The Chronicles of Trivo: Phoenix Ranger, Ch. 2

Chapter 2

When Elaina woke up the next morning, the blinding sun had entered the windows of the inn’s room. Trivo was lacing his boots quietly, and a cup of water was on the table beside him. The bed he’d slept it on the other side of the room was perfectly made.

Elaina, on the other hand, was a perfect mess. She still had her undergarments on, but her other clothes and equipment were in a messy pile beside her. Her breath stank of old barley malt, and her head pounded. The wages of last night's contest, she thought to herself. Elaina’d become involved in a drinking contest with a dwarven warrior, Steeven Ironforge. She couldn’t remember whether she had won or not, but knew she’d tricked him into buying all of the drinks for their binge. Like most dwarves, Elaina knew Steeven could easily manipulated, at least when it came to matters of pride. All one had to do was appeal to their warped sense of honor. Dwarves hated to lose fights or contests. They were stubborn folk, and hated to lose face. She may have drunk on the dwarf’s coin, but at least he’d have something to brag about to his friends today.

Of course, all of that revelry the night before now resulted in a sharp headache and a mouth as dry as the Dunes of Mephisto. “Trivo, do you have any of those potions you gave me the last time we earned a bounty?”

“You drank my last one, Elaina.”

“Coffee then.”

“Of course.”

Elaina was able to dress in privacy as Trivo fetched her coffee. Although less prudish than most elven women, Elaina still had a keen sense of modesty. As she dressed, she reflected on how much she’d changed since joining the Guild. She’d cleaned up her act a lot in the weeks she’d been with Trivo. She was no longer involved with her old boyfriend, Gaul, from the Ghost Thieves. Perfect wretch he’d been--a true scoundrel, and Elaina had been glad to rid herself of him. Gaul had been the one who introduced her to the drink, but even that she’d been able to limit to the occasional rowdy celebration. The Phoenix Rangers had finally offered her a sense of direction. Promotions within the Guild were based on performance, not connections as in the Ghost Thieves.  And slaying Asturk, no matter how 'dishonorably'  some might choose to call it, was still quite a performance for an apprentice like me...

Trivo knocked on the door and opened it slowly. He’d come up with a cup and saucer and placed it on the table. Elaina drank it quickly, ignoring the scalding pain in her mouth and throat.

“Thanks, Trivo,” she said with a grimace as the coffee burned its way to her stomach.

Trivo winced at the thought of the steaming liquid pouring down her gullet, before he turned and began gathering the rest of their equipment. “We need to hurry, Elaina,” Trivo told her. “We have an audience before the King today. I’m going to plead with King Laertes to order Hektor to stop interfering with the Guild’s business. You’ll likely be a witness to our encounter with Asturk and Ithetuuk. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ithetuuk himself at the proceedings.”

“Celinda will be there too, of course…” Elaina said.

“Yes, of course.”

“Good,” Elaina said. “She’s a woman I can relate to. Not a snob like most of the nobility.”

“No, she’s quite friendly. I can’t imagine who she inherited her humility from. It’s good for us, though. The Guild could always use another friend with deep coffers and strong convictions. Come, we only have a few hours until our hearing at the palace.”

Elaina followed him, still adjusting straps and hooks on her leather armor as she went through the door.

* * * * *

Tyrn’s palace was constructed with imported dwarven marble, and sculpted for decades by calloused hands and strong arms. The forms of hundreds of ancient kings lined the walls of the palace and from the outside, a single tower rose above all others. For most of the year it pointed toward the constellation of Sylva, water Goddess and supreme deity of the elves. It was a marvelous place, one of the few remaining wonders in all of the elves’ lands. Elaina had never been inside the walls, and as she and Trivo entered, the girl was surprised to see that the inside was even more impressive than the outside. Crimson carpets imported from the eastern lands covered the floors, and masterful portraits were hung on the walls. Armored knights walked through the halls, and well dressed bureaucrats argued loudly from their chambers. Fountains of nude water nymphs sculpted from polished stone bubbled cool waters from long reservoirs. Elaina decided she was well suited to enjoy a life of nobility.

Trivo was used to the palace. He had been called there about a dozen times to report on the Guild’s business, and he was well liked by most of the palace staff. He wasn’t gruff or rude like many mercenaries, and bore a countenance more often found in farmers than swordsmen. He received many smiles from a crowd of scribes and knights as he entered the audience chamber with Elaina and walked towards King Laertes’ throne room, where the king met with those from other lands and citizens outside of the aristocracy.

The audience chamber resembled a court of law in some respects. The king sat elevated from the rest, his throne on a platform with steps covered in red velvet leading toward it. Below him, a row of marble benches lined the back of the chamber with an aisle between them. A few feet in front of these benches were two oak tables furnished with quills and paper for those who wished to use them. Carvings embellished the legs of the table with scenes of dragons, gryphons, swords, and stories from long ago that celebrated Tyrn’s history. Celinda and Hektor stood near the table facing the king’s left while the table on his right side was reserved for the Phoenix Guild.

Trivo and Elaina bowed graciously at the feet of Laertes. Taking the king’s hand in his own, Trivo kissed the ring, adorned with the royal crest, a five pointed star that represented Tyrn’s five provinces. “My king…” he uttered quietly.

“Rise Trivo,” Laertes told him. “There’s notime for such pleasantries today. We must get down to business.”

“Of course, sire.”

“This is your new charge? What did you say her name was?”

”Elaina, sire,” Trivo answered.

“A pleasure to meet you, my dear. Celinda told me about you as we awaited your arrival.”

