The Unknown Betrayal

Chapter 1

My mother was the only family I had ever known. Though my time with her was short, she had cared for me dearly. It was by pure coincidence that I did not also die in that old farm house. I was found by a teenage boy, who was delivering a letter to my mother on that fateful day. The neighbors took over my land and sold me off as a slave.

This slave encampment had been my prison for the past fourteen years. At about twenty, I was one of the oldest of the slaves and was still the healthiest. No one had survived as long as I had through the hard labor they made us do every day. Dark scars from the whips intertwined across my back and around my sides. Though I became accustomed to pain, I was in no way content with my life. Talk of escape was popular among the slaves. Freedom for us was a golden dream, almost a figment of our imaginations.

James, only a year younger than me, was by far my best friend and stood up for me no matter what the cost. He was devious and planned escapes daily. Though we hadn't attempted any of them, they brought us a thrill. Today, his uncle had come to visit him. After an hour the guards escorted James back out and he came to find me.

“Mathias!” James whispered in excitement. “We may be free at last! My uncle is going to try to bargain us out!”

Freedom sounded nice, but he had come to me many times before offering the same thing.

“And how might he do that?” I asked.

“He does not plan to bribe the king this time, but he sends word to look to the sky tomorrow night when the moon is highest. He wants you and I to be at the east gate,” James' voice cracked.

“We cannot go near that gate without guards firing on us! How do we escape then?”

“He told me to trust him ... I will trust him,” James said defiantly.

I sighed, “I wouldn't mind dying here soon James, but if there is a chance at all at freedom, I'll take it!”

“Matthias,” James whispered, “it is almost sunset.”

I looked up into the bright red clouds. “Yeah, when did you say he was going to break us out, again?” I asked.

He seemed to be disappointed that we were still trapped and did not answer. I followed his gaze to where he watched, longingly.

“Stop staring!” I whispered more intently, anxious. “If you stare the wall will know!”

Sighing, James returned to looking down at the ground. “Sorry Matthias, you might be right. I’m getting second thoughts,” he said, sitting cross-legged.

I joined him, very close to the roaring fire. The fire was the only thing keeping us alive through the night during the winter. Around the fire were shacks that kept the snow off the ground, when it did snow. Every once in awhile the fire would crackle and James would look up in excitement, only to grow more anxious. Then something occurred that hadn’t in a very long time.

The forest started to sing out with incredible force!

I looked at James, wondering if this was his great-grandfather at work, but he looked back in confusion. Perhaps, I thought, he didn’t notice the forest.

Then, swift as a lion chasing its prey, came a crack from the wall. A huge section was blown to pieces. Guards sprang into action, holding up their long swords that gleamed in the remaining sunlight. Two horses charged from the debris straight for our fire. James smiled for perhaps the first time since I had met him so long ago, and stood up. His great-grandfather brought the horse to his side and helped him up onto it. James reached his hand for mine, but his great-grandfather galloped away, without me. Tears ran down my cheeks; it was then that I decided to make my final escape or die. As if invisible, I ran past the guards who now held back the escaping prisoners. I looked towards the town, and saw a brigade of men coming my way on their steeds. The town was no longer a safe route.

Turning to my only escape route, I plummeted headlong into the forest. Though the trees were dense I seemed to be able to pass through them with incredible ease. I ran until my legs gave way to the strain. Then I lost my footing and dropped like a rock to the ground, my head smashing into a fallen tree. A burning sensation coursed throughout my neck, and then the blackness engulfed me.

Much later, it seemed, I awoke. My head throbbed with pain and felt moist as if I had been sweating. My muscles ached as I turned my body around to face the clear blue sky of the morning. I wiped the sweat away with my hand, and then noticed that it was not sweat but blood that I had wiped away. The burning increased and a deep desire to sleep washed over me. I remained awake, but was barley able to hold my head up. The forest seemed oddly quiet now, as if listening to my every breath. Animals would stop and stare at me before they passed on, all leaving in the same direction. When the sun had risen fully, and my frost-bitten skin had started to warm again, I headed in the direction all the animals were going, desperately hoping for some water to satisfy my thirst.

