Chapter 24
Another Death

The next few days, Tanis and Eld Ailea took turns staying with the dwarf in the shop. Flint told them a score of times not to bother with him.

“You’ve got too much to be worrying about to be concerning yourself with a lame dwarf!” Flint would grumble, but the effect of the words seemed lost upon his caretakers. Solostaran visited once and seemed reassured by Flint’s cantankerousness. Miral stopped by twice to check on the dwarf.

By noon of the second day, it was apparent that Flint was regaining his strength, and, judging from the reduction in the number of oaths when he moved about, the pain was lessening. Still, Eld Ailea was adamant that the dwarf not be left alone, and she remained with Flint while Tanis went back to the palace to pick up some clean clothes.

She did, however, allow Flint to work on Porthios’s Kentommen medallion from his nest on the cot.

“After all, the ceremony starts tomorrow,” she said nonchalantly, spreading a bandage on the table and folding it so it would best fit the stocky dwarf.

“Tomorrow?” boomed Flint, rocketing out of bed, then grasping his shoulder with a groan. “I thought I had three more days!”

Ailea intercepted the dwarf on his way to the door—though what he hoped to accomplish running shirtless through the streets of Qualinost was unclear—and shooed him back to bed, her greenish brown eyes merry. “Relax,” she said. “You do have three days.”

She explained the intricacies of the ceremony while she removed the old bandage from the dwarf’s chest.

“The word ‘Kentommen,’ or ‘coming of age,’ actually refers to the final portion of the four-part ceremony,” she said as she eased the linen away from the wound. “That’s the showiest part of the ceremony, the part most folks would like to witness. Most elves use ‘Kentommen’ to refer to the whole three-day extravaganza, however.

“The first part is the Kaltatha, or ‘The Graying,’ ” the midwife explained, fingers gentle as she cleansed the healing wound. “That part starts tomorrow morning. In the Kaltatha, the youth—who can be male or female, as long as he or she is a member of the nobility—is led by his or her parents to the Grove,” referring to the ancient forested area in the center of the elven capital.

Ailea rinsed the cleansing cotton in a basin of clear water. “When the youth undergoing the Kaltatha is of as high a rank as Porthios, most of the common elves use the occasion as an excuse to parade through the streets, wearing their most colorful finery or even costumes. They dance and sing songs as ancient as the ceremony itself,” she said. “That’s why the palace is overseeing the making of brightly colored banners—to mark the route from the palace to the Grove.”

“I’d like to see that,” Flint said.

Eld Ailea scrutinized the spot where the dagger entered Flint’s shoulder. “You should be well enough to walk to the procession route tomorrow morning, I’d think.”

She rinsed the wound one more time, then emptied the basin out the shop’s back door.

“What will happen to Porthios in the Grove?” the dwarf asked.

“The Speaker will take Porthios to the center of the Grove, then ceremonially turn his back on him,” the midwife said. “Porthios will remain in the Grove for three days, alone, eating nothing and drinking only from the spring in the Grove’s center. No one can enter the Grove to disturb him, nor is he to attempt to leave.”

“Sounds like they should post guards,” the dwarf commented gruffly, trying not to appear as though he were enjoying the midwife’s ministering touch.

“Oh, they do,” Eld Ailea assured him. “Elven nobles take turns standing guard, carrying their ceremonial swords—like the one Tyresian brought here for repairs.”

“Are those guards really necessary?” Flint asked.

“Probably not,” the slender elf admitted. “To fail in the Kaltatha—or in any portion of the Kentommen— means that the elf will forever be regarded as a child, no matter how old he grows to be.”

Flint looked impressed.

Ailea continued. “In the Grove, Porthios will purify himself, cast off all the layers of childhood life. On the last morning, he will bathe in the spring, emerging cleansed in body and soul.

“That third morning, a gray robe—symbolizing his unformed potential—will be brought to him, and he will be led from the Grove,” she concluded. “This time, there will be no merrymaking in the streets. In fact, the common elves are always careful not to look at the Kentommen youth at all as he is led through the streets in his gray robe.”

