It only took us two days to make our way back to the druid’s grove. The area was much more sparsely inhabited than it was during the festival. We walked by the few permanent structures the grove maintained and were intercepted by a pair of druids.
“Brother,” one of them said with a curt nod.
“Greetings,” I said. I looked from one druid to the other and noticed that neither seemed as welcoming as the grove’s caretakers had been during our last visit. “Is Gregorius around?”
“He is, and he would like to speak with you.” The druid looked past me at the rest of our party. “Alone.”
I looked back to my friends. Lluc just shrugged at me. “All right,” I said to the druid, then turned back to the others. “I’ll be back in a bit. Gregorius wants a word with me.”
The druid I was speaking with turned and bade me to follow him. The other crossed his arms and set about staring Lluc down and trying to look intimidating. It might have worked if he hadn’t been a head shorter that our fighter.
The druid I was following took me to one of the homes we had passed on our way into the grove proper. He knocked on the door with three sharp raps. Gregorius opened the door a minute later. His face grew serious when he saw me behind the other druid.
“Kiokri, Brother,” Gregorius said. “Please, come in.”
My escort stepped aside to let me in and left to work on some other duty. Gregorius’s room was simply decorated with a bed to one side and a small table in the center of the room. Herbs were hung in the open window to dry. He handed me a cup of tea and motioned for me to take a seat.
Gregorius took the chair opposite mine. “I’m sorry to have to ask this,” he started, “but do you have any knowledge of a pair of gems being stolen from one of our own?”
“No, Elder.” I said. I felt my heart beating faster as a wave of anxiety washed over me. One of my friends had stolen from one of my brothers.
Gregorius seemed to relax. “That is good. I didn’t want to believe you had anything to do with this.” He stopped to take a drink of his tea, put it back down on the table, and started to circle the lip of his cup with a finger. “These gems were very sentimental to our temple’s priest. It would mean a lot to all of us if they were returned.”
I nodded. “I understand.” I already had an idea of who was involved. “Let me talk to my friends and see what I can do.”
Kaius was furious. He looked likely to erupt at Barry. “So he stole from people who welcomed him into their home and provided him with a bed and food?”
“I didn’t steal them,” Barry said. He was rolling a copper coin between his knuckles.
“It’s impossible to know who stole them for certain,” I said, giving Barry a pointed look.
Lluc snorted. “I think we’re all fairly certain.”
“I said I didn’t steal them” Barry said. He palmed the coin and made it vanish.
Kaius gave an exasperated sigh.
“You want me to hold him upside down and give him a good shake?” Lluc asked.
“We could just empty out all of our bags,” offered Greg.
“I’ve got a better idea,” I said. “There’s an empty tent just outside of the standing stones. We each go into the tent, wait for a few seconds, then come out again. Whoever has the gems can leave them without us knowing who stole them in the first place.”
“There you go, Barry,” Lluc said. “No shaking, and nobody else needs to know you’re a thief.”
“I’m not a thief,” Barry said, “and I’m not going first.”
And so, one by one, we entered and left the tent. I went in last, following Barry’s turn, and found the gems sitting on top of a small stool inside. I picked them up and walked back outside with them. Barry refused to make eye contact with me.
Kaius scoffed at the sight of the small, precious stones. “At least he gave them back. Are we done with this farce?”
“Quite,” Gregorius said as he stepped past the standing stones into view. I held my hand out and dropped the gems into his. “Thank you, Brother, and thanks to your friends for returning these. This was a dignified solution to our issue. I would like to invite you all to spend the evening with us, as the hour is growing late. But, I am afraid to say,” he said, turning his attention to the others, “I must ask that your friends leave on the morrow.”
“We understand,” Kaius said solemnly. Barry had the decency to look mildly ashamed.
“Kiokri, please join me for a moment,” Gregorius said, and led me away with a hand on my shoulder. “I was speaking with some of our more senior members, and they have agreed to provide you with training, if you will take it.”
I never saw the offer coming. I had half-expected us all to get thrown out on our ears, and there was Gregorius, offering me another kindness. Needless to say, I was stunned. “Of course, Elder. It would be an honor.”
“Excellent! I will speak with Tyson in the morning. I see you have already found your first animal companion.” He reached down and gave Max a scratch behind the ears. Max arched his neck in appreciation.
I thanked Gregorius again and left to meet with my friends to explain that I was going to be staying behind for a few days. They spent one last night in the grove with the druids and left the next morning after breakfast and a few farewells. We all agreed to meet up in Troubeck after three weeks’ time.