I followed the deer tracks through the forest, which led me straight to a large river. My body trembled and shook as I got on my hands and knees, bending as low as I could to drink. The forest seemed to grow in sound. Chirping birds darted my head. A wolf in the distance howled, as if the moon had been full. I looked in the water, and saw two fish, larger than full loaves of bread staring up at me. I had no time to think before I jumped in after them, hoping with all my heart that I would catch one. I was no match, though, for the frigid water. As my upper torso mixed with the water, a quick spike of cold knocked the wind out of me. My body writhed with the sudden coldness and I locked up. In fear and with the urge to survive I opened my eyes and bolted upwards but was not tall enough to reach the top of the water. Something in my body told me to flap my arms like a bird, and run like I was on tiptoe. Miraculously I seemed to be able to break the surface of the water and breathe. However, another pure shock of icy water stunned my legs and I was swept under by the current.

My eyes opened. I thought this was it. I saw a gleaming light and I knew I must be inches from meeting my Maker in heaven. This would be paradise at last! However, the light seemed to pass under me. My heart wrenched in fear. If I missed the light would I be banished to hell? With whatever strength I had left, I did everything in my power to go back to the light. I wanted heaven, eternal paradise! The current, I thought, was Satan pushing me back, wanting my soul to eat and burn in his body. My head spun and my chest began to spasm, I wanted to breathe in, but water surrounded my mouth. Just as I wanted to give up, I was within reaching distance of the light! With every ounce of strength left in my body I reached out and grabbed the light, closing my eyes.

A terrible realization came to me as I noticed it was only a stone. My lungs felt unbearably heavy, as if a large man had sat on my chest. I had no strength left to do anything. I wanted to see the sky for the very last time, to watch how beautifully the clouds had formed. Feeling foolish, I clenched onto the stone that I thought would save my life. My vision blurred and my head burned even worse now. I felt, as my body gave way to my command, branches that held me down in the water. A memory popped into my head of my mother’s smile, then darkness.

The memory of my mother seemed to stick into my thoughts. She moved, but only slightly back and forth. I remember looking up at her and I felt happy. Her finger looked huge and nuzzled my stomach. I giggled and felt my arms and legs moving up and down, side to side. But then, the door smashed open, revealing a large figure who I had not remembered before. They spoke, but their words were unrecognizable. I burst out into tears and screamed uncontrollably. My view changed to over her shoulder. I still cried, but felt a couple of soft pats on my back. Feeling comfortable I stopped. She started to sing a very familiar song, one that made me want to sleep. My vision, as clear as it was, slowly faded inwards, until all I saw or heard was her song.

I slowly came to. A warm feeling had come over my body. Cracks and pops resounded in the near area.

“Matthias! I thought… well… I thought you might be dead!” a familiar voice said.

I raised my head from the soft pillow that had been comforting my head. A large piece of cloth had been tied around my head. Opening my burning eyes I looked at James, who was fully dressed in the finest clothes.

“When I heard you had escaped I came looking for you in the forest. My conscience, guilty, I did not stop searching for you, even after nightfall. I am so sorry, brother, for leaving you behind!” James cried aloud.

I coughed, trying to speak. My throat was sore and felt as if it had been scratched on with the toughest sandpaper.

“Do not talk, I had to pump the water out of your lungs. You had swallowed quite a lot! Let it heal and dry out,” James said, his tone unchanged.

My vision was very blurry, in fact I could barley pick out James from the trees. I sat back again, resting my numb head, and yawned.

“Matthias, I need to report to my grandfather, will you be alright?” James asked quickly.

I tried to piece words together, but without a doubt I knew that he was already mounting his horse.

“I’ll be back tomorrow, I promise!” James said, and I heard him swat his steed. The horses’ hooves kicked the ground and I felt the rhythm die down as he paraded off into the unknown. I sat there, thinking not only of my pain but also of the one memory that had stuck in my head. My mother had been very beautiful; I didn’t know why she had been killed. I knew nothing of my father, not even a vague memory. I thought perhaps he had been enlisted in the army and had no time to see me.

