Elven Nations Trilogy



    Volume Two



 [Dragonlance logo]









  Kinslayer Wars



    Douglas Niles






     Cover Art









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                                                 THE KINSLAYER WARS




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                           Winter, Year of the Ram, 2215 (PC)






    "The Emperor arrives­he enters the fortress at the South Gate!"



    The cry rang from the walls of Caergoth, blared by a thousand trumpets and heard by


a million ears. Excitement spread through the massive tent city around the great castle,


while the towering fortress itself fairly tingled with anticipation.





    The carriage of Emperor Quivalin Soth V, sometimes called Ullves, rumbled through


the huge gates, pulled by a team of twelve white horses, trailed by an escort of five


thousand men. From every parapet, every castellated tower top and high rampart in


sprawling Caergoth, silk-gowned ladies, proud noblemen, and courtiers waved and








    Sheer, gray-fronted walls of granite towered over the procession, dominating the


surrounding farmlands as a mountain looms over a plain. Four massive gates, each


formed from planks of vallenwood eighty feet long, barred the sides of the great structure


against any conceivable foe­indeed, they proudly bore the scars of dragonbreath,


inflicted during the Second Dragon War more than four centuries earlier.






    The interior of Caergoth consisted of winding avenues, tall and narrow gates, stone


buildings crowded together, and always the high walls. They curved about and climbed in



terrace after terrace toward the heart of the massive castle, forming a granite maze for all


who entered.


    The carriage trundled through the outer gatehouse with imperial dignity and rolled


along the streets, through open gates, and down the widest avenue toward the center of


the fortress. Banners, in black and deep red and dark blue, hung from the ramparts.


Everywhere the cheering of the crowds thundered around the emperor's coach.





    Outside the walls, a vast sea of tents covered the fields around the fortress, and from


these poured the men-at-arms of the emperor's army­some two hundred thousand in all.


Though they did not mingle with the nobles and captains of the fortress, their joy was no


less boisterous. They surged toward the castle in the wake of the emperor's procession,


their shouts and hurrahs penetrating the heavy stone walls.






    Finally the procession entered a broad plaza, cool and misty from the spray of a


hundred fountains. Beyond, soaring to the very clouds themselves, arose the true wonder


of Caergoth: the palace of the king. Tall towers jutted up from high walls, and lofty,


peaked roofs seemed distant and unreachable. Crystal windows reflected sunlight in


dazzling rainbows, filtering and flashing their colors through the shimmering haze of the








    The coach rumbled down the wide, paved roadway to the gates of the palace. These


portals, solid silver shined to mirrorlike brilliance, stood open wide. In their place stood



the royal personage himself, King Trangath II, Lord of Caergoth and most loyal servant


to the Emperor of Ergoth.


    Here the royal coach halted. A dozen men-at-arms snapped their halberds to their


chests as the king's own daughter opened the door of the gleaming steel carriage. The


crowd surged across the plaza, even through the pools of the fountains, in an effort to see


the great person who rode within. Around the plaza, from the surrounding walls and


towers, teeming thousands shouted their adulation.






    The emperor's green eyes flashed as he stepped from the high vehicle with a grace


that belied his fifty years. His beard and hair now showed streaks of gray, but his iron


will had hardened over his decades of rule until he was known, truthfully, as a ruthless


and determined leader who had led his people into a prosperity they had never before








    Now this regal leader, his robe of crimson fur flowing over a black silk tunic


trimmed in platinum, ignored the King of Caergoth, stepping quickly to the three men


who stood silently behind that suddenly embarrassed monarch. Each of these was


bearded and wore a cap and breastplate of gleaming steel plate. Tall boots rose above


their knees, and each held a pair of gauntlets under his arm as he waited to greet the most


powerful man in all of Ansalon.



        The shrieks of the crowd reached a crescendo as the emperor seized each of these


men, one after the other, in an embrace of deepest affection. He turned once more and


waved to the masses.





        Then Quivalin V led the three men toward the crystal doors of the king's palace. The


portals parted smoothly, and when they closed, the hysteria beyond fell to a muted rum-







        "Find us a place where we can speak privately," the emperor commanded, without


turning to look at King Trangath.




        Immediately that royal personage scuttled ahead, bowing obsequiously and


beckoning the emperor's party through a towering door of dark mahogany.




        "I hope fervently that my humble library will suit my most esteemed lord's needs,"


the old king huffed, bowing so deeply he tottered for a moment, almost losing his







        Emperor Quivalin said nothing­until he and the three men had entered the library


and the doors had soundlessly closed behind them. A deep black marble floor stretched


into the far comers of the huge room. Above them, the ceiling lofted into the distance, a


dark surface of rich, brown wood. The only light came from high, narrow windows of


crystal; it fell around them as beams of heat and warmth before its reflections vanished in


the light-absorbent darkness of the floor.



    Though several soft chairs stood along the walls, none of the men moved to sit.


Instead, the emperor fixed each of the others with a stare of piercing strength and


impelling command.





    "You three men are my greatest generals," Quivalin V said, his voice surprisingly


soft beneath the intensity of his gaze. "And now you are the hope and the future of all hu-







    The three stood a little taller at his words, their shoulders growing a trifle more


broad. The emperor continued. "We have borne the elven savagery long enough. Their


stubborn refusal to allow humans their rightful place in the plains has become too much


to bear. The racial arrogance of their Speaker has turned diplomacy into insults. Our


reasonable demands are mocked. Silvanesti intransigence must be wiped out."






    Abruptly Quivalin's gaze flashed to one of the trio­the oldest, if his white beard and


long hair of the same color were any indication. Lines of strain and character marked the


man's face, and his short stature nevertheless bespoke a quiet, contained power.





    "Now, High General Barnet, tell me your plans."



    The older warrior cleared his throat. A veteran of four decades of service to this


emperor­and to Quivalin IV before him­Barnet nevertheless couldn't entirely calm him-


self in the face of that august presence.



    "Excellency, we will advance into the plains in three great wings­a powerful thrust


from the center, and two great hooks to the north and south. I myself will command the


central wing­a thousand heavy lancers and fifty thousand sturdy footmen with metal


armor, shields, and pikes. Sailors and woodsmen from Daltigoth and the south, mainly,


including ten thousand with crossbows.






    "We shall drive directly toward Sithelbec, which we know is the heart of the elven


defense­a place the elven general must defend. Our aim is to force the enemy into


combat before us, while the northern and southern wings complete the encirclement.


They will serve as the mobile hammers, gathering the enemy against the anvil of my own


solid force."






    High General Barnett looked to one of his co-commanders. "General Xalthan


commands the southern wing."




    Xalthan, a red-bearded warrior with bristling eyebrows and missing front teeth,


seemed to glower at the emperor with a savage aspect, but this was simply an effect of his


warlike appearance. His voice, as he spoke, was deferential. "I have three brigades of


heavy lancers, Excellency, and as many footmen as Barnett­armored in leather, to move


more quickly."






    Xalthan seemed to hesitate a moment, as if embarrassed, then he plunged boldly


ahead. "The gnomish artillery, I must admit, has not lived up to expectations. But their



engineers are busy even as we speak. I feel certain that the lava cannons will be activated


early in the campaign."


    The emperor's eyes narrowed slightly at the news. No one saw the facial gesture


except for Xalthan, but the other two noticed that veteran commander's ruddy complexion


grow visibly pale.





    "And you, Giarna?" asked the emperor, turning to the third man. "How goes the


grandest campaign of the Boy General?"




    Giarna, whose youthfulness was apparent in his smooth skin and soft, curling beard,


didn't react to his nickname. Instead, he stood easily, with a casualness that might have


been interpreted as insolence, except there was crisp respect reflected in his expression as


he pondered his answer. Even so, his eyes unsettled the watchers, even the emperor. They


were dark and full of a deep and abiding menace that made him seem older than his








    The other two generals scowled privately at the young man. After all, it was common


knowledge that Giarna's favored status with the emperor was due more to the Duchess


Suzine des Quivalin­niece of the emperor, and reputed mistress to the general


himself­than to any inherent military skill.





    Still, Giarna's battle prowess, demonstrated against rebellious keeps across the


Vingaard Plains, was grudgingly admitted even by his critics. It was his mastery of strate-


gy, not his individual courage or his grasp of tactics, that had yet to be proven.



    Under ordinary circumstances, General Giarna's army command skills would not


have been tested on the battlefield for some years yet­until he was older and more sea-


soned. However, a recent rash of tragic accidents­a panicked horse bucking, a jealous


husband returning home, and a misunderstood command to retreat­had cost the lives of


the three generals who had stood in line for this post. Thus Giarna, youthful though he


was, had been given his opportunity.






    Now he stood proudly before his emperor and replied.



    "My force is the smallest, Excellency, but also the fastest. I have twenty thousand


riders­horse archers and lancers­and also ten thousand footmen each of sword and


longbowmen. It is my intention to march swiftly and come between the Wildrunners and


their base in Sithelbec. Then I will wait for Kith-Kanan to come to me, and I will shred


his army with my arrows and my horsemen."






    Giarna made his report coolly, without so much as a nod to his peers, as if the other


two commanders were excessive baggage on this, the Boy General's first great


expedition. The older generals fumed; the implication was not lost on them.





    Nor on the emperor. Quivalin V smiled at the plans of his generals. Beyond the walls


of the cavernous library, within the vast palace, the roar of the admiring crowd could still


be heard.



    Abruptly the emperor clapped his hands, the sound echoing sharply through the large


chamber. A side door to the room opened, and a woman advanced across the gleaming


marble. Even the two older generals, both of whom distrusted and resented her, would


have admitted that her beauty was stunning.





    Her hair, of coppery red, spiraled around a diamond-encrusted tiara of rich platinum.


A gown of green silk conformed to the full outline of her breasts and hips, accented by a


belt of rubies and emeralds that enclosed her narrow waist. But it was her face that was


most striking, with her high cheekbones and proud, narrow chin and, most significant, her


eyes. They glowed with the same vibrance as the emeralds on her belt, the almost


unnatural green of the Quivalin line.






    Suzine Des Quivalin curtsied deeply to her uncle, the emperor. Her eyes remained


downcast as she awaited his questions.




    "What can you tell us about the state of the enemy's forces?" asked the ruler. "Has


your mirror been of use in this regard?"




    "Indeed, Excellency," she replied. "Though the range to the elven army is great,


conditions have been good. I have been able to see much.




    "The elven general, Kith-Kanan, has deployed his forces in thin screens throughout


the plain, well forward of the fortress of Sithelbec. He has few horsemen­perhaps five


hundred, certainly less than a thousand. Any one of your army's wings will outnumber his


entire force, perhaps by a factor of two or three."



    "Splendid," noted Quivalin. Again he clapped, this time twice.



    The figure that emerged from a different door was perhaps as opposite from the


woman as was conceivable. Suzine turned to leave as this stocky individual clumped into


the room. She paused only long enough to meet Giarna's gaze, as if she was searching for


something in his eyes. Whatever it was, she didn't find it. She saw nothing but the dark,


insatiable hunger for war. In another moment, she disappeared through the same door she


had entered.






    In the meantime, the other figure advanced toward the four men. The newcomer was


stooped, almost apelike in posture, and barely four feet tall. His face was grotesque, an


effect accentuated by his leering grin. And where Suzine's eyes crowned her beauty with


pride and dignity, the mad, staring eyes of the dwarf showed white all around the tiny


pupils and seemed to dart frantically from person to person.






    If he felt any repugnance at the dwarf's appearance, the emperor didn't show it.


Instead, he simply asked a question.




    "What is the status of Thorbardin's involvement?"



    "Most Exalted One, my own dwarves of the Theiwar Clan offer you their


unequivocal support. We share your hatred of the arrogant elves and wish nothing more


than their defeat and destruction."



    "Nothing more, unless it be a sum of profit in the bargain," remarked the emperor,


his voice neutral.




    The dwarf bowed again, too thick-skinned to be offended. "Your Eminence may take


reassurance from the fact that loyalty purchased is always owed to the wealthiest


patron­and here you have no competition in all of Krynn."





    "Indeed," Quivalin added dryly. "But what of the other dwarves­the Hylar, the






    "Alas," sighed the Theiwar dwarf. "They have not been so open-minded as my own


clan. The Hylar, in particular, seem bound by ancient treaties and affections. Our influ-


ence is great, but thus far insufficient to break these ties."





    The dwarf lowered his voice conspiratorially. "However, your lordliness, we have an


agent in place­a Theiwar­and should be able to ensure that little excess of comfort is


delivered to your enemies."





    "Splendid," agreed the emperor. If he was curious as to the precise identity of the


Theiwar agent, he gave no sign. "A vigorous season of warfare should bring them to heel.


I hope to drive them from the plains before winter. The elven cowards will be ready to


sign a treaty by spring!"





    The emperor's eyes suddenly glowed with dull fire, the calculated sense of power


and brutality that had allowed him to send thousands of men to their deaths in a dozen of



his empire's wars. They flamed brighter at the thought of the arrogance of the long-lived


elves and their accursed stubbornness. His voice became a growl.


    "But if they continue to resist, we will not be content to wage war on the plains.


Then you will march on the elven capital itself. If it is necessary to prove our might, we


will reduce Silvanost itself to ashes."





    The generals bowed to their ruler, determined to do his bidding. Two of them felt


fear­fear of his power and his whim. Beads of sweat collected upon their foreheads, drip-


ping unnoticed down cheeks and beards.





    General Giarna's brow, however, remained quite dry.






                               PART 1: A TASTE OF KILLING






                            Late Winter, Year of the Raven,



                                        2214 (PC)






    The forest vanished into the distance on all sides, comfortingly huge, eternal, and


unchanging. That expanse was the true heart, the most enduring symbol, of the elven na-


tion of Silvanesti. The towering pines, with lush green needles so dark they were almost


black, dominated, but glades of oak and maple, aspen, and birch flourished in many iso-


lated pockets, giving the forest a diverse and ever-changing character.






    Only from a truly exalted vantage­such as from the Tower of the Stars, the central


feature of Silvanost­could the view be fully appreciated. This was where Sithas, Speaker


of the Stars and ruler of Silvanesti, came to meditate and contemplate.





    The sky loomed vast and distant overhead, a dome of black filled with glittering


pinpoints of light. Krynn's moons had not yet risen, and this made the pristine beauty of


the stars more brilliant, more commanding.





    For a long time, Sithas stood at the lip of the tower's parapet. He found comfort in


the stars and in the deep and eternal woods beyond this island, beyond this city. Sithas


sensed that the forest was the true symbol of his people's supremacy. Like the great



trunks of forest giants, the ancient, centuries-living elves stood above the scurrying,


scampering lesser creatures of the world.


    Finally the Speaker of the Stars lowered his eyes to look upon that city, and


immediately the sense of peace and splendor he had known dissipated. Instead, his mind


focused on Silvanost, the ancient elven capital, the city that held his palace and his







    Faint traces of a drunken chant rose through the night air to disturb his ears. The


song thrummed in the guttural basso of dwarves, as if to mock his concern and







    Dwarves! They are everywhere in Silvanost! Everywhere, in the city of elves, he


thought grimly.




    Yet the dwarves were a necessary evil, Sithas admitted with a sigh. The war with the


humans called for extremely careful negotiations with powerful Thorbardin, the dwarven


stronghold south of the disputed lands. The power of that vast and warlike nation, thrown


behind either human Ergoth or elven Silvanesti, could well prove decisive.





    Once, a year earlier, the Speaker of the Stars had assumed the dwarves were firmly


in the elven camp. His negotiations with the esteemed Hylar dwarf Dunbarth Ironthumb


had presented a unified front against human encroachment. Sithas had assumed that


dwarven troops would soon stand beside the elves in the disputed plainslands.



    Yet, to date, King Hal-Waith of Thorbardin had not yet sent a single regiment of


dwarven fighters, nor had he released to Kith-Kanan's growing army any of the great


stocks of dwarven weapons. The patient dwarves were not about to be hurried into any


rash wars.





    So a dwarven diplomatic mission was a necessity in Silvanost. And now that war had


begun, such missions required sizable escorts­in the case of the recently arrived dwarven


general Than-Kar, some one thousand loyal axemen.





    Surprising himself, Sithas thought with fondness of the previous dwarven


ambassador. Dunbarth Ironthumb had fully possessed all the usual uncouthness of a


dwarf, but he also had a sense of humor and was self-effacing, traits that had relaxed and


amused Sithas.





    Than-Kar had none of these traits. A swarthy complected Theiwar, the general was


rude to the point of belligerence. Impatient and uncooperative, the ambassador actually


seemed to act as an impediment to communication.





    Take, for example, the messenger who had arrived from Thorbardin more than a


week ago. This dwarf, after his months'-long march, must certainly have brought impor-


tant news from the dwarven king. Yet, Than-Kar had said nothing, had not even


requested an audience with the Speaker of the Stars. This was the reason for the


conference Sithas had scheduled for the morrow, peremptorily summoning Than-Kar to


the meeting in order to find out what the Theiwar knew.



    His mood as thick as the night, Sithas let his gaze follow the dark outlines of the


river Thon-Thalas, the wide waterway surrounding Silvanost and its island. The water


was smooth, and he could see starlight reflected in its crystal surface. Then the breeze


rose again, clouding the surface with ripples and washing the chant of the dwarven


axemen away.






    Seeing the river, the Speaker's mind filled with a new and most unwelcome memory,


a scene as clear in its every detail as it was painful in its recollection. Two weeks ago or


more it was now, yet it might as well have been that very morning. That was when the


newly recruited regiments had departed westward, to join Kith-Kanan's forces.





    The long columns of warriors had lined the riverbank, waiting their turns to board


the ferry and cross. From the far bank of the Thon-Thalas, they were about to begin their


long march to the disputed lands, five hundred miles to the west. Their five thousand


spears, swords, and longbows would prove an important addition to the Wildrunners.





    Yet, for the first time in the history of Silvanesti, the elves had needed to be bribed


into taking up arms for their Speaker, their nation. A hundred steel bounty, paid upon


recruitment, had been offered as incentive. Even this had not brought volunteers flocking


to the colors, though after several weeks of recruitment regiments of sufficient size had


finally been raised.






    And then there had been the scene at the riverbank.



    The cleric Miritelisina had just recently emerged from the cell where Sithas's father,


Sithel, had thrown her for treason a year earlier. The matriarch of the faith of Quenesti


Pah, benign goddess of healing and health, Miritelisina had voiced loud objections to the


war with the humans. She had had the audacity to lead a group of elven females in a


shrill, hysterical protest against the conflict with Ergoth. It had been a sickening display,


worthy more of humans than of elves. Yet the cleric had enjoyed a surprisingly large


amount of support from the onlooking citizens of Silvanesti.






    Sithas had promptly ordered Miritelisina back to prison, and his guard had disrupted


the gathering with crisp efficiency. Several females had been wounded, one fatally. At


the same time, one of the heavily laden river craft had overturned, drowning several


newly recruited elves. All in all, these were bad omens.





    At least, the Speaker realized, the outbreak of war had driven the last humans from


the city. The pathetic refugees of the troubles on the plains­many with elven spouses­had


marched back to their homelands. Those who could fight had joined the Wildrunners, the


army of Silvanost, centered around the members of the House Protectorate. The others


had taken shelter in the great fortress of Sithelbec. Ironic, thought Sithas, that humans


married to elves should be sheltered in an elven fortress, safe against the onslaught of


human armies!



    Still, in every other way, the city that Sithas loved seemed to be slipping further and


further from his control.




    His gaze lingered to the west, rising to the horizon, and he wished he could see


beyond. Kith-Kanan was there somewhere under this same star-studded sky. His twin


brother might even be looking eastward at this moment; at least, Sithas wanted to believe


that he felt some contact.





    For a moment, Sithas found himself wishing that his father still lived. How he


missed Sithel's wisdom, his steady counsel and firm guidance! Had his father ever known


these doubts, these insecurities? The idea seemed impossible to the son. Sithel had been a


pillar of strength and conviction. He would not have wavered in his pursuit of this war in


the protection of the elven nation against outside corruption.






    The purity of the elven race was a gift of the gods, with its longevity and its serene


majesty. Now that purity was threatened­by human blood, to be sure, but also by ideas of


intermingling, trade, artisanship, and social tolerance.





    The nation faced a very crucial time indeed. In the west, he knew, elves and humans


had begun to intermarry with disturbing frequency, giving birth to a whole bastard race of







    By all the gods, it was an abomination, an affront to the heavens themselves! Sithas


felt his face flush, and his hands clenched. If he had worn a sword, he would have seized



it then, so powerfully did the urge to fight come over him. The elves must prevail­they


would prevail!


    Again he felt his distance from the conflict, and it loomed as a yawning chasm of


frustration before him. As yet they had received no word of battle, although he knew that


nearly a month earlier, the great invasion had begun. His brother had reported three great


human columns, all moving purposefully into the plainslands. Sithas wanted to go and


fight himself, to lend his strength to winning the war, and it was all he could do to hold


himself back. Inevitably his sense of reason prevailed.






    At times, the war seemed so far away, so unreachable. Yet, other times, he found it


beside him, here in Silvanost, in his palace, in his thoughts ... in his very bedroom.




    His bedroom. Sithas gave a rueful smile and shook his head in wonder. He thought


of Hermathya, how months earlier his feelings for her had approached loathing.




    Yet with the coming of war, a change had come over his wife as well. Now she


supported him as never before, standing beside him every day against the complaints and


pettiness of his people ... and lying beside him every night as well.





    He heard, or perhaps he felt, the soft rustle of silk, and then she was beside him. He


breathed a deep sigh­a sound of contentment and satisfaction. The two of them stood


alone, six hundred feet above the city, atop the Tower of the Stars, beneath the brilliant


light shower of its namesake.



    Her mouth, with its round lips so unusually full for an elf, was creased by the trace of


a smile­a sly, secret smile that he found strangely beguiling. She stood beside him,


touching a hand to his chest and leaning her head on his shoulder.





    He smelled her hair, rich with the scent of lilacs, yet in color as bright as copper. Her


smooth skin glowed with a milky luminescence, and he felt her warm lips upon his neck.


A warm rush of desire swept through him, fading only slightly as she relaxed and stood


beside him in silence.





    Sithas thought of his volatile wife­how pleasant it was to have her come to him thus,


and how rare such instances had been in the past. Hermathya was a proud and beautiful


elf woman, used to getting her own way. Sometimes he wondered if she regretted their


marriage, arranged by their parents. Once, he knew, she had been the lover of his


brother­indeed, Kith-Kanan had rebelled against his father's authority and fled Silvanost


when her engagement to Sithas had been announced. Did she ever regret her choice?


How well had she calculated her future as wife of the Speaker of the Stars? He did not


know­perhaps, in fact, he was afraid to ask her.






    "Have you seen my cousin yet?" she asked after a few minutes.



    "Lord Quimant? Yes, he came to the Hall of Balif earlier today. I must say, he seems


to have an excellent grip on the problems of weapon production. He knows mining,


smelting, and smithing. His aid is much needed ... and would be much appreciated. We


are not a nation of weaponsmiths like the dwarves."



    "Clan Oakleaf has long made the finest of elven blades," Hermathya replied proudly.


"That is known throughout Silvanesti."




    "It is not the quality that worries me, my dear. It is in the quantity of weapons that


we lag sadly behind the humans, and the dwarves. We cleaned out the royal armories in


order to outfit the last regiments we sent to the west."





    "Quimant will solve your problems, I'm certain. Will he be coming to Silvanost?"



    The estate of Clan Oakleaf lay to the north of the elven capital, near the mines where


they excavated the iron for their small foundries. The clan, the central power behind


House Metalline, was the primary producer of weapons-quality steel in the kingdom of


Silvanesti. Lately its influence had grown, due to the necessity of increased weapons


production brought on by the war. The mines were worked by slaves, mostly human and


Kagonesti elves, but this was a fact Sithas had to accept because of his nation's emer-


gency. Lord Quimant, the son of Hermathya's eldest uncle, was being groomed as the


spokesman and leader of Clan Oakleaf, and his services for the estate were important.






    "I believe he will. I've offered him chambers in the palace, as well as incentives for


the Oakleaf clan­mineral rights, steady supplies of coal ... and labor."




    "It would be wonderful to have some of my family around again." Hermathya's voice


rose, joyful as a young girl's. "This can be such a lonely place, with all of your attention


directed to the war."



    He lowered his hand, sliding it along the smooth silk of her gown, down her back,


his strong fingers caressing her. She sighed and held him tighter. "Well, maybe not all of


your attention," she added, with a soft laugh.





    Sithas wanted to tell her what a comfort she had been to him, how much she had


eased the burdens of his role as leader of the elven nation. He wondered at the change


that had come over her, but he said nothing. That was his nature, and perhaps his







    It was Hermathya who next spoke.



    "There is another thing I must tell you ...."



    "Good news or bad?" he asked, idly curious.



    "You will need to judge that for yourself, though I suspect you will be pleased."



    He turned to look at her, holding both of his hands on her shoulders. That secret


smile still played about her lips.




    "Well?" he demanded, feigning impatience. "Don't tease me all night! Tell me."



    "You and I, great Speaker of the Stars, are going to have a baby. An heir."



    Sithas gaped at her, unaware that his jaw had dropped in a most unelven lack of


dignity. His mind reeled, and a profound explosion of joy rose within his heart. He


wanted to shout his delight from the tower top, to let the word ring through the city like a


prideful cry.



        For a moment, he truly forgot about everything­the war, the dwarves, the logistics


and weapons that had occupied him. He pulled his wife to him and kissed her. He held


her for a long time under the starlight, above the city that had so troubled him earlier.





        But for now, all was right with the world.



                                            *   *   *   *   *



        The next day, Than-Kar came to see Sithas, though the Theiwar dwarf arrived nearly


fifteen minutes after the time indicated in the Speaker's summons.




        Sithas awaited him, impatiently seated upon the great emerald throne of his


ancestors, located in the center of the great Hall of Audience. This vast chamber occupied


the base of the Tower of the Stars, with its sheer walls soaring upward into the dizzying


heights. Above, six hundred feet over their heads, the top of the tower stood open to the








        Than-Kar clumped into the hall at the head of a column of twelve bodyguards,


almost as if he expected ambush. Twoscore elves of the House Protectorate­the royal


guard of Silvanesti­snapped to attention around the periphery of the hall.





        The Theiwar sniffed his nose loudly, the rude gesture echoing through the hall, as he


approached the Speaker. Sithas studied the dwarf, carefully masking his distaste.




        Like all Theiwar dwarves, Than-Kar's eyes seemed to stare wildly, with the whites


showing all around the pinpoint pupils. His lips curled in a perpetual sneer, and despite



his ambassadorial station, his beard and hair remained unkempt, his leather clothes filthy.


How unlike Dunbarth Ironthumb!


    The Theiwar bowed perfunctorily and then looked up at Sithas, his beady eyes


glittering with antagonism.




    "We'll make this brief," said the elf coldly. "I desire to know what word has come


from your king. He has had time to reply, and the questions we have sent have not been


formally answered."





    "As a matter of fact, I was preparing my written reply when your courier interrupted


me with this summons yesterday. I had to delay my progress in order to hasten to this







    Yes, Than-Kar must have made haste, for he obviously hadn't taken time to run a


comb through his hair or change his grease-spattered tunic, thought Sithas. The Speaker


held his tongue, albeit with difficulty.





    "However, insofar as I am here and taking up the speaker's valuable time, I can


summarize the message that I have received from Thorbardin."




    "Please, do," Sithas requested dryly.



    "The Royal Council of Thorbardin finds that, to date, there is insufficient cause to


support elven warmaking in the plains," announced the dwarf bluntly.




    "What?" Sithas stiffened, no longer able to retain his impassive demeanor. "That is a


contradiction of everything our meetings with Dunbarth established! Surely you­your



people­recognize that the human threat extends beyond mere grazing rights on the




    "There is no evidence of a threat to our interests."



    "No threat?" The elf cut him off rudely. "You know humans, they will stretch and


grab whatever they can. They will seize our plains, your mountains, the forest­-







    Than-Kar regarded him coolly, those wide, staring eyes seeming to gleam with


delight. Abruptly Sithas realized that he was wasting his time with this arrogant Theiwar.


Angrily he stood, half fearing that he would strike out at the dwarf and very much


desiring to do just that. Still, enough of his dignity and self-control remained to stay his


hand. After all, a war with the dwarves was the last thing they needed right now.






    "This conference is concluded," he said stiffly.



    Than-Kar nodded­smugly, Sithas thought­and turned to lead his escort from the hall.



    Sithas stared after the dwarven ambassador, his anger still seething. He would not­he


could not­allow this to be the final impasse!




    But what else could he do? No ideas arrived to lighten the oppressive burden of his








                                     Spring, 2214 (PC)






    The horse pranced nervously along the ridgetop, staying within the protective foliage


of the tree line. Thick, bluegreen pines enclosed the mount and its elven rider on three


sides. Finally the great stallion Kijo stood still, allowing Kith-Kanan to peer through the


moist, aromatic branches to the vast expanse of open country beyond.





    Nearby, two of the Wildrunners­Kith's personal bodyguards­sat alertly in their


saddles, swords drawn and eyes alert. Those elves, too, were nervous at the sight of their


leader possibly exposing himself to the threat in the valley below.





    And what a threat it was! The long column of the human army snaked into the


distance as far as the keen-eyed elves could see from their vantage on the ridgetop. The


vanguard of the army, a company of heavily armored lancers riding huge, lumbering


war-horses, had already passed them by.





    Now ranks of spearmen, thousands upon thousands, marched past, perhaps a mile


away down the gradually sloping ridge. This was the central wing of the massive Army


of Ergoth, which followed the most direct route toward Sithelbec and presented the most


immediate threat to the Wildrunners. Kith-Kanan turned with a grim smile, and Kijo


pranced into the deeper shelter of the forest.



    The commander of the Wildrunners knew his force was ready for this, the opening


battle of his nation's first war in over four centuries. Not since the Second Dragon War


had the elves of the House Protectorate taken to the field to defend their nation against an


external threat.





    The ring on his finger­the Ring of Balifor­had been given to his father as a reminder


of the alliance between kender and elves during the Second Dragon War. Now he wore it


and prepared to do battle in a new cause. For a moment, he wondered what this war


would be named when Astinus took up his pen to scribe the tale in his great annals.





    Though Kith-Kanan was young for an elf­he had been born a mere ninety-three


years ago­he felt the weight of long tradition riding in the saddle with him. He knew no


compelling hatred toward these humans, yet he recognized the threat they presented. If


they weren't stopped here, half of Silvanesti would be gobbled up by the rapacious human


settlers, and the elves would be driven into a small corner of their once vast holdings.






    The humans had to be defeated. It was Kith-Kanan's job, as commander of the


Wildrunners, to see that the elven nation was victorious.




    Another figure moved through the trees, bringing the bodyguards' swords swooshing


forth, until they recognized the rider.




    "Sergeant-Major Parnigar." Kith-Kanan nodded to the veteran Wildrunner, his chief


aide and most reliable scout. The sergeant was dressed in leather armor of green and


brown, and he rode a stocky, nimble pony.



    "The companies are in place, sir­the riders behind the ridge, with a thousand elves of


Silvanost bearing pike behind them." Parnigar, a veteran warrior who had fought in the


Second Dragon War, had helped recruit the first wild elves into Kith-Kanan's force. Now


he reported on their readiness to die for that cause. "The Kagonesti archers are well


hidden and well supplied. We can only hope the humans react as we desire."






    Parnigar looked skeptical as he spoke, but Kith suspected this was just the elf's


cautious nature. The sergeant's face was as gray and leathery as an old map. His strapping


arms rested on the pommel of his saddle with deceptive ease. His green eyes missed


nothing. Even as he talked to his general, the sergeant-major was scanning the horizon.





    Parnigar slouched casually in his saddle, his posture more like a human's than an


elf's. Indeed, the veteran had taken a human wife some years before, and in many ways


he seemed to enjoy the company of the short-lived race. He spoke quickly and moved


with a certain restless agitation­both characteristics that tended to mark humans far more


typically than elves.






    Yet Parnigar knew his roots. He was an heir of the House Protectorate and had


served in the Wildrunners since he had first learned to handle a sword. He was the most


capable warrior that Kith-Kanan knew, and the elven general was glad to have him at his





    "The human scouts have been slain by ambush," KithKanan told him. "Their army


has lost its eyes. It is almost time. Come, ride with me."




    The commander of the Wildrunners nudged Kijo's flanks with his knees, and the


stallion exploded into a dash through the forest. So nimble was the horse's step that he


dashed around tree trunks with Kith-Kanan virtually a blur. Parnigar raced behind, with


the two hapless guards spurring their steeds in a losing struggle to keep pace.





    For several minutes, the pair dashed through the forest, the riders' faces lashed by


pine needles, but the horses' hooves landing true. Abruptly the trees stopped, exposing


the wide, gently rolling ridgetop. Below, to the right, marched the endless army of







    Kith-Kanan nudged Kijo again, and the stallion burst into view of the humans below.


The elven general's blond hair trailed in the sun behind him, for his helmet remained


lashed to the back of his saddle. As he rode, he raised a steel-mailed fist.





    He made a grand figure, racing along the crest of the hill above the teeming mass of


his enemy. Like his twin brother Sithas, his face was handsome and proud, with


prominent cheekbones and a sharp, strong chin. Though he was slender­like every one of


his race­his tall physique lifted him above the deep pommels of the saddle.





    Instantly the trumpeters of Silvanost sprang to their feet. They had lain in the grass


along this portion of the crest. Raising their golden horns in unison, they brayed a chal-


lenge across the rolling prairie below. Behind the trumpeters, concealed from the humans



by the crest of the ridge, the elven riders mounted their horses while the bowmen knelt in


the tall grass, waiting for the command to action.


    The great column of humans staggered like a confused centipede. Men turned to


gape at the spectacle, observing pennants and banners that burst from the woods in a riot-


ous display of color. All order vanished from the march as each soldier instinctively


yielded to astonishment and the beginnings of fear.





    Then the human army gasped, for the elven riders abruptly swarmed over the


ridgetop in a long, precise line. Horses pranced, raising their forefeet in a high trot, while


banners unfurled overhead and steel lance tips gleamed before them. They numbered but


five hundred, yet every human who saw them swore later that they were attacked by


thousands of elven riders.






    Onward the elven horsemen came, their line remaining parade-ground sharp. On the


valley floor, some of the humans broke and ran, while others raised spears or swords,


ready and even eager for battle.





    From the front of the vast human column, the huge brigade of heavy lancers turned


its mighty war-horses toward the flank. Yet they were two miles away, and their compan-


ies quickly lost coherence as they struggled around other regiments­the footmen­that


were caught behind them.





