A bitter wind blew cold and tried to bite at the dark form walking up to the door leading into the Dragons Inn.
The stranger pulled the cloak tighter and entered. The door to the Dragons Inn blew open from the cold night air as the stranger stepped inside. A few patrons scolded the bearer of the chilled wind and spoke their mind.
"Hey! Were ya born in a barn? Close the door. By the gods your letting all the cold air in here. If we wanted to freeze to death we would be outside doing it!"
"Ya!! Hurry up and close the door. If we wanted to feel the cold touch of winter we would be over at the Shackled Giant!"
Another patron added, "Now that's not nice. It's not the stranger's fault it's cold outside." He received a bitter look from a few, and went back to his own ale.
The stranger turned towards the voices and glanced quickly around the Inn before closing the door with a slender, gloved hand. The cloak that the stranger wore did little to show if it was male or female. It was loose fitting and long the tips fell to the floor and brushed bits of leaves and dust behind it as the stranger walked up to the bar. The color of the cloak was that of a faded dark green.
On the back was a pattern of an open Rose. It's stem showed sharp thorns, each dripping a drop of blood. The lone figure turned and looked around the room. Sharp almond shaped green eyes could be seen looking each and every patron over. Some of the patrons turned back once the door was closed; back to their ale or wine.
A few stared and wondered who, or what was under the cloak. A few words were passed around as to the nature of the stranger, and each word was caught and held.
The stranger smiled , though no one could see due to the shadows.
Hugh stood there and watched, all the while wiping yet another glass clean. Perking up one eye brow, he walks over to where the stranger is standing and tries to look past the shadows that hide the face from his view.
"Excuse me. Would you care for anything to drink? Or perhaps a room for the night?" Hugh added, "If I have any left."
He watched as the same slender gloved hand that closed the door came into view and pointed at a bottle on the shelf behind him. Turning, Hugh places the bottle on the bar with a clean glass beside it. A silver coin is tossed and the stranger takes the bottle and glass and turns away.
Then the figure stops.
As Hugh reaches for the coin the hand reaches back and is placed over his.
"It has been a while, Hugh Rogers. I see that life and the gods have treated you well."
The tall stranger's eyes sparkle in the Inn's light and a bit of laughter could be heard coming from within the cloak.
"You know my name yet I know not your's. How is it that you know me so well yet I do not recognize you? Have we met before?"
Hugh slowly pulls his hand away from the gloved hand and tries once again to look past the shadows.
Still only the green eyes show. Nothing more. The shadows were working overtime.
"Do you remember a small village called Itthayel? It was more like an
outpost than anything that what one would call a village. Remember the day your band of adventures came over the hill and witnessed the slaughter of that village? You and your band cared for what few survivors were left after a band of thieves left them frightened and crying. There were only old people and children living in that village. Most were poor dirt farmers, trying to live a simple life."
Wetting her lips with her tongue she took a sip of her drink and went on.
"Somewhere the band of thieves had heard that there was great wealth hidden around that outpost. They came at night and tortured and slaughtered almost everyone there. They made the children watch as they raped the women and killed the men . When you came upon the village all that was left alive were the children. Some went home with your band. Others were taken to relatives."
The stranger started to unbutton the cloak from around her form. The hood was the first to drop and it showed a young woman with striking red hair tied in a pony tail and it flowed down past her shoulders. Long pointed ears came into view. She was Elfen , but the hair was strange. It was a deep red: As red as a rose. Her almond shaped eyes looked around the Inn once more. They did not miss a thing. Her face was well defined: High cheeks and full lips with a small nose showed that she was part human and part Elf Blood.
Pulling the cloak from her shoulders Hugh noticed the black leather armor that barley covered her breasts and skin. A long broad sword was strapped to her back and two smaller short swords were sheathed on each side of her hips. She wore a short black skirt that was slit up one side and a pair of black boots that flowed up past her knees and then cuffed down.
A tattoo of a red rose could be seen sticking out from under her armor. It was placed over her heart and the stem flowed around her breast and was hidden in the V.
Hugh shook his head. A sad look crossed his face as he listened to the tale that the young warrior was talking about.
"Yes. I remember that village. We were tracking that band of thieves when we came upon it one morning. We knew that we were closing in but we had to stop and help out someone that was trapped in a fire. We sent a few others ahead while we fought the fire. The couple had a small child that was missing. We never found her."
Hugh took a glass and pored a tall glass of ale and drank it down. Shaking his head he went on.
"The band of thieves came and killed the mother of the child and set the cabin ablaze before going on. We were able to get the father out on time, but we never found the child. We went on and followed the band until we came across the village. There we found twelve children.
With a deep sigh, Hugh went on. The memories were hard on him. It had been so long ago and almost forgotten.
"Some were beaten while others were tortured to a point that they didn't trust any one older than themselves. It took us almost a week to gather them all up and show them that we meant no harm. I will never forget the look on some of those faces. They were too young to see such things. We found homes for them all. Some went with relatives, while the others went home with my fellow adventures. I was the only one that did not take any of them home. I guess I was too slow. Or had second thoughts."
The lady smiled and reached out to touch Hugh's hand once again." You did well that day Hugh Rogers. You saved many lives. You and your band could have ridden on, but you stopped to help. For that I am ever in your debt."
She smiled once more and then leaned in close to the bar.
Whispering, she asked, "Do you remember the little girl that you let ride back with you on your war horse? Do you remember how her green eyes lit up when you reached for her and pulled her close? The tears that fell upon your shoulder as you lifted her up and onto the saddle. Do you still feel her small arms around your neck, holding on and not wanting to let go? Do you remember this?"
Reaching into her armor she brings out a small necklace with a faded silver chain. Hanging from the necklace was a small rose, made of silver. Inscribed in the face of the rose pedals were words that read:
"To Rose. May your beauty bloom with each passing day. Love Mom and Dad."
Hugh took the charm in his hand and read the inscription slowly. Then he looked up and smiled.
