The clink of glass and boisterous laughter floated through the smoky room. Beside the fire, three men played fiddles and a lute in a soft, yet lively melody from the Isil Islands.
Across the flames, Gildebrad the dwarf laughed heartily at a passing word from Ivar, Lord of Brakengate. The dwarf’s frothing tankard hit the table, only adding to the merry clamor of friends reunited.
Renriel and Sorond, the only two elves in the room, raised glasses in cheers. They smiled and peered at the jostling tavern patrons dancing and laughing through the rest of the room. The elves didn’t seem near so smug as usual and if one didn’t know better, Renriel the Noble almost held a look of fondness in her eyes for the surrounding mortal rabble.
Inabreth caught a note from the minstrels and added her soothing dryad voice to their melody. She sang without words and her voice strung the air like gold.
Tension, thoughts of journeys past and to come, everything slipped away in a moment for Selk the Northerner. She sat alone and observed quietly, smiling. At last, all was well with the world. Who could believe how far they’d come? Who would have guessed she’d survive to see them all grow up and step into their fortunes? The rascal prince Iven was now Lord Ivar the Bold and Captain Gildebrad was much more than the outcast guard of ten years ago.
“You have changed much too, you know,” Ovelia said as she slid into a chair beside Selk.
The interruption didn’t quell the warm feeling building in Selk’s heart. Ovelia’s tendency to mind-read didn’t unnerve her anymore. “Ha! Yes, I’m no longer that little thief you caught stealing magic apples when you were an apprentice. Perhaps that is the most remarkable difference.”
Ovelia shrugged and a smile played on her lips. “You still can’t guard your thoughts any better, friend.”
“Good thing I trust you now.”
The fire in the hearth snapped and a dance of sparks sprinkled the air above the flames. The sun sank low in the sky, bathing the stone road outside in beams of amber. Soon the lamplighters would go to work and Selk had a long road to weather before the night’s end.
Selk put down her glass, still half-full. “I wish this could last forever, but as usual time moves on despite our wishes. These last two days have been wonderful.”
Ovelia nodded. “It’s been a long time coming, but we’ll never forget it.”
“Yes, and somehow or another it will happen again. We each have roads and responsibilities in front of us now. I doubt we’ll ever swing swords together like the old days, but this isn’t the last time a room will hear the sound of our songs or clamor.”
Selk stood and Ovelia raised her glass. “Goodbye, Northerner,” she said.
Selk bowed her head, then turned her attention to the others. “Friends!” She called, picking up her glass again. The music continued to swell softly in the background, but her friends in their small corner of the world stopped their conversations to look up. “The time has come for us to part. I will miss you, but I raise you one last glass until the next time our paths entwine, for I know it will.”
“May the Watcher of Stones, forever keep your way!” Gildebrad shouted and swung his wooden tankard in the air.
Ivar dodged a splatter of droplets and raised his glass too. “Farewell, good friend. You will always be welcome in this land.”
The others went on in a similar chorus. Calls of farewell and blessings of elven, dryad, and braken origin filled Selk’s heart and overwhelmed her soul. The homeless thief-child of long years past could never have imagined the existence, much less the experience, of such great love for this bizarre, rag-tag party. She drained her glass and with a last sweep of her eyes she said goodbye to each dear friend. Then she was out the door and into the blossoming dusk. A brisk breeze wrapped her jacket close. On the one side, the cobalt mountains stretched to the sky. On the other, the sun sank in splatters of pink and blue. Ahead, lay Winterhome.
She hummed softly as she walked and the words of an old poem filled her mind.
‘The vines entwine
As flows the drink
Where merry friends and comrades meet
The kingdom won
It’s on to caverns dark and deep
To say goodbye
With happy heart
For journey end is journey start
My friends, farewell
The dust will pass
We’ll rise in water clear as glass
Some stories end in ash and soot
But there’s no end that’s absolute’