“The pleasure is mine, King Laertes,” Elaina told him, still quite nervous. Hektor had been staring at her and Trivo through narrowed eyes since they entered the chamber. It took all of her effort to keep her voice steady. The audience chamber was a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces. In addition to the king, his retinue, and his bodyguards, Celinda stood near her father, and Ithetuuk, now in a prisoner’s drab gray tunic, stood bound in manacles next to a fierce looking bailiff.

“Now then. My chancellor has told me you have a complaint that you’d like to bring before your king,” Laertes said.

“Yes, sire. I have come to represent the Phoenix Guild. On the behalf of Guild Master Roan, I have requested an immediate withdrawal of all of Sir Hektor’s troops from the areas near Crystal Lake, Hardin’s Pass, and the village of Elmsbrooke. Sir Hektor has continually interfered with the protection of these areas by attacking goblin clans without informing the Guild, angering the goblin leaders, and even putting his own family at risk. The Guild has been charged with the defense of these areas, and until Hektor’s intrusion, was doing a very good job. The Guild expects the immediate removal of his troops.”

“Hektor, do you wish to answer these charges.”

“Yes, my lord. These territories have been in the realm of my family’s enterprises for centuries, and only recently has the Guild become a presence. While Elmsbrooke and the surrounding area have hired the Guild to keep the goblins out, the Raven house still has a large stake in trading with those who live there. I have a right to protect my investments, and these attacks that Trivo speaks of are merely skirmishes fought to protect miners and timber men who work near a new quarry close to Elmsbrooke.”

“Sire, I must object. Hektor’s new assets are on the very edge of Tyrn’s domain, and I doubt the Raven Mining and Timber Company have the restraint to keep themselves outside of goblin territory.”

“You have no proof of that,” Hektor replied.

“The prisoner is our proof,” Trivo asserted.

“Goblin Ithetuuk, where is your clan’s home?” asked Laertes.

“Our chief’s hall is in Hel’Fiad, though we roam throughout the woodlands, hunting game and protecting our territory.”

“In your campaigns, have you ever come in contact with Raven elves inside of goblin borders?”

“Many times,” Ithetuuk replied, “although I relished the chance to teach this proud elf a lesson. Just yesterday, a caravan I was guarding stumbled upon Hektor and his company, including his daughter, near the elven border.”

“How would you know where the border is?” Hektor asked. “Your clan ignores the treaties we have made with the goblins.”

“Treaties made with one clan do not bind the others. I obey my chief, and no one else.”

Trivo tired of this bickering. He hated dealing with the nobles, as he had come to discover they were entirely ignorant of military affairs or goblin politics. Trivo knew all about war and death. These nobles knew of nothing but wine, feast, and money. He seethed as he listened. Hektor was completely undermining Trivo and the entire Guild. Hektor willfully manipulated anybody for a profit. Now he had to convince King Laertes. How many more lives, Trivo thought, must be lost for a bit of gold? It must end now, he decided to himself.

“Let’s hear from the others,” King Laertes suggested. “Celinda, how did you get involved in all of this?”

“I was with my father’s company in Elmsbrooke, distributing food to the villagers. The recent floods and conflicts with goblins have hurt the crops, and we had brought wagon loads of wheat and rice for the people. On our way home, I was dozing in the wagon when we stopped. I heard shouts and fighting, and looked outside. My father’s men were battling a large force of goblins that were moving a wagon caravan through the forest. I did what I could, but was captured in the battle, and taken into Asturk’s wagon. I suspect he wanted to hold me for ransom,” Celinda explained. “A few hours later, Asturk stopped in the forest, and Trivo and Elaina battled with the goblins. They won, and brought me home,” she said, smiling at Trivo and Elaina.

“I see,” said Laertes. “Do you have anything to add, Elaina?”

“I was surprised to see just one wagon in Asturk’s caravan,” Elaina told him. “Trivo told me to expect a group of foes. Our plan was to hit and run, killing Asturk and then fleeing back into the woods. I’m glad we were able to rescue Celinda, but that wasn’t planned.”

“Sire, it’s obvious that Hektor is taking unnecessary risks by expanding his business interests so far into the goblin frontier. These lands have been dangerous ever since elves settled there, and any coin that comes from this territory has been paid for in blood. Let the Phoenix Guild secure these lands. When they are safe, the Raven Company is welcome to return and take advantage of its resources.”

“With all due respect, sire, I don’t need the Phoenix Guild’s protection or good wishes to keep my mines and mills operating. These peasants know nothing about what keeps our kingdom running. There is little evidence against me, except for the words of a goblin prisoner, a bounty hunter, and a former thief. I have nothing more to say. I’m sure you will come to a wise decision.”

“Yes, I suppose I must,” Laertes said wearily. “I will announce my decision within a quarter of an hour, gentlemen. Elaina, Celinda…good day.”

* * * * *

After a few minutes of anxious waiting, King Laertes finally returned to his throne room. He had a tired expression on his face. Everyone turned to face him and gave him their full attention.

“Ahem,” Laertes cleared his throat. “I have reached my final decision. It is obvious to me Sir Hektor and his knights unnecessarily disturbed the peace near Elmsbrooke by confronting Asturk’s caravan. From now on, all military activity made near the goblin frontier must be cleared by me or the Phoenix Guild. Only the Royal Army and the Phoenix Guild have any jurisdiction in those lands from this day forth. Any entrepreneurial enterprises must be approved by me. I assure you, only the most ill-conceived campaigns put forth by the nobility will be rejected. This decision is final.”