"Yes I remember that little girl. She was a tiny thing. We found her pulled up in a tiny ball. She had her small arms wrapped so tight around her legs that it took two of our strongest men to pull her up. At first she fought us, but as soon as she looked up and saw me she opened up and reached out for me. Why I do not know. Yes! I can still feel her tiny arms around me. She was so frail. And frightened. She went home with someone. But it has been so long ago. And there were so many children. Are you related to her? Are you her daughter?"
The young lady smiled and shook her head. Her pony tail moved from side to side.
"No Hugh Rogers. I am not the daughter of the one you saved that fateful day. I am her. You never found out that I was the child of the couple that you stopped by help out before the village. I was the lost child of the couple. The band of thieves took me away before killing my mother, and I had thought until now my father too. They went to the next village and killed everyone there but the children. I was left behind after they found no treasure. That was how you found me." She took a sip of wine and looked up.
"I am called Rose Thorn. I am the small green eyed child that you saved so many years ago. Being of Elven blood, I do not show my true age. By the looks of you, you have not changed much these past years. I was expecting to see an older man. You look well."
Upon hearing those words, Hugh almost dropped the glass of ale.
"How can this be? You look... so different. When I last saw you, you were being taken in by a family that we found for you. You were so frightened, but I remember telling you that they were good people and would take care of you. Far better than I could at that time. But now.. Look at you! All grown up and now a warrior. Your parents must be proud of you."
Once Hugh said those words, he noticed that Rose's shoulders dropped. Her face changed from a pleasant smile to a bitter frown.
"They would have been if someone had not killed them. I was away, when they came and took their lives. For no reason but to kill. They did not have anything of value. The only thing they cherished was me and the small charms that I made for them. The charms were made from silver and were in the shape of three hearts. Each charm would make the others whole. My father and Mother each wore the end ones, and I wore the middle one. They made us whole whenever we were close. Now someone else has them, and I am searching for them. They will wish that they had never seen those charms. Once I have them back, I can find peace."
Hugh looked around her neck and saw a long silver chain. The charm was hidden in her armor.
"Would you mind showing me your charm?"
Rose looked up with a wicked smile on her face.
"Hugh Rogers! I thought you were married?" She let out a warm laugh and watched Hugh blush.
" I... I... I didn't mean it that way Rose." Hugh blushed even deeper and then turned away. "You know what I meant. Now behave before I get into trouble."
"No, you have not changed a bit, Hugh Rogers! Not one bit!"
Reaching between her armor and her skin, she pulled the chain out. On the end of the chain was a heart with the sides missing. One could see where the other two charms would lock in and make it whole.
Hugh let her place the charm in his hand for him to study it. This brought rose closer and he could not help but smell the scent of fresh roses on her. Turning the charm in his fingers, he studied it for some time. He looked up and saw Rose smiling back at him. He let the charm slide from his fingers and smiled back.
Then he blushed again.
"Have you seen anyone wearing a charm like this? I never thought about placing any wards on them. I never thought I would need to. Now I wish I had. It would have been a lot easier to find the murderers."
She brought the charm up to her red lips and kissed it twice. She said a silent prayer and then placed it back from where it had come.
"No Rose. I am sorry but I have not. But, as I hear everyone tell me, sooner or later they will pass through that door and step in. I just can not tell you when. I am Sorry."
"Well I guess you are right. I have heard about the Dragon's Inn most of my life. My mother would tell tales she heard about this place. But by the way she talked there were a pair of dragons standing outside, guarding the door and the Inn itself was made from their gold and silver horde."
Rose laughed and looked about the room.
"I guess you have the dragons hidden away for now. A shame. I always wanted to see one up close."
"You never know what or who will walk through that door Rose. You might be surprised."
Taking a drink from her glass, she looked about the Inn and noticed a board full of messages.
"So this is the famous message board. I always thought it would be bigger than this." Looking at some of the messages she noted that some were quite old. "Don't you ever clean this thing? Some of these massages go back a number of years. Here is one where someone is looking for help to build a church. Another is looking for some quest. And another... and another. Doesn't anyone ever go alone any more?"
"Sometimes it's safer to go in pairs or groups." Hugh took his glass and sat it down to be cleaned later.
"Do you mind if I add to this... this mess? Maybe if I leave a message the thieves will come looking for me. But they will not know that I will kill them once they show me the charms."
"That's not a bad idea. Here's a piece of paper. Write what you want. Almost everyone that walks in here checks the board. You might get lucky."
"I will add another stating I am looking for work as well. I have been a body guard before, among a few other things. Too many to list here."
"Add what you like. When you're done, just stick it up on the board. You will not need any tacks. Just place the paper up to the board. It will stay there."
"Oh? It must be magical. I have heard about the wards of the Inn. Think I might get the chance to see someone caught in a bubble?" She placed both notes on the board and watched as they stayed .
"Only if you start it. But then you might be the one caught." Hugh laughed at the thought of seeing Rose in a bubble.
"Then I will try to behave myself." She set a wicked smile on her face and then winked.
"Well it is getting late. My horse has been stabled, and I was looking for a place to stay. Do you have any rooms left? I know that with the market being here there will be but a few rooms left."
Rose looked about the room and then smiled and winked.
"I am willing to share with anyone if I have too." She spoke it loud enough for everyone to hear her.
She heard a few chairs being moved around as some of the patrons turning, looked at her. Some shook their heads and went back to their ale. A few undressed her with their eyes, what wasn't already undressed.
"Let me see if I can find you a room before you get any offers. I would not wish to wake up tomorrow and find you out back with your throat slit. What would the other patrons say then?"
"They would say that I died with my boots on." She let her voice rise up when she said, "Because I am not knocking boots with anyone that I share a room with." She heard a few choice words and everyone turned back to their ales and what ever they were drinking. She laughed and placed another coin on the bar.
"For the room, if you find one."