Then it occurred to me. I was still clenching the stone that I had found at the very bottom of the river. The stone that deceived me into believing I was going to heaven. My eyelids spread open and I once again raised my neck. The fire seemed to be a haze of red that dashed up and down. Angrily I threw the stone into the fire, or at least as best I could. I heard a couple taps as it bounced around on the various pieces of wood that had been set up to create the blazing fire. Again the picture of my mother appeared, this time stronger and clearer than ever. As she held me up on her shoulder and patted my back, I heard again the song she used to sing. Silently I mumbled it to myself. My throat was in no condition to sing at her level, or at any level to be specific. The words came out as if they were an ordinary simple sentence. As I finished, the forest exploded with sound.

From the largest predator to the smallest pray, all the creatures in the forest sang a melody in rhythm unlike any other. The melody was soft and smooth, a melody that seemed to make all else fade away. The fire, as blurry as it was, flickered to the rhythm. A light, brighter than any other, shone inside the fire. The fire was sizzling, as if someone had put water on it, yet the flames stood high and tall. Then, as the melody increased, so did the flames. The flames started to create a humanistic figure, a female. The forest drowned out my thoughts entirely as the sound got more intense to the point where I could feel my skin vibrating. It was as if every animal was standing around me, shouting whatever sound it was making straight into my ears. The image of this female grew stronger and stronger. Suddenly, the image and the fire flashed and died, and the music of the forest died as well. A buzzing sound stuck in my head, irritating me. I noticed just then that the figure had stayed put. It moved, frightening me. I tried to stand up but my body was drained as if I had just been running for my life. I breathed quickly, fearing the worst. A hand touched my head, and a soothing relaxation came over me. I was not able to think, speak, or control any part of my body. I just stared endlessly up into the sky.

The hand was removed, and a female voice broke the silence.

“Rest, friend,” she said, softly. “You are safe now.”

I tried to stay awake, but as the time progressed my eyelids began to bear the weight of the day’s trials. Slowly I fell asleep, knowing full well that whatever had appeared out of the fire was right at my side.

* * *

As I started to awaken, a deep fear sprang to life within my heart. I had witnessed a girl standing in the fire, fire that would burn your skin if you dared to touch it. I acted as if I were asleep, but peered around through a crack in my eyelids. As my eyes fell upon the rekindled fire, I saw the woman’s back. She had tattered clothing that might once have been a very fine, very tight, green dress. Her straight, dirty blond hair stretched to the middle of her back. My fear dulled a little and a wave of courage overwhelmed me. Opening my eyes, I sat upright to view her and the fire.

“Hello?” I said boldly.

She spun around surprised with a look of horror. “W-where am I?” she said, her dashing green eyes glaring at me.

“In the forest, I don’t know which one…” I sighed.

She wore a look of complete confusion, her eyes darted from me to the wildlife which seemed to be more quiet than ever.

“Are you a warrior?” she asked, her eyes wandering to my arms.

“No…” I paused, “I was to be a slave for all my life.”

She looked appalled. “A slave?” she asked, “We… We fought for freedom, we won that battle! There are no slaves!” Her voice cracked.

The forest grew louder, and a look of terror griped her face.

“Whom did you serve?” she asked, her every breath more intense.

“No one really knows his name besides the higher chain of command. Most of us are told what to do and they do not accept questions.” I paused to think of anything I knew of this king whom had enslaved me. Then it came to me. “He is a very fat man who has riches beyond any man’s wildest dreams! He is the keeper of the most sacred and valuable stones, Elf Stones.”

Her eyes closed and her knees bent. Her body came rushing down to the ground, tears built up in her eyes until they came tumbling down. Her hands gently wiped away her tears and for a brief moment there was only the sound of the fire dashing about inside the circle of rocks.

“How…?” She asked aloud.

Several minutes passed before she regained her composure herself and sat back. Her soft face wore a completely devastated look, as if she had just lost a close friend. Confusion struck me; there had been slaves now for a couple thousand years. How could she have fought against slavery? As I peered into her beautiful face, I noticed that her ears were longer than usual. Her body, though skinny, looked very strong.

The fire… how had she appeared in the fire? Then I remembered, I had chucked the stone into the fire! Was this some kind of enchantment? She must have noticed my confusion because she smiled at me. Her teeth were as bright as the snow that layered some of the forest ground. The smile intrigued me.

