogres,â€ Bob said. â€œTheyâ€™re not very bright, they were easy to defeat. How do you know of Iermthu?â€
The elf looked at her and made a sound of disgust. â€œHer mother is the shame of our village,â€ he said. â€œNot only did she take a human lover, but she had the audacity to bring his child into our village. It took her nearly three years before she smartened up and got rid of the little embarrassment.â€
â€œThatâ€™s enough, Leahtor,â€ Iermthu said, her eyes fixated on the table in front of her trying to maintain her composure.
â€œYouâ€™re an elf?â€ Bob asked, his attention returning to Iermthu. â€œBut youâ€™reâ€¦nice.â€
Iermthu removed the hood of her cloak to show her tapered ears as Leahtor stated, â€œSheâ€™s a halfling, but I guess that would have been beyond your realm of comprehension to deduce from my earlier statement.â€
â€œThereâ€™s no need to be so rude,â€ a woman purred from behind him. Her light bluish-gray skin glittered in the light as if wet and she appeared naked except for what looked like glistening seaweed strategically placed, or more accurately growing, all over her body and through her main of curly blond hair. She sat down next to Leahtor much to his dismay, but he said nothing.
â€œItâ€™s not like a water sprite to be so far from her lake or river,â€ Bob commented.
â€œTrue,â€ she replied. â€œBut I have good incentive,â€ she added as she traced a finger up Leahtorâ€™s arm.
â€œIâ€™m Bob,â€ Bob introduced himself for what he hoped would be the last time today, but knew it wouldnâ€™t be by the two chairs left unoccupied. â€œThis is Iermthu and the elf youâ€™ve surgically attached yourself to is Leahtor.â€
The sprite looked away from where she had started to nibble on Leahtorâ€™s ear and waved to the other two. â€œIâ€™m Leax,â€ she introduced herself before going back to what she had been doing.
â€œYou think they know each other?â€ Bob asked Iermthu.
â€œI doubt it,â€ she replied. â€œLeahtor is not the type to fraternize with other species. And water sprites are known for being a tad forward.â€
â€œThis might be a bit excessive.â€
â€œYou must remember, there are no male sprites,â€ Iermthu told him. â€œThey take whatever they can find.â€ Leahtor glared at her.
Bob smiled as he watched a faerie fly in and stop to look around the room before the door opened and knocked her across the room. A dwarf walked in the bar, over to the table and then sat down. â€œWeorthan Lac,â€ he introduced himself jovially as he looked at the uncomfortable elf with a water sprite groping him.
â€œBob Acwellan,â€ Bob stated. â€œIermthu, Leahtor and Leax,â€ he introduced them, pointing to them all in turn.
â€œCall me Lac,â€ the dwarf said. â€œSo doesnâ€™t this sound like itâ€™s going to be a grand adventure?â€
â€œVery much so, Lacâ€ Bob commented.
â€œWhen do you suppose this Lord Healdend will come to tell us the details?â€
â€œHe should be here shortly,â€ Iermthu said.Â â€œThere appears to be only one chair left.â€
Bob heard the buzz of a fly by his ear and went to swat it out of the way and hit something slightly larger than a fly. The faerie fell face first onto the table with a thud and didnâ€™t move for quite some time. Iermthu took the pink cocktail umbrella out of her drink and poked the six inch tall winged woman with it softly while asking, â€œAre you all right?â€
The faerie stirred slightly and mumbled, â€œDid anybody get the license plate of that bus?â€
Iermthu gently picked her up and checked for broken bones. â€œExcept for a few bumps and bruises you seem fine,â€ she said as she pulled a small sliver of ice out of her drink and put it on the faerieâ€™s eye. The faerie stood her full heightâ€”wearing what appeared to be a few maple leaves sewn together and belted with a simple piece of stringâ€”in Iermthuâ€™s hand and then jumped down to the table and examined the drink umbrella before attaching it to her belt.
â€œIâ€™m Unnyt,â€ she stated as she sat cross-legged on a coaster.
â€œIâ€™m Iermthu,â€ Iermthu introduced herself. â€œThatâ€™s Bob Acwellan, Weorthan Lac and those two are Leahtor and Leax.â€
Unnyt looked over to the pair and then back at Iermthu. â€œAn elf and a water sprite? Thatâ€™s not something you see every day. Iâ€™ll have to write to my hive as soon as possible to tell them about this.â€
â€œGet off me,â€ Leahtor yelled as he pushed Leax off of him. â€œHow many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?â€
Her soft blue eyes sparkled as she looked at him from where she had landed on the ground. â€œYour words say no, but your body says yes,â€ she replied in the purring tone everybody had come to get used to. â€œYou donâ€™t have to be so shy around me,â€ she added as she stood up in as seductive of a manner as a person could.
She tried to wrap herself around him again and he walked away and sat next to Iermthu by the fire.
â€œIt seems Iâ€™m only safe from her by this fire,â€ he commented. â€œI love how sheâ€™s afraid of fire.â€
Iermthu smiled and put a reassuring arm around his shoulder. â€œIt wonâ€™t be much longer now,â€ she said. â€œAnd when we find the ring and return it you can go back home and never see her again.â€
He smiled. â€œYou should come home with me,â€ he replied after a momentâ€™s thought. â€œYou know your mother misses you. She always regretted abandoning you, but everybody had pressured her.â€
â€œI canâ€™t go back and you know it,â€ she told him. â€œMother is the only one that would want me there, and we both know how long thatâ€™ll last for.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re such a good person,â€ he replied. â€œThe others would see you for it quickly.â€
â€œThey are blinded by their arrogance and pride,â€ she stated.
â€œSo was I not long ago.â€
â€œBut weâ€™ve been through so much together,â€ she replied. â€œThey wonâ€™t see me like you do now.â€
â€œCome home with me,â€ he stated again. â€œLet them get all worked up about it. At least they will have something interesting to talk about for once. Do you know why I really signed on to do this?â€ he asked suddenly.
She shook her head.
