"Another fine day of catching thieves, eh, Lei'ella?" Berard asked as he tilted his chair back on two legs and rested his feet on the table. Maybe that wasn't the wisest thing in the world to do, but he could handle it unless he had a few more beers. Then Lei'ella would make him sit in the chair properly or drag him back to his house so he could recover from being drunk.

"Yes, Berard, it was lovely," said Lei'ella. She examined a new bloodstain on her cloak. "Absolutely wonderful."

"Concerned about cleaning the cloak? Don't worry about it! With the money we'll get from today's work, you can by an outfit for every day of the year!" He leaned back farther. "Well, I might be exaggerating, of course, but that's not the point. Why do you wear that, anyway?"

She frowned. "It keeps me undercover. Your hair makes you stand out, you know."

"My hair makes me look good, Lei'ella. Can't you see that?"


"And how many people wear cloaks around here, anyway? I'd say you stand out more now than you would otherwise."

"I believe I will have to respectfully disagree, Berard," said Lei'ella.

"Well, all right, you can do that if you want. I suppose you know more about yourself than I do, though I wouldn't at all mind learning."

"I would mind teaching."

"Well, my sneaky interrogation skills need some work. One day I'll know your whole life story and you'll never realize you told me!" He let the chair's hovering legs loudly crash back to the floor.

"I wish you would not do that."

"Sure thing. Anything for you, Lei." Well, maybe not anything, but a lot of things. There were some things he wouldn't even do for himself, so doing them for another person was out of the question entirely.

"I will keep that in mind."

"Now, really, why do you wear that hood? It isn't like you're deformed or something. What I can see of you looks all right to me." He folded his arms on the table and rested his head on them to try to see what was under Lei'ella's hood. He usually never saw more than her chin or nose, but her chin and nose were lovely.

"I do not want anyone to see me, obviously," Lei'ella replied.

"But why? Come on, let me see." He reached up to tug on the hood, but he stopped when one of her daggers nicked his hand. He pulled it back and examined the wound. "Ow. That hurt, Lei'ella. That hurt my hand and my heart."

"I am deeply sorry."

"Want to know how you can make it up to me?" He looked up at her and smiled angelically.

"What makes you think I want to make it up to you?"

"You can marry me," Berard said, ignoring her statement. "Marry me, Lei'ella!" He sat up and looked her in the eye. Sometimes he could see her eyes, too, so he knew there was nothing wrong with most of her face. "Will you?"

Lei'ella looked flustered. A moment of confused silence passed before Lei'ella said, "Let me think about this, Berard."

"All right. You think. I'll be waiting for you to answer me. Now, I'll be getting home." He stood up and shoved his chair under the table.

"Berard, you are drunk. I will go with you." Lei'ella also stood up and pushed her chair under the table.

"No, that's not necessary. I'm only slightly tipsy. I've been drunker. You know that."

Lei'ella only took his arm and began to walk with him out of the pub. Berard decided not to argue. She was being nice to him. It wasn't a problem.

"Now, even though I am slightly tipsy, all that's done is loosen my tongue a bit. I really do want to marry you," Berard said as they walked the streets of Strathwood. "Even if you are deformed! If there's something terribly wrong with you, I don't care!"

"Berard, let us talk about this in the morning," said Lei'ella.

"Yeah, the morning. That's a good idea. I'll be at your door first thing tomorrow and we can talk more then."


They walked on in silence until they arrived at Berard's door.

"Good night, Berard," said Lei'ella.

"'Night, Lei'ella." Berard went inside and found his bed.

Lei'ella went home that night wondering about Berard. Would he have asked her the same question if he knew she was an elf? She doubted it. He was quite the racist. His only redeeming qualities were his looks--he was reasonably handsome, for a human--and that he was the only person Lei'ella really knew well. That was not much to marry a person for.

They would talk in the morning. Lei'ella went to bed.

The next day, she awoke to the sound of someone banging on her door. That was Berard. She stood up and pulled her coat and cloak on, making sure her ears would not be visible. The banging continued.

Berard was in mid-bang when she opened the door and narrowly missed being hit in the face.

"Sorry," said Berard.

She rapped on the door three times. "There is no need to beat the door down, Berard."

"All right, I got it. So, how much thinking did you do?"

Lei'ella joined Berard outside and shut the door. "I did some thinking."

"Did you come to any conclusions?"

"No, I did not."

"You know, Lei'ella, I wasn't just drunk last night. I mean it. I'd still mean it if even if you were some mangy da'kor."

That had answered her question, if in a horrible way.

"Well?" Berard asked.

Lei'ella had to wonder why she was even considering this she. She hated Berard, did she not? She thought she did, anyway.

