CHAPTER FIFTY FIVE
7 of Nightal 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
The chamber in which I returned to my senses was warm, well-aired, and luminous. Gentle rays of sunlight poured through the stained-glass window built into the high ceiling. The pattern on the glass was of an excellent quality, depicting a silver dragon capering amidst lush greenery. Overall the spacious circular chamber with its gently rounded walls of crème marble and the clutter of ornamental furnishings moved out of the way and piled in disarray, left an impression of an audience room or an artist studio, hastily prepared to serve as an improvised jail.
Of the fact that I had woken up a prisoner I had no doubt, for there were padded restrains around my wrists. These were in turn secured inside an elongated contraption that was tightly strapped around my forearms and elbows. I could only guess at the inner workings of the device, but my hands and fingers felt completely immobilized. Fighting off a dizzy spell I sat up, finding myself crouched on a low cot, upholstered with green silk. My feet were chained, and chains also encircled my waist. Despite the gravity of the situation, I could not help but wonder at the supreme effectiveness and aesthetics of my restraints – the chains that snaked beneath their soft leather coverings and circled about my waist, were strong yet delicate, wrought of some pale, light-weight metal.
A suspicion, terrible in its clarity began to form in my head, still dizzied by prolonged unconsciousness. Abruptly, I wished I found myself in a sunless dungeon, chained to a stone wall with cold irons. Dealing with queen Zaranda's guards was messy and expensive, yet it would have been a blessing compared to what I started to suspect about my current situation.
Fighting off anxiety I strained my mind, trying to recall anything that happened after I had rushed out of the Gilt Unicorn, spurred by anger and humiliation. Alas, my memories extended only as far as my first steps onto the dark street.
Grimly, I turned back to my persona, to discover that I was still wearing my old tunic and leggings, and that they showed some minor tear and wear, consistent with travel. That turned my worry up a notch. My body gave no signs of thirst or hunger, but I could feel strain, as if my physical and mental resources were depleted by prolonged stasis. My outer robes and cloak were gone, together with contents of my pockets. Someone had removed my boots, and a brief scan confirmed the disappearance of every piece of armor, weapons, and jewelry, magical or otherwise.
Whoever had stripped me of my possessions had done a thorough job. I opened my mouth to express my frustration over the fact, only to discover that I could not speak. My tongue stuck to my teeth, and my lips refused to form the simplest syllable.
"Finally." A male voice devoid of any expression said in clear Elven. "You. Have. Awoken."
I snapped my head abruptly, registering my visitor's appearance, and, being unable to articulate my feelings, stared at him in growing disbelief. The elf spoke no more. His steps were soft, and I never heard him make another sound as he moved away from the polished oak door. One of his hands roughly grabbed a fistful of my hair forcing my face upwards. The stained glass filtered out most of the modest autumnal sun, so my eyes were not blinded and I could confirm my first impression. My visitor was the copper-skinned, tattooed elven guard whom I had first seen in Darromar Royal Theater.
"Aye, it is still you, Irenicus." The elf stated in the same tone, devoid of all emotion. "If you want to die here and now – fight back. She has secured your bonds and placed the spell-lock on your mouth, so you cannot access your vile magics."
I stared at him, scanning the black and teal patterns of his tattoos, trying to deduce the source of his obvious animosity. His face felt more familiar than it ought to, but not because my errant mind decided to yield another piece of puzzle. My memory remained the greedy beast that belched out shreds of useless and dangerous information when I needed them least. No, however much I tried, I could not place him. Nor could I make up my mind and decide if I should hate or fear him. My instincts remained numbed.
But the elf, who continued to stare into my eyes with an expression that bordered on raw hunger, succeeded in provoking a different kind of reaction. His offhand remark, and the maddening feeling of familiarity that the room and my visitor's features had awaken in me, made my mind jump to an odd, yet in some perverse sense logical, conclusion. I instantly assumed that the 'she', who had put the silence spell on my mouth was the green-eyed elven woman, who frequented my dreams. She whose name I ached and feared to speak aloud. Ellesime. Just thinking of her being in the same room with me made me break out in cold sweat. Next, as it often happened in the past, I experienced a fit of nausea. The sickness gripped me by the throat, forcing the acidic bile into my mouth.
The elf noticed that I was about to get sick, and undoubtedly took it as a personal offense. His stern features twisted into a grimace of sheer fury. His hand swung once, twice, and my head bounced under the sharp blows of his fist. I sucked in the blood dribbling from my broken lip, and remarkably, the salty taste quenched my fit of queasiness.
