Chapter 17.

28th Day of Early Spring 768 n.c

On the night of the 28th day of Early Spring I had gone to sleep fairly early, leaving Malkarov tinkering around with his rune scheme for his "Blower". I hadn't been waking when he rang the two bells to go to sleep, as he had been forgetting about them until the time he actually went to sleep (which since I had given him this 'problem to solve' had been much much later than usual). He assured me that he had still been ringing them and apologised to me that they were late but I told him that I was going to sleep when I felt tired anyway and had been sleeping through them. Which was why it was strange to wake up in the middle of the night to bells ringing. It took a moment, listening to the bells ring and ring, before I realised that they weren't Malkarov's bells. They were the bells in town, the alarm bells! I jumped out of bed and had my nightgown over my head all in one motion. I was pulling my trousers on when my door opened and Malkarov's head appeared. In one quick moment his eyes went wide and then screwed tight. I expected to feel the flush of embarrassment but either due to the excitement of what was going on or the fact that neither of us were attracted to the other, I pretty much ignored it.

"I…" he stammered and I even giggled a little at the thought that he was more embarrassed than I was, "I just wanted to make sure you were awake! Sorry! That's the town's alarm bells! I'm going to head up to the roof to see what's going on, meet me down at the front door once you're dressed!"

"Okay!" I said, as I finished pulling up my trousers and tied them off. He head ducked back out of sight and I heard his feet slapping on the stone stairs as he ran up towards the roof. I lifted my tunic over my head and stuck my arms through before quickly wrapping a belt around and tying it off. I grabbed a leather strap to tie back my hair as I rushed down to the ground floor. I was there for a few moments before Malkarov came thundering down the steps carrying his staff and dressed in his robes.

"The Jorganhard's farm is aflame!" He exclaimed.

The Jorganshard's had the southernmost farm in Easthaven itself (Most farms were outside the valley that Easthaven rested in, but there were eight farmholds inside the valley. Mostly at the southern end.)

We both rushed out of the tower and down the path. We caught up with Sister Tera and all three of us ran across the bridge over the river. As we were running through town we noticed that others were already running out of their homes carrying buckets and heading south along the river.

In the distance I could see the glow of flames lighting up the sky, but a second glow was beginning to appear a little closer.

"Malkarov!" I yelled to get his attention and pointed when he looked, "I thought you said only the Jorganshard's farm was on fire?"

He stopped dead. Sister Tera and I both stopped also.

"I did and it was," he said, "I could see quite clearly from the top of my tower. There was only one fire."

Even as he said this, I noticed a third fire start to spring up even closer to us.

"There's something else going on! Something else is wrong!" He said and we all started running even faster towards the fires.

"Stop!" Malkarov shouted at people as we caught up to them, and commanded "fetch weapons as well as buckets!"

Everyone he ordered turned around and ran back to their houses, but still we ran on.

We heard shouting before we saw anything. It was the fearful shouting of someone with their life in danger. We were near the Yordas' Farm, the only one not on fire before the three that were; but even as we watched flames began to lick up the side of the farm house. We could see dark shapes, many of them, between us and the flames.

"Kobolds!" Malkarov shouted as I saw one of them. It was at least a hundred yards away and only lit up by the fire from the farmhouse, but it was definitely a kobold. Unlike the other ones I had seen, these were better equipped with swords or spears.

I didn't even think, I didn't consciously make a decision on what to do. As soon as I heard Malkarov begin to speak a magical phrase, I pushed out my magic as an Elemental Bolt. Both of our bolts flew off together into the kobolds, both hitting the same one. I could see at the distance the kobold fly backwards into the flaming wall of the farmhouse. The others around it froze.

"Move closer ten feet, work from the left in towards the middle!" Malkarov barked at me in a commanding tone that brooked no disagreement.

We both moved together about ten feet and I managed to cast another Elemental Bolt while I did so. It shot off and the leftmost kobold dropped down dead. Malkarov was pulling something from a pocket in his robes and held it up with his staff pointed towards the kobolds. More were running into the light provided by the farmhouse fire and there would have been close to fifty of the little creatures all crowded around. They seemed a little hesitant to do anything, but as more gathered they seemed to be readying to charge at us.