Hugh pushed it back, along with the first coin she gave him.
"On the house Rose. It's the least I could do after all this time."
"No, Hugh Rogers. It is I that should offer more. You have always been on my mind and I have never forgotten you. That is why I trained so hard to become a warrior. I wanted you to be proud of me too. You are the only family I have left."
A small tear fell onto the bar, and Hugh looked up. "Rose! Quit that! You're getting my bar wet! What are you trying to do? Warp the finish?"
Hugh smiled and threw her a bar towel.
"I am proud of you, Rose. You have always been brave. Even as a small child. I still remember the bruises you gave those two men that tried to pull your arms away from your legs. They still walk with a limp."
"Thank you, Hugh Rogers. You're still the same gentle man I knew when I was a child. The gods have truly blessed you." She smiled and laughed at the thought of the men still limping around.
"Well, they both deserved that! How was I to know they were only trying to help?"
"Well, I am not too sure about that. And you didn't know. Now go and find a seat by the fire. I will have Sera bring you something to eat. And its Hugh. Not Hugh Rogers. Understand?"
Thank you Hugh R... Hugh. I see a place by the fireplace. I will wait there." Reaching for her cloak, she turns, and looks at Hugh once again.
"Yes Rose? Is there something else?"
Rose waited until he came closer before bending over the bar and kissing his cheek.
"Thank you Hugh." Then she smiled, grabbed her cloak and walked over to the empty table. She could feel all the eyes upon her and she smiled.
"Look but don't touch boys," she whispered. "Every rose has thorns."
The fire felt good on her skin. She was hoping to find something to do, and soon. She hated to sit and wait. She hated to sit alone even more.
"Perhaps someone needs help with a quest, or an adventure. Time will tell.
Hugh reached up and touched where Rose kissed him. He heard a few of the patrons say, "Why does he have all the luck?" Hugh blushed and went about wiping his bar down.
"I just hope that it doesn't get back to my wife," he mumbled under his breath.
He didn't notice the red mark on his cheek. A mark of a small red rose.
After finding a room and getting settled in, Rose decided to see what Montfort was all about. It looked like they were having a Market day. She had to go check things out. She had walked around Montfort until her feet ached. She asked everyone she saw about their charms.
Without any luck.
It was getting late and she felt tired. And drained. She had been there for a few days and had seen most of the sights. She'd even seen a strange looking creature flying over the city.
"Perhaps I will find someone who has seen the other pieces of the charm." She took in a deep sigh and went off to bed. She heard something land on the window sill and she opened her eyes and noticed a snow white owl with small black eyes looking back at her. The bird fluffed up her wings and twisted her head around.
::Well? What have you found out? Did you find the one called Hugh Rogers?::
"Yes. I did. He hasn't changed in all these years. A little heavier, but he is still Hugh. And no. He has not seen the charms. By the way. Where have you been?"
::I have been out:: The owl turned his head almost completely around and then back again.
"Oh. I see." She knew that the owl would not say anything else as to her whereabouts.
::A shame. I can understand about his age. This Inn holds many wards. Some funny, and some dangerous. Do you know if you start a fire and try to burn the Inn down it will rain and put out the fire. And the one that started the fire will be...::
"Will be placed in a bubble. Yes I know."
::Well!! Then you don't need me to tell you that I found someone that might help us. I will just leave then. I see a tasty mouse in the yard. He is full of grain and he looks fat::
"Is that all you think about? Your stomach? Who is this person you speak of. Where is he?
::Ahh! Now your interested in what I have to say::
"Spill it or it will be fried owl for dinner tomorrow." Rose pulled her sword from her belt and acted like she was going to stab the owl.
::Try it and you will find yourself floating in a bubble. Remember the wards::
"Damn. Your right. OK. I will listen to you. Now where is he..."
::She. The question is where is 'she'!::
The owl fluffed up her wings and turned herself around. She faced the court yard and turned her head back and looked at Rose.
::If you do not want to listen, then I am going. The mouse has not seen me and I am hungry::
"OK.. OK! Gee. Why do I bother." Rose placed the short sword back in her belt and sat back down.
::Because you need to know the things I know. That was a strange question::
"OK. You were saying?"
::Downstairs there is a young lady sitting by the fire. She is alone. The others in her group has left her. There are seven in her group, I think. I of course am counting the small Fye that is living in her hair::
"A small Fye? Living in her hair ? Now that's a bit strange."
::May I go on?:: The owl tilts her head and watches the mouse, as it sits near a tree.
::OK then. She is not from around here. She is... How can I say this in words that you can understand. Ah yes. She is different than you or me::
"In what way?" Rose stood up and walked across the room to the window. She started petting the owl and smiling. "You know. I would not know what to do with out you by my side."
::Yes. I know! She has... sight... powers... It's hard to explain. She is not a mage or a sorceress. The powers come from within her. It's like she 'is' magic. That is the best I can describe her. Sorry. That and she has strange hair. It moves like it's alive::
"No need. We have seen some stranger things in our lives. Look at me. I am talking to a snow owl that has mind speech."
::And your point being?::
"Well not all owls have that power. That's all."
::Yes. I am rather special. Now if you will excuse me. Dinner has moved into view and I will not get a better chance. By your leave, Rose Thorn::
"By your leave my friend. Enjoy the hunt. But watch for cats. Remember last time?"
::Well... He started it. How was I to know that he was hunting the same prey. I got to it first you know!:: With a flap of her wings she was gone.
"Yes! I remember. And do you remember what happen after that?" She looked down and saw that the owl had already left. She heard a small squeak and knew that the belly of the owl would soon be full.
"Maybe she will be in a better mood now." She laughed at that thought. "I wish" she said out loud.
Walking back from the window, she reached or her cloak and started down stairs.
::May I come along?::
"Oh!? Are you finished with your dinner?" Rose turned to see a fat mouse hanging from the owl's beak. It was trying to get away, but she held it firmly by its tail.