"Ryndeth, that will be enough!" A female voice snapped just in time to stop the third blow. "Touch him again and I shall release you from my service."
At the first sound of that voice, color flooded my assailant's dark face. Visibly shaking from the inner struggle, Ryndeth released my hair and stepped aside, backing away from me.
"My apologies, Sister," he finally managed to say through clenched teeth. His eyes continued to rove over my face, as if he could not keep himself from taking it in. "When I saw Irenicus's body put to earth I thought myself cleansed of his vileness. I thought that the Abyss would swallow him and what remained of his hold on us. It appears that I was wrong. And now, his very presence in the same room makes my heart burn!"
"Shame on you and your Clan to the twelfth generation." The invisible woman continued to scold him, and I managed to twist my neck just barely enough to take a glance at her. She was visibly elven, well-groomed and dressed in embroidered green and white robes that implied some authority. Her face was intelligent but plain, and completely alien to me.
"The resemblance is uncanny." She admitted calmly. "Yet there might be a far less sinister explanation to this puzzle: like an unknown branch on the Ithilnien family tree. Unlikely as it sounds, Lord Listev could have fathered a child on the wild side before his departure to Arvandor. This one looks too young to be that offspring, but he could be the heir of the same bloodline, born with the exact features of the Shattered One. Such throwbacks are not uncommon in the family."
"Nay," Ryndeth shook his head in firm conviction. "Sister, I saw this one's eyes back in the Queen Zaranda's playhouse after I called him by his true name. He is Irenicus. I have no doubt of it. The monster had restored himself, or perhaps, mastered a clone!"
"I fear that your hatred for the dead one thwarts your good sense, captain Ryndeth." The elven woman replied tiredly. "You have never been keen on the Arcane, despite your relation to the family. Why do you persist with this madness?"
"I told you that I know something of the Irenicus's secret lair, hidden deep beneath the human city of Athkatla!" Ryndeth replied with a feverish glint in his eyes. His hands were shaking, and I got an impression that this was not the first time he had vented his obsession to her. "The younger Spawn of Bhaal shared her memories with me. Most despicable nightmares they were: of clones, and bodies stored in preserving fluid, and of the other vile necromantic deeds. Do not let Irenicus fool you, Sister Demin! The consequences of your shortsightedness will be most dire. Some say the Gods have a custom of testing their Children. Suldanessellar will not survive the third attack!"
"By Rillifane, captain, you command my guards, but you are not here to question my loyalty or debate my orders!" She snapped back at him, finally driven out of her tired complacency. "Handle your regiment, but leave the matters of state security to me. Do you think I am blind? The old hatred still burns inside you, and you better watch out that it does not consume your soul."
"But my lady, I shall never be able to live with myself if..."
"Silence, soldier!" Demin stopped his upcoming retort with a wave of her hand. "It took all my influence with the Queen to confirm your appointment to my retinue, instead of sending you to the Sehanine's House of Retreat." She sounded stern but her voice softened after a quick glance at Ryndeth's desperate face. "Rest assured, I shall find out if the prisoner has any connection to the accursed ghost whose features he wears so boldly," she conveyed to him kindly, as if talking to a child. "That was my sole reason for spiriting him out of Darromar and bringing him here."
"Praise to your insight, priestess, but the clone..."
"The place in the City of Coin you spoke of has been buried under a landslide," Demin tried to reassure him again. "And it has been over a year since the Shattered One has been put into his grave. Perhaps, what remains of the body should be exhumed and destroyed by the divine means... if only to put the uneasy minds at rest."
"The Queen herself should have ordered the burning of the body," Ryndeth babbled heatedly, "instead of wrapping it in perfumed veils, and burying it in her private gardens! The Seldarine protect us, we thought that the Shattered One had been dead for more than a year. But what will you do if all this time he lived and held Queen Ellesime under his spell?"
The priestess' face went rigidly still. "Leave us now, captain Ryndeth," she ordered him firmly, "I relieve you of your duties until tomorrow."
"Sister Demin, I cannot leave you alone with the monster!" Ryndeth's words struck the floor like a shard of broken glass. In spite of everything, I felt sorry for the man, he appeared to be at the end of his tether.
"Thank you for your confidence in the strength of my faith." Demin replied tersely, without sparing her captain a second glance. Instead, she turned her bright, hazel-brown eyes to my face, nearly boring a hole in my forehead. "But even if I am wrong in my assertion of this one's strength, magic would be a better protection against him than your sword. I have two trained battlemages standing guard on the other side of this door."
