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A Fairy Tale

Humans in Underhill

I plan this to be the first chapter of an ongoing saga if it's liked

Art looked up through the drizzle and inspected the sky, then turned to his companion and said, “We better get off the water, Tom. It doesn't look good — it's getting real black over there and the wind's picking up.”

The other man in the canoe replied, “I was just going to say the same. I think I heard some thunder a moment ago, too. It'll be close to quitting time anyway by the time we get back to the dock so let's pack it in.”

The two young men had been floating down a pristine trout stream, casting their flies into the ripples and shadows of the overhanging trees somewhere in a secluded back corner of the Ozarks. This was the first day of their yearly fishing vacation. They had looked forward to it all year, rehashing each fish they'd caught the year before. This year was special as they'd found out about this unknown stream from a native of the area.

By the time they had reeled in their lines and secured their gear the drizzle had turned into a light rain, and when they reached the dock a half hour later it was a steady downpour.

As they pulled their gear from the canoe and took it to their pickup Tom said, “We got off the water just in time. I don't mind a little rain, but this is ridiculous. Look how dark it's getting already.”

Art answered, “Lucky we wore our rain gear or we'd be completely soaked by the time we can get in the truck.” When they had stowed their equipment and climbed into the cab of Art's four wheel drive crew cab pickup they pulled off the hoods of their rain coats and and removed them to reveal a couple of good looking mid twenties aged, young men.

Tom was dark complected with black hair and dark eyes while Art was just the opposite, blond, lighter skinned, with green eyes. Both were good sized and muscular from their jobs on a construction crew.

It was Tom's turn to drive. As they pulled out of the parking lot and approached the road he asked, “Which way do we go? It was light when we got here and I wasn't paying any attention. As dark as it is now I can't hardly see with this rain.”

Art had been behind the wheel that morning. “I think I turned left into the lot, so turn right,” he replied, “We'll go a ways on there and if it's not right we can turn around and try the other way.”

They had gone about a mile when Tom stated, “I haven't seen anything I recognize and I'm going to turn around when I see someplace to do it.” They went at least another two miles, but saw nowhere to turn around. The trees on both side were very close to the almost one lane road, but then they saw a side road.

Tom exclaimed, “See that dead tree, I think this is where we turned. We must be going the right way.”

Art scoffed, “I've seen a thousand dead trees in the last mile, but if you think that's right, try it. We can always turn around.” They turned onto the road but after only a short distance it narrowed to a very narrow dirt path with nowhere to turn.

The rain intensified and the thunder and lightning were almost constant. They had no choice but to continue, trying to look through the rain soaked windshield for a reprieve of some kind.

They had lost all sense of their direction on the twisting path or meaning of time as they traveled mile after mile. The water laden branches bowed down to scratch the truck roof, at times even blocking the sight of the way ahead.

Suddenly a lightning bolt struck a tree just outside Art's window. The thunderous crack and blinding flash left them bewildered and blind for a short time while the momentum of the truck carried them on for quite some distance, during which they felt a large bump. Being blinded confused Tom, but he was able to finally stop the truck.

When they could see again they discovered they were on a hard road, still very narrow but paved with cobble stones. Tom exclaimed, “Good lord, I haven't seen cobblestone since we went through that town up north where their town center was paved with them. I wonder how old this road is?”

Art answered, “Who cares, at least it's a sign of civilization. It has to lead somewhere so keep going, I'm getting hungry.” They kept driving for some miles when they finally saw a faint light around a slight curve.

When they made the curve they saw a large two story brick and beam building alongside the road with two old fashioned coach lamps with blue tinted light flanking the entrance. Above the door was a sign in a strange script but it also showed a plate with steaming food and a foaming mug beside it. The building showed signs of age with a definite lean to one side.

“Finally, some sign of life,” Tom yelled. “It looks like this place has been here for a hundred years, but I need a beer and some food.” The rain had dropped to a steady soak, but it didn't stop them from bolting from the truck to the small roof cantilevered above the door.

When they pushed open the heavy oak door and walked down a short hall they were met by a beautiful, slim long haired, blond girl with flashing emerald eyes in an apron who greeted them, “Welcome gentlefolk, what would you desire?” She glanced at Tom's face with a bit of curiosity and went on, “The stew is very good tonight, can I get some for you?”

Tom declared, “Hot stew would be just the ticket on a night like this.” At a nod from Art he continued, “And a couple steins of beer would be good, too.”

The young lady asked, “Would some good Irish ale suit you? We make it ourselves and our regular customers like it very much.”