â€œI got bored,â€ he said. â€œEverybody always talks about the same old things, but nobodyâ€™s actually gone out to do things in hundreds of years. I was going stir crazy. Iâ€™m glad I left, I never would have gotten to know you otherwise,â€ he said as he put his arm around her shoulder. She winced and he removed it right away. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he said awkwardly. â€œI forgot.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s okay,â€ she replied. â€œItâ€™s just a little sore there still. I donâ€™t heal as quickly as a full-blooded elf. Another day or so and it should be good as new.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry about that,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ she replied. â€œItâ€™s not like you knew of the traps at Tun cave. If that arrow would have hit you, it would have gotten you in the heart and killed you. I was only doing what anybody else would have done.â€
â€œYouâ€™re too modest.â€
â€œNo, Iâ€™m not,â€ she replied. â€œI just did what was right.â€
â€œItâ€™s the elf in you,â€ he commented.
â€œMy dad always taught me to help others,â€ she said.
â€œYou embrace your human half too much.â€
â€œYou force me to defend it.â€
â€œYou are as much elf as you are human.â€
â€œI have never been made to feel it. The humans saw me as a bit of an oddity, a novelty, but they were never hurtful.â€
â€œThen why did you want to leave them? Why come on this journey?â€
â€œI wanted to see more of the world,â€ she said. â€œI wanted to prove that I was the equal of any full-blooded elf.â€
â€œBut you have already claimed that no elf would believe it.â€
â€œI had to prove it to myself,â€ she admitted. â€œI had to prove them wrong. I started to doubt myself. I think I believed that if I believed totally that I was the equal to an elf, the elves would believe it too.â€ She chuckled softly at the idea.
â€œYouâ€™ve convinced me.â€
â€œThanks,â€ she said.
â€œWe can make the rest believe.â€
â€œIâ€™ve found that I donâ€™t care anymore what the elves think of me.â€
â€œThen come home with me when this is all over,â€ he said. â€œShow them youâ€™re better than them. Walk around with your head held high.â€
â€œI canâ€™t. Iâ€¦â€
â€œYouâ€™re better than him,â€ Leahtor said. â€œYou have a nobler bloodline.â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t,â€ she said.
Bob looked at the map Healdend had given him three days previous in the tavern at Medoburh and then back at the cave. â€œThis is the place; this is Tun,â€ he said. â€œIf Lord Healdendâ€™s map is correct, then the map to the princessâ€™ ring is in there.â€
â€œIt could be a trap; some of us should stay out here and keep guard,â€ Leahtor stated.
â€œWe also donâ€™t know what to expect in there,â€ Bob agreed.
â€œIâ€™ll go in,â€ Leahtor stated majestically. â€œI am immortal, after all.â€
â€œVery well,â€ Bob said.
â€œIâ€™ll go, too,â€ Iermthu added. â€œAfter all, I might be immortal.â€
As Leax lifted a hand to offer to go, Iermthu added, â€œUnnyt, why donâ€™t you come with us. We might have some small crevices we have to get through.â€
â€œOf course,â€ Unnyt replied happily.
â€œGood,â€ Bob said. â€œThatâ€™s three in the cave and two out. Weâ€™ll set up camp while youâ€™re gone.â€
Leahtor grabbed a torch and led the way into the cave. Iermthu followed with Unnyt sitting on her shoulder.
â€œThank you,â€ Leahtor said a few minutes later when the cave got wide enough for the two to walk side by side.
â€œThank you for volunteering Unnyt before Leax had a chance to latch herself onto me again.â€
â€œNo problem,â€ Iermthu replied. â€œYou looked like you needed a reprieve from her.â€
â€œShe is quite dedicated.â€
â€œShe means well.â€
â€œYes, well, she is a bit too forward,â€ he commented. â€œI have noticed that you and that human have been getting rather close lately,â€ he added.
She smiled. â€œHe seems nice. I really like Bob.â€
â€œDonâ€™t you think that youâ€™ve tainted our noble bloodline enough?â€ he questioned.
The two stopped as the small passageway gave way to a large cavern. They looked in awe at the size of it, their budding argument abandoned and forgotten.
â€œI didnâ€™t think that the hill was this big,â€ Iermthu finally stated.
â€œItâ€™s truly a wondrous illusion,â€ Leahtor agreed. â€œI suppose that we should continue on.â€
â€œOh, right,â€ Iermthu agreed. She took a step forward into the cavern and stopped. â€œArenâ€™t you coming?â€ she asked.
â€œYes, of course,â€ he replied as he took that first step. They walked to the middle of the large room and stopped and looked around. It had been perfectly chiseled to resemble a stone courtyard. The ground had been cut to give the appearance of cobblestone. A second story balcony had been chiseled all the way around the cavern with a center door on each wall.
â€œItâ€™s beautiful,â€ Iermthu commented. â€œDo you think the map is hidden somewhere in here?â€
â€œWhere would one hide a map in here?â€ Leahtor questioned her.
â€œWhat about up there?â€ Unnyt asked as she pointed directly overhead. On the perfectly sculpted ceiling there was a dome with a small ledge.
â€œThatâ€™s pretty high up there,â€ Iermthu stated. â€œIt looks like fifty feet or so. Could you fly up and take a look, Unnyt?â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said as she stood up and jumped off of Iermthuâ€™s shoulder. She flew as quickly as her wings would take her and was soon sitting on the small balcony of the dome panting and out of breath.
â€œIs there anything up there?â€ Iermthu asked.
Unnyt looked around and finally responded, â€œYes. A box nearly three times my size.â€
â€œCan you open it and see if the map is in there?â€
â€œThen do it,â€ Leahtor replied.
Unnyt disappeared on the ledge for some time and then returned. â€œItâ€™s locked,â€ she yelled down.
â€œCan you pick the lock?â€ Iermthu questioned.
â€œLet me check.â€ She disappeared again.
â€œStupid faerie,â€ Leahtor commented under his breath.
â€œSheâ€™s not stupid,â€ Iermthu told him coldly. â€œSheâ€™s very intelligent for a faerie.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not saying much.â€
â€œShut up,â€ Iermthu told him as Unnyt returned to the ledge.