Hektor and his representatives from the Raven Company were infuriated. They began speaking loudly of Laertes' favoritism towards the mercenaries, and knew their own troops had been put on a short leash. Members of the Royal Army smiled appreciatively as did representatives of the Phoenix Guild who were in the audience. Trivo grinned and put his arm around Elaina’s shoulders. “You did very well today, Elaina. You spoke before the king just as calmly as any I’ve ever seen. Well done. Come, we must head to the Phoenix Guild to receive our next assignment.”

“Just a moment, Trivo,” Elaina replied. “Celinda, it was very good to see you again. I hope your father’s anger does not hurt our new friendship?”

“Of course not, Elaina. You have at least one friend in the House of Raven. Celinda looked up at Trivo and smiled. “Good luck.”

As Trivo left the throne room, he looked toward Hektor. He saw the noble speaking with a dark, hidden figure in the shadows near the far end of the room. Hektor seemed quite angry, but the shadowed man was unperturbed. Trivo had an uneasy feeling as he looked towards them. As he left the room, it was impossible to keep from hearing contempt in the voices of the nobility for both the king and the Phoenix Guild. Trivo felt the trouble started the day before was just the beginning.

As he stepped into the light of the city, Trivo was struck by the simplicity of life outside the palace. Street vendors hawked their wares, farmers from the countryside carried sacks of food toward the market, and children played along the dusty roads that intersected the city. The common folk of Tyrn were hardworking, decent, and usually honest, if one did not consider the merchants. It was much easier for these poor, hardy folk to work together than the wisest, most wealthy nobility, generals, or kings. Sometimes as he walked these streets, Trivo longed for a simpler vocation, one filled with the sounds of harvest in the fields or the heat of the smithy. Sadly, any possibility of an easier life had vanished long ago. Trivo had chosen the way of the mercenary, the way of the sword, and once blood had been spilt, there was no turning back.

Trivo and Elaina eventually entered the Guild’s noisy interior. Local citizenry spoke to the Guild’s agents as the sounds of mock battles could be heard from the arena. It was Roan’s idea to open the Guild to the public. Wooden swords crashed loudly, arrows entered straw dummies, and the sweat of the Guildsmen permeated the air. The crowd loved it.

“Trivo!” Roan called out. “I have heard of your success near Elmsbrooke and in the palace. Elaina, you have also been mentioned. I am pleased with your progress.”

“Thank you, Master Roan,” Elaina said blushing.

“Nonsense! I am sure you are much easier to handle than Trivo was for me,” he said laughing.

“That has yet to be seen, Master,” Trivo said with a smile of his own.

“Come into my chamber. We have much to discuss.”

Roan’s office chambers were quite cluttered. Papers were piled high on his desk. A sword leaned in its scabbard against a pile of armor. A dartboard on the wall featured Asturk’s portrait over the bulls-eye. Cabinets overflowed, ink spilt, and a sense of order within disorder dominated the room.

“Trivo, I am worried about the nobility. They are becoming more and more open in their contempt for the Guild. I fear they are plotting against us.”

“I agree,” Trivo replied. “Sir Hektor worries me most of all. I thought he was leading the nobles, but today in the hall I saw him speaking to an unknown person hidden in the shadows. I fear this must be their true leader.”

“This news is troubling,” Roan told him. “Hektor is a thorn in our side, though quite a predictable one. More about his contacts must be discovered. Do you know of any good spies?”

“None that are not already on assignment,” Trivo told him. “We may have to wait.”

“May I make a recommendation?” Elaina asked.

“Of course,” Roan said.

“The Ghost Thieves train all recruits in the arts of espionage. I believe I could enter Sir Hektor’s office quite easily. In my…wilder days, I made quite the score at the Raven estate. I am familiar with the layout. The walls are easily scaled with a grappling hook, and I doubt the guards’ habits have changed much.”

“I object,” Trivo said. “She’s far too inexperienced. If she is discovered, the Guild will be indicted. We could easily find a freelancer for this.”

“Yes, but I am much less expensive.”

“I don’t like it much either,” Roan said, “but she’s right. Our campaigns against the goblins have been going quite well, but I’ve been investing most of our money in weapons and training so that our strength increases with each passing day. I fear there are dark days in our future, and I do not wish to be unprepared.” Roan’s face darkened for a moment. “Elaina, begin your preparations.”

* * * * *

The House of Raven was an enormous structure of elven grandeur and dwarven ingenuity. It had been commissioned four hundred years ago, in Sir Hektor’s infancy, by his father Justinian. Justinian had just received a large return on an investment he had made a decade before with the dwarven thane Theograd. The mine the two had opened in the Stonewall Mountains had just stumbled upon veins of silver. Like any elven noble, Justinian had used the money he had gained to prove to other members of the elite just how wealthy he was. After his mansion was finally complete, there was no doubt that the elven lord was quite rich. His house was built from dwarven marble, elven lumber, stained glass, and included just the right amount of silver in various fixtures scattered throughout the building. A small vineyard located on the estate supplied his family and friends with endless barrels of wine, and an obscenely large outdoor bath was Justinian’s coup de gras. Justinian lived nearly eight hundred years, a long time even for an elf, and was the envy of the Tyrnish nobility for the rest of his life.

Elaina knew very little about the Raven family’s history. However, she did know the very best way to avoid the guards Hektor hired to protect his mansion. There were two who acted as doormen who guarded the front of the estate, one with a crossbow in a tower near the southeast corner, and a trio who circled the mansion’s perimeter every quarter of an hour. Although they were armed to the teeth and well trained, their predictability made them vulnerable.

