The Thief of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
[authors note: while I was writing this chapter, one of my most favorite songs came on the radio, so I inserted a line from the song. It's not long and it's obscure, but see if you can find it]
Upon returning to the Inn, Aaron met up with Reg while having lunch. During their discussion, Aaron mentioned that he was going to explore the area north of town and Reg having nothing better to do, still waiting on his Lady's direction, volunteered to accompany him.
After lunch the two saddled their horses and headed north following the lad's directions. Their path ever winding north began to climb at an increasing rate until they reached a point where the horses became useless.
Aaron and Reg dismounted letting the horses graze and continued on foot. The path they followed began to slowly fade from view, till it was little more than a game trail, yet still they climbed. After an hour the path leveled out toward the mouth of a cave in the distance, their destination they hoped and they picked up the pace.
Reaching the mouth of the cave Aaron lit a torch and pulled Black Rose, looked at Reg for confirmation and after receiving a nod entered the cave. Reg pulled his own sword, lit a torch as well and followed in. The cave floor slanted down as they walked farther into what became a tunnel.
"Aaron, is there some specific reason that we are in this cave?" Reg asked. "Not that I care over much, I just want to know what to expect."
"Actually, Reg, I do not know what to expect," Aaron answered. "I was looking for someone and I was told she might be in here."
"Aaron have you noticed the temperature has risen a little?" Reg remarked. "I would expect it to be cooler, not warmer."
Aaron had just followed the bend of the cave to the left and began to notice runes engraved on the walls - and sure enough, it was warmer here then it was just a few paces back.
"Aaron, I do not mean to complain," Reg began, "but, exactly who is this she you are looking for? This place is not normal. Did you feel that, my whole body just tingled, like standing too close to a lightning strike?"
Aaron felt the tingle as well. It was exactly how Reg described it; it actually felt more like the numbing sensation he felt when he used that rod of healing belonging to Lady Rannath. Well, the feeling before the explosion of pain and the stripping of the skin and meat to the bone; now that feeling was completely different.
Aaron stopped in front of door in a wooden wall across the cave, "Well I think we are about to find out." Putting Black Rose away, he searched the door and surrounding wall for traps or trip wires, not finding any, he cautiously checked the floor in front of the door.
"Oh, come on in, there are not any traps," Aaron heard from the other side of the door and then after looking over to Reg, shrugged his shoulders and opened the door. "Do not bring those filthy torches in here, they will stink up the place and hurry up you are letting in a draft."
After putting out their torches, Aaron and Reg stepped in to a fully furnished parlor. Tapestries and paintings hung from the walls, a large rug covered the floor, a fire crackling in a hearth off to their right and a bookshelf taking up the whole of one wall. In front of them a long blonde wood staff with black metal heels leaned against a cloak stand next to a large wing-backed chair, where a little old grandmotherly lady sat eyeing them curiously, holding a teacup and smoking a long clay pipe.
"Well, do not just stand there gawking," she exclaimed, chuckling and taking a sip of her tea. "Sit down, sit down."
"And you two," eyeing Aaron intently. "You just behave yourselves and we will get along just fine."
By now Aaron was used to comments addressed to his swords so he just shrugged.
The woman was old, silver hair hung in curls framing a gentle face, once probably beautiful, but now worn by time. Grey eyes tilted upward at the outside corners, straight eyebrows following the tilt of the eye and pointy ears, clearly an Elf or of Elven blood, small of stature, yet radiating power. Aaron could feel the power tingling his skin, a different tingle than what he felt in the cave. Delicate fingers held the teacup, unadorned with the exception of a single black band on the index finger of her right hand. A simple black robe, gathered at the waist by a gold sash, enhanced a nice (at one time, long ago) bust.
Aaron turned around looking for chairs and when finding none had just turned back to ask where, when two large stuffed chairs materialized out of the nowhere, actually grew right out of the floor. Looking at Reg, Aaron sat down in the most comfortable chair ever. Reg eyeing Aaron warily, waiting for something to happen; when it did not he sheathed his sword, shrugged his shoulders and sat as well.
"I suppose introductions are in order," she stated. "My name is Mara, not Miss Mara, nor Lady Mara, just Mara and this is my parlor."
Putting down her teacup and spreading her hands out wide, "I know who both of you are, so we can dispense with that and get down to why you are here."
"First, the carrot," reaching behind her and picking up a cloth sack and handing it to Aaron. "Is this what you had in mind?"
Aaron took the sack, opened it and looked inside and after finding nothing looked back at Mara, "What is this?"
"You are dense, are you not, boy?" she sighed, shaking her head. "Think about what you want, and then open the sack."
Aaron nodded and thought of a red rose, opened the sack and pulled out a perfect long stem red rose, freshly cut with dew still on the petals.
"Better than I expected," Aaron replied. "How did you know, and what do I owe you?"
"Well, boy, I am not wanting coin, if that is what you are thinking," Mara smirked. "No, I require a trade, tit for tat. As for how I knew, well, let us just say I make it my business to know what is going on around Dria. I heard that you were looking for a specific, high value magical item, and thought we might do business together. So, are you interested?"