â€œI can pick it,â€ she yelled down. â€œAnd I did pick it. Thereâ€™s a folded parchment inside, possibly a map. Do we want it?â€
â€œYes,â€ Leahtor stated unable and untrying to hide his annoyance. He muttered something in his native language and Iermthu slapped him.
â€œThatâ€™s inappropriate,â€ she scolded him.
Unnyt returned to the ledge dragging the parchment behind her. â€œIâ€™m going to have to drop it down to you,â€ she told them. â€œItâ€™s too heavy for me to fly with.â€
â€œAlright,â€ Iermthu said. Unnyt pushed the parchment off the ledge and then followed in a free fall of her own. When she was a few feet from Iermthuâ€™s shoulder she flapped her wings against the wind and landed softly as Leahtor caught the parchment.
â€œOk,â€ Iermthu said, â€œLetâ€™s get out of here.â€
She turned to leave and noticed that the chiseled doors on the balcony had opened. All she could see beyond them was darkness. â€œYou donâ€™t suppose thatâ€™s going to be a problem?â€ she asked when she realized that Leahtor was staring at it too.
â€œLetâ€™s just leave,â€ he said.
â€œGood idea.â€ She took one step and heard something zipping through the air towards them. Judging by the sound of it, it was actually heading straight for Leahtor. She spotted the glint of the arrow and realized that she didnâ€™t have time to warn him. She pushed him out of the way, Unnyt falling backwards off of her shoulder as she lunged forward.
The arrow hit her in the shoulder and she screamed in pain. Leahtor looked at her from where he had fallen to the ground. He was about to yell at her when he realized what happened. â€œThat would have gotten me right in the heart,â€ he commented. â€œI could have died.â€
Unnyt stood up and wiped off her maple leaf dress and said, â€œMaybe we should get out of here.â€
Leahtor scooped her up and threw her in a pocket. He helped Iermthu back to her feet and wrapped an arm around her for support. She wrapped her good arm around him and they ran back towards the entrance.
Bob and Leax were sitting on logs, Bob close to the fire as he prepared dinner. Bob almost instantly stood up when he saw the arrow sticking out of Iermthu.
â€œWhat happened?â€ he asked as he took her out of Leahtorâ€™s arms and sat her on his log.
â€œWe should probably distance ourselves a bit more from this cave,â€ Iermthu said as she pulled the arrow out of her shoulder. She took one look at it and said, â€œDamn, weâ€™ll have to fish the head out later.â€
â€œWe need to take care of your wounds,â€ Bob said.
â€œIâ€™m part elf. Iâ€™ll heal,â€ she told him. â€œLetâ€™s just get out of here in case we were followed.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Bob finally agreed. â€œLeahtor, Leax, help me with the tents. Iermthu, just sit there and heal. Unnyt, stay with Iermthu.â€
Iermthu looked in the fire and said, â€œI can take the rabbits off the spit and put the fire out.â€
In less than two minutes they were repacked enough to head out. They walked on for an hour and then stopped and put up camp again.
â€œOkay,â€ Bob said as he dropped his supply bag, â€œLetâ€™s see that wound of yours, Iermthu.â€
â€œAll right,â€ She said as she found a rock to sit on while Leahtor built a fire nearby. â€œYou might want to get out your knife, though. Youâ€™re going to have to find the arrow head,â€ She added as she removed her cloak and shirt. She wrapped her cloak around her chest in an attempt at modesty.
Bob looked at the wound as he crouched in front of her. â€œThis is healing nicely,â€ he commented. â€œAt this rate you could be healed in a few days.â€
â€œYeah,â€ she replied. â€œItâ€™s a benefit of having elf blood. Of course, I donâ€™t heal as quickly as a full-blooded elf, but what can you expect.â€
â€œThis is going to really hurt,â€ Bob told her. â€œLet me know when youâ€™re ready.â€
â€œWhenever you are,â€ she told him as she closed her eyes tightly and rested her good hand on his shoulder.
He kissed her softly and then whispered, â€œIâ€™m sorry about this,â€ and then dug into her wound with his knife until he hit metal. He tilted the blade around the arrow head as her hand clenched tightly on his shirt. With the knife wedged next to the arrow head he pushed the tip of the blade closer to the arrow, forcing it toward the surface where he could grab it with his fingers and pull it the rest of the way out. He pulled his knife out and said, â€œOkay, itâ€™s all over now.â€ He dressed her wound and helped her to the ground so she could lean against the rock.
â€œIâ€™ll get you some water,â€ he said.
He returned a few seconds later with a wooden cup and handed it to her as he sat next to her. â€œYou scared me, you know,â€ he finally said. â€œThis was supposed to be an easy task. Nobody was supposed to get hurt.â€
She put the cup down and put her hand on his knee and said, â€œIâ€™ll be fine. It wonâ€™t be like with Lac. You canâ€™t blame yourself for this,â€ she told him. â€œAnd you canâ€™t blame yourself for Lac.â€
â€œI know,â€ he replied, â€œbut I am in charge here. I donâ€™t like it when my soldiers die. And you guys arenâ€™t even soldiers.â€
â€œWe knew there could have been dangers when we signed up for this,â€ Iermthu told him.
â€œYeah, but nothingâ€™s going to plan. This was supposed to be simple and risk-free.â€
Lord Healdend walked into the tavern like he owned the place, mostly because he did own the place, but partly to maintain the fear and respect he got from the townsfolk. A servant trailed him. They walked over to the table where Bob Acwellan, Iermthu, Weorthan Lac, Leahtor, Leax and Unnyt were sitting and Healdend waited for his manservant to put a cushion on the last remaining chair before he sat on it.
â€œI would like to thank you all for coming,â€ he said. â€œI guess this means that the others have declined my offer. I explained what I expect of each of you in the letters that I sent out. You all understand what is asked of you, I assume.â€
They all nodded in agreement so he continued. â€œI want you all to find for me the famous ring of Princess Beoghroden. The princess, it is said, was burying with the ring well over a thousand years ago, but grave robbers took it almost a hundred years later when her tomb was discovered. It has gone from owner to owner and the last owner, the legendary Queen Mildred of Reced, returned it to Beoghrodenâ€™s bedchamber in her castle in the lost kingdom of Edor about five hundred years ago. It is said that a map leading to the fabled city of Edor is in the cave of Tun. I have a map that will guide you to Tun to help you start on your way.â€
â€œWhat if we donâ€™t find the map there?â€ Iermthu asked.
