Sodan’s condition forced them to remain camped where they’d stopped for nearly a week before Ralt grudgingly pronounced him fit to travel. The men accepted it as an unexpected vacation, particularly Thomas, who produced a deck of cards from some mysterious nether space on his person then proceeded to fleece the men out of a week’s pay.
Storm used the time to reflect on the change in his relationship with Durin and especially Ralt. They had believed him after all. Ralt laid it out for him the first night after the stampede. The men were all asleep, Sodan was tucked away in the wagon still complaining about his chest and only the three of them sat up around the small watch fire.
“It’s the fact you can see the magic weave,” Ralt explained, his face lit from beneath by the fire. “It only happens to a Ghibbore during their 12th year or every 12th year after that; in your case, when you’re twenty-four.”
“A hundred and two,” Storm corrected him. “It’s only been twenty-four years since I came to Gaia.”
Durin puffed out a smoke ring that lazily floated away. “Whichever way ye look at it ye meet Ralt’s measure of twelves since ye came into da world.”
“It’s not my measure,” Ralt protested warmly. “Gerald taught it to me from a book that was over a thousand years old about how the gods create their Ghibbores.” Storm knew the “gods” of Gaia weren’t real gods and according to the stories Ralt was passing on to him from his mentor’s history books and the stories the elders used to tell around the camp fires of the Bear Clan, it had taken hundreds of them working together to create Gaia and the galaxy-sized universe around it. It was a little universe created by little gods, minor gods, a universe of minor gods. He smiled to himself as the memory of his sixth-grade music teacher came unbidden to his mind. Mrs. Bakersfield would have called it g-minor, after the musical chord, a universe of g-minor. He smiled again, remembering Nadia’s reaction when he gave the world that name.
The discussion winded its way back and forth along those lines.
“How did you know for sure I was a Ghibbore?” he questioned Ralt one day. “I know what you said about the colors and the weave but surely there must be other people who’ve displayed strange powers without being one?” It was the fifth day of their unexpected break and Sodan was resting comfortably in the wagon while the men lazed about in the warm, afternoon sun. Ralt was cooking up some strange concoction Durin claimed would hasten the old man’s recovery. He kept stirring the pot while he answered.
“Yes, but not many. To be honest, it was Rogar who put me onto you,” he said. “He’d been one of Gerald’s apprentices, oh, I don’t know, years ago. You didn’t know that did you?” he grinned.
Storm shook his head silently as he tried to imagine Rogar wearing robes and chanting arcane spells. He couldn’t do it.
“He didn’t stay with Gerald very long; just long enough to realize he wanted to do something else in life I guess. They parted on good terms anyway.” He sniffed delicately at the pot. “This stuff smells worse than a sewer on a hot day; I hope Durin knows what he’s doing.” He wrinkled his nose and went back to stirring it. “But he did remember some of what Gerald taught him, the basics you could call it. And a couple of minor spells. One of them apparently, was the detection spell. It lets you size someone up, find out if they’re telling the truth, see if there is a dark stain of evil on their soul; little stuff like that.”
It didn’t sound so little to Storm, but it did explain why Rogar never had any scum working for him – he managed to weed them out before he hired them. But Ralt was still talking.
“When he used his spell on you he found something he’d never seen before. He didn’t have the slightest idea what it meant so he wrote Gerald a letter asking for his help. Gerald told me about it of course but neither of us could figure it out from what little we had to go on. Rogar’s letter told us to be on the lookout for a barbarian named Storm from the Bear Clan. It’s rare to find barbarians this far south so when you showed up I figured you might be the one he was talking about. I used the same detection spell he did and saw the same thing he did, but I didn’t have any idea what it meant until the night of the stampede.”
“Adopted barbarian,” Storm reminded him. “But I never told him what clan I was from. It never came up. How did he know about it?”
Ralt shrugged, unconcerned with such details. “Maybe you mentioned it to someone else who told him later. You’d be surprised what we let slip when we’re not paying attention. Who knows?” He waved it off and leaned over to take another sniff at the pot he was stirring. “Well, I think this is about ready. If it doesn’t kill him it can’t help but make him better. I’d sure as blazes get better if I thought someone was trying to feed me this slop.” He grabbed the pot and strode off toward the wagon, leaving Storm to his musings.
Later in the day he cornered Ralt again, interrupting him as he sat reading his spellbook. “Could a priest use magic to see whatever it was you saw with your detection spell?” He quickly filled him in about Lamriack and his cursed interest him as a boy.
Ralt smothered a grin, “Yep. He would have seen the same thing Rogar and I did; a strange, inner glow of power like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it of course but if that’s not the mark of a Ghibbore, I don’t know what is.”
Storm cocked his head. “First time?”
The wizard shrugged, moving his spellbook from one hand to another. He’d been reading when Storm interrupted him. “Even for those with elven blood like me, there’s still a first time for everything. Besides, how often do you think someone from Elder Earth winds up on Gaia?”
“Elven blood like you’?” he asked, ignoring Ralt’s evident desire to get back to his reading.
"My mother was half-elven,” the slender wizard shrugged.
Storm was pole axed. Half-elven? The different races could interbreed? He’d always assumed the different races on Gaia were actually different species. But if Ralt’s mother was half-elven then that was a whole new kettle of fish entirely and it meant Ralt was . . . “You don’t just have elven blood, you’re actually part elf!” he blurted, unable to hold it back.
Ralt seemed genuinely amused. “One quarter to be precise.” He pulled back his long hair to reveal his ears. The lobes were barely half the length they should have been. At the top, his ears came to a faint, but discernible point. “My brothers and sisters took after my father. I was the only one who took after mother.”
Storm suddenly understood why he didn’t have a beard or mustache, why his eyebrows seemed so thin and arched, even if only slightly. It explained why he was so uncommonly handsome. “But, but in order for an elf and a human to have children, they’d both have to be the same species,” he objected weakly. “Dogs and cats can’t have babies, but different breeds of dogs can, no matter how different they are; a dog is a dog. The same thing for is true for people.”
Ralt set his spellbook down. “That’s pretty sharp,” he admired. “Most people never figure it out even with the legend.”
“Legend?” Storm frowned.
Ralt sat up and recited;
At the dawn of the First Age, the gods separated people in
thirds – dwarves, elves, and men – then put enmity between
them for all time.
He shrugged. “I think the for all time part is a little exaggerated, but the rest is probably true.”
Storm nodded absently as long-forgotten memories began to surface. “You know, I think I remember the tribal elders telling us those stories when I was a kid. I’d forgotten about them.” He snapped out of it. “But you’re the only one who took after your mother?”
Ralt spread his hands helplessly. “It happens that way sometimes. I think that’s why she came to visit me after her death instead of the others; I was the only one who could see her.”
Came to visit him after her death? Unable to think of a suitable reply to something like that, Storm retreated in confusion. He spent the rest of the day avoiding the wizard as much as possible. His head was already filled with too many uncomfortable thoughts; he didn’t need Ralt adding any more.
On the bright side, however, Durin’s smelly concoction seemed to do the trick for Sodan; he made his first appearance outside the wagon that night, and again the next day. The day after that, Ralt allowed he was ready to travel.