The main entrance to the castle:

"Lord Standish, what a pleasant surprise. Lady Standish, a pleasure as always. If you will follow me I will escort you to the reception hall. Your, ah, guards will have to leave their swords here."

"Of course chamberlain, of course. Please, lead the way."

The entryway to the main courtyard and colonnade:

"Master Healer Ardnath and Master Stone Wizard Hyrrum, welcome honorable sirs. If you will please follow me I will lead you to the waiting area. You will have a chance to meet the ambassador and his party when they leave the reception hall but please wait until they approach you. The ambassador does not speak our language but there is a royal translator."

The West Gate:

"About time you two got here. Leave your blades over there; you can get'em back on your way out. You, pick up that box of targets and follow me. You've got about half a mark to get ready."

+ + + + + + +

Chris' gaze swept over the crowded hall, seeking out familiar faces among the guards and taking note of all the new ones. He was dismayed at how many strangers there appeared to be among the king's retainers. In fact, the chamberlain and one of the door guards were the only two that he could definitely put names to.

King Orrin himself seemed unaffected by the passing turns. A little grayer perhaps and his belt might have had a notch or two added but overall he appeared to be in good health. Chris would still think twice about challenging him to a duel but if the king was still fit and had all his wits about him, why all the changes?

Quick glances exchanged with Buck let him know that the fighter seemed to share his feelings of unease. Was there a new power behind the throne? Who could be trusted and who was a threat?

"Pits, Chris. I don't like this one bit." Buck hoarsely whispered from the side of his mouth as he watched the ebb and flow of the people gathered to meet the Elven ambassadors.

"Yeah, too many unknowns."

"Naw, I'm talkin' about being stuck in this gaudy uniform. Not one fine lady here has given me a second look so I figure it has to be this jester outfit."

Chris gave a small huff of amusement. "Ezra may be wishing he had your problem. That's got to be the third mother that's practically thrown her daughter at his feet."

"Hmph. The mothers may be pitchin' to Ezra but then he's not having to do much dodging. I just don't understand what's got all these women so distracted."

"Look over there. I think your answer just walked through the door."

Even as he spoke, the focus of the crowded room shifted perceptibly to the entrance where three new arrivals stood waiting to be introduced.

"Ambassador Lytan E'tharin and his aid Kyle E'tharin from the kingdom of Greyfallen accompanied by the royal translator Terressa Barintine."

It had been in the king's audience chamber that Chris had last seen a full-blooded Elf. If he remembered correctly it had been a scout delivering a report on the movements of a rogue dragon. While obviously of Elven blood, the scout had been rather plain and ordinary. His long, chestnut hair had been tightly braided to fall in a straight line down his back and his light colored buckskins had accented the leanness of his form. Handsome yes, but nothing breathtaking. Chris had been more impressed by the Elf's calm, self-assuredness and his clear, precise report.

Looking back on the memory, the mercenary could understand why he had so readily accepted Vin's appearance. Handsome, yes, but his personality often overshadowed his mixed heritage. And with his ears hidden he could easily pass for full Human. The same would never be said for the ambassador and his assistant.

Maybe it was just the clothes, bright silks with sparkling gems stitched into intricate patterns; or perhaps it was the way the afternoon sunlight shone on their long, pale gold hair and reflected from their almond=shaped, green eyes. Both men were lean and of the same height though the ambassador did appear to be slightly taller. Judging from across the room, Chris guessed him to be close to his own height.

The Human woman that accompanied the ambassador and his aid was no eyesore herself. Her reddish hair fell in thick waves across her shoulders and emerald green eyes sparkled above pale cheeks lightly sprinkled with freckles. The gown she wore was cut low enough to draw the appreciative eyes of almost every man in the room but not so low that she was in danger of falling out of it if she gave a deep curtsey.

