THE RING

Copyright Suzanne Searle 1997

Ceyenna sat tipped back in her chair at The Phoenix Nest Inn. She had joined up with an adventuring group a little over two weeks ago, and had done nothing at all since then except "rest" at the Inn. Ceyenna feared no man but boredom was her enemy; her bane.
She had asked Melian and Ariena, her female adventuring companions with whom she shared a room, if they were ever going to find work. Melian had shrugged and said that it was up to their group leader, Ithildin, as to what they did next. Ceyenna had groaned to herself. Ithildin was an Elf. They lived so long, they thought of time as differently from humans. Ceyenna was beginning to wonder, as she sipped the warm ale that was all she could afford, if they would ever be on their way. As she sat musing over this state of affairs, Arondil approached her. He too was an Elf. Ceyenna had taken an instant dislike to him. He looked down upon Humans as inferior to Elves. He was also a Paladin of Cay and followed a chivalrous code of honor and justice. Ceyenna was a thief and tried to avoid things like "honor" and especially "justice"!
Arondil stood over her seated form at his full height of seven feet. Ceyenna hated the fact that Arondil was so tall, the better to look down his Elven nose at her. Right now, his expression said he had overturned a rock and found something particularly disgusting. "What do you want?", Ceyenna asked Arondil in not the most friendly manner. "Ithildin would like to see you upstairs," he said impassively. Then he went outside.
Ceyenna ran a hand through her hair in a rather futile attempt to make herself presentable. Ithildin had always been courteous and friendly in his dealings with her. Ceyenna went upstairs and stopped outside the room Ithildin shared with Arondil. She'd never been inside it before. She knocked and Ithildin asked her to come in. The room was orderly, unlike the females' room. Spell books and rune paper were stacked neatly on the only table in the room. Ithildin was a RuneMaster and Ariena the Halfling was his apprentice.
"You requested me?", Ceyenna asked. Ithildin motioned her to one of the room's two chairs. He got right to the point.

"We need someone to go into Haalkitaine and look for work," Ithildin began. "And since they are not too fond of Elves there, I thought you might like to go in with Lamoure." Lamoure was the group's other magic user, if you could call it that, Ceyenna thought. He was a Mentalist.
"Why not send Dion or Melian with Lamoure?", Ceyenna asked. "Just out of curiosity, of course!", she added hastily. "It'll be wonderful to get out of this Inn for a while," Ceyenna finished. Not that Haalkitaine was that far away, only a couple of hours ride from The Phoenix Nest. But anything was better than nothing, and Ceyenna had never seen the city before. Ithildin smiled faintly. Ceyenna's ennui had not been lost on him. Ithildin tilted his head to the side slightly, thinking.
"Let's just say that our choices are limited and, to be honest, Arondil didn't trust you to go alone so I'm sending Lamoure with you," Ithildin explained. Ceyenna was angry about Arondil, but she only nodded to Ithildin and said, "I'd like to get going this evening and return tomorrow morning, or as soon as we can dig something up." Ithildin nodded.
Ceyenna went down the hall two doors to the room Lamoure shared with Dion. She knocked on the door.
"Go away!", She heard Dion say from inside. Ignoring him, Ceyenna went in the door... and wished she hadn't. Lamoure and Dion were tangled together on the bed, under the sheets. Ceyenna covered her eyes with one hand and exclaimed, "Sorry!". She was not embarrassed, but two men in a bed together made her uneasy, unless she was the third one!
"I told you not to come in," Dion said reproachfully. Ceyenna responded, "Well, Ithildin wants me to take Lamoure with me into Haalkitaine tonight and look for work. Lamoure...I'll meet you in the common room," Ceyenna finished, Then she turned and left, shutting the door behind her.

