The sound of crackling and the smell of burnt wool worked their way into my dreams. I awoke with a start, noticing the heat next to my cheek. My fire elemental friend had curled up next to me and charred the pillow next to my face. I sat up and scooped the elemental in my palms.
“I just remembered your name, Zat.”
It spat a few sparks and purred. How could I have forgotten? My mother, Tiria – although Tiria didn’t seem like her name or maybe not her complete name – had shown me how to hold the elemental so it wouldn’t burn me. My cousins? friends? and I had been out hunting for wisps in Coalfen Swmap, which were gaseous balls of light that lived in the swamp’s fumes. Rumor indicated that the wisps could lead one to a pot of gold. I’d been seven years old maybe. Instead we’d gotten stuck on one of the floating “islands” of weeds that made the path through the swamp random. My uncle? An older male at least and my mother found us around dusk – dirty and smelly themselves from slogging through the muck. We’d found a solid piece of ground and someone started a fire. A young fire elemental had been attracted to its light and heat and my mother showed me how to make friends with it. It followed us back to…wherever we were staying. That part still lay in the gray blank of my fractured memory.
I looked about the cell. Daylight shown through a high, barred window. The door to the cell was – wait, it wasn’t. I had expected it to be closed, but it remained propped open. I put Zat on my shoulder and asked it to remain invisible while I went to explore the extent of my freedom.
I found my way back to the bathing chamber without running into anyone, and washed the sleep from my eyes. I needed food, water, clothing, and my horse. And something for Zat to ride in. And a way to get out of the building and the city without being stopped.
As I poked around in the closet outside of the bathing room, I heard voices in the hall. I hid in the closet, trying not to knock the cleaning supplies and piled towels over.
“Are you certain he is not a full-blooded Norn? He reacted exactly as a Norn would to the potion,” a woman’s voice said – Elenosa.
“I doubt it. Look at his build – he’s a stout one if he is. No, I expect an ancestor had the blood and it’s just shown up in him.”
“But you know he has power.”
Vytar must have nodded or something.
“Have you called Grand Councilor Fadreel yet?”
“No.” She must have made a face or something because Vytar added, “I wanted to be sure first.”
“Well, I’m sure. I’ll call him now.”
They moved off and I stepped out of the closet. Zat made hissing noises and I quieted him. I went down the hallway toward the room where Elenosa questioned me. I saw her seated at the desk with the embedded gems, facing the empty frame. A humming sound that made my skin crawl filled the room and hallway. Vytar sat with one leg on the table. I must have made a noise because he looked around and spotted me. He smiled and motioned me to be quiet. He looked back at the desk just as a man’s face came into the frame.
I knew that face. Handsome, I supposed, with wavy blond hair and hazel eyes, the face brought back a feeling more than a memory. Frankly, he made my nads shrink.
“Ah Sentinel Elenosa, what a pleasure to see you. And Captain Vytar, greetings.” The man added as Vytar moved to stand behind Elenosa’s chair. His elegant voice sounded hollow, as if he were talking from the bottom of a well.
“The captain has some good news to tell you,” Elenosa looked up and over her shoulder at Vytar. He cleared his throat and said, “Yes, Grand Councilor. I’ve found a possible Nord.”
The Grand Councilors face lit up with a look of greed. “Ah excellent, Captain. Bring it in.”
Vytar said “Him.”
The Grand Councilor waved away this correction.
“I assume you’ll share the generous bounty with you lovely assistant.” The Grand Councilor beamed at Elenosa. Her hand shot out over a red glowing gem.
“Of course, sir. I’ll be headed to Crown City soon.”
“Good. Fadreel out.” The frame emptied and showed the blank wall behind it. The disturbing sound faded.
“Gods teeth, he just has to leer at me every time,” Elenosa said, turning to look at Vytar. He shrugged, and made a little waving motion with his hand behind his back I took to mean that I should remove myself back to the cell.
“You wanted to call him.”
She made a disgusted noise. “You better share that bounty with me.”
I didn’t hear Vytar’s answer.
A bounty for a Nord. What did that mean?

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