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A Fairy Tale chapter three

Humans in the land of magic

This is the third chapter of an ongoing story

You may not understand it unless you start at the first chapter

They walked to the Ladies. The Queen looked at Art. “What did you tell him Oberon? He has a look on his face like the whole world is going to end.”

“Yes, he does look a little peaked, but with what he's gone through the last few days I think he has the right. A few days rest will perk him up. Lady Aletta, will you have time to see to Art's needs for the next few days? If not I'll assign a senior page to take care of it.”

“I'm afraid I wouldn't have time for all of it, Sire. I have my duties with the Council and any free time I have should be spent on Art's training. I think a page would do fine.”

“Good, then that's settled. I still want you to train him, you may use the training hall here in the palace, I don't think he can do much damage there. The master of arms will help too”

Alet smiled. “If you had seen what I saw you wouldn't be so sure. But he has his control now so it should be alright.”

The King stood. “Then, if you'll excuse us for a bit, Ladies, there are a few things left to do. Come with me Art.” He led them into the corridor again but stopped in the middle of it and faced Art.

“Everyone claims that you learn fast. I'm going to teach you a few spells that you must keep secret. The first will let you whisper in my ear from wherever you are and I can do the same to you. The second will let me see whatever you're looking at, but you have to invoke it, I don't want you thinking I'm spying on you.”

It took only a few minutes for Art to memorize the spells. “You put great trust in me, Sire. I'll try not to let you down.”

“I don't think you will, but can you imagine what my life would be if all the Councilors even knew these spells existed? I'd go mad in a week. But come, there's more.”

They waited while the Lord Chamberlain announced them, then entered. The King gestured for Art to stay at the bottom of the stairs when he climbed them, gaining in size as he did. When he sat, the Chamberlain gave permission to rise and a few seconds later, the King did too.

“Council members, I have brought this human here to honor him for the service he has done, and will do, for the crown. Art, you may approach.” Art was baffled as he climbed the stairs and then knelt at the King’s gesture.

The king held his hand to the side and a lengthy silver sword appeared in it. He held it upright in front of his face as he said in a booming voice, “I knight you Sir Art in the Order of the King's Own.” and lightly touched Art on both shoulders with it. “Rise, Sir Art, honorable member of the King's Own.”

He reached down and helped Art to his feet and they descended the stairs and returned to the corridor to rejoin the ladies. Art was still a little befuddled, “Sire, what just went on? Why did you knight me, I didn't accomplish much?”

“How many Councilmen or other Highs would even talk to Art the human, but they'll clamor to talk to a knight of the King's Own. You're going to need more than magic power, you'll need political power too, and now you have some.”

“If you say so, Sire, but I don't know anything about politics.”

“Huh, you'll either learn fast or not at all. Don't let it go to your head, with that title you'll still need silver to get a taste of wine. You may now call me Oberon instead of all that Your Majesty bunk when we're alone. Ah, I wouldn't try it with the Queen though, she's a little too proud of her title.”

“So, it's a matter of sink or swim, Sire, is that right? That's how I first learned, when my dad threw me in the deep water. I think this water is a lot deeper, but I'll try to paddle away until I learn.”

“That's the spirit, Art. Ah, ladies, we've returned, but I must beg your forgiveness again. I had better give Lord Cyral some help in controlling the bedlam in the Council. Art, the page should be here soon, I've already sent a mind command. Have a pleasant day, everyone.”

The Queen had a little moue, “Why did Oberon have to drag you away just as we were getting acquainted? He's so thoughtless sometimes.”

“Uh, he just knighted me as one of the King's Own, Your Majesty, I'm sorry if you felt rebuffed, I'm sure he meant no disrespect to you.”

Alet broke in, “Oh, Art, that's wonderful. They won't be able to snub or ignore you now, The King's Own is a high honor and carries considerable prestige.”

The queen sniffed, “Yes, congratulations Sir Art,” and turned to admiring her handkerchief.

An older page rushed from the corridor, threw a scathing glance at Art and bowed to the Queen, “Your Majesty, Lady Aletta, I was told there was a newly knighted personage I'm to be assigned to, could you tell me where I could find him?”

Alet replied sarcastically, “Why yes, the one you're looking for is the gentleman that you almost knocked over when you arrived, Beryl. Have you been missing etiquette class, again?”

Beryl turned to Art red faced, “Oh, I'm sorry Sir Knight, I didn't know that the King would knight a hum, er, I mean, I didn't know that you, uh, I am yours to command Sir Knight.”

“Alright Beryl, don't get your undies in a knot. Oh, excuse my language Ladies. I'm sure that Beryl has instructions as to where I should be, so, Your Majesty, Lady Aletta, would you please excuse us?”

Alet just smiled and nodded, while the Queen just gave a dismissive flick of her hand. Alet did give him a small spell that gave Art a map of the palace and accompanying grounds.

