Around the time my first book was being published, near the end of 2007, I submitted one of my short stories to L. Ron Hubbard’s Writer’s Of The Future Contest. My story was not selected for publication, but in 2008 I did receive an Honourable Mention certificate in the mail. It was immediately framed and has been hanging in my office ever since. I am posting the story here as a ‘close-but-no-cigar’ example for anyone thinking of submitting a Fantasy, Sci-Fi or Horror piece to this contest. If you wish to download the pdf, it will be available on the Penticton Arts Council website until July 31, 2020. https://www.pentictonartscouncil.com/events
As flickering firelight dancing across the ruby’s polished multifaceted surface, its black heart held Daniel’s eyes transfixed until the acrid smell of burning meat forced a cavernous growl to erupt from the depths of his empty stomach. In response, the young thief gave the sizzling spitted carcass a half turn before the sharp snap of a twig further interrupted his culinary duties.
Had someone seen him leaving town? After tucking the ruby safely away, Daniel withdrew a knife from its hidden sheath. The slender blade wasn’t much to look at, good for little more than skinning rabbits, but it was razor sharp and he knew how to use it. If it was Nicholas lurking out there somewhere, he would soon be sorry.
While poking the roasting meat with the point of his knife, as if it were Nicholas’s back side, Daniel covertly scanned the dark outline of trees surrounding him. Accustomed to working alone at night, at least ever since he and Nicholas had parted ways, the dark held no terrors for Daniel. Indeed, just as for many others in his chosen trade, darkness was often a trusted ally. Rewarded with nothing but cricket chirps, and an occasional flash of a firefly, Daniel finally relaxed. Satisfied that all was well, he turned back only to nearly jump out of his skin, for a middle-aged man was standing on the opposite side of the fire. Barely four feet tall, the stranger stared at Daniel while stroking his beard amid a chorus of crickets accompanied by an occasional crackle from the fire.
After freeing himself from the grip of the stranger’s piercing hazel eyes, Daniel seized the opportunity to think. Any man capable of moving so silently was dangerous, even a dwarf, but what was he doing out in the woods, alone, and after dark. The cut of his garments bespoke quality, while the gemstone mounted in his sword hilt looked to be worth a small fortune, yet neither compared to the large flawless emerald set in a thick gold ring on his left middle finger. Many would kill for far less.
The strained silence was finally shattered by the dwarf’s voice. “My name is Baldric,” he said, folding his thick arms across his chest. “Now if I may be so bold as to inquire after your name, young sir.”
Still deep in thought, Daniel was slow to find his tongue. “Daniel,” he finally blurted out. “My name is Daniel.” Even as the words left his mouth he was berating himself for using his real name instead of an alias.
Despite a haphazard array of mismatched teeth, Baldric’s smile was oddly disarming. “Well met, Daniel,” he said, with a slight nod of his over sized head. Though short for his age, Daniel was a head taller than the dwarf and looking down at a full grown man made him feel uneasy.
In the wake of Baldric’s salutation, a second stranger invaded the small circle of light cast by Daniel’s fire. The pale yellow glow revealed a seven-foot giant clad in battle-scarred armor. Long strands of hair, the color of summer straw, had worked their way free from under a worn leather helmet bound in tarnished brass. In the giant’s hands rested a massive two-handed sword. Long and slightly curved, the weapon had a wicked saw tooth ridge running along most of the back edge.
The grace with which the towering warrior sat down next to Baldric reminded Daniel of an alley cat, smooth, supple and dangerous. As large calloused hands reached up to grasp the sides of the helmet, Daniel’s attention was drawn to the giant’s left shoulder, where a blue-black raven was perched. The bird squawked in irritation as it hopped over to Baldric’s shoulder, which was level with the giant’s even though the dwarf had remained standing.
“This little lady is Angel,” Baldric said scratching the Raven’s head with his stubby finger. “And this,” he added indicating the giant with an open palm, “is my good friend and protector, Bridget.”
Daniel stared in shocked disbelief as the giant lifted her helmet and vigorously shook out a mass of tangled hair. Despite her size, a few smudges of dirt and a small white scar on her right cheek, she was quite pleasing to look upon.
“But, she’s a woman,” Daniel blurted out.
Bridget’s deep blue eyes narrowed to slivers of ice as her lips tightened to a fine white line, forcing the tiny scar on her cheek to pucker up. Daniel fought down a large lump trying to form in his throat.