Art answered, “That sounds like just the ticket, a couple large ones please.” They were shown to a table where they sat and examined the room. It was lit by wall sconces that shone with the same light blue tint as the entry lights. The ceiling was lower than usual and beamed with large age blackened oak timbers and the walls were paneled in a lighter wood with odd looking designs carved on them. The floor, though spotless, was paved with large flagstones that showed wear in spots where traffic was likely.

There was a beautifully carved bar and back bar across the room with a singular looking bartender cleaning glasses behind it. He bore a strong resemblance to the girl, slim and blond, and as handsome as the girl was beautiful. Tom assumed that they were related. He had a strange looking haircut, the Prince Valiant type, cut square across his forehead and again just below his ears.

Art leaned over the table and asked Tom, “Do you see anything strange? This place looks ancient, but this area has only had roads for about twenty years. That's why the fishing is so good here, no one knows about it but a few. I'm surprised they have enough trade to keep it going.”

Before Tom could do no more than nod the young lady brought their plates of stew and large porcelain tankards of ale along with a basket of steaming rolls of some sort. As she was serving them Art casually inquired, “How long have this place been in business?”

She promptly answered, “ It was built about one hundred fifty years ago and has been a wayside inn all that time. Why do you ask?”

“I was just curious. Do you mind if I ask your name?”

She smiled and said, “Of course not, you may call me Lani, that's short for my name which is quite long. May I ask yours? Art and Tom introduced themselves and Lani gave them a wondering look and said, “Those are unusual names, I don't think I've ever heard them before.” as she picked up her tray and left. Tom looked at Art and just shrugged in bewilderment.

Lani went to the bartender and whispered to him. They held a quiet conversation for a some time, occasionally glancing at Art and Tom, who were busily shoveling in the delicious stew. They were finished and leaning back, enjoying the ale, when the bartender approached and said, “Excuse me gentlefolk, may I speak with you? My name is Rodel. My sister and I own the inn.”

Art said, “Why certainly, Rodel. Anyone who can serve food this good and make ale like this is welcome at my table. Pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. After all, it's your place.”

As Rodel sat he said, “Sirs, could I ask you to remove your caps? I know it's a strange request but I have a good reason.” They still had their watch caps pulled down over their ears. They'd forgotten to remove them when they entered as they were still cold. They looked puzzled but did as asked and yanked them off.

“Oh oh, just as I thought. You're human, aren't you,” Rodel said with a shake of his head, then continued, “I think you may be in some trouble, gentle folk. I'm not sure how you're going to get out of it.”

Tom blustered a bit, “Of course we're human, do I look like a monkey? What's going on? Why are we in trouble?”

Rodel spread his hands and said, “Calm down please, you're in no danger here at all. But I must tell you that somehow you've come Underhill.”

Art was a lot calmer than Tom when he asked, “Can you explain what you mean by Underhill and why we're in trouble? We suspected something was not right but we have no idea what.”

Rodel reached up and pulled his hair back from his ear as he turned his head to them. The top of his ear ended in an inch and a half longer pointed helix than the normal human one. Both Art and Tom sort of reared back in their chairs and stared, bug eyed and mouths open. Rodel then said, “Underhill is a different world than you're used to and is the land of what you humans call fairies or elves. We have a different name for ourselves than that but let's just continue in what you're used to using.”

Art asked, “ How did we get here, we were just trying to get back to town? And how do we get back to our own world?”

“I suspect the storm brought you here. It's been known to happen, but I don't remember when the last time was that I know of. Certainly before I was born so it must have been hundreds of years ago. As to how you get back, there are ways, but only the most powerful know them and Lani and I are not that powerful. We are known as Low ones.”

Art pondered a bit and then said, “The more you explain, the more questions I have. You said before your time but hundreds of years, how old are you, Rodel?”

“I'm quite young as we figure age, only seven hundred. Lani is still younger, only a little over six hundred. We don't age as humans do and usually live into our second millennium quite easily, most see their third, and some their fourth.”

“Explain about the trouble please,what it is, and what, if anything, we can do about it.” pleaded Tom.

Rodel agreeably said, “Yes, of course. you probably will not be welcomed by some of the powerful. You see, humans have power too, here in Underhill. It's not the same powers we have and not all humans have it very strong, but the powerful among us fear it and some are jealous of it. Art, did you know that you have, what you would call, some fairy blood in your veins? That could be very dangerous for you.”

Art sat back, astonished, “I do? How can you tell? Where did it come from? How do you know so much about humans if they never come here? You see what I mean about more questions?”

