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2.

That’s also the subject of conversation at my little birthday party.

Mom’s out, it’s the fourth hour of the evening and I’m just about to lock the door when Zelin shows up with a couple of bottles of wine. Almost on her heels is Gurth.

“Here’s my present,” he says, holding out a small box.

“No, wait for the others,” says Zelin.

One minute later, Jan and Fenric come in. She’s carrying a round box which turns out to be full of cake. He’s carrying a couple of boxes which turn out to be full of hot cheesy pie: one with mushrooms and onions, one with sausage, mushrooms and onions.

“Anyone else coming?” I ask. “Lucette? Yanos?”

They laugh. “Maybe Gillafarthy?” Gurth suggests.

“Let’s lock up, actually,” says Zelin. “I don’t think anyone we want with us tonight isn’t here already.”

So I lock up and we adjourn up the stairs. “Oh, hello,” Jan says as she enters my room first. “You have a cat?” Being Janet, she’s already holding, hugging and petting the cat, who is smallish, grey tabby, and purring very loudly.

“That’s Cudgel,” I say. “I woke up this morning and he was in bed with me. Mom won’t let me keep a cat—well, she hasn’t, but she’s stuck with this one.”

“How’d he get in?” she asks.

“I had my window open just a crack. He must have scrambled up onto the roof and somehow not slipped on the ice and fallen off, and then he had to squeeze through about an inch of space. And here he is.”

Jan gives Cudgel a kiss and puts him down on the bed, and he returns to the spot just below the pillow, already warmed up. “Do you often wake up with males you don’t know?” asks Fenric.

“Just this one,” I say. “You?”

“Oh, on occasion.”

We laugh, and settle on the floor or on the bed (me and Jan). Cheesy pie is shared out, mugs are found and wine is poured, and Zelin (of course) passes around her pipe. Gurth says, “Can I give her my present now?”

“Of course,” I say. He hands me the little box and I open it: what can a city guard afford? It turns out that what he can afford is a pretty little flask, steel with turquoise inlay in the shape of a flower. “Oooh. Someone knows my birthstone.” I show it to Cudgel, who is not interested.

“Yeah,” he says, “lucky for you you weren’t born in July. I couldn’t manage a ruby. It’s, um, got a little magic too, you put ordinary stuff in there and it tastes like expensive stuff. Um, wine, brandy, whisky, whatever.”

“Did you try it?”

“No, of course not, you should.”

“But not with this wine,” says Zelin. “This is the good stuff.” She gets out her own little box: maybe eight inches long, four wide, three deep, nice dark wood. I hold it and admire the wood. “Open it!” she says, with more enthusiasm than I’m used to from her.

It’s a dagger in a leather sheath. It’s very simple: leather wrap handle, short steel guard, no inlay or decoration. It is a work of art and it looks very sharp. I don’t know what to say, and that’s what I say. She smiles at the knife and shrugs.

“Dwarves made it,” she says.

“I thought Elves and Dwarves didn’t like each other,” says Gurth.

“I try to reach out.”

“Thanks,” I say, still a bit in awe.

“Here,” says Fenric. “I didn’t steal it.”

I open the wrapped package, which is a large rectangle. Inside is a leather-bound book. On the inside first page, in Fenric’s own calligraphy—he really is good—it says, “Daisy’s Spell Book.” Under that, he’s written, “Daisy Delatour, Conjurer.” Conjurer is crossed out and “Enchantress” is written under it.

“Mine next,” says Jan. “Mine last, I guess, unless your mom gives you something.”

“She already did,” I say. “An extra long lunch hour yesterday, spent making potion blank. Oh, and she doesn’t know it, but she got me a cat.” I pet Cudgel, and scratch him around the neck, which he thinks is the best thing ever to happen to him: he rolls on his side and uncurls, gazing at me in a loving squint. Then I take her box, which is long and thin. A wand? No, a necklace, of sturdy-looking gold links, with a not insignificant turquoise stone. Cudgel’s eyes open and focus on the necklace, which I keep out of his reach. “Oh, someone else knows my birth stone,” I say.

“It doesn’t have magic,” she says. “But it’s all set up to. I figured, why buy a magic item for someone who’s an alchemist anyway?”

“What are you going to put in it?” asks Fenric. “Charm of seduction?”

“Like I want that,” I say, raising an eyebrow. I giggle, and we all laugh. Jan helps me put it on. I spread the book in my lap, hold the flask in my left hand and the dagger in my right. “Look at me,” I say. “”Eighteen years old and I’m all set.”

Jan raises her mug and we toast. Fen says, “To Daisy! Our youngest. Right?”

“I’m twenty,” says Gurth. We look at Zelin.

“Oh, I’m older than that,” she says. We all drink. She says, “So—?”

“So,” says Fenric.

“So,” I say, “now we’ve got the Circlet back to its proper owners—!”

“Thanks for that, by the way,” says the thief. “I like the gold. It’s perfect. But how is it theirs? Was the Hill Priestess a dwarf?”

“No,” says Zelin. “They made it for the Priestesses of the Hills. But the Priestesses were killed off by Valentina, and the Dwarves hired me to get it back. And with your help, I did.” She pets Cudgel, who’s just within her reach. He gets up, stretches, and gets in her lap. Elves.

We toast again: Jan has refilled our mugs. “So,” Zelin says.

“So,” says Fenric. “What’s next?”

 

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