“Why not?” demanded the dwarf.

“Because the youth is neither child nor adult. Technically, he does not exist. The elves would be ridiculed for looking at someone who is not there.”

Flint snorted, but it was not a contemptuous sound. “It’s not at all like my Fullbeard Day celebration. That consisted mostly of giving me lots of gifts and large tankards of ale.” He looked thoughtful. “Come to think of it, I’d prefer that to spending three days without food or ale.”

With a light laugh, Ailea fastened the clean bandage in place. Then she brought him his supplies for completing the medallion.

Tanis returned from the palace early that evening, prepared to spend the night. He fixed a simple supper for himself, the midwife, and the dwarf: a loaf of brown bread, half a cheese, the last of the sweet apples that had been stored away last fall, and a pitcher of ale. Finally, the sun dipped behind the tops of the aspen trees, the last rays of light glimmered through the translucent green of the feathery leaves, and the shadows crept from the darkened groves to steal along the streets of the elven city. The half-elf persuaded Eld Ailea that it was safe for her to leave Flint for a while, and she conceded that she had plenty of tasks of her own to complete.

“But don’t let anyone in but me or the Speaker,” she warned Tanis.


Eld Ailea seemed to be on the verge of confiding something, but at the last minute she caught herself. “It’s best to keep Flint quiet for a while. You know how visitors excite him.” Then, telling Tanis she’d be back in the morning, she stepped quickly down the path, slipped between two treelike houses across the way, and disappeared.

“Flint? Excited by visitors?” the half-elf asked himself softly, then shook his head.

Flint opened his eyes the next morning to a cacophony. “Reorx at the forge! What’s that racket?” he demanded. The sun was barely over the horizon, from the soft look of the shadows in the shop.

Tanis stirred from the pallet he’d fashioned on a thick rug next to Flint’s table, and rose to unfasten the shutters. Flint raised himself on one elbow and looked out into a blur of colore. Dozens of elves streamed past his shop, their voices raised in a boisterous song in a different tongue; he recognized only a few elven words, and even those were pronounced oddly.

“The old language,” Tanis explained, “from the time of Kith-Kanan, though some of the songs themselves are more recent. They celebrate elven victories since the Kinslayer Wars, and praise the different ages of life, from babyhood to old age. They also celebrate folk who have achieved great things in life.” He stopped and listened, a faraway look on his face. Suddenly, an elf dressed in a dark pink robe paused before the shop and opened his mouth in a new song. “Why, Flint!” Tanis exclaimed, not meeting the dwarf’s eye. “It’s about you! Written in old elven, too.”

“You don’t say,” Flint said. He struggled out of bed and gingerly slipped his arms into the sleeves of a pale green shirt, the latest product of Eld Ailea’s needle. He straightened the shirt’s front over his bandage. “Well, lad, what’s he saying?”

“He says”—Tanis concentrated—“he says you are a prince of a dwarf.” The half-elf concentrated more, keeping his face carefully averted.

“Go on, lad,” Flint urged. “Tell me.” He mistakenly put both feet in one leg of his breeches in his haste to get dressed, and had to wiggle to straighten things out.

Tanis squinted. “He says you are an inspired worker—no, a ‘true artist’—of metal.”

Flint looked impressed, and peered out the window. “And I don’t believe I even know the gentleman …” He pushed one foot into a boot without looking at it, hopping about the floor on his other foot. Outside, the elf continued to sing, head thrown back, hands clenched before his robe. Other elves gathered to listen.

“He also says,” Tanis recounted, “that you are a valorous fighter and a loyal comrade of the first order.”

“Well, that’s certainly true,” Flint said, the other boot dangling from one hand. “What a lovely song!”

Tanis fought to hide his smile. “And he says you should finish dressing and follow Tanthalas Half-Elven to the Kaltatha procession before the two of you are late.”

“He …” Flint paused. “What?” He stood motionless, an eyebrow cocked, his foot poised above his boot, until Tanis could no longer hide his mirth. “You … you doorknob!” The dwarf flung the boot at the snickering half-elf, who ducked just in time.