Beryl walked just slightly behind Art but guided him with a hand gesture as they traversed numerous hallways and stairs and ended some floors above Art's original room location. Beryl stopped them with a raised hand, reached around Art and opened a door, then waved Art in.

Art entered to find not a room, but a large suite of rooms, luxuriously appointed and quite cheerful with large windows showing a balcony. “What's this? Why did you bring me here, Beryl?”

“I'm sorry, I know it's beneath your station, Sir, but it's all I could arrange on short notice. I'll be able to find better tomorrow. Your things will arrive shortly.”

“Uh, no, don't bother, this will do very nicely. Shut the door and sit down, we need to talk.”

“What! Uh, me sit? That would not be appropriate, Sir. I am a page, a senior one but just a page.”

“It's appropriate if I say it it's appropriate, now damn it, sit. Not like that, you look like you're going to jump up if I sneeze, lean back and listen. I have a new title, but I'm the same person I was yesterday, the one you might have spit on because I'm human.”

“Oh, no Sir, I wouldn't have done that.”

“Yea, sure. If we're going to get along we'll do things my way. I know you have to do things in public that are your manners, but they're not mine. In private you'll call me Art and forget all the boot licking. If you don't feel you can do that I'll arrange for someone else.”

Beryl visibly relaxed some. “Don't do that please, Sir Kni, uh, Art. I think I'm going to enjoy being in your service. Would this be a good time to go over your schedule for the next few days, er, Art.?”

“I have a schedule? Just hit the high points for now, what are they?”

“Let's see, you have ten hours for the tailor, ten for the armorer, six for etiquette class, twelve for tactics and troop command, five for...”

“Hold it, Beryl, I don't plan on being here that long. Let's see, the tailor has my measurements, oh dammit, I haven't any money to tip him.”

“I have your money, Sir, I mean Art. Tip? What's a tip?”

“You have my money? Where did I get money? I was living on helping out at the inn, but they weren't paying me, just room and board.”

You receive a recompense for your duties as a knight. It's not much, only a hundred gold rounds a period, only a token. Uh, what's a tip?

“It's a little sweetening to insure a good job. As soon as you can, go to the tailor and tell him to pick something out for me and give him some of the gold to make sure he's happy. He knows more about what I need than I do, but tell him nothing flashy. That's a tip.”

“Oh, we call that a back pocket wage. Should I have the armorer get your measurements from the tailor, too? Usually armor is only used for parades and such anyway.”

“That's a dandy idea, Beryl. Cancel the etiquette class too, nobody is expecting me to have any manners so they won't be disappointed. I think I should go to the tactics classes, at least until I find out if they will help. The rest of the time I'll be learning magic and practicing. Can you arrange transportation for me?”

“Certainly, what would you like, a carriage? A coach? Or just a steed? The stable has many fine animals, horses, dragons, elephants, and some exotic ones too.”

“Dragons aren't exotic, huh. I was thinking more like a lightweight but sturdy wicker platform with a padded chair and space for a little baggage that I can fly. Can you arrange that?”

“Assuredly, I believe that they use something like that in a sport they play here. I'll just have them add another chair and we'll be all set.”

“Another chair? What are you talking about, why would I need another chair?”

Beryl was abashed, “But Art, I must come with you, I am your page and hope to become your squire someday. It is my duty.”

“You don't understand, Beryl, I'm going back to my world for a while. Do you know what that means?

You can come as far as the inn and I'll pick you up when I return.” Think about it, we're not leaving right away, I have things I need to do here before I go.”

The next days were a whirlwind for Art. He did have to go for a couple of short fittings with the cherubic little tailor who was ecstatic over the size of his back pocket wage and promised Art that everything would be done as he requested. One short visit to the armorer, and another back pocket wage, was all the time that took.

The bulk of Art's time was spent with either Alet, teaching him spells, or the palace master of arms who drilled him unmercifully in the practice of them. He was also taught the rudiments of conventional edged weapons, the sword, knife, even the axe. He left the sub-sub cellar of the palace, where the training hall was, fairly bruised after these sessions.

During one teaching moment with Alet he told her of his plans to return to the human world to get help.

“Do you know of the time difference between our worlds, Art? Has that been explained to you?”

“Uh, no, I didn't know there was, what's the difference?”

“Oh dear, let's take a break and I'll try to explain.” They went to the side where there were benches, took a drink of water and sat.

“I hope I get this right, I'm not an expert on it. It seems that time goes much slower here than in your world, Art. They think that's one reason we elves live so much longer than you. I don't know how much time has gone by on your world since you've been here. Probably not very much. You won't age here as fast as you would there either.”

“You're saying I might get back at the same time I left, is that right?”

“No, I think that's impossible, but it's why we are able to bring humans here to be creative. They're only here for a short time in their time. We make them forget what they've seen here when they go back but we make sure that they are well paid somehow.”