::Not yet. I thought you might like to watch::
"Not really. Why would you think that?"
::I have watched you eat. And I must say, its not a very pretty sight::
'Haha! You're being cute. It was because I was eating something called Ribs. With some strange sauce on them. B-B-Q, I think that's what the server said.
::Yes. Cows ribs. And you were using your fingers. You had more of that sauce on you than what was on the ribs. I thought you cut yourself during that time::
"Yes. I remember that. You fighting the waitress for a towel. That was a sight."
::Well I wanted it for a tourniquet. I did think you were bleeding to death you know." The owl tossed the mouse in the air with a flick of her head and swallowed it down. The only thing showing was the tip of its tail.
"Swallow it down before it chokes you. I have told you before to chew your food." Rose shook her head and patted the bird on its back. The tail disappeared and the bird shook her head and shuttered her feathers.
::Thank you. That one still had some fight to him::
"No trouble. But next time go after a smaller mouse."
::I think you are right. For once. But it was so fat; and tasty!::
::Hey! I do not say anything about your food."
"True. Shall we go down and see if we can find this 'strange lady' and talk to her?"
::Would you mind if I talked to the Fye?::
"Only if you promise not to try and eat her. Last time you went and chased a Fye she stung you and you were hurting for weeks."
::We were only playing. Can I help it if she misunderstood my intentions::
"You tried to eat her."
::Want me to place you in a bubble? I can you know. All I have to do is scream::
"Try it and its owl stew when I get out."
::Oh! You're getting testy. Should I start shaking now or wait to see the pot of boiling water first?::
"Not water. Oil. Hot oil. It makes the feathers easier to pull out. Now hop on and let's see if this lady is still downstairs."
The snow owl looked up and then back down at the yard.
::If I must. I can not understand why you will not pick me up and place me on your shoulder. It would be easier::
"True, but you always complain that I ruffle your feathers. So hop on."
::Can you just bend down::
"You're spoiled. That's what's wrong with you. You're getting to fat to fly.
I should start feeding you thinner mice." Bending down, she waited for the owl to hop on her shoulder before she rose up and turned towards the door.
"Better? My! You are getting heavy! I think I should put you on a diet."
::Shall we go. It is getting late::
"Now who is being testy?"
Rose felt the owl's talons digging into her shoulder. She was used to it but she always laughed.
"OK. I am sorry. Better? You are spoiled but I would miss you if you ever left me. Do you know that?"
::Of course I do. You should know that by now. And why don't you ever speak my name?::
"Because its too long. Who wants to call out Mystyruspektroth? Why can't I just call you Mysty like I want too?" Rose started to rub the feathers under her chin and Mysty started rising her head up and fluffing her feathers.
::Because it is not my name. But to please you after all these years, I will let you call me that. But only when we are with someone. When we are alone you will call me by my full name. And you say I am the spoiled one. Humph!:: Mysty reached down and bit her lightly on the finger. No blood was drawn but she felt the bite.
"You are the one that should feel lucky. I could have screamed and it would be you in a bubble. Owl under glass has a nice ring to it."
Mysty shook her feathers and turned her head almost completely around. She was no longer talking to Rose. She was pouting.
They walked down and walked up to the bar. Hugh was still there, as always.
"Hello Rose. Who is your friend and where is his face?"
::HE?? Well I never...:: Mysty turned her head around and stared at Hugh. Then she shook her feathers and stood as tall as she could on Rose's shoulder. ::I will have you know that I am not a HE!:: She twisted her head back around and looked away once more.
"Excuse me. I did not know. It is hard to tell until I looked into those beautiful eyes. Will you forgive me?" Hugh knew how to calm anyone down . Even a pouting bird.
::Do you think I have nice eyes?:: Mysty turned back and she let her feathers fall back.
::See! I have always told you that people think I have nice eyes::
"I never... Oh never mind. You would think I was lying to you anyway. Hugh. Do you know anything about the lady sitting alone over there?" Rose pointed to the white haired, sapphire clad Lady.
"Yes. She is here looking for a lost child. She has gathered a small band and is headed out tomorrow. Why? Does she have any info on the charms?"
"I am not sure, but Mysty thinks so. I guess I will soon find out. Thank you Hugh. For everything."
"It's my pleasure Rose. Best of luck. And do not be a stranger. There will always be a room waiting for you here. You're family now." Hugh smiled and went back pouring drinks.
"Family. It does have a nice ring to it. Does it not?"
::I thought I was your family.:: Mysty turned her head back around and started pouting once again.
"God you're spoiled!" Pulling her cloak tighter around her, she started walking over to the table. She could not help but notice how beautiful the lady was. And her hair 'was' alive.
"By the gods. You were right Mysty. She is magical."
Taking a deep breath, she slowly let it out and cleared her throat.
"Excuse me. Is this seat taken? I saw you sitting here alone and wondered if you would care for some company. I am new to Montfort and you are the first friendly face I have seen. Next to Hugh I mean."
Pulling a chair out, Rose sat down and let her cloak fall open. She crossed her legs and waited. She felt so strange. Her hands were shaking, and she had trouble thinking. She was frightened. And for no reason.
::Rose Thorn? Are you all right?::
~ Yes. I am a bit nervous. That's all. She is so beautiful. I can feel her magic. It's overwhelming~
::Calm yourself. You are acting like this is the first time you have asked for help. You know it's not::
~ I know but look at her. She is so sure of herself. So calm. How am I going to ask her if she needs any help. Or if she has any idea about the charms.~
She held the broken charm in her hand and was playing with it without knowing she was doing it.
::Only one way. Ask her!::
~You ask her!~
::No... You ask her:: Mysty turned her head back around and added;
::Anyway how do we know she can hear me?::
Both of them were startled when the Lady spoke. They both jumped. Mysty almost fell off Rose's shoulder. Rose almost fell out of the chair she was sitting in. The Lady's voice was so musical. So alive. Mysty pulled her talons in tight and Rose could feel her digging into her shoulder and drawing blood. She grabbed Mysty before she fell but it was too late.
