Elven Nations Trilogy

 

    Volume One

 

 [Dragonlance logo]

 

     Firstborn

 

 

 

 

 Paul B. Thompson

 

 & Tonya R. Carter

 

 

 

 

     Cover Art

 

       Brom

 

 

 

 

    [WotC logo]

 


 

                                                   FIRSTBORN

 

 

                                                      ©2001 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

                                                             All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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Cover art by Brom

First Printing: February 1991

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-71491

 

 

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

 

 

ISBN: 1-56076-051-6

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                                     Prelude

 

                        Year of the Dolphin (2308 PC)

 

 

 

 

     The great river Thon-Thalas flowed southward through the forests of

 

Silvanesti. Three-quarters of the way down its length, the broad waterway

 

branched and twin streams flowed around an island called Fallan. On this

 

island was the capital city of the elven nation, Silvanost.

 

     Silvanost was a city of towers. Gleaming white, they soared skyward,

 

some dwarfing even the massive oak trees on the mainland. Unlike the

 

mainland, Fallan Island had few trees. Most had been removed to make

 

way for the city. The island's naturally occurring marble and quartz

 

formations had then been spell-shaped by the Silvanesti, transforming

 

them into houses and towers. Approaching the island from the west on the

 

King's Road, a traveler could see the marble city gleaming with pearly

 

light through the trees. At night, the city absorbed the starlight and

 

moonlight and radiated it softly back to the heavens.

 

     On this particular night, scudding clouds covered the sky and a chill

 

rain fell. A brisk breeze swirled over the island. The streets of Silvanost,

 

however, were full. In spite of the damp cold, every elf in the city stood

 

outside, shouting, clapping, and singing joyfully. Many carried candles,

 

hooded against the rain, and the dancing lights added to the strange yet

 

festive air.

 

     A wonderful thing had happened that evening in the capital. Sithel,

 

Speaker of the Stars, ruler of all Silvanesti, had become a father. Indeed

 


 

the great fortune of Speaker Sithel was that he had two sons. He was the

 

father of twins, an event rare among elves. The Silvanesti began to call

 

Sithel "Twice Blest." And they celebrated in the cool, damp night.

 

    The Speaker of the Stars was not receiving well-wishers, however. He

 

was not even in the Palace of Quinari, where his wife, Nirakina, still lay in

 

her birthing bed with her new sons. Sithel had left his attendants and

 

walked alone across the plaza between the palace and the Tower of the

 

Stars, the ceremonial seat of the speaker's power. Though common folk

 

were not allowed in the plaza by night, the speaker could hear the echoes

 

of their celebrations. He strode through the dark outlines of the garden

 

surrounding the tower. Wending his way along the paths, he entered the

 

structure through a door reserved for the royal family.

 

    Circling to the front of the great emerald throne, Sithel could see the

 

vast audience hall. It was not completely dark. Six hundred feet above him

 

was a shaft in the roof of the tower, open to the sky. Moonlight, broken by

 

clouds, filtered down the shaft. The walls of the tower were pierced by

 

spiraling rows of window slits and encrusted with precious jewels of every

 

description. These split the moonlight into iridescent beams, and the

 

beams bathed the walls and floor in a thousand myriad colors. Yet Sithel

 

had no mind for this beauty now. Seating himself on the throne he had

 

occupied for two centuries, he rested his hands on the emerald arms,

 

allowing the coolness of the stone to penetrate and soothe his heavy heart.

 

    A figure appeared in the monumental main doorway. "Enter," said the

 

speaker, He hardly spoke above a whisper, but the perfect acoustics of the

 

hall carried the single word clearly to the visitor.

 


 

     The figure approached. He halted at the bottom of the steps leading up

 

to the throne platform and set a small brazier on the marble floor. Finally

 

the visitor bowed low and said, "You summoned me, great Speaker:' His

 

voice was light, with the lilt of the     north country in it.

 

     "Vedvedsica, servant of Gilean," Sithel said. "Rise."

 

     Vedvedsica stood. Unlike the clerics, of Silvanost, who wore white

 

robes and a sash in the color of their patron deity, Vedvedsica wore a

 

belted tabard of solid gray. His god had no temple in the city, because the

 

gods of Neutrality were not officially tolerated by the priests who served

 

the gods of Good.

 

     Vedvedsica said, "May I congratulate Your Highness on the birth of

 

his sons?"

 

     Sithel nodded curtly. "It is because of them that I have called you

 

here," he replied. "Does your god allow you to see the future?"

 

     "My master Gilean holds in his hands the Tobril, the Book of Truth.

 

Sometimes he grants me glimpses of this book." From the priest's

 

expression it appeared this was not a practice he enjoyed.

 

     "I will give you one hundred gold pieces," said the speaker. "Ask your

 

god, and tell me the fate of my sons."

 

     Vedvedsica bowed again. He dipped a hand into the voluminous

 

pockets of his tabard and brought out two dried leaves, still shiny green,

 

but stiff and brittle. Removing the conical cover from the brazier, he

 

exposed hot coals and held the leaves by their stems over the dully-

 

glowing fire.

 

     "Gilean, the Book! Gray Voyager! Sage of Truth, Gate of Souls! By

 

this fire, open my eyes and allow me to read from the book of all-truth!"

 


 

The cleric's voice was stronger now, resonating through the empty hall.

 

"Open the Tobril! Find for Speaker Sithel the fates of his two sons, born

 

this day!"

 

    Vedvedsica laid the dry leaves on the coals. They caught fire

 

immediately, flames curling around them with a loud crackle. Smoke

 

snaked up from the brazier, thick, gray smoke that condensed as it rose.

 

Sithel gripped the arms of his throne and watched the smoke coil and

 

writhe. Vedvedsica held up his hands as if to embrace it.

 

    Gradually the smoke formed into the wavering shape of an open

 

scroll. The back of the scroll faced Sithel. The front was for Vedvedsica

 

only. The cleric's lips moved as he read from the book that contained all

 

the knowledge of the gods.

 

    In less than half a minute the leaves were totally consumed. The fire

 

flared three feet above the golden brazier, instantly dispelling the smoke.

 

In the flash of flame, the priest cried out in pain and reeled away. Sithel

 

leaped up from his throne as Vedvedsica collapsed in a heap.

 

    After descending the steps from the throne platform, Sithel knelt

 

beside the cleric and carefully turned him over. "What did you see?" he

 

asked urgently. "Tell me­I command you!"

 

    Vedvedsica took his hands from his face. His eyebrows were singed,

 

his face blackened. "Five words . . . I saw only five words, Highness," he

 

said falteringly.

 

    "What were they?" Sithel nearly shook the fellow in his haste to

 

know.

 

         "The Tobril said, 'They both shall wear crowns . . .' "

 


 

    Sithel frowned, his pale, arching brows knotting together. "What does

 

it mean? Two crowns?" he demanded angrily. "How can they both wear

 

crowns?"

 

      "It means what it means, Twice-Blest."

 

    The speaker looked at the brazier, its coals still glowing. A few

 

seconds' glimpse into the great book had nearly cost Vedvedsica his sight.

 

What would the knowledge of Gilean's prophecy cost Sithel himself?

 

What would it cost Silvanesti?

 


 

                                         1

 

                           Spring­Year of the Hawk

 

                                    (2216 PC)

 

 

 

 

    Clouds scattered before the wind, bright white in the brilliant

 

sunshine. In the gaps of blue that showed between the clouds, a dark,

 

winged form darted and wheeled. Far larger than a bird, the creature

 

climbed with powerful strokes of its broad wings. It reached a height

 

above the lowest clouds and hovered there, wings beating fast and hard.

 

    The beast was a griffon, a creature part lion, part eagle. Its

 

magnificent eagle's head and neck gave way to the torso and hindquarters

 

of a lion. A plumed lion's tail whipped in the wind. Behind the beast's

 

fiercely beaked head and unblinking golden eyes, the leather straps of a

 

halter led back to a saddle, strapped to the griffon's shoulders. In the

 

saddle sat a helmeted figure clad in green and gold armor. An elven face

 

with brown eyes and snow-colored hair peered out from under the bronze

 

helmet.

 

    Spread out below them, elf and griffon, was the whole country of

 

Silvanesti. Where wind had driven the clouds away, the griffon rider could

 

see the green carpet of forests and fields. To his right, the wandering silver

 

ribbon of the Thon-Thalas, the Lord's River, flowed around the verdant

 

Fallan Island. On this island was Silvanost, city of a thousand white

 

towers.

 


 

    "Are you ready, Arcuballis?" whispered the rider to his mount. He

 

wound the leather reins tightly around his strong, slender hand. "Nowl" he

 

cried, drawing the reins sharply down.

 

    The griffon put its head down and folded its wings. Down they

 

plummeted, like a thunderbolt dropped from a clear sky. The young elf

 

bent close to the griffon's neck, burying his fingers in the dense,

 

copper-hued feathers. The massive muscles under his fingers were taut,

 

waiting. Arcuballis was well trained and loyal to its master; it would not

 

open its wings again until told to do so. If its master so desired, the griffon

 

wouldplunge straight into the fertile soil of Silvanesti.

 

    They were below the clouds, and the land leaped into clear view. The

 

rich green canopy of trees was more obvious now. The griffon rider could

 

see the pines and the mighty oaks reaching up, connecting soil to sky. It

 

was a view of the land few were ever granted.

 

    He had dropped many thousands of feet, and only a few hundred

 

remained. The wind tore at his eyes, bringing tears. He blinked them

 

away. Arcuballis flexed its folded wings nervously, and a low growl

 

sounded in its throat. They were very low. The rider could see individual

 

branches in the trees, see birds fleeing from the griffon's rapidly growing

 

shadow.

 

    "Nowl" The rider hauled back sharply on the reins. The broad wings

 

opened slowly. The beast's hindquarters dropped as its head rose. The

 

rider felt himself slide backward, bumping against the rear lip of the tall

 

saddle. The griffon soared up in a high arc, wings flailing. He let the reins

 

out, and the beast leveled off . He whistled a command, and the griffon

 

held its wings out motionless. They started down again in a steep glide.

 


 

The lower air was rough, full of eddies and currents, and the griffon

 

bobbed and pitched. The rider threw back his head and laughed.

 

      They skimmed over the trees. Abruptly the woods gave way to

 

 orderly rows of trees, orchards of cherry, plum, and fima nuts. Elves

 

 working in the orchards saw only a large object hurtle over their heads,

 

 and they panicked. Many tumbled down ladders, spilling baskets of fruit.

 

 The rider put a brass horn to his lips, sounding a shrill note. The griffon

 

 added its own eerie call, a deep, trilling growl that was also part lion, part

 

 eagle.

 

      The rider urged the beast up. The wings beat lazily, gaining a few

 

 dozen feet of height. They banked right, swooping over the slow-flowing

 

 waters of the Thon-Thalas. There were many watercraft plying the

 

 river­flat log rafts poled by sturdy, sunbrowned elves, piled high with

 

 pots and cloth to be traded in the wild south; the slender dugouts of the

 

 fishers, the bottoms of which were silvered with the morning's catch. The

 

 griffon swept over them in a flurry of wings. The rafters and fishers

 

 looked up idly from their work. As travelers up and down the great

 

 waterway, they were not easily impressed, not even by the sight of a

 

 royal griffon in flight.

 

      On they flew, across the river to Fallan Island. The rider wove his

 

 flying steed among the many white towers so skillfully that the griffon

 

 never once scraped a wingtip. Their shadow chased them down the

 

 streets.

 

      The rider approached the center point of the city, and the center

 

 point of every elf's life and loyalty, the Tower of the Stars. At six

 


 

 hundred feet, it was the tallest spire in Silvanost and the seat of power of

 

 the Speaker of the Stars.

 

     He steered the griffon in a quick circle around the white marble

 

 tower. The horn was at his lips again, and he blew a rude, flat warning. It

 

 was a lark, a bit of aerial fun, but halfway around the tower the rider

 

 spied a lone figure on the high balcony, looking out over the city. He

 

 reined back and sideslipped Arcuballis toward the tower. The

 

 white-haired, white-robed figure was no one less than Sithel, Speaker of

 

 the Stars.

 

     Startled, the rider clumsily turned the griffon away. His eyes met

 

 those of the elven monarch for a moment, then Sithel turned and

 

 re-entered the tower. The griffon rider shook his head and made for

 

 home. He was in trouble.

 

     North of the tower, across the ornate Gardens of Astarin, stood the

 

 Palace of Quinari. Here the descendants of Silvanos, the House Royal,

 

 lived. The palace stood clear of the trees and consisted of three,

 

 three-story wings radiating from a rose-colored marble tower. The tower

 

 soared three hundred feet from base to pinnacle. The three wings of the

 

 palace were faced with beautiful colonnades of green-streaked marble.

 

 The columns spiraled gracefully upward from their bases, each in

 

 imitation of a unicorn's horn.

 

    The rider's heart raced as the palace came into view. He'd been away

 

four days, hunting, flying, and now he had an appointment to keep. He

 

knew there would be trouble with the speaker for his insolent behavior at

 

the Tower of the Stars, but for now thoughts of his upcoming rendezvous

 

made him smile.

 


 

    He brought the griffon in with firm tugs on the reins. He steered

 

toward the eastern wing of the palace. Lion's claws behind and eagle's

 

talons in front touched down on the cool slate roof. With a tired shudder,

 

Arcuballis drew in its wings.

 

    Servants in sleeveless tunics and short kilts ran out to take the beast's

 

bridle. Another elf set a wooden step ladder against the animal's side. The

 

rider ignored it, threw a leg over the griffon's neck, and nimbly dropped to

 

the rooftop. More servants rushed forward, one with a bowl of clean

 

water, the other with a neatly folded linen towel.

 

    "Highness," said the bowl bearer, "would you care to refresh

 

yourself?"

 

    "A moment." The rider pried off his helmet and shook his sweat-damp

 

hair. "How goes everything here?" he asked, dipping his hands and arms

 

in the clean water, once, twice, three times. The water quickly turned

 

dingy with dirt.

 

    "It goes well, my prince," the bowl bearer replied. He snapped his

 

head at his companion, and the second servant proffered the towel.

 

    "Any word from my brother, Prince Sithas?"

 

    "In fact, yes, Highness. Your brother was recalled yesterday by your

 

father. He returned from the Temple of Matheri this morning."

 

    Puzzlement knit the rider's pale brows. "Recalled? But why?"

 

    "I do not know, my prince. Even now, the speaker is closeted with

 

Prince Sithas in the Tower of the Stars."

 

    The rider tossed the towel back to the servant who'd brought it. "Send

 

word to my mother that I have returned. Tell her I shall see her presently.

 


 

And should my father and brother return from the tower before sunset, tell

 

them the same."

 

    The servants bowed. "It shall be done, my prince."

 

    The elf prince went briskly to the stair that led from the rooftop into

 

the palace. The servants hastened after him, sloshing dirty water from the

 

bowl as they went.

 

    "Prince Kith-Kanan! Will you not take some food?" called the bowl

 

bearer.

 

    "No. See to it Arcuballis is fed, watered, and brushed down."

 

    "Of course­"

 

    "And stop following me!"

 

    The servants halted as if arrow-shot. Prince Kith-Kanan rattled down

 

the stone steps into the palace. As it was early summer, all the window

 

shutters were open, flooding the interior corridors with light. He strode

 

along, scarcely acknowledging the bows and greetings of the servants and

 

courtiers he met. The length of the shadows on the floor told him he was

 

late. She would be angry, being kept waiting.

 

    Kith-Kanan breezed out the main entrance of the palace. Guards in

 

burnished armor snapped to attention as he passed. His mood lightened

 

with every step he took toward the Gardens of Astarin. So what if his

 

father dressed him down later? It wouldn't be the first time, by any means.

 

Any amount of lecturing was worth his hurried flight home to be on time

 

for his rendezvous with Hermathya.

 

    The gardens bulked around the base of the great tower. Not long after

 

Silvanos, founder of the elven nation, had completed the Tower of the

 

Stars, priests of the god Astarin asked for permission to create a garden

 


 

around the structure. Silvanos gladly granted their request. The clerics laid

 

out a garden in the plan of a four-pointed star, each point aligned with one

 

of the cardinal directions. They wove spells granted to them by Astarin,

 

the Bard King, spells that formed the trees and flowers in wonderful ways.

 

Thornless red and white roses grew in delicate spirals around the trunks of

 

evergreen oaks. Wisteria dripped purple blossoms into still, clear pools of

 

water. Lilacs and camellias drenched the air with their perfume. Broad

 

leaves of ivy spread over the garden paths, shading them and protecting

 

strollers from all but the harshest rains. And most remarkably, laurels and

 

cedars grew in circular groves, their tops coming together to form perfect

 

shelters, where elves could meditate. Silvanos himself had favored a grove

 

of laurels on the west side of the garden. When the august founder of the

 

elven nation had died, the leaves on the laurels there changed from green

 

to gold, and they remained that way ever after.

 

    Kith-Kanan did not enter the Gardens of Astarin by one of the paths.

 

In his deerskin boots, he crept silently beside the shoulder-high wall of

 

spell-shaped mulberry. He hoisted himself over the wall and dropped

 

down on the other side, still without a sound. Crouching low, he moved

 

toward the grove.

 

    The prince could hear the impatient rustle of footsteps inside the

 

golden grove. In his mind he saw Hermathya pacing to and fro, arms

 

folded, her red-gold hair like a flame in the center of the gilded trees. He

 

slipped around to the entrance to the grove. Hermathya had her back to

 

him, her arms folded tight with vexation. Kith-Kanan called her name.

 

    Hermathya whirled. "Kith! You startled me. Where have you been?"

 

    "Hurrying to you," he replied.

 


 

    Her angry expression lasted only a moment longer, then she ran to

 

him, her bright blue gown flying. They embraced in the arched entry of

 

Silvanos's retreat. The embrace became a kiss. After a moment,

 

Kith-Kanan drew back a bit and whispered, "We'd best be wary. My father

 

is in the tower. He might see us."

 

    In answer, Hermathya pulled the prince's face down to hers and kissed

 

him again. Finally, she said breathlessly, "Now, let us hide." They entered

 

the shelter of the laurel grove.

 

    Under the elaborate rules of courtly manners, a prince and a well-born

 

elf maiden could not consort freely, as Kith-Kanan and Hermathya had for

 

the past half-year. Escorts had to accompany both of them, if they ever

 

saw each other at all. Protocol demanded that they not be alone together.

 

    "I missed you terribly," Hermathya said, taking Kith-Kanan's hand

 

and leading him to the gray granite bench. "Silvanost is like a tomb when

 

you're not here."

 

    "I'm sorry I was late. Arcuballis had headwinds to fight all the way

 

home." This was not strictly true, but why anger her further? Actually

 

Kith-Kanan had broken camp late because he had stayed to listen to two

 

Kagonesti elves tell tall tales of adventures in the West, in the land of the

 

humans.

 

    "Next time," Hermathya said, tracing the line of Kith-Kanan's jaw

 

with one slender finger, "take me with you."

 

    "On a hunting trip?"

 

    She nipped at his ear. Her hair smelled of sunshine and spice. "Why

 

not?"

 


 

    He hugged her close, burying his face in her hair and inhaling deeply.

 

"You could probably handle yourself right enough, but what respectable

 

maiden would travel in the forest with a male not her father, brother, or

 

husband?"

 

    "I don't want to be respectable."

 

    Kith-Kanan studied her face. Hermathya had the dark blue eyes of the

 

Oakleaf Clan and the high cheekbones of her mother's family, the

 

Sunberry Clan. In her slender, beautiful face he saw passion, wit, courage­

 

    "Love," he murmured.

 

    "Yes," Hermathya replied. "I love you too."

 

    The prince looked deep into her eyes and said softly, "Marry me,

 

Hermathya." Her eyes widened, and she pulled away from him, chuckling.

 

"What is funny?" he demanded.

 

    "Why talk of marriage? Giving me a starjewel will not make me love

 

you more. I like things the way they are."

 

    Kith-Kanan waved to the surrounding golden laurels. "You like

 

meeting in secret? Whispering and flinching at every sound, lest we be

 

discovered?"

 

    She leaned close again. "Of course. That makes it all the more

 

stimulating."

 

    He had to admit his life had been anything but boring lately.

 

Kith-Kanan caressed his lover's cheek. Wind stirred through the gilded

 

leaves as they drew closer. She entwined her fingers in his white hair. The

 

prince thought no more of marriage as Hermathya filled his senses.

 

                                 *   *   *   *   *

 


 

    They parted with smiles and quiet touches on each other's faces.

 

Hermathya disappeared down the garden path with a toss of bronze-red

 

hair and a swish of clinging silk. Kith-Kanan stood in the entrance of the

 

golden grove and watched her until she was lost from sight. Then, with a

 

sigh, he made for the palace.

 

    The sun had set and, as he crossed the plaza, the prince saw that the

 

servants were setting lamps in the windows of the palace. All Silvanost

 

glimmered with light by night, but the Palace of Quinari, with its massive

 

tower and numerous tall windows, was like a constellation in the heavens.

 

Kith-Kanan felt very satisfied as he jauntily ascended the steps by the

 

main doors.

 

    The guards clacked their spears against their shoulder armor. The one

 

on Kith-Kanan's right said, "Highness, the speaker bids you go to the Hall

 

of Balif."

 

    'Well, I'd best not keep the speaker waiting," he replied. The guards

 

snapped to, and he passed on into the deep, arched opening. Even the

 

prospect of a tongue-lashing by his father did little to lower Kith-Kanan's

 

spirits. He still breathed the clean, spicy scent of Hermathya, and he still

 

gazed into the bottomless blue depths of her eyes.

 

    The Hall of Balif, named for the kender general who had once fought

 

so well on behalf of the great Silvanos, took up an entire floor of the

 

central tower. Kith-Kanan swung up the broad stone stairs, clapping

 

servants on the back and hailing courtiers heartily. Smiles followed in the

 

elf prince's wake.

 

    Oddly, two guards stood outside the high bronze doors of the Hall of

 

Balif. The doors were not usually guarded. As Kith-Kanan approached,

 


 

one guard rapped on the bronze panel behind him with the butt of his

 

spear. Silently Kith-Kanan stood by as the two soldiers pushed the heavy

 

portals apart for him.

 

    The hall was indifferently lit by a rack of candles on the oval feasting

 

table. The first face Kith-Kanan saw did not belong to his father, Sithel.

 

    "Sithas!"

 

    The tall, white-haired young elf stood up from behind the table.

 

Kith-Kanan circled the table and embraced his twin brother heartily.

 

Though they lived in the same city, they saw each other only at intervals.

 

Sithas spent most of his time in the Temple of Matheri, where the priests

 

had been educating him since he was a child. Kith-Kanan was frequently

 

away, flying, riding, hunting. Ninety years they'd lived, and by the stand-

 

ards of their race they were barely adults. Time and habit had altered the

 

twins, so much so that they were no longer exact copies of each other.

 

Sithas, elder by scant minutes, was slim and pale, the consequence of his

 

scholarly life. His face was lit by large hazel eyes, the eyes of his father

 

and grandfather. On his white robe he wore a narrow red stripe, a tribute to

 

Matheri, whose color it was.

 

    Kith-Kanan, because of his outdoor life, had skin almost as brown as

 

his eyes. The life of a ranger had toughened him, broadened his shoulders

 

and hardened his muscles.

 

    "I'm in trouble," he said ruefully.

 

    "What have you done this time?" Sithas asked, loosening his grip on

 

his twin.

 

    "I was out flying on Arcuballis­"

 

    Have you been scaring the farmers again?"

 


 

     "No, it's not that. I was over the city, so I circled the Tower of the

 

Stars­"

 

     "Blowing your horn, no doubt."

 

     Kith-Kanan sighed. "Will you let me finish? I went round the tower,

 

very gently, but who should be there on the high balcony but Fatherl He

 

saw me and gave me that look."

 

     Sithas folded his arms. "I was there too, inside. He wasn't pleased."

 

     His twin lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "What's this all

 

about? He didn't call me here to chastise me, did he? You wouldn't be here

 

for that."

 

     "No. Father called me back from the temple before you came home.

 

He's gone upstairs to fetch Mother. He's got something to tell you."

 

     Kith-Kanan relaxed, realizing he wasn't going to get dressed down.

 

"What is it, Sith?"

 

     "I'm getting married," said Sithas.

 

     Kith-Kanan, wide-eyed, leaned back on the table. "By E'li! Is that all

 

you have to say? 'I'm getting married?' "

 

     Sithas shrugged. "What else is there to say? Father decided that it's

 

time, so married I get."

 

     Kith-Kanan grinned. "Has he picked a girl?"

 

     "I think that's why he sent for you and Mother. We'll all find out at the

 

same time."

 

   "You mean, you don't know who it is yet?"

 

     "No. There are fourteen suitable clans within House Cleric, so there

 

are many prospective brides. Father has chosen one based on the dowry

 


 

offered­and according to which family he wants to link with House

 

Royal."

 

    His brother's eyes danced with merriment. "She will probably be ugly

 

and a shrew, as well."

 

    "That doesn't matter. All that matters is that she be healthy, well-born,

 

and properly worship the gods," Sithas said calmly.

 

    "I don't know. I think wit and beauty ought to count for something,"

 

Kith-Kanan replied. "And love. What about love, Sith? How do you feel

 

about marrying a stranger?"

 

    "It is the way things are done."

 

    That was so like him. The quickest way to insure Sithas's cooperation

 

was to invoke tradition. Kith-Kanan clucked his tongue and walked in a

 

slow circle around his motionless twin. His words rang off the polished

 

stone walls. "But is it fair?" he said, mildly mocking. "I mean, any scribe

 

or smith in the city can choose his mate himself, because he loves her and

 

she loves him. The wild elves of the woods, the green sea elves, do they

 

marry for duty, or do they take as mate a loving companion who'll bear

 

them children and be a strength to them in their ancient age?"

 

    "I'm not any smith or scribe, much less a wild elf," Sithas said. He

 

spoke quietly, but his words carried as clearly as Kith-Kanan's loud

 

pronouncements. "I am firstborn to the Speaker of the Stars, and my duty

 

is my duty."

 

    Kith-Kanan stopped circling and slumped against the table. "It's the

 

old story, isn't it? Wise Sithas and rash Kith-Kanan," he said. "Don't pay

 

me any heed, I'm really glad for you. And I'm glad for me, too. At least I

 

can choose my own wife when the time comes."

 


 

    Sithas smiled. "Do you have someone in mind?"

 

    Why not tell Sithas? he thought. His twin would never give him away.

 

    "Actually," Kith-Kanan began, "there is­"

 

    The rear door of the hall opened, and Sithel entered, with Nirakina at

 

his side.

 

    "Hail, Father," the brothers said in unison.

 

    The speaker waved for his sons to sit. He held a chair out for his wife,

 

then sat himself. The crown of Silvanesti, a circlet of gold and silver stars,

 

weighed heavily on his brow. He had come to the time in his life when age

 

was beginning to show. Sithel's hair had always been white, but now its

 

silky blondness had become brittle and gray. Tiny lines were etched

 

around his eyes and mouth, and his hazel eyes, the sign of the heritage of

 

Silvanos, betrayed the slightest hint of cloudiness. All these were small,

 

outward signs of the great burden of time Sithel carried in his lean, erect

 

body. He was one thousand, five hundred years old.

 

    Though past a thousand herself, Lady Nirakina was still lithe and

 

graceful. She was small by elven standards, almost doll-like. Her hair was

 

honey brown, as were her eyes. These were traits of her family, Clan

 

Silver Moon. A sense of gentleness radiated from her, a gentleness that

 

soothed her often irritable husband. It was said about the palace that Sithas

 

had his father's looks and his mother's temperament. Kith-Kanan had in-

 

herited his mother's eyes and his father's energy.

 

    "You look well," Nirakina said to Kith-Kanan. "Was your trip

 

rewarding?"

 

    "Yes, Lady. I do love to fly," he said, after kissing her cheek.

 


 

    Sithel gave his son a sharp glance. Kith-Kanan cleared his throat and

 

bid his father a polite greeting.

 

    "I'm glad you returned when you did," Sithel said. "Has Sithas told

 

you of his upcoming marriage?" Kith-Kanan admitted he had. "You will

 

have an important part to play as well, Kith. As the brother of the groom,

 

it will be your job to escort the bride to the Tower of the Stars--"

 

    "Yes, I will, but tell us who it is," insisted the impatient prince.

 

    "She is a maiden of exceptional spirit and beauty, I'm told," Sithel

 

said. "Well-educated, well-born­"

 

    "Father!" Kith-Kanan pleaded. Sithas himself sat quietly, hands

 

folded on his lap. Years of training in the Temple of Matheri had given

 

him formidable patience.

 

    "My son," Sithel said to Sithas, "Your wife's name is Hermathya,

 

daughter of Lord Shenbarrus of the Oakleaf Clan."

 

    Sithas raised an eyebrow approvingly. Even he had noticed

 

Hermathya. He said nothing, but nodded his acceptance.

 

    "Are you all right, Kith?" Nirakina asked. "You look quite pale."

 

    To her surprise, Kith-Kanan looked as if his father had struck him

 

across the face. The prince swallowed hard and nodded, unable to speak.

 

Of all the eligible daughters, Hermathya was to marry Sithas. It was

 

incomprehensible. It could not happen!

 

    None of his family knew of his love for her. If they knew, if his father

 

knew, he'd choose someone else.

 

    "Ah," Kith-Kanan managed to say, "who­who else knows of this?"

 

    "Only the bride's family," said Sithel. "I sent Shenbarrus acceptance

 

of the dowry this morning."

 


 

    A sinking feeling gripped Kith-Kanan. He felt like he was melting

 

into the floor. Hermathya's family already knew. There was no going back

 

now. The speaker had given his word. He could not, in honor, rescind his

 

decision without gravely offending Clan Oakleaf.

 

    His parents and brother began to discuss details of the wedding. A

 

tremor passed through Kith-Kanan. He resolved to stand up and declare

 

his love for Hermathya, declare that she was his and no one else's. Sithas

 

was his brother, his twin, but he didn't know her. He didn't love her. He

 

could find another wife. Kith-Kanan could not find another love.

 

    He rose unsteadily to his feet. "I­" he began. All eyes turned to him.

 

    Think, for once in your life! He admonished himself. What will they

 

say to you?

 

    "What?" said his father. "Are you ill, boy? You don't look well."

 

    "I don't feel too well," Kith-Kanan said hoarsely. He wanted to shout,

 

to run, to smash and break things, but the massive calm of his mother,

 

father, and brother held him down like a thick blanket. He cleared his

 

throat and added, "I think all that flying has caught up with me."

 

    Nirakina stood and put a hand to his face. "You do feel warm.

 

Perhaps you should rest."

 

    "Yes. Yes," he said. "That's just what I need. Rest." He held the table

 

edge for support.

 

    "I make the formal announcement when the white moon rises tonight.

 

The priests and nobles will gather in the tower," Sithel said. 'You must be

 

there, Kith."

 

    "I­I'll be there, Father," Kith-Kanan said. "I just need to rest."

 


 

    Sithas walked with his brother to the door. Before they went out,

 

Sithel remarked, "Oh, and leave your horn at the palace, Kith. One act of

 

impudence a day is enough." The speaker smiled, and Kith-Kanan

 

managed a weak grin in reply.

 

    "Shall I send a healer to you?" asked Nirakina.

 

    "No. I'll be fine, Mother," Kith-Kanan said.

 

    In the corridor outside, Sithas braced his brother's shoulders and said,

 

'Looks as if I'm to be lucky; both brains and beauty in my wife."

 

    "You are lucky," Kith-Kanan said. Sithas looked at him in concern.

 

Kith-Kanan was moved to say, "Whatever happens, Sith, don't think too

 

badly of me."

 

    Sithas frowned. "What do you mean?"

 

    Kith-Kanan inhaled deeply and turned to climb up the stairs to his

 

room. "Just remember that nothing will ever separate us. We're two halves

 

of the same coin."

 

    "Two branches of the same tree," Sithas said, completing the ritual the

 

twins had invented as children. His concern deepened as he watched

 

Kith-Kanan climb slowly up the stairs.

 

    Kith-Kanan didn't let his brother see his face contort with pain. He

 

had only a scant two hours before Solinari, the white moon, rose above the

 

trees. Whatever he was going to do, he had to think of it before then.

 

                                 *   *   *   *   *

 

    The great and noble of Silvanesti filed into the open hall of the Tower

 

of the Stars. Rumors flew through the air like sparrows, between courtier

 

and cleric, noble clan father and humble acolyte. Such assemblies in the

 

tower were rare and usually involved a matter of state.

 


 

    A pair of young heralds, draped in bright green tabards and wearing

 

circlets of oak and laurel, marched into the hall in perfect step. They

 

turned and stood on each side of the great door. Slender trumpets went to

 

their lips, and a stirring fanfare blared forth. When the horns ceased, a

 

third herald entered.

 

    "Free Elves and True! Give heed to His Highness, Sithel, Speaker of

 

the Stars!"

 

    Everyone bowed silently as Sithel appeared and walked to his

 

emerald throne. There was a spontaneous cry of "All hail the speaker!"

 

from the ranks of the nobles; the hall rang with elven voices. The speaker

 

mounted the steps, turned, and faced the assembly. He sat down, and the

 

hails died.

 

    The herald spoke again. "Sithas, son of Sithel, prince heir!"

 

    Sithas passed through the doorway, bowed to his father, and

 

approached the throne. As his son mounted the seven steps to the platform,

 

Sithel held out his hand, indicating his son should stand to the left of the

 

throne. Sithas took his place, facing the audience.

 

    The trumpets blared again. "Lady Nirakina, wife, and Prince Kith-

 

Kanan, son of Sithel!"

 

    Kith-Kanan entered with his mother on his arm. He had changed to

 

his courtly robes of sky-blue linen, clothing he rarely wore. He moved

 

stiffly down the center aisle, his mother's hand resting lightly on his left

 

arm.

 

    "Smile," she whispered.

 

    "I don't know four-fifths of them," Kith-Kanan muttered.

 

    "Smile anyway. They know you."

 


 

    When he reached the steps, the pommel of Kith-Kanan's sword poked

 

out from under his ceremonial sash. Nirakina glanced down at the weapon,

 

which was largely concealed by the voluminous folds of his robe.

 

    "Why did you bring that?" she whispered.

 

    "It's part of my costume," he replied. "I have a right to wear it."

 

    "Don't be impertinent," his mother said primly. "You know this is a

 

peaceful occasion."

 

    A large wooden chair, cushioned with red velvet, was set in place for

 

the speaker's wife on the left of Prince Sithas. Kith-Kanan, like his twin,

 

was expected to stand in the presence of his father, the monarch.

 

    Once the royal family was in place, the assembled notables lined up to

 

pay their respects to the speaker. The time-honored ritual called for priests

 

first, the clan fathers of House Cleric next, and the masters of the city

 

guilds last. Kith-Kanan, far to the left of Sithel, searched for Hermathya in

 

the press of people. The crowd numbered some three hundred, and though

 

they were quiet, the shuffling of feet and the rustle of silk and linen filled

 

the tower. The heralds advanced to the foot of the speaker's throne and

 

announced each group as they formed up before Sithel.

 

    The priests and priestesses, in their white robes and golden

 

headbands, each wore a sash in the color of their patron deity­silver for

 

E'li, red for Matheri, brown for Kiri Jolith, sky blue for Quenesti Pah, and

 

so on. By ancient law, they went barefoot as well, so they would be closer

 

to the sacred soil of Silvanesti.

 

    The clan fathers shepherded their families past the speaker.

 

Kith-Kanan caught his breath as Lord Shenbarrus of Clan Oakleaf reached

 


 

the head of the line. He was a widower, so his eldest daughter stood beside

 

him.

 

     Hermathya.

 

     Sithel spoke for the first time since entering the Tower of the Stars.

 

"Lady," he said to Hermathya, "will you remain?"

 

     Hermathya, clad in an embroidered gown the color of summer

 

sunlight, her striking face framed by two maidenly braids­which

 

Kith-Kanan knew she hated­bowed to the speaker and stood aside from

 

her family at the foot of the throne platform. The hiss of three hundred

 

whispering tongues filled the hall.

 

     Sithel stood and offered a hand to Hermathya. She went up the stair

 

without hesitation and stood beside him. Sithel nodded to the heralds. A

 

single note split the air.

 

     "Silence in the hall! His Highness will speak!" cried the herald.

 

     A hush descended. Sithel surveyed the crowd, ending his sweep by

 

looking at his wife and sons. "Holy clerics, elders, subjects, be at ease in

 

your hearts," he said, his rich voice echoing in the vast open tower. "I have

 

called you here to receive joyous news. My son, Sithas, who shall be

 

speaker after me, has reached the age and inclination to take a wife. After

 

due consultation with the gods, and with the chiefs of all the clans of

 

House Cleric, I have found a maiden suitable to be my son's bride."

 

     Kith-Kanan's left hand strayed to his sword hilt. A calm had

 

descended over him. He had thought long and hard about this. He knew

 

what he had to do.

 

     "I have chosen this maiden knowing full well the disappointment that

 

will arise in the other clans," Sithel was saying. "I deeply regret it. If this

 


 

were a barbarian land, where husbands may have more than one wife, I

 

daresay I could make more of you happy." Polite laughter rippled through

 

the ranks of the nobles. "But the speaker may have only one wife, so one

 

is all I have chosen. It is my great hope that she and my son will be as

 

happy together as I have been with my Nirakina."

 

    He looked at Sithas, who advanced to his father's side. Holding

 

Hermathya's left hand, the speaker reached for Sithas's right. The crowd

 

held its breath, waiting for him to make the official announcement.

 

    "Stop!"

 

    The couple's fingers were only a hairsbreadth apart when

 

Kith-Kanan's voice rang out. Sithel turned in surprise to his younger son.

 

Every eye in the hall looked with shock at the prince.

 

    "Hermathya cannot marry Sithas!" Kith-Kanan declared.

 

    "Be silent," Sithel said harshly. "Have you gone mad?"

 

    No, Father," Kith-Kanan said calmly. "Hermathya loves me."

 

    Sithas withdrew his hand from his father's slack fingers. In his hand

 

he held a starjewel, the traditional betrothal gift among elves. Sithas knew

 

something had been brewing. Kith-Kanan had been too obviously troubled

 

by the announcement of his bride-to-be. But he had not guessed at the

 

reason.

 

    "What does this mean?" demanded Lord Shenbarrus, moving to his

 

daughter's side.