Ten minutes later, the two emerged from the shop into a maelstrom of colors, scents, and sounds. After some sulking, the dwarf had decided to speak to Tanis again. “Where do we go, lad?” he demanded, looking remarkably healthy for a dwarf who’d been knifed only a few days before.

Tanis pointed between two dwellings, rose quartz like the rest, glowing pink in the early morning light. “The procession will pass down that street over there. But first I think we should buy breakfast from one of these street vendors.”

The idea sounded good to the dwarf, so the two descended on a young elf seated before a stand, selling frybread dusted with crushed sugar. Munching, they skirted a table manned by an elf selling fanciful masks of some of Krynn’s creatures: minotaurs, woodland creatures, and gully dwarves, though those last didn’t seem to be selling well; the Qualinesti weren’t much interested in dressing like short, smelly creatures and carrying a simulated version of the dead rat that spelled the ultimate in gully dwarf accessories. Another vendor sold Flint and Tanis tiny venison sausages on hot, crusty buns, and, finally, they purchased mugs of hot spiced tea—which the dwarf pronounced nearly as good as ale. Tanis’s purse was lighter when they emerged on the processional street, but his and the dwarf’s bellies were much fuller.

“Now, that’s a breakfast to restore a dwarf’s health,” Flint said, wiping his greasy fingers carefully on his dark brown breeches. “Will they still be around for lunch, do you think?” he added hopefully.

“Most likely,” Tanis said, and was opening his mouth to say more when a new commotion off to the north caught his attention. The crowd appeared to thicken, to converge, around the disturbance, and Tanis spied the black and silver plumes of the ceremonial uniforms of the palace guard. He pointed.

“Here come Porthios and the Speaker,” he shouted through the increasing din to Flint, who nodded.

The attendants around Porthios and Solostaran marched at the four corners of a huge square, with the Speaker and his elder son keeping regal pace in the center of the entourage. The crowd parted as the troupe stepped wordlessly through, looking neither right nor left.

Flint was jumping up and down, clutching his right shoulder with his left hand. “I can’t see!” he complained. The crowd thickened around him and Tanis even as he groused, and the jostling soon forced the two apart.

“Flint!” Tanis called. “I’ll meet you back at the shop when it’s over!”

But the dwarf had been swept away in the crowd.

Despite the noise as the entourage approached, the crowd grew silent as Porthios and his attendants marched by. “That’s something to remember all your life!” Tanis heard one elven father tell a young daughter, who appeared more interested in the chunk of sugared frybread she was devouring than in the history taking place before her.

Tanis caught his breath at the poise and presence that the Speaker possessed, his face commanding, his shoulders erect in the golden robe that flashed like the gold circlet on his forehead. Next to him, Porthios, dressed in a plain dark green robe, walked nearly as proudly, matching Solostaran step for step.

The half-elf stood stock still as the Speaker and Porthios strode by; pride for them and envy of them battled within him. He wondered who would stand as his parents when the time came for his own Kentommen, or whether his human blood would deny him that right.

The crowd surged off after the Speaker, but Tanis stayed where he was. Then he walked off in the opposite direction.

Shouting oaths, holding his shoulder, and wishing that that doorknob of a half-elf would find him, Flint bumped against several elves. But he was nearly half their height, and he was carried along with them like a leaf in a swollen stream.

Finally, through the moving bodies, he spotted a figure he knew, standing in a doorway about thirty feet away. Flint braced his feet and shouted, “Miral!” The mage swung toward him, a look of surprise on his face, and gestured the dwarf over, but Flint only shrugged helplessly. If he could have fought his way through a crowd like this, he would have been able to remain back with Tanis.

The tall mage had better luck than he in parting the sea of elves, and Miral’s hooded figure soon reached the dwarf and pulled him into another doorway. “It’s easier to attach yourself to something permanent and let the crowd flow around you,” the mage commented with a wry smile. They watched in silence as the elves swirled by in a singing tide of reds, greens, yellows, and blues.

“What happens now?” Flint demanded.

The mage looked startled. “To whom?” he asked.