    The elven riders raced closer to the center of the column, the thunder of their hooves


crashing and shaking the earth. Then, two hundred feet from their target, they stopped.



Each of the five hundred horses pivoted, and from the dust of the sudden maneuver, five


hundred arrows arced forth, over the great blocks of humans and then down, like deadly


hawks seeking out their terrified victims.


    Another volley ripped into the human ranks, and suddenly the elven riders retreated,


dashing across the same ridge they had charged down mere moments before.




    In that same instant, the humans realized they were going to be robbed of the


satisfaction of fighting, and a roar of outrage erupted from ten thousand throats. Swords


raised, shields brandished, men broke from the column without command of their


captains, chasing and cursing the elven riders. The enraged mob swept up the slope in


chaotic disarray, united only in its fury.






    Abruptly a trumpet cry rang from the low summit, and ranks of green-clad elves


appeared in the grass before the charging humans, as if they had suddenly sprouted from


the ground.





    In the next instant, the sky darkened beneath a shower of keen elven arrows, their


steel tips gleaming in the sunlight as they arced high above the humans, then tipped in


their inevitable descent. Even before the first volley fell, another rippled outward, as


steady and irresistible as hail.





    The arrows tore into the human ranks with no regard for armor, rank, or quickness.


Instead, the deadly rain showered the mob with complete randomness, puncturing steel


helmets and breastplates and slicing through leather shoulder pads. Shrieks and cries



from the wounded rose in hysterical chorus, while other humans fell silently, writhing in


mute agony or lying still upon the now-reddening grass.


    Again and again the arrows soared outward, and the mob wavered in its onrush.


Bodies littered the field. Some of these crawled or squirmed pathetically toward safety,


ignored by the mindless rush of the others.





    As more of them died, fear rose like a palpable cloud over the heads of the humans.


Then, by twos and fives and tens, they turned and raced back toward the rest of the


column. Finally they retreated in hundreds, harried back down the newly mud-covered


slope by pursuing missile fire. As they vanished, so did the elven archers, withdrawing at


a trot over the crest of the ridge.






    At last the human heavy lancers approached, and a cheer rose from the rest of the


great army. A thousand bold knights, clad in armor from head to toe, urged their massive


horses onward. The great beasts lumbered like monsters, buried beneath clanking plates


of barding. A cloud of bright pennants fluttered over the thundering mass.





    Kith-Kanan, still mounted upon his proud stallion, studied these new warriors from


the ridgetop. Caution, not fear, tempered his hopes as the great weight of horses, men,


and metal churned closer. The heavy knights, he knew, were the army's most lethal attack







    He had planned for this, but only the reality of things would show whether the


Wildrunners stood equal to the task. For a moment, Kith-Kanan's courage wavered, and



he considered ordering a fast retreat from the field­a disastrous idea, he quickly told


himself, for his hope now lay in steadfast courage, not flight. The knights drew nearer,


and Kith-Kanan wheeled and galloped after the archers.


    The great steeds runbled inexorably up the slope, toward the gentle crest where the


elven riders and archers had disappeared. They couldn't see the foe, but they hoped that


the elves would be found just beyond the ridgetop. The knights kicked their mounts and


shouted their challenges as they crested the rise, springing with renewed speed toward the


enemy. In their haste, they broke their tight ranks, eager to crush the deadly archers and


light elven lancers.






    Instead, they met a phalanx of elven pikemen, the gleaming steel tips of the


Wildrunners' weapons arrayed as a bristling wall of death. The elves stood shoulder to


shoulder in great blocks, facing outward from all sides. The riders and archers had taken


shelter in the middle of these blocks, while three ranks of pikemen­one kneeling, one


crouching, and one standing­kept their weapons fixed, promising certain death to any


horse reckless enough to close.






    The great war-horses, sensing the danger, turned, bucked, and spun, desperate to


avoid the rows of pikes. Unfortunately for the riders, each horse, as it turned, met another


performing a similar contortion. Many of the beasts crashed to the ground, and still more


riders were thrown by their panicked steeds. They lay in their heavy armor, too weighted


down even to climb to their feet.



    Arrows whistled outward from the Wildrunners. Though the shortbows of the elven


riders were ineffective against the armored knights, the longbows of the foot archers


drove their barbed missiles through the heaviest plate at this close range. Howls of pain


and dismay now drowned out the battle cries among the knights, and in moments the


cavalry, in mass, turned and lumbered back across the ridgetop, leaving several dozen of


their number moaning on the ground almost at the feet of the elven pikemen.






    "Run, you bastards!" Parnigar's shout was a gleeful bark beside Kith-Kanan.



    The general, too, felt his lieutenant!s elation. They had held the knights! They had


broken the charge!




    Kith-Kanan and Parnigar watched the retreat of the knights from the center of the


largest contingent. The sergeant-major looked at his commander, gesturing to the fallen


knights. Some of these unfortunate men lay still, knocked unconscious by the fall from


horseback, while others struggled to their knees or twitched in obvious pain. More


humans lay at the top of the slope, their bodies punctured by elven arrows.






    "Shall I give the order to finish them?" Parnigar asked, ready to send a rank of


swordsmen forward. The grim warrior's eyes flashed.




    "No," Kith-Kanan said. He looked grimly at his sergeant's raised eyebrows. "This is


the first skirmish of a great war. Let it not be said we began it with butchery."



    "But­but they're knights! These are the most powerful humans in that entire army!


What if they are healed and restored to arms? Surely you don't want them to ride against


us again?" Parnigar kept his voice low but made his arguments precisely.





    "You're right­the power of the heavy knights is lethal. If we hadn't been fully


prepared for their assault, I'm not certain we could have held them. Still .... "




    Kith-Kanan's mind balked at the situation before him, until a solution suddenly


brightened his expression. "Send the swordsmen forward­but not to kill. Have them take


the weapons of the fallen knights and any banners, pennants, and the like that they can


find. Return with these, but let the humans live."





    Parnigar nodded, satisfied with his general's decision. He raised a hand and the line


of pikemen parted, allowing the sergeant-major's charger to trot forward. Selecting a hun-


dred veterans, he started the task of stripping the humans of their badges and pennants.





    Kith turned, sensing movement behind him. He saw the pikemen parting there, too,


this time to admit someone­a grimy elven rider straddling a foaming, dust-covered horse.


Through the dust, Kith recognized a shock of hair the color of snow.





    "White-lock! It's good to see you." Kith swung easily from his saddle as the


Kagonesti elf did the same. The general clasped the rider's hand warmly, searching the


wild elf's eyes for a hint of his news.



    White-lock rubbed a hand across his dust-covered face, revealing the black and white


stripes painted across his forehead. Typical of the wild elves, he was fully painted for


war­and covered by the grit of his long ride. A scout and courier for the Wildrunners, he


had ridden hundreds of miles to report on the movements of the human army.





    Now White-lock nodded, deferentially but coolly, toward Kith-Kanan. "The humans


fare poorly in the south," he began. "They have not yet crossed the border into elven


lands, so slowly do they march."





    White-lock's tone dripped with scorn­a scorn equal to that Kith had heard him use


when describing the "civilized" elves of crystalline Silvanost. Indeed, the wild elves of


Kagonesti in many cases bore little love for their cousins in the cities­antipathy, to be


sure, that mirrored the hatred and prejudice held by the Silvanesti elves for any race other


than their own.






    "Any word out of Thorbardin?"



    "Nothing reliable." The Kagonesti continued his report, his tone revealing that


dwarves ranked near the bottom on his list of worthwhile peoples. 'They promise to assist


us when the humans have committed sufficient provocation, but I won't believe them till I


see them stand and fight."





    "Why does the southern wing of the Ergothian army march so slowly?" Kith-Kanan,


through his Wildrunner scouts, had been tracking the three great wings of the vast


Caergoth army, each of which was far greater in size than his entire force of Wildrunners.



     "They have difficulties with the gnornes," White-lock continued. "They drag some


kind of monstrous machine with them, pulled by a hundred oxen, and it steams and


belches smoke. A whole train of coal wagons follows, carrying fuel for this machine."





     "It must surely be some type of weapon­but what? Do you know?"



     White-lock shook his head. "It is now mired in the bottomlands a few miles from the


border. Perhaps they will leave it behind. If not ...." The Kagonesti elf shrugged. It was


simply another idiocy of the enemy that he could not predict or fathom.





     "You bring good news," Kith noted with satisfaction. He planted his hands on his


hips and looked at the ridgeline above, where Parnigar and his footmen were returning.


Many waved captured human banners or held aloft helmets with long, trailing plumes.


Every so often he saw a dejected and disarmed human scuttling upward and disappearing


over the ridge as if he still feared for his life.






     Today Kith and the Wildrunners had directed a sharp blow against the central wing


of the human army. He hoped the confusion and frustration of the elven attack would de-


lay their march for several days. The news from the south was encouraging. It would take


months for a threat to develop there. But what of the north?





     His worries lingered as the Wildrunners quickly reformed from battle into march


formation. They would pass through partially forested terrain, so the elven army moved


in five broad, irregular columns. They followed parallel routes, with about a quarter of a



mile between columns. If necessary, they could easily outdistance any human army,


whether mounted or on foot.


     Kith-Kanan, with Parnigar and a company of riders, remained behind until sunset.


He was pleased to see the human army encamp at the scene of the attack. In the morning,


he suspected, they would send forth huge and cumbersome reconnaissances, none of


which would find any trace of the elves.





     Finally the last of the Wildrunners, with Kith in the lead, turned their stocky, fast


horses to the west. They would leave the field in possession of the foe, but a foe a little


more bewildered, a little more frightened, than the day before.





     The elven riders passed easily along forest trails at a fast walk, and at a canter


through moonlit meadows. It was as they crossed one of these that movement in the


fringe of the treeline pulled Kijo up sharply. A trio of riders approached. Kith recognized


the first two as members of his guard.





     "A messenger, sir­from the north." The guards puffed aside as Kith stared in shock


at the third rider.




     The elf slumped in his saddle like a corpse that had been placed astride a horse. As


he looked toward Kith-Kanan, his eyes flickered with a momentary hope.




     "We tried to hold them back, sir­to harass them, as you commanded," the elf


reported in a rush. "The human wing to the north moved onto the plain, and we struck





    The scout's voice belied his looks. It was taut and firm, the voice of a man who spoke


the truth and who desperately wanted to be believed. Now he shook his head. "But no


matter how quickly we moved, they moved more quickly. They struck at us, sir! They


wiped out a hundred elves in one camp and routed the Kagonesti back to the woods!


They move with unbelievable stealth and speed."






    "They advance southward, then?" Kith-Kanan asked, instinctively knowing the


answer, for he immediately understood that the human commander of the northern wing


must be an unusually keen and aggressive foe.





    "Yes! Faster than I would have believed, had I not seen it myself. They ride like the


wind, these humans. They have surrounded most of the northern pickets. I alone







    The messenger's eyes met Kith's, and the elf spoke with all the intensity of his soul.


"But that is not the worst of it, my general! Now they sweep to the east of my own path.


Already you may be cut off from Sithelbec."





    "Impossible!" Kith barked the denial. The fortress, or city, of Sithelbec was his


headquarters and his base of operations. It was far to the rear of the battle zone. "There


can't be any humans within a hundred miles of there."





    But again he looked into the eyes of the messenger, and he had to believe the terrible


news. "All right," he said grimly. "They've stolen a march on us. It's time for the


Wildrunners to seize it back."








                            That Night, in the Army of Ergoth






    The sprawling tent stood in the center of the vast encampment. Three peaks stood


high, marking the poles that divided the shelter into a trio of chambers. Though the stains


of the season's campaign marked its sides, and seams showed where the top had been


mended, the colorless canvas structure had a certain air about it, as if it was a little more


important, a little more proud than the tents flowing to the horizon around it.






    The huge camp was not a permanent gathering, and so the rows of straight-backed


tents ran haphazardly, wherever the rolling ground, crisscrossed by numerous ravines,


allowed. Green pastures, feeding grounds for twenty thousand horses, marked the hinges


of the encampment. As dusk settled, the army's shelters lined up in gray anonymity,


except for this high, three-peaked tent.






    The inside of that structure, as well, would never be mistaken for the abode of some


soldier. Here cascades of silken draperies­deep browns, rich golds, and the iridescent


black that was so popular among Ergothian nobles­covered the sides, blocking any view


of the harsh realities beyond the canvas walls.





    Suzine des Quivalin sat in the tent, studying a crystal glass before her. Her coppery


hair no longer coiled about the tiara of diamond-studded platinum. Instead, it gathered in



a bun at the back of her head, though its length still cascaded more than a foot down her


back. She wore a practical leather skirt, but her blouse was of fine silk. Her skin was


clean, making her unique among all these thousands of humans.


    Indeed, captains and sergeants and troopers alike grumbled about the favors shown


to the general's woman­hot water for bathing! A luxurious tent­ten valuable horses were


required just to haul her baggage.





    Still, though grumbling occurred, none of it happened within earshot of the


commander. General Giarna led his force with skill and determination, but he was a


terrifying man who would brook no argument, whether it be about his tactics or his


woman's comforts. Thus the men kept the remarks very quiet and very private.





    Now Suzine sat upon a large chair, cushioned with silk-covered pillows of down, but


she didn't take advantage of that softness. Instead, she sat at the edge of the seat, tension


visible in her posture and in the rapt concentration of her face as she studied the crystal


surface before her.





    The glass looked like a normal mirror, but it didn't show a reflection of the lady's


very lovely face. Instead, as she studied the image, she saw a long line of foot soldiers.


They were clean-shaven, blond of hair, and carried long pikes or thin, silver swords.





    She watched the army of Kith-Kanan.



    For a time, she touched the mirror, and her vision ran back and forth along the


winding column. Her lips moved silently as she counted longbows and pikes and horses.



She watched the elves form and march. She noted the precision with which the long, fluid


columns moved across the plains, retaining their precise intervals as they did so.


    But then her perusal reached the head of the column, and here she lingered. She


studied the one who rode at the head of that force, the one she knew was Kith-Kanan,


twin brother to the elven ruler.





    She admired his tall stance in the saddle, the easy, graceful way that he raised his


hand, gesturing to his outriders or summoning a messenger. Narrow wings rose to a pair


of peaks atop his dark helmet. His dark plate mail looked worn, and a heavy layer of dust


covered it, yet she could discern its quality and the easy way he wore it, as comfortably


as many a human would wear his soft cotton tunic.






    Her lips parted slightly, and she didn't sense the pace of her breathing slowly


increase. The lady did not hear the tent flap move behind her, so engrossed was she in her


study of the handsome elven warrior.





    Then a shadow fell across her, and she looked up with a sharp cry. The mirror faded


until it showed only the lady, her face twisted in an expression of guilt mixed with indig-







    "You could announce your presence," she snapped, standing to face the tall man who


had entered.




    "I am commander of the camp. General Giarna of Ergoth need announce his


presence to no one, save the emperor himself," the armor-plated figure said quietly. His



black eyes fixed upon the woman's, then shifted to the mirror. These eyes of the Boy


General frightened her­they were hardly boyish, and not entirely human, either. Dark and


brooding, they sometimes blazed with an internal fire that was fueled, she sensed, by


something that was beyond her understanding. At other times, however, they gaped black


and empty. She found this dispassionate void even more frightening than his rage.


    Suddenly he snarled and Suzine gasped in fright. She would have backed away, save


for the fact that her dressing table blocked any retreat. For a moment, she felt certain he


would strike her. It would not be the first time. But then she looked into his eyes and


knew that, for the moment, anyway, she was safe.





    Instead of violent rage, she saw there a hunger that, while frightening, did not


presage a blow. Instead, it signaled a desperate yearning for a need that could never be


satisfied. It was one of the things that had first drawn her to him, this strange hunger.


Once she had felt certain that she could slake it.





    Now she knew better. The attraction that had once drawn her to Giarna had waned,


replaced for the most part by fear, and now when she saw that look in his eyes, she


mostly pitied him.





    The general grunted, shaking his head wearily. His short, black hair lay sweaty and


tousled on his head. She knew he would have had his helmet on until he entered the tent,


and then taken it off in deference to her.





    "Lady Suzine, I seek information and have been worried by your long silence. Tell


me, what have you seen in your magic mirror?"



    "I'm sorry, my lord," replied Suzine. Her eyes fell, and she hoped that the flush


across her cheeks couldn't be noticed. She took a deep breath, regaining her composure.




    "The elven army countermarches quickly­faster than you expected," she explained,


her voice crisp and efficient. "They will confront you before you can march to Sithelbec."




    General Giarna's eyes narrowed, but his face showed no other emotion. "This captain


... what's his name?"




    "Kith-Kanan," Suzine supplied.



    "Yes. He seems alert­more so than any human commander I've faced. I would have


wagered a year's pay that he couldn't have moved so fast."




    "They march with urgency. They make good tune, even through the woods."



    "They'll have to stick to the forests," growled the general, "because as soon as I meet


them, I shall rule the plains."




    Abruptly General Giarna looked at Suzine inquiringly. "What is the word on the


other two wings?"




    "Xalthan is still paralyzed. The lava cannon is mired in the lowlands, and he seems


unwilling to advance until the gnomes free it."




    The general snorted in amused derision. "Just what I expected from that fool. And





    "The central wing has gone into a defensive formation, as if they expect attack. They


haven't moved since yesterday afternoon."




    "Excellent. The enemy comes to me, and my erstwhile allies twiddle their thumbs!"


General Giarna's black beard split apart as he grinned. "When I win this battle, the em-


peror cannot help but realize who his greatest warrior is."





    He turned and paced, speaking more to himself than to her. "We will drive against


him, break him before Sithelbec! We have assurances that the dwarves will stay out of


the war, and the elves alone cannot hope to match our numbers. The victory will be







    He turned back to her, those dark eyes flaming again, and Suzine felt another kind of


fear­the fear of the doe as it trembles before the slavering jaws of the wolf. Again the


general whirled in agitation, pounding his fist into the palm of his other hand.





    Suzine cast a sidelong glance at the mirror, as if she feared someone might be


listening. The surface was natural, reflecting only the pair in the tent. In the mirror, she


saw General Giarna step toward her. She turned to face him as he placed his hands on her







    She knew what he wanted, what she would­she must­give him. Their contact was


brief and violent. Giarna's passion contorted him, as if she was the vent for all of his


anxieties. The experience bruised her, gave her a sense of uncleanliness that nearly



brought her to despair. Afterward, she wanted to reach out and cover the mirror, to smash


it or at least turn it away.


     Instead, she hid her feelings, as she had learned to do so well, and then lay quietly as


Giarna rose and dressed, saying nothing. Once he looked at her, and she thought he was


going to speak.





     Suzine's heart pounded. Did he know what she was thinking? She thought of the face


in the mirror again­that elven face. But General Giarna only scowled as he stood before


her. After several moments, he spun on his heel and stalked from the tent. She heard the


pacing of his charger without, and then the clatter of hooves as the general galloped








         Hesitantly, inevitably, she turned back to the mirror.






                                      In Pitched Battle






    The two armies wheeled and skirmished across the flatlands, using the forests for


cover and obstruction, making sharp cavalry sweeps and sudden ambushes. Lives ex-


pired, men and elves suffered agony and maiming, and yet the great bodies of the two


armies did not contact each other.





    General Giarna's human force drove toward Sithelbec, while Kith-Kanan's


Wildrunners countermarched to interpose themselves between the Ergothian army and its


destination. The humans moved quickly, and it was only the effort of an all-night forced


march that finally brought the exhausted elves into position.





    Twenty thousand Silvanesti and Kagonesti warriors finally gathered into a single


mass and prepared a defense, tensely awaiting the steadily advancing human horde. The


elven warriors averaged three to four hundred years of age, and many of their captains


had seen six or more centuries. If they survived the battle and the war, they could look


forward to more centuries, five or six hundred years, perhaps, of peaceful aging.






    The Silvanesti bore steel weapons of fine craftsmanship, arrowheads that could


punch through plate mail and swords that would not shatter under the most crushing of


blows. Many of the elves had some limited proficiency in magic, and these were grouped



in small platoons attached to each company. Though these elves, too, would rely upon


sword and shield to survive the battle, their spells could provide a timely and


demoralizing counterpunch.


    The Wildrunners also had some five hundred exceptionally fleet horses, and upon


these were mounted the elite lancers and archers who would harass and confuse the


enemy. They wore the grandest armor, shined to perfection, and each bore his personal


emblem embroidered in silk upon his breast.





    This force stood against a human army of more than fifty thousand men. The humans


averaged about twenty-five years of age, the oldest veterans having seen a mere four or


five decades of life. Their weapons were crudely crafted by elven standards, yet they


possessed a deep strength. The blade might grow dull, but only rarely would it break.





    The human elite included riders, numbering twenty thousand. They bore no insignia,


nor did they wear armor of metal. Instead, they were a ragged, evil-looking lot, with


many a missing tooth, eye, or ear. Unlike their elven counterparts, almost all were


bearded, primarily because of a disdain of shaving, or indeed grooming of any kind.





    But they carried within them an inner thirst for a thing uniquely human in character.


Whether it be called glory or excitement or adventure, or simply cruelty or savagery, it


was a quality that made the short-lived humans feared and distrusted by all the


longer-lived races of Krynn.



    Now this burning ambition, propelled by the steel-bladed drive of General Giarna,


pushed the humans toward Sithelbec. For two days, the elven army appeared to stand


before them, only to melt away at the first sign of attack. By the third day, however, they


stood within march of that city itself.





    Kith-Kanan had reached the edge of the tree cover. Beyond lay nothing but open


field to the gates of Sithelbec, some ten miles away. Here the Wildrunners would have to







    The reason for falling back this far became obvious to elf and human alike as the


Wildrunners reached their final position. Silver trumpets blared to the eastward, and a


column of marchers hove into view.





    "Hail the elves of Silvanost!"



    Cries of delight and welcome erupted from the elven army as, with propitious timing,


the five thousand recruits sent by Sithas two months earlier marched into the


Wildrunners' camp. At their head rode Kencathedrus, the stalwart veteran who had given


Kith-Kanan his earliest weapons training.





    "Hah! I see that my former student still plays his war games!" The old veteran, his


narrow face showing the strain of the long march, greeted Kith before the commander's


tent. Wearily Kencathedrus lifted a leg over his saddle. Kith helped him to stand on the





    "I'm glad you made it," Kith-Kanan greeted his old teacher, clasping his arms


warmly. "It's a long march from the city."




    Kencathedrus nodded curtly. Kith-Kanan would have thought the gesture rude,


except that he knew the old warrior and his mannerisms. Kencathedrus represented the


purest tradition of the House Royal­the descendents, like Kith-Kanan and Sithas, of


Silvanos himself. Indeed, they were distant cousins in some obscure way Kith had never








    But more than blood relative, Kencathedrus was in many ways the mentor of


Kith-Kanan the warrior. Strict to the point of obsession, the teacher had drilled the pupil


in the instinctive use of the longsword and in the swift and repetitive shooting of the bow


until such tasks had become second nature.





    Now Kencathedrus looked Kith-Kanan up and down. The general was clad in


unadorned plate mail, with a simple steel helmet, unmarked by any sign of rank.




    "What about your crest?" he asked. "Don't you fight in the name of Silvanos, of the


House Royal?"




    Kith nodded. "As always. However, my guards have persuaded me that there's no


sense in making myself a target. I dress like a simple cavalryman now." He took


Kencathedrus's arm, noting that the old elf moved with considerable stiffness.





    "My back isn't what it used to be," admitted the venerable captain, stretching.



    "It's likely to get some more exercise soon," Kith warned him. "Thank the gods you


arrived when you did!"




    "The human army?" Kencathedrus looked past the elves, lined up for battle. Kith told


the captain what he knew.




    "A mile away, no more. We have to face them here. The alternative is to fall back


into the fortress, and I'm not ready to concede the plains."




    "You've chosen a good field, it seems." Kencathedrus nodded at the stands of trees


around them. The area consisted of many of these thick groves, separated by wide, grassy


fields. "How many stand against us?"





    "Just a third of the entire Ergoth army­that's the good news. The other two wings


have bogged down, more than a hundred miles away right now. But this one is the most


dangerous. The commander is bold and adventurous. I had to march all night to get in


front of him, and now my troops are exhausted as he prepares his attack."





    "You forget," Kencathedrus chided Kith, almost harshly. "You stand with elves


against a force of mere humans."




    Kith-Kanan looked at the old warrior fondly, but he shook his head at the same time.


"These 'mere' humans wiped out a hundred of my Wildrunners in one ambush. They've


covered four hundred miles in three weeks." Now the leader's voice took on a tone of


authority. "Do not underestimate them."



    Kencathedrus studied Kith-Kanan before nodding his agreement. "Why don't you


show me the lines," he suggested. "I presume you want us ready at first light."




                                          *   *   *   *   *



    As it happened, General Giarna gave Kith's force one more day to rest and prepare.


The human army shifted and marched and expanded, all behind the screen of several


groves of trees. Kith sent a dozen Kagonesti Wildrunners to spy, counting on the natural


vegetation that they used so well to cover them.





    Only one returned, and he to report that the human sentries were too thick for even


the skilled elves to pass without detection.




    The elven force took advantage of the extra day, however. They constructed trenches


along much of their front, and in other places, they laid long, sharp stakes in the earth to


form a wall thrusting outward. These stakes would protect much of the front from the


enemy horsemen Kith knew to number in the thousands.





    Parnigar supervised the excavation, racing from site to site, shouting and cursing. He


insulted the depth of one trench, the width of another. He cast aspersions on the lineage


of the elves who had done the work. The Wildrunners leaped to obey out of respect, not


fear. All along the line they dug in, proving that they used the pick and the spade as well


as the longsword and pike.



    Midafternoon slowly crept toward dusk. Kith restlessly worked his way back and


forth along the line. Eventually he came to the reserve, where the men of Silvanost recov-


ered from their long march under the shrewd tutelage of Kencathedrus. That captain


stepped up to Kith-Kanan as the general dismounted from Kijo.





    "Odd how they work for him," noted the older elf, indicating Parnigar. "My elves


wouldn't even look at an officer who talked to them like that."




    Kith-Kanan looked at him curiously, realizing that he spoke the truth. "The


Wildrunners here on the plains are a different kind of force than you know from the city,"


he pointed out.





    He looked at the reserve force, consisting of the five thousand elves who had


marched with Kencathedrus. Even at ease, they lounged in the sun in neat ranks across


the grassy meadows. A formation of Wildrunners, Kith reflected, would have collected in


the areas of shade.





    The teacher nodded, still skeptical. He looked across the front, toward the trees that


screened the enemy army. "Do you know their deployments?" asked Kencathedrus.




    "No." Kith admitted. "We've been shut off all day. I'd fall back if I could. They've


had too much time to prepare an attack, and I'd love to set those preparations to waste.


Your old lesson comes to mind: 'Don't let the enemy have the luxury of following his





    Kencathedrus nodded, and Kith nearly growled in frustration as he continued. "But I


can't move back. These trees are the last cover between here and Sithelbec. There's not so


much as a ditch to hide behind if I abandon this position."





    All he could do was to deploy a company of skirmishers well to each flank of his


position and hope they could provide him with warning of any sudden flanking thrust.




    It was a night of restlessness throughout the camp, despite the exhaustion of the


weary troops. Few of them slept for more than a few hours, and many campfires


remained lit well past midnight as elves gathered around them and talked of past


centuries, of their families­of anything but the terrible destiny that seemed to await them


on the morrow.






    Dew crept across the land in the darkest hours of night, becoming a heavy mist that


flowed thickly through the meadows and twisted around the trunks in the groves. With it


came a chill that woke every elf, and thus they spent the last hours of darkness.





    They heard the drums before dawn, a far-off rattle that began with shocking


precision from a thousand places at once. Darkness shrouded the woods, and the mists of


the humid night drifted like spirits among the nervous elves, further obscuring visibility.





    Gradually the dark mist turned to pale blue. As the sky lightened overhead, the


cadence of a great army's advance swelled around the elves. The Wildrunners held to


their pikes, or steadied their prancing horses. They checked their bowstrings and their



quivers, and made certain that the bucklings on their armor held secure. Inevitably the


blue light gave way to a dawn of vague, indistinct shapes, still clouded by the haze of fog.


    The beat of the drums grew louder. The mist drifted across the fields, leaving even


nearby clumps of trees nothing more than gray shadows. Louder still grew the precise


tapping, yet nothing could be seen of the approaching force.





    "There­coming through the pines!"



    "I see them­over that way."



    "Here they come­from the ravine!"



    Elves shouted, pointing to spots all along their front where shapes began to take form


in the mist. Now they could see great, rippling lines of movement, as if waves rolled


through the earth itself. The large, prancing figures of horsemen became apparent, several


waves of them flexing among the ranks of infantry.





    Abruptly, as suddenly as it had started, the drumming ceased. The formations of the


human army appeared as darker shapes against the yellow grass and the gray sky. For a


moment, time on the field, and perhaps across all the plains, across all of Ansalon, stood


still. The warriors of the two armies regarded each other across a quarter-mile of ground.


Even the wind died, and the mist settled low to the earth.






    Then a shout arose from one of the humans and was echoed by fifty thousand voices.


Swords bashed against shields, while trumpets blared and horses whinnied in excitement


and terror.



     In the next instant, the human wave surged forward, the roaring sound wave of the


attack preceding it with terrifying force.




     Now brassy notes rang from elven trumpets. Pikes rattled as their wielders set their


weapons. The five hundred horses of the Wildrunner cavalry nickered and kicked ner-







     Kith-Kanan steadied Kijo. From his position in the center of the line, he had a good


view of the advancing human tide. His bodyguards, increased to twelve riders today,


stood in a semicircle behind him. He had insisted that they not obstruct his view of the







     For a moment, he had a terrifying vision of the elven line's collapse, the human horde


sweeping across the plains and forests beyond like a swarm of insects. He shuddered in


the grip of the fear, but then the swirl of events grabbed and held his attention.





     The first shock of the charge came in the form of two thousand swordsmen,


brandishing shields and howling madly. Dressed in thick leather jerkins, they raced ahead


of their metal-armored comrades, toward the block of elven pikes standing firm in the


center of Kith's line.





     The clash of swordsmen with the tips of those pikes was a horrible scene. The


steel-edged blades of the pikes pierced the leather with ease as scores of humans impaled


themselves from the force of the charge. A cheer went up from the Wildrunners as the



surviving swordsmen turned to flee, leaving perhaps a quarter of their number writhing


and groaning on the ground, at the very feet of the elves who had wounded them.


    Now the focus shifted to the left, where human longbowmen advanced against an


exposed portion of the Wildrunner line. Kith's own archers fired back, sending a deadly


shower against the press of men. But the human arrows, too, found marks among the


tightly packed ranks, and elven blood soon flowed thick in the trampled grass.





    Kith nudged Kijo toward the archers, watching volleys of arrows arc and cross


through the air. The humans rushed forward and the elves stood firm. The elven


commander urged his steed faster, sensing the imminent clash.





    Then the human advance wavered and slowed. Kith saw Parnigar, standing beside


the archers.




    "Now!" cried the sergeant-major, gesturing toward a platoon of elves standing beside


him. A few dozen in number, these elves wore swords at their sides but had no weapons


in their hands. It was their bare hands that they raised, fingers extended toward the


rushing humans.





    A bright flash of light made Kith blink. Magic missiles, crackling blasts of sorcerous


power, exploded from Parnigar's platoon. A whole line of men dropped, slain so suddenly


that members of the rear ranks tripped and tumbled over the bodies. Again the light


flashed, and another volley of magic ripped into the humans.



    Some of those struck screamed aloud, crying for their gods or for their mothers.


Others stumbled back, panicked by the sorcerous attack. A whole company, following the


decimated formation, stopped in its tracks and then turned to flee. In another moment, the


mass of human bowmen streamed away, pursued by another volley of the keen elven








    Yet even as this attack failed, Kith sensed a crisis on his left. A line of human


cavalry, three thousand snorting horses bearing armored lancers, thundered through the


rapidly thinning mist. The charge swept forward with a momentum that made the


previous attacks look like parade-ground drills.





    Before the horsemen waited a line of elves with swords and shields, soft prey for the


thundering riders. To the right and left of them, the sharp stakes jutted forward, proof


against the cavalry attack. But the gaps in the line had to be held by troops, and now these


elves faced approaching doom.





    "Archers­give cover," Kith shouted as Kijo raced across the lines. Companies of


elven longbow wheeled and released their missiles, scoring hits among the horsemen. But


still the charge pounded forward.





    "Fall back! Take cover in the trees!" he shouted to the captains of the longsword


companies, for there was no other choice.



    Kith cursed himself in frustration, realizing that the human commander had forced


him to commit his pikes against the initial charge. Now came the horses, and his


companies of pikes, the only true defense against a wave of cavalry, were terribly out of







    Then he stared in astonishment. As more arrows fell among the riders, suddenly the


horsemen wheeled about, racing away from the elven position before the defenders could


follow Kith's orders to withdraw. The astonished elven swordsmen watched the horses


and the riders flee, pursued by a desultory shower of arrows. The elven defenders could


only wonder at the fortuitous turn of events.






    In the back of Kith's mind, something whispered a warning. This had to be a trick, he


told himself. Certainly the arrows hadn't been thick and deadly enough to halt that


awe-inspiring charge. Less than fifty riders, and no more than two dozen horses, lay in


the field before them. His scouts had given him a good count of the human cavalry.


Though he had not been able to study these, he suspected he had seen only about half the








                                         *   *   *   *   *



    "Our men fall back as you ordered," reported Suzine, her eyes locked upon the


violent images in her mirror. The glass rested on a table, and she sat before it­table,


woman, and mirror, all encased in a narrow shroud of canvas, to keep the daylight from



the crucial seeing device. She never lost view of the elven commander who sat straight


and proud in his saddle, every inch the warrior of House Royal.


    Behind her, pacing in taut excitement, General Giarna looked over her shoulder.



    "Excellentl And the elves­what do you see of them?"



    "They stand firm, my lord."



    "What?" General Giarna's voice barked violently against her, filling the small canvas


shelter where they observed the battle. "You're wrong! They must attack!"




    Suzine flinched. The image in the mirror­a picture of long ranks of elven warriors,


holding their positions, failing to pursue the bait of the human retreat­wavered slightly,




    She felt the general's rage explode, and then the image faded. Suzine saw only her


own reflection and the hideous face of the man behind her.




                                           *   *   *   *   *



    "My lord! Let us hit them now, while they fall back in confusion!" Kith turned to see


Kencathedrus beside him. His old teacher rode a prancing mare, and the weariness of the


march from Silvanost was totally gone from his face. Instead, the warrior's eyes burned,


and his gauntleted fist clung tightly to the hilt of his sword.





