“I don’t know that much about precious stones,” Lori hedged. She had never been greedy, never known desire for gold as she felt now. She wondered if it were a flaw within her, or if somehow the jewels themselves were possessed and had inexplicably become addictive.
“The wealthy come from all around the world to shop here. They stay for a while, skiing in the winter, enjoying the leaves in the fall, but what draws them are the jewels. He—” with a notch of his head toward the shopkeeper, “doesn’t part with many, that’s a fact, and sells them dear, but once you’ve worn dragon’s gold, it spoils you for anything else.”
The old man pointed to a diamond solitaire ring with a matching gold band, a wedding set. “It’s said that a marriage sealed with dragon’s gold will never dissolve, not through all eternity.”
Lori dragged her eyes from the gems, looked over at the older man and noticed a visible trace of melancholy about his eyes, as if he had loved not well and still grieved over its loss. He looked like he needed a good cry, and perhaps a houseful of grandkids to remind him that life was worth living.
“I’ve never heard of dragon’s gold. Is it a new way of refining the metal?”
“That’s what it is, lass. Brew sells them, significant in and of itself. No other dragon has ever relinquished jewels, and believe me, I’ve studied them all. He uses what he earns to help those in need. It takes money to do that.”
“I’m sure it does.”
He laughed, as if she had supplied the punchline to a joke he had been setting up, but before he could offer an explanation, the shopkeeper appeared at her side.
“My Lord,” he said, speaking to the older man, but his tone was somehow less respectful than the words should have demanded. He kept his gaze locked on her and there was no friendliness in his eyes.
“Byron,” Arthur bowed his head in what honestly looked like subservience. “I am showing your lady—“
Byron snarled, a sound a pit bull probably taught him, coming from low in his throat she felt as well as heard. Without knowing anything else about him, she knew then that he was capable of great violence.
“I’m not anyone’s Lady,” Lori insisted, feeling threatened, not by the Lord, whatever that term meant in this day and age, but by Byron the growling shopkeeper. She gently extracted her fingers from the stranger’s grasp. For he was old, his fingers callused, but his grip had been warm. “I just need some directions. I’m relatively certain I’m hopelessly lost. I’ve spoken to the car, but if it knows, it’s keeping information from me.”
“Cars have a habit of doing that,” the younger man said, and if he were mocking her, she could not tell by word inflection alone. “I am Byron, but I suspect you already know that.”
“Why would you think that?”
He kept his face emotionless. “Call it more than a hunch.”
Finding him rude in the extreme, Lori turned back to the older man. “I’m very sorry to bother you. The car came with a GPS. I mean it’s a rental, so of course it did, but I’ve forgotten the exact address. I know I’m in the right area, but I’ve got to narrow it down a bit.”
“I’ve lived here quite a long time, so if your friend can be found, I’ll find him for you.”
“Oh, it’s my Aunt. Jan Pikorski.”
The older man laughed, and Byron snorted, an action clearly fueled by distrust. She had no idea why he had taken such a complete and utter dislike to her.
“Ahh, You’re interested in getting invited into the Dragon’s Roost Bed and Breakfast?”
“If that’s where she lives.”
“My name is Arthur,” the gray haired man said, “and I am a great fan of your aunt’s. When you see her, please state that I asked after her health.”
“I’m sure you could do so yourself,” she said.
Arthur shook his head and looked regretful. “Before I go,” the older man said, “I’d like to test out a theory, if you’ll indulge me for a moment.”
“My Lord,” Byron said, his snarl clearly a dismissal the old man did not heed.
“Please hold out your hand, no, not your right, your left.”
She wore no ring, for more often than not, she found herself leaving jewelry in odd places during fieldwork, and discovered it easier to keep her fingers unadorned. Arthur dipped his fingers into the treasure trove in the front window and brought them back, holding the wedding set she’d drooled over. Before she could respond, he slipped the two-ring set over her third finger.
Byron stepped back, as if he had been shocked into a heart attack, and Lori knew exactly what he was experiencing. When Arthur slipped the gold on her, visions flashed across her mind, a thousand images passing so quickly that she didn’t catch a fraction of them, but in each one she and Byron, this stranger she had only met ten minutes before, stood together in spring, summer, fall, winter. Sometimes she was pregnant, sometimes there was a dark eyed child with her. She had visions of running along the shore, hand in hand with him. Lying beside a roaring fire, their feet entwined, both wearing only smiles and a fine sweat. Walking under a sky with so many stars that God must have imported a couple hundred just for them. And always love, passion, and yes, eternity.