Chapter 22
Help Arrives

“Flint! Can you hear me?”

Tanis shook the dwarf gently, and then more insistently, but Flint remained motionless, his hand still gripping the dagger. His fingers were dark with dried blood.


Tanis gave the dwarf one more shake, and suddenly Flint let out a low groan. Tanis breathed a sigh of relief.

“In the name of Reorx,” Flint groaned hoarsely, “can’t you leave a poor dead dwarf alone?”

Tanis put his arm around Flint’s neck to help the dwarf sit up straight to ease his breathing. “Flint,” the half-elf said softly, “you’re not dead.”

“Who asked you?” Flint said testily, if weakly. “Now just leave me here to be dead in peace, will you? All this shaking is making my head ache.” The dwarf groaned again, slumping back against Tanis’s arm. A relieved grin flickered across the half-elf’s face.

“You must not be seriously hurt,” the half-elf whispered. “You’re still complaining.”

Moving gingerly to avoid starting the wound bleeding again, Tanis lifted Flint and placed the dwarf as gently as he could on Flint’s cot. He checked the wound, decided against removing the dagger until he had assistance, and ran for help.

Outside the shop, he debated whom to fetch—Miral or Eld Ailea. Miral was overwhelmed with the Kentommen preparations, but the Tower was closer than the midwife’s west-side home. That decided the half-elf.

Ten minutes later, Tanis returned, still at a dead run, with the mage panting behind him. Soon Tanis and Miral had propped the dwarf against some pillows and removed the knife. The dwarf’s breathing eased.

“No physicians,” he murmured. “Too late.” His voice took on a dreamy tone. “I can already see Reorx’s forge …”

“That’s your forge, Flint,” Tanis said.

“You are a pest,” the dwarf griped.

“Here,” Miral said from behind Tanis, and handed the half-elf a mug with steam rising from it. Chopped leaves floated on the water. “Make him drink this.”

Tanis held the mug beneath Flint’s bulbous nose, and the dwarf sniffed the drink. It smelled of bitter almonds. “That’s not ale,” he said accusingly.

“True,” Miral said. “But it’s better for you.”

“Impossible,” the dwarf groused. He took a deep breath and drained the mug nonetheless.

Eld Ailea—summoned by one of the Kentommen acrobats, whom Tanis had bribed with one steel coin—arrived just as Miral was binding and cleaning the wound. The slash from the dagger proved relatively easy to cleanse and bandage, though Flint made it more difficult by fussing and grouching through the entire process. Surprisingly, the treatment seemed to pain him less than it annoyed him. Miral rolled his sleeves up to his elbows, scrubbed his forearms with soap, and closed the wound with seven stitches-accompanied by seven dwarven oaths, and seven dwarven apologies to Eld Ailea. Then Miral daubed on a bubble of salve the size of a walnut and bound the dwarf’s hairy chest with a bandage made of soft linen.

“I’m all right!” Flint finally shouted. “Leave me be!”

At that, Miral pronounced the dwarf fairly fit and prepared to head back to the Tower. The mage rolled his sleeves down again; his right hand was nearly healed, but the fingers that had lost their nails still looked ugly.

“I have to oversee a troupe of actors who want to entertain the crowd by declaiming the dying speech of Kith-Kanan,” he said, and grimaced.

“Why is that bad?” Tanis asked.

“I’m not sure he made one,” the mage said, and grimaced. Miral handed Tanis a folded paper filled with herbs, and told him to make a cup of tea from them every hour and administer it to the dwarf, “even if you have to tie him down to do it.”

“If he’s too difficult, mix it with ale,” Miral told Tanis quietly at the door.

“I promise I’ll be difficult!” Flint shouted from his cot, where Eld Ailea was unsuccessfully trying to lull him into sleeping. At that, the mage took his leave.