    "It has to be a trick," Kith countered. "We didn't drive them away that easily."



    "For the gods' sakes, Kith-Kanan­these are humans! The cowardly scum will run


from a loud noise! Let's follow up and destroy them!"



    "No!" Kith's voice was harsh, full of command, and Kencathedrus's face whitened


with frustration.




    "We do not face an ordinary general," Kith-Kanan continued, feeling that he owed


further explanation to the one who had girded his first sword upon him. "He hasn't failed


to surprise me yet, and I know we have seen but a fraction of his force."





    "But if they fly they will escape! We must pursue!" Kencathedrus couldn't help






    "The answer is no. If they are escaping, so be it. If they attempt to pull us out of our


position to trap us, they shall not."




    Another roar thundered across the fields before them, and more humans came into


view, running toward the elves with all manner of weaponry. Great companies of


longbowmen readied their missiles, while bearded axemen raised their heavy blades over


their heads. Spearmen charged with gleaming points extended toward the enemy, while


swordsmen banged their swords against their shields, advancing at a steady march.






    Kencathedrus, shocked by the fresh display of human might and vigor, looked at the


general with respect. "You knew," he said wonderingly.




    Kith-Kanan shrugged and shook his head. "No­I simply suspected. Perhaps because


I had a good teacher."



    The older elf growled, appreciating the remark but annoyed with himself. Indeed,


they both realized that, had the elves advanced when Kencathedrus had desired, they


would have been swiftly overrun, vulnerable in the open field.





    Kencathedrus rejoined his reserve company, and Kith-Kanan immersed himself in


the fight. Thousands of humans and elves clashed along the line, and hundreds died.


Weapons shattered against shields, and bones shattered beneath blades. The long morning


gave way to afternoon, but the passing of time meant nothing to the desperate


combatants, for whom each moment could be their last.






    The tide of battle surged back and forth. Companies of humans turned and fled,


many of them before their charging ranks even reached the determined elves. Others


hacked and slew their way into the defenders, and occasionally a company of elves gave


way. Then the humans poured through the gap like the surging surf, but always Kith--


Kanan was there, slashing with his bloody sword, urging his elven lancers into the








    Wave after wave of humans surged madly across the trampled field, hurling


themselves into the elves as if to shatter them with the sheer momentum of their charges.


As soon as one company broke, one regiment fell back depleted and demoralized, another


block of steel-tipped humanity lunged forward to take its place.



    The Wildrunners fought until total exhaustion gripped each and every warrior, and


then they fought some more. Their small, mobile companies banded together to form


solid lines, shifted to deflect each new charge, and flowed sideways to fill gaps caused by


their fallen or routed comrades. Always those plunging horses backed them up, and each


time, as the line faltered, the elven cavalry thundered against the breakthrough, driving it


back in disorder.






    Those five hundred riders managed to seal every breach. By the time the afternoon


shadows began to lengthen, Kith noticed a slackening in the human attacks. One


company of swordsmen stumbled away, and for once there was no fresh formation to


take their place in the attack. The din of combat seemed to fade somewhat, and then he


saw another formation­a group of axemen­turn and lumber away from the fight. More


and more of the humans broke off their attacks, and soon the great regiments of Ergoth


streamed across the field, back toward their own lines.






    Kith slumped wearily in his saddle, staring in suspicion at the fleeing backs of the


soldiers. Could it be over? Had the Wildrunners won? He looked at the sun­about four


good hours of daylight remained. The humans wouldn't risk an encounter at night, he


knew. Elven nightvision was one of the great proofs of the elder race's superiority over its


shorter-lived counterparts. Yet certainly the hour was not the reason for the humans'


retreat, not when they had been pressing so forcefully all along the line.



    A weary Parnigar approached on foot. Kith had seen the scout's horse cut down


beneath him during the height of the battle. The general recognized his captain's lanky


walk, though Parnigar's face and clothes were caked in mud and the blood of his slain







    "We've held them, sir," he reported, his face creasing into a disbelieving smile.


Immediately, however, he frowned and shook his head. "Some three or four hundred


dead, though. The day was not without its cost."





    Kith looked at the exhausted yet steady ranks of his Wildrunners. The pikemen held


their weapons high, the archers carried bows at the ready, while those with swords honed


their blades in the moments of silence and respite. The formations still arrayed in full


ranks, as if fresh and unblooded, but their ranks were shorter now. Organized in neat


rows behind each company, covered with blankets, lay a quiet grouping of motionless








    At least the dead can rest, he thought, feeling his own weariness. He looked again to


the humans, seeing that they still fled in disorder. Many of them had reached the tree line


and were disappearing into the sheltering forest.





    "My lord! My lord! Now is the time. You must see that."



    Kith turned to see Kencathedrus galloping up to him. The elven veteran reined in


beside the general and gestured at the fleeing humans.



     "You may be right." Kith-Kanan had to agree. He saw the five thousand elves of


Silvanost gathered in trim ranks, ready to advance the moment he gave the word. This


was the chance to deliver a coup de grace that could send the enemy reeling all the way


back to Caergoth.





     "Quickly, my lord­they're getting away." Impatiently, his gray brows bristling,


Kencathedrus indicated the ragged humans running in small clumps, like sheep, toward


the sheltering woods in the distance.





     "Very well­advance and pursue! But have a care for your flanks!"



                                         *   *   *   *   *



     "They must come after us now." General Giarna's horse twisted and pitched among


the ranks of retreating humans, many of whom were bleeding or limping, supported by


the shoulders of their sturdier comrades. Indeed, the Army of Ergoth had paid a hideous


price for the daylong attacks, all of which were mere preliminaries to his real plan of








     The general paid no attention to the human suffering around him. Instead, his dark


eyes fixed with a malevolent stare on the elven positions across the mud-spattered land-


scape. No movement yet­but they must advance. He felt this with a certainty that filled


his dark heart with a bloodthirsty anticipation.



    For a moment, he cast a sharp glance to the rear, toward the tiny tent that sheltered


Suzine and her mirror. The gods should damn that bitch! How, in the heat of the fight,


could her powers fail her? Why now­today?





    His brow narrowed in suspicion, but he had no time now to wonder about the


unreliability of his mistress. She had been a valuable tool, and it would be regrettable if


that tool were no longer at his disposal.





    Perhaps, as she had claimed, the tension of the great conflict had proven too


distracting, too overpowering for her to concentrate. Or maybe the general's looming


presence had frightened her. In fact, General Giarna wanted to frighten her, just as he


wanted to frighten everyone under his command. However, if that fear was enough to


disrupt her powers of concentration, than Suzine's usefulness might be seriously limited.






    No matter­at least for now. The battle could still be won by force of arms. The key


was to make the elves believe that the humans were beaten.




    General Giarna's pulse quickened then as he saw a line of movement across the field.



                                             *   *   *   *   *



    "Elves of Silvanost, advance!" The captain had already turned away from his


commander. The reserve companies started forward at a brisk march, through the gaps in


the spiked fence of the elven line. The companies of the Wildrunners, battered and weary,


cleared the way for the attackers, whose gleaming spear points and shining armor stood



out in stark contrast to the muddy, bloody mess around them. Nevertheless, the


Wildrunners raised a hearty cheer as Kencathedrus led his troops into the attack.


    "On the double­charge!" His horse prancing eagerly beneath him, Kencathedrus


brandished his sword and urged his complement forward. The troops needed no prodding.


All day they had seen their fellow countrymen die at the hands of these rapacious


savages, and now they had the chance to take vengeance.





    The panicked humans cast down weapons, shields, helmets­anything loose and


cumbersome­in their desperate flight. They scattered away from the charging elves,


racing for the shelter of any clump of trees or thick brush they could find.





    The warriors of Silvanost, disciplined even at their steady advance, remained in


close-meshed lines. They parted at the obstacles, while several who were armed with


shortswords pressed into the grove, quickly dispatching the hapless humans who sought


refuge there.





    But even so, it was clear that the great bulk of the routed troops would escape, so


rapid was their flight. The close ranks of the elves could not keep pace. Finally Kencathe-


drus slowed his company to a brisk walk, allowing the elves to catch their breath as they


approached the first large expanse of forest.





    "Archers, stand forward to the flanks!" Kith-Kanan didn't know why he gave the


order, but suddenly he saw how vulnerable were the five thousand elves, in the event that


he had been tricked. Kencathedrus and his regiment had already advanced nearly half a



mile ahead of the main army, while the fleeing humans seemed to melt away before




     Two blocks of elves­his keenest longbows, some thousand strong each­trotted






     "Pikes­in the middle, quickly." One more unit Kith-Kanan sent forward, this one


consisting of his fiercest veterans, armed with their deadly, fifteen-foot weapons with


razor-sharp steel tips. They advanced at a trot, filling some of the gap between the two


blocks of longbows.





     "Horsemen! To me!" A third command brought the proud elven cavalry thundering


to their commander. It seemed to Kith-Kanan that Kencathedrus and his company were


now in terrible danger. He had to catch up and give them support.





     Flanked by his mounted bodyguards, the commander led his horsemen through the


lines, in a wide sweep toward the right of Kencathedrus's company. The elven archers


carried their weapons ready. Pikes rattled behind them. Had he done everything that he


could to protect the advance?





     Kith sensed something in the air as the late afternoon seemed to grow sinister around


him. He listened carefully; his eyes studied the opposite tree line, scanned to the right and


left to the limits of his vision.








     Yet now some of his elves sensed the same thing, the indefinable inkling of


something terrible and awesome and mighty. Warriors nervously fingered their weapons.


The Wildrunners' horses moved restlessly, shaking off the weariness of many hours'







     Then a rumble of deep thunder permeated the air. It began as a faint drumming, but


in Kith-Kanan's mind, it grew to a deafening explosion within a few seconds.




     "Sound the withdrawal!" He shouted at the trumpeters as he looked left, then


right­where, by all the gods?




     He saw them appear, like a wave of brown grass on the horizon, to both


sides­countless thousands of humans mounted on thundering horses, sweeping around


the patches of woods, across the open prairie, pounding closer, with all the speed of the







     The horns blared, and Kith saw that Kencathedrus had already sensed the trap. Now


the elves of Silvanost retired toward the Wildrunners' lines at a quick pace. But all who


looked on could see that they would be too late.





     The archers and pikemen advanced, desperate to aid their countrymen. They


showered the human cavalry with arrows, while the long pikes bristled before the archers,


protecting them from the charge.



    But the elves of Silvanost had no such protection. The human cavalry slammed into


them, and rank after rank of the elven infantry fell beneath the cruel hooves and keen,


unfeeling steel.





    The pikemen and archers fell back slowly, carefully, still shredding the cavalry with


deadly arrows, felling the horsemen by the hundred with each volley. Yet thousands upon


thousands of the humans trampled across the plain, slaughtering the stranded regiment.





    Kith-Kanan led his riders into the flank of the human charge, little caring that there


were ten or twenty humans for every one of his elves. With his own sword, he cut a


leering, bearded human from the saddle. Horses screamed and bucked around them, and


in moments, the two companies of cavalry mingled, each man or elf fighting the foe he


found close at hand.






    More blood flowed into the already soaked ground. Kith saw a human lancer drive a


bloodstained lance toward his heart. One of his loyal bodyguards flung himself from his


saddle and took the weapon through his own throat, deflecting the blow that would have


surely been fatal. With a surge of hatred, Kith spurred Kijo forward, chopping savagely


through the neck and striking the lancer's head from his shoulders. Spouting blood like an


obscene geyser, the corpse toppled from the saddle, lost in the chaos of the melee before


it struck the ground.



    Kith saw another of his faithful guards fall, this time to a human swordsman whose


horse skipped nimbly away. The fight swirled madly, flashing images of blood,


screaming horses, dying men and elves. If he had paused to think, he would have


regretted the charge that brought his riders out here to aid Kencathedrus. Now, it seemed,


both units faced annihilation.






    Desperately Kith-Kanan looked for a sign of the elves of Silvanost. He saw them


through the melee. Led by a grim-faced Kencathedrus, the elven reserve force struggled


to break free of the deadly trap. Finally they tore from their neat ranks in a headlong dash


through the sea of human horsemen toward the safety of the Wildrunner lines.





    Miraculously, many of them made it. They scrambled between the thick wall of


stakes, into the welcoming arms of their comrades, while the stampeding cavalry surged


and bucked just beyond. By the dozens and scores and hundreds, they limped and dodged


and tumbled to safety, until more than two thousand of them, including Kencathedrus,


had emerged. The captain tried to turn and limp back into the fray in a foredoomed effort


to bring forth more of his men, but he was restrained in the grasp of two sergeantsmajor.






    The archers, too, fell back, and then it was only the riders caught on the field.


Isolated pockets of elven cavalry twisted away from the sea of human horsemen,


breaking for the shelter of their lines. Kith-Kanan himself, however, after having led the


charge, was now caught in the middle of the enemy forces.



    His arm grew leaden with fatigue. Blood from a cut on his forehead streamed into his


eyes. His helmet was gone, knocked from his head by a human's bashing shield. His loyal


guards­the few who still lived­fought around him, but now the outlook was grim.





    The humans fell back, just far enough to avoid the slashing elven blades. Kith-Kanan


and a group of perhaps two dozen elven riders gasped for breath, surrounded by a ring of


death­more than a thousand human lancers, swordsmen, and archers.





    With a groan of despair, he cast his sword to the ground. The rest of the survivors


immediately followed his example.




                                         *   *   *   *   *



    As darkness finally closed about them, the humans turned back from the elven line.


Kencathedrus and Parnigar knew that it was only nightfall that had prevented the com-


plete collapse of their position. They knew, too, that the exhausted army would have to


retreat now, even before the darkness was complete.





    They would have to take shelter in Sithelbec early the following day, before the


deadly human cavalry could catch them in the open. The entire force of the Wildrunners


could suffer the fate of the unblooded elves of Silvanost.





    It seemed to the elven leaders that the day couldn't have been any more disastrous.


Despair settled around them like a bleak cloud as they considered the worst news of all:


Kith-Kanan, their commander and the driving force behind the Wildrunners, was


lost­possibly captured, but more likely killed.



    The army marched, heads down and shambling, toward the security­and the


confinement­of Sithelbec.




    Sometime after midnight, it started to rain, and it continued to pour throughout the


night and even past the gray, featureless dawn. The miserable army finally reached


Sithelbec, closing the gates behind the last of the Wildrunners, sometime around noon of


the following gray, drizzling day.





                                      After the Battle






    Suzine awakened to a summons from the general, delivered by a bronze-helmed


lieutenant of crossbows. The woman felt vague relief that General Giarna hadn't come to


her in person. Indeed, she hadn't seen him since before the battle's climax, when his trap


had snared so much of the elven army.





    Her relief had grown from the previous night, when she had feared that he would


desire her. General Giarna frightened her often, but there was something deeper and more


abiding about the terror he inspired after he had led his troops in battle.





    The darkness that seemed always to linger in his eyes became, in those moments,


like a bottomless well of despair and hopelessness, as if his hunger for killing could never


be sated. The more the blood flowed around him, the greater his appetite became.





    He would take her then, using her like he was some kind of parasite, unaware and


uncaring of her feelings. He would hurt her and, when he was finished, cast her roughly


aside, his own fundamental needs still raging.





    But after this battle, his greatest victory to date, he had stayed away from her. She


had retired early the night before, dying to look into her mirror, to ascertain Kith-Kanan's


whereabouts. She felt a terrible fear for his safety, but she hadn't dared to use her glass


for fear of the general. He mustn't suspect her growing fascination with Kith-Kanan.



    Now she dressed quickly and fetched her mirror, safe in a felt-lined wooden case,


and then allowed the officer to lead her along the column of tents to General Giarna's


shelter of black silk. The lieutenant held the door while she entered, blinking for a


moment as she adjusted to the dim light.





    And then it seemed that her world exploded.



    The file of muddy elven prisoners, many of them bruised, stood at resentful


attention. There were perhaps a score of them, each with a watchful swordsman right


behind him, but Suzine's eyes flashed immediately to him.





    She recognized Kith-Kanan in the instant that she saw him, and she had to forcibly


resist an urge to run to him. She wanted to look at him, to touch him in all the ways she


could not through her mirror. She fought an urge to knock the sword-wielding guard







    Then she remembered General Giarna. Her face flushed, she felt perspiration gather


on her brow. He was watching her closely. Forcing an expression of cool detachment, she


turned to him.





    "You summoned me, General?"



    The commander seemed to look through her, with a gaze that threatened to wither


her soul. His eyes yawned before her like black chasms, menacing pits that made her


want to hurriedly step back from the edge.



    "The interrogation continues. I want you to witness their testimony and gauge the


truth of their replies." His voice was like a cold gust of air.




    For the first time, Suzine noticed an additional elven form. This one stretched


facedown on the carpeted floor of the tent, a tiny hole at the base of his neck showing


where he had been stabbed.





    Numbly she looked back. Kith-Kanan stood second from the end of the line, near


where the killing had occurred. He paid no attention to her. The elf between him and the


dead one looked in grimly concealed fear at the human general.





    "Your strength!" demanded General Giarna. "How many troops garrison your


fortress? Catapults? Ballistae? You will tell us about them all."




    The final sentence was a demand, not a question.



    "The fortress is garrisoned by twenty thousand warriors, with more on the way!"


blurted the prisoner beside the corpse. "Wizards and clerics, too­"




    Suzine didn't need the mirror to see that he lied; neither, apparently, did General


Giarna. He chopped his hand once, and the swordsman behind the terrified speaker


stabbed at the doomed elf. His blade severed the elf's spinal cord and then plunged


through his neck, emerging under the unfortunate warrior's chin in a gurgling fountain of





    The next swordsman­the one behind Kith-Kanan­prodded his charge in the back,


forcing him to stand a little straighter, as the general's eyes came to rest upon him. But


only for a moment, for the human leader allowed his scornful gaze to roam across the


entire row of his captives.





    "Which of you holds rank over the others?" inquired the general, casting his eyes


along the line of remaining elves.




    For the first time, Suzine realized that Kith-Kanan wore none of the trappings of his


station. He was an anonymous rider among the elven warriors. Giarna didn't recognize


him! That revelation encouraged her to take a risk.





    "My general," she said quickly, hearing her voice as if another person was speaking,


"could I have a word with you­away from the ears of the prisoners?"




    He looked at her, his dark eyes boring into her. Was that annoyance she saw, or


something darker?




    "Very well," he replied curtly. He took her arm in his hand and led her from the tent.



    She felt the mirror's case in her hand, seeking words as she spoke. "They are


obviously willing to die for their cause. But perhaps, with a little patience, I can make


them useful to us ... alive."





    "You can tell me whether they speak the truth or not­but what good is that when


they are willing to die with lies in their mouths?"



    "But there is more to the glass," she said insistently. "Given a quiet place and some


time­and some close personal attention to one of these subjects­I can probe deeper than


mere questions and answers. I can see into their minds, to the secret truths they would


never admit to such as you."





    General Giarna's black brows came together in a scowl. "Very well. I will allow you


to try." He led her back into the tent. "Which one will you start with?"




    Trying to still the trembling in her heart, Suzine raised an imperious hand and


indicated Kith-Kanan. She spoke to the guard behind him. "Bring this one to my tent,"


she said matter-of-factly.





    She avoided looking at the general, afraid those black eyes would paralyze her with


suspicion or accusation. But he said nothing. He merely nodded to the guard behind Kith


and the swordsman beside him, the one who had just slain the fallen elf. The pair of


guards prodded Kith-Kanan forward, and Suzine preceded him through the silken flap of


General Giarna's tent.






    They passed between two tents, the high canvas shapes screening them from the rest


of the camp. She could feel his eyes on her back as she walked, and finally she could no


longer resist the urge to turn and look at him.





    "What do you want with me?" he asked, his voice surprising her with its total lack of





    "I won't hurt you," she replied, suddenly angry when the elf smiled slightly in






    "Move, you!" grunted one of the guards, stepping in front of his companion and


waving his blade past Kith-Kanan's face.




    Kith-Kanan reached forward with the speed of a striking snake, seizing the guard's


wrist as the blade veered away from his face. Holding the man's hand, the elf kicked him


sharply in the groin. The swordsman gasped and collapsed.





    His companion, the warrior who had slain the elf in the tent, gaped in momentary


shock­a moment that proved to be his last. Kith pulled the blade from the fallen guard's


hand and, in the same motion, drove the point into the swordsman's throat. He died, his


jaw soundlessly working in an effort to articulate his shock.





    The dead guard's helmet toppled off as he fell, allowing his long blond hair to spill


free when he collapsed, face first, on the ground.




    Kith lowered the blade, ready to thrust it through the neck of the groaning man he


had kicked. Then something stayed his hand, and he merely admonished the guard to be


silent with a persuasive press of the blade against the man's throat.





    Turning to the one he had slain, Kith looked at the body curiously. Suzine hadn't


moved. She watched him in fascination, scarcely daring to breathe, as he brushed the


blond hair aside with the toe of his boot.



     The ear that was revealed was long and pointed.



     "Do you have many elves in your army?" he asked.



     "No-not many," Suzine said quickly. "They are mostly from the ranks of traders and


farmers who have lived in Ergoth and desire a homeland on the plains."




     Kith looked sharply at Suzine. There was something about this human woman. . . .



     She stood still, paralyzed not so much by fear for herself as by dismay. He was about


to escape, to leave her!




     "I thank you for inadvertently saving my life," he said before darting toward the


corner of a nearby tent.




     "I know who you are!" she said, her voice a bare whisper.



     He stopped again, torn between the need to escape and increasing curiosity about this


woman and her knowledge.




     "Thank you, too, then, for keeping the secret," he said, with a short bow. "Why did


you ... "




     She wanted to tell him that she had watched him for a long time, had all but lain


beside him, through the use of her mirror. Suzine looked at him now, and he was more


glorious, prouder, and taller than she had ever imagined. She wanted to ask him to take


her away with him­right now­but, instead, her mouth froze, her mind locked by terror.



    In another moment, he had disappeared. It was several moments longer before she


finally found the voice to scream.




                                         *   *   *   *   *



    The elation Kith-Kanan felt at his escape dissipated as quickly as the gates of


Sithelbec shut behind him and enclosed him within the sturdy walls of the fortress. His


stolen horse, staggering from exhaustion, stumbled to a halt, and the elf swung to the







    He wondered, through his weariness, about the human woman who had given him


his chance to flee. The picture of her face, crowned by that glory of red hair, remained in-


delibly burned into his mind. He wondered if he would ever see her again.





    Around him loomed the high walls, with the pointed logs arrayed along the top.


Below these, he saw the faces of his warriors. Several raised a halfhearted cheer at his


return, but the shock of defeat hung over the Wildrunners like a heavy pall.





    Sithelbec had grown rapidly in the last year, sprawling across the surrounding plain


until it covered a circle more than a mile in diameter. The central keep of the fortress was


a stone structure of high towers, soaring to needlelike spires in the elven fashion. Around


this keep clustered a crowded nest of houses, shops, barracks, inns, and other buildings,


all within other networks of walls, blockhouses, and battle platforms.



    Expanding outward through a series of concentric palisades, mostly of wood, the


fortress protected a series of wells within its walls, ensuring a steady supply of water.


Food­mostly grain­had been stockpiled in huge barns and silos. Supplies of arrows and


flammable oil, stored in great vats, had been collected along the walls' tops. The greater


part of Kith-Kanan's army, through the alert withdrawal under Parnigar, had reached the


shelter of those ramparts.






    Yet as the Army of Ergoth moved in to encircle the fortress, the Wildrunners could


only wait.




    Now Kith-Kanan walked among them, making his way to the small office and


quarters he maintained in the gatehouse of the central keep. He felt the tension, the fear


that approached despair, as he looked at the wide, staring eyes of his warriors.





    And even more than the warriors, there were the women and children. Many of the


women were human, their children half-elves, wives and offspring of the western elves


who made up the Wildrunners. Kith shared their sorrow as deeply as he felt that of the


elven females who were here in even greater numbers.





    They would all be eating short rations, he knew. The siege would inevitably last into


the autumn, and he had little doubt the humans could sustain the pressure through the


winter and beyond.



    As he looked at the young ones, Kith felt a stab of pain. He wondered how many of


them would see spring.






                               Autumn, Year of the Raven






    Lord Quimant came to Sithas in the Hall of Audience. His wife's cousin brought


another elf­a stalwart-looking fellow, with lines of soot set firmly in his face, and the


strapping, sinewy arms of a powerful wrestler­to see the Speaker of the Stars.





    Sithas sat upon his emerald throne and watched the approaching pair. The Speaker's


green robe flowed around him, collecting the light of the throne and diffusing it into a


soft glow that seemed to surround him. He reclined casually in the throne, but he


remained fully alert.





    Alert, in that his mind was working quickly. Yet his thoughts were many hundreds of


miles and years away.




    Weeks earlier, he had received a letter from Kencathedrus describing Kith-Kanan's


capture and presumed loss. That had been followed, barely two days later, by a missive


from his brother himself, describing a harrowing escape: the battle with guards, the theft


of a fleet horse, a mad dash from the encampment, and finally a chase that ended only


after Kith-Kanan had led his pursuers to within arrow range of the great fortress of





    Sithelbecnamed for his father, the former Speaker of the Stars. Many times Sithas


had reflected on the irony, for his father had been slain on a hunting trip, practically with-


in sight of the fortress's walls. As far as Sithas knew, it had been his father's first and only


expedition to the western plains. Yet Sithel had been willing to go to war over those


plains, to put the nation's future at stake because of them. And now Sithas, his firstborn,


had inherited that struggle. Would he live up to his father's expectations?






    Reluctantly Sithas forced his mind back to the present, to his current location. He


cast his eyes around his surroundings to force the transition in his thoughts.




    A dozen elven guards, in silver breastplates and tall, plumed helmets, snapped their


halberds to attention around the periphery of the hall. They stood impassive and silent as


the noble lord marched toward the throne. Otherwise the great hall, with its gleaming


marble floor and the ceiling towering six hundred feet overhead, was empty.





    Sithas looked at Quimant. The elven noble wore a long cloak of black over a silk


tunic of light green. Tights of red, and soft, black boots, completed his ensemble.




    Lord Quimant of Oakleaf was a very handsome elf indeed. But he was also


intelligent, quick-witted, and alert to many threats and opportunities that might otherwise


have missed Sithas's notice.


    "This is my nephew," the lord explained. "Ganrock Ethu, master smith. I recommend


him, my Speaker, for the position of palace smith. He is shrewd, quick to learn, and a


very hard worker."



    "But Herrlock Redmoon has always handled the royal smithy," Sithas protested.


Then he remembered: Herrlock had been blinded the week before in a tragic accident,


when he had touched spark to his forge. Somehow the kindled coal had exploded


violently, destroying his eyes beyond the abilities of Silvanost's clerics to repair. After


seeing that the loyal smith was well cared for and as comfortable as possible, Sithas had


promised to select a replacement.


    He looked at the young elf before him. Ganrock's face showed lines of maturity, and


the thick muscle of his upper torso showed proof of long years of work.


    "Very well," Sithas agreed. "Show him the royal smithy and find out what he needs


to get started." He called to one of his guards and told the elf to accompany Ganrock Ethu


to the forge area, which lay in the rear of the Palace of Quinari.


    "Thank you, Your Eminence," said the smith, with a sudden bow. "I shall endeavor


to do fine work for you."


    "Very good," replied the Speaker. Quimant lingered as the smith left the hall.


    Lord Quimant's narrow face tightened in determination as he turned back to Sithas.


    "What is it, my lord? You look distressed." Sithas raised a hand and bade Qiumant


stand beside him.


    "The Smelters Guild, Your Highness," replied the noble elf. "They refuse­they


simply refuse­to work their foundries during the hours of darkness. Without the addi-


tional steel, our weapon production is hamstrung, barely adequate for even peacetime




    Sithas cursed quietly. Nevertheless, he was thankful that Quimant had informed him.


The proud heir of Clan Oakleaf had greatly improved the efficiency of Silvanost's war


preparations by spotting details­such as this one­that would have escaped Sithas's notice.



    "I shall speak to the smelter Kerilar," Sithas vowed. "He is a stubborn old elf, but he


knows the importance of the sword. I will make him understand, if I have to."


    "Very good, Excellency," said Lord Quimant, with a bow. He straightened again. "Is


there news of the war?"


    "Not since the last letter, a week ago. The Wildrunners remain besieged in Sithelbec,


while the humans roam the disputed lands at will. Kith has no chance to break out. He's


now surrounded by a hundred thousand men."


    The lord shook his head grimly before fixing Sithas with a hard gaze. "He must be


reinforced­there's no other way. You know this, don't you?"


    Sithas met Quimant's gaze with equal steadiness. "Yes­I do. But the only way I can


recruit more troops is to conscript them from the city and the surrounding clan estates.


You know what kind of dispute that will provoke!"


    "How long can your brother hold his fort?"


    "He has rations enough for the winter. The casualties of the battle were terrible, of


course, but the remainder of his force is well disciplined, and the fortress is strong."


    The news of the battlefield debacle had hit the elven capital hard. As the knowledge


spread that two thousand of the city's young elves­two out of every five who had


marched so proudly to the west­had perished in the fight, Silvanost had been shrouded in


grief for a week.


    Sithas learned of the battle at the same time as he heard that his brother had fallen


and was most likely lost. For two days, his world had been a grim shroud of despair.


Knowing that Kith had reached safety lightened the burden to some extent, but their


prospects for victory still seemed nonexistent. How long would it be, he had agonized,


before the rest of the Wildrunners fell to the overwhelming tide around them?



    Then gradually his despair had turned to anger­anger at the shortsightedness of his


own people. Elves had crowded the Hall of Audience on the Trial Days, disrupting the


proceedings. The emotions of the city's elves had been inflamed by the knowledge that


the rest of the Wildrunners had suffered nowhere near the size of losses inflicted upon the


elves of Silvanost. It was not uncommon now to hear voices raised in the complaint that


the western lands should be turned over to the humans and the Wildrunner elves, to let


them battle each other to extinction.


    "Very well­so he can hold out." Quimant's voice was strong yet deferential. "But he


cannot escape! We must send a fresh army, a large one, to give him the sinew he needs!"


    "There are the dwarves. We have yet to hear from them," Sithas pointed out.


    "Pah! If they do anything, it will be too late! It seems that Than-Kar sympathizes


with the humans as much as with us. The dwarves will never do anything so long as he


remains their voice and their ears!"


    Ah­but he is not their voice and ears. Sithas had that thought with some small


satisfaction, but he said nothing to Quimant as the lord continued, though his thoughts


considered the potential of hope. Tamanier Ambrodel, I am depending upon you!


    "Still, we must tolerate him, I suppose. He is our best chance of an alliance."


    "As always, good cousin, your words are the mirror of my thoughts." Sithas


straightened in his throne, a signal that the interview drew to a close. "But my decision is


still to wait. Kith-Kanan is secure for now, and we may learn more as time goes on."


    He hoped he was right. The fortress was strong, and the humans would undoubtedly


require months to prepare a coordinated assault. But what then?


    "Very well." Quimant cleared his throat awkwardly, then added, "What is the word


of my cousin? I have not seen her for some weeks now."



    "Her time is near," Sithas offered. "Her sisters have come from the estates to stay


with her, and she has been confined to bed by the clerics of Quenesti Pah."


    Quimant nodded. "Please give her my wishes when next you see her. May she give


birth speedily, to a healthy child."




    Sithas watched the elegant noble walk from the hall. He was impressed by Quimant's


bearing. The lord knew his worth to the throne, proven in the half-year since he had come


to Silvanost. He showed sensitivity to the desires of the Speaker and seemed to work well


toward those ends.


    He heard one of the side doors open and looked across the great hall as a


silk-gowned female elf entered. Her eyes fell softly on the figure seated upon the brilliant


throne with its multitude of green, gleaming facets.


    "Mother," said Sithas with delight. He didn't see much of Nirakina around the palace


during these difficult days, and this visit was a pleasant surprise. He was struck, as she


approached him, by how much older she looked.


    "I see you do not have attendants now," she said quietly to Sithas, who rose and


approached her. "So often you are busy with the affairs of state ... and war."


    He sighed. "War has become the way of my life­the way all Silvanost lives now."


He felt a twinge of sadness for his mother. So often Sithas looked upon the death of his


father as an event that had placed the burden of rule on his own shoulders. He tended to


forget that it had, at the same time, made his mother a widow.


    "Take a moment to walk with me, won't you?" asked Nirakina, taking her son by the




    He nodded, and they walked in silence across the great hall of the tower to the crystal


doors reserved for the royal family alone. These opened soundlessly, and then they were



in the Gardens of Astarin. To their right were the dark wooden buildings of the royal


stables, while before them beckoned the wondrous beauty of the royal gardens. Imme-


diately Sithas felt a sense of lightness and ease.


    "You need to do this more often," said his mother, gently chiding. "You grow old


before your time." She held his arm loosely, letting him select the path they followed.


    The gardens loomed around them­great hedges and thick bushes heavy with dewy


blossoms; ponds and pools and fountains; small clumps of aspen and oak and fir. It was a


world of nature, shaped and formed by elven clerics­devotees of the Bard King,


Astarin­into a transcendent work of art.


    "I thank you for bringing me through those doors," Sithas said with a chuckle.


"Sometimes I need to be reminded."


    "Your father, too, needed a subtle reminder now and then. I tried to give him that


when it became necessary."


    For a moment, Sithas felt a wave of melancholy. "I miss him now more than ever. I


feel so ... unready to sit on his throne."


    "You are ready," said Nirakina firmly. "Your wisdom is seeing us through the most


difficult time since the Dragon Wars. But since you are about to become a father, you


must realize that your life cannot be totally given over to your nation. You have a family


to think about, as well."


    Sithas smiled. "The clerics of Quenesti Pah are with Hermathya at all times. They


say it will be any day now."


    "The clerics, and her sisters," Nirakina murmured.


    "Yes," Sithas agreed. Hermathya's sisters, Gelynna and Lyath, had moved into the


palace as soon as his wife's pregnancy had become known. They were pleasant enough,



but Sithas had come to feel that his apartments were somehow less than his own now. It


was a feeling he didn't like but that he had tried to overlook for Hermathya's sake.


    "She has changed, Mother, that much you must see. Hermathya had become a new


woman even before she knew about the child. She has been a support and a comfort to


me, as if for the first time."


    "It is the war," said Nirakina. "I have noticed this change you speak of, and it began


with the war. She, her clan of Oakleaf, they all thrive upon this intensity and activity."


The elven woman paused, then added, "I noticed Lord Quimant leaving before I entered.


You speak with him often. Is he proving himself useful?"


    "Indeed, very. Does this cause you concern?"