I had let loose another Elemental Bolt when Malkarov completed the words I recognised as being for Elemental Explosion and I was able to witness it's devastating effects for the first time. When he first cast it atop his tower I was unable to see exactly what it did as he had cast it into the air. Against the kobolds I was able to see exactly what was happening. Malkarov had cast it pretty much into the middle of the gathering and a sphere of whipping wind appeared. Like the tornados that we would sometimes see in Late Spring or Early Summer, but instead of being a tall tower of wind this whipped everything around inside an invisible sphere. It even sucked in those near the edges, lifting them up and sending them whizzing around. It was a mass of kobold limbs, bodies and weapons. The explosion touched onto the edge of the farmhouse and writhing whip-like tongues of flame were brought into the sphere like ribbons of yellow-orange light. If any of the kobolds inside the explosion were still alive, the flames would have ensured that they died a very painful death. As it was the explosion ended suddenly, dropping everything into a big heap. A large pile of kobold bodies sat rather neatly at the epicentre of the spell, spears and swords sticking out at all angles. Some of their clothes appeared to be on fire, or smouldering at least as small pinpricks of light dotted the mound.

I released two more Elemental Bolts, knocking down a kobold each, then felt a breeze as someone ran past me. It was Sister Tera, running towards the kobolds!

"Sister!" I shouted, as much to stop her as to make Malkarov aware.

"Move up fifty feet!" Malkarov shouted and I moved forward steadily. I still managed to cast five more Elemental Bolts, downing a kobold with each one. Malkarov matched me, casting Elemental Bolts of his own that knocked his kobolds flying backwards with each hit.

There were only a handful of kobolds left now that we could see and Malkarov shouted "dancing Lights in front of them!"

We both cast Dancing Lights with mine appearing in a line twenty feet apart right in front of the kobolds. Malkarov's appeared slightly closer towards us, but also about twenty feet apart. A long line of eight glowing lights illuminated the scene ahead. There were only four kobolds left near the farmhouse, but the lights showed a group of three kobolds trying to sneak around towards us. The lights on the right illuminated the fleeing backsides of six or seven kobolds running away towards the southern farms. Sister Tera was still running towards the farmhouse as quickly as she could.

I cast Elemental Sphere between her and the kobolds sneaking near the left hand Dancing Lights. My large ball of blacklight and purple appeared floating in the air and I directed it into the middle of the group of kobolds. It struck two of them, who started to shriek in pain. The shrieks slowly grew quieter however as the kobolds collapsed to the ground. Something struck me in the shoulder and I heard something crack as a sudden blast of white hot pain radiated out from a spot that was quickly becoming numb. I tried to move my arm but the pain only increased. I couldn't lift it at all! I felt and heard Malkarov take care of the kobolds that remained near the farmhouse.

The last kobold was very close to me now, running as fast as it's legs could carry it. It was wearing a tattered red tunic and seemed to have red paint on it's scaled face. It's snout was of a similar shape to a dog's, but scaled rather than furry. The bony spikes dotting it's skull appeared sharpened. It seemed to have dropped its weapon at some point but had both of its clawed hands stretched out ahead of it. I tried to gather my thoughts to cast an Elemental Bolt but couldn't, the pain was too great. It reached a point only a few feet away from me and pounced, soaring through the air towards me. I stretched out my good arm in front of me and felt the magical power of Elemental Touch explode out from inside me to encase my hand. It was only thanks to the extra foot or so of reach that I had over the kobold that I wasn't hurt worse than I was. The moment my hand touched the kobold, the magic flowed from around my hand into the kobold flying into me. It hit me and we both toppled over, with it on top of me. Pain flooded me from my shoulder but that was only a small distraction to what was going on right in front of my nose. I looked the kobold straight in it's yellow eyes, even as the spark of life contained in them winked out. It's scales went from shiny in the moonlight to dull and cracked. It's flesh went from relatively plump to extremely sunken and wizened.

I pushed the creature off me with my one good hand and let out a little yelp when my finger punctured the skin of it's cheek. The skin had ripped like thin dry parchment, as if there were no substance to it at all.

I yelled out to Malkarov as I wasn't able to sit myself up.

"Are you alright?" He asked as he hovered over me.

"No," I replied, wincing at the pain, "something is wrong with my shoulder. I think something hit me and I heard a crack, now it just hurts and I can't move my arm."