Leaning forward, Baldric spoke in a conciliatory tone, ”I’d be careful with that kind of talk around Bridget, lad. She’s a wee bit sensitive. Now, if you’re as smart as I think you are, you’ll heed my advice and offer your most heartfelt apology.”
Hard-won experience had honed Daniel’s ability to assess a situation well beyond his years. In his line of work, it often meant the difference between a full stomach and losing an ear. “I beg you pardon,” he said with a hasty nod. “I meant no disrespect. It’s just you’re so…, so beautiful.”
The lines of Bridget’s face softened as her lips regained their pinkish color and formed what could almost be called a smile. “I believe you’re right, Baldric. He is a smart lad, or at least a very convincing liar. Apology accepted, Daniel. Now, what’s for dinner?”
Daniel’s eyes flicked from Bridget to Baldric and back again. Roast rabbit was a hearty meal for one, but hardly adequate for three. “Just this rabbit,” he replied with a shrug.
For a moment Daniel was transfixed by tiny pools of greenish fire in Baldric’s eyes. Simply reflected firelight, Daniel concluded, because when he blinked they were gone.
“Looks like enough to me,” Bridget remarked.
When Daniel looked back down at the roasting carcass, his breath caught in his throat. Distracted by the ruby, he had failed to notice the abnormally large size of his game.
“And I have this,” Baldric added producing a round crusty loaf of bread from somewhere under his thick cape.
A damp wine skin thudded into the dirt beside the fire. “My contribution to the meal,” Bridget said. “A fine Katan red.”
“Katan,” Daniel said. “Is that a village near here?”
“Katan is a country,” Bridget replied. “Beside a well-earned reputation for excellent wine, you’ll not find a more sensible place in the whole world.”
“It’s no surprise you haven’t heard of it,” Baldric added. “Our homeland is a long way from here, and I dare say with customs that would seem strange to your people. In Katan, you see, women like Bridget are the warriors, the builders, and generally tend to the day-to-day affairs of state.”
“Really,” Daniel replied. “Then what do the men do?”
“Oh, the men tend to more important matters,” Baldric replied. His words drew a snort from Bridget. With a twist of his head, the dwarf cast a dark frown in her direction even as she turned away to hide the wry grin on her face.
“Are there many dwarves in Katan?” Daniel asked as he rotated the spit another quarter turn.
Once again, for the briefest of moments, green fire flashed across Baldric’s eyes before he replied. “Most men in Katan are what you would call, dwarves.”
There was an unmistakable hint of danger in Baldric’s words. “So, what brings you so far from home?” Daniel asked, hoping to change the subject.
Baldric’s smile was quick to return. “Bridget and I are hunters. It’s a profession that sometimes requires traveling.”
“You carry no boar lance, nor bow,” Daniel said, after making a show of looking them over. “What do you hunt? Rabbits!”
“It’s not animals we hunt,” Baldric said leaning forward again. “We seek far more dangerous game. Beings so evil, so vile, that we put ourselves at risk just to speak of them.”
It was Daniel’s turn to snort. “I’ve seen a lot of strange things, but I have never seen evil. What’s it look like? How do you hunt it?”
Unperturbed, the dwarf reached under his cape and produced a large ruby. It was a twin to Daniel’s, lacking only a black core. “Ever see one of these?” Baldric asked, holding up the gem.
Daniel was about to deny any such knowledge when a better idea came to mind. Nicholas always said a half-truth bore more fruit than outright lies. “Yes, come to think of it. I saw one like it earlier this very day.”
“Really,” Baldric replied, seemingly intrigued.
“Yes,” Daniel said, ”in a village not two leagues from here, there was a white-haired old man who carried such a gem.”
“Was he alone?” Bridget asked.
“No, he was in the company of three mangy hounds. I remember because of the fuss he made when the animals were refused admittance to the inn. The innkeeper didn’t fancy scraping their droppings off his floor. Wouldn’t have made much of a difference, if you ask me.”
“And, how did you come to see this gem?” Baldric asked. “Was it in plain view for all to look upon?”
Despite his misshapen appearance, Baldric struck Daniel as someone with sharp wits. To avoid becoming ensnared in his own web of lies, Daniel would need to tread carefully. “It was in his purse. I caught a glimpse when he purchased food for his hounds.”
“So, you saw no more of it after that.”
