The Elven Wizard
by Andy Hollis
without any help whatsoever from whatzizname
©2000 Andy Hollis All rights reserved
There's a magic Sword missing and the Hollis crew is out to find it, with the usual mayhem for those in the way.
One of the delights I have had in being a kid again is a growing lack of inhibition about acting childish. I can run and scream at the top of my lungs for no reason except to have fun. Once again my bike is getting to be my best friend and I even take baths with my twin brother complete with ships and rubber ducks. There are times I am more than willing to forget I was once an adult.
The one thing that keeps me grounded, of course, is the fact that my best friend from my first childhood is still with me in this one. About six months ago, my spirit, for lack of a better definition, was grabbed and deposited in the body of a skinny ten-year-old boy while that child in question took over my old body. My friend, Paul, however responded to a call for help and was actually transformed from a middle aged computer salesman to an elf child in doing so. Now he looks about twelve, while I'm eleven. When I start acting too immature he usually is quick to let me know it. I ignore him, of course, since he's always been the party-pooper.
For the last week for instance, my father, my twin brother Allan, Paul and myself have been staying at a great old Bed and Breakfast called The Green Trees, in Salisbury, England. It's owned and run by friends of dad's, the Burkes. Their daughter, and only child Suzie, had been given the task of looking out for us, taking us around as a general tour guide, and make sure we really watch where we're going since everyone drives on the wrong side of the road.
For some reason Paul's been taking her side over ours the whole time. I mean, it's not like he's sweet on her, or even remotely interested in having a girl friend, but it seems he's really into impressing her. Take the time Allan and I tried to sacrifice Suzie to the Druid Gods at Stonehenge. Paul took pictures with Allan's camera but didn't even try to help, and then called the game off when Suzie got too upset. What's the point in being eleven if you can't torment girls? I was married for twenty years and know the definition of torment inside and out both ways.
This morning, maybe we did go too far when Suzie told us that, "Sensible people don't swarm around the breakfast sidebar and devour everything in sight like so many locusts." Paul tried to apologize while Allan and I raced around the table with our arms out, buzzing. Maybe I should have turned us into locusts and really showed her, but I'm sure Paul would have objected to that, too.
Instead we were awarded one of Suzie's world famous sighs. She really draws it out and makes it sound so impatient that I've grown to hate that sigh almost as much as I hate fish, or worse, artichokes.
After breakfast, Suzie tried for the tenth time to get out of going with us to see the old castle, but her dad wouldn't hear it, so we all piled into an ancient Land Rover to go exploring.
My dad, George Hollis, is an accountant, and I had never really met the man until a couple of weeks ago when he flew in from his home in San Francisco. He lives there, with his new girl friend, while Mom and the three of us live in Bennett City, Va. He seemed nice enough but kind of distant. Then again, if he had been a doctor like I had made him in all the stories I had written about him, we would need an appointment to see him.
Oddly enough, he seemed to take it for granted that I had made a major fortune in the last six months. I guessed that Gramma Hollis was keeping him informed of all the business arrangements we had made to create our record company and the deals we had made with Steve Corbin for the jewelry.
The English countryside was, if anything, more boring than I remembered it. I had spent some time in England as a teenager back in my universe, and I found this version roughly the same, but now I wasn't that interested in the sights as I was the last time.
Mr. Burke drove through increasingly rural back roads until he turned off the dirt road to drive right across the pastures. The Land Rover jolted with every rut and bump in the ground and I had my doubts about the suspension lasting the trip. Allan and I made a point of bouncing with the car like some sort of carnival ride. He started giggling, and then I did too, in spite of Suzie's baleful glare.
Paul sighed. "Must you two do that?"
"Yep," I said.
"How much further is this castle?" Suzie asked the back of her father's head.
"Couple of miles."
"Are there any dragons at the castle?" I asked more to irritate Suzie than anything else.
"Not dragons, but there could be ghosts."
"Dad," Suzie protested. "You don't have to encourage him. Ghosts?"
"The locals reported all kinds of lights and funny noises up there a couple of months ago."
"If we catch one can we keep it?" I asked Dad.
"What? Ghosts or dragons?" he asked back.
"Either," I said with a shrug.
"Well, if it's small and we can smuggle it through customs without a hassle, okay."
"Thanks, Dad," Allan and I chorused.
"Honestly," Suzie said. "Aren't you a little old for dragons?"
"I don't know. I'll find out. Hey, Al, how old are we."
"Eleven," he said with a shrug.
"He's good with numbers and things," I told Suzie. "He's gonna be my accountant when I take over my musical empire."
"As if you hadn't stolen that from me, Hollis," Paul said. "All I get is some lousy royalties when I should have owned the whole works."
"Too late, Carmichael. Why don't you just bite my big toe? Uncle Steve wrote that contract for you, too, and he was more than fair if you ask me."
"No one asked you, rat boy," he said sulking.
"Dad," I asked. "Is eleven too old for dragons?"
He turned in the seat to reach back and tousle my hair. "If I'm not, you're not, Sport."
"See?" I told Suzie. "I'm not too old for dragons."
"Dad, there's a dance at the city center tonight," Suzie said, changing the subject as quickly as she could.
"Is Chad taking you, or one of the boys?"
"Chad is, please?" she asked. "I really need a break from these three."
"Fine with me," I commented. "The last time we went to a dance Allan stepped on my toes five times then Mom wanted us to dance with girls."
"And what's wrong with that?" she demanded. "I'm a girl."
"You are?" Allan asked. "Man, you learn something every day. Hey, Andy, did you hear that? Suzie's a girl."
"That's okay," I said. "Not every one can get lucky when they're born."
"Dad," Suzie half yelled. "Did you hear what he said?"
"Yes, I did, sweetheart, and I must say when I was his age I felt the same way."
Suzie turned bright red. She made fists and growled in frustration. "You had better keep him on a leash," she told Allan. "I might just kill him."
"You wouldn't hurt a little kid, would you?" I asked her. "Besides, I've got a big brother that will beat you up if you do. Won't you, Paul?"
"I am not your big brother. He is," Paul said and tapped Allan on the head.
"But you're bigger than Allan is, and she needs to be beaten up for that."
"Dad, can we walk the rest of the way?" Suzie asked.
"Sure, see that line of trees up there? That's the start of Castle Wood. It's maybe half a mile off." He stepped on the brake and let the Land Rover drift to a stop.
"Great idea, Suzie," Paul said. "I really could stretch my legs about now."
"Great idea, Suzie," Allan said in a sing song as I smirked at the elf.
"You both are so immature," Suzie commented.
We piled out of the car and Suzie refused to watch as Allan pinned me to the grass. Paul retrieved our backpacks and threw them at us as I sat up. I slipped mine on while Allan checked the condition of his camera.
"Can't you be careful with my things? Go fight with Andy but leave me out of this."
"What do you want from an elf? They're all like that," I commented and pointed at Paul. He looked over his shoulder at Dad and Mr. Burke who were talking about something. By the time he decided to was safe to throw a punch I had backed out of range. I stuck out my tongue figuring the more I could get him to act like a kid instead of him trying to hang on to his adult identity the better.
"You are so dead, Andy," Paul said and made a fist.
"What sort of castle is this, Mr. Burke?" I asked walking over the grownups before Paul could follow through on his threat.
"There isn't much left of it..."
"Then why are we going?" Suzie demanded.
"Because it is an interesting ruin. Pre-Norman from the look of the layout and materials. Besides this castle isn't listed in any of the guidebooks. I mean I can't see any strategic importance for a castle out here, and the only reference I have ever run across is in the land records. It's called Castle Correlis."
"Correlis?" Dad asked.
"Yes, but I've never run into that name before."
"There's a fellow by the name of Adams, Correlis J. Adams in London. I wasn't planning on looking them up this trip but if you like when we get back I could call and see if he would be willing to share the name's history."
"Blast you, George. I've been looking for anything like that for the better part of a year and you just traipse in here and solve the mystery."
"What are friends for?" Dad asked with a slight chuckle.
"Where do you know this bird from, anyway. I thought I was your only contact over here." Mr. Burke complained.
"The I.W.C. actually. It's the one vice I claim although the boys' mother has a much different opinion. It's the International Whist Club, I've been playing since I was a boy."
"Whist? Wasn't that replaced by Bridge?" Mr. Burke commented.
"Heathen," Dad responded. "The True Game will never be replaced by some modern imitation."
"You never taught me how to play," I said.
"And I never will, either, Sport. Eric, never ever play cards with that one for money. He will take you so fast your head will spin."
"Thanks for the warning. Sorry, Andy, looks like poker is out tonight,"
"Dad," I protested trying not to laugh. "You told on me."
Paul pulled me back a bit. "Where do I know that name from?"
"Correlis, the evil sorcerer," I said. "Remember the book? Celrin's pal? That's his castle up there."
"No, I don't remember this at all. We're in the middle of one of your stories, right?"
"Looks that way. In fact, we'd better get to those woods too." I grabbed Allan and started yelling. "Boil the oil and man the portcullis. The Normans are invading and we only give one warning. Come on, Norman!" I took off at a run with Allan right by my side. Sure enough, Paul caught up to us easily enough yelling as loudly as we were.
We stopped at the outskirts of the woods, listening as squirrels and birds chattered at us. I took in the scent of pine and birch and saw the longing in Paul's face.
"Can we go down to the pond?" Allan asked as Dad and the others caught up to us. He pointed through the trees to the sparkling blue of the water in the sunlight.
"Yeah, I bet the dragons are down there," I added.
"I've got a line and some bait if we miss them," Allan explained.
"Okay," Dad said. "But not too long, and don't use all of Mrs. Burke's sandwiches on the fish."
Allan and Paul went first. I followed but hung back until I heard Suzie head after us. I had a snide comment ready for her when she caught up, but I heard her go crashing to the ground and I ran back. She lay sprawled on the ground and crunching pine needles as she tried to free her foot from a root. I bent over and pulled at the root as her foot popped free.
"Ouch," she said and rubbed her ankle. "Stay away from me, you little beast. I don't need any help from you."
I shrugged and sent some healing energy into her foot anyway. A moment later she stood up and tested the foot.
"No damage done, and no thanks to you." With that, she took off after Allan and Paul.
I sat down on the ground and looked around. I had been looking forward to this moment for the last six months and now that it was here more than anything I felt scared to death that it wasn't going to happen.
"Erien? It's okay, you can come out now," I half whispered to the bushes in front of me.
Something moved, and a minute later a boy, a tiny boy stepped out from the cover of the undergrowth. He hesitated before walking up to me. I stretched out on my tummy and held out my hand. He touched it and looked way up at me. He couldn't have been more than five inches tall. Dressed in rags, he hefted a small, leather shoulder bag.
"You know my name?"
"Sure, I'm Andy, the first rate wizard, and I've been waiting to meet you for years and years."
"The green light told me that you would be here today, but I never dreamed you would be that powerful. I know I will be safe with you."
"Of course you will. Come on, we'd better let the others know that you're joining us."
"You know about me?" he asked.
"It's really a long story, kidlet, but yeah, I know about you. I know you lost your folks about six years ago," I said and he nodded. "I know that you really need a new home and I'm gonna get you one. You've been hiding out in woods like this for six years but now you don't have to run anymore."
A warm smile spread across his face. Except for the size, Erien was a dead ringer for Paul from the length of his hair to the sharply pointed ears. "I thought this was going to be really hard. The others?"
"There's Allan, my twin brother, he's the mighty warrior. Paulin is our faithful elven companion and Suzie's the damsel we have to rescue from the evil ghosts in the castle."
"What do I do?"
I grinned at him. "You can be our elven guide because Paulin doesn't know his way around yet. You find all the secret doors and things, and help us fight the Shadow."
"I can do that," Erien said and climbed onto my hand.
I stood up and put the elf in my shirt pocket. "Ready?"
"Yes, but if Paulin is an elf why is he so big?"
"He's different, okay? He hasn't been on this world long enough to be affected by the lack of the Green Light."
"But the Green Light is there," he said.
"Yes, but just barely. Enough to keep you alive and with some power in this world, but that's about it. Trust me, I know these things, and when we get you to the Silver Forest you'll know what I mean."
"Andy?" Paul called out and walked down the path looking for me. "Where have you been?"
"Here," I said and tried not to shrug too hard to disturb the elf. "Wanna meet my new best buddy? Sorry, Paulin, but you've just been demoted."
"What are you talking about? I thought you wanted to go on to the castle."
"I do, but Paul," I said and pointed at my pocket. "This is Erien."
"Come off it, Hollis. We don't meet Erien until we get to Lurynda and... No wait, that was someone else."
"I swear Carmichael, the next time I write a book and you read it I'm gonna quiz you on it in case it comes real. Erien, this dolt over here in elf's clothing is Paulin."
"You really are an elf," Erien said and relaxed. "I can't tell you how hard I've looked for other elves."
Paul stared at the elf sticking out of my pocket. "My god, why is he that small?"
"Because his family has been living in this magically deprived world for generations and each generation has been smaller than the last to compensate. Okay?"
"I guess. This is incredible. He's my twin brother, right?"
"No, I don't have any brothers or sisters," Erien said.
"But you were supposed to," I explained. "Paulin is the twin brother that you would have had if the Shadow hadn't prevented it and when he came to this world he turned into the brother you were supposed to have. So, here he is, kidlet. Paulin, meet your new twin brother."
"But doesn't he grow or something?" Paul demanded.
"Yeah, but that comes later. Come on," I said and headed for the pond to round up my twin and Suzie.
"Grow? Why would I want to grow? It's hard enough trying to hide from the humans at this size. Maybe you should shrink down to a proper size, Paulin."
"Yeah, Paulin," I said and cracked a huge grin. "I'd like to see you at that proper size, too."
He backed away from me. "Don't you dare, Hollis."
Too late. I held out my hand in the magic sign and soon enough I put Paul in my pocket with Erien. The two elves hugged for a while, although I ignored Paul's continuing protests.
I walked down to the pond in time to hear Suzie berate Allan.
"I don't want that little beast near me, do you understand. Keep the brat away from me."
"I'm sure he was just trying to help," Allan said. "He's not a brat, either."
