She sat and watched as, one by one, the others left the Inn. For the first time in many days she was alone. Alone. What an empty word...
Devoid of comfort and love. She was alone. She tipped her head slightly to the side and watched Sera moving across the room with her platter of food. Sera was not alone. She had friends and family here. Here was her home. Alone. No one to talk to. No one to hear her cry. No one to see her tears.
She wished she could cry... let go of the great pain trying to overcome her. Of course she could not, she could not let her strength weaken in that way. She could cry when Aelora D'Annelle was safely back to her mother. Until then, she would be alone among her new found friends and with Tizzy. She would be glad to go home again.
Home was so far away. It had taken her many days to travel across the vastness of space that filled the inbetween from her moon and this planet. These two worlds were so different from each other. This one had so many people in it. Different kinds of intelligent and sentient lifeforms were in abundance here. She had never seen so many people in one place in her life, short as it had been so far. She had a sense of over population and poverty, pestilence and disease. She could feel it. She felt the happiness and love despite the poverty as well as the sadness and hopelessness despite wealth. There was no disease or poverty in her world. The population was low enough to prevent these things.
Her people kept their number down deliberately to avoid the poverty and pestilence high populations tend to cause. They were a healthy people who had achieved an almost unrealistic balance of harmony and self-discipline. Admittedly there were those who hadn't yet recieved a gentle nature, such as Craven, but as a whole there was very little crime and no poverty.
There were also only two sentient Life forms. There were many forms of life... things with feathers, things with four legs, things that squeak or squawk, even a few that did both... but only two that had achieved intelligence and the ability to communicate with other species of life.
Those were the Wind Sprites and the Moonbeams. Wind Sprites, being more interested in playing and having adventures, had no interest in ruling or running worlds or kingdoms. Therefore they left the Moonbeams as the ruling sentient beings. The Sprites were not, however, willing to let the Moonbeams run rampant and do harm to the world they lived on or to the inhabitants of the Moon. The one time in their history that a Moonbeam Queen had been evil and shown herself to be unfit for the throne it had been the Wind Sprites who had finally risen up and destroyed her and her family to avoid the possibility that the gene to do evil would be passed on to her descendants and happen again.
The battle had been ecliptic, taking every Sprite of age many months to renew the Life that had been destroyed.
That moment in history eclipsed every other event in their twenty million year history. It had been ten million years since then. The evil Queen's suddenly Lifeless Staff had been revived and carried by the ancestors of the current Queen and peace, for the most part, has ruled.
She though with painful pleasure of the landscaping of the home she had been forced to leave. She envisioned the Forest of Crystal: Resplendent in its pristine beauty, there was no place to compare on her Moon. The trees were as high as one hundred feet, rising to touch the planet beyond. they were created of pure, fine crystalline materials that tinkled and sang in the slightest of breezes.
Shimmering and glowing in a wide variety of colours, soft pink, sapphire blue, royal purple and lavender, five different shades of greens and yellows each, among others, the trees were the birthplace of every Moonbeam. It was the source of the Life in their hair. The Crystal forest could not be destroyed and the Life could not be recreated, even by the most powerful of magics. It was unique to the Forest.
She pictured the Forest dancing in the breeze, singing to its own music, and remembered watching her Mother dancing there. It was in this place the Queen must perform her Worship Dance. Each day she would go there alone to Dance in worship of her existence and each month she would dance before the entire population of her courtyard. It was the place where the Queen's nameless daughter would someday go to perform her nightly Worship Dance. It was a day she did not look forward to as it meant the passing of her beloved Mother.
Her reflections were disturbed by the arrival of Seth.
Finding the way back to the Inn, he found the Lady waiting by the table. Walking up to her, he bowed.
"Forgive me M`lady. Time went faster than I thought. We have found four great looking horses for the trip, and I think that you and Beldon will be pleasantly surprised." Seth chuckled under his breath, then cleared his throat. "If M`lady is ready, I would like to escort you to the market. They have some very fine wares set up, and I heard that there is a healers' tent near by that might help us." Taking her hand, Seth waited for a reply.
She gently removed her hand from Seth's and, nodding, rose to her feet. "Yes Seth, I am ready. Where shall we go first?" She placed her hands inside her sleeves as they began to walk towards the great doors leading from the Dragon's Inn. As they neared the door it swung open as wide as it could. Seth looked at the door with wonder and marvelled. The door closed silently behind them as they passed through. As they walked down the path leading to the road she turned and stopped to look at a sunflower blooming brightly along the way. She stopped and bent slightly to smell it, breathing deeply of its fragrance.