The darkness of night enveloped Elaina, dressed in black leather armor from head to toe. It was flexible and light, allowing her to bend, duck, dodge, and run if need be. She wore a black cloak to cover her head, and leather gloves to keep rope from biting into her hands.

On a night like tonight, she became one with the shadows. Her equipment included a short-bow, a full quiver, her short sword, a grappling hook, and a set of lock picks. She loved to come prepared, and was especially happy this night because the mission the Guild had offered her allowed her to slip into the familiar role of the thief. Of course she would not be stealing gold, jewelry, or gems, but the Guild’s most coveted prize of all: information.

Elaina came to the estate during the time thieves call the witching hour. The witching hour takes place between the setting of the moon and the dawn of the sun. Elaina used the darkness to aid her stealth, and when she finally saw the moon’s glow smothered behind the enormous maple trees which climbed above Hektor’s tall house, she made her move. Creeping quietly out of the woods, she watched as the guards made their way around the perimeter. They laughed and joked with each other, care-free and full of confidence.

Elaina was delighted. Most of Hektor’s guards expected nothing and could be easily avoided. The only one she had to worry about was the guard in the watch tower. He could see everything, including Elaina’s point of entry, an open window into the maid’s dressing chambers. She looked up and saw the guard’s armor, still shimmering under the pale glow of the stars. The guard looked anxious, and Elaina knew that this man took his job seriously. He scanned the estate below, and his hand never crept far from the trigger of his crossbow. Elaina also saw a rope leading to a bell that the guard could use for an alarm. Luckily, she had the means necessary to ensure he did not have the chance to cause any commotion.

Inside of her quiver, were arrows used for all sorts of eventualities: some dipped in poison, others for piercing armor, and even one to put a person to sleep. Elaina took this one out and strung it on her bow. It had been made using a special excretion produced by the slumber lily, a rare flower found in Tyrn’s deepest forests. She pulled her arrow against her bow’s string, closed one emerald eye, lined the guard’s shoulder with the point of her arrow, and released. It sprang from her bow into the night air, peaked, and dipped towards the helpless guard, biting into the flesh of his arm and rendering him unconscious in but an instant.

Elaina smiled. I’m getting better, she thought to herself. If only Trivo could see me now. Elaina knew she had to act quickly if she was going to conduct her business before the sleeping man in the guard tower was discovered. She ran quickly through a small garden, around the pool, and pressed herself against the marble of the house. The cold stone absorbed the heat from her body. Elaina decided it was a good feeling, a short respite on a hot summer’s eve. She began unraveling the grappling hook tied to her waist and swung it in short circuits as she judged the distance between herself and the window. When she was confident she would make it, she let the hook fly and watched as it bit into the stone of the ledge. She tugged upon it a few times, and when she was sure it wouldn’t budge, she gripped the rope with both hands and began climbing. The silence of the night was punctuated by short grunts and gasps for air as Elaina made her way up the side of the building.  Her muscles cried for relief as she climbed higher and higher and only quieted when she pulled herself through the window and allowed herself to fall to the floor below.

Luckily, the room was empty. The maids were asleep now, in their bedchambers nearby. Elaina entertained the idea of disguising herself in one of the maid’s uniforms, but then realized it wasn’t worth the trouble since none of the servants would ever be allowed inside Hektor’s office anyway. She tiptoed out of the chamber’s door into a hallway lit by torches. It was perfectly quiet except for the sound of soft snoring coming from the maids’ chambers. Elaina turned right and headed towards Hektor’s office. Peeking around the corner, she was surprised to see Sir Hektor approaching quickly, obviously quite agitated. Panicked, Elaina pressed herself against the walls and into the shadows. Hektor walked by quickly, cursing to himself, and when he finally turned the corner, Elaina breathed a sigh of relief. She continued down the hallway until she found the door to his office. Her lock picking tools were kept in a small pouch tied around her waist, and Elaina took them out so she could begin working with the lock. She probed the locking mechanism until she found a trigger, and then prodded it until she heard a familiar click. Slowly, the door swung inward.

Hektor’s office was poorly kept. File cabinets overflowed, and papers overwhelmed the desk. An overturned inkwell spread a pool of blackness on many of the papers, and Elaina could tell that the old man was under a great deal of stress. She looked for something useful on the desktop, but was unsuccessful and began to look through his drawers. An interesting file marked “Phoenix Guild Personnel” caught her eye, and she considered leaving just then when she noticed a strange piece of parchment. It was written in an odd style that looked almost foreign. Elaina studied it for a moment. The letter mentioned some type of plan called “Operation: Cloverleaf” but it was hard for her to understand. Elaina decided it must be written in high Elven, an old, highly formal language used only by the most ancient noble families. Most commoners could only understand bits and pieces.

Elaina put them both into her pack, snuck quickly into the maid’s chambers, and began to get ready to climb down into the night when she heard sounds of an argument coming from the vineyard. It was hard to see through the ivy climbing on the lattices supporting the vines, but Hektor seemed to be arguing with a man cloaked in black.

“No, you can’t do this!” she heard Hektor say. “I am a powerful man! You’ll never get away with this. Please, I can give you a fortune…”

“You have nothing to offer me except for your life!”

Elaina caught a glimpse of steel and saw the cloaked figure plunge a dagger into Hektor’s stomach while he placed his hand over the noble’s mouth. The dagger was pulled out and plunged into Hektor’s chest. He left once Hektor collapsed, and Elaina saw a terrible image that she would always associate with that night. For a few seconds, the dagger pulsed with the unmistakable rhythm of a heartbeat until it finally slowed and stopped.