Her stare held both concern and fascination, and after a moment, I gave up and averted my eyes, much to her quiet satisfaction. Sister Demin's gaze was too intense for comfort, and I had little desire to annoy her at this time.
"Something tells me," the priestess pointed emphatically to her captain, "that were our guest here truly the Shattered One reborn, we would not be standing here discussing his identity. Leave us now, Ryndeth, and seek reprieve in prayer and meditation. You should ask the Seldarine's forgiveness for assaulting a bound prisoner. Regardless of his origins, such behavior is unforgivable."
"As you command, Sister," Ryndeth's face froze back into a rigid mask of control, yet I saw a trace of dark fire smoldering in the deep of his eyes. Giving me the last look of pure loathing, the elf turned on his heel and left as silently as he had come.
"So, master Demadan," Sister Demin made sure the door had closed behind him, before turning back to me. "Shall we go straight to the point and discover your true identity?"
I raised an eyebrow, pointing at my mouth with chained hands, and that seemingly innocent gesture made her go visibly pale.
"I have to admit that Ryndeth is right on one account," the priestess chortled nervously after the briefest of pauses, "the resemblance is uncanny. You even possess his old mannerisms. What kind of devilry is this? Should I have allowed the poor fool slaughter you in cold blood, instead of relying on the Seldarine's wisdom and goodwill?"
"Nay," she continued pacing back and forth in front of me. "I could not let it happen back in Darromar, and neither can I do it now. Not after spending all that time and effort on whisking you out. With the power granted by the Leaflord, I shall restrain your ability to access the Weave and release your tongue." Her lips whispered a verse that must have been her prayer to the divine and I felt a subtle tingling in the area of my mouth.
"Speak now," Sister Demin nodded confidently, while taking her seat on a chair at the side of my bed. "This is going to be your only chance to explain yourself. What is your given name, Clan, and what was your business in the royal capital of Tethyr?"
* * * * *
3 of Nightal 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
"Please hurry up, dear. We have no time to waste," Omwo sounded more preoccupied than upset, yet there was a certain quality to his voice that made Miamla quicken her pace.
She had already stuffed a change of underclothes and some trinkets into her backpack, stopping only to add her crayons and a drawing pad; in went a set of ivory combs and brushes, and of course, the music box with a bronze figure of dragon on its lid.
The little girl sighed and gave the bedroom, which she used to share with Mirriam, one last look. It was now a complete mess – Mirri's lavish dresses and silk stockings hung from the closet door and lay crumpled on the bed, intermixed with a heap of jewelry and some wickedly curved metal tools that looked like lock-picks. All that interesting stuff had fallen out of a flat velvet-lined box found in Mirriam's dresser that Miamla had never noticed previously. Her own, smaller-sized but no less expensive clothes were now added to the clutter, covering most of the floor with a glittering tangle of silk, lace, and spangles.
All these riches wasted. Miamla scowled, shaking her shiny blond head. She herself now wore a modest set of plainclothes that Omwo had procured from one of the Unicorn's errand boys. Supposedly the shirt and pants had once belonged to the boy's sister. The halfling had appeared in the wee hours of the morning with a bundle of clothes under his arm, and hardly any explanations. Miamla was smart enough not to ask any questions.
There was nothing here that she really needed to take along, Miamla decided finally. Toys were not something that she cared much about, and the sharp feeling of loss that had taken root in her heart at the first thought of leaving all her treasures behind, had been superficial – it was not as if she could not live without these things. Yet the feeling lingered, finally making her feel angry. The little dragon tore her eyes away from the pile of riches and stalked out, stomping her feet in defiance.
"It is about time," Omwo sighed in relief.
The halfling waited for her in the common room. His small rotund form was wrapped in a plain brown cloak with a hood, and his pack bulged with various interesting items. At his belt, Miamla spotted a short sword and a spiked cudgel. Strapped to his back were two stout leather cases: one obviously contained a crossbow, while the other, judging by its shape, must have held his violin.
"One would think that a child of your age would be less attached to material things," Omwo said grudgingly. "Linger here an hour longer, and we might never make it out of the city. Are you finally ready to go?"
Miamla nodded and lifted her heavily stuffed pack to her back. At that very moment the shrill sound of a whistle burst from the street outside, followed by another, then yet another – after a brief interval.
"Curse it!" The halfling's pallid face turned chalky white.
Quick as a rat, he grabbed Miamla's hand and hoisted her out of the front door of the suite and into the corridor. There he paused to lock the doors behind them and drop the key into a giant blue and white vase of Kara-Turan porcelain.