“Porthios.” Flint pointed at the departing procession, only the plumes of the guards visible above the throng. “After he completes his vigil in the Grove.”

“Have you visited Qualinesti for two decades and not learned the ways of the Kentommen?” Miral asked in surprise.

The dwarf grew huffy. “I’ve seen small celebrations, but nothing to pay particular attention to.”

“Ah.” The mage nodded sagely and moved out of the doorway, pacing toward Flint’s shop. “Well, after the Kaltatha—that’s the three-day vigil that starts today—Porthios will be led from the Grove by three nobles, their identities concealed by black robes, gloves, and masks. The Speaker will not be present. He will have gone into seclusion for meditation and prayer the day before.

“Porthios will be in a gray robe, as will Gilthanas, who will be returning from his one-night vigil in the Kentommenai-kath, overlooking the River of Hope.” Miral broke off his recitation. “Have you been there?”

Flint nodded.

“The townspeople will pay no attention to either brother,” Miral said. “It’s part of the strictures of the Kentommen.

“I know that,” Flint said. “Ailea told me. Where does Porthios go?”

The mage resumed, stepping around a child waving a teal and silver banner. “The three nobles will lead him to a stone chamber hewn deep beneath the palace. It’s a shadowed room, and he will be made to sit in a small circle of light in the center.” Miral and Flint skirted a glittering quartz home shaped like an oak; they turned a corner.

“The masked nobles will stand in a triangle around the youth,” Miral said. “They are the Ulathi, the Gazers, and each is called by a ceremonial name: Tolethra, Ambition; Sestari, Envy; and Kethyar, Pride. Each questions the youth relentlessly, accusing him of self-serving ambition, of coveting the greatness of others, and of foolish pridefulness. With their wrath, goading, mockery, and criticisms, they test the strength of will and the purity of soul that the youth gained in the Grove.”

Flint imagined the scene and shivered. He still preferred his Fullbeard Day party. “What’s the point of the questioning … What’s it called?”

“That portion of the Kentommen is called the Melethka-nara, or ‘The Heart’s Shadow.’ ” Miral said. “The point, as the name implies, is to see if any shadow remains on the youth’s heart. If so, he will become frightened, angered, or despairing at their words. To shout, cry, or even flinch means failure in this test. However, if at the end of the trial the youth is still calm and at peace with himself, the Ulathi will simply nod and then depart from the room, leaving the doorway open.”

The dwarf had a sudden sense of where the Speaker had developed the impenetrable mask that fell over his features in times of turmoil. He wondered how Porthios—and, for that matter, Tyresian—would be changed by their own Kentommens.

They had arrived at Flint’s shop; there was no sign of Tanis. Flint, grateful—though he’d never admit it—to be able to rest for a few moments on his favorite stone bench, invited Miral in for a visit. Miral agreed, and soon the two were sharing a bag of toasted, salted quith-pa that the dwarf had purchased on the way back from the procession. The dwarf held a tankard of ale in one hand; the mage drank water.

“And how have you been feeling, my friend?” Miral asked. “Have you learned anything about the ones who set this foul trap?”

Flint shook his head in response to the second question but answered the first by proclaiming himself fit as a dwarf half his age. “Tanis and Eld Ailea took fine care of me. They fed me nothing but healthy food and drink. It was terrible,” he added glumly.

“And did the potion I left have any effect?” Miral queried. “I wondered how you would be faring, downing a cup of the tea every hour.”

“Potion?” The dwarf looked bewildered. “No. Ailea forced enough cold water and milk down me to leave me practically floating—she claimed it would prevent a fever from the wound— but I drank no potions. Unless, of course, she slipped it into the water. I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“No, this tea would have been taken warm,” the mage said. “Ah, well. Perhaps I forgot to leave the herbs. I’ve been so busy lately that I’m never quite sure whether I’ve actually done something, or only thought about doing something.”

Suddenly, Flint heard light footsteps on his front walk. “This must be Tanis,” he said.

But it was a young elf just Flint’s height, with hair the color of wheat and eyes like the sea. She said nothing, merely blurted, “This is from Eld Ailea. For Flint Fireforge or Tanthalas Half-Elven,” and thrust a folded parchment at Flint.