"He's the most outrageous little twerp I have ever met and if comes near me again I will kill him."
"You and what army?" I asked her. "You may be taller than me but I can turn you into a toad. Hey, Allan, I want you to meet someone."
"Where?" he asked.
"Here. Erien? This is Allan, the great warrior and that's Suzie over there."
Allan's eyes bugged out as he saw Erien poke his head from my pocket. "What in the world?"
"Erien's an elf. Paul's keeping him company, but dad said we could keep him since he's small and I bet I can get him through customs no sweat."
"Oh, honestly, you think I'm going to fall for that little doll?" Suzie asked. She reached out and almost snatched the elf from my pocket. I reached up to smack her hand away at the same time Erien pointed and a flash of green light hit my palm.
"Ouch," I yelped out.
"Sorry," he said and waved his hand to make the red welt on my hand vanish.
"Erien is a doll," I said. "We bought him in London for over ten pounds and if you break him you are gonna pay."
Suzie backed off. "I'm telling my father," she said.
"Fine," I countered. "I'm telling mine, so there. Come on, we'd better get to the castle cause we now have a quest."
Allan glanced at Suzie before he answered. "What sort of quest? I'm ready for anything."
"We're gonna save Suzie from the evil ghosts that live in the castle, although sometimes I just don't see why we should."
"Where's the other one," Suzie demanded. "Paul, isn't it? We can't leave him."
"I'm right here," Paul yelled out from my pocket. He bounced up and down and waved at the girl. "I'd watch his threat to turn you into a toad, too."
"Okay, you're going to rip the shirt," I said. I pulled Paul from the pocket, set him down and let him grow back to his usually bossy size. "Happy now? Comfy?"
He made a fist. "You're going to get it, Hollis. Erien is a really nice kid, but if you ever do that to me again, I'll. I'll really bite your big toe. So there." He shook his head and led the procession away from the pond.
"I don't believe this," Suzie muttered. "That couldn't have happened, so it didn't."
I looked at the girl and smiled to myself. This was going to be a challenge.
Castle Correlis, or what was left of it, stood as it had for centuries in solitary ruin. Only the foundations seemed intact while the layout of the inner keep could still be seen in the piles of rubble strewn about the place.
My breath caught in my throat as I studied the remains. This place had a long history, and frankly I didn't care about that one little bit. I had written about the castle before, and I could hardly believe that I was finally here.
"Dad?" Suzie called out.
"Dad?" Allan shouted as well.
Erien tugged on my shirt. "There is power here."
He scanned the area and pointed to the tallest mound of rubble. I walked over there and tried to feel what he did. Nothing. I set the elf down on the ground. He turned in circles then climbed up to a small hole between the rocks that looked like a cave compared to the boy.
"Someone needs help," he called out.
"Our Dads?" I asked. Even though I knew it was not the right answer to this, I felt compelled to play the scene out. "Guys, over here. There's been a cave in and Dad and Mr. Burke are trapped down there."
"You're kidding," Allan said. "Where?"
"Erien can hear them calling for help down there. We'd better do something, and now."
"Lift me up as high as you can get," Erien said and climbed back onto my hand. I climbed the pile of rubble, raised my arm up as high as I could, and I watched as the elf raised his as well.
There, overhead, I saw a band of emerald green light sparkling in the morning sunlight. It seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. A separate band broke off and surrounded the elf and touched my hand as well. I felt the power sizzle along my nerves.
Erien lowered his arms. "There, and thanks, but did you get enough, Wizard Andy? I'd think someone your size would need a lot more power than I would."
"What's going on?" Paul demanded. "What are you doing?"
"Erien's a rechargeable elf," I said. "I'll have to ask him if he takes ni-cad or NiMH," I said. I set the elf back in my pocket and raised my hands as he had. A second later green light surrounded me. The flood of power was incredible.
"Andy?" Allan called out. "Are you okay?"
"I could have sworn your eyes just turned green."
"Cool," I said and climbed down from the rocks.
"Don't you dare, Hollis. Don't even think about it. Two elves are enough on this trip and you are way too immature to handle this."
"Wrong again, Carmichael. Guys, I'm going to cast a spell so get ready."
"Oh, will you get off it?" Suzie demanded.
"What sort of spell?" Allan asked playing along.
"We need to get down in that rubble to rescue our dads. So, we need to be able to get through it. Green light? We want to be small -- like Erien!" I shouted out.
Power from the light swept around us like a tornado. I felt dizzy and soon all I could see was the light itself. A pathway opened up in the power and I heard a voice, well a thought, vibrating through my entire body. Go on?
For this kind of power? I thought. I'm there. I stepped forward onto the pathway and had the distinct impression that the light had been waiting for me -- well, not me perhaps but someone like me. I followed the path for a while until it forked three ways. To my right I saw the wizard's path. There, people with affinity for magic could follow the light and learn the ways of magic, but that was so boring. I looked away. In the center I saw several different races of people following the green light much as elves did, but that had no real understanding of the Light. To my left, however, I saw the elven path, the one I had been selected to take. I stepped onto it and saw both Paul and Erien ahead of me.
Paul turned and waved me back, but Erien stood there, as tall as I was, welcoming me with open arms. I ran ahead and accepted his hug. Paul sighed and hugged me as well.
A few seconds later, Allan stepped onto the elven path after me. We waited for him to join us, and watched as Suzie followed him. She frowned at something, then turn and fled back down the light.
I felt myself falling. I hit solid ground only to have something heavy land on top of me knocking the wind out of my chest. I coughed, and pushed Erien off me. I sat up, and looked around. It worked. Erien was now as tall as I was, or rather I was as small as he was.
"Some spell," I commented. "Told you I was a first rate wizard."
"Not now," he said and pointed at Allan.
My twin shook himself off, and I saw his newly pointed ears and green eyes. I ran a finger up and down mine. "That's way better."
"Oh god," Allan said and stared at me. "Andy?"
"Do my ears look like yours?"
I nodded. "Yes, they do. Isn't this neat. We're elves now just like him and Paulin. Paul?" I called out.
"Over here, you idiot. Suzie's out like a light."
"Why did you do that us?" Allan demanded.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was your choice to walk the elven path with the rest of us." I waited for Erien, then we both jumped down to meet Allan and go in search of Paul and Suzie.
"That was some spell," Allan commented as we found the others. "She's not an elf?"
"No, she refused the elven path," Erien said.
"Okay, now what, Master Elf?" Paul asked me.
"We go through that cave and find Dad, that's what. Hey, Suzie are you gonna lie there all day or come with us?"
The girl sputtered and shook her head. She turned to stare at each of us in turn. "Four of you?" She raised her hand to check her own ears.
"No, you didn't change like we did," I said. "But you did get small. Come on, we've gotta find our dads."
"This is all some incredible dream," she insisted. "I'm not going anywhere." She pinched herself a couple of times.
An ant, the size of Suzie's foot crawled up on the rock. Suzie screamed and backed away. "What is that?"
"A scout," Allan said.
"No, we haven't had lunch but you're welcome to share when we do," I said to the insect.
"You talked to that thing?" She asked.
"He asked Andy not me," Allan said with just a slight smirk. "I know this is all a dream, but if you stay here while we go find our dads something a lot worse than that ant could find you."
"Sure, and can't you just picture the headlines?" I asked. "Daring Elves, and Friend, rescue world famous archeologists from cave-in."
"I don't care what you are, but I am not your friend, and our dads aren't world famous anythings."
"They will be," I told her. "We'll let them discover us."
"You are just so cute," she scowled.
Erien led the way back to the hole in the rocks. He stared inside and shuddered. "By the Light, I am glad that you are coming with me. I wouldn't want to go in there alone."
"Neither would I," I admitted. "Suzie, why don't you go first, with me, while Allan and Paul bring up the rear."
"I am not going anywhere." Then she screamed and ran inside as a large bird landed on the rocks.
"It's just a sparrow," I laughed. "Form up, men, forward march."
Allan tossed a hunk of bread from his backpack to the bird and we marched into the cave.
"I can't see a thing in here," Suzie complained.
Neither could I, but I wasn't about to let her know that. "Well, you were the one that didn't want to be an elf. Okay, guys, cover your eyes while I make some light." I held out my palm and a ball of green light flared to life a few inches above it.
"I still can't see," Suzie said.
"Girls," I said and made the ball brighter. The light floated up over our heads and I walked beside Suzie down a long pathway between the boulders.
Something scratched behind us.
"Rat," Allan said.
"You're joking," Suzie said. "There aren't any." She screamed as the rodent's head appeared in the tunnel behind us. Allan and Paul fired bolts of green light at it until it squeaked and ran away.
We started walking again. Allan took a place next to Erien and asked, "I know there are elves in the Silver Forest, but why are you living way out here? Your parents?"
"Dead," he said and shook his head. "Where is the Silver Forest? My family has been looking for the rest of the Children of Light for almost a thousand years. I thought I was the last of the elves until I met Paulin, and now you have joined us, but there are more?"
"Yes, and you don't want to meet them," I said. "Your ancestor was Fiorin, the warrior?"
"Yes," Erien said with a wide smile. "Which is the reason we have been lost for so long. At the last battle between the Light and Shadow, the Elf King himself sent my ancestor on a great quest. So he took his family and left the battle to the other warriors."
"What did he quest for?" Allan asked.
"The Great Sword of the Light."
"Should have known," Allan commented. "Elven warriors always have to win swords, don't they? Did he find it?"
"Yes, of course, but by the time he returned to the battle ground at a place called Stone Hedge, everyone else was gone, destroyed by the Shadow."
"What happened to the Sword?" Paul asked.
"I've got it right here," Erien said and patted his shoulder bag. "When Fiorin returned to Stone Hedge, he tried contacting Light. He placed his sword on the altar stone and it vanished, but nothing else happened at all. With no where else to turn he thought to return to our home land in Schwartz's Wood, but he never found the way back."
"Schwartz's Wood?" Paul asked. "What in the world does that mean?"
"It's like Stone Hedge," I said. "His father told him the history but after all these years names have grown kind of fuzzy. It's okay, really."
"Do you know how to get there?" Erien demanded.
"Yes, but it's nothing like it was a thousand years ago. Don't worry. I promised that we'd find you a proper home, and we will."
The tunnel finally dipped underground, and it ended in a crack in the wall of a large room still intact under the rubble. I sent the ball of light out across the room.
A wooden door, covered with strange runes, appeared to be the only other exit from the room. I saw a closet set in one wall with a half rotted door blocking my view inside. The only other object in the room was a large glass box against the wall opposite from us.
"Cool," I said. "The Mummy's Tomb."
"Andy, that's Egypt. There aren't any mummies in England," Allan corrected me.
"Okay, so who's buried in England?"
"Kings, Saints and Vampires," Paul said quickly. "Anyone got a stake?"
"What if it's King Arthur?" Allan asked.
"Can't stake him," I agreed.
"Yeah, but anyone else, POW, right in the heart," Paul said and rubbed his hands.
"Bloodthirsty little beast," Suzie said.
Erien looked down the wall, sat down and dangled his legs over the edge.
"What are you doing?" I asked him.
"I'm going to climb down to the floor."
"Oh, okay. I want to see what or who's in that box," I pointed and formed a line of green light. One end attached to the box, and I fixed the other on the wall over our heads. Taking a firm grip, I slid across the room whooping at the top of my lungs all the way.
"I don't read the comics for nothing," I called out.
"Double negative, Mr. English Major," Paul called back.
"Oh, bite my big toe, why don't you?"
Erien slid across the light and landed next to me, but without the sound effects. Paul followed while Allan tried to get Suzie across.
"Okay, stay here, then, but I'm going across to the box and if that rat comes back." Suzie snorted then slid across with Allan right behind her.
"All present and accounted for," Paul said.
"Right, let's get this show on the road." I pointed to the two corners of the box nearest the wall. Paul pointed behind us and green light flared along the top of the box, along the seams and down the sides.
The top of the box began to move, slowly at first then with increasing speed. I felt a rumble and a slight tremor as the top stopped leaving the box half way opened. I ran to the edge and peered down at the sleeping form of a teenaged boy who looked maybe fifteen or sixteen.
"Who the hell is that?" I demanded.
"Andy," Paul said. "Watch your language."
"Sorry, but that isn't Scotty by any stretch of the imagination. The Lord of Light is supposed to be in this box. We're supposed to rescue him. That's the way I wrote this, and that's the way it has to be. Who knows who this guy is? I say we close this box up tight, go back to the wall and try this again. Take two, everyone. Someone get rid of the big kid and get Scotty Freeman here."
"Oh, hell," Paul said. "I remember this scene now. Don't you know who that is?"
"No, Mr. Wise Guy Elf. Suppose you tell us so we all know."
Paul sighed, "Okay, Mr. Hotshot Writer, sir. Remember who was in that box when Collin and Bryan found him?"
"The Lord of Light," I said.
"Yes, but whose brilliant idea was it to make the Lord of Light a teenager and not the adorable ex-godling that we have now?"
I stared down at the boy. "Teo? It can't be. He's not the Lord of Light in this world. Oh, hell," I cursed again. "I think you're right. That looks just like the boy I wrote about."
The young man in question had dark brown hair, a handsome face, and wore long robes of white trimmed in gold.
"But this is still impossible. How can there be two Lords of Light?"
"Suppose we find out," Allan suggested.
"I guess we have to," I said. "Okay, Suzie. Go down there and do your duty."
"Me? What do I have to do with this? And why aren't we still searching for our fathers?"
"You don't know how to wake the sleeping beauty or whatever he is? I'm not gonna do it. Besides, our fathers are fine. This is who is in trouble"
"You really think that's going to work?" she asked although from the expression on her face I could see she was considering the prospect. She jumped down to the boy's chest, walked up to his chin. "He is the most beautiful boy I have ever seen," she said then kissed the sleeper on the lips. Nothing happened. She bent over and tried again, harder.
"Okay, Erien," I said. "Your turn."
"Me? Why me?"
"Because you've had the most experience in being an elf. Go down there and show Suzie how it's done."