"I thought we had another half an hour. Now our only hope is that the boy I bribed will direct them to the wrong floor. Run for it, girl! We shall take the back stairs and jump down the laundry lift."
Miamla grinned, instantly sensing an adventure. It mattered little to her who were after them and why – later there would be plenty of time to find out all the exciting details.
They ran down a wide corridor lined with plush carpet, taking the shabby wooden door to the servants' staircase. Miamla could hear voices below, and suddenly, the strides of heavy feet running up the stairs, taking two at a time. Omwo hissed, grabbing her by the hands, and darted into the shaded passage of the service quarters, then further, into the laundry rooms that by their good luck were not locked. Together, they ran through a number of areas full of dirty bed sheets, cauldrons of steaming water, and buckets of lye. A bleary-eyed, red-faced woman, wearing a crossed breast apron tied at the back, waved them out, but was too busy to pay any further attention. At the end of a narrow passage packed with wicker baskets, but luckily empty of human presence, Omwo lifted the square sill of the laundry elevator and pointed down the narrow shaft.
Much to his surprise, Miamla did not let him finish his instructions. Grinning like an imp, she pivoted past him and dived head first into the elevator opening, backpack and all.
"Silly child!" she heard the halfling hiss and cuss, two stores above. "You are as bad as they make them! Did you hurt yourself? Answer me, wicked moth?! Should I jump to your rescue, or will I land on your unconscious head?"
Miamla giggled and rose up the elevator shaft, beating her wings sparsely, only to keep herself afloat. The look on Omwo's face when he saw her scaly silver snout at his eyelevel was priceless. Fortunately, the halfling had no time to get properly terrified, and possessed intelligence and insight worthy of a traveling actor. Deep furrows ran across his hairless forehead, and his small eyes bulged frog-like from their sockets. Yet all he did was swing first one then the other foot over the elevator sill, and jump down, steering himself with both knees and elbows. Eventually he landed in a basket full of soiled table linens.
"So, what are we going to do now, little wyrmling?" Omwo asked the silent child once the heavy sides of the Darromar Northern Gate slammed behind them, cutting off the noise of the awakening city.
Miamla flashed him a quick line of chalk-white teeth. Her thin-lipped mouth, triangular chin, and the very tip of slightly longish, pale nose were the only parts of her that were still visible. The rest of her sylph-like features and the long cascade of lustrous, platinum-blond hair were now hidden under the bulky hood of a fur-trimmed pelerine.
Omwo was rather happy with this addition to Miamla's wardrobe. The olive-green cloak trimmed with rabbit fur, and a pair of matching mittens had been purchased in a shabby, cul-de-sac pawnshop – the kind of which seem to operate at oddest hours. The morning was cold enough to justify the cloak, and it completely muddled the little girl's racial identity. In her humanoid form Miamla was tiny enough to pass for a young halfling, but her fragile physique and her facial features made her look distinctly sylvan – although Omwo doubted that anybody could recognize her true nature.
The gate guards were reluctant to let them out of Darromar, and Omwo had to use his personal charm (and a bit of financial persuasion) to convince them that he and his niece were only going as far as the nearest halfling settlement, to look for her missing cat that had run away right after they had moved inside the city walls. That was a plausible enough lie, for once the harvest was over, many of the local farmers began to roll carts and wagons loaded with their belongings and sometimes their entire families inside Queen Zaranda's new capital.
Many of the city's squares and plazas, especially in the poor districts, were now occupied by tent camps. The inns were packed full, and the parks – even the magnificent Gardens of Rhinda – hosted an occasional goat or cow picking at the remnants of the capital's once copious lawns. But the animals were few and far between, since by Queen Zaranda's order, most of the livestock was being slaughtered in preparation for the possible siege. The smokehouses were running nightshifts, and the city was permeated with the aroma of smoking ham and sausage, which, incidentally, made Omwo feel perpetually hungry. They had been lucky to arrive at Darromar ahead of the refugee crowd for it was now impossible to rent a place like the Unicorn's best suite for even the three times amount they paid.
The ogre raiders were getting bolder, Omwo was told by the grey-bearded sergeant in a rusted half-plate. So, if the halfling and his niece were willing to risk their lives over some worthless animal, he would not stop them, but at least they were warned.