***

The sun was setting as Ceyenna rode into the gates of Haalkitaine with Lamoure. He was younger than Ceyenna's twenty-four years, being about nineteen. He was 5'11" with a pale complexion and long black hair. He was dressed ostentatiously in a long wine red colored robe with gold trim. The cuffs and hem were embroidered with arcane symbols. He obviously fancied himself quite the magic user, Ceyenna thought.
"Well, Ceyenna," Lamoure said as they reigned in their horses on the main road. "I'll go look for the mage guild in this town and see if they know of any work." He waved his hand vaguely at Ceyenna.
"You go into the bars or wherever it is you feel comfortable and wait, I'll meet you at the front gate in the morning." Lamoure stated. Obviously he thought he had been entrusted with their errand by Ithildin, and Ceyenna was only along to aggravate him. Ceyenna merely nodded to him, and rode off down the nearest street. She could work better on her own anyway. She slowly rode through the streets, which were well lit and cleaner than any she'd seen before. She was looking for an Inn that looked as if it might cater to mercenaries. Instead, as she rounded a corner, she found a wagon loaded with crates. It was parked outside a small tavern called The Prancing Unicorn, and it was loaded with all types of cats. There were forest cats and domestic cats and there was even a tawny mountain lion crammed into a cage not meant for a cat of its size. Something had to be done. Ceyenna worshipped Andaras, God of cats, and she could not let this atrocity continue. So, she swung down off her horse and tied it outside the tavern. Ceyenna walked in and found a well-lit tavern, quiet, with only a few patrons. The owner hurried over and asked Ceyenna what her pleasure would be. She was an older human female with graying hair and an officious manner. She suggested the night's dinner special, running on about what was available until Ceyenna waved a hand to stop her.
"I'd just like an ale," Ceyenna said. Then she asked, "Could you direct me to the owner of the cart that's standing out front?" The old lady obligingly pointed out the man and Ceyenna approached
"Excuse me, but are those your cats out front?", Ceyenna asked pleasantly. The man turned to her. He was tall and broad shouldered with short dark hair.
"Yes they are," he replied, "is there something you wanted?". Ceyenna swallowed her anger. She WANTED his liver, but that could wait. She forced herself to smile.
"I have a proposition for you, care to discuss it over a drink?", Ceyenna asked. The man leered at her and snaked an arm around her waist, pulling her close. He reeked of ale, and he needed a bath.
"You don't LOOK like a whore," he commented. Ceyenna extricated herself from his embrace.
"That's because I'm not," Ceyenna said, smiling thinly. Keep calm, she told herself. Then she went on to say, "I'm a Ranger whose been traveling these woods lately. I saw a beautiful, big tiger around these parts, not far from here." The man looked interested. "But...if you're not interested, I won't bother you anymore," Ceyenna commented. She turned to walk away.
"Hey, now girl, I didn't say I wasn't interested!" He smiled. "You buying the ale?"