Rodel answered, “Yes I do, give me a minute to figure out how to tell you without too many more.” But I can tell you that somewhere in your ancestors was a elf. Then he sat back and thought for a few minutes while Lani brought another round of tankards.

Rodel then leaned forward and started explaining, “This road is one of the main ways to go to and from your world. This inn is neutral territory by treaty so all may use it, even the black elves which we thought Tom was. It's unusual to see a black elf and a white one together, but not all the black ones are evil, nor the white ones good.

That's why you're safe here for now, think of it as a sanctuary. We are long lived but are not creative, but humans are. We see a lot of humans, but always in control of a powerful one. They are brought here to create and be inventive.”

Tom interjected, “So that's why you were surprised to see us without a control and knew we were in trouble.”

Rodel nodded, “That's right, without a powerful one you stand out. Art, haven't you ever noticed that your ears are a little different than your friends? And I could feel some power from you when you walked in. You could pass as one of us if your ears were covered. I thought you were one of us. How did you get here?”

Tom answered, “With our truck. We wouldn't have gotten any where without it.”

“Look around, Tom. Do you see any iron or steel here?” Rodel asked. “We have other metals that serve us as iron does you. You'll have to hide your steel truck. Iron and steel are death metals to us; we can't touch them. There is a shed out in back and I suggest you do it now before anyone sees it.”

Tom jumped up and hurried out. They listened as he started the truck and drove it to the rear of the building. He returned in less than five minutes saying, “I took an iron bolt from the toolbox and put it in the hasp on the door. No one's going to open it.”

Rodel stood and said, “Keep those steel knives you're wearing hidden. They are powerful weapons here and you might need them, but if someone saw them it could be bad. Come, and I'll show you to a room.”

Art stood and put his hand on Rodel's arm, “Wait, why are you helping us? We haven't even paid for our food and you're going to give us a room. I don't want to sound cynical, but what's in this for you?”

Rodel smiled and answered, “How would you like to live for three or four thousand years always bowing and scraping to someone only because they have more power. If you only change one of them I'd give a lot to see it, but I think I see a way to change many more if you'll help us. Let's talk about it in the morning as I can see you're tired. We elves don't need much sleep but you'll want to be fresh tomorrow.”

They were taken up a flight of stairs and down a hall to the back of the building to a small room with roughly plastered walls and equipped with a huge bed that almost filled the room after a lot of space being taken up by a large oaken wardrobe and a sturdy looking padded chair. A large chamber pot stood on the floor next to the wardrobe. A small fireplace was in the outside wall, laid for a fire if needed.

Rodel instructed them, “You should lock the door after I leave. We don't have any other guests right now, but they arrive at all hours, and are sometimes curious. When you come down for breakfast wear your caps in case we have guests arriving during the night. All kinds of costumes are worn Underhill so you won't look odd but I wouldn't speak to anyone until you know more. Rest well, humans.”

After Rodel left, Tom asked, “Well, are we in the deep crapola now, Art? How are we going to get home from Underhill or wherever we are?”

“What makes you think I know anymore than you do? I guess we have to trust Rodel and Lani, at least for now. From what he's told us we could be a lot worse off than we are. We're lucky to have ended up here rather than in some powerful guys clutches.”

Tom grumbled, “Oh, that makes me feel so much better, knowing I probably will never get home anyway. I'm going to bed and maybe I'll wake up to find I'm dreaming all this.” The bed, they found out, had a thick featherbed and it didn't take long for them to fall asleep, covered with another down filled quilt.

When they woke in the morning and dressed, they quietly came down to find two other couples in the main room. One couple looked like locals, in plain garb, and talking to Rodel as if they knew one another.

It was the other couple that caught most of their attention. One was dressed in finery that could almost be called garish, but somehow wasn't. It was a mixture of bright colors that complimented each other in a variety of expensive silks and velvets. He had some subtle jewelry on his neck and wrists.

His companion was obviously human, dressed in a well tailored business suit, and with human ears. They seemed to be pleasantly talking business as they ate their meal, even laughing quietly at times.

Art and Tom took a table in the far corner from them. Soon Lani brought two plates of a hot mixture of something they didn't recognize, but after tasting it, scooped it up. This was accompanied by two tankards of hot tea and a small pitcher of water.

After finishing their plates they just sat, sipping the tea, waiting for Rodel to be able to talk with them. It wasn't long before the locals left, and only a few minutes later the other couple rose. The brightly dressed one settled their bill with Rodel and then they too left.