“How is that done, Alet”

“I've heard of putting money in their pockets and making them think they earned it elsewhere. I just don't know, it's very confusing. They just lose a few hours of memory, but it's all voluntary, they're told before they come. If they don't want to come the memory of the conversation is erased.”

“No one's going to erase my memory. Besides, what good could I do in my world if I didn't know what was going on here? I'm ready to leave, If I need more training it can wait until I get back.”

“There's very little more I can teach you, you just have to practice more. What about your other classes?”

“I went to the tactics class and they were a joke. I've never been in the military and I know more that what they're teaching. They're using tactics that were used in a war we had where everyone lined up in a row to make good targets, I guess. The rest can wait until this war is over.”

“What are you looking for in your world, Art? Do you really think you can find help?”

I think so, I've some ideas but I have to speak to some people there. Tell me, is there any way to let your people handle iron or steel?”

I've heard of something but I don't remember what. I'll find out and let you know before you leave.”

Alet appeared as Art and Beryl were loading the light sled with Art's clothes and some for Beryl that wouldn't look too strange. She gave Art a notebook. “This is all I could find on what you asked. I got it from the King's physicker and the King had to order him to release it. Please don't lose it.”

Just before they mounted the sled Alet grabbed Art, pulled him down so she could plant a very scorching kiss on his lips, “Hurry back, my hero.”

The sled wobbled a bit when they took off, Art was thinking of the kiss and almost hit a tree as they rose. He soon gained control and they sped toward the inn, arriving just before midday. Parking the sled in the rear shed they grabbed their packs and entered the inn.

There were cries of joy when Rodel and Lani rushed forward and embraced Art. “Don't squeeze so hard Rodel, let Lani do it for you, that's much more enjoyable. Can we get a room for the night? And my friend Beryl will need one longer.”

“Wait, Sir Knight, I have thought about it as you ordered and have decided I must do my duty and accompany you, no matter where you go.”

Lani and Rodel took a step back, wide eyed. Rodel said, “Sir Knight? What do you mean, Beryl?”

Beryl drew himself up to his full height, “Sir Art has been knighted by the King himself into the order of the King's Own and I am his page, soon to be his squire.”

“Not if you keep blabbing your mouth off, Beryl. These are my friends and I don't want any foolishness just because I've a title now. Rodel, Lani, let's not make any fuss over this, it's just words.”

Lani, in a soft voice said, “No, Sir Art, it isn't. It's much more to us even if it isn't to you. We respect the title, not the person holding it. I have the same affection for you that I had before, but there is a difference in how I behold you now, as a man of great power. I can't forget that, nor should you.”

“Uh, thanks, Lani. I guess I'll have to think about that. We can still all sit and have some of your delicious ale, can't we? I, or maybe we, will be leaving in the morning and I wanted to see my friends before leaving. I can even pay for it now.”

They did have an enjoyable evening, recounting their adventures since their last parting. Art played down the desert experience as a small difficulty and glazed over it quickly. Instead of a room he was assigned to a suite when all he wanted was a bed. He slept fitfully.

In the morning, after one of Lani's delicious breakfasts, and saying their goodbyes, Art and Beryl set off walking down the road to the cave entrance. Before invoking the spell, Art inspected Beryl. “Those clothes don't look too far out to not pass, but your ears still stick from your hair. Here, put my watch cap on, and whatever you do, don't take it off unless I tell you to, and don't talk.”

Art summoned the spell and they walked through the swirling mist, to find themselves just outside a deserted barn aside a sharp bend of a country gravel road. Beryl wandered into the road as he stared at the surroundings.

A fast moving pickup truck barreled around the curve and would have hit him if Art hadn't jerked him back at the last second. A few nasty words, jaywalker among them, came from the truck as it sped away. “Who's taking care of who?” was in Art's thoughts.

Part of the spell would take them to an entrance as close to where they wanted to go as possible. Art had mentally set his hometown as their destination, and after walking to a little roadside stop and shop was delighted to find they were only twenty some miles from it.

There was a flag down bus stop at the store and after a few hours wait they were on their way. When they reached town Art hailed a cab and directed it to Tom's residence where they found Tom unloading the gear from the fishing trip.

Tom was startled, “What the hell are you doing here! How'd you get here, It took me almost two days to get home and you're right behind me? Why the hell are you wearing that silly wig and who's this guy?”

“Shut up, Tom, leave this stuff for later and let's go inside where we can talk.” After going in and grabbing the ever present beer they sat down. “Have you looked at your watch since you got back, Tom?”

“Yea, I thought it was broke, didn't have the right time, but after I reset it, it's been fine. How did you know?”

“What's the date today, Tom.”