â€œThen I paid too much for this map,â€ Healdend replied.
â€œWhat if Edor and Beoghrodenâ€™s ring are merely myths?â€ Bob asked.
â€œThen you can return and tell me and I will pay you for your time,â€ Healdend told him. â€œBut if you return with the ring, I will pay you with a chest full of gold.â€
â€œThat seems a lot for a ring,â€ Iermthu commented.
â€œFor a normal ring it would be,â€ Healdend replied, â€œbut this is no ordinary ring. This ring is said to be enchanted; it is said to look beautiful on the hand of any woman. And besides my anniversary is coming up and my wife, the Lady Unsyfre, has requested this ring as her gift.
â€œThis should be very simple,â€ he continued. â€œNobody should get hurt. Any booby trap would be well over five hundred years old.â€
Bob looked over the map. â€œWe could probably reach this cave in three days,â€ he stated. â€œWe will leave first thing in the morning.â€
Bob sat alone by the fire. It wasnâ€™t a cold night so the others gave him his space; they could tell that he needed it. After a while, though, Iermthu walked over and sat next to him. She sat in silence for quite some time.
â€œI donâ€™t need to talk,â€ Bob said.
â€œNeither do I,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m getting a chill and I just donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair that you get to hog the fire.â€ She rested her hands in her lap and stared into the fire.
â€œHe wasnâ€™t supposed to die,â€ Bob finally said.
â€œNo, I suppose he wasnâ€™t.â€
â€œI mean, we just left town this morning and already weâ€™ve lost Lac,â€ Bob stated. â€œThis was supposed to be easy.â€
â€œWhat happened to him was an accident,â€ she told him. â€œIt couldnâ€™t have been prevented. You couldnâ€™t have known.â€
â€œI know,â€ he replied defeatedly, â€œbut that doesnâ€™t mean I donâ€™t feel responsible. He was a good man and now I have to go explain to his wife and family why he isnâ€™t coming home.â€
â€œThey are dwarves,â€ she told him. â€œThey will understand. Dying is a part of life for a warrior and they all knew, Lac included, that this could happen one day.â€
â€œBut a man died today.â€
She quietly took his hand in hers and for some time said nothing. â€œI admit that I hardly knew him,â€ she said after awhile, â€œbut I do believe Iâ€™ll miss him.â€
â€œI actually spent most of the night with him in the bar sharing war stories,â€ he admitted. â€œHe was a really good man.â€
â€œYou mentioned his family before,â€ she commented. â€œWhat did he tell you about them?â€
â€œHe has a wife and three children, two daughters and a son. Theyâ€™re still young.â€
â€œI really got to know him.â€
â€œIf you would like, when this is all over, I will go with you to tell his family what happened,â€ she told him.
â€œThanks,â€ he said. â€œThat would be really great.â€
The previous silence resumed and they both stared into the silence.
Finally Bob said, â€œAre you immortal?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m only half elf. I heal quicker than a human, but as far as immortal, I just donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ve never met another halfling and nobody else seems to know. I guess Iâ€™ll find out when I die.â€
â€œIt must have been hard growing up a halfling.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t so bad,â€ she replied. â€œDad was really good and the people in townâ€¦well I had a few friends.â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t sound very nice.â€
â€œIt was better than the first three years of my life that I spent with my mother in her village. The elves absolutely despised me.â€
After a three hour walk Bob, Iermthu, Leax and Leahtor stepped into the clearing that held the Well of Desires. It was a simple stone well that certainly did not look the least bit legendary, although with its crumbling and broken stones it did look like it was old enough to be a legend; it just wasnâ€™t ornate and spectacular enough.
Iermthu stepped up to it. â€œAre you sure this is it?â€ she asked Leax. When Leax nodded she reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold coin. â€œI wish Unnyt was alive,â€ she said as she tossed in the coin.
The coin hit the inside wall of the well on its way down and then morphed into the tiny faerie. She flew up the shaft and greeted everybody with a warm smile.
â€œWhere have you all been?â€ she asked. â€œWe were swimming and then everything disappeared. Weâ€™re on a quest, you know?â€
â€œYou drowned,â€ Iermthu told her as Unnyt perched on her finger.
Bob stepped forward and pulled out a coin. â€œI wish Weorthan Lac was alive,â€ he said before tossing in his coin.
The coin fell from sight and then a single hand reached up and grabbed the edge. â€œI could use some help,â€ Lacâ€™s voice boomed from the depths.
Bob and Leahtor reached down and helped him out of the well.
As Bob started to explain what had happened to Lac and Unnyt and to inform them about the success of their quest, Leahtor stepped up to the well. â€œI wish we all make it safely back to Lord Healdendâ€™s castle,â€ he whispered as he threw in a small handful of elven currency.
â€œI heard that,â€ Leax said as she stepped closer to him. â€œWhat would your tribe think of you being on such friendly terms with us inferior creatures?â€
He put an arm around her waist and said, â€œI donâ€™t really care what they think.â€
â€œYou suppose theyâ€™ll be mad at you for even going on this trip?â€
â€œHow would you like to find out first hand?â€
â€œIs that an invitation to go home with you?â€ she asked.
â€œWell, maybe, but only if you stop inviting other girls,â€ she said, glancing over at Iermthu, who was aiding Bob in telling of their exploits.
Understanding what she meant, he said, â€œI was merely grateful for her saving my life and mistook the feeling for more than what it was.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s different with me?â€ she asked.
â€œVery much so,â€ he replied as he kissed her neck. â€œYou always interested me, but your forwardness scared me.â€
â€œBut Iâ€™m not really sure I should move in with you,â€ she admitted. â€œI am a water sprite and I wonâ€™t survive that long on land.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a river that goes through my village right behind my house.â€
â€œAnd no other sprite has claim of it?â€
â€œNo elf would let one in the village before.â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™m different.â€
â€œWhat if the other elves reject me like they did Iermthu?â€
â€œI wonâ€™t let them?â€
It was fairly early when the six finished breakfast in the tavern and stepped out onto the street.
