Elven Nations Trilogy
Paul B. Thompson
& Tonya R. Carter
©2001 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
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Cover art by Brom
First Printing: February 1991
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-71491
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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
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
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-
"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
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
"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
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
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."
"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
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
'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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
"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,
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"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
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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
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
"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
Anaya returned to the fire. Kith-Kanan was white-faced with
revulsion. "What sort of witch are you?" he gasped. "You command all
"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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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.
"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
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
"Is that real gold?" he asked abruptly.
Tamanier fingered the band. "It is, Highness. It was a gift from my
"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
"What's to be done?" she prodded.
"Done? I hardly think that's our concern. The speaker will deal with
"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
"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."
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
"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
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!" 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.
"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,"
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
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
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
"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,
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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