“Uh, let's see, we spent two days there, it should be the sixteenth, shouldn't it? Let me check the paper, I picked it up just before I got here. What! This can't be right, it says the fourteenth, what the hell is going on!”

“I think you'll believe me now, just sit back and let me tell you what's going on.”

After some hours and more than a few beers Tom sat there with a stunned and puzzled look. “Okay, I guess I have to believe you, especially after you let me pull your hair. You still haven't told me who Silent Sam here is, doesn't he talk?”

“Take the watch cap off, Beryl and say hello to Tom.”

Beryl removed the cap and said, “I'm very glad to meet you, Tom. Sir Art has told me much about you.”

“What's with the Sir Art bit, did you leave out something, Art? What else aren't you telling me?”

“Yea, but it's not important here, if I told you everything this would take days, not hours. The important thing is what are we going to do about the situation. We can't let a war start and lap over into this world.”

“I sort of noticed how you slipped 'we' in there, Art. I don't know how I got roped in, but I guess I am. I don't want to see a war either. Now let me tell you a few things. Do you know how much gold that fat elf, Balzer, had hung on him? I weighed it on the fish scale and it's almost forty pounds. As soft as it is I'll bet it's pure gold. It's going for more than sixteen hundred an ounce right now, thats over a million bucks. I'm going to buy a truck like yours.”

“Hold on , hot shot. Gold is figured in Troy ounces. You might have three quarters of a million but we're going to need it for this venture. We need troops that can handle and fight with iron and steel, and that means soldiers. You were in the service, where can we get them?”

“You're a real riot, Art, where does one hire an army..wait, I have an idea.”

“It's probably your first one in years, but let's hear it.”

“Do you remember that old movie with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. A bunch of farmers are trying to get rid of bandidos in Mexico and they try to buy guns but hire gunmen instead. What's the name... oh yea, The Magnificent Seven. Do you remember it?”

“Yes, what's your point? Where do we find Brynner and McQueen, they're dead. And I don't think movie actors would be interested anyway.”

“You hear every so often of mercenaries doing stuff like that. We've got money, maybe we could hire them.”

“You know, that's not a bad idea, maybe you're not as dumb as you look, but where do we find any? I don't think they advertise.”

“That's where you're wrong again, it's a good thing I'm here to take care of you when you screw up, which is often. There's a magazine called Soldier of Fortune or something where they do advertise but I don't know where you'll find a news stand with it. But I know a guy I was in the Marine Corp with who tried to join one, I'll give him a call.”

“Okay, that's your assignment for tomorrow, Tom, trying to locate a mercenary band. I have another I have to do. Can we stay here tonight? It's late and I don't want to haul Beryl around where he can get into trouble. Beryl, I know you don't have to sleep, but don't leave here, don't answer the phone, don't answer the door, and don't talk to anyone. Goodnight.”

In the morning he repeated his instructions to Beryl, to receive a rebuttal, “But Sir, It's my duty to be at your side, I can't relieve myself of duty.”

“There may be a reason for you to do that on your world, but not here. Here, you are the ignorant one on manners and customs. Do you want to be a hindrance to me? How would that fit in your sense of duty? I like you Beryl, but don't be a pain in the butt.”

With a crestfallen look Beryl sunk into a chair, “Yes Sir, I shall attempt to not be a pain in your butt. Uh, what is a butt?”

While Tom was out hunting magazines and meeting with his friend he had called, Art took a few hours to studying the notebook that Alet had given him. Although it was written in elvin script, through the centuries English had percolated into the elvin language because the elves valued humanities creativeness so highly they copied whatever they could.

It was impossible to follow the older notes, but there had been newer notes written about the older ones. From what he could gleam from them he learned that silk formed a barrier to the lethal effects of ferric metals on elves.

But only the silk from a certain type of silk worm, the wild Saturniidae from Malaysia. And then, in only in layers did it have the desired affect. The elves had tried to raise the worms on their world but couldn't find their food or a substitute, so the secret was kept hidden.

Art's first stop was a bookstore where he spent a few hours scanning books on military tactics and buying stacks of them. His second stop was a fabric store where after relating his desires he was referred to a silk merchant in another close by city. He took down the address and went to a foundry where he was sent to a smaller metal working business. Here he met with some success.

“Good day, sir. Can I help you.”

“I certainly hope so, I haven't had much luck so far today. Could you make some replica medieval weapons?”

“Weapons? That's an unusual request, but yes, I'm sure we can. Making just a few of them would be quite expensive as we'd have to take someone off another project to fabricate them. I'm sure you understand why.”

“Yes, I do, but I'm not talking about a few, I'm talking hundreds, maybe even thousands, could you handle that? I know this sounds unusual but it's for a reenactment of a famous battle. I'm not at liberty to divulge which one, but it's very possible your firm would get mention on the program.”

