Elven Nations Trilogy


    Volume One


 [Dragonlance logo]







 Paul B. Thompson


 & Tonya R. Carter





     Cover Art







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Cover art by Brom

First Printing: February 1991

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                        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




         "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




      "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?





                           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




    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





    "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




    "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




      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




      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




    "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




    "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




    "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





    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




    "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




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




    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.




    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




     "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




    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




    "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




    "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






     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.




    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




    "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




        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




     "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




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





                                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




    "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




    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




        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




        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




    "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





    "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




     "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




     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.





    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




    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.





                                 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




     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




     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




    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.




    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




    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




     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.





                               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





    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




    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




        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




        "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




        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."




        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




        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




    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




         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,




         "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




     "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




    "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.





                            Five Weeks Later





    "Lady Nerakina, wife of the Speaker," annnounced the maidservant.


Hermathya looked up from her mirror and nodded. The servant opened the




    "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




    "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




    "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




    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




                                    *   *   *   *   *


    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




       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.





                        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





    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




    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




    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




    "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




     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




    "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




    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




    "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.





                     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




    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




    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




    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




    "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





    "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




    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




    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"





                           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




        "There is your metal," she said. "Take it up. You may have need of




        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




    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




    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




    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




    "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




    "How many humans are there?" Kith-Kanan inquired.


    Anaya gave him a disdainful look. "Corvae can't count," she stated




    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




     Anaya was not enraptured. She narrowed her sharp eyes and said,


"There they are."




     "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




     "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




     "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,




        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




    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




    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




    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




    "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.





                                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




    "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




           "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





    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




    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




     "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






    Sithel opened one eye. "Get in, why don't you? The water is good and




    "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




    "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




    "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




    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




    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




    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







                                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




    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





    "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




    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




    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





    "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




    "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




    "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




    "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




    "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




     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




     "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




    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.





                       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




    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




    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




    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




    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




         "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




     "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




     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




    "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




    "Has the royal guard been turned out?" he asked, returning inside




    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




     "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




     "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




    "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




    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




    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.





                          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




    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




    "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




     "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




    "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




    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





    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




    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




        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




                                        *   *   *   *   *


        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?"





                              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




    "Will the half-breeds come here?" asked another guild elf




    "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




    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





    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




    "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




    "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




     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




    "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




    "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




                                  *   *   *   *   *


    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




     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




     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




    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




    "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




    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




    "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




    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




    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




    Nirakina set down her goblet, puzzled. "What hero, my husband?"


    "His name was Nortifinthas."


    Head wobbling, Zertinfinas asked, "Was he a companion of Huma




    "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




      "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




    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





    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




    Sithas watched his father as he ate. The speaker's every movement


was graceful, his face serene with resolve.





                         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




    "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




    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




    "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




    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-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




     "Anaya!" he uttered with relief. "You're all right. Where have you




     "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




    "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




    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




    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."





    "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





    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




    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




    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.





                    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




    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




    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




    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





     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




     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




    "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




     "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




     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




     "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




    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




    "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 to me," complained Lady Nirakina.


"Why don't you all speak the truth and work from there!"


    Sithel did a rare thing. He burst out laughing. "Diplomats tell the


truth! My dear Kina, the stars would fall from heaven and the gods would


faint with horror if diplomats started speaking the truth!"


                                  *   *   *   *   *


    Later that night came a knock on Sithas's door. A storm-drenched


warrior strode in, bowed, and said in a ringing voice, "Forgive this


intrusion, Highness, but I bring word of the emissary from Ergoth!"


    "Yes?" said Sithas tensely. There was so much talk of treachery, he


feared foul play had befallen the humans.



    "Highness, the ambassador and his party are waiting on the bank of


the river. The ambassador demands that he be met by a representative of


the royal house."


    "Who is this human?" Sithas asked.


    "He gave his name as Ulwen, first praetor of the emperor of Ergoth,"


replied the soldier.


    "First praetor, eh? Is the storm worse?" Sithas questioned.


    "It is bad, Highness. My boat nearly sank crossing the Thon-Thalas."


    "And yet this Ulwen insists on crossing immediately?"


    The soldier said yes. "You will pardon me, sire, for saying so, but he


is very arrogant, even for a human."


    "I shall go," Sithas said simply. "It is my duty. Lord Dunbarth was


met by me, and it is only just that I greet Praetor Ulwen likewise."


    The prince left with the soldier, but not before sending word to the


clerics of E'li, to ask them to begin working their spells to deflect the


storm. It was unusual for so strong a storm to come before the winter


season. The conference promised to be difficult enough without the added


threat of wind and water.





                          While the Storm Raged