The Thief of the Rose
Chapter 12

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Aaron met Reg in the dining hall early the next morning. After breakfast and settling up with Miss Sara, they gathered their things, saddled their horses and, after squaring accounts with the Sorcerer's Guild and retrieving the gold pieces, were off for Realto.

Aaron intended to spend one day in Realto to say goodbye and make sure that Master Weaver was dealt with and then leave for Aithen. He was thinking of asking Reg to just stay at the duchy while he returned to the Capital when his thoughts were interrupted.

"What are your plans after Realto?" Reg asked. "I figured I would tag along just in case, while you take care of your unfinished business. My Lady has given me no indication one way or the other."

"Well," Aaron began, "I was going to ask you to stay in Realto and I would meet up with you after I was finished. I have to go to Aithen, and if you want you are welcome to accompany me. I have commitments there that I have to discharge and then I will be free to head out."

"What kind of commitments," Reg asked. "If you do not mind my asking."

"They are delicate in nature," Aaron smiled, "we may have to leave Aithen in a hurry."

"I get the feeling," Reg laughed, "that most things with you are going to be delicate in nature. What exactly do you do for a living, if you do not mind me asking?"

"No, I do not mind," Aaron replied, "it will come out soon enough anyway. I work as an investigator and general troubleshooter for the Guild Council, but more to the point I am the adopted son of the Duke of Realto."

"So... , that would make you the nephew of the King of Aithen," Reg looked at him in surprise. "Wow, you are the Crown Prince."

"Well, not exactly," Aaron sighed. "I abdicated in favor of the Duke's natural son. You will meet them tonight, that is why we will be staying the night in Realto."

Aaron had just reached up to scratch Thorn's ear after he whinnied, when an arrow whizzed by his left ear. Aaron sprung back and to his right performed a tuck and roll landing on his feet with swords in his hands as arrows whizzed by right and left. Smacking Thorn on the hindquarters to get him moving he turned and moved into the tree line for cover when he felt a thud and burning sensation in his left thigh. Again, the rune in the center of the signet ring on Aaron's left hand flared, longer this time and Aaron felt a tingle throughout his body.

"Damn, I have been hit by an arrow," he leaned back behind a tree and looked down at the damage. The arrow was sticking through the meaty part of the thigh with the tip sticking out the other side.

Putting his swords away he felt down to the tip and back along the shaft, "barbed arrows, good thing the head is sticking out."

Breaking off the fletched end he pushed the shaft through the wound and out the other side. No blood pumped out of either wound site, so no arterial damage, but blood was flowing down his leg.

Inspecting the arrow reveled a green sticky substance, "a Dark Elf's arrow and it is poisoned."

Touching the tip of his tongue in it Aaron exclaimed, "wyvern venom, I do not have much time."

Reaching into his cloak and pulling out an oilskin pouch, he removed three dried green leaves, put them in his mouth and began to chew them to extract the juice.

He then removed a small vial of white powder and after slitting his pants sprinkled the powder into both sides of the wound.

After ensuring that he extracted every bit of juice, he spit out the chewed leaf remains and called out to Reg, "Be careful, they are Dark Elves and their arrows are barbed and poisoned as well. Are you all right?" Several arrows struck the trunk of the tree he was hiding behind.

"I am fine for now," Reg called out to Aaron's left. "They have me pinned down behind a tree. Be careful yourself, they are probably circling around to get us in a crossfire."

"I have got it covered," Aaron replied, looking to his right.

Removing a pouch from his cloak, he removed two sections of a finely woven spider's web, covered both sides of the wound and using a cloth strip, he bandaged the thigh tightly.

Testing the thigh and leg proved that he could move on it, the pain greatly diminished. Waiting several moments to check for numbness or paralyzes, symptoms of wyvern venom poisoning, revealed neither.

"Okay, time to get back into this fight," pulling both swords, he looked to his right in the opposite direction to where he thought Reg was, and seeing nothing he moved to the next tree there.

Slowly making his way from tree to tree, putting some distance between him and the tree he was behind initially. Working his way to the edge of the road, he checked to make sure it was clear, darted across and hid behind a tree waiting. When no arrows came he slowly started working his way back toward where the initial attack came from.

Reg, hearing nothing else from Aaron moved to the next tree. He scanned the area trying to see any movement.

"Dark Elves, just great," he thought as he sneaked to another tree, trying to shield himself.

Holding still, waiting for the attack - when it did not come, moved to the next tree, working down the tree line, looking for a good location to cross the road.

Aaron paused and listened for any movement, pushing his senses outward, listening for any sound out of the ordinary.