The child continued to stand before Flint, shifting from foot to foot, as the dwarf unfolded the paper and squinted at the note. “ ‘Flint, Tanthalas,’ ” the dwarf read aloud. “ ‘Come immediately. I understand about Xenoth. Ailea.”

He looked up. “What on Krynn …?” Flint stared, unseeing, at the elf child for a long moment, then suddenly seemed to focus on the youngster. “What do you want, girl?” he growled.

“Eld Ailea said you would give me a toy for delivering the message if I ran all the way.” The child was still breathing hard. “It was hard work. The parade’s coming back. It’s crowded out there!” She sounded petulant.

Flint gestured at the hutch. “In there. Take your pick. How did Ailea appear when you left her, lass?”

The child already had the cupboard open and was rummaging through its contents with a greedy hand. Her reply floated back to the dwarf. “Excited. She kept saying, ‘Now it all makes sense. The scar. The “T.” The air. Now I understand.’ And she practically pushed me out her door.” The childlike tones were injured.

Flint looked bewildered as he gazed from Miral to the back of the child’s head as she poked through the toys.

“The scar. The ‘T.’ ” Flint mused. “The air?”

“I know of no elves with a T-shaped scar,” the mage said, pushing aside the bag of salted quith-pa. “Except perhaps Tyresian.”

Flint sat up excitedly. “That’s it! Tyresian’s arms are scarred from years of weaponry practice, Ailea must have found a way to link him with Lord Xenoth’s slaying.” He pushed himself off the bench and made for the door. “Come on, we have to hurry,” he shouted to Miral, adding to the little girl, “Take what you want!”

The mage was behind him as he dashed to the street, pushing through the celebrants as they once more jammed the streets, having left Porthios at the Grove.

The child stayed happily behind in Flint’s shop, up to her elbows in toys.

Ailea paced her house impatiently, occasionally pausing to pound one small fist into the palm of her other hand—a masculine movement somewhat unusual in an elven woman, but she was rocking with excitement.

“That’s got to be it!” she whispered to herself. “Of course!” She wheeled at the fireplace and turned back toward the front door. Once more, she crossed to the door and peered out into the street. “Where are they?” she grumbled. “Has Fionia found them yet? I hope that child didn’t get lost …”

She heard a click at the back of the dwelling and closed the front door. “Flint? Tanthalas?” she called, her face almost feline in expression. She hurried back through the entry room, past the fireplace, and paused in the doorway to the kitchen. “Who …?”

The figure turned, and Eld Ailea froze. In all her centuries, she had never known more terror. Her hands sweaty, her breath short, she stepped back blindly, knocking over a square table. Three baby portraits and one of Flint’s rocking-bird toys crashed to the floor.

The figure followed her into the entry room, and she opened her mouth to scream.

But the sound never emerged. She crumpled to the floor in silence.

And then the figure was gone.

When Tanis walked away from the procession, he picked the most deserted lanes he could find—which wasn’t difficult because most of Qualinost’s residents were following Porthios and the Speaker to the Grove. He stalked for half an hour, until the call of a vendor reminded him that he’d promised to meet Flint back at the shop.

He arrived at the dwelling shortly, and found only one occupant—a blond elf child, playing happily with several dozen wooden toys on the floor of the shop. She introduced herself as Fionia, pointed out Eld Ailea’s message, which had fallen to the bench, and announced that the dwarf had given her all these toys.

Tanis read the note and was out the door, running, before the girl had finished speaking.

Later, he would remember little of the dash from Flint’s shop to Eld Ailea’s house; it was a blur of singing, dancing, and chattering Qualinesti. Once he spotted Flint Fireforge standing alone on a street corner, looking around as if he’d lost someone, but when the next opening in the throng occurred, the dwarf had vanished. The half-elf pressed on.

The front door of the midwife’s rose and gray dwelling was unlocked, but that was not unusual. Few Qualinesti locked their doors; there was too little crime in Qualinost for an elf to become fearful. Tanis knocked, tentatively at first, then harder as he failed to hear the midwife’s usual reply of “Coming, coming, coming.” He called up to the second-level window, but there was no answer.