The two Elves led by their translator smiled as they returned the greetings of those gathered to welcome them. They seemed to be completely at ease as they made their way across the hall but Chris frowned as he watched them approach the king. Something about the way they moved… graceful yes, but controlled. And their eyes … so alert; taking in every person, especially those closest to Orrin. The mercenary shifted uneasily as he felt his muscles tense. It was like watching cats calmly making their way through a room full of mice too dumb to realize their danger.

King Orrin seemed oblivious to any threat and held out his hand to the Elven ambassador.

"Lytan, good day to you. I hope this fine afternoon finds you well."

The young woman to Lytan's right spoke quickly and quietly, translating the king's words. As she finished, the ambassador smiled and returned the warm welcome. Terressa spoke again, this time louder as she translated for her king.

"Quite well, your majesty and once more I thank you for your most generous hospitality. I am also looking forward to the tour of your fine city that you have planned for this day."

"Of course, of course. But first we will have lunch and then a little entertainment. I believe Captain Haris has arranged something special."

Chris continued to watch the Elves closely as they followed the king to the dining hall and the meal that awaited them. "Buck, what do you think of the ambassador and his aid?"

"I think the woman likes me. Did you see her smile when our eyes met? What was her name, Terressa?"

Swearing under his breath, Chris grabbed his friend by the arm and pulled him toward the dinning room. "Pits. I just hope Ezra can find a chance to speak with Orrin without anyone overhearing."

+ + + + + + +

As far as Lord Standish was concerned, the whole event was one big waste of time. First the crowd gathered in the entrance hall had made it impossible to get close to Orrin and now he found himself seated well down the long table that practically bowed with the weight of all the dishes of food piled along its surface. And whatever appetite he might have once had was now completely gone thanks to the eye-watering perfume of the young woman sitting to his left. Very, very close to his left. Practically in his lap, to his left.

"Excuse me mistress, but could you …"

"Ezra," Maude Standish tapped her son firmly on the wrist with her fan. "Mind your manners."

Gritting his teeth, Ezra bit back the comment he had been ready to make and simply smiled instead. Glancing across the room, he met the gazes of his so-called bodyguards. Buck and Chris were obviously aware of his discomfort if not the exact cause of it. The blond mercenary looked about as annoyed as Standish felt while Buck just gave him a broad wink and suggestive gesture with one hand. Ezra raised his own hand but a firm 'whack' of his mother's fan curtailed his silent response.

+ + + + + + +

"Well, so far so good." Josiah murmured as he and Nathan mingled with the crowd of working-class guests that were waiting for their turn to meet the Elvin ambassador. Dressed in the full regalia of a Master Stone Wizard, the large man cut an imposing figure even without his gem-studded staff. Just like the guardsmen, he had been required to leave the staff locked in the weapons room at the entrance of the castle.

In his role of Master Healer Ardnath, no one had thought to question Nathan about possible weapons. Hidden beneath his robes was his usual assortment of knives. Not that he really thought he would need them, but in his opinion it was better to be safe than sorry.

Glancing about the crowded courtyard, Nathan reluctantly agreed with the wizard. "Yeah, so far. Do you want to split up or stick together?"

"Hmmm. It might be best if we part company until the ambassador and the king make their appearance. I will take the south wing, you take the north and we will meet back here."

"Fine but let’s meet up there, on the second level." Nathan gestured to the upper tier that surrounded the courtyard. "That's probably where the king will be, which means Ezra and the others will also be on that level."

"Good idea. It should also give us a grand view of the show." Josiah pointed out the targets that lined the far wall at the end of what was obviously an archery range. "And let’s hope that goes smoothly as well. Good luck, brother."

"Same to you."

+ + + + + + +

Vin rolled his shoulders trying to loosen the tense muscles. He did his best to ignore the growing crowd of spectators but caught himself repeatedly casting quick glances to the two-story galleries on either side of the courtyard. He didn't dare look at the people gathered directly behind him. While stringing his bow he had taken a quick peek and easily spotted the king and his retainers on the upper floor, but they weren't the ones he was trying desperately not to think about. It hadn't helped that Jaydee had also spotted the guests of honor and had excitedly pointed them out to the half-Elf.

