The Dragons Dagger by R. A. Salvatore


Prelude

 

  Kelsey the elf ran his slender fingers through his shoulder-length, pure golden hair many times, his equally golden eyes unblinking as he stared at the empty pedestal in Dilnamarra Keep.

  The empty pedestal!

  Only a month before, Kelsey had returned the armor and reforged spear of Cedric Donigarten, Faerie's greatest hero, to this very spot. What pains the elf had gone through to repair that long-broken spear! The reforging had been Kelsey's life quest, the greatest trial for any member of Tylwyth Teg, the fair elven folk of the Forest Tir na n'Og. Kelsey still carried the wounds of his challenge against mighty Robert, the dreaded dragon, the only creature in all the land who could billow fire hot enough to bind the magical metal of that legendary weapon.

  And now, with word just beginning to spread throughout the countryside that the spear was whole once more, the mighty weapon and the fabulous armor were simply gone.

  Baron Pwyll entered his throne room through a door at the back of the hall, escorted by several worried-looking soldiers. Nearly a foot taller than Kelsey and easily twice the elf's weight, the big man, gray beard flying wild (Kelsey knew that the Baron had been pulling at it, as was his habit when he was upset), ambled to his seat and plopped down, seeming to deflate and meld with the cushions.

  "Do you know anything?" he asked Kelsey, his normally booming voice subdued.

  "I know that the items, the items which I placed in your care, are missing," Kelsey snapped back. A hint of anger flashed in Pwyll's brown eyes, his droopy eyelids rising up dangerously. He did not immediately reply, though, and that fact made Kelsey even more fearful that something dreadful had happened, or was about to happen.

  "What is it?" the elf prompted, instinctively understanding that the Baron was withholding some important news.

  "Geldion is on his way from Connacht," Pwyll replied, referring to the upstart Prince of Faerie, by Kelsey's estimation the most dangerous man in all the land. "With a score of soldiers, a knight included, at his side," Pwyll finished.

  "Geldion could not have already heard that the items are missing," Kelsey reasoned.

  "No," Pwyll agreed. "But he, and his father - long live the King" - Pwyll added quickly, and glanced around to see if any of his own men was wearing a suspicious expression - "have heard that the spear was reforged. It seems that Kinn . . . King Kinnemore has decreed that the treasure rooms of Connacht would serve better as a shrine for so valuable an artifact. " "Cedric Donigarten's own will bequeathed the items to Dilnamarra," Kelsey protested, against Pwyll's dismissing wave. "You have the documents, legally signed and sealed. Kinnemore cannot . . . " "I do not fear the legal battle about the placement of the items," Pwyll interrupted. The Baron grabbed at his beard and tugged hard, leaving a kinky gray strand hanging far out to the side of his huge face. "King Kinnemore, even that wretched Geldion, would tread with care before removing the spear, or the armor. But do you not understand? I thought that they had already stolen it, and the fact that Geldion is only now on his way, fully announced, confuses the facts. " "A cover for the theft?" Kelsey reasoned.

  "Do you believe Geldion to be that clever?" Baron Pwyll replied dryly. Kelsey sent his graceful hands through his golden hair once more, turned his questioning gaze to the empty pedestal. If not Kinnemore, than who might have taken the items? the elf wondered. Robert had been defeated, banished by unyielding rules of challenge to remain in his castle for a hundred years. Similarly, the witch Ceridwen had been banished to her island, defeated by the reforged spear itself. No doubt, the conniving witch could still cause havoc, but Kelsey did not think that Ceridwen had had time yet to muster her forces - unless she was working through her puppet king in Connacht.

  A clamor by the main door, several groans and the sound of someone spitting, turned Kelsey around. Five soldiers entered, bearing a short and stout character, tied - ankles and wrists, knees and elbows, and neck and waist - to two heavy wooden poles. The dwarf - for it was, of course, a dwarf, though he did not wear the beard typical of his folk - twisted stubbornly every step of the way, forcing his head to the side so that he could line up another man for a stream of gravelly spit.

  None of the soldiers seemed overly pleased, and all of them carried more than a few hammer-sized dents in their metal armor.

  "My Baron," one of them began, but he stopped abruptly as a wad of spit slapped against the side of his face. He turned and raised his fist threateningly at the dwarf, who smiled an impish smile and spat another stream into the man's eye.

  "Cut him down!" the frustrated Baron cried.

  "Yes, my Baron!" one of the soldiers eagerly responded, snapping his great sword from its sheath. He turned on the dwarf and brought the weapon up high, lining up the bound prisoner's exposed head, but suddenly Kelsey was between him and his target, the elf's slender sword at the soldier's throat.

  "I believe that your Baron meant for you to free the dwarf," the elf explained. The soldier looked at Pwyll, a horrified expression on his face, then blushed and slid his weapon away.

  "We cannot free him, my Baron," said the first soldier as he continued to wipe his face. "I fear for your safety. "

  "There are five armed soldiers around the damned dwarf!" Pwyll replied, tugging at his beard.

  The soldier gave the dangerous prisoner a sidelong glance.