â€œThis is a good day to begin an adventure,â€ Lac said after taking in a deep breath of morning air. â€œWhich way do we go, Bob?â€
â€œThen letâ€™s get going,â€ Lac said as he led the way down the street. â€œThe sooner we leave town the sooner we get to that map.â€
â€œHe seems chipper this morning,â€ Leahtor commented as he tried in vain to detach Leax from his arm.
Iermthu smiled in response and turned to Bob. â€œHow long did the two of you stay up last night talking in the bar?â€ she asked him as she nodded toward Lac.
â€œI donâ€™t know exactly,â€ he replied. â€œWe were so deep in conversation.â€
â€œWhat did you talk about?â€ Unnyt asked.
â€œWe just shared battle stories mostly,â€ Bob replied.
â€œThat sounds like fun,â€ Iermthu teased.
Lac rounded a corner and his jovial smile dropped, he quickly jumped out of the way of a man passing by on a horse. He skidded to the other side of the road and stood up yelling profanity at the man while dusting himself off.
He stood his full unimpressive height of three feet, four inches and started back to join the group.
â€œBuddy, watch out,â€ a voice called, but it was too late. A horse tied to a carriage ran into him knocking him under the horse tied up next to it. It trampled him as it went on and then the carriage rode over him too.
â€œLac!â€ Iermthu called in astonishment as she and Bob ran over to him.
Iermthu bent over him to get a better look at his condition.
A man walked up to Bob from the carriage that had now stopped. â€œI tried to stop the horses,â€ he said. â€œI really did.â€
Iermthu looked up. â€œHeâ€™s dead,â€ she whispered.
Bob glared at the carriage driver. â€œYou killed him,â€ he stated coldly as he started toward the man.
Iermthu quickly jumped up and stepped between them. â€œBob, wait,â€ she said. â€œThe town watch is here already. Let them deal with this.â€
A watchman stepped up to them as the other bent over Lac. â€œWhat happened here,â€ the first watchman asked.
â€œThis man ran over and killed our friend,â€ Bob stated.
The watchman looked to his partner and the man gave a nod of confirmation.
â€œWeâ€™ll have to get the full details of the incident,â€ the watchman said. â€œIâ€™ll need you all to come with me to the station to sort this all out. My partner will stay and wait for the town doctor to arrive.
â€œIâ€™ll go fetch the doctor and then join you,â€ Iermthu said. â€œI know where he lives.â€
â€œThank you, Maâ€™am,â€ the guard said. â€œIâ€™ll expect to see you at the station in half an hour.â€
â€œIâ€™ll hurry,â€ she said before heading off.
Iermthu woke up in the morning still sore from the arrow that went through her shoulder the night before. She sat up and saw that only Bob and Leahtor were already up. They were both looking at the newly discovered map discussing a path to take.
She walked over to them and sat down. â€œDoes it look like we can make it?â€ she asked.
â€œIt looks simple enough,â€ Leahtor said. â€œWe have to traverse the Keeble Forest, but it shouldnâ€™t be difficult.â€
â€œIt should only take us about twelve days to reach the city of Edor,â€ Bob added.
â€œDo we have enough supplies to last that long?â€ she asked.
â€œWe can conserve our food supply by hunting and fishing,â€ Bob told her. â€œAs for everything else, as long as we have our bedding and weapons we should be fine.â€
â€œYou nature types,â€ she teased.
â€œHowâ€™s your arm?â€ he asked.
â€œBetter than it was yesterday, but itâ€™s still a little sore.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take some of your supplies then so that you may heal.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take the rest,â€ Leahtor offered.
â€œThank you,â€ she said
â€œI canâ€™t believe we only have three more days until we reach Edor,â€ Leax commented before she dove under the water.
When she resurfaced Iermthu said, â€œI know. This is almost over. Itâ€™ll feel weird going home after all this.â€
â€œI have a question,â€ Leax stated shyly.
â€œWhat,â€ Iermthu said as she soaped up an arm.
â€œWell, I noticed that Leahtor has taken a fancy to you,â€ Leax began. â€œWhat did you do? Iâ€™ve been trying to get him to like me since I met him.â€
â€œI think youâ€™ve been trying too hard,â€ Iermthu replied. â€œWill you get my back?â€
â€œYeah.â€ Iermthu turned and as Leax started washing her back Leax asked, â€œWhat do you mean? What am I doing wrong?â€
â€œYouâ€™re throwing yourself at him. Youâ€™re scaring him,â€ Iermthu said. â€œTry being a bit more subtle. Elves arenâ€™t used to behavior like yours.â€
â€œHowâ€™s the water?â€ Unnyt asked from the shore.
â€œGreat,â€ Leax replied.
Unnyt took off her maple leaf dress and scurried into the water. When the water reached her waist she started swimming. â€œWhy did you two go out so far?â€ she asked.
â€œBecause weâ€™re taller and needed the water to bathe in,â€ Iermthu replied. â€œWhy donâ€™t you just fly out here?â€
â€œOh,â€ Unnyt said thoughtfully. â€œI didnâ€™t think about it, and itâ€™s too late now; my wings are wet.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be out there shortly,â€ Unnyt stated.
â€œOkay,â€ Iermthu said as she turned her attention back to Leax.
Two feet out in the water Unnyt hit a small current, but because of her size she couldnâ€™t fight it. She tried to scream for help, but was taken under by her struggles to fight the current.
Oblivious to Unnytâ€™s struggles, the two took up their conversation. â€œWhat do you suggest I do?â€ Leax asked.