***

Ceyenna had convinced the man, whose name was Tym, to leave his cart in the walled enclosure at the back of The Prancing Unicorn. A lazy young man had assured them the cart would be safe there. And Tym, having traveled to and from Haalkitaine before, seemed to agree. Ceyenna thought it strange, to trust a stable yard without even a lock on the gate! But she didn't question what fate offered her. She led Tym out the open city gates into the night. The guards on watch made no comment. Ceyenna was indeed familiar with the area, and she led Tym several miles from Haalkitaine into dense woods. She told him to wait while she scouted ahead, this being the area she had last seen the tiger. He agreed. Ceyenna went a little ways into the woods, not far. She clutched the Black Panther amulet hanging around her neck. It had been a gift from Andaras to allow her to control her lycanthropy. Concentrating, Ceyenna's human form shimmered and changed...
into a large tiger. Ceyenna gave a little cat snicker to herself as she stealthily approached Tym from behind. He never suspected a thing. It was all over in a matter of seconds.
Ceyenna, in human form, made her way back toward the outer walls of Haalkitaine. She had prudently decided that going over the wall was smarter than walking in the main gates. Especially since the guards had seen the two of them leaving together, and now only she was returning. She found a quiet spot and had no trouble scaling the stone wall to get back into the city. As she made her way through the quiet streets, back to the Prancing Unicorn, the back of her neck prickled with her thief's sense. It was too quiet here. She felt uneasy. She made it back to the tavern with no incident and awoke the lazy young man "guarding" the cart.
"What is it?" He mumbled sleepily. One of Tym's few gold coins held in front of his face awoke him quickly enough.
"Tym sent me to get his cart," Ceyenna explained. " He's got the tiger trapped out in the forest and he needs his wagon. He told me to give you this for your help." It was ridiculously easy to deceive the young man, who was not much more than a boy. Ceyenna felt a little sorry for him, but that didn't stop her from driving the cart out towards the gate. She had tethered her own horse to the back after retrieving it from the stables.
The guards did stop her this time but Ceyenna was prepared, with basically the same story she'd told the young man back at the Prancing Unicorn. Except that she had to explain how Tym had magicked her back into the city with an amulet he had. After a cursory inspection of the cart, the guards waved her through. Ceyenna drove the cart as far out into the woods as she could force the horse. Then she released the carthorse and got down to freeing all the cats. They all took off in every direction without a backward glance. The last one out was barely more than a kitten, of the house cat variety. He was all black without a white hair on him. Ceyenna decided to take him back to the Phoenix Nest with her in the morning. Ceyenna then vanished into the woods without a trace, using one of her Ranger spells. She spent what remained of the night in the bole of a cozy tree.
It was well past sunrise the next morning when Lamoure came riding out of Haalkitaine. Today he was wearing a saffron colored robe trimmed in black with the usual arcane embroidery on the cuffs. He looked slightly wilted and completely exasperated. He looked as if he'd been waiting awhile in the hot sun. Ceyenna grinned to herself. It was shaping up to be a warm early summer day. Ceyenna kicked her horse down out of the woods and onto the main road.
"Ceyenna!" Lamoure exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing out here? Didn't we agree to meet inside the city gates? I've been waiting three hours for you!" He continued on for a few more minutes in that vein until he ran out of breath. "Well? Aren't you going to say anything?" He asked.
"Did you find any work?" Ceyenna asked, answering his question with a question.
"You'll find out when the rest of the group does!" Lamoure snapped angrily and spurred his horse into a canter. Ceyenna shrugged and urged her horse to follow.
Ceyenna and Lamoure got back to The Phoenix Nest a little before noon. A stable boy came to see to their mounts and Ceyenna lifted the black cat off her pack where it had been sleeping. As they walked into the Inn, she let the cat down to explore. The rest of the group was sitting at a table in a secluded corner, enjoying their drinks and awaiting lunch. There were only a few other travelers in the large taproom. Ceyenna dropped down into a seat between Ithildin and Melian. Her back was to the wall and she could see both of the doors to the room, and the staircase. She signaled a passing barmaid for a drink. Lamoure had sat down next to Dion, who had solicitously offered him his own drink. Lamoure gratefully accepted.
"You are back quickly, you must have found something," Ithildin commented. Lamoure quickly set his drink down.
"No thanks to HER," he said, speaking to Ithildin but pointing at Ceyenna. "We were barely inside the city gates before she took off on her own and left me to find work on my own!"
"WHAT?" Ceyenna exclaimed, standing abruptly. Lamoure only raised an eyebrow at her condescendingly. The idea of cutting out Lamoure's tongue flitted appealingly across Ceyenna's mind. She was startled when Ithildin placed a hand on her arm.
"Sit, Ceyenna," Ithildin said mildly "Let us all discuss this reasonably." With a last glower at Lamoure, Ceyenna sat. Lamoure launched into a long, convoluted, rather confused explanation of how he had obtained work. Ceyenna tuned him out and stretched out in her chair. The rest of the party looked bored with Lamoure's explanation. Ariena the Halfling made no pretense as she openly studied a spell tome Ithildin had lent her. Her familiar, a miniature dragon named Anardil, lay sleeping at her feet. Melian, the Half-Dwarven Beast mistress, sat drinking her ale and petting the little cat Ceyenna had brought in. The cat had immediately taken to Melian. Ceyenna smiled. Any friend of a cat was a friend of hers! Arondil sat with his "superior Elven" expression on his face, a look that the Paladin could be counted on to use on any occasion, Ceyenna thought sourly. Only Dion and Ithildin looked less bored. Dion, a hulking Human swordsman at 6'4", sat listening to Lamoure as if pearls of wisdom were dropping from his lips.
Ceyenna had to look away quickly to hide her mirth. Ithildin looked patient, an expression he was famous for.
Ceyenna surreptitiously studied Ithildin's profile. His shoulder length blonde hair was pulled back with a white leather tie. He was beautiful and wise and regal, like some Lost Prince, Ceyenna mused. She finally perked up when Lamoure said,"...and so, we are hired on as the wine merchant's guards, protecting his caravan." There was a stunned silence before everyone spoke at once, yelling at Lamoure and then turning on Ceyenna. It was a few minutes before Ithildin could get everyone to quit grumbling.
"No, this is NOT the best job we could have asked for," Ithildin stated. He looked with disapproval first at Lamoure, then at Ceyenna. "But," he continued, "Lamoure already gave our word, and so we must be honor bound to proceed". Then Lamoure told the group the particulars. It was a trip from Haalkitaine to Cynar, further west. It would take about a week and a half, fifteen days, to make it along the caravan route with three wagons of wine imported from various lands. The merchant had come this far, and Cynar was his final destination. Nothing was said as to why the previous guards had quit. The merchant was an Elf by the name of Lyrior. The group would get three silvers a piece. Lamoure explained this last piece of information sheepishly. Melian exploded. "I can't believe we're going to do dangerous, hard work for three lousy silver pieces!", She exclaimed. "Where was your head, Lamoure?", She asked. And then she turned to her friend Ceyenna. "And why didn't you find us something better?", She asked accusingly. The rest of the party seemed interested to know also. They all looked Ceyenna's way. Ceyenna colored under such close scrutiny, and shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
"Well, there were other...uh...more important...I mean...things I had to do," Ceyenna finished lamely.
"And what could be more important than a mission Ithildin had sent you on?", Arondil asked angrily. When Ceyenna remained mute, Ithildin spoke up. "Well, we are committed now. We had best spend the afternoon seeing to our horses and packing up." Lamoure had told the party that they were to meet Lyrior a little after sunrise the next day outside Haalkitaine.

