The next few days had been busy. Adwin had helped close three deals on various properties the company had wanted, as well a couple others besides. By this point the business community knew he was buying up properties and those who had a mind to make some weight, while the demand was there, had been contacting to company.
The last few nights he had been having intense dreams about the heart-tree in the centre of the city, the puzzle box the goblins had given him with the nut in it and a pair of strange eyes that seemed to always be watching him. The dreams were not nightmarish, but they still woke him early each morning, leaving him with a sense of urgency. After having had the dream for three nights in a row, he had decided to dig out the box. He spent much of the early hours of the day trying to open it to no avail.
Calathy came out of the bedroom looking sleepy-headed, “What are you doing?”
“I had that same dream again last night. I was trying to figure out how to get the box open, but nothing I try works. I’ve been thinking about taking a hammer to it.”
“Oh, don’t do that. It’s such a beautiful piece of work. I’d never imagined goblins could craft something so cunning.”
“Yeah a lot of people don’t really understand goblins. Mostly they’ve heard the scary stories and seem to think that’s what goblins are all about.”
Calathy picked up the box and fiddled with it for a bit, she did not get it open before the demands of the day caught up to them. After a quick breakfast Adwin went down to work, leaving the box on the main table in his rooms. He hoped Calathy would figure it out.
It was another busy day. After going downstairs he greeted the staff and Addath, opened the record books and signed off on each. Then he read through the correspondence from the evening and early morning deliveries. SkadWind always had letters and notes coming in. Some were from potential clients, many came from the guilds and council. Nearly all of them required a response, many of them needed to be handled by him, others were dealt with by Addath or the scribes.
Once the office work had been seen to, he and Addath went to lunch with a couple who were looking to sell their in-city properties, they intended to retire to the Eastern March with the coming of spring. They had a house, warehouse, two stores and a number of market kiosks as well as the assets associated with their produce business. They were keeping their suburban farmlands and a mill and were looking to acquire additional lands near their holdings east of the city. By the end of an extended lunch they had worked out a tentative deal, both parties would take a couple of days then meet again early in the new month.
Then he returned to the office and filed more paperwork, leaving Addath to follow up on some legwork the lunch time meeting had generated. It was late in the afternoon before he had finished the paperwork. Most of the staff would be leaving soon, though there was always a few people on until the twentieth hour of the day. He was tired and hoped he could escape work a bit early. Sadly, before he could make himself scarce, another bundle of paperwork showed up. Most of it was administrative, by the time he finished that and then his activities log another couple of hours had ticked by.
When he finally escaped work he went upstairs and fell into the evenings activities with Calathy. The puzzle box had frustrated her throughout the day and she had no more success than he. They had nearly finished Burgandy’s, The Lad and the Drake, considered by many to be the story of Ajax’s brother’s first dragon slaying, when a servant interrupted politely and informed him he had a guest.
“At this hour?”
“She said it was an urgent matter and it did not seem proper to turn her away. My apologies, Master Adwin.”
Begrudgingly Adwin changed back into his day clothes and went downstairs again. He was surprised to find Heklertha and Eltelbee, her young assistant, waiting for him.
“Don’t just stand there all agape boy, we’ve been called.”
“Come now. I know you’ve had dreams of the grove, I’ve seen you in my dreams. The elf wants us to go to him.”
“Keep up youngster. We’ve been called to the grove and you are to bring the seed.”
“You mean the centre of the city, that grove?”
“Yes. Now come along and make sure you bring the seed.”
“You mean the nut?”
“Nut, seed, whatever you want to call it.”
“Ah… Alright, I just need to grab a few things.”
Of course it was more complicated than that. By the time he had returned to the ground floor with the puzzle box, winter wear and his ironwood staff, Heller was there wanting to know what was going on. Then it was a matter of waiting for the carriage and his security detail. By the time they were underway it was near the beginning of the new day, as clocks and bureaucrats measured. Most sound minded folks would have considered it the middle of the night.
Kallen was full, Masri was near its highest point, a bit past half full and the city was bright in the moonlight. There were few people about and they were soon at the wall that circled the grove. There was no known gate into the grove but Hecklertha suggested that anywhere along the wall would be fine. She was sure a way would open for them.
Eltelbee kept staring at him but had surprisingly kept quiet. By her expression, he felt she might be judging him or maybe she was unprepared to meet him in the present context. Heklertha had also been quiet during the ride to the wall, but there was an unexpected eagerness about her and she seemed full of energy.
The hard-faced Maldorn woman approached him as he helped Heklertha from the carriage, He thought her name was Hidge, but was not sure, so he nodded and said, “Yes?”
“What we do here, sir?”
“I’m helping this lady meet a friend, I think.”
“Middle of night? Middle of winter? Middle of city?”
He looked at her, “What?”
“Not normal, more security.”
He looked to Heklertha, she gave a cackle of laughter, “Entourages have their drawbacks.”
