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 climate…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 immortals—don’t ask me what happened to them, I don’t know either, I wasn’t there when they disappeared—that lived in hidden villages in the forests. There were the dwarves, a race of chubby, short and ornery people—the latter possibly a result of the first two. Their men made great soldiers and their women made great apple pies—I’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 don’t recommend trying it. They were an altogether unintelligent species, but they were only about five or six inches tall so they didn’t have very large brains—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 Iermthu’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.

“I hope this is worth the hell we went through to bring it to you,” Bob stated gruffly.

“Oh, it will be,” Healdend said as he put his fork down to open the box. “You have no idea the power this has.”

“Oh, I do,” Bob replied with disinterest. “I have seen its power and I hope to never see it again.”

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. “Exquisite, isn’t it?” he asked nobody in particular.

“I’m sorry if I don’t share your enthusiasm,” Bob said, “but we’ve suffered too much to see its beauty anymore.” He lied, they had never seen its beauty as it truly was an ugly piece of jewelry. “Now if you’ll just pay us, we’ll be on our way.”

“Yes, of course,” 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. “I believe this is our agreed upon price. How you split it is up to you. Would you like to join me for dinner?”

“No,” Bob said, again speaking for the group. “Lac, help me with the chest. We’ll split it at the inn.”

 

Bob sat alone at a table marked “Reserved” 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 couldn’t have been more than twenty. She was a human, too tall or short to be most any other species and she didn’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.

“Figures,” 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.

“Lord Healdend called you here, too?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “I’m Iermthu,” she introduced herself.

“Bob Acwellan,” he replied.

“Bob?” she questioned. “That’s an odd name. I’ve never heard it before.”

“Yeah, I’m not from around here,” he replied as he took a sip of ale—a bit more civilized now that he had company to impress. “Why are you going on this silly quest to find this mythical ring?” he asked, hoping it sounded conversational. “You don’t look like the adventurous type.”

“The gold mostly,” she explained. “I would also like to leave here,” she added. “I’ve lived in my father’s house here in Medoburh since I was three and I need to leave. I’m treated as an oddity.”

Bob was about to question as to why when an elf strode in gallant and proud like he was too good to be there. “Damn, elves,” Bob commented. “Pompous asses, the lot of ‘em. Think they’re better than everybody else.”

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.

“Hello,” Bob greeted him.

“Hello,” the elf replied as if to a servant.

“I’m Bob Acwellan and this is Iermthu,” Bob introduced them.

“I know who you two are,” the elf stated.

“Really?” Bob asked. “How have you heard of us?”

“You are the famous warrior that defeated the ogre army at Westen.”

“They’re ogres,” Bob said. “They’re not very bright, they were easy to defeat. How do you know of Iermthu?”

The elf looked at her and made a sound of disgust. “Her mother is the shame of our village,” he said. “Not 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.”

“That’s enough, Leahtor,” Iermthu said, her eyes fixated on the table in front of her trying to maintain her composure.

“You’re an elf?” Bob asked, his attention returning to Iermthu. “But you’re…nice.”

Iermthu removed the hood of her cloak to show her tapered ears as Leahtor stated, “She’s a halfling, but I guess that would have been beyond your realm of comprehension to deduce from my earlier statement.”

“There’s no need to be so rude,” 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.

“It’s not like a water sprite to be so far from her lake or river,” Bob commented.

“True,” she replied. “But I have good incentive,” she added as she traced a finger up Leahtor’s arm.

“I’m Bob,” Bob introduced himself for what he hoped would be the last time today, but knew it wouldn’t be by the two chairs left unoccupied. “This is Iermthu and the elf you’ve surgically attached yourself to is Leahtor.”

The sprite looked away from where she had started to nibble on Leahtor’s ear and waved to the other two. “I’m Leax,” she introduced herself before going back to what she had been doing.

“You think they know each other?” Bob asked Iermthu.

“I doubt it,” she replied. “Leahtor is not the type to fraternize with other species. And water sprites are known for being a tad forward.”

“This might be a bit excessive.”

“You must remember, there are no male sprites,” Iermthu told him. “They take whatever they can find.” 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. “Weorthan Lac,” he introduced himself jovially as he looked at the uncomfortable elf with a water sprite groping him.

“Bob Acwellan,” Bob stated. “Iermthu, Leahtor and Leax,” he introduced them, pointing to them all in turn.

“Call me Lac,” the dwarf said. “So doesn’t this sound like it’s going to be a grand adventure?”