 

    Kith-Kanan advanced to the edge of the raised floor. "Tell him,

 

Hermathya. Tell them all!"

 

    Sithas looked to his father. Sithel's gaze was on Hermathya. Her

 

cheeks were faintly pink, but her expression was calm, her eyes cast down.

 


 

        When Hermathya said nothing, Sithel commanded, "Speak, girl.

 

Speak the truth."

 

        Hermathya lifted her gaze and looked directly at Sithas. "I want to

 

marry the speaker's heir," she said. Her voice was not loud, but in the tense

 

silence, every sound, every word was like a thunderclap.

 

        "No!" Kith-Kanan exclaimed. What was she saying? "Don't be afraid,

 

Thya. Don't let our fathers sway you. Tell them the truth. Tell them who

 

you love."

 

        Still Hermathya's eyes were on Sithas. "I choose the speaker's heir."

 

        "Thya!" Kith-Kanan would have rushed to her, but Nirakina

 

interposed herself, pleading with her son to be still. He gently but firmly

 

pushed her aside. Only Sithas stood between him and Hermathya now.

 

        "Stand aside, Brother," he said.

 

        "Be silent!" his father roared. "You dishonor us all!"

 

        Kith-Kanan drew his sword. Gasps and shrieks filled the Tower of the

 

Stars. Baring a weapon in the hall was a serious offense, a sacrilegious act.

 

But Kith-Kanan wavered. He looked at the sword in his hand, at his

 

brother's and father's faces, and at the woman he loved. Hermathya stood

 

unmoving, her eyes still fixed on his twin. What hold did they have on

 

her?

 

        Sithas was unarmed. In fact no one in the hall was armed, except for

 

the flimsy ceremonial maces some of the clan fathers carried. No one

 

could stop him if he chose to fight. Kith-Kanan's sword arm trembled.

 

        With a cry of utter anguish, the prince threw the short, slim blade

 

away. It skittered across the polished floor toward the assembled clerics,

 


 

who moved hastily out of its way. It was ritually unclean for them to touch

 

an edged weapon.

 

     Kith-Kanan ran from the tower, blazing with frustration and anger.

 

The crowd parted for him. Every eye in the hall watched him go.

 

     Sithas descended to the main floor and went to where Kith-Kanan's

 

sword lay. He picked it up. It felt heavy and awkward in his unpracticed

 

hand. He stared at the keen cutting edge, then at the doorway through

 

which Kith-Kanan had departed. His heart bled for his twin. This time

 

Kith had not merely been impudent or impetuous. This time, his deeds

 

were an affront to the throne and to the gods.

 

     Sithas saw only one proper thing to do. He went back to his father and

 

bride-to-be. Laying the naked blade at Sithel's feet, he took Hermathya's

 

hand. It was warm. He could feel her pulse throbbing against his own cool

 

palm. And as Sithas took the blue starjewel from the folds of his robe, it

 

seemed almost alive. It lay in his hand, throwing off scintillas of rainbow

 

light.

 

     "If you will have me, I will have you," he said, holding the jewel out

 

to Hermathya.

 

     "I will," she replied loudly. She took the starjewel and held it to her

 

breast.

 

     The Tower of the Stars shook with the cheers of the assembled elves.

 


 

                                         2

 

                                Later That Night

 

 

 

 

    Sithel strode with furious energy down the corridors of the Palace of

 

Quinari. Servants and courtiers backed away from him as he went, so

 

fierce was the anger on his face. The assembly had ended on a triumphant

 

note, but the Speaker of the Stars could not forget the outrage his own son

 

had committed.

 

    The corridor ended at the palace's great central tower. Sithel

 

approached the huge bronze doors that closed off the private rooms of his

 

family from the rest of the palace. The doors were eighteen feet high,

 

inlaid with silver runes that kept a protective spell on them. No one not of

 

the blood of Silvanos could open the doors. Sithel hit one door with each

 

palm. The immense portals, delicately balanced, swung inward.

 

    "Where is he? Where is Kith-Kanan?" he demanded, setting his feet

 

wide apart and planting his fists on his hips. "I'll teach that boy to shame

 

us in front of a public assembly!"

 

    Within the chamber, Nirakina sat on a low, gilded couch. Sithas bent

 

over her, proffering a goblet of sweet nectar. The prince straightened when

 

his father entered, but neither he nor his mother spoke.

 

    "Well?" demanded Sithel.

 

    Nirakina looked up from her goblet. Her large amber eyes were full of

 

sadness. "He is not in the palace," she said softly. "The servants looked for

 

him, but they did not find him."

 


 

    Sithel advanced into the room. His hard footsteps were lost in the

 

deep carpets that covered the center of the floor, and his harsh words were

 

muffled by the rich tapestries covering the cold stone walls.

 

    "Servants, bah, they know nothing. Kith-Kanan has more hiding

 

places than I've had years of life."

 

    "He is gone," Sithas said at last.

 

    "How do you know that?" asked his father, transferring his glare to

 

his eldest son.

 

    "I do not feel his presence within the palace," Sithas said evenly. The

 

twins' parents knew of the close bond that existed between their sons.

 

    Sithel poured a goblet of nectar, using this simple task to give himself

 

time to master his anger. He took a long drink.

 

    "There is something else," Sithas said. His voice was very low. "The

 

griffon, Arcuballis, is missing from the royal stable."

 

    Sithel drained his cup. "So, he's run away, has he? Well, he'll be back.

 

He's a clever boy, Kith is, but he's never been out in the world on his own.

 

He won't last a week without servants, attendants, and guides."

 

    "I'm frightened," said Nirakina. "I've never seen him so upset. Why

 

didn't we know about this girl and Kith?" She took Sithas's hand. "How do

 

we know she will be a good wife for you, after the way she's behaved?"

 

    "Perhaps she is unsuitable," Sithas offered, looking at his father. "If

 

she were, perhaps the marriage could be called off. Then she and

 

Kith-Kanan­"

 

    "I'll not go back on my word to Shenbarrus merely because his

 

daughter is indiscreet," Sithel snapped, interrupting his son's thoughts.

 


 

"Think of Hermathya, too; shall we blacken her reputation to salve Kith's

 

wounded ego? They'll both forget this nonsense."

 

    Tears ran down Nirakina's cheeks. "Will you forgive him? Will you

 

let him come back?"

 

    "It's outside my hands," Sithel said. His own anger was failing under

 

fatherly concern. "But mark my words, he'll be back." He looked to Sithas

 

for support, but Sithas said nothing. He wasn't as sure of Kith-Kanan's

 

return as his father was.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    The griffon glided in soundlessly, its mismatched feet touching down

 

on the palace roof with only a faint clatter. Kith-Kanan slid off

 

Arcuballis's back. He stroked his mount's neck and whispered

 

encouragement in its ear.

 

    "Be good now. Stay." Obediently the griffon folded its legs and lay

 

down.

 

    Kith-Kanan stole silently along the roof. The vast black shadow of the

 

tower fell over him and buried the stairwell in darkness. In his dark quilted

 

tunic and heavy leggings, the prince was well hidden in the shadows. He

 

avoided the stairs for, even at this late hour, there might be servants

 

stirring about in the lower corridors. He did not want to be seen.

 

    Kith-Kanan flattened himself against the base of the tower. Above his

 

head, narrow windows shone with the soft yellow light of oil lanterns. He

 

uncoiled a thin, silk rope from around his waist. Hanging from his belt

 

was an iron hook. He tied the rope to the eye of the hook, stepped out from

 

the tower wall, and began to whirl the hook in an ever-widening circle.

 

Then, with practiced ease, he let it fly. The hook sailed up to the third

 


 

level of windows and caught on the jutting stonework beneath them. After

 

giving the rope an experimental tug, Kith-Kanan started climbing up the

 

wall, hand over hand, his feet braced against the thick stone of the tower.

 

    The third level of windows­actually the sixth floor above ground

 

level­was where his private room was located. Once he'd gained the

 

narrow ledge where his hook had wedged, Kith-Kanan stood with his back

 

flat against the wall, pausing to catch his breath. Around him, the city of

 

Silvanost slept. The white temple towers, the palaces of the nobles, the

 

monumental crystal tomb of Silvanos on its hill overlooking the city all

 

stood out in the light of Krynn's two visible moons. The lighted windows

 

were like jewels, yellow topaz and white diamonds.

 

    Kith-Kanan forced the window of his room open with the blade of his

 

dagger. He stepped down from the sill onto his bed. The chill moonlight

 

made his room seem pale and unfamiliar. Like all the rooms on this floor

 

of the tower, Kith-Kanan's was wedge-shaped, like a slice of pie. All the

 

miscellaneous treasures of his boyhood were in this room: hunting

 

trophies, a collection of shiny but worthless stones, scrolls describing the

 

heroic deeds of Silvanos and Balif. All to be left behind, perhaps never to

 

be seen or handled again.

 

    He went first to the oaken wardrobe, standing by an inside wall. From

 

under his breastplate he pulled a limp cloth sack, which he'd just bought

 

from a fisher on the river. It smelled rather strongly of fish, but he had no

 

time to be delicate. From the wardrobe he took only a few things­a padded

 

leather tunic, a pair of heavy horse-riding boots, and his warmest set of

 

leggings. Next he went to the chest at the foot of his bed.

 


 

    With no concern for neatness, he stuffed spare clothing into the sack.

 

Then, at the bottom of the chest, he found something he hadn't wanted to

 

find. Wrapped in a scrap of linen was the starjewel he'd bought for

 

Hermathya. Once exposed, it glittered in the dim light.

 

    Slowly he picked it up. His first reaction was to grind the delicate

 

gem under his heel, but Kith-Kanan couldn't bring himself to destroy the

 

beautiful scarlet gem. Without knowing exactly why, he slipped it into the

 

fisher's bag.

 

    From the rack by the door he took three items: a short but powerful

 

recurved bow, a full quiver of arrows, and his favorite boar spear.

 

Kith-Kanan's scabbard hung empty at his side. His sword, forged by the

 

priests of Kiri Jolith, he'd left in the Tower of the Stars.

 

    The prince put the arrows and the unstrung bow in the sack and tied it

 

to the boar spear. The whole bundle he slung from his shoulder. Now for

 

the door.

 

    The latch whispered backward in its slot. Kith-Kanan pulled the door

 

open. Directly across from his room was Sithas's sleeping chamber. A

 

strip of light showed under his brother's door. Kith-Kanan lowered his

 

bundle to the floor and reached out for the door handle.

 

    Sithas's door opened silently. Inside, his white-robed twin was

 

kneeling before a small table, on which a single cut rose lay. A candle

 

burned on the fireplace mantle.

 

    Sithas looked up. "Come in, Kith," he said gently, "I was expecting

 

you." He stood, looking hollow-eyed and gaunt in the candlelight. "I felt

 

your presence when you returned. Please, sit down."

 

    "I'm not staying," Kith-Kanan replied bitterly.

 


 

        "You need not leave, Kith. Beg Father for forgiveness. He will grant

 

it."

 

        Kith-Kanan spread his hands. "I can't, Sith. It wouldn't matter if he

 

did forgive me, I can't stay here any longer."

 

        "Because of Hermathya?" asked Sithas. His twin nodded. "I don't love

 

her, Kith, but she was chosen. I must marry her."

 

        "But what about me? Do you care at all how I feel?"

 

        Sithas's face showed that he did. "But what would you have me do?"

 

        "Tell them you won't have her. Refuse to marry Hermathya."

 

        Sithas sighed. "It would be a grave insult to Clan Oakleaf, to our

 

father, and to Hermathya herself. She was chosen because she will be the

 

best wife for the future speaker."

 

        Kith-Kanan passed a hand over his fevered eyes. "This is like a

 

terrible dream. I can't believe Thya consented to all this."

 

        "Then you can go upstairs and ask her. She is sleeping in the room

 

just above yours," Sithas said evenly. Kith-Kanan turned to go. "Wait,"

 

Sithas said. "Where will you go from here?"

 

        "I will go far," Kith-Kanan replied defiantly.

 

        Sithas leaped to his feet. "How far will you get on your own? You are

 

throwing away your heritage, Kith! Throwing it away like a gnawed apple

 

core!"

 

        Kith-Kanan stood still in the open doorway. "I'm doing the only

 

honorable thing I can. Do you think I could continue to live here with you,

 

knowing Hermathya was your wife? Do you think I could stand to see her

 

each day and have to call her 'Sister?' I know I have shamed Father and

 


 

myself. I can live with shame, but I cannot live in sight of Hermathya and

 

not love her!"

 

    He went out in the hall and stooped to get his bundle. Sithas raised the

 

lid of a plain, dark, oak chest sitting at the foot of his bed.

 

    "Kith, wait." Sithas turned around and held out his brother's sword.

 

"Father was going to have it broken, he was so angry with you, but I

 

persuaded him to let me keep it."

 

    Kith-Kanan took the slim, graceful blade from his brother's hands. It

 

slid home in his scabbard like a hand into a glove. Kith-Kanan instantly

 

felt stronger. He had a part of himself back.

 

    "Thank you, Sith."

 

    On a simultaneous impulse, they came together and clasped their

 

hands on each other's shoulders. "May the gods go with you, Brother,"

 

said Sithas warmly.

 

    "They will if you ask them," Kith-Kanan replied wryly. "They listen

 

to you."

 

    He crossed the hall to his old room and prepared to go out the

 

window. Sithas came to his door and said, "Will I ever see you again?"

 

    Kith-Kanan looked out at the two bright moons. "As long as Solinari

 

and Lunitari remain in the same sky, I will­see you again, my brother."

 

Without another word, Kith-Kanan stepped out of the window and was

 

gone. Sithas returned to his sparsely furnished room and shut the door.

 

    As he knelt again at his small shrine to Matheri, he said softly, "Two

 

halves of the same coin; two branches of the same tree." He closed his

 

eyes. "Matheri, keep him safe."

 


 

    On the ledge, Kith-Kanan gathered up his rope. The room just above

 

his, Sithas had said. Very well then. His first cast fell short, and the hook

 

came scraping down the stone right at his face. Kith-Kanan flinched aside,

 

successfully dodging the hook, but he almost lost his balance on the

 

narrow ledge. The falling hook clattered against the wall below.

 

Kith-Kanan cursed soundlessly and hauled the rope back up.

 

    The Tower of Quinari, like most elven spires, grew steadily narrower

 

as it grew taller. The ledges at each level were thus correspondingly

 

shallower. It took Kith-Kanan four tries to catch his hook on the seventh

 

floor ledge. When he did, he swung out into the cool night air, wobbling

 

under the burden of his sack and spear. Doggedly he climbed. The window

 

of the room above his was dark. He carefully set the bundle against the

 

outside wall and went to work on the window latch with his dagger.

 

    The soft lead of the window frame yielded quickly to his blade. He

 

pushed the crystal panes in.

 

    Already he knew she was in the room. The spicy scent she always

 

wore filled the room with a subtle perfume. He listened and heard short

 

sighs of breathing. Hermathya was asleep.

 

    He went unerringly to her bedside. Kith-Kanan put out a hand and felt

 

the soft fire of her hair. He spoke her name once, quietly. "It is I, my

 

love."

 

    "Kith! Please, don't hurt me!"

 

    He was taken aback. He rose off his knees. "I would never, ever hurt

 

you, Thya."

 

    "But I thought­you were so angry­I thought you came here to kill

 

me!"

 


 

    "No," he said gently. "I've come to take you with me."

 

    She sat up. Solinari peeked in the window just enough to throw a

 

silver beam on her face and neck. From his place in the shadows,

 

Kith-Kanan felt again the deep wound he'd suffered on her account.

 

    "Go with you?" Hermathya said in genuine confusion. "Go where?"

 

    "Does it matter?"

 

    She pushed her long hair away from her face. "And what of Sithas?"

 

    "He doesn't love you," Kith-Kanan said.

 

    "Nor do I love him, but he is my betrothed now."

 

    Kith-Kanan couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You mean, you

 

want to marry him?"

 

    "Yes, I do."

 

    Kith-Kanan blundered backward to the window. He sat down hard on

 

the sill. It seemed as though his legs would not work right. The cool night

 

air washed over him, and he breathed deeply.

 

    "You cannot mean it. What about us? I thought you loved me!"

 

    Hermathya walked into the edge of the shaft of moonlight. "I do,

 

Kith. But the gods have decided that I shall be the wife of the next Speaker

 

of the Stars." A note of pride crept into her voice.

 

    "This is madness!" Kith-Kanan burst out. "It was my father who

 

decided this marriage, not the gods!"

 

    "We are all only instruments of the gods," she said coolly. "I love

 

you, Kith, but the time has come to lay aside pranks and secret garden

 

passions. I have spoken with my father, with your father. You and I had an

 

exciting time together, we dreamed beautiful dreams. But that's all they

 


 

were­dreams. It's time to wake up now and think of the future. Of the

 

future of all Silvanesti."

 

     All Kith-Kanan could think of at this moment was his own future. "I

 

can't live without you, Thya," he said weakly.

 

     "Yes, you can. You may not know it yet, but you can." She came

 

toward him, and the moonlight made her nightdress no more than a

 

cobweb. Kith-Kanan squeezed his eyes shut and balled his hands into tight

 

fists.

 

     "Please," Hermathya said. "Accept what will happen. We can still be

 

close." Her warm hand touched his cold, dry cheek.

 

     Kith-Kanan seized her wrist and shoved her away. "I cannot accept

 

it," he said tersely, stepping up on the windowsill. "Farewell, Lady

 

Hermathya. May your life be green and golden."

 

     The irony of his words was not lost on her. 'May your life be green

 

and golden' was what elven commoners said when taking leave of their

 

lords.

 

     Kith-Kanan shouldered his sack and slipped over the stone ledge.

 

Hermathya stood for several seconds, gazing at the empty window. When

 

the tears came she did not fight them.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

     Faithful Arcuballis was his only companion now. Kith-Kanan tied the

 

sack to the saddle pillion and stuck the boar spear into the lance cup by his

 

right stirrup. He mounted Arcuballis, strapped himself to the saddle, and

 

turned the beast's head into the wind.

 

     "Fly!" he cried, touching his heels into the griffon's brawny breast.

 

"Fly!"

 


 

    Arcuballis unfolded its wings and sprang into the air. Kith-Kanan

 

whistled, and the griffon uttered its shrill cry. The least he could do,

 

Kith-Kanan decided, was to let them know he was going. He whistled

 

again and once more the griffon's trilling growl echoed between the white

 

towers.

 

    Kith-Kanan put the waxing red moon on his right hand and flew

 

southwest, across the Thon-Thalas. The royal road stood out misty gray in

 

the night, angling away north from the city and south to the seacoast.

 

Kith-Kanan urged the griffon higher and faster. The road, the river, and

 

the city that had been his home vanished behind them. Ahead lay only

 

darkness and an endless sea of trees, green-black in the depths of night.

 


 

                                        3

 

                                 The Next Day

 

 

 

 

    Kith-Kanan had no plans except to get away from Silvanost. More

 

than anything, he craved solitude right now. He pointed Arcuballis's beak

 

southwest, and gave the griffon its head.

 

    Kith-Kanan dozed in the saddle, slumped forward over the griffon's

 

feathered neck. The loyal beast flew on all night, never straying from the

 

course its master had set. Dawn came, and Kith-Kanan awoke, stiff and

 

groggy. He sat up in the saddle and surveyed the land below. There was

 

nothing but treetops as far as the eye could see. He saw no clearings,

 

streams, or meadows, much less signs of habitation.

 

    How far they had flown during the night Kith-Kanan could not guess.

 

He knew from hunting trips down the Thon-Thalas that south of Silvanost

 

lay the Courrain Ocean, the boundaries of which no elf knew. But he was

 

in the East; the rising sun was almost directly ahead of him. He must be in

 

the great forest that lay between the Thon-Thalas on the east and the plains

 

of Kharolis to the west. He'd never ventured this far before.

 

    Looking at the impenetrable canopy of trees, Kith-Kanan licked his

 

dry lips and said aloud, "Well, boy, if things don't change, we can always

 

walk across the trees."

 

    They flew for hours more, crisscrossing the leafy barrier and finding

 

no openings whatsoever. Poor Arcuballis was laboring, panting in deep,

 

dry grunts. The griffon had been flying all night and half the day. When

 

Kith-Kanan lifted his head to scan the horizon, he spied a thin column of

 


 

smoke rising from the forest, far off to his left. The prince turned

 

Arcuballis toward the smoke. The gap closed with agonizing slowness.

 

    Finally, he could see that a ragged hole had been torn in the tapestry

 

of the forest. In the center of the hole, the gnarled trunk of a great tree

 

stood, blackened and burning. Lightning had struck it. The burned opening

 

was only ten yards wide, but around the base of the burning tree the

 

ground was clear and level. Arcuballis's feet touched down, its wings

 

trembled, and the beast shuddered. Immediately the exhausted griffon

 

closed its eyes to sleep.

 

     Kith-Kanan untied his sack from the pillion. He crossed the narrow

 

clearing with the sack over one shoulder. Dropping to his feet, he squatted

 

down and started to unpack. The caw of a crow caught his ear. Looking

 

up at the splintered, smoldering trunk of the shattered tree, he spied a

 

single black bird perched on a charred limb. The crow cocked its head

 

and cawed again. Kith-Kanan went back to his unpacking as the crow

 

lifted off the limb, circled the clearing, and flew off.

 

    He took out his bow and quiver, and braced a new bowstring. Though

 

only three feet long when strung, the powerful recursive bow could put an

 

iron-tipped arrow through a thick tree trunk. Kith-Kanan tied the quiver to

 

his belt. Taking the stout boar spear in both hands, he jammed it as high as

 

he could into the burned tree. He stuffed his belongings back in the sack

 

and hung the sack from the spear shaft. That ought to keep his things safe

 

from prowling animals.

 

    Kith-Kanan squinted into the late afternoon sun. Using it as a guide,

 

he decided to strike out to the north a short distance to see if he could flush

 

any game. Arcuballis was safe enough, he figured; few predators would

 


 

dare tangle with a griffon. He put his back to the shattered tree and dove

 

into the deeply shadowed forest.

 

    Though the elf prince was used to the woods, at least the woods

 

around Silvanost, he found this forest strangely different. The trees were

 

widely spaced, but their thick foliage made it nearly as dim as twilight

 

down below. So dense was the roof of leaves, the forest floor was nearly

 

barren. Some ferns and bracken grew between the great trees, but no

 

heavy undergrowth. The soil was thickly carpeted with dead leaves and

 

velvety moss. And even though the high branches stirred in the wind, it

 

was very still where Kith-Kanan walked. Very still indeed. Rings of

 

red-gilled mushrooms, a favorite food of deer and wild boar, grew

 

undisturbed around the bases of the trees. The silence soon grew

 

oppressive.

 

     Kith-Kanan paused a hundred paces from the clearing and drew his

 

sword. He cut a hunter's sign, a "blaze," into the gray-brown bark of a

 

hundred-foot-high oak tree. Beneath the bark, the white flesh of the tree

 

was hard and tough. The elven blade chipped away at it, and the sound of

 

iron on wood echoed through the forest. His marker made, Kith-Kanan

 

sheathed his sword and continued on, bow in hand.

 

     The forest seemed devoid of animals. Except for the crow he'd seen,

 

no other creature, furred or winged, showed itself. Every thirty yards or

 

so he made another blaze so as not to lose his way, for the darkness was

 

increasing. It was at least four hours until sunset, yet the shadowed

 

recesses of the forest were dimming to twilight. Kith-Kanan mopped the

 

sweat from his brow and knelt in the fallen leaves. He brushed them

 


 

aside, looking for signs of grazing by deer or wild pigs. The moss was

 

unbroken.

 

     By the time Kith-Kanan had made his tenth blaze, it was dark as

 

night. He leaned against an ash tree and tried to see through the closely

 

growing branches overhead. At this point he'd just as soon have squirrel

 

for dinner as venison. That was growing more likely, too.

 

    Tiny points of sunlight filtered through the leaves, dancing as the

 

wind stirred the branches. It was almost like seeing the stars, only these

 

points of light moved. The effect was quite hypnotic, which only made

 

Kith-Kanan more tired than he already was. He'd dozed only fitfully in the

 

saddle and had eaten nearly nothing since the day before. Perhaps he'd

 

stop for a moment. Take a bit of rest. Overhead the points of light danced

 

and swayed.

 

    Kith-Kanan's sword, resting in the crook of his arm, slipped from his

 

grasp and fell to the ground, sticking point first in the soft soil.

 

    Points of light. Dancing. How very tired he was! His knees folded,

 

and he slid slowly down the trunk until he was sitting on his haunches,

 

back against the tree. His gaze remained on the canopy of leaves overhead.

 

What an odd forest this was. Not like home. Not like the woods of

 

Silvanost

 

    As in a dream, the prince saw the airy corridors of the Palace of

 

Quinari. The servants bowed to him, as they always did. He was on his

 

way to a feast in the Hall of Balif. There would be simmered roasts, legs

 

of lamb, fruits dripping with juice, fragrant sauces, and delicious drafts of

 

sweet nectar.

 


 

    Kith-Kanan came to a door. It was just a door, like any other in the

 

palace. He pushed the door open, and there, in loving embrace, were

 

Sithas and Hermathya. She turned to face him, a smile on her face. A

 

smile for Sithas.

 

    "No!"

 

    He leaped forward, landing on his hands and knees. His legs were

 

completely numb. It was pitch dark around him, and for a few seconds

 

Kith-Kanan didn't know where he was. He breathed deeply. Night must

 

have fallen, he realized. But the dream had seemed so real! The elf's

 

senses told him he'd broken some spell, one that had come over him as he

 

looked at the patterns of light and shadow up in the trees. He must have

 

been dreaming for hours.

 

    After a long minute waiting for the feeling to return to his legs,

 

Kith-Kanan cast about for his sword. He found it sticking in the moss. He

 

freed the weapon and shoved it into its scabbard. A vague sense of

 

urgency turned him back to the blasted clearing. His last blaze was visible

 

in the night, but the second to last was almost gone. New bark was

 

covering the cut he'd made. The next mark was a mere slit, and the one

 

after that he found only because he remembered the oddly forked trunk of

 

the ash tree he'd hacked it into. There were no more to find after that. The

 

cuts had healed.

 

    For a moment the elf prince knew fear. He was lost in the silent forest

 

at night, hungry, thirsty, and alone. Had enough time passed for the cuts to

 

heal naturally, or was the grove enchanted? Even the darkness that

 

surrounded him seemed, well, darker than usual. Not even his elven

 

eyesight could penetrate very far.

 


 

    Then the training and education of a prince reasserted itself, banishing

 

much of the fear. Kith-Kanan, grandson of the great Silvanos, was not

 

about to be bested on his first night in the wilderness.

 

    He found a dry branch and set about making a torch to light his way

 

back to the clearing. After gathering a pile of dead leaves for tinder,

 

Kith-Kanan pulled out his flint and striker. To his surprise, no sparks flew

 

off the iron bar when he grated the flint against it. He tried and tried, but

 

all the fire seemed to have gone out of the flint.

 

    There was a flutter of black wings overhead. Kith-Kanan leaped to his

 

feet in time to see a flock of crows take up perches on a limb just out of

 

reach. The dozen birds watched him with unnerving intelligence.

 

    "Shoo!" he yelled, flinging a useless branch at them. The crows

 

flapped up and, when the branch had passed, settled again in the same

 

place and posture.

 

    He pocketed his flint and striker. The crows followed his movements

 

with unblinking eyes. Tired and bewildered, he addressed the birds

 

directly. "I don't suppose you can help me find my way back, can you?"

 

    One by one, the birds took wing and disappeared into the night.

 

Kith-Kanan sighed. I must be getting desperate if I'm talking to birds, he

 

concluded. After drawing his sword, he set off again, cutting new blazes

 

as he hunted for the clearing where he had left Arcuballis. That way, at

 

least he could avoid walking in circles.

 

    He smote the nearest elm twice, chipping out palm-sized bits of bark.

 

He was about to strike a third time when he noticed the shadow of his

 

sword arm against the gray tree trunk. Shadow? In this well of ink?

 

Kith-Kanan turned quickly, sword ready. Floating six feet off the ground,

 


 

more than a dozen feet away, was a glowing mass the size of a wine

 

barrel. He watched, half anxious, half curious, as the glowing light came

 

toward him. It halted two feet from his face, and Kith-Kanan could clearly

 

see what it was.

 

    The cool yellow mass of light was a swarm of fireflies. The insects

 

flew in circles around each other, creating a moving lamp for the lost

 

prince. Kith-Kanan stared at them in shock. The glowing mass moved

 

forward a few yards and halted. Kith-Kanan took a step toward them, and

 

they moved on a bit farther.

 

    "Are you leading me back to the clearing?" the prince asked in

 

wonder. In response, the fireflies moved another yard forward.

 

Kith-Kanan followed warily, but grateful for the soft sphere of light the

 

fireflies cast around him.

 

    In minutes, they had led him back to the clearing. The blasted tree

 

was just as he rememberedbut Arcuballis was gone. Kith-Kanan ran to

 

the spot where the griffon had lain to rest. The leaves and moss still

 

carried the impression of the heavy beast, but that was all. Kith-Kanan was

 

astonished. He couldn't believe Arcuballis had flown off without him.

 

Royal griffons were bonded to their riders, and no more loyal creatures

 

existed on Krynn. There were tales of riders dying, and their griffons

 

following them into death out of sheer grief. Someone or something must

 

have taken Arcuballis. But who? Or what? How could such a powerful

 

creature be subdued without sign of a struggle?

 

    Sick in his heart, Kith-Kanan wandered to the lightningseared tree.

 

More bad news! His boar spear remained stuck in the trunk, but the sack

 

containing his possessions was ~ gone. Angrily, he reached up and

 


 

wrenched the spear free. He stood in the clearing, gazing at the dark circle

 

of trees. Now he was truly alone. He and Arcuballis had been companions

 

for many years. More than a means of transport, the griffon was a trusted

 

friend.

 

    He sagged to the ground, feeling utterly wretched. What could he do?

 

He couldn't even find his way around the forest in broad daylight.

 

Kith-Kanan's eyes brimmed, but he steadfastly refused to weep like some

 

abandoned child.

 

    The fireflies remained by his head. They darted forward, then back, as

 

if reminding him they were there.

 

    "Get away!" he snarled as they swooped scant inches from his nose.

 

The swarm instantly dispersed. The fireflies flew off in all directions, their

 

tiny lights flitting here and there, and then were gone.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    "Won't you come in? You'll catch a chill."

 

    Sithel drew a woolen mantle up over his shoulders. "I am warmly

 

dressed," he said. His wife pulled a blanket off their bed, wrapped it

 

around her own shoulders, and stepped out on the balcony with him.

 

    Sithel's long white hair lifted off his neck as a chill wind passed over

 

the palace tower. The private rooms of the speaker and his consort took up

 

the penultimate floor of the palace's tower. Only the Tower of the Stars

 

provided a higher vantage point in Silvanost.

 

      "I felt a faint cry not long ago," Sithel said.

 

    "Kith-Kanan?" The speaker nodded. "Do you think he is in danger?"

 

asked Nirakina, drawing her blanket more closely about herself.

 


 

     "I think he is unhappy. He must be very far away. The feeling was

 

faint."

 

     Nirakina looked up at her husband. "Call him, Sithel. Call him home."

 

     "I will not. He offended me, and he offended the noble assembly. He

 

broke one of our most sacred laws by drawing a weapon inside the Tower

 

of the Stars."

 

     "These things can be forgiven," she said quietly. "What else is it that

 

makes it so hard for you to forgive him?"

 

     Sithel stroked his wife's soft hair. "I might have done what he did, had

 

my father given the woman I loved to another. But I don't approve of his

 

deed, and I will not call him home. If I did, he wouldn't learn the

 

discipline he must have. Let him stay away a while. His life here has been

 

too easy, and the outside world will teach him to be strong and patient."

 

     "I'm afraid for him," Nirakina said. "The world beyond Silvanost is a

 

deadly place."

 

     Sithel raised her chin so their eyes met. "He has the blood of Silvanos

 

in his veins. Kith-Kanan will survive, beloved, survive and prosper."

 

Sithel looked away, out at the dark city. He held out his arm. "Come, let us

 

go in."

 

     They lay down together, as they had for more than a thousand years.

 

But while Nirakina soon fell asleep, Sithel lay awake, worrying.

 


 

                                         4

 

                               Three Days Later

 

 

 

 

    After three sunrises, Kith-Kanan was in despair. He'd lost his griffon

 

and his spare clothing. When he tried his flint and striker again, he

 

managed to start a small fire. It comforted him somewhat, but he found no

 

food whatsoever to cook. On his third morning in the forest, he ran out of

 

water, too.

 

    There was no point remaining in the clearing, so he shouldered his

 

spear and set out to find food and water. If the maps he remembered were

 

correct, the Kharolis River lay to the west. It might be many miles, but at

 

least it was something to aim for.

 

    The only animals he saw on the way were more crows. The black

 

birds stayed with him, flitting from tree to tree, punctuating their flight

 

with short, sharp caws. The crows were Kith-Kanan's only company, so he

 

started talking to them. It helped keep his spirits up.

 

    "I don't suppose you know where my griffon is?" he asked. Not

 

surprisingly, the birds didn't answer, but continued to fly from tree to tree,

 

keeping up with him.

 

    The day dragged on and grew hotter. Even down in the eternal shade

 

of the deep forest, Kith-Kanan sweltered, because no breeze stirred the air.

 

The lay of the land grew rougher, too, with hills and gullies running north

 

to south along his line of march. This encouraged him at first, because

 

very often springs and brooks could be found at the bottom of ravines. But

 


 

as he scrambled up one hill and down another, he found only moss and

 

stones and fallen trees.

 

    After skidding down a hillside into the nineteenth gully, Kith-Kanan

 

paused to rest. He sat on a fallen tree, dropping the spear in front of him.

 

He licked his dry lips again and fought down the rising feeling that he had

 

made a grave mistake by running away. How could he have been so

 

foolish to abandon his life of privilege for this? As soon as he asked

 

himself the question the vision of Hermathya marrying his brother rose up

 

in his mind, horribly vivid. Pain and loss welled up inside. To dispel the

 

image, he stood up abruptly and started off again, shouldering his boar

 

spear. He took two steps across the bottom of the ravine, and his feet sank

 

an inch or so into mud, covered by a thin layer of dead leaves.

 

    Where there's mud, there's water, he realized happily. Kith-Kanan

 

went along the ravine to his right, looking for the water that must be there

 

somewhere. He could see the ravine widen up ahead. Perhaps there was a

 

pool, a pool of clear, sweet water . . . .

 

    The ravine converged on several others, making a steepsided bowl in

 

the hills. Kith-Kanan slogged through the increasingly wet mud. He could

 

smell water ahead. Then he could see ita small pool, undisturbed by a

 

ripple. The sight drew him like magic. The mud rose above his knees but

 

he plunged on, right to the center of the pool. Cupping his hands, he filled

 

them with water and raised them to his lips.

 

    Immediately he spit the water out again. It tasted vile, like rotted

 

leaves. Kith-Kanan stared down at his reflection in the water. His face

 

twisted with frustrated rage. It was no use. He would just have to keep

 

going.

 


 

    His leg wouldn't come up out of the pool. He tried the other. It was

 

also stuck. He strained so hard to pull them up, he nearly lost his balance.

 

Arms flailing, Kith-Kanan twisted his hips from side to side, trying to

 

work himself free. Instead he sank deeper into the mire. He glanced

 

around quickly for a tree branch to grab, or a trailing vine. The nearest

 

trees were ten feet away.

 

    The mud was soon up to his waist. He began to sink even faster.

 

"Help!" he cried desperately. "Is there anyone to hear?"

 

    A flock of crows settled on the hillside facing Kith-Kanan. They

 

watched with unnerving calm as he foundered in the killing mud.

 

    You won't pick my eyes, he vowed silently. When the end comes, I'll

 

duck under the mud before I let you black carrion eaters pick me over.

 

    "They're not really so bad once you get to know them," said a voice.

 

Kith-Kanan jerked as if struck by lightning.

 

    "Who's there?" he shouted, looking around at the still trees. "Help!"

 

    "I can help you. I don't know that I will." It was a high, childish voice,

 

full of smugness.

 

    In replying, the speaker had given himself away. Kith-Kanan spotted

 

him, to his left, in a tree. Sitting comfortably on a thick branch, his back

 

propped against the ancient oak trunk, was a slender young person, clad in

 

mottled green-brown tunic and hose. A hood was drawn up over his head.

 

The tan face that showed under the hood was painted with loops and lines,

 

done in bright red and yellow pigment.

 

    "Help me!" Kith-Kanan shouted. "I can reward you handsomely!"

 

    "Really? What with?"

 


 

    "Gold. Silver. Jewels." Anything, he vowed to himself. Anything in

 

all of Krynn.

 

    "What is gold?"

 

    The mud was halfway up Kith-Kanan's chest. The pressure against his

 

body made it difficult to draw breath. "You're mocking me," he gasped.

 

"Please! I haven't much time!"

 

    "No, you haven't," noted the hooded figure uninterestedly. "What else

 

would you give me if I help you?"

 

    "My bow! Would you like that?"

 

    "I can pick that out of the mire once you're gone."

 

    Blast the fellow! "I haven't anything else!" The cold muck was nearly

 

at his shoulders. "Please, for the gods' sake, help me!"

 

    The hooded figure rolled nimbly forward onto his feet. "I will help

 

you, for the gods' sake. They often do things for me, so it seems only fair I

 

do something for their sake now and again."

 

    The stranger walked heel to toe along the branch until he was almost

 

directly over Kith-Kanan. The prince's shoulders were in the mud, though

 

he held his arms above his head to keep them free until the last possible

 

second. The fellow in the tree unwrapped a belt from his waist. It had

 

circled his slim body several times and, when unwound, was over ten feet

 

long. Lying flat on the branch, he lowered the leather strap to Kith-Kanan.

 

The prince caught it in his left hand.

 

    "What are you waiting for? Pull me out!" Kith-Kanan ordered.

 

    "If you can't pull yourself out, I cannot do it for you," his rescuer

 

remarked. He looped the belt around the tree limb a few times and secured

 


 

it with a knot. Then he lay on the branch, his head propped on one hand,

 

awaiting the outcome.

 

    Kith-Kanan grimaced and started to haul himself out by the strap.

 

With much gasping and cursing, Kith-Kanan climbed out of the deadly

 

mire and pulled himself up to the tree branch. He threw a leg over the

 

branch and lay panting.