She stood again. “Who are you?” she asked, walking closer to me.

“I’m Matthias,” I paused for a few seconds as she got closer to me, “Who are you?”

“My name is Maria,” she said, now a few feet from my side.

I was tempted to stand up, but laid there on the soft pillow. She bent down on her knee and placed her hand upon my chest.

“I’m going to try to mend your wounds. This might hurt a little,” she said, her eyes glowing slightly.

She squinted and her green eyes glowed fiercer. That was when I noticed a trickle of pain in my chest. A couple seconds later the pain had grown immensely, but my body would not allow me to move. The glow of her eyes seemed to travel down her neck, to her arm, and finally down through my chest. As soon as the glow strengthened the pain stopped, though I could feel my bones popping back into place, and my skin stretching over my gashes.

The glow dimmed quickly. Her eyes relaxed and looked at mine. “That will be good enough until we can find someone who can really heal you. I am without much training,” Maria said, lifting her hand from my chest.

My body felt renewed in certain areas but in others I was still hurting, just not as much. I could not stop staring into Maria’s green eyes, nor could I for a moment grasp what had just occurred. What was she and where was she from? She looked from my face to the ground, as if she had made a poor decision.

Quickly I smiled, “Thank you.”

She stood, holding a hand out for me. “Do you know where the nearest town is?” she asked as she heaved me up to my feet.

“Well, kind of. If we get to the river all we need to do is travel north until we find the footpath and travel east. They will be looking for me though. If I go back…” I paused, terrified. “If I go back, they will kill me.”

She smiled as the forest started to chirp. “The forest thinks differently.”

I looked at her, and simply nodded my head. I took nearby gravel and snow to put out the fire. After I had done so, a chill ran over my body. I was freezing! I looked at her, though, and noticed she had no protection either. I looked around at the surroundings and saw the pillow that I had been propped on.

Tearing a hole through the top I handed it to Maria who laughed. “I am not cold, in fact I am quite used to this weather. You need it,” she said, and would not accept it even after I tried to force her to grab it.

The empty pillow provided some slight warmth, but would not last long in this weather. I waved for Maria to follow me and we traveled through the forest on a deer path. Soon we found the river and started heading north. Maria insisted on being in front. I was curious but not enough to ask why she insisted. The sun seemed to set itself behind the clouds today, creating winds that chilled my spine. My face burnt as if it was on fire, but I knew full well that it was colder than ice. We trudged onwards, not stopping for water or food. As the sky seemed to darken a little we found the path leading into town, though we were a long ways from it. We traveled east for some time, then she finally decided to stop. She plopped down on the side of the road, and patted the ground next to her.

I sat next to her, but kept my distance. She sighed and moved towards me, then stoically wrapped her arm around my waist. “If we keep together we will be warmer.”

Feeling warmer I squeezed in against her. My muscles ached and my stomach writhed. I hadn’t eaten anything in a long time.

Maria and I sat there, as if frozen to the spot. I was waiting for Maria to tell me what we were doing, but she stayed silent. It was an hour or two before she stood up.

Maria looked up into the sky, which was growing redder by the minute. The sun would soon appear over the endless tree tops. Maria’s gaze swept from the red sunrise to me.

“We should get going," she said and helped me up.

Both of us stayed silent for quite some time, until at last the road lead to a familiar area. The slave camp!

"The wall..." I whispered, hoping it couldn't see me.

Maria looked at the wall, and then to me. She understood exactly what I meant. "Don't worry, I promise you will never have to go in there again." She paused for a moment. "Can you trust me, Matthias?"

I paused to think. Why did she ask me if I could trust her? After all, I had not questioned her up to this point. I looked into her beautiful face, and nodded approvingly.

"I'll be back as soon as I can with some food and clothing. We can't walk you past the gate in that clothing!" Maria said.

I looked at Maria and at what she was wearing. How was she any better off than I was? She sprinted off towards the wall, leaving me to myself.

I attempted to entertain myself by throwing rocks as far as I could. Soon that got boring and I laid back into the tree line. I stared up into the wide deep blue of the sky. The tree branches created more bizarre looking paintings in the sky than did the clouds. As time moved, so did the clouds and their patterns. Soon the sun touched the tip of the tree line and the clouds turned red as blood.

