“Die, miserable Swamp Rat!”


            “You’ll have to be quicker than that you Dirty Human!”


            Ithican stepped back half a step from Sam’s attack.  Having missed his target Sam’s guard was now down and Ithican went to take advantage of that fact.  However, Sam was quicker than he looked and easily deflected the blow.  The two swords clashed and rang musically as the pair sought out a victor. 


            Not being used to the weight of a true sword and missing the versatility of a Tarrin blade Ithican found himself at a distinct disadvantage.  He was definitely glad to have his Elven reflexes to help him hold his own against Sam’s undeniably skilled assault.  Determined not to lose this fight Ithican switched to a more offensive tactic and succeeded in forcing Sam back a few steps.


            “Had enough, Old Man?”  Ithican teased.


            “Old?!”  Sam replied indignantly. 


            “That’s right, don’t think for a second that I’ve forgotten.”  Ithican ducked under Sam’s swing.  “You’ll be a hundred in five days...if you live that long.”


            “Apparently you never learned to respect you elders.  But don’t worry,”  Sam drove Ithican back, regaining the ground he’d lost  “I’ll teach you.”


            “Don’t be so sure about that.”


            Sam deftly stepped to the left as Ithican charged.  Having misjudged how much the weight of the sword would pull him Ithican had to take a few steps forward to keep from losing his balance -giving Sam a clear shot at his back.  Sam slapped Ithican’s lower back with the broad side of his sword.


            “You’ll never out live me fighting like that.”  Sam mocked.


            “If I had my Tarrin...”  Ithican growled rubbing at the sore spot on his back.


            “Ah, but the whole point is that you don’t.”  Sam swung at his opponent once more.  “So you’d better learn to handle a sword quick, Elf!”


            Ithican grinned and launched himself at Sam once more.  Not expecting the sudden move Sam ended up getting tagged bloodlessly on the shoulder. 


            “Don’t you worry about me, Human, I learn quick enough.”


            Sam laughed and defended himself with more caution.  They continued swinging both steel and insults.  Had anyone come across the pair in the wood they might be forced to think that the tentative peace between the Humans and the Elves had finally failed.  It had been over two years since the so called ‘Blood Brothers’ had changed the nature of interracial relations.  Elves and Humans still had to watch their step in one another’s territories, but all Laws against travel and trade had been revoked. 


            Nuearth was still far from a safe place for any race to live.  A fact that Sam and Ithican knew well.  Getting a better feel for the sword Ithican started to turn the tide of the fight to his favor.  The verbal assaults ended as they both were forced to concentrate more and more on the physical aspect of the potentially deadly encounter. 


            Beginning to feel the affects of the exertion Sam’s skin started to glisten with sweat.  Even Ithican’s hair was starting to separate into long wet locks.  However, neither was about to back down.  Just when it looked like they might find themselves at a stalemate Sam made a fatal error.  Stepping back out of the arc of Ithican’s reach he caught his heel on something and lost his footing.  Falling backwards Sam landed on his back hard. 


            With his breath knocked out Sam had no chance to recover.  Ithican stood over the fallen Human and casually rested the bright tip of his sword on Sam’s chest.  Sam growled in frustration and released his grip on his own sword.  Despite the symbol of surrender Ithican kept his weapon in strike position. 


            “How was that, teacher?”  Ithican laughed.  He took the sword away from his friend’s heart.


            “Not bad.”  Sam admitted.  He put his hand up in a silent request for help getting to his feet.  “As far as I can see you only have one thing left to learn.”


            “Oh?”  Ithican asked reaching down to take Sam’s hand.  “What’s that?”


            Sam grinned mischievously.  With speed that caught Ithican off guard he reached up and grasped Ithican’s forearm tightly.  Using his grip as a purchase Sam yanked Ithican off his feet and twisted him around so he landed back first on the leaf littered forest floor.  Before he had time to figure out what had happened Ithican found himself pinned under Sam’s weight.


            “Like I said,”  Sam laughed  “you still have one thing left to learn: never help your enemy back up on his feet.”


            “Got it.”  Ithican smiled.  “Next time I’ll remember to just kill you.”


            “See that you do.”


            Sam released his captive and sat on the cool forest floor still breathing heavily from the exercise.  Ithican had asked Sam a while back to teach him how to use a sword in case he ever found himself without his Tarrin.  In return for the swordplay lessons Ithican was teaching Sam to write and polishing his reading skills. 


            They dusted themselves off and made their way back to the small camp they’d made the night before.  Once he’d regained his strength from trying to kill himself Ithican had wanted nothing more than to get out of the city.  Sam couldn’t have agreed more, but they had been forced to stay for a few months longer to help straighten things out with the various ambassadors. 

            They’d become somewhat famous for a while, to the point where Sam swore he’d kill the next person who asked to hear the story again.  So they had spent the past two years aimlessly traveling to avoid anyone who might possibly know anything about them.  They had nothing better to do than sight see around Nuearth anyway.


            “So, where to now?”  Ithican asked.


            “Well, where are we now?”


            “Good question.”  Ithican looked around the thick forest, which looked like every other forest they’d traveled through.  He rummaged through his pack and pulled out a worn map.  “Okay, we were in Seratics and we’ve been going west for...”


            “Seratics?”  Sam asked looking at the map.  “I thought we just left Larkbury.”


            “No, Larkbury was over by the coast.”


            “Are you sure?”


            “Yeah, they had that fish brandy that even you couldn’t drink.”


            “No, that was Innsmot.”  Sam grimaced at the thought.  “That stuff was awful.  What were they thinking?  Or was that in Tallomark?”


            “This is hopeless.”  Ithican pushed the map away.   


            “We’ve been to so many little run down towns that they’re all starting to blur into one.”


            “Tell me about it.”


            “I hate to say it but I’m almost starting to miss Nueyark.”


            “Speak for yourself.”


            “Hey, I said ‘almost’.”  Sam laughed.  “Say what you will about the place, at least there was never a dull moment.”


            “That’s one way of putting it.”  Ithican smiled and shook his head.  “Although I have to admit that things have gotten awful quiet lately.”


            “We could always go looking for trouble.”  Sam offered helpfully.


            “Somehow I don’t thi...”  Ithican stopped.




            Ithican put his hand up to signal for quiet.  He tucked his hair back behind his pointed ears and closed his eyes.  Sam remained as still as possible, he couldn’t hear anything but he knew that that meant little to nothing.  He had quickly learnt to trust Ithican’s senses in these matters.


            “Someone’s coming.”  Ithican whispered, still listening.  “More than one, three of four.”


            “They could just be travelers.”  Sam whispered back.


            “I doubt it.”




            “Because they are trying really hard not to be heard.”






            “Well, now we don’t have to go looking for trouble.  It found us.”


            “And that’s a good thing?”


            Sam was about to respond when ‘trouble’ stepped into view.  The small group had a ragtag variety of light hunting-type weapons, but that wasn’t what caught Ithican and Sam’s attention first.  What did was what all the new comers had undeniably in common.  Ithican found himself at a loss for words.  Sam had no such troubles:


            “Hello, Ladies.” 