Wait, up ahead to his right, he heard movement and there, another and another. He tracked four different sounds moving in his direction. Silently climbing the tree he was hiding behind, he laid in wait.

The name Dark Elf was a misnomer, since they were not Elves or related to Elves. Although they have certain elvish characteristics like almond shaped eyes, arched brows and pointy ears, they also have very un-elvish characteristics like fangs, talons instead of fingernails and of course the color of their skin. All known Elf races have the same smooth, pale skin, while Dark Elves are extremely dark skinned. The common tongue translation of their name is "Stealth Warrior" or "Shadow Warrior".

They live underground in small clans or tribes and frequently fight amongst themselves. They do not build their own lairs, rather they routinely invade the tunnels of Gnomes and Goblins, enslaving the inhabitants.

They do not interbreed or trade with the other races, although they are known to take slaves, both as sex slaves and to work in their mines. They are fierce warriors with a unique honor code and they fight to the death, never surrendering.

They routinely use poison, normally wyvern venom, since they use wyvern as mounts. They do not tolerate trespass on their lands as Aaron found out several years before.

While on an intelligence gathering mission for the Guild, he was caught and imprisoned for several months, enduring various forms of torture until he finally made his escape. The fact that he had penetrated deeply into their lair and later escaped, impressed the Dark Elves and they named him "Shadow Thief". Dark elves are a formidable foe, not to be taken lightly.

Moments later four Dark Elves passed under the tree Aaron was hiding in, moving in the direction Aaron came from.

Dropping out of the tree pulling both swords Aaron lunged forward with Black Rose stabbing the warrior to his right through the heart while slashing across with Red Rose spilling the intestines of the warrior directly in front. Spinning to his left Aaron caught the far left warrior under the chin with Red Rose slitting his throat and finally going down on his left knee skewering the warrior directly in front.

After checking all four were dead, Aaron moved diagonally south-west away from the battle site. He paused behind a tree several paces away to ensure that there was no pursuit and after finding none continued on his track toward the initial ambush site.

Aaron heard fighting up ahead, so he quickly moved from tree to tree trying to get closer. He came upon a small clearing were Reg was engaged with two warriors.

Watching Reg wield his sword was a sight to be held; the way he jumped and spun, attacked, defended, counter-attacked was poetry in motion. Aaron had originally thought Reg a bit of a dandy, but he quickly revised his opinion. Reginald Ravensblade was a seriously deadly adversary.

Reg quickly dispatched his foes and Aaron noticed another fallen warrior at Reg's feet, bringing the total of known Dark Elves to seven.

Aaron quickly scouted around, thinking there might be more, motioning Reg in the opposite direction. In overlapping circles they moved back and forth covering the immediate area to no avail.

Circling back around he discovered the initial ambush sight and after inspecting the signs determined that there were eight sets of tracks in the area. Aaron counted four heading north in the direction of his encounter and three south in the direction of Reg's. He also found three headed toward the base of a tree but only two headed away. Looking up he saw a female gagged and tied up on a branch.

Motioning Reg to cover him, Aaron sheathed his swords and climbed up the tree. "I am going to remove your gag," Aaron told the frightened girl. "Please do not call out, I am not going to hurt you but there may be more Dark Elves around."

After receiving a quick nod from the girl Aaron gently cut the gag and removed it. "Now I am going to cut your bonds, hands first so you can grab me, okay?"

"Yes," she croaked.

Again Aaron gently cut the bonds at her wrists and she immediately grabbed Aaron around the neck holding tight. Aaron then removed the rest of her bonds, held her by the waist and slowly climbed back down the tree.

Once on the ground Aaron checked her over for injuries, finding none, told her to just rest and turned to Reg and asked him to fetch the horses and the water skin from Thorn.

Reg rounded up the horses and brought Aaron his water skin, which he gave to the girl, cautioning her to only take sips. After several sips she told them her tale.

Her name was Isabelle, she was 16 years old and a sorcerer's apprentice for the past 8 years. She had been traveling to Realto in the company of her master to be tested for full status in the Sorcerers' Guild.

They were traveling from Mela when they were ambushed by the Dark Elves. They killed her master, captured her, and tied her up in a tree and then laid in wait for the next unlucky travelers. She had been up in the tree since yesterday noon time with no food or drink. She thought her life was over until she saw Aaron follow the tracks to the base of the tree.

Over, and over, she thanked them and told Aaron that he had saved her from a fate worse than death. Thinking back on his time with the Dark Elves, Aaron had to agree.

Aaron told her it looked like the Dark Elves ended up being the unlucky ones which brought a small smile to her face. After an hour passed, she was strong enough to travel so Aaron put her on Thorn and with Aaron leading his horse continued their journey.

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