Tindolen locked the door to his jewelry shop with a frown. He was not happy about closing his store at this hour of the day. It meant a loss of business, but Mayor Bigsbee wanted to talk about how the celebration of St. Sebastian’s week was going and Tindolen was in charge of the event. They could have used Tindolen’s store for the conversation; Tindolen had even suggested it. His Honor had discounted that option, saying he preferred taking a walk instead so that potential customers would not interrupt them.
After testing that the door to his store was secure, the elf turned and strolled down the street with Mayor Bigsbee. His Honor was a large man who stood six feet tall. His four-foot girth almost made him wider than the elf was tall. His face was round and red, as if he were constantly blushing, and he had gray eyes and brown hair that had started to fade to gray. Dressed in blue, as he was now, Bigsbee bore a striking resemblance to a walking blueberry.
Compared to Bigsbee, the gem merchant was anything but comical. The elf was five feet tall and had a bronze-tinted complexion. He had dark hair that flowed down to his shoulder blades; his eyes sparkled like emeralds. He was dressed in black trousers and a matching jacket, a green paisley waistcoat, a jade bow tie, and a white shirt. Several rings adorned fingers on both hands. Tindolen liked to wear lots of rings as a way to advertise and generate business. Usually they were recently acquired merchandise, but occasionally he wore hard-to-sell items too.
“How has the attendance at the exhibits been?” Bigsbee inquired after taking a few strides down the street.
“Mixed,” replied Tindolen. “Some exhibits are better attended than others.”
“Any idea why?”
“Well, the exhibit with the lowest attendance is mine. The main issue, as I understand from my niece, is that some townsfolk don’t believe my gem is genuine.”
Bigsbee snorted. “Do they think we would display a fake? What would be the point?”
Tindolen continued, as if Bigsbee had not spoken. “As a result, I believe that some people are staying away, partly because they have heard the gem is not authentic and partly because they already believe in racial harmony between elves and humans. It is our cousins, the so-called dukefs, that most of the townsfolk hate.”
Bigsbee gestured with his hands. “But that’s exactly the point. Elves and dukefs look about the same; you can’t tell, just by looking, who is evil and who isn’t. The important thing is what’s in the fellow’s heart.”
“True,” Tindolen said and nodded.
“So tolerance for all elves must be the goal,” Bigsbee concluded.
“Agreed, but it is our cousins who invaded your land and hold what remains of Andropolis. Until that land is restored to you, I doubt humans will be ready to tolerate my more aggressive kin.”
Bigsbee’s eyebrows knitted. “Surely, there must be something we can do to show the good people of this town that it is time to stop hating each other.”
Tindolen was about to speak when he saw a Michaeline priest coming toward them. He pointed the man out to Bigsbee. “What’s a priest of St. Michael doing here? There are no demons, necromancers, or witches to slay in Clearbrook.”
Bigsbee glanced at the priest, but before His Honor could respond, the clergyman came within hearing range and addressed them. “I’ve been looking for both of you,” he said.
Tindolen’s eyes grew larger as he recognized the man’s voice. Smiling, the elf strode forward, his hand outstretched.
“Evan Pierce!” Tindolen shook Evan’s hand. “This is a surprise. Welcome home, my boy.”
“Good to see you too, Tindolen,” Evan said and returned his friend’s grin.
Bigsbee stepped up alongside the elf. “You know him, Tindolen?”
“Yes,” said the merchant as he stepped to one side so that Bigsbee could see Evan better. “And so do you. Do you remember the mischievous prankster Father O’Malley sent to St. Bertram’s for discipline?”
“Ah, yes. Whatever happened to him?”
Tindolen rolled his eyes. “This is that boy all grown up.” He pointed to Evan.
Bigsbee ran his eyes up and down over Evan. “Made a man of you, did they?”
Before Evan could answer, Tindolen asked, “What brings you to Clearbrook?”
“Rest originally. But all that’s changed.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Because I’ve seen your gem on display and it troubles me.”
Bigsbee’s face distorted, his eyes narrowed, and he furrowed his eyebrows. “Troubles you? Why?”
“Because if the gem is real, it is unprotected. More importantly, it should be in the hands of those who could put it to good use,” said the priest.
Tindolen eyed his friend. “You doubt the gem’s authenticity?” he asked Evan.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Evan admitted.
“Do you think I would say it was an Aglari when it was not?”
“No, that would not be like you,” Evan replied.
“Then believe me when I say the gem is one of the lost Aglaril from King Argol’s Crown of Power.”
“How can you be certain without another Elf-gem?” Evan asked.
“There are … ways to be sure,” the gem merchant replied.
Evan noted his friend’s evasiveness. Still, if the gem was not an Aglari, Tindolen was risking a lot: his reputation, his business, and his good name in this town. But that still left Evan no way to be sure. He would either have to accept the merchant’s word, as Iriel had done, or assume it was a fake.
The demon hunter sighed. “I see. Very well, I believe you. The gem is real. But that only makes me more concerned because the town guard is not protecting it.”
Bigsbee looked abashed. “There aren’t enough men to guard all the exhibits and patrol the streets too.” Waving a finger at Evan, His Honor continued, “The town’s coffers only go so far, you know.”
“But you can guard some of the exhibits?” asked Evan.
“Yes, of course.”
Evan narrowed his eyes on Bigsbee. “Just not the one that could help us liberate Andropolis?”
Bigsbee’s forehead furrowed. “Liberate Andropolis? What are you blathering about?”
“Using Tindolen’s gem, we could liberate the city and free it from dukef occupation.”