A neighbor poked her head out of her front door and gave the half-elf an odd look as he pounded at the door. “Ailea must be home,” the elven woman called. “I saw her at the window not five minutes ago.”

Finally Tanis pulled the door open and stepped inside. Even before his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he knew something was wrong. He’d expected an excited midwife bustling out of a back room to tell him she’d solved Xenoth’s slaying.

Instead, he smelled death. The door banged shut behind him.

The elderly midwife lay on her back before the fireplace, in a pool of her own blood. Her round eyes—those human eyes she had never been ashamed of—stared sightlessly at the beamed ceiling. Dozens of miniature paintings lay scattered around the room. Tanis could see that she had been able to move after the fatal blow was struck; a wide stain of blood stretched from the front door to the rug before the fireplace. One sleeve was pushed up past her elbow, and her lilac-colored skirt had been lifted slightly, revealing a slender calf and knee. Ailea’s other hand held a portrait of two elven children.

Tanis didn’t even have the breath to cry out. He found himself on his knees beside the elf’s tiny body, mindless of the crimson liquid that soaked his leggings, his moccasins. Ailea’s purple skirt was streaked with blood. He found himself fruitlessly trying to wipe it off, succeeding only in smearing it even more. He touched her face, hoping to feel her breath on his hand. But the elf’s flesh, while still warm, had taken on the heaviness of death.

His fingers were covered with red. He rocked back to his heels, heart contracting in sorrow and rage.

Suddenly, he realized that someone had been pounding on the front door for some time. And at that moment, the door crashed open behind him. Tanis swiveled to face the newcomer.

“Great Reorx!” Flint cried out, then, “Ailea!”

Halfway to Ailea’s house, Flint had stepped into the sea of elves and lost sight of Miral. But figuring that a mage who was eye-level with other elves had a better chance of penetrating the throng than a four-foot hill dwarf did, Flint had plunged on without looking for him.

Miral caught up with the dwarf on the doorstep of Ailea’s house, as Flint knocked for the first time. The mage looked winded.

Flint ignored him. Instead, he began pounding at the door. Finally, he swung it open, saw Tanis’s tear-streaked face look up at him, and cried out at the sight behind the half-elf.

 … Then Flint had looked up to see the words scrawled in blood on the mantlepiece, words already turning brown as the fluid dried.

“Ailea,” the message read, “I’m sorry.”

“Understand the judgment that I must make,” the Speaker said later from the rostrum in the Tower of the Sun. Hundreds of elves, attracted by the upcoming Kentommen, packed the entryway, though only nobles were allowed within the central chamber itself when the Speaker was holding court. There was a constant murmur of conversation in the background.

“Not since the Kinslayer Wars, Tanthalas, has the blood of an elf been spilled by an elf,” Solostaran said, “and not only will we grieve the passing of a long-time faithful servant of this court, we will mourn the loss of the peace that this city has cherished for so long.

“But before we can mourn, he who has wrought this shadow must abide by its darkness. Thus you stand before me, Tanthalas Half-Elven. You have been accused of the murder of Eld Ailea, midwife.”

Litanas muttered from his new position to the right of the rostrum, “He probably killed Lord Xenoth as well.”

“In this deed, and in my wisdom,” Solostaran intoned, “I have found you guilty.”

Still garbed in the bloodstained garments he’d been wearing when the palace guards took him away from Ailea’s house, Tanis winced but stood his ground. He heard a low growl behind him, and he knew it was Flint.

“Thus I proclaim that you, Tanthalas Half-Elven, shall be banished from all the lands of Qualinesti, and that the people of the land shall shun you as if you were one who had never been, lest they suffer a like punishment themselves.”

Tanis’s head reeled. Death would have been easier, he thought. The thought of leaving Qualinost made Tanis’s heart ache as surely as if a dagger had been driven through it. For all his yearning to travel through Krynn, he had always assumed he would have Qualinost to return to.