Rodel hurried to their table, pulled up a chair and sat, announcing, “I may not have much time to talk, I never know when someone will enter and I have a lot to tell you. First, we must figure out how much power you have, Art, and if you have any, Tom. You will probably have some human power, but we must find out what and how much. I doubt you will be near as strong as Art as he has elf power too.”

Art interjected, “What are you planning to do with this if we do have power? Will it get us home? I know you want us to help you but you must know our first priority is to go home, but we'll help you if we can.”.

Rodel answered, “I certainly understand that you want to go home, but that's the beauty of this. The only way I know of to get you home is for you to help with my plan. If I could send you home now I would, but I don't have the power. We have to get someone that does and have him show you the way. The only way we'll get him to do that is if you're more powerful.”

Tom asked, “How do we find out how much power we have?”

Rodel sheepishly said, “Ah, that's the problem. I don't know how except for you to try something and see if it works.”

Just then the heavy entry door slammed against the wall as two large dark elves swaggered in and looked around. Seeing just the three of them one gestured to someone outside and another waddled into the room. The first two were dressed in fine dyed leathers, even if they were stained and dirty. They had swords at their waist and a pair of large daggers in their belts.

The third elf was another matter. Although not as large as the first two in height, he probably was their equal in weight to both of them as he was grossly fat. His swarthy face was sweating from the effort of just walking and was surrounded by long, black, greasy strands of hair that hung limply past his shoulders.

His clothing was of much finer quality, at least it had been when he first donned it. Now, it too, was stained with grease and showed the remains of his last meal and probably many more. The colors, although all of dark shades, clashed with one another. He was adorned with gold almost everywhere it could be displayed, even his nose and ears were weighted with it.

As he wobbled across the room on his stumpy legs he shouted at Rodel, “Wine, innkeeper, and be quick about it, and none of that cheap swill you give the common folk, I want your best. After that, food for me and my men, the best you have, do you hear? The best and plenty of it.”

Rodel hastened behind the bar, reached under it and brought forth a dusty bottle which he wiped off, then took it and three mugs to the table where they were seated. Lani came from the kitchen and approached their table, telling them what the bill of fare was when the fat one said, “Now what's this? You're a pretty little doxie, aren't you? Maybe after I'm done eating you and I will have a little sport, how does that sound?”

At that Lani blushed, turned, and walked away. The elf's face got even redder as he shouted, “I didn't say you could leave,” and gestured with his hand, halting Lani almost in mid stride. “Now come back here,” he shouted, and with another gesture she turned and, visibly fighting the compulsion, started back to the table as the other other two elves sat there, grinning.

Art and Tom had jumped up at this and Rodel was coming around the bar. The fat elf made another gesture that froze Rodel in place. Turning a bit he threw the same motion towards Art who was starting forward. Thinking that he had frozen Art too he paid no more attention to him but reached out for Lani as she approached him.

Art was not affected at all by the spell and went to the table and shouted, “Stop it! Release them now!” The two swordsmen who had been facing away from Art jumped to their feet and drew their swords, an astonished look on their face. They looked to their master for orders, but he was also surprised and confused.

Art was past just anger as he grabbed the fat one's ear lobe and pulling, said, “ If you don't release them I'll tear your greasy ear off your head,” and with a loud shout, “Now do it!” Puzzled and cowed, the elf gestured and Rodel and Lani were released. Lani scurried back to the kitchen.

Rodel strode forward and said, “You know that what you've done is not allowed in this inn by treaty, Lord Balzer. I must tell you to leave and I will be reporting what went on here. It's not for me to say what will come of this, but you are no longer welcome here. Please leave.”

Lord Balzer blustered, “But I haven't eaten, you can't send a hungry man away.”

Art still had his ear, and by pulling up on it, persuaded Lord Balzer to rise, while saying, “You won't be eating here, now go.” and pushed him toward the door.

Lord Balzer staggered halfway to the door, then quickly turned to his men and screeched, “Why are you just standing there? Kill all of them!”

The startled look on the two swordsmen gave Art and Rodel a little time to back away. Art looked for something to defend himself but only had his fillet knife which he pulled from his waist. Tom came to stand beside Art with his knife out too.

As the dark elves slowly approached, grinning and relishing the fear in the humans, Art fervently wished with his whole soul that they had something more than their fish knives. There was a brief flash of light and the knives blades grew into very acceptable swords. The swordsmen hesitated and glanced at each other, but kept advancing, only much more carefully now.

Neither Art or Tom knew anything about swordplay but it seems their opponents didn't either when they're first attack was a clumsy attempt at a chop. Both men threw their blades up to parry but when the unknown metal of their enemies swords hit their steel blades they broke as easily as glass.