  "And there were twenty in Braemar!" the dwarf bellowed. "So do let me down, I beg. "

  Pwyll's big face screwed up as he regarded his troops. He had indeed sent a score of soldiers to the town of Braemar in search of Geno Hammerthrower.

  "The others will return to Dilnamarra after their wounds have healed enough to permit travel," the soldier admitted. Pwyll looked to Kelsey, who turned about and promptly sliced the thongs holding Geno to the pole. Down crashed the dwarf, but he bounced back to his feet immediately and slapped a fist into his open palm.

  "I was not among the score of men you battled in Braemar," Kelsey quickly and grimly reminded Geno. "You will cause no further ruckus in Dilnamarra Keep. "

  Geno held the elf's unyielding stare for a long while, then shrugged, pushed his straight brown hair back from his rough-hewn but strangely cherubic face, and smiled that mischievous grin once more. "Then give me back my hammers," he said. Kelsey nodded to one of the soldiers, who immediately put his hand on a bandolier lined with a dozen heavy hammers. The man retracted the hand at once, though, and looked from smiling Geno to Baron Pwyll. "Do it!" Kelsey demanded before the Baron could respond, and so great was the respect carried by the Tylwyth Teg that the soldier had the bandolier off his shoulder and over to Geno in an instant.

  Geno pulled a hammer from the wide strap and sent it spinning up into the air. He casually draped the strap over one shoulder, then put his thick hand out at precisely the right moment to catch the descending hammer. "My thanks, elf," the dwarf said. "But do not presume this capture to mean I owe you anything. You know the rules of indenture as well as I, and twenty against one doesn't make for a fair catch. "

  "You were not brought back for any indenture," Kelsey explained, and Geno, despite his taciturn fa¬£ade, let out a profound sigh of relief. The dwarf was reputably the finest smithy in all the land of Faerie, and as such, was almost constantly fending off capture attempts from Barons or wealthy merchants, or simply upstart would-be heroes, all wanting him to craft the "finest weapon in the world. "

  "The armor and spear are missing," Baron Pwyll added rather sharply, leaning forward in his chair as though he had just placed an accusation at the dwarf's feet. The blustery man backed off on his imposing stance immediately, though, when Geno's scowl returned tenfold.

  "Are you accusing me of taking them?" the dwarf asked bluntly.

  "No, no,"
Kelsey quickly put in, fearing one of Geno's volatile explosions. It occurred to the elf for a fleeting instant that his gesture of trust to the dangerous dwarf by giving him back his hammer supply might not have been such a wise thing. "We are merely investigating the matter," he went on calmly. "We thought that you, as the smithy who reforged the spear, should be alerted. "

  "We are simply trying to solve a mystery here," Pwyll said calmly, wise enough to understand the prudence of following Kelsey's lead. "You most certainly are not suspected of any wrongdoing. " The statement wasn't exactly true, but Pwyll thought it an important diplomatic move, one that might keep a hurled hammer off his head.

  "Your men could have asked," Geno said to Pwyll.

  "We did . . . " the spit-covered soldier started to respond, but Pwyll's upraised hand and Geno's sudden grip on his nearest hammer shut the man up.

  "Also, rest assured that you will be richly compensated for your assistance in this most important matter," the blustery Baron went on, trying to sound official.

  Geno looked around doubtfully at the rather shabby dressings of the room. It was no secret in Faerie that since Kinnemore had become King, the wealth of the independent Baronies, particularly those such as Dilnamarra who did not play as puppets to Connacht, had greatly diminished. "Are the Tylwyth Teg paying?" Geno asked Kelsey, and the elf nodded gravely.

  Baron Pwyll winced at the subtle insult. "Where is the giant?" he asked, referring to Tommy One-Thumb, the giant who had reportedly accompanied Kelsey and Geno on their quest to reforge the spear.

  "You think I'd be fool enough to walk a giant into Dilnamarra Keep?" Geno balked. "How'd you ever get to be a Baron?"

  Kelsey faded out of the conversation at that point, falling back into private contemplations of the unsettling events. Despite the impending arrival of Prince Geldion, he still suspected that King Kinnemore, on orders from wicked Ceridwen, was somehow behind the theft. The dragon Robert's hand was not as long as Ceridwen's, after all, and who else might have precipitated . . .

  Kelsey's musings suddenly hit an unexpected wall and shot off in a different direction altogether, a direction that indicated that this theft might be more mischief and less malice. Who else, indeed?

  Mickey McMickey shifted his tam-o'-shanter and rested back easily against a tree trunk at the edge of a glade in the beautiful forest of Tir na n'Og. The leprechaun soon resumed his twiddling with a dagger that Gary Leger, the man from the other world, had inadvertently taken from the lair of Robert. Because of this dagger, because the companions had broken their agreement to the rules of challenge, the dragon's vow of banishment would not hold up to scrutiny.

  Mickey's thoughts drifted to his precious pot of gold, bartered to Robert before the leprechaun had ever entered the dragon's lair. How dearly he missed it, and how weak his magical powers had become with the gold lost! "Not to worry," the usually cheerful fellow said to himself. He looked over his shoulder, to the gorgeous artifacts, the armor and spear of Cedric Donigarten. "This'll bring 'em running. "
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