I was worried now. I had no idea what I would do if she didn't happen to come back, and if she did, what worth am I to her? Her beauty swept my thoughts away when she was near. It was the very passion of wanting to know her that had kept me going along this far. Other than James, no other person had given me any sort of chance at friendship. I wanted to be a part of her life.

Though I had been a slave all my life, there had been female slaves among us men. The females did not appreciate me as a someone, even when I would take their full load for them! I was nothing more than just another person in the prison.

The moon rose softly upwards into the sky. It wasn't long after that, that the crickets started to chirp. Every once and awhile an owl would coo or a wolf would howl. My eyes started to strain with the weight of the day. It had been exhausting waiting for Maria. Soon time itself stopped and all that had once been on my mind ceased to be.

A loud hum woke me up. The hum strengthened until it became a string of words, "Matthias, wake up!"

I opened my eyes and Maria stood there looking down at me. She was wearing a large coat and thick pants that made her look fat, and in her hands were another coat and pants. As I stood up she handed me the jacket and pants, which weighed a considerable amount. Quickly I put them on, and instantly felt my skin start to warm up. I smiled at Maria, and she smiled back. She waved her hand at me, asking me to follow her. I did so, happy to know that she had come back. We walked eastward to town, it was right as we were about to pass the slave pins when a guard with a noticeable face stopped me and Maria.

"Hey, you! Do I know you from somewhere?" the man asked, his gaze searching out my face.

I looked down towards the ground, trying to avoid his eye's, "No sir, I don't know what your talking about" I said.

"Sir," Maria said, "Do you know who I am?"

The man looked puzzled, "Uhh..."

"I am your lord's wife! Do you not recognize me?" Maria whispered angrily.

The guard looked stunned as if he had been stricken, "If you..." he began, but Maria cut him off swiftly.

"I will hear no more of this matter!" she said sharply.

The man seemed to be locked up for words to say, so with his hand he gestured us away. We got quite a bit away when Maria stopped.

"I'm sorry I took so long. I have found us a place to stay though, the elf is a very old friend of mine who has been guarding quite a few elf stones. He may be able to aide us," she said smiling.

I smiled at her, "Thanks for the clothes." I managed to say.

"For a human you are extremely shy!" she giggled.

I didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry." I replied, dropping my head down.

"No, don't be sorry Matthias!" she paused and lifted my chin up. "It is good to be shy."

She pushed softly on my back, wishing me to march on with her, and I did so. The town was visible in the near distance, fire trails lit by the sun led up far into the sky. The night had been awfully cold and I was amazed that I had lived through it. The closer we got the town, the louder the sounds got. Soon we arrived at the front gate and two fully armored guards with long spears walked over to us. Their plate mail suits both had an emblem on the front of it that looked like a (to be designed later!)

"What is your business?" one of the guards asked.

Maria smiled up at the left one, "Don't you remember me?"

The guard at once nodded and they both returned back to their spots. Maria and I walked forward past the guards and into town. My heart raced and my head burned as if it was on fire. I had never before been into a town of free men. Never had I been equal with anyone but my fellow worker! This was different, and hard to fathom. Maria led me north west of town to a two story house with a shack next to it. The building was surrounded by a metal gate that bore a sign. I could not read what it said, but it had a skull on it meaning something about death. She unlatched the gate and we entered the front yard of the house. It was a large and very old wooden house that had vines crawling up its sides. It's once marvelous stone patio was in ruin. The door, however, was new and contained a hefty lock on the front of it. Maria stepped up onto the porch and knocked on the door. Nothing stirred inside, but Maria stayed still in front of the door.

"Who is it?" an old voice yelled out suddenly.

Maria smiled, "It's me, Maria," she replied back.

A huge thud emitted from the door as the lock spun around. An old man leaning heavily on a strong wooden staff appeared in the doorway. My first impression was that this man was in his dying years.

"Is this him?" he asked Maria in a low, gruff voice.

Maria nodded. "He is the one who freed me.”

“He is welcome then! We shall have a feast!” the old man declared.