"I don't see why we have to rescue her at all if she can't kiss properly," Erien grumbled as he jumped down and trudged up to the boy's chin. He gave the kid a quick peck on the lips, wiped off his own, and stood back.
"There, it's your turn, Andy."
"Do I have to do everything around here?" I grumbled and puckered up.
The boy took in a deep breath sending Erien and Suzie running for cover. Allan, Paul and I jumped down on the more active chest and ran over to grab the others. Too late. I saw the boy's eyes flicker open.
With a long sigh, the boy sat up in the box, shook himself off, moaned and held his head. "Where am I?" He climbed out of the box and looked around. "Hello?"
"Down here," I called out and ran to the center of the box to wave my arms. "Hey, you, the big kid up there. Here."
Finally the boy looked down and peered at me. "Elves? But why are you so small? Where am I?"
"Good questions, and we don't know, really. Who are you?"
"I'm Teo. Theoscotius according to my parents, and I need a drink. I don't suppose you have any nut ale with you?"
"Uh, we aren't old enough to drink, and neither are you," I said.
"Says who? I have been drunk most of my life and I intend to be so the rest of my life. What is this place, and why was I in that box?"
"This is the basement of Castle Correlis, and we have no idea why you were in that box. What happened?'
He shook his head and leaned against the box for support. "There was a contest. My best friend. Paulin. By all the Powers, that miserable brat killed him. My best friend. He was a minstrel, an elven minstrel, and a genius with tunes. He told me, begged me not to enter the contest, but I had to. I could not pass on the chance to be Lord of Light. And I won the contest, too. I rejoined the Great Spear of the Light and that miserable little brat took it from me. I am the Lord of Light."
"Uh oh," I said. "Looks like Mr. Freeman has a bit of explaining to do. You've been in that box for almost a thousand years, Teo."
"A thousand years? I do not believe that. The battle was just starting when the brat took the Spear. Paulin tried to stand up for me, since the Spear was mine by right, but that miserable little monster turned him -- my best friend into a hawk and then killed him as he tried to fly away. He then turned my Spear on me, and now I am here, in this box."
"Well, that was long ago and far away," I said. "You know, Teo, with your looks... Can you sing? Doesn't matter, we'll fake it, but you could be a real hit in Hollywood, and I think you need a different career path at the moment since I don't see Scotty handing over that Spear."
"Someone comes," Erien said.
Without warning, I cast a spell. In a flash, Teo shrank down to our size, we popped back over to the crack in the wall, and the box closed as the light turned off.
A cold white light filled the room. Two seconds later, an old man who looked at least two hundred years past death, popped into the room and looked around.
"So, the humans have found this room at last. Perhaps you thought of escape?" he crooned over the box.
Scotty popped into the room toting his Spear with him. "What happened here?"
"Nothing, my lord. Nothing. All is in order, as you can see."
"It had better be, Correlis. I have always felt that it was a mistake to let you guard this box, but if anything happens..."
"It won't, my lord. It won't. I swear it."
"Shadow spawned dolt," Scotty said and pushed the old man aside. "I ought to send you back to the tender mercies of the Lord of Shadow for this. I -- I will do just that. The box! It's empty!"
"Impossible, my lord. The pretender is still inside."
I whispered another spell to make Teo's sleeping image appear lying on the inside of the box as Scotty moved the lid.
"You will live," Scotty said and closed the lid again without a closer look. "There are some kids named Hollis in the area, Correlis. I want you to find the one called Andrew, and keep tabs on him. He's a true brat, and an idiot, but a useful idiot to be sure. He's questing for the Great Sword of the Light for me, and I have every confidence that he will find it, too, but if he were to find this room. It cannot happen. Is that understood? Do whatever you must to stop him, but stop him."
"It will be done, my lord," Correlis said and popped out of the room to look for me.
"He don't know me vewy well, do he?" I snickered as I whispered to Paul.
"I thought this was the nasty one."
"He would have been at this point, but I think I really made some wrong assumptions about old Scotty. When he called me up to Olympus that first time, and I saw it was him, not Teo, I thought he was the nice one. He makes Teo look ready for sainthood."
"Why are you insulting me? I have had nothing to do with this?"
"I know that, kiddo, but. Never mind, it would take too long to explain this. We've got to get out of here and fast, but where?"
"We need to prove that he's the rightful Lord of Light," Erien said.
"Yes, but to do that. We would have to go before the Council of Light on Lurynda. Teo, would you mind being a little bird for a while? I have a plan."
"Of course you do," Paul said.
"I suppose not," Teo commented. "It's better than going back in that box."
The boy fluttered for a moment and perched on my shoulder. "So, now what?'
"We're going out there to find that box. We haven't been here before and we didn't see or hear anything. Got that? Our lives may depend on this, but it may be the only way to get where we have to go."
Everyone, including Suzie agreed. I led the way back to the edge of the wall. Scotty still stood in the room, but his attention seemed a million miles away.
"Oh, man," I said and snapped my fingers. "We finally find the treasure and guess who beat us to it."
Scotty looked around. "Who said that?"
"Hey, you, the kid with the big stick. Here!"
"Andy? Is that you down there?" Scotty snapped his fingers and the world spun around.
I shook myself off as I found myself back at normal size. So were all the others including Erien. The bird still perched on my shoulder. "Neat trick. So, Mr. Lord High Whatever, what's in the box?"
"Elves? What are you doing here?"
"We're the Daring Elves, and Friend that are trying to rescue two world famous archeologists from the cave-in," Erien said quickly.
"What cave in?" Scotty demanded.
"The one that made rubble out of this castle," I said. "One of them is our dad and the other is her dad. So, where are they?"
Scotty looked us over. "Paulin?" he asked, almost relieved. "You have a twin?"
"Of course, doesn't everyone?" he asked. "We just found him, too. Haven't found the Sword, yet, but we're working on it. So, what's in the box?"
"Right, the Sword. Speaking of that, where is that devil incarnate you call your best friend?"
I winked at the others. Great. So, he didn't recognize his useful idiot in the elf suit. "He's sulking," I said. "We wouldn't let him come along with us."
"I see, and that was probably a wise move. Look, there isn't anything to see here. Have you found anything out about the Sword."
"Yes," I said. "It was found by a great elven warrior named Fiorin, and was promptly sent through the gate at Stonehenge to Lurynda."
"That's impossible. Who told you this?"
"I did," Erien said. "Fiorin was my ancestor and my family has always told that tale. He set his sword on the altar stone at Stone Hedge and it vanished."
"Where else would that gate take the Sword?" I asked.
"Lurynda, but that means anyone could have found it and made off with it."
"Not while we're on the case," Paul said. "Daring Elves and Friend find the Great Sword of the Light," he said and rubbed his hands together. "The reward had better be worth it, too, but we're ready to go."
"By the way, miss, just who are you?"
"Their babysitter," Suzie said. "I'm Suzie Burke."
"Ah, good move that. They need one. You are?"
"Erien, my lord."
"Collin," I said and this is my twin brother, Bryan."
"Very well, since this seems to be a twin convention, where are the Hollis twins?"
"Last time I saw them, they were outside the castle," Paul said, truthfully. "We traced power to that little tunnel over there and all of us shrunk down to follow it. Andy went to tell his father and Mr. Burke where we were."
If Scotty noticed the slight glow from the Spear he didn't show it. "Okay, but before you go, perhaps this is necessary. Control them."
The four of yelped out as I felt a sharp pain in my left earlobe. Gold earrings pierced our ears. From the look of Allan's they were small, quartered circles.
"There, much better with this lot," Scotty said and turned to Suzie. "This will control them." He gave her a larger version of our earrings. "Freeze."
I watched as the others froze into place like statues and I forced myself stiff since I wasn't about to test my new powers against Scotty just then. Teo hopped once on my shoulder, but that was about it.
"Thank you," Suzie said warmly as she studied the device. "I've really needed something like this with this lot."
Scotty's smile was brilliant to behold, and I watched Suzie melt from the heat. "Take care of the boys, keep them in line and let me know the second they find that Sword."
"I will. Count on that, Scotty."
"When I find the Hollis boys I'll make sure your father knows that you are safe, with me."
"Would you? That would be so kind."
Off you go," he said and waved the Spear. The world spun around and turned blank.
Sometime short of forever, I woke to find myself lying on my back in the middle of a garden. I sat up, shook my head and looked around. The other elves were standing, still frozen like statues.
"The girl is over there," the bird chirped.
I stood up, walked over to check on Suzie, then took another trip to the nearest fountain. I carried over a double handful of cold water and splashed the girl's face. Nothing happened. I tried again, but she woke up just as I dropped the third load on her.
"You miserable little brute. How could you?"
"I need that thing Scotty gave you."
Suzie sat up, shook off the water, and pulled out the gold circle. "Freeze."
"Hand it over, or do I have to get tough?"
"Freeze! You are supposed to obey me."
"Oh, honestly," I said with a mock English accent. I fluttered my eyes. "Oh, Scotty dearest, I'll do anything you want." With that, I snatched the circle from her hand. "You had better make up your mind which side you're on. We're halfway across the galaxy from home. Chose Scotty over us, and you will be sorry. That kid is over five thousand years and he isn't interested in having a girlfriend. Stick with us, and I will get you home again."
I left her to sputter about me. I took the circle over to my friends. "Wake up."
The three of them shook and shivered as the spell wore off. I touched each of their earrings and drained the power from the gold. "Scotty put some kind of whammy on those."
"Can we take them off now?" Erien asked.
"Not yet. I don't like it either but I want Scotty to think he's got some kind of power over us. Now then, sooner or later he's gonna figure out that Teo isn't in that box, and that Allan and I aren't in Kansas anymore. I say we go inside, get some fresh clothes and something to eat, and head for Hollyroot as quickly as possible. We'll fly if we have to."
"Hollyroot?" Allan asked.
"Yeah, it's the biggest village near here, and they're having a fair tonight. We're supposed to."
"What has been keeping you?" asked a tall man who looked in his late twenties. He glared at us. "I have been waiting. Where's the girl?"
"Right here," Suzie said coming up behind us.
"Don't you have better control than that? Oh, you're human. I require one of these elves. I am Richard, a fourth step adept of the Blue Order, and I serve the Lord of Light and manage this Palace in his absence. The rest of you are to go inside, and the servants will show you the rest."
"Collin," Suzie said. "Stay with this nice man while we go get something to eat. Good boy." She turned to the others. "This way."
"Collin, is it?" Richard said and studied me for a while. He didn't notice as the rest of my friends marched down the pathway and ducked behind some hedges. "This will be distasteful, but I have no choice. Hold still while I transfer control from Suzie to myself."
"I need a familiar, and with you in my control I will be the most powerful adept in the world. First, you will grant me luck, and then I will make you a cat -- a nice Siamese cat that no one will miss."
"I like cats," I said with a shrug, "But Suzie's the boss of me, and you aren't."
"What is that supposed to mean? No matter," he said and started making hand gestures over my head.
"Can you swim, Rich?"
"Of course, I am a water wizard after all. Why do you ask?"
"Cats don't like water, and I don't think I like you very much either. Green light, drop this person in the middle of some ocean."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded as bands of green light wrapped around his middle. Before he could say another word, he was lifted bodily from the ground and, with his arms and legs flailing in the air, Richard went sailing over the Palace dome heading south.
"Bye, Rich. Have a nice swim!" I yelled after him until he was just a black speck in the sky.
"That should cool off that degenerate idiot," Paul said and stepped out from the hedges. The others soon followed.
"My first wizard's duel," I crowed as Allan gave me a high five.
"I had hoped Richard would win," Suzie said sweetly.
"I know, pick on the little kid. It's always the case. Girls," I said and marched off toward the Palace.
This Palace of Light, unlike the one near our home, was nothing less than the product of a warped and evil mind. It rambled over the countryside in no particular order or style and looked at least twice the size of the Palace of Light in the Silver Forest.
"I would rather not go in there," Erien said.
"I don't look forward to it either, but I'm hungry," I said and patted his shoulder.
"That's my brother, here we are, zapped who knows where without even saying 'Good Bye' to Dad, and he's hungry."
"He's always hungry," Paul commented. "So am I for that matter."
I stopped and stared at a fresco that bordered the entire palace with repeating themes. The Children of Light marched along in carvings. Tall Lord and Ladies walked with smaller Leprechauns and fairies. Sprites flew overhead while troops of naked pixies marched ahead as if in search of clothes.
Through the entranceway I felt completely dwarfed by the size of the building. Marble columns rose from the floor to support the ceiling, complete with paintings, that looked a hundred feet high.
The swirl of motion, seen only out of the corner of my eye, announced the arrival of the Palace servants. We were guided along the hallways until, at one branch, the servants led Suzie away from us.
"Where are we going?" Allan asked, but the answer came just then as we were almost pushed into a huge room with a swimming pool long the far wall.
"I don't want a bath," Erien protested as he struggled to maintain his clothes.
Allan shrugged, stripped, and jumped into the water. Paul followed a moment later while I tried to calm the elf. Erien fought, a losing battle, until the servants finally picked him and tossed him into the water."
"Do that to me, too," I shouted, playfully pretending to play keep-away from the servants..
Soaped, scrubbed and rinsed, the servants pulled us from the water and covered us in huge towels. We were allowed to sit down on marble benches set in an alcove by the pool.
More servants came in bringing an assortment of hairbrushes and scissors with them. Since Erien looked as if he hadn't had a haircut in six years, they started on him before trimming up the rest of us.
"You look great," I commented as they finished. They had left the boy's hair long, over his shoulders at least, but neat. Allan and I wound up with fairly short cuts since that's the way we wore ours to avoid Mom's threat of death and destruction. Paul's hair was cut long, about half as long as Erien's.
Clothes floated into the room, and I found myself pushed into light green hose, that barely covered my legs, followed by a long dark green tunic. Felt boots and a dark brown leather belt completed the outfit.
"Cool, native costumes." Allan rubbed the fabric appreciatively.
"My buddies in the S.C.A. would love this place," I said.
"The what?" Allan asked.
"The Society for Creative Anachronism," I said. "It's a play group for grown-ups."
"We dressed up like in medieval times and watched out for the plague and things. Lots of fun, really. I see you are less than impressed, varlet. Have at it," I said and held out my trusty invisible sword. We dueled for a moment.