He turned back to the security woman, “Well, listen. I told Heller where we were going. So we’re good.”
“Not good, Heller wou-” she stopped speaking as the areas was suffused with the scent of summer and a golden light. She stared at something behind him, she seemed dazed.
“As I said,” Heklertha shouted with joy. “A way has opened!”
Adwin could see that an arched gate had in fact opened in the featureless grey wall. Beyond, he could see a sunlit glade surrounded by mighty trees, the dazzle of the light was too bright to discern much else. The smell of summer was like an intoxicating beverage.
“Come on lad. Bring your nut. There is someone I would introduce you to.”
Adwin looked around at the others, only the horses, Heklertha and he were not staring, stupefied or in frozen awe. A part of him briefly wondered how dangerous this was, but as Heklertha stepped through the gate he was quick to follow. He glanced back after passing through the arched entry, he could still see the others standing near the carriage and the city behind them, but here was a land of summer and the great heart-tree of GreensBridge towered over him. Twice as tall as any of the other ancient trees around him, lush with life from leaf tip to root, the tree made the air vibrate and Adwin could see all manner of strange birds, insects and fey critters throughout the branches. A trail led to the base of the tree and they started in that direction. Adwin suddenly realized the tree’s base was much further away than it had looked. Much further away than would have allowed it to still be on the island.
He suddenly felt a bit dizzy and paused to lean on his staff and looked around. He noted Heklertha had also paused, though her head was high and he eyes were bright with delight. “What happened?”
“We have stepped between here and there.”
“Yeah, I know, I mean we just did that.”
She smiled, “This is the other side of there.”
He looked back to the now distant gate, “I’d say.”
“We are both here and there, this being the other side.”
“You lost me there.”
“No, clearly you are here.”
Adwin refused to say another thing. She was likely just playing some stupid word game with him, but he was confused enough that his head was aching. Looking back towards the base of the heart-tree he could see a distant figure approaching.
“Let us continue,” Heklertha set off again, this time her pace was more suiting one of her years.
“Someone is coming.”
They walked along in silence for a while; Adwin had the vague feeling he had woken up from a dream. He noticed what he had mistaken for a wall was in fact a root. It rose out of the ground and ran alongside the trail for another half yat to the tree, it seemed closer than the last time he looked at it. The size of the tree boggled his mind, so much so, he could no longer look up at it. A few steps later they were at the base of the tree where there was a very tall man nearby. Vertigo hit Awin hard and he stumbled over, leaning against a tree root.
The tall man was muscular but lean, he was over a head taller than Adwin, with long fine brown hair. He wore an intricately crafted loin cloth and belt, with a knife and a couple of small pouches. His body was covered in tattoos and scars. His face was beardless, very fine featured with large ageless eyes and long ears protruded through his hair. It was a wild elf.
He watched as Heklertha and the wildling regarded each other, he went to her and she embraced him. This is the wild elf and that was the maiden, Adwin thought. The story is truly real.
They spoke one to another, though Adwin heard not the meaning of their words. Still he could see that these two loved each other, as much as life itself. Though Heklertha appeared as a wrinkled crone, her smile was radiant and though the elf appeared more youthful, his ageless presence was like a protective cloak, he regarded her with a tender expression.
Adwin did not know how long they embraced but eventually they stepped back from one another. The wild elf turned to him and said, “I have brought you here because you have something I would barter for. With that heart-seed you have, I can restore Heklertha’s youth and vitality, bestowing on her another lifetime, which we would spend together. I do not ask this lightly and offer you a boon in return.”
Adwin’s head started spinning again, “I mean, how can I say no? But I really don’t know what kind of boon you can grant me… I’m not even sure I can open this box. And, don’t you have your own nuts?” He gestured broadly at the tree.
The elf smiled, it was disconcerting, “None of this Tree’s seeds will be ready before my friend would pass from this life.”
Adwin wondered what he could ask for. He pulled the box from his cloak pocket and fiddled with the mechanisms, “I still can’t get it open.”
Heklertha approached, “You only have to do this if you want to.”
“I know that. But this stupid goblin puzzle box won’t open.”
“Let me look.”
He shrugged and passed it to her. “No one I know can open it.”
Heklertha held the box close to her face and hummed and hawed as she inspected it carefully. “Oh, this one’s easy. Put pressure at these four points and press down on the top, then slide.” She passed it back to him.
He followed her instructions and was surprised when her heard a click and the lid slid open. “That was so easy.”
“As I said.”
He looked inside the small box and saw what looked like a large beach nut, half the size of his fist. Not really that impressive. Adwin looked up, offered the nut to Heklertha, “Here, this is for you. A gift.”
The elf’s eyes grew larger, maybe with surprise, “That is an unexpected, extremely generous gift.”
He place the nut into her shaking hands, she smiled at him, crying. Adwin felt a bit self conscious, “Yeah, well… I did it for love.”