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Ryel and Aridel ambled along the wall above the harbor, chatting, while Ryel kept an eye on all these divergent clues. “So whatever you’re doing here,” Ryel said, “you’re now ready to get off the island.”

“That’s about right,” said Aridel. “Smoke?”

“Don’t mind if I do.” They stopped in the lee of another bushy tree and Aridel filled up her pipe. She was a bit over Ryel’s height, but very different in color and body shape. She was definitely High Kindred: her hair might be red, but it was a dewy, misty red that shimmered in the shadow of the tree. Ryel was the typical wood elf in that she constantly looked like she was either about to make a smart remark, or about to put an arrow in the eye of an orc standing a hundred yards away. Aridel had the full high elf hauteur instead: she looked like she disapproved of touching actual objects. It made it interesting to watch her fill a bowl with that strain of pipe weed that only the high elves can grow. They probably grow it hydroponically, thought Ryel, in vats of sherry. Aridel was a bit stacked for a high elf, or for any elf for that matter (Ryel most distinctly was not stacked at all). Aridel was hiding it just now, in her spy outfit of dark on dark with dark: she was, at least just now, dressed to the same logic as Ryel. She lit the bowl with a spell word Ryel also knew: sko, which someone must have discovered somewhere other than Middle Earth; she took a long pull and handed it to Ryel with a little smile.

Could I work with her? Could she be a partner like Arkmar’s a partner? Ryel considered this as she took a long draw on the pipe: yes, this stuff was indeed quite—hmm. What was I thinking about just now? Gee, the waves look cool with a little sun glinting on them.

“You still have a job to do?” asked Aridel.

“What? Oh yes,” said Ryel. She smiled and took a long gaze around. “Can’t tell you anything about it, of course.” She smiled at Aridel. “I know a ship you can take passage on. It’s just off shore there: see it?”

“Ohhh. I know that ship,” said Aridel, smiling. “It’s the Storm Queen.”

“You know the captain, or his woman?”

Aridel frowned. “He has a woman now?”

“I know, right?” They laughed just a little bit like school girls. They looked around: only bushes were close enough to hear. Beyond that, they were just elves in the woods, and all the gnomes and humans and so on would hear was the sound of the breeze and the chatter of birds. “Did you sleep with him?”

“Of course I slept with him,” said Aridel. “It was the ticket price over here. Oh, that sounds bad, I just mean—!”

“You just mean you’re just like me.” Ryel gazed leftward, then turned and put her butt against the wall and peered through the bushy tree. Yes, yes indeed. She turned to Aridel and said, “Wait here, okay? I won’t even be a minute. Then I’ll see about getting you to the Storm Queen without being stopped.”

“What?” But Ryel was gone into the maw of the bushy tree.

“Bottle of red, steward,” said Bidjith to the waiter gnome as she and Arkmar sat down in the gnome version of a café. “It’s very good here.” She grinned at Arkmar. “Don’t go anyplace. And don’t pay for the wine. It’s on me. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to powder my nose,” which she said in exactly those words in Gnomish Common.

“Powder your nose,” Arkmar repeated with an appreciative laugh.

“I also need to take a wicked dump,” said Bidjith. With an enchanting smile, considering it was half hidden by a long and silky beard, she was off to find the lady gnomes’ room.

Arkmar looked around, smiling benignly, thinking of things much more seditious than sleeping with Her Honor. He looked at the hedge along the edge of the outdoor café, and did a double take. He stood up and crossed the six feet of distance.

“Ryel,” he said in a low voice, “I’m glad to see you out of jail, but you have to give me some space on this, I have it covered.”

“Yeah, and the piece?”

“I have it covered.”

“That’s great, Arkmar. How about the fact that I just saw what looked an awful lot like—?”

He smiled. “I think I have that covered too. Stick around and watch and maybe you can help out. But don’t get tossed in the dungeon again or it might complicate things. You notice I’m with your least favorite person on the island.”

“I think it might be a tie, Arkmar. Did you hear when I said I saw a gnome who looked an awful lot like—?”

He just smiled. “Leave it to me,” he said. “Got to go. Bye now.”

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