Tyresian looked grimly triumphant as the Speaker spoke.

“Tanthalas, do you accept this judgment?” Solostaran asked.

Tanis opened his mouth to answer, unsure just what words were going to come out, but suddenly one of the guards next to him stumbled, and Tanis blinked in surprise as Flint clomped angrily forward to stand before the podium. “I don’t know whether he accepts it or not,” Flint growled, his hands on his hips but his eyes sorrowful. “But by Reorx, I know that I won’t stand for it!”

Those gathered about the rostrum stared at the dwarf, stunned.

Flint was acutely aware of all the pairs of almond-shaped eyes gazing down on him, especially the Speaker’s. They’ll be tossing me out of the city any minute now, Flint thought, and then I won’t be able to do the half-elf one bit of good. He thought suddenly of Ailea and realized that with Tanis banished and the midwife dead, he had little reason to remain in Qualinost.

He shook his head and assembled his thoughts. Surely Ailea would understand if he gathered his strength now to defend Tanthalas, her favorite. Flint would mourn the old midwife later, privately.

But Tanis needed him now. “Look here, Speaker,” Flint started in a rumbling voice before the Speaker had a chance to say anything. “You’ve apparently listened to everything these elf lords have said about what happened—about what they believe happened, at least. There are no eyewitnesses—no witnesses, remember.

“Yet they’ve been quick to point the finger for this dark deed at Tanis,” Flint continued. “I can think of others who are equally—no, more—suspect than the half-elf who had grown to love Ailea in the past weeks.”

“Love!” snorted Tyresian. “An act!”

“And you, Lord Tyresian, are chief among my suspects!” Flint bellowed, pointing at the elf lord.

“Impossible,” Tyresian rejoined. “I was helping to guard Porthios at the Grove when the old lady was killed.”

Flint was momentarily nonplussed. Then he continued, “There is the question of the note. Presumably, the death of Eld Ailea is related to the slaying of Lord Xenoth. The midwife figured out the solution to that death, and as a result, someone killed her. Why, then, would she address the note to me and Tanthalas if she had evidence linking Tanis to Xenoth’s death?”

The Speaker seemed inclined to allow the dwarf to continue, despite the affront to court decorum. “Yet the note is missing, Master Fireforge,” Solostaran said. “No one but you saw it. Mage Miral only heard you read it, the child Fionia is too young to read, and Tanis, who also claims to have seen it, is the chief suspect. Further, no one but Tanis was seen entering or leaving the home before you and Miral arrived. And finally, why would Ailea’s murderer apologize to her in a message on the mantlepiece if the murderer were not someone close to her?”

“I …” Flint faltered. “I confess that I don’t know, Speaker. All I know is that the tale the evidence seems to spin cannot be the true one.”

A wrinkle crossed the Speaker’s brow; a look of puzzlement touched his face—and perhaps a flicker of hope.

“With all respect, Speaker, this is ludicrous,” Tyresian objected, his voice low but his eyes flashing. “Since when does a common smith, and a dwarf at that, question the wisdom of the court?”

The Speaker held up a hand. “Master Fireforge has ever been able to speak freely to me,” he said softly. In that moment, Flint saw how tired, how old, Solostaran seemed. “Please,” the Speaker said, gesturing for Flint to continue.

“All I’m saying, Speaker,” the dwarf said gruffly, “is that maybe you should let Tanis tell his side of the story.”

“We’ve heard his story,” Tyresian protested. “And a ridiculous one it is. ‘I arrived, and she was dead.’ Why, then, was her blood fresh on his hands? Why, then, did no neighbor see anyone enter or leave the house but Tanis? There is a space of only five minutes in which, logically, the midwife could have died, and Tanis was the only one to enter the house during that time. Does he expect us to believe—”

“Hold!” the Speaker ordered, and there was metal in his voice again. Tyresian’s words ended abruptly. “I’m afraid there is some truth to Lord Tyresian’s words, Flint,” Solostaran said regretfully, turning back to the dwarf. “We have heard Tanis’s story, and there is little in it to exonerate him.”