He felt around on my shoulder and I shouted in pain when he touched one of the bones there.

"It's broken," he said plainly, "it shouldn't be anything that Sister Tera can't heal."

"Is she okay?" I asked as I looked around for her.

"She's inside the house, probably looking to make sure that there isn't anybody inside," he said simply.

A moment of panic sparked up inside me, "but it's on fire!"

Malkarov laughed, "Mithras has likely granted her Resistance to Fire. Sister Tera can look after herself."

Malkarov held out a hand and lifted me up, it jolted my shoulder and sent a sharp wave of pain radiating through my upper body but I tried my best to put up with it. We walked slowly towards the farm as the Easthaven townfolk began to arrive. Mayor Crownever was carrying a large spear and a bucket but was shouting instructions to everyone to form bucket chains. Thankfully the farms all backed onto the river and so were very close to an easy source of water. Children were sent to get other children up out of bed to come down and help. They were tasked, when they arrived, with carrying the empty buckets back to the person at the river. Once the chain was formed at Yorda's farm, surplus town folk headed to the next farmhouse to do likewise.

Just after the first bucket was thrown in the doorway, Sister Tera came walking out, a bluish glow surrounded her. She was completely unharmed by the flames but was coughing a little from the smoke. A cheer went up from the townsfolk when they realised that she was holding the hand of a glowing Tammen Yorda, the youngest son who in turn was holding the glowing hand of his older sister Ullath. In this manner the entire family was extracted from the burning house completely unharmed.

Malkarov called to her and she very matter-of-factly healed my shoulder with a prayer. The cold shiver didn't take me by surprise this time and I gave her a quick thanks before we three headed off as quickly as we could for the next two farms.

Our first stop was quick as everyone had escaped before it caught fire, but Sister Tera made a grim discovery at the Jorganshard's farm; while she found Missus Jorganshard unconscious and was able to heal her, she was not able to heal her eldest son Kardin who was only two years younger than me.

Malkarov and I continued to look around for any more kobolds, casting Dancing Lights around us to provide enough light to detect them. We saw no more of them that night.

—-

29th Day of Early Spring 768 n.c

—-

I woke up late, the sun was already overhead when I looked out of the window. After I made breakfast I had to ring the bells to get Malkarov up as he had slept in as well.

"Your father will most likely be coming into town today for a meeting of the town council," Malkarov said around a mouthful of sausage, "I think it would be best if we both attend and then you could head back with him."

I agreed with him, "That sounds good. But what will happen at the meeting, what input could I have that you could not?"

"A second perspective will always be different," he replied, "but more than that, it's important that you go so that the town can thank you."

"Thank me?" I asked.

"Yes," he said with a smile, "if you decide to become a wandering wizard, join with a party of adventurers, then you might get rewarded by a town or city for solving a monster problem. For me and by extension you, we do not get rewards for saving our town as the town is always looking after us in other ways."

"What other ways?" I asked.

"To begin with," he answered, "I was granted this land to build my tower. The town pays me a small amount each season to stay here. Wizards in larger cities will often be paid more or granted land and title. As the Wizard of Easthaven Shire, I have exclusive rights granted by the shire through the guild to harvest components in the Shire."

"Didn't we collect components in Sunhaven Shire?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, "The Wizard TrIllithsh of Eastholm Castle has the rights to Sunhaven Shire. She and I have an agreement that we may use each other's Shires to find components for personal use and any components that we sell are split half and half. She is a Potioneer so in practice I will often offer her potion components first before selling them and she will often offer me the ingredients I require for enchanting before selling them."

I nodded, it was a sensible arrangement. The town bell rang out loud and clear. Dong... Dong-dong. Dong… Dong-dong… Dong...Dong-dong. This was the signal for a town meeting, for everyone to gather. We had many different signals that I had never really learned properly but aside from the emergency bell (Just aggressive, random ringing) the town meeting call was one that I remembered.

We finished breakfast and I got everything that I needed into my pack. Once we were ready, we headed out to the town square. Mayor Crownever was already there, as was most of the town. A few were still heading in from the direction of the farmer's common. Malkarov spotted Father first and called out to him. He came over to us and caught me up in a hug then held me out at arms length to look at me.

