The other elf looks at me candidly. I get the sense I am seeing Mýldir for the first time – the real elf – not the shady, incompetent back alley herbalist. Has his adult life all been a façade? If so, I remind myself, it was a façade which killed people.
“That is the question I asked as well,” he says. “I was told that there are two reasons. First, no one knew we had it so bad. There were a few rumors from dwarven merchants. But no one believed humans would do this to elves. We’re both civilized peoples. Second, no one wanted to break the treaty. The benefits of the prisoner retention have been significant.”
“Benefits?” I snarl. “What possible benefits did the elves get from our ancestors being kept by the humans? Money? Territory? What was so valuable that our suffering was traded for it?”
He shakes his head. “No, you misunderstand. Not benefits from the humans keeping the elven prisoners of war. The benefits flowing to the elves from keeping human prisoners of war.”
“What?” I never considered this possibility. “The Elven Council retained captured humans rather than trade them for us? Why?”
“As I understand it, they desired farmers. The humans live in the southern areas of the elven lands, in lightly governed human villages, where they farm and give a share of all food produced to the elves. They are very industrious and the freedom from gathering and raising crops has allowed the elves to devote more time to intellectual and artistic pursuits.”
Bitterness seeps into his voice. “The elves and humans have a symbiotic relationship, bound by mutual feelings of friendship and trust that have developed since the war. They assumed our experience here was similar. Of course, it wasn’t.”
“When the Elven Council finally realized what it was like for us here, they resolved to act. But they could not act openly. They desire neither another war nor to upset the elven economy by losing the human villages. Any help provided had to be clandestine and untraceable to them.”
Mýldir’s restless eyes dart to my face, and then away.
“And that,” he says, scanning the tower stairs curving away beneath him, “is why they sent us the outsider.”
“The Elven Council sent Bolin the dwarf to save us?” I ask incredulously.
Mýldir turns back to me. He seems confused.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. “They didn’t send Bolin the dwarf. They sent the outsider.”
I stare back in my turn. I thought Bolin was the outsider. That’s why I returned to his lab the night after I discovered the escape tunnel. To kill him for murdering Alvar and his friends and selling their corpses to Raichon.
I feel an uncharacteristic rush of emotions as I rethink the events of that night with this new information. I could have murdered Bolin by mistake if I had arrived earlier. Maybe he would have talked me out of my false suspicion. Maybe I could have saved him and taken out his murderer.
I shake my head, clearing it. What-ifs and might-have-beens are worth exactly nothing in Elftown. Still, I am both curiously relieved to find out that Bolin was as he appeared – a good person, a positive influence here in Elftown, a friend – and newly angry that he was murdered.
And something else occurs to me. If Bolin’s not the outsider, that would explain why my desire for vengeance keeps burning, why my vows feels so unsatisfied.
“So . . . Bolin was not the outsider?”
The alchemist shakes his head. “No, of course not.”
“Then who is?” I speak softly, but my voice is full of menace. Mýldir doesn’t seem cowed. “Like I said, Arq, I can’t give you that information. I don’t have permission. You want it, you’re going to have to go higher up the ladder than me.”
“Which would be – who exactly?”
“Lynae. Rien. Raichon. That’s about it.”
I consider. He knows who the outsider is and he’s refusing to tell me. I have my blades. My brutality. I could take Mýldir down, hurt him enough to leave him barely alive, and then kill him slowly until he tells me who the outsider is. But if I do that, there will be no one to detonate the incendiaries. Hmm. Maybe I am starting to become attached to this rescue plan. I can always torture and kill him after the escape, if necessary. Besides, I suppose I ought to try to find out the outsider’s identity without killing someone. Maybe if I chat up Lynae some more, she will tell me. Heh. As if that’s likely.
Mýldir rises jerkily.
“Come on,” he says. “Time to get back. Have a bite to eat and get some sleep. Tomorrow’s the big day. Rest will be hard to come by then and even more so in the days following when we flee north. Take what you can get now.”