"Yes, Young One, I can hear you. Both of you." She watched as the two who had joined her nearly fell from surprise.
"There is no need to fear me, Young One, I am of no threat to you. I have been waiting for you. You and I await another as well. May I offer you a drink from my table, Young One?" She waved her hand in her graceful manner. She then picked up the flask of fine wine and poured a glass for her new friend. It never dawned on her to wonder if the flame-haired woman understood the significance of her act of serving the wine.
"I know not where your treasure is, Young One, but I will help in any way that I can."
She leaned forward slightly and placed her translucent hand on Rose's shaking one. "Be calm... Young One... You are safe now. Will you talk with me a while, while I await another? Tizzy. To me."
The Lady's already active hair began to move in a less fluid manner, at least in one small area it did. Tizzy could be heard making her usual complaints about her entanglement.
"Let go! Tizzy is called! No... Tizzy cannot stay now. Tizzy has to come out. Hhhhmmmm... Tizzy is too tired to play with Living Hair now. Tizzy's Lady calls." Suddenly there was a small burst of brilliant sapphire flame, followed by the most eerie, soft, screaming sound. The Living Hair parted way for Tizzy and she burst out with a cry of anger.
"Living Hair should have let go!"
The Lady's expression was that of shock and horror. "Tizzy! What have you done!" She raised a graceful hand to her Hair where it had been burnt and assured herself that it was comforted.
"Tizzy! You will... I will deal with you later. You have company."
Tizzy floated down to the table and sank to her knees, sitting on her feet. She looked up at her Lady with great tears in her eyes. She knew what she should say and do but found she could do neither. She had committed a grave and heinous act: To harm, in any way the Living Hair was, indeed, impossible; but to try was among the most unforgivable of crimes. It was a crime generally punished by immediate and irrevocable death. Tizzy could not believe she had done it. She wasn't even sure why she had.
A single tear fell from each eye, leaving Tizzy in a small, glittering lake of her own making. She lowered her eyes and just gazed at her small, folded fingers. She was no longer able to look her mistress in the eyes. Her shame was too great.
Finally, in her smallest, most fragile voice she said, "Tizzy is ready to be punished now, Treasured Princess." Tizzy looked up at the Sapphire Princess, believing she was about to speak her last words. She chose them carefully, "Tizzy loves you."
The Heir to the Staff looked at the tiny, white wind sprite and a tender feeling welled up from within her. Tizzy had been with her for all of her life. They had been born in the same moment in time: Bound together by that fate they were inseparable and incomplete without each other.
"Tizzy, I also love you. Because of that love, I cannot deal with the matter now. I must have time to learn to pardon the unpardonable. Later..."
Tizzy's face brightened instantly. "Rarest of Treasures wants to pardon Tizzy!" Then her voice almost disappeared in her emotion. "Tizzy is not worthy of pardon. Tizzy will ask Living Hair to forgive her... Later... "
She turned and looked at the young half-elf who had joined her Lady's table. That was when she noticed the snowy white owl whom the red-haired female kept company with.
"Ooooooooooooooh! My Lady! What is strange bird! Does pretty bird like to play tag! Tizzy really hopes pretty bird likes to play tag! Will pretty bird play tag with Tizzy!" With that Tizzy Zoomed up into the air and started to sing as she flew away, "Catch me, catch me, if you can! Come on now, come on now! Catch me!"
Tizzy buzzed swiftly around the room three times before she realized the owl hadn't come straight after her. She pouted petulantly then went back to the table, landing softly in front of the elfin woman. She then began to discretely tease the owl into motion.
After setting Mysty back up on her shoulder and feeling herself heal, she smiled and watched as a flask of wine appeared on the table.
::See. She is magic.::
~Cheap parlor trick. Nothing more.~ Rose tried to keep her thought hidden but she was not sure if she could with someone so powerful. But she was going to try. For the time being.
She felt the lady's hand upon hers and a sudden calmness over came her. She quit shaking and she was no longer nervous. It was a better feeling than she had before.
"Thank you", and she took the glass of wine and started sipping from it.
::May I have some? That last mouse is still trying to climb out.::
~Well I told you to chew your food.~
Taking the glass and holding it up to Mysty, Rose watched as she took a small drink and then shook her head.
::Wow!! That is good wine. Parlor trick my feathers. No one can bring up a good wine like that with out some type of magic. May I have some more?::
~Not too much.~
Mysty took another drink and she shook her feathers. Then she tilted her head. She was watching something that was inside the lady's hair. Rose noticed that Mysty's eyes grew darker.
Rose jumped once again when she saw a burst of brilliant sapphire flame, followed by the most eerie, soft, screaming sound. The Living Hair parted and small Fye burst out with a cry of anger.
::Wow! Did you see that? Didn't I tell you that she had a sprite living in her hair!::
~Yes and I think she is in trouble. Now hush.~
Rose sat there and listened to what the lady had to say to the small sprite. She was about to say that it might have been an accident but she held that thought.
::Poor thing. I hope she isn't in too much trouble. I know if I was living in there I would get upset sometimes too. The lady's hair has a mind of it's own it seems. I think it enjoys picking on the little sprite. Did you catch her name?::
~Yes. It's Tizzy. I Think.~
::Tizzy? Strange name.::
~And your's isn't? Give me a break!~
::Oh! She is asking me if I want to play tag. That does sound like fun. May I?::
~Yes, so long as you behave yourself. No changing things or placing things in front of her to hit. Understand?~
::You're no fun!::
~I mean it or it's owl under glass tonight!~
::She is cute. She looks delicious.::
"Now do not start that again." She said that out loud and she blushed when she saw the lady turn her way.
"Please, forgive my outburst. Sometime I forget that I am talking to an owl. I guess I should introduce myself and my feathered friend. I am Rose Thorn. My feathered friend here is Mysty. She has a longer name, but I shortened it."