â€œDonâ€™t throw yourself at him,â€ Iermthu told her. â€œDonâ€™t show so much interest in him. Try to contribute to our quest. Speak your mind; let him know that you are intelligent.â€
â€œI could try that. Itâ€™s just odd. This is how water sprites have always gotten men.â€
â€œHave they ever gotten an elf with it before?â€
â€œNot that I know of,â€ Leax replied. â€œMostly humans and dwarves.â€
â€œHey, shouldnâ€™t Unnyt be out here by now?â€
â€œYouâ€™d think,â€ Leax added. â€œMaybe she forgot which way she was going and headed back to shore.â€
Iermthu looked over to shore. â€œNo, I can see her little dress on a rock.â€ Starting to panic she looked around frantically and started heading down stream a bit. â€œGo under,â€ she told Leax. â€œSee if you can find her.â€
Leax dove again and was gone for several minutes before returning. â€œI couldnâ€™t find her,â€ she said, â€œbut I found this.â€ She opened her palm and handed a torn faerie wing over to Iermthu.
â€œWhere did you find it?â€
â€œOver here.â€ She quickly led the way to a small outcropping of rocks close to shore.
â€œUnnyt!â€ Iermthu yelled. â€œUnnyt, can you hear me?â€
â€œItâ€™s no use,â€ Leax said as she put a hand on Iermthuâ€™s shoulder. â€œSheâ€™s gone. The river swallowed her.â€
â€œHow would you know?â€
â€œIâ€™m a water sprite,â€ Leax reminded her. â€œThe water and all its inhabitants speak to me. Theyâ€™ve told me that sheâ€™s gone on.â€
â€œThen whereâ€™s the body,â€ Iermthu asked. â€œWill they tell you that much?â€
â€œThe current has taken her over a waterfall several miles from here. By the time we reach her sheâ€™ll be out to sea.â€ She wrapped an arm around Iermthu and led her ashore. She wrapped Iermthuâ€™s cloak around her and grabbed the rest of her clothing and started heading towards camp. â€œLetâ€™s go tell Leahtor and Bob what has happened.â€
â€œThis is all my fault.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not.â€
â€œI should have been watching her. Sheâ€™s so tiny. I should have known the current would be too strong.â€
â€œYou couldnâ€™t even feel the current.â€
â€œI should have kept an eye on her.â€
Bob looked up as they entered the campsite. â€œWhat happened?â€ he asked.
Leax sat Iermthu down on a rock and told him the story.
â€œUnnyt is gone?â€ Leahtor asked.Â â€œThatâ€™s a shame,â€ he added indifferently.
Leax shot him a glance. â€œTry to be a bit more sympathetic,â€ she snapped. â€œA life, a friend, was lost today.â€
â€œWhaâ€”â€ Leahtor stammered and finally shut up, he was shocked at her directness. He had never seen her act like this to himâ€¦or anyone for that matter. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he finally said.
Iermthu sat alone quietly as dusk set in. She finally looked over to Bob and Leahtor who were conversing over the map. â€œWhere do we go next?â€ she asked as Leax sat next to her and put a reassuring arm around her shoulder and offered her a drink of water.
â€œWe leave in the morning,â€ Bob replied as he folded up the map. â€œWe should be in the Keeble forest by midday. And according to the map Edor is just on the other side of the forest. We should be there in two days.
â€œDoes anything live in the forest?â€ Leax asked in her softly sensual voice.
â€œThereâ€™s a tribe of elves,â€ Leahtor stated in a voice indicating disgust and a subtle level of fear that Leax picked up on and was frightened by.
â€œWell you should be happy to see some other elves for once, what with all of us inferior species as traveling companions,â€ she replied lightly.
â€œThese elves are not normal elves,â€ Iermthu told her. â€œThey are said to be misshapen and very violent. They are savages that hide in trees and attack the innocent.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve met them?â€
â€œNo,â€ Iermthu admitted, â€œbut I do remember the stories my mother used to tell me about the elves of the Keeble. It became a story elves tell their children to get them to behave or go to bed: â€˜Go to sleep or the Keeblers will take you away.â€™â€
â€œWe could be lucky and find out that these stories were just made up,â€ Leax replied with a wary hopefulness in her voice.
â€œMaybe,â€ Bob agreed, â€œbut in case theyâ€™re not, I suggest we stay on guard when we get to the forest. I want everybody to be prepared for a fight.â€
â€œWe could stay on the road,â€ Leahtor suggested. â€œThat should help.â€
â€œDoes the road even go into the forest?â€ Iermthu asked. â€œAnd if it does, how long will it last? The Keeble forest hasnâ€™t exactly been a hotbed for travel and commerce in the last five hundred years.â€
â€œAccording to the map,â€ Bob stated, â€œthe road that will take us to the forest wraps around it. There is no path through the forest. To go around the forest would add seven days to our travels, and thatâ€™s just getting there. We donâ€™t have the supplies to be so cautious.â€
â€œSo weâ€™ll be entering the dangerous part of the trip then,â€ Leax stated the obvious in a voice of foreboding.
â€œHas anyone seen Leax?â€ Iermthu asked anxiously as she came back to the camp site that they had spent their first night in the Keeble forest in.Â â€œSheâ€™s been gone a while. I checked the fishing pond, but sheâ€™s not there.â€
â€œDamn,â€ Bob hissed. â€œShe knows the elves will kill us if we leave camp. If they did anything to herâ€¦â€
â€œShe got away from me,â€ Iermthu said. â€œShe was behind me gathering berries and then she was gone.â€
â€œNobodyâ€™s blaming you,â€ Bob said. â€œShe was there when I told us to stay in pairs. We better start looking for her. Leahtor, come on.â€
Bob stopped not ten feet from the forest, the others stopping behind him, too nervous to take the lead. He couldnâ€™t believe the size of the trees in the only two rows of trees he could see. They were large, unnaturally large, so large in fact that they looked like they could house a family of six if hollowed out.
Bob finally took a deep breath and started for the forest. The others slowly followed suit. They walked on slowly, looking, listening and had barely been in the forest an hour before Bob suddenly stopped. â€œWeâ€™re being watched,â€ he told the others quietly.
Leahtor turned to look, but it was too late. A shout came from distant trees and arrows started flying.
â€œWeâ€™re outnumbered. Run,â€ Bob yelled as a platoon of shortâ€”barely two feet tallâ€”fat gnomish-looking elves charged from the right.
Leahtor shot a few arrows at the elves as they hastened a retreat to slow the miniature battalion down.