 

    "Thank you," he finally said, a little sarcastically.

 

    The young fellow had moved several feet back toward the oak tree

 

and sat with his knees drawn up. "You're welcome," he replied. Behind

 

the barbarous face paint, his eyes were brilliant green. He pushed back his

 

hood, revealing himself to be a boy with a shock of bone-white hair. His

 

high cheekbones and tapered ears bespoke his heritage. Kith-Kanan sat up

 

slowly, astride the branch.

 

    "You are Silvanesti," he said, startled.

 

    "No, I am Mackeli."

 

    Kith-Kanan shook his head. "You are of the race of the Silvanesti, as

 

am I."

 

    The elf boy stood on the branch. "I don't know what you mean. I am

 

Mackeli."

 

    The branch was too narrow for Kith-Kanan to stand on, so he inched

 

his way forward to the tree trunk. The deadly mud below was hidden once

 

more under its covering of water. He shuddered as he looked down upon

 

it. "You see we are alike, don't you?"

 

    Mackeli, hopping nimbly along the branch, glanced back at

 

Kith-Kanan and said, "No. I don't see that we are alike."

 


 

        Exasperated and too tired to continue, Kith-Kanan gave up that line of

 

conversation.

 

        They climbed down to solid ground. Kith-Kanan followed the

 

scampering boy slowly. Even so, he lost his grip on the trunk and fell the

 

last few feet. He landed on his rear with a thud and groaned.

 

        "You are clumsy," Mackeli observed.

 

        "And you are rude. Do you know who I am?" the prince said

 

haughtily.

 

        "A clumsy outlander." The elf boy reached around his back and

 

brought back a gourd bottle, laced tightly with deerskin. He poured a

 

trickle of clear water into his open mouth. Kith-Kanan watched intently,

 

his throat moving with imaginary swallows.

 

        "May Imay I have some water?" he pleaded.

 

        Mackeli shrugged and handed him the bottle. Kith-Kanan took the

 

gourd in his muddy hands and drank greedily. He drained the bottle in

 

three gulps.

 

        "May the gods bless you," he said, handing the empty container to the

 

boy.

 

        Mackeli upended the bottle, saw that it was indeed completely dry,

 

and gave Kith-Kanan a disgusted look.

 

        "I haven't had any water in two days," Kith-Kanan explained. "Nor

 

have I eaten. Do you have any food?"

 

        "Not with me. There is some at home."

 

        "Would you take me there?"

 


 

        Mackeli raised his hood again, hiding his startlingly white hair. With

 

it covered, he was superbly camouflaged, blending into the forest. "Won't

 

know if that would be right. Ny might not like it."

 

        "I appeal to you, friend. I am desperate. I have lost my steed and my

 

way, and I cannot seem to find any game in this accursed forest. If you

 

don't help me, I shall starve in this wilderness."

 

        The elf boy laughed, a pleasant sound in the still air. "Yes, I heard

 

there was an outlander blundering about in these parts. The corvae told me

 

about you."

 

        "Corvae?"

 

        Mackeli pointed to the crows, still watching from the nearby hillside.

 

"They know everything that happens in the forest. Sometimes, when

 

something strange occurs, they tell me and Ny about it."

 

        Kith-Kanan remembered the unnerving attention the crows had paid

 

him. "Do you truly speak with birds?"

 

        "Not only birds." Mackeli held up a hand and made a shrill cawing

 

sound. One of the black birds flew over and alighted on his arm, like a

 

falcon returning to its master.

 

        "What do you think?" the boy asked the bird. "Can I trust him?" The

 

crow cocked its head and uttered a single sharp screech. Mackeli frowned.

 

The whorls above his eyes contracted as he knitted his brow together.

 

        "He says you carry an object of power. He says you cut the trees with

 

it."

 

        Kith-Kanan looked down at his mud-caked scabbard. "My sword is

 

not magical," he said. "It's just an ordinary blade. Here, you can hold it."

 

He reversed his grip and held the pommel out to Mackeli. The elf boy

 


 

reached out tentatively. The crows chorused as if in warning, but Mackeli

 

ignored them. His small hand closed over the diamond-shaped pommel.

 

    "There is power here," he said, snatching his hand back. "It smells

 

like death!"

 

    "Take it in your hands," Kith-Kanan urged. "It won't hurt you."

 

    Mackeli grasped the handle in both hands and lifted it out of the

 

prince's hand. "So heavy! What is it made of?" he grunted.

 

    "Iron and brass." Mackeli's face showed that he did not know iron or

 

brass, gold or silver. "Do you know what metals are, Mackeli?"

 

    "No." He tried to swing Kith-Kanan's sword, but it was too heavy for

 

him to control. The point dropped to the ground.

 

    "I thought as much." Gently the prince took the sword back and slid it

 

into its sheath. "Are you satisfied I'm not dangerous?"

 

    Mackeli sniffed his hands and made a face. "I never said you were

 

dangerous," he said airily. "Except maybe to yourself."

 

    He set off and kept up a brisk pace, slipping in and out of the big

 

trees. Mackeli never walked straight more than a few yards. He pushed off

 

from the massive trunks, hopped over fallen limbs, and scampered like a

 

squirrel. Kith-Kanan trudged along, weighed down by hunger and several

 

pounds of stinking mud. Several times Mackeli had to double back to find

 

the prince and guide him along. Kith-Kanan watched the boy's progress

 

through the forest and felt like a tired old man. He'd thought he was such a

 

fine ranger. This boy, who could be no more than sixty years old, made

 

the foresters of Silvanost look like blundering drunkards.

 


 

    The trek lasted hours and followed no discernible path. Kith-Kanan

 

got the strong impression Mackeli didn't want him to know where they

 

were going.

 

    There were elves who dwelt entirely in the wilderness, the Kagonesti.

 

They were given to the practice of painting their skin with strange

 

patterns, as Mackeli did. But they were dark-skinned and dark-haired; this

 

boy's features were pure Silvanesti. Kith-Kanan asked himself why a boy

 

of the pure blood should be out here in the deep forest. Runaway? Member

 

of a lost tribe? He finally imagined a secret forest hideaway, inhabited by

 

outlaws driven from Silvanesti by his grandfather Silvanos's wars of

 

unification. Not everyone had followed the great leader to peace and unity.

 

    Suddenly Kith-Kanan realized that he no longer heard Mackeli's light

 

tread in the carpet of fallen leaves. Halting, he looked ahead, then spied

 

the boy a score of yards away, on his right. Mackeli was kneeling, his

 

head bowed low. A hush had fallen over the already quiet forest.

 

    As he observed the boy, wonderingly, a feeling of utter peace flowed

 

over Kith-Kanan, a peace he'd never known before. All the troubles of

 

recent days were washed away. Then Kith-Kanan turned and saw what

 

had brought this tranquility, what had brought Mackeli to his knees.

 

    Framed by ferns and tree trunks wrapped in flowering vines was a

 

magnificent animal with a single white horn spiraling from its head. A

 

unicornrarest of the rare, more scarce than the gods themselves. The

 

unicorn was snowy white from her small, cloven hooves to the tips of her

 

foaming mane. She radiated a soft light that seemed the essence of peace.

 

Standing on a slight rise of ground, fifteen yards away, her eyes met Kith--

 

Kanan's and touched his soul.

 


 

    The elf prince sank to his knees. He knew he was being granted a rare

 

privilege, a glimpse of a creature thought by many to be only legend.

 

    "Rise, noble warrior." Kith-Kanan raised his head. "Rise, son of

 

Sithel." The voice was deep and melodic. Mackeli, still bowed, gave no

 

sign that he had heard.

 

    Kith-Kanan stood slowly. "You know me, great one?"

 

    "I heard of your coming." So enticing was the majestic creature, he

 

wanted very badly to approach her, to see her more closely, to touch her.

 

Before he could put the thought into action, she said sharply, "Stand where

 

you are! It is not permitted for you to come too near." Kith-Kanan

 

involuntarily took a step back. "Son of Sithel, you have been chosen for an

 

important task. I brought you and the boy Mackeli together, so he could be

 

your guide in the forest. He is a good boy, much skilled in the ways of

 

beast and bird. He will serve you well!"

 

    "What do you wish me to do?" Kith-Kanan asked with sudden

 

humility.

 

    The unicorn tossed her head, sending pearly waves of mane cascading

 

along her neck. "This deep forest is the oldest in the land. It was here that

 

leaf and limb, animal and bird first lived. The spirits of the land are strong

 

here, but they are vulnerable, too. For five thousand risings of the sun

 

special ones have lived in the forest, protecting it from despoilers. Now a

 

band of interlopers has come to this land, bringing fire and death with

 

them. The spirits of the old forest cry out for help to me, and I have found

 

you as the answer. You are the fated one, the one who carries iron. You

 

must drive the despoilers out, son of Sithel."

 


 

    At that moment, Kith-Kanan would have fought armies of dragons

 

had the unicorn but asked. "Where will I find these interlopers?" he said,

 

his hand coming to the pommel of his sword.

 

    The unicorn took a step backward. "There is another, who lives with

 

the boy. Together, you three shall cleanse the forest."

 

    The unicorn took another step backward, and the forest itself seemed

 

to close around her. Her alabaster aura shone briefly, and then she was

 

gone, vanished into the secret depths of the greenwood.

 

    After a few seconds Kith-Kanan recovered himself and ran to

 

Mackeli. When he touched the boy's shoulder, Mackeli shook himself as if

 

coming out of a trance.

 

    "Where is the Forestmaster?" he whispered.

 

    "Gone," said Kith-Kanan regretfully. "She spoke to me!"

 

    A look of awe spread over Mackeli's sharp face. "You are greatly

 

favored, outlander! What did the Forestmaster say?"

 

    "You didn't hear?" Mackeli shook his head. Apparently the unicorn's

 

message was for him alone. He wondered how much to tell the boy and

 

finally decided to keep his own counsel.

 

    "You are to take me to your camp," he said firmly. "I will need to

 

learn everything you know about living in the woods."

 

    "That I will gladly teach you," Mackeli said. He shivered with

 

excitement. "In all my life, I have never seen the Forestmaster! There were

 

times I sensed her passing, but never have I been so close!" He grasped

 

Kith-Kanan's hand. "Come! Let's hurry. I can't wait to tell Ny about this!"

 

    Kith-Kanan glanced at the spot where the Forestmaster had stood.

 

Flowers had burst up where her hooves had touched the ground. Before he

 


 

could react, Mackeli had jerked him into motion. At breakneck speed, the

 

sure-footed boy drew Kith-Kanan deeper into the forest. The undergrowth

 

got thicker, the trees larger and closer together, yet Mackeli never faltered.

 

At times he and Kith-Kanan had to wriggle through gaps in the trees so

 

tight and low they had to go on hands and knees.

 

         Just before sunset, when the crickets had begun to sing, Mackeli

 

reached a large clearing and stopped.

 

         "We are home," said the boy.

 

         Kith-Kanan went to the center of the open space, more than forty

 

paces across, and turned a circle on one heel. "What home?" he asked.

 

         Mackeli grinned, the effect weirdly emphasized by the red lines of

 

paint dabbed on his cheeks. Jauntily he walked forward to the base of a

 

truly massive oak. He grasped at a patch of relatively smooth bark and

 

pulled. A door opened in the trunk of the tree, a door made from a curving

 

section of oak bark. Beyond the open door was a dark space. Mackeli

 

waved to Kith-Kanan.

 

         "Come in. This is home," the boy said as he stepped into the hollow

 

tree.

 

         Kith-Kanan had to duck to clear the low opening. It smelled like

 

wood and spice inside, pleasant but strange to his city-bred nose. It was so

 

black he could barely make out the dim curve of the wooden walls. Of

 

Mackeli he could see nothing.

 

         And then the boy's hand touched his, and Kith-Kanan flinched like a

 

frightened child. "Light a candle or a lamp, will you?" he said,

 

embarrassed.

 

         "Do what?"

 


 

     "Light anever mind. Can you make a fire, Mackeli? I can't see a

 

thing in here."

 

     "Only Ny can make fire."

 

     "Is Ny here?"

 

     "No. Gone hunting, I think."

 

     Kith-Kanan groped his way along the wall. 'Where does Ny build his

 

fires?" he asked.

 

     "Here." Mackeli led him to the center of the room. Kith-Kanan's foot

 

bumped a low hearth made of rocks plastered together with mud. He

 

squatted down and felt the ashes. Stone cold. No one had used it in quite a

 

while.

 

     "If you get me some kindling, I'll make a fire," he offered.

 

     "Only Ny can make fire," Mackeli repeated doubtfully.

 

     "Well, I may not be the stealthiest tracker or the best forester, but, by

 

Astarin, I can make fire!"

 

     They went back out and gathered armfuls of windblown twigs and

 

small, dead branches. A weak bit of light cut into the hollow tree through

 

the open door as Kith-Kanan arranged the dry sticks in a cone over a heap

 

of bark and shavings he had whittled off with his dagger. He took out his

 

flint and striker from the pouch at his waist. Leaning on his knees on the

 

stone hearth, he nicked the flint against the roughened iron striker. Sparks

 

fell on the tinder, and he blew gently on them. In a few minutes he had a

 

weak flicker of flame and not long after that, a crackling fire.

 

     "Well, boy, what do you think of that?" the prince asked Mackeli.

 

     Instead of being impressed, Mackeli shook his head. "Ny's not going

 

to like this."

 


 

    Lightened by the fire, the interior of the hollow tree was finally

 

visible to Kith-Kanan. The room was quite large, five paces wide, and a

 

ladder led up through a hole to the upper branches and the outside of the

 

tree. Smoke from the fire also went out through this hole. The walls were

 

decorated with the skulls of animalsrabbit, squirrel, a fierce-looking

 

boar with upthrust tusks, a magnificent eight-point buck, plus a host of

 

bird skulls Kith-Kanan could not identify. Mackeli explained that

 

whenever Ny killed an animal not killed before, the skull was cleaned and

 

mounted on a peg on the wall. That way the spirit of the dead beast was

 

propitiated and the god of the forest, the Blue Phoenix, would grant

 

success to future hunts.

 

    "Which of these did you kill?" Kith-Kanan asked.

 

    "It is not permitted for me to shed the blood of animals. That's Ny's

 

work." The elf boy slipped back his hood. "I talk to the animals and listen

 

to what they say. I do not shed their blood."

 

    Kith-Kanan sat down on a pallet filled with moss. He was weary and

 

dirty and very hungry. Mackeli fidgeted about, giving the prince frequent

 

looks of displeasure. Eventually, Kith-Kanan asked Mackeli what was

 

wrong.

 

    "That's Ny's place. You must not sit there," the boy said irritatedly.

 

    Kith-Kanan heaved himself off. "This Ny has more privileges than the

 

Speaker of the Stars," he said, exasperation clearing his voice. "May I sit

 

here?" He indicated the floor of the hollow tree, which was covered with

 

pine needles. Mackeli nodded.

 

    Soon after that exchange, Kith-Kanan asked for something to eat. The

 

elf boy scampered up the ladder and, leaning out to the center of the

 


 

hollow space, pushed aside various gourds and skin bags that hung by

 

thongs from the ceiling. He found the one he wanted and brought it down.

 

Sitting cross-legged beside Kith-Kanan, Mackeli bade the prince hold out

 

his hands. He did, and the boy filled them with roasted wild chestnuts,

 

neatly peeled.

 

    "Do you have any meat?" Kith-Kanan asked.

 

    "Only Ny eats meat."

 

    The prince was getting tired of the litany of things only Ny could do.

 

Too tired, in fact, to dispute with the boy, Kith-Kanan ate chestnuts in

 

silence. He was grateful for whatever he could get.

 

    "Do you know," he said at last, "you've never asked me my name?"

 

    Mackeli shrugged. "I didn't think you had one."

 

    "Of course I have a name!" The elf boy rubbed his nose, getting

 

yellow paint on his fingers. "My name is Kith," the prince said, since

 

Mackeli obviously wasn't going to ask.

 

    Mackeli shook more chestnuts into his paint-stained palm. "That's a

 

funny name," he noted and popped a chestnut into his mouth.

 


 

                                     5

 

                            Five Weeks Later

 

 

 

 

    "Lady Nerakina, wife of the Speaker," annnounced the maidservant.

 

Hermathya looked up from her mirror and nodded. The servant opened the

 

door.

 

    "Time is short, Lady," Nirakina cautioned as she entered.

 

    "I know." Hermathya stood motionless in the center of a maelstrom of

 

activity. Servants, dressmakers, and perfumers dodged and weaved around

 

her, each trying to make final, finishing touches before the wedding

 

ceremony began.

 

    "You look beautiful," Nirakina said, and she was not merely being

 

polite to her daughter-to-be. The finest creators of beauty in Silvanost had

 

labored for weeks to make Hermathya's wedding gown and to compound

 

the special oils and perfumes that would be hers alone.

 

    The gown was in two parts. The first was an overdress in sheerest

 

linen, too light to be worn alone and maintain modesty. Beneath this,

 

Hermathya was wrapped in a single swath of golden cloth, many yards

 

long. Six members of the Seamstress Guild had begun the winding

 

Hermathya wore at her neck. A huge drum of gold was slowly wound

 

around her, closely over her breasts and torso, more loosely over hips and

 

legs. She had been forced to stand with her arms raised for two hours

 

while the elf women worked.

 


 

    Her feet were covered by sandals made from a single sheet of gold,

 

beaten so thin it felt and flexed like the most supple leather. Golden laces

 

crisscrossed her legs from ankle to knee, securing the sandals.

 

    The elf's hair and face had been worked over, too. Gone were the

 

maidenly braids framing her face. Her coppery hair was waved, then

 

spread around her shoulders. In the elven custom, it was the husband who

 

gave his new wife the first of the clasps with which she would ever after

 

bind her tresses.

 

    The bride's skin was smoothed of every roughness or blemish with

 

aromatic oils and bone-thin soapstone. Her nails were polished and gilded,

 

and her lips were painted golden. As befitted her noble rank and wealthy

 

family, Hermathya wore sixteen braceletsten on her right arm and six on

 

her left. These were all gifts from her parents, her siblings, and her female

 

friends.

 

    "That's enough," Nirakina said to the agitated servants. "Leave us."

 

With much bowing and flourishing, the mob funneled out the doors of the

 

Hall of Balif. "All of you," said the speaker's wife. The regular palace

 

servants withdrew, closing the doors behind them.

 

    "So much work for such a brief ceremony," Hermathya said. She

 

turned ever so slowly, so as not to disturb her hair or gown. "Is this as

 

great as your wedding, Lady?"

 

    "Greater. Sithel and I were married during the Second Dragon War,

 

when there was no time or gold to spare on fancy things. We didn't know

 

then if we'd be alive in a year, much less know if we'd have an heir to see

 

married."

 

    "I have heard stories of those times. It must have been terrible."

 


 

    "The times make those who live in them," Nirakina said evenly. Her

 

own dress, as the speaker's wife and mother of the groom, was quite

 

conservativewhite silk embroidered in silver and gold with the arms of

 

House Royal. But with her honey-brown hair and liquid eyes she had a

 

serene beauty all her own.

 

    There was a loud, very masculine knock at the door. Nirakina said

 

calmly, "Come in."

 

    A splendidly attired warrior entered the hall. His armor was burnished

 

until it was almost painful to look at. Scarlet plumes rose from his helmet.

 

His scabbard was emptythe ceremony was one of peace, so no weapons

 

were allowedbut his fierce martial splendor was no less imposing.

 

    "My ladies," announced the warrior, "I am Kencathedrus, chosen by

 

Lord Sithas to escort you to the Tower of the Stars."

 

    "I know you, Kencathedrus," replied Nirakina. "You trained Prince

 

Kith-Kanan in the warrior arts, did you not?"

 

    "I did, my lady."

 

    Hermathya was glad she was facing away. Mention of Kith-Kanan

 

brought a rush of color to her powdered face. It wasn't so much that she

 

still loved him, she decided. No, she was over that, if she ever did truly

 

love him. But she knew that Kencathedrus, a mere soldier, was performing

 

the duty Kith-Kanan should be doing. To escort the bride was a duty

 

brother owed to brother.

 

    Hermathya composed herself. This was the moment. She turned. "I

 

am ready."

 

    In the corridor outside the Hall of Balif an honor guard of twenty

 

warriors was drawn up, and farther down the hall twenty young elf girls

 


 

chosen from the families of the guild masters stood ready to precede the

 

honor guard. And beyond them, filling the other end of the corridor, were

 

twenty elf boys dressed in long, trailing white robes and carrying sistrums.

 

The size of the escort took Hermathya back for a moment. She looked out

 

at the sea of expectant faces. It was rather overwhelming. All these people,

 

and thousands more outside, awaited her. She called upon the core of

 

strength that had carried her through troubles before, put on her most

 

serene expression, and held out her hand. Kencathedrus rested her hand on

 

his armored forearm, and the procession to the Tower of the Stars began.

 

    Nirakina walked three steps behind them, and after her the honor

 

guard fell in with the clank and rattle of armor and metal sandals. The

 

boys led the procession in slow step, banging their sistrums against their

 

hands. To this steady rhythm the elf girls followed, strewing flower petals

 

in the path of the bride.

 

    Outside, the sun was high and bright, and every spire in Silvanost

 

boasted a streaming banner. When Hermathya appeared on the steps of the

 

Palace of Quinari, the assembled crowd let out a shout of greeting.

 

    "What do I do?" Hermathya murmured. "Do I wave?"

 

    "No, that would be vulgar. You must be above it all," said Nirakina

 

softly.

 

    A phalanx of pipers, clad in brilliant green, formed in front of the

 

sistrum-bearing boys and played a bright fanfare. The music settled into a

 

march as the procession wound around the Gardens of Astarin, following

 

the circular road. According to ritual, the bride was first taken to the

 

temple of Quenesti Pah, where she underwent a rite of purification. At the

 

same time, the groom was receiving similar rites in the temple of E'li.

 


 

Then the two came together before the speaker in the Tower of the Stars,

 

where they exchanged golden rings shaped to resemble twining branches

 

and where their joining was finally accomplished.

 

    The sun shone down from a spring sky unsullied by a single cloud,

 

and the marble buildings glowed in the midst of velvety green foliage. The

 

crowd cheered mightily for the spectacle. Perhaps, Hermathya thought

 

idly, in time they will cheer so for me. . . .

 

    "Careful, Lady," warned Kencathedrus. The flower petals were being

 

trodden to mush, and the road was getting a bit treacherous. Hermathya's

 

golden sandals were stained with the crushed pulp. She lifted the hem of

 

her diaphanous white gown out of the debris.

 

    The squat, conical tower of the Temple of E'li appeared ahead on her

 

right. Hermathya could see Sithas's guard of honor-at least a hundred

 

warriors-drawn up on the. Steps. Just as her own attendants were bedecked

 

in gold and white, so Sithas's attendants wore gold and green. She tried to

 

keep her eyes straight ahead as they passed the temple, but she was drawn

 

irresistibly to look in the open doors. It was dark inside the house of

 

worship, and though she could see torches blazing on the wall, she could

 

see neither Sithas nor anyone else within.

 

    As the bride's entourage rounded the curve, the press of the crowd

 

became greater and the cheering intensified. The shadow cast by the

 

Tower of the Stars fell across the street. It was thought to be good luck to

 

stand in the structure's shadow, so hundreds were crammed into the

 

narrow space.

 

    On a sudden impulse, Hermathya abandoned her distant, serene

 

demeanor and smiled. The cheering increased. She raised her free hand

 


 

and waved, once to the people of Silvanost. A roar went up such as the

 

'City had never heard, a roar that excited her.

 

    In the Temple of E'li, Sithas heard the roar. He was kneeling before

 

the high priest, about to be anointed with sacred oils. He raised his head

 

slightly and turned one ear toward the sound. The warrior who knelt

 

behind him whispered, "$ball I see what is thematter, Lord?"

 

    "No" replied Sithas levelly. "I believe the people have just met the

 

bride."

 

                                    *   *   *   *   *

 

    The Temple of Quenesti Pah, goddess of health and fertility, was a

 

1ight, airy vault with a roof of transparent tortoiseshell. There was no

 

great central tower, as in most of the other temples. Instead, four thin

 

spires rose from the comers of the roof, solid columns of rock that reached

 

skyward. Though not as imposing as the House of E'li, or as somber as the

 

Temple of Matheti, Mermathya thought the Temple of Quenesti Pah the

 

prettiest building in Silvanost.

 

    The pipers, sistrum players, and flower girls all turned aside and

 

flanked the entrance to the temple. The honor guard halted at the foot of

 

the steps.

 

    Nirakina stepped up beside Hermathya. "If you have finished

 

performing for the crowd, we will go in." In her tone couldbe detected a

 

sharpness, and Hermathya hid a smile. Without replying, Hermathya gave

 

the crowd one last wave before she entered the temple.

 

    Nirakina watched her ascend the steps. She was really trying to get

 

along with the girl, but every passing moment added to her irritation. For

 


 

Sithas's sake, she wanted the marriage to be a success, but her

 

overwhelming feeling was that Hermathya was a spoiled child.

 

       Inside, the ritual was brief, consisting of little more than prayers and

 

the washing of Hermathya's hands in scented water. Nirakina hovered over

 

her, her distaste for the younger woman's behavior just barely concealed.

 

But Hermathya had understood Nirakina's annoyance, and she found that

 

she enjoyed it. It added to her sense of excitement.

 

       The ritual done, the bride rose to her feet and thanked Miritelisina, the

 

high priestess. Then, without waiting for Nirakina, she walked swiftly

 

from the temple. The crowd was waiting breathlessly for her reappearance,

 

and Hermathya did not disappoint them. A thunder of approval built from

 

the back of the crowd, where the poorest elves stood. She flashed them a

 

smile, then moved with quick grace down to Kencathedrus. Nirakina

 

hurried after her, looking harassed and undignified.

 

       The procession reformed, and the pipers played "Children of the

 

Stars," the ancient tune that every elf knew from childhood. Even

 

Hermathya was surprised, however, when the people began to sing along

 

with the pipers.

 

       She slowed her pace and gradually stopped. The procession strung out

 

until the pipers in the fore realized that those behind had halted. The music

 

swelled higher and louder until Harmathya felt that she was being lifted by

 

it.

 

       With little prelude, the bride sang. At her side, Kencathedrus looked

 

at her in wonder. He glanced over his armored shoulder to Lady Nirakina,

 

who stood silent and straight, arms held rigidly at her sides. Her

 

voluminous sleeves covered her tightly clenched fists.

 


 

    Some in the crowd ceased their own singing that they might hear the

 

bride. But as the last verse of the song began, they all joined in; once more

 

the sound threatened to raise the city from its foundations. When the last

 

words of "Children of the Stars" faded in the throats of thousands, silence

 

fell over Silvanost. The silence seemed more intense because of the tumult

 

earlier. Everyone assembled in the street, every elf on rooftops and in

 

tower windows had his or her eyes on Hermathya.

 

    Casually the bride took her hand from Kencathedrus's arm and walked

 

through the procession toward the Tower of the Stars. The flower girls and

 

sistrum-bearers parted in complete silence. Hermathya walked with calm

 

grace through the ranks of the pipers. They stood aside, their silver flutes

 

stilled. Up the steps of the Tower of the Stars she moved, appearing in the

 

doorway alone.

 

    Sithas stood in the center of the hall, waiting. With much less fanfare,

 

he had come from the Temple of E'li with his retainers. Farther inside,

 

Sithel sat on his throne. The golden mantle that lay on the speaker's

 

shoulders spread out on the floor before him, trailing down the two steps

 

of the dais, across the platform and down the seven steps to where Sithas

 

stood. In front of the throne dais was an ornate and intricately carved

 

golden tray on a silver stand. On the tray rested the golden rings the

 

couple would exchange.

 

    Hermathya came forward. The silence continued as if the entire elven

 

nation was holding its breath. Part of the sensation was awe, and part was

 

amazement. The bride of the speaker's heir had broken several traditions

 

on her way to the tower. The royal family had always maintained an

 


 

aloofness, an air of unbreachable dignity. Hermathya had flaunted herself

 

before the crowd, yet the people of Silvanost seemed to love her for it.

 

    Sithas wore ceremonial armor over his robe of gold. The skillfully

 

worked breastplate and shoulder pieces were enameled in vibrant green.

 

Though the cuirass bore the arms of Silvanos, Sithas had attached a small

 

red rosebud to his sleeve, a small but potent symbol of his devotion to his

 

patron deity.

 

    When Hermathya drew near, he said teasingly, "Well, my dear, has

 

the celebration ended?"

 

    "No," she said, smiling sweetly. "It has just begun."

 

    Hand in hand, they went before Sithel.

 

                                   *   *   *   *   *

 

    The feasting that began that evening continued for four days. It grew

 

quite wearing on the newlyweds, and after the second day they retired to

 

the fifth floor of the Quinari tower, which had been redecorated as their

 

living quarters. At night, Hermathya and Sithas stood on their balcony

 

overlooking the heart of the city and watched the revelries below.

 

    "Do you suppose anyone remembers what the celebration is for?"

 

asked Hermathya.

 

    "They don't tonight. They will tomorrow," Sithas said forcefully.

 

    Yet he found it difficult being alone with her. She was so much a

 

stranger to himand always, in the back of his mind, he wondered if she

 

compared him to Kith-Kanan. Though they were nearly identical in looks,

 

Sithel's heir knew that he and his brother were worlds apart in

 

temperament. Sithas grasped the balcony rail tightly. For the first time in

 

his life he was at a loss as to what to do or say.

 


 

    "Are you happy?" Hermathya asked after a long, mutual silence.

 

    "I am content," he said carefully.

 

    "Will you ever be happy?" she asked coyly.

 

    Sithas turned to his wife and said, "I will endeavor to try."

 

    "Do you miss Kith-Kanan?"

 

    The calm golden eyes clouded for a moment. "Yes, I miss him. Do

 

you, Lady?"

 

    Hermathya touched the starjewel she wore pinned to the throat of her

 

gown. Slowly she leaned against the prince and slipped an arm about his

 

waist. "No, I don't miss him," she said a little too strongly.

 


 

                                      6

 

                        The Same Day, in the Forest

 

 

 

 

    Shorn of his armor and city-made clothes, Kith-Kanan padded

 

through the forest in a close-fitting deerskin tunic and leggings such as

 

Mackeli wore. He was trying to circle Mackeli's house without the boy

 

hearing him.

 

    "You're by the gray elm," Mackeli's voice sang out. And so

 

Kith-Kanan was. Try as he might, he still made too much noise. The boy

 

might keep his eyes closed so he wouldn't see the heat of Kith-Kanan's

 

body, but Mackeli's keen ears were never fooled.

 

    Kith-Kanan doubled back six feet and dropped down on his hands.

 

There was no sound in the woods. Mackeli called, "You can't steal up on

 

anyone by sitting still."

 

    The prince stepped only on the tree roots that humped up above the

 

level of the fallen leaves. In this way he went ten paces without making a

 

sound. Mackeli said nothing, and the prince grinned to himself. The boy

 

couldn't hear him! At last.

 

    He stepped far out from a root to a flat stone. The stone was tall

 

enough to allow him to reach a low limb on a yew tree. As silently as

 

possible, he pulled himself up into the yew tree, hugging the trunk. His

 

green and brown tunic blended well with the lichen-spotted bark. A hood

 

concealed his fair hair. Immobile, he waited. He'd surprise the boy this

 

time!

 


 

    Any second now, Mackeli would walk by and then he'd spring down

 

on him. But something firm thumped against his hood. Kith-Kanan raised

 

his eyes and saw Mackeli, clinging to the tree just three feet above him.

 

He nearly fell off the branch, so great was his surprise.

 

    "By the Dragonqueen!" he swore. "How did you get up there?"

 

    "I climbed," said Mackeli smugly.

 

    "But how? I never saw"

 

    "Walking on the roots was good, Kith, but you spent so much time

 

watching your feet I was able to slip in front of you."

 

    "But this tree! How did you know which one to climb?"

 

    Mackeli shrugged his narrow shoulders. "I made it easy for you. I

 

pushed the stone out far enough for you to step on and climbed up here to

 

wait. You did the rest."

 

    Kith-Kanan swung down to the ground. "I feel like a fool. Why, your

 

average goblin is probably better in the woods than I am."

 

    Mackeli let go of the tree and fell in a graceful arc. He caught the low

 

branch with his fingertips to slow his descent. Knees bent, he landed

 

beside Kith-Kanan.

 

    "You are pretty clumsy," he said without malice. "But you don't smell

 

as bad as a goblin."

 

    "My thanks." said the prince sourly.

 

    "It's really just a matter of breathing."

 

    "Breathing? How?"

 

    "You breathe like this." Mackeli threw back his shoulders and puffed

 

out his thin chest. He inhaled and exhaled like a blacksmith's bellows. The

 

sight was so absurd, Kith-Kanan had to smile. "Then you walk the way

 


 

you breathe." The boy stomped about exaggeratedly, lifting his feet high

 

and crashing them into the scattered leaves and twigs.

 

    Kith-Kanan's smile flattened into a frown. "How do you breathe?" he

 

asked.

 

    Mackeli rooted about at the base of the tree until he found a cast-off

 

feather. He lay on his back and placed it on his upper lip. So smoothly did

 

the elf boy draw breath, the feather never wavered.

 

    "Am I going to have to learn how to breathe?" Kith-Kanan demanded.

 

    "It would be a good start," said Mackeli. He hopped to his feet. "We

 

go home now."

 

    Several days passed slowly for Kith-Kanan in the forest. Mackeli was

 

a clever and engaging companion, but his diet of nuts, berries, and water

 

did not agree with the elf prince's tastes. His belly, which was hardly

 

ample to start with, shrank under the simple fare. Kith-Kanan longed for

 

meat and nectar. Only Ny could get meat, the boy insisted. Yet there was

 

no sign of the mysterious "Ny."

 

    There was also no sign of the missing Arcuballis. Though Kith-Kanan

 

prayed that somehow they could be reunited, he knew there was little hope

 

for this. With no idea where the griffon had been taken and no way of

 

finding out, the prince tried to accept that Arcuballis was gone forever.

 

The griffon, a tangible link with his old life, was gone, but Kith-Kanan

 

still had his memories.

 

    These same memories returned to torment the prince in his dreams

 

during those days. He heard once more his father announce Hermathya's

 

betrothal to Sithas. He relived the ordeal in the Tower of the Stars, and,

 

most terrible of all, he listened to Hermathya's calm acceptance of Sithas.

 


 

Kith-Kanan filled his days talking with and learning from Mackeli,

 

determined to build a new life away from Silvanost. Perhaps that life

 

would be here, he decided, in the peace and solitude of the ancient forest.

 

    One time Kith-Kanan asked Mackeli where he'd been born, where

 

he'd come from.

 

    "I have always been from here," Mackeli replied, waving absently at

 

the trees.

 

    "You were born here?"

 

    "I have always been here," he replied stubbornly.

 

    At that, Kith-Kanan gave up. Questions about the past stymied the

 

boy almost as much as queries about the future. If he stuck to the

 

presentand whatever they were doing at the momenthe could almost

 

have a conversation with Mackeli.

 

    In return for Mackeli's lessons in stealth and survival, Kith-Kanan

 

regaled his young friend with tales of Silvanost, of the great wars against

 

the dragons, and of the ways of city-bred elves.

 

    Mackeli loved these stories, but more than anything, metal fascinated

 

him. He would sit cross-legged on the ground and hold some object of

 

Kith-Kanan'shis helmet, a greave, a piece from his armorand rub his

 

small brown fingers against the cold surface again and again. He could not

 

fathom how such hard material could be shaped so intricately. Kith-Kanan

 

explained what he knew of smithy and foundry work. The idea that metal

 

could be melted and poured absolutely astounded Mackeli.

 

    "You put metal in the fire," he said, "and it doesn't burn? It gets soft

 

and runny, like water?"

 

    "Well, it's thicker than water."

 


 

    "Then you take away the fire, and the metal gets hard again?"

 

Kith-Kanan nodded. "You made that up!" Mackeli exclaimed. "Things put

 

in the fire get burned."

 

    "I swear by E'li, it is the truth."

 

    Mackeli was too slight to handle the sword, but he was able to draw

 

the bow well enough to shoot. He had an uncanny eye, and Kith-Kanan

 

wished he would use some of that stealth to bring down a deer for dinner.

 

But it was not to be; Mackeli didn't eat meat and he refused to shed blood

 

for Kith-Kanan. Only Ny . . .

 

    On a gray and rainy morning, Mackeli went out to gather nuts and

 

roots. Kith-Kanan remained in the hollow tree, stoking the fire, polishing

 

his sword and dagger. When the rain showed signs of letting up, he left his

 

weapons below and climbed the ladder to the upper part of the oak tree.

 

He stood on a branch thicker around than his waist and surveyed the

 

rain-washed forest. Drops fell from the verdant leaves, and the air had a

 

clean, fertile smell. Deeply the prince inhaled. He had found a small

 

measure of peace here, and the meeting with the Forestmaster had foretold

 

great adventure for his future.

 

    Kith-Kanan went back down and immediately noticed that his sword

 

and dagger were gone. His first thought was that Mackeli had come back

 

and was playing a trick on him, but the prince saw no signs the boy had

 

returned. He turned around and was going back up the tree when

 

something heavy struck him from behind, in the middle of his back.

 

    He crashed against the trunk, spun, and saw nothing. "Mackeli!" he

 

cried, "This isn't funny!" Neither was the blow on the back of his head that

 

followed. A weight bore Kith-Kanan to the ground. He rolled and felt

 


 

arms and legs around him. Something black and shiny flashed by his nose.

 

He knew the move of a stabbing attack, and he put out both hands to seize

 

the attacker's wrist.

 

    His assailant's face was little more than a whorl of painted lines and a

 

pair of shadowed eyes. The flint knife wavered, and as Kith-Kanan

 

backhanded the knife wielder, the painted face let out a gasp of pain.

 

Kith-Kanan sat up, wrenched the knife out of its owner's grasp, and pinned

 

his attacker to the ground with one knee.

 

    "The kill is yours," said the attacker. His struggles faded, and he lay

 

tense but passive under Kith-Kanan's weight.

 

    Kith-Kanan threw the knife away and stood up. "Who are you?"

 

    "The one who is here. Who are you?" the painted elf said sharply.

 

    "I am Kith, formerly of Silvanost. Why did you attack me?"

 

    "You are in my house."

 

    Understanding quickly dawned. "Are you Ny?"