“No,” Daniel lied, fighting back a smile at the memory of how skillfully he had cut the old man’s purse strings. Perhaps while his new acquaintances slept he would take the other ruby, and that fine short sword too; no sense in letting it go to waste. The gem he would extract and sell along with the rubies, but the sword he could use to fend off thieves, like Nicholas, who might try to steal his newfound wealth.
“Well, it’s a good thing you’ve not touched it,” Baldric said. “Like this once was, I believe the ruby you saw was a conduit for evil. It’s known as a Soul Stone.”
Daniel’s left side, where the ruby was hidden, suddenly felt uncomfortably warm. “If they’re so dangerous, then why do you carry one?”
Baldric’s eyes narrowed. “As I’ve told you, Daniel, we’re hunters. This innocent looking gem was once a source of great power. The previous owner gave his life for it. Fortunately, the Soul Stone’s power died with him. I keep it to remind me of the lives it cost to obtain.”
Daniel nodded sagely, as if he understood Baldric’s reasoning.
“I’ve no doubt whatsoever this man you saw was another Dark Sorcerer,” Baldric said. “A fool who has freely exchanged his soul for the kind of dark power only evil can bestow. I cannot imagine anything more dangerous than coming between a Soul Stone and its rightful owner. Nothing short of death would stop such a person from getting it back.”
“And those hounds you saw,” Bridget quickly added, ”were no hounds at all. They are his familiars. Abominations conjured from another world. Demons, linked to the sorcerer through the Soul Stone. One of those three killed my sister on the eve of the last new moon.”
The dangerous tone of Bridget’s voice made Daniel shiver. “Demon hounds,” he said, remembering the three toothless old hounds. Half blind and barely able to walk, they had seemed harmless enough. If Bridget’s sister was anything like her, she could have dispatched any one of them with a well placed kick.
“Very bad business, Daniel, very bad,” Baldric muttered as he tucked the ruby back under his cape. “Demons from another world. Deadly and near impossible to kill by conventional means. But, no matter, we can rest easy, for they are far from here. Isn’t that so, Daniel?”
A howl in the distance sent another icy shiver down Daniel’s spine. “We’ll be giving the poor lad bad dreams,” Bridget said. Daniel looked up in time to see her staring at him, just before something very large smashed through the fire and swept her away.
When the campfire erupted in a cloud of sparks and flame, Daniel rolled away instinctively rubbing hot ash from his eyes. Through smoke and tears he could see that Bridget, Baldric and the rabbit were all gone. Beside scattered bits of charred wood and glowing embers, the only recognizable object was Bridget’s two-handed sword laying in the dirt.
Grunts and growls echoed in the darkness as someone shouted Bridget’s name. It sounded like Baldric, but Daniel had no time to wonder about what else was happening, for the deep, menacing snarl directly behind him demanded his full attention. Without another thought, he leapt for the sword. Nimble as ever, he snatched up the heavy blade and landed back on his feet facing the threat with the unwieldy weapon held high above his head.
Small red eyes like twin drops of blood glared back from the darkness. Only when they finally moved, did Daniel understand what he faced: a pitch black wolf, half again as large as any he’d ever seen. Its wet lips peeled back in a snarl to reveal unnaturally large pointed teeth. With recognition came mind numbing fear. It took all the courage he could muster just to keep his bladder from emptying on the spot. His arms began to shake uncontrollably as the monster drew closer. He knew he would get one chance to strike before the monster tore him apart.
As the beast moved closer and closer, Daniel’s heart pounded like never before. Then, to his great relief, the beast stopped just out of reach and cocked its head in the direction of a light that had appeared in the trees. The glow grew in intensity until a tall figure draped in a long white robe stepped into the clearing. The man gripped a thick black staff in his left hand, while in his right rested a glowing orb bright enough to fill the entire clearing with an eerie, pale light.
Risking a glance over his shoulder, Daniel caught sight of Bridget locked in a silent struggle with another wolf-like beast. Fighting desperately to keep its long wicked teeth away from her throat, Bridget’s pale skin glistened with sweat, or was it blood, Daniel couldn’t be sure.
An invisible hand suddenly twisted Daniel’s head back, forcing him to face the man holding the glowing orb. Though he seemed larger, and much younger, Daniel knew without a doubt that it was the ruby’s previous owner. A dark sorcerer, Baldric had called him. Even as his demon abandoned Daniel, in favor of a place by its master’s side, the sorcerer seemed to understand Daniel’s revelation. His smile only added to Daniel’s terror. “Didn’t think to see me again, did you boy?”