They ran until Bob was sure that the elves were no longer giving pursuit.
â€œTheyâ€™ve chased us farther into the forest,â€ he said. â€œThis could be a trap.â€
â€œI canâ€™t hear them anymore,â€ Leahtor told him.
â€œI donâ€™t think they followed us,â€ Iermthu stated.
â€œI do,â€ Leax said as she looked around.
The tiny elves had them surrounded; they were everywhere, on the ground and in branches. There would be no hastened escape this time.
â€œWe might have to fight,â€ Bob told them.
A shriveled little elf hunched over with age stepped forward and spoke.
â€œWhat did he say?â€ Bob asked Leahtor.
â€œI donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t understand his dialect.â€
Leax stepped forward and spoke to the elf in a similar yet, softer, more feminine intonation. He said something back while pointing to Leahtor and then Iermthu. Leax replied, speaking for a long time, expressing points and otherwise gesturing with her hands. There was a silence that followed and then the elf said something, pointed to the south and then stepped back into the crowd of elves. The crowd shortly faded into the darkness of the forest.
â€œWhat just happened?â€ Bob finally asked.
â€œHe asked what we were doing here with two giant mutated elves and I told him about our quest,â€ she replied. â€œWeâ€™ve been asked to set up camp here. There is a fishing pond just south of us that we can use, but weâ€™ve been asked to go no further south than the pond and to otherwise not leave this clearing.â€
â€œThey want us to stay here while they decide if we can be trusted. Apparently,â€ and she glared at Leahtor, â€œthey have heard stories that have been passed down about evil giant elves that kidnap sleeping children.â€
â€œYou speak their language?â€ Iermthu asked.
â€œNo,â€ she replied, â€œbut itâ€™s quite similar to Sprittish.â€
â€œAre they going to kill us?â€ Iermthu asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Leax replied. â€œThey donâ€™t seem to have a problem with Bob or myself, but they are deeply afraid of outside elves.â€ Realizing just how reassuring that wasnâ€™t, she added, â€œI was told that Iâ€™d get another chance to talk on our behalves.â€
â€œWhere is she?â€ Iermthu repeated as they continued their search for Leax.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Leahtor replied, slightly annoyed. â€œWill you stop asking that? Weâ€™re looking for her.â€
â€œBickering wonâ€™t help,â€ Bob chastised them. â€œShe couldnâ€™t have gone that far, the Keeblers are everywhere.â€
â€œI donâ€™t want to lose any more friends on this quest,â€ Iermthu commented dejectedly.
Bob rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but looked to the woods before speaking. â€œThe elves are moving,â€ he finally said.
Shortly the brush around a tree started rustling and a secret door in the tree opened. It was only waist high, but Leax stood bent over in the doorway. â€œCome on in,â€ she said with a warm smile, beckoning them on with her hand. â€œThe elders want to meet you.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve got to be kidding,â€ Bob said as she stepped back inside and he followed her in, Iermthu and Leahtor close behind.
Leax led them through a short corridor and then down a flight of stairs, through a long and winding corridor and up another flight of stairs into a large round room with low benches all around. They could still see the small puddle from where Leax must have been sitting for the hour she had been missing.
â€œSit,â€ an old elf urged. â€œI am called Ernie and I am the eldest elder.â€
â€œYou speak human?â€ Leahtor questioned.
â€œSome of us do,â€ Ernie told him. â€œWe used to be cooks in the palace of the great Princess Beoghroden and had to speak her language.â€
Bob watched the four younger looking elves standing in full military uniforms, ready to protect their leaders if so needed.
â€œApparently,â€ Leax began with her new favorite word of condescension as she sat back down in her puddle, â€œthe elves here have been told stories about giant evil elves. They are stories they tell their children to get them to behave: â€˜Go to sleep or the giants will come for you.â€™â€
â€œSo weâ€™ve all been told the same stories about each other,â€ Iermthu commented.
â€œIt would appear that way,â€ Ernie replied. â€œMiss Leax has informed us that you have been told similar stories about us. She has also told us that you are on a quest to get to Princess Beoghrodenâ€™s castle.â€
â€œYes, we are,â€ Bob replied.
â€œAfter a long conversation with Miss Leax we have decided to escort you to the castle. We have passages that we used to take when we worked there that will take you straight to the castle in a matter of hours. We will help you as a gesture of peace in the hopes of uniting the elven race.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Bob said. â€œWhen will we leave?â€
â€œFirst thing in the morning,â€ Ernie told him. â€œTonight we must celebrate and feast to our new alliance. You must sample our sacred recipes. We are preparing some of the Great Princessâ€™s favorites.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re going to have a feast in our honor,â€ Leax stated excitedly.
â€œPlease excuse me,â€ the young elf said as she stood up. â€œI must see to the next course.â€
Leahtor dismissed her with a â€œFarewell,â€ and a smile before turning to Leax, who was seated next to him.
â€œI canâ€™t believe you did all this,â€ he said.
â€œOh, I had nothing to do with the preparations,â€ she replied.
â€œNo,â€ he said. â€œI meant about negotiating peace.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t do much.â€
â€œYou may have just bridged a gap and reunited the elven race,â€ he told her.
â€œI just shared some stories with Ernie,â€ she replied modestly.
â€œYou did so much more than that,â€ he said as he entwined his hand with hers.
Early the next morning the small contingent of elf soldiers led them through a series of tunnels cut out of the roots of the enormous trees. A journey that would have taken two days above ground took only hours underneath it. They soon found themselves in the wine cellar of the princessâ€™s castle.
Old dusty bottles of wine sat forgotten on rows of shelves that they passed as they made their way to the front of the cellar and out the door. It led to a narrow staircase and then up and into the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen, the elf in charge said, â€œThis is where we leave you. The princess forbade us from ever going any further than the kitchen. We are unfamiliar with the layout of the rest of the castle so we can help you no further.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Leax said. â€œI am sure we can manage from here.â€
â€œYes, maâ€™am,â€ the elf replied before leading his comrades back down to the wine cellar.