But what difference would it make? She already spent a lot of her time with Berard, hunting criminals down. Perhaps it would not be too different from the way things were already.

"Are you sure you are not exaggerating about the mangy da'kor?"

"Well, maybe a little bit. The mange would have to go."

Why not? She had nothing to lose, and some things to gain. A family and more chances to kill Berard if the need arose. He made himself sound unperturbed by the idea of marrying someone who was not a human. At least an elf, probably, would be more acceptable than a da'kor, even one without mange.

"All right, Berard. I will marry you."

Lei'ella was full of surprises.

Berard found that out a few days later, when he politely rapped on her door three times and was greeted by his fiancee, hoodless and looking quite different.

"Hello, Berard," she said.

Berard did not respond. He was instead trying to puzzle out how Lei'ella had white hair, golden eyes, and long, pointed ears. It wasn't working.


"Lei'ella, you're an elf," Berard said.

Lei'ella brought a hand to one of her long, pointed ears. "Well, thank you for stating the obvious, Berard. One moment." She shut the door in his face.

A minute later, she returned, wearing her cloak.

"I don't think that's going to work anymore," said Berard.

He had been right. Lei'ella certainly looked all right. He just hadn't expected her to be an elf. At least she wasn't a mangy da'kor.

"Perhaps not on you, but it should on everyone else." She held a dagger to his throat. "If you tell anyone, I will kill you."

"Fine, no one has to know." Berard rolled his eyes. "What are you doing here, then? Why aren't you with the elves?"

"I have been exiled."

That statement sounded awfully final, like she didn't want to talk about it, so Berard decided not to press the issue. Her past didn't matter much to him, anyway. He cared more about the present and the future.

"Okay. Well, there's a particularly notorious thief in town that we need to catch. His name's Markus. Very sneaky."

"Then let us catch him."

Catching Markus was no easy task. It was so not easy, in fact, that they didn't manage to do it. He got away at the last minute, but not before Berard gave him a nice laceration with his sword.

"Great. We lost him," Berard muttered as he wiped his sword off on his pants.

"Perhaps he has learned his lesson," said Lei'ella.

"Hmph. Probably not. Scum like that never learns. Let's go to the pub and commiserate over a beer." He stuck his sword in his belt.

"Every day we go to the pub and to the same thing and you call it commiserating or celebrating. Are you that unoriginal?"

"I like routines. They keep things simple."

"Of course."

Later, in the pub, Berard was slightly tipsier than slightly tipsy. He wondered why Lei'ella was never slightly tipsy. She usually stuck to drinking water and the like. Never beer. He couldn't figure why.

"Say, Lei, why don't you drink beer?" he asked.

"I have too much pride to lower myself to your level," she replied.

"Oh. I see. Well, to each their own, right? Right." He drained his tankard and smiled. "You're really pretty, Lei'ella."

"Thank you."

"You know, you're really polite, but it's not the kind of polite where people actually mean it. It'd be nicer if you were more sincere, you know? You're just polite 'cause you think being ruder would make you like a criminal, but it wouldn't, 'cause it would just make you more like yourself."

Lei'ella frowned.

"Don't look so sad! You should smile. Smiling makes you pretty."

"I have nothing to smile about, Berard."

"You're gettin' married soon. Isn't that happy? I'm happy about it. I like you a lot, Lei'ella." He nodded enthusiastically.

"You are drunk."

"So? That doesn't hinder my feelings! Do you have feelings, Lei'ella? Sometimes you don't act like it."

"Of course I have feelings," she said quietly.

"Then why don't you show them? Do you think beer would help? I can buy you a drink."

"No, thank you, Berard."

"There you go, being polite again. I'm not polite a lot of the time, and you know why? 'Cause that's not the way I am. I'm kind of rude and crude and mean but at least I'm true to myself, you know. What would you act like if you weren't being so cold and feelingless all the time?"

"I do not know," said Lei'ella.

"Well, you work on that, all right? One day I want to see the real Lei'ella. I'm going home now. Bye." He stood up and stumbled over his chair. "Ow. That hurt."

"I will go with you," she said, standing up.

"Thanks. You're a nice person when you want to be, Lei'ella."

Not quite one year later, Berard sat in a surprisingly comfortable rocking chair, holding two infants and wondering if they would grow up to be just like him. The children looked like him, at least. They did have pointed ears, but he supposed they had to look like their mother in some way, and they did not detract at all.

In fact, the babies were downright cute. Berard was proud of them. He was also proud of his wife, who was taking a well-deserved rest in another part of the house while he took care of their sons for the moment. Andrius and Caden were a few weeks old now, and they were very tiring.