The two, no longer being swordsmen, gave a bewildered look at one another, but pulling their daggers, leaped forward. All that Art and Tom could do is hold their swords out in front of them. It seems the others thought their heavy leather armor would protect them. The steel swords easily penetrated the leather and kept going, exiting through the backs of the elves, who quickly turned to just two piles of dust on the floor. Then even that slowly diminished until there was nothing at all left.

Lord Balzer just stood there for a moment with his mouth sagging open and his eyes wide in shock, then turned to the door. He hadn't taken two steps before Tom had a grip on his oily hair and jerked him back, holding his now shortened fillet knife to his throat. The skin on his neck started to smoke and fester where the steel contacted it. He let out a piercing scream and whimpered as tears rolled down his dirty face and neck.

Rodel shouted, “Wait Tom, don't kill him, he may be of use to us!” Tom pulled Lord Balzer, none too gently, to a chair and threw him in it, holding his knife in front of his face.

The Lord blanched at the sight and muttered, “Death metal, how can they handle death metal?” He turned to Art and said, “You are very powerful if you can handle death metal. I will pay whatever you ask to teach me how to do it. Or, if you won't teach me I will hire you to replace those two you killed.”

Art quietly intoned, “Listen to me Balzer, you don't seem to understand, you just tried to have us killed. What makes you think you're going to leave here alive? If we stick a knife in you that will be your end, and nothing to show for it, you'll just float away like your bodyguards.”

Balzer blustered, “But I am a Lord of the realm, you can't just kill me. I demand to be taken to the King's court. We'll see what they think about killing four Lows. The rest of my guard will be here any minute and if they don't find me you'll die anyway.”

Art ordered, “Tom, get the shotgun that's in the storage box on the truck. There should be a couple boxes of steel bird shot there too. We'll see how his guard stands up to that. Better bring the deer rifle too. They're lead bullets but I'll bet they'll stop an elf.”

Rodel was worried, “Art, I don't know if that's a good idea. Someone must know he was coming here. What will happen if he and all his men disappear?”

Art spun to Rodel, “What do you think will happen when his men arrive and if we give up? Do you think this piece of slime will let us live? Is there a way to tie him up or something to stop him from casting spells?”

Rodel thought and said, “I'm not sure, if he was gagged and blindfolded maybe. It would be better if he was unconscious, but even if you knock him out he might waken, and then what?”

Art thought and asked, “Do you have some strong booze, something that will knock him out for a while?”

“If you mean spirits, that won't do it. Alcohol doesn't affect us very much as it does you humans. But I do have something that will, I'll be back in a little while.” Rodel hurried to the kitchen just as Tom returned with the guns and shells.

“Okay Tom, lets take some of those heavy tables and set up a defense, they might have bows and we don't want to be in the open.” Then he called to Lani, “Is there a back entrance they could come in? We'll have to barricade it. I'm not worried about the windows with those bars you have on them.”

By the time they had the tables set up, had barricaded the back door, and returned to the bar Rodel was their with a large steaming pitcher and a mug. They had trouble with Lord Balzer when he tried to interfere with their barricading until Tom had shown him his knife again.

Rodel slid a small table in front of Balzer and poured a cup when Tom whooped, “Is that coffee I smell. Where have you been hiding that? I'll take a cup too, if you don't mind.”

Rodel apologized, “I'd forgotten that humans like coffee. It's a stimulant to you but caffeine can be poisonous to us. It acts like your alcohol but much quicker and if an elf gets addicted to it, much like your narcotics, it can kill them. I'll get a couple more cups for you and Art.”

Art stood in front of Balzer and ordered, “Drink it, or we'll feed it to you.” Balzer shook his head no and tucked his chin in. Tom grabbed his hair, pulled his head back and held his nose while Art poured the coffee into his mouth and held his jaw shut. It didn't take long for the fat elf to run out of breath and he choked the coffee down. After that he grudgingly drank cup after cup until he slid from the chair, out cold.

They dragged him to an alcove, and just to make sure, blindfolded, gagged, and tied him. Then they waited for the rest of the guard to arrive. The rest of the coffee helped them stay alert. They checked on Lord Balzer from time to time, only to find him snoring through the gag, peacefully asleep.

It was hours later when someone rattled the locked entry door. Rodel went to it and asked, “Who is it and what do you want?” He was answered with loud shouting and swearing, demanding the door be opened. He shouted back, “Lord Balzer has left orders he is not to be disturbed. You must wait outside.”

