A submission for IronAge Media's prompt "The Elderflame."
Galin sat with his feet reclining on the table, sipping a glass of expensive wine in the only inn in the area. The Leering Goat Inn, as it was named, was situated in the small town of Goldwood, which derived its name from the forest surrounding it on three sides. Somewhere in the forest, a dragon lived, though it never came out much. It was a cunning old dragon and preferred its meals to wander into its cave. The dragon’s horde, as might be imagined, however, was not the source of the name, but the golden color that trees took on in the autumn.
Galin stroked his short, white beard—magically white of course. It should have been a dark brown. His hair was short and white as well, even though it, too, should be a dark brown. His face was lined as if he had seen many winters. He had used magic to alter his appearance so as to appear to be a capable, kind old man of about eighty summers. In truth, he was not even close to thirty. Galin had seen an opportunity and had seized it, and, so far, it had not failed him. Like he often told himself, he was not stealing. He caught his reflection in a shield and thought once more that it suited him quite well. At least until he found a wife.
He looked up and saw who carried that shield. It was a graceful elf maiden, and on the belt about her waist was a dagger even more beautiful than she. Its sheath looked like a long, emerald leaf, and it had intricate silverwork imitating the veins of a leaf. True elven craftsmanship! She must be the daughter of some grand elf prince.
Galin noted that she had three or four wealthy-looking friends. Among them was a dwarf from the mountains. They seldom came out of their mines, so this must be something important. Or they were all great friends. Galin knew what they were after almost immediately—the dragon’s treasure. Like most Seekers, the allure of a dragon’s hoard was too overpowering to resist. He smiled. This was where he came in.
“My daughter, sit ye down at my table,” he said, gesturing the startled elf and her companions to sit with him. She smiled, and he got the distinct impression that had anyone else called her their daughter, except for her father and mother, she would have gutted them with her exquisite sword. Galin would have done almost anything for that sword. But, he told himself, it just wasn’t fair to that pretty little dagger to be after two weapons like that. No, it simply wasn’t done.
“Father,” she replied, half coldly, “why have you called us?”
“I know what you are after,” he said. Galin then waved over one of the innkeeper’s daughter’s friends who worked at the inn and asked her to bring his new companions whatever food and drink they wanted. “You are after the dragon’s treasure.” He smiled. “If I didn’t have a little thing on my mind, and a business to attend to, I would be after that hoard no doubt.” He shook his head sadly, wondering how to get the dagger, the “little thing” currently on his mind.
“How did you know?” she asked. The dwarf looked at him dangerously. He was not a particularly pretty thing, though to the other Gold Dwarves he would no doubt have been a very handsome lad indeed. Galin thought he saw it.
“Because,” Galin explained cheerfully, ignoring the dwarf’s glare, “Many come for the treasure, and very few return. None with it.”
“And I suppose you want to be the first, eh?” said a young man with purplish skin and a high ridge on his head, obviously an Omnorian, a rare sight these days.
“Oh no.” Galin shook his head. “Didn’t you hear me? I’m quite content to sit here while others risk their lives on some fool’s errand.” He took a sip of his wine, pausing before going on. “I can see that you are skilled and well off. You needn’t waste your life trying to get more wealth.”
The elf spoke before the others could. “I thank you, father, for your concern. But we have a secret—I’ll not say more—that should slay this dragon quite easily. We shall come to little or no harm.” She like all elves, was tall with an earthy appearance to her pale skin, and there appeared to be what looked like moss in her hair, giving a greenish tint to its umber color.
“I just wanted to warn you,” Galin responded. "And, if you really are determined.” He looked at them expectantly before he continued.
“We are,” said one of the other two. He looked like he would rather be in a kitchen making and sampling delicious food rather than journeying around Northund. His belly was plump, and he had a ladle stuck in his old, greasy belt. Galin noticed with a chuckle that the lad’s blond hair hung around his head much like a helmet.
Galin spared a look at the fifth member. He was a young man, probably a year or two younger than Galin really was, but there seemed to be something not quite human about him. It was his eyes, Galin decided. He wondered if this young man was possibly part Fen, a race almost never seen but often mentioned in whispers. Galin had seen one pass by Goldwood once, three or four years ago, and that woman’s eyes were very much like this young man’s.