            Ithican looked up at the ceiling and tried not to think about the mountain of stone that lay above it.  However thoughts about the amount of solid matter between himself and the clear sky kept creeping into his mind.  After pacing the room once more he finally sat down on the large bed that dominated the small room. 


            He ran his hands through his black and white hair, a nervous habit that he had developed shortly after leaving Evergladrida, and tried to piece together exactly why he was here.  The small band of female hunters (they certainly hadn’t been warriors) that had found them had insisted on capturing them.  Ithican had discussed this idea over with Sam for quiet sometime before agreeing to it.  There was no way that the women could have taken them by force, but at the same time neither of them wanted to hurt the huntresses.


            “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Sam had asked with a lopsided grin.


            “I hate it when you say things like that.” 




            “Because we always seem to find out the answer.”


            So far the worse had come when Ithican had discovered that they were being ‘taken’ to what appeared to be an entire town build into a system of caves.  The entrance to which was a discrete doorway carved into a cliff side.  Ithican had never heard of such a thing, but that didn’t surprise him too much.  As a general rule the Elves despise being underground and never associate with those who live there. 


            Ithican swallowed hard and took a deep breath.  The air was surprisingly fresh, but that brought little comfort.  It wouldn’t be so bad if he had something else to think about.  He wasn’t even sure how or when he and Sam had been separated.  He’d been too preoccupied with staying calm as they worked their way through an increasingly complicated network of catacombs.  As for Sam he’d been distracted by...other things. 


            Running his fingers through his hair once more Ithican growled in frustration.  He’d been left here an hour ago and as far as he knew he’d been forgotten.  The room was nice enough, kind of like a woman’s bedroom, and lit by various electrical spells. 


            Ithican started in surprise when the door creaked open.  The door opened just enough for a pair of brown eyes to peek in.  Any alarm that Ithican had felt vanished as he heard the newcomer giggle nervously to herself.  He waited for her to come inside, but she only looked.


            “It’s okay, you can come in.”  Ithican offered.


            She hesitated for a second and then with a burst of courage she stepped in the room.  She looked out into the hall and once satisfied that no one was around she closed the door behind her.  Ithican recognized her now as one of the women who had escorted him here.  Her long dark brown hair bounced in loose curls as she looked around the room. 


            “Hello, young Miss.”  Ithican greeted.  The girl couldn’t be older than forty. 


            “H...hello.”  She replied after a moment.  She looked at Ithican like he was an animal in a zoo.


            “My name’s Ithican, and you are?”


            “Chastity.”  She answered simply.


            “Well, Chastity, you don’t have to be so nervous, I’m not going to hurt you.”


            “I know.”  She answered confidently.  “It’s just, I’m...I’m not supposed to be here.”


            “Then why are you here?”  Ithican asked hoping to get some information.


            Chastity blushed furiously.  “I’m sorry, I’m just so curious.  Everyone is always telling me so.  ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ they always say to me.”


            “Ah yes, but ‘satisfaction brought him back’.”  Ithican smiled.  “So what about your curiosity brings you here?”


            “Well,’s just...”  She blushed again.  “I’ve never seen anyone who looks like you before.”


            “Looks like me?”  Ithican repeated confused.  “You mean an Elf?”


            “Is that what you are?”


            “Yes.”  Ithican furrowed his brow.  “You’ve never heard of Elves?”


            “No.”  She replied honestly. 


            “You’re people must not come out of their cave very often.”


            “Oh no, we don’t.  Only for short hunting trips every once in a while.  We really don’t even need to do that, but it’s nice to see the sky and trees every now and then.  But we’ve never come across anything like this before.”


            “I see.”  Ithican said even though he didn’t.  “Where’s my friend?”


            “I’m not sure, but I’m sure she’s fine.”


            “He.”  Ithican corrected.


            “He?”  Chastity used the word as if it was unfamiliar.


            “Yes, you said ‘she’, but my friend is male.”


            “I thought you said you two were Elves.”


            “No.”  Ithican had to smile at the her mistake.  “I’m Elven, he’s Human.”


            It was the girl’s turn to furrow her brow.  “Human?  But you just said your friend was Male.”


            “Yes,”  Ithican shook his head, getting confused himself  “I did, he’s both.”


            “Both?”  She looked at Ithican skeptically.  “But she looks just like you.”


            “No, no, he looks just lik...”  Ithican stopped.  Physically he and Sam had very little in common, unless...  “Wait a minute...when you said you’d never seen anyone like me, were you talking about my black hair and green eyes?”


            “No, there’s nothing special about that.  The pointy ears are a bit strange.”


            “But you weren’t talking about my ears either, were you?” 


            “Not really.”  She flushed.


            “Then what makes me different?”  Ithican asked although he had a good idea what the answer was going to be.


            “I don’t’s just...well you don’t...”  She looked around embarrassed for a moment.  “I guess the most noticeable thing would be this.”  At the word ‘this’ Chastity brought her hands up to her chest with a cupping motion.


            Ithican had to quickly bring his hand up to his face to hide his amused smile.  “You mean men, you’ve never seen a man before?” 


            “Nope.”  She smiled innocently.   


            “And you’ve never heard of Elves or Humans?”




            “So what are you if not a Human?”


            “What a silly question.  I’m the same thing as everyone else.”


            “What would that be?”


            “A Nymph, of course.”  






            “I told you this day would come!”  Tallutha hissed.  “You shouldn’t let the young ones run around on their little ‘hunting’ trips, we can gather all the food we need and more right here.  When was the last time they ever caught anything anyway?”


            “They caught something this time.”  Arthlyn sighed, throwing herself into a plush chair. 


            “That’s right: Trouble!”


            “Now let’s not panic, Tallutha.  Have the...”  Arthlyn searched for the word  “men, hurt anyone?”


            “Not yet, but they will.”


            “You can’t know that.  They are...”


            “Dangerous.”  Tallutha finished.  “You’ve never been out into the Upper World.”


            “My duties keep me here.”  Arthlyn said defensively.


            “Well, I have been out there -*my* duties forced me to.  Unlike our little ‘hunters’ I’ve been beyond the forest that protects our home, and I paid a terrible price for it.”


            “I know.”  Arthlyn said softly.  She reached up and brushed the white scar that ran down the right side of Tallutha’s face. 


            “That scar was the least of it.”  Tallutha said bitterly as she pulled away. 


            “You’re still beau...”  Arthlyn stopped when she saw the ice in Tallutha’s blue eyes thicken.  Arthlyn sighed, her raven haired friend had never been the same after her last journey into the Upper World.  “What do you expect me to do?”


            “You’re the Mistress, and as our leader it’s your duty to protect the Nymphs and our lifestyle.” 


            “We should just take them back to where we found them.”


            “No!  We can’t do that.”


            “Why not?”


            “They will come back, and they will bring others.”  Tallutha warned.  “The only thing that keeps the Nymphs safe is the fact that no one knows we’re here.  It’s the only thing that keeps us alive.  We can’t let them tell anyone.”