The sorcerer let go of his staff, yet it remained perfectly straight as if rooted to the ground. “You’ve led me a merry chase, I’ll give you that, but now our little game is over.” His smile quickly vanished as he thrust out his hand. “Give me what is mine,” he barked. “Now!”
The words hit Daniel like a lash. The sword slipped from his fingers as his muscles tensed. Like a marionette, his legs carried him woodenly toward the sorcerer. Regardless of how much he struggled, Daniel could not prevent himself from placing the ruby in the sorcerer’s waiting hand; yet whatever force had taken control of his body fled the moment he let go of the gem.
Instinct quickly took over, and while the old man’s eyes were ardently fixated on the gem, Daniel began to slowly back away. He didn’t get far, however, before a brilliant flash of green light preceded a shrill and unholy scream that vibrated up and down his spine. He turned just in time to see Baldric withdraw his short-sword from the body of a demon in the final throes of death. The sword itself was the source of the strange light. Green tinged flame raced along its edge as if a blacksmith had just drawn it from his forge.
Baldric pointed the tip of his glowing blade toward the sorcerer just as Bridget screamed his name. Baldric spun at the sound and hurled his sword. The blade flipped end over end tracing bright emerald circles of light in the air until it stopped abruptly, embedded in the demon’s side. The monster yelped once and then fell away. Bridget sank to the ground in an unmoving heap.
“Ahhh,” the sorcerer screamed as the staff leapt back into his hand. The ruby was now fastened to the top and glowing like a tiny red sun. When he pointed the ruby end of the staff at Baldric, a crimson bolt of crackling energy leapt out like the head of a striking snake. The jagged streak of red slammed into a wall of greenish flame that had formed halfway between the two men. A fine green line extended back from the wall of flame to connect with the ring on Baldric’s outstretched fist.
A second streak of red lightning erupted from the end of the sorcerer’s staff. It too slammed into a fiery wall, but this time the shield had formed much closer to Baldric. A third was followed by a fourth. Each time Baldric’s shield was forced farther back. The last collision was hardly an arm’s length away. The dwarf staggered backwards, barely able to stand.
Wearing a smug grin, the sorcerer took careful aim with his staff just as something dark flew at his eyes. Short jagged red lines appeared on his cheeks as the creature savaged his face. In spite of the terror he felt, Daniel smiled. It was Angel.
The sorcerer slapped the raven away with an oath and she hit the ground in a ball of flapping feathers. The sorcerer’s demon lunged for the bird but its jaws snapped shut on empty air. Angel had managed to take wing at the last moment. With a snarl, the black beast bounded off in pursuit. With Angel out of the way, the sorcerer’s attention returned to Baldric. “And now you die, half-man,” he said in a cold raspy voice.
Knowing full well he was next, Daniel waited in terror for a final killing stroke that never came. Instead, the sorcerer’s eyes grew wide and his face went as white as his robes. Finally, a short gurgling noise escaped from his lips as he toppled face first into the dirt. The orb rolled from his hand and began to fade. Daniel watched with fascination as the old man’s body glowed red and burst into flame. The event was marked by a howl of pain from somewhere out in the trees.
In a wink of an eye the body was consumed and amid the fading sulfurous smoke stood Bridget. A small piece of red cloth hung from the jagged upper edge of her two-handed sword, which was crimson for half its length. The stain on her blade turned to yellow smoke as she turned toward Daniel. “Are you injured?”
Bridget’s left forearm was a mangled bloody mess. It was a wonder she could still hang on to her sword, yet the concern etched on her face was not for herself. “No,” Daniel replied, once it finally registered in his mind that she was actually talking to him. “At least I don’t think so.”
“Good,” she said, reaching down to retrieve the staff.
With the orb gone, the clearing was lit only by the stars and a rising full moon but Daniel’s eyes were quick to adjust. Scorch marks were all that remained of the sorcerer and two of his demons. The third must have perished while off in the woods chasing Angel, because she had returned to caw down at them from the security of a tree top. Bridget was examining the ruby, which she had worked free from the staff. The center of the gem was as clear as the one her companion carried. She stuffed it under her belt before casting the staff away and walking over to Baldric, who was sitting on the ground holding his head.