But Flint wasn’t finished yet. “Sure as my beard is long, there are some queer things at work here, Speaker, and I don’t think you can argue with me on that. It may be that, given time, Tanis might be able to make sense of them and prove his innocence. Now, it looks like everyone’s minds are made up. But I think he deserves a chance.”

Flint could be as immovable as a mountain when the mood struck him. The Speaker considered the dwarf for a time, and then a smile flickered across his lips. “As usual, Master Fireforge, the wisdom of the court pales before your inimitable common sense. I will heed your advice.”

Tyresian looked furious, but the Speaker ignored him.

“Tanthalas,” he said, his voice taking on the ring of authority again, though this time the coldness was missing. “You will be granted three days to find proof that it was not your hand that committed this dark deed, the slaying of our Eld Ailea. If by sundown on the third day, you have not convinced the court of your innocence, then the punishment I have decreed will be placed in effect, and you will be banished from the Realm of Qualinesti forever.”

Tyresian protested. “The half-elf is dangerous! The city is filling with travelers for the Kentommen. The ceremony will be held in three days. What if another slaying occurs? How many elves must die before the Speaker faces facts?”

Solostaran looked gravely around the chamber. Gilthanas, Litanas, and Ulthen had the same uneasy expressions. “Has anyone else something to say?” the Speaker asked.

Litanas suddenly seemed to remember that he was the Speaker’s adviser now. He stepped forward. “I agree that Tanis should be given the opportunity to prove his innocence, but there seems to be some concern among the nobles about the advisability of allowing an accused murderer to continue to walk the streets of Qualinost.”

Tyresian snorted. “ ‘Some concern’? That’s an understatement.”

“My adviser has the floor, Lord Tyresian,” the Speaker said. “Continue, Lord Litanas.”

Litanas straightened, and his brown eyes looked directly at the elven lord. “Perhaps a suggestion would be this: Confine Tanthalas to his quarters, with a guard at the door, for the three days. Allow his friend Flint Fireforge to amass any evidence pointing toward his innocence. At the end of the three days—immediately after the Kentommen—meet with Flint and the rest of us to discuss the situation.”

The Speaker nodded gravely, but his green eyes appeared pleased. “Are there other ideas?” No one spoke. “Then it shall be as my adviser Lord Litanas has suggested.

“This is the wisdom I have spoken!” he concluded. With those ancient words, the council was adjourned. After one last look at Tanis and Flint, the Speaker left the chamber, his robes ballooning behind him.

As Flint approached Tanis, he saw that Miral was speaking with the half-elf. “I hope you can make good of the time the dwarf has gained for you, Tanis, but I fear the task will be difficult,” the mage said, a sad expression on his face.

“So you think I did it, then?” Tanis asked him.

“No, I believe you didn’t, Tanis. But the evidence against you is strong.” Miral shook his head. “Let me know if you need help, Tanis. I will aid you however I can.” The mage turned on a soft heel and walked briskly from the chamber.

Gilthanas and another guard stepped forward to escort Tanis to his chambers.

Flint glowered at them both, but he was surprised to see only a look of sorrow on the young elf lord’s face.

“The old midwife did not deserve to die,” Gilthanas said softly.

“I know,” Tanis said. “I did not kill her.”

“She delivered me and Laurana and Porthios, too,” Gilthanas said, then took a deep breath. “Tanis, reason tells me that you are the only one who could have killed Eld Ailea. My soul, on the other hand, hopes that you are exonerated, to save my father’s heart.

“I would be glad if you proved your innocence,” he added simply. Gilthanas brushed his golden hair away from his green eyes. He seemed small in his black uniform. “But don’t expect any aid from me. I cannot help you. And if you try any further ill …” He touched the silver emblem of the Tree and the Sun on his black jerkin, the symbol of the city and its guards. “I will be forced to stop you.”

Flint snorted. A lot of good that did. But Tanis seemed to understand, for he nodded, and then the other guard stepped into position on Tanis’s other side. Tanis removed his sword and scabbard and handed it to Flint.

Gilthanas and the other guard led the dwarf’s friend away.

Kindred Spirits