“I'm sure we can satisfy your needs, sir. Are you talking casts pieces or forgings? If they're not going to be seen close possibly weldings will do.”

“We don't want just props but serviceable items. They will get some rough usage. Could you work up an estimate for each? I have some pictures and sketches you could work from. Also I'll need a time schedule, the person who was supposed to do this let this run so late it will be a rush job, I'm afraid.”

“I can have something for you tomorrow afternoon, sir. I'm afraid I have to ask for a fee for the estimate, but that will be deducted from price if we come to an agreement.”

Art paid the rather high fee, but it had depleted his funds so his next stop was a gold buyer. He had a few of the trinkets that Balzer had worn and laid them on the counter. “I'd like to cash these in, I don't have any use for them and I could use the money.”

“Certainly sir. I don't think I've ever seen designs like these before. I have to test and weigh them if you have a few minutes.”

At Art's nod he stepped over to a work counter to return shortly. “These are solid gold, do you know why someone would have something made of 24 karat gold?

“My grandmother was a bit eccentric, but she didn't lack money. She did a lot of things that most people thought were nutty, but it was her money.”

“Yes, of course. You have a little over ten thousand dollars worth, here's a printout of it, you'll find that more than most will give. I'll have a bonded check for you in a moment if I may see your identification.”

“A check is fine, but I'd like two thousand in cash, I have some expenses I have to handle right away.”

“I think we can do that, I'll be right back with the check and the money.”

After leaving the exchange he stood for a while, pondering. It was getting late and he hadn't accomplished as much as he'd hoped to but there were still things he could do today.

He stopped at his place and picked up some clothes and some personal effects. While there he noticed some things misplaced from where he'd left them, but thinking it was the cleaning service gave it no further thought, and returned to Tom's.

The first thing he saw as he entered was Beryl on his knees peeking out a window. “What are you doing, Beryl, looking for something?”

“You told me to talk to no one so when someone knocked on the door I hid beside it and could hear them talking. It was two dark elves, Sir. I saw them as they left. They mean you harm. I was just looking to see if they'd returned.”

“Are you sure? Couldn't they have been missionaries or some such?”

“I don't know what your missionaries are like. Would they want to kill you, Sir Art? These two did, and I'm sure they're elves. They had hoods on but one had slipped and I saw his ears. The Court has spies from the dark side everywhere. That's how they found you, Sir.”

“Maybe you're not the nuisance I thought you were Beryl, good work.”

Tom pulled onto the driveway a little later and came in the house, “I've good news and bad news, Which do you want first?”

“Forget the bad, I've had enough of that. What's the good?”

“Forget the magazine, most of those ads are baloney, but there is a good mercenary outfit just a couple hundred miles from here, and I have their telephone number I got from my buddy.”

“It looks like we're making some progress. Tom, your house is a better place for our headquarters than my apartment, do you mind if we set up camp here? Beryl can guard it and we'll be together. I want to use your computer too, I have to get on the internet.”

After receiving Tom's assent he warned him of the dark elves. Then he called up the silk merchant's internet address to find that he did handle the proper silk, but the price for it in the quantities Art wanted was prohibitive.

“Beryl, how much of that stipend I received is left?” Beryl pulled a very small pouch from his pocket, opened it and poured out gold coins, many more than should have fit in it, until they had a large pile of them on the table.

Tom stared, wide eyed, “How in hell did you do that? There must be another twenty five or thirty pounds of gold there from that little bag.”

Beryl explained, “It's the only way I could carry it, and I think it's closer to forty pounds. We started with fifty but Sir Art is very generous with his tipping.”

“Uh, Beryl, how often do I get this? That's a lot of money.”

“Every twenty five days, Sir. It may be very valuable here but not so much on my world. Gold is very plentiful and is only used for ornamentation and as a means of exchange and has no intrinsic value. I believe you humans use paper and other metals the same way, don't you?”

Tom and Art, shaking their heads in bewilderment, went to bed. Even Beryl took a short nap. The morning saw Art on the phone between breakfast and numerous cups of coffee. Tom left for the sport's store to get some more steel bird shot in case the dark elves tried something. Beryl washed the dishes.

Art's first call was to the airport where he arranged for a fast moving helicopter. He then called the silk merchant and made an appointment for later in the morning. He called a glove factory to have gloves made from it. His last call was to the number for the mercenary group.

It was answered with a deep voice and a simple “Hello.”

“I would like to arrange an appointment as soon as possible.”

“What would this be for”

“I may wish to hire your services”

“Very well, there will be a two thousand dollar fee, paid up front. Are you prepared to pay that?”

“Yes, if we can make it today.”

“Can you be here by three, this afternoon?”

“Yes, just give me your address.”

He was given an address, “Be here promptly, with the money. You will be met and taken to the appointment. How will you be recognized?”

“There will be two of us. One will wear a black watch cap and the other will be carrying a small orange tool bag. The fee will be paid in gold.”

