The Flaming Jargonelle

Digital drawing. A young woman sits within a window frame whose sides and bottom are visible. She sits with her back to the right. Her left leg slightly bent, her foot is pressed flush against the left frame. Her right leg is bent up, foot flush against the bottom pane. Her face, seen in three-quarters profile, is covered with a mask from nose to chin. Her eyes watch the viewer. She wears a hood over her head. Her left arm is bent against her leg and her hand is slightly curled around a glowing teardrop-shaped jewel, tilted slightly toward her. Sparks are visible on the jewel’s surface. The glowing light radiates in a sunburst pattern. Behind the woman is a monochrome painting of a pear tree laden with fruit.

The thief was perched in a high window and the investigator stood below.

Both in dark apparel dressed blended completely with their dark surroundings.  Or they would have if not for the single source of light that illuminated the entire chamber.  That source of light was held in the thief’s hand. 

The Flaming Jargonelle.

The jewel’s fiery light outlined the fingers of the thief’s dark-gloved hand.  The light radiated in a sunburst pattern.  The jewel itself glittered and glinted and sparkled in its own light.  But the investigator could still see the outline of the edges, an outline shaped like a teardrop, or a pear.

“A merry chase, Inspector,” the thief said.  In her voice, there was a smile, but the investigator could not see that smile on her face.  The thief wore a dark mask that covered her face from nose to chin.

The investigator felt the left side of his mouth twitch upward in a half-smile of his own.  “I wouldn’t call it ‘merry,’ but it has been…challenging.  And I do appreciate a challenge.  As well, I appreciate when the challenge ends.”

He saw that the window the thief was sitting in did not lead to the outside of the building.  It opened upon a shallow recess that displayed a monochrome painting of a pear tree.  The thief appeared to be sitting casually, her back against one side of the frame, one of her boots pressed flat against the opposite frame, her other leg casually drawn up.  But he knew her well now, after weeks of chasing her.  When needed, she would push off the window frame into some acrobatic leap that would place enough distance between them that he wouldn’t be able to chase her down.

But he expected that she knew him as well.  She knew he would not give chase on foot. 

“Have you ever been this close to it?” the thief asked.  Her gaze was locked upon the investigator.

He allowed his own gaze to shift toward the jewel for just one blink of the eye. 

“No,” he said, “and I never would have been if not for this moment.  For that, I thank you.” He paused, resisting the urge to look upon the jewel again.  “I would say, as others have said, that the jewel is unparalleled.  But in truth, no words I have are sufficient.  If it weren’t for my duty, I would say no words at all.”

“You duty,” the thief repeated.  “To those who have hired you.”

The investigator nodded.

“Please,” he said.  “I have already called for reinforcements.  I ask that you surrender before they arrive, in the interest of safety.”

“My safety?  Or the jewel’s?”

“Yours, of course.  Your life is worth more, but I’d be lying if I said that I’m not also aiming for the safe return of the jewel, whole and unblemished.  That is part of my duty.”

“My life would indeed be worth more, Inspector, if this was just a jewel, even the most magnificent jewel in the world.  But it’s not a jewel at all.”

The investigator drew in a deep breath and exhaled a sigh.  “What is it to you, then?”

“Let me tell you the story, and I will surrender myself to you, and only you.”

“Reverse the order of that.  I’m afraid there’s no time for stories before the reinforcements arrive.  But you have my word that I’ll listen.”

“I believe you,” the thief said, and her dark eyes sparkled in the flaming light.  “Well, I believe the last part.”

***

The thief was right.  The investigator had not yet summoned reinforcements.  They would have come too quickly.  He might not have another chance to speak with the thief.  But he had not been hired to speak with a thief.  He had been hired to recover a stolen jewel.  So if it came to it, he would do what was needed.  He kept his hands in his pockets, one of them clutching the device that he hoped he would not need to trigger.

“You know it does not belong in a museum,” the thief said. 

“And you must know that the jewel’s provenance cannot be traced past a certain point in time.  It can’t be returned to where it truly belongs if we don’t know where it belongs.”

“I do know.  I know much about the Flaming Jargonelle.  What do you know?”

“I know a great deal.  I know all the tales about the jewel, the legends of its past owners, and the myth about its origin.”  The investigator believed it was probable that he knew whatever story the thief wanted to tell him.  But he would not say so.  If she had studied the jewel’s history as well as she had studied how to steal it, and if she had been studying the jewel for a while, then it was possible she knew something he did not.  If he allowed her to tell the story, he might learn something that would help him to convince her to surrender the jewel. 