Elaina came to her senses and knew she had to leave at once. She swung her grappling hook around a huge tree limb that came close to the house, grabbed onto it and used it to swing past the pool and into the woods beyond. After retrieving it, she did not stop running until she was safely inside the halls of the Phoenix Guild.

* * * * *

Trivo hated waiting for Elaina to return, as the minutes made the slow crawl from hour to hour. He sat in a common room at the Guild, running his thumb along the rim of the wine glass he was drinking from while swirling the liquid inside. As he emptied the glass, a messenger appeared.

“She’s returned!” he told Trivo.

Trivo stood up at once and hurried to the Guild’s entrance to see Elaina doubled over, panting and trying to catch her breath. He rushed to her side and asked, “Elaina, what news?”

“Sir Hektor has been murdered!” she told him. “I saw it happen. He was stabbed in his vineyard by a man I could barely see. His voice…like ice. I fled as soon as I could.”

“This is grave news,” Trivo said. “Did you discover anything else?”

“Yes, I took a couple of documents.” She showed him the intelligence Hektor had gathered on the Phoenix Guild, and also presented a letter written in high elven. “I couldn’t understand this one,” she said.

“Hmm…we’ll have to find a translator. You did a good job, Elaina. You deserve a much needed rest. Head to your chambers. I’ll come get you in the morning.”

Trivo took the documents Elaina had given him and entered Roan’s office. Roan was at his desk, peering through his spectacles at an enormous pile of paperwork.

“Elaina was successful,” Trivo told him.

“Ah, our young spy has returned. What did she find for us?” Roan asked.

Trivo put the documents on Roan’s desk. Roan opened the Phoenix Guild personnel file and began flipping through the entries. A smile crept on his face. “Trivo, you’ve quite the impressive record. They’ve devoted two full pages to your exploits.”

Trivo smiled.  "The letter will have to be translated. I’ll contact our agent in the university as soon as possible,” he said. “Elaina was also a witness to a murder tonight.” Roan appeared startled, and put his spectacles on his desk. “She saw Hektor stabbed to death outside of his estate.”

Roan frowned and then began rubbing his eyes in a vain attempt to lessen his fatigue. “This troubles me. At least Sir Hektor was a predictable annoyance. Now the nobles will be even more paranoid. I suppose I should send my condolences in the morning.”

The pair were interrupted by a loud knocking on Roan’s door. “Come in,” Roan called loudly, and the door to his office was opened by a large armored hand. Two Royal guards entered, swords at their sides, armor clanking as they walked.

“In the name of King Laertes, we are here to arrest Trivo Ibasti for the murder of Hektor of the House of Raven.

The Chronicles of Trivo: Phoenix Ranger, Ch. 1

Enjoy the first two chapters of The Chronicles of Trivo:  Phoenix Ranger (working title).  If you'd like to read more, e-mail to become a volunteer reader.  Provide feedback, and help improve the final draft!  

Chapter 1

Trivo was an elven Phoenix Ranger, quite capable with sword and bow, able to follow a goblin’s tracks for hundreds of leagues without tiring. He had earned a small fortune in bounties during the past few years as part of the Phoenix Guild, and planned to keep earning for years to come. The forests of Tyrn teemed with goblins, as tensions escalated in the kingdom’s borderlands. This caused the coffers of the Phoenix Guilt to overflow, as the Tyrnish crown had grown to rely on the Rangers for assistance in eliminating the elves’ enemies by hunting down renegade bands who traveled near Tyrnish territory. Trivo had been charged by his superiors to assassinate a goblin lieutenant named Asturk Blackheart and brought his young apprentice, Elaina, to fight alongside him.

Elaina was once a Ghost Thief, but had joined the Rangers in exchange for a quick release after pick-pocketing an influential Tyrnish noble. Far from the walls of Tyrn now, Elaina followed Trivo through the forest as he examined each bent twig and hoof print for signs of the Black Hand caravan that was traveling through the forest. The Black Hand was a powerful goblin clan, and Asturk Blackheart was rumored to be smuggling weapons through the Tyrnish forest into goblin territory. Elaina had heard rumors about the Black Hand, describing them as fierce, relentless warriors who resented the elves for slowing expanding their territory into ancestral goblin lands.

She nearly bumped into Trivo as he stopped abruptly to examine a piece of fabric that had been caught in one of the bushes.

“It’s silk,” Trivo stated.

Elaina examined it. It was a small, blue fragment, about the size of her hand. It had small green stitches near one of its edges. “I bet this came from Tyrn,” she told him. “Only a noble or merchant could afford something this elegant, ever since the goblin raids began disrupting the silk trade.”

“Aye. I wonder what such a wealthy person could be doing so far from the city. Gods help us if the nobility are involved. We’ll have to keep our wits about us,” Trivo warned.

Elaina struggled to keep up with Trivo who ran at an even faster pace now. They departed from the main road they had been following, and now kept to one of the nearby trails. Trivo knew these paths extremely well, as he had been traveling them for most of his two hundred fifty years. Elaina, much more familiar with the city of Tyrn, struggled to keep up with Trivo so that she would not fall behind and get lost. She was breathing heavily, although it looked as if Trivo had barely broken a sweat.

“A few more leagues at this pace and you’ll be in fine shape, Elaina. We are almost there!”

Elaina grit her teeth, and began to run even faster, keeping up with Trivo as he ducked beneath tree limbs and kicked up dirt from his boots. Suddenly, he stopped, and she nearly tripped over her own feet to avoid running into him.

“Quick, into the trees. Ready your bow. Cover me from above,” Trivo ordered.