"Look, Vin! They're standing in the crowd behind us. Think we might get a chance to meet them? Maybe you can ask them about your father. Wouldn't that be something if they knew him?"

Vin silently shook his head.


"Jaydee, not now. I've got to concentrate."

"Oh, right. Sorry."

The tracker felt a pang of guilt, which he quickly pushed aside. He did have to focus his thoughts but was really trying to avoid thinking about the Elves. To be honest with himself he had to admit that he was afraid of meeting them. Afraid to have them recognize him as a half-breed and to see the contempt in their eyes. For as long as he could remember Vin had dreamed of one day meeting his father or even close relatives. The problem was, half of the time the fantasies turned to nightmares as he faced ridicule and scorn. It was bad enough in his imagination, he didn't know if he could endure it in real life.

Taking a deep breath, the half-Elf closed his eyes and forced the troubling thoughts to a dark corner of his mind. He concentrated on the feel of the sunshine on his face and the slight breeze that stirred the hair about his shoulders. Finally, he felt the calmness he needed.

Fitting the first arrow to the string, Vin held two more in his right hand by the notched ends that protruded just past the fletching. Having the arrows ready in such a way would allow him to make the following shots much faster.

"All right Jaydee. Start me off with three straight up, two counts between each."


Jaydee collected the small pots and walked towards the distant wall and the straw barriers. Stopping several feet short of the painted canvas that the castle archers used for practice, he watched Vin for the signal to toss the first pot. When the nod came, he launched the clay targets just as he had been instructed.

The fluid speed with which Vin aimed and released each arrow was a show in itself. Seeing the targets shatter in multi-colored clouds was simply an added bonus.

Shaking the dust from his hair, Jaydee trotted back to his friend's side amidst a quiet round of applause.

"Right, that's got me warmed up. Toss one by itself and then two together."

Once more the young fighter followed the instructions with the same crowd-pleasing results. When he rejoined Vin for the second time, he could see by the sparkle in his friend's eyes that he had thought of something new to try.

"Feel like getting even dustier?"

"Uh, what've you got in mind?"

"Take a couple of pots, walk out that way holding one in each hand."

Jaydee's brown eyes widened in outrage. "Are you serious? These pots are small!"

"I did it yesterday didn't I?"

"Yeah but yesterday it wasn't me holding them!"

Despite his words of objection, Jaydee quickly selected two more pots, although he was careful to pick the largest ones.

"How far out should I go?"

"Just hold the pots up and start walking. You'll know when you reach the right spot." The smile on Vin's face held pure mischief but Jaydee matched it with one of his own.

As Jaydee turned to start walking, he made sure that the third pot he had picked up remained secreted in the loose folds of his tunic. He knew what a great shot Vin was and soon everyone in the castle would know as well.

Holding the small clay targets at arms length and at a level just above his shoulders, Jaydee slowly walked across the green archery field. He was a little over halfway across when the pot in his left hand exploded into a cloud of yellow dust. He was two-thirds of the way to the straw bales when the second pot shattered spraying red powder into the air. Rather than stopping and returning for more targets, Jaydee continued to walk another handful of paces before doing an about-face.

Looking back at the gathered crowd of people, Jaydee could see that most of them had their attention focused on Vin who in turn was closely watching him. The distance was too great for Jaydee to make out his friend's expression but he guessed it had to be one of puzzlement. Very slowly and deliberately, he reached into his tunic and drew out the third pot, which he placed carefully on the top of his head. Once he was sure of the balance, he dropped his hands to his sides and held his breath.

When Vin saw what the young fighter was doing, he had to bite back an angry curse. Jaydee had put him in one Pit of a spot. If he didn't take the shot they would look like fools but if he did try it and missed…

"Bysha protect fools and their idiot friends." Vin angrily muttered.