    Nirakina sighed, then shook her head. "I­no­no, it doesn't. You are doing the right


thing for Silvanesti, and if he can aid you, that is a good thing."


    Sithas stopped at a stone bench. His mother sat while he paced idly below


overhanging branches of silvery quaking aspen that shimmered in the light breeze.


    "Have you had word from Tamanier Ambrodel?" Nirakina asked.


    Sithas smiled confidentially. "He has arrived at Thorbardin safely and hopes to get in


touch with the Hylar. With any luck, he will see the king himself. Then we shall find out


if this Than-Kar is doing us true justice as ambassador."


    "And you have told no one of Lord Ambrodel's mission?" his mother inquired




    "No " Sithas informed her. "Indeed, Quimant and I discussed the dwarves today, but


I said nothing even to him about our quiet diplomat. Still, I wish you would tell me why


we must maintain such secrecy."


    "Please, not yet," Nirakina demurred.



    A thin haze had gradually spread across the sky, and now the wind carried a bit of


early winter in its caress. Sithas saw his mother shiver in her light silken garment.


    "Come, we'll return to the hall," he said, offering his arm as she rose.


    "And your brother?" Nirakina asked tentatively as they turned back toward the


crystal doors. "Can you send him more troops?"


    "I don't know yet," Sithas replied, the agony of the decision audible in his voice.


"Can I risk arousing the city?"


    "Perhaps you need more information."


    "Who could inform me of that which I don't already know?" Sithas asked skeptically.


    "Kith-Kanan himself." His mother stopped to face him as the doors opened and the


warmth of the tower beckoned. "Bring him home, Sithas," she said urgently, taking both


of his arms in her hands. "Bring him home and talk to him!"


    Sithas was surprised at his own instinctive reaction. The suggestion made


surprisingly good sense. It offered him hope­and an idea for action that would unite, not


divide, his people. Yet how could he call his brother home now, out of the midst of a


monstrous encircling army?


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    The next day Quimant again was Sithas's first and primary visitor.


    "My lord," began the adviser, "have you made a decision about conscription of


additional forces? I am reluctant to remind you, but time may be running short."


    Sithas frowned. Unbidden, his mind recalled the scene at the riverbank when the first


column departed for war. Now more than half those elves were dead. What would be the


city's reaction should another, larger force march west?


    "Not yet. I wish to wait until . . . " His voice trailed off. He had been about to


mention Ambrodel's mission. "I will not make that decision yet," he concluded.



    He was spared the necessity of further discussion when Stankathan, his palace


majordomo, entered the great hall. That dignified elf, clad in a black waistcoat of wool,


preceded a travel-stained messenger who wore the leather jerkin of a Wildrunner scout.


The latter bore a scroll of parchment sealed with a familiar stamp of red wax.


    "A message from my brother?" Sithas rose to his feet, recognizing the form of the




    "By courier, who came from across the river just this morning," replied Stankathan.


"I brought him over to the tower directly."


    Sithas felt a surge of delight, as he did every fortnight or so when a courier arrived


with the latest reports from Kith-Kanan. Yet that delight had lately been tempered by the


grim news from his brother and the besieged garrison.


    He looked at the courier as the elf approached and bowed deeply. Besides the dirt


and mud of the trail, Sithas saw that the fellow had a sling supporting his right arm and a


dark, stained bandage around the leggings of his left knee.


    "My gratitude for your efforts," said Sithas, appraising the rider. The elf stood taller


after his words, as if the praise of the speaker was a balm to his wounds. "What was the


nature of your obstacles?"


    "The usual rings of guards, Your Highness," replied the elf. "But the humans lack


sorcerers and so cannot screen the paths with magic. The first day of my journey I was


concealed by invisibility, a spell that camouflaged myself and my horse. Afterward, the


fleetness of my steed carried me, and I encountered only one minor fray."


    The Speaker of the Stars took the scroll and broke the wax seal. Carefully he


unrolled the sheet, ignoring Quimant for the time being. The lord stood quietly; if he was


annoyed, he made no visible sign of the fact.


    Sithas read the missive solemnly.



I look out, my brother, upon an endless sea of humanity. Indeed, they


surround us like the ocean surrounds an island, completely blocking our


passage. It is only with great risk that my couriers can penetrate the


lines­that, and the aid of spells cast by my enchanters, which allow them


some brief time to escape the notice of the foe.


    What is to be the fate now of our cause? Will the army of Ergoth


attack and carry the fort? Their horses sweep in great circles about us, but


the steeds cannot reach us here. The other two wings have joined General


Giarna before Sithelbec, and their numbers truly stun the mind.


    General Giarna, I have learned, is the name of the foe we faced in the


spring, the one who drove us from the field. We have taken prisoners


from his force, and to a man they speak of their devotion to him and their


confidence that he will one day destroy us! I met him in the brief hours I


was prisoner, and he is a terrifying man. There is something deep and


cruel about him that transcended any foe I have ever encountered.


    Will the dwarves of Thorbardin march from their stronghold and


break the siege from the south? That, my brother, would be a truly


magnificent feat of diplomacy on your part. Should you bring such an


alliance into being, I could scarce convey my gratitude across the miles!


    Or will the hosts of Silvanost march forth, the elves united in their


campaign against the threat to our race? That, I am afraid, is the least


likely of my musings­at least, from the words you give me as to our


peoples' apathy and lack of concern. How fares the diplomatic battle,





    I hope to amuse you with one tale, an experience that gave us all


many moments of distraction, not to mention fear. I have written to you


of the gnomish lava cannon, the mountain vehicle pulled by a hundred


oxen, its stony maw pointed skyward as it belches smoke and fire. Fi-


nally, shortly after my last letter, this device was hauled into place before


Sithelbec. It stood some three miles away but loomed so high and spumed


so furiously that we were indeed distraught!


    For three days, the monstrous structure became the center of a


whirlwind of gnomish activity. They scaled its sides, fed coal into its


bowels, poured great quantities of muck and dust and streams of a red


powder into its maw. All this time, the thing puffed and chugged. By the


third day, the entire plain lay shrouded beneath a cloud from its wheezing




    Finally the gnomes clambered up the sides and stood atop the device,


as if they had scaled a small mountain. We watched, admittedly with


great trepidation, as one of the little creatures mixed a caldron at the very


lip of the cannon's interior. Eventually he cast the contents of the vessel


into the weapon itself. All of the gnomes fled, and for the first time, we


noticed that the humans had pulled back from the cannon, giving it a


good half-mile berth to either side.


    For a full day, the army of Ergoth huddled in fright, staring at their


monstrous weapon. Finally it appeared that it had failed to discharge, but


it was not until the following day that we watched the gnomes creep for-


ward to investigate.



    Suddenly the thing began to chug and wheeze and belch. The gnomes


scurried for cover, and for another full day, we all watched and waited.


But it was not until the morning of the third day that we saw the weapon


in action.


    It exploded shortly after dawn and cast its formidable ordnance for


many miles. Fortunately we, as the targets of the attack, were safe. It was


the gathered human army that suffered the brunt of flaming rock and


devastating force that ripped across the plains.


    We saw thousands of the humans' horses (unfortunately a small


fraction of their total number) stampede in panic across the plain. Whole


regiments vanished beneath the deluge of death as a sludgelike wave


spread through the army.


    For a brief moment, I saw the opportunity to make a sharp attack,


further disrupting the encircling host. Even as I ordered the attack,


however, the ranks of General Giarna's wing shouldered aside the other


humans. His deadly riders ensured that our trap remained effectively




    Nevertheless, the accident wreaked havoc among the Army of


Ergoth. We gave thanks to the gods that the device misfired; had its


attack struck Sithelbec, you would have already received your last


missive from me. The cannon has been reduced to a heap of rubble, and


we pray daily that it cannot be rebuilt.


    My best wishes and hopes for my new niece or nephew. Which is it


to be? Perhaps you will have the answer by the time you read this. I can



       only hope that somehow I will know. I hope Hermathya is comfortable


       and well.


            I miss your counsel and presence as always, Brother. I treat myself to


       the thought that, could we but bring our minds together, we could work a


       way to break out of this stalemate. But, alas, the jaws of the trap close


       about me, and I know that you, in the capital, are ensnared in every bit as


       tight a position as I.


            Until then, have a prayer for us! Give my love to Mother!










    Sithas paused, realizing that the guards and Quimant had been studying him intently


as he read. A full range of emotions had played across his face, he knew, and suddenly


the knowledge made him feel exceedingly vulnerable.


    "Leave me, all of you!" Sithas barked the command, more harshly perhaps than he


intended, but he was nevertheless gratified to see them all quickly depart from the hall.


    He paced back and forth before the emerald throne. His brother's letter had agitated


him more than usual, for he knew that he had to do something. No longer could he force


the standoff at Sithelbec into the back of his mind. His mother and his brother were right.


He needed to see Kith-Kanan, to talk with him. They would be able to work out a plan­a


plan with some hope of success!


    Remembering his walk with Nirakina, he turned toward the royal doors of crystal.


The gardens and the stables lay beyond.



    Resolutely Sithas stalked to those doors, which opened silently before him. He


emerged from the tower into the cool sunlight of the garden but took no note of his sur-


roundings. Instead, he crossed directly to the royal stable.


    The stable was in fact a sprawling collection of buildings and corrals. These included


barns for the horses and small houses for the grooms and trainers, as well as stocks of


feed. Behind the main structure, a field of short grass stretched away from the Tower of


the Stars, covering the palace grounds to the edges of the guildhouses that bordered them.


    Here were kept the several dozen horses of the royal family, as well as several


coaches and carriages. But it was to none of these that the speaker now made his way.


    Instead, he crossed through the main barn, nodding with easy familiarity to the


grooms who brushed the sleek stallions. He passed through the far door and crossed a


small corral, approaching a sturdy building that stood by itself, unattached to any other.


The door was divided into top and bottom halves; the top half stood open.


    A form moved within the structure, and then a great head emerged from the door.


Bright golden eyes regarded Sithas with distrust and suspicion.


    The front of that head was a long, wickedly hawklike beak. The beak opened


slightly. Sithas saw the great wings flex within the confining stable and knew that


Arcuballis longed to fly.


    "You must go to Kith-Kanan," Sithas told the powerful steed. "Bring him out of his


fort and back to me. Do this, Arcuballis, when I let you fly!"


    The griffon's large eyes glittered as the creature studied the Speaker of the Stars.


Arcuballis had been Kith-Kanan's lifelong mount until the duties of generalship had


forced his brother to take a more conventional steed. Sithas knew that the griffon would


go and bring his brother back.



    Slowly Sithas reached forward and unlatched the bottom half of the door, allowing


the portal to swing freely open. Arcuballis hesitantly stepped forward over the half-eaten


carcass of a deer that lay just inside the stable.


    With a spreading of his great wings, Arcuballis gave a mighty spring. He bounded


across the corral, and by his third leap, the griffon was airborne. His powerful wings


drove downward and the creature gained height, soaring over the roof of the stable, then


veering to pass near the Tower of the Stars.


    "Go!" cried Sithas. "Go to Kith-Kanan!"


    As if he heard, the griffon swept through a turn. Powerful wings still driving him


upward, Arcuballis swerved toward the west.


    It seemed to Sithas as if a heavy burden had flown away from him, borne upon the


wings of the griffon. His brother would understand, he knew. When Arcuballis arrived at


Sithelbec, as Sithas felt certain he would, Kith-Kanan would waste no time in mounting


his faithful steed and hastening back to Silvanost. Between them, he knew, they would


find a way to advance the elven cause.




    Sithas whirled, startled from his reverie by a voice from behind him. He saw


Stankathan, the majordomo, looking out of place among the mud and dung of the corral.


The elf's face, however, was knit by a deeper concern.


    "What is it?" Sithas inquired quickly.


    "It's your wife, the Lady Hermathya," replied Stankathan. "She cries with pain now.


The clerics tell me it is time for your child to be born."





                                    Three Days Later





    The oil lamp sputtered in the center of the wooden table. The flame was set low to


conserve precious fuel for the long, dark months of winter that lay ahead. Kith-Kanan


thought the shadowy darkness appropriate for this bleak meeting.


    With him at the table sat Kencathedrus and Parnigar. Both of them­as well as Kith,


himself­showed the gauntness of six months at half rations. Their eyes carried the dull


awareness that many more months of the same lay before them.


    Every night during that time, Kith had met with these two officers, both of them


trusted friends and seasoned veterans. They gathered in this small room, with its plain


table and chairs. Sometimes they shared a bottle of wine, but that commodity, too, had to


be rationed carefully.


    "We have a report from the Wildrunners," Parnigar began. "White-lock managed to


slip through the lines. He told me that the small companies we have roaming the woods


can hit hard and often. But they have to keep moving, and they don't dare venture onto


the plains."


    "Of course not!" Kencathedrus snapped.


    The two officers argued, as they did so often, from their different tactical


perspectives. "We'll never make any progress if we keep dispersing our forces through


the woods. We have to gather them together! We must mass our strength!"


    Kith sighed and held up his hands. "We all know that our 'mass of strength' would be


little more than a nuisance to the human army­at least right now. The fortress is the only



thing keeping the Wildrunners from annihilation, and the hit-and-run tactics are all we


can do until ... until something happens."


     He trailed off weakly, knowing he had touched upon the heart of their despair. True,


for the time being they were safe enough in Sithelbec from direct attack. And they had


food that could be stretched, with the help of their clerics, to last for a year, perhaps a


little longer.


     In sudden anger, Kencathedrus smashed his fist on the table. "They hold us here like


caged beasts," he growled. "What kind of fate do we consign ourselves to?"


     "Calm yourself, my friend." Kith touched his old teacher on the shoulder, seeing the


tears in the elven warrior's eyes. His eyes were framed by sunken skin, dark brown in


color, that accentuated further the hollowness of the elf's cheeks. By the gods, do we all


look like that? Kith had to wonder.


     The captain of Silvanost pushed himself to his feet and turned away from them.


Parnigar cleared his throat awkwardly. "There is nothing we can accomplish by


morning," he said. Quietly he got to his feet.


     Parnigar, alone of the three of them, had a wife here. He worried more about her


health than his own. She was human, one of several hundred in the fort, but this was a


fact that they carefully avoided in conversation. Though Kith-Kanan knew and liked the


woman, Kencathedrus still found the interracial marriage deeply disturbing.


     "May you rest well tonight, noble elves," Parnigar offered before stepping through


the door into the dark night beyond.


     "I know your need to avenge the battle on the plains," Kith-Kanan said to


Kencathedrus as the latter turned and gathered his cloak. "I believe this, my friend­your


chance will come!"



    The elven captain looked at the general, so much younger than himself, and Kith


could see that Kencathedrus wanted to believe him. His eyes were dry again, and finally


the captain nodded gruffly. "I'll see you in the morning," he promised before following


Parnigar into the night.


    Kith sat for a while, staring at the dying flame of the lantern, reluctant to extinguish


the light even though he knew precious fuel burned away with each second. Not enough


fuel ... not enough food ... insufficient troops. What did he have enough of, besides




    He tried not to think about the extent of his frustration­how much he hated being


trapped inside the fortress, cooped up with his entire army, at the mercy of the enemy


beyond the walls. How he longed for the freedom of the forests, where he had lived so


happily during his years away from Silvanost.


    Yet with these thoughts, he couldn't help thinking of Anaya­beautiful, lost Anaya.


Perhaps his true entrapment had begun with her death, before the war started, before he


had been made general of his father's­and then his brother's­army.


    Finally he sighed, knowing that his thoughts could bring him no comfort. Reluctantly


he doused the lantern's flame. His own bunk occupied the room adjacent to this office,


and soon he lay there.


    But sleep would not come. That night they had had no wine to share, and now the


tension of his mood kept Kith-Kanan awake for seeming hours after his two officers left.


    Eventually, with the entire fortress silent and still around him, his eyes fell shut­but


not to the darkness of restful sleep. Instead, it was as though he fell directly from wake-


fulness into a very vivid dream.



    He dreamed that he soared through the clouds, not upon the back of Arcuballis as he


had flown so many times before, but supported by the strength of his own arms, his own


feet. He swooped and dove like an eagle, master of the sky.


    Abruptly the clouds parted before him, and he saw three conical mountain peaks


jutting upward from the haze of earth so far below. These monstrous peaks belched


smoke, and streaks of fire splashed and flowed down their sides. The valleys extending


from their feet were hellish wastelands of crimson lava and brown sludge.


    Away from the peaks he soared, and now below him were lifeless valleys of a


different sort. Surrounded by craggy ridges and needlelike peaks, these mountain retreats


lay beneath great sheets of snow and ice. All around him stretched a pristine brilliance.


Gray and black shapes, the forms of towering summits, rose from the vast glaciers of


pure white. In places, streaks of blue showed through the snow, and here Kith-Kanan saw


ice as clean, as clear as any on Krynn.


    Movement suddenly caught his eye in one of these valleys. He saw a great mountain


looming, higher than all the others around. Upon its face, dripping ice formed the crude


outlines of a face like that of an old, white-bearded dwarf.


    Kith continued his flight and saw movement again. At first Kith thought that he was


witnessing a great flock of eagles­savage, prideful birds that crowded the sky. Then he


wondered, could they be some kind of mountain horses or unusual, tawny-colored goats?


    In another moment, he knew, as the memory of Arcuballis came flooding back.


These were griffons, a whole flock of them! Hundreds of the savage half-eagle, half-lion


creatures were surging through the air toward Kith-Kanan.


    He felt no fear. Instead, he turned away from the dwarfbeard mountain and flew


southward. The griffons followed, and slowly the heights of the range fell behind him. He


saw lakes of blue water below him and fields of brush and mossy rock. Then came the



first trees, and he dove to follow a mountain rivulet toward the green flatlands that now


opened up before him.


    And then he saw her in the forest­Anaya! She was painted like a wild savage, her


naked body flashing among the trees as she ran from him. By the gods, she was fast! She


outdistanced him even as he flew, and soon the only trace of her passage was the wild


laughter that lingered on the breeze before him.


    Then he found her, but already she had changed. She was old, and rooted in the


ground. Before his eyes, she had become a tree, growing toward the heavens and losing


all of the form and the senses of the elfin woman he had grown to love.


    His tears flowed, unnoticed, down his face. They soaked the ground and nourished


the tree, causing it to shoot farther into the sky. Sadly the elf left her, and he and his grif-


fons flew on farther to the south.


    Another face wafted before him. He recognized with shock the human woman who


had given him his escape from the enemy camp. Why, now, did she enter his dream?


    The rivulet below him became a stream, and then more streams joined it, and the


stream became a river, flowing into the forested realm of his homeland.


    Ahead he finally saw a ring of water where the River Thon-Thalas parted around the


island of Silvanost. Behind him, five hundred griffons followed him homeward. A radiant


glow reached out to welcome him.


    He saw another elf woman in the garden. She looked upward, her arms spread,


welcoming him to his home, to her. At first, from a distance, he wondered if this was his


mother, but then as he dove closer, he recognized his brother's wife, Hermathya.


    Sunlight streamed into his window. He awoke suddenly, refreshed and revitalized.


The memory of his dream shone in his mind like a beacon, and he sprang from his bed.


The fortress still slumbered around him. His window, on the east wall of a tower, was the



first place in Sithelbec to receive the morning sun. Throwing a cloak over his tunic and


sticking his feet into soft, high leather boots, he laced the latter around his knees while he


hobbled toward the door.


    A cry of alarm suddenly sounded from the courtyard. In the next moment, a horn


blared, followed by a chorus of trumpets blasting a warning. Kith dashed from his room,


down the hall of the captain's quarters and to the outside. The sun was barely cresting the


fortress wall, and yet he saw a shadow pass across that small area of brightness.


    He noted several archers on the wall, turning and aiming their weapons skyward.


    "Don't shoot!" he cried as the shadow swooped closer and he recognized it.




    He waved his hand and ran into the courtyard as the proud griffon circled him once,


then came to rest before him. The lion's hindquarter's squatted while the creature raised


one foreclaw­the massive, taloned limb of an eagle. The keen yellow eyes blinked, and


Kith-Kanan felt a surge of affection for his faithful steed.


    In the next moment, he wondered about Arcuballis's presence here. He had left him


in charge of his brother back in Silvanost. Of course! Sithas had sent the creature here to


Kith to bring him home! The prospect elated him like nothing else had in years.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    It took Kith-Kanan less than an hour to leave orders with his two subordinates.


Parnigar he placed in overall command, while Kencathedrus was to drill and train a


small, mobile sortie force of cavalry, pikes, and archers. They would be called the Flying


Brigade, but they were not to be employed until Kith-Kanan's return. He cautioned both


officers on the need to remain alert to any human strategem. Sithelbec was the keystone


to any defense on the plains, and it must remain impregnable, inviolate.



    "I'm sure my brother has plans. We'll meet and work out a way to break this


stalemate!" The autumn wind swirled through the compound, bringing the first bite of




    He climbed onto the back of his steed, settling into the new saddle that one of the


Wildrunner horsemen had cobbled for him.


    "Good luck, and may the gods watch over your flight," Kencathedrus said, clasping


Kith's gloved hand in both of his own.


    "And bring a speedy return," added Parnigar.


    Arcuballis thrust powerful wings, muscular and stout enough to break a man's neck,


toward the ground. At the same time, the leonine hindquarters thrust the body into the air.


    Several strokes of his wings carried Arcuballis to the top of a building, still inside the


fortress wall. He grasped the peaked roof with his eagle foreclaws, then used his feline


rear legs to spring himself still higher into the air. With a squawk that rang like a


challenge across the plain, he soared over the wall, climbing steadily.


    Kith-Kanan was momentarily awestruck at the spectacle of the enemy arrayed below


him. His tower, the highest vantage point in Sithelbec, didn't convey the immense sprawl


of the army of Ergoth­not in the way that Arcuballis's ascending flight did. Below, ranks


of human archers took up their weapons, but the griffon already soared far out of range.


    They flew onward, passing above a great herd of horses in a pasture. The shadow of


the griffon passed along the ground, and several of the steeds snorted and reared in sud-


den panic. These bolted immediately, and in seconds, the herd had erupted into a


stampede. The elf watched in wry amusement as the human herdsmen raced out of the


path of the beasts. It would be hours, he suspected, before order was restored to the camp.


    Kith looked down at the smoldering remains of the lava cannon, now a black,


misshapen thing, like a burned and gnarled tree trunk leaning at a steep angle over the



ground. He saw seemingly endless rows of tents, some of them grand but most simple


shelters of oilskin or wool. Everywhere the flat ground had been churned to mud.


    Finally he left the circular fortress and the larger circle of the human army behind.


Forests of lush green opened before him, dotted by ponds and lakes, streaked by rivers


and long meandering meadows. As the wild land surrounded him, he felt the agony of the


war fall away.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Suzine des Quivalen studied the image in the mirror until it faded into the distance,


beyond the reach of her arcane crystal. Yet even after it vanished, the memory of those


powerful wings carrying Kith-Kanan away­away from her­lingered in her mind.


    She saw his blond hair, flying from beneath his helmet. She recalled her gasp of


terror when the archers had fired, and her slow relaxation as he gained height and safety.


Yet a part of her had cursed and railed at him for leaving, and that part had wanted to see


a human arrow bring him down. She didn't want him dead, of course, but the idea of this


handsome elf as a prisoner in her camp was strangely appealing.


    For a moment, she paused, wondering at the fascination she found for this elven


commander, mortal enemy of her people and chief opponent of the man who was her . . .




    Once General Giarna had been that and more. Smooth, dashing, and handsome, he


had swept her off her feet in the early days of their relationship. With the aid of her


powers with the mirror, she had given him information sufficient to discredit several of


the emperor's highest generals. The grateful ruler had rewarded the Boy General with an


ever increasing array of field commands.


    But something had changed since those times. The man who she thought had loved


her now treated her with cruelty and arrogance, inspiring in her fears that she could not



overcome. Those fears were great enough to hold her at his side, for she had come to


believe that flight from General Giarna would mean her sentence of death.


    Here on the plains, in command of many thousands of men, Giarna had little time for


her, which was a relief. But when she saw him, he seemed so coldly controlled, so mon-


strously purposeful, that she feared him all the more.


    With an angry shake of her head, she turned from the mirror, which slowly faded


into a reflection of the Lady Suzine and the interior of her tent. She rose in a swirl of silk


and stalked across the rich carpets that blanketed the ground. Her red hair swirled in a


long coil around her scalp, rising higher than her head and peaking in a glittering tiara of


diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.


    Her gown, of blood-red silk, clung to the full curves of her body as she stalked


toward the tent flap that served as her door. She stopped long enough to throw a woolen


shawl over her bare shoulders, remembering the chill that had settled over the plains in


the last few days.


    As soon as she emerged, the six men-at-arms standing at her door snapped to


attention, bringing their halberds straight before their faces. She paid no attention as they


fell in behind her, marching with crisp precision as she headed toward another elegant


tent some distance away. The black stallion of General Giarna stood restlessly outside, so


she knew that the man she sought was within.


    The Army of Ergoth spread to the horizons around her. The massive encampment


encircled the fortress of Sithelbec in a great ring. Here, at the eastern arc of that ring, the


headquarters of the three generals and their retinues had collected. Amid the mud and


smoke of the army camp, the gilded coaches of the noble lancers and the tall, silken folds


of the high officers' tents, stood out in contrast.



    Before Suzine arose the tallest tent of all, that of General Barnet, the overall general


of the army.


    The two guards before that tent stepped quickly out of the way to let her pass, one of


them pulling aside the tent flap to give her entrance. She passed into the semidarkness of


the tent and her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. She saw General Giarna lounging


easily at a table loaded with food and drink. Before him, sitting stiffly, was General


Barnet. Suzine couldn't help but notice the fear and anger in the older general's eyes as he


looked at her.


    Beyond the two seated men stood a third, General Xalthan. That veteran's face was


deathly, shockingly pale. He surprised Suzine by looking at her with an expression of


pleading, as if he hoped that she could offer him succor for some terrible predicament.


    "Come in, my dear," said Giarna, his voice smooth, his manner light. "We are having


a farewell toast to our friend, General Xalthan."


    "Farewell?" she asked, having heard nothing of that worthy soldier's departure.


    "By word of the emperor­by special courier, with an escort. Quite an honor, really,"


added Giarna, his tone mocking and cruel.


    Instantly Suzine understood. The disaster with the lava cannon had been the last


straw, as far as the emperor was concerned, for General Xalthan. He had been recalled to


Daltigoth under guard.


    To his credit, the wing commander nodded stiffly, retaining his composure even in


the face of Giarna's taunts. General Barnet remained immobile, but the hatred in his eyes


now flashed toward Giarna. Suzine, too, felt an unexpected sense of loathing toward the


Boy General.


    "I'm sorry," she said to the doomed wing commander quietly. "I really am." Indeed,


the depths of her sorrow surprised her. She had never thought very much about Xalthan,



except sometimes to feel uncomfortable when his eyes ran over the outlines of her body


if she wore a clinging gown.


    But the old man was guilty of no failing, she suspected, except an inability to move


as quickly as the Boy General. Xalthan stood in the path of Giarna's desire to command


the entire army. General Giarna's reports to the emperor, she felt certain, had been full of


the information she had provided him­news of Xalthan's sluggish advance, the ineptness


of the gnomish artillerymen, all details that could make a vengeful and impatient ruler


lose his patience.


    And cause an old warrior who deserved only a peaceful retirement to face instead a


prospect of torture, disgrace, and execution.


    The knowledge made Suzine feel somehow dirty.


    Xalthan looked at her with that puppylike sense of hope, a hope she could do nothing


to gratify. His fate was laid in stone before them: There would be a long ride to Daltigoth,


perhaps with the formerly esteemed officer bound in chains. Once there, the emperor's


inquisitors would begin, often with Quivalen himself in attendance.


    It was rumored that the emperor received great pleasure from watching the torture of


those he felt had failed him. No tool was too devious, no tactic too inhumane, for these


monstrous sculptors of pain. Fire and steel, venoms and acids, all were the instruments of


their ungodly work. Finally, after days or weeks of indescribable agony, the inquisitors


would be finished, and Xalthan would be healed­just enough to allow him to be alert for


the occasion of his public execution.


    The fact that her cousin was the one who would do this to the man didn't enter into


her considerations. She accepted, fatalistically, that this was the way things would


happen. Her role in the court family was to be one who remained docile and sensitive to



her duties, useful with her skills as seer. She had to play that role and leave the rest to




         Just for a moment, a nearly overwhelming urge possessed her, a desire to flee this


army camp, to flee the gracious life of the capital, to fly from all the darkness that seemed


to surround her empire's endeavors. She wanted to go to a place where troubles such as


this one remained concealed from delicate eyes.


         It was only when she remembered the blond-haired elf who so fascinated her that she


paused. Even though he had gone, flown from Sithelbec on the back of his winged steed,


she felt certain he would return. She didn't know why, but she wanted to be here when he




         "Farewell, General," she said quietly, crossing to embrace the once-proud warrior.


Without another glance at Giarna, she turned and left the tent.


         Suzine retreated to her own shelter, anger rising within her. She stalked back and


forth within the silken walls, resisting the urge to throw things, to rant loudly at the air.


For all her efforts at self-control, her vaunted discipline seemed to have deserted her. She


could not calm herself.


         Suddenly she gasped as the tent flap flew open and her general's huge form blocked


out the light. Instinctively she backed away as he marched into her shelter, allowing the


flap to fall closed behind him.


         "That was quite a display," he growled, his voice like a blast of winter's wind. His


dark eyes glowered, showing none of the amusement they had displayed at Xalthan's pre-




         "What­what do you mean?" she stammered, still backing away. She held her hand to


her mouth and stared at him, her green eyes wide. A trace of her red hair spilled across


her brow, and she angrily pushed it away from her face.



    Giarna crossed to her in three quick strides, taking her wrists in both his hands. He


pulled her arms to her sides and stared into her face, his mouth twisted into a menacing




    "Stop­you're hurting me!" she objected, twisting powerlessly in his grip.


    "Hear me well, wench." He growled, his voice barely audible. "Do not attempt to


mock me again­ever! If you do, that shall be the end your power ... the end of every-




    She gasped, frightened beyond words.


    "I have chosen you for my woman. That fact pleased you once; perhaps it may please


you again. Whether it does or not is irrelevant to me. Your skills, however, are of use to


me. The others wonder at the great intelligence I gain concerning the elven army, and so


you will continue to serve me thus.


    "But you will not affront me again!" General Giarna paused, and his dark eyes


seemed to mock Suzine's terrified stare.


    "Do I make myself perfectly clear?" Giarna demanded, and she nodded quickly,


helplessly. She feared his power and his strength, and she could only tremble in the grip


of his powerful hands.


    "Remember well," added the general. He fixed her with a penetrating gaze, and she


felt the blood drain from her face. Without another word, he spun on his heel and stalked


imperiously from the tent.


                                             *   *   *   *   *


    The flight to Silvanost took four days, for Kith allowed Arcuballis to hunt in the


forest, while he himself took the time to rest at night on a lush bed of pine boughs amid


the noisy, friendly chatter of the woods.



    On the second day of his flight, Kith-Kanan stopped early, for he had reached a place


that he intended to visit. Arcuballis dove to earth in the center of a blossom-bright


clearing, and Kith dismounted. He walked over to a tree that grew strong and proud,


shading a wide area, far wider than when he had last been here a year before.


    "Anaya, I miss you," he said quietly.


    He rested at the foot of the tree and spent several hours in bittersweet reflection of


the elf woman he'd loved and lost. But he didn't find total despair in the memory, for this


was indeed Anaya beside him now. She grew tall and flourished in a part of the woods


she had always loved.


    She had been a creature of the woods, and together with her "brother" Mackeli, the


forest's guardian as well. For a moment, the pain threatened to block out the happier


memories. Why did they die? For what purpose? Anaya killed by marauders. Mackeli


slain by assassins­sent, Kith suspected, by someone in Silvanost itself.


    Anaya hadn't really died, he reminded himself. Instead, she had undergone a bizarre


transformation and become a tree, rooted firmly in the forest soil she loved and had


strived to protect.


    Then a disturbing vision intruded itself into Kith's reminiscences, and the picture of


Anaya, laughing and bright before him, changed slightly. A beautiful elven woman still


teased him, but now the face was different, no longer Anaya's.


    Hermathya! The image of his first love, now his brother's wife, struck him like a


physical blow. Angrily he shook his head, trying to dispel her features, to call back those


of Anaya. Yet Hermathya remained before him, her eyes bold and challenging, her smile




    Kith-Kanan exhaled sharply, surprised by the attraction he still felt for the Silvanesti


woman. He had thought that impulse long dead, an immature passion that had run its



course and been banished to the past. Now he imagined her supple body, her clinging,


low-cut gown tailored to show enough to excite while concealing enough to mystify. He


found himself vaguely ashamed to realize that he still desired her.


    As he shook his head in an effort to banish the disturbing emotion, a picture of still a


third woman insinuated itself. He recalled again the red-haired human woman who had


given him his chance to escape from the enemy camp. There had been something vibrant


and compelling about her, and this wasn't the first time he had remembered her face.


    The conflicting memories warred within him as he built a small fire and ate a simple


meal. He camped in the clearing, as usual making himself a soft bed. The night passed in




    He took to the air at first light, feeling as if he had somehow sullied Anaya's


memory, but soon the clean air swept through his hair, and his mind focused on the day's


journey. Arcuballis carried him swiftly and uneventfully eastward.


    After his third night of sleeping in the woods, he felt as if his strength had been


doubled, his wit and alertness greatly enhanced.


    His spirits soared as high as the Tower of the Stars, which now appeared on the


distant horizon. Arcuballis carried him steadily, but so far was the tower that more than


an hour passed before they reached the Thon-Thalas River, border to the island of




    His arrival was anticipated; boatmen on the river waved and cheered as he flew


overhead, while a crowd of elves hurried toward the Palace of Quinari. The doors at the


foot of the tower burst open, and Kith saw a blond-haired elf, clad in the silk robe of the


Speaker of the Stars, emerge. Sithas hurried across the garden, but the griffon met him





    Grinning foolishly, Kith leapt from the back of his steed to embrace his brother. It


felt very good to be home.








                                  Midautumn, 2214 (PC)





    "By Quenesti Pah, he's beautiful!" Kith-Kanan cautiously took the infant in his arms.


Proudly Sithas stood beside them. Kith had been on the ground for all of five minutes


before the Speaker of the Stars had hurried him to the nursery to see the newest heir to


the throne of Silvanesti.


    "It takes a while before you feel certain that you won't break him," he told his


brother, based on his own extensive paternal experience, a good two months' worth now.