“Very much so, Lac” Bob commented.

“When do you suppose this Lord Healdend will come to tell us the details?”

“He should be here shortly,” Iermthu said.  “There appears to be only one chair left.”

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 didn’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, “Are you all right?”

The faerie stirred slightly and mumbled, “Did anybody get the license plate of that bus?”

Iermthu gently picked her up and checked for broken bones. “Except for a few bumps and bruises you seem fine,” she said as she pulled a small sliver of ice out of her drink and put it on the faerie’s eye. The faerie stood her full height—wearing what appeared to be a few maple leaves sewn together and belted with a simple piece of string—in Iermthu’s hand and then jumped down to the table and examined the drink umbrella before attaching it to her belt.

“I’m Unnyt,” she stated as she sat cross-legged on a coaster.

“I’m Iermthu,” Iermthu introduced herself. “That’s Bob Acwellan, Weorthan Lac and those two are Leahtor and Leax.”

Unnyt looked over to the pair and then back at Iermthu. “An elf and a water sprite? That’s not something you see every day. I’ll have to write to my hive as soon as possible to tell them about this.”

 

“Get off me,” Leahtor yelled as he pushed Leax off of him. “How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?”

Her soft blue eyes sparkled as she looked at him from where she had landed on the ground. “Your words say no, but your body says yes,” she replied in the purring tone everybody had come to get used to. “You don’t have to be so shy around me,” 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.

“It seems I’m only safe from her by this fire,” he commented. “I love how she’s afraid of fire.”

Iermthu smiled and put a reassuring arm around his shoulder. “It won’t be much longer now,” she said. “And when we find the ring and return it you can go back home and never see her again.”

He smiled. “You should come home with me,” he replied after a moment’s thought. “You know your mother misses you. She always regretted abandoning you, but everybody had pressured her.”

“I can’t go back and you know it,” she told him. “Mother is the only one that would want me there, and we both know how long that’ll last for.”

“But you’re such a good person,” he replied. “The others would see you for it quickly.”

“They are blinded by their arrogance and pride,” she stated.

“So was I not long ago.”

“But we’ve been through so much together,” she replied. “They won’t see me like you do now.”

“Come home with me,” he stated again. “Let 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?” he asked suddenly.

She shook her head.

“I got bored,” he said. “Everybody always talks about the same old things, but nobody’s actually gone out to do things in hundreds of years. I was going stir crazy. I’m glad I left, I never would have gotten to know you otherwise,” he said as he put his arm around her shoulder. She winced and he removed it right away. “I’m sorry,” he said awkwardly. “I forgot.”

“No, it’s okay,” she replied. “It’s just a little sore there still. I don’t heal as quickly as a full-blooded elf. Another day or so and it should be good as new.”

“I’m sorry about that,” he said.

“It’s okay,” she replied. “It’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.”

“You’re too modest.”

“No, I’m not,” she replied. “I just did what was right.”

“It’s the elf in you,” he commented.

“My dad always taught me to help others,” she said.

“You embrace your human half too much.”

“You force me to defend it.”

“You are as much elf as you are human.”

“I have never been made to feel it. The humans saw me as a bit of an oddity, a novelty, but they were never hurtful.”

“Then why did you want to leave them? Why come on this journey?”

“I wanted to see more of the world,” she said. “I wanted to prove that I was the equal of any full-blooded elf.”

“But you have already claimed that no elf would believe it.”

“I had to prove it to myself,” she admitted. “I 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.” She chuckled softly at the idea.

“You’ve convinced me.”

“Thanks,” she said.

“We can make the rest believe.”

“I’ve found that I don’t care anymore what the elves think of me.”

“Then come home with me when this is all over,” he said. “Show them you’re better than them. Walk around with your head held high.”

“I can’t. I…”

“You’re better than him,” Leahtor said. “You have a nobler bloodline.”

“No, I don’t,” 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. “This is the place; this is Tun,” he said. “If Lord Healdend’s map is correct, then the map to the princess’ ring is in there.”

“It could be a trap; some of us should stay out here and keep guard,” Leahtor stated.

“We also don’t know what to expect in there,” Bob agreed.

“I’ll go in,” Leahtor stated majestically. “I am immortal, after all.”

“Very well,” Bob said.

“I’ll go, too,” Iermthu added. “After all, I might be immortal.”

As Leax lifted a hand to offer to go, Iermthu added, “Unnyt, why don’t you come with us. We might have some small crevices we have to get through.”