 

    "The name of my birth was Anaya." There was cool assurance in the

 

voice.

 

    He frowned. "That sounds like a female name."

 

    Anaya got up and kept a discreet distance from Kith-Kanan. He

 

realized she was a female elf of the Kagonesti race. Her black hair was cut

 

close to her head, except in back, where she wore a long braid. Anaya was

 

shorter than Kith-Kanan by a head, and much slimmer. Her green-dyed

 

deerskin tunic ended at her hips, leaving her legs bare. Like her face, her

 

legs were covered with painted lines and decorations.

 

    Her dark, hazel eyes darted left and right. "Where is Mackeli?"

 

    "Out gathering nuts, I think," he said, watching her keenly.

 


 

    "Why did you come here?"

 

    "The Forestmaster sent me," the prince stated flatly.

 

      In less time than it takes to tell, Anaya bolted from the clearing. She

 

ran to an oak tree and, to Kith-Kanan's astonishment, ran right up the

 

broad trunk. She caught an overhead limb and swung into the midst of the

 

leaves. Gaping, he made a few flatfooted steps forward, but the wild elf

 

was completely lost from view.

 

    "Anaya! Come back! I am a friend! The Forestmaster"

 

    "I will ask the Master if it is so." Her clear, high voice came from

 

somewhere above his line of sight. "If you speak the truth, I will return. If

 

you say the Master's name in vain, I will call down the Black Crawlers on

 

you."

 

    "What?" Kith-Kanan spun around, looking up, trying to locate her. He

 

could see nothing. "Who are the Black Crawlers?" But there was no

 

answer, only the sighing of the wind through the leaves.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    Night fell, and neither Mackeli nor Anaya had returned. Kith-Kanan

 

began to fear that something might have happened to the boy. There were

 

interlopers in the forest, the Forestmaster had said. Mackeli was clever,

 

but he was innocent of the ways of ambush and murder. If the boy was in

 

their hands . . . and Anaya. There was a strange creature! If he hadn't

 

actually fought with her, felt the solidness of her flesh, he would have

 

called her a wraith, a forest spirit. But the bruise on his jaw was

 

undeniably real.

 

    Growing tired of the closeness of the hollow tree, the prince cleared a

 

spot in the leaves to build a fire outside. He scraped down to bare soil and

 


 

laid some stones for a hearth. Soon he had a fine fire blazing. The smoke

 

wafted into the darkness, and sparks floated up, winking off like dying

 

stars.

 

     Though it was summer, Kith-Kanan felt a chill. He held his hands out

 

to the fire, warming them. Crickets whirred in the dark beyond the

 

firelight. Cicadas stirred in the trees, and bats swooped into the clearing to

 

catch them. Suddenly the prince felt as if he was in the center of a

 

seething, crawling pot. His eyes flicked back and forth, following odd

 

rustlings and scrapings in the dry leaves. Things fluttered overhead,

 

slithered behind his back. He grasped the unburned end of a stick of wood

 

and pulled it out of the fire. Dark things seemed to leap back into the

 

shadows when Kith-Kanan brought the burning torch near.

 

     He stood with his back to the fire, breathing hard. With the blazing

 

brand before him like a noble blade, the elf kept the darkness at bay.

 

Gradually the incessant activity lessened. By the time Solinari rose above

 

the trees, all was still.

 

     After throwing the stump of the burned limb back on the dying fire,

 

Kith-Kanan sat down again and faced the red coals. Like a thousand

 

lonely travelers before him, the prince whistled a tune to keep the

 

loneliness away. It was a tune from his childhood:  "Children of the Stars."

 

     The chorus died when his lips went dry. He saw something that froze

 

him completely. Between the black columns of two tree trunks were a pair

 

of red staring eyes.

 

     He tried to think what it could be. The possibilities were not good:

 

wolf, bear, a tawny panther. The two eyes blinked and disappeared.

 

Kith-Kanan jumped to his feet and snatched up a stone from the outside

 


 

edge of his campfire. He hurled it at the spot where he'd last seen the eyes.

 

The rock crashed into the underbrush. There was no other sound, Even the

 

crickets had ceased their singing.

 

    Then Kith-Kanan sensed he was being watched and turned to the

 

right. The red eyes were back, creeping forward a foot or so off the

 

ground, right toward him.

 

    Darkness is the enemy, he suddenly realized. Whatever I can see, I

 

can fight. Scooping up a double handful of dead leaves, he threw them on

 

the embers of the fire. Flames blazed up. He immediately saw a long, lean

 

body close to the ground. The advance of the red eyes stopped, and

 

suddenly they rose from the ground.

 

    It was Anaya.

 

    "I have spoken with the Forestmaster," she said a little sulkily, her

 

eyes glowing red in the light from the flames. "You said the truth." Anaya

 

walked sideways a few steps, never taking her eyes off Kith-Kanan.

 

Despite this good news, he felt that she was about to spring on him. She

 

dropped down on her haunches and looked into the fire. The leaves were

 

consumed, and their remains sank onto the heap of dully glowing ashes.

 

    "It is wise you laid a fire," she said. "I called the Black Crawlers to

 

watch over you while I spoke with the Forestmaster."

 

    He straightened his shoulders with studied nonchalance. "Who are the

 

Black Crawlers?"

 

    "I will show you." Anaya picked up a dead dry branch and held it to

 

the coals. It smoked heavily for an instant, then burst into flame. She

 

carried the burning branch to the line of trees defining the clearing.

 


 

Kith-Kanan lost his hard-won composure when Anaya showed him what

 

was waiting beyond the light.

 

    Every tree trunk, every branch, every square inch of ground was

 

covered with black, creeping things. Crickets, millipedes, leaf hoppers,

 

spiders of every sort and size, earwigs, pill bugs, beetles up to the size of

 

his fist, cockroaches, caterpillars, moths, flies of the largest sort,

 

grasshoppers, cicadas with soft, pulpy bodies and gauzy wings . . .

 

stretching as far as he could see, coating every surface. The horde was

 

motionless, waiting.

 

    Anaya returned to the fire. Kith-Kanan was white-faced with

 

revulsion. "What sort of witch are you?" he gasped. "You command all

 

these vermin?"

 

    "I am no witch. This forest is my home, and I guard it closely. The

 

Black Crawlers share the woodland with me. I gave them warning when I

 

left you, and they gathered to keep you under watchful eyes."

 

    "Now that you know who I am, you can send them away," he said.

 

    "They have already departed. Could you not hear them go?" she

 

scoffed.

 

    "No, I couldn't." Kith-Kanan glanced around at the dark forest,

 

blotting sweat from his face with his sleeve. He focussed his attention on

 

the fascinating elf woman and blotted out the memory of the Crawlers.

 

With her painted decorations, grime, and dyed deerskin, Kith-Kanan

 

wasn't sure how old Anaya might be, or even what she really looked like.

 

She perched on her haunches, balancing on her toes. Kith-Kanan fed some

 

twigs to the fire, and the scene slowly lightened.

 


 

    "The Forestmaster says you are here to drive away the intruders,"

 

Anaya said. "I have heard them, smelled them, seen the destruction they

 

have caused. Though I have never doubted the word of the great unicorn, I

 

do not see how you can drive anyone away. You are no ranger; you smell

 

of a place where people are many and trees few."

 

    Kith-Kanan was tired of the Kagonesti's casual rudeness. He excused

 

it in Mackeli, who was only a boy, but it was too much coming from this

 

wild woman.

 

    "I am a prince of House Royal," he said proudly. "I am trained in the

 

arts of the warrior. I don't know who or how many of these intruders there

 

are, but I will do my best to find a way to get rid of them. You need not

 

like me, Anaya, but you had better not insult me too often." He leaned

 

back on his elbows. "After all, who wrestled whom to the ground?"

 

    She poked the dancing bowl of flames. "I let you take my knife

 

away," she said defensively.

 

    Kith-Kanan sat up. "You what?"

 

    "You seemed such a clumsy outlander, I did not think you were

 

dangerous. I let you get the advantage to see what you would do. You

 

could not have cut my throat with that flint blade. It was dull as a cow's

 

tooth."

 

    Despite his annoyance, Kith-Kanan found himself smiling. "You

 

wanted to see if I was merciful, is that it?"

 

    "That was my purpose," she said.

 

    "So I guess I really am a slow, dumb outlander," he said.

 

    "There is power in your limbs," she admitted, "but you fight like a

 

falling stone."

 


 

    "And I don't breathe properly either." Kith-Kanan was beginning to

 

wonder how he had ever lived to the age of ninety, being so inept.

 

    Mentioning breathing reminded the prince of Mackeli, and he told

 

Anaya the boy still hadn't returned.

 

    "Keli has stayed away longer than this before," she said, waving a

 

hand dismissively.

 

    Though still concerned, Kith-Kanan realized that Anaya knew

 

Mackeli's ways far better than he did. The prince's stomach chose that

 

moment to growl, and he rubbed it, his face coloring with embarrassment.

 

    "You know, I am very hungry," he informed her.

 

    Without a word, Anaya went inside the hollow oak. She returned a

 

moment later with a section of smoked venison ribs wrapped in curled

 

pieces of bark. Kith-Kanan shook his head; he wondered where those had

 

been hiding all these weeks.

 

    Anaya dropped down by the fire, in her characteristic crouch, and

 

slipped a slender flint blade out of her belt pouch. With deft, easy strokes,

 

she cut the ribs apart and began eating.

 

    "May I have some?" the prince inquired desperately. She promptly

 

flung two ribs at him through the fire. Kith-Kanan knew nicety of manner

 

was lost on the Kagonesti, and the sight of the meat made his mouth water.

 

He picked up a rib from his lap and nibbled it. The meat was hard and

 

tangy, but very good. While he nibbled, Anaya gnawed. She cleaned rib

 

bones faster than anyone he'd ever seen.

 

    "Thank you," he said earnestly.

 

    "You should not thank me. Now that you have eaten my meat, it is for

 

you to do as I say," she replied firmly.

 


 

    "What are you talking about?" he said, frowning. "A prince of the

 

Silvanesti serves no one but the speaker and the gods."

 

    Anaya dropped the clean bones in the fire. "You are not in the Place

 

of Spires any longer. This is the wildwood, and the first law here is, you

 

eat what you take with your own hands. That makes you free. If you eat

 

what others give you, you are not a free person; you are a mewling child

 

who must be fed."

 

    Kith-Kanan got stiffly to his feet. "I have sworn to help the

 

Forestmaster, but by the blood of E'li, I'll not be anyone's servant!

 

Especially not some dirty, painted savage!"

 

    "Being a prince does not matter. The law will be done. Feed yourself,

 

or obey me. Those are your choices," she said flatly.

 

    Anaya walked to the tree. Kith-Kanan grabbed her by the arm and

 

spun her around. "What have you done with my sword and dagger?" he

 

demanded.

 

    "Metal stinks." Anaya jerked her arm free. "It is not permitted for me

 

to touch it. I wrapped a scrap of hide around your metal and carried it from

 

my house. Do not bring it in again."

 

    He opened his mouth to shout at her, to rail against her unjust

 

treatment of him. But before he could, Anaya went inside the tree. Her

 

voice floated out. "I sleep now. Put out the fire."

 

    When the fire was cold and dead, the prince stood in the door of the

 

tree. "Where do I sleep?" he asked sarcastically.

 

    "Where you can fit," was Anaya's laconic reply. She was curled up by

 

the wall, so Kith-Kanan lay down as far from her as he could, yet still be

 

in the warmth of the tree. Thoughts raced through his head. How to find

 


 

Arcuballis and get out of the forest. How to get away from Anaya. Where

 

Mackeli was. Who the interlopers were.

 

    "Don't think so loud," Anaya said irritatedly. "Go to sleep." With a

 

sigh, Kith-Kanan finally closed his eyes.

 


 

                                       7

 

                     High Summer, Year of the Hawk

 

 

 

 

    Elves from all corners of Silvanesti had come to Silvanost for Trial

 

Days, that period every year when the Speaker of the Stars sat in judgment

 

of disputes, heard the counsel of his nobles and clerics, and generally tried

 

to resolve whatever problems faced his people.

 

    A platform had been built on the steps of the Temple of E'li. Upon it,

 

Sithel sat on a high, padded throne, under a shimmering white canopy. He

 

could survey the entire square. Sithas stood behind him, watching and

 

listening. Warriors of the royal guard kept the lines orderly as people

 

made their way slowly up the line to their ruler. Trial Days were

 

sometimes amusing, often irritating, and always, always lengthy.

 

    Sithel was hearing a case where two fishers had disputed a large carp,

 

which hit both of their hooks at the same time. Both elves claimed the fish,

 

which had been caught weeks before and allowed to rot while they

 

debated its ownership.

 

    Sithel announced his judgment. "I declare the fish to be worth two

 

silver pieces. As you own it jointly, you will each pay the other one silver

 

piece for permitting it to spoil."

 

    The gaping fishers would have complained but Sithel forestalled

 

them. "It is so ordered. Let it be done!" The trial scribe struck a bell,

 

signaling the end of the case. The fishers bowed and withdrew.

 


 

    Sithel stood up. The royal guards snapped to attention. "I will take a

 

short rest," he announced. "In my absence, my son, Sithas, will render

 

judgment."

 

    The prince looked to his father in surprise. In a low voice he said,

 

"Are you sure, Father?"

 

    "Wy not? It will give you a taste of the role."

 

    The speaker went to the rear of the platform. He watched Sithas

 

slowly seat himself in the chair of judgment. "Next case," declared his son

 

ringingly.

 

    Sithel ducked through a flap in the cloth wall. There he saw his wife,

 

waiting at a small table laden with food and drink. Snowy white linen

 

walled off this end of the platform on three sides. The rear was open to the

 

temple. The formidable facade loomed over them, fluted columns and

 

walls banded with deep blue, bright rose, and grassy green stone. The heat

 

of midday was upon the city, but a breeze wafted through the canopied

 

enclosure.

 

    Nirakina stood and dismissed a serving boy who had been posted at

 

the table. She poured her husband a tall goblet of nectar. Sithel picked a

 

few grapes from a golden bowl and accepted the goblet.

 

    "How is he doing?" Nirakina asked, gesturing to the front of the

 

platform.

 

    "Well enough. He must get used to rendering decisions." Sithel

 

sipped the amber liquid. "Weren't you and Hermathya attending the debut

 

of Elidan's epic song today?"

 

    "Hermathya pleaded illness and the performance was postponed until

 

tomorrow."

 


 

    "What's wrong with her?" The speaker settled back in his chair.

 

    Nirakina's face clouded. "She would rather visit the Market than

 

remain in the palace. She is proud and willful, Sithel."

 

    "She knows how to get attention, that's certain," her husband said,

 

chuckling. "I hear the crowds follow her in the streets."

 

    Nirakina nodded. "She throws coins and gems to themjust often

 

enough for them to cheer her madly." She leaned forward and put her hand

 

over his where it rested on the goblet. "Sithel, did we make the right

 

choice? So much unhappiness has come about because of this girl. Do you

 

think all will be well?"

 

    Sithel released his grip on the cup and took his wife's hand. "I don't

 

think any harm will come of Hermathya's follies, Kina. She's drunk with

 

acclaim right now, but she will tire of it when she realizes how empty and

 

fleeting the adulation of the mob is. She and Sithas should have children.

 

That would slow her down, give her something else on which to

 

concentrate."

 

    Nirakina tried to smile, though she couldn't help but notice how the

 

speaker had avoided mention of Kith-Kanan at all. Her husband had a

 

strong will. His anger and disappointment were not easily overcome.

 

    The sound of raised voices swelled over the square. Sithel ate a last

 

handful of grapes. "Let's see what disturbs the people," he said.

 

    He stepped around the curtain and walked to the front edge of the

 

platform. The crowd, in its orderly lines, had parted down the center of the

 

square. There, between two lines of soldiers, were twenty to thirty

 

newcomers. They were injured. Some were being carried on litters, others

 

wore blood-stained bandages. The injured elves, male and female,

 


 

approached the foot of the speaker's platform slowly and painfully. Guards

 

moved forward to keep them away, but Sithel ordered that they be allowed

 

to come.

 

    "Who are you?" he asked.

 

    "Great speaker," said a tall elf at the head of the group. His face was

 

sun-browned and his body muscled from outdoor work. His corn-colored

 

hair was ragged and sooty, and a dirty bandage covered most of his right

 

arm. "Great speaker, we are all that is left of the village of Trokali. We

 

have come almost two hundred miles to tell you of our plight."

 

    "What happened?"

 

    "We were a peaceful village, great speaker. We tended our trees and

 

fields and traded with all who came to the market in the town square. But

 

on the night of the last quarter of Lunitari, a band of brigands appeared in

 

Trokali. They set fire to the houses, broke the limbs off our fruit trees,

 

carried off our women and children" Here the elf's voice broke. He

 

paused a moment to master his emotions, then continued. "We are not

 

fighters, great speaker, but the fathers and mothers of Trokali tried to

 

defend what was ours. We had sticks and hoes against swords and arrows.

 

These here," he waved a hand in the direction of the battered group behind

 

him, "are all that live out of a villageof two hundred."

 

    Sithas left the platform and went down the temple steps until he was

 

on the level with the tall elf from Trokali.

 

    "What is your name?" Sithas demanded.

 

    "Tamanier Ambrodel."

 

    "Who were these brigands, Tamanier?"

 

    The elf shook his head sadly. "I do not know, sire."

 


 

    "They were humans!" cried an elf woman with a badly burned face.

 

She pushed her way through the crowd. "I saw them!" she hissed. "They

 

were humans. I saw the hair on their faces!"

 

    "They weren't all human," Tamanier said sharply. He raised his

 

wounded arm. "The one who cut me was Kagonesti!"

 

    "Kagonesti and humans in the same band?" Sithas said in

 

consternation. Murmurs surged through the crowd. He turned to look up at

 

his father.

 

    Sithel held up his hands. The scribe had to strike his bell four times

 

before the crowd was quiet. "This matter requires further attention," he

 

proclaimed. "My son will remain here for the trials, while I will conduct

 

the people of Trokali to the Palace of Quinari, where each shall give

 

testimony."

 

    Sithas bowed deeply to his father as an escort of twelve warriors

 

formed in the square to convey the survivors of Trokali to the palace. The

 

lame and sick made it a slow and difficult procession, but Tamanier

 

Ambrodel led his people with great dignity.

 

    Sithel descended the steps of the Temple of E'li, with Nirakina by his

 

side. Courtiers scrambled to keep pace with the speaker's quick stride. The

 

murmuring in the square grew as the people of Trokali trailed after.

 

    Nirakina glanced back over her shoulder at the crowd. "Do you think

 

there will be trouble?" she asked.

 

    "There is already trouble. Now we must see what can be done to

 

remedy it," Sithel answered tersely.

 

    In short order they entered the plaza before the palace. Guards at the

 

doors, responding to the speaker's brief commands, summoned help.

 


 

Servants flooded out of the palace to aid the injured elves. Nirakina

 

directed them and saw to the distribution of food and water.

 

    Out of deference to Tamanier's weakened condition, Sithel took him

 

no farther than the south portico. He bade Tamanier sit, overlooking the

 

protocol that required commoners to stand in the presence of the speaker.

 

The tall elf eased himself into a finely carved stone chair. He exhaled

 

loudly with relief.

 

    "Tell me about the brigands," Sithel commanded.

 

    "There were thirty or forty of them, Highness," Tamanier said,

 

swallowing hard. "They came on horseback. Hardlooking, they were. The

 

humans wore mail and carried long swords."

 

    "And the Kagonesti?"

 

    "They were poor-looking, ragged and dirty. They carried off our

 

women and children . . . " Tamanier covered his face with his hands.

 

    "I know it is difficult," Sithel said calmly. "But I must know. Go on."

 

    "Yes, Highness." Tamanier dropped his hands, but they shook until he

 

clenched them in his lap. A quaver had crept into his voice. "The humans

 

set fire to the houses and chased off all our livestock. It was also the

 

humans who threw ropes over our trees and tore off their branches. Our

 

orchards are ruined, completely ruined."

 

    "Are you sure about that? The humans despoiled the trees?"

 

    "I am certain, great speaker."

 

    Sithel walked down the cool, airy portico, hands clasped behind his

 

back. Passing Tamanier, he noticed the thin gold band the elf wore around

 

his neck.

 

    "Is that real gold?" he asked abruptly.

 


 

     Tamanier fingered the band. "It is, Highness. It was a gift from my

 

wife's family."

 

     "And the brigands didn't take it from you?"

 

     Realization slowly came to Tamanier. "Why, no. They never touched

 

it. Come to think of it, great speaker, no one was robbed. The bandits

 

burned houses and broke down our trees, but they didn't plunder us at all!"

 

He scratched his dirty cheek. "Why would they do that, Highness?"

 

     Sithel tapped two fingers against his chin thoughtfully. "The only

 

thing I can think of is they didn't care about your gold. They were after

 

something more important." Tamanier watched him expectantly, but the

 

speaker didn't elaborate. He rang for a servant. When one appeared he told

 

him to take care of Tamanier. "We will talk again," he assured the tall elf.

 

"In the meantime, do not speak of this with anyone, not even your wife."

 

     Tamanier stood, leaning crookedly, favoring his wounded side. "My

 

wife was killed," he said stiffly.

 

     Sithel watched him go. An honorable fellow, he decided. He would

 

do well to keep an eye on Tamanier Ambrodel. The Speaker of the Stars

 

could always use such an honorable man at court.

 

     He entered the palace through a side door. A steady stream of servants

 

trooped by, carrying buckets and soiled towels. Healers, who were clerics

 

of the goddess Quenesti Pah, had arrived to tend the injured. Sithel looked

 

over the bustle of activity. Trokali was two hundred miles from Silvanost.

 

No human raiders had ever penetrated so far. And in the company of Ka-

 

gonesti elves . . .

 

     The Speaker of the Stars shook his head worriedly.

 

                                      *   *   *   *   *

 


 

    After finishing the day's trials, Sithas dismissed the court. Though he

 

had listened to each case fairly, he could not keep his thoughts away from

 

the attack on the village of Trokali. When he returned to his rooms in the

 

palace, everyone, from his mother to the humblest servant, was talking

 

about the raid and its portent.

 

    Hermathya waited for him in their room. No sooner had he entered

 

than she jumped to her feet and exclaimed, "Did you hear about the raid?"

 

    "I did," Sithas said with deliberate nonchalance, shrugging off his

 

dusty outer robe. He poured cool water into a basin and washed his hands

 

and face.

 

    "What's to be done?" she prodded.

 

    "Done? I hardly think that's our concern. The speaker will deal with

 

the problem."

 

    "Why do you not do something yourself?" Hermathya demanded,

 

crossing the room. Her scarlet gown showed off the milky paleness of her

 

skin. Her eyes flashed as she spoke. "The entire nation would unite behind

 

the one who would put down the insolent humans."

 

    "The 'one'? Not the speaker?" asked Sithas blandly.

 

    "The speaker is old," she said, waving a dismissive hand. "Old people

 

are beset with fears."

 

    Dropping the towel he'd used to dry his hands, Sithas caught

 

Hermathya's wrist and pulled her close. Her eyes widened, but she didn't

 

shrink back. Sithas's eyes bored into hers.

 

    "What you say smacks of disloyalty," he rumbled icily.

 

    "You want what is best for the nation, don't you?" she replied, leaning

 

into him. "If these attacks continue, all the settlers to the west will flee

 


 

back to the city, as did the elves of Trokali. The humans of Ergoth will

 

settle our land with their own people. Is that good for Silvanesti?"

 

    Sithas's face hardened at the thought of humans encroaching on their

 

ancient land. "No," he said firmly.

 

    Hermathya put her free hand on his arm. "How then is it disloyal to

 

want to end these outrages?"

 

    "I am not the Speaker of the Stars!"

 

    Her eyes were the deep blue of the sky at dusk as Hermathya moved

 

to kiss her husband. "Not yet," she whispered, and her breath was sweet

 

and warm on his face. "Not yet"

 


 

                                        8

 

                           Late Spring, in the Forest

 

 

 

 

        Mackeli had been gone three days when Anaya showed KithKanan

 

where she had secreted his sword and dagger. There could be no question

 

now that something had happened to him and that they had to go to his

 

rescue.

 

        "There is your metal," she said. "Take it up. You may have need of

 

it."

 

        He brushed the dead leaves off the slim, straight blade of his sword

 

and wiped it with an oily cloth. It slid home in its scabbard with only a

 

faint hiss. Anaya kept back when he held the weapons. She regarded the

 

iron blades with loathing, as if they were the stinking carcasses of long

 

dead animals.

 

        "Mackeli's been gone so long, I hope we can pick up his trail,"

 

Kith-Kanan said. His eyes searched the huge trees.

 

        "As long as Mackeli lives, I will always be able to find him." declared

 

Anaya. "There is a bond between us. He is my brother."

 

        With this pronouncement she turned and went back to the hollow tree.

 

Kith-Kanan followed her. What did she meanbrother? Were the two

 

siblings? He'd wondered at their relationship, but certainly hadn't noticed

 

any family resemblance. Anaya was even less talkative on the subject than

 

Mackeli had been.

 

        He went to the door of the tree and looked in. Squatting before a piece

 

of shiny mica, Anaya was painting her face. She had wiped her cheeks

 


 

cleanrelatively clean, anywaywith a wad of damp green leaves and

 

now was applying paint made from berries and nut shells. Her brush was a

 

new twig, the end of which she'd chewed to make it soft and pliable.

 

Anaya went from one gourd full of pigment to another, painting zigzag

 

lines on her face in red, brown, and yellow.

 

    "What are you doing? Time is wasting," Kith-Kanan said impatiently.

 

    Anaya drew three converging lines on her chin, like an arrowhead in

 

red. Her dark hazel eyes were hard as she said, "Go outside and wait for

 

me."

 

    Kith-Kanan felt anger rising at her casual tone of command. She

 

ordered him about like a servant, but there was nothing for him to do but

 

stew. When Anaya finally emerged, they plunged into the deep shade of

 

the woods. Kith-Kanan found his anger at her dissolving as he watched

 

her move gracefully through the wood. She never disturbed a leaf or twig,

 

moving, as Mackeli had said, like smoke.

 

    They finally paused to rest, and Kith-Kanan sat on a log to catch his

 

breath. He looked at Anaya as she stood poised, one foot atop the fallen

 

log. She wasn't even breathing heavily. She was a muscular,

 

brown-skinned, painted Kagonestiquite savage by Silvanesti

 

standardsbut she was also practical and wise in the ways of the forest.

 

Their worlds were so different as to be hostile to each other, but he felt at

 

that moment a sense of security. He was not so alone as he had believed.

 

    "Why do you look at me that way?" Anaya asked, frowning.

 

    "I was just thinking how much better it would be for us to be friends,

 

instead of enemies," said Kith-Kanan sincerely.

 


 

    It was her turn to give him a strange look. He laughed and asked,

 

"Now why are you looking at me like that?"

 

    "I know the word, but I've never had a friend before," Anaya said.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    Kith-Kanan would not have believed it, but the place Anaya led him

 

through was even thicker with trees than any part of the forest he'd seen so

 

far. They were not the giants of the old forest where she lived, but of a size

 

he was more accustomed to seeing. They grew so close together, however,

 

that it soon became impossible for him to walk at all.

 

    Anaya grasped an oak tree trunk with her bare hands and feet and

 

started up it like a squirrel. Kith-Kanan gaped at the ease with which she

 

scaled the tree. The leaves closed around her.

 

    "Are you coming?" she called down,

 

    "I can't climb like that!" he protested.

 

    "Wait then." He saw a flash of her red leg paint as she sprang from an

 

oak branch to a nearby elm. The gap between branches was more than six

 

feet, yet Anaya launched herself without a moment's hesitation. A few

 

seconds later she was back, flitting from tree to tree with the ease of a

 

bird. A twined strand of creeper, as thick as the prince's two thumbs, fell

 

from the oak leaves and landed at his feet. This was more to his liking.

 

Kith-Kanan spat on his palms and hauled himself up, hand over hand. He

 

braced his feet against the tree trunk and soon found himself perched on

 

an oak limb thirty feet from the forest floor.

 

    "Whew!" he said, grinning. "A good climb!" Anaya was patently not

 

impressed. After all, she had made the same climb with no vine at all.

 

Kith-Kanan hauled up the creeper, coiling it carefully around his waist.

 


 

    "It will be faster to stay in the treetops from now on," Anaya advised.

 

    "How can you tell this is the way Mackeli went?"

 

    She gathered herself to leap. "I smell him. This way."

 

    Anaya sprang across to the elm. Kith-Kanan went more slowly,

 

slipping a good deal on the round surface of the tree limb. Anaya waited

 

for him to catch up, which he did by grasping an overhead branch and

 

swinging over the gap. A dizzy glimpse of the ground flashed beneath his

 

feet, and then Kith-Kanan's leg hooked around the elm. He let go of the

 

oak branch, swung upside-down by one leg, and gradually worked his way

 

onto the elm.

 

    "This is going to take a long time," he admitted, panting for breath.

 

    They continued on high in the treetops for most of the day. Though

 

his hands were by no means soft, accustomed as they were to swordplay

 

and his griffon's reins, Kith-Kanan's palms became scraped and sore from

 

grasping and swinging on the rough-barked branches. His feet slipped so

 

often that he finally removed his thick-strapped sandals and went barefoot

 

like Anaya. His feet were soon as tender as his hands, but he didn't slip

 

again.

 

    Even at the slow pace Kith-Kanan set, they covered many miles on

 

their lofty road. Well past noon, Anaya called for a rest. They wedged

 

themselves high in a carpeen tree. She showed him how to find the elusive

 

fruit of the carpeen, yellow and pearlike, hidden by a tightly growing roll

 

of leaves. The soft white meat of the carpeen not only sated their hunger, it

 

was thirst-quenching, too.

 

    "Do you think Mackeli is all right?" Kith-Kanan asked, the worry

 

clear in his voice.

 


 

    Anaya finished her fruit and dropped the core to the ground. "He is

 

alive." she stated flatly.

 

    Kith-Kanan dropped his own fruit core and asked, "How can you be

 

certain?"

 

    Shifting around the prince with careless ease, Anaya slid from her

 

perch and came down astride the limb where he sat. She took his scraped

 

hand and held his fingertips to her throat.

 

    "Do you feel the beat of my heart?" she asked him.

 

    "Yes." It was strong and slow.

 

    She pushed his hand away. "And now?"

 

    "Of course not. I'm no longer touching you," he replied.

 

    "Yet you see me and hear me, without touching me."

 

    "That's different."

 

    She raised her eyebrows. "Is it? If I tell you I can feel Mackeli's heart

 

beating from far off, do you believe me?"

 

    "I do," said Kith-Kanan. "I've seen that you have many wonderful

 

talents."

 

    "No!" Anaya swept a hand through the empty air. "I am nothing but

 

what the forest has made me. As I am, so you could be!"

 

    She took his hand again, holding his fingertips against the softly

 

pulsing vein in her neck. Anaya looked directly in his eyes. "Show me the

 

rhythm of my heart," she said.

 

    Kith-Kanan tapped a finger of his other hand against his leg. "Yes,"

 

she coaxed. "You have it. Continue."

 

    Her gaze held his. It was truebetween them he felt a connection.

 

Not a physical bond, like the grasp of a hand, but a more subtle

 


 

connectionlike the bond he knew stretched between himself and Sithas.

 

Even when they were not touching and were many miles apart he could

 

sense the life force of Sithas. And now, between Anaya's eyes and his,

 

Kith-Kanan felt the steady surge of her pulse, beating, beating . . .

 

    "Look at your hands," urged Anaya.

 

    His left was still tapping out the rhythm on his leg. His right lay palm

 

up on the tree limb. He wasn't touching her throat any longer.

 

    "Do you still feel the pulse?" she asked.

 

    He nodded. Even as he felt the surging of his own heart, he could feel

 

hers, too. It was slower, steadier. Kith-Kanan looked with shock at his idle

 

hand. "That's impossible!" he exclaimed. No sooner had he said this than

 

the sensation of her heartbeat left his fingertips.

 

    Anaya shook her head. "You don't want to learn," she said in disgust.

 

She stood up and stepped from the carpeen tree to the neighboring oak.

 

"It's time to move on. It will be dark before long, and you aren't skilled

 

enough to treewalk by night."

 

    This was certainly true, so Kith-Kanan did not protest. He watched

 

the wiry Anaya wend her way through the web of branches, but the

 

meaning of her lesson was still sinking in. What did it mean that he had

 

been able to keep Anaya's pulse? He still felt the pain of his separation

 

from Hermathya, a hard, cold lump in his chest, but when he closed his

 

eyes and thought of Hermathya for a momenta tall, flame-haired elf

 

woman with eyes of deepest bluehe only frowned in concentration, for

 

there was nothing, no bond, however slight, that connected him with his

 

lost love. He could not know if she was alive or dead. Sadness touched

 


 

Kith-Kanan's heart, but there was no time for self-pity now. He opened his

 

eyes and moved quickly to where Anaya had stopped up ahead.

 

    She was staring at a large crow perched on a limb near her head.

 

When the crow spied Kith-Kanan, it abruptly flew away. Anaya's

 

shoulders drooped.

 

    "The corvae have not seen Mackeli since four days past," she

 

explained. "But they have seen something elsehumans."

 

    "Humans? In the wildwood?"

 

    Anaya nodded. She lowered herself to a spindly limb and furrowed

 

her brow in thought. "I did not smell them sooner because the metal you

 

carry stinks in my nose too much. The corvae say there's a small band of

 

humans farther to the west. They're cutting down the trees, and they have

 

some sort of flying beast, of a kind the corvae have never seen."

 

    "Arcuballis! That's my griffon! The humans must have captured it,"

 

he said. In fact, he couldn't imagine how; as far as he could determine they

 

were miles from the spot where he'd first landed, and it would have been

 

very difficult for strangers, especially humans, to handle the spirited

 

Arcuballis.

 

    "How many humans are there?" Kith-Kanan inquired.

 

    Anaya gave him a disdainful look. "Corvae can't count," she stated

 

contemptuously.

 

    They started off again as twilight was falling. For a brief time it

 

actually brightened in the trees, as the sinking sun lanced in from the side.

 

Anaya found a particularly tall maple and climbed up. The majestic tree

 

rose even above its neighbors, and its thick limbs grew in an easy step

 


 

pattern around the massive trunk. Kith-Kanan had no trouble keeping up

 

with the Kagonesti in the vertical climb.

 

     At the top of the tree Anaya stopped, one arm hooked around the

 

gnarled peak of the maple. Kith-Kanan worked his way around beside her.

 

The maple's pinnacle swayed under his additional weight, but the view

 

was so breathtaking he didn't mind the motion.

 

     As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but the green tops of

 

trees. The horizon to the west was darkening from pink to flame red.

 

Kith-Kanan was enchanted. Though he had often seen great vistas from

 

the back of Arcuballis, his appreciation for such sights had been increased

 

by the weeks he'd spent in this forest, where a glimpse of sky was a rare

 

treat.

 

     Anaya was not enraptured. She narrowed her sharp eyes and said,

 

"There they are."

 

     "Who?"

 

     "The intruders. Do you not see the smoke?"

 

     Kith-Kanan stared in the direction she pointed. To the north, a faint

 

smudge of gray marred the sky's royal blue. Even as he stared at it,

 

Kith-Kanan wasn't sure the smoke was really there. He blinked several

 

times.

 

     "They are burning the trees," Anaya said grimly. "Savages!"

 

     The prince refrained from saying that to most of the civilized people

 

of Krynn, it was she who was the savage. Instead he asked, "Which way to

 

Mackeli?"

 

     "Toward the smoke," she said. "The humans have taken him after all.

 

I will see them bleed!"

 


 

        Though Kith-Kanan was surprised at the depth of her feeling, he had

 

no doubt she meant what she said.

 

        They stayed in the treetops until the prince had begun to miss his

 

handholds and then nearly fell forty feet to the ground. It was too dark to

 

continue aloft, so Anaya and Kith-Kanan descended to the forest floor

 

once more. They walked perhaps a mile in silence, Anaya gliding through

 

the black tree trunks like a runaway shadow. Kith-Kanan felt the tension

 

rising. He had never fought humanshe'd only met a few of them in

 

Silvanost, and all of them were aristocrats. For that matter, he'd never

 

fought anyone for real, in a fight where death was the likely outcome. He

 

wondered if he could do it, actually thrust his sword through someone's

 

body, or use the edge to cut them. . . . He reminded himself that these

 

humans were holding Mackeli prisoner, and probably his royal griffon,

 

too.

 

        Anaya froze, silhouetted between two large trees. Her hand was out

 

stiffly behind her, a signal for Kith-Kanan to halt. He did and heard what

 

had stopped her. The tinny sound of a flute drifted through the forest,

 

borne along by the smells of wood smoke and roasting meat.

 

        When he looked toward Anaya she'd vanished. He waited. What was

 

he supposed to do? Kith-Kanan shook himself mentally. You, a prince of

 

House Royal, wanting directions from a Kagonesti savage! You are a

 

warriordo your duty!

 

        He charged through the underbrush. At the first gleam of a campfire,

 

Kith-Kanan drew his sword. Another twenty steps, and he burst into a

 

clearing hewn from the primeval woodland. A large campfire, almost a

 

bonfire, blazed in the center of the clearing. A dozen ruddy facesthickly

 


 

fleshed human faces, with their low foreheads, broad cheeks, and wide

 

jawsturned toward the elf prince. Some had hair growing on their faces.

 

All stared at him in utter astonishment.

 

    One of the humans, with pale brown hair on his face, stood up.

 

"Terrible spirit, do not harm us!" he intoned. "Peace be with you!"

 

    Kith-Kanan relaxed. These weren't desperate brigands. They were

 

ordinary men and, by the looks of their equipment, woodcutters. He

 

dropped his sword point and stepped into the firelight.

 

    "It's one of them!" declared another human. "The Elder Folk!"

 

    "Who are you?" demanded Kith-Kanan.

 

    "Essric's company of woodmen. I am Essric," said the brown-haired

 

human.

 

    Kith-Kanan surveyed the clearing. Over thirty large trees had been

 

felled in this one place, and he could see a path had been cut through the

 

forest. The very biggest trees were trimmed of their branches and were

 

being split into halves and quarters with wedges and mallets. Slightly

 

smaller trees were being dragged away. Kith-Kanan saw a rough pen full

 

of broad-backed oxen.