***

The next morning, the group was waiting outside the gates of Haalkitaine. Ceyenna, never a morning person, was dozing in her saddle while her horse cropped the grass at the edge of the roadway. It was at least an hour past sunrise already and time was passing. Melian muttered something about being out here for nothing. A few farmers were trickling into the city to sell their produce. An hour later still, the group was thinking about what their next step would be. They only had about two golds between them all. Then, finally, Lamoure waved excitedly at a figure coming out the gate. He was a tall good-looking Elf with black hair. He wore a smile as he drove his three big wagons, roped one after the other, out the gate. He seemed not at all bothered by the time. He greeted Lamoure, and introductions were made all around. Lyrior the wine merchant passed out one silver a piece to each person. He promised them the other two in Cynar. Ceyenna couldn't help shooting Lamoure a nasty look as she accepted hers.
There was no question that Lyrior would drive the lead wagon. Then it was decided that Melian would drive the second wagon and Lamoure would drive the third and final wagon. Dion, Ithildin, Arondil, and Ceyenna would ride guard position, with Ceyenna scouting ahead and Dion at rear guard. Ariena elected to ride in the wagon with Melian since she was not overly fond of horseback. Her pony was tethered behind the second wagon.

***

It was day eight on the fifteen-day trip to Cynar. Everyone had settled in to an uneventful, one might even say boring, trip. Ceyenna certainly thought so. Lyrior was turning out to be a strange Elf, in Ceyenna's opinion. He hardly ever shut up. She'd never seen such a talkative Elf. Since Ithildin was riding next to the lead wagon, he was the recipient of all the babble. Ceyenna noticed Ithildin said little and appeared to be rather irritated. Ceyenna filed this bit of information away since she'd seldom, if ever, seen Ithildin irritated. During the whole trip Arondil had ridden up and down the caravan line. He'd remained awake all night, regardless of who was on watch duty. When Ceyenna had asked him about it, Arondil had remained quiet at first. Ceyenna thought he would refuse to answer her as he did many times. Eventually he had stated that there was something amiss, something that was not right somehow, and that was all he could, or would, say. Arondil's unease had passed itself to Ceyenna and she had gone scouting in her tiger form. She had gone miles around the campsite, but had found nothing. She had shrugged and decided that since there was nothing to find, to forget it.
Now, dusk was just falling on the eighth day of their trip. The first stars were just beginning to show in the darkening sky. The road they were following was winding through some low hills, which were sparsely wooded. Ceyenna was riding ahead of the caravan, just out of sight in the wooded, hilly country. It was darker under the trees. She had one of her Ranger spells in effect, one that would alert her to an ambush. Suddenly the spell went off, giving her a deep sense of foreboding. Ceyenna wasted no time wheeling her horse around and charging back to the caravan.
As Ceyenna came riding up, the caravan had already stopped. Lyrior was nowhere in sight, but the rest of the group was looking toward a low hill not far away. Upon the hill sat a rider, outlined blackly against the fading light. He had flowing white hair, a deathly pale completion, and was bedecked in black armor. Ceyenna sidled her horse up to Ithildin's.
"So, you felt it." Ithildin commented to Ceyenna.
"Yes, but WHAT is it?" Ceyenna asked.
"It would appear to be a Herald of Night." Ithildin answered. "None others I know of ride a black unicorn steed."
Ceyenna looked again and could just make out the horn. "But what interest does it have in us?" Ceyenna asked.
"A very good question." Ithildin answered grimly.
The Herald drew his sword and brandished it above his head. The unicorn reared, screaming an eerie challenge, and charged down the hill. Arondil and Dion drew their swords and rode to meet the challenge on horseback. Melian was occupied using all her skill as a Beast mistress. She was trying to keep the horses that were hitched to the wagons from bolting away in a panic. Ariena, in the wagon with Melian, clutched her black staff and tried summoning a spell against the rider. Lamoure sat quietly in the last wagon, tuning into his inner self to cast a spell.