There was quiet outside for a few minutes while the guard, certainly puzzled, talked among themselves. Then, suddenly, there was a loud boom on the door that rattled the dishes and bottles in the room. Another followed just seconds later. The massive door itself was a sturdy oak slab and it would take hours to gain entry through it.

But someone must have remembered where the smaller locking bar across the door was situated as that's where the blows fell. The bar vibrated with each blow and visibly splintered until, with a loud crack, it broke and flew from its supports and across the room.

There were a few heads peering around the door jamb to assay the situation inside before trying to enter. Art shouted a warning, “Don't try to enter, we don't want to have to kill any of you.”

There was an answering yell, “You can't kill all of us. Where is our Lord? If he is hurt we will make your death long and painful.”

Someone outside must have had some magical power as the statement was followed by an extremely powerful blast of air that blew any loose objects flying, breaking bottles and tearing drapes and unprotected clothing. It didn't affect the heavy table barriers very much, only moving them a short distance.

This was followed by a group of elves,dressed as the first two had been in dark leathers, rushing into the short hall. In their haste they were jammed together and impeding their progress. They hadn't advanced very far when Art shot the rifle over their head. This made them hesitate for a second but as there had been no damage they continued. His next two shots were in the legs of the elves leading the charge.

This did stop their charge and spurred a hasty retreat, dragging their wounded comrades with them. After a few moments another shout came into the room from a deeper, more authoritative voice “I propose a truce for the time being. I would like to talk to you. Is this agreeable?”

Art answered. “Alright, you may safely enter the hall with no weapons, but do not come any farther than that or you will be shot. Do you understand and agree to those proposals?”

“Yes, it will take a moment to remove my weapons.”

Rodel came over to Art and warned, “I think I know that voice, he is quite powerful and the commander of Lord Balzer's guard. He may try spells on you, not knowing you're humans. Be careful.”

Art instructed Tom, “If he tries any funny business let him have it with the bird shot, in the legs if you can, we don't want to kill if we don't have to, but he's too powerful to leave unhindered.”

In a few minutes a huge dark elf strode into the hallway and stopped at the end. He was attired in shining black leathers with a long black cape across his shoulders and richly adorned with gold ornaments on his wrists and neck. He spoke forcefully, “ I am sub-lord Dazel. Where is Lord Balzer, I must be assured that he is safe and unharmed and he must be released swiftly or we will kill all here.”

Art replied, “He is safe and unharmed, but unconscious. He will remain here until the proper authorities arrive as he has broken the treaty on this inn, and you are doing the same with your actions.”

The elf threatened, “I will send for the authorities, but I must see him myself to be assured or we will burn you out.”

Art laughingly answered, “You would burn us out with your Lord being barbecued? I don't think so, but you may see him. Rodel, drag him out to where he can be seen, but no farther.”

Rodel gripped Balzer under the shoulders and with much effort pulled the ponderous elf from the alcove. The moment Dazel saw him he bellowed, “You dare treat a Lord of the Realm in such a fashion, you will now pay.”

He raised his arms and snapping his fingers launched flaming balls of green fire at them. He had already thrown more than a few when Tom, looking between two of the tables, let go with the shotgun.

Dazel stood there, stunned for a second, then looked down at his legs as if he couldn't believe that he had been hurt. His surprise turned to panic as he screamed, and turning, staggered toward the door before he collapsed. Groaning and whimpering he crawled the rest of the way to where hands grabbed him and pulled him out the entry.

Rodel and Art extinguished the fires while Tom watched the door, then gathered and discussed the situation. Tom asked, “What do you think they'll do now, Rodel? Will they go away or try something else?”

“They can't leave, Tom. Their fate is tied to Lord Balzer, if he dies so will they. They may send for reinforcements or they may send for the authorities. I just don't know. I don't remember hearing of anything like this happening in our long history. I don't think we have to worry about Dazel anymore though, he will be without power until he heals, if he does.”

Art snorted and said, “I'll take my chances with the authorities rather than this bunch and their cohorts. Do we agree?” With their nods of agreement he shouted to the elves outside, “Who's in charge out there now that Dazel is out of it?”

After some muttering outside a voice yelled, “I guess I am now, I'm the senior sergeant, what do you want?”

Art shouted back, “If you send for the authorities now we'll let you live, you have nothing to worry about from them, you've done nothing wrong but follow orders. We don't want to hurt you but if you do anything more against us it will not go well for you. Do you agree?”

After some more mutterings the voice said, “We agree, and will send for them immediately, but you must keep Lord Balzer safe.”

