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DragonLance Preludes

Volume One

 

Darkness & Light

 

written by

Paul B.Thompson and Tonya R.Carter

 

* * *

 

Chapter 1

 

Separate Ways

 

Autumn painted Solace in gay colors. Each porch, each window,

was filled with red, orange, and yellow foliage, for the shops and

houses of Solace were nestled among the stout branches of a vale of

vallenwood trees, well above the mossy ground. Here and there were

clearings in the treetown. These were the town's commons, where there

might be a market one week and a traveling carnival the next.

 

On this bright afternoon three figures stood in a sunlit

clearing -- two men and a woman. Two swords played back and forth,

flashing with fire when the sun's rays caught them. Two figures

circled warily, feinting with sudden flicks of their naked blades. The

third one stood back, watching. The swords scraped together with a

kiss of tempered steel. "Well met!" said Caramon Majere, the onlooker.

"A very neat parry, Sturm!"

 

The tall young man with the drooping brown mustache grunted a

brief acknowledgment. He was rather busy. His opponent sprang forward,

lunging at his chest. Sturm Brightblade cut hard at the onrushing

point, backpedaling as he swung. It missed him by a scant inch.

 

Sturm's foe wobbled as she came down off balance, her feet too

far apart.

 

"Steady, Kit!" Caramon called. His half-sister recovered with

the practiced grace of a dancer. She brought her heels together with a

smack of boot leather and presented Sturm with only her slim profile

as a target.

 

"Now, my friend," she said. "I'll show you the skill that comes

from fighting for pay."

 

Kitiara cut tiny circles in the air with her' sword tip. Once,

twice, three times -- Sturm watched the deadly motion. Caramon

watched, too, open-mouthed. At eighteen, he was the size of a

full-grown man, but he was still a boy inside. The wild and worldly

Kitiara was his idol. She had more drive and dash than any ten men.

 

From his place, Caramon could see every nick in the edge of

Kitiara's blade, mementoes of hard-fought battle. The flat of the

blade was shiny from frequent and expert polishing. By contrast,

Sturm's sword was so new that the hilt still showed the blue tinge

from the smith's annealing fire.

 

"Watch your right," said Caramon. Sturm closed his free hand

over the long pommel and awaited Kitiara's attack square on, as a

Solamnic Knight would.

 

"Hai!" Kitiara whirled on one leg, cleaving the air with an

upward sweep of her sword. Caramon's breath caught as she carried her

swing forward. Sturm did not move. Her sword would complete its arc at

his neck. Caramon shut his eyes -- and heard a solid ring of steel.

Feeling foolish, he opened them again.

 

Sturm had parried straight across, hilt to hilt, with no finesse

at all. He and Kitiara stayed locked together with their sword points

high. Kitiara's wrists shook. She stepped in and braced her sword arm

with her empty hand. Sturm forced her guard down. Her face paled, then

flushed red. Caramon knew that look. This friendly bout was not going

to her liking, and Kitiara was getting angry.

 

Vexed, she shifted her stance and strained against Sturm's

greater size and strength. Still her hilt fell. The knobbed quillon of

Sturm's new sword brushed her chin.

 

With an explosive gasp, Kitiara ceased the struggle. Both sword

points stabbed into the green sod.

 

"Enough," she said. "I'll buy the ale. I should've known better

than to let you bind up my guard like that! Come on, Sturm. Let's have

a tankard of Otik's best."

 

"Sounds good to me," he replied. He freed his blade and .

stepped back, breathing heavily. As he moved, Kitiara thrust the flat

of her weapon between his ankles. Sturm's feet tangled, and he

sprawled backward on the grass. His sword flew away, and in the next

instant Kitiara stood over him holding thirty-two inches of steel

poised at his throat.

 

"Combat is not always a sport," she said. "Keep your eyes open

and your sword firmly in hand, my friend, and you'll live longer."

 

Sturm looked up the blade at Kitiara's face. Sweat had stuck

dark curls of hair to her forehead, and her naturally dark lips were

pressed firmly together. Slowly they spread in a lopsided smile. She

sheathed her weapon.

 

"Don't look so downcast! Better a friend knock you down as a

lesson than an enemy cut you down for good." She extended a hand.

"We'd better go before Flint and Tanis drink all of Otik's brew."

 

Sturm grasped her hand. It was warm and calloused from gauntlets

and sword grips. Kitiara pulled him up until they were nose to nose.

Although a head taller and fifty pounds heavier, Sturm still felt like

a callow youth beside her. But her bright eyes and engaging smile

dispelled his anxiety.

 

"I see now how you've managed to prosper as a fighter," he said,

stooping to retrieve his sword. He buried the blade in its sheath.

"Thank you for the lesson. Next time I will keep my feet out of

reach!"

 

"Later, will you teach me some of your moves, Kit?" asked

Caramon eagerly. He carried a short sword himself, a gift from his

adventurous sister. She'd picked it up on one of her many

battlefields. Flint Fireforge, who knew metalwork as few did, said

that Caramon's sword had been made in southern Qualinesti. Only by

clues such as this did her friends know where Kit's wanderings had

taken her.

 

"Why not? I'll tie one hand behind my back to make it fair."

Caramon opened his mouth to retort, but Kitiara clapped a hand over

his lips. "Now, to the inn. If I don't get a draft of ale soon, I'll

perish!"

 

When they reached the base of the great vallenwood tree that

supported the Inn of the Last Home, they found their friend Flint

sitting at the bottom of the ramp. The dwarf had a split of kindling

in his massive, knobby hands and was shaving off hair-thin slices with

a single-edged knife.

 

"Well, you came back with your skin whole," said Flint, eyeing

Sturm. "I half-expected to see you carrying your head under your arm."

 

"Your confidence in me is enormous," the young man replied

sourly. Kitiara halted and draped an arm across Caramon's broad

shoulders.

 

"Better watch yourself, old dwarf. Our Master Sturm has an

uncommonly strong arm. Once he learns not to hold to outdated knightly

codes --"

 

"Honor is never outdated," said Sturm.

 

"Which is how you landed flat on your back with my sword at your

neck. If you would --"

 

"Don't start!" groaned Caramon. "If I have to hear another

debate on honor, I'll die of boredom!"

 

"I won't argue," Kitiara said, slapping her brother on the rump.

"I made my point."

 

"Come with us, Flint. Kit's buying," said Caramon. The elderly

dwarf rose on his stumpy legs, sweeping a cascade of white wood

slivers off his lap. He straightened his clothing and tucked his knife

back in his leggings.

 

"No ale for you," Kitiara said to Caramon with mockmaternal

sternness. 'You're not old enough to drink." Caramon ducked under her

arm, sprinted up to Sturm, and said, "I'm eighteen, Kit."

 

Kitiara's face showed surprise. "Eighteen? Are you sure?" Her

'little' brother was an inch or so taller than Sturm.

 

Caramon gave her a disgusted look. "Of course I'm sure. You just

haven't noticed that I'm a grown man."

 

'You're a baby!" Kitiara cried, whipping out her sword.

 

"Any more out of you and I'll spank you!"

 

"Ha!" Caramon laughed 'You can't catch me!" So saying, he dashed

up the stairs. Kitiara returned her sword and bounded after him.

 

Caramon's long legs covered the steep boards quickly. Laughing,

he and his sister disappeared around the tree trunk.

 

Flint and Sturm ascended more slowly. A light breeze rustled

through the tree, sending a shower of colored leaves across the steps.

Sturm gazed out through the branches at the other tree homes.

 

"In a few weeks, you'll be able to see clear to the other side

of the commons," he mused.

 

"Aye," said Flint. "It's strange not to be on the road right

now. For more years than you've been alive, boy, I've tramped the

roads of Abanasinia from spring to autumn, plying the trade."

 

Sturm nodded. Flint's announced retirement from his itinerant

metalworking had surprised them all.

 

"It's all behind me now," Flint said. "Time to put my feet up,

maybe grow some roses." Sturm found the image of the bluff old dwarf

tending a rose garden so unnatural that he shook his head to dispel

the thought.

 

At the level platform midway up to the inn proper, Sturm paused

by the railing. Flint went a few steps beyond before halting. He

squinted back at Sturm and said, "What is it, boy? You're about to

burst to tell me something."

 

Flint didn't miss a thing.

 

"I'm going away," said Sturm. "To Solamnia. I'm going to look

for my heritage."

 

"And your father?"

 

"If there is any trace of him to be found, I shall find it."

 

"It could be a long journey and a dangerous search," Flint said.

"But I wish I could go with you."

 

"Never mind." Sturm moved away from the rail. "It's my search."

 

Sturm and Flint entered the door of the inn just in time to

receive a barrage of apple cores. As they wiped the sticky palp from

their eyes, the room rocked with laughter.

 

"Who's the rascal responsible?" roared Flint. A gawky young

girl, no more than fourteen, with a head of robust red curls, handed

the outraged dwarf a towel.

 

"Otik pressed some new cider, and they had to have the

leavings," she said apologetically.

 

Sturm wiped his face. Kitiara and Caramon had collapsed against

the bar, giggling like idiots. Behind the bar, Otik, the portly

proprietor of the inn, shook his head.

 

"This is a first-class inn," he said. "Take your pranks outside,

if you gotta pull'em!"

 

"Nonsense!" said Kitiara. She slapped a coin on the bar. Caramon

wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and stared. It was a gold

coin, one of the few he'd ever seen.

 

"That will ease your temper, eh, Otik?" Kitiara said.

 

A tall, well-favored man stool up from his table and approached

the bar. His motion was oddly graceful, and his high cheekbones and

golden eyes eloquently proclaimed his elven heritage. He picked up the

coin.

 

"What's the matter, Tanis?" Kitiara asked. "Haven't you ever

seen gold before?"

 

"Not as large a coin as this," Tanis Half-Elven replied. He

flipped it over. "Where was it struck?"

 

Kitiara lifted her mug from the bar and drank. "I don't know,"

she said. "It's part of my wages. Why do you ask?"

 

"The inscription is Elvish. I would say it was minted in

Silvanesti."

 

Sturm and Flint came over to examine the coin. The deli cate

script was definitely Elvish, Flint said. Far-off Silvanesti had

practically no contact with the rest of Ansalon, and there was much

curiosity as to how an elvish coin managed to drift so far west.

 

"Plunder," said a voice from the corner of the room.

 

"What did you say, Raist?" asked Caramon. In a corner of the

inn's common room a pallid figure could be seen. Raistlin, Caramon's

twin brother. As usual, he was immersed in the study of a dusty

scroll. He rose and moved toward the group; the colored light

filtering through the inn's stainedglass windows gave his pale skin

odd tints.

 

"Plunder," he repeated. "Robbery, rapine, booty."

 

"We know what the word means," said Flint sharply.

 

"He means the coin was probably stolen in Silvanesti and later

turned up in the coffers of Kit's mercenary captain," said Tanis.

 

They passed the coin from hand to hand, turning it around and

feeling the heft of it. More than its crude monetary value, the elven

coin spoke of far-off places and distant, magical people.

 

"Let me see," said an insistent voice from below the bar. A

small, lean arm thrust between Caramon and Sturm.

 

"No!" said Otik, taking the coin from Tanis's hand. "When a

kender gets hold of money, you can kiss it a quick good-bye!"

 

"Tas!" cried Caramon. "I didn't see you come in."

 

"He was in the room the whole time," Tanis said.

 

Tasslehoff Burrfoot, like most of his race, was both clever and

diminutive. He could hide in the smallest places, and was known to be

light-fingered -- "curious," as he said.

 

"Ale all around," said Kitiara, "now that my credit is good."

Otik filled a line of tankards from a massive pitcher, and the friends

retired to the great round table in the center of the room. Raistlin

took a chair with the others, instead of returning to his scroll.

 

"Since we are all here," Tanis said, "someone ought to make a

toast."

 

"Here's to Kit, the founder of the feast!" said Caramon, raising

his clay mug of cider.

 

"Here's to the gold that pays for it," his sister responded.

 

"Here's to the elves who coined it," offered Flint.

 

"I'll drink to elves in any form," Kitiara said. She smiled over

her mug at Tanis. A question formed on his lips, but before he could

speak it, Tasslehoff stood on his stool and waved for attention.

 

"I say we drink to Flint," said Tas. "This is the first year

since the Cataclysm that he won't be on the road."

 

A chuckle circled the table, and the old dwarf reddened. "You

whelp," he growled. "How old do you think I am?"

 

"He can't count that high," said Raistlin.

 

"Well, I'm a hundred and forty-three, and I can lick any man,

woman, or kender in the place," Flint declared. He thumped a heavy

fist on the table. "Care to test me?" He had no takers. Despite his

age and short stature, Flint was powerfully muscled and a good

wrestler.

 

They toasted and drank from then on with good cheer, as

afternoon became evening and evening became night. To stave off

tipsiness, one of Otik's large suppers was ordered. Soon the table was

groaning under platters of squab and venison, bread, cheese, and

Otik's famous fried potatoes.

 

The red-haired girl brought each platter to the diners. At one

point, Caramon put his gnawed chicken bones in her apron pocket. The

girl responded gamely, dropping a hot potato slice down Caramon's

collar. He squirmed out of his chair as the girl skipped back to

Otik's kitchen.

 

"Who the blazes is she?" asked Caramon, wiggling the crispy

potato slice out his shirttail.

 

"She is in Otik's care," said Raistlin. "Her name is Tika." The

night passed on. Other patrons came and went. It grew late, and Otik

had Tika light a fork of candles for the friends' table. The merry

banter of the early evening gave way to calmer, more reflective

conversation.

 

"I'm going tomorrow," Kitiara announced. By candlelight her

tanned face seemed golden. Tanis studied her and felt all the old

pangs return. She was a most alluring woman.

 

"Going where?" asked Caramon.

 

"North, I think," she answered.

 

"Why north?" Tanis asked.

 

"Reasons of my own," she said, but her smile softened the flat

answer.

 

"Can I go with you?" Caramon said.

 

"No, you can't, brother."

 

"Why not?"

 

Kitiara, seated between her half-brothers, glanced at Raistlin.