“Very well, make sure the gold is genuine or you may not return, do you understand?”

“Yes, we''ll be there.”

Tom had returned and took Art and Beryl to the heliport where Art paid for the helicopter and pilot. He directed Tom to pick up the proposal from the metal works later. They made their first appointment in plenty of time where Art paid another deposit on the silk purchase and made arrangements for it to be shipped to the glove factory

They had time in this city to go to a few different gold buyers where they acquired another twelve thousand in cash.

The swift helicopter had no problem taking them to the city where the appointment with the mercenary group was. A short ride from the heliport by cab took them to a hotel lobby where they mingled with some customers at a coffee bar. On the stroke of three on the lobby clock Art saw a man lay down his newspaper, rise and walk towards them.

Although slight, he walked with a silent grace that reminded Art of a jungle cat.

He stopped in front of Art and looked up, “Do you have the fee?”

Art took one of the gold coins from his pocket and handed it to him while opening his tool bag for the man to look in for the rest. The man made a motion like he was wiping his face and bit the coin. Nodding his acceptance he turned and walked away, Art and Beryl in his wake.

They were led to a black Hummer and motioned into the back seat. The windows in the rear were darkened and the man told them to put the bags he handed them over their heads. Breathing was not a problem as the bags were quite porous but they could see nothing of their location.

After about fifteen minutes they stopped and heard an overhead door squeak open, then close behind them after they moved forward some. They were told to remove the bags and exit the car, where he took the tool bag from Art, then were led down a hall to a door where the small man gave a short knock and opened it.

Art entered and saw an older man sitting behind a plain wooden desk He couldn't estimate his age as the man looked extremely fit, but he had a generous amount of gray in his very short, almost shaved, hair.

“I'm Colonel Gavers, who you are doesn't matter now. I believe you wanted to see me about deployment, is that correct?”

Yes sir. It is possible we may have use for your ah, capabilities. I represent someone who I believe could use them.”

“Let me explain something first, young man. Most people think that groups like ours are bloodthirsty killers. There are some, we are not. Although we do sometimes find ourselves in combat, where your costs would skyrocket, we are primarily a training cadre who teach others how not just to fight, but to win. If this doesn't fit your needs I can recommend someone and you can leave.”

“I think, Colonel, that's exactly what I'm looking for, a training force that may be called upon to bolster the troops if needed. I'm not sure you'll believe what I'm going to tell you, but I do have some proof.

“Alright, lay it out and I'll decide how believable you are.”

Art did indeed lay it out, the elfin world, the light and dark elves, the upcoming war with the danger to both worlds, the mysterious entity in the desert, the incredibly poor tactics used there, and especially the fact that their memories would be scrubbed when they returned.

When he finished some time later the Colonel leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the desk, and stared at Art for long minutes Then, leaning forward, “You are either the most talented liar I have ever seen or completely delusional. If you have any proof, let's see it, or I'll have you either taken back to town or beaten.”

“Beryl, take off your cap and bring out my stipend bag.” When Beryl pulled the cap off his ears sprang through his hair.

The Colonels eyes widened, then squinted, “That could be clever makeup or a freak of nature. If that's all you have, you're in trouble for wasting my time.”

“Colonel, take this pouch and empty it on your desk please, I don't want you to think I had anything up my sleeve.”

He took the bag, hefted it once, shook it, then opened the strings and poured some from it. When the pile on his desk was more than could possibly have been in the bag his jaw dropped and his eyes grew wider and wider as the coins kept spilling out. He dropped the bag as if it were a poisonous adder and fell back into his chair, staring at the golden hoard before him.

“Do you believe me now, Colonel? Colonel, Colonel, wake up, sir, you're starting to drool.”

“Uh, just give me a moment, will you? Let me think.” It took much longer than a moment when the Colonel slapped his desk, “Yes, I guess I do, but before I commit the lives of my men I'll have to see more. Can you take me there to see for myself ?”

“I was going to suggest it. We could go tomorrow if you like. It won't take long with my helicopter to get to the gate. I wanted to go back for a while to contact my principal anyway. By the way, my name is Art, do I keep calling you Colonel?

“Art, you can call me any damn thing you want after seeing that, but my name is Steve. Your own helicopter, huh. I guess you can play with the big boys. I take it you won't have any trouble with paying us.”

They made arrangements to meet the following day and Art and Beryl were driven to the helicopter without blindfolds and were flown home. When they got out of the cab in front of Tom's house Art noticed that the front door was scorched. He hurried inside to see Tom sitting there with a shotgun across his lap.

“I saw those two dark elves skulking around. I didn't want to kill them so I loaded that little four ten with bird shot, figuring I'd get them in the legs like I did that other jasper at the inn. They busted in and when they saw the gun went to lay flat just as I shot. Must have hit them in the chest or head. They both sorta flamed up for a moment and then turned to dust like those two swordsmen.”