After some more assurances from both sides Art crept forward, slammed the door and put an even stronger wooden bar across it. They then jammed one of the heavy tables against it, too. They cleaned up the room while discussing their predicament. Art asked Rodel, “How long will it take for the authorities to show up, Rodel? Once they get here what do you think can we expect?”

“I wish I could tell you, but it depends on if they have someone who can cast a spell to get themselves there immediately. Then they have to convince them how serious it is here so it may take a week or just hours. When they get here I have no idea how they'll rule on it. They are all very powerful elves and may side with Lord Balzer. With you being free humans there is no telling what will happen.”

Art theorized, “I don't see that we'll be any worse than we are now. I think we can control most of what goes on if they're not too unreasonable. We still are in here and no one can get in without our permission. We have food and with your well in the basement, water. We just have to wait.”

They found a few unbroken bottles and Rodel opened one of wine. Lani brought some food and the four ate as they sat and went over all the options they could think of. A few hours later they heard some grunting and scuffling from the alcove.

They found Lord Balzer trying to rid himself of the restraints on him. They pulled him into the room and lifted him into a chair where Art told him, “Balzer, we'll release you, but be warned, any trouble from you and you'll go back in the corner, and this time we won't use coffee to make you unconscious, do you understand?

At his nod they unbound him and removed his gag and blindfold. Tom stood next to him, brandishing his knife, as Balzer rubbed his wrists where he had been bound and tried to avoid the sight of the knife.

“You're going to cooperate one way or the other.” Art stated. “Make it easy on yourself, we don't want to torture you. Are you going to cooperate?” At Balzer's nod he continued, “Let's see how honest you are, tell me the spell you use to go into the human world and I'll see if it's the true one.” Balzer, thinking that Art already knew it, recited it and after a few questions on its validity repeated it a few more times until Art had it memorized.

From there they had no trouble getting him to recite the spells and gestures he'd used to freeze Rodel and Lani, the fireball one used by Dazel and many more. Art was leery of trying them inside for fear of unintended consequences but thoroughly memorized them.

It was getting quite late so they prepared a cot for Balzer and two more for Tom and Art flanking his. Another pot of coffee knocked him out again and they tied only his hands down. With one on each side they were sure they were secure enough for the night. It was still a fitful night as the men would awake from time to time and check on Balzer to find him peacefully snoring.

When Rodel woke them in the morning their captive was still snoring. They washed and did their other toiletries after which Lani brought them breakfast and a welcome pot of coffee. They were just finishing when they heard Balzer grumbling and muttering.

They loosened his bonds and allowed him to rise. With one always in attendance they allowed him his morning toiletries, but when he balked at washing they forced the issue by threatening to do it for him. He moaned and complained all the way through it but did sloppily finish. He ate twice what the men had eaten and still complained he was being starved.

Just before midday there was a knock on the door. This was a gentle knock, not the banging and crashing they had endured during the last day. Rodel hurried to the entry while Art and Tom took up their positions behind the tables. Balzer was huddled at their feet.

Rodel asked, “Who is there and what is it you want?” in a neutral tone.

The answer came quickly, “This is Lord Cyral and I wish to enter.”

Rodel turned to Art wide eyed, and whispered, “It's the head of the Royal Council, we can't refuse him entrance.”

Art approached the door and said, “Lord Cyral, my name is Art, and I welcome your appearance, but we have been besieged here and I must state that any force used against us will be met with force, I hope you understand our position.”

The reply was, “I do understand, no force will be used on either side until I have the whole report from everyone of what has transpired here and ruled on it, and even then none will be used unless called for. Do you understand?”

Art replied, “Yes sir, I do. Give us a moment to remove our obstacles to your entry.” They quickly removed the table and the bar. Tom and Art retreated to their positions, then nodded to Rodel to open the door, which he did, and then bowed as Lord Cyral entered.

He was a much older elf, white haired and bearded, with a lined but aristocratic face. He stood tall in splendor from rich garments to his subtle adornments of precious metals and jewels.

At the end of the hall he turned to Rodel, “You are the innkeeper, I believe. Got to the door and you'll see no one but Royal troops which are quite a way down the road. There is no danger from the dark elves anymore, they have been herded a goodly distance from here.”

Turning to Art and Tom he asked, “Can all parties sit and discuss this incident that I may know the truth? I believe this inn has some very good ale and I have worked up a thirst coming all this way.”

At a nod from Rodel after he inspected the outside Art came around the barrier table and bowed Lord Cyral to another table. As Tom came out he nudged Balzer to his feet with his knee. They gathered at the table and sat when Art said, “Lani should join us, it all started with her.” Rodel called to her as he drew a large pitcher of ale and brought glasses to the gathering.