    "Vanesti­it's a good name. Proud, full of our heritage," Kith said. "A name worthy of


the heir of the House of Silvanos."


    Sithas looked at his brother and his son, and he felt better than he had in months.


Indeed, he knew a gladness that hadn't been his since the start of the war.


    The door to the nursery opened and Hermathya entered. She approached Kith-Kanan


nervously, her eyes upon her child. At first, the elven general thought that his sister-in--


law's tension resulted from the memory of them together. Kith and Hermathya's affair,


before her engagement to Sithas, had been brief but passionate.


    But then he realized that her anxiety came from a simpler, more direct source. She


was concerned that someone other than herself held her child.


    "Here," said Kith, offering the silk-swathed infant to Hermathya. "You have a very


handsome son."


    "Thank you." She took the child, then smiled hesitantly. Kith tried to see her in a


different light than he did in his memories. He told himself that she looked nothing like


the woman he had known, had thought he loved, those few years earlier.



     Then the memories came back in a physical rush that almost brought him to his


knees. Hermathya smiled again, and Kith-Kanan ached with desire. He lowered his eyes,


certain that his bold feelings showed plainly on his face. By the gods, she was his


brother's wife! What kind of distorted loyalty tortured him that he could think these


thoughts, feel these needs.


     He cast a quick, apprehensive glance at Sithas and saw that his brother looked only


at the baby. Hermathya, however, caught his eye, her own gaze sparking like fire. What


was happening? Suddenly Kith-Kanan felt very frightened and very lonely.


     "You should both be very happy," he said awkwardly.


     They said nothing, but each looked at Vanesti in a way that communicated their love


and pride.


     "Now let's take care of business," said Sithas to his brother. "The war."


     Kith sighed. "I knew we'd have to get around to the war sooner or later, but can we


make it a little bit later? I'd like to see Mother first."


     "Of course. How stupid of me," Sithas agreed. If he had noticed any of the feelings


that Kith had thought showed so plainly on his face, the Speaker gave no sign. His voice


dropped slightly. "She's in her quarters. Shell be delighted to see you. I think it's just what


she needs."


     Kith-Kanan looked at his brother curiously, but Sithas did not elaborate. Instead, the


Speaker continued in a different vein.


     "I've had some Thalian blond wine chilled in my apartment. I want to hear


everything that's happened since the start of the war. Come and find me after you've


spoken to Nirakina."


     "I will. I've got a lot to tell, but I want to know how things have fared in the city as


well." Kith-Kanan followed Sithas from the nursery, quietly closing the door. Before it



shut, he looked back and saw Hermathya cuddling the baby to her breast. The elf


woman's eyes looked up suddenly and locked upon Kith's, making an electric connection


that he had to force himself to break.


    The two elves, leaders of the nation, walked in silence through the long halls of the


Palace of Quinari. They reached the apartments of their mother, and Kith stopped as


Sithas walked silently on.


    "Enter" came her familiar voice in response to his soft knock.


    He pushed open the door and saw Nirakina seated in a chair by the open window.


She rose and swept him into her arms, hugging him as if she would never let him go.


    He was shocked by the aging apparent in his mother's face, an aging that was all the


more distressing because of the long elven life span. By rights, she was just reaching


middle age and could look forward to several productive centuries before she approached


old age.


    Yet her face, drawn by cares, and the gray streaks that had begun to silver her hair


reminded Kith of his grandmother, in the years shortly before her death. It was a reve-


lation that disturbed him deeply.


    "Sit down, Mother," Kith said quietly, leading her back to her chair. "Are you all




    Nirakina looked at him, and the son had trouble facing his mother's eyes. So much




    "Seeing you does much to bring my strength back," she replied, offering a wan


smile. "It seems I'm surrounded by strangers so much now."


    "Surely Sithas is here with you."


    "Oh, when he can be, but there is much to occupy him. The affairs of war, and now


his child. Vanesti is a beautiful baby, don't you agree?"



    Kith nodded, wondering why he didn't hear more pleasure in his mother's voice. This


was her first grandchild.


    "But Hermathya thinks that I get in the way, and her sisters are here to help. I have


seen too little of Vanesti." Nirakina's eyes drifted to the window. "I miss your father. I


miss him so much sometimes that I can hardly stand it."


    Kith struggled for words. Failing, he took his mother's hands in his own.


    "The palace, the city­it's all changing," she continued. "It's the war. In your absence,


Lord Quimant advises your brother. It seems the palace is becoming home to all of Clan




    Kith had heard of Quimant in Sithas's letters and knew his brother considered him to


be a great assistance in affairs of state.


    "What of Tamanier Ambrodel?" The loyal elf had been his mother's able aide and


had saved her life during the riots that rocked the city before the outbreak of war. Sithel


had promoted him to lord chamberlain to reward his loyalty. His mother and Tamanier


had been good friends for many years.


    "He's gone. Sithas tells me not to worry, and I know he has embarked upon a mission


in the service of the throne. But he has been absent a long time, and I cannot help but


miss him."


    She looked at him, and he saw tears in her eyes. "Sometimes I feel like so much


excess baggage, locked away in my room here, waiting for my life to pass!"


    Kith sat back, shocked and dismayed by his mother's despair. This was so unlike the


Nirakina he had always known, an elf woman full of vigor, serene and patient against the


background of his father's rigid ideas. He tried to hide his churning emotions beneath a


lighthearted tone.



     "Tomorrow we'll go riding," he said, realizing that sunset approached quickly. "I


have to meet Sithas tonight to make my reports. But meet me for breakfast in the dining


hall, won't you?"


     Nirakina smiled, for the first time with her eyes as well as well as with her lips. "I'd


like that," she said. But the memory of her lined, unhappy face stuck with him as he left


her chambers and made his way to his brother's library.


     "Come in," announced Sithas, as two liveried halberdiers of the House Protectorate


snapped to attention before the silver-plated doors to the royal apartment. One of them


pulled the door open, and the general entered.


     "We wish to be alone," announced the Speaker of the Stars, and the guards nodded




     The pair settled into comfortable chairs, near the balcony that gave them an excellent


view of the Tower of the Stars, which rose into the night sky across the gardens. The red


moon, Lunitari, and the pale orb of Solinari illuminated the vista, casting shadows


through the winding passages of the garden paths.


     Sithas filled two mugs and placed the bottle of fine wine back into its bucket of


melting ice. Handing one mug to his brother, he raised his own and met Kith's with a


slight clink.


     "To victory," he offered.


     "Victory!" Kith-Kanan repeated.


     They sat and, sensing that his brother wanted to speak first, the army commander


waited expectantly. His intuition was correct.


     "By all the gods, I wish I could be there with you!" Sithas began, his tone full of





    Kith didn't doubt him. "War's not what I thought it would be," he admitted. "Mostly


it's waiting, discomfort, and tedium. We are always hungry and cold, but mostly bored. It


seems that days and weeks go by when nothing happens of consequence."


    He sighed and paused for a moment to take a deep draft of his wine. The sweet liquid


soothed his throat and loosened his tongue. "Then, when things do start to happen, you're


more frightened than you ever thought was possible. You fight for your life; you run


when you have to. You try to stay in touch with what's going on, but it's impossible. Just


as quickly, the fight's over and you go back to being bored. Except now you have the


grief, too, knowing that brave companions have died this day, some of them because you


made the wrong decision. Even the right decision sometimes sends too many good elves


to their deaths."


    Sithas shook his head sadly. "At least you have some control over events. I sit here,


hundreds of miles away. I sent those good elves to live or die without the slightest knowl-


edge of what will befall them."


    "That knowledge is slim comfort," replied his brother.


    Kith-Kanan told his brother, in elaborate detail, about the battles in which the


Wildrunners had fought the Army of Ergoth. He talked of their initial small victories, of


the plodding advance of the central and southern wings. He described the fast-moving


horsemen of the north wing and their keen and brutal commander, General Giarna. His


voice broke as he related the tale of the trap that had ensnared Kencathedrus and his


proud regiment, and for a moment, he lapsed into a miserable silence.


    Sithas reached out and touched his brother on the shoulder. The gesture seemed to


renew Kith-Kanan's strength, and after drawing a deep breath, he began to speak again.


    He told of their forced retreat into the fortress, of the numberless horde of humans


surrounding them, barring the Wildrunners against any real penetration. The wine bottle



emptied­it may as well have been by evaporation, for all the notice the brothers took­and


the moons crept toward the western horizon. Sithas rang for another bottle of Thalian


blond as Kith described the state of supplies and morale within Sithelbec and talked about


their prospects for the future.


    "We can hold out through the winter, perhaps well into next year. But we cannot


shake the grip around us, not unless something happens to break this stalemate!"


    "Something such as what? More reinforcements­another five thousand elves from


Silvanost?" Sithas leaned close to his brother, disturbed by the account of the war. The


setbacks suffered by the Wildrunners were temporary­this the speaker truly believed­and


together they had to figure out some way to turn the tide.


    Kith shook his head. "That would help­any reinforcements you can send would


help­but even twice that many elves would not turn the tide. Perhaps the Army of Thor-


bardin, if the dwarves can be coaxed from their mountain retreat ...." His voice showed


that he placed little hope in this possibility.


    "It might happen," Sithas replied. "You didn't get to know Lord Dunbarth as did I,


when he spent a year among us in the city. He is a trustworthy fellow, and he bears no


love for the humans. I think he realizes that his own kingdom will be next in line for


conquest unless he can do something now."


    Sithas described the present ambassador, the intransigent Than-Kar, in considerably


less glowing terms. "He's a major stumbling block to any firm agreement, but there still


might be some way around him."


    "I'd like to talk to him myself," Kith said. "Can we bring him to the palace?"


    "I can try," Sithas agreed, realizing how weak the phrase sounded. Father would have


ordered it, he reminded himself. For a moment, he felt terribly ineffective, wishing he had



Sithel's steady nerves. Angrily he pushed the sensation of doubt away and listened to his


brother speak.


    "I'll believe in dwarven help when I see their banners on the field and their weapons


pointed away from us!"


    "But what else?" pressed Sithas. "What other tactics do we have?"


    "I wish I knew," his brother replied. "I hoped that you might have some




    "Weapons?" Sithas explained the key role Lord Quimant was playing to increase the


munitions production at the Oakleaf Clan's forges. "We'll get you the best blades that


elven craftsmen can make."


    "That's something­but still, we need more. We need something that cannot just stand


against the human cavalry but break it­drive it away!"


    The second bottle of wine began to vanish as the elven lords wrestled with their


problem. The first traces of dawn colored the sky, a thin line of pale blue on the horizon,


but no ready solution came to mind.


    "You know, I wasn't certain that Arcuballis could find you," Sithas said after a pause


of several minutes. The frustration of their search for a solution weighed upon them, and


Kith welcomed the change of conversation.


    "He never looked so good to me," Kith-Kanan replied, "as when he came soaring


into the fortress compound. I didn't realize how much I missed this place­how much I


missed you and mother­until I saw him."


    "He's been there in the stable since you left," Sithas said, shaking his head with a wry


grin. "I don't know why I didn't think of sending him to you shortly after you first became





    "I had a curious dream about him­about an entire flock of griffons, actually­on the


very night before he arrived. It was most uncanny." Kith described his strange dream, and


the two brothers pondered its meaning.


    "A flock of griffons?" Sithas asked intently.


    "Well, yes. Do you think it significant?"


    "If we had a flock of griffons ... if they all carried riders into combat ... could that be


the hammer needed to crack the shell around Sithelbec?" Sithas spoke with growing




    "Wait a minute," said Kith, holding up his hand. "I suppose you're right, in a


hypothetical sense. In fact, the horses of the humans were spooked as I flew over, even


though I was high, out of bowshot range. But who ever heard of an army of griffons?"


    Sithas settled back, suddenly realizing the futility of his idea. For a moment, neither


of them said anything­which was how they heard the soft rustling in the room behind




    Kith-Kanan sprang to his feet, instinctively reaching for a sword at his hip, forgetting


that his weapon hung back on the wall of his own apartment. Sithas whirled in his seat,


staring in astonishment, and then he rose to his feet.


    "You!" the Speaker barked, his voice taut with rage. "What are you doing here?"


    Kith-Kanan crouched, preparing to spring at the intruder. He saw the figure, a mature


elf cloaked in a silky gray robe, move forward from the shadows.


    "Wait." said Sithas, much to his brother's surprise. The speaker held up his hand and


Kith straightened, still tense and suspicious.


    "One day your impudence will cost you," Sithas said levelly as the elf approached


them. "You are not to enter my chambers unannounced again. Is that clear?"


    "Pardon my intrusion. As you know, my presence must remain discreet."



    "Who is this?" Kith-Kanan demanded.


    "Forgive me," said the gray-cloaked elf before Sithas cut him off.


    "This is Vedvedsica," said Sithas. Kith-Kanan noted that his brother's tone had


become carefully guarded. "He has ... been helpful to the House of Silvanos in the past."


    "The pleasure is mine, and it is indeed great, honored prince," offered Vedvedsica,


with a deep bow to Kith-Kanan.


    "Who are you? Why do you come here?" Kith demanded.


    "In good time, lord­in good time. As to who I am, I am a cleric, a devoted follower


of Gilean."


    Kith-Kanan wasn't surprised. The god was the most purely neutral in the elven


pantheon, most often used to justify self-aggrandizement and profit. Something about


Vedvedsica struck him as very self-serving indeed.


    "More to the point, I know of your dream."


    The last was directed to Kith-Kanan and struck him like a lightning bolt between the


eyes. For a moment, he hesitated, fighting an almost undeniable urge to hurl himself at


the insolent cleric and kill him with his bare hands. Never before had he felt so violated.


    "Explain yourself!"


    "I have knowledge that the two of you may desire­knowledge of griffons, hundreds


of them. And even more important, I may have knowledge as to how they can be found


and tamed."


    For the moment, the elven lords remained silent, listening suspiciously as


Vedvedsica moved forward. "May 1?" inquired the cleric, gesturing to a seat beside their




    Sithas nodded silently, and all three sat.



    "The griffons dwell in the Khalkist Mountains, south of the Lords of Doom." The


brothers knew of these peaks­three violent volcanoes in the heart of the forbidding range,


high among vast glaciers and sheer summits. It was a region beyond the ken of elven




    "How do you know this?" asked Sithas.


    "Did your father ever tell you how he came to possess Arcuballis?" Again the cleric


fixed Kith-Kanan with his gaze, then continued as if he already knew the answer. "He got


him from me!"


    Kith nodded, reluctant to believe the cleric but finding himself unable to doubt the


veracity of his words.


    "I purchased him from a Kagonesti, a wild elf who told me of the whereabouts of the


pack. He encountered them, together with a dozen companions. He alone escaped the


wrath of the griffons, with one young cub­the one given by me to Sithel as a gift, and the


one that he passed along to his son. To you, Kith-Kanan."


    "But how could the flock be tamed? From what you say, a dozen elves perished to


bring one tiny cub away!" Kith-Kanan challenged Vedvedsica. Despite his suspicions, he


felt his own excitement begin to build.


    "I tamed him, with the aid and protection of Gilean. I developed the spell that broke


him to halter. It's a simple enchantment, really. Any elf with a working knowledge of the


Old Script could have cast it. But only I could bring it into being!"


    "Continue," said Sithas urgently.


    "I believe that spell can be enhanced, developed so that many more of the creatures


could be brought to heel. I can inscribe it onto a scroll. Then one of you can take it in


search of the griffons."


    "Are you certain that it will work?" demanded Sithas.



    "No," replied the cleric frankly. "It will need to be presented under precise


circumstances and with a great force of command. That is why the person who casts the


spell must be a leader among elves­one of you two. No others of our race would have the


necessary traits."


    "How long would it take to prepare such a scroll?" pressed Kith. A cavalry company


mounted on griffons, flying over the battlefield! The thought made his heart pound with


excitement. They would be unstoppable!


    Vedvedsica shrugged. "A week, perhaps two. It will be an arduous process."


    "I'll go," Kith volunteered.


    "Wait!" said Sithas sharply. "I should go! And I will!"


    Kith-Kanan looked at the Speaker in astonishment. "That's crazy!" he argued.


"You're the Speaker of the Stars. You have a wife, a child! More to the point, you're the


leader of all Silvanesti! And you haven't ever lived in the wilderness before like I have! I


can't allow you to take the risk."


    For a moment, the twins stared at each other, equally stubborn. The cleric was


forgotten for the moment, and he melted into the shadows, discreet in his withdrawal.


    It was Sithas who spoke.


    "Do you read the Old Script?" he asked his brother bluntly. "Well enough to be


certain of your words, when you know that the whole future of the realm could depend


upon what you say?"


    The younger twin sighed. "No. My studies always emphasized the outdoor skills. I'm


afraid the ancient writing wouldn't make much sense to me."


    Sithas smiled wryly. "I used to resent that. You were always out riding horses or


hunting or learning swordsmanship, while I studied the musty tomes and forgotten


histories. Well, now I'm going to put that learning to use.



    "We'll both go," Sithas concluded.


    Kith-Kanan stared at him, realizing the outcry such a plan would raise. Perhaps, he


had to admit, this was the reason the scheme appealed to him. Slowly, Kith relaxed,


settling back into his chair.


    "The trip won't be easy," Kith warned sternly. "We're going to have to explore the


largest mountain range on Ansalon, and winter isn't far away. In those heights, you can


be sure there's already plenty of snow."


    "You can't scare me off," answered Sithas purposefully. "I know that Arcuballis can


carry the two of us, and I don't care if it takes all winter. We'll find them, Kith. I know we




    "You know," Kith-Kanan said ironically, "I must still be dreaming. In any event,


you're right. The sons of Sithel ought to make this quest together."


    With a final mug of wine, as the sky grew pale above them, they began to make their







                                        Next Morning





    Kith-Kanan and his mother rode through the tree-lined streets of Silvanost for


several hours, talking only of fond memories and pleasant topics from many years before.


They stopped to enjoy the fountains, to watch the hawks dive for fish in the river, and to


listen to the songbirds that clustered in the many flowered bushes of the city's lush




    During the ride, it seemed to the elven warrior that his mother slowly came to life


again, even to the point of laughing as they watched the pompous dance of a brilliant


cardinal trying to impress his mate.


    In the back of Kith's mind lurked the realization that his mother would soon learn of


her sons' plans to embark on a dangerous expedition into the Khalkist Mountains. That


news could wait, he decided.


    "Are you going to join your brother at court?" asked Nirakina as the sun slid past the


midafternoon point.


    Kith sighed. "There'll be enough time for that tomorrow," he decided.


    "Good ." His mother looked at him, and he was delighted to see that the familiar


sparkle had returned to her eyes. She spurred her horse with a sharp kick, and the mare


raced ahead, leaving Kith with the challenge of her laugh as he tried to urge his older


gelding into catching up.


    They cantered beneath the shade of towering elms and dashed among the crystal


columns of the elven homes in a friendly race toward the Gardens of Astarin and the


royal stables. Nirakina was a good rider, with the faster horse; though Kith tried to spur



the last energy from his own steed, his mother beat him through the palace gates by a


good three lengths.


    Laughing, they pulled up before the stables and dismounted. Nirakina turned toward


him, impulsively pulling him into a hug, "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for


coming home!"


    Kith held her in silence for some moments, relieved that he hadn't discussed the


twins' plans with her.


    Leaving his mother at her chambers, he made his way to his own apartments,


intending to bathe and dress for the banquet his brother had scheduled for that evening.


Before he reached his door, however, a figure moved out of a nearby alcove.


    Reflexively the elven warrior reached for a sword, a weapon that he did not usually


carry in the secure confines of the palace. At the same time, he relaxed, recognizing the


figure and realizing that there was no threat­at least, no threat of harm.


    "Hermathya," he said, his voice oddly husky.


    "Your nerves are stretched tight," she observed, with an awkward little laugh. She


wore a turquoise gown cut low over her breasts. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders,


and as she looked up at him, Kith-Kanan thought that she seemed as young and


vulnerable as ever.


    He forced himself to shake his head, remembering that she was neither young nor


vulnerable. Still, the spell of her innocent allure held him, and he wanted to reach out and


sweep her into his arms.


    With difficulty, he held his hands at his sides, waiting for Hermathya to speak again.


His stillness seemed to unsettle her, as if she had expected him to make the next move.


    The look in her eyes left him little doubt as to what response she was hoping for. He


didn't open the door, he didn't move toward his room. He remained all too conscious of



the private chambers and the large bed nearby. The aching in his body surprised him, and


he realized with a great deal of dismay that he wanted her. He wanted her very badly




     "I­I wanted to talk to you," she said. He understood implicitly that she was lying.


     Her words seemed to break the spell, and he reached past her to push open his door.


"Come in," he said as flatly as possible.


     He walked to the tall crystal doors, pulling the draperies aside to reveal the lush


brilliance of the Gardens of Astarin. Keeping his back to her, he waited for her to speak.


     "I've been worried about you," she began. "They told me you had been captured, and


I feared I would go out of my mind! Were they cruel to you? Did they hurt you?"


     Not half so cruel as you were once, he thought silently. Half of him wanted to shout


at her, to remind her that he had once begged her to run away with him, to choose him


over his brother. The other half wanted to sweep her into his arms, into his bed, into his


life. Yet he dared not look at her, for he feared the latter emotion and knew it was the


worst treachery.


     "I was only held prisoner for a day," he said, his voice hardening. "They butchered


the other elves that they held, but I was fortunate enough to escape."


     He thought of the human woman who had­unwittingly, so far as he knew­aided his


flight. She had been very beautiful, for a human. Her body possessed a fullness that was


voluptuous, that he had to admit he found strangely attractive. Yet she was nothing to


him. He didn't even know her name. She was far away from him, probably forever. While


Hermathya ...


     Kith-Kanan sensed her moving closer. Her hand touched his shoulder and he stood


very still.


     "You'd better go. I've got to get ready for the banquet." Still he did not look at her.



    For a second, she was silent, and he felt very conscious of her delicate touch. Then


her hand fell away. "I ..." She didn't complete the thought.


    As he heard her move toward the door, he turned from the windows to watch her.


She smiled awkwardly before she left, pulling the door closed behind her.


    For a long time afterward, he remained motionless. The image of her body remained


burning in his mind. It frightened him terribly that he found himself wishing she had


chosen to remain.


                                        *   *   *   *   *


    Kith-Kanan's reentry into the royal court of Silvanost felt to him like a sudden


immersion into icy water. Nothing in his recent experience bore any resemblance to the


gleaming marble-floored hall, and the elegant nobles and ladies dressed in their silken


robes, which were trimmed in fur and silver thread and embellished with diamonds,


emeralds, and rubies.


    The discussions with his family, even the banquet of the previous night, had not


prepared him for the full formality of the Hall of Audience. Now he found himself


speaking to a faceless congregation of stiff coats and noble gowns, describing the course


of the war to date. Finally his report was done, and the elves dissolved smoothly into


private discussions.


    "Who's that?" Kith-Kanan asked Sithas, indicating a tall elf who had just arrived and


now made his way to the throne.


    "I'll introduce you." Sithas rose and gestured the elf forward. "This is Lord Quimant


of Oakleaf, of whom I have spoken. This is my brother, Kith-Kanan, general of the elven




    "I am indeed honored, My lord," said Quimant, with a deep bow.



    "Thank you," Kith replied, studying his face. "My brother tells me that your aid has


been invaluable in supporting the war effort."


    "The Speaker is generous," the lord said to Kith-Kanan modestly. "My contribution


pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by you and all of your warriors. If we can but


provide you with reliable blades, that is my only wish."


    For a moment, Kith was struck by the jarring impression that Lord Quimant, in fact,


wished for a great deal more out of the war. That moment passed, and Kith noticed that


his brother seemed to place tremendous confidence and warmth in Hermathya's cousin.


    "What word from our esteemed ambassador?" asked Sithas.


    "Than-Kar will attend our court, but not until after the noon hour," reported the lord.


"He seems to feel that he has no pressing business here."


    "That's the problem!" snapped the Speaker harshly.


    Quimant changed the topic. To Sithas and Kith-Kanan, he described some additional


expansions of the Clan Oakleaf mines, though the general paid little attention. Restlessly


his eyes roamed the crowd, seeking Hermathya. He felt a vague relief that she was not


present. He had felt likewise when she didn't attend the previous night's banquet, pleading


a mild illness.


    The evening passed with excruciating slowness. Kith-Kanan stood tersely as he was


plied with invitations to banquets and hunting trips. Some of the ladies gave him other


types of invitations, judging from the suggestive tilts of their smiles or the coy lowerings


of demure eyelashes. He felt like a prize stag whose antlers were coveted for everybody's




    Kith found himself, much to his astonishment, actually looking back with fondness


on the grim, battle-weary conversations he had most nights with his fellow warriors.


They might have squatted around a smoky fire for illumination, caked with mud and



smelling of weeks of accumulated grime, yet somehow that all seemed so much more real


than did this pompous display.


    Finally the fanfare of trumpets announced the arrival of the dwarven ambassador and


his retinue. Kith-Kanan stared in surprise as Than-Kar led a column of more than thirty


armed and armored dwarves into the hall. They marched in a muddy file toward the


throne, finally halting to allow their leader to swagger forward on his own.


    The Theiwar dwarf bore little resemblance to the jovial Dunbarth Ironthumb, of the


Hylar Clan, whom Kith-Kanan had met years before. He found Than-Kar's wide eyes,


with their surrounding whites and tiny, beadlike pupils, disturbing­like the eyes of a


madman, he thought. The dwarf was filthy and unkempt, with a soiled tunic and muddy


boots, almost as if he had made a point of his messy appearance for the benefit of the


elven general.


    "The Speaker has demanded my presence, and I have come," announced the dwarf in


a tone ripe with insolence.


    Kith-Kanan felt an urge to leap from the Speaker's platform and throttle the obscene


creature. With an effort, he held his temper in check.


    "My brother has returned from the front," began Sithas, dispensing with the formality


of an introduction. "I desire for you to report to him on the status of your nation's




    Than-Kar's weird eyes appraised Kith-Kanan, while a smirk played on the dwarf's


lips. "No change." He said bluntly. "My king needs to see some concrete evidence of


elven trustworthiness before he will commit dwarven lives to this . . . cause."


    Kith felt his face flush, and he took a step forward. "Surely you understand that all


the elder races are threatened by this human aggression?" he demanded.



    The Theiwar shrugged. "The humans would say that they are threatened by elven




    "They are the ones who have marched into elven lands! Lands, I might add, that


border firmly against the northern flank of your own kingdom!"


    "I don't see it that way," snorted the dwarf. "And besides, you have humans among


your own ranks! It almost seems to me that it is a family feud. If they see fit to join, why


should dwarves get involved?"


    Sithas turned in astonishment to Kith-Kanan, though the speaker remained outwardly




    "We have no humans fighting on the side of our forces. There are some­women and


children, mostly­who have taken shelter in the fortress for the siege. They are merely


innocent victims of the war. They do not change its character!"


    "More to the point, then," spoke the ambassador, his voice an accusing hiss, "explain


the presence of elves in the Army of Ergoth!"


    "Lies!" shouted Sithas, forgetting himself and springing to his feet. The hall erupted


in shouts of anger and denial from courtiers and nobles pressing forward. Than-Kar's


bodyguards bristled and raised their weapons.


    "Entire ranks of elves," continued the dwarf as the crowd murmured. "They resist


your imperial hegemony."


    "They are traitors to the homeland!" snapped Sithas.


    "A question of semantics," argued Than-Kar. "I merely mean to illustrate that the


confused state of the conflict makes a dwarven intervention seem rash to the point of





    Kith-Kanan could hold himself in check no longer. He stepped down from the


platform and stared at the dwarf, who was a foot or more shorter than himself. "You


distort the truth in a way that can only discredit your nation!"


    He continued, his voice a growl. "Any elves among the ranks of Ergoth are lone


rogues, lured by human coin or promises of power. Even the likes of you cannot blur the


clear lines of this conflict. You spout your lies and your distortions from the safety of this


far city; hiding like a coward behind the robes of diplomacy. You make me sick!"


    Than-Kar appeared unruffled as he stepped aside to address Sithas. "This example of


your general's impetuous behavior will be duly reported to my king. It cannot further


your cause."


    "You set a new standard for diplomatic excess, and you try my patience to its limits.


Leave, now!" Sithas hissed the words with thick anger, and the hall fell deathly silent.


    If the dwarf was affected by the speaker's rage, however, he concealed his emotions


well. With calculated insolence, he marched his column about and then led them from the


Hall of Audience.


    "Throw open the windows!" barked the Speaker of the Stars. "Clear the stench from


the air!"


    Kith-Kanan slumped to sit on the steps of the royal dais, ignoring the surprised looks


from some of the stiff-backed elven nobles. "I could have strangled him with pleasure,"


he snarled as his brother came to sit beside him.


    "The audience is over," Sithas announced to the rest of the elves, and Kith-Kanan


sighed with concern as the last of the anonymous nobles left. The only ones remaining in


the great hall were Quimant, the twins, and Nirakina.


    "I know I shouldn't have let him get under my skin like that. I'm sorry," the general


said to the Speaker.



    "Nonsense. You said things I've wanted to voice for months. It's better to have a


warrior say them than a head of state." Sithas paused awkwardly. "What he did say­how


much truth was there to it?"


    "Very little," sighed Kith-Kanan. "We are sheltering humans in the fortress, most of


them the wives and families of Wildrunners. They would be slain on sight if they fell into


the hands of the enemy."


    "And are elves fighting for Ergoth?" Sithas couldn't keep the dismay from his voice.


    "A few rogues, as I said," Kith admitted. "At least, we've had reports of them. I saw


one myself in the human camp. But these turncoats are not numerous enough that we


have taken notice of them on the field."


    He groaned and leaned backward, remembering the offensive and arrogant Theiwar


dwarf. "That lout! I suppose it's a good thing I didn't have my sword at my side."


    "You're tired," said Sithas. "Why don't you relax for a while. This round of banquets


and courts and all-night meetings, I'm sure, takes an adjustment. We can talk tomorrow."


    "Your brother is right. You do need rest," Nirakina added in a maternal tone. "I'll


have dinner sent to your apartments."


                                            *   *   *   *   *


    The dinner arrived, as Nirakina had promised. Kith-Kanan guessed that his mother


had sent orders to the kitchen, and someone in the kitchen had communicated the


situation to another interested party. For it was Hermathya who knocked on his door and




    "Hello, Hermathya," he said, sitting up in the bed. He wasn't particularly surprised to


see her, and if he was honest with himself, neither was he very much dismayed.



    "I took this from the serving girl," she said, bringing forward a large silver tray with


domed, steaming dishes and crystal platters. Once again he was struck by her air of youth


and innocence.


    Memories of the two of them together.... Kith-Kanan felt a sudden resurgence of


desire, a feeling that he thought had been gone for years. He wanted to take her in his


arms. Looking into her eyes, he knew that she desired the same thing.


    "I'll get up. We can dine near the windows." He didn't want to suggest they go to the


balcony. He felt there was something furtive and private about her visit.


    "Just stay there," she said softly. "I'll serve you in bed."


    He wondered what she meant, at first. Soon he learned, as the dinner grew cold upon


a nearby table.





                                   The Morning After





    Hermathya slipped away sometime during the middle of the night, and Kith-Kanan


felt profoundly grateful in the morning that she was gone. Now, in the cold light of day,


the passion that had seized them seemed like nothing so much as a malicious and hurtful


interlude. The flame that had once drawn them together ought not to be rekindled.


    Kith-Kanan spent most of the day with his brother, touring the stables and farriers of


the city. He forced himself to maintain focus on the task at hand: gathering additional


horses to mount his cavalry forces for the time when the Wildrunnners took to the


offensive. They both knew that they would, they must, eventually attack the human army.


They couldn't simply wait out the siege.


    During these hours together, Kith found that he couldn't meet his brother's eyes.


Sithas remained cheerful and enthusiastic, friendly in a way that twisted Kith-Kanan's


gut. By midafternoon, he made an excuse to leave his twin's company, pleading the need


to give Arcuballis some exercise. In reality, he needed an escape, a chance to suffer his


guilt in solitude.


    The following days in Silvanost passed slowly, making even the bleak confinement


in beseiged Sithelbec seem eventful by comparison. He avoided Hermathya, and he found


to his relief that she seemed to be avoiding him as well. The few times he saw her she


was with Sithas, playing the doting wife holding tightly to her husband's arm and hanging


upon his every word.


    In truth, the time dragged for Sithas as well. He knew that Vedvedsica was laboring


to create a spell that might allow them to magically ensnare the griffons, but he was



impatient to begin the quest. He ascribed Kith-Kanan's unease to similar impatience.


When they were together, they spoke only of the war and waited for a message from the


mysterious cleric.


    That word did not come for eight days, and then, oddly, it arrived in the middle of


the night. The twins were wide awake, engaged in deep discussion in Sithas's chambers,


when they heard a rustling on the balcony beyond the open window. Sithas drew the


draperies aside, and the sorcerous cleric stepped into the room.


    Kith-Kanan's eyes immediately fell upon Vedvedsica's hand, for he carried a long


ivory tube, the ends capped by cork. Several arcane sigils, in black, marked its alabaster




    The cleric raised the object, and the twins instinctively understood, even before


Vedvedsica uncorked the end and withdrew a rolled sheet of oiled vellum. Unrolling the


scroll, he showed them a series of symbols scribed in the Old Script.


    "The spell of command," the priest explained softly. "With this magic, I believe the


griffons can be tamed."


    The twins planned to depart after one more day of final preparations. With the scroll


at last a reality, a new urgency marked their activity. They met with Nirakina and Lord


Quimant shortly after breakfast, a few hours after Vedvedsica had departed.


    The four of them gathered in the royal library, where a fire crackled in the hearth to


disperse the autumnal chill. Sithas brought the scroll, though he placed his cloak over it


as he set it on the floor. They all sat in the great leatherbacked chairs that faced the fire.


    "We have word of a discovery that may change the course of the war­for the better,"


announced Kith.


    "Splendid!" Quimant was enthusiastic. Nirakina merely looked at her sons, her


concern showing in the furrowing of her brow.



    "You know of Arcuballis, of course," continued the warrior. "He was given to


Sithel­to father­by a 'merchant' from the north." According to the strategy he and Sithas


had developed, they would say nothing about the involvement of the gray cleric. "We


have since learned that the Khalkist Mountains are home to a great herd of the


creatures­hundreds of them, at least."


    "Do you have proof of this, or is it merely rumor?" asked Nirakina. Her face had


grown pale.


    "They have been seen," explained Kith-Kanan, glossing over the question. He told


Quimant and Nirakina of his dream on the night before he departed Sithelbec. "Right


down to the three volcanoes, it bears out everything we've been able to learn."