"What happened to our old clothes?" Paul demanded and the servants led us back out into the hallways to a large bedroom where we found our things and Erien's shoulder bag in the closet along with new clothes for each of us.
"Something to eat?" I asked after we finished packing.
The dining room covered at least ten square miles. Suzie was already there sitting at a table with a tall, blond boy. This one looked about sixteen.
"Hey, food," we all shouted and ran for the side table. I filled a plate and took a seat next to the big kid. "So, we meet our first happy henchman. I'm Collin, and don't tell me, let me guess. Fidelity?"
The boy shook his head. "That's me, but how did you know that? I haven't been to the Silver Forest in hundreds of years."
"Your fame travels far and wide, Fidge. So, how's tricks? Are the others hanging out here too?"
"Patience and Hope are here, but have you seen a wizard named Richard? The Green Order called about some sort of disturbance in the Green Light today, and he seems to have vanished."
"Went for a swim, he did," Paul said joining us. "Hi, I'm Paulin, and you're Fidge? Thought so. Glad to meet you at last."
"Bryan, this is Fidge," I said as my twin sat down.
"Hey, what's up, dude?" Allan said and shook hands.
"While I'm always glad to have elves at the Palace, tell me again why Scotty sent you here? Suzie wasn't too clear on that."
"Sure," I said. "We're questing for the Great Sword of the Light, which is actually in Erien's bag there, but we don't find that out until the end of the story, okay? But, when we find it we're gonna turn it over to His Nibs like good little elves and go home."
"I see. When are you going to find out that it's in that bag?"
"At the end of the story. That's the way this story is supposed to work out, and we can all be surprised that we had it all along. I've written and re-written this epic tale more times than I can count, and now that I'm here I'm gonna get it right."
"Got it. Well, let me read the story when you finish. There's a fair tonight in Hollyroot."
"Yes!" Allan cheered. "I love Ferris Wheels."
"It's not that kind of fair."
"No rides? What a rip. Can we stay here and watch TV?" Allan asked next.
"Video junkie," I commented.
"Elves ride Ferris Wheels and watch TV? Not here, lad, Scotty barely allows electricity let alone TV," Fidge explained.
"Rats," I said.
"And Double Rats," Allan added.
Another boy, this one closer to our age, ran into the room. "Fidge, Scotty is coming in, and he's really pissed about something. Oh, hi," he said noticing us for the first time. "The Hollis twins are missing and it looks like someone let the Pretender out of that box."
"After a thousand years it's finally starting. You, kids, get out of here now as if your lives depend on it, because they probably do. We'll go and delay the Lord of Light as long as we can."
The two henchmen vanished. I ran over to the wall, used a little green light to crack the wall safe, and cleaned out all the petty cash into a bag. Allan and Paul ran down the length of the food table, shrinking and preserving tons of food.
"What are you doing?" Suzie demanded.
"Getting ready to blow this joint," I said. "Can't just uproot our entire operation without some operating capital and food -- lots and lots of food -- can we?"
"We're ready," Paul said.
"Suzie?" I asked. "We're flying out of here now. Are you ready to go?"
"And leave Scotty? I can't do that, and if he catches you."
"It's your neck, kiddo. Look, we're going out there to find the ruby slippers that will take us home. We may not be able to swing back here to pick you up. If you have any brains, you don't know what happened to the Hollis twins and you've never heard of Teo in your life. Got that? Still gonna stay?"
"I'm staying here."
"Falcons everyone. You, too, Teo."
"Much better," Teo said and stretched his longer wings. "I don't suppose I could stay this way?"
I glanced over at Suzie and shook my head. "Not a chance. Way too conspicuous."
"I see. I place my trust and my life in your hands, Master Elf. In spite of your age, I feel my trust is well placed."
"Thanks for that. Ready?" I asked and shook my wings. A blast of wind blew a window open and drew us with it. We shot into the morning sky screaming as we went.
If anything, I felt I knew the Luryndian landscape better than Virginia's. From the air, I watched the woods and the river beneath us. I headed up the group and guided us north toward the Great Plains and Hollyroot. This was an obvious course, and there was a good chance that Scotty would figure it out, but at that point I felt we had no choice.
I did send Teo ahead as a scout, with instructions, before bringing the rest of the group to a landing beside the main road north.
"Okay, men, we need a disguise and a good one. We're going to be half-elves from Oakbranch on the way to the fair. Everyone needs caps."
"If you are going to turn us into half elves, I think I would rather stay a falcon," Erien commented. "Which half is missing?"
"How are we supposed to get anywhere if we're missing a half?" Allan asked.
"No, no and no. Half-elves are whole people, but have one part elf and one part human. They don't have pointed ears, but they do have green eyes like we do, so we need caps."
"Like this?" Paul asked as a small green cap tucked itself behind his ears.
"No, we need to cover up the ears so no one sees them. Like this," I said calling for a larger cap, and tucked my ears inside. "True elves on this world never leave the safety of Granthol Forest because elves can grant luck and everyone else goes crazy over them. With these caps no one is gonna believe that we're true elves so we can blend into the scenery. Okay?"
"You want us to look like trees now?" Erien asked. "I thought we were going to be these half elf creatures."
"No, I mean if anyone sees some half-elf kids on the road they won't notice us because we fit right in. Never mind," I said as Paul smirked at me. I called up caps for Allan and Erien as Paul corrected his. A moment later, the little bird fluttered down and landed on my shoulder.
"Do you think the Council will really help him?" Allan asked.
"I don't know, but I can't just let him go back to sleep for another thousand years."
We walked for about a mile when we found a bag of grain lying on the road. A flock of birds covered the bag eating from a rip in the burlap. They ignored us, even after we tried to shoo them off the bag. Walking on, we found several more bags scattered around. I hurried up the pace around a bend in the road.
We found a horse cart lying on its side on the road. Three people, a large, round man and two kids lay sprawled on the ground as well. I spotted a gaping wound on the boy's leg and ran over to heal it. Erien ran to check the others while Allan and Paul set about righting the cart and calming the horses.
The boy looked about ten. I let the energy flow as nerves and tissue reformed itself around the wound, the bone knit back into place, and finally I closed the skin up without a scar. I looked to see the kid watching as well.
"Hi. I'm Collin, Andy greeted him. "Feeling better?"
"Thanks to you, healer. I don't know how we could ever pay for this. My father and sister?"
"Fine. Your Dad's still out cold, but your sister is over there. Bryan and Paulin over there are getting your stuff together. And you, kidlet, look good as new. No charge except maybe a ride into town?"
"But my leg?" the boy said and carefully stood up. "You do not want a years wages for this?"
"What for?" I asked. "Your leg was hurt, I was here -- end of story. Come on, we'd better help out. Paulin really gets fussy about that."
"Do not," Paul yelled back. "Go ahead, sit there and do nothing, you usually do anyway."
"Do not," I called back.
"He dares talk to a healer of your power like that?" the boy asked, shocked.
"He's my best friend in the whole world, and he always talks to me like that. Bryan's my brother, and Erien over there with your Dad is another healer and our newest best buddy."
"I -- I am Jartos. My father is the merchant, Melchek, and my sister is Helga. We will be in your debt forever, Healer Collin."
The merchant let out a long groan, shook his head, and lay back as Erien continued to work on him. "A healer? Jartos! My son. His leg was crushed in the fall."
"I'm fine, father." Jartos said and ran over to his father. "Healer Collin fixed it. See? Not even a scratch."
"But I saw the bone broken. Master Healer, we are truly in your debt. I doubt even if we sold all of our goods tonight that we could meet your price. For my son, I will."
"You won't do anything, sir. All we want is a ride into Hollyroot for the fair and that is more than enough payment. What happened here?"
Melchek stood up and stared at me. "Halfies, are you? For my son's leg. A ride into town it is. A wizard of the Blue Order stopped us. He said he was searching for four elves that escaped from the Palace of Light. His irresponsible use of magic frightened the horses, and. I will take you all the way to Granthol Forest if you'd like."
"No thanks," I said. "We're going to the fair, and half-elves don't live in Granthol, only full elves, okay?"
"I see. Of course, you don't. My mistake, of course, but tell your friend over there not to take off his cap to mop his forehead."
"Sorry," Allan said, quickly replacing his knit cap.
When we finished loading the cart, Allan set his camera's self-timer and took a picture of all of us with the horses. The four of us loaded up the back and settled in on the grain.
About an hour later, Erien looked up and called out a warning. By the time the two riders approached the cart there were four extra bags of grain in the back, with the bird hiding in a real sack.
"Good afternoon, merchant, and to your family," Fidge said.
"And to you, too, Lord Fidelity -- Lord Patience. I was so hoping I would find you at the fair this evening, but this is even better. A while back, we were held up by a wizard, a fourth step adept of the Blue Order. He claimed to be looking for four elves. Elves, this far from Granthol? I offered to let him search my cart for elves hiding in the bags, but he cast a flare of blue light at the horses. The horses bolted and the cart was overturned. My son would have lost his leg if not for a pair of half-elf healers we met on the road."
"Half-elves?" Patience asked.
"From Oakbranch, or so they said. They helped us out considerably. They healed my son's leg without demanding payment and they went on their way."
"I see," Fidelity said. "How old were these healers?"
"Young, but who can tell with halfies? They looked like children, but for all I could tell they could have been sixty or seventy."
"Which way did the healers go?"
"To the fair, of course," Melchek said.
"Thanks for your time, merchant," Fidelity said. He turned to Patience. "We had better head south. Heading for the fair is the most likely course they would take, so I would wager they won't go anywhere near Hollyroot."
"They are just kids, Fidge. Do you really think they would be that devious?"
"Yes, I do, and so does Scotty. We ride south."
I waited until the horses were long out of range before dropping the disguise. "Thanks again, Mr. Melchek. I figured they wouldn't believe that story about going to the fair."
The village of Hollyroot was spread out over the plain, and covered a considerable area. Cottages mixed with shops and pubs and the streets were paved with cobblestones. Peoples of all descriptions walked the sidewalks and we watched groups of people decorate the fairgrounds for the evening festivities.
Melchek drew the cart to a stop. "Here we are, lads. The Hollyroot Inn is right over there, and you may still get a room for the night. If not they have good food. We will have our booth set up toward the back of the grounds if you need anything."
"Thank you for the ride," Erien commented. "We wish you the best of luck at the fair."
Jartos gave me a quick hug. "This has been the best day of my life meeting you, Healer Collin."
"Are you sure you won't sell your bird to me?" Helga asked. "I'd take really good care of him, and teach him to sing, and --"
"Feed him your fingers," Jartos laughed as the bird snapped at the girl's hand.
"Children, I need your help here," Melchek said.
"I could use a snack," Allan said as we headed for the inn. "How much did we get from that safe?"
"All of it," I said and checked the money bag. "Look at this," I said and held out a large gold coin. "All of them say twenty."
"They do?" Erien asked and held the coin up to his ear. "I don't hear it say anything."
"Don't worry, you will," I said and retrieved the coin. "I bet one of these is more than enough for tonight. Maybe we can find a bank to change this and get something to eat."
"Food first, I always say," Paul said. "That way," he said and sniffed the air.
"I'm with him," Allan said.
"Some people never have any sense of priorities, Carmichael. If we split this four ways we can each get separate checks and I don't get stuck with the tab."
"How many times have I bought you lunch in Annapolis?"
"That was then, and you haven't bought either Allan or Erien lunch -- ever."
"But I don't make the big bucks anymore, Andy. You do. I just get some lousy royalties for my records when I should be getting everything."
"Not this again," Allan said. "If you don't want those lousy royalties sign them over to me and I'll make sure they go to a good cause like feeding homeless elves."
"That's my brother," I said and patted his back. "I am so proud of you for that."
The smell of roasting meats drew us into the inn like flies. A large chalkboard announced the day's special, trout of all things, but there were enough meat items listed that I felt better.
Erien took a table in the far corner of the taproom even though a couple of pixies invited him to join that table. Allan and Paul studied the carvings along the wall while I sat down with Erien.
"What will you boys have?" asked a tall man, wearing a stained white apron, as the others joined us.
"Just a snack before dinner?" I asked. "We'd each like bread and cheese, and blueberries in cream?" I asked. He nodded. "Four ginger beers."
"Did you do the carvings?" Paul asked.
"Some, but my father and grandfather before him did the most. My grandfather's version of the last battle between the Light and Shadow is right over by the fireplace. Wait while I place your order and I can show you around."
"Thanks," Paul said. "You've got to see this, Collin. Those carvings are incredible."
When the man returned we all walked over to the fireplace to see the battle scene. There, riding on a six legged beast of some sort sat the Lord of Shadow, a tall ex-god with a shaggy black beard and completely bald head. Beside him rode Ashtar, although the creature in the carving looked little like the demon we fought back home. Scotty, with his spear held high faced down the entire Shadow army that day. I stared at a small figure in the background that looked like Teo.
"Who is that?" I said and pointed.
"You have remarkably good eyes, son. That poor child was Theoscotius, a druid by birth and the one that." He lowered his voice to the barest of whispers. "They say he was the true Lord of Light. They say that our Scotty stole the Spear and the title from that boy and sent the child into eternal exile from the fairy realms."
"Oh, cool," I said. "I take it Scotty doesn't know about this carving?"
"No, and he would probably rip it from the wall if he did. Of all the times the Lord of Light has been here he has never seen that figure. You do have good eyes."
We sat down, and the man brought our meal a few minutes later. I figured he was telling us the tale to impress us, but at least the people still remembered what happened.
I cut my loaf down the center, slathered on the butter and tucked the cheese inside to melt. As the waiter set down our blueberries, I looked up to see a smallish man standing in the doorway.
"Ale, Keesan, and hurry. I am parched this afternoon."
"Not again," the man muttered.
"Who is that?" Paul asked with a frown on his face.
"Jaemar? A trouble maker from the beginning, but didn't you halfies name him your prince?"
"That's a half-elf?" Erien asked. "Oh, now I see which half is missing."
"We didn't," I said quickly trying to cover up for Erien's incautious words. "Maybe Paulin did because he's like that."
