“So, are you here to move me to better quarters?” I ask Mýldir.
He laughs. “No, not yet. That’s not my decision. I just wanted to talk to you. To find out a few things about you.”
He looks at me intently.
“I understand you’ve been given a rough idea of our plan. What do you think about what we’re doing?”
His question feels like a test. For once, I weigh my words before answering.
“I want out of this hellhole. Everyone does. It’s what we dream of when we’re young, before reality crushes it out of us. So, what do I think of your plan to set the elves of Elftown free? It’s great. If it works.”
“Oh, it’ll work.” His eyes light up with sparks of excitement.
“Getting everyone through the walls will be tough enough. What about after?”
“We’ve planned for that. Rien’s blades will clear a way through the human fishing village outside the walls to the bridge crossing the river, take the river guardhouses by surprise and hold them long enough for the escaping elves to make it across. We will lead the elves north along the coast. We have a ship with food to accompany us and others to join us later. A few days travel and we will reach wild lands. Ruran influence doesn’t extend as far north as it used to. The empire is crumbling. Within a few days, we should be safe from pursuit. If there is any.”
The elf rubs his hands together like some deranged goblin shaman.
“See, they’ll be busy with a few problems of their own. More than a few, if I have my way. Which brings me to my second question. How do you feel about fire?”
“I like fire,” I say. “It’s warm. Good for cooking. And destruction.”
“Exactly!” Mýldir says. “Destruction!” He giggles. Elf looks like he’s taken too many of his own mis-mixed potions. He leans forwards, grabs my wrist and whispers.
“How would you like to help me burn Elftown down to the mud?”
I think I like where this conversation is going.
“Every day, I dream of burning this place to ashes,” I reply. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
“Good,” he says, looking pleased. "Do you have any experience with alchemy?”
I shake my head.
“No. Closest to it are my efforts at brewing ale, which have had poor results. But I’ll learn. Put me to work.” At this point, I would probably say anything to get out of this cell. The inactivity is tedious and frustrating. But I’m not lying about my enthusiasm. Seeing Elftown burn has been a desire of mine. Sometimes with every elf in it. I’d best leave that part to myself, though. Heh.
“Are you good with your hands? Or clumsy?”
“I’m not clumsy. You can’t be, and blade-fight two-handed.”
He nods his head frenetically.
“You’ll do. Now, if I can just convince the big guys to let you out of here, you can get to work helping me plant some incendiary bombs.”
“That’d be great. This cell is boring as slime.”
He moves to the cell door.
“Hey,” I call after him, “Why me?”
He pauses at the door.
“I need someone with brains and a light touch. I hear you have both, even if you don’t always use them.” He smirks again. “I’ll be there to make sure you don’t blow yourself up. We don’t want to lose our bard.”
“I’m not a bard,” I snarl, but he’s already closing the cell door.
Two hours later, I get a visit from Lynae.
She walks into the cell like she walked out of the map room
at the beginning of this mess. Beautiful, confident, copper hair and eyes
burnished by the light of the oil lamp. She smiles, half alluring, half
abashed. I struggle to hold on to my anger at her betrayal. Her description of
my skills as mundane. Her lack of faith in my trustworthiness. Weighing against
these are those three little words she said earlier. I like him.
I like him.
“Arquë,” she says softly.
Except there weren’t three words. There were four words. I like him, but . . . . And moments later she had been willing to kill me.
“You’re a ruthless snake,” I say.
“Maybe,” she says, sliding her hand under her hair to rub the back of her neck. “But at least it’s for a good cause.”
She moves in close. I stand, unyielding in my hostility, even though I know her good opinion may be essential to my survival.
“Arq, the singer of the songs of the elven people. I would never have guessed.” Lynae says. “But maybe you feel the same way about me being a liberator. It seems we both kept secrets from each other.”
“Yeah,” I snarl. “But I didn’t try to kill you to keep my secret.”