    "Think of the potential!" Sithas added. "A whole wing of flying cavalry! Why, the


passage of Arcuballis alone sent hundreds of horses into a stampede. A sky full of


griffons could very well rout the whole Army of Ergoth!"


    "It seems a great leap," Nirakina said slowly and quietly, "from the knowledge of


griffons in a remote mountain range to a trained legion of flyers, obeying the commands


of their riders." She was still pale, but her voice was strong and steady.


    "We believe we can find them," Sithas replied levelly. "We leave at tomorrow's


sunrise to embark upon this quest."


    "How many warriors will you take?" asked Nirakina, knowing as they all did the


legends of the distant Khalkists. Tales of ogres, dark and evil dwarves, even tribes of


brutish hill giants­these comprised the folklore whispered by the average elf regarding


the mountain range that was the central feature of the continent of Ansalon.


    "Only the two of us will go." Sithas faced his mother, who appeared terribly frail in


her overly-large chair.



    "We'll ride Arcuballis," Kith-Kanan explained quickly. "And he'll cover the distance


in a fraction of the time it would take an army­even if we had one to send."


    Nirakina looked at Kith-Kanan, her eyes pleading. Her warrior son understood the


appeal. She wanted him to volunteer to go alone, leaving the Speaker of the Stars behind.


Yet even as this thought flashed in her eyes, she lowered her head.


    When she looked up, her voice was firm again. "How will you capture these


creatures, assuming that you find them?"


    Sithas removed his cloak and picked up the tube from the floor beside his chair. "We


have acquired a spell of command from a friend of the House of Silvanos. If we can find


the griffons, the spell will bind them to our will."


    "It is a more powerful version of the same enchantment that was used to domesticate


Arcuballis," added Kith. "It is written in the Old Script. That is one reason why Sithas


must go with me­to help me cast the spell by reading the Old Script."


    His mother looked at him, nodding calmly, more out of shock than from any true


sense of understanding.


    Nirakina had stood beside her husband through three centuries of rule. She had borne


these two proud sons. She had suffered the news of her husband's murder at the hands of


a human and lived through the resulting war that now engulfed her nation, her family,


and her people. Now she faced the prospect of her two sons embarking on what seemed


to her a mad quest, in search of a miracle, with little more than a prayer of success.


    Yet, above all, she was the matriarch of the House of Silver Moon. She, too, was a


leader of the Silvanesti, and she understood some things about strength, about ruling, and


about risk-taking. She had made known her objections, and she realized that the minds of


her sons were set. Now she would give no further vent to her personal feelings.



     She rose from her chair and nodded stiffly at each of her sons. Kith-Kanan went to


her side, while Sithas remained in his chair, moved by her loyalty. The warrior escorted


her to the door.


     Quimant looked at Sithas, then turned to Kith-Kanan as he returned to his chair.


"May your quest be speedy and successful. I only wish I could accompany you."


     Sithas spoke. "I shall entrust you to act as regent in my absence. You know the


details of the nation's daily affairs. I shall also need you to begin the conscription of new


troops. By the end of winter, we will have to raise and train a new force to send to the




     "I will do everything in my power," pledged Quimant.


     "Another thing," added Sithas casually. "If Tamanier Ambrodel returns to the city, he


is to be given quarters in the palace. I will need to see him immediately upon my return."


     Quimant nodded, rose, and bowed to the twins. "May the gods watch over you," he


said, then left.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


     "I have to go. Don't you understand that?" Sithas challenged Hermathya. She


stomped about their royal bedchambers before whirling upon him.


     "You can't! I forbid it!" Hermathya's voice rose, becoming shrill. Her face, moments


before blank with astonishment, now contorted in fury.


     "Damn it! Listen to me!" Sithas scowled, his own anger rising. Stubborn and


intractable, they stared into each other's eyes for a moment.


     "I've told you about the spell of binding. It's in the Old Script. Kith doesn't have the


knowledge to use it, even if he found the griffons. I'm the only one who can read it


properly." He held her shoulders and continued to meet her eyes.



    "I have to do this, not just for the good it will do our nation, but for me! That's what


you have to understand!"


    "I don't have to, and I won't!" she cried, whirling away from him.


    "Kith-Kanan has always been the one to face the dangers and the challenges of the


unknown. Now there's something that I must do. I, too, must put my life at risk. For once,


I'm not just sending my brother into danger. I'm going myself!"


    "But you don't have to!"


    Hermathya almost spat her anger, but Sithas wouldn't budge. If she could see any


sense in his desire to test himself, she wouldn't admit it. Finally, in exhaustion and


frustration, the Speaker of the Stars stormed out of the chambers.


    He found Kith-Kanan in the stables, instructing the saddlemaker on modifications to


Arcuballis's harness. The griffon would be able to carry the two of them, but his flight


would be slowed, and they would be able to take precious little in the way of provisions


and equipment.


    "Dried meat­enough for only a few weeks," recited Kith-Kanan, examining the


bulging saddlebags. "A pair of waterskins, several extra cloaks. Tinder and flint, a couple


of daggers. Extra bowstrings. We'll carry our bows where we can get at them in a hurry,


of course. And twoscore arrows. Do you have a practical sword?"


    For a moment, Sithas flushed. He knew that the ceremonial blade he had carried for


years would be inadequate for the task at hand. Cast in a soft silver alloy, its shining


blade was inscribed with all manner of symbols in the Old Script, reciting the glorious


history of the House of Silvanos. It was beautiful and valuable, but impractical in a fight.


Still, it rankled him to hear his brother speak ill of it. "Lord Quimant has procured a


splendid longsword for me," he said stiffly. "It will do quite nicely."



    "Good." Kith took no notice of his brother's annoyance. "We'll have to leave our


metal armor behind. With this load, Arcuballis can't handle the extra weight. Have you a


good set of leathers?"


    Again Sithas replied in the affirmative.


    "Well, we'll be ready to go at first light, then. Ah­"


    Kith hesistated, then asked, "How did Hermathya react?" Kith knew that Sithas had


put off telling Hermathya that he would be gone for weeks on this journey.


    "Poorly," Sithas, said, with a grimace. He offered no elaboration, and Kith-Kanan


did not probe further.


    They attended a small banquet that night, joined by Quimant and Nirakina and


several other nobles. Hermathya was conspicuously absent, a fact for which Kith was


profoundly grateful, and the mood was subdued.


    He had found himself anxious throughout these last days that Hermathya would tell


her husband about her dalliance with his brother. Kith-Kanan had tried to put aside the


memory of that night, treating the incident as some sort of waking dream. This made his


guilt somewhat easier to bear.


    After dinner, Nirakina handed Sithas a small vial. The stoneware jar was tightly


plugged by a cork.


    "It is a salve, made by the clerics of Quenesti Pah," she explained. "Miritelisina gave


it to me. If you are injured, spread a small amount around the area of the wound. It will


help the healing."


    "I hope we won't need it, but thank you," said Sithas. For a moment, he wondered if


his mother was about to cry, but again her proud heritage sustained her. She embraced


each of her sons warmly, kissed them, and wished them the luck of the gods. Then she


retired to her chambers.



    Both of the twins spent much of the night awake, taut with the prospect of the


upcoming adventure. Sithas tried to see his wife in the evening and again before sunrise,


but she wouldn't open her door even to speak to him. He settled for a few moments with


Vanesti, holding his son in his arms and rocking him gently while night gave way to early







                                 Day of Departure, Autumn





    They met at the stables before dawn. As they had requested, no one came to see them


off. Kith threw the heavy saddle over the restless griffon's back, making sure that the


straps that passed around Arcuballis's wings were taut. Sithas stood by, watching as his


brother hoisted the heavy saddlebags over the creature's loins. The elf took several


minutes to make sure that everything was secure.


    They mounted the powerful beast, with Kith-Kanan in the fore, and settled into the


specially modified saddle. Arcuballis trotted from the stable doors into the wide corral.


Here he sprang upward, the thick muscles of his legs propelling them from the ground.


His powerful wings beat the still air and thrust downward. In a single fluid motion, he


leaped again and they were airborne.


    The griffon labored over the garden and then along the city's main avenue, slowly


gaining altitude. The twins saw the towers of the city pass alongside, then slowly fall be-


hind. Rosy hues of dawn quickly brightened to pink, then pale blue, as the sun seemed to


explode over the eastern horizon into a crisp and cloudless day.


    "By the gods, this is fantastic!" cried Sithas, overcome with the beauty of their flight,


with the sight of Silvanost, and perhaps with the exhilaration of at last escaping the


confining rituals of his daily life.


    Kith-Kanan smiled to himself, pleased with his brother's enthusiasm. They flew


above the Thon-Thalas River, following the silvery ribbon of its path. Though autumn


had come to the elven lands, the day was brilliant with sunshine, the air was clear, and a


brilliant collage of colors spread across the forested lands below.



    The steady pulse of the griffon's wings carried them for many hours. The city quickly


fell away, though the Tower of the Stars remained visible for some time. By midmorning,


however, they soared over pristine forestland. No building broke the leafy canopy to


indicate that anyone­elf, human, or whatever­lived here.


    "Are these lands truly uninhabited?" inquired Sithas, studying the verdant terrain.


    "The Kagonesti dwell throughout these forests," explained Kith. The wild elves,


considered uncouth and barbaric by the civilized Silvanesti, did not build structures to


dominate the land or monuments to their own greatness. Instead, they took the land as


they found it and left it that way when they passed on.


    Arcuballis swept northward, as if the great griffon felt the same joy at leaving


civilization behind. Despite the heavy packs and his extra passenger, he showed no signs


of tiring during a flight that lasted nearly twelve hours and carried them several hundred


miles. When they ultimately landed to make camp, they touched earth beside a clear pool


in a sheltered forest grotto. The two elves and their mighty beast spent a peaceful night,


sleeping almost from the moment of sunset straight through until dawn.


    Their flight took them six days. After the first day, they took a two-hour interval at


midday so that Arcuballis could rest. They passed beyond the forests on the third day,


then into the barren plains of Northern Silvanesti, a virtual desert, uninhabited and


undesired by the elves.


    Finally they flew beside the jagged teeth of the Khalkist Range, the mountainous


backbone of Ansalon. For two full days, these craggy peaks rose to their left, but


Kith-Kanan kept them over the dry plains, explaining that the winds here were more


easily negotiable than they would be among the jutting summits.


    Eventually they reached the point where they had to turn toward the high valleys and


snow-filled swales if they expected to find any trace of their quarry. Arcuballis strained



to gain altitude, carrying them safely over the sheer crests of the foothills and flying


above the floor of a deep valley, following the contours of its winding course as steep


ridgelines rose to the right and left, high above them.


    They camped that night, the seventh night of their journey, near a partially frozen


lake in the base of a steep-sided, circular valley. Three waterfalls, now frozen into


massive icicles, plunged toward them from the surrounding heights. They chose the spot


for its small grove of hardy cedars, reasoning correctly that firewood would be a useful,


and rare, commodity among these lofty realms.


    Sithas helped his brother build the fire. He discovered that he relished the feel of the


small axeblade cutting the wood into kindling. The campfire soon crackled merrily, and


the warmth on his hands was especially gratifying because his work had provided the


welcome heat.


    Thus far, their journey seemed to the Speaker of the Stars to be the grandest


adventure he had ever embarked upon.


    "Where do you think the Lords of Doom lie from here?" he asked his brother as they


settled back to gnaw on some dried venison. The three volcanoes were rumored to lie at


the heart of the range.


    "I don't know exactly," Kith admitted. "Somewhere to the north and west of here, I


should say. The city of Sanction lies on the far side of the range, and if we reach it, we'll


know we've gone too far."


    "I never knew that the mountains could be so beautiful, so majestic," Sithas added,


gazing at the awesome heights around them. The sun had long since left their deep valley,


yet its fading rays still illumined some of the highest summits in brilliant reflections of


white snow and blue ice.


    "Forbidding, too."



    They looked toward Arcuballis as the griffon curled up near the fire. His massive


bulk loomed like a wall.


    "Now we'll have to start searching," Kith commented. "And that might take us a long




    "How big can this range be?" asked Sithas skeptically. "After all, we can fly."


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Fly they did, for day after grueling, bone-chilling day. The pleasant autumn of the


lowlands swiftly became brutal winter in these heights. They pressed to the highest eleva-


tions, and Sithas felt a fierce exultation as they passed among the lofty ridges, a sense of


accomplishment that dwarfed anything he had done in the city. When the snow blew into


their faces, he relished the heavy cloak pulled tight against his face; when they spent a


night in the barren heights, he enjoyed the search for a good campsite.


    Kith-Kanan remained quiet, almost brooding, for hours during their aerial search.


The guilt of his night with Hermathya gnawed at him, and he cursed his foolish


weakness. He longed to confess to Sithas, to ask for his forgiveness, but in his heart, he


sensed that this would be a mistake, that his brother would never forgive him. Instead, he


bore his pain privately.


    Some days the sun shone brightly, and then the white bowls of the valleys became


great reflectors. They both learned, the first such day, to leave no skin exposed under


these conditions. Their cheeks and foreheads were brutally seared, yet ironically the cold


air prevented them from feeling the sunburn until it had reached a painful state.


    On other days, gray clouds pressed like a leaden blanket overhead, cloaking the


highest summits and casting the vistas in a bleak and forbidding light. Then the snow


would fly, and Arcuballis had to seek firm ground until the storm passed. A driving


blizzard could toss the griffon about like a leaf in the wind.



    Always they pushed through the highest summits of the range, searching each valley


for sign of the winged creatures. They swung southward until they reached the borders of


the ogrelands of Bloten. The valleys were lower here, but they saw signs of the brutish


inhabitants everywhere­forestlands blackened by swath burning, great piles of tailings.


Knowing that the griffons would seek a more remote habitat, they turned back to the


north, following a snakelike glacier higher and higher into the heart of the range.


    Here the weather hit them with the hardest blow yet. A mass of dark clouds appeared


with explosive suddenness to the west. The expanse covered the sky and swiftly spread


toward them. Arcuballis dove, but the snow swirled so thickly they couldn't see the valley




    'There­a ledge!" shouted Sithas, pointing over his brother's shoulder.


    "I see it." Kith-Kanan directed Arcuballis onto a narrow shelf of rock protected by a


blunt overhang. Sheer cliffs dropped away below them and climbed over their heads.


Winds buffeted them even as the griffon landed, and further flight seemed suicidal. A


narrow trail seemed to lead along the cliff face, winding gradually downward from their


perch, but they elected to wait out the storm.


    "Look­it's flat and wide here," announced Sithas, clearing away some loose rubble.


"Plenty of space to rest, even for Arcuballis."


    Kith nodded.


    They unsaddled the creature and settled in to wait as the winds rose to a howling


crescendo and the snow flew past them.


    "How long will this last?" asked Sithas.


    Kith-Kanan shrugged, and Sithas suddenly felt foolish for the question. They


unpacked their bedrolls and huddled together beside the warm flank of the griffon and the


cold protection of the cliff wall. Their bows, arrows, and swords they placed within easy



reach. Just beyond their feet, the slope of the mountainside plummeted away, a sheer


precipice vanishing into the snow-swept distance.


    They coped, on their remote ledge, for two solid days as the blizzard raged around


them and the temperature dropped. They had no fuel for a fire, so they could only huddle


together, taking turns sleeping so that they didn't both drift into eternal rest, blanketed by


a deep winter cold.


    Sithas was awake at the end of the second day, shaking his head and pinching


himself to try to remain alert. His hands and feet felt like blocks of ice, and he alternated


his position frequently, trying to warm some part of his body against the bulk of




    He noticed the pace of the griffon's breathing change slightly. Suddenly the creature


raised his head, and Sithas stared with him into the snow-obscured murk.


    Was there something there, down the path that they had seen when they landed, the


one that seemed to lead away from this ledge? Sithas blinked, certain his eyes deceived


him, but it had seemed as if something moved!


    In the next instant, he gaped in shock as a huge shape lunged out of the blowing


snow. It towered twice as high as an elf, though its shape was vaguely human. It had arms


and hands­indeed, one of those clutched a club the size of a small tree trunk. This


weapon loomed high above Sithas as the creature charged forward.


    "Kith! A giant!" He shouted, kicking his brother to awaken him. At the same time,


purely by instinct, he picked up the sword he had laid by his side.


    Arcuballis reacted faster than the elf, springing toward the giant with a powerful


shriek. Sithas watched in horror as the monster's club crashed into the griffon's skull.


Soundlessly Arcuballis went limp, disappearing over the side of the ledge like so much


discarded garbage.



     "No!" Kith-Kanan was awake now and saw the fate of his beloved steed. At the same


time, the twins saw additional shapes, two or three more, materializing from the blizzard


behind the first giant. Snarling with hatred, the elven warrior grabbed his blade.


     The monster's face, this close, was more grotesque than Sithas had first thought. Its


eyes were small, bloodshot, and very close-set while its nose bulged like an outcrop of


rock. Its mouth was garishly wide. The giant's maw gaped open as the beast fought,


revealing blood-red gums and stubs of ivory that looked more like tusks than teeth.


     A deep and pervasive terror seized Sithas, freezing him in place. He could only stare


in horror at the approaching menace. Some distant part of his mind told him that he


should react, should fight, but his muscles refused to budge. His fear paralyzed him.


     Kith-Kanan rose into a fighting crouch, menacing the giant with his sword. Tears


streaked Kith's face, but grief only heightened his rage and his deadly competence. His


hand remained steady. Seeing him, Sithas shook his head, finally freeing himself from his




     Sithas leaped to his feet and lunged at the monster, but his foot slipped on the icy


rocks, and he fell to the rocks at the very lip of the precipice, slamming the wind from his


lungs. The giant loomed over him.


     But then he saw his brother, darting forward with incredible agility, raising his blade


and thrusting at the giant's belly. The keen steel struck home, and the creature howled,


lurching backward. One of its huge boots slipped from the ice-encrusted ledge, and with a


scream, the monster vanished into the gray storm below.


     Now they saw that the three other giants approached them, one at a time along the


narrow ledge. Each of the massive creatures carried a huge club. The first of these


lumbered forward, and Kith-Kanan darted at him. Sithas, recovering his breath, climbed


to his feet.



    The giant stepped back, then swung a heavy blow at the dodging, weaving elf. Kith


danced away, and then struck so quickly that Sithas didn't see the movement. The tip of


the sword cut a shallow opening in the giant's knee before the elf skipped backward.


    But that cut was telling. Sithas watched in astonishment as the giant's leg collapsed


beneath it. Thrashing in futility with its hamlike hands, the giant slid slowly over the


edge, vanishing with a shriek that was quickly lost in the howling of the storm.


    While the other two giants gaped in astonishment, Kith-Kanan remained a dervish of


motion. He charged the massive creatures, sending them slipping and sliding backward


along the ledge to avoid his keen blade, a blade that now glistened with blood.


    "Kith, watch out!" Sithas found his voice and urged his brother on. Kith-Kanan


appeared to stumble, and one of the giants crashed his heavy club downward. But again


the elf moved too quickly, and the club splintered against bare stone. Kith rolled toward


this one, rising into a crouch between its stumplike legs. He stabbed upward with all the


strenth in his powerful arms and shoulders, and then dove out of the way as the mortally


wounded giant bellowed its pain.


    Sithas raced toward his brother, recognizing Kith's danger. He saw his twin slip as he


tried to hug the cliff wall between the dying giant and its sole remaining comrade.


    The latter swung his club with strength born of desperate terror. The loglike beam,


nearly a foot thick at its head, crashed into Kith-Kanan's chest and crushed his body


against the rough stone wall behind him. Sithas saw his brother's head snap back and


blood explode from his skull. Slowly the elf sank to the ledge.


    The wounded giant collapsed, and Sithas sent it toppling from the brink. The last of


the brutes looked at the charging elf, the twin of the warrior he had just felled, and turned


away. He bounded along the narrow ledge, descending across the face of the mountain,



away from the niche that had sheltered the twins. In seconds, he disappeared into the




    Sithas paid no further attention to the monster. He knelt at Kith's side, appalled at the


blood that gushed from his brother's mouth and nose, staining and matting his long blond




    "Kith, don't die! Please!" He didn't realize that he was sobbing.


    Gingerly he lifted his brother, surprised at Kith's frailty­or perhaps at his own


desperate strength. He carried him to their niche. Every cloak, every blanket and tunic


that they carried, he used to cushion and wrap Kith-Kanan. His brother's eyes were


closed. A very faint motion, a rising and falling of his chest, gave the only sign that Kith




    Now night fell with abruptness, and the wind seemed to pick up. The snow stung


Sithas's face as sharply as did his own tears. He took Kith's cold hand in his and sat


beside his brother, not expecting either of them to be alive to greet the dawn.










    Somehow Sithas must have dozed off, for he suddenly noticed that the wind, the


snow­indeed, the entire storm­had vanished. The air, now still, had become icy cold,


with an absolute clarity that only comes in the highest mountains during the deepest


winter frosts.


    The sun hadn't risen yet, but the Speaker could see that all around him towered


summits of unimaginable heights, plumed with great collars of snow. Gray and


impassive, like stone-face giants with thick beards of frost, they regarded him from their


aloof vantages.


    The brothers' ledge perched along one of the two steep sides of the valley. To the


south, on Sithas's left as he looked outward, the valley stretched and twisted toward the


low, forested country from which they had come. To the right, it appeared to end in a


cirque of steep-walled peaks. At one place, he saw a saddle that, while still high above


him, seemed to offer a lone, treacherous path into the next section of the mountain range.


    Kith-Kanan lay motionless beside him. His skin had the paleness of death, and Sithas


had to struggle against a resurgence of despair. He couldn't allow himself to abandon


hope; he was their only chance for survival. The quest for the griffons, the excitement


and adventure of the journey he had known before, were all forgotten now, overwhelmed


by the simple and basic wish to continue living.


    The valley below him, he saw, was not as deep as they had guessed when the storm


struck. Their shelf was a bare hundred feet above level ground. He leaned out to look


over the edge, but all he saw was a vast drift of snow piled against the cliff. If the bodies



of the giants or of gallant, fallen Arcuballis remained down there somewhere, he had no


way to know it. No trees grew in this high valley, nor did he see any signs of animal life.


In fact, the only objects that met his eyes, in any direction, were the bedrock of the


mountain range and the snowy blanket that covered it.


    With a groan, he slumped back against the cliff. They were doomed! He could see no


possibility of any fate other than death in this remote valley. His throat ached, and tears


welled in his eyes. What good was his court training in a situation like this?


    "Kith!" he moaned. "Wake up! Please!"


    When his brother made no response, Sithas collapsed facedown on his cloak. A part


of him wished that he was as unconscious of their fate as Kith-Kanan.


    For the whole long day, he lay as if in a trance. He pulled their cloaks about them as


night fell, certain that they would freeze to death. Kith-Kanan hadn't moved­indeed, he


barely breathed. Broken by his own anguish, the speaker finally tumbled into restless




    It was not until the next morning that he regained some sense of purpose. What did


they need? Warmth, but there was no firewood in sight. Water, but their skins of the


liquid had frozen solid, and without fire, they couldn't melt snow. Food, of which they


had several strips of dried venison and some bread. But how could he feed Kith-Kanan


while his brother remained unconscious?


    Again the feeling of hopelessness seized him. If only Arcuballis were here! If only


Kith could walk! If only the giants ... He snarled at himself in anger, realizing the idiocy


of his ramblings.


    Instead, he pushed himself to his feet, suddenly aware of a terrible stiffness in his


own body. He studied the route along the narrow ledge that twisted its way from their



niche to the valley floor. It looked negotiable­barely. But what could he do if he was


lucky enough to reach the ground?


    He noted, for the first time, a dark patch on the snow at the edge of the flat expanse.


The sun had crested the eastern peaks by now, and Sithas squinted into the brightness.


    What caused the change of coloration in the otherwise immaculate surface of snow?


Then it dawned on him­water! Somewhere beneath that snow, water still flowed! It


soaked into the powder above, turning it to slush and causing it to settle.


    With a clear goal now, Sithas began to act. He took his own nearly empty waterskin,


since Kith's contained a block of ice that would be impossible to remove. As he turned


away from the sun, however, he had another idea. He set Kith's waterskin in the sunlight,


on a flat stone. He found several other dark boulders and placed them beside the skin,


taking care that they didn't block the sunlight.


    Then he started down the treacherous ledge. In many places, the narrow path was


piled with snow, and he used his sword to sweep these drifts away, carefully probing so


that he did not step off the cliff.


    Finally he reached a spot where he was able to drop into the soft snow below. He


pushed his way through the deep fluff, leaving a trench behind him as he worked his way


toward the dark patch of slush. The going was difficult, and he had to rest many times,


but finally he reached his goal.


    Pausing again, he heard a faint trill of sound from beneath the snow, the gurgling of


water as it babbled along a buried stream. He poked and pressed with his sword, and the


surface of snow dropped away, revealing a flowage about six inches deep.


    But that was enough. Sithas suspended his skin from the tip of his sword and let it


soak in the stream. Though it only filled halfway, it was more water than they had tasted


in two days, and he greedily drained the waterskin. Then he refilled it, as much as



possible with his awkward rig, and turned back to the cliff. It took him more than an hour


to carry it back up to Kith-Kanan, but the hour of toil seemed to warm and vitalize him.


    His brother showed no change. Sithas dribbled some water into Kith's mouth, just


enough to wet his tongue and throat. He also washed away the blood that had caked on


the elf's frostbitten face. There was even some water left over, since Kith's frozen


waterskin had begun to melt from the heat of the sun.


    "What now, Kith?" Sithas asked softly.


    He heard a sound from somewhere and looked anxiously around. Again came the


noise, which sounded like rocks falling down a rough slope.


    Then he saw a distinct movement across the valley. White shapes leaped and sprang


along the sheer face, and for a moment, he thought they flew, so effectively did they defy


gravity. More rocks broke free, crashing and sliding downward. He saw that these nimble


creatures moved upon hooves.


    He had heard about the great mountain sheep that dwelled in the high places, but


never had he observed them before. One, obviously the ram, paused and looked around,


raising his proud head high. Sithas glimpsed his immense horns, swirling from the


creature's forehead.


    For a moment, he wondered at the presence of these great beasts as he watched them


press downward. They reached the foot of the cliff, and then the ram bounded through the


powder, plowing a trail for the others.


    "The water!" Sithas spoke aloud to himself. The sheep needed the water, too!


    Indeed, the ram was nearing the shallow stream. Alert, he looked carefully around


the valley, and Sithas, though he was out of sight, remained very still. Finally the proud


creature lowered his head to drink. He stopped frequently to look around, but he drank


for a long time before he finally stepped away from the small hole in the snow.



    Then, one by one, the females came to the water. The ram stood protectively beside


them, his proud head and keen eyes shifting back and forth.


    The group of mountain sheep spent perhaps an hour beside the water hole, each of


the creatures slaking its thirst. Finally, with the ram still in the lead, they turned back


along the tracks and reclimbed the mountain wall.


    Sithas watched them until they disappeared from view. The magnificent creatures


moved with grace and skill up the steep face of rock. They looked right at home here­so


very different from himself!


    A soft groan beside him pulled his attention instantly back to Kith-Kanan.


    "Kith! Say something!" He leaned over his twin's face, rejoicing to see a flicker of


vitality. Kith-Kanan's eyes remained shut, but his mouth twisted into a grimace and he


was gasping for breath.


    "Here, take a drink. Don't try to move."


    He poured a few drops of water onto Kith's lips, and the wounded elf licked them


away. Slowly, with obvious pain, Kith-Kanan opened his eyes, squinting at the bright


daylight before him.


    "What ... happened?" he asked weakly. Abruptly his eyes widened and his body


tensed. "The giants! Where ... ?"


    "It's all right," Sithas told him, giving him more water. "They're dead­or gone, I'm


not sure which."


    "Arcuballis?" Kith's eyes widened and he struggled to sit up, before collapsing with a


dull groan.


    "He's . . . gone, Kith. He attacked the first giant, got clubbed over the head, and fell."


    "He must be down below!"



     Sithas shook his head. "I looked. There's no sign of his body­or of any of the giants,




     Kith moaned, a sound of deep despair. Sithas had no words of comfort.


     "The giants ... what kind of beasts do you think they were?" asked Sithas.


     "Hill giants, I'm sure," Kith-Kanan said after a moment's pause. "Relatives of ogres, I


guess, but bigger. I wouldn't have expected to see them this far south."


     "Gods! If only I'd been faster!" Sithas said, ashamed.


     "Don't!" snapped the injured elf. "You warned me­gave me time to get my sword


out, to get into the fight." Kith-Kanan thought for a moment. "When­how long ago was


it, anyway? How much time has passed since­"


     "We've been up here for two nights," said Sithas quietly. "The sun has nearly set for


the third time." He hestitated, then blurted his question. "How badly are you hurt?"


     "Bad enough," Kith said bluntly. "My skull feels like it's been crushed, and my right


leg seems as if it is on fire."


     "Your leg?" Sithas had been so worried about the blow to his brother's head that he


had paid little attention to the rest of his body.


     "It's broken, I think," the elf grunted, gritting his teeth against the pain.


     Sithas's mind went blank. A broken leg! It might as well be a sentence of death! How


would they ever get out of here with his twin thus crippled? And winter had only begun!


If they didn't get out of the mountains quickly, they could be trapped here for months.


Another snowfall would make travel by foot all but impossible.


     "You'll have to do something about it," Kith said, though it took several moments


before the remark registered in Sithas's mind.


     "About what?"



    "My leg!" The injured elf looked at his twin sharply, then toughened his voice.


Almost without thinking, he used the tones of command he had become accustomed to


when he led the Wildrunners.


    "Tell me if the skin is broken, if there's any discoloration­any infection."


    "Where? Which leg?" Sithas struggled to focus his thoughts. He had never been so


disoriented before in his life.


    "The right one, below the knee."


    Gingerly, almost trembling, Sithas pulled the blankets and cloaks away from his


brother's feet and legs. What he saw was terrifying.


    The ugly red swelling had almost doubled the size of the limb from the knee to the


ankle, and Kith's leg was bent outward at an awkward angle. For a moment, he cursed


himself, as if the injury was his own fault. Why hadn't he thought to examine his brother


two days earlier, when Kith had first been injured? Had he twisted the wound more when


he moved the fallen elf into the shelter of the rocky niche?


    "The­the skin isn't broken," he explained, trying to keep his voice calm. "But it's red.


By the gods, Kith, it's blood red!"


    Kith-Kanan grimaced at the news. "You'll have to straighten it. If you don't, I'll be


crippled for life."


    The Speaker of the Stars looked at his twin brother, the sense of helplessness


growing inside him. But he saw the pain in Kith-Kanan's eyes, and he knew he had no


choice but to try.


    "It's going to hurt," he warned, and Kith nodded silently, gritting his teeth.


    Cautiously he touched the swollen limb, and then instantly recoiled at Kith's sharp


gasp of pain. "Don't stop," hissed the wounded elf. "Do it­now!"



    Gritting his teeth, Sithas grasped the swollen flesh. His fingers probed the wound,


and he felt the break in the bone. Kith-Kanan cried aloud, gasping and choking in his pain


as Sithas pulled on the limb.


    Kith shrieked again and then, mercifully, collapsed into unconsciousness.


Desperately Sithas tugged, forcing his hands and arms to do these things that he knew


must be causing Kith-Kanan unspeakable pain.


    Finally he felt the bones slip into place.


    "By Quenesti Pah, I'm sorry, Kith," Sithas whispered, looking at his brother's terribly


pale face.


    Quenesti Pah ... goddess of healing. The invocation of that benign goddess brought


his mind around to the small vial his mother had given them before they departed. From


Miritelesina, she had said, high priestess of Quenesti Pah. Frantically Sithas dug through


the saddlebag, finally discovering the little ceramic jar, plugged with a stout cork.


    He popped the cork from the bottle's mouth and immediately recoiled at the pungent


scent. Smearing some of the salve on his fingers, he drew off the cloak and spread the


stuff on Kith's leg, above and below the wound. That done, he covered his brother with


the blankets and leaned back against the stone wall to wait.


    Kith-Kanan remained unconscious throughout the impossibly long afternoon as the


sun sank through the pale blue sky and finally disappeared behind the western ridge. Still,


no sign of movement came from the wounded elf. If anything, he seemed even weaker.


    Gently Sithas fed his brother drops of water. He wrapped him in all of their blankets


and lay down beside him.


    He fell asleep that way, and though he awoke many times throughout the brutally


cold night, he stayed at Kith-Kanan's side until dawn began to brighten their valley.



    Kith-Kanan showed no sign of reviving consciousness. Sithas looked at his brother's


leg and was appalled to see a streak of red running upward, past his knee and into his


thigh. What should he do? He had never seen an injury like this before. Unlike


Kith-Kanan, he hadn't been confronted by the horrors of battle or by the necessity of self-


sufficiency in the wilds.


    Quickly the elf took the rest of the cleric's salve and smeared it onto the wound. He


knew enough about blood poisoning to realize that if the venomous infection could not be


arrested, his brother was doomed. With no way left to treat Kith-Kanan, however, all


Sithas could do was pray.


    Once again the water in their skins was frozen, and so he made the arduous trek


down the narrow pathway from the ledge to the valley floor. The trough in the snow


made by his passage on the previous day remained, for the wind had remained blessedly


light. Thus he made his way to his snow rimmed water hole with less difficulty than the


day before.


    But here he encountered a challenge: The bitter cold of the night had frozen even the


rapidly flowing water beneath the snow. He chopped and chipped with his sword, finally


exposing a small trickle, less than two inches deep. Only by stretching himself full-length


in the snow, and immersing his hand into the frigid water could he collect enough to


carry back to their high campsite.


    As he rose from the water hole, he saw the trail of the sheep across from him and


remembered the magnificent creatures. Suddenly he was seized by an inspiration. He


thought of his bow and arrows, still up on the ledge with Kith-Kanan. How could he


conceal himself in order to get close enough to shoot? Unlike Kith-Kanan, he was not an


expert archer. A close target would be essential.



    He gave up his ponderings in the effort of making his way back to the ledge. Here he


found no change in Kith-Kanan, and all he could do was force his brother once again to


take a few drops of water between his lips.


    Afterward, he strung his bow, checking the smooth surface of the weapon for flaws,


the string for knots or frays. As he did so, he heard a clattering of hooves even as he


stewed in his frustration. Once again led by the proud ram, the mountain sheep descended


from their slope across the valley and made their way to the faint trickle of water. They


took turns drinking and watching, with the ram remaining alert.