Caramon's gaze went from her to his twin. Of course. Raistlin needed

him. Though twins, they were not much alike. Caramon was a genial

young bear, while Raistlin was a studious wraith. He was frequently

ill and had an uncanny habit of antagonizing large belligerent types.

 

After the birth of the twins, their mother had never recovered

her strength, so Kitiara had fought for young Raistlin's health. Now

it was Caramon who watched out for his twin. "I'm leaving, too," put

in Sturm. "North." He glanced at Kitiara.

 

"Foo," said Tasslehoff. "North is dull. I've been there. Now

east, there's the way to go. There's lots to see in the East --

cities, forests, mountains --"

 

"Pockets to pick, horses to 'borrow'," said Flint.

 

The kender stuck out his lower lip. "I can't help it if I'm good

at finding things."

 

"Someday you'll find from the wrong person, and they'll hang you

for it."

 

"I have to go north," Sturm said. He leaned forward, resting his

chin on his hands. "I'm going back to Solamnia."

 

They all stared at him. They knew the story of Sturm's exile

from his homeland. Twelve years had passed since the peasants of

Solamnia had risen against the knightly lords. Sturm and his mother

had escaped with only their lives. The knights were still despised in

their own country.

 

"Could you use a good right arm?" offered Kitiara. Her offer

caught everyone by surprise.

 

"I wouldn't want you to go out of your way," said Sturm,

noncommittally.

 

"North is north. I've been east and south and west."

 

"Very well then. I'd be honored to have you with me." Sturm

turned from Kitiara to Tanis. "What about you, Tan?"

 

Tanis pushed a hunk of bread through the remains of his dinner.

"I've been thinking of doing some travel myself. Nothing specific,

just a trek to see some places I haven't seen. I don't think my

journey will take me north." He looked at Kitiara, but her gaze was

directed at Sturm.

 

"That's the idea," Tasslehoff said briskly. His right hand

dipped into his fur vest and came out with a flat copper disk. He

rolled the disk over the back of his knuckles. It was an exercise he

sometimes did to keep his fingers nimble. Not that he needed practice.

"Let's go east, Tanis, you and me."

 

"No." The flat turn-down froze the copper disk midway across the

back of the kender's small hand. "No," said Tanis again, more gently.

"This is a trip I must make alone."

 

The table was silent again. Then Caramon let out a single great

hiccup, and the laughter returned.

 

"Pardon me!" said Caramon, reaching for Kitiara's tankard. She

was not fooled. As his hand closed around the pewter stem, she rapped

his wrist with her spoon. Caramon snatched his hand back. "Ouch!" he

protested.

 

"You'll get worse if you try it again," said Kitiara. Caramon

grinned and made a fist.

 

"Save your energy, brother," Raistlin said. "You'll need it."

 

"How so, Raist?"

 

"Since everyone has decided to undertake journeys, this seems

like a good time to announce one of my own."

 

Flint snorted. "You wouldn't last two days on the road."

 

"Perhaps not." Raistlin folded his long, tapering fingers.

"Unless my brother goes with me."

 

"Where and when?" asked Caramon, pleased to be going anywhere.

 

"I cannot say where just now," Raistlin said. His pale blue eyes

stared fixedly at his nearly untouched plate of food. "It may be a

long and perilous voyage."

 

Caramon jumped up. "I'm ready."

 

"Siddown," Kitiara said, dragging on her brother's vest tail.

Caramon plumped down on his stool.

 

Flint sighed a great, gusty sigh. "You're all leaving me," he

said. "I'll not go a-tinkering this season, and all my friends are

going their own way He sighed again, so heavily that the rack of

candles flickered.

 

"You old bear," Kitiara said. "You're feeling sorry for

yourself. There's no law that says you have to stay in Solace by

yourself. Don't you have any relatives that you can impose on?"

 

"Yes," Tasslehoff added, "you can visit your graybearded, I mean

gray-haired, old mother.

 

The dwarf bellowed his outrage. Those sitting closest to Flint

-- Caramon and Sturm -- slid quickly away from the furious dwarf.

Flint banged his tankard on the tabletop, sending a splash of ale at

Tasslehoff. Rivulets of sticky golden ale ran off the kender's nose

and soaked into his topknot of wild brown hair. He rubbed the brew

from his eyes.

 

"Nobody makes sport of my mother!" Flint declared.

 

"Not more than once, anyway," Tanis observed sagely.

 

Tas wiped his face on his sleeve. He picked up his own

scaled-down tankard (it was empty) and tucked it under his arm like an

absurd helm. Assuming an air of injured dignity, he declaimed, "Now we

must fight a duel!"

 

Kitiara said gleefully. "I'll be your second, Tas."

 

"I'll stand for Flint!" Caramon cried.

 

"Who has choice of weapons?" asked Tanis.

 

"Flint's challenged; it is his choice," Sturm said, smiling.

 

"What'll it be, old bear? Apple cores at ten paces? Ladles and

pot lids?" asked Kitiara.

 

"Anything but ale mugs," Tas quipped, his pose of haughty

dignity replaced by his usual grin. The laughter didn't stop until

Tika returned.

 

"Shh! Shh, it's late! Will you people be quiet!" she hissed.

 

"Go on, before someone spanks you," Caramon said, without

turning to look at her. Tika slipped in behind his stool and made

horrid faces at him. The others laughed at her. Caramon was puzzled.

 

"What's so funny?" he demanded.

 

Tika deftly lifted the dagger from Caramon's belt sheath. She

raised it over her head with a terrifying grimace, as though to stab

Caramon in the back. Tears ran down Kitiara's face, and Tas fell off

his chair. "What?" shouted Caramon. Then he snapped his head around

and spied Tika in midgrimace. "Aha!" He started after her. The girl

darted around the nearby empty tables. Caramon blundered after her,

upsetting chairs and stumbling against stools.

 

Otik appeared from the kitchen with a lamp in his hand. His

nightshirt was askew and his sparse white hair was standing up in

comic tufts. "What's this row? Can't a man get some sleep around here?

Tika, where are you, girl?" The red-haired girl peeked over the rim of

a table. "You were supposed to hush them, not join in the party."

 

"That man was chasing me." She pointed at Caramon, who was busy

studying the candle-lit rafters. "Go to your room." Tika went

regretfully. She cast a last grin back at Caramon and stuck out her

tongue. When he started toward her, she flipped his dagger at him. It

struck the floor quivering, inches from his feet. Tika vanished

through the kitchen's swinging doors.

 

Otik planted his fists on his hips. "Flint Fireforge! I expected

better of you. You're old enough to know better. And you, Master

Sturm; a well-bred fellow like you ought to know better than to be

roistering this late at night." Flint looked properly abashed. Sturm

smoothed his long mustache with his right forefinger and said nothing.

 

"Don't be an old sop," said Kitiara. "Tika was very amusing.

Besides, this is a going-away party."

 

"Everything is amusing to people who've got four kegs of ale in

their bellies," growled Otik. "Who's going away?"

 

"Well, everybody."

 

Otik turned back to the kitchen. He said, "Well, for pity's

sake, go quietly!" and left.

 

Caramon returned to the table. Through a gaping yawn he said,

"That Tika's the ugliest girl in Solace. Old Otik'll have to put up a

big dowry to get her married off!"

 

"You never know," said Raistlin with a glance at the kitchen.

"People change."

 

It was time to part. There was no reason to delay any longer.

Sensing this, Tanis stood with folded hands and said, "Though we

friends will separate, our good wishes cannot be diminished by time or

distance. But to keep the circle in our hearts, we must come together

again, each year on this day, here in the inn."

 

"And if we cannot!" asked Sturm.

 

"Then five years from today, everyone here tonight shall return

to the Inn of the Last Home. No matter what. Let's make this a sacred

vow. Who will take it with me?"

 

Kitiara pushed back her stool and put her right hand in the

center of the table. "I'll take that vow," she said. Her eyes fixed

Tanis in a powerful hold. "Five years."

 

Tanis lowered his hand on hers. "Five years."

 

"Upon my honor, and in the name of the house of Brightblade,"

Sturm said solemnly, "I vow to return in five years." He placed his

sword hand on Tanis's.

 

"Me, too," said Caramon. His broad palm hid even Sturm's hand

from sight.

 

"If I am living, I will be here," said Raistlin, with a strange

lilt in his voice. He added his gracile touch to his brother's.

 

"And me! I'll be here waiting for all of you!" So saying,

Tasslehoff stepped up on the tabletop. His tiny hand rested next to

Raistlin's, both lost on Caramon's wide hand.

 

"Lot of confounded nonsense," Flint grumbled. "How do I know

what I'll be doing five years from now'? Could be a lot more important

than sitting in an inn, waiting for a pack of errant rascals."

 

"C'mon, Flint. We're all taking the oath," said the kender.

 

"Hmph." The old dwarf leaned over and set his age- and work-worn

hands around the others. "Reorx be with you until we meet again," he

said. His voice caught, and his friends knew him for the sentimental

old fraud he was.

 

They left Flint at the table. The twins departed. Tanis,

Kitiara, and Sturm strolled to the foot of the stairway. Tasslehoff

trailed after them.

 

"I will say good night," said Sturm, with a glance at Tanis.

 

"But not good-bye." They clasped hands. "Kit, my horse is

stabled at the farrier's. Will you meet me there?"

 

"That's good. My beast is there, too. Sunrise tomorrow?" Sturm

nodded and looked around for Tas.

 

"Tas?" he called. "Where did he get to? I wanted to say

good-bye."

 

Tanis gestured toward the inn above. "He went back up, I think."

Sturm nodded and strode away into the cool night. Tanis and Kitiara

were left with the crickets, which sang from the massive trees, a

symphony of hundreds.

 

"Walk with me?" asked Tanis.

 

"Wherever you like," Kitiara replied.

 

They strolled a dozen paces from the inn before Kitiara took the

opportunity to slip her arm through Tanis's. "I have a thought," she

said slyly.

 

"What's that?"

 

"That you should stay with me tonight. It may be five years

before we see each other again."

 

He halted and drew his arm free. "I cannot," said Tanis.

 

"Oh? And why not? There was a time not so long ago when you

couldn't keep away from me."

 

"Yes, in between the times you spent far away, campaigning for

whoever would pay you."

 

Kitiara lifted her chin. "I'm not ashamed of what I do."

 

"I don't expect you to be. The point is, I've come to realize

more and more clearly that you and I are of two worlds, Kit. Worlds

that can never hope to be reconciled."

 

"So what are you saying?"

 

"I had a birthday while you were gone. Do you know how old I am?

Ninety-seven. Ninety-seven years old, Kit! If I were a human, I'd be a

withered ancient. Or dead."

 

She eyed his willowy form appreciatively. "You're not withered

or ancient."

 

"That's the point! My elvish blood will extend my life far

beyond the normal span of humans." Tanis stepped closer and took her

hands. "While you, Kit, will age and die."

 

Kitiara laughed. "Let me worry about that!"

 

"You won't. I know you, Kit. You're burning your youth out like

a two-ended candle in a gale. How do you think I feel, knowing that

you might be killed in battle for some petty warlord, while I would

live on and on without you? It has to end, Kit. Tonight. Here and

now."

 

Though it was dark, and the white moon, Solinari, was hidden by

boughs of val1enwood Tanis saw the hurt in Kitiara's expression. It

was there but an instant. She mastered it and forced a superior smile.

 

"Maybe it's just as well," she said. "I never did like being

tied down. My poor fool of a mother was like that -- she never could

get along without a husband to tell her what's what. That's not my

style. I take after my father. Burning in the wind, am I? So be it! I

ought to thank you, Tanthalus Half-Elven, for holding a mirror up to

the truth --"

 

He interrupted her tirade with a kiss. It was a gentle,

brotherly kiss on the cheek. Kitiara glared.

 

"It's not what I want, Kit," Tanis said with great sorrow.

 

"It's how it must be."

 

She slapped him. Being the warrior she was, Kitiara's slap was

no light tap. Tanis staggered and put a hand to his face. A thin smear

of blood showed in the corner of his mouth. "Keep your pretty

gestures," she spat. "Save them for your next lover, if you find one!

Who will it be, Tanis? A full-blooded elf maiden? But no, the elves

would despise you as a half-breed. You need a female version of

yourself to love." She marched away, leaving Tanis staring. "You'll

never find her!" Kitiara called from the darkness. "Never!"

 

The crickets had quieted under Kitiara's shouts. In their own

time they began to sing again. Tanis stood alone in the night, finding

no comfort in their song.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

High Crest

The sky hab not yet lost its violet hue when Sturm

reached the farrier's shop. Tirien, the farrier, had his estab-

lishment in a vallenwood tree. The winding ramp to Tirien's

shop was doubly wide and strongly braced for horses.

Tirien, ruddy-faced from leaning over forge fires, and with

heavily muscled arms and shoulders from wielding his farri-

er's hammer, was already up and about when the knight

arrived.

"Sturm!" he boomed. "Come in, lad. I'm just straighten-

ing some nails." Tirien's helper, a boy named Mercot,

plucked a red-hot spike from the furnace with a pair of

tongs. He set the bent nail in the groove atop Tirien's anvil,

and the brawny farrier smote it twice. Mercot flicked the

straight nail into a bucket of water. A serpent's hiss and a

 

wisp of steam arose.

"I need my horse, Tirien," said Sturm.

"Right. Mercot, fetch Master Brightblade's animal."

The boy's eyes widened. Rings of soot around them made

him look like a startled owl. "The chestnut gelding?"

"Aye, and be quick about it!" said Tirien. To Sturm he

continued, "Reshod him, as you asked. A good mount."

Sturm paid his bill while Mercot led Tallfox, his horse, to

the lower platform. Sturm had bought Tallfox from a Que-

kiri tribesman only a few weeks before, and he was still

learning the horse's manners.

He shouldered his bedroll and pack and descended the

ramp to where Mercot had tied his mount. Tirien's hammer

rang out again, banging twisted scrap iron into arrow-

straight horseshoe spikes.

Sturm distributed his baggage over Tallfox's sides and

rump. He filled his water bottle and heard, "You're late."