The crowd of people quickly realized what was happening and the excitement level rose sharply. With the new tension came restless movements and quiet murmurs that quickly grew in volume. Vin tried to block out the distraction as he fitted a new arrow to his string. He realized that his breathing was too fast and tried to slow it down before lifting his bow into place but the delay made the spectators more agitated and they grew louder in response.


The word was not shouted, but the weight of the authority in the deep voice carried it clearly throughout the two-story gallery. Instantly the crowd stilled and silence descended. The king had spoken and none dared go against his command.

Vin closed his eyes and drank in the peace. He felt the tension draining away from his muscles once more and knew when the moment was right. With a practiced movement that was so perfect it was almost magical, he lifted his bow, drew taught the string, opened his eyes and released the arrow all within a single breath of air.

It happened so suddenly that the audience was caught off guard. They were still staring at the archer with the empty bow in his hand when the soft crack of the broken clay pot drew their attention to the young man standing in the field. Blue dust covered his hair and face until, with a firm shake of his head, Jaydee sent the powder flying and at the same time proving he was unharmed.

The applause was almost deafening in the stone confines of the courtyard as Jaydee jogged back to Vin's side. The two young men slapped their hands together in mutual congratulations and then gave their audience a couple of timid bows. Jaydee spotted Buck and Chris watching them and threw the men a smirking grin that Buck responded to by rolling his eyes and shaking his head in exasperation. Chris just glowered and Vin quickly ducked his head to hide his pleased smile.

Jaydee turned back to Vin see what he wanted to do next but the question died on his lips. Approaching from the crowd behind them, the two Elven guests were definitely headed their way. He nudged Vin in the ribs to draw his attention to the new arrivals.

"What do we do? Do we kneel or simply bow? What do you think they want? Can we talk to them?"

Vin was even more alarmed than his friend but tried not to let it show. Looking up at Chris, he saw his partner give him a reassuring nod of his head. The seasoned fighter also seemed to guess at his confusion since he made a tiny bow while gesturing to the ambassador.

"Calm down Jaydee. We'll start with a bow and see what happens." Bysha! I wish I felt as confident as I sound. Vin silently prayed, as he made ready to greet the king's guests.

The Elven ambassador stopped directly in front of the nervous companions with his assistant and the translator a step behind and to either side. The younger Elf carried a beautiful, curved bow in his hands while the Human woman held a shallow, wooden box. The ambassador returned Vin and Jaydee's greetings as Terressa made the introductions.

Lytan began speaking in a tone of voice that so clearly conveyed his enjoyment of the performance there was almost no need for a translation; but Terressa began speaking as soon as the ambassador stopped.

"Lytan E'tharin applauds your fine display of marksmanship. He says that your skill is a joy to watch. He is also impressed by the trust exhibited by your partner." The last comment included a gesture toward Jaydee.

Lytan took the bow from Kyle's hands as he spoke again and this time his words sounded questioning.

"There is a game that archers play in their country, a test of skill actually. He would like to know if you would consider accepting a challenge?"

Vin swallowed thickly. What would they think if he refused? Would it be an insult? They thought he was just another Human. Maybe they didn't really expect him to accept.

Licking his lips that had gone dryer than a sun baked rock, the half-Elf hesitantly asked, "What kind of game is it?"

Terressa opened the box in her hands and Kyle drew out a thick leather glove overlaid with small, silver metal disks that looked very much like the scales of a dragon. After placing the glove on his right hand, he held up a small, gold ring; one of about a dozen scattered in the box. Placing the ring between his thumb and forefinger of the gloved hand, he held it up for Vin and Jaydee to study.

"The companion's task is to hold up the ring like so in front of the target. The archer must then center an arrow within the ring. The first team to place one ring against each target is the winner. So you see, it is a game of both skill and trust."

"So we take turns shooting at the rings?" Vin felt some of the nervousness leave his body. That didn't sound so bad, even if the rings were a little on the small side. At least Jaydee would have the glove to offer some protection to his hand.

