Magic Gifts Page 20

"Where are you folks from?" The man asked.

"Atlanta," I said.

"Big city," he said.

"Yes." Neither of us mentioned the necklace choking the boy's throat.

Ahead the sun shone through the gap. A moment and we passed through and stepped into the light. A valley lay in front of us, the ground gently sloping to the waters of a narrow lake. A watermill turned and creaked on the far shore. To the right a two-story house sat on the lawn of green grass. A few dozen yards to the side a smithy rose and behind it a garden stretched up the slope, enclosed by a chain-link fence. Further still, pale horses ran in a pasture.

The necklace clicked and fell off Roderick's neck. The dark-haired man caught it and snapped it in a half. "I'll take that then."

Roderick drew a breath. Tiny red dots swelled on his neck, where the necklace had punctured skin.

"No worries," the man said. "It will heal in the next magic wave."

A shaggy grey dog trotted up to us, spat a tennis ball out of his mouth, and pondered Roderick with big eyes.

"That's Ruckus," the man said. "He'd like it if you threw the ball for him."

Roderick picked up the tennis ball, looked at it for a second, and then tossed down the slope. The dog took off after it. The boy turned to us.

"Go ahead," Doolittle told him.

Roderick dashed down the slope.

"So you're Ivar," I said.

"I am."

It finally sunk in. The necklace was gone. Roderick was safe. My legs gave a little bit and I leaned against the nearest tree.

Ivar studied me. "Oh now, that's not good. Why don't y'all come down to the house? Trisha was making iced tea before I left. It should be about done."

As if in a dream I followed him down to the house. We sat on a covered porch, and Ivar brought a pitcher of tea and some glasses.

"Why make the necklace that would strangle a child?" Curran asked.

"It's a long story." Ivar sighed. "I take it you know what I am?"

"A dverg," I said.

"That's right." Ivar looked at his hands. They were large, out of proportion to his body. "I work with metal. As long as I remember myself, the metal spoke to me. Some things I make are harmless. Plows, horseshoes, nails. Some are not. I have made a blade or two in my time. The thing is, once the blade is out of your hands, you can't control what it's used for. I try."

"Like with Dagfinn?" I guessed.

Ivar nodded. "How is that boy doing?"

"Well," Curran said.

"Good to hear. He had a bit a temper, that one." Ivar looked out, at the river's shore where Roderick and Ruckus chased each other. "Trisha is my second wife. My first one, Lisa, well, she was... The best I can figure, she was elfen. No way to know for sure, of course. She showed up on my doorstep one day and stayed. She was beautiful. We had a daughter, but the valley life wasn't for Lisa, so one morning I woke up and she was gone. Left the baby with me. I did my best to raise her. She had hair like gold, my Aurellia. But I did a lousy job raising her. There was never any warmth in her, no empathy. I don't know why. She was fully grown, when a young man came down to the valley. He said he wanted to apprentice himself to me. To learn about smithing. I don't take apprentices, but the boy had talent, so he and I made a bargain. He would stay with me for a decade."

"Ten years is a long time," I said.

"It's enough to learn how not to do harm," Doolittle said.

Ivar threw him a grateful look. "You understand. You can't teach the craft in ten years. I'm sixty and I still learn new things every day. But I thought a decade would be long enough to teach them what one should make and what on shouldn't and when. Can't just hand that kind of power to a man and let him loose in the world without guidance. So Colin and I made a bargain. He would wear the collar and stay here in the valley to learn all I could teach him. If he left the boundary of the valley before the time was up, the collar would kill him. He understood that there was no turning back. Once he put on the collar, he has to stay here for ten years."

"Aurellia decided to leave?" Curran asked.

Ivar nodded. "She had no skills. There is a school down in Cashiers, and I tried to take her there, but she quit. Didn't care for it. Didn't care for the metal work either. Thought it coarse and common. It's my own fault: I had explained money to her and that in the outside world one can't just live off the land and barter the way we do here. So she decided Colin would take care of her. One day I went up in the mountains to the old Cooper mine, and when I came down, they were gone. I had warned Colin that if he'd managed to take the collar off, it would try to find him again and he wouldn't be able to resist. The way I figure, Aurellia got it off him somehow and they must've sold it. There was a lot of gold in that collar."

Now things made sense. Colin made the money. She needed him alive to take care of her. Roderick was just incidental.

"Colin doesn't do metal smithing anymore," I told him. "He's an accountant. I don't think he even remembers his time here. They way he acted when he saw the collar, I don't think he knew what it was. He and Aurellia had a daughter. The necklace killed her. That's their son." I pointed down toward the valley where the boy and dog played. "Aurellia had put the necklace on him to keep it off Colin."

Ivar's face jerked. "The necklace was never meant to follow the blood. It was only meant to keep Colin here."

Roderick came up the stairs. His face was flushed. "We don't have to go yet, do we?"

I would not take him back to that bitch.

Ivar looked at his grandson. There was a sadness there and regret. A lot of regret. I could see the resemblance between them now: same dark hair, same serious, somber look in the eyes.

"Do you like it here?" Doolittle asked.

Roderick nodded.

The medmage looked at the dwarf. "Second chances don't come about often."

Ivar's face went slack.

"He's right," Curran said.

Ivar took a deep breath and smiled at Roderick. "Roderick, I'm your grandfather. Would you like to stay here for a while? With me?"

Roderick looked at Doolittle.

"It's your choice," the medmage said. "You can come back with me, if you would like."

Roderick mulled it over.

"I never had a grandfather before," the boy said.

"I never had a grandson before," Ivar answered.

"Can I go swimming?"

"Yes," Ivar said. "Your grandmother will be back from the market soon. We'll have us some lunch and you can go swimming. The water's cold but you might enjoy it. Our kind does."

Roderick smiled. It was a tiny hesitant smile. "I would like that."

Ivar got up and offered the boy his hand. "Would you like to see my smithy?"

Roderick nodded. The two of them walked off the porch together, hand in hand.

The three of us sat on the porch, watched the river, and drank the iced tea.

"What about Aurellia?" I asked.

"She's still married to DA's brother," Curran said. "A woman told me it would be a bad idea to do anything about that."

"I wouldn't worry about Aurellia," Doolittle said, watching Ivar and Roderick but the smithy. "I have a feeling she'll get what's coming to her."


"Atlanta Avery hospital reported an extremely troubling case: a local woman, Aurellia Sunny, has aged forty years overnight. The medmage professionals theorize that accelerated aging had occurred due to a gold ring that had arrived in the mail and was left on Mrs. Sunny's front porch. The ring has since dissolved into her skin and is impossible to remove. The aging process is continuing and the family has been advised to make the proper arrangements. PAD detective Tsoi, the lead investigator on the case, had the following advice to the genral public, 'Don't accept gifts from anonymous parties. If you don't know who the package is from, don't open it.'"

Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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