After helping the dwarf to his feet, Bridget examined the scratches on his face. Ignoring his protests, she proceeded to prod and poke until reluctantly proclaiming him fit. In return, Baldric produced a small vial from under his cape and poured its contents over Bridget’s wounded forearm. She cursed under her breath, as he began wrapping it in a white cloth. Pale green fire danced in Baldric’s eyes as he worked. This Daniel knew was no reflection.
After seeing what it could do, Daniel had discarded any notion of stealing Baldric’s ring. The ruby Bridget had hidden under her belt was another matter entirely. By the time Baldric was finished, Daniel had formulated a plan. Recalling how Bridget had saved his life gave him pause, but only for a moment. His experience with Nicholas had taught him just how foolish it was to think of anyone but himself.
“I have not yet thanked you for saving my life,” Daniel said, as he moved closer to Bridget. When she reached out to take the hand he offered, however, Daniel made a show of stumbling over a rock and grabbed at her belt for support. That brief moment of contact was all he needed to slip his fingers inside the pouch concealed beneath her belt and palm the ruby.
His goal accomplished, Daniel turned to leave, but Baldric clamped a strong hand on his shoulder. “Come now,” he said. “We’ve a camp not far from here, and there is still the matter of our supper.”
“A camp,” Daniel replied, somewhat confused. Then realization sank in. “Finding me was no accident, was it? You knew I had the ruby all along.”
Baldric shrugged. “I’m afraid so Daniel. We tracked it all the way from Katan. You can imagine our surprise when the trail led to you. But, no matter, the evil thing will trouble us no more.”
After a short moonlit walk through the woods, the three of them hunkered down to a meager meal of dried fruit and stale biscuits. The rabbit and bread were lost, but Bridget had managed to salvage the wine skin. The contents proved well worth the effort. Daniel offered to stand watch, but Baldric assured him there was no better guard than Angel, who would sound the alarm at the first sign of anything untoward. Right after gobbling down a handful of dried fruit, the raven abandoned Bridget’s shoulder in favor of a perch in the treetops overlooking the camp.
“You remind me of my nephew,” Bridget said, after finishing off the last of the wine. “Eric would be about your age. Alicia hoped he would become a scholar, but he refuses to be anything but a hunter like his uncle Baldric.”
Daniel’s reply was muffled by an involuntary yawn.
“Let the lad sleep, Bridget,” the dwarf said. “We can talk in the morning.”
Bridget grunted, but said no more.
Daniel yawned again dramatically before curling up under the woolen blanket Baldric had provided. As he lay with his face turned away, so neither Baldric nor Bridget could see that his eyes remained open, rest was the farthest thing from his mind. Even if he had wanted to fall asleep, the overwhelming feeling of being watched would have prevented it.
When the camp had long gone silent, and the last of the fire’s embers had died, Daniel finally rolled over. Two sleeping forms were easily discernable in the pale moonlight. Praying that Angel would not give him away, Daniel arose and tiptoed to the nearest tree. He carefully cut off a few leafy branches and then returned to stuff them under his blanket. The crude shape was not as convincing as he’d hoped, but it would do until dawn.
Moving silently to Baldric’s side, Daniel’s practiced fingers soon found the ruby hidden beneath the dwarf’s tunic. With the tip of his knife Daniel made a tiny slit in the cloth, just enough to squeeze out the ruby. Once it had joined the one he’d taken from Bridget, he searched for Baldric’s sword and was soon rewarded with the slippery feel of oiled leather.
Daniel couldn’t believe his luck. Baldric had removed both sword and harness before going to sleep. When Daniel’s hand gripped the hilt, however, he was reminded of the dwarf’s valiant battle with the sorcerer. Though tempted to leave the sword behind, he knew that friendship, gratitude and pity were all in violation of Nicholas’s first rule of thievery. One driven home when his former partner turned him out, homeless and penniless, all because Daniel had grown too large for slipping into the places Nicholas himself could not.
Shaking off his hesitation, Daniel clutched the hilt of the sword even tighter, but before he could lift the bundle from the ground, Angel cawed. Daniel froze in near panic. Baldric stirred, but then just turned and made a few smacking noises with his mouth before settling back to sleep. Daniel waited until his pounding heart stopped threatening to burst from his chest before cautiously backing away.