“The jewel’s origin?” the thief said.  “As a star that came loose and fell from the firmament.”

The investigator nodded.  “And cooled in the ocean for eons until all that was left was the jewel.”

The thief gave no reaction.  “Then did you know the story of the singular pear tree, grown from a seed that was created by a god when they condensed their own soul, and planted it in the earth of the newly created sphere of mortals?  The seed was so fertile, it sprouted at once into a full-grown tree laden with sweet curvaceous fruit.”

“And if that fruit were left unpicked,” the investigator said, “it would harden and shed its fleshy skin, and drop to the ground as a stone.  When cut and polished these stones became flaming jargonelles.  The world was once full of them, but they disappeared one by one until only one was left.”  He allowed another brief glance at the glowing jewel in the thief’s hand.

“What about the story of the last thief who stole this jewel?”

“Do you mean the last human thief?  If not, then that would be the lord of the hawks, who claimed to steal the jewel for the glory of his kin.  If you do mean the last human thief, that would be beyond my authority to reveal.  My apologies, but I signed my name to a great many documents binding me to secrecy, before I was allowed to review the most sensitive texts concerning the jewel.  But I can say that this last human thief realized that the jewel was not meant to be in the possession of one alone.  He surrendered the jewel.”

“As you hope I will do.”

“That is my hope, yes.”

The thief continued in this way, asking “Did you know?” and “What about?” to test the investigator’s knowledge.  But the investigator excelled at such tests.  Even with only weeks to learn all he could about the Flaming Jargonelle, he had read and reviewed, memorized and theorized, and pondered and dreamed about the jewel—and about the thief.

Though at times, he had to pause while his mind brought up the memory of his knowledge and his interpretations, he was able to answer all of the thief’s questions.  He was able to demonstrate the care he had taken in his investigation, a care that he hoped would be noted and appreciated by the thief.

He tried to discern a pattern or purpose to her questions, so that he might anticipate what she might ask next. 

And while he was busy with this calculation, she asked him this.

“Did you know that the Jargonelle did not begin glowing until you came near?”

Not knowing how yet to respond, the investigator remained silent and listened.

And the thief spoke.  “Most of the stories say that when the Flaming Jargonelle is struck by any kind of light from brightest sun to dimmest candle, it appears as if it were made of fire.  Sometimes a smoldering fire, sometimes a bright blaze.  But I’ve had it in my possession for many days, and I’ve never seen it glow like this.”

“Those are the stories I know,” the investigator said with caution.  “But if not light, then how…?”

“It is glowing in response to the questions in your mind,” the thief explained, “and the balance between your anticipation of the answers that you will discover, and your acceptance of the answers you know you will never find.”

“The light of curiosity?”

The thief’s eyes glittered and the investigator knew that she was smiling again.

For the first time since they began to speak, the thief let her gaze drift toward the jewel before it drifted back to the investigator.  “You have revealed your knowledge of the jewel to me, Inspector, and with grace and patience.  I will now return that favor.”

“I’m listening.”

“What you and I have been calling a jewel is not a jewel—not as you mean it anyway.  But it is precious.  This, my good Inspector, is an egg.”

The investigator drew in another slow deep breath.  As he did, he sifted through his memory and found no mention of an egg.  Here the thief was right.  She knew a story that he had never heard before.

“A living egg?” the investigator asked.

“Yes.”

For the moment, the investigator put aside the question of how the Flaming Jargonelle could possibly be a living egg.  He asked instead, “And what will hatch from the egg?  A dragon?” He glanced at the painting of the pear tree behind the thief.  “A partridge?”

“Not bird.  Not beast.  Not flower or fruit.  But a creature of earth will hatch and take root.”

The investigator repeated the thief’s words in his own mind, and guessed at a meaning.  “A coral reef?” Corals were animals, but they took root in the sea.

The thief laughed.  “It’s not a riddle, Inspector.”

The investigator shook his head.  “If the meaning of your words is direct then…I am missing something.”

The thief nodded.  “And I will tell you what you’re missing.  There is flora.  There is fauna.  But once, there was a third.”

The investigator creased his brow.  “A combination of plant and animal?”

“No, not an in-between, a third, a separate.  There is flora.  There is fauna.  Once, there was faera.”  The thief spelled the word.   “Some people think that’s where the word ‘faery’ comes from.”