"I heard a little of what happened last night," he said to me, "are you alright? Are you injured?"

"I'm fine Father," I reassured him, "One of them hit me with something and broke my shoulder, but Sister Tera healed it up as good as new."

"A sling stone," Malkarov interjected, "most likely. We're lucky it didn't hit your head. We will have to practice incorporating Shield into our training."

"Obviously they decided that they wanted more than just a bite of one of my cows," Father said, "I feel that the general consensus will be that we attack their cave to get rid of them."

"That would probably be the likely course of action," Malkarov agreed, "their males are their warriors but are also their hunters. They have likely lost the majority of their males and will be in a precarious situation. The unexpected attack however, will likely result in a violent retaliation."

"Against what will likely be females and children?" I asked, a little shocked.

"Most will not see that," Malkarov nodded and stated, "but will only see enemy kobolds."

This troubled me. It was one thing to kill armed kobolds that were trying to kill me, but to kill kobolds in their home that were just trying to survive?

After a short time Mayor Crownever began the meeting.

"People of Easthaven! Good people of Easthaven! Last night we lost one of our own. Kardin Jorganshard was murdered last night when the Jorganshard, Danshold and Yorda farms were attacked by kobolds." The crowd murmured angrily. Many shifted uneasily. "These kobolds came armed to conduct war upon us! They attacked without warning, in the middle of the night. Missus Jorganshard and the Yorda family survived only through the divine actions of Sister Tera and the blessings of Celestine!"

The crowd cheered. Missus Jorganshard looked torn between her sadness at the loss of Kardin and her relief and gratitude at being saved by Sister Tera. Master Jorganshard just looked angry, furious in fact.

"We don't know why the kobolds changed their minds," Mayor Crownever stated, "but they did. The attacking force was killed by the magics of the Wizard Malkarov and his apprentice Sharein Askilain!"

The crowd cheered so loudly that it almost hurt my ears. Those close to us clapped us on our backs. It came as such a surprise to me that the first one forced me to take a step to steady myself and made me glad that Sister Tera had healed my shoulder (else I would likely have been curled up in pain). Father beamed in pride.

"Together they killed thirty two of the vermin kobold!" the Mayor announced and waited for the cheering to end once more, "We are gathered here to determine what to do about this kobold menace! Raise your hand if you wish to speak and you will have a small amount of time to say your piece."

Master Jorganshard was the first to speak and he gave an impassioned plea to attack the kobolds immediately, to wipe them out entirely and finished by saying "If we don't get rid of these evil murderers now, then your child might be the next one to die!"

Missus Jorganshard burst into tears and together they walked off away from the crowds.

A few others got up to echo Master Jorganshard's words and it seemed to be the consensus of the crowd.

Master Waeder, the blacksmith, stood up, "I'm not going to comment on what we should do. But whatever the decision is, should we not call upon the Baroness Eastholm to deal with it? At the very least, should we not notify the Baroness of the happenings?"

Mayor Crownever stood then, "I will be notifying the Baroness as to what happened last night as part of my Mayoral duties. But I will declare the vote on this proposition now: Should we ask the Baroness Eastholm to deal with the kobold problem for us? All those in favour, raise your hands."

Only a few hands were raised. The Mayor didn't even bother counting. This was a direct attack against Easthaven and Easthaven obviously wanted to deal with it themselves.

Master Danshold came up to talk, "We gave them a chance! We extended our hands in peace, even after they attacked the Askilain farm! We should take up weapons and attack them, kill them all!"

Many of the townspeople loudly agreed. Very loudly. The almost seemed ready to storm off there and then, no matter what the outcome of the meeting.

Malkarov stood up next to me and strode towards the stage. He was welcomed by a splattering of cheers.

"You all know that I am sworn to this town and that I will do whatever the town decides," he began and the crown cheered, "but I would ask that you all consider your actions. Ask yourselves what it means. Most of the kobold warriors are dead, there are only a few left. The majority of the kobolds will only be women and children, the young and the infirm. Even if the decision is made to attack them, let it be not until tomorrow to give yourselves time to think on it and let your hot heads cool down."

Less cheered him at the end of his speech than did at the beginning, but I did notice that a few of those who had appeared to have been only one step away from charging off now looked a bit thoughtful.