Kitiara was slouched in a corner under the livery's eaves.

She was wrapped to her ears in a red horse blanket.

"Am I?" asked Sturm. "The sun is just rising. When did

you get here!"

"Hours ago. I slept here," she said, casting off the blanket.

Underneath, Kitiara still wore the clothes she'd had on the

previous night. She stretched her arms and braced the knots

out of her stiff back.

"Why in the gods' names did you sleep here?" asked

Sturm. "Did you think I'd forget and leave without you?"

"Oh, not you, noble friend. It seemed like a good place to

sleep, that's all. Besides, Pira needed a shoe repaired."

Sturm led Tallfox down to the ground. He swung into

Tallfox's saddle and waited for his companion. Kitiara came

loping down the ramp, leading a rather nondescript brown

and white spotted mare.

"Something wrong?" she asked, mounting beside Sturm.

"I just imagined that you would prefer a fiery stallion for

your mount," he replied. "This, ah, quaint animal doesn't

suit you at all."

"This 'quaint animal' will still be walking a steady pace

long after that beast of yours is no more than bones and

hide," Kitiara said. Her fitful sleep had not improved her

 

temperament since her parting with Tanis. "I've been on six

campaigns with Pira, and she's always carried me home."

"My apologies."

They rode out of Solace, north by east. The new sun

pierced the hills around Solace and warmed the air. Sturm

and Kitiara breakfasted simply, on jerky and water. The fine

dawn became an even finer morning, and Kitiara's spirits

rose.

"I can't be unhappy on the road," she said. "There's too

much to see and do."

"We should be on guard as well," Sturm said. "I heard

travelers in the inn say there were brigands about."

"Tshaw. Peasants on foot may have reason to fear brig-

ands, but two warriors, armed and mounted -- it's the rob-

bers who'd best be afraid!" Sturm made polite assent, but

still kept his eyes on the horizon and his sword hilt handy.

Their route was simple enough. Once clear of Solace's

hills, the two would turn northwest and make for the coast.

On the shore of the Straits of Schallsea was a small fishing

port called Zaradene. From there Kitiara and Sturm could

easily take passage to Caergoth in southern Thelgaard.

North of Caergoth lay Solamnia proper, their ultimate des-

tination.

Such was their plan. But plans, as said the sage wizard

Arcanist, are like figures drawn in sand: easily made and

just as easily disturbed.

The forests and hills of Abanasinia thinned with the

miles. Kitiara filled the hours with tales of her past adven-

tures.

"My first hire was with Mikkian's Marauders. They were

a bad lot. Mikkian was a low-born lout from Lemish. He

had the bad fortune of always losing parts of himself in

battle -- an eye, an arm, half an ear. Pretty ugly he was, and

mean! I walked into his camp, sure of my skill with a blade.

In those days, I had to pretend to be a boy, else the churls

would have ganged up on me," she said.

"How does one go about getting hired as a mercenary?"

"In Mikkian's band, there was only one way: kill one of

his men. Mikkian had only so many openings on his pay-

roll, and he wouldn't expand it for anybody." Kitiara wrin-

 

kled her nose at the memories conjured up by Mikkian.

"Worthless rogue! The foot soldiers made a big ring and put

me in it with a snaggletoothed axeman called -- now what

was his name? First man I ever killed. Trigneth? Drigneth?

Some name like that. So we went at it, axe against sword. It

was not a pretty fight, I tell you. We had to stay in the dead

center of the ring, or Mikkian's boys would poke us with

daggers and spear points. Trigneth -- Drigneth? -- fought

like a woodcutter, chop, chop, chop. He never laid an edge

on me. I got him with a straight thrust, right through the

neck." She regarded Sturm. He looked shocked.

"How long were you with Mikkian's company?" he

asked, finally.

"Twelve weeks. We sacked a walled town near Takar, and

Mikkian finally lost a part he couldn't do without." Sturm

raised an eyebrow. "His head," said Kitiara. "That was the

end of the Marauders. It was every man for himself, and the

whole company broke up, looting and killing. The towns-

folk rose up and fought back, wiping out the whole damn

gang. Save for yours truly." She smiled crookedly.

Kitiara had a deep fund of such stories, all exciting and

nearly all bloody. Sturm found himself confused. He'd

known her for about two years now and was no closer to

understanding her. This handsome, bright woman pos-

sessed no small measure of wit and charm, and yet was

enamored with war on its basest level. He had to admit he

marveled at her strength and cunning -- but he feared Kiti-

ara a little, too.

The road petered into a path, and after a score of miles it

merged into a stretch of sandy pine barrens. The air grew

still and heavy with moisture. They camped in the barrens

that night, and the wind gave them their first smell of the

sea.

Pine knots made an acrid, smoky campfire. As Kitiara fed

the flames, Sturm watered the horses. He returned to the

dim circle of firelight and squatted on the sand. Kitiara

handed him a cold mutton joint. Sturm gnawed the pep-

pered meat, and Kitiara leaned back, her feet to the fire and

her head pillowed by her bedroll.

"There's Paladine," she said. "See?" She pointed to the

 

heavens. "Paladine, Mishakal, Branchala," she said, naming

each constellation in turn. "Do you know the sky?"

"My boyhood tutor, Vedro, was an astrologer," Sturm

said, not really answering. He lifted his eyes. "It is said that

the will of the gods can be divined by the movement of the

stars and planets."

"What gods?" Kitiara replied lazily.

"You don't believe in the gods7"

"Why should I? What have they done for the world

lately? Or for me ever?"

Sturm could tell she was baiting him, so he decided to

drop the subject. "What is that group there?" he asked.

"Opposite Paladine?"

"Takhisis. The Queen of Darkness."

"Oh, yes. The Dragonqueen." He tried to see the author-

ess of evil, but to him it was only a spatter of stars.

The white orb of Solinari climbed above the horizon. In

its glow, the sandy hillocks and solitary pines were pale

ghosts of their daytime selves. Not long after, in the middle

quadrant of the sky, a red glow of equal size appeared.

"Now that I know," said Sturm. "Lunitari, the red moon."

"Luin to the Ergothites, Red-Eye in Goodlund. A strange

color for a moon, don't you think?" said Kitiara.

He tossed the naked mutton bone aside. "I didn't know

there were proper colors for moons."

"White or black are proper. Red means nothing." She

propped her head up so that Lunitari was directly in her line

of sight. "I wonder why it's red?"

Sturm reclined on his bedroll'. "The gods ordained it so.

Lunitari is the abode of neutrality, of neutral magic and illu-

sion. Vedro theorized that the color came from the blood

sacrificed to the gods." He offered this cautiously. "Other

philosophers claim the red color represents the heart of

Huma, the first knight of the Dragonlance." There was only

silence from his companion. "Kit?" he said quietly. A rasp

from the shadows revealed the result of his lecture. Kitiara

was asleep.

 

The village of Zaradene was a low, brown smudge on the

gray-white shore. There were perhaps fifty weatherworn

houses of varying size, none with more than two stories.

Sturm and Kitiara rode down the face of a steeply sloping

dune toward the village. On the way, they had to thread

through lines of sharpened stakes, buried in the sand with

the points slanting out. Here and there the stakes were

scorched by fire.

"A hedgehog," Kitiara remarked. "A defense against cav-

alry. The villagers must have been raided not long ago."

Behind the stakes was a shallow trench, which was spotted

with black clots of blood, soaked into the sand.

The faces of the people of Zaradene were not friendly as

Sturm and Kitiara rode up the single sandy track that was

the main street. Sullen eyes and work-gnarled hands

clenched into fists seemed to be everywhere.

Kitiara reined up and dismounted in front of a sagging

gray tavern that bore the name Three Fishes. Odd white

posts and rafter ends showed between the weatherworn

clapboards. Sturm tied Tallfox to one of the posts. It was

bone, from some enormous, long-dead sea creature.

"What do you suppose it was?" he asked Kit curiously.

Kitiara glanced at the bone and said, "Sea serpent, may-

be. Come. There'll be shipmasters in here."

The Three Fishes tavern was well filled with patrons for

so early an hour. The first master that Kitiara approached

growled "Mercenaries!" and spat at her feet. She almost

drew her blade on him, but Sturm caught her wrist. "Cut

one, and we'll have to fight them all," he muttered. "Be

patient. We must have a boat to cross the straits."

They tried half a dozen sea captains and were rebuffed

each time. Kitiara was fuming. Sturm was puzzled. He'd

voyaged before, and knew that mariners usually liked to

take on a few passengers. They paid better than fishing or

cargo did, took care of themselves, and didn't take up much

deck space. So why are the masters of Zaradene so hostile?

he wondered.

They drifted to the bar. Kitiara called for ale, but all the

barkeep had was black wine of Nostar. After a sip of the bit-

ter vintage, Sturm shoved his cup aside. Better to be thirsty,

 

he thought.

Kitiara plunked one of her Silvanesti coins on the dirty

bar. Even in the dim tavern, the glow of gold caught the bar-

keep's eye. He came to the end of the bar, where Sturm and

Kitiara leaned.

"You want something?" said the man. A sheen of sweat

coated his shaved head.

"Words," said Kitiara. "Merely a few words."

"For that amount of gold, you can have all the words you

want." The barkeeper tucked his greasy rag under his arm.

Sturm wondered idly which was dirtier, the rag or the bar-

keep's canvas shirt.

"What happened here?" asked Kitiara.

"They don't like mercenaries here. Ten nights ago, horse-

men attacked the village. Carried off everything they could

grab, including some women and children."

"Who were they?" Sturm asked. "Did they wear insig-

nia?"

"Some say they wasn't true men at all," said the bar-

keeper. "Some say they had hard, dark skin and --" He

looked from side to side to see if anyone else was listening.

"-- and some say they had tails!"

Sturm started to ask another question, but Kitiara

stopped him with a glance. "We need to buy passage to

Caergoth," she said. "Will anybody in Zaradene take us?"

"Dunno. Some of them lost heavy in the raid. They'd as

like to slit your throats as take you to sea."

The barkeep went back to dispensing his awful wares,

Sturm surveyed the room. "I don't like this," he said. "Raid-

ers with tails? What sort of monsters could they have been?"

"Don't take that one's mutterings too seriously," Kitiara

said. "The farther you get from safe havens like Solace, the

wilder and weirder the tales you'll hear." She tossed back the

Nostarian wine without a shudder. "Skinhead is right about

one thing; we have no friends in this room."

From behind their backs, a voice said, "Be not certain of

that, me hearties."

Sturm and Kitiara faced the speaker. He was a full head

shorter than Kitiara, with sharply pointed features and a

clean, boyish face -- signs of elven blood. Kitiara saw a flash

 

of Tanis as she had last seen him, blood on his lips, his cheek

red from her slap, staring at her in shock.

"Tirolan Ambrodel, at your service." He bowed from the

waist. "Mariner, map maker, gem cutter, and piper." Tirolan

reached for Kitiara's hand and raised it to his lips. He didn't

kiss it, but touched it to his forehead. She smiled.

Sturm introduced them both and asked, "Can you pro-

vide us with transport to Caergoth, Master Ambrodel?"

"Easily, sir. Me craft, High Crest, is laden with dunnage

for that very port. Will it be just the two of you?"

"And two horses. We're traveling light," Kitiara said.

"For two passengers and two horses, I shall require five

gold pieces -- each."

Sturm gaped at the high price, but Kitiara laughed scorn-

fully. "We'll give you four gold pieces for the both of us," she

said.

"Eight for both," countered Tirolan.

"Five," she said. "And we'll pay in Silvanesti gold."

Tirolan Ambrodel's arched brows bunched over his thin

nose. "True gold of Eli?"

Kitiara picked up the coin from the bar and flashed it in

the mariner's face. Carefully, almost tenderly, Tirolan

reached for the elven gold. He held the coin, caressed it, and

ran his fingertips over the worn inscription. "Very fine," he

said. "Do you know that this coin is more than five hundred

years old? Minted just before the Lords of the East withdrew

into the forest, severing all ties with the human world. How

many of these relics have you tossed away for meat and

wine?"

"I had a dozen," said Kitiara. "Now I have five. They are

yours if you ferry us to Caergoth."

"Done!"

"When do we sail?" asked Sturm.

"The tide ebbs with the first moon's rise. When the silver

moon clears the grip of the sea, we up anchor! And away."

Tirolan slipped the coin into a suede pouch on his belt.

"Now, follow me, and I'll take you to the High Crest."

Sturm dropped some coins on the bar, and they exited the

tavern. They led Tallfox and Pira through the streets of

Zaradene, following as Tirolan Ambrodel led. People turn-

 

ed from them everywhere they went. One old crone uttered

a charm against bad luck as Tirolan passed.

"The natives are very superstitious," he said. "Anything

or anyone foreign is believed dangerous these days."

Sturm looked back at the circle of stakes in the dunes

above the town. "They have reason to be afraid," he said.

Zaradene had a single decrepit wharf. Sturm was uncer-

tain the warped planks would hold Tallfox's weight, but

Tirolan assured him that it was safe. Cargo far heavier than

horses passed over the wharf every day, he said.

"Where's your boat?" asked Kitiara.

"Me ship is beyond the headland, yonder."

"Why anchor so far out?" Sturm asked.

"Me vessel and crew are not well liked in Zaradene. When

we must call here, we moor in deep water so as to avoid

trouble with the natives."

A wide, shell-like lighter was tied to the pier. A man lay

asleep in the stern, a ragged cap over his face. Tirolan

jumped into the lighter, startling the man into wakefulness.

"This your boat?" said Tirolan in a loud, cheerful voice.

"Uh, yeah."

"Well then, hop to it, man. You can earn your grog money

for the week."

The horses were led to a gangplank. Kitiara spoke sooth-

ingly to Pira, and the mare entered the rocking lighter with-

out too much trouble. Tallfox, on the other hand, balked

completely. Sturm wrapped the reins around his fists and

tried to drag the terrified animal into the boat.

"No, no, that's not the way," said Tirolan. He hopped to

the narrow gunwale and walked agilely to the foot of the

gangplank. "May I, Master Brightblade?" Sturm reluctantly

gave over the reins. Tallfox began to calm the moment Tiro-

lan's slim hands stroked his neck.