He turned slowly, waving us to follow. The scent of old parchment filled the air. The sound of the door closing echoed through the hallway. Warm air rushed around my body as the old man lead us deeper into his home. He brought us into a newly furnished room. He sat down at a cedar table next to the blazing fireplace, which lit up his weathered face dramatically. All his hair was white, and his thick, well-trimmed beard defined his strong chin. Harsh wrinkles marked his stern face, but when he smiled, kindness filled his bright eyes. I sat down in the chair he had pulled for me, close to the fire. Maria decided to stand instead of taking the chair closest to the old man.

“Welcome to my humble abode. Maria, if I remember correctly you had told me that this man released you from your imprisonment?” he said boldly.

Maria nodded, “Yes, though I do not understand how a human managed the task.”

“Neither do I.” The old man paused. “Mathias is it?” he said, looking at me.

“Yes,” I answered.

“I’m Nahado, a very old friend of Maria’s and a defender of sacred Elf Stones.”

“What do you know about Elf Stones, Matthias?” Maria asked.

“Well, they are the most valuable rubies in all the world! They are said to heal even the deepest wounds!” I thought out loud.

“You are right Matthias, however, there is something deeper you should know about them…” Nahado paused and looked around. “Each one carries a life within it.”

“A life? What do you mean?” I asked.

Maria looked to me with sadness in her eyes. “A life like myself.”

"You’ve been a slave all your life, correct?" inquired Nahado.

"Yes," I answered.

"Have you had any education?"

"I learned to read and write before I was sold off to slavery."

"Do you know anything of the history of your race?"


"Very well. We do not have time to go into it in great detail, but I will give you an abridged account of the history of Man." Nahado thought for a moment, then began his tale:

"What you must first understand, Mathias, is that the world as you know it is not how it seems. This land is not truly ruled by the King of Men. No. The true power belongs to an elf, who for generations, has used the human king as his puppet.

"You see, your race is relatively young. Only a few thousand years, actually. Before that, elves ruled the earth, and when Man and Woman emerged, we did not think much of you humans at first. Your life spans were so short, the average elf had not reached adulthood before several generations of men had passed away.

"However, as your race grew in number, we elves feared you would someday threaten us. So, sadly, we enslaved your people. However, our greatest king, Lord Dnno, fought for your freedom. But he met fierce opposition from some of the elvish lords."

"If he was your king, who could oppose him?" I asked.

Before Nahado had a chance to answer my question, Maria chimed in, "You must understand, our culture was much different than yours. Our king did not wield the unbridled power of the human dictator who now rules."

Nahado continued, "At any rate, slavery persisted in many parts of the land in spite of Dnno's best efforts. Until the slaves, growing tired of their state, rose up under the leadership of a slave named Olgi. At first, their attempts were pathetic. Olgi was little more than a nuisance, but he was clever. He found a way to use black powder, an ancient art we elves took for granted, to create a weapon. He called his device 'the gun.' With his guns, he fought his first successful battle and freed many slaves."

"Good," I added heartily.

Nahado looked furious for a moment, but controlled his temper. "I understand that as a human you are inclined to side with the slaves, but Olgi was a monster. He killed all elves, regardless of whether they supported slavery or not. And when he eventually came to power, he enslaved his own people. As time went on, he created larger and more powerful guns. They shattered our defenses and laid ruin to our mightiest cities. Lord Dnno was forced to take action to prevent our extinction--" Nahado suddenly stopped. He looked like he was in pain.

Maria continued the story for her friend. "Dnno instructed all elves, except for guardians like Nahado to take the form of an Elf Stone. In this state, we would sleep peacefully until it was safe for our people to reemerge. Elf Stones are nearly unbreakable, but if one is destroyed, the soul contained inside it is destroyed as well. That is why at least one elf must remain in order to guard them."

Nahado continued, "Dnno appointed seven of his most trusted servants, including myself, and divided the stones among us. Never did we suspect there was a betrayer amongst the guardians. How could we predict such despicable treachery! The locations of our temples were divulged to Olgi, who had by now appointed himself as King of Men. He invaded all the temples simultaneously. I barely escaped myself, but could do nothing to protect my charges."

"Who was the betrayer?" I asked.