“They were going to kill us if they could Tom. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, nor should you. Do you want to go back with us tomorrow for a while?”

“No, I looked over that bid from the metal works. It looks pretty good, we just have to figure out how many we're going to need. I think I'll stick here and see if more of the bad guys show up. This is my family home and don't want to see it go up in smoke.”

In the morning Tom picked up Colonel Steve at the heliport in the Colonel's city and flew to the city close to the entrance to the elves's world. A cab took them to the country road and Art made arrangements to call it with his cell phone when they returned.

They walked to the old barn and Art invoked the spell. When Colonel Steve saw the swirling mist appear he was startled, but squared his shoulders and followed Art. They were in front of the cave but it was dusk and this surprised him even more.

“What's going on, Art? It's almost dark here and it wasn't even noon when we walked through that mist.

“Time difference, Steve. We might have been able to have that taxi wait for us and gone back just a few minutes later than we left. Let's get to the inn before full dark.”

When they entered the inn Rodel rushed up, “It's good you're back, Sir Art. There's rumors of battles on the desert and people are nervous. Do you know anything about it?”

“Not yet I don't, I just returned. Rodel, this is my friend Steve, give him some of that fine ale of yours. I have to go outside for a while.”

Art went out to a quiet spot in the dark and called up the whisper spell, “Your Majesty, Oberon, it's me, Art. Can you talk?” The King just said, “Wait,” and a few minutes later, “I can now, I had to get rid of a Councilor. What do you have to report.”

Art told him what he had done and arranged for and what his ideas were and how he intended to carry them out.

“I knew you wouldn't let me down, Art. Those sound like splendid ideas, but how soon can you put them into effect? Things are not doing well, we lost a battle in the desert and the Council is screaming for heads to roll, mine and Lord Cyral's among them. It's just noise now, but it could get serious.”

“With the time difference it might be quite a while, Sire. Let me call you again after I've talked to the Colonel. How many troops should they be expected to train and arm? And where will they do that? I don't think you want it anywhere near the Capitol. Too many spies there.”

“I'd like five thousand trained if they can handle that many. There is a place that we can magically seal from spying not too far from where you are.”

“We may need more gold sir, this won't be cheap.”

“That's not a problem, how many tons do you want?”

“Oh, nothing like that, I was thinking one hundred fifty pounds, possibly two hundred, That's an enormous amount on my world.”

“I'll have it to you in within an hour in a pouch, will that be convenient?”

“Yes sir, that will be fine. I'll call you again shortly. Uh, over and out.” The last thing he heard was the King chuckling.

Returning to the inn he saw Rodel and the colonel sitting side by side, chatting happily away. He joined them and Rodel excused himself.

“How soon can you get your men here, Steve, and how many can they train at one time on the weapons we discussed.”

We can get here in two days but as for the rest you're jumping the gun. I have to see what their command structure is like, what their discipline is, a myriad of subjects. How many do you want trained? The weapons aren't a problem, it's basically the same as bayonet drill, poke 'em.”

The King would like five thousand trained, but realizes you can't do all at one time. You could train them without the weapons I'm getting, couldn't you?”

“Sure, a stick sharpened and hardened in a fire is a spear, and that's what we're talking about. Having steel on it will scare them until they're used to it, but most will get over it when they see your safeguards. I can train up to a thousand at a time, depending on the things I said. I could train more if I call in some more men but that's more money. Can you handle it?”

“Let's say that I can, are you ready? Do you believe me now?”

“Of course I believe you, how could I not after being here. You realize you have to come up with the money first, don't you?”

“On that subject, Steve, do you know where I can convert gold into cash?”

“If you're talking quantity, yes, and I can get you a better price than the gold buyers if I take it overseas. How much are you talking about?”

“Just a minute and I'll tell you, I think it just arrived” A messenger had just walked in and was looking around. Art waved to him and he came over.

“Are you Sir Art? I have a package for you,” and handed it over at Art's nod.

Art weighed the pouch in his hand. “Doesn't feel very heavy, how much is in it?” he asked the messenger.

“The King said to bring two hundred fifty pounds so you don't run short, Sir Art.”

“Thank you, You may go. Does that answer your question, Steve?”

“I think I'm going to enjoy doing business with you Sir Art. What's that all about, anyway?”

“Ah, the King knighted me so I'd have a little clout, nothing to make a fuss over. Do you want to go back soon or stay overnight? I have to go outside for a bit again if you want another drink.”

“I'll be ready when you get back, I just want to say goodbye to Rodel and that little cutie Lani I met.”

Art made his report to the King saying that the trainers would be here in seven or eight days if he had the time difference figured right. The King said he would send troops to the training area as soon as he could.