“Of course,” Unnyt replied happily.

“Good,” Bob said. “That’s three in the cave and two out. We’ll set up camp while you’re gone.”

Leahtor grabbed a torch and led the way into the cave. Iermthu followed with Unnyt sitting on her shoulder.

“Thank you,” Leahtor said a few minutes later when the cave got wide enough for the two to walk side by side.

“Excuse me?”

“Thank you for volunteering Unnyt before Leax had a chance to latch herself onto me again.”

“No problem,” Iermthu replied. “You looked like you needed a reprieve from her.”

“She is quite dedicated.”

“She means well.”

“Yes, well, she is a bit too forward,” he commented. “I have noticed that you and that human have been getting rather close lately,” he added.

She smiled. “He seems nice. I really like Bob.”

“Don’t you think that you’ve tainted our noble bloodline enough?” 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.

“I didn’t think that the hill was this big,” Iermthu finally stated.

“It’s truly a wondrous illusion,” Leahtor agreed. “I suppose that we should continue on.”

“Oh, right,” Iermthu agreed. She took a step forward into the cavern and stopped. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked.

“Yes, of course,” 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.

“It’s beautiful,” Iermthu commented. “Do you think the map is hidden somewhere in here?”

“Where would one hide a map in here?” Leahtor questioned her.

“What about up there?” Unnyt asked as she pointed directly overhead. On the perfectly sculpted ceiling there was a dome with a small ledge.

“That’s pretty high up there,” Iermthu stated. “It looks like fifty feet or so. Could you fly up and take a look, Unnyt?”

“Of course,” she said as she stood up and jumped off of Iermthu’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.

“Is there anything up there?” Iermthu asked.

Unnyt looked around and finally responded, “Yes. A box nearly three times my size.”

“Can you open it and see if the map is in there?”

“I could.”

“Then do it,” Leahtor replied.

Unnyt disappeared on the ledge for some time and then returned. “It’s locked,” she yelled down.

“Can you pick the lock?” Iermthu questioned.

“Let me check.” She disappeared again.

“Stupid faerie,” Leahtor commented under his breath.

“She’s not stupid,” Iermthu told him coldly. “She’s very intelligent for a faerie.”

“That’s not saying much.”

“Shut up,” Iermthu told him as Unnyt returned to the ledge.

“I can pick it,” she yelled down. “And I did pick it. There’s a folded parchment inside, possibly a map. Do we want it?”

“Yes,” Leahtor stated unable and untrying to hide his annoyance. He muttered something in his native language and Iermthu slapped him.

“That’s inappropriate,” she scolded him.

Unnyt returned to the ledge dragging the parchment behind her. “I’m going to have to drop it down to you,” she told them. “It’s too heavy for me to fly with.”

“Alright,” 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 Iermthu’s shoulder she flapped her wings against the wind and landed softly as Leahtor caught the parchment.

“Ok,” Iermthu said, “Let’s get out of here.”

She turned to leave and noticed that the chiseled doors on the balcony had opened. All she could see beyond them was darkness. “You don’t suppose that’s going to be a problem?” she asked when she realized that Leahtor was staring at it too.

“Let’s just leave,” he said.

“Good idea.” 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 didn’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. “That would have gotten me right in the heart,” he commented. “I could have died.”

Unnyt stood up and wiped off her maple leaf dress and said, “Maybe we should get out of here.”

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.

“What happened?” he asked as he took her out of Leahtor’s arms and sat her on his log.

“We should probably distance ourselves a bit more from this cave,” Iermthu said as she pulled the arrow out of her shoulder. She took one look at it and said, “Damn, we’ll have to fish the head out later.”

“We need to take care of your wounds,” Bob said.

“I’m part elf. I’ll heal,” she told him. “Let’s just get out of here in case we were followed.”

“All right,” Bob finally agreed. “Leahtor, Leax, help me with the tents. Iermthu, just sit there and heal. Unnyt, stay with Iermthu.”

Iermthu looked in the fire and said, “I can take the rabbits off the spit and put the fire out.”

“Fine.”

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.

“Okay,” Bob said as he dropped his supply bag, “Let’s see that wound of yours, Iermthu.”

“All right,” She said as she found a rock to sit on while Leahtor built a fire nearby. “You might want to get out your knife, though. You’re going to have to find the arrow head,” 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. “This is healing nicely,” he commented. “At this rate you could be healed in a few days.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s a benefit of having elf blood. Of course, I don’t heal as quickly as a full-blooded elf, but what can you expect.”