“So—“

“It’s not a faery egg.”

The investigator observed the Flaming Jargonelle.  The rhythmic glow, as if it were breathing. 

The thief explained.  “Till now, it has been dormant.  This faera egg is incubated in the warmth that arises from the friction between doubt and belief within an individual mind.”

The investigator considered her words.  “True skepticism?”

“Indeed.”  The thief’s eyes glittered.  “I’m a believer, and because I believe, the egg could never hatch in my presence.  Those others who hunt me, they are doubters, so the egg would never hatch for them either.  But you…”

The investigator drew in his slow breath, forcing his mind to slow and to think.  “You’re saying that in all these years, there has never been a true skeptic that’s been close enough to the egg to…incubate it?  No one who’s been responsible for cleaning it, transporting it, authenticating it?”

***

The thief shook her  head and took a breath as if to answer. 

But before she could, the jewel in her hand, or the egg, rose above her head.

It began to spin slowly and then it began to tumble on its vertical axis.  At its heart glowed a warm yellow light whose pulsing resembled a heartbeat.  The sunburst pattern of its light blended into arcs that orbited the spinning Jargonnelle. 

A tone reached the investigator’s ears.  A whispered chiming that sounded like it might come from a living throat or from a crafted instrument or from the wind.

The glowing arcs of light thickened and then split, extruding liquid branches that looked like living lava.  One reached toward the thief.  She neither moved closer nor recoiled.  The liquid branch stopped short of touching the thief.  The tip of the branch thickened, forming a large drop the size of a fist. 

Every branch likewise thickened at its ends and formed drops until the whole formation appeared much like the painting of the pear tree behind it.

The thinnest branches at the top formed no drops but began to ripple like fingers casting a spell.

Bright crimson strands of light now spilled from the middle of the formation, from the egg.  They spilled beside the window where the thief was still perched, and onto the ground before the investigator’s feet.  Where they touched the ground, he heard a soft crackle.

The investigator’s gaze followed the bright strands back up to where he could no longer make out the shape of the egg.  Those glowing drops broke off from their branches.  Instead of falling to the ground, each of them shifted their shapes and drifted in different directions.  One folded into the form of insect wings and flickered away.  Another formed suckers that reached toward the wall, grasping and pulling toward brick, and then melting into the wall.  Still another formed a hollow bubble and floated up until it popped.  All the drops detached thus until all the liquid branches were bare.

That soft song that the investigator strained to hear faded away altogether.

The formation shifted color from center to tips, warming to a deep orange, then a golden yellow, then a searing white.

Dark spots appeared where the Jargonelle egg once spun.  Two at first, side by side, like a pair of eyes, then more and more.  These spots too appeared to be spinning, and as they spun, they drank up the light, and as they drank up the light, they expanded.  Their edges touched and merged and bloomed at a reckless pace until all the light was consumed.

And they were cast into sudden darkness.

***

The inspector took a gasping breath. 

He blinked, seeing not a single afterimage.  His thoughts careened.

“Where did it go?” he whispered.

“Wherever they wanted, I imagine.”  The thief too sounded somewhat breathless.

The investigator reached for the lantern hung from his belt.  He turned it on and a soft, dim glow appeared.  He gazed up at the thief whose form was now only visible as a dark mass shifting against the gray. 

He took a shuddering breath and pulled his mind into focus.  “What now?”

“Now you go back to your superiors and hand them this, but not me.”  The thief tossed something down to the investigator, who caught it clumsily and then marveled.  It was a pear-shaped gemstone.

“My most magnificent forgery,” the thief said.  “One that will stand up to all measures of authenticity, including a little-known quality of refraction that only those who have seen the Flaming Jargonelle under a microscope can attest to.”

The investigator placed the stone in the secure case that he had strapped across his chest under his coat.  He gazed up again and saw that the thief was still there.

“Are there more of them?” he asked, now realizing that his heart was still thrumming.

“More flaming jargonelles?”

“Yes…and more faera.”

“Why do you ask?  Do you now believe?”

“I am now curious.”

The thief laughed.  “I should hope you’ve always been curious.  You are an investigator after all.”

“I have always been curious, most recently about the jewel, and about you.”

In the pause that followed, the investigator imagined that the thief raised a brow.  “Why?  I’m not important, except to those who find me important.”

“I find you to be important.”

“I would be flattered, Inspector, if I thought that were true.  But what is important to you about me is what I know.”

The investigator paused this time, and lowered his head, for what the thief said was true.  But it was no longer the whole truth, especially not after what they had shared that night.  On considering that he might never speak to the only other person who had witnessed—and experienced—the arcane and profound event, he felt a heavy melancholy settle upon his chest.  He clutched the case upon his chest, which lay right over his heart. 

The investigator was afraid to look up, but when he did, he was both surprised and relieved to find that the thief was still there. 

Finally, he spoke.  “You’re an unlawful thief, but an honest one.  Is that always true?”

“What if it were?”

“Then I have no quarrel with you.”

“Even though you are a thief-catcher, and I am a thief?”

The investigator smiled.  “I’m not a thief-catcher.  I’m an investigator of earthly mysteries.”

“Your description of your job is far more intriguing than your actual job.  But I appreciate it anyway.  Maybe our paths will cross again.”

“Sooner than you think, if the real thief-catchers arrive before you leave.”

“Then I should take my leave.”

“You could have taken it when I was distracted by the hatching of the egg.”

“But then I wouldn’t have seen all the wonder and beauty of that hatching, a wonder and beauty reflected on your face.”

“And on yours.”

“Inspector, I’m grateful to you.  And I will remember that gratitude.”

The inspector heard a shifting above and knew that the thief would soon disappear.  He wanted to say something more. 

The thief dropped down from her perch and into the weak sphere of light from the investigator’s lantern.  She seemed as startled as he did to find herself face to face with him.

Having no cautious words at hand, the investigator spoke honest ones.

“I don’t know what it is that I saw tonight,” he said, “but I will find out.”

“I hope that you do, Inspector.”

The thief receded into the shadows that had returned upon the vanishing of the faera that hatched from the Jargonelle egg, shadows that the investigator’s meager lantern were unable to pierce. 

He triggered the device in his pocket, knowing it was futile.  The reinforcements would arrive within moments, but they would arrive all too late.

It was no concern of his.

His duty was to recover the Flaming Jargonelle, not to catch the thief. 

~***~

And so when the investigator returned with the false Flaming Jargonelle in hand, he was praised.  He himself insisted that the stone be tested in every way possible.  It was.  And it was found to be authentic. 

When the investigator’s superior saw the doubt in the investigator’s face, she thought he was just being overly demanding of himself, overly…skeptical.  But it wasn’t just that.  It was the Jargonelle jewel itself, the loss of it that irked him.  More than irked.  It did feel like a loss.  A deeper loss than he expected to feel. 

Even before the investigator was told it was egg, before he beheld the wonder it contained, the Flaming Jargonelle had been a living thing to him.  It had lived many lives, keeping company with nobles and thieves, traveling over oceans and across deserts and by caravan and by carriage, once in the ragged pocket of a pauper, and once on a bed of velvet cushioned by a thousand tiny feathers of down.  It was once laid upon the belly of a queen, in the hopes that its mystical properties would help her to conceive.  It was once set within the staff of a duke, who hoped to dazzle.  Many times was it held in the hands of a thief, some charmed by it, some uncaring—or so they claimed.  Many times was it held in a solitary space, distant from all, to be admired for its beauty or worshipped for its rarity.

If not for the thief, the jewel might still be held behind glass, lying in slumber, waiting for a mind poised between doubt and belief to spark its awakening. 

If not for me, the investigator thought.

The investigator believed what he had seen.  But he did not know whether to believe what the thief had told him about what he had seen.   And he held at bay a deluge of questions and notions so that they would not overwhelm him before he was prepared to receive them.

Upon the completion of his duty and receipt of his recompense, the investigator had no further need to think about the Flaming Jargonelle.

That very night, he began a new investigation.  His duty was only to himself.  His payment would be illumination and insight.  And perhaps…another encounter.

He opened his duty log to a fresh page, and at its top he wrote the words that would focus his efforts, his newest objective.

Find the hatchling.


Copyright © 2022  Nila L. Patel

3 thoughts on “The Flaming Jargonelle

    1. Thank you for the wonderful compliment! It’s especially meaningful now that I’ve been writing for 8-plus years, and do sometimes wonder if I’m repeating myself. It helps that I’ve been keeping my imagination well-fed lately with the good fiction.

      1. You’re welcome. I always look forward to your stories, they are quite unique 😊😊

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