Omwo thanked the old veteran, praying that the sarge and his crew would forget about them as soon as the gate was closed. He suspected that such hope was futile – he and Miamla were too noticeable a pair to be forgotten easily – and wondered what the guards had thought of his violin case and their heavy packs. But perhaps the silver coin, slipped into the sergeant's callused palm, had been sufficient argument against any further trouble.
At least Miamla looked humanoid again. The little bard grinned, trying to imagine what the guards' reaction would have been were she to appear in her true form. For the moment, Omwo refused to mull over the situation, although he admitted that he had been a fool not to question Miamla's sudden affiliation with the group. Jon had always been secretive and shifty when explaining his decision to take the little one along. Now Omwo began to suspect that there was some sort of deal struck between the elf and the elder dragon, and swore to himself that he would ferret out the truth as soon as they got the missing elf back.
Miamla appeared to be equally eager to start looking for their missing companion, and knowing what she was made the halfling rethink his plans of the rescue campaign. The little dragon still needed his protection and guidance, but she turned out to be more of a valuable ally than a liability. Even with Miamla's newly discovered powers their chances of finding the elf were slim, but at least now they had a chance.
They needed access to the Elven embassy. Omwo was certain that that was the first place to start making inquiries. For the thousandth time the halfling berated himself for being a slow thinker. If only he had figured it all out before Kessen's arrest and the following events. If only Kessen and Mirriam were still in any position to make their own choices... But what was done was done. The twins were now out of his reach, and likely for good. He regretted it, but hoped that they were not in immediate danger. Since any attempt to contact them would be fatal, Omwo decided to put Saemon's children out of his mind, at least for now. He was in enough trouble already to be looking for more.
"As they say in Calimshan – let the sleeping vampire sleep, or it will swallow more than it can chew."
He chuckled humorlessly, snapping back to reality. The dusty surface of the Ithal Road stretched before them, merging, in the far distance with the violet haze of the low hills. The halfling nodded to the little dragon, and adjusted his pack.
"Child, let's make it to the nearest clump of trees, where no one traveling on the road would see us. There we will have a bite to eat and decide what to do next."
The small fire had been doused with dirt. Omwo made sure that not a single whiff of smoke would escape through the sparse autumnal foliage. A kettle with spicy herbal brew rested on a patch of moss, awaiting its turn. The halfling pulled out his pipe, and began the painstaking process of filling it with tobacco. Their situation called for a few pipes of weed.
Miamla licked the last specks of porridge from her wooden spoon. It was flavored with a small dollop of pork fat and quite tasty. Not satisfied, the wyrmling gave her empty bowl a sorrowful glance, then looked back at the halfling. With her bright hair bound into a ponytail and tucked under a tight cap, the little dragon looked much like an ordinary urchin. That is if one could overlook her huge metallic eyes that seemed to fill half of her face, and the large mouth with its unusually thin, pale lips. Her looks were indeed exotic, but perhaps knowing her true heritage gave the halfling a perspective that he had lacked earlier.
Not for the first time, Omwo noted that for her delicate physique the little girl had a rather hearty appetite. Come to think of it, Miamla's stamina and muscle power were always abnormally strong for the child of her age. She had not been tired or sick even once during their long trek to Darromar, and she had easily consumed man-sized meals. Her appetite had not been a problem while they stayed at the Unicorn. On Mirri's order the serving maids had always brought extra bowls of sugared fruit and sweetmeats, and these extra snacks were always gone in a few hours.
"We have to be thrifty now," the halfling explained apologetically to his charge. "It is not so much a matter of coin as that of resource. Brandobaris only knows when we will find a village that has not been looted by the ogres."
In addition to Miamla's new clothes, Omwo's recent purchases included a bag of barley, a jar of pork fat, two cans of tobacco, and some other basics. A month spent inside Darromar wallowing in luxury had not blunted the halfling's survival instinct, nor was he lulled into false sense of security. Outside the city gates, Tethyr was a dangerous land, scourged by the recent civil war, and roamed by the ogre armies. Omwo's crossbow and a stack of bolts were little protection against ravaging armies or even regular bandits, so their best strategy was staying close to the ground, while attracting as little attention to themselves as possible. When their resources were depleted, he would try shooting a rabbit or look for edible roots. Until that time what they had was what they had to rely upon.
Taking care of the baby dragon's necessities was not something that Omwo had signed up for when he had attached himself to the strange elf and his group. Still, the whole affair turned out to be a superb adventure, deserving to be put in a ballad or, better yet, played out on stage.
"I will make an epic drama with a tragic love story out of your tale yet," Omwo muttered, pulling on his pipe. "You just wait and see, mageling, you just wait and see. But of course, I would have to pull your chestnuts out of the fire first."