 

    "This is Silvanesti land," he said. "By whose grant do you cut down

 

trees that belong to the Speaker of the Stars?"

 

    Essric looked to his men, who had nothing to tell him. He scratched

 

his brown beard ruefully. "My lord, we were brought hither and landed on

 

the south coast of this country by ships commanded by Lord Ragnarius of

 

Ergoth. It is Lord Ragnarius's pleasure that we fell as many trees as his

 

ships can carry home. We didn't know anyone owned these trees!"

 


 

    Just then, an eerie howl rippled across the fire-lit clearing. The

 

humans all stood up, reaching for axes and staves. Kith-Kanan smiled to

 

himself. Anaya was putting a scare into the men.

 

    A clean-shaven man to Essric's left, who held a broadaxe in his meaty

 

hands, suddenly let out a cry and staggered backward, almost falling in the

 

fire. Instead, he dropped into the arms of his comrades.

 

    "Forest spirits are attacking!" Kith-Kanan shouted. His declaration

 

was punctuated by a hair-raising screech from the black trees. He had to

 

struggle to keep from laughing as the twelve humans were driven from

 

their fire by a barrage of sooty stones. One connected with the back of one

 

man's head, stretching him out flat. Panic-stricken, the others didn't stop to

 

help him, but fled pell-mell past the ox pen. Without torches to light their

 

way, they stumbled and fell over stumps and broken branches. Within

 

minutes, no one was left in the clearing but Kith-Kanan and the prone

 

woodcutter.

 

    Anaya came striding into the circle of light. Kith-Kanan grinned at

 

her and held up a hand in greeting. She stalked past him to where the

 

human lay. The flint knife was in her hand.

 

    She rolled the unconscious human over. He was fairly young and had

 

a red mustache. A thick gold ring gleamed from one earlobe. That, and the

 

cut of his pants, told Kith-Kanan that the man had been a sailor at one

 

time.

 

    Anaya put a knee on the man's chest. The human opened his eyes and

 

saw a wildly painted creature, serrated flint knife in hand, kneeling on

 

him. The creature's face stared down with a ferocious grimace twisting its

 

painted designs. The man's eyes widened in terror, showing much white.

 


 

He tried to raise an arm to ward off Anaya, but Kith-Kanan was holding

 

his wrists.

 

    "Shall I cut out your eyes?" Anaya said coldly. "They would make

 

fine decorations for my home."

 

    "No! No! Spare me!" gibbered the man.

 

    "No? Then tell us what we want to know," Kith-Kanan warned.

 

"There was a white-haired elf boy here, yes?"

 

    "Yes, wonderful lord!"

 

    "And a griffona flying beast with an eagle's forepart and a lion's

 

hindquarters?"

 

    "Yes, yes!"

 

    "What happened to them?"

 

    "They were taken away by Voltorno," the man moaned.

 

    "Who's Voltomo?" asked Kith-Kanan.

 

    "A soldier. A terrible, cruel man. Lord Ragnarius sent him with us."

 

    "Why isn't he here now?" Anaya hissed, pushing the ragged edge of

 

her knife against his throat.

 

    "HeHe decided to take the elf boy and the beast back to Lord

 

Ragnarius's ship."

 

    Anaya and Kith-Kanan exchange looks. "How long ago did this

 

Voltorno leave?" persisted Kith-Kanan.

 

    "This morning," the unfortunate sailor gasped.

 

    "And how many are there in his party?"

 

    "Ten. SSix men-at-arms and four archers."

 

    Kith-Kanan stood up, releasing the man's hands. "Let him up.

 

    "No," disagreed Anaya. "He must die."

 


 

    "That is not the way! If you kill him, how will you be any different

 

from the men who hold Mackeli captive? You cannot be the same as those

 

you fight and have any honor. You must be better."

 

    "Better?" she hissed, looking up at the prince. "Anything is better than

 

tree-killing scum!"

 

    "He is not responsible," Kith-Kanan insisted. "He was ordered"

 

    "Whose hand held the axe?" Anaya interrupted.

 

    Taking advantage of their argument, the sailor shoved Anaya off and

 

scrambled to his feet. He ran after his comrades, bleating for help.

 

    "Now you see? You let him get away," Anaya said. She gathered

 

herself to give chase, but Kith-Kanan told her, "Forget those humans!

 

Mackeli is more important. We'll have to catch up with them before they

 

reach the coast." Anaya sullenly did not reply. "Listen to me! We're going

 

to need all your talents. Call the corvae, the Black Crawlers, everything.

 

Have them find the humans and try to delay them long enough so that we

 

can catch up."

 

    She pushed him aside and stepped away. The big fire was dying, and

 

the hacked out clearing was sinking into darkness. Now and then an ox

 

grunted from the makeshift pen.

 

    Anaya moved to the felled trees. She put a gentle hand on the trunk of

 

one huge oak. "Why do they do it?" she asked mournfully. "Why do they

 

cut down the trees? Can't they hear the fabric of the forest split open each

 

time a tree falls?" Her eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "There are spirits

 

in the wildwood, spirits in the trees. They have murdered them with their

 

metal." Her haunted eyes looked up at the prince.

 


 

    Kith-Kanan put a hand on her shoulder. "There's much to be done. We

 

must go." Anaya drew a shuddering breath. After giving the tree a last

 

gentle touch, she stooped to gather up her throwing stones.

 


 

                                       9

 

                                Late Summer

 

 

 

 

    Summer was fading. The harvests were coming in, and the markets of

 

Silvanost were full of the fruits of the soil. Market week always brought a

 

great influx of visitors to the city, not all of them Silvanesti. From the

 

forests to the south and the plains to the west came the swarthy, painted

 

Kagonesti. Up the Thon Thalas came thick-walled boats from the dwarven

 

kingdom, tall-masted, deep-sea vessels from the human realms in the far

 

west. All these ascended the river to Fallan Island where Silvanost lay. It

 

was an exciting time, full of strange sights, sounds, and smells. Exciting,

 

that is, for the travelers. For the Silvanesti, who regarded these races

 

flooding their land with distaste and distrust, it was a trying time.

 

    Sithel sat on his throne in the Tower of the Stars, weary but attentive

 

as clerics and nobles filed up to him to voice their complaints. His duties

 

did not allow him respite from the incessant arguing and pleading.

 

    "Great Sithel, what is to be done?" asked Firincalos, high priest of

 

E'li. "The barbarians come to us daily, asking to worship in our temple.

 

We turn them away and they grow angry, and the next day a new batch of

 

hairy-faced savages appears, asking the same privilege."

 

    "The humans and dwarves are not the worst of it," countered

 

Zertinfinas, of the Temple of Matheri. "The Kagonesti deem themselves

 

our equals and cannot be put off from entering the sacred precincts with

 

filthy hands and feet and noxious sigils painted on their faces. Why,

 


 

yesterday, some wild elves roughed up my assistant and spilled the sacred

 

rosewater in the outer sanctum."

 

    "What would you have me do?" Sithel asked. "Place soldiers around

 

all the temples? There are not enough royal guardsmen in House Protector

 

to do thatnot to mention that most of them are sons or grandsons of

 

Kagonesti themselves."

 

    "Perhaps an edict, read in the Market, will convince the outsiders not

 

to attempt to force their way into our holy places," Firincalos noted. A

 

murmur of approval ran through the assembly.

 

    "All very well for you," said Mhibelisina, high priestess of Quenesti

 

Pah. "How can we who serve the goddess of healing turn away eager

 

supplicants? It is part of our trust to admit the sick and injured. Can we

 

discriminate between Silvanesti and Kagonesti, human, dwarf, and

 

kender?"

 

    "Yes. You must," declared a voice silent until now.

 

    All heads turned to the speaker's left, where Sithas had been standing.

 

He had been listening to the different factions present their views. A long

 

time he'd been listening, and now he felt he must speak. The prince

 

stepped down to floor level, with the assembled clerics, and faced his

 

father.

 

           "It is vital that the purity of our temples and our city be preserved,"

 

he said with fervor. "We, the oldest and wisest race of Krynn, the longest

 

lived, the most blessed, must keep ourselves above the hordes of lesser

 

peoples who flood in, trying to partake of our grace and culture." He lifted

 

his hands. "Where there is not purity, there can be no Silvanost and no

 

Silvanesti."

 


 

    Some of the clericsnot those of Quenesti Pahbowed in

 

appreciation of Sithas's declaration. Behind them, however, the

 

guildmasters looked distinctly unhappy. Sithel, looking down on his son,

 

was nodding slowly. He looked over the prince's head at the guildmasters,

 

and bade them come forward.

 

    "Highness," said the master of the Jewelers Guild, "the outsiders bring

 

many things we in Silvanesti do not have. The dwarves trade us the finest

 

metal on Krynn for our foodstuffs and nectars. The humans bring expertly

 

carved wood, the softest of leathers, wine, and oil. Even the kender

 

contribute their share."

 

    "Their share of larceny," muttered one of the clerics. Soft laughter

 

rippled through the tower.

 

    "Enough " Sithel commanded. His gaze rested once more on his son.

 

"How do you propose we keep the foreigners out of our temples without

 

losing their trade, which our nation does need?"

 

       Sithas took a deep breath. "We can build an enclave here on Fa'lan

 

Island, outside the city, and confine all trading to that point. No outsiders

 

except valid ambassadors from other countries will be admitted within

 

Silvanost's walls. If the humans and others wish to pay homage to the

 

gods, let them put up their own shrines in this new enclave."

 

    Sithel leaned back on his throne and stroked his chin. "An interesting

 

notion. Why should the foreigners agree to it?"

 

    "They do not want to lose the goods they get from us," Sithas

 

reasoned. "If they don't agree, they will be turned away." The clerics

 

looked at him with undisguised admiration.

 

    "A perfect solution!" Zertinfinas exclaimed.

 


 

    "Proof of the wisdom of the speaker's heir," added Firincalos

 

unctuously.

 

    Sithel looked past them to the guildmasters. "What say you, good

 

sirs? Does this notion of my son's appeal to you?"

 

    It did indeed. If the traders had to land at one specified point on

 

Fallan, then the guilds could more easily impose landing fees on them.

 

The various guildmasters voiced their approval loudly.

 

    "Very well, let the plans be made," Sithel decided. "The forming of

 

the docks and walls I leave to the guild of master builders. Once the plans

 

are chosen, the forming of the stones can begin." As Sithel stood up,

 

everyone bowed. "If that is all, then this audience is at an end." The

 

speaker gave Sithas a thoughtful look, then turned and left the hall by the

 

door behind the throne.

 

    The clerics closed around Sithas, congratulating him. Miritelisina

 

asked him if he had a name in mind for the new trading enclave.

 

    Sithas smiled and shook his head. "I have not considered it in such

 

detail yet."

 

    "It should be named for you," Firincalos said exuberantly. "Perhaps

 

'Sithanost, the city of Sithas'. "

 

    "No," the prince said firmly. "That is not proper. Let it be something

 

the outsiders will understand. `Thon-car, village on the Thon,' something

 

simple like that. I do not want it named after me."

 

    After freeing himself from the crowd, Sithas mounted the steps and

 

went out the same door by which his father had left. His sedan chair

 

awaited him outside. He climbed in and ordered, "to Quinari, at once."

 


 

The slaves hoisted the carrying bars to their broad shoulders and set off at

 

a trot.

 

     Hermathya was waiting for him. The news had moved quickly

 

through the palace, and she was brimming with delight at her husband's

 

triumph.

 

     "You've won them," she crowed, pouring Sithas a cup of cool water.

 

"The clerics look upon you as their champion."

 

     "I said only what I believed," Sithas noted quietly.

 

     "True enough, but they will remember what you did, and they will

 

support you in the future," she insisted.

 

     Sithas dampened his fingers in the last drops of the water and touched

 

his face with his fingertips. "Why should I need their support?"

 

     Hermathya looked surprised. "Haven't you heard? Lady Nirakina has

 

suggested to the Speaker that you be appointed as co-ruler, to share the

 

burden of power with your father."

 

     Sithas was taken aback. "You've been listening from balconies again,"

 

he said with displeasure.

 

     "I have only your interests in my heart," she said, a trifle coolly.

 

     There was a long silence between them. Not much affection had

 

grown between the firstborn and his beautiful wife since their marriage,

 

and Sithas was growing more skeptical of her devotion with each passing

 

day. Hermathya's ambition was as obvious as the Tower of the Stars and

 

twice as big.

 

     "I will go and speak with my father," Sithas said at last. Hermathya

 

moved to join him. "Alone, Lady. I go alone."

 

     Hermathya turned away from him, her face blazing crimson.

 


 

                                   *   *   *   *   *

 

    A servant announced the prince, and Sithel gave permission for him

 

to enter. It was mid-afternoon, and the speaker was immersed in a

 

steaming hot pool, his head resting on a folded towel. His eyes were

 

closed.

 

    "Father?"

 

    Sithel opened one eye. "Get in, why don't you? The water is good and

 

hot."

 

    "No, thank you." Sithas took the direct approach. "Father, what is this

 

I hear about mother wanting you to appoint me co-ruler?"

 

    Sithel raised his head. "You do have your spies, don't you?"

 

    "Only one, and I do not pay her. She works on her own account."

 

    "Hermathya." Sithel smiled when the prince nodded. "She has spirit,

 

that girl. I daresay if it were possible she'd want to be co-ruler, too."

 

    "Yes, and bring the rest of Clan Oakleaf to rule with her. She already

 

replaces palace servers with her own relatives. Soon we won't be able to

 

walk the halls without tripping over some Oakleaf cousin or other," Sithas

 

said.

 

    "This is still House Royal," replied his father confidently.

 

    At that, Sithel sat up, roiling the hot mineral water. He reached for a

 

beaker sitting on the rim of the pool, then shook a handful of brown and

 

white crystals into the water. The steam was immediately scented with a

 

rare, spicy musk. "Do you know why your mother asked me to make you

 

co-ruler?"

 

    "No," Sithas replied.

 


 

    "It was part of a compromise, actually. She wants me to call

 

Kith-Kanan home"

 

    "Kith!" exclaimed Sithas, interrupting his father. "That is an excellent

 

idea!"

 

    Sithel held up a hand. "It would cause great dissent among the clerics

 

and nobles. Kith-Kanan broke some of our most ardent laws. He

 

threatened the very foundations of the House Royal. My anger with him

 

has faded, and I could bring him homeif he would properly apologize.

 

There are many, though, who would oppose my lenience."

 

    "But you are speaker," Sithas argued. "What difference do the

 

grumblings of a few priests make to you?"

 

    Sithel smiled. "I cannot tear apart the nation for love of my son. Your

 

mother said that to assuage the clerics I should name you co-ruler. Then

 

they would be assured Kith-Kanan would have no part of the throne after

 

my death." Sithel gazed long into his eldest son's troubled eyes. "Do you

 

still want me to dismiss Lady Nirakina's suggestion to make you my

 

co-ruler?"

 

    Sithas drew a long breath and let it out slowly. He knew that there

 

was only one path to choose. He turned from the window. "If you seat me

 

beside you on the throne, the people will say there is no Speaker of the

 

Stars in Silvanost," he said quietly.

 

    "Explain that."

 

    "They will say great Sithel is old, not strong enough to rule alone.

 

And they will say Sithas is too young and has not the wisdom to be sole

 

speaker. Two halves do not a speaker make." He looked down at his

 

father's strong face. "You are the Speaker of the Stars. Do not relinquish

 


 

one drop of your power or, as from a pinhole in a waterskin, it will all leak

 

out and you will have nothing."

 

    "Do you know what this decision means?" Sithel demanded.

 

    The prince made a fist and pressed it against his mouth. There were

 

other words he wanted to say; he wanted to have Kith home and let the

 

consequences be damned. But Sithas knew he must not let these words

 

out. The future of Silvanesti was at stake.

 

    "Then I will be Speaker, and will remain sole Speaker until the day

 

the gods call me to a higher plane," Sithel said after a long silence.

 

    "And . . . Kith-Kanan?"

 

    "I will not call him," Sithel said grimly. "He must return on his own,

 

as a supplicant begging for forgiveness."

 

    "Will mother be angry with you?" Sithas asked softly.

 

    The speaker sighed and scooped steaming water up in his hands,

 

letting it trickle down over his closed eyes. "You know your mother," he

 

said. "She will be hurt for a while, then she will find a cause to which she

 

can devote herself, something to help her forget her pain."

 

    "Hermathya will be angry." Of this, Sithas had no doubt.

 

    "Don't let her bully you," counseled Sithel, wiping his face with his

 

hands.

 

    Sithas flushed. "I am your son. No one bullies me."

 

    "I'm glad to hear it." After a pause, Sithel added, "I've just thought of

 

another reason why you ought not want to be speaker just yet. I'm a

 

husband, father, and monarch. So far, you're only a husband." A wry

 

smile quirked his lips. "Have children. That will bring age and hasten

 

wisdom."

 


 

                                       10

 

                                Four Days on the Trail

 

 

 

 

     Kith-Kanan and Anaya paused in their pursuit of Voltorno's band.

 

The half-human and his followers were headed almost due south, straight

 

for the seacoast. Kith-Kanan was surprised when Anaya called a

 

temporary halt. He was ready for anything, from a stealthy approach to a

 

headlong, pitched battle. True, his feet ached and his hands were covered

 

with cuts, but the knowledge that this Voltorno held not only Mackeli but

 

his griffon steeled the prince to go on.

 

     When he asked if she'd sensed Mackeli was near, Anaya said, "No. I

 

smell animals nearby. It's time to hunt. You stay here and don't move

 

around. I will return soon."

 

     Kith-Kanan settled down with his back against a tree. In short order,

 

he fell asleep. The next thing he knew, Anaya had tossed a brace of rabbits

 

in his lap.

 

     "You snore," she said irritably. "I could have had us venison, but your

 

roaring chased the deer away. All I could get were these rabbits." She

 

frowned at the scrawny little animals. "These must have been deaf."

 

     Quickly Anaya gutted and skinned the animals, then speared them

 

over a twig fire. Kith-Kanan was impressed; her deftness was amazing.

 

She dressed each rabbit in two strokes and started a fire with one nick of

 

her flint against a blue fieldstone. Kith-Kanan doubted he could strike a

 

spark at all against such a common, frangible rock.

 


 

    She bent to tend the fire. Kith-Kanan watched her back for a moment,

 

then he put down the rabbit. Quietly he unbuckled his sword belt and let it

 

down soundlessly to the ground. He added his dagger to the pile. Then,

 

using the steps Mackeli had taught him, he crept up behind Anaya.

 

    She straightened, still with her back to him. When he was two feet

 

from her, she whirled, presenting the point of her knife to his face.

 

    "You smell better without the metal, but you still breathe too loud,"

 

she said.

 

    He pushed the flint knife aside and finished the step that brought them

 

nose to nose. "Perhaps it's not my breathing you hear, but my heart. I can

 

hear yours, too," he said teasingly.

 

    Her brows knotted. "Liar."

 

    Kith-Kanan put a finger to her cheek and began tapping lightly. "Is

 

that the rhythm?" he said. It was, and the look of consternation on Anaya's

 

face was delightful to him. She pushed him away.

 

    "We've no time for games," she said. "Pick up your metal. We can

 

walk and eat at the same time."

 

    She moved on through the trees. Kith-Kanan watched her curiously as

 

he buckled his swordbelt. Funny-looking Anaya, with painted face and

 

most of her hair cropped shorter than his. He found himself taking

 

pleasure in watching the easy way she wove through her forest home.

 

There was a certain nobility about her.

 

    The corvae circled ceaselessly, bringing Anaya news of the humans.

 

Kith-Kanan and Anaya had followed them hotly all day, while the humans

 

moved in a more leisurely manner. The prince felt ragged with fatigue, but

 


 

he would not show weakness as long as Anaya remained bright and quick.

 

Trouble was, she didn't show any signs of tiring.

 

    It was well past midday, and for the fourth time she had held up her

 

hand and bid Kith-Kanan be still while she scouted ahead. Sighing, he sat

 

down on a lichen-spotted boulder. Anaya vanished into the pallid green

 

saplings as Kith-Kanan took out his dagger and absently began cleaning

 

his fingernails.

 

    Seconds lengthened into minutes, and the prince began to think Anaya

 

was taking too long. Her reconnaissance forays never took more than a

 

minute or two, sometimes only a few seconds. He slipped his dagger into

 

the top of his leggings and listened hard. Nothing.

 

    A crow alighted at his feet. He stared down at the black bird, which

 

regarded him silently, its beady eyes seeming quite intelligent. Kith-Kanan

 

stood up, and the crow flapped into the air, circled around, and settled on

 

his shoulder. He spared a nervous glance at the bird's sharp, pointed beak

 

so close to his face. "You have something to show me?" he whispered.

 

The crow cocked its head first left, then right. "Anaya? Mackeli?" The

 

crow bobbed its head vigorously.

 

    Kith-Kanan set out along the same path Anaya had gone down just a

 

few minutes earlier. The crow actually directed him with pokes of its

 

sharp beak. One hundred paces from a large boulder, Kith-Kanan heard

 

the clinking of metal on metal. Ten steps more, and the faint whiff of

 

smoke came to his nose. The crow plucked at his ear. Its beak stabbed

 

painfully, and Kith Kanan resisted the urge to swat the bird away. Then he

 

saw what the crow was warning him about.

 


 

    Ahead on the ground was a net, spread flat and covered with leaves.

 

He knew the type; he'd often set such traps himself, for wild boar.

 

Kith-Kanan squatted by the edge of the net and looked for trip lines or

 

snare loops. He couldn't see any. Circling to his left, he followed the

 

perimeter of the trap until the ground dropped away into a dry wash

 

ravine. From there the smell of wood smoke was stronger. Kith-Kanan

 

skidded a few feet down the bank and crept along, his head just below the

 

level of the ground. Every now and then he would peek up and see where

 

he was going. The third time he did this, Kith-Kanan got quite a shock. He

 

put his head up and found himself staring into the eyes of a humana

 

dead human, lying on his back with his eyes wide and staring. The

 

human's throat had been cut by a serrated knife.

 

    The man wore rough woolen clothing, the seams of which were white

 

with dried salt. Another sailor. There was a tattoo of a seahorse on the

 

back of the dead man's hand.

 

    Rough laughter filtered through the trees. As Kith-Kanan climbed out

 

of the ravine and made for the sound, the crow spread its wings and flew

 

away.

 

    More ugly, cruel-sounding laughter. Kith-Kanan moved to his right,

 

keeping a thick-trunked pine tree between him and the source of the

 

sound. He dropped down to the ground and looked around the tree.

 

    He saw six men standing in a glade. A smoky little fire burned on the

 

right. On the left, wrapped in the folds of a heavy rope net, was Anaya.

 

She looked defiant and unharmed.

 

    "Are you sure it's female?" queried one of the men who held a

 

crossbow.

 


 

    "It 'pears to be. 'Ere, tell us what you are!" said another. He poked at

 

Anaya with the tip of his saber. She shrank from the blade.

 

    "What'll we do with her, Parch?" asked a third human.

 

    "Sell 'er, like the other. She's too ugly to be anything but a slave,"

 

noted the crossbowman. The men roared with coarse laughter.

 

    Through the loops in the net, Anaya's eyes shone with hatred. She

 

looked past her tormentors and saw, peeking around a tree, Kith-Kanan.

 

He put a hand to his lips. Quiet, he willed her. Keep quiet.

 

    "Smells a bit, don't she?" sneered the crossbowman called Parch, a

 

lanky fellow with a drooping yellow mustache. He put down his weapon

 

and picked up a heavy wooden bucket full of water. He flung the water on

 

Anaya.

 

    Kith-Kanan thought quickly. The leader, Voltorno, didn't seem to be

 

present; these men acted callous and loud, like many soldiers did when

 

their commander was absent. Retreating a few yards, the prince started

 

around the glade. He hadn't gone more than a half-score steps when his

 

foot snagged a trip line. Kith-Kanan dodged a spike-studded tree limb that

 

was released, but the noise alerted the men. They bared their weapons and

 

started into the woods, leaving one man to guard Anaya.

 

    Standing with his back hard against a sticky pine, Kith-Kanan drew

 

his sword. A human came crunching through the fallen leaves, appallingly

 

noisy. The salty-fishy smell of his sailor's jersey preceded him.

 

Kith-Kanan timed the man's steps and, when he was close, sprang out

 

from behind the tree.

 

    "By the dragon's beard!" exclaimed the man. He held out his saber

 

warily. Without any preliminaries, Kith-Kanan attacked. Their blades

 


 

clanged together, and the human shouted, "Over here, over here!" Other

 

shouts echoed in the forest. In moments, Kith-Kanan would be hopelessly

 

outnumbered.

 

    The human's saber had little point for thrusting, so the elf prince

 

jabbed his blade straight at the man, who gave ground clumsily. He was a

 

seaman, not a warrior, and when he stumbled over a stone as he was

 

backing away, Kith-Kanan ran him through. This was the first person he'd

 

ever killed, but there was no time for reflection. As quietly as he could the

 

prince ran to the glade. The other men were converging on their dead

 

comrade, so that meant only one man stood between him and Anaya.

 

    He hurtled into the glade, sword upraised. The guardthe one called

 

Parchgave a shrill cry of fright and reached for his weapon, a crossbow.

 

Kith-Kanan was on him in a flash. He struck the crossbow from Parch's

 

hands with a single sweep of his sword. The man staggered back, groping

 

for the dagger he wore at his waist. Kith-Kanan advanced on him. Parch

 

drew the dagger. Kith-Kanan easily beat aside the far shorter weapon and

 

left poor Parch bleeding on the ground.

 

    "Are you all right?" he shouted to Anaya as he hacked open the net. It

 

spilled open, and Anaya nimbly leaped out.

 

      "Filthy humans! I want to kill them!" she snarled.

 

    "There's too many. Better to hide for now," Kith-Kanan cried.

 

    She ignored him and went to the fire, where her flint knife lay on the

 

ground. Before Kith-Kanan could protest, she drew the sharp stone across

 

her arm, drawing scarlet blood. "They will die!" she declared. And with

 

that, she dashed into the woods.

 

      "Anaya, wait!" Kith-Kanan frantically followed her.

 


 

    A hoarse scream sounded from his left. Feet churned through the

 

leaves, running. A human, still holding his saber, ran toward the prince,

 

his bearded face a mask of fear. Kith-Kanan stood in his way. The man

 

traded cuts with him briefly, then threw his sword away and ran for his

 

life. Confused, the Silvanesti trotted in the direction from which the

 

bearded man had come, then stumbled upon the corpse of the man who

 

had poked Anaya with his saber. No wonder the bearded human had been

 

terrified. This other man's throat had been cut from ear to ear. Kith-Kanan

 

clenched his teeth and moved on. He found another human, killed in the

 

same manner.

 

    The woods had fallen quiet, and the elf prince stepped carefully,

 

suspecting an ambush. What he found instead nearly stopped his heart.

 

Anaya had caught a third human and killed him, but not before the man

 

had put a crossbow quarrel into her hip. She had dragged herself a few

 

yards and had come to rest with both arms around an oak sapling.

 

    Before Kith-Kanan knelt by her, he shoved his sword in its scabbard

 

and gently pulled the blood-soaked deerskin away from her wound. The

 

head of the quarrel had missed her hip bone, thank E'li, and was buried in

 

the flesh between her hip and ribs. A nasty wound, but not a fatal one.

 

    "I must take the arrow out," he explained. "But I can't pull it out the

 

way it came in. I'll have to push it through."

 

    "Do what must be done," she gaspedher eyelids squeezed shut.

 

    His hands shook. Though he had seen hunters and soldiers injured

 

before, never had Kith-Kanan had to deal with their wounds personally.

 

He tore the leather fletching off the arrow and placed his hands on it.

 

Steeling himself, he pushed on the nock end. Anaya stiffened and sucked

 


 

air in sharply through her clenched teeth. He pushed until he could feel the

 

iron arrow head in his other hand, beneath her body.

 

    She didn't utter a sound, which made Kith-Kanan marvel at her

 

courage. Once the quarrel was free, he threw it away. Then he unslung his

 

waterskin and gently washed the wound clean. He needed something to

 

bind it with. Under the green leather tunic Mackeli had fashioned for him,

 

he still wore his shirt of linen. At last Kith-Kanan pulled off his tunic and

 

tore the fine Silvanost linen into strips.

 

    He tied the longest strips together to make a bandage, then began to

 

wind it around Anaya's waist. Kith-Kanan split and tied the ends of the

 

bandage, then gently hoisted Anaya in his arms. She was very light, and he

 

carried her easily back to the glade. There he laid her in a patch of soft

 

ferns, then dragged the dead men into the covering of the woods.

 

    Anaya called for water. He put the skin to her lips, and she drank.

 

After a few gulps she said weakly, "I heard them say Mackeli and your

 

flying beast had been taken ahead to the ship. They knew we were

 

following them. Their master, Voltorno, is half-human, and by means of

 

magic he knew we were coming after them."

 

    "Half-human?" Kith-Kanan asked. He had heard whisperings of such

 

crossbreeds, but had never seen one.

 

    "Voltorno had his men stay behind to trap us." Kith-Kanan put the

 

skin to her mouth again. When she had finished, she added, "You must

 

leave me and go after Mackeli."

 

    He knew she was right. "Are you sure you will be all right by

 

yourself?"

 


 

    "The forest won't hurt me. Only the intruders would do that, and they

 

are ahead of us, carrying Mackeli. You must hurry."

 

    With little delay the elf prince left the Kagonesti the waterskin and

 

laid one of the men's abandoned cloaks over her. "I'll be back soon," he

 

promised. "With Mackeli and Arcuballis."

 

    The sun was sinking fast as Kith-Kanan plunged into the brush. He

 

made great speed and covered a mile or more in minutes. There was a

 

salty smell in the air. The sea was near.

 

    Ahead, moonlight glinted off metal. As he ran, Kith-Kanan spied the

 

backs of two men dragging a smaller person through the brush. Mackeli!

 

He had a halter tied around his neck, and he stumbled along behind his

 

much taller captors. The prince shouldered the crossbow and put a quarrel

 

in the back of the human who was leading Mackeli. The second man saw

 

his partner fall and, without pausing, he grabbed the halter rope and ran,

 

jerking Mackeli forward.

 

    Kith-Kanan followed. He leaped over the man he'd shot and let out

 

the wailing cry elven hunters use when on the chase. The weird cry was

 

too much for the man leading Mackeli. He flung the rope away and ran as

 

hard as he could. Kith-Kanan loosed a quarrel after him, but the human

 

passed between some trees and the shot missed.

 

    He reached Mackeli, pausing long enough to cut the strangling rope

 

from the boy's neck.

 

      "Kith!" he cried. "Is Ny with you?"

 

      "Yes, not far away," Kith-Kanan said. "Where's my griffon?"

 

    "Voltorno has him. He put a spell on your beast to make him obey."

 


 

    Kith-Kanan gave Mackeli the dagger. "Wait here. I'll come back for

 

you."

 

    "Let me go too! I can help!" the boy said.

 

    "No!" Mackeli looked stubborn, so Kith-Kanan added, "I need you to

 

stay here in case Voltorno gets past me and comes back this way."

 

Mackeli's belligerence vanished, and he nodded. He positioned himself on

 

guard with his dagger as Kith-Kanan ran on.

 

    The boom of the surf rose above the sound of the wind. The forest

 

ended abruptly atop a cliff, and Kith-Kanan had to dig in his heels to avoid

 

plunging over the precipice. The night was bright. Solinari and Lunitari

 

were up; moonlight and starlight silvered the scene below. With his keen

 

vision, Kith-Kanan could see a three-masted ship wallowing in the

 

offshore swells, its sails furled tightly against the yards.

 

    A path led down the cliffside to the beach below. The first thing

 

Kith-Kanan saw was Arcuballis, picking its way along the narrow path.

 

The griffon's glow stood out strongly against the fainter ones of its

 

captors. A red-caped figurepresumably the half-human Volternoled

 

the griffon by its bridle. A human trailed restlessly behind the beast.

 

Kith-Kanan stood up against the starry sky and loosed a quarrel at him.

 

The man felt the quarrel pass through the sleeve of his tunic, and he

 

screamed. Right away a swarm of men appeared on the beach. They

 

moved out from the base of the cliff and showered arrows up at

 

Kith-Kanan.

 

    "Halloo," called a voice from below. Kith-Kanan cautiously raised his

 

head. The figure in the red cape moved away from the captive griffon and

 

stood out on the beach in plain sight. "Halloo up there! Can you hear me?"

 


 

    "I hear you," Kith-Kanan shouted in reply. "Give me back my

 

griffon!"

 

    "I can't give him back. That beast is the only profit I'll realize on this

 

voyage. You've got the boy back, leave the animal and go on your way."

 

    "No! Surrender Arcuballis! I have you in my sight," Kith-Kanan

 

warned.

 

    "No doubt you do, but if you shoot me, my men will kill the griffon.

 

Now, I don't want to die, and I'm certain you don't want a dead griffon

 

either. What would you say to fighting for the beast in an honorable

 

contest with swords?"

 

    "How do I know you won't try some treachery?"

 

    The half-human flung off his cape. "I doubt that will be necessary."

 

    Kith-Kanan didn't trust him, but before the elf could say anything

 

more, the half-human had taken a lantern from one of his men and was

 

striding up the steep path to the top of the cliff, leading the griffon as he

 

came. Arcuballis, usually so spirited, hung its head as it walked. The

 

powerful wings had been pinioned by leather straps, and a muzzle made

 

from chain mail covered the griffon's hooked beak.

 

    "You have bewitched my animal," Kith-Kanan said furiously.

 

    Voltorno tied the bridle to a tree and set the lantern on a waist-high

 

boulder. "It is necessary." As the half-human faced Kith-Kanan, the elf

 

studied him carefully. He was quite tall, and in the lantern's glow his hair

 

was golden. A fine, downy beard covered his cheeks and chin, revealing

 

his human heritage, but Voltorno's ears were slightly pointed, denoting

 

elven blood. His clothes and general bearing were far more refined than

 

any of the humans with him.

 


 

     "Are you sure you have enough light to see?" Kith-Kanan asked

 

sarcastically, gesturing at the lantern.

 

     Voltorno smiled brilliantly. "0h, that isn't for me. It's for my men.

 

They would hate to miss the show."

 

     When Kith-Kanan presented his sword, Voltorno complimented him

 

on the weapon. "The pattern is a bit old-fashioned, but very handsome. I

 

shall enjoy using it after you're dead," he smirked.

 

     The sailors lined the beach below to watch the duel. They cheered

 

Voltorno and jeered Kith-Kanan as the two duelists circled each other

 

warily. The half-human's blade flickered in, reaching for Kith-Kanan's

 

heart. The elf parried, rolled the slim Ergothian rapier aside, and lunged

 

with his stouter elven point.

 

     Voltorno laughed and steered Kith-Kanan's thrust into the ground. He

 

tried to stomp on the prince's blade, to snap the stiff iron, but Kith-Kanan

 

drew back, avoiding the seafarer's heavy boots.

 

     "You fight well," Voltorno offered. "Who are you? Despite the rags

 

you wear, you are no wild elf."

 

     "I am Silvanesti. That is all you need to know," Kith-Kanan said

 

tightly.

 

     Voltorno smiled, pleasantly enough. "So much pride. You think I am

 

some renegade."

 

     "It is easy to see which race you have chosen to serve," Kith-Kanan

 

said.

 

     "The humans, for all their crudity, have appreciation for talent. In

 

your nation I would be an outcast, lowest of the low. Among the humans, I

 


 

am a very useful fellow. I could find a place for you in my company. As I

 

rise, so could you. We would go far, elf."

 

    Voltorno spoke in an increasingly obvious lilt. His words rose and fell

 

in a sort of sing-song intonation that Kith-Kanan found peculiar. The

 

half-human was only a few feet from Kith-Kanan, and the elf prince saw

 

that he was making small, slow gestures with his free hand.

 

    "I owe my allegiance elsewhere," Kith-Kanan stated. His sword felt

 

heavy in his hand.

 

    "Pity." With renewed vigor, Voltorno attacked. Kith-Kanan fought

 

him off clumsily, for the very air was beginning to seem thick, impeding

 

his movements. As their blades tangled, Kith-Kanan lost his plan of

 

defense and Voltorno's steel slipped by his hilt and pierced his upper arm,

 

The half-human stepped back, still smiling like a beneficent cleric.

 

    The weapon fell from Kith-Kanares numb hand. He stared at it in

 

dawning horror. His fingers had no more feeling than wood or wax. He

 

tried to speak, but his tongue felt thick. A terrifying lethargy gripped him.

 

Though in his mind he was yelling and fighting, his voice and limbs would

 

not obey. Magic . . . it was magic. Voltorno had bewitched Arcuballis,

 

now him.

 

    Voltorno sheathed his own sword and picked up Kith-Kanan's. "How

 

splendidly ironic it will be to kill you with your own sword," he noted.

 

Then he raised the weapon

 

    And it flew from his hand! Voltorno looked down at his chest and the

 

quarrel that had suddenly appeared there. His knees buckled, and he fell.

 

    Mackeli stepped out of the dark ring of trees, a crossbow in his hands.

 

Kith-Kanan staggered back away from the half-human. His strength was

 


 

returning, in spite of the wound in his arm. Like a river freed from a dam,

 

feeling rushed back into his body. He picked up his sword and heard

 

shouts from the beach. The humans were coming to aid their fallen leader.

 

    "So," said the half-human through bloody lips, "you triumph after

 

all." He grimaced and touched his fingers to the quarrel in his chest. "Go

 

ahead, end it."

 

    Already the humans were running up the steep path toward them.

 

"I've no time to waste on you," spat Kith-Kanan contemptuously. He

 

wanted to sound strong, but his narrow escape had left him shaken.

 

    He took Mackeli by the arm and hurried to Arcuballis. The boy hung

 

back as Kith-Kanan removed the muzzle from the griffon's beak and cut

 

the leather pinions from its wings. The fire was returning to the griffon's

 

eyes. The creature clawed the ground with its talons.

 

    Kith-Kanan touched his forehead to the beast's feathered head and

 

said, "It's good to see you, old fellow." He heard the commotion as the

 

humans came roaring up the cliffside. Mounting the griffon, Kith-Kanan

 

slid forward in the saddle and said, "Climb on, Mackeli." The elf boy

 

looked uncertain. "Hurry, the spell is broken but Voltorno's men are

 

coming!"