"Did not. I didn't know which half was missing either."
I watched the man studying us. "Don't even ask. It's better that way. Please don't let that man sit with us, either."
"Right," he said and backed away.
"My ale, Keesan," Jaemar called out.
"Just a minute, Jaemar, I do have other customers."
"So I see." The man started heading our way when one of the pixies grabbed his cloak.
"Leave alone, not yours."
"Unhand me, you little brute. I can see who they are." He pulled away from the pixie and walked right up to our table. "Hello, boys. Here for the fair? Why aren't you helping your parents with their booth?"
"Our parents aren't with us," Paul said. "We came to see the fair, not enter it."
"I see, and you aren't standing?"
"No, sir," I said. "Standing to eat is bad for our digestion, and I'm beginning to think that you are too. In fact, mister, do you mind? We're trying to eat here."
"I am Prince Jaemar."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Jaemar," Allan said. "Or is that supposed to be your royal something?"
"Royal something is fairly accurate there, lad," Keesan said. "Here is your ale, your royal something, and if you do not leave the children alone I will have you tossed out on your royal something else."
Jaemar took the ale, pulled up a chair beside Allan, and sat down. "What is the special?"
"It's there for all to see, Jaemar, or can't you read. Trout."
"Are you gonna eat trout at this table?" I asked him.
"Yes. Bring five of the specials, then."
"I hate fish," I said. "I hate watching people eat fish, too. I'm going over to that table there, and if you try to follow me I'm going to have to get tough."
"Get tough, get tough," a pixie said. "Told halfie to leave you alone."
"Jaemar, why don't you make this easy," Keesan told the man. "Move away from this table. Henry!" He called out.
A moment later, a giant of a man pushed his way into the taproom from the kitchen. "Yes, Dad?"
"How much does Jaemar owe on his bill?"
"Ten goldlurs as of yesterday, Dad."
"He lies," Jaemar said. "I can't owe that much."
"I think we have been generous with you for way too long. You will no longer be served here until that bill is paid."
"I -- I certainly don't have that much with me, Keesan. Pay the man for the meal, boys."
Three of us cracked up. "You have got to be kidding," Paul said. "It's not our fault the royal treasury is light."
"Yeah, mister," I said. "Back home we don't have Princes at all. We have congressmen that steal from us and we didn't elect you."
"Since when have you been a libertarian?" Paul demanded. "Never mind. He's right. Beat it, your royal something."
"'Neither a borrower nor lender be,'" I said.
"Not now, Andy," Allan hissed at me.
"You have money to pay for your meal?"
"Of course, we aren't deadbeats like you," Paul said.
"Then, as your Prince, I demand that you pay for my meal as well."
"I'm not paying for anyone to eat some poor defenseless fish," I said and stood up. I picked up my tray and headed for the other table dodging the man's grab for my arm.
"He told you he was leaving," Allan said and stood up. "I hate fish as much as he does."
"No you don't," I commented back. "You eat fish sandwiches at McDonalds®."
"It's different," he said.
"No it isn't," I insisted. "Fish is fish."
"Okay, so I don't hate fish as much as you do. We have just a little money to spend at the fair tonight, and we've already wasted enough time with you."
Jaemar made his fist mistake when he made a grab for Allan's pouch. Allan pointed his right hand and a bolt of green light hit the man squarely on the chest. The halfie flew across the room and crashed into the bar.
"That was an elf's sting," someone said, awed.
Allan blew on his finger. "I don't mess around."
"Greetings to one and all," said another slightly built man in the doorway. This one wore Forest green and made no attempt to hide the points of his ears. "Ale for the parched and road weary, Keesan. Jaemar, how nice to see you looking so unwell. Something serious, I hope. Ah, good people, this had been an incredible year. I have the finest cloth and trinkets from the heart of Granthol Forest this year, as well as forged goods from the Frost Giants up north. Well, well, well," he said and glanced at us. "What a pleasant surprise this is. May the Green light keep you safe, and the Forest keep you happy, lads"
"How dare you give those brats the Elven greeting?" Jaemar demanded as he picked himself up.
"I greet whomever I wish in any manor I please, Jaemar. Think you could stop me?"
"Stand out of the way, Leprechaun, while I teach these brats some manners toward their prince."
"An Elven Prince, are you now. I'd say someone was putting on airs," the leprechaun said with a long laugh. "Now then, lads, I as my father before me did, rejoice in the name of Lawrence," he said and headed towards our table. "The life of a cobbler may have been well enough for Dad, but for me a trading life is more like it."
"That sounds really great," Allan said eagerly. "Would you sit down with us?"
"Sure and I'd love to, but haven't you told this great oaf where to go?" he asked and pointed at Jaemar.
"We'd like to," I said "but he'd kill me if I used that kind of language."
"Mom hates it when we curse," Allan chimed in.
"I suppose she would but if anyone could use a good cursing it's Jaemar."
"Turning my people against me? I can bring you up on charges before the Council as well, Leprechaun. You, boys, I am not finished with you. Pay Keesan for my meal and leave the trader to his own kind."
"He's more our kind than you are, halfie," Paul said. "What?" he asked looking at me.
"Just because he's a racist doesn't mean you have to be, Paulin. Half-blooded elves are kind of sensitive about their human heritage, okay. He's a lousy, fish-eating son of a bad guy, but that doesn't mean you can make fun of his people."
"I'm sorry, Andy. Okay, Jaemar, I apologize for any disrespect I have shown your people. Now, get lost, you lousy son of a bitch."
"Paulin! No cursing," I said and tried not to giggle.
"He said I could," Paul said and pointed at Lawrence.
"I certainly did, and Jaemar is a lousy son of a bitch."
"I quite agree," Keesan said bringing ale to the leprechaun.
"Looks like I'm really outvoted on that one, halfie. See ya!" I said as Henry picked the man up by the back of his tunic and walked to the door. Jaemar struggled then burned the man's hands with his power. Henry dropped him to stare at his hand that looked red and raw from the burn.
I ran over to the man, ignored Jaemar's warning, and healed Henry's hands in seconds. "There, feeling better?"
"Much, thank you, Master Healer," Henry said and growled at the half-elf. "You will pay the fee for this."
"Yeah, and I charge an arm and a leg, too." I said.
Jaemar reached over and pulled the cap from my head. "Elf?"
"Yes," we all chorused. "Give that back, you turkey," I said, and retrieved my cap. "What are you staring at? Is my face dirty?"
"No, it isn't for a change," Allan said. "You got a problem with my brother, mister you can take it up with me too, okay?"
"Far be it from me to warn you from a cursing, Jaemar," Lawrence said evenly. "But I would leave these lads alone."
"Well, well, well!" said a voice from the doorway. "Stay away from the elf, halfie, this one is mine."
I glanced back at Richard and sighed. "Not again. Did you have a nice swim?"
"I'm ready for you this time, Collin. Blue light..."
"Green light, stop him," I said, irritated. Everyone watched as green light surrounded the wizard for a second. His face turned ashen, then gray as he turned quickly to a stone statue. "Some people just never learn. Green light, please take that person and stick him somewhere out of the way. Thanks."
The statue floated up to the ceiling and vanished. People across the taproom applauded.
"For my next trick," I said and glanced back at Jaemar.
"You think your power will stop me?" he demanded. "Green light, bind this accursed elf to my will."
"Hey, that wasn't nice. I didn't curse at you, they did. You're supposed to be here for comic relief, not to mess with my 'G' rating."
He slapped me, right across the face. I rubbed my cheek and stared at him, open mouthed. "You will do what I say, Collin."
Silence fell on the inn. "That hurt," I said.
"Jaemar slapped an elf," someone said. Everyone took cover.
"You've got no right to pick on little kids, mister," I said. "I told you I was gonna get tough if you didn't leave me alone. Green light, stop him and put him away with Rich."
Jaemar screamed once as he started to change. "I think you caught him in a most characteristic pose," Paul said as he studied the statue before it, too, floated up to the ceiling and vanished.
"You okay?" Paul asked me and took his turn healing my cheek.
"Yeah, thanks. Sorry about that, Mr. Keesan."
"We should be thanking you, lad, for ridding us of that nuisance. Please, whatever you do, don't bring him back here. But what do I owe you for healing my son's hands, Master Collin?"
"Nothing. I'll take it out of Jaemar's hide later. But would you save a table for us for dinner tonight?"
"Of course, on the house for the entertainment you provided."
"This is really a pleasant world," Paul commented as he finished off his ginger beer.
I felt comfortably stuffed for a change, from the fabulous dinner, and I glanced around the inn. "Yeah, but I wouldn't want to live here."
"No TV," Allan commented.
The little bird finished a plate of bread crumbs and hopped back on my shoulder as the Lord of Light walked into the taproom. I cast a quick spell.
"Ale, Keesan, the strongest you have."
"Aye, my lord. The fair will be starting soon."
"No time, this year. Too much has happened today. I am missing two human boys, four elf boys, a wizard of the blue order and the Pretender for that matter." He took the mug and drained it in one gulp. "Another, and keep them coming."
"Someone has found the Pretender after all these years?"
"It would seem that way. Someone left a brilliant illusion in his place and now I have no way of telling how long he has been gone. Four elf boys and a human girl were there in the room. I sent them here, but that fool girl let the boys get away," he shook his head and drained another mug. "Then, to top it off she kept lying to me. I had to send her to the lock up for the Council in the morning. You haven't heard of elves in town, have you?"
"There was a slight altercation this afternoon with some halfies. A couple of boys were trying to get a snack and were bothered by Jaemar."
"Oh, please, another blithering idiot. I hope you got rid of him."
"No, the boys sent him packing. He said something about an extended vacation and he left a huge tab here as well."
"I will cover his debts myself if it means he never returns. How many boys were there? You were sure they were half-elves and not full blooded?"
"It was hard to tell, my lord, since they were wearing cloaks, but true elves this far from Granthol? You could ask Trader Lawrence since they left with him."
"Thanks for the lead. If I catch them I will make sure you get the reward." Scotty drank another mug and headed out the door.
I dropped the illusion, and took in a deep breath.
"Why didn't he see us?" Paul demanded. "I can't believe he could walk in here, look right at us, and not notice us here."
"We're in disguise," I said. "Those are magic caps so keep them on, okay?"
"Although I hate to say this, lads, you may want to stay clear of the fair tonight."
"Because of some turkey with a big stick? "
"That turkey with the big stick is the most dangerous enemy you could have. Is it true then that Theoscotius is still alive?"
"Alive and safe, for the time being," Paul said. "What are his chances of regaining his rightful title?"
"The Council does what Scotty tells them to do, and he has been the Lord of Light for a thousand years now as his father was before him. He has not been a bad Lord of Light, but there are those that would support Theoscotius against him. I would suggest that the Pretender find someplace quiet and forget his given name for the rest of his life."
"We will have to tell him that the next time we see him," Paul said.
"Maybe we'd better get moving," Allan suggested.
"The kid is right," Paul added. "Thanks for everything, sir. We'll be back."
I led the way to the door, checked the street a couple of times before I opened the door and headed out. We walked maybe ten paces when I heard Scotty's voice from behind.
"Thought that was too easy," Paul said.
"But we haven't seen the fair," Allan said.
"You lot aren't going anywhere except to a nice cell."
"Green light, stop him and put him away with Rich and Jaemar," I said.
Scotty looked puzzled as he quickly turned to stone then vanished.
"Now this presents some real possibilities," Paul said. "We'd better get scarce before he comes back."
"I don't believe that worked," I said and shrugged. "The fair is that way."
In spite of the mounds of fairy chocolate displayed everywhere, and the piles of goods from all over the countryside, I kept my money in my belt pouch. I drank in the sights and smells from the fair and watched as Allan tried a short sword from a booth. He swung it a few times, then tried another until he found one that he liked.
Paul and Erien wandered off in the direction of the Leprechaun's booth while waited for my twin, until I spotted something else. Down the fairway, was a booth offering furs of all sorts, some pre-made into coats but the rest just laid out waiting to be made to measure. Behind the counter, was a stand of at least two dozen cages.
All of the animals whined and begged for my attention as I walked up to the stall, but I only wanted to watch a lean, russet colored creature toward the bottom of the stack.
"Are you buying?" said the man behind the counter.
"Yeah, how much for the mink?"
He glanced back at the cages. "Not for sale, kid. Thought to breed her, but she's good for fur only."
"I wanted to start a ranch, and teach my minks to sing and dance."
"That would be some trick. Be careful with that one, she'll take your hand right off."
"I don't think so." I walked over to the cages, pressed my right palm against the door and waited as the mink sniffed then licked my hand.
"Maybe not, but she's still not for sale," the man told me. "But, why don't you try this on, see how it fits." He held up a mink skin. I let him wrap it around my shoulders as I shrugged into the suit. He folded the skin closed over my chest.
"Wow," I said as I felt a tug from the skin's tail. "That's really neat."
"Glad that you approve."
In seconds, I shrank down to mink size. The merchant grabbed me by the neck and tossed me in the cage with the female. I bounced around for a second getting used to the new shape.
"Tried to warn you," the female said in a series of growls and twists of her body.
"I know. I was expecting this," I replied. "This is more fun than I thought it would be. Want to go for a run?"
"Where?" she asked and licked the fur on my shoulder. I let her groom me for a moment, then I bounced over to the cage door. The merchant had his back turned and I opened the door.
The female dropped to the ground, dodged under the man's feet then glared back up at me. I scooted down myself and ran around to join her. She picked me up by the scruff of the neck, but I struggled hard enough to make her drop me.
"You come with me?"
"No, but thanks. I need to find my brothers and get out of this fur, but the best of luck to you, ma'am."
"Hey, what's going on?" the merchant shouted out as he noticed the empty cage.
We both took off running. I raced down the fairway toward Allan, jumped up and clambered up to his shoulder.
"Hey, Allan, guess what."
He stared at me. "Andy?"
"I'm a mink now. See? That guy that's heading this way did it, too."
"I'll take care of him. Can you change back?"
"I'm working on it."
"Hey, mister," Allan called out. "Is this your mink?"