A few more spoke, all in favour of attacking the kobolds and 'getting rid of them', but they all seemed less eager to do something immediately. Malkarov's advice was well-heeded.

In the end the Mayor held the vote to attack the kobolds and get rid of them; the majority of hands were held in favour. He then held the vote to hold off until tomorrow and while there were fewer than the previous vote, there was still a majority. I did not hold up my hand to attack and neither did Malkarov or Father, but we three all did for the final vote.

Malkarov escorted Father and I to the Farmers Common and told me that he would stop by in the morning to pick me up on the way to the kobold's hill cave.

"How can they advocate the slaughter of those innocent kobolds?" I asked Malkarov, "Do you think that they will follow through with this proposition born of anger?"

"You answered that yourself, Sharein," Malkarov replied, "It is born of anger and anger is the enemy of sense and morality. I hope that with my delay until tomorrow that they might rethink when it comes time, but I doubt it. They won't see females and children, they will see the prevention of the deaths of those that they care for. They will see a righteous cause."

On the way home Father asked me about the events of the previous night and I described them for him in greater detail. The speed at which we dispatched the attacking kobolds shocked him a little and he asked me about the Shield spell that Malkarov had mentioned.

"Considering the hit you took, I think that the Wizard Malkarov makes a very good point." Father said, "Imagine if it was something worse or in a different place?"

I stewed on the injustice of the upcoming attack all the way home but I was just an apprentice wizard. Maybe I should have stood up and had my say? I kicked myself that I had not. Perhaps I could convince the townsfolk to show mercy on the 'morrow?

I had to tell the story of the kobold attack once more for Mother and my siblings, which entertained them greatly.

After dinner and catching up with my family we all went to bed.

I was lying down in bed, thinking of Shard when I realised that I had to do something.

I got back up and got dressed, as quietly as I could. I checked on Illith and Kara to ensure that they were still asleep when I silently closed the door.

I crept out of the house and in the moonlight, made my way firstly to Shard's altar. The forest was still and quiet, not even an owl hoot. I hoped that the wargs would not be out tonight, but at least I now had means to defend myself from them, should they attack.

"Shard, my love," I said aloud when I reached the altar, "the townsfolk plan on coming here tomorrow and slaughtering the kobolds that have been praying here. I can't let that happen, there are mostly only females and children left. If anything should happen to me, just know that I love you."

I felt a chill wrap around me, as if she were holding me in her cold arms.

"I love you too," I heard her whisper behind my ear.

I whipped my head around, but she was not there, not physically. A little disappointed, I headed out in the direction that Malkarov had indicated that their hill lay. I noticed the small track that led from the altar, I had ignored it in the past believing it to have been created by an animal. As soon as I started on the path, I cast a Shield spell over myself but did not cast Dancing Lights or any such spell as I believed it to be better not to give any indication of my approach. I debated whether or not to cast Invisibility, but decided that if I did come across a kobold, I didn't want to just suddenly appear out of thin air. Honestly, I didn't exactly know how I would go about convincing them to leave, I just hoped that I could convince them without resorting to killing any of them.

Eventually, I noticed the ground inclining a little and through the trees, in the darkness I thought I saw the hill ahead. Near the base of the hill the trees thinned out and the path curved around to lead into a large cave mouth. I stood there at the edge of the clearing for a few moments, wondering what to do.

I cast Dancing Lights and spread them out on either side of me towards the cave mouth and recast Shield (it didn't last very long and I had already had to recast it many times as I walked through the forest). I wished that I had been able to cast Malkarov's Tongues spell but that was, for now, beyond me.

A small kobold came out of the cave and stopped in shock at my floating lights, it was holding a small wooden toy of some sort. It looked around, its attention consumed by the oddities in front of it before it actually noticed me. It dropped the toy suddenly and ran back inside the cave. Very soon nine male kobolds rushed out of the cave carrying knives and clubs. They skidded to a stop in a line in front of the cave and brandished their weapons menacingly. They did not advance any closer and were obviously standing in such a way as to defend their cave from attack. Other shapes huddled around in the darkness of the cave behind them, possibly the female kobolds in another line to defend their children. The crowd of kobolds parted and a larger kobold strode through the gap. I heard a crack as it stepped, uncaring, on the wooden toy abandoned in the dirt. It carried a wooden spear with a steel tip which it used to point at me and used its other hand to point back towards the town. It hissed at me in its language; words that sounded very threatening.