As Ithildin prepared to cast a spell, Ceyenna drew one of her daggers. Calculating the distance and speed of the rider, she threw it swiftly. It hit the Herald in the shoulder of his sword arm just before he engaged Arondil and Dion. It didn't even slow him down. The Herald acted as if he had not been hit. As Ithildin released his spell an aura flared up around the Herald, bright against the deepening twilight, then dissipated. The herald continued to fight unaffected.
"It is as I have heard," Ithildin told Ceyenna. "The Herald's sword possesses him and drives him in the face of any but a mortal blow."
The Herald was driven back by the two fighters. Then suddenly, the Herald caught Dion a blow that felled him from his horse and left him stunned, his horse fleeing in terror. Then the Herald engaged Arondil in earnest. Arondil pressed him hard and managed to knock him from his unicorn. The beast reared and came at the caravan, choosing to attack the unprotected Lamoure. Ceyenna screamed to Lamoure over the chaos, but it was too late. The nearness of the unicorn broke Melian's hold on the horses. When the unicorn screamed, it sent the wagon horses rearing. Lamoure grabbed for a hold...and missed, falling onto the waiting horn of the unicorn. Ceyenna wasted no breath in venting her anger at the unicorn. She stood up on her horse's back and launched herself into the air, transforming into a tiger as she went. The Unicorn had just tossed Lamoure's limp form off its horn when it was hit from behind by 250 lbs. of angry cat.
Ceyenna the tiger took the unicorn, squealing, to the ground. The tiger's fangs had sunk deep into the creature's neck and the tiger's back paws were raking great gobbets of flesh out of the unicorn's flanks. Ceyenna let her cat instincts take over and she found the right hold to break its neck. She held on tightly while the last struggle went out of the unicorn.
Meanwhile, the Herald had pulled Arondil from his horse. At that time, Arondil had scored a serious wound to the Herald's left thigh, but the Herald continued to fight, oblivious of the blood pouring from his wound. Ariena, seeing her spells were having no effect, asked her Shaskan, Anardil, to distract the Herald. The miniature dragon took flight, swooping low over the Herald's head. The Herald took a startled step back just as Ithildin cast the most powerful confusion spell he could. This combination allowed Arondil the opening he needed to strike a fatal blow. His Mithril sword slid up between the Herald's ribs, killing him instantly. Arondil let go his sword and dropped to his knees at his enemy's side, gasping for his breath. Ceyenna, still in tiger form, had torn open the unicorn's belly and was devouring its liver.
Melian had gotten the horses under control and jumped from the wagon to see to Lamoure. Ithildin knelt by Arondil and offered him a drink of Elven restorative. This made sense since Arondil was a healer as well as a Paladin and needed his strength to help any wounded. But as Arondil was trying to choke some of the liquid down, Melian walked up.
"You needn't hurry", Melian said somberly, "Lamoure is dead. "Arondil looked pained. The death of an adventuring companion was always hard on Arondil, especially since he was a healer and in this case he could do nothing. But the restorative had helped him enough so that he could see to the still unconscious Dion. Arondil ran a hand through his short, sweat soaked hair. Then he knelt next to Dion and put his hands on Dion's temples. Dion had taken a glancing blow to the skull, just above his left ear. He was pale and his skin was clammy to the touch. Arondil was still for several long minutes. Then he came out of the healer's trance.
"He'll be fine", Arondil informed the group. "He just needs to sleep for now".
"How 'fine' is he going to be when he wakes up and realizes Lamoure is dead?", Melian asked. No one answered. Arondil looked as though he needed the Elven 'sleep' whereby he could meditate and restore himself. Ceyenna remembered all the nights he'd been up, restless. Apparently Ithildin remembered that very thing too, because he said, "I think that it is time to find Lyrior and get some answers".
