SAGE AND EGGS
Alcon was a limpid fool, but Briera was sharp as ever. Enlisting the help of children had been a good idea. Their elfling eyes were clearer than ours and missed less of the minutiae. But so help me, if Alcon failed to keep them in line (the blonde one almost picked up that cell phone!) someone was going to bleed.
I failed to contain my rage as we parted ways with Sheera and the other limpid chumper.
“Drop the quizbrow,” Briera hissed, flashing her tooth ivory-white. “Alcon is the best we have at the moment. Mind you do not forget where you came from, or who took your name.”
“Took?” I flashed my own sharpened denture - a fine tooth of silver - and spat errantly. “As like my name was a golden bracelet, Briera of Charm? You understand as well as I, that that cell phone was but one of a thousand thousand trinkets carelessly left, but more carelessly stolen - just for the fun of it? - from places much lighter than this mountain. A scrap of paper could be deadly, let alone such a device.”
“I said drop it,” Briera hissed more sharply still.
“But you didn’t, did you?” I pressed. “You took that bracelet and hid it in your hair, and I do believe it is still there. Am I mistaken?”
I was angry. I thought that made me special. To add further insult I tapped a tree three times, and roused the crows perched above us in a cloud of black caws, which was a mistake.
Briera leapt forward two steps quicker than our traveling pace and landed on the end of an old oak limb, a weapon buried in leaves. Her weight levered the other end up like a hoof through the yellow carpet, almost catching me by the knee.
I jumped, and dodged the blow, only to find a second bough on its way towards my cranium. I was forced to spin away, leading with my momentum behind me, except the landing came early. She rolled the club under my feet and rolled it again, stealing my balance as easily as she stole my you-know-what all those years ago.
I landed very hard.
When I woke, there were three elflings staring down at me through the starlight. I sat up, dizzy.
“Where are the others?” I asked.
The elflings each found a stool and sat with me beside the fire.
“The Chieftaness left traveling East.”
“He travels North.”
“He has decided to leave us with you.”
“After Chieftaness Briera ordered it so,” the blonde one said lightly.
Who knew an elf could get so angry, or be so stupid? Chieftaness Briera… well, she had proven herself more than qualified. I breathed heavily of the night air. This was a fitting punishment.
“Journey?” the broad one asked. “What is a cell phone?”
“It’s magic,” the grey one said, kneeling to put another stick across the flames.
“Not our magic,” the blonde one said. She handed me a cold tonic. I thanked her kindly.
“But it’s not,” said the first. “It’s not magic at all. What is it, Journey?”
“Is that the same as contraband?”
“Is all contraband bad?”
“Yes, sadly. But some objects are worse. A cell phone is… particularly bad. But there is much worse contraband than a cell phone.”
“A love letter stolen before it arrives. The only key to a friend’s apartment.”
“A car. A truck. A jetliner. A cruise ship. A spaceship. A planet. A galaxy.”
“Could those really be brought to our side?”
“But why?” Fylchuk asked pointedly. Her lips twitched. “Everyone has stolen something from the humans. Even the high priest wears a shoelace around his wrist.”
“You’re right. We’re all bad, sadly, but as I said, some objects are worse than others. These things have stories attached to them, stories with consequences.”
“So then, what are you carrying?”
“This is something I stole from a man named Madrijian who lived in Madrid under an old statue.” I produced a telescopic pocket jigger of silver and passed it around.
“Is this cold iron?” Fylchuk asked with dread and glee.
“It’s silver,” the broad one said, reaching forward.
The grey one studied it in the light. “So then, on a scale of badness, how bad is this contraband?”
“Two acres,” I said. “That’s two acres torn from the land with bulldozers and drills and saws.”
“That’s not much,” said the broad one, taking his turn with the object in the light.
“You’re right,” I said. “The Deepest Forest is immeasurably huge. Billions of acres, probably. But that object represents two acres that will never grow back again, not as they are, which is how they have always been. Those hoops of silver represent two acres of warthog, raven, therma-beetle, tumble-dodger, quail, owl, and tree dream alike. I don’t carry it lightly.”
“I am carrying this,” said the grey. “Tell me. How many acres?”
He produced a gold coin.
The others froze like possums. They looked neither his way, nor mine.
“Not my specialty,” I said plainly. “But an object’s weight has something to do with it. What about you?” I asked the broad one. “Are you carrying contraband?”
“No way, sir.”
“Pleacock,” laughed Fylchuk.
“And you?” I turned to her.
“Not me neither, but Nevamur’s carrying an energy car wrapper.”
“I found it,” she laughed, and pointed across the flames. “It’s in your bag. Hidden pocket. I win.”
“Energy bar,” he scowled at her. “Fine. How many acres?” he asked, eyes trembling.
“May I see it?”
He produced the wrapper and handed it my way. I sniffed the thing. “Not my specialty. I can tell you that the story of this object is very simple, and very short, but that may be exactly what we’re looking for out here. This could be good. You see, there is water bound to this object. If any of it is magic, that would be important to know. Every molecule has a story.”
But there was no magic water in the wrapper that I could smell. I gave it back. The young man looked sullen. His lover laughed at him. “So what makes a cell phone so bad?”
“Something like a cell phone, something with a very long and complicated story, can erase other much simpler tales. Does that make any sense to you? If you say yes, you’re fooled. The truth is it doesn’t make sense to anyone. It’s actually a very tricky paradox. All we really know is that simple stories are what keep elves like us alive.”
“And whiskey,” said Fylchuk.
On cue, the grey one produced a bottle of fine elven grog. An hour later, all was forgotten as sand. The night passed, long and cold, and bright with the heavens. We sat for a long time together. I explained where cell phones came from. I explained the walls that held humanity back from our land, the Deep Forest. I explained stories, and they each explained them back to me. We ate eggs with fried sage the next morning, before Alcon returned.
Then we parted ways, moving separately but as one, and I followed the ridge as far as it took me. Below, a valley stretched through fallen trees. I followed their outlines down to a river. Something sparkled - magic water. Impossible! I ran through the leaves, and retrieved a rusted bottle cap, filled to the brim with dew.
A bug upon my neck. I flicked it off. A tree, and behind it a stag. I was seeing widdershins. Sheera appeared and disappeared like photography. An hour passed.
“Where did you come from?” the thimbleful asked me.
“I have come from the sun and shine for thee as brightly as I can be.”
“And where do you think you’re going now?”
“To find you,” I replied.
“And now that you have?”
“It is my job to learn how you got here. How did you flow so far from home? Is there a crack in the dam?”
“I’m just water,” the water laughed.
It was nighttime again.
My hands were shaking from the cold and from standing still. Four, five drops of magic water slipped over the edge of the bottle cap and landed on a leaf. A breeze caught the leaf, and the water flitted away. The rest I carefully kept, free to move once more.
I flipped the bottle cap and read the imprint on its side. Just a date, but that was something. The hunt was on, and I the hunter, for this little magic’s story.
This is Patrick Murray's first publication. He was once called a poet by Spider-Man, which was nice.