To my surprise, Thunder Jack gave me three rings. They were a matching set and looked very old. Not that they were marred or tarnished by any means, they are of purest mithril, an ancient dwarven alloy, the secrets of which has been a grave secret kept by the dwarves throughout all of their history.
Even the wizards in Skyfell do not know of this skill, for Bob and Wizard Tim both confirmed. Tim did not even try to pry the secret from Bob, knowing it would prove a useless endeavor.
As to these rings, I took them, amazed by the largess of the gift.
“These are priceless,” he said to me, taking my hand and closing my fingers with his own, covering the rings from all eyes. “One is for you, of course. The other two are for you to give as you deem appropriate.”
I nodded at him, very much aware of the warmth of his hands covering my own. “Bob, of course.”
He nodded in approval. “And the last?”
I smiled. “You know that answer as well.”
He returned my smile, but his eyes were grave. “You must name the third for the magic to take hold.”
Magic, huh? I felt the bands in the palm of my hand. They were cold, as if they had not absorbed the heat of my body.
“Ssaralac,” I said, giving her true name. “She whom I call Liz, who is first in my heart.”
Pain shot into my hand, as if a spider had bitten my palm. When I tried to open my hand, Thunder Jack held it shut.
Twice more the bite lanced into me and I cried out. He gave me a stern look and I muffled my agony, for agony it was. Pain lanced from my palm, along my arm and across my chest until my heart swelled near to bursting. The light of the day began to fade and I nearly collapsed as some form of poison raced through my body from the bites.
“You slay me?” I asked, when he stepped back.
He caught me as I fell, easing me to my knees. Once I was closer to the ground, the world stopped swaying and my vision cleared. In another heart beat the pain began to lesson, and by four, I was able to open my hand.
The three rings sat upon my palm, mithril as before, but shot through with runes of red. Without taking one to examine closer, I could make out the runes for binding and for loyalty.
“These will bind you three tighter than the ritual you attempted before.”
I started to protest, but he held up a hand to forestall me.
“Make no excuses,” he said. “Remember I am a god, and one with a long memory. You are dear to me, Merric Worldbreaker, for you are who rescued me from my torment. It is from you that I finally learned to temper my rage and find peace in the simple things in life.”
“I do love them both, you know,” I told him, worried by the meaning of the runes. “But my worship precludes any sort of chastity or ownership over what we do with our physical forms. They have my heart, but I will worship with any who seeks enlightenment.”
He chuckled at this proclamation. “Merric, I am no fool. I am well aware of your arrangement, and I heartily agree. You bear a healthy view of the world that more should adopt. It is your ability to separate the physical stimulation from the emotional resonance that influenced my own views. You do not realize how powerful your part has become.”
“And the bite?” I asked, pushing the rings with my thumb.
“Part of the magic. Before you go back to your ship, and find a quiet moment, give the first to Bob. He will know the next part of the ritual.”
“And the third.”
He sighed heavily, rubbing his hands together as if pained. “I cannot divulge some things, though the making of those rules seems arbitrary and capricious.” He shuddered as a chill ran through him and he glanced upward, as if seeking something from the sky.
“I am aware,” he snapped, obviously speaking to someone I could not see. He sighed a second time and his shoulder’s slumped. Then, as if struck, he lifted his head and laughed. “For every rule, there is a loophole,” he explained. “I cannot tell you how to find your first heart, but the power of these rings is that one will find another in time of need. If you will trust me with the gift I have given you, I may be able to deliver it to Ssaralac, your Liz, but I must go swiftly while certain attentions are elsewhere.”
I handed him the third ring without question. “You will find yourself longing for her after a while. Think on her and it will become bearable. Avoid thoughts of her, ignore her call for too long, or cast aside your feelings, and these will transform, breaking the magic.”
That sounded ominous. “I see no time I would forsake my love for either Bob or Liz.”
He grinned and held up his fist, the third ring clasped tightly. “You must give the ring to Bob before the sun sets, or the magic is lost.” Then he vanished.
Well, of course I’d give the ring to Bob. Dwarves are a strange folk, but loveable.
I waited until sunset, as the camp was breaking up and the single skiff ferried the searchers back to the Tabula Rasa. I kept Bob back while the others left, telling Emad I needed to be the last from the island. He was not happy, but agreed to remain as well.
I took Bob down to the beach and in the waning rays of the sun as it splashed across the rolling waves, I presented Bob with the ring. For a moment he stood, helpless with shock silent and unmoving, staring at the band in his hand, for so long, I thought perhaps I had misunderstood our relationship.
After an eternity of doubt, he closed his fist, squeezed his eyes shut and began to weep.
“I swear by anvil and stone. By gold and silver, by ruby and amethyst. I swear by blood and bone, that I will honor you to my dying breath.” Then he threw his arms around my waist and nearly cracked my spine with his hug.