Ariena stayed to watch over the sleeping Dion while Ithildin, Arondil, Melian and Ceyenna went over to the lead wagon. They found Lyrior cowering between his wine casks.
"Is it gone yet?", he asked feebly.
"Yes," Ithildin answered. "I think we have earned our three silver." He said with a slightly sarcastic edge to his voice. Then he stated, "I think you should be so good as to inform us what, besides wine, we are protecting."
Lyrior cleared his throat and emerged from the wagon, gaining confidence now that the threat was gone. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about", he said arrogantly.
Before Lyrior knew what had happened, Ceyenna had a dagger to his throat. She pressed the edge in, cutting him a little.
"Ceyenna!", Ithildin snapped. Ceyenna eased up, but kept the dagger in place.
"Ithildin asked you a question", Ceyenna said, "and he isn't fast enough to stop my dagger if I decide to cut you", Ceyenna warned. "And believe me", she added, "three silver is NOT worth the death of Lamoure". Even though she would hardly miss him much, Ceyenna thought. Lyrior took Ceyenna's threat seriously.
"There IS something", he said sullenly. Ceyenna let him go and sheathed her dagger. Melian held up a lantern she had lit after the battle. Lyrior went into the wagon again and pushed one of the wine vessels aside. Set into the floor of the wagon was a recessed hiding spot from which he took a small wooden box. When he'd gotten out of the wagon again he opened the box and let Ithildin see. Melian and Ceyenna leaned in to get a look. It was a solid gold ring in the form of a sea serpent. The tail was in the creature's mouth as if it were eating itself. Arondil frowned.
"It is evil, perhaps even Unlife", he said. No one disputed his innate sense.
"It's a magical ring", Lyrior said. "I didn't know it was EVIL!". Ceyenna narrowed her eyes at him. She knew he was lying. But the others seemed not to hear him.
"I'll have to study this", Ithildin said, "in order to determine exactly what powers it contains". Ithildin had Lore spells that would enable him to determine the magical elements of the ring. Ceyenna and Melian went off to find the missing horses and wagon as Ithildin found a quiet spot to meditate over the ring. Arondil sadly set himself the task of preparing Lamoure's body for burning. It was obvious nothing could be done until Dion had a chance to say good-bye.
Hours later Lyrior and the group sat around the evening fire and listened to what Ithildin could tell them about the ring. Dion was sitting by himself near Lamoure's unlit funeral pyre. Nothing could induce him to join the rest of them. Ithildin had put the ring back into its box and given it to Arondil to hold, much to Lyrior's distress.
"The ring is attuned to Unlife", Ithildin said without preamble. He shuddered. Ceyenna had seen him do an Elven ritual cleansing on himself after his prolonged contact with the ring.
"The ring must be destroyed", he stated quietly. He nodded to Arondil.
"No, wait!!", Lyrior exclaimed.
Ithildin turned impassive eyes on him. "There is no possible reason to allow this ring to continue to exist and perhaps do great harm in the wrong hands," he said. Lyrior stood.
"The ring is my possession! You have no right to arbitrarily decide what is to happen to it. I had planned to sell it to the Priests of Yarthraak in Cynar. They worship the sea serpent", Lyrior explained.
Arondil spoke up then. He had set the ring on a flat rock and drawn his Mithril longsword. "Then you have been badly deceived", he stated. "For they are very similar to a cult we rescued Ariena from not long ago. They perform blood sacrifices". And with that he raised his sword above his head and brought it down with all his strength.
"NO!", Lyrior yelled, but it was too late. The ring was cleaved in half. A piercing shriek filled the air as the ring broke, then all was still.
"Where evil is concerned, property rights have no value", Arondil stated with conviction. Ceyenna shifted uneasily and reminded herself never to let Arondil see her Black Panther pendant!
"Did you wish to be linked to the Unlife?", Ithildin asked harshly of Lyrior.
"No, of course not", Lyrior said quietly.
That night they burned Lamoure's body, each person saying something positive to lift his spirit up to his gods. The next morning found the caravan on its way again, and the rest of the trip proved uneventful.