"Thank the Light you have found him. I don't know what happened, lad, but thanks for catching him. I'm Clarence, the furrier, and that is prize stock."
"I bet," Allan said. "Over there?" He walked over to the booth, plucked me off his shoulder and stuck me back in the cage."
"That won't happen again," Clarence said. He slammed the door closed and locked it.
I waved my paw breaking the lock, then pushed the door open. I cast a spell opening the rest of the cage doors as well. The animals took the hint and bolted for freedom. Clarence was almost in tears as he danced away avoiding teeth and claws.
Allan shrugged. "My brother doesn't mind being a mink, mister, but I do. Look at him," he said and let me climb back up to his shoulder. "The little rat wants to ride everywhere now instead of walking. Hey," he said and picked up a piece of fur. The fabric was so full of holes that it almost fell apart in his hands. "What kind of fur is this?"
"My stock," the man cried out. "What did you do?"
"What happened here, Clarence?" said another man walking up to the booth.
"Looks like he's been elf cursed." Allan said, then glanced back at Clarence as the others examined the ruined stock. "When we curse something we don't mess around."
"Now what do I do?"
"Hand over your cash box. The weasel knows right where it is, then get out of town. The furs will be back to normal by the time you leave."
"Deal," Clarence said and pulled out his money. "I didn't know you boys were elves. Really. I'm leaving, I'm leaving."
Allan walked away from the booth. "Hey, we're really on a roll. I got a great sword for only three goldlurs and we blackmailed a merchant. What do we do tomorrow?"
"How about kidnaping and usurping a throne?" I asked. "Okay, put me down, I have an idea."
We found Paul and Erien playing matching flutes while children of all sorts danced around them. I listened to the music for a moment, sat up on my haunches and began to sing. I will admit that a mink's voice isn't that great, but it attracted a lot of attention.
"Quick, get a cap," I thought to Allan. He shrugged and almost took his own off. "Not that one. Never mind," I said. I ran through his legs calling on the green light. I pulled a large cap back out in front and started dancing around it, pointing. "I'm not doing this for free."
"What is that?" someone asked.
"An upholstered rat," Allan commented to me. "He's a singing mink, and he's trying to say that it takes a lot of money to keep him fed. He likes meat and lots of it."
"Beef, real food for real rodents," Paul said and glanced at me.
Erien continued to play, and I sang along with him as people dropped coins in my hat.
After maybe half an hour, a great shout came from the fairgrounds, and many voices began calling for a healer.
"I'll go," Erien said.
As my audience vanished, I dragged my cap full of coins over to the first booth, ducked inside and shrugged off the fur suit. Back at elf size, I listened for a moment, then crawled over to the entrance way to peer out along the grounds. I bumped into a pair of boots, that were attached to a pair of legs, and as I looked further up these were attached to Lawrence, the trader.
"Well, laddie. It isn't often that I have children, let alone elf children, crawling around in my booth."
I gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry, it's a long story. I need a shoulder bag," I said as I stood up and grabbled one from his stock.
"Ah, a fine selection which will cost you."
"Here," I said and handed over a gold piece. "It's lucky. Gotta go." I shoved my cap with the earnings in the bag and took off.
Down the fairway, I found Erien and the others with the same merchant we had helped that morning on the way in. Jartos practically threw himself at me.
"Healer Collin, it was that same wizard. Can you heal my father?"
Uh oh, if Rich was here causing damage, that meant Scotty had released him from my spell. I saw what Erien was doing, shook my head and knelt down beside him. I looked up and waved the crowd back to give us room.
Taking Erien's hand, I placed my free palm on the man's chest. "Mr. Melchek?"
Gradually, the man opened his eyes, and sat up. "I am even more in your debt, Master Collin. Did they catch the blasted wizard that did this to me?"
"Yes they did, merchant. They have him by the furrier's booth."
"I'm gonna get Scotty for letting that creep go," I told Erien. "We'd better get out of here, too. Like now. Allan? Paul? Have you seen my bird? Right, thanks. Mr. Melchek? That should do it for now, but just call if you need me."
"That's the one you should be holding, not me," Richard said dragging people with him to confront us.
"This elf is a dangerous criminal and I am arresting him in the name of the Light and the Lord of Light. He turned me to stone."
"Why don't I turn you back into stone and then send you for a swim, Richie? Maybe that way some interfering idiot won't let you go again."
"That will be enough, elf," Richard said and waved his hands. "I command you to."
"Oh, brother. Green light, stop him and drop him into some ocean."
This time the change was instantaneous. Richard floated up into the evening sky and vanished.
"Thanks to you, Master Collin," Melchek said, "this world is a bit safer this evening, although you could have waited until he paid his fines to me."
"Where is the wizard that cast that spell?" Scotty's voice boomed through the crowd.
"Busted," I said and the others gathered around me. "Over here," I said and raised my hand. "For my next trick."
Scotty waived his Spear. "Freeze!"
Erien, Allan and Paul actually did stiffen up at the command. "No fair, you turkey. Let them go, or do I have to get tough. And you can threaten me with that stolen Spear all you want."
I heard a loud hiss from the people around me.
"So, you do know something about the Pretender?" Scotty demanded, relieved.
"I wrote the book. He's the one that was supposed to be the Lord of Light instead of you, Eros. He fixed that Spear before you did and you took it from him."
"I had to. He wasn't fit to lead the Light against the Shadow. I had to have that Spear. That drunken lunatic didn't have a chance in the battle, where I won it," he said in spite of the growing hostility from the crowd around us.
"My, my, my, what a big ego you have. Okay, so you may be right, Mr. Lord High Whatever -- history will judge that, or the History Channel whichever you prefer. But why did you have to lock him up in that box for a thousand years? That wasn't nice."
"Because I had no desire to fight him off every few years as he tried again and again for the Spear."
Whether or not Scotty heard them, I listened to the whispers going through the crowd like electricity. "Teo is alive after all this time."
"After all, it was only his -- by right," I commented.
"Sometimes right has little to do with it. I am the Lord of Light now, as my father was before me, and I will not relinquish the title. I am, however, charging you with treason, and kidnaping, and I will have you up in front of the Council in the morning, Collin."
"It's Andy, if you haven't guessed that by now, Cupes. I'm an American Elf and I demand to see my Embassy."
"Stop lying to me, will you? For once, you miserable little brat, stop the lies. Your friend Suzie told me that, as well, but there is no way you could be Andy Hollis even if you do look and sound a little like him. I know the Light and it's limits." Scotty raised his Spear. "You four, off you go."
The world spun around and I found myself in a jail cell, with my brothers, still frozen, and Suzie Burke.
"Hey, Suzie, whatcha in for?" I asked, craning my head through the bars to look out in the hallway.
"This is all I need," she groaned and curled up on the one cot in the cell groaning.
"You wanna go get something to eat? These guys will keep here for a while."
"Leave me alone, you stupid little brute. It's your fault that I'm here anyway."
"Wake up, troops," I said with a shrug as the others began to unfreeze. "We got sent to jail -- do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Wanna go get dinner?"
"The prisoners here only get one meal a day and that was hours ago," Suzie explained.
I opened the door. "Well, we're not staying here tonight, that's for sure."
"He's right," Paul added. "Where are we anyway?"
"The Capitol city, I think," Suzie commented. "They didn't tell me much when they brought me here."
"Then I'm sure we can find a good hotel or something," Paul said.
"Or McDonald®," I commented. "I could really use a Big Mac right now."
"I want pizza," Allan commented. "With everything, but no fishes."
"What are you talking about?" Erien asked. "I have never heard of these things."
"Then you're in for a treat. Come on, Suzie," I said. "We'll get you a private room, and be back here after breakfast."
"And have Scotty think I broke jail on top of everything else?"
"Sure, why not? You've missed all the good parts so far, unless you think sleeping in this cell is gonna be fun," I commented.
"No, but I am not leaving and I suggest you stay here as well, since Scotty sent you here, too."
"Have a good night," Paul waved as we walked out of the cell, and closed the door behind us. "Here," he said and tossed the girl his backpack. "There is plenty to eat in there."
"Blast you all," Suzie yelled after us. "Bunch of babies. I hate you!"
"What did we do?" Allan asked.
"I don't have a clue," Paul said. "I thought we were all being nice to her."
"Girls," I said. "I was married to one for twenty years and I still don't understand them."
We trooped upstairs to the guard's desk. "Hi," I said. "We're going out to get some dinner and a room for the night. We're with the human girl they brought in this afternoon? She's not feeling good and doesn't want anything. We'll be back tomorrow morning after breakfast."
"I'm sure she will appreciate that," the man said. "Have a good night, lads."
"Thanks and the same to you," Paul said.
"Oh, yeah," I said. "Is there a McDonalds around here?"
"Go two blocks to the left when you leave this building and then another two blocks to your right."
"See, told you there was one here," I said.
"You were right," Paul said with a sigh, "but somehow I just can't picture it."
The evening was cool enough that we called for jackets as we walked down the streets. The city, from what I could see, looked more like Victorian London than anything else. Numerous horse carts shared the streets with pedestrians, vendors still shouted out their wares in spite of the hour, and we took it all in almost running from shop to stall to see what was available.
We found the McDonalds®, or McDonald Inn right where the guard said it was and walked in. This one seemed a much more sophisticated establishment that Keesan's but it was the big city after all. There was no counter with a menu, so we sat down at a table in the taproom and waited.
One waitress made the rounds of the occupied tables before heading our way. "Okay, boys, what will you have?"
"Do you have Big Macs®?" Allan asked.
"What?" she asked back.
"This is McDonald, right?" Paul cut in.
"Aye, that it is, lad. I am Bridget McDonald and my father owns this inn. We have a wonderful beef and bread special tonight."
"If it has special sauce and cheese I want two," I commented. "Do you have rooms for tonight?"
"Rooms, for you lot? One should do it. With the Council in session we do not have many vacancies."
"Okay, one room," I said as the others placed their orders. "Where's the privy?"
"Down that hallway and outside," she pointed.
No indoor plumbing, I thought as I headed away from the inn. This was just great. I found the facility, settled in to do what I had to, but ten seconds after I sat down, the door jerked open and an old man, who smelled to the heavens of booze, stepped inside.
"What do you think you're doing?" I demanded.
He grabbed me by the tunic and pulled me off the seat. "Okay, kid, you're working for me now. See this?" he asked and pressed a foot long knife to my face. "If you don't bring me food and at least ten goldlurs tonight I am going to hunt you down and cut off your thumbs and that wee little pinky between your legs. Got that?"
"That's really gross, mister. Green light, stop this person and put him away with Jaemar and move them to visit Rich, thanks."
"Hey, what are you doing to me?" he said as I pulled out of his grasp.
"That's no way to treat little kids, mister. You're going for a nice, long swim."
"Bloody hell," he spat at me as he turned completely to stone.
After making sure the spell worked, I finished up and headed back to the inn.
"What kept you so long?" Allan asked as Bridget brought our food.
"Some old guy came into the privy with me and threatened to cut off my thumbs and something else if I didn't steal for him. What a creep, he caught me with my stockings down."
"Father," Bridget called out. "Father come now!'
"Are you all right?" Erien asked me.
"A little shaken up, but I'm fine. I sent him and Jaemar for a swim with Rich."
"You're getting in a real rut here, Andy," Paul said. "Can't you do something besides statues?"
"Yeah, but that's a lot more work and I had to do something quick before he got me with a knife as long as my arm.'
"What is it, Bridget?" Mr. McDonald asked from the doorway.
"Father, old Gratch is back."
"Not anymore," I said.
"What happened?" the man asked me and I saw everyone in the room turn to listen.
I told my story again. "So, he's not going anywhere."
"Lad, the entire world will be forever grateful to you for this, and the reward alone is worth several million goldlurs. Can you bring him back for trial?"
"Sure, for that kind of money. What did this guy do, anyway?"
"He's killed hundreds of kids, including my first son," said a man close by. I want you to grind the bloody bastard to dust so I can have a piece of him."
"Sounds like a plan to me," I said. "We're going in front of the Council in the morning, and I bet this will really get their attention."
I woke to the sounds of muffled alarms and shouting outside. Since apparently the people here thought nothing of sleeping four or five to a bed, the four of us were kind of crowded into a small room with one full sized bedstead. Crawling over to the side, I climbed down from the bed and got dressed without waking the others. Then, I walked through the inn to the taproom.
"What's up?" I greeted Mr. McDonald.
"Some dangerous criminals escaped from the jail tonight. The Lord of Light is furious and everyone is on the lookout for them."
"That's daring criminals, not dangerous," I corrected him. "We told them and told them we would be back after breakfast. Oh well, I'm going for a walk."
"Be careful -- then again, lad, I suppose the world should be careful around you, too. Good luck."
I found no one on the street outside. I looked up to find the band of green light. I felt the currents, and then asked it, "Please take me to see my Dad in Salisbury, England."
The trip took just short of forever. I staggered out of the green light into the Burkes' kitchen and glanced around at the look of shock on everyone's face. Dad, the Burkes' and Bob Elliot sat there, open-mouthed, forgetting their morning tea for the moment.
"I know Prince Celrin of the Silver Forest," Bob said, hesitating as if waiting for clues from me. "Talrin?"
"Guess again, Uncle Bobby," I said and ran around the table to Dad's chair. "Hey, Dad, guess what -- guess what."
He stared at me for a moment with a growing frown on his face. "Andy?"
"That's me. I'm an elf now, and so is Allan. Check out the ears."
He ran his finger up and down the points of my ears. "This is incredible. Did Scotty do this to you?"
"Nope," I started when Bob cut in.
"You little rat," Bob said. "How dare you go on a magic adventure without me, and where do I get a set of those ears?"
"Listen to Mr. I'm too busy to go with you to England. We've got the Sword, do you still want that Arch-demon. What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I flew and yes, my arms are tired."
"Oh yeah, then you should try this." I said. I jumped into the air, turned to hawk and landed on the table in front of my Dad. I waved my wings for a moment.
"Do you have to show off like that?" Bob asked.
"Yes," I said and changed back to elf.