            “What are you suggesting?”  Arthlyn snapped angrily.  “That we keep them here?!”


            “Of course not.”  Tallutha said calmly.


            “But what else can we do?”


            “There’s a third option.”  Tallutha smiled coldly.  




            “Kill them.”


            “No.”  Arthlyn said immediately.  Her stomach turned at the mere thought.


            “But Mistres...”


            “I said no!”  Arthlyn made it clear that her word was final.  “The Nymphs retreated to these caves thousands of years ago to escape violence.  I will not have blood spilt here!  This is a place of innocents.”


            “That innocents is going to be lost!”  Tallutha growled.  “You don’t understand, you’ve only been told what you need to know about the Upper World to perform your chosen task.  I’ve been taught more because I had to know it for when I would go on a Gathering.  But all that knowledge wasn’t enough to protect me.  Men have a power that you can’t even begin to fathom, and they will use it against us!”


            “What makes you so sure?”


            “Because they can’t help themselves.”  Tallutha said simply.  “Males are violent by their very nature.”


            “I don’t understand.”


            “I know you don’t,”  Tallutha smiled sweetly  “and in a way I love you for it.  However this is no time to be naive.  You have to get rid of them.”


            “I will not put forth such a horrible order without proof that these creatures can’t be reasoned with.”


            “You want proof?”  Tallutha asked rhetorically. 


            She walked over to the table where she had placed a black velvet bundle when she’d first come into the Mistress’s chambers.  She unfolded it and exposed two large swords that gleamed coldly on the black cloth. 


            Arthlyn got up and walked over.  She caught her breath as she stared at the blades.  She had seen hunting tools before: arrows, light daggers and the such, but she’d never seen anything as wicked looking at the weapons that lay on the table. 


            “When the girls first found the pair they were trying to kill each other with these.”    


            “What?”  Arthlyn asked alarmed.  “Why?”


            “Because they are male, and men are all the same.”


            Arthlyn looked down at the swords again.  Hesitantly she touched one and found the steel to be ice cold.  She ran her fingertips down the length the blade slowly.  A chill ran down her spine at the thought of the damage something like this could do.


            “Dangerous...”  Arthlyn whispered to herself.   








            “This was amusing for a while, Ladies, but I’m starting to lose my patience.”


            “Sam, plea...”  Ithican started.


            “No, forget it, I can’t even believe I’m listening to this.”  Sam said stubbornly.  They had been treated well up until now, but now the Nymphs were being unreasonable. Sam swallowed against the bitter taste in his mouth, he couldn’t decided if it was from the odd wine he’d had at breakfast or from dealing with Tallutha.  “This is ridiculous!”


            “Do not call our Laws ‘ridiculous’, Male!”  Tallutha snapped. 


            “Tallutha, please.”  Arthlyn chastised.  “There’s no need for that, you know her..his name.” 


            Arthlyn rubbed at her temples: this meeting was not going well.  She had not decided yet what they were going to do.  She needed more time to discuss things with the Council, however the men had asked to leave. 


            “Sam, Ithican, you two have come into our sanctum and we can not allow you to simply leave.”  Arthlyn explained.  “We ha...”


            “Wait a minute,”  Sam interrupted  “we were brought here.  You can’t accuse us of trespassing, we weren’t the ones who let the foxes into the hen house!”


            Ithican flinched at the expression.  He knew that Sam would never hurt a woman, but at the same time he didn’t seem to have much respect for the Nymphs.  Ithican looked around the cavernous room that was set up much like a palace court. 


            Mistress Arthlyn sat in an ornate chair on a small dais with Tallutha standing next to, or rather over her.  It didn’t take long to figure out which one held the most power.  There were six other Nymphs present, members of some form of Council.  Two of them had poorly crafted spears, but they seemed uncomfortable holding them. 


            “What I don’t understand,”  Ithican said, interrupting another round of insults between Sam and Tallutha  “is what you hope to gain from keeping us here.  I would think that you’d want us out as quickly as possible.”


            “We can’t risk having you tell others where we are.”  Tallutha responded coolly.


            “Well that’s not an issue,”  Sam smiled  “we didn’t know where we were before we came here, and we’re just as lost now.”


            “You can’t expect us to believe that.” 


            “You can’t keep us here forever.”  Sam growled, losing his brief brush with humor.  “I’m not about to become some sort of Palace Pet.”


            “We have yet to decide what we are going to do.”  Arthlyn sighed.  “It all depends on...”


            “On what?”  Ithican asked when Arthlyn stopped herself.


            “On your innocents.”  Arthlyn finished even though Tallutha had shot her a glare to try and stop her.


            “Innocents?”  Ithican repeated.  “We have done nothing to the Nymphs.”


            “And the last time I checked,”  Sam added  “being male wasn’t a crime in and of itself.”


            “It should be!”  Tallutha snarled.


            “What?”  Sam asked incredulously.  “What evidence do you have that we’ve ever done anything wrong?”


            “Just look at you, look at all those scars.  You’ve obviously been fighting your whole life!  Bloodthirsty!”


            “It’s a dangerous world out there, which you Dames have obviously forgotten about hidden away down here!  Not all who fight are bloodthirsty.”  Sam subconsciously rubbed at his bracelet scars left by the Goblins long ago.  “Besides, I see you have some marks yourself.”


            “I was an innocent victim!”


            “So was I!”  Sam barked angrily.


            “Please...”  Arthlyn started, but was quickly interrupted.


            “I don’t know many victims who walk around with weapons like these!”  Tallutha accused.  She exposed the swords from the velvet where they lay at Arthlyn’s feet.  The other council members looked at them nervously.


            “I told you,”  Sam tried to keep his voice even  “it’s a dangerous world out there.”


            “Dangerous to the point where you have to use these even against your own ‘friend’?”




            “We saw you two trying to kill one another.”


            “We were just having fun.”


            “Fun?!”  Tallutha snorted derisively.  “What further proof do we need of your violent nature?!  Fighting for the sheer pleasure of it, how typically male!”


            Ithican could almost feel Sam’s temper snap.  Facing Sam he stepped between the pair to hold his friend back.  Sam growled, but he didn’t attempt to move Ithican out of his way.


            “Sam, if we are going to be considered guilty until proven innocent, this is the last thing we need.  Calm down.”


            “Your friend seems to have a bit more sense than you, not that that’s saying much.”  Tallutha sneered.


            “How are we supposed to prove anything to these crazy Chicks, Ith?”


            “You’d better think of a way fast.”  Tallutha said coolly.  “You don’t have much time.”


            “Time?”  Sam asked.  “Time until what?”


            “Until the Yaritine takes affect.”


            Both Ithican and Arthlyn gasped.  Sam saw the sudden fear that flashed over his friend, but he didn’t understand it. 


            “Tallutha!”  Arthlyn cried shocked.  “You didn’t!”


            “I did what I had to.”  Tallutha said proudly.  “It was in the wine.”