***

When they rolled into Cynar seven days later, Ceyenna was happy to see that this city was a normal bustling town with the usual distribution of races. Lyrior paid the two additional silver apiece as agreed upon, and also gave them Lamoure's silver. No one objected when Dion accepted the silver for Lamoure.
Lyrior politely recommended The Shining Shield as an affordable, clean Inn. The group accepted his advice and directions.
They had only just sat down to a drink and a meal at The Shield when a group of Cynar's city guard came through the door. Ceyenna, always in a position to see the doors, motioned to Ithildin.
"Trouble, do you think?", Ceyenna asked quietly. Arondil frowned and spoke before Ithildin could.
"And why would there be TROUBLE, Ceyenna?", he asked. But she was correct. The guards talked to the Innkeeper and then approached their table.
"Who's in charge here?", the Sergeant asked. No one spoke for a moment.
Then Ithildin said in his calm way, "I would probably qualify as group leader."
The sergeant said, "There's been a complaint against you by Lyrior the wine merchant. He says you posed as bonded caravan guards and he paid you the market rate. He's just come to find out you're not bonded members of the Mercenary's Guild at all. Impersonating a bonded guild member is an offense punishable by fine. I'm afraid you'll have to come with me to see the magistrate". Dion and Melian looked ready to put up a fight. Ceyenna was considering whether or not she could make it to the back door. Ithildin sensed the group's unease and he held up his hand.
"The most logical course of action is to go in before the magistrate and explain that there has been a mistake", he said calmly to all.