“This is going to really hurt,” Bob told her. “Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Whenever you are,” she told him as she closed her eyes tightly and rested her good hand on his shoulder.

He kissed her softly and then whispered, “I’m sorry about this,” 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, “Okay, it’s all over now.” He dressed her wound and helped her to the ground so she could lean against the rock.

“I’ll get you some water,” he said.

He returned a few seconds later with a wooden cup and handed it to her as he sat next to her. “You scared me, you know,” he finally said. “This was supposed to be an easy task. Nobody was supposed to get hurt.”

She put the cup down and put her hand on his knee and said, “I’ll be fine. It won’t be like with Lac. You can’t blame yourself for this,” she told him. “And you can’t blame yourself for Lac.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I am in charge here. I don’t like it when my soldiers die. And you guys aren’t even soldiers.”

“We knew there could have been dangers when we signed up for this,” Iermthu told him.

“Yeah, but nothing’s going to plan. This was supposed to be simple and risk-free.”

 

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.

“I would like to thank you all for coming,” he said. “I 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.”

They all nodded in agreement so he continued. “I 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 Beoghroden’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.”

“What if we don’t find the map there?” Iermthu asked.

“Then I paid too much for this map,” Healdend replied.

“What if Edor and Beoghroden’s ring are merely myths?” Bob asked.

“Then you can return and tell me and I will pay you for your time,” Healdend told him. “But if you return with the ring, I will pay you with a chest full of gold.”

“That seems a lot for a ring,” Iermthu commented.

“For a normal ring it would be,” Healdend replied, “but 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.

“This should be very simple,” he continued. “Nobody should get hurt. Any booby trap would be well over five hundred years old.”

Bob looked over the map. “We could probably reach this cave in three days,” he stated. “We will leave first thing in the morning.”

 

Bob sat alone by the fire. It wasn’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.

“I don’t need to talk,” Bob said.

“Neither do I,” she replied. “I’m getting a chill and I just don’t think it’s fair that you get to hog the fire.” She rested her hands in her lap and stared into the fire.

“He wasn’t supposed to die,” Bob finally said.

“No, I suppose he wasn’t.”

“I mean, we just left town this morning and already we’ve lost Lac,” Bob stated. “This was supposed to be easy.”

“What happened to him was an accident,” she told him. “It couldn’t have been prevented. You couldn’t have known.”

“I know,” he replied defeatedly, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel responsible. He was a good man and now I have to go explain to his wife and family why he isn’t coming home.”

“They are dwarves,” she told him. “They will understand. Dying is a part of life for a warrior and they all knew, Lac included, that this could happen one day.”

“But a man died today.”

She quietly took his hand in hers and for some time said nothing. “I admit that I hardly knew him,” she said after awhile, “but I do believe I’ll miss him.”

“I actually spent most of the night with him in the bar sharing war stories,” he admitted. “He was a really good man.”

“You mentioned his family before,” she commented. “What did he tell you about them?”

“He has a wife and three children, two daughters and a son. They’re still young.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I really got to know him.”

“If you would like, when this is all over, I will go with you to tell his family what happened,” she told him.

“Thanks,” he said. “That would be really great.”

The previous silence resumed and they both stared into the silence.

Finally Bob said, “Are you immortal?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’m only half elf. I heal quicker than a human, but as far as immortal, I just don’t know. I’ve never met another halfling and nobody else seems to know. I guess I’ll find out when I die.”

“It must have been hard growing up a halfling.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” she replied. “Dad was really good and the people in town…well I had a few friends.”

“That doesn’t sound very nice.”

“It was better than the first three years of my life that I spent with my mother in her village. The elves absolutely despised me.”

“I’m sorry.”

 

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 wasn’t ornate and spectacular enough.

Iermthu stepped up to it. “Are you sure this is it?” she asked Leax. When Leax nodded she reached into her pocket and pulled out a gold coin. “I wish Unnyt was alive,” 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.

“Where have you all been?” she asked. “We were swimming and then everything disappeared. We’re on a quest, you know?”

“You drowned,” Iermthu told her as Unnyt perched on her finger.

“No!”

“Yes.”

Bob stepped forward and pulled out a coin. “I wish Weorthan Lac was alive,” he said before tossing in his coin.