            “Wine?”  Sam asked.  “Ith, what is going on?  What is Yaritine?”


            “It’s a poison.”  Ithican explained.  “A slow acting one, takes three to four days to work.”




            “Kill.”  Ithican clarified. 


            “That’s right,”  Tallutha smiled cruelly  “you’ve got until then to convince me that you are worthy of an antidote.”


            “Worthy?!”  Sam spat.  He made a move towards Tallutha, but Ithican stopped him. 


            “You’ve made a terrible mistake.”  Ithican hissed at Tallutha.


            “I’m sure you think so.” 


            “No, you don’t understand, you’re going to lose more than an enemy.”  Ithican paused. 


            “What do you mean by that?”


            “I never drink alcohol...”


            “There was none left in your room.”  Tallutha said with a hint of fear.  She had lied when she said had a reversal for the Yaritine.


            “That’s because Chastity drank it.”


            “What?!”  Arthlyn jumped up out of her chair.  “How?!”


            “She’s been visiting me, she didn’t want anyone to know.  I didn’t think anything of it.”


            “Who’s Chastity?”  Sam asked.


            “My daughter!”  Arthlyn cried stricken. 







            “We have to let him go!”  Arthlyn demanded firmly.


            “No!”  Tallutha countered stubbornly.  Arthlyn was Mistress, but she could do little against the Council -who always favored Tallutha.  “How do we know that he won’t bring back enough friends to slaughter us all?”


            “I only have one friend, and he’s dying thanks to you.”  Ithican pointed out.  “And if you don’t let me go retrieve the Yaritine antidote Arthlyn’s daughter is going to die with him.”


            “You think I don’t know that?!”  Tallutha snarled.  “She my daughter as well!”


            “All the more reason to help me!”


            “How can she be both of yours daughter?”  Sam asked out of curiosity.  To Ithican he seemed surprisingly unperturbed by the idea of being poisoned. 


            “She isn’t going to belong to anyone soon.”  Ithican growled.  He pulled his hands through his hair for about the tenth time since they’d started this unnecessary arguing.  “The longer you keep me here the less chance I have of succeeding.”


            “Please, Tallutha,”  Arthlyn didn’t even attempt to brush away her tears  “we have to trust him.”


            Tallutha glared at everyone in turn.  She thought about her options and sighed.  “All right.”


            “Thank you.”  Ithican said relieved.


            “But I’m coming with you.”  Tallutha added. 


            “You haven’t been to the Upper World in ten years.”  Arthlyn said concerned.


            “I’m going.”


            “That’s fi...”  Ithican started.


            Sam interrupted Ithican with a quick nudge.  Sam lowered his voice to point where he could hardly hear himself.  It was a trick he used when he wanted to talk to Ithican in mixed company.  No one other than the keen eared Elf could possibly hear what he had to say.  


            “Ithican, I don’t trust her, for obvious reasons.  Their intentions are clear, and they don’t fight fair.  I want you leave here alone, and I don’t want you coming back.”


            “Come on, Tallutha, let’s go.”  Ithican said ignoring Sam.  “I could probably use your help getting back here anyway.”


            “Didn’t you hear me?”  Sam growled almost silently.


            “I heard you,”  Ithican smiled  “I’m just not listening.”   


            “You still haven’t any respect for your elders.”  Sam said out loud, laughing.


            “You’ve still got four days before you are officially an ‘elder’.”


            “Very funny.”  Sam admitted.  “One hundred isn’t that old.”


            “You’re the one who brought it up.”


            Arthlyn dismissed the men’s disjointed conversation.  She awkwardly picked up one of the swords at random and handed it to Ithican.  Ithican hesitated for a second, but he took the weapon and secured it in his sword belt. 


            “What are you doing, Arthlyn?”  Tallutha hissed.


            “It’s a dangerous world out there.”  Arthlyn explained.  “Besides, he will keep you safe if he wants his friend to live.” 


            “We’ll see about that.”  Tallutha said darkly.  “None of this would have happened if yo...”


            “Well it has happened!”  Arthlyn snapped.  “And you had better fix it!”


            “We really should be leaving.”  Ithican interrupted what he feared was going to turn into yet another longwinded argument. 


            Tallutha growled.  She given one of her followers a wordless signal to fetch their supplies when she’d made the decision to go.  Tallutha snatch her things from the woman and stalked off.  Ithican graciously accepted his own items from the shy Nymph.  He secured the cloak around his neck and went to catch up with Tallutha.  Ithican stopped suddenly and turned around.


            “Sam, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do while I’m away.”


            “That’s a pretty long list, but I’ll try.”


            “I guess that’s the best I can ask for.  I’ll be back in time for your birthday.”  Ithican forced a smile and dashed off once more in pursuit of Tallutha.


            “...if I live that long.”                         







            Tallutha started awake violently.  The trees of the forest loomed menacingly above her and beyond them stretched the vast emptiness of the sky.  Tallutha shivered at the thought of all that free space.  She sat up and looked around.  It was just after dawn, which gave the sky an unsettling reddish cast. 


            Ithican was sitting about fifteen feet away.  His eyes were closed, but he wasn’t sleeping.  Tallutha wondered for a moment if he had slept at all.  He had sat down in that exact spot the night before, and apparently hadn’t moved since.  When he finally did move Tallutha tensed and watched as he raked his hands through his unusually coloured hair. 


            “Would you stop that?”  Tallutha demanded irritably.


            Ithican snapped his eyes open and looked at Tallutha blankly.  “Stop what?” 


            “Playing with your hair like that.”


            “Sorry, it’s just a nervous habit.”


            “Yeah well, it’s driving me crazy.”  Tallutha knew she was being irrational, but she didn’t care.


            When Ithican got up and walked towards her Tallutha scrambled to her feet and backed against a tree.  Ignoring the Nymph he went over to where he’d left his pack the night before.  After a moments search Ithican found a short length of leather cord.  He used the strap to tie his hair back to keep himself from messing with it.


            “Better?”  He asked honestly. 


            Tallutha just narrowed her cold blue eyes.


            “Look, I don’t like this anymore than you do, Tallutha.”  Ithican said exasperated.  He  took a step closer.


            “Stay away from me, Male.”  Tallutha snarled.


            “’Ithican’, for the hundredth time: my name is Ithican.  And for the thousandth time: I’m not going to hurt you.  If I wanted to kill you I would have done so by now! ”


            “I’d have cut your stomach open if you’d tried!”  Tallutha brandished the small dagger she always kept at the ready.


            Ithican made a noise of pure frustration.  If he hadn’t tied his hair back he’d would have pulled some of it out at this point.  Tallutha was getting harder and harder to deal with.  He took a deep breath. 


            “We don’t have time for this.”  Ithican tried to bring the conversation back to neutral ground.  “If we’re going to save Chastity and Sam we’re going to have to work together, agreed?”


            “Agreed.”  Tallutha said grudgingly. 


            “Okay, that’s a start.”  Ithican looked around.  “Myris Root is not easy to find, I’m not even sure that it grows arou...”