    Once, when the creature's eyes passed across the cliff where Sithas and Kith lay


motionless, the animal stiffened. Sithas wondered if he had been discovered and wrestled


with a compulsion to quickly nock an arrow and let it fly in the desperate hope of hitting




    But he forced himself to remain still, and finally the ram relaxed its guard. Sithas


sighed and clenched his teeth in frustration as he watched the creatures turn and plow


through the snow back toward their mountain fastness. The powdery drifts came to the


shoulders of the large ram, and the sheep floundered and struggled until they reached the


secure footing of the rocky slope.


    The rest of the day passed in frigid monotony. That night was the coldest yet, and


Sithas's own shivering kept him awake. He would have been grateful for even such an


uncomfortable sign of life from his brother, but Kith-Kanan remained still and lifeless.


    The fourth morning on the ridge, Sithas could barely bring himself to emerge from


beneath the cloaks and blankets. The sun rose over the eastern ridge, and still he lay





    Then urgency returned, and he sat up in panic. He sensed instinctively that today was


his last chance. If he could not feed himself and his brother, they would not experience


another dawn.


    He grabbed his bow and arrows, strapped his sword to his back, and allowed himself


the luxury of one woolen cloak from the pile that sheltered Kith-Kanan. He made his way


down the cliff with almost reckless haste. Only after he nearly slipped fifty feet above the


valley floor did he calm himself, forcing his feet to move with more precision.


    He pushed toward the water hole, feeling sensation return to his limbs and


anticipation and tension fill his heart. Finally he reached the place opposite where the


sheep came to drink. He didn't allow himself to ponder a distinct possibility: What if the


sheep didn't return here today? If they didn't, he and his brother would die. It was a


simple as that.


    Urgently he swept a shallow excavation in the snow, fearful that the sheep might


already be on their way. He swung his eyes to the southern ridge, to the slope the sheep


had descended on each of the two previous days, but he saw no sign of movement.


    In minutes, Sithas cleared the space he desired. A quick check showed no sign of the


sheep. Trembling with tension, he freed his bow and arrows and laid them before him in


the snow. Next he knelt, forcing his feet into the powdery fluff behind him. He took the


cloak he had brought and lay it before him, before stretching, belly down, on top.


    The last thing was the hardest to do. He pulled snow from each side into the


excavation, burying his thighs, buttocks, and torso. Only his shoulders, arms, and head


remained exposed.


    Feeling the chill settle into his bones as he pressed deeper into the snowy cushion, he


twisted to the side and pulled still more of the winter powder onto him. His bow, with


several arrows ready, he covered with a faint dusting of snow directly in front of him.



    Finally he buried his head, leaving an opening no more than two inches in diameter


before his face. From this tiny slot, he could see the water hole and he could get enough


air to breathe. At last his trap was ready. Now he had only to wait.


    And wait. And wait some more. The sun passed the zenith, the hour when the sheep


had come to water on each of the previous days, with no sign of the creatures. Cold


numbness crept into Sithas's bones. His fingers and toes burned from frostbite, which was


bad enough, but gradually he became aware that he was losing feeling in them altogether.


Frantically he wiggled and stretched as much as he could within the limitations of his




    Where were the accursed sheep?


    An hour of the afternoon passed, and another began. He could no longer keep any


sensation in his fingers. Another few hours, he knew, and he would freeze to death.


    But then he became aware of strange sensations deep within his snowy cocoon.


Slowly, inexplicably, he began to grow warm. The burning returned to his fingertips. The


snow around his body formed a cavity, slightly larger than Sithas himself, and he noticed


that this snow was wet. It packed tightly, giving him room to move. He noticed wetness


in his hair, on his back.


    He was actually warm! The cavity had trapped his body heat, melting the snow and


warming him with the trapped energy. The narrow slot had solidified before him, and it


was with a sense of exhilaration that he realized he could wait here safely for some time.


    But the arrival of twilight confirmed his worst fears­the sheep had not come to drink


that day. Bitter with the sense of his failure, he tried to ignore the gnawing in his belly as


he gathered more water and made the return to the ledge, arriving just as full darkness


settled around them.



    Had the sheep seen his trap? Had the flock moved on to some distant valley,


following the course of some winter migration? He could not know. All he could do was


try the same plan tomorrow and hope he lived long enough for the effort.


    Sithas had to lean close to Kith-Kanan just to hear his brother's breathing. "Please,


Kith, don't die!" he whispered. Those words were the only ones he spoke before he fell




    His hunger was painful when he awoke. Once again the day was clear and still, but


how long could this last? Grimly he repeated his process of the previous day, making his


way to the stream bank, settling himself in with his bow and arrows, and trying to conceal


any sign of his presence. If the sheep didn't come today, he knew that he would be too


weak to try on the morrow.


    Exhausted, despairing, and starving, he passed from consciousness into an exhausted




    Perhaps the snow insulated him from sound, or maybe his sleep was deeper than he


thought. In any event, he heard nothing as his quarry approached. It wasn't until the sheep


had reached the water hole that he woke suddenly. They had come! They weren't twenty


feet away!


    Not daring to breathe, Sithas studied the ram. The creature was even more


magnificent up close. The swirled horns were more than a foot in diameter. The ram's


eyes swept around them, but Sithas realized with relief that the animal did not notice his


enemy up close.


    The ram, as usual, drank his fill and then stepped aside. One by one the ewes


approached the small water hole, dipping their muzzles to slurp up the icy liquid. Sithas


waited until most of the sheep had drank. As he had observed earlier, the smallest were


the last to drink, and it was one of these that would prove his target.



     Finally a plump ewe moved tentatively among her larger sisters. Sithas tensed


himself, keeping his hands under the snow as he slowly reached forward for his bow.


     Suddenly the ewe raised her head, staring straight at him. Others of the flock


skittered to the sides. The elf felt two dozen eyes fixed upon his hiding place. Another


second, he suspected, and the sheep would turn in flight. He couldn't give them that




     With all of the speed, all of the agility at his command, he grasped his bow and


arrows and lurched forward from his hiding place, his eyes fixed on the terrified ewe.


Vaguely he sensed the sheep spinning, leaping, turning to flee. They struggled through


the deep snow, away from this maniacal apparition who rose apparently from the very


earth itself.


     He saw the ram plunge forward, nudging the ewe that stood stock-still beside the


water hole. With a panicked squeal, she turned and tried to spring away.


     As she turned, for one split second, she presented her soft flank to the elven archer.


Even as he struggled to his feet, Sithas had nocked his arrow. He pulled back the string as


his target became a blur before him. Reflexively he let the missile fly. He prayed to all


the gods, desperate for a hit.


     But the gods were not impressed.


     The arrow darted past the ewe's rump, barely grazing her skin, just enough to spur


the frightened creature into a maddened flight that took her bounding out of range even as


Sithas fumbled with another arrow. He raised the weapon in time to see the ram kick his


heels as that great beast, too, sprinted away.


     The herd of mountain sheep bounded through the deep snow, springing and leaping


in many different directions. Sithas launched another arrow and almost sobbed aloud in



frustration as the missile flew over the head of a ewe. Mechanically he nocked another


arrow, but even as he did so, he knew that the sheep had escaped.


    For a moment, a sensation of catastrophe swept over him. He staggered, weak on his


feet, and would have slumped to the ground if something hadn't caught his attention.


    A small sheep, a yearling, struggled to break free from a huge drift. The animal was


scarcely thirty feet away, bleating pathetically. He knew then he had one more chance­-


perhaps the last chance­for survival. He held his aim steady, sighting down the arrow at


the sheep's heaving flank. The animal gasped for breath, and Sithas released the missile.


    The steel-tipped shaft shot true, its barbed head striking the sheep behind its foreleg,


driving through the heart and lungs in a powerful, fatal strike.


    Bleating one final time, a hopeless call to the disappearing herd, the young sheep


collapsed. Pink blood spurted from its mouth and nostrils, foaming into the snow. Sithas


reached the animal's side. Some instinct caused him to draw his sword, and he slashed the


razor-sharp edge across the sheep's throat. With a gurgle of air, the animal perished.


    For a moment, Sithas raised his eyes to the ledge across the valley. The ewes


scampered upward, while the ram lingered behind, staring back at the elf who had


claimed one of his flock. Sithas felt a momentary sense of gratitude to the creature. His


heart filled with admiration as he saw it bound higher and higher up the sheer slope.


    Finally he reached down and gutted the carcass of his kill. The climb back to


Kith-Kanan would be a tough one, he knew, but suddenly his body thrummed with


excitement and energy.


    Behind him, atop the ridge, the ram cast one last glance downward and then







                                            Fresh Blood





        Sithas cut a slice of meat from his kill on the valley floor, tearing bites from the raw


meat, uncaring of the blood that dribbled across his chin. Smacking greedily, he wolfed


down the morsel before he carried the rest of the carcass up the steep trail to their ledge.


He found Kith-Kanan as still as when he had left him, but now, at least, they had food­-


they had hope!


        The lack of fire created a drawback, but it didn't prevent Sithas from devouring a


large chunk of meat as soon as he got it back to the ledge. The blood, while it was still


warm, he dribbled into his unconscious brother's mouth, hoping that the warmth and


nourishment might have a beneficial effect, however minimal.


        Finally sated, Sithas settled back to rest. For the first time in days, he felt something


other than bleak despair. He had stalked his game and slain it­something he had never


done before, not without beaters and weapon-bearers and guides. Only his brother's


condition cast a pall over the situation.


        For two more days, Kith's condition showed no signs of change. Gray clouds rolled


in, and a dusting of snow fell around them. Sithas trickled more of the ewe's blood into


Kith's mouth, hiked down for water several times a day, and offered prayers to Quenesti




        Then, toward sunset of their seventh day on the ledge, Kith groaned and moved. His


eyes fluttered open and he looked around in confusion.



    "Kith! Wake up!" Sithas leaned over his twin, and slowly Kith-Kanan's eyes met his


own. At first they looked dull and lifeless, but even as Sithas watched they grew brighter,


more alert.


    "What­how did you­?"


    Sithas felt weak with relief and helped his brother to sit up. "It's OK, Kith. You'll be


all right!" He forced more confidence into his tone than he actually felt.


    Kith's eyes fell upon the carcass, which Sithas had perched near the precipice.


"What's that?"


    "Mountain sheep!" Sithas grinned proudly. "I killed it a few days ago. Here, have




    "Raw?" Kith-Kanan raised his eyebrows but quickly saw that there was no


alternative. He took a tender loin portion and tore off a piece of meat. It was no delicacy,


but it was sustenance. As he chewed, he saw Sithas watching him like a master chef


savoring the reaction to a new recipe.


    "It's good," Kith-Kanan said, swallowing and tearing off another mouthful.


    Excitedly Sithas told him of stalking his prey­about his two wasted arrows and the


lucky break that helped him make his kill.


    Kith chuckled with a heartiness that belied his wounds and their predicament.


    "Your leg," Sithas said concernedly. "How does it feel today?"


    Kith groaned and shook his head. "Need a cleric to work on it. I doubt it'll heal


enough to carry me."


    Sithas sat back, suddenly too tired to go on. Alone, he might be able to walk out of


these mountains, but he didn't see any way that Kith-Kanan could even get down from


this exposed, perilous ledge.



    For a while, the brothers sat in silence, watching the sun set. The sky domed over


them, pale blue to the east and overhead but fading to a rose hue that blended into a rich


lavender along the western ridge. One by one stars winked into sight. Finally darkness


crept across the sky, expanding from the east to overhead, then pursuing the last lingering


strips of brightness into the west.


    "Any sign of Arcuballis?" asked Kith hopefully. His brother shook his head sadly.


    "What do we do now?" Sithas asked.


    To his dismay, his brother shook his head in puzzlement. "I don't know. I don't think


I can get down from here, and we can't finish our quest on this ledge."


    "Quest?" Sithas had almost forgotten about the mission that had brought them to


these mountains. "You're not suggesting we still seek out the griffons, are you?"


    Kith smiled, albeit wanly. "No, I don't think we can do much searching. You,


however, might have a chance."


    Now Sithas gaped at his twin. "And leave you here alone? Don't even think about it!"


    The wounded elf gestured to stem Sithas's outburst. "We have to think about it."


    "You won't have a chance up here! I won't abandon you!"


    Kith-Kanan sighed. "Our chances aren't that great any way you look at it. Getting out


of these mountains on foot is out of the question until spring. And the months of deep


winter are still before us. We can't just sit here, waiting for my leg to heal."


    "But what kind of progress can I make on foot?" Sithas gestured to the valley walls


surrounding them.


    Kith-Kanan pointed to the northwest, toward the pass that had been their goal before


the storm had driven them to this ledge. The gap between the two towering summits was


protected by a steep slope, strewn with large boulders and patches of scree. Strangely,


snow had not collected there.



    "You could investigate the next valley," the elf suggested. "Remember, we've


explored much of the range already."


    "That's precious little comfort," Sithas replied. "We flew over the mountains before.


I'm not even sure I could climb that pass, let alone explore beyond it."


    Kith-Kanan studied the steep slope with a practiced eye. "Sure you could. Go up on


the big rocks off to the side there. Stay away from those smooth patches. They look like


easy going, but it's sure to be loose scree. You'd probably slip back farther than you


climbed with each step. But if     you stay on the good footing, you could make it."


    The wounded elf turned his eyes upon his skeptical brother and continued. "Even if


you don't find the griffons, perhaps you'll locate a cave, or better yet some herdsman's


hut. Whatever lies over that ridge, it can't be any more barren than this place."


    The Speaker of the Stars squatted back on his haunches, shaking his head in


frustration. He had looked at the pass himself over the last few days and privately had


decided that he would probably be able to climb it. But he had never considered the


prospect of going without his brother.


    Finally he made a decision. "I'll go­but just to have a look. If I don't see anything,


I'm coming straight back here."


    "Agreed." Kith-Kanan nodded. "Now maybe you can hand me another strip of


lamb­only this time, I'd like it cooked a little more on the rare side. That last piece was


too well done for my taste."


    Laughing, Sithas used his dagger to carve another strip of raw mutton. He had found


that by slicing it very thin he could make the meat more palatable­at least, more easily


chewed. And though it was still cold, it tasted very, very good.


                                          *   *   *   *   *



    Kith-Kanan sat up, leaning against the back wall of the ledge, and watched Sithas


gather his equipment. It was nearly dawn.


    "Take some of my arrows," he offered, but Sithas shook his head.


    "I'll leave them with you, just in case."


    "In case of what? In case that ram comes looking for revenge?"


    Suddenly uncomfortable, Sithas looked away. They both knew that if the hill giants


returned, Kith-Kanan would be helpless to do more than shoot a few arrows before he


was overcome.


    "Kith . . ." He wanted to tell his brother that he wouldn't leave him, that he would


stay at his side until his wounds had healed.


    "No!" The injured elf raised a hand, anticipating his brother's objections. "We both


understand­we know that this is the only thing to do."


    "I­I suppose you're right."


    "You know I'm right!" Kith's voice was almost harsh.


    "I'll be back as soon as I can."


    "Sithas­be careful."


    The Speaker of the Stars nodded dumbly. It made him feel like a traitor to leave his


brother like this.


    "Good luck, Brother." Kith's voice came to Sithas softly, and he turned back.


    They clasped hands, and then Sithas leaned forward to embrace his brother. "Don't


run off on me," he told Kith, with a wry smile.


    An hour later, he was past the water hole, where he had stopped to refill his skin.


Now the pass loomed before him like an icy palisade­the castle wall of some


unimaginably monstrous giant. Carefully, still some distance away from the ascent, he



selected a route up the slope. He stopped to rest several times before reaching the base,


but before noon, he began the rugged climb.


    All the time he remained conscious of Kith-Kanan's eyes on his back. He looked


behind him occasionally, until his brother became a faint speck on the dark mountain


wall. Before he started up the pass, he waved and saw a tiny flicker of motion from the


ledge as Kith waved back.


    The pass, up close, soared upward and away from him like a steep castle wall,


steeper than it had looked from the safe distance of their campsite. The base was a


massive, sloping pile of talus­great boulders that, over many centuries, had been pried


loose by frost or water to tumble and crash down the mountainside. Now they teetered


precariously on top of each other, and powdery snow filled the gaps between them.


    Sithas strung his bow across his back, next to his sword. His cloak he removed and


tied around his waist, hoping to maintain full freedom of movement.


    He picked his way up the talus slope, stepping from rock to rock only after testing


each foothold for security. Once several rocks tumbled away beneath him, and he sprang


aside just in time. Always he gained altitude, pulling himself up the sheer face with his


leather-gloved hands. Sweat dripped into his eyes, and for a moment, he wondered how,


in the midst of this snow-swept landscape, could he get so Abyss-cursed hot? Then a


swirl of icy wind struck him, penetrating his damp tunic and leggings and bringing an in-


stant shiver to his bones.


    Soon he reached the top. Here he encountered long stretches of loose scree, small


stones that seemed to slip and slide beneath each footfall, carrying him backward four


feet for every five of progress.



    Kith-Kanan, of course, had been right. He was always right! His brother knew his


way around in country like this, knew how to survive and even how to move and explore,


to hunt and find shelter.


    Why couldn't it have been Sithas to suffer the crippling injury? A healthy


Kith-Kanan would have been able to care for both of them, Sithas knew. Meanwhile, he


wrestled with overwhelming despair and hopelessness, and he was not yet out of sight of


their base camp!


    Shaking off his self-pity, Sithas worked his way sideways, toward steeper, but more


solid, shoulders of bedrock. Once his feet slipped away, and he tumbled twenty or thirty


feet down the slope, only stopping himself by digging his hands and feet into the loose


surface. Cursing, he checked his weapons, relieved to find them intact. Finally he reached


a solid rock, with a small shelf shaped much like a chair, where he collapsed in




    A quick look upward showed that he had made it perhaps a quarter of the way up the


slope. At this rate, he would be stranded here at nightfall, a prospect that terrified him


more than he wanted to contemplate.


    Resolutely he started upward again, this time climbing along rough outcrops of rock.


After only a few moments, he realized that this was by far the easiest climbing yet, and


his spirits rose rapidly.


    Stepping upward in long strides, he relished a new sense of accomplishment. The


valley floor fell away below him; the heavens­and more mountains­beckoned from


above. He no longer felt the need for rest. Instead, the climb seemed to energize him.


    By midafternoon, he had neared the top of the pass, and here the route narrowed


challengingly. Two huge boulders teetered on the slope, with but a narrow crack of



daylight between them. One, or both, could very easily roll free, carrying him back down


the mountainside if they didn't crush him between them first.


    No other route presented itself. To either side of the massive rocks, sheer cliffs


soared upward to the pinnacles of the two mountains. The only way through the pass lay


between those two precarious boulders.


    He didn't hesitate. He approached the rocks and saw that the gap was wide enough to


allow him to pass­just barely. He entered the aperture, climbing upward across loose




    Suddenly the ground beneath his feet slipped away, and his heart lurched. He felt one


of the huge boulders shift with a menacing rumble. The rock walls to either side of him


pressed closer, narrowing by an inch or so. Then the rock seemed to settle into place, and


he felt no more movement.


    With a quick burst of speed, he darted upward, scrambling out of the narrow passage


before the rocks could budge again. His momentum carried him farther up the last


hundred yards of so of the ascent until finally he stood upon the summit of the pass.


    Trees! He saw patches of green among the snowfields, far, far below. Trees, which


meant wood, which meant fire! The slope before him, while steep and long, was nowhere


near as grueling as the one he had just climbed. He glanced over his left shoulder at the


sun, estimating two remaining hours of daylight.


    It would have to be enough. He would have a fire tonight, he vowed to himself.


    He plunged recklessly downward, sometimes riding a small, tumbling pillow of


snow, at other times leaping through great drifts to soft landings ten or fifteen feet below.


Exhausted, sweat-soaked, and bone-weary, he finally reached a clump of gnarled cedars


far down in the basin. Now, at last, his spirits soared. He used the last illumination of



daylight to gather all of the dead limbs he could find. He piled the firewood before an


unusually thick trio of evergreens, where he had decided to make his camp.


    A mere touch of his steel dagger to the flint he carried in his belt-pouch brought a


satisfactory spark. The dry wood kindled instantly, and within minutes, he relished the


comfort of a crackling blaze.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Was this the curse of the gods, thought Kith-Kanan, the punishment for his betrayal


of his brother's marriage? He leaned against the cliff wall and shut his eyes, wincing not


in pain but in guilt.


    Why couldn't he have simply died? That would have made things so much easier.


Sithas would have been free to perform the quest instead of worrying about him like a


nervous nursemaid worries about a feverish babe.


    In truth, Kith-Kanan felt more helpless than a crawling infant, for he didn't have even


that much mobility.


    He had watched Sithas make his way up the slope until his twin had disappeared


from sight. His brother had moved with grace and power, surprising Kith with the speed


of his ascent.


    But as long as Kith-Kanan lay here upon this ledge, he knew Sithas would be tied to


this location by their bond of brotherhood. He would explore their immediate surround-


ings, perhaps, but would never bring himself to travel far beyond.


    All because I'm so damned stupid! Kith railed at himself. They had made inadequate


preparations for attack! They had both dozed off. Only the sacrifice of brave Arcuballis


had given the first warning of the hill giants.



    Now his griffon was gone, no doubt dead, and he himself was impossibly crippled.


Sithas searched alone and on foot. It seemed inevitable to Kith-Kanan that their quest


would be a failure.


                                         *   *   *   *   *


    Sithas dried his clothes and boots, every stitch of which had been soaked by sweat or


melting snow, by the crackling fire. It brightened his night, driving back the high


mountain darkness that had previously stretched to infinity on all sides, and it warmed his


spirits in a way that he wouldn't have thought possible a few hours earlier.


    The fire spoke to him with a soothing voice, and it danced for him in sultry allure. It


was like a companion, one who could listen to his thoughts and give him pleasure. And


finally the fire allowed him to cook a strip of his frozen meat.


    That morsel, seared for a few minutes on a forked stick that Sithas plunged into the


flames, emerged from the fire covered with ash, blackened and charred on the outside and


virtually raw in the center. It was unseasoned, tough, imperfectly preserved ... and it was


unquestionably the most splendid meal that the elf had ever eaten in his life.


    The three pines served as a backdrop to his campsite. Sithas scraped away the small


amount of snow here and cleared for himself a soft bed of pine needles. He stoked the fire


until he had to back away from the blazing heat.


    That night he slept for a few hours, and then awoke to fuel his fire. A mountainous


pile of coals radiated heat, and the ground provided a soft and comfortable cushion until


the coming of dawn.


    Sithas arose slowly, reluctant to break the reverie of warmth and comfort. He cooked


another piece of meat, more patiently this time, for breakfast. By the time he finished,


sunlight was bathing the bowl-shaped depression around him in its brilliant light. He had


made a decision.



    He would bring Kith-Kanan to this valley. He didn't know how yet, but he was


convinced that this was the best way to insure his brother's recovery.


    His course plotted, he gathered up his few possessions and lashed them to his body.


Next he took several minutes to gather a stack of firewood­light, sun-dried logs that


would burn steadily. He trimmed the twigs off of these so that he could bundle them


tightly together. This bundle he then lashed to his back.


    Finally he turned his face toward the pass. The slope before him still lay in shadow,


as it would for most of the day. Retracing his tracks of the previous afternoon, he forced


his way through the deep snow, back toward the summit of the pass.


    It took him all morning, but finally he reached the summit. He paused to rest­the


climb had been extremely wearying­and sought out the speck of color that he knew


would mark Kith-Kanan's presence on the ledge in the distance. He had to squint, for the


sunlight reflecting from the snow-filled bowl brutally assaulted his eyes.


    He couldn't see the ledge, though he recognized the water hole where he had


collected their drinking water. What was that? He saw movement near the stream, and for


a moment, he wondered if the sheep had returned. His eyes adjusted to the brightness,


and he understood that these could not be sheep. Large humanoid shapes lumbered


through the snow. Shaggy fur seemed to cover them in patches, but the "fur" proved to be


cloaks cast over broad shoulders.


    They moved in single file, some ten or twelve of them, as they crossed the valley


floor, taking no notice of the depth of the snow.


    With a sickening realization, Sithas understood what was happening: The hill giants


had returned, and they were making their way toward Kith-Kanan.





                                     Immediately Following





        Sithas studied the hill giant that led the column of the brutes, perhaps two miles


away and a thousand feet below him. The monster gestured to its fellows, pointing


upward. Not toward Sithas, the elf realized, but toward . . . the ledge! His brother's camp!


The dozen giants trudged through the snow of the valley floor, making their way in that




        Sithas tried to spot his twin, but the distance was too great. Wait ... there!


Kith-Kanan, he realized, must also have seen the giants, for the wounded elf had pulled a


dark cloak over himself and was now pressed against the far wall of the ledge. His


camouflage seemed effective and would make him virtually invisible from below as the


giants headed toward the cliff.


        The column of giants waded the stream. The one in the lead gestured again, this time


indicating the path in the snow that Sithas had made in his travels back and forth for


water. Another giant indicated a different track, the one made by Sithas on the previous




        That slight gesture gave him a desperate idea. He acted quickly, casting around until


his eyes fell upon a medium-sized boulder resting in the summit of the pass and cracked


loose from the bedrock below. Seizing it in both of his hands, grunting from the exertion,


he lifted the stone over his head. The last of the giants had crossed the stream, and now


the file of huge, grotesque creatures was nearing the cliff wall.


        Sithas pitched the boulder as hard and as far as he could. The rock plummeted down


the steep, rock-strewn pass. Then it hit, crashing into another boulder with a sharp report



before bouncing and smashing again and again down the mountain pass, Breathlessly


Sithas watched the giants. They had to hear the commotion!


    Indeed they did. Suddenly the twelve monsters whirled around in surprise. Sithas


kicked another rock, and that one too clattered down the pass, rolling between the two


huge boulders that he had slipped between on the previous day's climb.


    Now the beasts halted, staring upward. Breathlessly Sithas waited.


    It worked! He saw the first giant gesturing wildly, pointing toward the summit of the


pass, toward Sithas! Kith-Kanan was left behind as the entire band of the great brutes


turned and broke into a lumbering trot, pursuing the elf they probably thought they had


"discovered" trying to sneak through the pass.


    Sithas watched them advance toward him. They plunged through the deep snow in


giant strides, each stride taking them farther from Kith-Kanan. Sithas wondered if his


brother was watching, if he had seen the clever diversion created by his twin. He lay still,


peering around a boulder as the monsters approached the bottom of the pass.


    Now what could he do? The giants had almost reached the base of the pass. He


looked behind him. Everywhere the valley was blanketed by deep snow. Wherever he


went, he would leave a trail so obvious that even the thick-witted hill giants would have


no difficulty in following him.


    His attention returned to the immediate problem. He saw, with sharp panic, that the


giants had disappeared from view. Moments later he understood. They were so close to


the pass now that the steepness of the slope blocked his vision.


    His head seemed fogged by fear, his body tensed with the anticipation of combat.


The thought almost brought a smile to his lips. The prospect of facing a dozen giants with


his puny sword struck him as ludicrous indeed! Yet by the same token, that prospect


seemed inevitable, so that his amusement quickly gave way to stark terror.



    Carefully he crept forward and looked down the pass. All he saw were the two


monstrous boulders that had bracketed his ascent of the pass on the day before. As yet


there was no sign of the giants.


    Should he confront them at those rocks? No more than one at a time could pass


through the narrow aperture. Still, with a brutally honest assessment of his own fighting


prowess, he knew that one of them was all it would take to squash his skull like an


eggshell. Also, he remembered the precarious balance of those boulders. Indeed, one of


them had shifted several inches merely from the weight of his touch.


    That recollection gave him an idea. The elf checked his longsword, which was lashed


securely to his back. Quickly he unlashed the bundle of firewood and dropped the sticks


unceremoniously to the ground. He hefted the longest one, which was about as long as


his leg but no thicker than his arm­still, it would have to do.


    Without pausing to consider, Sithas, in a running crouch, crossed through the saddle


and started down the slope toward the two rocks. He could see several of the giants


through the crack now, and realized with alarm that they were nearly halfway up the


steep-sided pass.


    In a slide of tumbling scree, Sithas crashed into one of the boulders and felt it lurch


beneath his weight. But then it settled back into its place, and he couldn't force it to move


farther. Turning to the second rock, he pushed and heaved at it and was rewarded by a


fractional shifting of its massive bulk. However, it, too, seemed to be nestled in a


comfortable spot and would not move any farther.


    Desperately Sithas slid downward through the crack between the boulders. The elf


reached beneath the base of the one he judged to be the loosest and began to dig and chop


with his piece of firewood.



        He pried a large stone loose, and it skittered down the slope. Immediately he began


prying at a different rock. A bellow of surprise reached him from below, and he knew


that he didn't have much time. He didn't look behind him. Instead, he scrambled back


upward between the rocks. He pitched his body against the rock he had worked so hard to


loosen and was rewarded by a slight teetering. Then a shower of gravel sprayed from


beneath it to tumble into the faces of the approaching giants.


        The leader of the monsters bellowed again. The creature was a bare fifty yards below


Sithas now and bounding upward with astonishing speed.


        After one last, futile push at the rock, Sithas knew that he would have to abandon


that plan. His time had run out. Drawing his sword, he dropped through the narrow crack


again, prepared to meet the first giant at the mouth of the opening. Grimly he resolved to


draw as much blood as possible before he perished.


        The beast came toward him, its face split by a garish caricature of a grin. Sithas saw


the tiny bloodshot eyes and the stubs of teeth jutting like tusks from its gums. Its huge


lips flapped with excitement as the brute prepared to squash the life from this impudent




        The thing held one of those monstrous clubs such as the giants had employed in their


earlier attack. Now that weapon lashed outward, but Sithas ducked back into the niche,


feeling the rock tremble next to him from the force of the blow. He darted outward and


stabbed quickly with his steel blade. A sense of cruel delight flared within him as the


weapon scored a bloody gash on the giant's forehead.


        With a cry of animal rage, the giant lunged upward, dropping its club and reaching


with massive paws toward Sithas's legs. The elf skipped backward, scrambling up and


away. As he did, he stabbed downward, driving his blade clear through the monster's





         Howling in pain, the giant twisted away, shrinking back down the slope to clutch its


bleeding extremity. Sithas had no time to reconnoiter, however. The next monster had al-


ready caught up. This one had apparently learned from his comrade's errors, for it thrust


its heavy club into the crack and stayed out of reach.


         Sithas twisted away with a curse as the crude weapon nearly crushed his left wrist.


The giant reached in, and Sithas scrambled upward. But then a loose patch of scree


caused him to lose his footing, and he slipped downward toward that leering, hate-filled




         He saw the monstrous lips spread in a leering grin, darkened stubs of ivory teeth


ready to tear at his flesh. Sithas kicked out, and his boot cracked into the beast's huge,


wart-covered nose.


         Desperately Sithas kicked again, pushing himself upward and catching one boot on


an outcrop of the rock wall beside him. The giant reached up to catch him, but the elf re-


mained just out of his reach, barely a foot or so above him.


         With determination, the broad-shouldered brute pressed into the narrow crack


between the boulders. The force of his body pushed the stones outward slightly.


         Yet that seemed to be enough. The monster's hand clutched Sithas's foot. Even as the


elf kicked and flailed frantically, one of the rocks teetered precariously on the brink of a




         The Speaker of the Stars braced his back against one of the rocks and pressed both of


his boots against the other. Calling for the blessings of every god he could think of, he


pushed outward, straining and gasping to move the monstrous weight.


         Slowly, almost gradually, the huge boulder toppled forward. The giant stared


upward, his beady eyes nearly bulging out of his skull as the huge load slid forward, then



began to roll downward. Tons of rock crushed the life from the brute as the boulder broke




    His foothold suddenly gone, Sithas slid downward in the wake of the crashing stone.


He felt a sickening crunch in the earth and looked up to see the other rock also break free


to crash toward the valley floor a thousand feet below. Desperately the elf sprang to one


side, feeling the ground shake as the huge stone tumbled past him.


    The sounds of the rockslide grew and echoed, seeming to shake the bedrock of the


world. Sithas pressed his face into the ground, trying to cling with his hands as the entire


wall of the pass fell away. The thunderous volume overwhelmed him, and he expected to


be swept away at any second.


    But now the gods looked kindly on the Speaker of the Stars, and though the cliff wall


a scant twelve inches from his hand plunged below, the rock to which Sithas clung re-


mained fixed, miraculously, to the ridge.


    The world crashed and surged around Sithas for what seemed like hours, though in


reality it was no more than a few minutes. When he finally opened his eyes, blinking


away the dust and grime, he looked down at a scene of complete devastation.


    A dust cloud had settled across the formerly pristine snowfields, casting the entire


valley in a dirty gray hue. The surface of the cliff gaped like a fresh scar where scree and


talus, even great chunks of bedrock, had torn away. He could see none of the twelve


giants, but it seemed inconceiveable that any of them could have lived through that


massive, crushing avalanche.


    The pass was now even steeper than it had been when he climbed it, but the entire


surface was clear of snow, and the rock that remained was solid mountain. Thus he had


little difficulty in picking his way painstakingly down the thousand feet of descent to the


valley floor.



    Near the bottom, he came upon the body of one of the giants. The creature was


half-buried in rubble and covered with dust.


    Sithas stepped carefully along the slope, using handholds to maintain his balance,


until he reached the motionless body of the giant. The creature hung over a sharp outcrop


of rock, looking like a rag doll that someone had casually cast aside. When the elf


reached the monster, he examined it more closely.


    He saw that it wore boots of heavy fur and a tunic of bearskin. The creature's beard


was long but sparsely grown, adding to the straggled and unkempt appearance of its face.


The great mouth hung slackly open, and its long, floppy tongue protruded. Several


broken teeth studded its gums alongside a single well-formed tusk of ivory in front.


Sithas found himself feeling a spontaneous reaction of compassion as he looked at the


pathetic visage.


    His reaction changed instantly to alarm when the giant moved, reaching out with one


trunklike arm toward him. The elf stepped nervously backward, his longsword in his




    Then the giant groaned, smacking his lips and snorting in discomfort before finally


forcing open the lid of one blank, bloodshot eye. The eye stared straight at the elf.


    Sithas froze. His instincts, as soon as the beast had moved, had urged him to drive


his keen steel blade into the creature's throat or its heart.


    However, some inner emotion, surprising the elf with its strong compulsion, had held


his hand. The blade remained poised before the giant's face, a foot from the end of its


blunt and swollen nose, but Sithas didn't drive it home.


    Instead, he studied the creature as it opened its other eye. The two orbs crossed


ludicrously as it appeared to study the keen steel so close to its face. Slowly the bloodshot



orbs came into focus. Sithas sensed the giant tensing, and he knew that he should slay it,


if it wasn't already too late! Misgivings assailed him.