The coin fell from sight and then a single hand reached up and grabbed the edge. “I could use some help,” Lac’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. “I wish we all make it safely back to Lord Healdend’s castle,” he whispered as he threw in a small handful of elven currency.

“I heard that,” Leax said as she stepped closer to him. “What would your tribe think of you being on such friendly terms with us inferior creatures?”

He put an arm around her waist and said, “I don’t really care what they think.”

“You suppose they’ll be mad at you for even going on this trip?”

“How would you like to find out first hand?”

“Is that an invitation to go home with you?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Well, maybe, but only if you stop inviting other girls,” she said, glancing over at Iermthu, who was aiding Bob in telling of their exploits.

Understanding what she meant, he said, “I was merely grateful for her saving my life and mistook the feeling for more than what it was.”

“And it’s different with me?” she asked.

“Very much so,” he replied as he kissed her neck. “You always interested me, but your forwardness scared me.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“But I’m not really sure I should move in with you,” she admitted. “I am a water sprite and I won’t survive that long on land.”

“There’s a river that goes through my village right behind my house.”

“And no other sprite has claim of it?”

“No elf would let one in the village before.”

“And I’m different.”

“You’re invited.”

“What if the other elves reject me like they did Iermthu?”

“I won’t let them?”

 

It was fairly early when the six finished breakfast in the tavern and stepped out onto the street.

“This is a good day to begin an adventure,” Lac said after taking in a deep breath of morning air. “Which way do we go, Bob?”

“West.”

“Then let’s get going,” Lac said as he led the way down the street. “The sooner we leave town the sooner we get to that map.”

“He seems chipper this morning,” Leahtor commented as he tried in vain to detach Leax from his arm.

Iermthu smiled in response and turned to Bob. “How long did the two of you stay up last night talking in the bar?” she asked him as she nodded toward Lac.

“I don’t know exactly,” he replied. “We were so deep in conversation.”

“What did you talk about?” Unnyt asked.

“We just shared battle stories mostly,” Bob replied.

“That sounds like fun,” 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.

“Buddy, watch out,” 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.

“Lac!” 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. “I tried to stop the horses,” he said. “I really did.”

Iermthu looked up. “He’s dead,” she whispered.

Bob glared at the carriage driver. “You killed him,” he stated coldly as he started toward the man.

Iermthu quickly jumped up and stepped between them. “Bob, wait,” she said. “The town watch is here already. Let them deal with this.”

A watchman stepped up to them as the other bent over Lac. “What happened here,” the first watchman asked.

“This man ran over and killed our friend,” Bob stated.

The watchman looked to his partner and the man gave a nod of confirmation.

“We’ll have to get the full details of the incident,” the watchman said. “I’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.

“I’ll go fetch the doctor and then join you,” Iermthu said. “I know where he lives.”

“Thank you, Ma’am,” the guard said. “I’ll expect to see you at the station in half an hour.”

“I’ll hurry,” 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. “Does it look like we can make it?” she asked.

“It looks simple enough,” Leahtor said. “We have to traverse the Keeble Forest, but it shouldn’t be difficult.”

“It should only take us about twelve days to reach the city of Edor,” Bob added.

“Do we have enough supplies to last that long?” she asked.

“We can conserve our food supply by hunting and fishing,” Bob told her. “As for everything else, as long as we have our bedding and weapons we should be fine.”

“You nature types,” she teased.

“How’s your arm?” he asked.

“Better than it was yesterday, but it’s still a little sore.”

“I’ll take some of your supplies then so that you may heal.”

“I’ll take the rest,” Leahtor offered.

“Thank you,” she said

 

“I can’t believe we only have three more days until we reach Edor,” Leax commented before she dove under the water.

When she resurfaced Iermthu said, “I know. This is almost over. It’ll feel weird going home after all this.”

“I have a question,” Leax stated shyly.

“What,” Iermthu said as she soaped up an arm.

“Well, I noticed that Leahtor has taken a fancy to you,” Leax began. “What did you do? I’ve been trying to get him to like me since I met him.”

“I think you’ve been trying too hard,” Iermthu replied. “Will you get my back?”

“Yeah.” Iermthu turned and as Leax started washing her back Leax asked, “What do you mean? What am I doing wrong?”

“You’re throwing yourself at him. You’re scaring him,” Iermthu said. “Try being a bit more subtle. Elves aren’t used to behavior like yours.”

“How’s the water?” Unnyt asked from the shore.

“Great,” Leax replied.

Unnyt took off her maple leaf dress and scurried into the water. When the water reached her waist she started swimming. “Why did you two go out so far?” she asked.