"Okay, I think we need to know what happened here," Dad said. "I saw Scotty Freeman at the Castle today, and although he didn't say anything to me that is not someone I would ever forget. When you kids didn't turn up either at the Castle or the lake I figured there was trouble, and I called in Bobby here."
"I was close to Scotty at one time, and I thought I could help. I've got Celrin on the case in the Silver Forest, and I that's why I thought he sent you, elf boy."
"Sorry I couldn't tell you what happened, Dad, but there wasn't time. This has been some day. I found an elf in the Castle Woods this morning."
Mr. Burke laughed. "At least explains all the regrowth in the woods.
I sat down at the table and told my story. They listened and nodded as I explained what happened and how we shrank down to Erien's size.
"Then Allan and you changed to elf because Erien and Paul already were elves and you wanted to stay with them?"
"That's about it," I said. "Suzie didn't want to be an elf so she just shrank."
"That's a relief," Mrs. Burke commented. "I can't see our Suzie running around looking like that."
"She really isn't the type," I said. "She just sits around moping about Scotty and she's missing all the fun. Anyway." I went on with the rest of the story.
"A second Lord of Light?" Bob demanded as I finished.
"So it would seem. Teo actually won the title before Scotty stole the Spear and the title and locked the kid up for a thousand years. Now Scotty is hyper because he thinks Teo is gonna fight him for the Spear, and he's hyper at us because we let him out of the box, and he's just plain hyper about everything,"
"This could be a real problem. He refuses to believe that you are ex-humans, right? So he feels he can boss you around like any elves, and you've been twisting his leg so hard it's ready to fall off." Bob took a long sip of tea. "Can you get the others back here?"
"It would take too long and Scotty will just hunt us down again. We have to figure out someway of resolving this with him. I'm not sure if I want to see Teo reclaim the title, but what Scotty did was wrong, too."
Something rang. Bob reached into his coat pocket for a cell phone. "Hello? Celrin, glad you called. The kids were sent to Lurynda -- you know the place? I see. That would be Andy. How do I know? He told me, that's how I know. When he first got here he promised that I would get the Control Chair, whatever that is, and he was going to be the Elven Wizard. He's right here if you want to talk to him. Here, Celrin needs to talk to Double Rats."
"Hey, Celsy," I said into the phone. "I'm an elf now."
"What the hell are you doing, young man? The Green Light chose you to be the new Elven Wizard?"
"Yep, and how do you like them apples?"
"I don't. Not one little bit. Where are you?"
"I'm in England with Uncle Bobby and my Dad."
"I know that. I meant where are the others?"
"In the motel on Lurynda. Suzie didn't want to break jail with us so she's still in the lock up. We're in the Capitol city but we're not gonna steal the secrets of the Archives, at least for now. That's another story."
"You little rat. Okay," he said and laughed at my joke. "I just talked to Fidge, and he --"
The doorbell clanged a couple times.
"I bet that's him now," I said. Mr. Burke went to get the door. "I'd better plan on making myself scarce, but any help you could give us with His Nibs would be much appreciated, Mr. Champion of the Light Elf, sir."
"Okay, I will do what I can from here, but good luck."
I hung up the phone and handed it back to Bob as Mr. Burke brought Fidelity into the room. He took one look at me and cracked up.
"So, the wanted criminal returns to the scene of the crime or something. Celrin told me you were here, Bobby, but I had no idea the elf was too."
"He just got in and has been telling us a most interesting story, Fidge, old son. Have you met George Hollis? He's the rat's father. Eric and Lydia Burke are our hosts."
"Good to meet you. This really is Andy Hollis in an elf suit?"
"Yes," Dad said.
"Then we're in worse trouble than I thought. May I sit down?" He took a chair regardless and stared at me. "How did you manage to break jail?"
"We walked out the front door and told the guard when we would be back. He seemed really helpful. He told us where the inn was -- no, I'm not telling you which inn, either, but we decided we weren't spending the night in the same cell as a girl. Sorry, Mrs. Burke, but."
"I understand perfectly, dear. I'm sure Suzie was just as glad not to spend the night with you lot in her cell either."
"She's really got it bad for old Scotty," I told Fidge. "He will break her heart, but gently I hope."
"Scotty does as it pleases him, most of the time. You walked the Elven path and became the Elven wizard?"
"We've established that," I said. "I knew it was gonna happen, too, and I did it anyway. I didn't know exactly what sort of Lord of Light I was dealing with when I chose that path. I expected I would be a great help to Scotty by doing this and now I'm not so sure. You have to admit that he's treated us like dirt, chased us around the countryside like wanted criminals and has been a royal pain in the butt."
"Yes, that's Scotty. You are wanted criminals by the way, at least according to him, and he always treats Silver Forest elves like dirt. He firmly believes that is what you are, and he isn't accepting anything else. Even though you turned him into stone for a while he will not believe what really happened, and he is going to do his utmost to destroy you for your crimes. You will have no choice but to defend yourself and 'BOOM'! There goes the universe."
"What about Teo. Suppose I give him that big stick?"
"If it doesn't blast him to atoms, he may actually claim the title, but Scotty would never permit that."
"Suppose I give him Gratch in exchange for free passage home for us, and a promise to let Teo go his own way. After that, if Teo tries anything it's on his shoulders not mine."
"You could produce Gratch, the child killer?"
"Yep," I said. "Already packaged and ready to go. I know everyone in the city is begging for me to grind him up into so much dust so everyone can have a little piece of him, but I'll let Scotty make that decision."
"You may have something there," Bob said. "Okay, Fidge, a round trip ticket to Lurynda for four adults and one refugee from a fairy tale, is in order."
"You two go," Mr. Burke said quickly. "Someone needs to look after this place."
"Very well," Fidge said and snapped his fingers.
Paul kicked me awake. "Hey, hey you little rat, where did you go last night?"
"Huh?" I mumbled then kicked him back. "What?"
"You went off somewhere and don't even tell me it was to the privy cause I checked."
"I bet you did," I said and smirked at him. "I went to get us a lawyer."
"A lawyer," Allan asked and stretched. "Why do we need a lawyer?"
"We don't because I'm on the case, but they insisted."
"Who?" Paul demanded.
"Dad and Uncle Bobby. They're in the next room. I'm ready for breakfast."
"Andy," Allan protested. "Do we really need Mr. Elliot on this trip?"
"Don't answer that, Andrew," Bob said from the other side of the door.
I opened the door and let the two men in. "Hi, did you get breakfast for us?" They shook their heads. "Oh well -- Dad, Uncle Bobby, this is Erien. He's the elf we found outside the castle, and he's now the newest Hollis twin. We've got to tell Mom he's moving into Paul's room."
"I was just getting used to having three sons and now four? You guys are fast, and as a softball team." He broke off as Erien hugged him. "Okay, that's it. Four."
"I already have enough Elven nephews," Bob said, "but one more won't hurt."
"Didn't Mr. Burke come to get Suzie?" Allan asked.
"No, he needed to take care of the Green Trees," Bob said. "Now that Andy's mentioned breakfast, shall we?"
After breakfast, we walked back down the street toward the Council building. Paul stopped for a kid selling papers. "Will you guys look at this?'
"'Dangerous elves escape from Council holding pens.'" Bob read out loud.
"That's 'Daring elves'," I insisted. "It was Daring elves and friend, but now it's Daring elves and family. I'll fix it." I pointed at the stack of papers.
"'Daring elves escape unlawful incarceration, and rid city of dangerous criminal.' I like that," Bob said and kept on reading as Paul paid the kid for the news.
The kid read through the new article and looked at me. "You're joking. You caught old Gratch?" I nodded. "I could hug you. He had to be my worst nightmare. Every kid in the city is going to thank you for this." He picked up a paper and started shouting up and down the street. "Daring elves catch Gratch! Read it here!"
"You have some formidable powers, Andrew," Dad said as we walked. "Will this work back home?"
"Yep," I said.
"I think you are in trouble, George," Bob said with a laugh. "How will you ever handle an eleven year old that can pop across the universe and turn you into a fish if he gets mad."
"Never a fish," I said. "A bird, maybe," I added with a wide grin.
"This isn't funny, Andy. A lot of responsibility goes with power like this."
"I know that, Dad, and I can't give it back either. I think you both know I wouldn't use my powers for evil."
"It's more than that," Dad said. "That trick with the papers. I know it was a joke."
"More than a joke, Dad. For a thousand years, Scotty has had his own way about everything. It's about time someone put him down a peg or two, and it looks like that's going to be my function in life for many years."
"And if he puts you down a few pegs?"
"It's a chance I have to take, Dad. This has to be resolved and I have to do it or we will never get any peace here or at home."
"Okay, I'll trust your judgement on this, but when we get home."
"You'll go home to San Francisco and forget about us for a while."
"Point made, but there is nothing keeping me in San Francisco at all. I could move home very easily and I may have to after this."
I nodded and led the way up the steps of the Council Building. The building itself looked more like something from Victorian London than a fantasy world. Designed from red brick, the building looked foreboding.
A guard met us at the top of the stair. "Sorry, but the Council session is closed for the day. Dangerous elves escaped from the cells last night and until they are caught."
"But," Paul interrupted and handed over the paper. "That's Daring elves, not dangerous. See?"
"So it is. You caught Gratch?"
I nodded, "And if you take us inside there could be a reward in this for you too, sergeant."
He shrugged, and led us inside the building.
The Council Chambers had the same look and feel as an indoor amphitheater. The gallery was huge, but only a few onlookers were present. The Council members did stand in the middle of the room, with Scotty, apparently discussing the issue. The guard directed Dad and Uncle Bobby to seats in the gallery, and led the four of us down to the Council.
"My lord, the daring elves are here."
Scotty looked up, with annoyance written on his face until he spotted us. "Good work, Sgt. Romel -- no, make that Lt. Romel. How did you catch them?"
I stepped in front of the man. "It was a brilliant chase, but our Lt. Romel was way too smart for us." I spun around and saluted the man. "Our first officer."
"I can never repay you for the luck, lad," he whispered to me. "My lord, since I have a new uniform to purchase?"
"Yes, go ahead and tell the treasury to let you draw at your new pay rate as well. Good work." With that Scotty turned back to us. He snapped his fingers and iron chains snapped on our wrists and ankles. I waved them away. "Bring in the girl," he called out as if nothing had happened.
Suzie walked into the room, also in chains, with four guards around her. I waved her chains off her as well. She glared at me, but rubbed the circulation back into her hands.
"The Council session is now open," Scotty announced. "My lords and ladies please take your places so we can begin this proceeding."
"I say we call the whole thing off," I said. "Since we're doing Gershwin at the moment, it's a foggy day in London town and we really need to get back since we have someone to watch over us."
"Collin, this isn't a game," Scotty said slowly. He frowned, then held out his hand. A second later, the Great Spear appeared in his palm. A round table rose from the floor in front of the Council members. Scotty placed the Spear into a groove down the center, and the table turned until the tip of the Spear was pointing right at us.
"The secretary will now read the charges against these elves," Scotty called out.
A young woman, with decidedly equine features, stood up. "Yes, my lord of light." She picked up a large sheet of paper. "'The charges against these fine, upstanding young elves, and friend are spurious at best and completely false..."
"Collin, this isn't a game," Scotty shouted at me.
"It's Andy, if you haven't figured that out by now, and yes, it is a game. It's called, 'Can the elf make the Big Bad Lord of Light turn purple?' Yes, by all the Powers he can. You are turning purple, Cupes, you are."
"In front of that Spear I charge you to say your true name."
"Andrew Eric Hollis," I said with a shrug.
"Eric?" Suzie asked me.
"Sure, I was named for your father, after all. Just be glad you weren't named for mine."
"Collin, it doesn't work that way," Scotty said.
"I know that, silly. George isn't a girl's name."
"Where is the Pretender?"
"He's safe enough," I said with another shrug. As if on cue, the little bird fluttered down to land on my shoulder. "I had to get him out of Correllis' lab somehow."
Scotty raised his right hand and sent a blast of white light at the bird. I blocked it with green light and soothed the bird's ruffled feathers.
"This is a sparrow, you idjit. You think I'd let Teo anywhere near you while you're in this mood? Not a chance. There, little one. It's okay. Did that mean, old putty tat try to kill you?"
"Okay, where is the real Pretender?" Scotty demanded.
"I told you, safe enough. I'm not gonna let you blast him into atoms in cold blood, you brute."
"I got carried away. I told you why I had to claim the Spear. You must believe me. That drunken idiot couldn't have handled the Power."
"Yes, but I've always thought that the ends never justify the means, and you have a lot of serious explaining to do, Mr. Lord High Whatever."
"Not to you, elf. If you really are Andy Hollis, why didn't you tell me who you were in the lab?"
"After you called me a 'useful idiot?' Not likely. The problem was, Eros, I made some really stupid assumptions about you the first time we met on Olympus. I was still trying to reconcile what I found in this universe with the one I had created. I had written about you, then Teo as it turned out. So, when I first saw you, I jumped to the wrong conclusion proving that I have as thick a head as you do.
"Since you weren't Teo I simply assumed that you were the nice guy I had originally pictured you as. My mistake. So, now I know that you aren't the person I thought you were, and that you're just as hard headed and nasty as I thought Teo would be."
I paused for a second and took in a deep breath. "Now that I know what sort of person you are, for real, I can only say that I will take great pleasure in my new career. It's now my job -- to tweak your nose as hard as it can be tweaked, you miserable little brat of a god. We were playing with you, you idjit, so I think it's high time you call off this farce and send us and Suzie home.
"And, since I'm feeling generous today, I have a special deal you can't refuse. I've got Gratch, the child killer, locked away safe and I'll give him to you in exchange for a life for Teo. You let the kid go, let him rebuild his life and forget about him. If he does have a go for the Spear after this then I figure it's up to the Light to decide the issue and it's out of my hands. What do you say, Cupes?"
"You really have Gratch?"
"Yep, and you can have Jaemar back, too."
"I don't want him, or Richard for that matter. But if you think I'm just going to let you lot go free after all the crimes you committed."
"Uh oh, that isn't in the scenario," I said. "Yo, lawyer person, will you come here, please?"
"Lawyer?" Scotty demanded. "You don't get a lawyer for this."