"Not quite." Terressa smiled and gestured to the archery field. "I've watched many of these games. In this contest, it is not only the skill of the archer that is tested but the abilities of his companion as well. Who gets to shoot first at each target is determined by whose partner gets their ring in place the quickest. It will be a sort of race, you see?"

Jaydee did see and he didn't like it. He was not a sprinter and the lightweight Elf was probably every bit as fast as he looked. And if they had to start from the same direction it meant that whoever reached a target first would effectively block their opponent from placing a ring until after the first arrow was grounded.

Worried brown eyes met and held equally concerned blue ones. Neither young man doubted the abilities of the other; it was self-doubt that made them both hesitate. Finally, Jaydee gave a shrug of his shoulders.

"I'm willin' if you are."

Vin glanced quickly at the ambassador before finally answering. "Yeah, we'll take you on."


The older Elf smiled as he listened to his translator speak. Meeting the eyes of the two young Humans, he gave a slight nod of his head to show his pleasure at their acceptance of the challenge.

"Only three targets so three rings a piece. Kyle will be the companion for Lytan." Terressa held out the second glove to Jaydee.

As the fighter reached out to take the mailed gauntlet, Vin's fingers closed around his wrist.

"Jaydee, are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yeah Vin, I'm sure. I'll do my best not to let you down."

Vin smiled. "Not worried about you holding the rings, just not sure I'll be able to keep my hand from shaking with Buck glaring holes in my back."

"No problem. If you miss, I'll just learn to fight left handed."

Teresa cleared her throat, interrupting the two friends. "Ah, there is one final matter. It is traditional to place a small wager on the outcome of the contest."

"How much?" Vin frowned as he quickly tried to remember exactly how many coins he had left in his pouch.

"Oh, they do not bet money. Each contestant selects a belonging of his opponent to be his prize. Lytan has requested the dragon pendant around your neck as his reward should he win."

"No." Jaydee was quick to answer for his friend. "That's his Pairing g.."

"All right."


The half-Elf ignored Jaydee's shocked cry. Looking straight into the eyes of the ambassador, Vin suddenly knew exactly what he wanted if he won.

"He can have the dragon but if I win I want the answers to three questions. And he has to answer them without asking me anything in return."

The young woman frowned in puzzlement at the strange request. Lytan spoke, obviously demanding a translation of Vin's statement. Teresa replied and when she finished speaking, the older Elf appeared to give the matter some serious thought before finally nodding his head.

"Lytan has accepted your terms." Teresa closed the wooden box and tucked it under one arm. "If you will take your places, I will signal the start of the contest."

+ + + + + + +

Word of the contest between the Elvin ambassador and the Human archer quickly spread throughout the castle. The galleries were soon packed with curious onlookers. Bets were made and coins exchanged with ever increasing excitement. Even the king seemed to be enjoying the unexpected show and was spotted by more than one person slipping a few gold coins to his chamberlain.

Buck and Chris stood close behind Ezra and his mother and had a clear view of the archery range. While they had all found Vin and Jaydee's performance both entertaining and nerve wracking, this new development had them all on the edge of panic. Buck was worried about Jaydee embarrassing himself in front of the huge crowd while Chris was concerned about damage to his partner's newly found self-confidence. While the two fighters were worried about the well being of their friends, the two Standish's found themselves at odds with one another on who to bet on. Ezra knew without a doubt that Vin and Jaydee would emerge victorious but his mother did not share his unwavering conviction.

+ + + + + + +

"What do you think?" Nathan spoke as he leaned against the balustrade that overlooked the far left of the archery field.

Josiah looked over the healer's shoulder at the contestants taking their places on the range. "I think Vin is the ambassador's match but Jaydee will be hard pressed to outrun that aid."

"Five silver says they win."

"Ten says they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

Nathan opened his mouth but had to pause to work out exactly what the wizard had said. When he finally had it straight, he sighed heavily.