I waited for it to finish and then tried to get my own message through to them.

I pointed at them and pointed towards my family's farm, then used two fingers to indicate horns and let out a loud 'moo'. I shook my head 'no' and slashed my arm down violently.

I pointed at them again and then pointed towards the town, then slashed my arm down violently again. Lastly I pointed to a few of them then gestured to all of them with a sweeping hand and then pointed to the south, towards the mountains. I did that again to hammer home the message, they had attacked the farm and attacked the town and now they must go. This was to be their only chance.

The large kobold hissed at the kobold warrior standing next to him and gestured at me with his spear. The kobold hissed quickly back and then began running straight at me!

I cast Elemental Bolt at the creature and it collapsed mid stride, falling down into the dirt close to me, it's dagger skittering along the ground to rest at my feet. The kobolds already looked hungry, but the effects of my seeming made this one appear starved and emaciated. The kobolds all hissed in fear. I gestured to them and pointed violently to the south.

The kobold leader growled and ran at me, stopping suddenly and letting fly it's spear. I watched it's sharpened point come closer and closer. It was a good throw, the kobold had good aim. The spear was coming straight for me. Just as it was about to skewer me, it hit my shield and ricocheted away behind me to thud into a tree. The kobold leader did not slow down however, it had already drawn it's dagger and had just about reached the body of the slain kobold warrior. I recalled the feeling of magic for the Magic Missile spell, pushing as much power into it as I could and summoned six glowing arrows around me. I raised my hand to point at the kobold leader, who stumbled a little with its eyes going so wide in knowledge of the horror that was about to befall it. The six glowing arrows sped unerringly towards the kobold, coming close together and spinning around each other leaving behind sparks of light that drifted down to the ground like white embers. The arrows of magic struck the large kobold dead in the chest, ripping straight through and out the other side. They hit with such ferocity that it's movement was halted in mid air and it was sent flying backwards a few feet, landing on the ground with a thud next to the other dead kobold.

I looked up at the kobolds in front of the cave. They reflexively took a step backwards in fear. Once more I gestured to them and then pointed to the south.

I felt my Shield spell end and silently cast it once more, just in case.

One of the kobolds in the line raised it's club up and took a hesitant step forward.

I prepared for its charge, ready to slaughter another of them.

Suddenly, it collapsed in a heap! In surprise I stood up a little straighter. The other warrior kobolds all turned around slightly to look behind them. One of the kobolds from the cave strode forward past the line of warriors and turned around to put its back towards me. I'd guess that it was a female kobold, it's scales were a slightly lighter colour and it had a different style of markings than the warriors. It was holding a large stone in its hand. It hissed loudly, clicking and hissing angrily at the kobolds both in the cave and in front of it. Periodically it made gestures at the two dead kobolds in front of me, or at me. After a few moments of, what to them, appeared to be yelling; the kobold stopped and the males lowered their weapons. As they disappeared back inside the cave, the lone female approached me slowly with its hands held out so that it's claws all pointed out the ground. Its head was lowered and it stopped just short of the two kobold corpses. Slowly it moved its hands to point to its own chest, then half turned to point at the cave. Then it gestured towards the south and raised its head a little to look up at me. It was a look that I knew well, a look that I had seen many times before. The kobold looked like a dog that had been caught doing something wrong or that had been shown the evidence of it's misdeeds. It was a look of contrition, a look of guilt.

I myself pointed towards the south and nodded at the kobold. Then I copied its gesture by holding my hands such that my fingers pointed downwards.

Its eyes widened a little and I hoped that I had not made a mistake by doing that, that it would not be interpreted as me backing down at all.

The female kobold walked backwards, towards the cave, so that it was still facing me. It stopped near the cave mouth and turned its head to hiss back inside.