 

    After another second's hesitation, Mackeli grasped Kith-Kanan's hand

 

and swung into the saddle behind him. Armed sailors appeared on top of

 

the cliff, and they rushed to Voltorno. Behind them came a tall human

 

with a full, red-brown beard. He pointed to the elves. "Stop them!" he

 

cried in a booming voice.

 

    "Hold on!" shouted Kith-Kanan. He slapped the reins across

 

Arcuballis's neck, and the griffon bounded toward the men. They dropped

 


 

and scattered like leaves in a whirlwind. Another leap and Arcuballis

 

cleared the edge of the cliff. Mackeli gave a short, sharp cry of fear, but

 

Kith-Kanan yelled with pure joy. Some of the humans got to their feet and

 

loosed arrows at them, but the distance was too great. Kith-Kanan steered

 

Arcuballis out over the foaming surf, turned, and gained height. As they

 

swept past the site of the duel, he saw the red-bearded fellow raise

 

Voltorno to his feet. That one wasn't going to die easily, the prince noted.

 

    "It's good to see you!" Kith-Kanan shouted over his shoulder. "You

 

saved my life, you know." There was no response from Mackeli and

 

Kith-Kanan asked, "Are you well?"

 

    "I was weller on the ground," Mackeli said, his voice high with

 

anxiety. He tightened his fierce grip on Kith-Kanan's waist as he asked,

 

"Where are we going?"

 

    "To fetch Anaya. Hold tight!"

 

    The griffon gave voice to its own triumphant cry. The trilling roar

 

burst over the wildwood, announcing their return to the waiting Anaya.

 


 

                                     11

 

                       Early Autumn, Year of the Hawk

 

 

 

 

  The traditional way across the river to Silvanost was by ferry. Large,

 

flat-bottomed barges were drawn back and forth across the Thon-Thalas

 

by giant turtles. Some time in the distant past, priests of the Blue Phoenix,

 

god of all animal life, had woven the spells that brought the first giant

 

turtles into being.

 

    They had taken a pair of common river turtles, usually the size of a

 

grown elf's palm, and worked their spells over them until they were as big

 

as houses. Thereafter, the priests bred their own giants, creating quite a

 

sizeable herd. The vast green domes of the turtles' shells had become a

 

common sight as the placid beasts gave faithful service for many

 

centuries.

 

    Lady Nirakina stood on the riverbank, watching a barge of refugees,

 

pulled by just such a turtle, arrive from the west bank. Beside her stood

 

Tamanier Ambrodel, his arm still in a sling. A month had passed since the

 

Trial Days, and during that time more and more settlers from the western

 

plains and forests had retreated to Silvanost for protection.

 

    "How many does that make?" asked Nirakina, shading her eyes to see

 

the crowded barge.

 

    Tamanier checked the tally he was keeping. "Four hundred and

 

nineteen, my lady," he said. "And more coming all the time."

 

    The settlers were mostly from the poorer families of Silvanesti who

 

had gone west to work new land and make new lives for themselves.

 


 

Though largely unharmed, they were footsore, exhausted, and

 

demoralized. Their stories were all the same: bands of humans and

 

Kagonesti elves had burned down their houses and orchards and ordered

 

them to leave. The Silvanesti, unarmed and unorganized, had little choice

 

but to pack their meager belongings and trek back to Silvanost.

 

    Nirakina had received her husband's blessing to organize relief for the

 

displaced settlers. A field along the southern end of the city was set aside

 

for them, and a shanty town of tents and lean-tos had sprung up in the last

 

few weeks. Nirakina had persuaded many of the city guilds and great

 

temples to contribute food, blankets, and money for the care of the

 

refugees.

 

    Sithel was doing all he could for the refugees, too, but his job was

 

made far more complicated by the demands of the state. The Tower of the

 

Stars was filled daily with petitioners who entreated the speaker to call

 

together the army and clear the plains of the raiders. Sithel quite rightly

 

realized this was not a practical solution. A big, slow-moving army would

 

never catch small, mobile raider bands.

 

    "Our neighbors to the west, Thorbardin and Ergoth, would be very

 

unhappy to see an elven army on their borders," Sithel told his more

 

bellicose nobles. "It would be an invitation to war, and that is an invitation

 

I will not countenance."

 

    So the refugees continued to come, first in a trickle, then in a steady

 

stream. As he was acquainted with them and knew first-hand the problems

 

they faced, Tamanier Ambrodel was chosen by Lady Nirakina to be her

 

chief assistant. He proved a tireless worker, but even with his efforts, the

 

camp along the riverbank became dirty and rowdy as more and more

 


 

frightened settlers swelled its ranks. A pall of smoke and fear hovered

 

over the refugee camp. It did not take long for the residents of Silvanost to

 

lose their sympathy and regard the refugees with disgust.

 

    This day Nirakina had gone down to the water's edge to speak to the

 

refugees as they came ashore. The weary, grimy travelers were amazed to

 

see the speaker's wife waiting on the muddy bank, her richly made gown

 

trailing in the mud, only Tamanier Ambrodel standing beside her.

 

    "They are so sad, so tired," she murmured to him. He stood by her

 

side making notations on a wax tablet.

 

    "It's a sad thing to lose your home and those you love best, my lady."

 

Tamanier filled a square of twenty and blocked it off. "That makes two

 

hundred and twenty in one barge, including sixty-six humans and

 

half-humans." He eyed her uncertainly. "The speaker will not be pleased

 

that those not of our blood are entering the city."

 

    "I know the speaker's heart," Nirakina said a little sharply. Her slight

 

figure bristled with indignation. "It is the others at court who want to

 

cause trouble for these poor folk."

 

    An elf woman struggled ashore from a small boat, carrying a baby in

 

her arms. She slipped and fell to her knees in the muddy water. Other

 

exhausted refugees tramped past her. Nirakina, without hesitation, waded

 

into the press of silent people and helped the elf woman to her feet. Their

 

eyes met, and the raggedly dressed woman said, "Thank you, my lady."

 

    With nothing else to say, she held her child to her shoulder and

 

slogged ashore. Nirakina was standing, openly admiring the woman's

 

dogged courage, when a hand touched her arm.

 

    "You'd best be careful, Lady," Tamanier said.

 


 

    Unheeding, Nirakina replied, "The priests and nobles will fume about

 

this, about the mixed-blood people especially." Her serene expression

 

darkened. "They should all be made to come here and see the poor

 

innocents they would deny comfort and shelter!"

 

    Tamanier gently tugged Lady Nirakina back to the riverbank.

 

    On the other side of the city, the Tower of the Stars rang with

 

denunciations of the refugees.

 

    "When the gods created the world, they made our race first, to be the

 

guardians of right and truth," declared Firincalos, high priest of E'li. "It is

 

our sacred duty to preserve ourselves as the gods made us, a pure race,

 

always recognizable as Silvanesti."

 

    "Well said! Quite true!" The assembly of nobles and clerics called out

 

in rising voices.

 

    Sithas watched his father. The speaker listened placidly to all this, but

 

he did not look pleased. It was not so much that his father disagreed with

 

the learned Firincalos; Sithas had heard similar sentiments espoused

 

before. But he knew the speaker hated to be lectured to by anyone, for any

 

reason.

 

    Since the Trial Days, Sithas had been at his father's side daily, taking

 

a hand in the day-to-day administration of the country. He'd learned new

 

respect for Sithel when he saw how his father managed to balance the

 

pleas of the priests, the ideas of the nobles, and the needs of the guilds

 

against his own philosophy of what was best for Silvanesti.

 

    Sithas had learned respectbut not admiration. He believed his father

 

was too flexible, gave in too often to the wrong people. It surprised him,

 


 

for he had always thought of Sithel as a strong ruler. Why didn't he simply

 

command obedience instead of constantly compromising?

 

    Sithel waved for the assembled elves to be quiet. Miritelisina, high

 

priestess of Quenesti Pah, was standing, seeking the speaker's grant to

 

comment. The hall quieted, and Sithel bade Miritelisina begin.

 

    "I must ask the pure and righteous Firincalos what he would do with

 

the husbands, wives, and children now languishing in huts along the

 

riverbank, those who are not pure in our blood yet who have the deepest

 

ties to some number of our race?" Her rich voice filled the high tower. In

 

her youth, Miritelisina had been a renowned singer, and she played upon

 

her listeners with all her old skills. "Shall we throw them into the river?

 

Shall we drive them from the island, back onto the swords and torches of

 

the bandits who drove them east?"

 

       A few harsh voices cried "Yes!" to her questions.

 

    Sithas folded his arms and studied Miritelisina. She cut a regal figure

 

in her sapphire headband and white robe with its trailing, sky-blue sash.

 

Her waist-length, flaxen hair rippled down her back as she swept a

 

pointing finger over the mostly male crowd of elves.

 

    "Shame on you all!" she shouted. "Is there no mercy in Silvanost?

 

The humans and half-humans are not here because they want to be! Evil

 

has been done to them, evil that must be laid at someone's door. But to

 

treat them like animals, to deny them simple shelter, is likewise evil. My

 

holy brothers, is this the way of rightness and truth of which the honorable

 

Firincalos speaks? It does not sound that way to me. I would more expect

 

to hear such harsh sentiments from devotees of the Dragonqueen!"

 


 

    Sithas stiffened. The willful priestess had gone too far! Firincalos and

 

his colleagues thought so, too. They pushed to the front of the crowd,

 

outraged at being compared to the minions of the Queen of Evil. The air

 

thickened with denunciations, but Sithel, sitting back on his throne, did

 

nothing to restrain the angry clerics.

 

      Sithas turned to his father. "May I speak?" he asked calmly.

 

    "I've been waiting for you to take a stand," Sithel said impatiently.

 

"Go ahead. But remember, if you swim with snakes, you may get bitten."

 

    Sithas bowed to his father. "This is a hard time for our people," he

 

began loudly. The wrangling on the floor subsided, and the prince lowered

 

his voice. "It is evident from events in the West that the humans, probably

 

with the support of the emperor of Ergoth, are trying to take over our

 

plains and woodland provinces, not by naked conquest, but by displacing

 

our farmers and traders. Terror is their tool, and so far it is working far

 

better than they could have dreamed. I tell you this first and ask you all to

 

remember who is responsible for the situation in which we now find

 

ourselves."

 

    Sithel nodded with satisfaction. Sithas noted his father's reaction and

 

went on.

 

    "The refugees come to Silvanost seeking our protection, and we

 

cannot fail to give it. It is our duty. We protect those not of our race

 

because they have come on bended knee, as subjects must do before their

 

lords. It is only right and proper that we shield them from harm, not only

 

because the gods teach the virtue of mercy, but also because these are the

 

people who grow our crops, sell our goods, who pay their taxes and their

 

fealty." A murmur passed through the assembly. Sithas's calm, rational

 


 

tone, so long honed in debates with the priests of Matheri, dampened the

 

anger that had reigned earlier. The clerics relaxed from their previous

 

trembling outrage. Miritelisina smiled faintly.

 

         Sithas dropped his hands to his hips and looked over the gathering

 

with stern resolve. "But make no mistake! The preservation of our race is

 

of the greatest importance. Not merely the purity of our blood, but the

 

purity of our customs, traditions, and laws. For that reason, I ask the

 

speaker to decree a new place of refuge for the settlers, on the western

 

bank of the Thon-Thalas, for the sole purpose of housing all humans and

 

half-humans. Further, I suggest that all non-Silvanesti be sent across to

 

there from the current tent village."

 

         There was a moment of silence as the assembly took in this idea, then

 

the tower erupted with calls of "Well spoken! Well said!"

 

         "What about the husbands and wives who are full-blooded

 

Silvanesti?" demanded Miritelisina.

 

         "They may go with their families, of course," replied Sithas evenly.

 

         "They should be made to go," insisted Damroth, priest of Kiri Jolith.

 

"They are an insult to our heritage."

 

         Sithel rapped the arm of his throne with his massive signet ring. The

 

sound echoed through the Tower of the Stars. Instant silence claimed the

 

hall.

 

         "My son does me honor," the speaker said. "Let all he has said be

 

done." The priestess of Quenesti Pah opened her mouth to protest, but

 

Sithel rapped on his throne again, as a warning. "Those Silvanesti who

 

have taken humans as mates will go with their kin. They have chosen their

 

path, now they must follow it. Let it be done."

 


 

       He stood, a clear signal that the audience was over. The assembly

 

bowed deeply as one and filed out. In a few minutes, only Sithel and

 

Sithas were left.

 

     "That Miritelisina," said Sithel wryly. "She's a woman of extreme

 

will."

 

     "She's too sentimental," Sithas complained, coming to his father's

 

side. "I didn't notice her offering to take the half-breeds into her temple."

 

     "No, but she's spent a third of the temple treasury on tents and

 

firewood, I hear." The speaker rubbed his brow with one hand and sighed

 

gustily. "Do you think it will come to war? There's no real proof Ergoth is

 

behind these attacks."

 

     Sithas frowned. "These are not ordinary bandits. Ordinary bandits

 

don't scorn gold in favor of wrecking fruit trees. I understand this new

 

emperor, Ullves X, is an ambitious young schemer. Perhaps if we confront

 

him directly, he would restrain the 'bandits' now at liberty in our western

 

lands."

 

     Sithel looked doubtful. "Humans are difficult to deal with. They have

 

more guile than kender, and their rapaciousness can make a goblin pale.

 

And yet, they know honor, loyalty, and courage. It would be easier if they

 

were all cruel or all noble, but as it is, they are mostly . . . difficult."

 

Rising from the throne, the speaker added, "Still, talk is cheaper than war.

 

Prepare a letter to the emperor of Ergoth. Ask him to send an emissary for

 

the purpose of ending the strife on the plains. Oh, you'd better send a

 

similar note to the king of Thorbardin. They have a stake in this, too."

 

          "I will begin at once," Sithas assented, bowing deeply.

 

                                    *   *   *   *   *

 


 

    Usually, diplomatic notes to foreign rulers would be composed by

 

professional scribes, but Sithas sat down at the onyx table in his private

 

room and began the letter himself. He dipped a fine stylus in a pot of black

 

ink and wrote the salutation. "To His Most Excellent and Highborn

 

Majesty, Ullves X, Emperor, Prince of Daltigoth, Grand Duke of Colem,

 

etc., etc." The prince shook his head. Humans dearly loved titles; how they

 

piled them after their names. "From Sithel, Speaker of the Stars, Son of

 

Silvanos. Greetings, Royal Brother."

 

    Hermathya burst into the room, red-gold hair disheveled, mantle

 

askew. Sithas was so startled he dropped a blot of ink on the page, spoiling

 

the fine vellum.

 

    "Sithas!" she exclaimed breathlessly, rushing toward him. "They are

 

rioting!"

 

    "Who's rioting?" he growled irritably.

 

    "The farmersthe settlers lately come from the West. Word got out

 

that the speaker was going to force them to leave Silvanost, and they

 

began to smash and burn things. A band of them attacked the Market!

 

Parts of it are on fire!"

 

    Sithas rushed to the balcony. He threw aside the heavy brocade

 

curtain and stepped out. His rooms faced away from the Market district,

 

but through the muggy autumn air he caught the distant sounds of

 

screaming.

 

    "Has the royal guard been turned out?" he asked, returning inside

 

quickly.

 

    Hermathya inhaled deeply, her pale skin flushed as she tried to get her

 

breathing under control. "I think so. I saw warriors headed that way. My

 


 

sedan chair was blocked by a column of guards, so I got out and ran to the

 

palace."

 

     "You shouldn't have done that," he said sternly. Sithas imagined

 

Hermathya running down the street like some wild Kagonesti. What

 

would the common folk think, seeing his wife dashing through town like a

 

wild thing?

 

     When she planted her hands on her hips, the prince noticed that

 

Hermathya's mantle had slipped down, leaving one white shoulder bare.

 

Her flame-bright hair had escaped its confining clasp and tendrils

 

streamed around her reddened face. Her blush deepened at Sithas's words.

 

     "I thought it important to bring you the news!"

 

     "The news would have come soon enough," he stated tersely. He

 

pulled a bell cord for a servant. An elf maid appeared with silent

 

efficiency. "A bowl of water and a towel for Lady Hermathya," Sithas

 

commanded. The maid bowed and departed.

 

     Hermathya flung off her dusty mantle. "I don't need water!" she

 

exclaimed angrily. "I want to know what you're going to do about the

 

riot!"

 

     "The warriors will quell it," the prince stated flatly as he returned to

 

the table. When he saw that the parchment was ruined, Sithas frowned at

 

the letter.

 

     "Well, I hope no harm comes to Lady Nirakina!" she added.

 

     Sithas ceased twirling the stylus in his fingers. "What do you mean?"

 

he asked sharply.

 

     "Your mother is out there, in the midst of the fighting!"

 


 

    He seized Hermathya by the arms. His grip was so tight, a gasp was

 

wrenched from his wife. "Don't lie to me, Hermathya! Why should Mother

 

be in that part of the city?"

 

    "Don't you know? She was at the river with that Ambrodel fellow,

 

helping the poor wretches."

 

    Sithas released her quickly, and she staggered back a step. He thought

 

fast. Then, turning to an elegant wardrobe made of flamewood, he pulled

 

his street cloak off its peg and flipped it around his shoulders. On another

 

peg was a sword belt holding a slender sword, the twin of his brother's. He

 

buckled the belt around his waist. It settled lopsidedly around his narrow

 

hips.

 

    "I'm going to find my mother," he declared.

 

    Hermathya grabbed her mantle. "I'll go with you!"

 

    "You will not," he said firmly. "It isn't seemly for you to roam the

 

streets. You will stay here."

 

    "I will do as I please!"

 

    Hermathya started for the door, but Sithas caught her wrist and pulled

 

her back. Her eyes blazed furiously.

 

    "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't even know about the danger!" she

 

hissed.

 

    Voice tight with control, Sithas replied, "Lady, if you wish to remain

 

in my good graces, you will do as I say."

 

    She stuck out her chin. "Oh? And if I don't, what will you do? Strike

 

me?" Sithas felt impaled by her deep blue eyes and, in spite of his anxiety

 

about his mother, he felt a surge of passion. The starjewel at Hermathya's

 

throat flashed. There was color in her cheeks to match the heat in her eyes.

 


 

Their life together had been so cold. So little fire, so little emotion. Her

 

arms were smooth and warm in Sithas's hands as he leaned close. But in

 

the instant before their lips met, Hermathya whispered, "I will do as I

 

please!"

 

    The prince pushed his wife back and turned away, breathing deeply to

 

calm himself. She used her beauty like a weapon, not only on the

 

commoners, but even on him. Sithas closed the collar of his cloak with a

 

trembling hand.

 

    "Find my father. Tell the speaker what has happened and what I

 

intend to do."

 

    "Where is the speaker?" she said sulkily.

 

    He snapped, "I don't know. Why don't you look for him?" Without

 

another word, Sithas hurried from the room.

 

    On his way out, the prince passed the servant as she returned with a

 

bowl of tepid water and a soft, white towel. The elf maiden stood aside to

 

let Sithas pass, then presented the bowl to Hermathya. She scowled at the

 

girl, then, with one hand, knocked the basin from the servant's hands. The

 

bronze bowl hit the marble floor with a clang, splashing Hermathya's feet

 

with water.

 


 

                                      12

 

                          Idyll at the End of Summer

 

 

 

 

  Arcuballis lowered its head to the clear water and drank. Not far from

 

the hollow tree, where Anaya and Mackeli lived, a spring welled up from

 

deep underground, creating a large, still pool. The water spilled over the

 

lip of one side of the pool, cascading down natural steps of granite and

 

bluestone.

 

    It was two days after Kith-Kanan had flown them all safely home. He

 

had come to the pool daily since then to bathe his wounded arm. Though

 

tender, it was a clean wound and showed every sign of healing well.

 

    Despite her own injury, Anaya would not let Kith-Kanan carry her to

 

the pool. Instead, she directed Mackeli to bring her certain roots and

 

leaves, from which she made a poultice. As Kith-Kanan watched her chew

 

the medicinal leaves herself, he listened for the fourth time to Mackeli's

 

tale of capture and captivity.

 

    "And then Voltorno told the woodcutters there were no evil spirits in

 

the forest, and they believed him, until they came running back down the

 

trail, screaming and falling on their hairy faces."

 

    "Do you suppose we could give him back?" Anaya iuterrupted with a

 

bored expression.

 

    "I think so," offered Kith-Kanan. "The ship may not have sailed yet."

 

    Mackeli looked at the two of them open-mouthed. "Give me back!"

 

he said, horrified. Slowly the boy smiled. "You're teasing me!"

 


 

    "I'm not," said Anaya, wincing as she applied the chewed leaves and

 

root paste to her wound. Mackeli's face fell until Kith-Kanan winked at

 

him.

 

    "Come with me to the spring," the prince said. It was better to leave

 

Anaya alone. Her wound had made her testy.

 

    Kith-Kanan led Arcuballis through the woods by its reins. Mackeli

 

walked beside him.

 

    "There is one thing I'm not clear about," Kith-Kanan said after a time.

 

"Was it Voltorno who cast the spell on me that first night, the night he

 

stole Arcuballis from me?"

 

    "It must have been," Mackeli guessed. "His men were starved for

 

meat, so Voltorno worked up a spell to enthrall any warmblooded

 

creatures in the area. The deer, rabbits, boar, and other animals had long

 

since fled, warned of the humans by the corvae. All he got for his trouble

 

was your griffon, which he knew was rare and valuable."

 

    As Arcuballis drank its fill, the elf prince and the Kagonesti boy sat

 

on a bluestone boulder and listened to the water cascading from the pool.

 

    "I'm glad you and Ny are getting along," Mackeli noted. "She is not

 

easy to live with."

 

    "That I know."

 

    The Kagonesti tossed a twig into the water and watched as it was

 

drawn down the miniature falls.

 

    "Mackeli, what do you remember about your parents? Your mother

 

and fatherwhat were they like?"

 

    Mackeli's forehead wrinkled with deep thought. "I don't know. I must

 

have been a baby when they left."

 


 

     "Left? Do you mean died?"

 

     "No. Ny always said our parents left us and meant to come back some

 

day," he said.

 

     She and Mackeli looked so completely different, it was hard for

 

Kith-Kanan to believe they were blood relatives.

 

     "You know, Kith, I watched you fight with Voltorno. It was really

 

something! The way you moved, swish, clang, swish!" Mackeli waved his

 

hand in the air, holding an imaginary sword. "I wish I could fight like

 

that."

 

     "I could teach you," said Kith-Kanan. "If Anaya doesn't mind."

 

     Mackeli wrinkled his nose, as if he smelled something bad. "I know

 

what she'll say: `Get out of this tree! You stink like metal!' "

 

     "Maybe she wouldn't notice." The boy and the prince looked at each

 

other and then shook their heads in unison. "She'd notice," Kith-Kanan

 

said. "We'll just have to ask her."

 

     They walked back to the clearing. Anaya had limped, no doubt

 

painfully, out of the tree into the one sunny spot in the clearing. An ugly

 

smear of greenish paste covered her wound.

 

     "Ny, uh, Kith has something to ask you," Mackeli said quickly.

 

     She opened her eyes. "What is it?"

 

     Kith-Kanan tied Arcuballis to a tree in the shaded end of the clearing.

 

He came to where Anaya was reclining and squatted down beside her.

 

     "Mackeli wants to learn the use of arms, and I'm willing to teach him.

 

Is that agreeable to you?"

 

     "You wish to take up metal?" she said sharply to the boy. Mackeli

 

nodded as his sister sat up, moving stiffly. "A long time ago, I made a

 


 

bargain with the spirits of the forest. In return for their allowing me to hear

 

and speak with the animals and trees, I was to be their guardian against

 

outsiders, and those who would despoil the forest are my enemies. And the

 

forest told me that the worst of these intruders carried metal, which is

 

soulless and dead, torn from the deep underground, burned in fire, and

 

used only to kill and destroy. In time the very smell of metal came to

 

offend my nose."

 

    "You find it acceptable for me to carry a sword and dagger," noted

 

Kith-Kanan.

 

    "The Forestmaster chose you for a task, and I cannot fault her

 

judgment. You drove the intruders out, saving my brother and the forest."

 

She looked at Mackeli. "The choice is yours, but if you take up metal, the

 

beasts will no longer speak to you. I may even have to send you away."

 

    Mackeli's face showed shock. "Send me away?" he whispered. He

 

looked around. The hollow oak, the shaded clearing, and Anaya were all

 

he had ever known of home and family. "Is there no other way?"

 

    "No," Anaya said flatly, and tears sprang up in Mackeli's eyes.

 

    Kith-Kanan couldn't understand the elf woman's hardness. "Don't

 

despair, Mackeli," he said consolingly. "I can teach swordsmanship using

 

wooden staves in place of iron blades." He looked at Anaya and added a

 

bit sarcastically, "Is that allowed?"

 

    She waved one hand dismissively.

 

    Kith-Kanan put a hand on Mackeli's shoulder. "What do you say, do

 

you still want to learn?" he asked.

 

    Mackeli blotted his eyes on his sleeve and sniffed, "Yes."

 

                                   *   *   *   *   *

 


 

    As summer lay down like a tired hound and autumn rose up to take its

 

place, Kith-Kanan and Mackeli sparred with wooden swords in the

 

clearing. It was not harmless fun, and many bruises and black eyes

 

resulted from unguarded blows landed on unprotected flesh. But there was

 

no anger in it, and the boy and the prince developed more than fighting

 

skill on those sunny afternoons. They developed a friendship. Bereft of

 

home and family, with no real plans for the future, Kith-Kanan was glad to

 

have something to fill his days.

 

    Early on, Anaya watched them dance and dodge, shouting and

 

laughing as the wooden "blades" hit home. Her side healed quickly, more

 

quickly than Kith-Kanan thought natural, and before long Anaya retreated

 

to the woods. She came and went according to her own whims, often

 

returning with a dressed out hart or a snare line of rabbits. Kith-Kanan

 

believed she had finally come to accept his presence in her home, but she

 

did not join in the easy camaraderie that grew between him and her

 

brother.

 

    One day, as the first leaves were changing from green to gold,

 

Kith-Kanan went down to the spring. Mackeli was off collecting from a

 

rich harvest of fall nuts, and Anaya had been gone for several days. He

 

patted Arcuballis's flank in passing, then plunged into the cool shade

 

along the path to the pool.

 

    His newly sharpened senses caught the sound of splashing in the

 

water halfway down the path. Curious, he slipped into the underbrush.

 

Kith-Kanan crept along soundlesslyfor his walking and breathing were

 

much improved, alsountil he came to the high ground overlooking the

 

pool.

 


 

    Treading water in the center of the pool was a dark-haired elf woman.

 

Her raven-black tresses floated on the surface around her like a cloud of

 

dense smoke. It took Kith-Kanan a moment to realize he was looking at

 

Anaya. Her hair was free of its long braid, and all her skin paint was

 

washed off; he nearly didn't recognize her clean-scrubbed features.

 

Smiling, he sat down by the trunk of a lichen-encrusted oak to watch her

 

swim.

 

    For all her stealth on land, Anaya was not a graceful swimmer. She

 

paddled back and forth, using a primitive stroke. The fishers of the

 

Thon-Thalas could teach her a thing or two, Kith-Kanan decided.

 

    When she climbed out of the water onto a ledge of granite,

 

Kith-Kanan saw that she was naked. Accustomed though he was to the

 

highly prized pallor of city-dwellers, he found her sun-browned body

 

oddly beautiful. It was lithe and firmly muscled. Her legs were strong, and

 

there was an unconscious, easy grace in her movements. She was like a

 

forest spirit, wild and free. And as Anaya ran her hands through her hair

 

and hummed to herself, Kith-Kanan felt the stirrings of emotions he had

 

thought dead months ago, when he'd fled Silvanost.

 

    Anaya lay down on the rock ledge, pillowing her head with one arm.

 

Eyes closed, she appeared to sleep. Kith-Kanan stood up and meant to slip

 

around the far side of the pool in order to surprise her. But the hill was

 

steep, and the vines were green enough to be slippery when his sandals

 

crushed them. That Kith-Kanan was watching Anaya, not his footing,

 

made the going even more treacherous. He took two steps and fell, sliding

 

feet first down the hill into the pool.

 


 

     He surfaced, choking and spitting. Anaya hadn't moved, but she said,

 

"You go to a lot of trouble just to see me bathe."

 

     "I" the prince sneezed violently "heard someone in the spring

 

and came to investigate. I didn't know it was you." Despite the weight of

 

his clothes and sword, he swam in long strokes to the ledge where she lay.

 

Anaya made no move to cover herself, but merely moved over to give him

 

room to sit on the rock.

 

     "Are you all right?" she asked.

 

     "Only my pride hurts." He stood up, averting his eyes from her. "I'm

 

sorry I intruded, I'll go."

 

     "Go or stay. It doesn't matter to me." When he hesitated, Anaya

 

added, "I am not modest in the fashion of your city females."

 

     "Yet you wear clothes," he felt obliged to say. Uncomfortable as he

 

was with her nudity, he felt strangely unwilling to leave her.

 

     "A deerskin tunic is good protection from thorns." Anaya watched

 

Kith-Kartan with some amusement as his gaze flickered over her and

 

away for a third time. "It bothers you. Give me your tunic." He protested,

 

but she insisted, so he removed his wet tunic.

 

     She pulled it over her head. The tunic covered her to her knees. "Is

 

that better?"

 

     He smiled sheepishly. "I can't get over how different you look," he

 

said. "Without lines painted on your face, I mean." It was true. Her hazel

 

eyes were large and darker than his twin's. She had a small, full-lipped

 

mouth and a high forehead.

 

     As if in response, Anaya stretched lazily, like a big cat. She put more

 

into, and seemed to get more out of, a simple stretch than anyone

 


 

Kith-Kanan had ever seen. "Don't the women of your race adorn

 

themselves?" she inquired.

 

    "Well, yes, but not to the point of disguising themselves," he said

 

earnestly. "I like your face. Seems a pity to cover it."

 

    Anaya sat up and looked at him curiously. "Why do you say that?"

 

    "Because it's true," he said simply.

 

    She shook herself. "Don't talk nonsense."

 

    "I hope you're not angry with me any more for teaching Mackeli how

 

to fight," he said, hoping to draw the conversation out a little longer. He

 

was enjoying talking with her.

 

    She shrugged. "My injury made me short-tempered. I wasn't angry

 

with you." She gazed out at the clear water. After a moment, she said

 

slowly, "I am glad Mackeli has a friend."

 

    He smiled and reached a hand out to touch her arm. "You have a

 

friend, too, you know."

 

    Quickly Anaya rolled to her feet and pulled his tunic off. Dropping it,

 

she dove into the pool. She stayed under so long that Kith-Kanan began to

 

worry. He was about to dive in after her when Mackeli appeared on the

 

other side of the pool, his bag bursting with chestnuts.

 

    "Hello, Kith! Why are you all wet?"

 

    "Anaya went in the water and hasn't come back up!"

 

    Mackeli heaved the heavy sack to the ground. "Don't worry," he said.

 

"She's gone to her cave." Kith-Kanan looked at him blankly. "There's a

 

tunnel in the pool that connects to a cave. She goes down there when she's

 

upset about something. Did you two have words?"

 


 

        "Not exactly," Kith-Kanan said, staring at the water's surface. "I just

 

told her I liked her face and that I was her friend."

 

        Mackeli scratched his cheek skeptically. "Well, there's no use waiting

 

there. She may not come up for days!" He hoisted the sack onto his

 

narrow shoulder and added, "The cave is Ny's secret place. We can't get

 

in."

 

        Kith-Kanan picked up his tunic and circled around the pool to where

 

Mackeli stood. They walked up the path to the clearing. Every third step

 

or so, Kith-Kanan looked back at the quiet spring. The forest woman was

 

so difficult to understand. He kept hoping she would reappear, but she

 

didn't.

 

                                        *   *   *   *   *

 

        The sun set, and Mackeli and Kith-Kanan roasted chestnuts in the fire.

 

When they were full, they lay on their backs in the grass and watched a

 

fall of stars in the sky. The stars trailed fiery red tails across the black

 

night, and Kith-Kanan marveled at the beauty of the sight. Living indoors

 

in Silvanost, Kith-Kanan had seen only a few such falls. As the elf prince

 

stared into the sky, a gentle wind tickled the branches of the trees and

 

ruffled his hair.

 

        Kith-Kanan sat up to get another handful of chestnuts. He saw Anaya

 

sitting crosslegged by the fire and almost jumped out of his skin.

 

        "What are you playing at?" he asked, irritated at being so startled.

 

        "I came to share your fire."

 

        Mackeli sat up and poked a few roasted nuts from the ashes with a

 

stick. Though they were hot, Anaya casually picked one up and peeled the

 

red husk from the nut meat.

 


 

    "Your task is long done, Kith," she said in a low voice. "Why haven't

 

you returned to Silvanost?"

 

    He chewed a chestnut. "I have no life there," he said truthfully.

 

    Anaya's dark eyes looked out from her newly painted face. "Why not?

 

Any disgrace you committed can be forgiven," she said.

 

    "I committed no disgrace!" he said with heat.

 

    "Then go home. You do not belong here." Anaya rose and backed

 

away from the fire. Her eyes glowed in the firelight until she turned away.

 

    Mackeli gaped. "Ny has never acted so strangely. Something is

 

troubling her," he said as he jumped to his feet. "I'll ask"

 

    "No." The single word froze Mackeli in his tracks. "Leave her alone.

 

When she finds the answer, she'll tell us."

 

    Mackeli sat down again. They looked into the red coals in silence for

 

a while, then Mackeli said, "Why do you stay, Kith?"

 

    "Not you, too!"

 

    "Your life in the City of Towers was full of wonderful things. Why

 

did you leave? Why do you stay here?"

 

    "There's nowhere else I want to go right now, and I've made friends

 

here, or at least one friend." He smiled at Mackeli. "As for why I left"

 

Kith-Kanan rubbed his hands together as if they were cold. "Once I was in

 

love with a beautiful maiden, in Silvanost. She had wit and spirit, and I

 

believed she loved me. Then it came time for my brother, Sithas, to marry.

 

His wife was chosen for him by our father, the Speaker of the Stars. Of all

 

the suitable maidens in the city, my father chose the one I loved to be my

 

brother's bride." He pulled his dagger and drove it to the hilt in the dirt.

 

"And she married him willingly! She was glad to do it!"

 


 

    "I don't understand," admitted Mackeli.

 

    "Neither do I. Hermathya" Kith-Kanan closed his eyes, seeing her

 

in his mind and savoring the feel of her name on his lips "seemed to

 

love the idea of being the next speaker's wife more than being married to

 

one who loved her. So, I left home. I do not expect to see Silvanost again."

 

    The elf boy looked at Kith-Kanan, whose head hung down. The

 

prince still gripped his dagger hilt tightly. Mackeli cleared his throat and

 

said sincerely, "I hope you stay, Kith. Ny could never have taught me the

 

things you have. She never told me the kind of stories you tell. She's never

 

seen the great cities, or the warriors and nobles and priests."

 

    Kith-Kanan had raised his head. "I try not to think beyond today,

 

Keli. For now, the peace of this place suits me. Strange, after being used to

 

all the comforts and extravagances of royal birth . . ." His voice trailed off.

 

    "Perhaps we can make a new kingdom, here in the wildwood."

 

    Kith-Kanan smiled. "A kingdom?" he asked. "Just us three?"

 

    With complete earnestness, Mackeli said, "Nations must begin

 

somewhere, yes?"

 


 

                                     13

 

                              Day of Madness

 

 

 

 

    Sithas rode up the Street of Commerce at a canter, past the guild hall

 

towers that filled both sides. He reined in his horse clumsilyfor he

 

wasn't used to ridingwhen he spied the guild elves standing in the street,

 

watching smoke rise from the Market quarter.

 

    "Has the royal guard come this way?" he called at them.

 

    Wringing his hands, a senior master with the crest of the Gemcutters

 

Guild on his breast replied, "Yes, Highness, some time ago. The chaos

 

grows worse, I fear"

 

    "Have you seen my mother, Lady Nirakina?"

 

    The master gemcutter picked at his long dark hair with slim fingers

 

and shook his head in silent despair. Sithas snorted with frustration and

 

twisted his horse's head away, toward the rising pillar of smoke. "Go back

 

inside your halls," he called contemptuously. "Bolt your doors and

 

windows."

 

    "Will the half-breeds come here?" asked another guild elf

 

tremulously.

 

    "I don't know, but you'd better be prepared to defend yourselves."

 

Sithas thumped his horse's sides with his heels, then mount and rider

 

clattered down the street.

 

    Beyond the guild halls, in the first crossing street of the commoners'

 

district, he found the way littered with broken barrows, overturned sedan

 

chairs, and abandoned pushcarts. Sithas picked his way through the debris

 


 

with difficulty, for there were many common folk standing in the street.

 

Most were mute in disbelief, though some wept at the unaccustomed

 

violence so near their homes. They raised a cheer when they saw Sithas.

 

He halted again and asked if anyone had seen Lady Nirakina.

 

    "No one has come through since the warriors passed this way," said a

 

trader. "No one at all."

 

    He thanked them, then ordered them off the street. The elves retreated

 

to their houses. In minutes, the prince was alone.

 

    The poorer people of Silvanost lived in tower houses just as the rich

 

did. However, their homes seldom rose more than four or five stories.

 

Each house had a tiny garden around its base, miniature versions of the

 

great landscape around the Tower of the Stars. Trash and blown rubbish

 

now tainted the lovingly tended gardens. Smoke poisoned the air. Grimly

 

Sithas continued toward the heart of this madness.

 

    Two streets later, the prince saw his first rioters. A human woman and

 

a female Kagonesti were throwing pottery jugs onto the pavement,

 

smashing them. When they ran out of jugs, they went to a derelict potter's

 

cart and replenished their supply.

 

    "Stop that," Sithas commanded. The dark elf woman took one look at

 

the speaker's heir and fled with a shriek. Her human companion, however,

 

hurled a pot at Sithas. It shattered on the street at his horse's feet, spraying

 

the animal with shards. That done, the impudent human woman dusted her

 

hands and simply walked away.

 

    The horse backed and pranced, so Sithas had his hands full calming

 

the mount. When the horse was once more under control, he rode ahead.

 

The lane ended at a sharp turn to the right.

 


 

    The sounds of fighting grew louder as Sithas rode on, drawing his

 

sword.

 

    The street ahead was full of struggling peopleSilvanesti, Kagonesti,

 

human, kender, and dwarves. A line of royal guards with pikes held flat in

 

both hands were trying to keep the mass of fear-crazed folk back. Sithas

 

rode up to an officer giving orders to the band of warriors, who numbered

 

no more than twenty.