    Still he held firm. The giant scowled, still trying to understand what had happened,


what was going on. Finally the realization came, with a reaction that took Sithas com-


pletely by surprise. The monster yelped­a high-pitched gasp of fright­and tried to squirm


backward away from the elf and the weapon.


    A large boulder blocked its retreat, and the beast cowered against the rock, raising its


massive fists as if to ward away a blow. Sithas took a step forward, and when the beast


cried out again, he lowered his blade, bemused by the strange behavior.


    Sithas made a casual gesture with his sword. The giant raised its hands to protect its


face and grunted something in a crude tongue. Again Sithas was struck by the one perfect


tooth bobbing up and down amongst the otherwise ragged gums.


    The problem remained of what to do with it. Letting the brute just wander away


seemed like an unacceptable risk.


    Yet Sithas couldn't kill it out of hand, now that it cowered and gibbered at him. It


didn't seem like much of a threat anymore, despite its huge size.


    "Hey, One-Tooth. Stand up!" The elf gestured with his blade, and after several


moments, the giant climbed hesitantly to its feet.


    The creature loomed ten feet or more tall, with a barrel-sized chest and stout,


sinew-lined limbs. One-Tooth gaped pathetically at Sithas as the elf nodded, pleased. He


gestured again with his sword, this time down the pass, toward the valley.


    "Come on, you lead the way," he instructed the giant. They started down the


mountain, with Sithas keeping his sword ready.


    But One-tooth seemed perfectly content to shuffle along ahead of the elf. On the


ground, Sithas found it a great boon to follow in the footsteps of the giant, rather than



break his own trail through the snow. Following an elaborate pantomime, he showed


One-Tooth how to drag his feet when he walked, thus making a deeper and smoother path


for the elf.


     He directed the giant toward the ledge where Kith-Kanan lay helpless. At the bottom,


before they picked their way up the steep, treacherous trail, Sithas turned back to the




     "I want you to carry him," he explained. He cradled his arms as if he was carrying an


infant and pointed to the ledge above them. "Do you understand?"


     The giant squinted at the elf, his eyes shrinking to tiny dots of bloodshot


concentration. He looked upward.


     Then his eyes widened, as if someone had just opened the shutters to a dark,


little-used room. His mouth gaped happily, and the tooth bobbed up and down in


enthusiastic comprehension.


     "I hope so," Sithas muttered, not entirely confident about what he was doing.


     Now the elf led the way, working his way up the narrow trail until he reached the


ledge that had sequestered his brother.


     "Well done, Brother!" Kith-Kanan was sitting upright, his back against the cliff wall


and his face creased by a grin of amazed delight. "I saw them coming, and I figured that


was the end!"


     "That thought crossed my mind as well," admitted Sithas.


     Kith looked at him with an admiring expression Sithas had never seen in his brother's


eyes before. "You could have been killed, you know!"


     Sithas laughed self-consciously, feeling a warm sense of pride. "I can't let you have


all the fun."



    Kith smiled, his eyes shining. "Thanks, Brother!" Clearing his throat, he nodded at


One-Tooth. "But what is this­a prisoner or friend? And what idea do you have now?"


    "We're going to the next valley," Sithas replied. "I couldn't find a horse, so you'll


have to ride a giant!"





                             Winter, in the Army of Ergoth





    The rains beat across a sea of canvas, a drumming, monotonous cadence that marked


time during winter on the plains. Gray skies stretched over the brown land, encloaked by


air that changed from fog to downpour to icy mist.


    If only it would freeze! This was the wish of every soldier in the army who had to


stand guard, conduct drills, or make the arduous treks to distant woods for firewood or


lumber. A hard frost would soldify the viscous earth that now churned underfoot, miring


wagon wheels and making the simple act of walking an exhaustive struggle.


    Sentries stood shivering on guard duty around the ring of the great human


encampment. The great bulk of Sithelbec was practically invisible in the gray anonymity


of the twilit gloom. The fortress walls loomed strong; they had been tested at the cost of


more than a thousand men during recent months.


    Darkness came like a lowering curtain, and the camp became still and silent, broken


only by the fires that dotted the darkness. Even these blazes were few, for all sources of


firewood within ten miles of the camp had already been picked clean.


    Amid this darkness, an even darker figure moved. General Giarna stalked toward the


command tent of High General Barnet. Trailing him, trying to control her terror, followed




    She didn't want to be here. Never before had she seen General Giarna as menacing as


he seemed tonight. He had summoned her without explanation, his eyes distant ... and


hungry. It was as if he barely knew that she was present, so intent were his thoughts on


something else.



    Now she understood that his victim was to be Barnet.


    General Giarna reached the high general's tent and flung aside the canvas flap, boldly


entering. Suzine, more cautiously, came behind him.


    Barnet had been expecting company, for he stood facing the door, his hand on the


hilt of his sheathed sword. The three of them were alone in the dim enclosure. One lamp


sputtered on a battered wooden table, and rain seeped through the waterlogged roof and


sides of the tent.


    "The usurper dares to challenge his master?" sneered the white-haired Barnet, but his


voice was not as forceful as his words.


    "Master?" The black-armored general's voice was heavy with scorn. His eyes


remained vacant, and focused on something very far away. "You are a failure­and your


time is up, old man!"


    "Bastard!" Barnet reacted with surprising quickness, given his age. In one smooth


movement, his blade hissed from its scabbard and lashed toward the younger man's face.


    General Giarna was quicker. He raised one hand, encased in its black steel gauntlet.


The blade met the gauntlet at the wrist, a powerful blow that ought to have chopped


through the armor and sliced off the general's hand.


    Instead, the sword shattered into a shower of silver splinters. Barnet, still holding the


useless hilt, gaped at the taller Giarna and stepped involuntarily backward.


    Suzine groaned in terror. Some unbelievably horrible power pulsed in the room, a


thing that she sensed on a deeper level than sight or smell or touch. Her knees grew weak


beneath her, but somehow she forced herself to stand.


    She knew that Giarna wanted her to watch, for this was to be a lesson for her as


much as a punishment for Barnet.



    The old man squealed­a pathetic, whimpering sound­as he stared at something in the


dark eyes of his nemesis. Giarna's hands, cloaked in the shiny black steel, grasped Barnet


around the neck, and the high general's sounds faded into strangled gasps and coughs.


    Barnet's face expanded to a circle of horror. His tongue protruded, and his jaw flexed


soundlessly. His skin grew red­bright red, like a crimson rose, thought Suzine. Then the


man's face darkened to a bluish, then ashen, gray.


    Finally, as if his corpse was being seared by a hot fire, Barnet turned black. His face


ceased to bulge, slowly shrinking until the skin pressed tight around the clear outlines of


his skull. His lips stretched backward, and then split and dried into mummified husks.


    His hands, Suzine saw, had become veritable claws, each an outline of white bone,


with bare shreds of skin and fingernails clinging to the ghastly skeleton.


    Giarna cast the corpse aside, and it settled slowly to the floor, like an empty gunny


sack that catches the undercurrents of air as it floats downward.


    When the general finally turned back to Suzine, she gasped in mindless dread. He


stood taller now. His skin was bright, flushed.


    But his eyes were his most frightening aspect, for now they fixed upon her with a


clear and deadly glow.


                                         *   *   *   *   *


    Later, Suzine stared into her mirror, despairing. Though it might show ten thousand


signs, to her it was still devoid of that which meant all to her. She no longer knew if Kith-


Kanan was even alive, so far distant had he flown.


    In the ten days since General Giarna had slain Barnet, the army camp had been


driven into furious activity. An array of great stone-casting catapults took shape along the


lines. Building the huge wooden machines was slow work, but by the end of winter,


twoscore of the war machines would be ready to rain their destruction upon Sithelbec.



    A hard ground freeze had occurred during the days immediately following the brutal


murder, and this had eliminated the mud that had impeded all activity. Now great parties


of human riders scoured the surrounding plains, and the few bands of Wildrunners


outside Sithelbec's walls had been eliminated or driven to the shelter of the deepest




    Wearily Suzine turned her thoughts to her uncle, Emperor Quivalin Soth V. The


mirror combed the expanse of the frozen plain to the west, and soon she found what


Giarna had directed her to seek: the emperor's great carriage, escorted by four thousand


of his most loyal knights, was trundling closer to the camp.


    She went to seek her commander and found him belaboring the unfortunate captains


of a team sent to bring lumber from a patch of forest some dozen miles away.


    "Double the size of your force if you need to!" snarled General Giarna, while six


battle-scarred officers trembled before him. "But bring me the wood by tomorrow! Work


on the catapults must cease until we get those timbers!"


    "Sir," ventured the boldest, "it's the horses! We drive them until near collapse. Then


they must rest! It takes two days to make the trip."


    "Drive them until they collapse, then­or perhaps you consider horseflesh to be more


valuable than your own?"


    "No, General!" Badly shaken, the captains left to organize another, larger, lumbering




    "What have you learned?" General Giarna whirled upon Suzine, fixing her with his


penetrating stare.


    For a moment, Suzine looked at him, trying to banish her trembling. The Boy


General reminded her, for the first time in a long time, of the vibrant and energetic officer


she had first met, for whom she had once developed an infatuation. What did the death of



Barnet have to do with this? In some vile way, it seemed to Suzine that the man had


consumed the life force of the other, devoured his rival, and found the deed somehow




    "The emperor will arrive tomorrow," she reported. "He makes good time, now that


the ground is frozen."


    "Splendid." The general's mind, she could see, was already preoccupied with


something else, for he turned that sharp stare toward the bastion of Sithelbec.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    If Emperor Quivalin noticed any dark change in General Giarna, he didn't say


anything to Suzine. His carriage had rolled into the camp to the cheers of more than a


hundred thousand of his soldiers. The great procession rumbled around the full


circumference of the circular deployments before arriving at the tent where the Boy


General kept his headquarters.


    The two men conferred within the tent for several hours before the ruler and the


commander emerged, side by side, to address the troops.


    "I have appointed General Giarna as High General of the Army," announced


Quivalin, to the cheers of his men, "following the unfortunate demise of former High


General Barnet.


    "He has my full confidence, as do you all." More cheers. "I feel certain that, with the


coming of spring, your force will carry the walls of the elven fortress and reduce their


defenses to ashes! For the glory of Ergoth, you will prevail!"


    Adulation rose from the troops, who surged forward to get a close look at the mighty


ruler. A sweeping stare from their general, however, held them in their tracks. A slow,


reluctant silence fell over the mass of warriors.



    "The collapse of my predecessor, due to exhaustion, was symptomatic of the


sluggishness that previously pervaded this entire army­a laxness that allowed our enemy


to reach its fortress months ago," said General Giarna. His voice was level and low, yet it


seemed to carry more ominous power than the emperor's loud exhortations.


    Murmurs of discontent rose in many thousands of throats. Barnet had been a popular


leader, and his death hadn't been satisfactorily explained to the men. Yet the stark fear


they felt for the Boy General prevented anyone from audibly muttering open displeasure.


    "Our emperor informs me that additional troops will be joining us, a contingent of


dwarves from the Theiwar Clan of Thorbardin. They are skilled miners and will be put to


work digging excavations beneath the walls of the enemy defenses.


    "Those of you who are not engaged in preparations for the attack will begin


tomorrow a vigorous program of training. When the time comes to attack, you will be


ready! And for the glory of our emperor, you will succeed!"





                               Two Weeks Later, Early Winter





    The firelight reflected from the walls of the cave like dancing sprites, weaving


patterns of warmth and comfort. A haunch of venison sizzled on a spit over the coals,


while Sithas's cloak and leggings dried on a makeshift rack.


    "No tenderloin of steer ever tasted so sweet or lay so sumptuously on the palate,"


announced Kith-Kanan, with an approving smack of his lips. He reached forward and


sliced another hot strip from the meat that slow-roasted above the coals.


    Sithas looked at his brother, his eyes shining with pride. Unlike the sheep, which he


admitted had been slain by dumb luck as much as anything, he had stalked this deer


through the woods, lying in wait for long, chilly hours, until the timid creature had


worked its way into bow range. He had aimed carefully and brought the animal down


with one shot to the neck.


    "I have to agree," Sithas allowed as he finished his own piece. He, too, carved


another strip for eating. Then he cut several other juicy morsels, piling them on a flat


stone that served as a platter, before lifting the spit from the fire.


    He turned to the mouth of the shallow cave, where winter's darkness closed in. "Hey,


One-Tooth." he called. "Dinner time!"


    The giant's round face, split by his characteristic massive grin, appeared. One-Tooth


squinted before reaching his massive paw into the cave. His eyes lit up expectantly as


Sithas handed him the spit.



    "Careful­it's hot. Eat hearty, my friend " Sithas watched in amusement as the giant,


who had learned several words of the common tongue­"hot" being high on the


list­picked tentatively at the dripping meat.


    "Amazing how friendly he got, once we started feeding him," remarked Kith-Kanan.


    Indeed, once the hill giant had satisified himself that the elf wasn't going to slay him,


One-Tooth had become an enthusiastic helper. He had carried Kith down the narrow trail


from the ledge with all the care that a mother shows to her firstborn babe. The weight of


the injured elf hadn't seemed to slow the hill giant at all as Sithas led him back over the


steep pass and into this valley.


    The trip had been hard on Kith-Kanan, with each step jarring his injured leg, but he


had borne the punishment in silence. Indeed, he had been amazed and delighted at the


degree of control with which Sithas had seized the reins of their expedition.


    It had taken another day of searching, but finally the Speaker of the Stars had


discovered this shallow cave, its entrance partially screened by boulders and brush. Lying


in the overhang of a rock-walled riverbank, the cave itself was dry and spacious, albeit


not so spacious that the giant didn't have to remain outside. A small stream flowed within


a dozen feet of its mouth, assuring a plentiful supply of water.


    Now that they had reached this forested valley, Sithas had been able to rig a splint


for Kith-Kanan's wound.


    Nevertheless, it galled the leader of the Wildrunners, who had always handled his


own problems, to sit here in forced immobility while his brother, the Speaker of the Stars,


did the hunting, wood-gathering, and exploration, as well as the simpler jobs like


fire-tending and cooking.


    "This is truly amazing, Sithas," Kith said, indicating their rude shelter. "All the


comforts of home."



    The cave was shallow, perhaps twenty feet deep, with a ceiling that rose almost five


feet. Several dense clumps of pines and cedars grew within easy walking distance.


    "Comforts," Sithas agreed. "And even a palace guard!


    One-Tooth looked attentive, sensing that they were talking about him. He grinned


again, though the juice dribbling from his huge lips made the effect rather grotesque.


    "I have to admit, when you first told me that I was going to ride a giant, I thought the


cold had penetrated a little too far between your ears. But it worked!"


    They had set up a permanent camp here, agreeing tacitly between them that without


Arcuballis they were stuck in these mountains at least for the duration of the winter.


    Of course, they were haunted by awareness of the distant war. They had discussed


the nature of Sithelbec's defenses and concluded that the humans probably wouldn't be


able to launch an effective assault before summer. The stout walls ought to stand against


a long barrage of catapult attacks, and the hard earth would make tunneling operations


difficult and time-consuming. All they could do now was wait and hope.


    Sithas had gathered huge piles of pine boughs, which made fairly comfortable beds.


A fire built at the mouth of the cave sent its smoke billowing outward, but radiated its


impressive heat throughout their shelter. It made the cave into a very pleasant shelter,


and­with the presence of OneTooth­Sithas no longer feared for his brother's safety if he


had to be left alone. They both knew that soon enough, Sithas would have to set out on


foot to seek the griffons.


    Now they sat in silence, sharing a sense of well-being that was quite extraordinary,


given the circumstances. They had shelter and warmth, and now they even had extra


food! Lazily Sithas rose and checked his boots, careful not to singe their fur-covered


surface. He turned them slightly to warm a different part of their soggy surface.


Immediately steam began to arise from the soaked leather. He returned to his spot and



flopped down on his own cloak. He looked at his brother, and Kith-Kanan sensed that he


wanted to say something.


    "I think you've got enough food here to last you for a while," Sithas began. "I'm


going to search for the griffons."


    Kith nodded. "Despite my frustration with this­" he indicated his leg­"I think that's


the only thing to do."


    "We're near the heart of the range," Sithas continued, with a nod. "I figure that I can


head out in one direction, make a thorough search, and get back here within a week or ten


days. Even with the deep snow, I'll be able to make some progress. I'll stop back and


check on you and let you know what I've found. If it's nothing, I'll head out in a different


direction after that."


    "Sounds like a reasonable plan," Kith-Kanan agreed. "You'll take the scroll from


Vedvedsica, of course."


    Sithas had planned on this. "Yes. If I find the griffons, I'll try to get close enough to


use the spell."


    His brother looked at him steadily. Kith-Kanan's face showed an expression Sithas


was not accustomed to. The injured elf spoke. "Let me do something before you go. It


might help on your journey."




    Kith wouldn't explain, instead requesting that his brother bring him numerous supple


pine branches­still green, unlike the dried sticks they used for firewood. "The best ones


will be about as big around as your thumb and as long as possible."


    "Why? What do you want them for?"


    His brother acted mysterious, but Sithas willingly gathered the wood as soon as


daylight illuminated the valley. He spent the rest of the day gathering provisions for the



first leg of his trek, checking his own equipment, and stealing sidelong glances at his


brother. Kith-Kanan pretended to ignore him, instead whittling away at the pine branches,


weaving them into a tight pattern, even pulling threads from his woolen cloak to lash the


sticks together firmly.


    Toward sunset, he finally held the finished creations up for Sithas's inspection. He


had made two flat objects, oval in shape and nearly three feet long by a foot wide. The


sticks had been woven back and forth into a grid pattern.


    "Wonderful, Kith­simply amazing. I've never seen anything like them! But ... what


are they?"


    Kith-Kanan smiled smugly. "I learned about them during that winter I spent in the


Wildwood." For a moment, his smile tightened. He couldn't remember that time without


thinking of Anaya, of the bliss they had shared, and of the strange fate that had claimed


her. He blinked and went on. "They're called 'snowshoes'."


    Instantly Sithas saw the application. "I lash these to my boots, right?" he guessed.


"And then walk around, leaving footprints in the snow like a giant?"


    "You'll be surprised, I promise. They'll let you walk on top of the snow, even deep




    Indeed, Sithas wasted no time pulling on his boots and affixing the snowshoes to


them with several straps Kith had created by tearing a strip from one of their cloaks. He


tripped and sprawled headlong as he left the cave but quickly dusted himself off and


started into the woods on a test walk.


    Though the snowshoes felt somewhat awkward on his feet and forced him to walk


with an unusually wide-spread gait, he trotted and marched and plodded through the


woods for nearly an hour before returning to the cave.


    "Big feet!" One-Tooth greeted him outside, where he had left the giant.



    "Good feet!" Sithas replied, reaching up to give the giant a friendly clap on the arm.


    Kith awaited him expectantly.


    "They're fantastic! I can't believe the difference they make!"


    Kith was forced to admit, as he looked at his exhilarated brother, that Sithas no


longer seemed to need the assistance of anyone to cope with the rigors of the high


mountain winter.


    Determined to begin his quest well rested, Sithas tried to force himself to sleep. But


though he closed his eyes, his mind remained alert. It leaped from fear to hope to antici-


pation in a chaotic whirling dance that kept him wide awake as the hours drifted past. He


heard One-Tooth snoring at the cave mouth and saw Kith slumbering peacefully on the


other side of the fire.


    Finally, past midnight, Sithas slept. And when he did, his dreams were rich and


bright, full of blue skies swarming with griffons.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Yellow eyes gleamed in the woods, staring at the fading fire in the mouth of the


cave. The dire wolf crept closer, suppressing the urge to growl.


    The creature saw and smelled the hill giant slumbering at the mouth of the cave.


Though the savage canine was huge­the size of a pony, weighing more than three hun-


dred pounds­it feared to attack the larger hill giant.


    Too, the fire gave it pause. It had been burned once before, and remembered well the


terrifying touch of flame.


    Silently the wolf slinked back into the woods. When it was safely out of hearing of


the cave, it broke into a patient lope, easily moving atop the snow.



    But there was food in the cave. During the lean winter months, fresh meat was a rare


prize in this mountain fastness. The wolf would remember, and as it roamed the valleys,


it would meet others of its kind. Finally, when the pack had gathered, they would return.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Sithas's first expedition, to the west, lasted nearly four weeks. He pressed along


snow-swept ridges and through barren, rock-boundaried vales. He saw no life, save for


the occasional spoor of the hardy mountain sheep or the flying speck of an eagle soaring


in the distance.


    He traveled alone, having persuaded One-Tooth­only after a most intricate series of


contortions, pantomimes, threats, and pleas­to remain behind and guard Kith-Kanan.


Each day his solitude seemed to weigh heavier on him and become an oppressive,


gnawing despair.


    Winds tore at him every day, and as often as not, his world vanished behind a shroud


of blowing snow. The days of clear weather that had followed Kith's injury, he now


realized, had been a fortunate aberration in the typical weather patterns of the high


mountains. Winter closed in with a fury, shrouding him in snow and hail and ice.


    He pressed westward until at last he stood upon a high ridge and saw ground falling


to foothills and plains beyond. He would find no mountainous refuge of griffons in this


direction. The route he followed back to Kith-Kanan and One-Tooth diverged somewhat


from the trail he had taken westward, but this, too, proved fruitless.


    He found his brother and the hill giant in good spirits, with a plentiful supply of


meat. Though Kith could not yet bear his weight on his leg, the limb seemed to be


healing well. Given time, it would regain most of its prior strength.


    After a night of warmth and freshly cooked meat, Sithas began his search to the


north. This time his quest took even longer, for the Khalkist Range extended far along



this axis. After twenty-five days of exploring, however, he saw that he had left the


highest summits of the range behind. Though the trail northward was mountainous and


the land uninhabited, he could see from his lofty vantage that it lacked the towering,


craggy summits that had been so vividly described in Kith-Kanan's dream. It seemed safe


to conclude that the valley of the griffons did not lie farther north.


    His return to camp took another ten days and carried him through more lofty, but


equally barren, country. The only significant finds he made were several herds of deer.


He had stumbled across the creatures by accident and watched them race away, plunging


through the deep snow. It was with a sensation approaching abject hopelessness that he


plodded over the last ridge and found the camp nestled in its cave and remaining very


much as he had left it.


    One-Tooth was eager to greet him, and Kith-Kanan looked stronger and healthier,


though his leg was still awkwardly splinted. His brother was working on an intricately


carved crutch, but as yet he hadn't tried walking with it.


    By now the food supply had begun to run short, so Sithas remained for several days,


long enough to stalk and slay a plump doe. The deer's carcass yielded more meat than


either of his previous kills, and when he returned to camp with the doe, he was surprised


to find Kith waiting at the cave mouth­standing and waiting.


    "Kith! Your leg!" he asked, dropping the deer and stepping quickly to his brother's




    "Hurts like all the fires of the Abyss," Kith grunted, but his teeth, though clenched,


forced his mouth into a tight smile. "Still, it can hold me up, with the help of my crutch."


    "Call you Three-Legs now," observed One-Tooth dryly.


    "Fair enough," Kith agreed, still gritting his teeth.



        "I think this calls for a celebration. How about some melted snow and venison?"


proposed Sithas.


        "Perfect," Kith-Kanan agreed.


        One-Tooth drooled happily, sharing the brothers' elation. The trio enjoyed an


evening of feasting. The giant was the first to tire, and soon he was snoring noisily in his


accustomed position outside the mouth of the cave.


        "Are you going back out?" Kith asked quietly after long moments of contented




        "I have to," Sithas replied. They both knew that there was no other alternative.


        "This is the last chance," Kith-Kanan observed. "We've come up from the south, and


now you've looked to the north and the west. If the valley doesn't lie somewhere to the


east, we'll have to face the fact that this whole adventure might have been a costly pipe




        "I'm not prepared to give up yet!" Sithas said, more sharply than he intended.


Truthfully, the same suspicions had lurked in his own subconscious for many days. What


if he found no sign of the griffons? What if they had to march back to Silvanost on foot, a


journey that would take months and couldn't begin until snowmelt in late spring? And


what if they returned, after all this time, empty handed?


        So it was that Sithas began his eastward search with a taut determination. He pushed


himself harder than ever before, going to reckless lengths to scale sheer passes and tra-


verse lofty, precipitous ridges. The mountains here were the most rugged of any in the


range, and any number of times they came very close to claiming the life of the intrepid




        Every day Sithas witnessed thundering avalanches. He learned to recognize the


overhanging crests, the steep and snow-blanketed heights that gave birth to these



crushing snowslides. He identified places where water flowed beneath the snow, gaining


drinking water when he needed it but avoiding a potential plunge through the ice that, by


soaking him in these woodless heights, would amount to a sentence of death by freezing.


    He slept on high ridges, with rocks for his pillow and bed. He excavated snow caves


when he could and found that the warmth of these greatly improved his chances of


surviving the long, dark nights. But once again he found nothing that would indicate the


presence of griffons­indeed, of any living creatures­among these towering crags.


    He pressed for two full weeks through the barren vales, climbing rock-studded


slopes, dodging avalanches, and searching the skies and the ridges for some sign of his


quarry. He pressed forward each day before dawn and searched throughout the hours of


daylight until darkness all but blinded him to any spoor that wasn't directly in front of his


nose. Then he slept fitfully, anxious for the coming of daylight so that he could resume


his search.


    However, he was finally forced to admit defeat and turned back toward the brothers'


camp. A bleak feeling of despair came over him as he made camp on a high ridge. It was


as he rearranged some rocks to form his sleeping place that Sithas saw the tracks: like a


cat's, only far bigger, larger than his own hand with the fingers fully outstretched. The


rear, feline feet he identified with certainty, and now the nature of the padded forefeet


became clear, too. They might have been made by an incredibly huge eagle, but Sithas


knew this was not the case. The prints had been made by the great taloned griffon.


                                          *   *   *   *   *


    Kith-Kanan squirmed restlessly on his pine-branch bed. The once-soft branches had


been matted into a hard and lumpy mat by more than two months of steady use, and no


longer did they provide a pleasant cushion for his body. As he had often done



before­indeed, as he did a hundred or a thousand times each day­he cursed the injury that


kept him hobbled to this shelter like an invalid.


    He noticed another sound that disturbed his slumber­a rumble like a leaky bellows in


a steel-smelting plant. The noise reverberated throughout the cave.


    "Hey, One-Tooth!" Kith snapped. "Wake up!"


    Abruptly the sound ceased with a snuffling gurgle, and the giant peered sleepily into


the cave.


    "Huh?" demanded the monstrous humanoid. "What Three-Legs want now?"


    "Stop snoring! I can't sleep with all the racket!"


    "Huh?" One-Tooth squinted at him. "Not snoring!"


    "Never mind. Sorry I woke you." Smiling to himself, the wounded elf shifted his


position on the rude mattress and slowly boosted himself to his feet.


    "Nice fire." The giant moved closer to the pile of coals. "Better than village




    "Where is your village?" asked Kith curiously. The giant had mentioned his small


community before.


    "In mountains, close to tree lands."


    This didn't tell Kith much, except that it was at a lower altitude than the valley they


now inhabited, a fact that was just as well, considering his brother's ongoing exploration


of the highlands.


    "Sleep some more," grunted the giant, stretching and yawning. His mouth gaped, and


the solitary tusk protruded until One-Tooth smacked his lips and closed his eyes.


    The giant had made remarkable progress in learning the elven tongue. He was no


scintillating conversationalist, of course, but he could communicate with Kith-Kanan on a


remarkable number of day-to-day topics.



    "Sleep well, friend," remarked Kith softly. He looked at the slumbering giant with


genuine affection, grateful that the fellow had been here during these months of solitude.


    Looking outward, he noticed the pale blue of the dawn sky looming behind


One-Tooth's recumbent form.


    Damn this leg! Why did he have to suffer an injury now, just when his skills were


most needed, when the entire future of the war and of his nation were at stake?


    He had regained some limited mobility. He could totter, albeit painfully, around the


mouth of the cave, getting water for himself and exercising his limbs. Today, he resolved,


he would press far enough to get a few more pine branches for his crude and increasingly


uncomfortable bed.


    But that was nothing compared to the epic quest undertaken by his brother! Even as


Kith thought about making the cave a little more cozy, his brother was negotiating high


mountain ridges and steep, snow-filled valleys, making his camp wherever the sunset


found him, pressing forward each day to new vistas.


    More than once, Kith had brooded on the fact that Sithas faced great danger in these


mountains. Indeed, he could be killed by a fall, or an avalanche, or a band of wolves or


giants­by any of countless threats­and Kith-Kanan wouldn't even know about it until


much time had passed and he failed to return.


    Growling to himself, Kith limped to the cave mouth and looked over the serene


valley. Instead of inspiring mountain scenery, however, all he saw were steep, gray


prison walls, walls that seemed likely to hold him here forever.


    What was his brother doing now? How fared the search for the griffons?


    He limped out into the clear, still air. The sun touched the tips of the peaks around


him, yet it would be hours before it reached the camp on the valley floor.



        Grimacing with pain, Kith pressed forward. One-Tooth's forays for wood and water


had packed down the snow for a large area around their cave, and the elf crossed the


smooth surface with little difficulty.


        He reached the edge of the packed snow, stepping into the spring mush and sinking


to his knee. He took another step, and another, wincing at the effort it took to move his




        Then he froze, motionless, his eyes riveted to the snow before him. His hand reached


for a sword that he was not wearing.


        The tracks were clear in the soft snow. They must have been made the night before.


A pack of huge wolves, perhaps a dozen or more, had run past the cave in the darkness.


Luckily he could see no sign of them now as he carefully backed toward the cave.


        He remembered the fire they had built the night before and imagined the wolves


sidling past, fearful of the flames. Yet he knew, as he studied the silent woods, that


sooner or later they would return.





                                       The Next Day





     Sithas reached upward, pulling himself another several inches closer to his goal.


Sweat beaded upon his forehead, fatigue numbed his arms and legs, and a dizzying


expanse of space yawned below him. All of these factors he ignored in his grim


determination to reach the crest of the ridge.


     The rocky barrier before him loomed high, with sheer sides studded with cracked


and jagged outcrops of granite. A month ago, he reflected as he paused to gasp for breath,


he would have called the climb impossible. Now it represented merely another obstacle,


one that he would treat with respect yet was confident that he would successfully




     High hopes surged in his heart, convincing him to keep on climbing. This had to be


the place! The night before, those tracks on the ledge had seemed so clear, such irrefuta-


ble proof that the griffons lived somewhere nearby. Now doubts assailed him. Perhaps his


mind played tricks on him, and this torturous climb was simply another exercise in




     Beyond this steep-walled ridge, he knew, lay a stretch of the Khalkist Mountains that


he had not yet explored. The region sprawled, a chaos of ridges, glaciers, and valleys. Fi-


nally he pulled himself up over the rocky summit of the divide. He looked into the deep


valley beyond, squinting against the bright sunlight. He no longer wore his scarf pro-


tectively across his face. Four months of exposure to wind, snow, and sun had given his


skin the consistency and toughness of leather.



    No movement greeted his eyes, no sign of life in the wide and deep vale. Yet before


him­and far, far below­he saw a wide expanse of dark green forest. Amidst these trees,


he glimpsed a sparkling reflection that he knew must be a pond or small lake, and unlike


any other body of water he had seen for the last two months, this one was unfrozen!


    He scrambled over the top of the ridge, only to be confronted by a precipitous


descent beyond. Undismayed, he followed the knifelike crest, until at last he found a


narrow ravine that led downward at an angle. Quickly, almost recklessly, Sithas slid


down the narrow chute. Always he kept his eyes on the heavens, searching for any sign of


the magnificent half-lion, half-eagle beasts that he sought.


    Would he be able to tame them? He thought of the scroll he had carried during these


weeks of searching. When he paused to rest, he removed it and examined its ivory tube.


Uncorking the top, he checked to see that the parchment was still curled, well protected,


within. From somewhere, a nagging doubt troubled him, and for the first time, he won-


dered if the enchantment would work. How could mere words, read from such a scroll,


have an effect on creatures as proud and free as the griffons? He could only hope that


Vedvedsica had spoken the truth.


    The ravine provided him good cover and a relatively easy descent that carried him


steadily downward for thousands of feet. He moved carefully, taking precautions that his


footsteps didn't trigger any slide of loose rock. And though he saw no sign of his quarry,


he wanted to make every effort to ensure that it was he who discovered them, rather than


the other way around.


    It took Sithas several hours to make the long, tedious descent. Steep walls climbed to


his right and left, sometimes so close together that he could reach out his hands and touch


each side of the ravine simultaneously. Once he came to a sharp drop-off, some twelve


feet straight down. Turning to face the mountain, he lowered himself over the precipice,



groping with his feet until he found a secure hold. Very carefully, he braced himself and


sought lower grips for his hands. In this painstaking fashion, he negotiated the cliff.


    The floor of the passage wound back and forth like a twisting corridor, and


sometimes Sithas could see no more than a dozen feet in front of him. At such times, he


moved with extra caution, peering around the bend before proceeding ahead. Thus it was


that he came upon the nest.


    At first he thought it to be an eagle's eyrie. A huge circle of twigs, sticks, and


branches rested on a slight shoulder of the ravine. Steep cliffs dropped away below it. A


hollow in the middle of the nest had obviously been smoothed out, creating a deep and


sheltering lair that was nearly six feet across. Three small feathered creatures moved


there, immediately turning to him with gaping beaks and sharp, demanding squawks.


    The animals rose, spreading their wings and bleating with increased urgency. Their


feathers, Sithas saw, were straggly and thin; they looked incapable of flight. Their actions


seemed like those of fledglings, yet already the young griffons were the size of large




    Sithas peeked carefully over the lip of a boulder. The tiny griffons, he saw, had


collected themselves into a bundle of feathers and fur, talons and beaks. They hissed and


spat, the feathers along the napes of their eagle necks bristling. At the same time, feline


tails lashed back and forth in excitement and tension.


    For several moments, the elf dared not draw a breath or even open his mouth. So


powerful was the sense of triumph sweeping over him that he had to resist the temptation


to shout his delight aloud.


    He forced himself to keep still, hiding in the shadow of the huge rock, trying to


restrain the pounding of his heart.


    He had found the griffons! They lived!



     Of course, these nestlings were not the proud creatures he sought, but the nearness of


the flock was no longer a matter of doubt. It remained only a matter of time before he


would discover the full-grown creatures. How many were there? When would they


return? He watched and waited.


     For perhaps half an hour, he remained immobile. He searched the skies above, even


as he shrank against the wall of the ravine and tried to conceal himself from overhead




     With sudden urgency, he pulled the ivory scroll tube from his backpack. Unrolling


the parchment, he studied the symbols of enc