“Because we’re taller and needed the water to bathe in,” Iermthu replied. “Why don’t you just fly out here?”

“Oh,” Unnyt said thoughtfully. “I didn’t think about it, and it’s too late now; my wings are wet.”

“That’s okay.”

“I’ll be out there shortly,” Unnyt stated.

“Okay,” 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 couldn’t fight it. She tried to scream for help, but was taken under by her struggles to fight the current.

Oblivious to Unnyt’s struggles, the two took up their conversation. “What do you suggest I do?” Leax asked.

“Don’t throw yourself at him,” Iermthu told her. “Don’t show so much interest in him. Try to contribute to our quest. Speak your mind; let him know that you are intelligent.”

“I could try that. It’s just odd. This is how water sprites have always gotten men.”

“Have they ever gotten an elf with it before?”

“Not that I know of,” Leax replied. “Mostly humans and dwarves.”

“Hey, shouldn’t Unnyt be out here by now?”

“You’d think,” Leax added. “Maybe she forgot which way she was going and headed back to shore.”

Iermthu looked over to shore. “No, I can see her little dress on a rock.” Starting to panic she looked around frantically and started heading down stream a bit. “Go under,” she told Leax. “See if you can find her.”

Leax dove again and was gone for several minutes before returning. “I couldn’t find her,” she said, “but I found this.” She opened her palm and handed a torn faerie wing over to Iermthu.

“Where did you find it?”

“Over here.” She quickly led the way to a small outcropping of rocks close to shore.

“Unnyt!” Iermthu yelled. “Unnyt, can you hear me?”

“It’s no use,” Leax said as she put a hand on Iermthu’s shoulder. “She’s gone. The river swallowed her.”

“How would you know?”

“I’m a water sprite,” Leax reminded her. “The water and all its inhabitants speak to me. They’ve told me that she’s gone on.”

“Then where’s the body,” Iermthu asked. “Will they tell you that much?”

“The current has taken her over a waterfall several miles from here. By the time we reach her she’ll be out to sea.” She wrapped an arm around Iermthu and led her ashore. She wrapped Iermthu’s cloak around her and grabbed the rest of her clothing and started heading towards camp. “Let’s go tell Leahtor and Bob what has happened.”

“This is all my fault.”

“No, it’s not.”

“I should have been watching her. She’s so tiny. I should have known the current would be too strong.”

“You couldn’t even feel the current.”

“I should have kept an eye on her.”

Bob looked up as they entered the campsite. “What happened?” he asked.

Leax sat Iermthu down on a rock and told him the story.

“Unnyt is gone?” Leahtor asked.  “That’s a shame,” he added indifferently.

Leax shot him a glance. “Try to be a bit more sympathetic,” she snapped. “A life, a friend, was lost today.”

“Wha—” Leahtor stammered and finally shut up, he was shocked at her directness. He had never seen her act like this to him…or anyone for that matter. “I’m sorry,” 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. “Where do we go next?” she asked as Leax sat next to her and put a reassuring arm around her shoulder and offered her a drink of water.

“We leave in the morning,” Bob replied as he folded up the map. “We 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.

“Does anything live in the forest?” Leax asked in her softly sensual voice.

“There’s a tribe of elves,” Leahtor stated in a voice indicating disgust and a subtle level of fear that Leax picked up on and was frightened by.

“Well you should be happy to see some other elves for once, what with all of us inferior species as traveling companions,” she replied lightly.

“These elves are not normal elves,” Iermthu told her. “They are said to be misshapen and very violent. They are savages that hide in trees and attack the innocent.”

“You’ve met them?”

“No,” Iermthu admitted, “but 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: ‘Go to sleep or the Keeblers will take you away.’”

“We could be lucky and find out that these stories were just made up,” Leax replied with a wary hopefulness in her voice.

“Maybe,” Bob agreed, “but in case they’re not, I suggest we stay on guard when we get to the forest. I want everybody to be prepared for a fight.”

“We could stay on the road,” Leahtor suggested. “That should help.”

“Does the road even go into the forest?” Iermthu asked. “And if it does, how long will it last? The Keeble forest hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for travel and commerce in the last five hundred years.”

“According to the map,” Bob stated, “the 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 that’s just getting there. We don’t have the supplies to be so cautious.”

“So we’ll be entering the dangerous part of the trip then,” Leax stated the obvious in a voice of foreboding.