Tirolan spoke soothingly to the horse. "Strong as you

are, and you're afraid of a little boat ride? I'm not afraid.

Am I better than you? Am I braver?" To Sturm and Kitiara's

astonishment, Tallfox shook his head energetically and

snorted. "Then," continued Tirolan in quiet, golden tones,

"step down and take your place with your friends." The

chestnut gelding stepped daintily into the lighter and stood

 

quietly next to Pira. Their tails switched gently in time with

the rocking of the boat.

"How did you do that?" asked Kitiara.

Tirolan shrugged. "I have a way with animals."

After sculling away from the pier, the boatman raised a

tattered lateen sail. The lighter skimmed between bobbing

fishing craft and past the few major merchant ships in the

harbor. The laden boat ran uneventfully all the way to the

southern headland. Then the wind died, and the boatman

went back to his sweep.

Dark slate-and-indigo clouds piled up on the southern

horizon. Against the blue and green of 'the sea stood the

white hull of the High Crest. Its shape was quite unlike the

other boats in Zaradene harbor. The sheer line rose from the

low, sharp bow to a high poop. The single lofty mast was

painted white, too, and in the freshening air, a green pen-

nant rippled from the masthead.

"Me vessel," said Tirolan proudly. "Isn't she beautiful?"

"I've never seen a white ship before," said Sturm.

"It's very handsome," Kitiara said. She frowned privately

at Sturm and gestured to him.

Amidships, they huddled between their mounts. "This is

getting stranger by the minute," whispered Kitiara. "An

elven captain, shunned by the local folk, a strange white

ship anchored far from other vessels. There's more to this

than meets the eye. I'm glad I lied about how many gold

coins I have."

Sturm said, "I agree. The way he charmed Tallfox wasn't

natural. I think he used a spell." To Sturm, steeped in the

Solamnic tradition, there was no worse sign than the use of

magic.

Kitiara put a hand to his shoulder and said, "Keep your

sword handy."

"All is well?" called Tirolan, over his shoulder.

"Very well," said Kitiara. "Oh, your ship is big."

They were now only a hundred yards from it, and the

High Crest filled their view. The white ship rode steadily in

the waves, anchored at both bow and stern. The deck and

rigging were empty, but a boarding ladder hung over the

bulwark, waiting. Tirolan snared a dangling rope and tied

 

the lighter fast to the High Crest.

"Ho, there, me hearties! Show yourselves," he sang out in

a clear tenor. The ship's ghostly inactivity vanished in a flur-

ry of bare feet and whoops. A score of agile sailors, all

sharp-featured and beardless, poured onto the deck. Sturm

found himself seized by eager hands and hauled to the deck.

Kitiara followed, carried by four smiling sailors. She

laughed, and they set her on her feet beside Sturm.

A sailor with white hair (yet quite young looking)

approached Tirolan and bowed to him. "Hail, Kade Berun!"

said Tirolan.

"Hail hail, Tirolan Ambrodel!"

"We've two fine horses to bring aboard, Kade. See to it,

will you?"

"Horses! I haven't seen horses since --" Kade Berun

glanced at Sturm and Kitiara. "-- since we left home." He

shouted some orders in a strange tongue, and the lively sail-

ors rushed to the rail overlooking the lighter. They looked at

Tallfox and Pira with unconcealed admiration. The chatter

ceased.

"Sling a boom!" called the boatman in the lighter. "I'll fas-

ten the harness and you can hoist them up!"

The High Crest crew did so and they all were quickly

aboard the ship. Beneath the rapidly setting sun, the sailors

fell to quickly and soon had the High Crest ready for sea.

The sail was raised, a fat triangle of brilliant green fabric.

The High Crest stirred and stood out from the Abanasinian

headland. Tirolan took the wheel and buried the ship's bow

in the tossing waves of the Straits of Schallsea.

Kitiara discarded her black leather jerkin. The breeze

stirred her light linen blouse. She closed her eyes and ran her

fingers through her short black curls. When she opened her

eyes, she spied Sturm brooding by the bowsprit.

"Cheer up!" she said, whacking him on the back. "The

wind is fair and Tirolan seems to know his trade. We'll be in

Caergoth in no time."

"I suppose," Sturm answered. "But I can't help being wor-

ried. The last time I made a sea voyage in these waters was

as a boy. There was magic on that ship, and things went

badly for my mother and me for a time."

 

"But you came through, didn't you?"

"We did."

"Then be calm! You're a knight in all but the ceremonial

sense, going to reclaim your rightful heritage. Maybe you

don't realize it, but I've got family in Solamnia, too."

"The Uth Matars?"

She nodded. "I've not had contact with them since my

father left us. In all my travels, I've never penetrated the

Solamnic Plain. When you declared your intention to go

north, it seemed as good a time as any to do some exploring

up there." She raised an eyebrow. "The Uth Matars are a

knightly line, too, you know."

"No, I didn't." He realized he knew so little about her,

really.

She left him by the bowsprit and went below. Sturm

slipped the strap off his chin and removed his helmet. The

twin brass horns were smudged; he'd have to polish them

tonight. For now, he cradled the helmet against his chest,

and let the sea wind wash through his long, tangled hair.

 

Chapter 3

The Severed Head

"Hail, Captain Tinolan," said Sturm, blinking in fhe

bright morning light.

"Hail, hail, Sturm Brightblade! We've reached the cape of

Caer in splendid time. Did you rest well?"

"Well enough. Why have we anchored so far from the

harbor?" Sturm asked.

Kade handed his captain a loose, hooded coat, which

Tirolan slipped on. "The city folk here are even less fond of

elves than those at Zaradene. Here comes one of me boys

now with a lighter for you," he said.

"111 tell Kit we're going."

He lifted the latch on the cabin door and bulled right in --

to find that Kitiara was up and dressing. A linen blouse,

beautifully embroidered with red and blue, slid up over her

 

bare shoulders. She'd already exchanged her heavy cordu-

roy riding pants for baggy Ergothic-style trousers. He could

not help but stare.

"I'm just about ready," she said. "How does the city look?"

He swallowed and said, "We're a mile or two out. Tirolan

fears the anti-elf sentiment in Caergoth. He's rowing ashore

to scout things, and I'm going with him."

"Good." She picked up her sword belt and buckled it

around her hips. "I'm ready, too."

The four of them lowered the horses with a block and

tackle. Kade held the painter line, while Tirolan, Sturm,

and Kitiara climbed down into the boat. The first mate cast

them off, and Tirolan dug in with the oars.

It was a sultry morning, hotter than any they'd had yet,

and a steamy calm hung over the water. No one spoke as

Tirolan rowed toward the hazy line of the coast.

Caergoth was a major port, and the watercraft thickened

as they drew nearer. Skiffs and dories, ketches and pinnaces

plied to and fro, laden with fish, crab, and clams; larger

boats shuttled goods from the big merchant ships at rest in

the main harbor.

Tirolan swung his arms untiringly back and forth,

maneuvering the yawl between the bigger vessels skillfully.

Kitiara craned her neck to see up the steep side of an

Ergothic argosy. A quartet of sailors in woolly caps leaned

over the rail and hooted at her. She waved gaily and said to

Sturm, "I'd like to see how bold they'd be if we faced each

other with swords in our hands."

Once clear of the heavier ships, the trio noticed a very

strange vessel drawn up to the deep-water docks. It was

high and square, with a pair of what looked like wagon

wheels attached to each side. The short mast was very thick

and a signal fire seemed to be burning from its top. A patch

of grimy smoke drifted away from the ugly ship.

"What in the world is that?" asked Tirolan.

Creeping nearer, they saw that a heavy boom had been

rigged to the craft's starboard side. A barge lay alongside it,

and two enormous wooden crates were already on it. A

third crate, fully as large as Tirolan's yawl, was slowly being

hoisted off the deck of the queer, smoking ship.

 

"It's going to fall," said Tirolan. "Watch."

The boom swung out, revealing that the crate was

wrapped up in a ca".go net. Clusters of small figures heaved

against the weight of the crate -- in train. The net sagged, a

corner poked through, and the crate ripped free and crashed

into the water, just missing the loaded barge. A string of lit-

tle people, shrieking in high-pitched voices, tumbled over

the side. Tirolan chuckled loudly.

"I should've known," he said. "Gnomes."

Sturm knew the little people only by reputation. They

were incessant tinkerers, makers of weird machinery, and

purveyors of endless theories. Disdaining magic, gnomes

were the most fervent technologists on Krynn. For centu-

ries, the gnomes and the Knights of Solamnia had main-

tained a pact of mutual aid, since both groups distrusted the

workings of magic.

Tirolan rowed around the stern of the gnome ship. Kiti-

ara pointed to an endless string of letters painted across the

stern, along the side, under the bow -- it was the name of the

ship. The portion on the stern read, Principle of Hydrody-

namic Compression and Etheric Volatility, Controlled by

the Most Ingenious System of Gears Invented by the Illustri-

ous Inventor, He-Who-Utters-Polynomial-Fractions-While-

Sleeping and on and on.

"Should we lend a hand?" Sturm asked.

"Not unless you want to get wet," said Kitiara. Sure

enough, the gnomes on the barge who tried to rig up a life

line succeeded only in falling overboard themselves. Tirolan

rowed on.

"I wonder what the crates contain," Sturm said as the

gnomish pandemonium passed astern.

"Who knows? A new machine to peel and core apples,

perhaps," said Tirolan. "Here's the dock."

The elf captain shipped his oars, and the yawl coasted in

to the dock. Sturm slipped the bowline over a cleat, and the

three of them climbed the short ladder to the platform.

With a large block and tackle, anchored to the dock for

loading and unloading cargo, they easily transported their

horses to the dock and shore.

"Where to now?" asked Sturm.

 

A row of grog shops and taverns lined the wharf, and

beyond them were great warehouses.

"I don't know about you fellows," Kitiara said, gazing at

the line of public houses, "but I'm starved."

"Can't you wait'?" objected Sturm.

"Why should I?" She hitched her sword belt into its

proper angle and set off, trailing her horse behind her. Tiro-

lan and Sturm reluctantly followed.

She chose, for no obvious reason, a tavern called The

Severed Head. Kitiara tied her horse outside, kicked the

door open, and stood there, surveying the room. Figures

stirred in the dim recesses. An odd, fetid odor wafted out

the door.

"Faw!" said Tirolan. "That smell is not human."

"Come, Kit, this is no place for us." Sturm tried to take her

by the elbow and steer her away. But Kitiara would have

none of it. She jerked her arm free and stepped in.

"I'm tired of barren roads and snug ships," she said. "This

looks like an interesting place."

"Be on your guard," Sturm muttered in Tirolan's pointed

ear. "Kit's a good friend, but long months of the quiet life in

Solace have made her reckless." Tirolan winked and fol-

lowed Kitiara inside.

There wasn't an actual bar in The Severed Head, just a

scattering of tables and benches. Kitiara swaggered to a

table near the center of the room and threw one leg over the

back of a chair. "Barkeep!" she shouted. In the darkness,

heads swiveled toward her. Sturm saw more than one pair

of eyes glowing in the shadows. They were red, like the

coals in a farrier's furnace.

Sturm and Tirolan sat down warily. A squat, lumpish

creature appeared by Kitiara's elbow. It puffed like a leaky

bellows, and each breath brought a fresh wave of foulness.

"Uhh?" said the lumpish creature.

"Ale," she snapped.

"Uh-uh."

"Ale!" she said a little louder. The creature shook its

upper body in negative fashion. Kitiara slapped the table-

top. "Bring the specialty of the house," she said. This elicited

an affirmative grunt. The servant trundled around.

 

"Double-quick!" Kit screeched, and the creature ambled off.

Something rose out of the tavern's shadows. It stood a

good half-head taller than Sturm and was at least twice as

wide. The shambling hulk approached their table.

"This is not a place for you," said the hulk. Its voice was

deep and hollow.

"I don't know," Kitiara said airily, "I've been in worse."

"This is not a place for you," it repeated.

"Maybe we should go," said Tirolan quickly. "There are

many taverns." He eyed the door, gauging the distance to it.

"I already ordered. Sit down."

The hulk leaned over and rested a hand, as big as a dinner

plate and with four fingers, on the table. The hand was dry

and scaly. "You go, or I send you out!" said the hulk.

Tirolan sprang up. "There's no need for trouble --" The

creature's other arm shot out, catching the elf in the chest.

Tirolan staggered back. His hood fell off his head, revealing

his elven features. There was a general intake of breath in

the room. The hiss was enough to make the hair on Sturm's

neck bristle.

"Kurtrah!" said the menacing creature.

Sturm and Kitiara stood smoothly but quickly. Swords

flicked out of sheaths. Tirolan produced an elvish short

sword, and the three closed together, back to back.

"What have you gotten us into?" Sturm asked, keeping

his blade on guard.

"I just wanted a little fun," Kitiara replied. "What's the

matter, Sturm? Do you want to live forever?"

A three-legged stool hurtled out of the dark. Sturm

knocked it aside with his blade. "Not forever, but a few

more years would be nice!"

Somewhere in the gloom, steel glinted. "Move for the

door," Tirolan said. "There are too many of these things in

here to fight." A clay mug shattered on an overhead beam,

showering them with shards. "And I can barely see them!"

"It would be nice to have a candle or two," admitted Kiti-

ara. One huge figure moved out of the shadows toward her.

It wielded a blade as wide as her palm, but she parried, dis-

engaged, and thrust into the darkness. Kitiara felt her sword

point strike flesh, and her attacker howled.

 

"Candle? I can do better than that!" Tirolan said. He

whirled and jammed his sword into the center of their table.

He began to sing in Elvish, hastily and shakily. The blade of

his weapon glowed red.

Two creatures closed on Sturm. He beat against their

heavier weapons, making a lot of noise but accomplishing

nothing. "Tirolan, we need you!" he barked. The elf sang

on. The short sword was nearly white now. Smoke curled

up from the tabletop. An instant later, the table burst into

flame.