"Guess again, Cupes," I said. "See who I hired? He came all this way to defend us from nefarious Lords of Light such as yourself."
"Couldn't have said it better myself, kiddo. So, Scotty, picking on little kids now?"
"Bobby? How did you get here?"
"I took the Express shuttle," Bob said with a shrug. "I am a child advocate, and I must say this trial leaves a lot to be desired. Personally, old son, I'd think on this if I were you. Have you really grown so high and mighty that you can't take these kids games?"
"Treason is not a game," Scotty said in a stern voice.
"Perhaps not, but neither is this trial then. Since you are bringing the accusations, my clients and I ask for an impartial judge in this matter at the very least."
"He's absolutely right about that, Scotty," said a lady from the Council. "You are much too close to this issue to judge fairly. We have the accusations you have made against these children, and we ask that you leave the room while we decide the issue."
"For you, Yvainne, I will. But call me when you've reached a verdict."
"We will, you can count on it," she said. As Scotty left the chambers she turned back to us. "Now then, where is Teo?"
"Here," the boy said from the gallery. He stood up, and removed his cloak. "Andy sent me here yesterday in the form of a falcon, with instructions to take a room for the night and meet him here. I have no desire to take that Spear or any of that power, and I deeply regret not listening to the elf who tried to talk me out of it in the first place. I still have friends among you, and I would rejoin them if I could,"
"Sounds fair enough to me. Any objections? Good, we accept Andy's offer of Gratch for Teo's life. Now then, you, Suzie, is it? What are you charged with?"
"I have no idea," Suzie answered.
"She didn't do anything," I said. "She wouldn't go with us anywhere or have any fun at all."
"If that's the case," the lady said and Suzie nodded. "We find you guilty of not adventuring when you had the chance and sentence you to permanent exile on Earth in the custody of your parents. Are they here?"
"No, but I am," Dad said and stood up. "I claim those four as mine, and Suzie's all but a niece to me. I'll be responsible for her until we can get her home."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Hollis," Suzie said and sighed.
"Now you lads present an interesting problem. By rights you should never have been sent here, and yet for the life of me, I can't see where you did anything to warrant the charge of treason. You released Teo, but you had no idea what the story was behind that, but if we don't do something Scotty will throw a fit. Ah, we find you guilty of adventuring when you had the chance and sentence you to permanent exile on Earth in the custody of this man who claims to be your father."
"No," Scotty said from the doorway. "That is unacceptable. I want you to turn these four into something that will serve as a lesson to future traitors."
"Oh, you would," I said.
"My lord, ladies and lords of the Council," a guard said trying to get into the room from behind Scotty. "You must do something and quickly before we have a riot out there."
"What's going on?" Scotty demanded.
"The people found out that the elf there has Gratch and they want a piece of him."
"No problem," I said. "For a price. We don't even want the reward."
"What do you mean we don't," Paul said. "We need something to show for all of this besides your ears."
"We've got him, and that's more than enough for me," I said and pointed at Erien.
"I want the reward," Paul said firmly. "You let us go home with Dad and give us the money that's due us, and Andy will hand over the Child Killer. Deal?"
"I agree with Paul since my fee for this will be enormous," Bob said. "Let it go, Scotty. Your anger isn't going to solve anything, and neither will exacting some sort of undeserved punishment on the boys."
"We were friends once, Bobby," Scotty said quickly. "But that doesn't mean I have to listen to you now. If you stand with them now you will suffer their punishment with them."
"That isn't in the contract, but I stand with them anyway."
"Do your worst, Mr. Lord High Whatever," I said. "Uncle Bobby's not scared of you."
"Thanks a lot, kid. Don't give the nice Lord of Light ideas, okay. I don't want to wind up as a slug in someone's garden."
"Scotty, please," Suzie cut in. "Couldn't you just let us go home like they said. The brats are only playing with you. They're only babies, that's all. Andy will hand over whatever it is they want outside, and you send us home."
"Suzie's right," Dad said from the gallery. "These are my kids. All of them, and the Council has already imposed the only fair punishment on them. I know Andy and Allen can get a little unruly at times, but they are good kids. I don't know Paul or Erien that well, and I'm sure we will need time to adjust to one another, but I think this trial has gone on long enough. Andrew, bring in this criminal you caught."
"Yes, Dad," I said. "Green light, please bring my statues here."
Three statues floated down to settle on the floor before the Council. "That's Gratch," said a few people from the audience. "Go ahead, Andy, grind the bloody bastard to dust so I can have a piece of him. He killed my son."
"Now isn't this worth a few hundred thousand gold pieces, and our freedom?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, it is and more than that." Scotty said as he studied the statue. "Deal accepted. See the treasurer on the way out. Leave this bloody bastard to me."
"That's our cue, men," I said. "The exit is that way."
We started up the walkway to the applause of the crowd. Behind me, I heard Scotty say. "Release this man to face me. Release him, I said. Andy, will you do something?"
"Sure, for a price. Green light, release that man like Scotty said."
Gratch shook himself as he turned back to normal. "Now, like I was saying, kid." He looked around the room and popped out.
"By the Light, bring that man back here," Scotty called out.
"He let the murderer go," someone called out.
"No, wait a minute." Scotty said.
"Green light, please bring that man back here," I called out. A second later, Gratch, still struggling against the bands of green light popped back into the room.
"Anther half a million for catching him again, Scotty."
"Done," Scotty said with a sigh. "Gratch, kneel before me."
"Can't," the man blurted out. "That kid's got me roped up."
"Andy, release him so he can hear his sentence." Scotty said.
"Okay, but if you let him go again it's really gonna cost you. Green light, release that man so he can kneel."
Gratch dropped to one knee and popped out of the room again.
"Andy get him back here," Scotty demanded.
"At least you could use the magic word," I said. "I mean, really, what a grouch. It's not my fault you keep letting him get away. Green light, bring Gratch back here and have him kneel since Mr. High and Mighty feels so melodramatically inclined."
"Blast you, kid," Gratch snapped at me as he popped back in a kneeling position. "I keep getting away clean and that lousy kid keeps bringing me back. I didn't know you was an elf, kid. Really, I didn't."
"My lord," the guard said. "The crowd outside is getting anxious about Gratch getting away and all. All them want a piece of him."
"You can't do that," Gratch said. "That's inhuman."
"What you did to all those kids was?" I asked. "Yeah, I guess it was. Suppose I make you feel the pain all of those kids felt and then turn you back into stone to break up into nice little souvenir pieces?"
Gratch turned a deathly shade of gray. "Keep that blood thirsty kid away from me. I throw myself on the mercy of this Council."
"We're throwing you right back to young Andrew there," the lady said.
"Thanks, my lady. Come on, Gratch, you've got a fan club waiting for you."
"Please, Lord of Light, I beg you to help me," Gratch said sniffling.
"Okay, instead of having Andy inflict all that pain on you before breaking you into pieces, I say we take you outside and let the parents of the kids you killed do the job. You will stay alive until all of them are finished."
"Let me at him," said one of the fathers. Several men led Gratch down the aisle with green light keeping him from popping out.
"It looks as if our job here is finished. Until next week, it's time to ride into the sunset."
"We're rich," Paul said. "Major wealth. Let's go."
"Just a minute," Scotty said as the guards dragged Gratch outside with a growing crowd of people behind him.
"Now what?" Dad asked.
"You made me look like a fool," Scotty said. "I could forgive almost anything else for old Gratch, but not that. Green light, teach this brat a lesson he will never forget." I heard the gasp from my family and the remaining members of the Council.
"Now look what you've done," I said. "That isn't very nice. You got them all upset. I'd apologize to my family if I were you, or do I have to get tough again?"
"Green light, freeze this elf into place for the next thousand years."
"Melodramatic was an understatement," I commented. "Haven't you figured out that the Green light is mine? Green light, leave him."
The Great Spear began to glow with a pale green light. The rune that Taelin, the Elfking, carved into the shaft a thousand years ago that gave control of the Green light to Scotty broke causing the Spear to split down the middle.
"Oh, man, it wasn't supposed to do that," I said as I felt the band of green light break free of the others. Drawing power from the blue and yellow lights the band grew in intensity. "Stop that, green light, behave yourself."
"By all the powers of Light and Shadow," the Elf Lord said as he rose to his feet. "This is the one! This is the one chosen to be the next Elfking."
"Not me," I said. "That's probably Erien here, cause he deserves it, but I'm the Elven Wizard and don't you forget it, Mr. Lord High Whatever."
"None of you are anything at the moment," Scotty almost screamed out his rage. "I still have this!" he said and held up his right hand to display his ring. I wasn't about to tell him I knew the ring was a fake.
"That ring belonged to your dear old dad," I said. "You know, he's still around and may have to take it back if you misuse that power."
"A thousand curses on that Shadow-spawned brat that brought you here, Andrew. This universe doesn't need an alien writer turned elf child taking power. I had everything under control until you came along. You broke the Spear; you have made a mockery of me, and now you will pay the price. The girl was right -- you're babies playing with a power you cannot understand. I sentence all of you to spend the next hundred years as toddlers -- two-year-olds. And you, Bobby, and you too, George, will join them. Suzie, you will be their nursemaid."
Power swept through the room regressing my family back to infancy. I watched stunned as my father and Bob grew elf-pointed ears as well. "Okay, that tears it. No more Mr. Nice Elf for me."
Scotty stared at me. "Change, blast you. Change!"
"You really wouldn't like what I would change into, Cupes. But, you asked for this. By the power of the Green light, I curse you weak."
This time it Scotty's turn to get blasted by a bolt of green light that hurled the boy across the room and let him crash into the Council podium. After a thousand years, I think he finally felt genuine pain.
"I think this belongs to me?" Teo asked as he approached the Spear. "I didn't want this power, but the Light needs a Lord, and that one is finally out of commission."
"Touch that Spear and you will die," Scotty croaked out. "It's mine, what's left of it."
"Could you give me a hand with these kids?" Suzie asked me. "They all need nappies and powder and clothes."
"Okay, Green light, lets clean my family up and bring them back."
Scotty managed to pull himself to his feet. "I am and I will always be the Lord of Light. Elf-cursed or not, I have the power."
Teo picked up the Spear, and shook his head. "It would seem that no one has the power of the Light at the moment, Eros, except Andrew there. The choice is now yours, Master Elf. Will you reseal this Spear and for whom?"
"You promised me the Great Sword," Scotty blurted out. "Where is it?"
"Safe enough. The Elfking has it on Fourlakes."
"Taelin? He can't have been holding out on me for that long."
"Uh, Andrew," Bobby said from behind me. "Will you answer me a question?'
I turned and started to laugh at the sight. Paul was choking back tears while Allan and Erien simply shook their heads. Both Dad and Bobby looked to be twelve year old elves like the rest of us.
"What?" I asked him.
"How old do I look to you? Be brutal if you must."
"About twelve, why? You wanted the ears."
"And why do I look about twelve?" Bob demanded.
"Because you're an elf now and elves don't age like humans. You were what, twenty-four?" He nodded. "You do look like a twenty-four year old elf. So do you, Dad. Well thirty four, then."
"But I didn't ask for the ears," he said still patting himself down.
"Scotty did that. You can thank him for the change in species."
Paul walked over to me. "I'd really think about giving our Teo a shot at that Spear, Andy. You know how much Scotty screwed things up. He couldn't be worse."
"I heard that, Paulin," Scotty said. "Seal the Spear and hand it over, Andrew."
"So you can mess around with my family again? Not likely."
"I will hand over the reward that you so richly deserve, and give you free passage back home," Scotty said quickly.
"So will I for that matter," Teo added. "I can be more generous with his money that he would be," he added with a wide grin.
"And I can be a dangerous enemy if crossed," Scotty added.
"Oh, bite my big toe, you rat. This universe has surprised me to no end. Now that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but no one has been the way I pictured them with the possible exception of Erien. My Dad was supposed to be a doctor and he wasn't supposed to get a divorce. Uncle Bobby was supposed to be my hero, and he isn't. And you, Cupes, I thought we were gonna be best friends. That's why I took the power when the Green Light gave me the chance. I thought I was gonna rescue you from that stupid box and -- and we would have adventures, and things. Instead I got him, who was supposed to be the Lord of Light, and he's not at all the pig-headed idiot I thought he was. Maybe it's time the Light did have a new Lord."
"Thank you, Master Elf," Teo said.
I searched Teo's face, but I saw only a look of genuine warmth. I had been wrong about him. Scotty, on the other hand, flashed me a look of such hatred that I wanted to shudder.
"You said the Elfking has the Sword?" he demanded. "He will give it to me, and I will take back my title, Andrew, and when I do you will pay for this." With that, he popped out of the room.
The Council members stood up and applauded me. I bowed, then dropped the illusion on the Spear. "I never really broke it," I said with a laugh. "But I wanted to find out who should have it." I took the Spear and handed it to Teo.
He raised the Spear over his head, and I felt the building tremble as the Light bathed its new Lord in a golden glow. Teo lowered the Spear and raised his head. "This is going to be much harder than I thought. Andy? Will you stay on as my advisor until I get used to this?"
"Sure, call me anytime, kiddo. But, there's a rather angry godlet out there who is going give Taelin a very hard time, and we had better get there to pick up the pieces."
"Andy?" Erien asked me. "Shouldn't you have told Scotty that I had the Sword and not Taelin?"
"What, and spoil the surprise? Not on your life. He's gonna find that out soon enough and when he does Bobby gets to cut off Ashtar's arm."
"That's Uncle Bobby to you, kid."
I shook my head. "Not when you look like that -- kid."
"So who changes me back to an adult?" Dad cut in?
"Sorry, Dad, but you and Bobby just became the newest Hollis Twins. They do look alike, kind of. We'd better ask Taelin when we get there. But first, there's a matter of money and lots of it that I want to send home to Gramma for safe keeping, minus expenses, of course."
Teo nodded. "I promised to be generous and I will be. I owe you that much and so does this world for the service you have done. Come with me, I think the entire city will want to honor the Daring elves that captured Gratch, and dared to stand up for what's right."
This was going to be good. Again, one of the delights I had in being a kid again. I could revel in adoration and not get all embarrassed about it.