Their return to the human world was uneventful except for the cab driver complaining he hadn't even reached town when they called him back. Colonel Steve gave him a baleful look and they heard no more from him.

“What weaponry will your men be carrying, Steve. I'll have silk covers made for them but you'll have to let me know. Maybe they should be locked up until needed. Steel shot will be more effective than lead and so would steel armor piercing for the rifles. All of it will have to be closely guarded, we don't want anyone hurt.”

The next few days were extremely busy but uneventful. Art signed a contract for the weapons and made sure they were delivered as they came off the line. He rented a warehouse close to the entrance to the elvin world and visited the glove factory and gave them specifications for the weapon covers to be made and where to send them.

Art flew to the Colonels' headquarters and landed in a field behind the warehouse they used for it. He found them packing a lot of camping gear, tents, heaters, even a portable kitchen. He found the Colonel in his office. “You're going to need some of that equipment, Steve, but not the amount you're packing.”

“Now, what do you now about it, wise guy? Were you in the quartermaster corp? Where are they going to sleep if not in tents?”

“What's wrong with the inn? It's close enough for the men once they're off duty to get there, and they can get most of their meals there too. Lani is an excellent cook.”

“Where are fifty men going to sleep in a two story inn, and how about the next seventy five coming in later in the week, tell me that, smart ass.”

“Uh, I guess in the rush I did forget to tell you something. The inn is two story on the outside, inside it's as many stories as needed, and no matter what floor you're on it's only one flight of stairs to the ground floor. Get used to it, Steve, you're going to see a lot of strange things there.”

The colonel stared at Art for a moment, then, “Sergeant Barkely. get in here.” When the sergeant arrived, “Cut the equipment by half, no, make it three quarters. Make sure all weapons and ammunition are in locked crates until we get there. I'll decide when to open them.” He turned to Art, “Anything else you forgot to tell your beloved Colonel, smart ass?”

“Well, I see you have a lot of trucks. That's fine to get everything to the old barn, but from there you'll have to carry it or put it on wagons. You can't take steel trucks there.”

“Barkely, get in here. Send someone, and a truck, to pick up anything on wheels to haul this stuff around, we won't have trucks where we're going. Anything else, smart ass?”

“I'm sorry, Steve, this all pretty new to me too. Are you about ready to go?”

“We're loading the trucks now, we'll be there on time, just make sure you're there, I don't want to be standing around waiting for a smart ass.” The last was delivered with a grin.

Later in the day Art was waiting when the first trucks arrived. After they unloaded he sent them to the warehouse to pick up the items he'd ordered and received. Trucks kept arriving and it was late in the day before everything was unloaded and stacked in front of the barn.

Colonel Steve called his troops into formation, “Men, I haven't given you any information on where we're going or what we'll find there for a good reason, I'm not too sure myself. I did tell you that you're getting extra pay, courtesy of our friend Art. A lot of this will be very strange to you, but I wouldn't take you anywhere that I thought was wrong for you and you should be used to strange. Any questions?”

“Yea, Colonel, how do we get out of this chickenshit outfit?” That received a round of laughter, and lightened the mood.

“Alright, calm down. Some of you men grab those wagons, the rest pick up as much as you can carry; you won't have to carry it far. Art, open the gate.”

As the swirling mist appeared, trepidation took over some, maybe most, of the men.

The Colonel held up his hand, “I told you it would be strange, but you've followed me to strange places before.” He turned and disappeared in the mist.

“Sergeant Barkely rallied the men, “Are you going to let the Colonel do it all by himself? Forward, march.” The men visibly straightened and marched into the mist. After a bit a few returned and picked up the remaining gear and went through again.

Art followed to find them staring about at the oddly different foliage and wondering about the time of day as it appeared to be high noon instead of the late afternoon they'd left. There were some queer looking horses and wagons waiting and the good sergeant had the men busy loading them.

A messenger was there to direct them and they set off to their destination quickly. By nightfall they were set up and the portable kitchens were feeding them. Across a large flat valley could be seen another encampment of thousand of elves, the trainees.

The Colonel approached Art. “I've had Barkely set up a perimeter guard and all looks well. We'll take the off duty men to the inn and get them situated. Let's move it.”

He stopped the men outside the door. “This is where you'll be bunking. This is a respectable place and you will treat it as such or suffer the consequences. You can have a few drinks but don't try out drinking any of the natives, it doesn't affect them. When you enter you'll be given a key to your room, two men to a room. Go to your room and get squared away, then you can down to the common room and act like gentlemen. Remember, tomorrow is a work day. Dismissed.”

As the men entered Rodel gave each a bizarre looking key that would take them to the correct floor, always one flight up.

Art and Steve bellied up to the bar and had a tankard of ale. “It looks like things are going good, Steve.”

“So far, yes, but tomorrow is going to be a humdinger. Tomorrow the real work starts.

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