 

    "Captain! Where is your commander?" shouted Sithas, above the roar

 

of voices.

 

    "Highness!" The warrior, himself of Kagonesti blood, saluted crisply.

 

"Lord Kencathedrus is pursuing some of the criminals in the Market."

 

    Sithas, on horseback, could see far over the seething sea of people.

 

"Are all these rioters?" he asked, incredulous.

 

    "No, sire. Most are merchants and traders, trying to get away from the

 

criminals who set fire to the shops," the captain replied.

 

    'Why are you holding them back?"

 

    "Lord Kencathedrus's orders, sire. He didn't want these foreigners to

 

flood the rest of the city."

 

    When the prince asked the captain if he'd seen his mother, the warrior

 

shook his helmeted head. Sithas then asked if there was another way

 

around, a way to the river.

 

    "Keep them back!" barked the captain to his straining soldiers. "Push

 

them! Use your pike shafts!" He stepped back, closer to Sithas, and said,

 

"Yes, sire, you can circle this street and take White Rose Lane right to the

 

water."

 


 

    Sithas commended the captain and turned his horse around. A spatter

 

of stones and chunks of pottery rained over them. The captain and his

 

troops had little to fear; they were in armor. Neither Sithas nor his horse

 

were, so they cantered quickly away.

 

    White Rose Lane was narrow and lined on both sides by high stone

 

walls. This was the poorest section of Silvanost, where the house-towers

 

were the lowest. With only two or three floors, they resembled squat stone

 

drums, a far cry from the tall, gleaming spires of the high city.

 

    The lane was empty when Sithas entered it. Astride his horse, his

 

knees nearly scraped the walls on each side. A thin trickle of scummy

 

water ran down the gutter in the center of the lane. At the other end of the

 

alley, small groups of rioters dashed past. These groups of three or four

 

often had royal guards on their heels. Sithas emerged from White Rose

 

Lane in time to confront four desperate-looking elves. They stared at him.

 

Each was armed with a stone or stick.

 

    Sithas pointed with his sword. "Put down those things. Go back to

 

your homes!" he said sternly.

 

    "We are free elves! We won't be ordered about! We've been driven

 

from our homes once, and we'll not let it happen again!" cried one of the

 

elves.

 

    "You are mistaken," Sithas said, turning his horse so none of them

 

could get behind him. "No one is driving you from here. The Speaker of

 

the Stars has plans for a permanent town on the west bank of the

 

Thon-Thalas."

 

    "That's not what the holy lady said," shouted a different elf.

 

    "What holy lady?"

 


 

     "The priestess of Quenesti Pah. She told us the truth!"

 

     So, the riot could be laid at Miritelisina's door. Sithas burned with

 

anger. He whipped his sword over his head. "Go home!" he shouted. "Go

 

home, lest the warriors strike you down!"

 

     Someone flung a stone at Sithas. He batted it away, the rock clanging

 

off the tempered iron blade. One smoke-stained elf tried to grab the horse's

 

bridle, but the prince hit him on the head with the flat of his blade. The elf

 

collapsed, and the others hastily withdrew to find a more poorly armed

 

target.

 

     Sithas rode on through the mayhem, getting hit more than once by

 

thrown sticks and shards. A bearded fellow he took for human swung a

 

woodcutter's axe at him, so Sithas used the edge, not the flat, of his sword.

 

The axe-wielder fell dead, cleaved from shoulder to heart. Only then did

 

the prince notice the fellow's tapering ears and Silvanesti coloring. A half-

 

human, the first he'd ever seen. Pity mixed with revulsion welled up inside

 

the speaker's heart.

 

     Feeling a bit dazed, Sithas rode to the water's edge. There were dead

 

bodies floating in the normally calm river, a sight that only added to his

 

disorientation. However, his dazed shock vanished instantly when he saw

 

the body of an elf woman clad in a golden gown. His mother had a gown

 

like that.

 

     Sithas half-fell, half-jumped from horseback into the shallow water.

 

He splashed, sword in hand, to the gowned body. It was Nirakina. His

 

mother was dead! Tears spilling down his cheeks, the prince pulled the

 

floating corpse to shallower water. When he turned the body over he saw

 


 

to his immense relief that it was not his mother. This elf woman was a

 

stranger to Sithas.

 

    He released his hold on the body, and it was nudged gently away by

 

the Thon-Thalas. Sithas stood coughing in the smoke, looking at the

 

nightmare scene around him. Had the gods forsaken the Silvanesti this

 

day?

 

    "Sithas. . . . Sithas. . . ."

 

    The prince whirled as he realized that someone was calling his name.

 

He ran up the riverbank toward the sound. Once ashore, he was engulfed

 

by the row of short towers that lined the riverbank. The tallest of these, a

 

four-story house with conical roof and tall windows, was to his right. A

 

white cloth waved from a top floor window.

 

    "Sithas?" With relief the prince noted that it was his mother's voice.

 

    He mounted the horse and urged it into a gallop. Shouts and a loud

 

crashing sound filled the air. On the other side of a low stone wall, a band

 

of rioters was battering at the door of the four-story tower. Sithas raced the

 

horse straight at the wall, and the animal jumped the barrier. As they

 

landed on the other side, Sithas shouted a challenge and waved his sword

 

in the air. Horse and rider thundered into the rioters' midst. The men

 

dropped the bench they had been using as a battering ram and ran off.

 

    Overhead, a window on the street side opened. Nirakina called down,

 

"Sithas! Praise the gods you came!"

 

    The door of the house, which was almost knocked to pieces, opened

 

inward. A familiar-looking elf emerged warily, the broken end of a table

 

leg clutched in his hand.

 

    "I know you," said Sithas, dismounting quickly.

 


 

    The elf lowered his weapon. "Tamanier Ambrodel, at your service,

 

Highness," he said quietly. "Lady Nirakina is safe."

 

    Nirakina came down the building's steps, and Sithas rushed to

 

embrace her.

 

    "We were besieged," Nirakina explained. Her honey-brown hair was

 

in complete disarray, and her gentle face was smeared with soot.

 

"Tamanier saved my life. He fought them off and guarded the door."

 

    "I thought you were dead," Sithas said, cupping his mother's face in

 

his scratched, dirty hands. "I found a woman floating in the river. She was

 

wearing your clothes."

 

    Nirakina explained that she had been giving some old clothing to the

 

refugees when the trouble started. In fact she and Tamanier had been at the

 

focus of the riot. One reason they had escaped unharmed was that many of

 

the refugees knew the speaker's wife and protected her.

 

    "How did it start?" demanded Sithas. "I heard something about

 

Miritelisina."

 

    "I'm afraid it was her," Tamanier answered. "I saw her standing in the

 

back of a cart, proclaiming that the speaker and high priests were planning

 

to send all the settlers back across the river. The people grew

 

frightenedthey thought they were being driven from their last shelter by

 

their own lords, sent to die in the wilderness. So they rose up, with the

 

intention of forestalling a new exile."

 

    Fists clenched, Sithas declared, "This is treason! Miritelisina must be

 

brought to justice!"

 

    "She did not tell them to riot," his mother said gently. "She cares

 

about the poor, and it is they who have suffered most from this."

 


 

    Sithas was in no mood to debate. Instead, he turned to Tamanier and

 

held out his hand. Eyes wide, the elf grasped his prince's hand. "You shall

 

be rewarded," said Sithas gratefully.

 

    "Thank you, Highness." Tamanier looked up and down the street.

 

"Perhaps we can take Lady Nirakina home now."

 

    It was much quieter. Kencathedrus's warriors had herded the rioters

 

into an ever-tightening circle. When the mob was finally subdued, the fire

 

brigade was able to rush into the Market quarter. That occurred far too

 

late, though; fully half of the marketplace had already been reduced to

 

ruin.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    The justice meted out by Sithel to his rebellious subjects was swift

 

and severe. The rioters were tried as one and condemned.

 

    Those of Silvanesti or Kagonesti blood were made slaves and set to

 

rebuilding what they had destroyed. The humans and other non-elven

 

rioters were driven from the city at pike point and forbidden ever to return,

 

upon pain of death. All merchants who participated in the madness had

 

their goods confiscated. They, too, were banished for life.

 

    Miritelisina was brought before the speaker. Sithas, Nirakina,

 

Tamanier Ambrodel, and all the high clerics of Silvanost were present.

 

She made no speeches, offered no defense. Despite his respect for her, the

 

speaker found the priestess guilty of petty treason. He could have made

 

the charge high treason, for which the penalty was death, but Sithel could

 

not bring himself to be that harsh.

 

    The high priestess of Quenesti Pah was sent to the dungeon cells

 

under the Palace of Quinari. Her cell was large and clean, but dark. Layers

 


 

of inhibiting spells were placed around it, to prevent her from using her

 

magical knowledge to escape or communicate with the outside world.

 

Though many saw this as just, few found the sentencing a positive thing;

 

not since the terrible, anarchical days of Silvanos and Balif had such a

 

high-ranking person been sent to the dungeon.

 

     "Is it right, do you think, to keep her there?" Nirakina asked her

 

husband and son later, in private.

 

     "You surprise me," said Sithel in a tired voice. "You, of all people,

 

whose life was in the balance, should have no qualm about her sentence."

 

     Nirakina's face was sad. "I am sure she meant no harm. Her only

 

concern was for the welfare of the refugees."

 

     "Perhaps she did not mean to start a riot," Sithas said sympathetically,

 

"but I'm not certain she meant no harm. Miritelisina sought to undermine

 

the decree of the speaker by appealing to the common people. That, in

 

itself, is treason."

 

     "Those poor people," Nirakina murmured.

 

     The speaker's wife retired to her bed. Sithel and his son remained in

 

the sitting room.

 

     "Your mother has a kind heart, Sith. All this suffering has undone her.

 

She needs her rest." Sithas nodded glumly, and the speaker went on. "I am

 

sending a troop of fifty warriors under Captain Coryamis to the west. They

 

are to try to capture some of the brigands who've been terrorizing our

 

settlers and to bring them back alive. Perhaps then we can find out who's

 

truly behind these attacks." Sithel yawned and stretched. "Coryamis leaves

 

tonight. Within a month, we should know something."

 


 

    Father and son parted. Sithel watched the prince descend the far stairs,

 

not the route to the quarters that he shared with Hermathya. "Where are

 

you going, Sith?" he asked in confusion.

 

    Sithas looked distinctly uncomfortable. "My old rooms, Father.

 

Hermathya and I arewe are not sharing a bed these days," he said stiffly.

 

Sithel raised one pale brow in surprise.

 

    "You'll not win her over by sleeping apart," he advised.

 

    "I need time to contemplate," Sithas replied. With a gruff good-night,

 

he went on his way. Sithel waited until his son's footsteps had faded from

 

the stone stairwell, then he sighed. Sithas and Hermathya estrangedfor

 

some reason that fact bothered him more than having to send Miritelisina

 

to the dungeon. He knew his son, and he knew his daughter-in-law, too.

 

They were both too proud, too unbending. Any rift between them was only

 

likely to widen over time. Not good. The line of Silvanos required stability

 

and offspring to ensure its continuation. He would have to do something.

 

    A prodigious yawn racked the speaker's body. For now, though, there

 

was his own bed, his own wife, and sleep.

 

                                 *   *   *   *   *

 

    In the weeks following the rioting in the Market, a regular patrol of

 

royal guards walked the streets. A squad of four warriors, moving through

 

the city very late one night, spied a body lying on the steps of the Temple

 

of Quenesti Pah. Two elves ran over and turned the body face-up. To their

 

astonishment, they knew the dead elf well. He was Nortifinthas, and he

 

was of their own company, sent with forty-nine other warriors to the

 

western provinces. No word had been heard from the fifty warriors in over

 

two weeks.

 


 

    The night watch picked up their fallen comrade and hastened to the

 

Palace of Quinari. Other patrols saw them and joined with them as they

 

went. By the time the group reached the main door of the palace, it was

 

over thirty strong.

 

    Stankathan, the major-domo, arrived at the palace door in response to

 

the vigorous pounding of the guards. He stood in the open doorway,

 

holding aloft a sputtering oil lamp.

 

  "Who goes there?" Stankathan said in a voice husky with sleep. The

 

officer who had found Nortifinthas explained the situation. Stankathan

 

looked at the corpse, borne on the shoulders of his fellow warriors. His

 

face paled.

 

    "I will fetch Prince Sithas," he decided.

 

    Stankathan went to Sithas's bachelor quarters. The door was open, and

 

he saw the prince asleep at a table. The elder elf shook his head. Everyone

 

knew that Prince Sithas and his wife were living apart, but still it saddened

 

the old servant.

 

    "Your Highness?" he said, touching Sithas lightly on the back. "Your

 

Highness, wake up; there's been an . . . event."

 

    Sithas raised his head suddenly. "What? What is it?"

 

    "The night watch has found a dead warrior in the streets. Apparently

 

he is one of the soldiers the speaker sent out weeks ago."

 

    Sithas pushed back his chair and stood, disoriented by his sudden

 

awakening. "How can that be?" he asked. He breathed deeply a few times

 

to clear his head. Then, adjusting his sleep-twisted robe, the prince said, "I

 

will see the warriors."

 


 

     The major-domo led Sithas to the main door. There the prince heard

 

the story of the finding of the body from the night watch officer.

 

     "Show me," ordered Sithas.

 

     The warriors laid the body gently down on the steps. Nortifinthas had

 

numerous knife and club wounds, which had sufficed to drain his life

 

away.

 

     Sithas looked over the array of grim, concerned faces. "Take the body

 

to the cellar and lay it out. Tomorrow perhaps the learned clerics can

 

discover what happened," he said in a subdued voice.

 

     Four guards hoisted Nortifinthas on their shoulders and went up the

 

steps. Stankathan showed them the way to the palace cellar. After a time,

 

when Stankathan returned with the bearers, Sithas dismissed the guards.

 

To the major-domo he said, "When the speaker rises tomorrow, tell him at

 

once what has occurred. And send for me."

 

     "It shall be done, Highness."

 

                                   *   *   *   *   *

 

     The day dawned cool, and gray clouds piled up in the northern sky.

 

Sithas and Sithel stood on opposite sides of the table where the body of

 

Nortifinthas had been laid out. Everyone else had been banished from the

 

cellar.

 

     Sithel bent over and began to examine the dead elf's clothes with

 

minute care. He fingered every seam, looked in every pocket, even felt in

 

the corpse's hair. Finally Sithas could contain himself no longer.

 

     "What are you doing, Father?"

 

     "I know Captain Coryamis would not have sent this warrior back to us

 

without some kind of message."

 


 

    "How do you know he was sent? He could be a deserter."

 

    Sithel stood up. "Not this fellow. He was a fine warrior. And if he had

 

deserted, he wouldn't come back to Silvanost." Just then, Sithel froze. He

 

reached for the shielded candle that was their only source of light, then

 

held it close to the dead elf's waist.

 

    "There!" The speaker hastily thrust the candle holder into Sithas's

 

hand. Eagerly, Sithel unclasped the sword belt from the corpse. He held it

 

up to Sithas. "Do you see?"

 

    Sithas squinted hard at the inside of the belt. Sure enough, there were

 

letters scratched in the dark leather, but they appeared random and

 

meaningless. "I don't understand," he protested. "I see writing, but it's just

 

gibberish."

 

    Sithel removed the empty scabbard from the belt and gently laid it on

 

the corpse's chest. Then he coiled the belt and tucked it inside his robe.

 

"There are many things you have yet to learn, things that only come from

 

experience. Come with me, and I'll show you how the dead can speak to

 

the living without magic."

 

    They left the cellar. An entire corps of courtiers and servants stood

 

waiting for the two most important people in Silvanost to reappear. Sithel

 

promptly ordered everyone to return to their tasks, and he and his son went

 

alone to the Tower of the Stars.

 

    "This palace is like an anthill," Sithel said, striding briskly across the

 

Processional Road. "How can anything remain secret for very long?"

 

    The prince was puzzled, but he covered his bewilderment with the

 

meditative mask he had learned from the priests of Matheri. It was not

 


 

until they were alone, locked inside the audience hall of the tower, that his

 

father spoke again.

 

    "Coryamis sent the soldier back as a courier," confided Sithel. "Let us

 

see what he brought us."

 

    The emerald throne of the speaker was not simply made of that stone.

 

The natural faceted gems were interspersed with hand-turned columns of

 

rare and beautiful wood. These were of varying lengths and thicknesses,

 

and some were even inlaid with gold and silver. Sithas looked on in mute

 

wonder as his father detached piece after piece of wood from the ancient,

 

sacred throne. Each time he removed a cylinder of wood, he would wind

 

the dead soldier's belt around it, spiral fashion. The speaker would then

 

stare at the writing on the belt for a second, remove the belt, and re-fit the

 

wooden piece back into the throne. On the fifth attempt, Sithel gave a cry

 

of triumph. He read up the length of the cylinder, turned it slightly, and

 

read the next row of letters. When he was done, the Speaker of the Stars

 

looked up, ashen faced.

 

    "What is it, Father?" Sithas asked. The speaker handed him the rod

 

and belt as a reply.

 

    Now the prince understood. The message had been written on the belt

 

while it was wound around a shaft of identical thickness to this one. When

 

the belt was removed, the letters became a meaningless jumble. Now

 

Sithas could read the last message sent by Coryamis.

 

    There were many abbreviations in the writing. Sithas read the

 

message out loud, just to be certain he had it right. " 'Great speaker,' " it

 

said, " 'I write this knowing I may not be alive tomorrow, and this is the

 

only chance I have to tell what has happened. Two days ago we were

 


 

attacked by a body of humans, elves, and mixed-bloods. The horsemen

 

trapped us between the foothills of the Khalkist Mountains and the falls of

 

the Keraty River. There are only fifteen of us left. I will send this message

 

with my best fighter, Nortifinthas. Great speaker, these men and elves are

 

not bandits, they are formidable cavalry. They also knew where to ambush

 

us and how many we were, so I feel, too, that we were betrayed. There is a

 

traitor in Silvanost. Find him or all shall perish. Long live Silvanesti!' "

 

    Sithas stared at his father in horrified silence for a long moment.

 

Finally, he burst out, "This is monstrous!"

 

    "Treachery in my own city. Who could it be?" Sithel asked.

 

    "I don't know, but we can find out. The greater question is, who pays

 

the traitor? It must be the emperor of Ergoth!" declared his son.

 

    "Yes." Surely there was no one else with the money or reason to wage

 

such an underhanded campaign against the elven nation. Sithel looked at

 

the prince, who suddenly seemed much older than before. "I do not want

 

war, Sithas. I do not want it. We have not yet received a reply from the

 

emperor or from the king of Thorbardin regarding our request for a

 

conference. If both nations agree to come and talk, it will give us a chance

 

for peace."

 

    "It may give the enemy the time they need, too," said Sithas.

 

    The speaker took the belt and wooden cylinder from his son. He

 

restored the cylinder to its place in the side of the throne. The belt he

 

fastened around his own waist. Sithel had regained his calm, and the years

 

fell away once more when resolve filled his face.

 

    "Son, I charge you with the task of finding the traitor. Male or female,

 

young or old, there can be no mercy."

 


 

    "I shall find the traitor," Sithas vowed.

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

    Dinner each night in the Quinari Palace was held in the Hall of Balif.

 

It was as much a social occasion as a meal, for all the courtiers were

 

required to attend and certain numbers of the priestly and noble classes,

 

too. Speaker Sithel and Lady Nirakina sat in the center of the short locus

 

of the vast oval table. Sithas and Hermathya sat on Nirakina's left, and all

 

the guests sat to the left of them in order of seniority. Thus, the person to

 

Sithel's right was always the most junior member of the court. That seat

 

fell to Tamanier Ambrodel nowadays; for saving Lady Nirakina's life

 

during the riot, he'd been granted a minor title.

 

    The hall was full, though everyone was still standing when Tamanier

 

and Hermathya arrived together. Sithel had not yet come, and no one

 

could sit until the speaker did so himself. For his part, Sithas stood behind

 

his chair, impassive. Hermathya hoped he might react jealously upon

 

seeing her on the arm of the stalwart Tamanier, but the prince kept his

 

pensive gaze focused on the golden plate set before him.

 

    Sithel entered with his wife. Servants pulled the tall chairs for the

 

speaker and Nirakina, and Sithel took his place. "May the gods grant you

 

all health and long life," he said quietly. The vast hall had been

 

constructed so that conversation at one end could be heard by parties at the

 

other. The traditional greeting before meals carried easily to the entire oval

 

table.

 

    "Long life to you, Speaker of the Stars," the diners responded in

 

unison. Sithel sat. With much shuffling and squeaking of chairs, the guests

 

sat down, too.

 


 

    A troop of servers appeared, bearing a large pot. The pot swung on a

 

long pole supported on the shoulders of two elves. Behind these servants,

 

two more servers carried a slotted bronze box, from which a dull glow

 

radiated. The box was full of large hearthstones that had been banked

 

against the kitchen fires all day. Two servants set the bronze box on a

 

stone slab, and the pot carriers eased the great cauldron onto the box. Now

 

the soup would stay hot all through dinnerwhich could last several

 

hours.

 

    Young elf maidens clad in shifts of opaque yellow gauze slipped in

 

and out among the seated guests, filling their bowls with steaming turtle

 

soup. For those not inclined to soup, there was fresh fruit, picked that

 

morning in the vast orchards on the eastern shore. Elf boys staggered

 

under the weight of tall amphorae, brimming with purple-red nectar. The

 

goblets of the guests were kept full.

 

    With the first course served, Stankathan signaled to the servants at the

 

doors of the hall. They swung them open, and a trio of musicians entered.

 

The players of flute, lyre, and sistrum, arranged themselves in the far

 

comer of the hall as conversation in the room began in earnest.

 

    "I have heard," opened old Rengaldus, guildmaster of the gemcutters,

 

"that there is to be a conclave with representatives of Ergoth."

 

    "That's old news," said Zertinfinas, the priest. He hacked open a juicy

 

melon and poured the seedy center pulp onto his plate. "The dwarves of

 

Thorbardin are invited, too."

 

    "I have never seen a human close up,"remarked Hermathya. "Or

 

talked to one."

 


 

    "You haven't missed much, Lady," Rengaldus replied. "Their

 

language is uncouth and their bodies thick with hair."

 

    "Quite bestial," agreed Zertinfinas.

 

    "Those are your opinions," Tamanier interjected. Many eyes turned to

 

him. It was unusual for the junior noble to speak at all. "I knew humans

 

out on the plains, and many of them were good people."

 

    "Yes, but aren't they inherently treacherous?" asked the guildmaster

 

of the sandalmakers. "Do humans ever keep their word?"

 

    "Frequently." Tamanier looked to his patron, Sithas, for signs of

 

displeasure. The speaker's son, as usual, ate sparingly, picking grapes one

 

at a time from the cluster on his plate. He did not seem to have heard

 

Tamanier's comments, so the favored young courtier continued. "Humans

 

can be fiercely honorable, perhaps because they know so many of their

 

fellows are not."

 

    "They are unredeemably childish in their tempers," Zertinfinas

 

asserted. "How can they not be? With only seventy or so years of life how

 

can they accumulate any store of wisdom or patience?"

 

    "But they are clever," noted Rengaldus. He slurped a mouthful of

 

nectar and wiped his chin with a satin napkin. "A hundred years ago there

 

wasn't a human alive who could cut a diamond or polish a sapphire. Now

 

craftsmen in Daltigoth have learned to work gems, and they have undercut

 

our market! My factors in Balifor say that human-cut gems are selling well

 

there, mainly because they are far cheaper than ours. The buyers care less

 

about quality than they do about the final price."

 

    "Barbarians," muttered Zertinfinas into his cap.

 


 

    The second course was brought out: a cold salad of river trout with a

 

sweet herb dressing. Murmurs of approval circled the great table. Loaves

 

of pyramid-shaped bread were also provided, smeared with honey, a

 

confection greatly loved by elves.

 

    "Perhaps one of the learned clerics can tell me," Hermathya said,

 

cutting herself a chunk of warm bread, "why humans have such short

 

lives?" Zertinfinas cleared his throat to speak, but from the opposite side

 

of the table, a new voice answered the lady's question.

 

    "It is generally considered that humans represent a middle race,

 

farther removed from the gods and closer to the realm of the animals. Our

 

own racethe first created, longer lived, and possessing a greater affinity

 

for the powers of magicis closest to the gods."

 

    Hermathya tilted her head to get a better look at the softspoken cleric.

 

"I do not know you, holy one. Who are you?"

 

    "Forgive me, Lady, for not introducing myself. I am Kamin Oluvai,

 

second priest of the Blue Phoenix." The young elf stood and bowed to

 

Hermathya. He was a striking-looking fellow, in his brilliant blue robe and

 

golden headband, with its inlay of a blue phoenix. His golden hair was

 

long even by elven standards. Sithas studied him circumspectly. This

 

Kamin Oluvai had not been to many royal dinners.

 

    "What about these humans?" complained Zertinfinas loudly,

 

beginning to feel his nectar. "What is to be done about them?"

 

    "I believe that is a matter best left to the speaker," Sithas replied. One

 

hundred and fifty pairs of eyes looked to Sithel, who was listening with

 

great care while eating his fish.

 


 

    "The sovereignty of Silvanesti will be preserved," the speaker said

 

calmly. "That is why the conclave has been called."

 

    The prince nodded, then asked, "Is it true, Ambrodel, that there are

 

more humans living in our western provinces than Silvanesti and

 

Kagonesti?"

 

    "More than the Silvanesti, Highness. But the true number of the

 

Kagonesti is difficult to state. So many of them live in the remote parts of

 

the forest, mountains, and plains."

 

    "Humans breed at any point past age fifteen," blurted Zertinfinas.

 

"They regularly have five and six children in a family!" Whispers of

 

surprise and concern circled the table. Elven parents seldom had more than

 

two children in their entire, lengthy lifetimes.

 

    "Is that true?" Nirakina queried Tamanier.

 

    "At least in the wild country it is. I cannot say what families are like

 

in the more settled areas of Ergoth. But many of the children do not

 

survive into adulthood. Human knowledge of the healing arts is not nearly

 

so advanced as ours."

 

    The musicians completed their program of light tunes and began to

 

play "The Sea-Elf's Lament." The main course was served.

 

    It came rolling in on a large cart, a huge sculpture of a dragon done in

 

golden-brown pie crust. The "beast" reared up five feet high. His back was

 

scaled with mint leaves, his eyes and talons made red with pomegranates.

 

The head and spiky tail of the dragon were covered with glazed nut meats.

 

    The diners applauded this culinary creation, and Sithel himself

 

smiled. "You see, my friends, how the cook is master of us all," he

 


 

proclaimed, rising to his feet. "For centuries the dragons preyed upon us,

 

and now we have them to dinner."

 

    Stankathan stood by the pastry dragon, a sword in his hand. He jerked

 

his head, and servants positioned a golden tray under the dragon's chin.

 

With a force that belied his age, the servant lopped off the dragon's head.

 

A flight of live sparrows burst from the open neck of the creation, each

 

bird having silver streamers tied to its legs. The assembly gave a collective

 

gasp of admiration.

 

    "I trust the rest of the insides are more thoroughly cooked," quipped

 

Sithel.

 

    The servants bore the head of the dragon to the speaker. With smaller

 

knives, they carved it to pieces. Under the crusty pastry skin, the head was

 

stuffed with delicate meat paste, whole baked apples, and sweet glazed

 

onions.

 

    Stankathan attacked the rest of the pastry like some culinary thespian

 

portraying the mighty Huma slaying a real dragon. The body of the beast

 

was filled with savory sausages, stuffed peppers, whole capons, and

 

vegetable torts. The room filled with noise as every diner commented on

 

the elegance of this evening's feast.

 

  Zertinfinas, rather loudly, called for more nectar. The serving boy had

 

none left in his amphora, so he ran to the door to fetch more. Sithas called

 

to the servant as he passed, and the elf boy dropped to one knee by the

 

prince's chair.

 

    "Yes, Highness?"

 

    "The holy one has had too much to drink. Have the cellar master cut

 

the nectar with water. Half for half," ordered Sithas in a confidential tone.

 


 

    "As you command, sire."

 

  "The cook really has outdone himself," Hermathya remarked. "It is a

 

wonderful feast."

 

    "Is it a special occasion?" asked Rengaldus.

 

    "The calendar does not list a holiday," Kamin Oluvai noted. "Unless it

 

is a special day for the speaker."

 

    "It is, holy one. By this feast we do honor to a dead hero," Sithel

 

explained.

 

    Nirakina set down her goblet, puzzled. "What hero, my husband?"

 

    "His name was Nortifinthas."

 

    Head wobbling, Zertinfinas asked, "Was he a companion of Huma

 

Dragonsbane?"

 

    "No," Kamin Oluvai assisted. "He sat in the first great Synthal-Elish,

 

did he not?"

 

      "You are both mistaken," Sithel replied. "Nortifinthas was a simple

 

  soldier, a Kagonesti who died nobly in service to this house."

 

  Conversation around the table had died just as the flutist trilled the high

 

  solo from the lament.

 

      "This morning," the speaker continued, "this soldier named

 

  Nortifinthas returned to the city from the western province. He was the

 

  only survivor of the fifty warriors I sent out to find the bandits who have

 

  troubled our people lately. All his comrades were slain. Even though he

 

  was fearfully wounded, the brave Nortifinthas returned with the last

 

  dispatch of his commander." Sithel looked around the table, meeting

 

  each guest eye to eye. The prince sat very still, his left hand clenched

 


 

  into a fist in his lap. "One of you here, one of you seated at my table

 

  eating my food, is a traitor."

 

      The musicians heard this declaration and ceased playing. The

 

  speaker waved a hand to them to continue, and they did so, awkwardly.

 

      "You see, the force that wiped out my fifty warriors was not a band

 

  of hit-and-run bandits, but a disciplined troop of cavalry who knew

 

  where and when my soldiers would come. It was not a battle. It was a

 

  massacre."

 

      "Do you know who the traitor is, Speaker?" Hermathya asked with

 

  great earnest.

 

      "Not yet, but the person will be found. I spent most of my day

 

  compiling a list of those who could have known the route of my

 

  warriors. At this point, I suspect everyone."

 

    The speaker looked around the large table. The gaiety was gone from

 

the dinner, and the diners looked at the delicacies on their plates without

 

enthusiasm.

 

    Sithel picked up his knife and fork. "Finish your food," he

 

commanded. When no one else emulated him, he held up his hands

 

expressively and said, "Why do you not eat? Do you want this fine meal to

 

go to waste?"

 

    Sithas was the first to take up his fork and resume eating. Hermathya

 

and Nirakina did likewise. Soon, everyone was eating again, but with

 

much less good humor than before.

 

    "I will say this," Sithel added pointedly, cutting the glazed

 

pomegranate eye from the pastry dragon's face. "The traitor's identity is

 

suspected."

 


 

    By now the elf boy had returned, his amphora full of diluted nectar.

 

Into the absolute silence that followed his own last statement, the speaker

 

said loudly, "Zertinfinas! Your nectar!"

 

    The cleric, his head snapping up at the sound of his name, had to be

 

pounded on the back several times to save him from choking on a piece of

 

pastry.

 

    Sithas watched his father as he ate. The speaker's every movement

 

was graceful, his face serene with resolve.

 


 

                                     14

 

                         While the Speaker Dined

 

 

 

 

    The Wildwood slowly regained its lively character. No longer was

 

there that absence of animal life that Kith-Kanan had found so puzzling

 

when he first arrived. Daily, deer came to graze in the clearing. Rabbits

 

and squirrels cavorted in and around the trees. Birds other than the

 

ubiquitous corvae appeared. Bears, boars, and panthers roared in the night.

 

As Mackeli had said, they'd been warned of the humans. Now that the

 

humans were gone, the animals had returned.

 

     On this particular day, Mackeli wedged his tongue between his teeth

 

and concentrated on lashing an arrowhead to a shaft. Kith-Kanan was

 

teaching him the bow now. It was not something to which the boy took

 

readily. As he tied off the end of the whipcord, the flint arrowhead sagged

 

badly out of line.

 

    "That's not tight enough," Kith-Kanan cautioned. He handed the boy

 

his dagger. "Start again and make it tight."

 

    Neither of them had seen Anaya for over a week. It didn't bother

 

Mackeli a whit, but Kith-Kanan found himself missing the strange forest

 

woman. He wondered if he should go and look for her. Mackeli said, and

 

Kith-Kanan did not doubt, that the prince would never find her unless she

 

wanted to be found.

 

    "What do you do if you need her in a hurry?" Kith-Kanan asked

 

ingeniously. "I mean, suppose you got hurt or something. How would you

 

call her?"

 


 

    "If I really need Ny, she knows it and comes for me." Mackeli had

 

almost finished his tying of the arrow.

 

    "You mean, you just will her to come, and-she does?"

 

    The boy knotted the tough silk string. "Mostly." With a proud smile,

 

he handed Kith-Kanan the newly lashed arrow. Kith shook it to see if the

 

head would loosen. It didn't.

 

    "Good," he said, handing the arrow back. "You only need twenty

 

more to fill your quiver."

 

                                 *   *   *   *   *

 

    Late the next afternoon the Wildwood rang with laughter and

 

splashing as Kith-Kanan and Mackeli swam in the pool. Mackeli was

 

progressing well under the prince's tutelage, so they had decided to finish

 

their day with a swim in the crystal waters.

 

    Mackeli was treading water and looking around the pool for

 

Kith-Kanan. The boy was a better swimmer than his sister, but not so

 

skilled as the elf prince.

 

    "Where'd you go, Kith?" he said, eyeing the surface of the water

 

uncertairnly. Suddenly a hand closed on his left ankle and Mackeli gave a

 

yelp. He found himself lifted up and launched skyward. Laughing and

 

yelling all the way, he flew several feet and landed back in the pool with a

 

loud splash. He and Kith-Kanan surfaced at the same time.

 

    "It's not fair," Mackeli said, flinging his streaming hair from his eyes.

 

"You're bigger than me!"

 

    Kith-Kanan grinned. "You'll catch up someday, Keli," he said.

 

Twisting gracefully in the water, the prince turned and swam toward the

 

granite ledge on shore.

 


 

    As Kith-Kanan hoisted himself up on the ledge, Mackeli called to

 

him, "I want to learn to swim like you. You move like a fish!"

 

    "Another result of my misspent youth." Kith-Kanan stretched out full

 

length on the warm ledge and closed his eyes.

 

    Minutes later, something moved to block the sunlight. Without

 

opening his eyes, Kith-Kanan said, "I know you're there, Keli. I heard you

 

walk up. You'd better notHey!"

 

    With a cry, the prince sat up. A very sharp spear point had been poked

 

into his bare stomach. Squinting in the bright light, he looked up. Several

 

pairs of moccasin-clad feet were gathered around Kith-Kanan, and their

 

ownersfour dark figuresloomed over him.

 

    "Mackeli, my sword!" he called, leaping to his feet.

 

    The boy, still in the pool, looked at his friend and laughed. "Calm

 

down, Kith! It's only White-Lock."

 

    Kith-Kanan stared. Shading his eyes, he realized that the four dark

 

figures were Kagonesti males. They were brown-skinned, hard-muscled,

 

and wore breechcloths of deerskin. Bows, quivers of arrows, and deerskin

 

bags were slung over their muscled backs. Their exposed skin was covered

 

by red, yellow, and blue loops and whorls of paint.

 

    The tallest of the fourhe topped Kith-Kanan by several incheshad

 

a streak of white in his midnight-black hair. He and his comrades were

 

looking at the Silvanesti nobleman with amused curiosity.

 

    Naked and still damp from his swim, Kith-Kanan drew the tattered

 

shreds of his dignity about himself. He pulled on his clothes as Mackeli

 

came out of the pool and greeted the four strange elves.

 


 

    "Blessings of Astarin upon you, White-Lock, you and yours," Mackeli

 

said. He placed his hands over his heart and then held them in front of

 

him, palms up.

 

    The Kagonesti called White-Lock repeated the gesture. "And upon

 

you, Mackeli," he said to the boy, in a deep and solemn voice, though he

 

continued to watch Kith-Kanan. "Do you now bring the Settled Ones to

 

the sacred forests?"

 

    Kith-Kanan knew that the term "Settled Ones" was meant as an insult.

 

The Kagonesti were nomadic and never built permanent habitations.

 

Before he could retort, Mackeli said, "Kith is my friend and my guest,

 

White-Lock. Do the People no longer value courtesy to guests?"

 

    A smile quirked White-Lock's lips and he said, "Blessings of Astarin

 

upon you, guest of Mackeli."

 

    "Would you and your hunting party honor me with a visit,

 

White-Lock?" Mackeli asked. He pulled his clothes on.

 

    White-Lock glanced at his companions. Kith-Kanan neither saw nor

 

heard any exchange between them, but the tall Kagonesti said, "My

 

companions and I do not wish to intrude upon the Keeper of the Forest."

 

    "It is no intrusion," Mackeli replied politely.

 

    Kith-Kanan was mildly surprised at the change that seemed to have

 

come over the irrepressible boy. He spoke to the Kagonesti in a very

 

composed and adult manner. They, in turn, treated him with great respect.

 

Mackeli went on. "The keeper is away at present. Were she here, I know

 

she would wish to make you welcome. Come, we can share stories. I have

 

had a great adventure since we last met."

 


 

     White-Lock looked once more to his three companions. After a

 

moment's hesitation, he nodded and they all set out for the clearing.

 

     As they walked, Kith-Kanan brought up the rear and studied these

 

new acquaintances. In his travels around the western provinces of

 

Silvanesti, he had met several Kagonesti. Those elves, however, had given

 

up their nomadic and isolated ways to trade with the humans and

 

Silvanesti who lived in the West. Many of them no longer painted their

 

bodies, and they wore civilized clothing. These four were obviously not of

 

that ilk.

 

     As they made their way to the clearing, Mackeli introduced

 

Kith-Kanan to the others in the group. There was Sharp-Eye, brown-haired

 

and some inches shorter than White-Lock; Braveheart, who had sandy

 

hair; and Otter. The latter was shorter than the rest, a head shorter than

 

Kith-Kanan, and his pale yellow eyes twinkled with inner mirth. He was

 

the only one who smiled outright at the elf prince. It was a merry smile,

 

and Kith-Kanan returned it.