The enemy stood out in the first flash of fire. There were

eight of them, great, brawny lizardlike creatures in thickly

quilted cloaks. The light dazzled them, and they retreated a

few steps. Kitiara gave a battle cry and attacked.

She avoided a cut by her towering opponent and brought

the keen edge of her sword down on the creature's arm. The

big sword clattered to the floor. Kitiara took her weapon in

both hands and thrust it deep into her foe's chest. The crea-

ture bellowed in rage and pain, and tried to get her with its

clawed hand. She recovered and thrust again. The creature

groaned once and fell on its face.

Sturm traded cuts with two creatures. The burning table

filled the room with smoke, and the creatures backed away,

gasping. Tirolan, on Sturm's right, was not doing well. He'd

recovered his now-cool sword, but the short weapon was

doubly outclassed. Only his superior nimbleness was saving

him from being cut down.

With a bang, the creatures stormed the tavern door and

smashed it aside. Flames had spread down the table's legs to

the tinder-dry floor. "Out, out!" Sturm cried. Kitiara was

still dueling, so Sturm grabbed her by the back of the collar

and pulled her away.

"Let go! Leave me alone!" She threw an elbow at Sturm.

He blocked the blow and shook Kitiara.

"Listen to me! The place is burning down around your

ears! Get out!" he cried. Reluctantly, she complied.

The smoke billowing from the upper-story windows had

drawn a crowd of curious Caergothians. Tirolan, Sturm,

and Kitiara erupted into the street ahead of the flames.

Sturm scanned the watching crowd, but the strange lizard

 

creatures were gone.

The three of them leaned on each other and coughed the

rancid smoke from their lungs. Gradually, Sturm became

aware of the silence of the crowd around them. He lifted his

head and saw that they all were staring at Tirolan.

"Elf," someone said, making the word sound like a curse.

"Trying to burn down our town," said another.

"Always causing trouble," added a third.

"Back to the boat," Sturm murmured to Tirolan. "And

watch your back."

Kitiara offered Tirolan's fee, but he took only half. The

elvish sailor started off as Sturm and Kitiara mounted their

horses. He stopped, though, turned, and tossed a shiny pur-

ple carved gem to Kit. A wink of his eye made her smile. "A

gift," was all he said. The three of them then parted.

 

Chapter 4

A Hint of Purple

Kitiara and Sturm rode up a winding trail to the

sand cliffs overlooking the bay. The High Crest had shrunk

to toy size in the distance. After a last look at the elf ship,

they turned their horses inland.

They soon reached the road outside the walls of

Caergoth. From the sutlers and traders who lined the road

they bought bread and meat, dried fruit and cheese.

The road ran as straight as an arrow east. Domed and

cobbled, it was one of the few public works remaining from

pre-Cataclysmic times. Kitiara and Sturm rode side by side

down the center of the road. Its shoulders were fairly thick

with travelers on foot, at least for the first ten miles or so

from the city. By mid-afternoon, they were alone.

They said little. Kitiara finally broke the silence saying, "I

 

wonder why there are no travelers on the way to Caergoth."

"I was puzzled by that myself," said Sturm. "A bare road

is a bad sign."

"War or robbers beset empty roads."

"I've heard no rumors of wars, so it must be the latter."

They paused by the side of the road long enough to don

their mail shirts and helmets. No sense catching an arrow

when they were so close to reaching Solamnia.

The eerie desolation persisted to the end of the day. Now

and again they passed the burned-out remains of a wagon or

the blanched bones of slaughtered horses and cattle. Kitiara

rode with her sword across her saddle.

They were tired from the day's morning mayhem and

decided to camp early. They found a pleasant clearing in a

ring of oaks, a hundred yards from the road. Tallfox and

Pira were tied to a picket line to graze on grass and broom

straw. Sturm found a spring and fetched water, while Kiti-

ara built a fire. Dinner was bacon and hard biscuit toasted

over the fire. Night closed in, and they moved closer to the

flames.

Smoke wound in a loose spiral toward the stars. The

moons were up. Solinari and Lunitari. Souls rise up like

smoke to heaven, Sturm thought.

"Sturm."

Kitiara's voice brought him out of his reverie. "Yes?"

"We'll have to sleep in turns."

"Quite so. Ah, I'll stand watch first, all right?"

"Suits me." Kitiara circled around the campfire with her

bedroll. She unrolled it beside Sturm and lay down. "Wake

' me when the silver moon sets," she said.

He looked down at the mass of dark curls by his knee.

Veteran that she was, Kitiara soon dropped off. Sturm fed

the fire from a handy pile of kindling and sat cross-legged,

with his sword across his lap. Once Kitiara stirred, uttering

faint moans. Hesitantly, Sturm touched her hair. She

responded by snuggling closer to him, until her head was

resting on his crossed ankles.

He never felt the lethargy creep over him. One minute

Sturm was awake, facing the fire with Kitiara asleep in front

of him, and the next thing he knew he was lying facedown

 

on the ground. There was dirt in his mouth, but for some

reason he couldn't spit it out. Worse, he couldn't seem to

move at all. One eye was mashed shut against the ground.

With tremendous effort, he was able to open the other.

He saw the fire still burning. There were several pairs of

legs around it, clad in ragged deerskin leggings. There was

an odd, unpleasant smell, like singed hide or burning hair.

Kitiara was beside him, lying on her back, her eyes closed.

"Nuttin' but food," said a scratchy, bass voice. "Dere's

nuttin' in dis bag but some lousy food!"

"Me! Me!" said another, shriller voice. "Me find coin!"

One pair of legs ambled out of Sturm's sight. "Where da

coins?" He heard a tinkle of metal. One of Kitiara's last

Silvanesti gold coins dropped on the ground. The shrill

speaker said "Ai!" and dropped on his hands and knees.

Then Sturm saw who -- what -- they were.

There was no mistake. The pointed heads, angular fea-

tures, gray skin, red eyes -- they were goblins. The smell was

theirs, too. Sturm tried to muster all his strength to stand,

but it felt as though bars of lead were piled on his back. He

could see and feel enough to know he wasn't tied. That, and

the suddenness with which he was taken, meant that some-

one had cast a spell on him and Kitiara. But who? Goblins

were notoriously dimwitted. They lacked the concentration

necessary for spellcasting.

"Stop your bickering and keep searching," said a clear,

human voice.

So! The goblins were not alone!

Hard, bony hands grabbed his left arm and rolled him

over. Sturm's one open eye stared into the face of two of the

robbers. One was warty and had lost his front teeth. The

other bore scars on his neck from a failed hanging.

"Ai! Him eye open!" squawked the warty one. "He. see!"

Scarface produced an ugly, fork-bladed dagger. "I fix dat,"

he said. Before he could strike the helpless Sturm, another

brigand yelped. The others quickly converged on him.

"I found! I found!" babbled the goblin. What he had

found was the arrowhead amethyst Tirolan had given Kiti-

ara. She had tied a string around the carved shoulders of the

stone and had been wearing it around her neck. The finder

 

held it up and capered away from his fellows. They slapped

and clawed at him for the pale purple stone.

"Let me see that," said the man. The dancing goblin halted

and contritely carried the amethyst into the shadows

beyond the fire. "Rubbish," said the man. "A flawed bit of

crystal." The arrowhead arced through the air. It hit the dirt

between Sturm and Kitiara and bounced into Kitiara's slack

and open palm. The goblins scampered over to retrieve it.

"Leave it!" the man commanded. "It's worthless."

"Pretty, pretty!" protested Warty. "Me keep."

"I said leave it! Or shall 1 get the wand?"

The goblins -- Sturm estimated there were four -- shrank

back and gibbered.

"We'll take the coins and the horses. Leave the rest," said

the robbers' human master.

"What about da swords?" said Scarface. "Dese is good

irun." He held out Sturm's sword for his leader to see.

"Yes, too good for you. Bring it. It will fetch good money

at Trader Lovo's. Get the woman's, too."

Warty hopped over to Kitiara. He kicked her arm aside

and bent over to draw the sword, which lay under her. As

he did, her hand clamped around the goblin's ankle.

"Wha?" said the wart-faced goblin.

Kitiara yanked his leg out from under him, and the goblin

went down with a thud. In the next instant, she was up,

sword in hand. Warty groped for his dagger, but never drew

it. With one cut, Kitiara sent his ugly head bouncing away.

"Get her! Get her, you miserable wretches! It's three

against one!" yelled the man from the shadows.

Scarface pulled a hook-bladed bill off his shoulder and

attacked. Kitiara knocked the clumsy weapon away repeat-

edly. The other two goblins tried to circle behind her. She

turned so that the fire was at her back.

Sturm raged against the spell that kept him helpless. A

goblin's foot passed within easy reach of his right hand, but

he couldn't even flex a finger to help Kitiara.

Not that she needed any help. When Scarface lunged with

his bill, she lopped the hook off. The goblin stared stupidly

at his shortened shaft. Kitiara thrust through him. "Now it's

two to one!" she said. She leaped over the campfire, landing

 

between the last two robbers. They screeched in terror and

dropped their daggers. She cut one down as he stood there.

The last goblin ran to the edge of the clearing. Sturm heard

him die among the oaks. There were a few other sounds --

feet running, loud breathing, and a howl of pain.

"Thought you could get away, eh?" Kitiara said. She had

caught the hidden magic-user and brought him back into the

firelight. He was a gaunt fellow twice Sturm's age, dressed in

a shabby gray robe. Tools of his art dangled from a rope tied

around his waist: a wand, a bag of herbs, amulets wrought

in lead and copper. Kitiara kicked the magician's legs out

from under him, and he sprawled in the dirt beside Sturm.

"Take the spell off my friend," Kitiara demanded.

"I-I can't."

"You mean you won't!" She poked him with her sword.

"No, no! I don't know how! I don't know how to take it

off." He seemed ashamed. "I never had to take a paralysis

spell off before. The goblins always cut their throats."

"Because you ordered them to!"

"No! No!"

Kitiara spat. "The only thing worse than a thief is a fool

weakling of a thief."

She raised her blade to her shoulder. "There's only one

way to break the spell that I know of." She was right, and

when the magic-user was dead, the leaden feeling vanished

from Sturm's limbs. He sat up, rubbing his stiff neck.

"By all the gods, Kitiara, you're ruthless!" he said. He

looked around the campsite, now a bloody battlefield. "Did

you have to kill them all?"

"There's gratitude for you," she said. She wiped her blade

on the tail of the dead magician's robe. "They would have

cheerfully cut our throats. Sometimes I don't understand

you, Sturm."

He remembered the goblin's fork-bladed dagger and said,

"You have a point. Still, killing that scruffy magician was no

honorable deed."

She slid her blade into its sheath. "I didn't do it for honor,"

she said. "I was just being practical."

They gathered their belongings from where the robbers

had scattered them. Sturm saw Kitiara pick up the amethyst

 

necklace. "Look," she said. "It's clear."

In the light from the fire, Sturm saw that the once-purple

stone was now ordinary, transparent quartz. "That explains

it," he said. "You were able to move when the amethyst fell

into your hand, yes?"

The light dawned on her. "That's right. I was wearing it

over my blouse and under my mail --"

"When it touched your skin, the paralysis spell was bro-

ken. The dissipation of the spell bled all the color from the

stone. It's just an arrowhead-shaped piece of quartz now."

Kitiara slipped the loop over her head. "I'll keep it, just

the same. Tirolan probably never realized he was saving our

lives when he gave me the stone."

Their baggage recovered, Sturm began to gather dead

wood from the circle of oaks and heaped it on the fire. The

flames leaped up. "Why are you doing that?" asked Kitiara.

"I'm making a pyre," said Sturm. "We can't leave these

corpses lying about."

"Let the vultures have them."

"It's not out of respect that I do this. Evil magicians, even

one as lowly as this one, have the unhappy habit of return-

ing undead to prey on the living. Help me put them on:he

pyre, and their menace will truly be over."

She agreed, and the goblins and their master were con-

signed to the flames. Sturm flung dirt on the embers, then he

and Kit mounted their horses.

"How do you know so much about magic?" asked Kiti-

ara. "I thought you despised it in all forms."

"I do," Sturm replied. "Magic is the greatest underminer of

order in the world. It's difficult enough to live with virtue

and honor without the temptation of magical power. But

magic exists, and we all must learn to deal with it. For

myself, 1 have had many talks with your brother, and I've

learned some things I've needed to defend myself."

"You mean Raistlin?" she asked, and Sturm nodded. "His

lectures on magic always put me to sleep," she said.

"I know," said Sturm. "You go to sleep awfully easily."

They turned the horses toward the new morning's sun and

rode away.

 

Chapter 5

Cloudmaster

The day after the robbers' attack was oppressively

humid. Tallfox and Pira needed frequent watering, for their

heads would sag and their gait falter. They entered a district

of orchards and farms, with a good view from the road on

all sides. Kitiara and Sturm discarded their mail for shirt-

sleeves, and by noon Kitiara had pulled her blouse loose and

tied the tails together around her waist. Thus cooled, they

paused in a fig grove for lunch.

"Too bad they're green," said Kitiara, pinching an imma-

ture fig between her thumb and forefinger. "I like figs."

"I doubt that the orchard's keeper would share your

enthusiasm unless you paid for what you ate," said Sturm.

He hollowed a large biscuit and filled the hole with

chopped, dried fruit and cheese.

 

"Oh, come on. Haven't you ever snitched apples or

pears? Stolen a chicken and roasted it over a bark fire, while

the farmer hunted for you with a pitchfork?"

"No, never."

"I have. And few things in life taste as sweet as the food

you season with wit." She dropped the fig branch and joined

Sturm under the tree.

"You never considered what your witty little thefts might

do to the farmer, did you, Kit? That he or his family might

go hungry for a night because of your filched meal?"

She bristled. "A fine one you are to talk, Master Bright-

blade. Since when did you ever work for the food that went

into your belly? It's very easy for a lord's son to speak of jus-

tice for the poor, never having been poor himself."