::Only because I let her do so. She is so spoiled at times. I guess it is my fault for that. I should have trained her better::
"Trained her better? And what does that mean?"
::You know what I mean. It took you a whole ten minutes before you introduced us. I would have said something sooner but the lady was busy with the sprite.::
"Go play tag with Tizzy. But remember what I told you." Rose looked down at Tizzy and smiled.
"You need to watch Mysty. She likes to play rough at times. Watch out for things that might pop up in front of you. Glasses, water pitchers, bowls, cups. Anything that's close. I have seen her use a man's hat before. And if she gets carried away and starts snapping at you, you have my permission to sting her. She has been playing with the sprites for years, and has not caught one yet. But she has been close. She has a full belly, but be careful anyway.
::Oh that's it. Tell her all my tricks! Now it won't be any fun. Thanks a lot!:: She turned her head back around and pouted once again. Rose could not help but laugh.
"If I know sprites, they have a few tricks of their own. Now go play. And be nice! Remember the wards."
Mysty turned her head back and looked down at Tizzy. If an owl could smile she would.
:Can she read my thoughts? I mean can I talk to her?::
"Ask her! Isn't that what you told me?"
::Yes. I should try::
Mysty jumped off Rose's shoulder, flapped over and floated beside Tizzy.
::Hello, Small one. You say that you wish to play tag with me? I always loved that game. But don't believe everything Rose tells you. The only reason I was trying to bite the last sprite was because he hid my dinner from me. I had a nice fat mouse lined up and the sprite chased him back into his home. I just got mad. That's all. Now shall we play tag. What rules do you go by. The forest rules or the meadow rules?::
"Mysty! When have you ever gone by the rules?" Rose laughed and took another drink of wine.
"Now go play and let me talk to this nice lady. It seems she knows more than I thought."
She laughed and giggled excitedly, "Crystalline Forest rules, of course!" And the snow white owl chased her around the Inn. She deftly dodged all the things she threw her way and teased Mysty that she was too slow.
Tizzy was completely confident that the owl couldn't harm her. She appreciated that the owl's keeper warned her about Mysty's history with sprites, but the beautiful feathered creature had never encountered a Wind Sprite from the Sapphire Moon. Tizzy had played tag with creatures who could move faster than she could in a blind panic. Even the Firefuries had a hard time catching Tizzy. This plump little owl didn't stand a crystal of a chance of catching or blocking her. This was going to be so much fun!
Rose watched as Tizzy and Mysty started playing tag. There were times she could hear Hugh and a few of the patrons yelling and ducking out of the way, but they stayed out of trouble.
For the time being.
"Now then. I guess I should ask your name. Calling you 'the lady' might get a bit old. You said before that you knew I was coming? How is that possible? I just now knew about you when Mysty told me that you could help me. And you said another was coming?" Rose leaned back in her chair and placed a calm smile on her face. She wanted to know everything about the lady and her group. She let her cloak fall open, and she saw the look in the ladies eyes. Feeling a bit shy, she reached up and closed it back.
"Forgive my attire. I have found this garment better to move around in than some of the dresses I have seen on others. Not that I am saying your gown isn't lovely, it just... Well... It's not me, I guess. I like to feel comfortable, and this outfit makes me feel that way." She blushed and she could feel her skin warm up.
"I hope that my attire does not affect the chance of me going with you on your quest. I talked to Hugh, and he told me that you are looking for a child. I am looking for something as well." She looked down and noticed that she was holding the charm in her hand. How it got there, she had no idea. But it was there just the same. She held it up and asked, "I am searching for the other two parts that will make my charm whole. If it pleases you, I would like to come along. I might find the other charms along the way."
Rose placed the charm back into a hidden pocket of her cloak and then looked up." You need not have to pay me for anything. I am what some call a free spirit. I ask for nothing, but I give my life to what ever cause I join. I have my own horse and supplies and Mysty hunts her own food. I guess what I am trying to say is I would like to have a little company. If this quest leads me to the charms, I will be most pleased. If they lead nowhere, then I can still enjoy the company. Does this please you? Do you have anything you would like to ask me? I know the night is growing short. If you like we can chat tomorrow morning. Say over breakfast?"
Rose finished her drink and sat there watching Tizzy and Mysty playing tag. Mysty was having trouble catching up with Tizzy. A few times she placed a cup or a glass in front of the small sprite, but She dodged them with ease.
::She's fast! This is fun! Watch this!::
Mysty stopped and landed on the bar. She turned her head away from Tizzy. Rose watched as Tizzy stopped and flew over to Mysty. She turned back and almost had her but Tizzy spun around and around until Mysty got so dizzy, she fell on her back.
"Oh! That was funny!" Rose laughed and wiped a tear away from her eyes. "You're getting slow in your old age!"
"Mystyruspektroth!! You should be ashamed of yourself. Tizzy did not cheat. You're just getting fat!"
::I am not fat! It's the feathers. They make me look fat!::
"All right you two. You need to take this game outside. I think you both have buzzed everyone in here at least twice. Some of the patrons are complaining of lost glasses and spilled drinks." Hugh was not really upset. But he knew when it was time to calm things down.
She squealed with laughter as Mysty literally fell on her back as she flew around and around her head.
When Hugh told them to settle down she pouted and went back to the table and sat down in her Lady's palm, reluctant as yet, to return to the Hair.
Mysty rose back up and wobbled over to the edge of the bar and took flight. Landing on Rose's shoulder she twisted her head around once again.
::Spoil sport!:: She sent to Hugh. He only laughed and went back to tending his bar.
"She's pouting now. She does this all the time. She thinks she's hiding. The least you could do is to thank Tizzy for the game of tag.
::Thank you Little One. It was most fun. You are very good. We must do it again, and soon.:: Mysty added, ::And I am not hiding. How can one hide in plain sight? Humph.::
She turned her head away and closed her eyes.