The warm, tender expression on her face made Seth smile. It made him feel good inside and it made him wonder if she had some one at home waiting for her. Not that he was interested ... he just wondered.
She straightened, still smiling at the fresh scent she mused softly, "I see Tizzy had an after breakfast snack. I can smell her fairy magic mixed with the sunflower."
Her hands still inside her sapphire sleeve, she continued walking, turning in the direction where she sensed the most people.
"Well, now..." says the Major quietly to himself as he walked briskly through the streets, amazement and disgust in his face at the debauchery that sometimes cluttered the pathways. Shaking his head in incomprehension, he returns to the familiarity of the Inn, resolving to wait for the others to return.
Beldon hurried off with the jewels and disappeared into the crowd toward the gem cutter's shop. He was bewildered by the sights, sounds, and smells of the market bustling around him. He was a tiny soul in an ever-moving ever-changing environment, and he suddenly felt very small.
As he pondered his role in the group he had happened to join, he stumbled into several people. He barely noticed, however, being lost in the excitement. He barely noticed, also, when small fingers plucked the bag of jewels from his belt as he was walking. Suddenly, something felt wrong.
He immediately became alert, and patted his belt where the bag had been.
Beldon frantically looked from side to side, and happened to notice a small, lithe being darting through the crowd to his right.
"STOP! Thief!" he yelled, but his shouts were lost in the noisy crowd.
He ran after the halfling, pushing his way roughly through the crowd. He only caught small glimpses of the tiny person, but at one point he saw him turn around to look back, only to disappear again. They made eye contact for an instant, and Beldon knew for certain that he was indeed the thief.
Despite his best efforts, the halfling lost Beldon at last. Despair crept up in his throat and his eyes teared slightly. His heart wrenched at the thought of his stupidity.
*I should have just placed the bag somewhere safer! Not just dangling on my belt. Of course everyone would think that it was money. I can imagine the look on the imp's face when he discovers that it is worth quite a bit more than a bag of gold.*
After a moment, he pulled himself together to think. He started to walk calmly in the direction he was previously running. He continued for about five minutes, when suddenly he felt he should turn to the left down an alley between two buildings. He walked for a minute or so and, as luck would have it, spotted the small man huddled in the alley, counting the gems.
Beldon could see the imp's eyes, wide with greedy wonder, assessing his winnings.
Beldon was about to start forward after the imp, but instead leaned his staff against the building on his right and reached into a pouch at his belt. He pulled out a sling and a stone, and shot the stone at the halfling.
The stone hit the imp square in the head, and he fell unconscious. As Beldon started forward, two men grabbed him from behind. He tripped and, being a rather large man, forced his captors off balance. He wrestled himself free from their grasp and grabbed his staff.
They looked like common thugs to Beldon, and were probably working together with the thief. They were very strong, it appeared, but had no evident weapons. Rather than let things escalate against him, Beldon simply attacked them. They managed to punch him a few times, twice in the face, but the smith's accurate quarterstaffing had them on the ground in two minutes.
Bruised and battered, he ran over to the halfling, who was beginning to stir. He snatched the bag from the ground and quickly exited the alley.
Beldon now walked with the bag carefully and firmly held with both hands, and his staff strapped to his back. He finally arrived at the gem-cutter's store.
"May I speak with Darin, please?" Beldon asked the dwarvish woman in the front of the store. "I have some gems to sell."
She eyed him suspiciously, and then went to the back of the store. She reemerged moments later with a strong-looking dwarf.
"I'm Darin. What do you need?"
"Hi, my name is Beldon. I need to sell these gems for my Lady to buy horses with."
Darin looked him over just as suspiciously as the woman did. Finally he smiled. "Very well. I'm sorry, but when a person comes in all beat-up and wants to sell jewels it is natural to be a little suspicious. But you have a very honest look about you."
"Thank you sir."
Beldon conducted his business with the jeweler and returned at the stables where Cali was still waiting.
"I apologize that it took so long. I had a rough morning!" And with that, Beldon told Cali the whole story.
Cali was feeding apples to the horses. Drew did not mind, as horse feed was an expense to him which he preferred he did not have. The lack of people and the presence of animals was very calming to Cali, and he did not feel the urge to leave.
After Beldon relayed the story to Cali, the two of them started toward the front of the stables to meet up with Drew. "You know," Cali said, "I am not one to lecture others, but you really should not depend on your luck so much. One day it is going to give out, and it will probably be when you need it the most."
They paid off Drew, who grew an even bigger smile than the last time and became much more obliging than he had been up to this point. "Make sure you get us the best when outfitting the horses," Cali reminded him, "and get another bag of apples for them too."
With that, they returned to the inn to await the arrival of their companions.