"No. No bet."

+ + + + + + +

The signal was given and the two ring holders raced for the first target. Kyle was the first to arrive and stepped to the far side of the bull's-eye before turning and placing his ring against the painted cloth. Jaydee arrived right behind him but fumbled to get the gold ring between his two fingers and then up against the target. The ambassador's arrow was still vibrating when Vin's landed but by then Kyle was well on his way to the next stack of bales.

Jaydee swore as he sprinted after the fleet-footed Elf. If they lost, Vin would have to give up his Pairing gift and he just couldn't let that happen. He reached the second target just one step behind his opponent but that was one step too many. This time Kyle had taken the closer side and had his ring in place. No doubt an arrow would soon be in the air. Jaydee couldn't step in front of the target and it would take precious time for him to run behind it to reach the other side.

Making a lightening fast decision, Jaydee tensed the muscles in his legs and leaped to the side of the stack of straw bales. As he scrabbled for purchase, he spared a quick glance down to see the surprised look on Kyle's upturned face and then he focused on getting the ring centered.

Two arrows struck almost simultaneously. Cheers went up from the galleries where the spectators could not control their excitement.

Vin gave a minute shake of his head as he fitted the third arrow to his string. He had said that he trusted Jaydee but still that quick maneuver had surprised him. And judging by Buck's excited yells, which could clearly be heard over everyone else's, it had surprised him as well. Training his eyes on the third target, Vin ignored the noise and concentrated on that surging tide of excitement that was building inside of him once more. He could do this. Together with Jaydee, they would win this contest and he would finally get answers to at least a few of the questions that had haunted him all his young life.

Jaydee leapt from the target and landed at the heels of the Elf. Desperation added wings to his feet and he actually pulled slightly ahead just as they reached the final bull's-eye. But just as the young fighter was getting ready to transfer the ring from his left hand to his right, disaster struck.

"Damnit!" Jaydee's boots slipped on the smooth grass and the young fighter landed flat on his stomach right below the target. This time it was Kyle looking down on him, a smile of victory curled the Elf's lips. Snarling back, Jaydee slapped his left hand up, the gold ring held between his unprotected fingers.

Two arrows thumped into place. Two gold rings hung suspended from wooden shafts. Defiant, brown Human eyes locked with surprised, pale-gray Elven. There was a breathless pause and then the roar of the spectators filled the courtyard. Slowly, Kyle reached out his left hand and silently helped Jaydee to his feet. The expression on his face was one of both amusement and respect. The two competitors walked silently side by side as they returned to the starting point amidst the cheers of the onlookers.

Kyle made his way directly to the ambassador while Jaydee joined Vin off to the side.

"Jaydee, are you alright? Did he trip you?"

The young fighter brushed the loose grass from his knees as he sheepishly answered. "Nah, I managed that stunt all on my own. What about the contest? Did we win?"

Vin looked over at the two Elves who appeared to be discussing that very thing. "Don't know. Guess we'll find out in a moment." He glanced up at the galleries and saw Chris looking down at him. He grasped the dragon pendant tightly and hoped that his partner would forgive him should it turn out that he had lost.

The conversation came to an abrupt end when the ambassador firmly shook his head and stepped away from his assistant. Kyle was obviously unhappy about whatever decision had been reached while Terressa appeared slightly worried. Stepping away from the younger Elf, Lytan E'tharin approached Vin, his right hand held out with the palm facing up.

"Well, guess that answers that question." Vin handed his bow to Jaydee as he slowly pulled the pendant's cord from around his neck.

"Vin, I'm sorry… I… it's my fault…"

"No! No it's not and you've got nothing to apologize for." Vin looked down at the sparkling blue eyes of the small, wooden dragon. The tightness in his chest was almost painful as he prepared to give away his one and only Pairing gift.