            “Myris Root?” 


            Ithican paused, he usually considered himself pretty even tempered but he was having trouble with that now.  “You haven’t heard of Myris?”


            “No.”  Tallutha flushed at the accusation in Ithican’s tone.


            “I see.”  Ithican said slowly.  “So I take it that you haven’t been leading us towards a source of it.”


            “I’ve been following you.”  Tallutha shifted her weight nervously.  “Why?”


            “’Why’?”  Ithican repeated incredulously.  “Because it’s the only thing strong enough to counter act Yaritine.  But you don’t know that, do you?  Because you had no intention of giving us a chance from the start!  You jus...”  Ithican forcibly stopped himself.  “It doesn’t matter now.  Myris Root is hard to find because the only part of the plant above ground is a small pinkish flower that only opens during the day, so it can’t be found at night.  If you want your daughter to live you’ll help me find it by nightfall.”


            With that Ithican gathered up what little he owned and headed off in a random direction, keeping a close watch on the ground.  Tallutha stood motionless.  It wasn’t until this moment that she realized that the men had been telling the truth: they didn’t know where they were.  She had assumed that Ithican had known where he was going.


            “Do you think we’ll find it in time?”  Tallutha asked hesitantly.


            “At this rate?  No.”






            Arthlyn couldn’t sleep.  She got out of bed and slipped into a white silk robe.  Walking over to the other bed in the room she brushed at Chastity’s long hair affectionately.  Usually Tallutha slept where the ailing Chastity now lay.  


            It hadn’t always been that way.  There had been a time when the room had held only one bed and they’d shared it happily.  As tradition stated the Mistress and the Captain Gather were always partners.  Before her last trip to the Upper World Tallutha had been more than happy with the arrangement, and so had Arthlyn.  However, Tallutha had come back changed.


            Arthlyn was pulled out of her reverie as Chastity tossed restlessly.  She put her hand against the young Nymph’s forehead and fancied that it felt unusually warm, however she convinced herself that it was her own hand that was uncharacteristically chilled. 


            Chastity struggled as if she was trying to wake.  The Magi had seen to it that she would be locked in sleep until Tallutha returned to try and help slow the poison.  Arthlyn had offered Sam the same treatment, but he had, not surprisingly, refused any aid.   


            Finding herself suddenly worrying about Sam Arthlyn left Chastity and made her way down the hall to see how he was doing.  When she came to his door she saw that despite the late hour the lights were still on.  She knocked softly, but got no response.  Alarmed she invited herself inside.


            Sam was not in the room, however, it didn’t take Arthlyn more than a second to figure out where he was.  Through the closed bathroom door she could hear him retching violently.  Arthlyn’s own stomach knotted in sympathy. 


            Eventually Arthlyn heard Sam washing his face in the sink.  Knowing that he’d be coming into the room soon she turned to leave.  However, she swallowed her fear and stood her ground.  Sam came out with his face buried in a white towel which he rubbed up into his soaked hair, making it curlier than it usually was. 


            “Hello, Sam.”  Arthlyn greeted, not wanting to startle him.


            It didn’t work.  Not expecting the company he jumped at the sound of the Nymph’s voice.  Sam welded his eyes shut and swallowed convulsively to keep from going into another fit of dry heaving.  When he had himself under control again he glared at Arthlyn angrily.


            “Come to watch me die?”  Sam snarled. 


            “No, I...”


            “Then go away.”


            “I want to help.”


            “You’ve done quite enough already, thank you.”  Sam said sarcastically.  He coughed against the back of his hand, spattering it with blood.  He looked at it with annoyance more than anything else.  


            “If you would only let us put you to sleep like Chastity...”


            “For better or worse, if these are to be my last days I want to experience them.”  Sam rubbed the blood off his hand with the towel and then dropped it.


            “Is there any...”


            “The only thing you can do for me is to leave me alone!”


            Arthlyn’s eyes brightened with near shed tears.  The past ten years had been stressful enough with Tallutha being so distant, but now with the coming of these strangers, and Chastity dying, and Tallutha gone was getting to be too much. 


            “Wait, don’t do that.”  Sam said in alarm when he saw her drawing dangerously close to tears.   “I didn’t mean to yell at you, it’s just I’m worried about Ithican.”


            “Ithican?”  Arthlyn repeated a touch surprised.  “You’re the one who’s dying.” 


            “Yeah, but I’m not the one alone in the woods with Tallutha.”  Sam replied with a weak smile.  


            “Tallutha’s taking a great risk by going out there.”  Arthlyn said defensively.  “Ithican could easily...could...”  She didn’t know exactly how to end her sentence, but she found she didn’t have to.


            “No, you’re wrong.”  Sam shook his head and instantly regretted doing so.  Not sure how much longer he’d be able to stand he sat on the edge of the bed with one hand pressed against his stomach.  “Ithican won’t touch her, in fact I’m confidant that he’ll protect her with his life if that’s what it takes.”


            “How can you be so sure?”


            “He has an, at times infuriating, habit of putting everyone else’s life above his own.  When you travel with someone for three years you get to know these things.” 


            “Three years?  Don’t you have homes in the Upper World?”


            “Not really.”


            “How bizarre.”


            “I didn’t mean that no one has them.”  Sam corrected.  “It’s just that Ithican and I don’t, not anymore anyway.”    


            “What happened?”  Arthlyn asked, her fear giving way to curiosity.


            “Ithican’s story is his own, I have no right to share it with you.” 


            “What about you?”


            “No big secrets there.”  Sam shrugged.  “After nearly fifty year of taking care of an increasingly insane mother, in a town that had betrayed my father, and despised me, I did the sensible thing and left.”


            “Left?  What about your mother?”  Arthlyn asked appalled.


            “She’s dead.  After my father was killed my responsibility to her was the only thing that kept me in that miserable town.”  Sam pressed his hand harder against his stomach to try and quell its rebellion.  “Why are we talking about this?  It doesn’t matter.”


            “I’m sorry, I’m just curious.”


            “Yeah, well remember what happened to that cat.”  Sam said darkly.


            Arthlyn gave him a confused looked. 


            “You know: curiosity ki...nevermind.”  Sam decided against explaining, he didn’t have the energy for it.  He laid down on the bed he’d been sitting on, hoping that the Mistress would take the hint and go away.


            Arthlyn watched Sam anxiously for a moment.  He wrapped both arms over his stomach as his already irregular breathing quickened.  Arthlyn’s own heart started to race.  He was obviously in pain, but she didn’t know what to do. 


            “I’m sorry about all this, but Tallutha was only doing what she thought was right.”  Arthlyn tried to explain to alleviate her guilt.


            Sam chuckled to himself, causing Arthlyn to flush in anger and embarrassment.  The mirthful noise quickly degraded into coughing.  He sat back up and tried to bring his breathing back under his control.  


            “What’s so funny?!”  She demanded, ignoring Sam discomfort.  “Tallutha only wanted to protect us!”