Elaina obeyed. She grabbed onto a low hanging limb from a great maple tree and climbed up ten feet above the ground. Despite the density of the limbs, she still had a view of the road. She straddled one of the limbs with her legs in order to avoid falling, locked her ankles, took the bow that rested on her torso above her cloak, and drew an arrow from the quiver tied to her waist. Phoenix Rangers traveled well-armed in the field, but usually wore light, leather armor to pursue their bounties more easily. Elaina saw Trivo crouch to the ground as he put his ear to the road. His ear picked up the sounds of hooves coming quickly, and he called to Elaina, “They are almost here! Stay hidden for as long as you can.”

For a few minutes, Elaina did so. She heard and eventually saw a carriage carried by two horses quickly approaching. A battle worn goblin in chain mail, armed with a savage battle axe was at the reins. He looked at Trivo grimly, and blood trickled down his face from a cut above his eye.

“Halt!” Trivo demanded.

The carriage driver came to a stop. He dismounted, and grasped his bloodied axe in his hands. The goblin’s chain mail hung over metal plate greaves and Trivo noticed that they had seen action recently. The plates were dented, and the mail was torn in places. His armor was stained black, a technique the Blackheart clan used to make its warriors stealthy at night. He came up to Trivo’s chest, but met his gaze with a proud stance. Goblins were shorter than elves, usually standing between four and five feet. They made up with their lack of height with a relatively muscular build, and were formidable opponents. This one seemed to be no exception. “You’ll have to speak to my chief, though I’m sure he’ll give me permission to kill one more elf today,” the goblin rumbled.

The door of the carriage opened, and a taller goblin in ornate, black plate mail with a two handed sword in a sheath strapped to his waist stepped to the ground.

“What is the meaning of this, guildsman?” the goblin demanded to know.

“Asturk. You are hereby under arrest by authority of King Laertes for trespassing into elven territory, smuggling weapons, and wanton destruction of our forests. Surrender now, or face me,” Trivo declared.

“I thought it would come to this,” Asturk replied, as he reached into the carriage and brought forth a trembling, crying, blind folded, elven maiden and put a dagger to her throat. Her silk dress was torn at the sleeve, and her wrists were bound. “She was with her father’s entourage as they ambushed us near Hel’Fiad, and we’ve taken her as recompense. Let us pass or the brat dies.”

Before Trivo could respond, Elaina let loose an arrow from her perch in the trees, and it struck Asturk in his arm. She cursed. She had been aiming for the space between his eyes.

It was all the distraction Trivo needed, as he launched a dagger that had been in a sheath tied to his boot. It pierced the flesh of the hand the goblin had been using to hold his blade to the girl. Trivo charged, and Elaina jumped from her tree and landed on the ground. She took out a short sword that was tied to her waist, and then gave the carriage driver a menacing look. His black eyes narrowed, and he lunged toward her.

Elaina rolled backwards as the carriage driver made a heavy, downward strike with his axe, plowing the soft earth of the forest. She used the heavy pommel of her short sword to strike the goblin’s nose as hard as she could, and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

In the meantime, Trivo and Asturk clashed sword violently. Sparks flew as metal struck metal, each warrior’s face a fierce visage of hatred. Trivo’s long sword held Asturk at bay as he looked for an opening with a dagger he held in his left hand. Asturk struggled to swing his heavy sword with his uninjured hand, but was becoming exhausted. He slashed at Trivo, but the elf easily ducked beneath it. Trivo plunged his dagger into Asturk’s thigh, and then rolled to the side to avoid Asturk’s counter attack, a heavy, downward blow.

Elaina was quietly making her way to the other side of the carriage. She crept slowly around it and then found herself behind Asturk. She discovered a weak spot in his armor, gripped her short sword, and stabbed him in the back. Asturk, a look of shock and hatred frozen on his features, fell to the ground and Elaina could see Trivo looking at her, dismayed.

“I had him, Elaina. You didn’t need to interfere.”

“It must be the rogue in me. I’ll use any dirty trick to shorten a battle in our favor,” Elaina replied with a wink to her mentor.

Trivo sighed, and then took the blindfold off of the elven maiden who had crouched beneath the carriage during the battle. After he got her onto her feet, Elaina sliced through the cords that bound her wrists together. Trivo removed her blindfold.

“It’s all over. What is your name, my lady?”

“I am Celinda, daughter of Hektor, head of the house of Raven. Thank you for rescuing me, kind rangers,” she said and bowed humbly to Trivo.

Trivo blushed and spoke, “Such thanks is not necessary. The Phoenix Guild pays us well.”

Elaina grinned, recognizing Trivo’s embarrassment. Few of their assignments involved any form of thanks other than a pouch of coins or a hardy slap on the back from one of the senior members of the guild. She spoke and told Celinda, “This is my mentor Trivo, and I’m his charge, Elaina. Are you injured? Would you like some water?”

As Elaina and Celinda got to know each other, Trivo devoted his attention to other matters, and the first thing he did was to awaken their goblin prisoner so that he could be interrogated. He approached the goblin, and kicked him swiftly in the gut. The goblin let out a sharp grunt, and stared up at Trivo in anger. The bright sun created a silhouette around Trivo’s figure, and the goblin squinted to make out the elf’s features. He could see the markings of the Phoenix Rangers on Trivo’s cloak, and felt himself being pulled up by his hair.

“What name was given to you, goblin?” Trivo asked. He released his grip of the goblin’s mane, and awaited an answer.

“I am Ithetuuk, warrior of the Black Hand,” the goblin answered.