"I have no way of knowing for sure," Nahado said dejectedly. "Dnno must have learned of the treachery almost immediately after it occurred. I suspect he did not know who the betrayer was, but I know he took precautions to make sure that he would not suffer the same fate. It was far too late to undo what had been done,” Nahado added.

“Why would he abandon his people?” I asked.

“I do not know. I can only have faith that Dnno had good reason for what he did,” Nahado responded.

“So where is Dnno’s stone?” I wondered out loud.

“That is the question I am hoping to answer soon. Now, Maria, I’m going to tell you something that not even you know. One of the guardians, Nelrion, escaped as well. But, unlike me, he managed to save a number of his stones. They have formed a last sanctuary deep in the forest of Greenwood. That is where I want the three of us to go.”

“Why me?” I asked, shocked.

“Maria trusts you. And you can help us carry our heavy equipment,” Nahado said grinning slyly.

“You look tired and worn out from your day's adventure. We’ll purchase supplies tomorrow, but tonight let’s get some sleep,” Maria said to me.

I stood up to leave. "Aren't the two of you going to bed?" They looked at each other curiously.

"I wish to choose a few of my precious books to bring with me. I have so many, it will take me a while," Nahado answered.

Quickly, Maria added, "Mathias, Why don't you go on to bed while I help Nahado?"

"All right," I said. As I left, I watched the two out of the corner of my eye. They didn't move, at least not until I left the room. I was suspicious to say the least. What could they be discussing without me? Why wasn't I privy to it? With a pang of fear, I wondered if they could be planning to return me to the slave traders, but I suppressed that suspicion. Though I had only known Maria for a short time, I was confident that she wasn't planning anything like that.

However, I heard their voices carrying through the door. Instead of ignoring the voices, I pressed my ear against a small hole in the wall. I could make them out clearly.

“All right, Nahado. What are you not telling me?” It was Maria's voice.

“I’m sorry?” Nahado answered.

“Why are we going to Qarsak?”

“I need your help to discover the resting place of Dnno.”

“No, there's more to it than that. What do you know about Mathias? Why do you want to bring him to Qarsak?”

“I should have known I couldn't hide it from you, Maria," he laughed. "I do not know anything for sure. Let me just say that I find it intriguing that Mathias, a human, could release you from the Elf Stone. Indeed, it is disturbing. If humans have developed a way to break the power of the Elf Stones, Nelrion must know immediately.” There was a hint of fear in his voice.

“I think it unlikely that humans would simply develop such capabilities. What if—could it be something about Mathias? ”

“I have considered that possibility as well. Either way, it will be of immense interest to Nelrion.”

Suddenly, the two began to approach the door! I jumped away from the hole in the wall. Seconds later, Nahodo came out of the study. I was sure Nahado had not noticed me jump, but as he looked at me, my heart pumped furiously. “I am sorry," said Nahado. "I forgot to tell you. You and Maria will have to sleep in my shack. It's comfortable enough. I'll show you the way.”

Nahado lead Maria and me out the door and towards the shack. I leapt when I saw two beastly cats who had poked their heads out from the tall grass. The two black beasts appeared to be overgrown cats with pointed ears and black fur. Most fearsome of all were their ruby red eyes.

Nahado laughed at my shock, “They are quite friendly, so long as you are with me.”

The cats followed us as we walked towards the shack. The sun had set in the distance. The night’s chill swept over me, causing me to shake. The small wooden door which lead into the shack was only as high as my neck. Nahado stepped forward, opened the door, and bent over to tip-toe in. Maria and I followed him. The shack's appearance would have deceived anyone for the inside was filled with furniture and beds, as if to hold many guests. In one of the corners were several pillows clawed nearly to shreds, and in the middle of the wall was a large fireplace. It was not until the door that lead into the shack was shut that I felt the warmth from this fire.

“You may take any of these beds. They are as fine as they come,” Nahado said at once, then turned to the door.

“Thank you Nahado,” Maria said.

I smiled at Nahado as he left through the door.

“Which bed would you like Matthias?” Maria asked.

I walked to the nearest bed and collapsed on it. The weight of the day had indeed taken its toll. Maria took the bed, opposite mine. I closed my eyes and fell into a deep, comfortable sleep that I had never experienced before.

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