"That is all you wish?" Aran asked, brows arching upwards as he came to a halt not from the little gnome's home. He had expected him to demand payment in the way of gold or gems or perhaps some rare artifact, not simply peace and solitude.
The little druid turned back to face him, one bony finger pointing down at the ground at his feet. "Four hundred years I've tended this soil, cared for this land," he declared. "Not long now. Heh, new druid needed soon! See what you do then!" He cackled for a moment, coughing into his wide palm.
"Are you ill?" Aran asked, coming a single step closer, his expression turning compassionate. He knew a little healing; not so much as some of those among his kind, but he was not afraid to help those who needed it.
"Hehehe, can't heal this, elf boy," the gnome told him with confident amusement. "The Mother calls. Part of the natural way, so 'tis." He sobered, letting out a long sigh. "Peace should be mine before I go. So many voices, so many intruders. No peace."
"What if we could bring you such peace?" Aran asked. He wasn't sure yet how it might be accomplished, but he was willing to try to find out, whether the solution mean magic or some other means. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the old gnome, who only desired a little peace before he died. And yet, there was still the matter of the gnolls and the captive drow.
For a moment, the old gnome looked his age, small and wizened and tired of life. "Give much, I would, for peace at the end," he said wearily, shaking his head.
Luin glanced at Hal, uncertain if she should interrupt with the idea in her mind. Perhaps she should wait until Aran had responded himself.
"All we ask is for advice ..." Aran said, trailing off a moment as he glanced to the trees in search of the hummingbird. "What will happen to the drow when you are gone?" he asked curiously, wondering if it was even necessary to bargain for her release or if it an inevitability.
Nesgrim let out a dismissive huff of breath. "Spells die when I die," he said. "Tree dies. She wears tree, she dies. No more drow." His laugh was definitely unpleasant.
Aran frowned again. He wasn't sure why he cared so much about either the gnome or the drow, but it wasn't in his nature not to care. "If we can give you the peace you so desire, then will you tell us how to keep the gnolls from the village and free the drow into our care?"
Nesgrim scowled. "How?" he asked warily.
Luin saw her chance - she was the only magic user here. "We can create a barrier, with magic," she offered in a quiet tone. "One that will allow the animals and the plants to cross freely, but nothing and no one else."
Aran glanced at Luin, brows arching upwards. He had considered a similar solution to their gnoll problem, but how long would such a thing hold up and how hard would it be to keep in place?
"There you have it," Aran said, turning back to the gnome. "What do you say to that?"
Nesgrim scratched at his bald patch thoughtfully. "You magic, red?"
Luin shook her head. "I'm learning," she told him. "But we have mages and wizards who could do this."
The gnome frowned. "Gnolls easy," he admitted, waving a hand. "Three days, you come back."
"And the drow?" Aran asked, hoping he wasn't pressing his luck, but whatever her bloodline, she was clearly an elf, and he could not in good conscience leave her to die.
The gnome's frown deepened to a scowl. "Drow dies," he said irritably. "Less evil in the world when she does."
Luin sighed, her eyes seeking Hal once again. They could possibly steal the little hummingbird, but how could they change her back and get that circlet from her neck?
"That is not what you said," Aran pointed out, turning the druid's words back around on him. "You said we could pay for her freedom, and the price is your peace. Those are the terms of our bargain."
The sharp eyes narrowed above the scowl. But the prospect of a peaceful end was too enticing, and though he didn't know Aran, he knew Raniel would not send a liar. "Fine, she too," he grumped, waving his hand. "Three days, gnolls gone. You keep promise, drow go with you then."
"You have my word as Prince of Ilyethlin," Aran replied, though Ilyethlin was no more. "We will return in three days. Now, please return our weapons so that we can leave you in peace," he told the druid. They might need them in case they ran into the gnolls on the way back.
"Take 'em." The gnome jerked his head toward the collection of weapons stacked by one of the large roots. He muttered to himself as he stumped back into his tree house, slamming the door behind him.
Luin rolled her eyes, sighing. "It could have gone worse."
"It could have gone better," Hal muttered, now that the druid had left them alone. He went to the cache of weapons to retrieve his bow and his sword, while Aran's eyes drifted once again to the trees in search of that elusive hummingbird.
"What do you know of dark elves, Luin? Are they really evil, as the druid claims?"
Strapping her weapons back into place, Luin considered the question. "I know that the drow are evil, but they are also matriarchal, and no drow female would ever meekly consent to being collared like that," she said thoughtfully. "Most dark elves in Rhy'Din don't conform to that mould - that's why they're here."
"They are refugees, like us," Aran said, more statement than question. He wasn't sure if he included Luin in that statement, as he wasn't entirely sure of her history, but he assumed she was alluding to something like that.
"Or outcasts," she agreed quietly. "I don't feel a sense of evil from this one. She didn't even look us in the eye." Above them, the hummingbird flitted in and out of the branches, unable to come down, it seemed, without the gnome's instruction.
There was that pang of sympathy again, and Aran frowned, as he watched the pretty thing flit about in an attempt to free herself. "We will come back for you in a few days, little one. I swear," he promised her quietly. "And then, you will be free."
Whether the little hummingbird heard or not did not truly matter. What mattered was that the promise had been made, the bargain struck. With luck, in just a few days, they would have both peace with the gnolls and a new member of their sanctuary home. Yet all they could do now was wait, and hope that Nesgrim was true to his word.