“Where is the rest of Asturk’s caravan? The Rangers heard of a great force traveling through these woods.”

“This is all that’s left, thanks to that girl’s scheming father. After the elves attacked, our caravan was scattered, and many of my brethren fell in battle. Asturk and I barely made it out alive, but I guess it didn’t do him much good. Still, thanks to us, many elves will be meeting their ancestors tonight in the land of dark dreams,” Ithetuuk told him, with a grim grin upon his face. “My brothers’ spirits have been avenged.”

“I guess you’d better cooperate with us then, since there’s nobody left to avenge you. I know this girls’ father, Hektor. He is ambitious, and your story of ambush and bloodshed may have some truth to it. The man’s greed nearly cost him his daughter. Unfortunately, no bounty has been posted for your head. Therefore, you’ll return to Tyrn with us. The Phoenix Guild will decide your fate.

After binding Ithetuuk’s wrists behind his back in some interlocking metal bracelets, the group traveled far into the woods of Tyrn, away from the goblin frontier. They passed small hamlets and crossed bubbling brooks, seeing many curious young elven lads who had heard stories of the Rangers. They watched excitedly as the company passed by. The young ones hurled insults to Ithetuuk, obviously excited to see a goblin prisoner up close. The older elves merely shook their heads at the sight of the prisoner, still weary from battles long ago. Trivo lead the group in stern silence, making sure nobody tried to harm their captive. Elaina and Celinda walked a few paces behind, and spoke at length, for neither had met someone outside of their own class.

Endlessly curious, Elaina asked, “What is the court like? Is it true the king feats on dragon during the Yule day, and that griffons are kept as pets for the little ones?”

Celinda laughed. “I don’t think dragon would suit the king’s palette too much. He’s not one for spicy foods. Griffons don’t like to be indoors much either, though I’ve heard one of the Robin House has tamed one and uses it for a steed.”

“How wonderful!” Elaina exclaimed beaming. “Trivo can barely ever supply us with a lame mule, much less a griffon.”

“Beats of burden soften the belly and dull the feet!” Trivo called from ahead.

“The truth is Trivo’s much too stingy!” Elaina told Celinda, and both began to laugh.

“Tell me about the Phoenix Guild,” Celinda told Elaina. “Much is said about them in court, and not all of it is good. My own stubborn father has a bit of a grudge against them. Do you know why this is?”

“Nobles used to make a lot of money by defending the Tyrnish frontier against the goblins. However, as the goblins grew in strength and numbers, the nobles began to hire members of the Phoenix Guild to defend areas that they considered too dangerous, or couldn’t squeeze enough profit from. Eventually, the people of the outposts decided they liked the members of the Guild a lot more, and the nobles were in far less demand. Since no war has broken out, the Guild is able to defend most of the outposts by themselves. Nobles like your father, who once made a great deal of money from the defense of those towns and villages, have much less money coming in from the frontier to fill their coffers.”

“That explains a great deal. My father sees me as a child, and refuses to discuss matters of business with me. It feels good to be taken seriously. How were you able to learn so much?” she asked.

“As Trivo’s charge, he makes me go to a bunch of boring meetings at the Guild, and I have to take notes. Most mentors don’t do that, and are eager to get away from their charges after we’re through with physical training. If you ask me,” Elaina spoke in a hushed tone, “I think it’s because he doesn’t altogether trust me yet. He still wants to keep an eye on me most of the time.”

“Don’t you find that tiresome?” Celinda asked.

“Of course,” Elaina told her, “but I can’t blame him. It’s quite a responsibility for him to have taken on a former Ghost Thief as an apprentice.”

Celinda’s eyes widened. She had heard much about the thieves from the others at court, and most described them as a wicked, greedy, nefarious bunch of ruffians. However, most of the bards’ tales surrounding them spoke of stolen noble property being sold to support those of the poorest sections of Tyrn. The truth, Celinda decided, was probably somewhere in the middle. Although she had heard stories of the thieves which cast them as ruthless butchers, she had worked closely enough with the poor to know that many thieves were just people who had fallen on hard times, and chosen to make to make money outside of the law. Philanthropy was a tradition of the wealthy Raven house, and its execution was one of the few tasks Hektor entrusted to his daughter. Her experiences with the poor gave her a broader view of poverty than most nobles.

After a few more leagues of travel, Celinda, Elaina, Trivo, and Ithetuuk entered the great city of Tyrn. Sparkling white marble from the great palaces dazzled their eyes, reflecting the evening sun. They walked on cobble stones through many poor neighborhoods and finally to the Guild Hall. Celinda and Elaina waited as Ithetuuk was delivered to the Guild’s prisons, and Trivo negotiated a price for the goblins’ bounties. He was able to receive four hundred silver schillings, one hundred of which he would have to share with Elaina. If she could hold onto a few of these until our next assignment, Trivo thought grimly, she could have more of their next bounty. Trivo knew that as poor as Elaina had been most of her life, she was never used to having much money, and tried to give her some advice on how to manage it. Elaina had yet to take his advice, unfortunately.

Trivo, Elaina, and Celinda parted ways at the House of Raven. Celinda said goodbye to Elaina and Trivo, and gave them both some kind words about how much she hoped to see the two of them again. She told the pair to try to find her if they ever had reason to attend court. Some harsh words were spoken between Hektor and Trivo at the door to the grand estate, and Elaina knew Trivo was not negotiating a reward. Hektor was a stern man with a sharp nose and chin. The silver robes of the nobles matched his steel gray hair.