Sturm counted silently until his anger subsided. "I

worked," he said simply. "When my mother, her handmaid

Carin, and I first arrived in Solace twelve years ago, we had

some money that we'd brought with us. But soon it ran out,

and we were in dire straits. My mother was an intensely

proud woman and would not take charity. Mistress Carin

and I did odd jobs around Solace to put food on the table.

We never told my mother."

Kitiara's prickly demeanor softened. "What did you do?"

He shrugged. "Because I was able to read and write, I got

a job with Derimius the Scribe, copying scrolls and manu-

scripts. Not only was I able to earn five silver pieces a week,

but I got to read all sorts of things."

-I never knew that.-

"In fact, I met Tanis at Derimius's shop. He brought in a

ledger that he kept for Flint. Tanis had spilled some ink on

the last pages and wanted Derimius to replace them with

new parchment. Tanis saw a sixteen-year-old boy scribbling

away with a gray goose quill and inquired about me. We

talked and became friends."

This statement was punctuated by a roll of far-off thun-

der. The sultry air had collected in a mass of blue-black

thunderheads piling up in the western sky. They were mov-

ing quickly eastward, so Sturm crammed the last of his

lunch in his mouth and jumped to his feet. He mumbled

something through bread and cheese.

 

"What?" said Kitiara.

"-- horses. Must secure the horses!"

Lightning lanced down from the clouds to the hills where

the robbers had been vanquished. Wind blew out of the

upper air, swirling dust into Sturm and Kitiara's eyes. They

tied Tallfox and Pira to a fig tree, and hastily rigged their

blankets as a shelter to keep the rain off. Down the road Kit-

iara could see a wall of rain advancing toward them. "Here

it comes!" she said.

The storm broke over the fig grove with all its fury. Rain

hammered the skimpy screen of blankets down on their

heads. In seconds, Sturm and Kitiara were completely

soaked. Rain collected between the rows of trees and filled

the low places. Water climbed over Kitiara's toes.

Tallfox couldn't bear it. A nervous beast by nature, he

reared and neighed as the storm played around him. His ter-

ror infected the usually stolid Pira, and both horses started

straining against their tethers. A bolt of lightning hit the tall-

est tree in the orchard and blasted it into a million burning

fragments. The horses, driven beyond terror, tore free and

galloped away, Tallfox fleeing east and Pira veering north.

"After them!" Sturm cried above the din.

He and Kitiara splashed off after their respective mounts.

Tallfox was a long-legged sprinter, and he galloped in a

straight line. Pira was a hard-cornering dodger. She wove

among the leafy fig trees, changing direction a dozen times

in twenty places. Kitiara stumbled after her, cursing her

favorite's agility.

The orchard ended in a gully. Kitiara slid down the mud-

dy bank and into calf-deep water. "Pira!" she called. "Pira,

you pea-brained nag, where are you?" All she got for her

shouting was a mouth full of water. She scanned both sides

of the gully for tracks. In the lightning's glare Kitiara saw a

strange thing. An angular black shape, like a warrior's

shield, was silhouetted against the clouds, some forty feet

overhead. The dazzling glow faded, but not before she saw

a long line trailing below the shield to the ground. Kitiara

slogged forward, not knowing what she would find.

Tallfox easily outran his master, but Sturm was able to

follow the chestnut's prints in the mud. A wall of closely

 

growing cedar saplings blocked the end of the orchard.

There was only one gap wide enough for a horse to pass

through, and sure enough, Sturm found Tallfox's trail there.

He plunged into the dense tangle of evergreen. Broken sap-

lings told well which way his horse had gone.

The lightning was unusually active overhead. It crackled

and pulsed from cloud to cloud. One prolonged stroke illu-

minated a wonder to Sturm's eyes: an enormous bird flut-

tered in the storm wind. The bird wobbled from side to side,

but never flew off. Another bolt of lightning crackled, and

he saw why. Someone had tied cords to the bird's feet.

Kitiara climbed a hill of solid mud. Her hair was plastered

to her head, and her clothing felt as if it had absorbed a ton

of water. At the top of the hill, she could see down into a

wide clearing. There was no sign of Pira. There was, how-

ever, plenty to see.

In the center of the clearing was a thing such as Kitiara

had never seen. It was like a huge boat with large leather

sails furled along each side. There were no masts, but the

prow was long and pointed, like a bird's beak, and there

were wheels on the underside of the hull. Above the boat,

tied to it by a rope netting, was a big canvas bag. A huge

egg-shaped bag squirmed and writhed in the wind like a liv-

ing thing. A swarm of little men surrounded the boat-thing.

Beyond them, a couple of tall poles rose straight up from the

ground. From the tops of these four poles, long ropes

whipped about, and at the end of the ropes were more of the

'warrior's shields' that Kitiara had seen.

At the same time, Sturm emerged from the cedars on the

opposite side of the same clearing. He gaped at the thing.

Wordlessly, he headed toward it.

A little man in a shiny hat and long coat greeted Sturm.

"G-greetings and felicit-tationsl" he said cheerily.

"Hello," said a bewildered Sturm. "What is going on

here?" Even as he spoke, a bolt of lightning struck one of the

'birds' tethered on a pole (the same thing Kitiara had mis-

taken for a shield). Blue-white fire coursed down the line to

the pole. From the pole, it flashed along another line a foot

off the ground, until it reached the boat-thing, where it van-

ished. The boat swayed on its wheels, then settled back.

 

"D-Doing? Well, charging up, as you c-can see," said the

little man. When he flipped the wide brim of his hat back,

Sturm saw his pale eyes and bushy white brows and realized

that he was a gnome. "It really is a w-wonderful storm.

We're so l-lucky!"

Kitiara wandered around the odd-looking craft, warily

keeping her distance. By one especially vivid bolt of light-

ning, she saw Sturm talking to the little fellow. She cupped

her hands around her lips and yelled, "Sturm!"

"Kit!"

She joined him. "Did you find the horses?"

"No, I was hoping they ran to you."

She waved her arms in great circles. "I fell in a ditch!"

"So I see. What are we going to do?"

"Ahem," said the gnome. "D-do I understand that you

t-two have lost your m-means of transportation'"

"That's right," said Sturm and Kitiara in unison.

"Fortuitous f-fate! Perhaps we can help one another." He

flipped the brim of his hat down again. A tiny torrent of

water spilled down his coat. "Will you c-come with me?"

"Where are we going?" asked Sturm.

"For n-now, out of the w-weather," said the gnome.

"I'm for that!" said Kitiara.

- The gnome led them up a ramp into the left side of the

boat. The interior was brightly lit, warm, and dry. Their

guide removed his hat and coat. He was a mature male of his

race, with a fine white beard and bald pink head. He gave

Sturm and Kitiara each a towel -- which, being sized for

gnomes, was no bigger than a hand-towel. Sturm dried his

hands and face. Kitiara loosened some of the mud from

hers, wrung out the towel, and tied it scarf-fashion around

her head.

"F-follow me," said the gnome. "My c-colleagues will join

us l-later. They're busy now g-gathering the lightning."

With this amazing statement, he led them down a long,

narrow passage between two banks of machinery of unfath-

omable purpose. All the rods, cranks, and gears were skill-

fully wrought in iron or brass and carefully hollowed out.

Their guide came to a small ladder, which he ascended. The

upper deck they entered was subdivided into small cabins.

 

Hammocks were slung from hooks, and all sorts of boxes,

crates, and great glass demijohns were packed on every inch

of floor space. Only a narrow track down the center of the

passage was clear for walking.

They climbed a second ladder and were in a house built in

the center of the deck. There were portholes in the walls,

and Sturm could see that rain still lashed at them. The deck-

house was split into two large rooms. The forward room,

where they entered, was fitted like a ship's wheelhouse. A

steering wheel was set at the bow end, which was extensive-

ly glazed with many glass panels. All sorts of levers sprout-

ed from the floor and ceiling, and there were mysterious

gauges labeled Altitude, Indicated Air Speed, and Density

of Raisins in Breakfast Muffins.

Kitiara introduced them. The gnome's eyes widened, and

he smiled benignly when he learned that Sturm was the son

of an ancient Solamnic family. Ever curious, he inquired

after Kitiara's antecedents. She turned his query aside and

described their journey so far, their goal, and their general

frustration at having lost their horses.

"P-perhaps I can be of s-service," said the gnome. "My

name is He-Who-Stutters-Ap-propriately-in-the-M-midst-

of-the-Most-Abstruse-Technical-Explanations --"

Sturm interrupted, knowing the length of gnomish

names. "Please! What do those not of the gnomish race call

you?"

The gnome sighed, and said very slowly, "I am often

c-called 'Stutts', a wholly inadequate approximation of my

true n-name."

"It has the virtue of brevity," said Sturm.

"B-brevity, my dear knight, is no virtue to those who love

knowledge for its own s-sake." Stutts folded his stubby fin-

gers across his round belly. "I should like to offer you a

p-position, if, under the circumstances, you are i-

interested."

"What sort of position?" asked Kitiara.

"My c-colleagues and I arrived here today from

Caergoth." The awkward spectacle of the gnome ship in

Caergoth harbor came to the humans' minds. "We c-came to

this region of Solamnia because the weather patterns are

 

well known for v-violent thunderstorms."

Sturm brushed his drying mustache with his fingers. "You

were seeking a storm?"

"P-precisely. The lightning is vital for the operation of oui

m-machine." Stutts smiled and patted the arm of his chair

"Isn't it a b-beauty? It is called the C-Cloudmaster."

"What does it do?"

"It f-flies."

"Oh, of course it does," Kitiara said with a chuckle. "Very

ingenious of you gnomes. What does that have to do with

Sturm and me?"

Stutts's small face flushed a deeper shade of pink. "Ahem.

W-we've had a bit of b-bad luck. You see, in calculating the

op-optimal lift-to-weight ratio, someone failed to consider

the effect of the Cloudmaster coming to r-rest on soil in an

advanced state of hydration."

"What did you say!"

"We're st-stuck in the mud," said Stutts, turning pink

again.

"And you want us to dig you out?" asked Kitiara.

"For which we will g-gratefully fly you to any point on

Krynn that you wish to go. Enstar, B-Balifor, or far

Karthay --"

"The Plains of Solamnia were where we were headed,"

said Sturm. "That's as far as we need to go."

Kitiara swung an elbow into Sturm's ribs. "You're not tak-

ing this little lunatic seriously, are you?" she hissed from the

corner of her mouth.

"I know gnomes," he replied. "Their inventions work with

surprising regularity."

"But I don't --"

Stutts hopped up. "You'll want to d-discuss it. May I sug-

gest you clean up, have a good m-meal, and then d-decide?

We have a cleansing station on board like nothing you've

s-seen before."

"I'm sure of that," Kitiara muttered.

They agreed to bathe and dine with the gnomes. Stutts

pulled a light chain that hung from the ceiling by the steer-

ing wheel. A deep-throated AH -- OO -- GAH! echoed

through the flying ship. A young gnome in greasy coveralls

 

and with very bushy red eyebrows appeared.

"Show our g-guests to the cleansing station," said Stutts.

The bushy-browed gnome whistled a string of notes in

reply. "No, one at a t-time," Stutts said. Bushy-brows whis-

tled again.

"Does he always talk like that?" queried Kitiara.

"Yes. My c-colleague --" Here he recited about five min-

utes of gnome-name. "-- has evolved the theory that spoken

1-language was derived from the songs of birds. You may

call him --" Stutts paused and looked at the bushy-browed

fellow, who tweeted and chirped. Stutts continued, "--

Birdcall."

Birdcall took Sturm and Kitiara below deck to the stern.

There, with whistles and gestures, he indicated two cubicles

on either side of the corridor. The doors bore identical signs

that read:

Rapid and Hygienic Cleansing Station

Perfected and Provided to the Flying Ship Cloudmaster

By the Guild of Hydrodynamic Masters and Journeymen

And the Apprentices of

Mt. Nevermind

Level Twelve

Sancrist

Ansalon

Krynn

Sturm looked from the door to Kitiara. "Do you think it

works?" he asked.

"Only one way to find out," she replied, pulling the filthy

towel from her head and dropping it on the floor. She

stepped through the door and it swung shut behind her with

a soft click.

The tile walls inside the cleansing station were covered

with writing. Kitiara squinted at the hand-painted script.

Some of it ran sideways, and some of it was upside down.

Most of the writing concerned proper and scientific bathing

procedure. Some of it was nonsense -- she saw a line that

declared, "The absolute value of the density of raisins in the

perfect muffin is sixteen." And some of the writing was rude:

 

"The inventor of this station has dung for brains."

She peeled off her outer clothing and put it in a conven-

ient wicker basket. Kitiara stepped to a raised wooden plat-

form. There was a ghastly, rubbery hissing sound, an

water began to spray from a pipe above her head. It caught

her by surprise, so she clamped a hand over the spoutin

end. No sooner had she stopped one spray than another

started from the wall on her left. That one she plugged with

a finger. Then the real melee began.

With mud and water trickling down her face, Kitiara

heard a rattling and squeaking behind her. She twisted

around without unstopping the spouts. A square tile on the

wall had popped open, revealing a jointed metal rod that

was unfolding and reaching out for her. On the end of the

rod was a round pad of fleece, rapidly spinning. Wheels and

pulleys set along the jointed rod made the sheepskin turn.

"What a time to be without a sword!" Kitiara said aloud.

The rod wavered and came toward her. It was a moment of

decision. She accepted the challenge and released the pipes.

Water gushed out, sluicing the mud from her body. Kitiara

grappled with the whirling fleece, grabbing it with both

hands. The pulleys whined and the cords twanged.

Finally she succeeded in snapping the rod off at the first

joint. The water stopped. Kitiara stood, panting, as the

water drained through slots in the floor. There was a knock

on the door.

"Kit?" Sturm called. "Are you finished?"

Before she could reply, a heavy piece of cloth dropped

from the ceiling over her head. She yelled and threw fists at

her unseen attacker, but all she hit was air. Kitiara pulled the

cloth off her head. It was a towel. She dried off and wrapped

herself in it. Sturm was in the corridor, likewise swathed in a

dry blanket.

"What a place," he said, grinning more widely than Kiti-

ara had ever seen him do.