 

     In the clearing, Mackeli bade them all be seated by the oak. He went

 

inside and returned shortly with nuts, berries, and fruit. White-Lock took

 

only a handful of red berries, though his comrades dug in with gusto.

 

     "So, guest of Mackeli, how do you come to be in the wildwood?"

 

White-Lock asked, staring at the Silvanesti prince.

 

     Kith-Kanan frowned. "I am a traveler, White-Lock. And my name is

 

Kith. You would honor me by using it," he replied testily.

 

     White-Lock nodded and looked pleased. Kith-Kanan remembered

 

then that the more primitive Kagonesti didn't believe it was polite to use a

 


 

person's name unless they'd been given leave to. He cudgeled his brain,

 

trying to recall what else he knew about their race.

 

    "White-Lock!" called a startled voice behind Kith-Kanan. "What in

 

the name of the forest is this?"

 

    They turned. The one called Otter was standing at the far end of the

 

clearing, staring in awe at Arcuballis. The griffon was lying in the shade

 

of a big tree. The beast opened one golden eye and regarded the amazed

 

Kagonesti.

 

    "That is Arcuballis," Kith-Kanan said proudly. With an inward smile,

 

he uttered a sharp whistle. Arcuballis got quickly to its feet, and Otter

 

nearly fell over backward as he stumbled away from the tall beast.

 

Kith-Kanan gave another whistle, at first high-pitched, then sliding down

 

the scale. The griffon unfolded its wings to their full extent and uttered a

 

trilling call in imitation of Kith-Kanan's whistle. Otter jumped back again.

 

At another whistle from the prince, Arcuballis folded its wings and made

 

its way daintily across the clearing, coming to a stop several feet from the

 

group.

 

    Kith-Kanan was pleased to see that even White-Lock looked

 

impressed. The Kagonesti leader told Otter to rejoin the group. "What is

 

this beast, Kith?" White-Lock asked wonderingly.

 

    "Arcuballis is a griffon. He's my mount and my friend." Kith-Kanan

 

whistled once more and Arcuballis lay down where it was. In seconds, the

 

beast closed its eyes in sleep again.

 

    "He is beautiful, Kith!" Otter said enthusiastically. "He flies?"

 

    "He does indeed."

 

    "I should be honored if you would take me for a ride!"

 


 

    "Otter," White-Lock said sharply.

 

    Regret replaced the joy on Otter's face, and he subsided. Kith-Kanan

 

smiled kindly at the yellow-eyed elf as the Kagonesti called Sharp-Eye

 

spoke into the silence.

 

    "Mackeli, you said you had a tale to share," he said. "Tell us of your

 

great adventure."

 

    All four Kagonesti settled down to listen. Even Otter tore his gaze

 

from Arcuballis and gave his full attention to Mackeli. The Kagonesti

 

were great ones for storytelling, Kith-Kanan knew. They rarely, if ever,

 

wrote anything down. Their history, their news, all was passed orally from

 

one generation to the next. If they liked Mackeli's story, it would be

 

swapped between tribes until years hence, when it might be heard by

 

every Kagonesti on Krynn.

 

    Mackeli's green eyes widened. He looked at each of them in turn and

 

began his story. "I was kidnapped by an evil wizard named Voltorno," he

 

said softly.

 

    Kith-Kanan shook his head bemusedly. Mackeli finally had a fresh

 

audience for his tale. And the boy didn't let them down. None of the four

 

Kagonesti moved so much as a finger during Mackeli's long recital of his

 

kidnap, the pursuit by Kith-Kanan and Anaya, and the prince's duel with

 

Valtorno. The silence was broken only by Otter's exclamation of triumph

 

when Mackeli told how he and Kith-Kanan had flown away from

 

Voltorno's men on Arcuballis.

 

    When the story was finished, the Kagonesti looked at Kith-Kanan

 

with new respect. The prince preened slightly, sitting up straighter.

 


 

    "You fought well against the humans, Kith," Sharp-Eye concluded.

 

The other Kagonesti nodded.

 

    "We are sorry to have missed the Keeper of the Forest, Mackeli,"

 

White-Lock said. "To see the keeper is a great honor and pleasure. She

 

walks with the gods and speaks with great wisdom."

 

    A snort of laughter was surprised out of Kith-Kanan. "Anaya?" he

 

exclaimed in disbelief. He was immediately sorry. The Kagonesti,

 

including the fun-loving Otter, turned looks of stern reproach upon him.

 

    "You are disrespectful of the keeper, Kith." White-Lock glowered.

 

    "I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect," Kith-Kanan said apologetically.

 

"White-Lock, I'm curious. I've met Kagonesti elves before but they

 

weren't like you. They were moreuh"

 

    "Where did you meet these others?" White-Lock cut in.

 

    "In the West," replied Kith-Kanan. "The western provinces of

 

Silvanesti."

 

    "Settled Ones," Sharp-Eye said with much disgust. Braveheart rubbed

 

his hands together as if washing them, then flung them away from himself.

 

    "Those you met have taken up the ways of the Settled Ones," said

 

White-Lock, his voice hard. "They have turned their backs on the true

 

ways."

 

    Kith-Kanan was surprised by the loathing they all expressed.

 

Deciding it did not behoove him to anger Mackeli's friends, he changed

 

the subject. "Braveheart, how did you come by your name?"

 

    Braveheart gestured to White-Lock. Kith-Kanan wondered if he'd

 

committed another social breach by inquiring about the Kagonesti's name.

 

White-Lock, though, didn't seem upset. He answered, "Braveheart was

 


 

born mute, but his skill as a hunter and fighter earned him his adult name."

 

Amusement danced in the hunter's eyes. "Are all your people so curious,

 

Kith?"

 

    Kith-Kanan looked chagrined. "No, White-Lock. My curiosity has

 

gotten me in trouble before."

 

    They all laughed, and the four Kagonesti hunters stood up.

 

White-Lock brought his hands up to cover his heart and then held them

 

out palms-up, first to Mackeli and then to Kith-Kanan. The boy and the

 

prince returned the gesture.

 

    "The blessings of Astarin upon you both," White-Lock said warmly.

 

"Give our respects to the keeper."

 

    "We shall, White-Lock. Blessings upon you all," Mackeli returned.

 

    "Good-bye" Kith-Kanan called after them. With a last wave from

 

Otter, the hunters disappeared into the forest.

 

    Mackeli gathered up the uneaten food and stowed it back in the tree.

 

Kith-Kanan remained standing, looking after the departed Kagonesti.

 

    "They're a strange lot," Kith-Kanan mused aloud. "And they certainly

 

don't care for their more 'settled' brothers. I thought the others I met were a

 

lot less primitive." He chuckled. "And the way they talked about Anaya-as

 

if she were a goddess!"

 

    "They are good elves," Mackeli said when he returned. "They only

 

want to live in peace with the forest, as they have for centuries. But most

 

humans treat them like savages." The green eyes that looked up at

 

Kith-Kanan were hard. "And from what you've told me about your people,

 

the Silvanesti do no better."

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 


 

    Several more weeks went by. The episode of the Kagonesti stayed

 

with Kith-Kanan, and he continued to think on Mackeli's words. However,

 

he was growing more and more worried about Anaya. He questioned

 

Mackeli, but the boy remained unconcerned. Though Kith-Kanan knew

 

she could take care of herself, he still fretted. At night, he began to dream

 

of her deep in the woods, calling to him, saying his name over and over.

 

He would then follow her voice through the black forest, but just when he

 

thought he'd found her, he would wake up. It was frustrating.

 

    After a time Anaya began to monopolize his waking thoughts as well.

 

The prince had told her he was her friend. Was it more than that? What

 

Kith-Kanan felt for the Kagonesti woman was certainly different from

 

what he felt for Mackeli. Could he be in love with her? They had barely

 

gotten to know each other before she'd disappeared. But still the prince

 

worried about her, and dreamed about her, and missed her.

 

    Kith-Kanan and Mackeli were sleeping outside the tree one pleasant

 

night. The prince slept deeply and, for once, dreamlesslyuntil something

 

unseen tugged at his mind. He opened his eyes and sat bolt-upright,

 

turning his head from side to side. It was as if a sudden clap of thunder

 

had wakened him. Yet Mackeli slept on beside him. Night creatures

 

chirped and whirred softly in the forest, also undisturbed.

 

    Kith-Kanan straightened his tunicfor he slept fully clothedand

 

lay back down. He was completely awake when the nameless something

 

called to him once more. Drawn by something he couldn't see, the prince

 

got up and crossed the clearing. The going was not easy, since the silver

 

moon had set and the red moon was almost down. It was an eerie crimson

 

orb just barely visible through the trees.

 


 

     Kith-Kanan followed the path to the spring. Whatever was pulling

 

him brought him to that place, but when he arrived, there seemed to be no

 

one around. He dipped a hand in the cold water and threw it on his face.

 

     As the Silvanesti prince stared at his reflection in the pool, a second

 

dark image appeared in the water next to it. Kith-Kanan leaped back and

 

turned, his hand on his dagger hilt. It was Anaya, standing a few feet

 

away.

 

     "Anaya!" he uttered with relief. "You're all right. Where have you

 

been?"

 

     "You called me," she said evenly. Her eyes seemed to have a light of

 

their own. "Your call was very strong. I couldn't stay away, no matter how

 

I tried."

 

     Kith-Kanan shook his head. "I don't understand," he said truthfully.

 

     She stepped closer and looked up into his eyes. Her unpainted face

 

was beautiful in the red moonlight. "Your heart spoke to mine, Kith, and I

 

could not refuse to come. We were drawn together."

 

     At that moment, Kith-Kanan thought he did understand. The idea that

 

hearts could speak to each other was something he had heard about. His

 

people were said to be able to perform a mysterious summons known as

 

"the Call." It was said to work over great distances and was reputed to be

 

irresistible. Yet Kith-Kanan had never known anyone who had actually

 

done it.

 

     He stepped closer and put a hand to her cheek. Anaya was trembling.

 

     "Are you afraid?" he asked quietly.

 

     "I have never felt like this before," she whispered.

 

     "How do you feel?"

 


 

    "I want to run!" she declared loudly. But she didn't move an inch.

 

    "You called to me too, you know. I was asleep in the clearing just

 

now and something woke me, something drew me down here to the

 

spring. I couldn't resist it." Her cheek was warm, despite the coolness of

 

the night. He cupped it in his hand. "Anaya, I have been so worried about

 

you. When you didn't come back, I thought something might have

 

happened to you."

 

    "Something did," she replied softly. "All these weeks, I have been

 

meditating and thinking of you. So many feelings were tumbling inside of

 

me."

 

    "I have been troubled also," the prince confessed. "I've lain awake at

 

night trying to sort out my feelings." He smiled at her. "You've even

 

intruded on my dreams, Anaya."

 

    Her face twisted in pain. "It isn't right."

 

    "Why not? Am I so unappealing?"

 

    "I am born of the forest! For ten times the length of your life I have

 

lived in the Wildwood, on my own and of my own. I did not take Mackeli

 

until a short time ago."

 

    "Take Mackeli? Then, he is not your brother by blood, is he?"

 

    Anaya looked at Kith-Kanan desperately. "No. I took him from a

 

farmer's house. I was lonely. I needed someone to talk to . . . ."

 

    The emptiness in her eyes, the pain in her voice, touched

 

Kith-Kanan's heart. He gripped Anaya's shoulders with both hands. In

 

return, she put her arms around his waist and embraced him passionately.

 

    After a moment, Anaya pulled back and said softly, "I want to show

 

you something." She stepped into the pool.

 


 

    "Where are we going?" he asked as he joined her in the cool spring.

 

    "To my secret place." She took his hand and warned, "Don't let go."

 

    They slid under the water's surface. It was as cold and as black as

 

Takhisis's heart in the pool, but Anaya swam down, kicking with her feet.

 

Something hard brushed Kith-Kanan's shoulder; he put a hand out and felt

 

solid rock. They were in a tunnel. After a moment, Anaya planted her feet

 

on the bottom and thrust upward. Kith-Kanan let himself be pulled along.

 

Suddenly their heads broke the surface.

 

    Treading water, Kith-Kanan looked around in wonder. A soft, white

 

light illuminated a vaulted ceiling that rose some fifteen feet above the

 

pool's surface. The ceiling was smooth and pure white. All around the

 

edge of the vault were painted the most beautiful murals Kith-Kanan had

 

ever seen. They showed a variety of woodland scenes: misty glens, roaring

 

waterfalls, and deep, dark forests.

 

    "Come," Anaya said, drawing him along by the hand. He kicked

 

forward until his toes bumped rock. It was not the sloping bottom of a

 

natural pool. Kith-Kanan felt round-nosed steps cut into the rock as he and

 

Anaya climbed out of the water.

 

    The steps and floor of the cave were made of the same stone as the

 

ceiling, a glassy white rock Kith-Kanan couldn't identify.

 

    The cave itself was divided down the center by a row of graceful

 

columns, deeply fluted and tapering to their tops. They appeared to be

 

joined solidly into the floor and ceiling.

 

    Anaya let go of his hand and let him wander forward on his own. He

 

went to the source of the gentle white light, the third column in from the

 


 

water's edge. A subtle glow and warmth emanated from the column.

 

Hesitantly Kith-Kanan put out a hand to touch the translucent stone.

 

    He turned to the Kagonesti, smiling. "It feels alive!"

 

    "It is," she beamed,

 

    The walls to the right of the colonnade were decorated with

 

remarkable bas-reliefs, raised carvings that depicted elven women. There

 

were four of them, life-sized, and between each relief was a carving of a

 

different type of tree.

 

    Anaya stood close beside the prince, and he put an arm around her

 

waist. "What do these mean?" he said, gesturing at the reliefs.

 

  "These were the Keepers of the Forest," she said proudly "Those that

 

came before me. They lived as I live now, guarding the Wildwood from

 

harm." Anaya went to the image farthest from the pool. "This was

 

Camirene. She was Keeper of the Forest before me." Anaya moved to the

 

right, to the next figure. "This was Ulyante." She slipped sideways to the

 

third figure. "Here is Delarin. She died driving a dragon from the wild-

 

wood." Anaya touched the warm stone relief lightly with her fingertips.

 

Kith-Kanan regarded the carved image with awe.

 

  "And this," Anaya said, facing the figure nearest the pool, "is Ziatia,

 

first guardian of the wildwood." She put her hands together and bowed to

 

the image. Kith-Kanan looked from one relief to the next.

 

    "It is a beautiful place," he said with awe.

 

    "When I am troubled, I come here to rest and think," Anaya said,

 

gesturing around her.

 

    "Is this where you've been these past weeks?" he asked.

 


 

    "Yes. Here, and in the wildwood. II watched you sleep many

 

nights." She looked deep into his eyes.

 

    Kith-Kanan could hardly take it all in. This beautiful cave, the many

 

answers it provided and the mysteries it held. It was like the beautiful elf

 

woman before him. She had provided him with answers this night, but in

 

her deep eyes were even more mysteries and questions unanswered. For

 

now, he gave himself up to the joy he felt, the joy at finding someone who

 

cared for him, someone that he cared for. And he did care for her.

 

    "I think I love you, Anaya," Kith-Kanan said tenderly, caressing her

 

cheek.

 

    She laid her head on his chest. "I begged the Forestmaster to send you

 

away, but she would not. 'You must make the decision' she said." She

 

clasped Kith-Kanan with frightening strength.

 

    He tilted her face up to his and bent down to kiss her. Anaya was no

 

soft and timid elf maiden. The hard life of the wildwood had made her

 

tough and strong, but as they kissed, Kith-Kanan could feel the tremors

 

echoing through her body.

 

    She broke the kiss. "I will not be a casual love," she vowed, and her

 

eyes bored into his. "If we are to be together, you must swear to be mine

 

always."

 

    Kith-Kanan remembered how he had searched for her in his dreams,

 

how frightened and alone he'd felt when he couldn't find her. "Yes, Anaya.

 

Always. I wish I still had my starjewel, but Voltorno took it with my other

 

belongings. I wish I could give it to you." She did not understand, and he

 

explained the significance of the starjewel.

 


 

    She nodded. "We have no jewels to give in the wildwood. We make

 

our most sacred vows in blood." She took his hand and knelt by the pool,

 

drawing him down beside her. Laying her palm against the sharp edge of

 

the rock, she pressed down hard. When she pulled her hand back, it was

 

bleeding. Kith-Kanan hesitated a moment, then he too cut his hand on the

 

hard, glassy rock. They joined hands once more, pressing the wounds

 

together. The blood of the Silvanesti House Royal flowed together with

 

that of the forest-born Kagonesti.

 

    Anaya plunged their joined hands into the water. "By blood and

 

water, by soil and sky, by leaf and limb, I swear to love and keep you,

 

Kith, for as long as I walk, for as long as I breathe."

 

    "By Astarin and E'li, I swear to love and keep you, Anaya, for all my

 

life." Kith-Kanan felt light-headed, as if a great weight had been taken

 

from him. Perhaps it was the weight of his anger, laid across his shoulders

 

when he'd left Silvanost in a rage.

 

    Anaya drew their hands out of the water, and the cuts were healed.

 

While he marveled at this, she said, "Come."

 

    Together they moved to the rear of the cave, away from the pool.

 

There, the glassy stone walls ended. In their place was a solid wall of tree

 

roots, great twining masses of them. A sunken place in the floor,

 

oval-shaped, was lined with soft furs.

 

    Slowly, very slowly, she sank into the furs, looking up at him with

 

eyes full of love. Kith-Kanan felt his heart beat faster as he sat beside his

 

love and took her hands into his. Raising them to his lips, he whispered, "I

 

didn't know."

 

    "What?"

 


 

    "I didn't know that this is what love truly feels like." He smiled and

 

leaned closer to her. Her breath was warm in his face. "And," he added

 

gently, " didn't know that you were anything but a wild maiden, one who

 

liked to live in the woods."

 

    "That's exactly what I am," said Anaya.

 

                                    *   *   *   *   *

 

    She and Kith-Kanan talked of many things in the night and day they

 

spent in the secret cave. He told her of Hermathya and of Sithas, and he

 

felt his heart lighten as he confessed all. The anger and frustration were

 

gone as if they'd never existed. The youthful passion he'd felt for

 

Hermathya was completely unlike the deep love he now felt for Anaya. He

 

knew there were those in Silvanost who would not understand his love for

 

a Kagonesti. Even his own family would be shocked, he was sure.

 

    But he didn't dwell on that. He filled his mind with only good

 

thoughts, happy thoughts.

 

    One thing Kith-Kanan insisted upon, and to which Anaya eventually

 

agreed, was that she tell Mackeli of his true origins. When they left the

 

cave and returned to the oak tree, they found the boy sitting on a low

 

branch, eating his evening meal.

 

    When he saw the couple, he jumped from the branch and landed

 

lightly in front of them. He took in their happy faces and the fact that they

 

walked hand-in-hand, and demanded, "Are you two finally friends?"

 

    Anaya and Kith-Kanan looked at each other, and a rare thing

 

happened. Anaya smiled. "We are much more than friends," she said

 

sweetly.

 


 

    The three of them sat down with their backs to the broad oak's trunk.

 

As Anaya told Mackeli the truth about his past, the sun dodged in and out

 

of the clouds and red autumn leaves fell around them.

 

    "I'm not your brother?" Mackeli asked when she had finished.

 

    "You are my brother," Anaya replied firmly, "but we are not of the

 

same blood."

 

    "And if I was taken from my parents," he went on slowly, "who were

 

you taken from, Ny?"

 

    "I don't know, and I never shall. Camirene took me from my mother

 

and father, just as I took you." She looked to the ground, embarrassed. "I

 

needed a girl child to be the next Keeper of the Forest. I moved so hastily,

 

I didn't take time to notice that you were a boy."

 

    Kith-Kanan put an arm on Mackeli's shoulder. "You won't be too

 

angry?"

 

    Mackeli stood up and walked slowly away from them. His

 

ever-present hood slipped down, revealing his white, Silvanesti hair. "It's

 

all so strange," he said, confused. "I've never known any other life than the

 

one I've had in the wildwood." He looked at Anaya. "I guess I'm not

 

angry. I'm ... stunned. I wonder what I would have been if Iif Anaya"

 

    "A farmer," said Anaya. 'Your parents were farmers. They grew

 

vegetables."

 

    She went on to explain that once she realized she'd taken a boy-child

 

instead of a girl, she tried to return the infant Mackeli to his parents, but

 

their house was abandoned when she went back. So she had raised

 

Mackeli as her brother.

 


 

    Mackeli still seemed dazed by the tale of his abduction, Finally he

 

asked, rather hesitantly, "Will you have to find a girl to raise to be keeper

 

after you?"

 

    Anaya looked beyond him to Kith-Kanan. "No. This time the Keeper

 

of the Forest will give birth to her successor." Kith-Kanan held out a hand

 

to her. When she took it, Mackeli quietly clasped his small hands around

 

both of theirs.

 


 

                                     15

 

                    Three Moons' Day, Year of the Hawk

 

 

 

 

  The ambassador from Thorbardin arrived in Silvanost on Three-Moons'

 

Day, midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The

 

dwarf's name was Durtbarth, but he was called Ironthumb by most who

 

knew him. In his youth he had been a champion wrestler. Now, in old age,

 

he was esteemed as the most level-headed of all the counselors to the king

 

of Thorbardin.

 

    Dunbarth traveled with a small entourage: his secretary, four scribes,

 

four dispatch riders, a crate of carrier pigeons, and sixteen warrior

 

dwarves as his personal guard. The ambassador rode in a tall, closed coach

 

made entirely of metal. Even though the brass, iron, and bronze panels

 

were hammered quite thin, with all the skill characteristic of the dwarven

 

race, the coach was still enormously heavy. A team of eight horses drew

 

the conveyance, which held not only Dunbarth, but his staff. The warrior

 

escort rode sturdy, short-legged horses, not swift but blessed with

 

phenomenal endurance. The dwarven party was met on the western bank

 

of the Thon-Thalas by Sithas and an honor guard of twelve warriors.

 

    "Good morrow to you, Lord Dunbarth!" Sithas said heartily. The

 

ambassador stood on one of the steps hanging below the coach door. From

 

there he was high enough to clasp arms with Sithas without the

 

embarrassment of making the far taller elf bend over.

 

    "Life and health to you, speaker's son," Dunbarth rumbled. His

 

leggings and tunic were brown cloth and leather, but he sported a short

 

purple cape and broad-brimmed light brown hat. A short feather plumed

 


 

out from his hatband and matched in color the wide, bright blue belt at his

 

waist. His attire offered a striking contrast to the elegant simplicity of

 

Sithas's robe and sandals.

 

    The prince smiled. "We have arranged ferries for your company."

 

With a sweep of his hand he indicated the two large barges moored at the

 

river's edge.

 

    "Will you ride with me, son of Sithel?" asked Dunbarth importantly.

 

    "I would be honored."

 

    The dwarf climbed back into his coach, then Sithas grasped the

 

handrail and stepped up into the metal wagon. The top was high enough

 

for him to stand erect in. Nevertheless, Dunbarth ordered his secretary, a

 

swarthy young dwarf, to surrender his seat to Sithas. The elf prince sat.

 

The escort filed in behind the coach, pennants whipping from the tips of

 

their gilded pikes.

 

    "A remarkable thing, this coach," Sithas said politely. "Is it made

 

entirely of metal?"

 

    "Indeed, noble prince. Not one speck of wood or cloth in the whole

 

contraption!"

 

    Sithas felt the silver curtains that hung in front of the side windows.

 

The dwarves had woven them of metal so fine it felt like cloth.

 

    "Why build it so?" he asked. "Wouldn't wood be lighter?"

 

    Dunbarth folded his hands across his broad, round belly. "It would

 

indeed, but this is an official coach for Thorbardin ambassadors traveling

 

abroad, so it was made to show off the skills of my people in

 

metal-working," he replied proudly.

 


 

    With much shouting and cracking of whips, the ponderous coach

 

rolled onto a barge. The team of horses was cut loose and brought

 

alongside it. Finally, the coach and the warrior escorts were distributed on

 

board.

 

    Dunbarth leaned forward to the coach window. "I would like to see

 

the elves who are going to row this ferry!"

 

    "We have no need for such crude methods," Sithas said smoothly.

 

"But watch, if it pleases your lordship."

 

    Dunbarth leaned his elbow on the window edge and looked out over

 

the starboard side of the barge. The ferry master, an elf long in years with

 

yellow hair and mahogany skin, mounted the wooden bulwark and put a

 

brass trumpet to his lips. A long, single note blurted out, sliding down the

 

scale.

 

    In the center of the river, a round green hump broke the surface for an

 

instant, then disappeared again. Large ripples spread out from that

 

pointlarge enough that when they reached the riverbank they all but

 

swamped a string of canoes tied to the stone pier. The great barge rocked

 

only slightly in the swell.

 

    Again the green hump broke the surface, and this time it rose. The

 

hump became a dome, green and glistening, made up of a hundred angular

 

plates. In front of the dome, the brow of a massive, green head appeared.

 

A large, orange eye with a vertical black pupil the size of a full-grown

 

dwarf appraised the stationary barge. At the tip of the triangular head, two

 

nostrils as big as barrels spewed mist into the air.

 

    "It's a monster!" Dunbarth cried. "By Reorx!" His hand went to his

 

waist, reaching for a sword he'd forgotten he did not wear.

 


 

    "No, my lord," Sithas said soothingly. "A monster it may be, but a

 

tame one. It is our tow to the far shore."

 

    The dwarven warriors on the barge fingered their heavy axes and

 

muttered to each other. The giant turtle, bred by the elves for just this job,

 

swam to the blunt bow of the ferry and waited patiently as the ferry master

 

and two helpers walked across its huge shell to attach lines to a stout brass

 

chain that encircled the monster's shell. One of the turtle's hind legs

 

bumped the barge, knocking the feet out from under the nervous warrior

 

dwarves. The coach creaked backward an inch or two on its iron axles.

 

    "What a brute!" Dunbarth exclaimed, fascinated. "Do such monsters

 

roam freely in the river, Prince Sithas?"

 

    "No, my lord. At the command of my grandfather, Speaker Silvanos,

 

the priests of the Blue Phoenix used their magic to breed a race of giant

 

turtles to serve as beasts of burden on the river. They are enormously

 

strong, of course, and quite longlived." Sithas sat back imperiously in his

 

springy metal seat.

 

    The ferry master blew his horn again, and the great reptile swung

 

toward the shore of Fallan Island, a mile away. The slack went out of the

 

tow line, and the barge lurched into motion. Sithas heard a loud clatter and

 

knew that the warriors had been thrown off their feet again. He suppressed

 

a smile. "Have you ever been to Silvanost before, Lord Dunbarth?" he

 

asked deferentially.

 

    "No, I've not had the pleasure. My uncle, Dundevin Stonefoot, did

 

come to the city once on behalf of our king."

 

    "I remember," Sithas mused. "I was but a boy." It had been fifty years

 

before.

 


 

     The ferry pitched up and down as they crossed the midpoint of the

 

river. A freshening wind blew the barge sideways, but the turtle paid no

 

attention, paddling steadily on its familiar course. The barge, loaded with

 

tons of coach, dwarves, Dunbarth, Sithas, and the prince's small honor

 

guard, bobbed on its lines like a cork.

 

     Gray clouds scudded before the scouring wind, hurrying off to the

 

north. Sithas watched them warily, for winter was usually the time of

 

storms in Silvanost. Vast cyclones, often lasting for days, sometimes

 

boiled up out of the Courrain Ocean and lashed across Silvanesti. Wind

 

and rain would drive everyone indoors and the sun would appear only

 

once in two or three weeks. While the countryside suffered during these

 

winter storms, the city was protected by spells woven by the clerics of

 

E'li. Their spells deflected most of the natural fury away to the western

 

mountains, but casting them for each new storm was a severe trial for the

 

priests.

 

     Dunbarth took the bumpy ride in good stride, as befits an ambassador,

 

but his young secretary was not at all happy. He clutched his recording

 

book to his chest and his face went from swarthy to pale to light green as

 

the barge rocked.

 

     "Drollo here hates water," Dunbarth explained with an amused glint

 

in his eye. "He closes his eyes to take a bath!"

 

     "My lord!" protested the secretary.

 

     "Never fear, Master Drollo," Sithas said. "It would take far worse

 

wind than this to upset a craft of this size."

 

     The ferry master tooted another command on his horn, and the turtle

 

swung the barge around. Lord Dunbarth's guard rattled from one bulwark

 


 

to the other, and the horse team whinnied and shifted nervously as the

 

deck moved beneath them. The mighty turtle butted his shell against the

 

bow of the ferry and pushed it backward toward the dock. Elves on the

 

dock guided the barge in with long poles. With a short, solid bump, the

 

ferry was docked.

 

    A ramp was lowered into the barge, and the dwarven guard mustered

 

together to march ashore. They were much disheveled by the bumpy

 

crossing. Plumes were broken off their helmets, capes were stained from

 

the guards' falls into the scupper, armor was scuffed, but with

 

commendable dignity, the sixteen dwarves shouldered their battle-axes

 

and marched up the ramp to dry land. The horses were re-hitched to the

 

coach and, as whips cracked, they hauled the coach up the ramp.

 

    It began to rain as they rolled through the streets. Dunbarth peered

 

through the curtains at the fabled capital of the elves. White towers

 

gleamed, even under the lowering sky. The peaks of the tallestthe

 

Tower of the Stars and the Quinari Palacewere clothed in murky clouds.

 

Dunbarth, his face as open with wonder as a child's, admired the intricate

 

spell-formed gardens, the graceful architecture, the almost musical

 

harmony embodied by Silvanost's sights. Finally, he drew the curtains

 

tight to keep out the gusting rain, then turned his attention to Sithas.

 

    "I know you are heir to the Speaker of the Stars, but how is it you

 

have the task of greeting me, noble Sithas?" he asked diplomatically. "Isn't

 

it more usual for the younger son to receive foreign ambassadors?"

 

    "There is no younger son in Silvanost," Sithas replied calmly.

 

    Dunbarth smoothed his iron-gray beard. "Forgive me, Prince, but I

 

was told the speaker had two sons."

 


 

    Sithas adjusted the folds of his rain-spattered robes. "I have a twin

 

brother, several minutes younger than I. His name is Kith-Kanan." Saying

 

the name aloud was strange for Sithas. Though his twin was seldom far

 

from his thoughts, it had been a very long time since the prince had had

 

reason to speak his name. He said it silently to himself: Kith-Kanan.

 

    "Twins are most uncommon among the elven race," Dunbarth was

 

saying. With effort, Sithas focused on the conversation at hand. "Whereas,

 

among humans, they are not at all uncommon." Dunbarth lowered his

 

gaze. "Where is your brother, speaker's son?" he asked solemnly.

 

    "He is in disgrace." Dunbarth's face registered only polite attention.

 

Sithas inhaled deeply. "Do you know humans well?" he asked, eager to

 

change the subject.

 

    "I have made a number of journeys as emissary to the court of Ergoth.

 

We've had many disputes with the humans over exchange rates of raw

 

iron, copper, tin ... but that's ancient history." Dunbarth leaned forward,

 

close to Sithas. "It is a wise person who listens twice to everything a

 

human says," he said softly. "Their duplicity knows no bounds!"

 

    "I shall keep that in mind," Sithas responded.

 

    By the time the coach arrived at the palace, the storm had

 

strengthened. There was no flashing lightning or crashing thunder, but a

 

swirling, howling wind drove buckets of rain through the city. The coach

 

pulled up close to the north portico of the palace, where there was some

 

shelter from the wind and rain. There, an army of servants stood poised in

 

the downpour, ready to assist the ambassador with his luggage. Lord

 

Dunbarth stepped heavily down from his conveyance, his short purple

 


 

cape lashing in the wind. He doffed his extravagant hat to the assembled

 

servants.

 

    "My lord, I think we should dispense with the amenities for now,"

 

Sithas shouted over the wind. "Our rainy season seems to have come early

 

this year."

 

    "As you wish, noble prince," Dunbarth bellowed.

 

    Stankathan waited inside for the dwarven ambassador and Sithas. He

 

bowed low to them and said, "Excellent lord, if you will follow me, I will

 

show you to your quarters."

 

    "l.ead on," said Dunbarth grandly. Behind him, the drenched Drollo

 

let out a sneeze.

 

    The ground floor of the north wing housed many of the pieces of art

 

that Lady Nirakina had collected. The delicate and lifelike statues of

 

Morvintas, the vividly colored tapestries of the Women of E'li, the

 

spell-molded plants of the priest Jin Fahrusall these lent the north wing

 

an air of otherworldly beauty. As the dwarves passed through, servants

 

discreetly mopped the marble floor behind them, blotting away all the mud

 

and rainwater that had been tracked in.

 

    Dunbarth and his entourage were lodged on the third floor of the

 

north wing. The airy suite, with its curtains of gauze and mosaic tile floor

 

in shades of gold and sea-green, was quite unlike any place in the dwarven

 

realm of Thorbardin. The ambassador stopped to stare at a two-foot-long

 

wooden model of a dove poised over his bed. When Drollo set Dunbarth's

 

bags on the bed, the cloth-covered wings of the dove began to beat slowly,

 

wafting a gentle breeze over the bed.

 


 

     "By Reorx!" exclaimed the secretary. Dunbarth exploded with

 

laughter.

 

     "A minor spell," Stankathan explained hurriedly. "Activated when

 

anything or anyone rests on the bed. If it bothers your lordship, I shall

 

have it stopped."

 

     "No, no. That's quite all right," Dunbarth said merrily.

 

     "If you require anything, my lord, simply ring the bell," said

 

Stankathan.

 

     The elves withdrew. In the hallway beyond Dunbarth's closed door,

 

Stankathan asked when the human delegation was expected.

 

     "At any time," answered Sithas. "Keep the staff alert."

 

     The major-domo bowed. "As you command, sire."

 

                                  *   *   *   *   *

 

     Lord Dunbarth dined that night with the Speaker of the Stars in a

 

quiet, informal dinner that included only the closest confidantes of both

 

sides. They talked for a long time about nothing of importance, taking the

 

measure of each other. Lady Nirakina, in particular, seemed to find the

 

elderly dwarf engaging.

 

     "Are you married, my lord?" she asked at one point.

 

     "No; Lady, never again!" Dunbarth boomed. He shrugged. "I am a

 

widower."

 

     "I am sorry."

 

     "She was a good wife, my Brenthia, but a real terror at times." He

 

drained a full cup of elven nectar. Smoothly, a servant stepped forward to

 

refill his goblet.

 

     "A terror, my lord?" asked Hermathya, intrigued.

 


 

    "Quite so, Lady. I remember once she burst into the Council of

 

Thanes and dressed me down for being late for supper five nights in a row.

 

It took years for me to live that down, don't you know. The Daewar

 

faction used to taunt me, when I was speaking in the council, by saying,

 

'Go home, Ironthumb, go home. Your dinner is ready.' " He laughed

 

loudly, his deep bass voice echoing in the nearly empty Hall of Balif.

 

    "Who are these Daewar?" asked Hermathya. "They sound rude."

 

    "The Daewar are one of the great clans of the dwarven race," Sithel

 

explained smoothly. He prided himself on his knowledge of dwarves and

 

their politics. "You are yourself of the Hylar clan, are you not, Lord

 

Dunbarth?"

 

    The ambassador's blue eyes twinkled with happy cunning. "Your

 

Highness is most knowledgeable. Yes, I am Hylar, and cousin to many

 

kings of Thorbardin." He slapped a blunt hand on the back of his

 

secretary, who was seated on his right. "Now, Drollo here, is

 

half-Theiwar, which accounts for his dark looks and strange

 

temperament." Drollo looked studiously at his plate and said nothing.

 

    "Is it usual for dwarves to marry outside their class?" asked Sithas

 

curiously.

 

    "Not really. Speaking of such things," Dunbarth said languorously, "I

 

hear tales that some elves have married humans."

 

    A sharp silence fell in the hall. Sithel leaned back in his tall chair and

 

put a finger to his lips. "It is unfortunately true," said the speaker tersely.

 

"In the wilds of our western provinces, some of the Kagonesti have taken

 

humans as mates. No doubt there is a shortage of suitable elven spouses.

 

The practice is pernicious and forbidden by our law."

 


 

    Dunbarth bowed his head, not in agreement, but in recognition of

 

Sithel's admirable powers of restraint. The mixed-race issue was a very

 

sensitive one, as the dwarf well knew. His own people were race-proud

 

too, and no dwarf had ever been known to intermarry with another race.

 

    "I met many half-humans among the refugees who lately came to our

 

city for shelter from bandits," Lady Nirakina said gently. "They were such

 

sad folk, and many were quite presentable. It seems wrong to me to blame

 

them for the follies of their parents."

 

    "Their existence is not something we can encourage," Sithel

 

countered with noticeable vigor. "As you say, they are known to be

 

melancholy, and that makes them dangerous. They often figure in acts of

 

violence and crime. They hate the Silvanesti because we are pure in blood,

 

while they languish with human clumsiness and frailty. I suppose you in

 

Thorbardin have heard of the riot we had in late summer?"

 

    "There were mutterings of such an event," said Dunbarth casually.

 

    "It was all due to the violent natures of some humans and half-humans

 

we had unwisely allowed on the island. The riot was quelled, and the

 

troublemakers driven away." Nirakina sighed noticeably. Sithel ignored

 

his wife as he continued to make his point. "There can never be peace

 

between Silvanesti and human, unless we keep to our own bordersand

 

our own beds."

 

    Dunbarth rubbed his red, bulbous nose. He had a heavy ring on each

 

of his fingers, and they glittered in the candlelight. "Is that what you will

 

tell the emissary from Ergoth?"

 

    "It is," Sithel said vehemently.

 


 

    "Your wisdom is great, Sithel Twice-Blest. My king has given me

 

almost exactly the same words to speak. If we present a united front to the

 

humans, they will have to accede to our demands."

 

    The dinner ended quickly. Toasts were made to the health of the king

 

of Thorbardin and to the hospitality of the Speaker of the Stars. That done,

 

Lord Dunbarth and Drollo withdrew.

 

    Sithas strode to the door after it closed behind the ambassador. "That

 

old fox! He was trying to make an alliance with you before the humans

 

even arrive! He wants to promote a conspiracy!"

 

    Sithel dipped his hand in a silver bowl of rosewater held by a servant.

 

"My son, Dunbarth is a master of his craft. He was testing our eagerness to

 

compromise. Had he behaved otherwise, I would have thought King

 

Voldrin a fool to have sent him."

 

    "This all seems very confusing