“I’ll be bringing this matter up before the council!” Trivo promised. “The Guild will support my case and your king will agree. You had no reason to tread on the Rangers’ jurisdiction or put your daughter in danger!”

“I don’t have to answer to you or your ruffian friends. I am a powerful noble, Ibasti! Do not forget that!” Hektor cried before slamming the door in Trivo’s face.

Trivo stood in front of the door, puzzled for a moment. Then he turned to Elaina. “Up for a drink?”

“Always, Trivo. You never have to ask me twice.”

Trivo smiled. Elaina was barely one hundred stones, but she drank more than some elves twice her size. Trivo did not know how she managed it. The Ghost Thieves were well known for their involvement in and enjoyment of bootlegged wine, so Trivo imagined she had lots of practice.

“I’m proud of how you handled yourself today, Elaina. You never showed any fear against those goblins, and you did a lot to comfort poor Celinda. Here’s what’s coming to you,” he said with a wink and tossed her a small pouch full of her earnings. “Try not to drink all of it tonight.”

“You only say that because you know you can’t keep up!” Elaina said, and they both began laughing.

* * * * *

Elaina and Trivo stepped into the Barley Hall, a great tavern with an inn, the Red Rooster, next door. Elves mingled with human traders, dwarven mercenaries, and all kinds of revelers. Trivo welcomed a chance to relax, and took a deep breath of the smoke of dreamweed that hovered over the heads of the patrons. Elaina smiled and glanced at the wine bottles and barrels of barley malt behind the bar. Set up across the hall were long, wooden tables with stools and benches on both sides. To the left of the entrance, a small fire blazed, where some of the older patrons warmed their bones and roasted food on long skewers. It was a tremendous place, and it and other taverns like it were an important part of Tyrn’s community.

“Trivo! Who’s your pretty lass?” called a deep dwarven voice from a table in the middle of the hall.

“Steeven, it’s good to see you!” The elf and dwarf shook hands in greeting. “This is my new charge, Elaina. Elaina, this is Steeven, a dwarven mercenary who has collaborated with us Phoenix Rangers many times.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Elaina said with a smile.

“Aye! Well sit your skinny elven arses down, and get a drink.” Steeven made eye contact with one of the barmaids and signaled ‘Two more, here.’

An elven woman came over, holding four wooden jugs brimming with beer, and sat two down for Trivo and Elaina. She gave a nod to Steeven, and said “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” Steeven replied, and flipped a copper coin to her that she caught and put in her apron before grabbing her remaining drinks.

“Drink up! You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

Elaina picked hers up, and drained almost all of it before placing it down again and letting out a conted sigh.

“Ha! She drinks like a Phoenix Ranger.”

Trivo smiled at his old friend. Steeven had burnt auburn hair that peeked out from a horned helmet. His beard was a slightly darker color, and came together in a circlet braided beneath. He wore a green tunic embroidered with a dwarven argyle pattern over a shirt of chain mail. Trivo noticed he was unencumbered by his battleaxe, which meant he must have already rented a room at the Rooster next door. His tan leggings mostly covered thick black boots, and a dagger peaked out of one, just in case a fight broke out. His blue cloak had been folded up, and laid on the table to make him a little cooler. Trivo grinned and his thoughts involved memories of old campaigns fought with Steeven.

“I think I’ll have a smoke,” Trivo said, taking a polite sip of his beer. He pulled a wooden pipe out of his pack, banged it against the table, and began packing it with his dried dreamweed. “Would you two care to join?”

“Aye, but I won’t let it slow down my drinking. Tell me, Elaina, have you learned a great deal from our man Trivo?”

“Yes, he’s a good mentor. He taught me how to shoot and how to swing a sword. I’ve tried to teach him how to pick a lock, but I’m afraid I don’t have his patience.”

“I’ve got a strong arm, but clumsy fingers, I’m afraid.” Trivo produced a long wooden stem, held it into a lantern on a table until it began to glow orange, then placed it over the pipe and smoked. He stomped the stem out in an ash tray, and passed the pipe to Steeven. The dwarf took it, and drew in as well. Each held their breath for a few seconds, exhaling simultaneously while beginning to laugh.

“Here, Elaina, try this. Dreamweed won’t pain you the next day like too much drink, but it’ll lift your spirits.”

“Elaina took a deep breath, but even though she tried to hold it in, the smoke left in a fit of coughing. She extinguished the fire in her lungs with the last of her beer and put the pipe down. “Disgusting.”

“An acquired taste to be sure,” Trivo replied, as he and Steeven began to pass the pipe back and forth. In the meantime, Elaina walked to the bar and ordered drinks for herself and Steeven who had both emptied their mugs.

After a bit more conversation, Steeven suggested another round. “I can’t,” Elaina told him. “I’m simply out of coin.” Trivo’s eyebrows raised, but he held his tongue. If it took the skill of a thief for Elaina to hold onto her money, so be it. Steeven did not want for anything. His success as a mercenary ensured that.

“Nonsense. You just want to stop drinking. A contest, then. I’m sure I can drink you under the table. The winner gets the honor of man or woman of the night,” Steeven declared.

Elaina winked at Trivo. “As long as it’s on your purse, I have no objections.”

Trivo smiled and finished his beer. Throughout the night, he watched, making sure nobody tried to take advantage of Elaina in her state. After a fierce bout of drinking, Elaina collapsed onto Trivo and began snoring.

“Victory!” Steeven yelled, and fell backwards onto a wooden bench. A group of elves and humans began laughing and clanking their mugs together. Trivo put Elaina’s arm around him, grabbed her waist, and walked the woman towards the inn.