He was silent a moment, thinking about how best to put it. “If you will not be swayed, at least let me hold on to your belongings for you.” They all looked at him skeptically, but no one said anything, so he continued. “You see, you are about to attack a dragon in its home, and burdened as you are, you will be quite hampered. An easy target, if you will. I expect you have a mule outside with other treasures and supplies. Please, I have a room that I rent out to Seekers, such as your good selves, so that they don’t have to worry about losing or holding much when they go to fight the dragon. I also own the stable here.” He took another sip and watched them. He was fairly sure he had Helmet Boy and the elf maid convinced. It would only require a bit more, and then it would be settled. He held back his smile. “If theft is your worry, know that I have never stolen anything in my life. There have been no complaints. I swear it on the good goddess, Lalm. In fact, if you want, you can ask the innkeeper or anyone here. They’ll vouch for me. ”
“And what do you get out of it?” said the one who Galin thought was part Fen. Helmet Boy left at that moment, apparently to ask someone like he had said.
“Yes, yes,” said the dwarf said quickly, as if he had been waiting to ask this, “what do you get out of it?” Galin smiled a charming smile, knowing that he could convince them. The dwarf had been his biggest worry, but he should not be a problem for long anymore.
“All I ask is a small fee to use the chests in my room. And another to stable your steeds. And if you should die, that I can make room for other people to store their goods here. When you return, if you do, you can find me here where I usually am, except when I go for a small walk or am worshiping in the temple of Lalm. Or I might be in my modest home,” Galin added as an afterthought.
“All of our belongings will still be here?” the dwarf asked, eyebrow raised. The boy returned quickly, not looking distrustful, which was a good sign. The others noted this too and whispered someone to him, to which he nodded.
“But of course.” Galin put on a look of injured dignity before speaking more. “I would not dare steal anything from behind your back.” He invited them to pour themselves a drink from his bottle of wine. “Now, milady, that is a most beautiful dagger you have. It would be such a shame to lose it along the way or in the dragon’s lair. Let me keep it here, free of charge, till you return.”
“It would be a shame,” she agreed, looking down at it. She drew the weapon. It really was a gorgeous little weapon. She sheathed it and handed it reverently to Galin, who blushed at being able to hold such a lovely dagger in his hands.
“I will keep this safe until your return. You won’t regret it.” He bowed his head. Watching the others, Galin knew that the deal had been settled without a doubt. “If you don’t mind, I’ll be asking you for a silver coin per three days, each, to store what you want in a chest, and one more for each animal you leave at my stable at the same rate.” Galin stroked the sheath, knowing he would protect it very well indeed. “Though, if your animal be exotic, such as a griffin or the like, it will be a full golden crown each three days.”
“A great deal indeed!” exclaimed the Omnorian. “We will most gladly use your services. Please, show us up into your room. Who has the keys?”
Picking up his wineglass in one hand, and cradling the dagger in the other arm, Galin stood up and motioned for them to follow. “Only I have the key to the room, and only I have the keys to the chests. All I ask is for you to mark your chest so you may find it again. And upon your return, I will ask you to pay whatever was needed for the animals upkeep plus twenty percent. Also, I’ll need extra for however many days that end up not being paid for.”
They followed him, and as they walked the elf maid said, “That dagger is magic, so please protect it well. I will reward you greatly when we return. You can have the choice of our spoils.” Everyone agreed, and Galin said he couldn’t accept such a generous offer, knowing they would only push him to accept. They did, and he accepted, beginning to hope they would return.
“What does the dagger do?” he asked as they got to the room. He got out his keys, but waited to open the door.
“It never dulls and will glow when the right word is spoken.” She told him the word without thinking. “It was made for me by my family’s smith, a skilled elf of such renown that even the dwarves have come to him.”
“Such beauty and use,” Galin said, looking at the dagger. He opened the door, and handed the dagger back to her. “Now, those three chests there should be empty. The others might or might not be. I’ll have to look at them. I know those five are being used right now, but I think the owners died. I’ll have to check with the men in the inn. The chests are all protected by a spell. No one but I can open them unless I wish otherwise.”
Galin stood back, watching them unload their treasures and spoils into the chests. He saw what looked like a magic wand go into one. He would not object if it was. And if they did manage to come back, their belongings would be waiting for them, and he would get the choice pickings of a dragon’s hoard. Life was good. Soon, they were finished unloading and had stabled their mule, taking with them only what they needed.
He returned to his seat and beckoned one of the men who frequented the Leering Goat Inn to come over. “Yeah, old man?” he asked. Only Galin himself knew he was not an old man. He smiled again.