"I'm going to have a few words with Stutts!" she declared.

"What's wrong?"

"I was attacked in there!"

Stutts appeared. "Is there a p-problem?"

Kitiara was about to voice her outrage, but Stutts wasn't

 

actually speaking to her. He bustled on by and opened a

panel in the wall. Inside, a rather harried-looking gnome lay

in a tangle with a three-legged stool. At the gnome's waist

level was a hand-crank, labeled Cleansing Station Number

2 -- Rotary Washing Device.

"Is that what I was fighting?" Kitiara said.

"Looks that way," said an amused Sturm. "The poor fel-

low was just doing his job. The fleece is like a washcloth,

only he does the scrubbing for you."

"I can do my own scrubbing, thank you," she said sourly.

Stutts mopped his face with his sleeve. "This is all v-very

distressing. I must ask you, Mistress Kitiara, to not

d-damage the machinery. Now I shall have to write a report

in qui-quintuplicate to the Aerostatics Guild."

"I'll keep an eye on her," Sturm said. "Kit has a tendency

to bash things she doesn't understand."

Birdcall came down the corridor whistling furiously.

Stutts brightened. "Oh, g-good. Time for d-dinner."

The gnomes dined in the rear half of the deckhouse. A

long, plank table was suspended from the ceiling, as on an

ocean-going ship, but the gnomes had 'improved' on the

sailors' arrangement by hanging their seats from the ceiling,

too. They swung happily from side to side. Thus, Sturm

and Kitiara had to squeeze into narrow chain swings just to

sit at the table. Dinner proved ordinary enough: beans,

ham, cabbage, muffins, and sweet cider. Stutts apologized;

they had no scientifically trained cook on board. The war-

riors were grateful for that.

The gnomes ate rapidly and without conversation

(because it was more efficient). The sight of ten bowed,

balding heads, accompanied only by the sound of spoons

scraping on plates, was a little unnerving. Sturm cleared his

throat and said, "Perhaps we ought to introduce

ourselves --"

"Everyone knows who you are," said Stutts without look-

ing up. "I s-sent out a memorandum while you were b-being

cleansed."

 

"Then you can introduce your crew to us," said Kitiara.

Stutts's head snapped up. "They're n-not crew. We are

c-colleagues."

"Pardon me!" Kitiara rolled her eyes.

"You are p-pardoned." He spooned the last of his beans

swiftly into his mouth. "But if you insist." Stutts slipped

from his swinging seat and walked down the row of eating

gnomes. He gave a yawningly elaborate profile of each of

his colleagues, including the name by which "those not of

the gnomish race" could call each one. Sturm distilled all of

this into a short mental list:

 

Birdcall, chief mechanic in charge of the engine,

Wingover, Stutts's right-hand gnome; in charge of actu-

ally flying the machine,

Sighter, astronomer and celestial navigator,

Roperig, expert with rope, cord, wire, cloth, and so forth,

Fitter, Roperig's apprentice,

Flash, collector and storer of lightning,

Bellcrank, chief metal worker and chemist,

Cutwood, in charge of carpentry, woodwork, and all

non-metal parts,

Rainspot, weather seer and physician by designation.

"How did you come to build this, uh, machine?" asked

Sturm.

"It is part of my Life Quest," said Wingover, a taller-than-

average gnome with a hawklike nose. "Complete and suc-

cessful aerial navigation, that's my goal. After years of

experimenting with kites, I met our friend Bellcrank, who

has discovered a very rarefied air, which, when enclosed in

a suitable bag, will float and support other objects of

weight."

"Preposterous," said Sighter. "This so-called ethereal air is

humbug!"

"Listen to the stargazer," the tubby Bellcrank said with a

sneer. "How do you think we were able to fly to this point

from Caergoth, eh? Magic?"

"The wings supported us," Sighter replied with heat. "The

lift ratios clearly show --"

 

"It was the ethereal air!" retorted Rainspot, who sat by

Bellcrank.

"Wings!" shouted Sighter's side of the table.

"Air!" cried Bellcrank's allies.

"Colleagues! C-colleagues!" Stutts said, holding up his

hands for quiet. "The p-purpose of our expedition is to

establish with scientific accuracy the c-capabilities of the

Cloudmaster. Let us not argue needlessly about theories

until the d-data is available."

The gnomes lapsed into sullen silence. Rain drummed on

the skylight over the table. The hostile silence lingered for

an embarrassing length of time. Then Rainspot lifted his

eyes to the dark panes and said, "The rain is stopping." A

few seconds later, the steady thrumming ceased completely.

"How did he know that!" asked Kitiara.

"Theories differ," said Wingover. "A committee is meeting

even now on Sancrist Isle to study our colleague's talent."

"How can they study him when he's up here?" Sturm

wondered. He was ignored.

"It's his nose," Cutwood said.

"His nose?" Kitiara asked.

"Because of the size and relative angle of Rainspot's nos-

trils, he can detect changes in relative air pressure and

humidity just by breathing."

"Hogwash!" Roperig said.

"Hogwash," echoed Fitter, the smallest and youngest of

the gnomes, from his place by Roperig.

"It's his ears," continued Roperig. "He can hear the rain

stop falling from the clouds before it reaches the ground."

"Unmitigated tommyrot!" That was Sighter again. "Any

fool can see it's his hair that does it. He can feel the roots

uncurl when the moisture in the air falls --" Bellcrank, sit-

ting opposite Sighter, snatched up a muffin from the table

and bounced it off his rival's chin. Flash and Fitter pounced

on the fallen muffin and broke it open.

"Twelve, thirteen, fourteen," Flash counted.

"What's he doing?" Sturm asked.

"C-counting raisins," answered Stutts. "That's his current

project: to determine the world average density of raisins in

muffins." Kitiara dropped her face into her hands and

 

moaned.

The dinner debacle over, the gnomes left the flying ship to

dismantle their equipment in the meadow. Kitiara and

Sturm, now dry, dressed in enough clothing to hike back to

their campsite in the fig orchard and pick up their gear. The

storm had blown itself out, and stars showed in the ragged

holes between the clouds.

"Are we doing the right thing?" asked Kitiara. "These

gnomes haven't got all their bootlaces tied."

Sturm glanced back at the queer machine lying cockeyed

in the muddy field. "They are lacking in common sense, but

they're tireless and creative. If they can get us to the high

Plains of Solamnia in a day, then I, for one, don't mind help-

ing to dig them out of the mud."

"I don't believe that thing can fly," she said. "We never saw

it fly. For all we know, the storm blew it here."

They reached the sodden remains of their camp and

packed up their scattered belongings. Kitiara hoisted Pira's

saddle on her shoulder. "Blast that horse," she said. "Raised

her from a filly, I did, and she never looked back once she

got loose. I'll bet she's halfway to Garnet by now."

"Tallfox was a bad influence, I fear. Tirien warned me that

he was skittish."

"It may be that Tallfox had the right idea," Kitiara said.

"How so?" said Sturm.

She slung the damp bedroll over the saddle. "If the

gnomes can do half the things they claim, we may end up

wishing we'd run away in the storm, too."

 

Chaptea 6

1,081 Hours,

29 Minutes

"Higgher! Higher! Get that balk in place!- Sturm

grunted against the massive weight of the gnomes' flying

ship. He and Kitiara strained against a rough-hewn lever

they'd made over the gnomes' protests. Crude levers! the

gnomes protested. Bellcrank claimed that any gnome could

invent a device ten times better for lifting heavy objects. Of

course, it would take a committee to study the stress analy-

sis of the local wood, as well as to calculate the proper pivot

point for raising the ship.

"No," Kitiara had insisted. "If you want us to help get

your ship out of the mud, then we'll do it our own way." The

gnomes had shrugged and rubbed their bare pates. Trust

humans to do things the crudest way.

 

The gnomes rolled several large rocks up to the hull.

These would be the fulcrums. After Sturm and Kitiara had

made the ship level, the gnomes shoved short, thick timber

balks into place to brace it upright. It was slow, sweaty

labor, but by noon of the day after the storm, the flying ship

was finally on an even keel.

"A problem," Wingover announced.

"Now what?" Kitiara asked.

"The landing gear must have a firm surface on which to

roll. Therefore, it will be necessary to construct a roadbed.

Here; I've made calculations as to how much crushed stone

and mortar we'll need --" Kitiara plucked the paper from his

hand and tore it in two.

"I've gotten wagons out of mud before," she said, "by put-

ting straw or twigs in the ruts."

"Might work," Sturm said. "But this thing is very heavy."

He spoke to Stutts, who promptly removed the protesting

gnomes from their important (though completely useless)

'improvement' work and set them to gathering windfall

branches and brushwood. They all turned out except Bell-

crank, who was busy with his pots of powders and vials of

noxious liquids.

"I must attend to my first task, generating the ethereal

air, he said, pouring iron filings from a keg. "When the air

bag is filled, it will help lighten the ship."

"You do that," said Kitiara. She leaned against the hull to

watch. She didn't like strenuous work. Work was for dul-

lards and peasants, not warriors.

The gnomes returned with a scant armful of brush. "Nine

of you, and that's all you have?" Sturm said incredulously.

"Roperig and Sighter disagreed on which kind of sticks to

bring, so in the spirit of cooperation, we didn't pick up

either of their choices," Wingover said.

"Wingover," Sturm said pleadingly, "please tell Roperig

and Sighter that the kind of wood doesn't matter in the

least. We just want something dry for the wheels to run

over." The tallish gnome dropped his bundle of sticks and

led his fellows back to the woods.

Meanwhile, Bellcrank had managed to enlist Kitiara's aid

in inflating the Cloudmaster's air bag. On the ground beside

 

the ship he'd set up a big clay tub, five feet wide." He poured

powdered iron and other bits of scrap metal in the tub and

smoothed the pile out around the edges. "Lower away!" he

told Kitiara, and she set a domed wooden lid, like the top

half of a beer barrel, on top of the ceramic tub. Bellcrank

worked around the outside, poking a long strip of greased

leather into the joint. "It must be tight," he explained, "or the

ethereal air will seep out and not fill the bag."

She hoisted the gnome up and set him on top of the barrel.

With a corkscrew, Bellcrank popped a large cork in the top

of the barrel. "Hand me the hose," he said. v

"This?" asked Kitiara, holding up a limp tube of canvas.

"The very thing." She gave it to him, and he tied it over

the neck of a wooden turncock. "Now," said Bellcrank, "for

the vitriol!"

There were three very large demijohns sitting in the tall

grass. Kitiara stooped to pick one up. "Oof!" she gasped.

"Feels like a keg of ale!"

"It's concentrated vitriol. Be careful not to spill it; it can

burn you very badly." She set the heavy jug down by the

tub.

'You don't expect me to pour that stuff in there, do you?"

Bellcrank said, "No indeed! I have a most efficacious

invention that will circumvent such tiresome duty. Hand me

the Excellent Mouthless Siphon, would you?"

Kitiara cast about but saw nothing that resembled an

Excellent Mouthless Siphon. Bellcrank pointed with his

stubby finger. "That, there; the bellows-looking item. Yes."

She gave him the mouthless siphon. Bellcrank put the beak

of the bellows into the demijohn and pulled the handles

apart. The sinister brown liquid in the jug sank by an inch.

"There!" the gnome said triumphantly. "No sucking on

tubes. No spillage." He pushed the beak into the hole in the

barrel where the cork had been, and emptied the vitriol.

"Ha, ha! Gnomish science overcomes ignorance again!"

Bellcrank repeated the siphoning four more times before

Kitiara noticed vapor escaping from the leather hinges of

the Excellent Mouthless Siphon. "Bellcrank," she said hesi-

tantly.

"Not now! The process has begun, and it must be kept

 

going at a steady pace!"

"But the siphon --"

A drop of vitriol seeped through a hole that it had eaten in

the hinge of the siphon, and splashed on Bellcrank's shoe.

He carelessly flung the siphon away and began hopping

around on one foot, trying desperately to pry the shoe off

his foot. The vitriol ate the buckle strap in two, and with a

mighty kick, Bellcrank flung the shoe away. It missed the

returning Fitter's nose by a whisker.

"Oh, Reorx!" said Bellcrank sadly. The Excellent Mouth-

less Siphon was a pile of steaming fragments.

"Never mind," Kitiara said. Whe wrapped her arms around

the vitriol jug and planted her feet firmly. "Hai-yup!" she

grunted, and raised the demijohn to Bellcrank's level. He

guided the jug's mouth, and soon a steady stream of the

acrid fluid was spilling into the ethereal air generator.

The hose from the keg to the air bag swelled. The sagging

bag itself began to fill out and grow firmer inside its web of

netting. Soon all the rope rigging and tackle was taut. The

bag strained against the confining ropes. At Bellcrank's sig-

nal, Kitiara lowered the heavy demijohn.

Sturm came around the bow with the other gnomes. "The

ruts are full of brush," he said.

"The bag is full of ethereal air," said Bellcrank.

"My back is killing me," said Kitiara. "What next?"

"We f-fly," said Stutts. "All colleagues to their flying st-

stations!"

Stutts, Wingover, and the two humans went into the for-

ward end of the deck house. The other gnomes lined the rail.

"Release ballast!" cried Wingover.

"Release b-ballast!" Stutts called out an open porthole.

The gnomes took up long, sausage-shaped bags that lined

the rail. The ends opened, and sand poured out. The

gnomes flung sand over the side, getting as much in their

own eyes as they did out of the ship. This went on until

Sturm felt the deck shift under his feet. Kitiara, wide-eyed,

grabbed the brass rail that ran around the wheelhouse at the

gnomes' shoulder height.

"Open front wings!" cried Wingover.

"Opening f-front wings!" Stutts replied. He leaned against

 

a lever as tall as he was and shoved it forward. A rattle, a

screech, and the leather 'sails' that Kitiara and Sturm had

noticed on the hull unfolded into long, graceful batlike

wings. The goatskin covering the bony ribs was pale brown

and translucent.

"F-front wings open," Stutts reported. Wind caught in

them, and the ship lifted an inch or two at the bow.

"Open rear wings!"

