Arkmar made it to his appointment with the judge on time. The judge, whose name turned out to be Bidjith, was quite friendly to the dwarf. They had a light lunch and then took a tour of the Queen’s Museum. While they were there, Arkmar made sure to point out the gnome who had arrived on the first ship of the day.
“He needs watching,” said Arkmar. “Not arresting. Just watching. He may be a gnome, but he’s certainly not one of your gnomes.”
“He’s not,” said Bidjith, who seemed noncommital on whether she knew that he knew that she was a she. “Yet this visitor you saw is a gnome, and I do not persecute gnomes or dwarves, just the fey folk and the big morons. Humans, you might call them.”
“I kind of like your name for them,” said Arkmar.
“Anyway, we need not act on this intelligence just now, right?”
“No,” said Arkmar, “we have lots of time. I wouldn’t worry about it until much, much later.”
“Then,” said Bidjith, “since I have cleared my docket for the day, perhaps I can give you another tour?”
Ryel did not chat further with the others for a while. She was having a look at the way the cell was set up. The door was the only way out—the joins of between walls and ceiling and floor were slightly rounded inward, and the entire surface was hard as a rock. The door was steel, without a window. It locking mechanisms looked pretty clever.
Ryel inspected everything she could, and this aroused the interest of the high elf female, whose name seemed to be Aridel. They chatted in Ryel’s Sindarin, then Aridel went back to her usual occupation of moping and making sarcastic remarks at the others. After an hour or two, the other prisoners all started to rouse themselves and form up, making a line or a row along an imaginary barrier about three feet in from the front wall. “Dinner time coming soon?” asked Ryel.
“Meal three, we call it,” said a human male of small stature.
“Okay, meal three,” she said. “You line up?”
“They feed us one at a time,” said the little guy. “Guess what. You get to go last. Ha ha! I’m not last anymore!”
“Well, you’re going to be again,” she said to herself, but he was arguing with the woman in front of him. “Say,” she said to him after a moment, “did everyone get to keep their weapons?”
“Sure,” he said. “Force field.”
“Ah, you did say that, someone did,” said Ryel.
A minute later, the door opened, and immediately the imaginary barrier crackled into reality. Three gnomes wheeled in a big pot of something and a bunch of bread loaves; the third gnome carried a stack of bowls. He set the stack on a shelf built into the cart that carried the pot and the bread. Then he looked up and saw that Ryel, twenty feet from him, had an arrow on the string of her bow, and the string was drawn back to a surely lethal tension.
“Forget it,” said the leader gnome, on the other side of the cauldron. “Force field. Your arrow would simply bounce back. It would probably hit one of your friends. So go ahead, one less mouth to feed.”
“As if I didn’t know that,” replied Ryel, swinging the arrow to the gnome leader. “As if I haven’t used my time in your cell constructively. As if I haven’t figured out how to disable your supposed force field. But it couldn’t be that, could it? Because I’m just a stupid member of the fey kindreds. I’m a forest girl. I can’t possibly know a thing about this fancy. Gnome. Technology.”
“You’re new, right? First rule: shut up.”
“You’re telling her to shut up?” said Aridel, the high elf maiden. “You’re definitely sure she’s bluffing?”
“Of course she’s bluffing,” said the gnome, with the slightest glance at a spot on the wall near the ceiling.
The high elf looked at Ryel, who didn’t look away from the leader gnome’s face.
“Ah the hell with you,” said the leader gnome. “Let’s go, boys. Okay, folks, as always: we get the door shut, we let the force field down, you get to eat. As per usual.”
Just as he was saying that, Ryel, who had kept her arrow pointed at his nose the whole time, swung and aimed at a spot near the ceiling and just behind the force field. The arrow sped, struck the force field at a high angle, split and caught fire. Most of the far end of the arrow went through and embedded itself in that spot on the wall. The force field went down.
The prisoners and the gnomes looked at each other for a few seconds. Ryel had another arrow ready. The middle gnome had the bright idea of chucking a hand axe, throwing it at waist level at Ryel. She ducked aside and then shot him in the neck. She went to draw another arrow, but the spell had been broken already and the prisoners surged forward, pressing the two remaining gnomes back and down to the ground.
Aridel was watching this, undecided between pitching in and avoiding physical contact with all these lesser beings. Then Ryel grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out the door. She slammed it behind her and made sure the lock was engaged.
“We’ll be back for you guys,” said Ryel. She looked at Aridel. “Don’t ask questions. We have a lot to do.”