            “You’re so naive,”  Sam growled, struggling for breath  “she wasn’t trying to protect anyone, if she had she would have let us leave yesterday morning.”


            “We explained that,”  Arthlyn said defensively  “we couldn’t risk tell anyone where we are.”


            “But she thought she’d poisoned us both.”  Sam swallowed against the bile at the back of his throat.  “Your secrete would have died in the woods with us.”


            “Then why...”  Arthlyn trailed off. 


            Arthlyn stared at the Sam in horror as the realization of Tallutha’s motives struck her.  His sky-blue eyes had clouded over with pain.  He was quickly losing the fight to hide the damage the Yaritine was doing.  A sudden jab of nausea forced Sam into another fit of dry heaves.  Arthlyn’s heart jumped at the display of suffering.    


            “Tallutha wanted to watch this...”  Arthlyn whispered.






            Two of the three moons looked down at Tallutha with a cold indifferent stare.  In the past she had been more comfortable at night than during the day when she was visiting the Upper World.  The darkness helped close in open space around her.  Now however the night only mocked her. 


            They had searched without rest all day through the thick forest.  They hadn’t come across so much as a trace of the Myris Root.  They were running out of time, but the diurnal nature of the plant forced them to wait till morning to continue the hunt.  Trying to distract herself Tallutha played with her ring, absent mindedly twisting it around and around. 


            Catching herself performing the nervous ritual from her childhood Tallutha looked up and found Ithican guilty of a similar crime.  His onyx and pearl hair had long since freed itself from the leather binding.  Ithican muttered something to himself and pushed his hair out of his eyes once more. 


            “Why do you wear that there?”  Tallutha asked suddenly.




            “That ring, around your neck.  I hadn’t noticed it before.”  Tallutha got up and moved over to where Ithican was sitting. 


            “It’s nothing.” 


            Tallutha reached out to take the ring to get a better look at it.  Ithican pulled away sharply. 


            “I’m not going to hurt you.”  Tallutha said the words before she even thought about them.


            “Why should I believe you?”  Ithican snarled. He tucked the necklace into his shirt.  “Your own daughter is dying at your hand right now.”


            “That was a mistake!”


            “Exactly!  You’ve already tried to kill me once.”


            “I was trying to save my people!”


            “No, you were trying to make Sam and I to pay for someone else’s crimes!  Don’t think that I don’t know what happened to you.  It’s obvious, and I’m sorry it happened, but we had nothing to do with it!”


            “You have no idea what I’ve been through!  I couldn’t take the risk of putting the rest of the Nymphs in that kind of danger!”


            “Then you could have at least had the common decency to use something quick.  There is no excuse for the sheer cruelty of your actions.  No one deserves to die at the hands of Yaritine, Chastity least of all!”


            The ice in Tallutha’s eyes melted into tears.  She scrambled to her feet and dashed off into the dark forest.  Ithican swore to himself and took chase.  He knew how to make his own way back to the Nymph cave, but he certainly would not be welcome if he came back alone. 


            Tallutha was quick, but she didn’t go very far.  Ithican found her sitting at the base of a large moss covered boulder.  She looked just as miserable as he felt.  She had seemed so calm and so distant that it had been easy for him to forget that they were both losing someone, and in her case she had to deal with guilt as well as grief.


            “I’m sorry Tallutha, I...”


            “No,”  Tallutha replied trying to dry her tears  “you’re right.  There’s no excuse.”


            “Let’s try not to worry about that now.  We still have some time, if we can find the Myris by midday tomorrow we can make it back in time.”


            “We have to, we have to make it in time.  I...I can’t bare to lose another child.”




            “Chastity was my first, but not my only.  Although I suppose I have no real right to call her ‘mine’.”  Tallutha sighed.  “The term ‘Nymph’ is more of a lifestyle, than anything else.  Every few decades we must come to the Upper World to add to our population.”


            “You must have taken Chastity when she was very young.”


            “They are all taken young enough to be raised in innocents.”


            “You mean in ignorance.” 


            “We rescue them!”  Tallutha said defensively. 


            “There is a dif...”  Ithican started to reply before catching himself -no sense in starting another fight. 


            “I will admit that Chastity isn’t of Arthlyn’s or my blood, but we love her as though she was.”  Tears spilt down Tallutha’s cheeks once more.  “The child that I lost was different.  Ten years ago I went on a Gathering to bring another into the Nymph fold.  Only someone found me first...”


            “I understand what happened, you don’t have to explain.”


            “Thank you.”  Tallutha whispered.  “I could have gotten over it, if it had ended there.  But it didn’t.  I got sick, terribly sick and then I started gaining weight.”


            “You weren’t sick, you were pregnant.”


            “I slowly figured that out, and I considered it worse than any disease.  Terrified that the others would figure out what had happened I left to have the child alone.  After...”


            Tallutha feel silent and then broke down into tears that shook her delicate frame.  Ithican knelt down in front of her and hesitantly brushed at her midnight hair.  Forgetting her fear she sought comfort in his presence.  Ithican found Tallutha in his arms crying against his chest before he had time to react.  He instinctively held her closer and rocked gently trying to calm to hysterical Nymph.


            “It’s all right.”  Ithican whispered. 


            “No, it isn’t.”  Tallutha cried.  “I’ve been so quick to judge, when I’m the only guilty one.”


            “For what it’s worth I understand why you fear us so much, and I can forgive you for that.”


            “You can’t forgive me for what I’ve done!”  Tallutha snarled.  “I’m a murder, I’m everything the Nymphs have tried to escape from!”


            “You haven’t murdered anyone yet, we can still save them.”


            “You can’t save my son!”




            “The child I carried was male, and I abandoned him in the woods to die because of it.”         





            “How’s Chastity doing?”


            “Better than you.”


            “That’s not saying much.”  Sam joked with a weak smile.


            Arthlyn looked down at Sam who was sitting on the floor with his back against the smooth stone wall.  He had long since given up on trying to keep the sweat off his skin and his medium length hair hung in heavy wet locks.  He had taken off his belt for some reason and it lay on the floor next to him.


            “You should be in bed.”  Arthlyn chastised.


            “If I lay down I’ll just fall asleep.” 


            “And that’s a bad thing?”


            “It is when you don’t think you’ll wake up.” 


            Arthlyn didn’t know what to say at first.  She had come to see him for a reason, but now that she was here she didn’t know how to broach the subject.  Any hope she had of coming up with a graceful shift in the conversation was interrupted by Sam suddenly gasping sharply.


            “What’s wrong?”  Arthlyn asked automatically.


            “You should leave.”  Sam panted. 


            “I...I wanted to talk to you.”


            “Not now.”  Sam growled.  He wrapped his arms over his stomach and leaned forward.  “Go away!”


            Ignoring the request Arthlyn reached down and gently put her hand on his shoulder.  Sam jerked away from the contact.  He flashed her a brief look of annoyance as he started to tremble.  Unable to wait any longer for Arthlyn to leave he snatched up the leather belt and bit down on it.