 

“Has anyone seen Leax?” Iermthu asked anxiously as she came back to the camp site that they had spent their first night in the Keeble forest in.  “She’s been gone a while. I checked the fishing pond, but she’s not there.”

“Damn,” Bob hissed. “She knows the elves will kill us if we leave camp. If they did anything to her…”

“She got away from me,” Iermthu said. “She was behind me gathering berries and then she was gone.”

“Nobody’s blaming you,” Bob said. “She was there when I told us to stay in pairs. We better start looking for her. Leahtor, come on.”

 

Bob stopped not ten feet from the forest, the others stopping behind him, too nervous to take the lead. He couldn’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. “We’re being watched,” he told the others quietly.

Leahtor turned to look, but it was too late. A shout came from distant trees and arrows started flying.

“We’re outnumbered. Run,” Bob yelled as a platoon of short—barely two feet tall—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.

“They’ve chased us farther into the forest,” he said. “This could be a trap.”

“I can’t hear them anymore,” Leahtor told him.

“I don’t think they followed us,” Iermthu stated.

“I do,” 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.

“We might have to fight,” Bob told them.

A shriveled little elf hunched over with age stepped forward and spoke.

“What did he say?” Bob asked Leahtor.

“I don’t know. I don’t understand his dialect.”

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.

“What just happened?” Bob finally asked.

“He asked what we were doing here with two giant mutated elves and I told him about our quest,” she replied. “We’ve been asked to set up camp here. There is a fishing pond just south of us that we can use, but we’ve been asked to go no further south than the pond and to otherwise not leave this clearing.”

“What?”

“They want us to stay here while they decide if we can be trusted. Apparently,” and she glared at Leahtor, “they have heard stories that have been passed down about evil giant elves that kidnap sleeping children.”

“You speak their language?” Iermthu asked.

“No,” she replied, “but it’s quite similar to Sprittish.”

“Are they going to kill us?” Iermthu asked.

“I don’t know,” Leax replied. “They don’t seem to have a problem with Bob or myself, but they are deeply afraid of outside elves.” Realizing just how reassuring that wasn’t, she added, “I was told that I’d get another chance to talk on our behalves.”

 

“Where is she?” Iermthu repeated as they continued their search for Leax.

“I don’t know,” Leahtor replied, slightly annoyed. “Will you stop asking that? We’re looking for her.”

“Bickering won’t help,” Bob chastised them. “She couldn’t have gone that far, the Keeblers are everywhere.”

“I don’t want to lose any more friends on this quest,” Iermthu commented dejectedly.

Bob rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but looked to the woods before speaking. “The elves are moving,” 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. “Come on in,” she said with a warm smile, beckoning them on with her hand. “The elders want to meet you.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” 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.

“Sit,” an old elf urged. “I am called Ernie and I am the eldest elder.”

“You speak human?” Leahtor questioned.

“Some of us do,” Ernie told him. “We used to be cooks in the palace of the great Princess Beoghroden and had to speak her language.”

Bob watched the four younger looking elves standing in full military uniforms, ready to protect their leaders if so needed.

“Apparently,” Leax began with her new favorite word of condescension as she sat back down in her puddle, “the elves here have been told stories about giant evil elves. They are stories they tell their children to get them to behave: ‘Go to sleep or the giants will come for you.’”

“So we’ve all been told the same stories about each other,” Iermthu commented.

“It would appear that way,” Ernie replied. “Miss 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 Beoghroden’s castle.”

“Yes, we are,” Bob replied.

“After 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.”

“Thank you,” Bob said. “When will we leave?”

“First thing in the morning,” Ernie told him. “Tonight we must celebrate and feast to our new alliance. You must sample our sacred recipes. We are preparing some of the Great Princess’s favorites.”

“They’re going to have a feast in our honor,” Leax stated excitedly.

 

“Please excuse me,” the young elf said as she stood up. “I must see to the next course.”

Leahtor dismissed her with a “Farewell,” and a smile before turning to Leax, who was seated next to him.

“I can’t believe you did all this,” he said.

“Oh, I had nothing to do with the preparations,” she replied.

“No,” he said. “I meant about negotiating peace.”

“I didn’t do much.”

“You may have just bridged a gap and reunited the elven race,” he told her.

“I just shared some stories with Ernie,” she replied modestly.

“You did so much more than that,” 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 princess’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, “This 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.”

“Thank you,” Leax said. “I am sure we can manage from here.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the elf replied before leading his comrades back down to the wine cellar.