He tried to convince himself that it was just a carving and that Chris could make him another but there were too many memories making that thought a lie. That rainy night in the stable when he'd first set eyes on the small figurine. The moment when it was brought magically to life and took its first flight. The joy it had brought when it reunited the two of them in the cavern prison that might have otherwise been his tomb. In a matter of days the dragon had become more than just an amulet; it had become a visible symbol of the bond between he and Chris. And now he was about to give it away to an Elvin ambassador that would never appreciate its true worth. At the time of the bet it had seemed worth the risk; answers that might lay to rest a few of the doubts that haunted him. But now …

Vin swallowed the lump in his throat as he met Jaydee's guilt filled eyes. "You did your best and I'm the one that agreed to the wager."

Turning to face the waiting ambassador, Vin slowly reached out and laid the dragon in the Elf's open palm. So intent was he on having a last glimpse of the carving, he missed the look of surprise and confusion on Lytan's face. Sharp words drew his attention and he quickly glanced from the ambassador to his translator.


"You do not have to surrender the pendant." Teresa frowned as she spoke, obviously not pleased with what she had to explain. "Lytan has declared you the winner of the contest."

Vin blinked in shock and held perfectly still as the ambassador very carefully reached out and looped the leather cord back around his neck.

"It is their custom that the loser of the contest offers up his wager to the victor. Since your prize is the answer to three questions, Lytan was presenting his open hand as a sign of his loss."

With the weight of the pendant once more resting against his heart, Vin felt the pain in his chest fade and a shadow seemed to lift from his spirit.

"We won." Jaydee murmured the words as if trying to convince himself of their truth. He glanced at his friend and saw Vin slowly nod in agreement.

"WE WON!" The whooping yell of victory echoed through the courtyard. There was a moment of breathless silence and then mad cheering filled the enclosed area.

+ + + + + + +

"Well I'll be Pitted. They did it. They actually did it!" Buck added a loud whistle of appreciation to the general noise while Chris merely looked on in silence. Not that he wasn't glad that Vin and Jaydee had won, but he had seen the brief exchange between his partner and the ambassador and was confused by its meaning.

+ + + + + + +

"Well mother?"

"Oh dear, I seem to have left my pouch at the mansion. I'm afraid you shall just have to wait until we return. Do be a dear and fetch me another glass of wine, won't you?"

+ + + + + + +


"They're not off the archery field yet."

+ + + + + + +

"Yes, you won." Teresa nodded and watched with some concern as Kyle stepped closer to Vin. "And as you requested, Ambassador Lytan E'tharin will answer three questions. But first, I would like to know…"

The woman's words turned into a startled gasp as the young Elf moved with a speed that was amazing. Before Vin could even blink, he felt the cloth band tied about his head tugged free and then saw it hanging from Kyle's fingertips. The box of rings fell from Terressa's hands with a loud, jangling clatter. Lytan's sharp rebuke went unnoticed as Jaydee dropped Vin's bow then sprang forward and snatched the fabric back while at the same time giving the Elf a firm shove that sent him sprawling on the ground.

The happy, excited cries of the crowd changed almost instantly to gasps of horror and then yells of outrage.

"He attacked one of the Elves!"

"They're trying to kill the Ambassador!"

"Stop them!"

Vin grabbed the cloth from Jaydee and quickly returned it to his head hoping that his hair had kept anyone from spotting his ears. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw armed guards closing in on them from the lower gallery and knew they were in serious trouble.

"C'mon Jaydee! I think we'd better leave! Now!"

"Which way?"

A quick scan of the crowd revealed Josiah and Nathan frantically waving to them from the far right.

"That way!"

Ignoring the excited voices of the Elves and their translator, the two young men sprinted toward their friends with the guards close on their heels.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn it! What happened?"

"I don't know but we need to get to Orrin. Now!"

Chris and Buck began pushing their way through the crowd with Ezra and Maude following closely in their wake.

+ + + + + + +

"Vin! Jaydee! Over here!"

"They've seen us, Josiah. Here they come."