            Arthlyn could almost feel the intensity of Sam’s fit rise herself.  His muscles tensed to the point where she could clearly see the definition of each one as the tendons pulled them tight against the skin.  An uncontrollable shiver ran down Arthlyn’s spine when Sam finally cried out, a deep growling sound muffled by the belt he still chewed on.  Arthlyn broke into tears and sat down on the stone floor.


            “I asked you to leave,”  Sam whispered after the tide had subsided  “I warned you.”


            “I know.”  Arthlyn replied, brushing away her tears.  “Are you all right now?”


            “For the moment.” 


            “Things are such a mess,”  Arthlyn whimpered.  “I don’t know what to do.”


            “Just promise me that you’ll let Ithican go when he comes back.”


            “You think that we wouldn’t?”  Arthlyn asked indignantly.


            “No one ever told us that we’d gain our freedom by saving Chastity.  I have the feeling that Tallutha went with Ithican to make sure that he’d come back, if so she’s not going to just let him walk away from here.”


            “Don’t worry about Tallutha.”  Arthlyn said coldly. 


            “It’s hard not to.”


            “I know and I will never forgive her for what has happened.  It is obvious that you and your friend are not the violent, unthinking creatures that she accused you of being.  That’s what I came here to tell you, I wanted you to know that she is not going to be welcome back.”


            “What are you talking about?”


            “I’m exiling Tallutha.”  Arthlyn stated firmly.  “As Mistress and her partner it is my right, the Council can not refuse me.  And if Chastity dies they won’t even try.”


            Sam studied Arthlyn for a moment.  Her tear reddened eyes gleamed with resolve.  Leaning back against the cool wall Sam closed his eyes and sighed heavily.  He muttered something to himself that Arthlyn couldn’t understand then trained his blue eyes on her once more.


            “Don’t do that.”


            “What?”  Arthlyn asked surprised.  “Why not?”


            “Do you know how she got that scar?”


            “No, she won’t talk about it.  All I know is that it happened in the Upper World.”


            “Well, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened.  It doesn’t justify what she’s done, but it does explain it.”  Sam shook his head, unable to believe that he was saying this.  “In the end I can’t blame her.”


            “Can’t blame her?  She tried to kill you!”


            “And she might still succeed, but that’s not the point.  The point is that if the Nymphs had brought almost any other male here they would have been in big trouble, and Tallutha would have been in the right.  You’ve just happened to have pulled this trick on Ithican and I.  We are the exception to just about every rule...actually I take that back: Ithican is the exception.”


            “I don’t know what you mean by that.”


            “Three years ago I found my conscience, picked him up out of the snow actually.  Looking back on it I’m not even sure why I did it.”  Sam mused to himself.  “I guess I just don’t like seeing someone out numbered in a fight...”


            “Sam, you’re rambling.”  Arthlyn said with concern.  “I’m getting the Magi.”


            “No, wait, I have a point.  All I’m saying is that if you had stumbled across me three years ago things would have turned out a lot differently.  I certainly would never force myself on anyone, however, you have a lot of curious young ladies here.  I’m sure I would have persuaded the innocents away from more than one, and that’s exactly what Tallutha fears.”


            “I don’t understand.”


            “That’s why it would have been so easy.”  Sam smiled.  “I’m not about to explain it to you, all you really need to know is that Tallutha isn’t as ‘evil’ as you may think.  She may have been a bit too hungry for revenge, but at the same time she has excellent reason for it, men can be very dangerous.” 


            “You realize that you are practically admitting guilt to save her.”


            “I understand that.”


            “I would think that you’d want her punished, that’s why I wanted to tell you.  Why are you defending her?”


            “Because I told Ithican that I wouldn’t do anything he wouldn’t do while he was away.  And he’s the last person I know who would stand by and let someone be exiled for doing something that they thought was right.”






            Ithican woke gently without opening his eyes.  A near intoxicating sent filled his senses, a mellow sweet smell that all women seem to share.  He automatically pulled the delicate creature spooned up against him closer.  Lazily opening half awake eyes all he could see was her black hair, shining in the light of the new dawn.  Nuzzling at her neck Ithican pushed her hair away from her ivory skin.  He gently bit the exposed area to wake her, as he had done for forty-seven years.


            Tallutha’s sudden cry of panic violently assaulted Ithican’s sensitive hearing.  Although instantly jolted awake it still took him a moment to figure out his mistake.  Tallutha had cried herself to exhaustion last night and they had fallen asleep together.  Somehow this morning Ithican had found it so easy to dismiss the last three years of his life as a bad dream.


            However, this was not Llandra, and she did not appreciate the affection.  Tallutha jabbed Ithican in the ribs to free herself.  She sprang to her feet and darted off in a random direction.  Ithican was up just as quickly and easily out paced her.  When he grabbed one of her wrists to stop her she whipped around with a speed that he didn’t think Humans capable of and slapped him savagely.


            “I deserved that.”  Ithican admitted after seizing her other wrist as well. 


            Tallutha struggled for a second and then screamed at the top of her lungs.  Ithican cringed at the painfully loud protest.   


            “Stop that!”  He insisted.  “Please, let me explain.  Before you ruin my hearing.”


            “There is nothing you can say!”  Tallutha cried angrily.  “I knew it would come to this!”


            “No, no wait, I simply made a mistake.  Remember when I told you the ring on my necklace didn’t mean anything?  I lied, it means everything to me, it’s a wedding band.  It’s been over three years since my wife died and I still wake up every morning expecting to find her next to me.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any harm.”  


            Ithican kept Tallutha captive while she thought about what he’d said.  Tears still slipped down her cheeks, but she started to calm down.  Ithican was about to release the Nymph when her eyes widened in obvious terror. 


            “Let her go.”  A deep voice demanded.


            Ithican cursed under his breath as a sword point pressed against his back.  The affects of Tallutha’s screaming still rang in his ears and he hadn’t heard the new comer approaching.  Tallutha started to tremble and fought against his grip weakly.


            “Let her go, now!” 


            “Tallutha,”  Ithican said quietly  “I’m going to let you go, but please don’t run.”


            Ithican wasn’t sure if it was Tallutha’s courage or fear that kept her from running away instantly.  Whatever it was, it didn’t last long.  Keeping her eyes on the stranger she took three steps back and then she turned and fled.  Ithican sighed.


            “Don’t move, scum!”


            “This isn’t what you think.”  Ithican tried to explain. 


            “It’s exactly what I think it is: a woman screaming bloody murder at the hands of an Elf.”


            Ithican grit his teeth in frustration.  “I wasn’t goi...”


            “Enough!”  The newcomer spat.  “If you are interested in a clean death I’d turn around if I were you.  Otherwise...”


            It was obvious that the stranger had never fought with an Elf before.  Anyone with any experience would never give one an inch of leeway.  Ithican snapped around and kicked what turned out to be a young Human in the chest.  The man staggered back a few feet, but managed to keep his balance. 


            “If you’ll just hear me out...”  Ithican had hoped that knocking the wind out of the stranger would make him think twice about fighting him.