Presently a large band of kobolds walked out of the cave in a long double line towards the south. Some were walking by themselves carrying fur bundles, others were allowing older slower kobolds to lean on them and yet others were carrying small baby kobolds. Two kobolds scurried over to the kobold warrior with the club and picked it up between them and dragged it along back to the line. Many female kobolds were carrying large coppery coloured eggs in leather and fur harnesses. One small kobold, half the size of the average adult broke from the line and ran up towards the lone female. It stopped and bent down to pick up something from the dirt, letting out a mournful mew. The last of the kobolds appeared to have left the cave and the lone female gently pushed the child towards the end of the line as it went to join the tail also. I walked slowly towards them and they froze where they were. I kept walking slowly towards them and the little kobold hid behind the older ones legs, the adult standing stock still and staring at me warily. I crouched down once I got close and held out my hand, palm up. The older kobold reached behind to pull out the younger one, which looked up at it questioningly. The older one nodded and the younger held out it's clawed hand to gently drop the broken toy onto my palm. It was a crude thing, roughly carved into the shape of a kobold. Its tail and one of its legs were snapped off. I held the pieces together and cast a couple of Mending's. When I handed the toy back to the little lizard creature it's entire face brightened instantly. There was no more wariness, no more fear. It rushed towards me and the older one made a failed desperate attempt to grab hold of it. The little creature wrapped its arms around my arm and nuzzled at my chest in what seemed to be the kobold equivalent of a hug. The older kobold stepped back in surprise, bringing up its hand over its chest in an all too human gesture. After a moment the older kobold stepped closer to us and (keeping its hands pointed downwards in its non-threatening gesture) slowly pried the little kobold away from me. They both hurried to catch up to the tail end of the kobold refugees, but before they disappeared into the forest they both turned around to look at me one last time.

A few moments after the kobolds had disappeared into the forest, I turned around and sent my Dancing Lights ahead of me into the forest. Movement caught my eye and I sent one of the lights over towards it. What that light illuminated was the last thing I expected to see.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, surprised.

Illith looked at me in shock, and stuttered "I… I.."

I realised how tired I was and walked past her saying "Come along, you can talk on the way home."

Illith obediently followed along and eventually managed to say quietly "I woke up when you got up and followed you. I thought that you might be doing some sort of magical ritual and wanted to watch."

I stopped suddenly and she almost walked into my back "So you followed fairly closely to not get lost and saw and heard everything?"

"Yes?" Illith said, nervously making it sound like a question.

"So…" I asked as I continued to walk trying to make myself sound confident, "Do you have any questions?"

"I can understand why you wanted them to leave, I don't think I would have wanted any of those children to be killed," there was a moment's pause before she asked, "who were you talking to back in that clearing, at the stone?"

There it was, the one thing that I had hoped she hadn't seen, or heard.

"I can't tell you who she is Illith," I replied, carefully, "not that I don't want to, but that I can't."

I did not know whether or not her overhearing me had bypassed my oath, but I did not wish to risk it.

"You called her 'your love'," she stated in a confused tone.

'Oh pooh,' I spun around and held out my hands to take her shoulders to plead with her "Please Illith, please; you mustn't tell Mother or Father, you mustn't tell anyone!"

"But you called her…" Illith repeated.

"Yes Illith," I said.

"Her, you called her 'your love'," Illith said again.

"Yes Illith, I'm in love with a her," I said.

She furrowed her brows "We can do that?"

I let out a little laugh "Yes, but nobody in town thinks that it's acceptable. But I can't help who I love and I love a her. I could never love a boy."

She looked even more confused, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed; she looked like she was about to say something, but stopped.

"Illith," I asked, "what is it?"

She frowned at me and asked quietly "Does it have to be one or the other?"

Now it was my turn "What do you mean?"

"Well…" she said, "does it have to be a boy or a girl? Can it be both?"

"Ummmm…" I thought aloud, "I don't see why not? You can't control who you are attracted to, I think. I've always been attracted to girls only, but I don't see why you couldn't find both attractive."

"Oh good," she said simply and definitely.

"Please Illith, you have to promise me not to say anything to anyone about me," I begged.

"Only if you promise not to tell anyone that I like girls too?" She asked.

"Deal," we said, one after the other. Then we found ourselves in a fast hug, laughing and crying in relief.

"So," she said when we broke our hug, "why can't you tell me who she is?"

"I swore an oath not to," I said, "a promise, a magical promise."

"Oh," she replied, sounding disappointed.