He and Miamla could make a loop around the city and follow the Ith's flow to the nearest ferry crossing, the halfling considered carefully. Then they would cross the great river and go back to the city, eventually making it to the Southern Gate. But while that maneuver would throw off their potential pursuit, it would take a week to complete. They simply did not have the time. Besides, with a master vampire and her minions on his trail, Omwo was not sure he would dare to reenter Darromar, even wearing his best disguise. Miamla altered that equation, but not by far.
Omwo puffed through his first pipe, letting the aromatic smoke dull his worries and clear his mind. Then his trail of thoughts was interrupted by a thud, a furious bout of chirruping, and a loud string of exclamations. Omwo's hearing was sharp enough to recognize Miamla's voice, but his knowledge of the Elven language was insufficient to understand the meaning of her chatter.
One look in her direction was enough to figure out the nature of the commotion. While Omwo was planning their next move, Miamla found herself a playmate: the wyrmling was amusing herself by throwing pinecones at a large grey squirrel. The animal looked annoyed at the barrage of small missiles, but paid the wyrmling little heed, moving only a little after each of her near misses. The squirrel's cheek pouches looked full to bursting, which probably explained the rodent's reluctance to get away.
"Let the little fellow go about his business," Omwo suggested amiably. "His cheeks are bursting with supplies that he has brought to add to his cache."
Miamla's left eyebrow shot up questioningly – he knew she had picked up the annoying habit from a certain elf. Having gained Omwo's attention, the child tilted her head and asked something in her funny mix of Elven and broken Common.
"Yes," the halfling explained patiently. "Have you not heard that squirrels store acorns, nuts, and berries in preparation for winter? Please, leave the rodent be, and let me go back to my thinking. We need to find our Joneleth before it is too late."
Miamla seemed to understand his meaning, at least to some extent. Once she ceased her mischief, Omwo went back to his pipe, pausing only to refill his mug with the herbal brew. The blackberry leaf and mint were excellent cure for melancholy. The halfling put the wyrmling and the squirrel out of his mind, concentrating instead on what he knew of Queen Zaranda's policies regarding Elves, and how that might serve his cause.
It was perhaps a half an hour later that his thoughts were once again rudely interrupted. This time it was a furious outburst of squirrel-chatter. When Omwo lifted his head, instinctively grabbing for his crossbow, his eyes beheld the last act of the small drama played out between the angry owner of the food cache and the shameless plunderer.
The wyrmling was perched on the same branch that the squirrel had occupied earlier, although much closer to the tree trunk. At least she had sense to leave her cloak and boots on the ground, before scaling the huge oak. Her left arm was plunged up to her shoulder into the tree-hollow, while she gleefully stuffed her mouth with the stolen goods using her other hand. The squirrel hopped and bopped on the thinner, less stout branches right above Miamla's head, while spitting and chattering in rightful indignation. The scene was funny enough to make Omwo smirk. He had to give Miamla credit: she was a quick learner, and practical to boot.
"Don't take it all," he warned her, while jumping up to his feet and getting closer to the oak tree, "and keep him at a safe distance. Their teeth are quite sharp."
At that very moment Miamla yelped, as if pricked by a needle, and quickly pulled her hand out of the tree. Immediately, she lost her balance and toppled backwards, hanging from the oak branch by her legs in a manner of a bat. Omwo could clearly see that the squirrel was too far away to have caused the child any harm. Miamla's face showed puzzlement rather than fear as she lowered her hands down to her face, looking at something clutched in one of them.
"By Brandobaris's leather pants! What is the meaning of this, wicked moth?" Omwo cried out in pretend anger. The corners of his mouth kept curving up, and he could not stop himself from smirking. "It seems that you are set on causing mischief and distracting me."
He did not have time to finish his admonishment. The wyrmling let go of her perch, straightened her ankles, and tumbled downwards in a series of breathtaking somersaults. In a few quick tumbles, she landed on the ground, gracefully avoiding the thicker branches on her way down. Noticing his astonishment, the little girl bowed and paused as if waiting for applause. Since the halfling failed to deliver, she pouted a little, then raised her left hand and thrust its contents into his face.
In her palm lay a silver brooch wrought in a shape of a crescent and studded with blue gems. Bewildered though he was, Omwo instantly recognized the trinket. He had seen it a few times during their journey from the Marching Mountains. Joneleth had had a habit of pulling the piece out to stare at and probe with spells when he thought that no one was watching.