This evening when I went to my Elfhome in the Village, I decided to go to a local Inn, which sits at a crossroads between many different Lands. The Captain walked up beside me.
"Care for company, my Lady?"
"Off-duty, are you?" I asked.
He coughed a little, and muttered, "Why, yes, of course."
We both knew he was never ever "off-duty", but I told him I would love his company. The night was warm and still - in a quiet sense, not stifling - and I could hear the comraderie at the Inn well before we arrived.
As I went to climb the ladder, the Captain (a bit abruptly)stepped ahead of me and then offered a hand. A bit unlike him, but not enough to arouse any suspicion in my mind. As I neared the top rung, something whizzed past my right ear and thunked into the tree post. It had been deflected by the lightning-fast moves of the Captain. The accoster, an Elf himself, was now in the midst of the Royal Guard, unable to move anymore.
"She's a danger! he yelled. "She'll end up killing us all! Get rid of her before it's too late!" And then he was muffled and dragged away to Oberon's presence.
I was a bit startled and weak-kneed, but I managed to walk upright into the Inn.
"What was that about, Captain? What was it he threw?"
"Your words, my Lady, are unsettling, and can be seen as dangerous to our Way of living," and he gave me the deepest look. "I have been with you on several journeys, now; so I can better understand your intent and the deeper Knowing. Still... even for me, it is difficult. But I will not hesitate to protect you."
"I can only be what I am... I can only go where my Path leads. I know no other Way of Being."
"Of course, you're Elcyrr, now. And that is not in question. And as you have the Oberon's and Tatiana's blessing, my Life is yours. But there are many who do not so believe, my Lady..."
And he let that phrase float ominously on the air.
"I cannot presume to understand, Captain, nor can I change. What was it he threw?"
"A dart, with a quick-acting poison found in these woods."
"I'm paid to know...certain information...but I have no specifics. Still, you don't mind my company, do you?"
"No, Captain, you are an astute and gracious gentleman in any Realm. Thank you."
I sat in a low chair by the fire, as the Captain leaned against the bar. Careful looking around gave me knowledge that he was not alone, either. Still there were quite a few persons here this evening - Elves, Dwarves, and several non-descript travelers. I was asked about a drink, and requested some clear water. I noticed as it was brought to me, that the Captain took the glass momentarily, and then gave it back to the girl to give to me. Just a small strip of paper between his fingers had touched the water, and I knew he was testing it and protecting me.
As I was sipping it, listening to the fire crick-crackling, someone came up beside me.
I looked up.
It was Smashfoot, the lady Dwarf who had accompanied me on earlier quests. She asked to have a word with me. I offered her the low seat next to mine, which she happily took.
"Good to see you, Roundabout (my Dwarven name). Let's see... now it's Roundabout Elcyrr, huh?" And she chuckled. "Staying out of trouble, no? Ah, there's the Captain with his eye on you, yes. Cute one, no? Anyway, me and my husband want to thank you for taking Chip on that last Journey - he's such a young'un, our son is, with so much to learn."
"He's bigger than you, Smashfoot! I had no idea he was your son!" I exclaimed.
"Ah, takes after his great-grandmother's side, I 'spect..." Then, with a conspiratorial wink..."little bit a Rock Troll, methinks."
"Oh..." I mumbled, and let it go.
"You need be careful, Lady", she said worriedly."Not just the Elves concerned and riled up, if you know what I mean."
"No, I suppose not..." I sighed, and felt her deep concern for me when she used the term ,"lady", and not the friendly, "Roundabout".
"Ah, don't get so like that. See, and there you are just not walking right to the center and seeing this stuff coming in the Change."
"Truth is I prefer the "roundabout" way. If I knew all what's to happen, I might change my own actions, and that just can't be. So I'll just nibble on the Path, a little at a time, and see where Spirit guides me."
"You a strange one, for sure. Anyway, hey, I got this message for you."
"What?" I asked, and she handed me a flat stone with an engraved mark on it... ^=*
"The Rock Trolls want to meet with you... well, you know, the Leader. Says there's stuff to discuss. Seems he all of a sudden don't feel so immortal his own self. Something in the air." And she grinned, impishly. "So, look, you need to go see him soon."
"What's this stone," I asked her.
"Hmmmm, let's see... in your terms, it's like a 'Get out of Jail free card'."
"I might be put in jail there?" I asked incredulously, contemplating a Rock Troll jail and not liking the picture. My panic must have made my voice just a little bit louder than normal. The Captain looked over, quizzically, and she put her hand on my arm.
"No. Not for real. It actually says, 'Do not kill'."
"Oh, that helps..."
"It's really important that you go. Chip said he would go with you, if you want."
"What about Two-Hammers?"
"Strange one, that. Ever since he got back from that last Journey, he's been... well, thinking...very strange... and talking to King Ironhand... and I even saw Merlin himself walking with him down into the mines one day. Strange one... like,now, somehow, not quite Dwarf anymore."
"Well, I'm not quite human anymore either, you know."
"The Change is affecting us all, Roundabout. But between you and me, the Purists are only going to see what they want to. You be careful. I got to go now -His Highness (as she humorously referred to her husband) wants his 7-course meal by end of shift. You take care, and come by for tea when you pick up Chip for the Journey, ok? Make sure you make him behave. (Like anyone was going to discipline a 5-foot Dwarf!)
Soon after Smashfoot left, the Captain came over and suggested we leave before the evening's darkness became deep night. As we walked to my Home, I asked if he were posting guards around my place.
He said, "We will check it as part of the patrol, my Lady. But as you can see - from here - your Home has its own defense now."
I looked up, and I could see a very fine webbing of luminescent silver encasing the whole dwelling.
"Something from the Unicorn gift, I imagine", and he agreed.
"Even so, my Lady, if anything - and I mean ANYTHING - disturbs you in anyway, call me. I will hear your lowest whisper."
And I knew he could. And I knew he would come on lightning wings. I thanked him again, and bid him goodnight.
First Encounter with Smashfoot
Epilogue vision to this Journey