â€œWeâ€™re looking for the princessâ€™s bedchamber,â€ Bob reminded the others. â€œThe map says that itâ€™s on the third floor of the west wing.â€ He rolled up the map and put it back in his pocket.
They left the kitchen and walked into the dining room. They continued on until they found the main staircase. They began their ascent and veered to the left, the west, when the stairs forked near the middle. They climbed to the third floor and started investigating room after room until they finally found what appeared to be the bedchamber of a young woman.
Bob and Leahtor went off to inspect the closet and dresser, respectively, for the ring. Iermthu and Leax looked at each other and then headed over to the nightstand and opened the jewelry box.
â€œI think we found it,â€ Iermthu stated almost immediately as she pulled the only ring in the box out.
â€œHow do we know for sure that this ring is the one weâ€™re looking for?â€ Leahtor asked. â€œI mean, this is an ugly ring, hardly anything of legend.â€
â€œWell,â€ Iermthu began slowly, unsure, â€œOne of us,â€ and she indicated herself and Leax, â€œcould try it on.â€
â€œAre you sure thatâ€™s wise?â€ Bob asked. â€œWe donâ€™t know what the full extend of the magic of the ring is.â€
â€œTrue, but we donâ€™t want to get back to Lord Healdend only to find that we got the wrong ring,â€ Leahtor replied.
â€œIâ€™ll test it,â€ Iermthu stated with more courage than she felt.
â€œI donâ€™t want to risk it,â€ Bob told her.
â€œWe donâ€™t have a choice,â€ she replied as she slipped the ring on.
â€œNo!â€ Bob shouted.
â€œNothing happened,â€ Iermthu said, somewhat shocked and disappointed.
â€œMy gods, youâ€™re gorgeous,â€ Bob stated in amazement.
â€œIâ€™ve never seen a woman so beautiful,â€ Leahtor added.
â€œUmâ€¦thanks,â€ Iermthu replied looking over to Leax for support.
â€œYou really are the most beautiful woman that Iâ€™ve ever seen,â€ Leax stated in a breathy whisper as she wrapped her arms around one of Iermthuâ€™s arms and pressed her body against her seductively.
â€œUmâ€¦okay, this is the ring,â€ Iermthu said as she took it off. â€œThis is just too bizarre for me,â€ she added.
Leax slowly unlatched herself from Iermthu. â€œSorry,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t know what came over me.â€
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ Iermthu stated.
â€œWell, weâ€™ve got the ring,â€ Bob said. â€œShould we stay here the night or start back to Medoburh now?â€
â€œLetâ€™s stay the night,â€ Leahtor suggested. â€œI would kill to sleep on an actual bed again.â€
â€œActually,â€ Leax began, â€œI would like to take a small detour. Apparently the Great Well is only a few hours walk from here.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Bob asked.
â€œThe legendary Great Well of Desires,â€ she replied. â€œErnie told me that it was near here when it came up in discussion yesterday.â€
â€œNever heard of it,â€ Bob told her.
â€œNor have I,â€ Leahtor added.
â€œI havenâ€™t either,â€ Iermthu admitted. â€œSorry.â€
â€œWell itâ€™s famous amongst us sprites,â€ Leax stated defensively. â€œItâ€™s said to grant one and only one desire to any who throw in a coin.â€
â€œThatâ€™s nice,â€ Bob replied uninterestedly.
â€œItâ€™s been said to bring the recently deceased back to life if the wisher truly desires it,â€ she told him. â€œI have heard stories of it bringing back people that have been dead for as long as a month.â€
â€œWe should try it at least,â€ Iermthu stated. â€œWe owe that much to Lac and Unnyt.â€
â€œDid you get directions?â€ Bob asked.
â€œThen lead the way.â€
Iermthu sat by the fire happily watching the others sleep like a mother watches her children. She took the leaf that Unnyt was using as a blanket and pulled it up so the faerie would stop shivering.
Bob quietly sat down next to her. â€œCanâ€™t sleep either?â€ he asked.
â€œNo,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m too excited about having everybody alive and together again and Iâ€™m afraid that if I go to sleep it will all end.â€
â€œI know what you mean,â€ he told her. â€œI know that weâ€™ve all only been together for a few weeks, but this feels like a family. I donâ€™t want this to end.â€
â€œNeither do I.â€
After a long uncomfortable silence, Bob asked, â€œWhat are you planning on doing after we deliver the ring?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ she replied. â€œBefore I had wanted to travel, but now I just want to go home. Iâ€™ve already invited Unnyt to stay for as long as she wants. She canâ€™t remember where her hive is. What do you plan on doing?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ve been traveling for so long as a wandering warrior-for-hire, I think Iâ€™d like to rest for a while, maybe even settle down. Iâ€™ve never had a home. Do you know of any good places?â€
â€œMedoburh was always a good village,â€ she replied. â€œIâ€™m sure you could settle down there. You could find work as a farm hand or something. Perhaps Lord Healdend could use another castle guard or town watchman.â€
â€œIâ€™ll have to look into it,â€ he replied, â€œalthough I do not think that Iâ€™d like to work for Healdend again any time soon.â€ He paused for a long time, nervously, and then he finally said, â€œMarry me.â€
â€œWhen we get back,â€ he said. â€œWill you marry me? Iâ€™ve fallen in love with you and the way you care about everybody. I just donâ€™t want to have to part ways with you.â€
â€œThanks,â€ she replied. She thought for a short time and then smiled. â€œYes,â€ she said, â€œI will marry you. Iâ€™ve fallen in love with you too and how you always seem to keep your calm.â€
He kissed her passionately. â€œI must admit,â€ he said when they parted, â€œwe have a bit of an age difference. Iâ€™m thirty-six, you know.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry about age,â€ she told him.
â€œI canâ€™t wait to meet your father,â€ he said. â€œYou said so many great things about him.â€
â€œThank you,â€ she said, â€œbut Iâ€™m afraid thatâ€™s not possible, my father died over a hundred years ago.â€
â€œWell, I am half elf,â€ she replied.
â€œBut you look so young.â€
â€œI am young, one hundred and thirty four is very young,â€ she told him. â€œLeahtor is four hundred and ninety six.â€