“That last group? They didn’t make it?”
“Course not. I saw what was left of them in the forest when I went to visit Old Mary. You would never find another red wig like that.”
“Hmm.” Galin handed him some crowns. “Those fellows left some nice things here.”
The man laughed a strange, loud laugh. “Of course they did. And you’ll reap the rewards. The new group did as well?”
“More than I ever saw,” Galin smiled heartily. “You know, I’ll be sad when they don’t come back.”
“Aye, they seemed like nice folk and all. But you didn’t steal their means of defeating the dragon, did ya?” The man eyed him with a smirk.
He drained his glass of wine and stood up. “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that. I never have. And if anyone has left what they needed, it was their fault, not my persuading. No, I liked ‘em. Pity. Left the most beautiful dagger you ever laid eyes on, though. I wont be parting with that little beauty, even if they do return. Ah well, see you later, my good man. Let me know of any more happenings.”
Today would be a good day to visit the temple, he thought, and pay his respects to Lalm. He really did feel sorry for the elf maid and her friends. But, he had warned them.
Taria beckoned her friends to follow. She knew they were almost at the cave. She wasn’t sure if they would find their belongings back at Goldwood or not, but he had seemed good enough, and the townsfolk said he could be trusted. She worried that letting go of the dagger might not be a good idea, but he had been right. They had too much to carry into a dragon’s den and fight it. Plus the forest had no paths good enough for their mule. Taria was sure that the promise of a reward like that would make sure he was honest this time. That is, if he had not been any other time.
Gorn, who really was part Fen, looked ahead. “Kind man, but I can’t help but feel that there is something he didn’t mention.”
Bjart, the dwarf, expressed his opinion next. “Right you are, but we’ll get it out of him when we get back. Though I have my suspicions.”
“How much farther?” asked the young man with the yellow hair whose name was Toren.
“According to the man I talked to, it shouldn’t be much father,” said Strentir, the Omnorain. It was nearing late in the afternoon, and the forest was especially thick around here.
They went over a rise and saw a gaping hole in a rocky face, but failed to see all of the bones in the woods scattered around them. They all looked at each other and nodded. Then, without another word, each knowing the plan they had come up with, they walked into the cave as silently as they could. Disaster struck not a minute later.
The dragon crawled out of a hidden passage behind them, roaring. Taria barely had time to think, the plan was forgotten as she desperately tried to stay alive. The dragon breathed mighty tongues of flames that she was hard pressed to avoid.
A farmer nearby, who was returning home from visiting Old Mary, the local medicine woman, heard the sounds and dared to look into the cave. He fled and did not stop running after he looked in, glad he was not those inside.
The next day, Galin stood outside Goldwood before a traveling caravan that had decided to stop there. He had heard the news from the man, and even though he had known what would happen, still felt regret that so many wasted their lives to try and get some gold. He didn’t risk his life and wealth just walked right to him. The lovely dagger was belted about his waist, hidden by his voluminous cloak.
“And this,” he was telling a tall man with a turban, “Is a magic wand. What it does I don’t know, but look at it and tell me, is it not worth a fortune.”
The man nodded, admiring it. “Yes, it is indeed a marvelous treasure. Where did you acquire it in this small town, old man?”
“Oh, some passing Seekers came by and left it among other things. They are no more, unfortunately. Nice folks they were.”
The man looked thoughtful. “I will take it, I think,” he said. “I am learning the arts of wizardry and this shall be useful. I will give you four hundred crowns for it.”
Galin had not been expecting that high a price, but being magical, he knew it could go for more. He patted the dagger under his cloak before haggling for more. “Did you hear that my beauty?” he thought. “Looks like you’re not going anywhere. Four hundred crowns…”
The wand wasn’t the only thing from Taria and her friends. All their belongings they had left with Galin were there with him. They would have no more need of them now. They should have, he reflected, listened to him, and stayed here instead of regrettably getting slain.
Yes, he had seen this opportunity and seized it. Why let all these sellable things just join the dragon’s hoard? Galin had preserved countless items, ranging from armor to art to jewelry, over the course of several years. And he had made quite a profit doing it, while still keeping choice items and any coins left behind in a magically altered chest in his house. Life was good, if only people would live it and not throw away their lives needlessly. And of course, those who did come back found their belongings waiting for them, Galin was not a thief. He was just a smart, persuasive man, who knew how to make a profit.