::I am going to rest now. I would play more but Hugh said no! Wake me when we are ready to leave. Remind me to put a dead mouse in one of his drinks. Spoil my fun will he!::
"Wake you? You sleep like a log." Rose looks over at the lady and whispers, "She snores something terrible too. And you better not think about doing that. Remember! Hugh is family."
Mysty turns her head back around and fluffs her feathers in Rose's face. ::I Do not! And he is your family. He has no feathers so he can not be part of my family.::
"Oh you do too. I am part of your family and I have no feathers."
Mysty turns her head once again and closes her eyes. Before anyone knew it she was asleep, and snoring on Rose's shoulder.
"See! She does snore." Rose reaches up and scratches Mystys cheek. She turns her head and quits snoring.
For the time being.
"You will not hear that much. She sleeps in the trees at night. She is a little different than most snow owls. When we have time I will tell you how I found her. But the night is getting shorter. You must rest as well. I will be here in the morning. Around day break."
Rose stood up and pulled her cloak tight against her body. Mysty didn't even wake.
"By your leave My Lady." She turned and started to head up stairs but she stopped; turning back.
"Hugh said that there were others with you. Will any of them be down here in the morning? I would like to meet them before heading out. That is if you wish for me to go." She bit her lower lip and waited at the end of the stairs for an answer.
She raised a slender white eyebrow as she saw the intriguing garment the the young half-elf wore. Her eyes returned to her guest's eyes when Rose became uncomfortable and made apologies for her attire.
"I assure you, Young Rose, your attire is by far more adequate than that of my other female companion, called Amarantha. She is a young goddess-no-longer who seems to feel that personal exposure is best. Your garment is a fair in-between garb; a fine cross between my complete coverage and Amarantha's near complete exposure. Besides... It becomes you. If you wish to join us you would be more than welcome. Your attire has no bearing on such things whatsoever."
Through the din caused by the ruckus the two flying taggers were creating she told Rose of her quest to find her sister, Aelora D'Annelle.
They were quiet for a moment as they watched Tizzy fly circles around the chubby little owl's head, causing her to fall flat on her back. She smiled a beautiful, radiant smile and the whole room literally became significantly brighter for the duration of the smile. Then Hugh told the two busy little creatures to settle down or take it outside. The two of them fluttered back to the table and Tizzy settled herself into her palm.
She looked back at Rose, "The others will be down for breakfast at Dawn's first light. Questions and answers can wait until then. The other whom I await may not arrive until then either. She is not yet sure if she wishes to join us. I hope she does: I would welcome her song."
She looked over at the softly snoring owl, "Interesting creature."
It was late, when Strident at last stepped into the Dragons Inn.
A long day it had been, and quite mixed; when one compared the lassitude of the morning crowds with the attentiveness of the later ones, or the scant coppers in her hat earlier on with the glint of gold and more thereafter ... in all, it was quite a varied day. Now, done with singing and wishing simply to rest now that the day was done, the diminutive minstrel retired to a quiet corner, or as quiet as might be found in the common room with the Market Day crowds herein, claiming an empty chair as the former occupant stumbled away to the bar.
Setting her battered lute down on the floor beside her, she doffed her cap then and set it down on the table, looking at the battered thing doubtfully. It was, in truth, more fitting to rest upside-down on the ground and collect coins than to adorn her head; the plumes were long since gone, and that hat had assuredly seen better days.
No matter, she decided, as she could buy a new one on the morrow. Brightening with that thought, she examined her earnings, still bemused to see silver and gold amongst the copper. With this, she could surely purchase more than a new hat!
Pleased with the fact of being able to pay for her dinner with coin rather than song, even if that was a pleasant enough way to do so, she requested a portion of mutton, being rather hungry, and a mug of ale. Were it not that the tavern was overcrowded already, she might even afford a room for the night; but what coin she saved because of that fact, she was that much richer for it, even if reduced to a bench in the common room.
The waitress smiled to see it, that the minstrel was so happy.
Making a quick count of the coins and resolving to save what she could of that new-found wealth (although she *would* buy a new hat, she decided and a new string for the lute to replace the one which had broken during the last song, much to her chagrin), she then considered the sapphire ... thinking of that, she reached into her pocket and brought out the stone, of a size with her clenched fist.
Placing the gem on the table, she rested her head on her hands and stared at it with simple awe for a few moments, not quite knowing what she might do with the sapphire.
One thing to have a few coins; another completely to own something worth more than she'd earn in a year, and even that was no more than an idle guess. But the stone was so pretty, so pleasing to look upon, that she hesitated in the thought of trading it ... and it had been a gift.
She was distracted from her musings by the flittering and fluttering of things through the air above; looking up, she saw a flurry of wings, white, and little more, in pursuit of something else which passed too quickly for the eye to discern. The minstrel laughed at the antics of the bird, watching it intently as it chased in vain, and then looked on, wide-eyed, as the creatures, after a stern word from the innkeeper, returned to a distant table; she knew one of those who sat there.
Gathering up her coins and bundling them safely away, she pocketed the gem once more and wandered across the chamber to stand beside the table, wondering what she should say. She had already thanked the Lady, when given the sapphire, and now, words failing her again, she could think of little else to speak.
"Thank you," she murmured softly, requiring one to lean close to hear it.
She looked up at the second flame haired woman who approached her table and a soft, nearly indiscernible smile touched her lips. It was her elvin shaped, sapphire eyes that truly smiled. They glowed with her pleasure at seeing the young minstrel.
"Child of Songs! I have been awaiting you! I was not yet certain if you would arrive this evening or hold 'til morning. I am most pleased to see you." Her voice was soft and clear, reminding one of perfect music. She motioned Strident to sit in the chair next to Rose's.
"Please allow me to cover the cost of your room and board, at least for this night. There is no need for you to tarry the night in the common room. I have already secured a room for you. Your needs will be met this night and into the morrow."