Tindolen’s eyes shifted from side to side as he gazed at Evan. “Are you suggesting remaking Balodol?”
“Yes. If one Elf-gem survived, the others may have as well. And if we can locate them, the Crown of Power can be remade.”
Bigsbee’s eyes grew large. “You’re talking about more killing and bloodshed.”
“Unfortunately, yes, but it is the only way to free our lands.”
Bigsbee sighed. “And where does it end?”
Evan shrugged. “I don’t know, but I do know that this gem is the best chance we’ve had since the invasion to redress the wrong done to us.”
“Evan,” Tindolen said quietly, “you cannot use the Crown of Power to free Andropolis any more than I can. Only one person can do this.”
Evan narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “Then you believe Amelidel’s prophecy will be fulfilled?”
“Yes. Only an heir of the House of Richmond can use Balodol to eliminate the elves who seized Andropolis.”
“Except there aren’t any heirs to the royal house. They died in the invasion,” said Evan.
Tindolen smirked. “That is the conventional wisdom, but regardless of whether an heir lives or not, the fact remains that remaking the Crown of Power by itself does not help your cause.”
Evan paused to consider his friend’s words. He noted Tindolen’s phrasing, “conventional wisdom.” It suggested the gem merchant knew more than he was letting on, which was always the case, Evan knew. More importantly, Tindolen never backed the wrong horse, as far as Evan could remember, and that suggested to the priest only one thing: one of the royal heirs was alive. If that were so, he would need to tell His Grace upon returning to Wrightwood; a search through the kingdom to find the royal heir would need to be conducted.
Turning his attention away from that speculation, Evan focused on the present and what he could do now. The obvious thing was to protect Tindolen’s gem and do something about the dukefs. Their occupation of Andropolis, the old capital of Thalacia, and Azahnon, the royal palace, were constant reminders of the invasion twenty-five years earlier and the war that followed. Thousands had died as armies from surrounding duchies tried to rescue King Leonard and the royal court.
Evan had been a boy at the time, but he remembered hearing a wild rumor. An elven seer, Amelidel, prophesied that an heir to the House of Richmond who had survived would restore the monarchy by banishing the dukefs with Balodol, the Crown of Power, after the elves remade it with the seven Elf-gems.
This prophecy gave many people hope; but no heir ever proclaimed himself, and over the years, the prophecy was forgotten by most. Evan, on the other hand, had thought a great deal about the prediction while in seminary. Initially, he hoped the prophecy meant the House of Richmond would restore itself. However, he dismissed the idea completely after he read an account of the initial invasion that declared that no one in the royal palace had escaped the attack. Given the hatred dukefs had of humans, Evan concluded that the royal family had been slaughtered.
Nevertheless, Evan believed it was still possible to oust the dukefs … but only with magic, distasteful as that was to him. So, until enough human mages could be trained, it seemed to Evan that the liberation of Andropolis was impossible.
At least it had been until now. The Crown of Power eliminated the need for an army of mages; and if an heir to the throne were alive, there would be a leader to rally the kingdom to war and take back what was theirs. Evan was ready to believe, and even to begin the search, until he realized that the heir, whoever it was, had yet to make him or herself known. Perhaps the heir did not know his or her true heritage. In that situation, the armies of Thalacia would have to move against the dukefs without the royal heir, which brought Evan full circle. Tindolen had just stated that only the royal heir could use the Elf-gems against the dukefs.
Then an idea crossed Evan’s mind. “But isn’t the prophecy only one possible future?” he asked.
Tindolen tapped his forefinger against the side of his face and considered the notion. “No,” he replied after some thought. “Amelidel is a powerful seer. His prophecies are part prediction and part magic spell. Even now, the magic is guiding events so that the prophecy will come true. If you act against these events, you only delay it. You do not aid or prevent what has been foreseen.”
“And how am I to know which actions help and which actions hinder the prophecy?”
“Do not force events. You came to town to rest. So rest.”
“So, what you two are saying is you will not protect this gem. Furthermore, you insist that we must wait for the royal heir to announce himself and for fate to select a champion who can locate all the Elf-gems — the most important task in a generation,” said Evan.
“Yes,” replied Tindolen.
Evan squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers against the top of his skull, as if to keep his head from exploding. Then he took his hands away and opened his eyes. They were wide and wild. He shook his open, outstretched hands. “That’s insane! You are inviting theft of the gem by not protecting it,” the priest exclaimed to Bigsbee. “And,” he continued, as he turned to Tindolen, “you are asking me to believe in fairy tales regarding the prophecy. That somehow everything will work out with a happy ending. That’s nonsense. We must act to find the royal heir and the Elf-gems.”
Tindolen sighed. “Believe what you will. I can say no more.”
Evan ran both hands through his hair and stared at the sky. He thought about using his authority as a member of Duke Wrightwood’s court to order Tindolen to give him the gem. The merchant would refuse, no doubt, and force Evan to arrest him. That seemed harsh treatment for the elf who had been a good friend all those years ago. Alternatively, he could declare the gem to be property of the state, but he would then need a wizard to dispel the wards protecting it so that he could present it to His Grace. One of Frank’s mages might be able to do that or he might need to go back to court to find a mage who could. That would take too long. St. Sebastian’s week would be over by then and Tindolen would have undoubtedly hidden the Elf-gem away again.
Evan turned away from Tindolen and Bigsbee and started back to the Grey Horse Inn. He grumbled to himself, Well, there’s only one other option. He sighed and began sketching out plans in his head.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish