First draft - please don't quote or re-post.
“Reliable sources tell us that smuggled goods are pouring into Westcairn, and also out into neighboring counties,” Samuel took up the dropped conversational thread. “Liquor, clothing, even foodstuff. The effect on the economy is being felt even here in Derrytown.”
Anabelle frowned. “But how is it getting in? There are no ports in Westcairn.”
“Has to be coming up Black River. But every time we sent someone to find out, they found nothing, even though they watched for days. Or worse, they did find something and didn’t come back at all,” the king said.
A little silence fell while Anabelle absorbed the implication.
“That’s where you come in,” Samuel said in a quiet voice. “You’re a native of Westcairn; no one is going to think twice about you being there, especially when you’re investigating a death.”
“What is it, exactly, you want me to do?” Anabelle asked.
“Keep your eyes and ears open,” the king said promptly. “That’s all. Don’t try to approach these people on your own. They’ve proven themselves extremely dangerous.”
“If you do hear or see anything, you have only to call Ethereal,” Samuel said. “He will be listening for you and will convey to me whatever you wish to say.”
As if hearing his name conjured the air elemental out of –well, out of thin air, a brisk breeze tugged at Anabelle’s hair and clothing. She laughed as Ethereal patted her cheeks with soft puffs of air, She could barely see the air elemental as an amorphous shape in the air, ever twisting and changing, hardly in one place for more than a second. He played with her hair, unpinning it until it floated away from her head in a blond aureole. She grabbed at her hair, trying to force it back into some sort of order.
“He’s always been fascinated by you,” Samuel said. “You can see him.”
The candle nearest Anabelle flared, and shot sparks. She reached over and extinguished a spark that had caught fire on the tablecloth. She could see the fire elemental dancing inside the candle flame.
Samuel laughed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think the estimable Flicker is jealous.”