Eld Ailea attempted to soothe Flint with a lullaby that, she said, usually worked wonders with toddlers. He didn’t seem sure how to take that, but he listened to her warm alto as she intoned the ancient melody. “Lullay, lullay, little elf,” she sang, “sleep in the stars ’til the morrow, little elf. Search all the forests, ride ’mong the trees, then home with a smile on the morn, little one.

“That’s an old, old song. My mother sang that to me,” she said, then looked over at Tanis, who was examining the trap that had thrown the daggers. “And I sang that to you and Elansa when you were just minutes old, Tanthalas.”

Tanis smiled. “I’ll bet I liked it then just as much as I do now,” he said.

“Flatterer,” Ailea said. “You’ll find yourself an elven woman to marry with no problem, with that silver tongue.”

A blushing Tanis suddenly redoubled his efforts with the trap. He disarmed it carefully and began to dismantle it for inspection. “Whoever set this trap knew what he was doing, Flint. It’s a sophisticated design, and the aim was perfect. What luck that the mechanism jammed on the second dagger; that’s why it tossed only one of them at you at first. Then the tension released the second mechanism after a few moments.”

Tanis had avoided looking at the old midwife as he spoke. “And what if I find a human woman, Eld Ailea?” he added at last, his voice carefully matter-of-fact.

A shadow passed over Ailea’s catlike face as she drew the covers around Flint’s bearded chin one more time. “It will bring you little but pain, in the end, Tanthalas,” she said. “Humans are frail, and even if you find one to love, it’s terrible watching them grow old while you remain young. It takes a strong love to survive that.” She sounded weary.

He looked up from the trap. Round hazel eyes met almond-shaped hazel eyes, and a spark passed between the two part-elves.

“Try to remember that, Tanthalas,” Ailea said sadly.

Tanis swallowed. “I’ll try.”

“Hey!” Flint crabbed from the cot. “Isn’t it time for my ale?”

Eld Ailea threw off her gloom and laughed then, and patted the dwarf on his hale shoulder. “You’re good for me, Master Fireforge.” With renewed energy, she moved briskly to the table, where Tanis had deposited the paper of herbs.

“There’s a bucket of ale in the spring,” Flint suggested helpfully.

After some thought, Eld Ailea announced that ale might help the dwarf sleep—and, especially, keep him quiet. So she retrieved the near-empty container from the spring and poured the last splash into a mug. When she opened the packet of herbs, a look of consternation crossed her sharp features, then disappeared under her usual pleasant expression. “Flint, did Miral make you a drink of these leaves?” she asked casually.

“Yes,” Flint said. “With water. It tasted awful. I’m sure the potion will be much better with ale.” He grinned engagingly over his white bandage. “Lots of ale.”

Eld Ailea stood for a moment, perusing the packet, then refolded it and slipped it into a pocket of the gray cloak she’d thrown over the bench when she arrived. From another pocket, unnoticed by Flint and Tanis, she drew out a small cloth bag, gathered with a leather thong, and measured a teaspoonful of the powder within. Then, while Tanis searched the rest of the shop for more traps, Ailea added the powder to the ale and gave the beverage to the dwarf. He drained it in a gulp.

Whatever it was, it didn’t agree with him. Flint fell into a deep sleep, but awoke a short time later to vomit into the empty ale bucket, which Ailea had left by the bed. Then the dwarf’s head fell back, and he slept again, his black and gray beard rising and falling with his deep breaths.

Tanis joined Ailea at Flint’s bedside. The tiny elf was looking down at the dwarf with a half-smile that did little to mask her exhaustion.

“Is he going to be all right?” Tanis whispered.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “My herbs will put him right again. At least, they work for nursing mothers …” She caught Tanis’s startled look and patted his arm. “I’m just jesting, Tanthalas. Flint will be fine.”

“Do you want me to walk you home?” Tanis asked. “I’ll spend the night with him. I can give him Miral’s tea, if you leave it here.”

Eld Ailea’s head came up then, and her eyes probed Tanis’s. “It’s best not to leave him alone at all right now,” she said. “I’ll stay here. We can take turns watching him.”

Kindred Spirits