“We’re looking for the princess’s bedchamber,” Bob reminded the others. “The map says that it’s on the third floor of the west wing.” 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.

“I think we found it,” Iermthu stated almost immediately as she pulled the only ring in the box out.

“How do we know for sure that this ring is the one we’re looking for?” Leahtor asked. “I mean, this is an ugly ring, hardly anything of legend.”

“Well,” Iermthu began slowly, unsure, “One of us,” and she indicated herself and Leax, “could try it on.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Bob asked. “We don’t know what the full extend of the magic of the ring is.”

“True, but we don’t want to get back to Lord Healdend only to find that we got the wrong ring,” Leahtor replied.

“I’ll test it,” Iermthu stated with more courage than she felt.

“I don’t want to risk it,” Bob told her.

“We don’t have a choice,” she replied as she slipped the ring on.

“No!” Bob shouted.

“Nothing happened,” Iermthu said, somewhat shocked and disappointed.

“My gods, you’re gorgeous,” Bob stated in amazement.

“I’ve never seen a woman so beautiful,” Leahtor added.

“Um…thanks,” Iermthu replied looking over to Leax for support.

“You really are the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever seen,” Leax stated in a breathy whisper as she wrapped her arms around one of Iermthu’s arms and pressed her body against her seductively.

“Um…okay, this is the ring,” Iermthu said as she took it off. “This is just too bizarre for me,” she added.

Leax slowly unlatched herself from Iermthu. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“It’s okay,” Iermthu stated.

“Well, we’ve got the ring,” Bob said. “Should we stay here the night or start back to Medoburh now?”

“Let’s stay the night,” Leahtor suggested. “I would kill to sleep on an actual bed again.”

“Actually,” Leax began, “I would like to take a small detour. Apparently the Great Well is only a few hours walk from here.”

“What?” Bob asked.

“The legendary Great Well of Desires,” she replied. “Ernie told me that it was near here when it came up in discussion yesterday.”

“Never heard of it,” Bob told her.

“Nor have I,” Leahtor added.

“I haven’t either,” Iermthu admitted. “Sorry.”

“Well it’s famous amongst us sprites,” Leax stated defensively. “It’s said to grant one and only one desire to any who throw in a coin.”

“That’s nice,” Bob replied uninterestedly.

“It’s been said to bring the recently deceased back to life if the wisher truly desires it,” she told him. “I have heard stories of it bringing back people that have been dead for as long as a month.”

“We should try it at least,” Iermthu stated. “We owe that much to Lac and Unnyt.”

“Did you get directions?” Bob asked.

“Yes.”

“Then lead the way.”

 

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. “Can’t sleep either?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “I’m too excited about having everybody alive and together again and I’m afraid that if I go to sleep it will all end.”

“I know what you mean,” he told her. “I know that we’ve all only been together for a few weeks, but this feels like a family. I don’t want this to end.”

“Neither do I.”

After a long uncomfortable silence, Bob asked, “What are you planning on doing after we deliver the ring?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Before I had wanted to travel, but now I just want to go home. I’ve already invited Unnyt to stay for as long as she wants. She can’t remember where her hive is. What do you plan on doing?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been traveling for so long as a wandering warrior-for-hire, I think I’d like to rest for a while, maybe even settle down. I’ve never had a home. Do you know of any good places?”

“Medoburh was always a good village,” she replied. “I’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.”

“I’ll have to look into it,” he replied, “although I do not think that I’d like to work for Healdend again any time soon.” He paused for a long time, nervously, and then he finally said, “Marry me.”

“What?”

“When we get back,” he said. “Will you marry me? I’ve fallen in love with you and the way you care about everybody. I just don’t want to have to part ways with you.”

“Thanks,” she replied. She thought for a short time and then smiled. “Yes,” she said, “I will marry you. I’ve fallen in love with you too and how you always seem to keep your calm.”

He kissed her passionately. “I must admit,” he said when they parted, “we have a bit of an age difference. I’m thirty-six, you know.”

“Don’t worry about age,” she told him.

“I can’t wait to meet your father,” he said. “You said so many great things about him.”

“Thank you,” she said, “but I’m afraid that’s not possible, my father died over a hundred years ago.”

“What?”

“Well, I am half elf,” she replied.

“But you look so young.”

“I am young, one hundred and thirty four is very young,” she told him. “Leahtor is four hundred and ninety six.”

“You’re kidding.”

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