Blinking, twice, the little minstrel took the indicated seat and looked again to the Lady. 'Child of Songs' was a nice title, she thought, but one which seemed rather too eloquent for such as she; but, partly for politeness, partly for a certain happiness at hearing herself named so grandly, she had no desire to say otherwise. She sat there in silence for a moment, simply listening as the other spoke. What was it about the Lady which made it so hard for her to speak? Even the other's voice was perfect, and would be the jealousy of minstrels, including herself, were it not that Strident's own voice was fine, if a little soft.
Nodding her agreement, hastily, as the Lady made the offer of a room, a room in a tavern over-full with the Market Day crowds, she thought frantically for some word to say, for a mere nod was surely not enough. "Thank you," she said again, again in that quiet voice.
She turned briefly, distracted by the departure of Rose and her plump little owl, "I will see that there are proper introductions in the morning for all of my companions."
She turned back and looked steadily at the young woman for a time, making her somewhat uncomfortable by the steady way her fathomless eyes held her jade eyes.
"The sapphire will serve you better if you keep it, Child of Songs. If your monetary need is great enough that you feel you may need to trade it for gold coins I would much rather give you another sapphire: One that has not been gifted. The one in your pocket is more than a pretty bauble to be sold for that which will not last."
Retrieving the gifted sapphire from her pocket, the minstrel looked at the stone for a moment then back to the Lady, wide-eyed. Already precious, the stone was large enough that she could not properly close her hand around it ... what more, then, was inherent to the stone beside that simple worth? But before she might ask after that, her meal arrived; and Strident, very hungry after a day of song, decided that the question could wait a while longer.
And no sooner had she plunged her hand into a pocket to retrieve the coins she'd intended to pay for the meal with, the Lady was already interceding, sparing her that necessity even if she had been quite content to settle the score with her own funds.
Sera arrived then with Strident's meal and placed it on the table. She looked from Strident to the Lady and back again. "Who will be paying?" she asked.
The sapphire beauty reached into her sleeve and brought out a small sapphire stone. It was the size of Sera's pinky nail.
"Will this suffice to cover the costs of both her meal and her bed?"
Sera looked with bulging eyes at the glowing stone, "Yes, it will. Where do you keep coming up with those things! Have you got a pocket hidden in your sleeve or something?"
"Pocket? What is a pocket? I simply desire to have what I need and it is there. I know not what is a 'Pocket'."
Sera gave her a somewhat exasperated look and showed her the pockets on her apron and explained that there were many different kinds of pockets. The Lady explained that there was no such thing in her gown and commented that it was perhaps similar to Tizzy's bag, only far less efficient.
She then returned her attention to Strident.
"I am come to this strange and harsh world on a quest, Child of Songs. I seek my young sister." With that she explained to Strident the event on her Moon that had resulted in the kidnapping of Aelora D'Annelle and the great urgency in finding her before it was too late. She concluded her tale by explaining to the minstrel why she hoped she would join them.
"My companions are, each and every one of them, emotional creatures; prone to succumbing to stress or fear. I sense they may even be inclined to become somewhat irrational if subjected to monotony for too great a time. The gift of your voice would go far to keep them contented and you would be well received by all. I will personally guarantee your safety from alpha to omega. Should there ever be need for us to defend ourselves you will not injure so much as a fingernail as a result of battle. On this I give you my Word of Honour as Heir to the Staff. I will protect you. You need not give answer now. Dream on it for this night, join us for the morning meal. After you have met my companions you can make your decision. Whatever your choice, it makes no difference to what has transpired before; I ask nothing else of you."
With that she rose to her feet and waited for Strident to do the same.
Listening in silence as the other gave her tale and spoke of that quest in which she involved herself, the minstrel picked at her meal, rather absently, and in time found the plate empty. Lifting the mug and swallowing the last of the ale, most of which seemed to have disappeared after the same fashion, unnoticed, she rested her head on her hands, watching the Lady intently as that narrative kept on.
At last, both meal and tale then done, she waited, then, seeing that the other was watching her as though herself waiting, nodded quickly to indicate that she would think seriously on the offer.
She pushed back her chair as the Lady rose; and gathering up her sack, the hat and the battered lute, she then left the common room. Wandering through the halls of the Inn to the chamber set aside for her, she still marvelled at the fact that a room had been spared. Not that she was one to ponder overly much, on even the small miracles ... that she had a room for the night, with that much she was content.
She followed Strident out of the common room and then returned to her own bedroom. There she softly asked Tizzy to come out. Tizzy did so very quietly, not sure if she was about to die an instant death or be banished from her Lady's presence for a dangerous span of time. Tizzy and her Lady both knew that the tiny little Wind Sprite could live neither well nor long away from the Living Hair. She had been bonded to the woman in the proper way, rendering her dependent on the Life that emanated from the glowing white tresses. That was one of the reasons it was so unlawful to do anything harmful or threatening to it: It was akin to cutting up one's own fingers. Generally speaking repercussions were swift and severe. She now floated carefully down to stand in the palm of her Lady's pale hand.
"Tizzy, what am I to do with you? Have you paid no attention at all to what I have taught you. How have I failed you Tizzy, that you could do such an abominable thing?"
She looked at the fear and pain in her life-long friend's eyes and noted the trembling of her tiny body. Even her wings were trembling. She heaved a deep, heartfelt sigh.
"Isn't love the most amazing thing, Tizzy? How could I continue without my bonded friend? You will be forbidden the Glow of Peace for the next seven Moons. The Moon shall not give you comfort until then."
With that she moved to the window and gazed out at the Moon. Turning her head slightly to look at Tizzy she said, "It is time for the Dance."
With that the two of them left their room to return to the back courtyard of the Inn. Tizzy, well aware of how incredibly lightly she had been punished, severe as the punishment was, determined to be extra watchful of her Lady's Dance. None would gain so much as a glance without severe repercussions.