            “I’m not going to let you live to hurt her!” 


            The young man came at Ithican once more.  Reluctant to draw his sword and start a true fight to the death Ithican simply dodged the attack.  He managed to back away from a few more swings.  However the Human had some skill with a weapon and eventually forced Ithican to defend himself with steel.  


            Drawing the sword Arthlyn had given to him Ithican had planned to simply maneuver his opponent into a bloodless surrender.  However, he quickly remembered that when Arthlyn had handed him a weapon, it hadn’t been his own.  He hadn’t thought it mattered much at the time, but now he found that Sam’s blade was quite a bit heavier than one he’d been practicing with.


            It was too late for him to try and get at his Tarrin, he was already committed to using the sword.  He was skilled enough to use it to defend himself with it, but when he used it to get under the Human’s guard the unexpected weight of Sam’s weapon pulled him too far forward and he drove the point deep into the young man’s shoulder.


            The Human cried out in pain and pressed his free hand against the wound.  Ithican hadn’t been trying to draw blood, he had just wanted to get the Human into a position where he’d have to listen to reason.  He had made mistakes like this in the Tarrin Games before, and accidentally wounded opponents.  Swordplay is a game of inches, and fighting with an unfamiliar weapon almost always leads to mistakes.


            Ignoring the last thing Sam had tried to teach him Ithican instinctively stepped forward to help the injured man.  In the Games it had always been considered good sportsmanship to forfeit any Tarrin Duel that came to blood. 


            The Human, understandably, did not think this was a Game.  When Ithican came closer the man swung violently at him.  Ithican jerked back to avoid the sharp blade.  Seeing that the Elf was off balance the Human used the hilt of his sword to knock Ithican to the ground. 


            Ithican landed on his back hard.  Knowing that he wouldn’t have time to recover he braced himself for the strike.  When he survived the next few moments he looked up and found that something else had captured the young man’s attention.  Not questioning it Ithican used his legs to bring the Human down to the dirt as well. 


            Jumping up Ithican pinned the shocked man to the ground  and backhanded him across the temple hard enough to knock him out.  Ithican held still for a moment to make sure the fight was over.  Getting off the unconscious man he sat next to him and breathed a sigh of relief.  When Ithican looked up he found himself momentarily spellbound by the same distraction that had saved his life. 


            Tallutha was standing ten feet away wearing nothing more than a delicate silver necklace.  A lifetime of living underground made her skin look like pure white marble -a living statue of beauty.  When she saw that her trick had worked and that it was now Ithican who was staring at her she blushed furiously. 


            “I...I didn’t know what else to do.”  Tallutha stuttered. 


            “It worked perfectly, thank you.”


            Ithican looked away and turned his attention to the Human.   Tallutha gathered up her dress.  She put it back on and watched as Ithican ripped open the stranger’s shirt.  She gasped at the sight of the bright blood that seeped from his shoulder.  Ithican pressed his hand against the wound.


            “In my pack is a glass bottle with some oil and leaves in it, please bring it over here.”  Ithican instructed.


            Tallutha hesitated for a moment, but then fetched the bottle.  It had about a dozen long leaves in it that were soaking in an amber liquid.   


            “I need one of the leaves.”  


            Tallutha opened the bottle and wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell.  She fished one of the thick leaves out of the oil.  She handed it to Ithican, who took it with a blood soaked hand.  He rubbed the leaf between his palms till the white sap inside the leaf and the oil had mixed into a sticky paste.  He pressed the mixture against the Human’s injured shoulder and held it there.


            “What are you doing?”  Tallutha finally asked.


            “Stopping the bleeding, the oil will help prevent infection as well.  I didn’t mean to cut him so deeply.” 


            “You weren’t trying to kill him?”




            “Why not?  He would have killed you.”


            “He was just trying to protect you.” 


            “Protect me?  From who?”


            “From me.”


            Tallutha didn’t know how to respond so she just watched silently as Ithican ripped strips out of the man’s shirt and used them to bandage the wound that he had inflicted.  The sap and oil worked quickly and the bleeding had already stopped.  Although he had lost a lot of blood in a short period of time.  Tallutha got the feeling that he would have died if Ithican hadn’t helped him. 


            “Are you a Magi?”  Tallutha asked.


            “Sort of.”  Ithican replied vaguely.


            “’Sort of’?”


            “I never finished my apprenticeship.”  Ithican tied off the makeshift bandage.


            “Why not?”


            “That’s a story I’d rather not tell.”  Ithican looked up to see how far the sun had made it into the sky.  “He’ll dehydrate if we leave him here.”


            Ithican gathered the Human up as gently as he could.  Tallutha watched him carry the man over into the shade of one of the many large rock outcroppings.  Looking at the position of the sun herself she realized that he was wasting daylight helping a stranger while his friend ran out of time.  Ashamed of all the trouble she’d caused she bowed her head and stared down at the dirt where the man had been laying.  Something caught her eye, she bent down and picked it up.


            “Ithican, what’s this?”


            “You know that is the first time you’ve used my na...”


            Ithican stopped cold when Tallutha held up a small pink flower of the Myris Root. 







            Sam groaned and swallowed against a disgustingly bitter taste.  He experimentally opened his eyes and stared up at the stone ceiling.  He was briefly annoyed by the fact that he wasn’t dead yet.  He realized that he must have some how taken Arthlyn’s advice because he found himself in bed.  Sam tried to sit up but someone quickly stopped him. 


            “Good morning, Sunshine.” 


            “That’s my line.”  Sam replied looking over at Ithican with a weak smile.


            “How are you feeling?”




            “Well, I guess we can’t expect you to bounce back instantly.  It will probably be a month or two before you’re truly healed.  Arthlyn’s going to let us stay here till then.”


            “Where’s Tallutha?”  Sam asked, suddenly remembering.  “Arthly...”  Sam had tried to sit up again and Ithican had easily forced him back down.


            “It’s all right, Tallutha’s fine.  Arthlyn told me what happened.  It was very forgiving of you to help her like that.”


            “I wouldn’t wish exile on my worst enemy, it’s a terrible fate.”


            “It has it’s ups and downs.”  Ithican admited with a smile.  


            Sam laughed.  Arthlyn stepped into the room, surprised to find the pair in high spirits. 


            “Hello, Arthlyn.”  Sam greeted.  “How’s Chastity?”


            “She’s going to be just fine.”  Arthlyn blushed.  “So is Tallutha, she’s almost back to the woman I used to know.”


            “I think I’d like to keep my innocence on what you mean by that.”  Sam laughed.


            Arthlyn blushed even harder.


            “Arthlyn, why don’t you go see if you can find something for Sam to eat?”  Ithican asked coming to the Nymph’s rescue. 


            “All right.”  


            “Actually, I’d rather just get some more sleep.”  Sam intervened.


            “That’s fine too.”  Ithican conceded and went to leave with Arthlyn.  He stopped in the doorway and turned around.   






            “Happy Birthday.”