Since the sword was too large to conceal, Daniel would have to remove the gem before he could return to his village. Such delicate work required the light of a fire, and his former campsite was as good a place as any. The gem alone would provide a good horse, provisions and enough coin to see him far away, but he would have to accomplish the task quickly to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of being caught.
As he moved through the trees, Daniel kept glancing over his shoulder, still unable to shake the feeling that he was being followed. Twice he stopped to listen, sure he had heard something suspicious, only to discover a small harmless creature scurrying through the detritus of the forest floor.
When he finally reached the clearing, Daniel paused only long enough to scoop up a handful of leaves for kindling. He was searching for his flint when a flash of red in the trees caught his eye. It was gone before he could tell what it was, yet it left his hands shaking in fear as he struck the flint against the back edge of his knife three times. After another nervous glance at the trees, he bent down to blow on the smoldering leaves just as a familiar deep throaty growl stopped him cold.
Knowing all too well what he would find, Daniel looked up, still clinging to the faint hope that he was mistaken, but the demon was even more terrifying than he remembered. Wisps of sulphurous smoke were rising from its charred, cracked skin. Each jagged crack in its hide was glowing a bright red, as if a fire raged within. When their eyes met, the demon went silent and then launched itself at him with the speed of a catapult.
Raising his puny knife in an obviously futile gesture, Daniel clamped his eyes shut. Braced for a painful death, he expected to feel his flesh being torn and ripped from his body, but instead he heard a loud yelp. One eye popped open in time to see the demon’s headless body collapse at his feet. Following the jagged edge of a massive sword, he looked up into Bridget’s cold blue eyes. “That was for Alicia,” she said.
Shielding his eyes from the ensuing flare of crimson fire, which consumed the demon, failed to prevent spots from dancing before Daniel’s eyes as Bridget’s strong hands yanked him to his feet. Before he could say a word, she had spun him around to face the dwarf, who had the short-sword in his hand, a stormy look on his face and emerald fire burning in his eyes. “Return what you have taken,” he demanded.
Wordlessly, Daniel placed a ruby in Baldric’s outstretched hand. The fire in Baldric’s eyes vanished, though his glare remained angry. Twice in one night they had saved Daniel’s life, and twice in one night he had betrayed them. Yet, instead of fear, Daniel felt only shame. The feeling made him think of Nicholas, and how his betrayal had planted a seed of hate in Daniel’s heart. It was a seed that had grown into a demon of different sort, yet nevertheless, one with the power to imprison his soul just as effectively as a Soul Stone.
With the truth revealed, the festering hatred living within Daniel shrived and died, leaving him feeling nothing but pity for Nicholas, a man incapable of wasting even a single thought on anyone but himself. Was Daniel doomed to become such a man? Without really knowing why, he retrieved the second ruby from its hiding place and thrust it toward Bridget.
“What,” Bridget barked as her hand shot to her side.
Daniel couldn’t bring himself to look at her. “I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say, as he stared at his feet.
Baldric reached over and gently took the ruby from Daniel’s outstretched hand. Without saying a word he slipped it under his cape. When Daniel finally found the courage to look at Baldric’s face, he was surprised to find the dwarf smiling.
“You’ve more pluck than any lad I’ve ever known,” Baldric said. “We could use someone with your talent. That is, if you can practice a degree of restraint. What say you, Daniel? Will you join us in our quest?”
“How can you trust me after all I‘ve done?” Daniel asked, surprised to find how deeply Baldric’s faith had touched him.
“We all make mistakes,” Baldric said softly. “Why do you think we do what we do?”
“But he’s a filthy little thief,” Bridget roared.
“Ah yes,” Baldric said, without taking his eyes off Daniel, “but he’ll be our little thief, won’t you lad.”
Bridget’s eyes narrowed. “He best take care of where he puts his hands from now on. That’s all I have to say.”
“Oh, I think the lad has learned his lesson,” Baldric said soothingly. “Isn’t that so, Daniel?”
“I owe you my life, twice over,” Daniel replied. “If you take me with you, I swear that you will never regret it.”
Bridget scowled back, as if she wasn’t believing any of it, but Daniel knew he meant every word. For once in his short life he was telling the truth.
Baldric put his arm around Daniel’s shoulder and laughed. “I can see we three will get along famously.”
The sky had just started to brighten as they walked through the woods, but that was not foremost on Daniel’s mind, just as his thoughts were no longer of gems and riches, for he had found the most valuable treasure of all. Himself.