***

"Did you ever consider an ILLOGICAL course of action?", Ceyenna complained to Ithildin.
The group had been detained in the local prison to await the magistrate's pleasure. Ceyenna was never happy to see the inside of any prison, for however short a time. There was too much potential for it to be a permanent stay.
"Ithildin was only doing what he thought best", Arondil defended. "And besides, as long as we don't have anything to HIDE, Ceyenna, we should be out of here shortly".
Ceyenna gave him a sour look. "I'm glad YOU"RE so jolly about this", she commented sarcastically. But just then the guard came to take them to see the magistrate, and any further talk was cut short.

***

They were out on the streets of Cynar about an hour later. The fine had been, coincidentally, three silver apiece for impersonating bonded mercenary. No amount of convincing on Ithildin's part had done any good. He had actually become irritated. But unless they had wanted an extended stay in prison, they were forced to pay.
"Well, now we're here in Cynar but no better off financially", Melian complained. "We can't even afford lodging for the night!"
"Don't worry", Ceyenna said determinedly. "You all just go back and check in to The Shining Shield. I'll take care of our financial problems", And with that she took off, unheeding of the others calling her back.
It didn't take Ceyenna long to trace Lyrior's path after entering the city. He wasn't being secretive. He was staying at an Inn called The Blue Lady. When Ceyenna entered, she found it crowded and rowdy. She spotted Lyrior immediately up at the bar, occupied with a comely bar wench. Ceyenna plunged right into the crowd. The best disguise was to blend in. She passed behind Lyrior and lifted his pouch without him ever knowing. Then she left the Inn and went around out back to the stables. She found the two stable boys on duty and waited until they were done helping one of the Inn's customers. Then she handed each boy a silver piece out of Lyrior's full pouch. Their eyes widened to saucers.
"You never saw me here. And, I won't be long", Ceyenna said. They immediately pocketed the silver and began a game of dice, ignoring Ceyenna as if she were invisible.
Ceyenna found Lyrior's wagons standing in a small walled yard attached to the back of the stables. She gave the wagons a quick once over, then set to work examining them more closely. She found several compartments in each wagon, similar to the one where Lyrior had hidden the ring. She simply hid the various small bags, pouches and boxes about her person. Then she helped herself to a pull at one of the old, expensive looking wine bottles. She sighed. Ceyenna had been wanting to do that ever since they'd started this ill-fated trip. She had been thinking about scaling the wall but as she leapt down from the wagon, the world spun dizzily around her. She giggled, slapping her hand over her mouth. That wine must have been more potent than she thought! Scaling the wall was out of the question so she made her way through the stables, and passing the oblivious stable boys with the help of one of her Ranger spells.

***

Back at The Shining Shield, she stumbled into the front door . She found her companions at a small table looking glum as they discussed how they were going to afford lodgings. Ceyenna came up to their table giggling. Everything struck her funny. She began to laugh out loud as she began depositing all her booty on the table.
"You're drunk!", Dion accused as Ceyenna sat down next to Ithildin to catch her breath.
"Where did all this come from?", Ithildin asked suspiciously.
"Where indeed?", Arondil echoed. Ariena gasped as she opened a small box and found a rare blue diamond the size of a walnut. Melian dumped a small bag onto the table and sat fingering the Mithril and platinum pieces lovingly.
"Ithildin, honestly", Ceyenna said. "I just convinced our former employer to pay us what we were worth!". And she laughed.

THE END.