We started walking, back along the path towards Shard's clearing. I wondered whether I should stop and speak to Shard there. It was too risky though, with Illith. I decided to talk to Shard before I went to sleep instead. Sleep sounded wonderful, I was so tired and was not looking forward to waking up at sunrise. We would probably have been a quarter of the way through the night by the time we got back home as it was, if not closer to half way.

"So…" I said to Illith, "Is there a someone or someones that you're interested in to know that you like boys and girls?"

Illith stopped and blushed a deep crimson. She said something, too quietly for me to hear and skipped to catch up to me.

"Sorry Illith, I didn't quite catch that?" I said.

She blushed again and mumbled something too garbled for me to understand.

"Sorry Illith, again?" I asked.

"Tarisha and Darnik Danshold!" She practically shouted, then let out a loud "Oops!"

I probably could have guessed; Darnik was a year older than Illith and was the older brother of Tarisha (who was the same age as Illith and was one of her good friends from town.) If someone had asked me before Illith's revelation if she might have had eyes for someone, my guess would have been Darknik. I would never have guessed that she had eyes for Tarisha though. I wondered if anyone had ever noticed my attraction towards Mari though. Maybe we just don't look for things when we don't expect them?

On the way back to Shard's clearing, I asked Illith questions about her attraction to Tarisha. I had to admit that she was a very pretty girl with such a generous heart that it would be almost impossible for anyone not to love her. Illith had concerns about how Tarisha might react to her attraction and I had to admit that I understood completely. Tarisha reminded me a little bit of Beka in that they both strictly adhered to the tenets of the church. I didn't want Beka to find out about my attraction towards girls because I didn't think that she would take it very well at all. I could see Tarisha being the same. Our conversation moved on to inconsequential things as we walked and we soon arrived at Shard's clearing and altar. I wasn't going to stop and speak to her, but I couldn't help myself when I saw her altar.

"Just one moment," I said to Illith as I walked to the altar and placed my hands upon its smooth surface.

"I'm here my love. I'm safe and everything seems to have worked out for the best," I whispered, pausing before my admission, "Illith overheard me talking to you earlier."

"I knew," I heard a voice behind me.

It was followed rapidly by a surprised sound from Illith. I spun around and saw Shard standing there, in a manner of speaking. She appeared in the form of a ghostly apparition, a projection that I could see through. She glowed with the same black light with purple lightning that my seeming created. I extended my hand to her face, to cup her cheek but my hand passed straight into her without any resistance.

"You knew?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied and turned slightly to face Illith, who had been edging around the clearing to get a better look at Shard's face without being too close, "hello Illith. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm sorry that I couldn't be here in person to meet you the first time, but I'm a little busy elsewhere."

"H...h… hello." Illith stammered, wide-eyed and wavering between shock and amazement.

"Silly me," Shard said with a giggle, "you can call me Shard. Sharein has told me so much about you."

"You're very pretty," Illith blurted and immediately blushed bright red, covering her mouth with both her hands in embarrassment.

"Why thank you," Shard said gently and then looked at me, "but not as pretty as your sister."

It was my turn to blush now and I asked quickly to change the topic "How goes your task? When will you be back?"

She smiled at me "Sooner than expected, not much longer now at all."

Excitement bubbled up in me "I can't wait to see you again, properly."

She started to fade "Nor I, my love, nor I," and she faded away completely.

The shock of her sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance hit me then, but thankfully Illith sensed something and took me up in a tight hug. A few tears escaped as I held her close.

"Is Shard a wizard, like you?" Illith asked once we had separated and I had composed myself.

"No," I replied, "not at all like me. She's very special, very very special. Please, still, you mustn't tell anyone about her," I pleaded.

"Of course I won't," she replied, "I promised, didn't I?"

"You did," I said, giving her a kiss on the forehead, "come on. We should both hurry home and be abed, there's not much time before the sun is due to rise and I haven't even had a sleep yet."

We hurried home and I dispelled my Dancing Lights before we got close to the house. We crept into the house as quietly as we could and got changed into our night clothes, careful not to wake Kara or Mother; for while Father would sleep like a log, Mother would wake at the slightest sound. Exhausted, I lay down in my bed and pulled the covers over me. The last thing I thought of before I fell asleep was Shard telling me that she would be back soon.