As Lani approached Art and Tom stood and Art held a chair for her to sit. This earned him a curious glance from Lord Cyral and a slight smile. When they were all seated and the ale had been poured Lord Cyral took a good swallow and said, “Ahh, I haven't forgotten, although it's been a good hundred years since I had the last drink of this fine ale. Now, Lord Balzer, let's here your version of what happened here.”

Balzer said, “Why certainly Lord Cyral, I want to get this settled and have these Lows punished for the way they have treated me and my men.” At a sharp glance from the senior Lord he continued, “I had passed a compliment to the young female when this one accosted me and laid his hands upon me. When my guards tried to protect me they were killed with death metal swords. They then drugged me with caffeine until a short time ago and you arrived.”

He then sat back with a satisfied look on his face that slowly faded as Lord Cyral said, “That was short and concise, Lord Balzer, but I'm afraid I'll need more details. Would you object to being put under a truth spell? We put your messenger under one and that's why I arrived so swiftly. He told the story three or four different ways until we spelled him.”

Balzer hesitated but then said, “Certainly my word will be taken over a group of Lows. I see no need for a truth spell.”

Lord Cyral stated, “Of course you may refuse, but I'm sure you know the penalty of doing so. The law has been changed on the preponderance of a Lord's testimony over a Low's. Quite recently in fact, I think it was only seventy some years ago. A Low's testimony overrides a Lords if there is corroborating testimony. Think it over, Lord Balzer, I don't need your decision yet.”

He then turned to the other four at the table, “Do any of you object to the truth spell?” After assurances that they would welcome it he asked, “Who would like to be first, it really makes no difference as you won't be able to lie under the spell.”

Tom volunteered. After Lord Cyral had cast the spell Art told Tom, “Try to lie about something, Tom. We''l see how well this works.”

“Okay, Lord Balzer's testimony was truuuu... I tried to say his testimony was true and couldn't do it. Let me try another, Lani is very ug ug ugg. Nope, I can't lie.”

Lord Cyral said, “Then let us proceed. Tom, give your version of the actions of the last few days.” Which he did. When Tom was released from the spell he put each of the others under the spell in turn to relate their versions. When finished he turned to Lord Balzer and stated, “I see no reason for it but you may undergo the truth spell, sir. Do you wish to?”

At the negative shake of his head the dejected Balzer slumped in his chair and Lord Cyral stated, “Then here is my ruling, Lord Balzer shall be taken before the full council, as only there is the power to strip him of all his powers, and he will become a Low.

Some of his power will be bestowed upon Rodel and Lani, as they are the aggrieved parties in this matter, as will some of his assets. The two humans, Art and Tom, have no standing in this as they are not of this world, but they will receive some recompense for the time and trouble they have gone through to right a grievous wrong. This is my ruling.”

As Balzer was led away Art asked Lord Cyral, “How did you know we were humans? I thought we fit right in.”

Lord Cyral chuckled and said, “I have been to your world many times in the last three thousand years, and am always amazed how far you've progressed in a span of a century or two, so I know the human ways. Elves do not stand when a woman arrives, nor do they hold a chair for her.”

He continued,“We also do not have guns or use steel as you do. You must have come in a steel vehicle of sorts. That and your guns must return to your world, if they were seen here someone would copy them. Guns, like power, are not inherently evil, but can be used for evil purposes as well as good. This world is not ready for that. I will help you return to your world.”

Art stammered, “Uh, what if I didn't want to go right away, could I stay for awhile? I sort of promised Rodel I would help him.”

Art received a bleak stare until the Lord said, “You are a free person and can stay if you wish, but I don't advise it. Not all Highs will accept you as I have. I sense some power in you, but not how much, and I doubt very much that you would stand a chance with a powerful High. If you stay I will let you keep your steel knife, but you must keep it hidden and only use it to defend yourself.”

After much discussion it was decided that Tom would return to the human world with the truck and guns. He would also have the pounds of gold ornaments that Balzer had hanging all over him.

Lord Cyral led them down the road a short distance to a large cave aside the road, where he cast a spell and the cave entrance became a swirling milky looking mist. Art was able to check it against the one he'd learned from Balzer to find them identical. After some earnest goodbyes Art and Tom embraced where Art whispered, “Don't forget that I know the spell for the cave too, so don't be surprised to see me pop up from time to time.”

Tom waved from the truck window as he drove into the mist and disappeared. Art turned to Rodel and Lani and asked, “Okay, now what?”

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