Berard had had some trouble with getting paternity leave, but he had decided that if he was going to have kids, he would help raise them, too. He had to impart knowledge and things to them. Lei'ella could impart knowledge, too, of course, but he wanted to have something to do with it.

He was almost dozing when Andrius imparted something to Berard: he was hungry. He was loudly hungry. Most unpleasant. Berard stood up, careful not to wake Caden while trying to soothe Andrius somewhat, and walked into the other room, where Lei'ella had evidently heard the boy's wail and woken up accordingly.

"Your son wants you," Berard said.

"They are your sons, too," said Lei'ella.

"Well, at the moment, this one likes you better than he likes me." He deftly handed Andrius to Lei'ella. "Now, I will be getting back to my rocking chair."

He got back to his rocking chair and continued to rock. He liked rocking, and he hoped that no one else would find out. It was, unfortunately, not a manly thing to do. Berard liked to think, however, that he had a wonderful rocking rhythm (the boys seemed to like it) and if anyone had anything to say about it, they would get a sword in the gut. That was usually what anybody Berard didn't like got.

Berard would be glad when the boys' motor skills developed. Then he could begin teaching them about the use of swords and other handy instruments. After all, they had to know how to get rid of things that annoyed them, or else they would be plagued forever.

Ron's information had proved to be quite interesting. Lei'ella thought she would have to speak to this da'kor, and see what he was about. Searching for Kayn'dar and going to Rhyll? What could this da'kor be up to, especially asking after her? She mulled this over as she paid Ron some extra and left the inn.

Berard had earlier declared today to be "Take Your Energetic Twin Sons to Work Day", so he had dragged Andrius and Caden off to help catch thieves. This meant that she had a decent amount of peace and quiet as she walked through town, looking for anything small and furry.

She found it quickly enough. A particularly weak-looking da'kor that seemed likely enough to be the one she was looking for was talking to Berard, who was posing fearsomely with his sword.

"Why don't you fight?" she heard Berard ask.

"I'm not interested in picking fights with strangers," the da'kor answered.

"Are you gonna kill it, Daddy?" Andrius asked.

"What color is da'kor blood?" Caden asked.

The da'kor eyed the children with distaste. Lei'ella decided to intervene.

"Berard! What is going on here?" she asked.

"I found a suspicious-looking da'kor," said Berard.

"You believe that all da'kor are suspicious, Berard. I want to speak with this one."

Berard glanced sadly at his sword. "All right. No, Andrius, I am not going to kill the da'kor."

"What color is da'kor blood?" Caden repeated impatiently.

"Red," said the da'kor. It did not sound at all like the traditional idea of a mangy savage--quite the opposite.

"There you have it," said Berard. "Red. Now let's go see about tracking down some real thieves while your mother takes care of this beast." Berard herded the boys away.

The da'kor looked confused.

"I am Lei'ella," she said. Perhaps that would alleviate his fears. "I believe you have been asking about me."

The da'kor's expression changed to one that was far happier. "Lei'ella! Just when I had decided to give up!"

"Might I inquire as to who gave you my name?" she asked.

"A da'kor named Tark, back in Kiadho."

All the da'kor Lei'ella had met in the past ran together, but she thought for a moment. She did remember Tark...somewhat. "Yes, I believe I can recall him. One of the fortunate few to make it through here alive." She decided not to dwell upon dead da'kor. "What is your name?"

"My name is Acheron," said the da'kor. "Lei'ella, who was that man?"

"Berard is my husband. He can be overzealous at times when it comes to protecting the innocent populace from being looted, pillaged, stolen from, murdered, and terrorised." Perhaps overzealous was an understatement.

Much later, Acheron, Berard, and Lei'ella sat around a table to discuss things. Andrius and Caden were in bed and would not be bothering them.

"Let me get this straight, Lei'ella. You want to go off with some da'kor and search for some elf for some mysterious reason you won't tell anyone?" Berard asked.

"That sounds like an accurate summary."

"I don't know if I like this."

"I really would appreciate any assistance you can give," said Acheron.

Berard frowned. "And who will take care of Andrius and Caden while I am out earning a living?"

"That will be worked out before I leave," said Lei'ella.

"Fine. Go. Have fun." Berard stood up and stalked off to his bedroom.

"I suddenly feel like a bad person," said Acheron.

"You are a fine person, Acheron. Do not worry," said Lei'ella.

A few days later, Lei'ella's family stood outside the house to bid her and Acheron a fond farewell, although Berard did not seem too happy about it. Lei'ella decided it would be wise to warn Berard about ripping people up the middle unnecessarily and beating innocents before she and Acheron set off on their journey, and so she did.

Berard still didn't like this. So as he watched the pair set off on their journey, he looked down at his sons and said to them, "Come on, boys. We're going to follow your mother."