"Opening rear w-wings!" A slightly wider and longer pair

of leather-clad wings blossomed aft of the deckhouse.

"Set tail!"

The gnomes on deck ran out a long spar and clamped it to

the stern. Roperig and Fitter clambered over the spar,

attaching lines to pulleys to hooks. They unfolded a fan-

shaped set of ribs, also covered in goatskin. By the time they

finished, the Cloudmaster was swaying and bucking off the

ground.

Wingover flipped the cover off a speaking tube. "Hello,

Birdcall, are you there? A shrill whistled answered. "Tell

Flash to start the engine."

There was a sizzle and a loud crack, and the deck quiv-

ered beneath their feet. Wingover twirled a brass ring han-

dle and threw another tall lever. The great wings rose slowly

in unison. The Cloudmaster lost contact with the ground.

Down came the wings, folding inward as they came. The

flying ship lurched forward, its wheels sucking free of the

mud and bouncing over the scattered brush. The wings beat

again, faster. Wingover grasped the steering wheel in both

his small hands and pulled. The wheel swung toward him,

the bow pitched up, the wings flapped crazily, and the

Cloudmaster was borne aloft into the blue afternoon sky.

"Hurray! H-Hurray!" Stutts said, jumping up and down.

The Cloudmaster climbed steadily. Wingover eased the

wheel forward, and the bow dropped. Kitiara yelled and

lost her footing. Sturm let go of the handrail to try to catch

her, and he fell, too. He rolled against one of the levers,

knocking it out of place, and the wings instantly stopped

moving. The Cloudmaster wobbled and plunged toward

the ground.

There were several seconds of stark terror. Sturm disen-

 

 

tangled himself from the lever and hauled back on it. The

wings sang as the taut skin bit the air. Stutts and Kitiara, in a

knot, rolled to the rear of the room. Shakily, Wingover

steadied the ship.

"I think passengers ought to leave the wheelhouse,"

Wingover said. His voice shook with fear. "At least until

you get your air legs."

"I agree," said Sturm. From his hands and knees he

grabbed the handle of the door and crept out on deck. Kiti-

ara and Stutts crawled out behind him.

The rushing wind was strong on deck, but by taking firm

hold of the rail and leaning into it, Kitiara found it tolerable.

The wings flexed up and down in close harmony. Kitiara

slowly straightened her legs. She looked over the side.

"Great Lord of Battle!" she exclaimed. "We must be miles

and miles straight up!"

Stutts boosted himself to the rail and hung his head over

the side. "N-not as high as all that," he remarked. "You can

st-still see our shadow on the ground." It was true. A dark

oval sped across the treetops. Sighter appeared with his spy-

glass, and he promptly announced their altitude as 6,437.5

feet.

"Are you certain?" Kitiara asked.

"Please," said Sturm, "take his word for it."

"Where are we headed, Sighter?" asked Kitiara.

"Due east. That's the Lemish forest below. In a few min-

utes, we should be over the Newsea."

"But that's seventy miles from where we were," Sturm

said. He was sitting on the deck. "Are we truly flying that

fast?"

"Indeed we are, and we shall go faster still," Sighter said.

He strolled forward, his spyglass stuck to one eye as he sur-

veyed the world below.

"It's wonderful!" Kitiara said. She laughed into the wind.

"I never believed you could do it; but you did. I love it! Tell

the whistler to go as fast as he can!" Stutts was almost as

excited, and he agreed. He turned to re-enter the wheel-

house. Sturm called to him, and he paused.

"Why are we heading east?" Sturm asked. "Why not

north and east -- toward the Plains of Solamnia?"

 

Stutts replied, "Rainspot s-says he feels turbulence in that

direction. He f-felt it wouldn't be prudent to fly through it."

He disappeared into the wheelhouse.

"Sturm, look at that!" Kitiara said. "It's a village! You can

see the housetops and chimney smoke -- and cattle! I won-

der, can the people down there see us? Wouldn't that be fun-

ny, to swoop down on their heads and blow a

trumpet -- ta-ta! Scare them out of ten years' growth!"

Sturm was still sitting on the deck. "I'm not ready to stand

up yet," he said sheepishly. "I was never afraid of heights,

you know. Trees, towers, mountaintops never disturbed

me. But this..."

"It's wonderful, Sturm. Hold the rail and look down."

I must stand up, thought Sturm. The Measure demanded

that a knight face danger with honor and courage. The

Knights of Solamnia had never considered aerial travel in

their code of conduct. I must show Kit that I am not afraid.

Sturm grasped the rail.

My father, Lord Angriff Brightblade, would not be

afraid, he told himself as he faced the low wall and rose to

his haunches. Blood pounded in Sturm's ears. The power of

the sword, the discipline of battle, were of little help here.

This was a stronger test. This was the unknown.

Sturm stood. The world spun beneath him like a ribbon

unspooling. Already the blue waters of the Newsea glittered

on the horizon. Kitiara was raving about the boats she could

see. Sturm took a deep breath and let the fear fall from him

like a soiled garment.

"Wonderful!" she exclaimed again. "I tell you, Sturm, I

take back all the things I said about the gnomes. This flying

ship is tremendous! We can go anywhere in the world with

this. Anywhere! And think of what a general could do with

his army in a fleet of these devices. No wall would be high

. enough. No arrows could reach you up here. There's no

spot in the whole of Krynn that could be defended against a

fleet of flying ships."

"It would be the end of the world," Sturm said. "Cities

looted and burned, farms ravaged, people slaughtered -- it

would be as bad as the Cataclysm."

"Trust you to see the dark side of everything," she said.

 

"It happened before, you know. Twice the dragons of

Krynn tried to subjugate the world from the sky, until the

great Huma used the Dragonlance and defeated them."

Kitiara said, "That was long ago. And men are different

from dragons." Sturm was not so sure.

Cutwood and Rainspot climbed a ladder to the roof of the

wheelhouse. From there they launched a large kite". It flut-

tered back in the wind from the wings, whipping about on

its string like a new-caught trout.

"What are you two doing now?" Kitiara called out.

"Testing for lightning," Cutwood responded. "He smells it

in the clouds."

"Isn't that dangerous?" Sturm said.

"Eh?" Cutwood put a hand to his ear.

"I said, isn't that --"

The brilliant white-forked bolt hit the kite before Sturm

could finish. Though the sun was shining and the air clear,

lightning leaped from a nearby cloud and blasted the kite to

ashes. The bolt continued down the string and leaped to the

brass ladder. The Cloudmaster staggered; the wings skipped

a beat, then settled back into their regular rhythm once

more.

They carried the scorched Rainspot into the dining room.

His face and hands were black with soot. His shoes had been

knocked right off his feet, and his stockings had gone with

his shoes. All the buttons on his vest were melted as well.

Cutwood lowered his ear to Rainspot's chest. "Still beat-

ing," he reported.

The ship's alarm went AH -- OO -- GAH! and the speak-

ing tube blared, "All colleagues and passengers come to the

engine room at once." Stutts and the other gnomes filed

toward the door, with the humans trailing behind.

Stutts paused. "What ab-bout him?" He indicated the

unconscious Rainspot.

"We could carry him," Sighter said.

"We can make a stretcher," said Cutwood, checking his

pockets for paper and pencil to draw a stretcher design.

"I'll do it," Sturm said, just to end the discussion. He

scooped the little man up in his arms.

Down in the engine room, the ship's entire company col-

 

lected. Sturm was alarmed to see Wingover there. "Who

steering the ship?" he asked.

"I tied the wheel."

"Colleagues and passengers," Flash said, "I beg to report,

fault in the engine."

"You needn't beg," said Roperig. "We'll let you report."

"Shut up," said Kitiara. "How bad is it?"

"I can't shut it off. The lightning strike has fused the

switches in the 'on' position."

"That's not so bad," Sighter said. Birdcall warbled in

agreement.

"But we can't fly around forever!" Kitiara said.

"No indeed," said Flash. "I estimate we have power to fly

for, oh, six and a half weeks."

"Six weeks!" cried Sturm and Kitiara in unison.

"One thousand, eighty-one hours, twenty-nine minutes. I

can work out the exact seconds in a moment."

"Hold my arms, Sturm; I'm going to throttle him!"

"Hush, Kit."

"Could we unfasten the wings? That would bring us

down," said Roperig.

"Yes, and make a nice big hole when we hit," Bellcrank

observed tartly.

"Hmm, I wonder how big a hole it would be." Cutwood

flipped open a random slip of parchment and started figur-

ing on it. The other gnomes crowded around, offering cor-

rections to his arithmetic.

"Stop this at once!" Sturm said. Kitiara's face was scarlet

from ill-concealed rage. When the gnomes paid him not the

least heed, he snatched the calculations from Cutwood. The

gnomes broke off in midbabble.

"How can such clever fellows be so impractical? Not one

of you has asked the right question. Flash, can you fix the

engine?"

A gleam of challenge grew in Flash's eyes. "I can! I will!"

He pulled a hammer from one pocket and a spanner from

another. "C'mon, Birdcall, let's get at it!" The chief mechan-

ic chirped happily and followed on Flash's heels.

"Wingover, where will we go if we keep flying as we are

now?" Sturm asked.

 

"The wings are set on 'climb', which means we'll keep

going higher and higher," Wingover replied. The gnome

wrinkled his beaky nose. "It will get cold. The air will thin

out; that's why vultures and eagles can only fly so high.

Their wings are too small. The Cloudmaster shouldn't have

problems with that."

"Everyone will have to dress warmly," said Sturm.

"We have our furs," Kitiara said, having mastered her

anger at the situation. "I don't know what the gnomes can

wear."

"Oh! Oh!" Roperig waved a hand to be recognized. "I can

make Personal Heating Apparatuses out of materials I have

in the rope locker."

"Fine, you do that." Roperig and his apprentice hurried

away with their heads together. Fitter listened so intently

that he walked under an engine part and into the door

frame.

Rainspot moaned. Forgetting his burden in the excite-

ment, Sturm had tucked him under one arm like a loaf of

bread. The gnome coughed and groaned. Sturm set him on

the deck. The first thing Rainspot did was to ask for his kite.

Cutwood explained how it was lost, and tears welled up in

Rainspot's eyes. As they trickled down his cheeks, they

scored clean tracks in the soot.

"One thing more, Wingover," Kitiara said. "You said the

air would get thin. Do you mean as it does on very high

mountaintops?"

"Exactly like that."

She planted her hands on her hips and said, "I once led a

troop of cavalry over the high Khalkist Mountains. It was

cold, all right, and worse, our ears bled. We fainted at the

slightest exertion and had the worst headaches. A shaman

named Ning made a potion for us to drink; it eased our

way."

"What a primitive shaman can do with m-magic, a gnome

can do with t-technology," said Stutts.

Sturm looked out the engine room porthole at the darken-

ing sky. A rime of frost was already forming on the outside

of the glass. "I certainly hope so, my friend. Our lives may

depend on it."

 

Chapter 7

Hydrodynamics!

It was quiet on deck. Sturm worked his way around

the starboard side to the bow. Sighter had mounted a tele-

scope on a spindle there, and Sturm wanted a look around.

It wasn't easy moving in his thick fur coat, hood, and mit-

tens, but he decided that it was no worse than being in full

body armor.

The flapping of the wings scarcely could be heard as the

Cloudmaster climbed steadily upward. The flying ship had

pierced a layer of soft white clouds, which left a coat of

snow on the deck and roof. Once it cleared the cloud layer,

however, the rush of air over the wings swept the snow

away.

Great pillars of vapor stood around them, fat columns of

blue and white that looked as solid as marble in the moons'

 

light. Sturm studied these massive towers of cloud through

Sighter's spyglass, but all he could see was their sculpted

surfaces, as smooth and still as a frozen pond.

He hadn't seen a gnome in over an hour. Wingover had

tied the steering wheel again, and they'd all disappeared

below to work on their inventions. Occasionally he heard

or felt bangs and crashes under his feet. Kitiara, fully and

fetchingly buried in her fox fur coat, had gone to the dining

room and stretched out on the table for a nap.

Sturm swung the telescope left, over the pointed prow.

Solinari shone between two deep ravines in the clouds, sil-

vering the airship with its rays. He scanned the strange

architecture of the clouds, seeing in them a face, a wagon, a

rearing horse. It was beautiful, but incredibly lonely. He felt

at that moment like the only man in the world.

The cold crept through his heavy clothes. Sturm clapped

his hands on his arms to stir his blood. It didn't help much.

Finally he abandoned his frosty post, and returned to the

dining room. He watched the sleeping Kitiara sway gently

with the motion of the ship. Then he smelled something.

Smoke. Something was burning.

Sturm coughed and wrinkled his nose. Kitiara stirred.

She sat up in time to see the entry of a bizarre apparition. It

looked like a scarecrow made of tin and rope, but this scare-

crow had a glass jar on its head and smoke coming out of its

back.

"Hello," said the apparition.

"Wingover?" asked Kitiara.

The little scarecrow reached up and twisted the jar off its

head, and the hawkish features of Wingover emerged.

"What do you think of Roperig's invention?" he asked. "He

calls it the Refined Personal Heating Apparatus, Mark III."

"Mark III?" said Sturm.

"Yes, the first two prototypes were not successful. Poor

Fitter has a burn on his... well, he'll be standing at dinner

for a while. That was Mark I. The Mark II took off most of

Roperig's whiskers. I warned him not to use glue on the Per-

fect Observation Helmet."

Wingover held out his arms and spun in a circle. "Do you

see? Roperig sewed a continuous coil of rope to a set of long

 

underwear, then varnished the whole suit to make it water-

tight and airtight. The heat comes from a tin stove, here." He

strained to point at a miniature potbelly stove mounted on

his back. "A fat tallow candle provides up to four hours of

heat, and these tin strips carry the warmth all over the suit."

Wingover finally dropped his arms.

"Very ingenious," said Kitiara flatly. "Has anything been

done about the engine?"

"Birdcall and Flash can't agree on the cause of the dam-

age. Birdcall insists the fault lies in Flash's lightning bottles,

while Flash says the engine is fused in the 'on' position."

Kitiara sighed. "By the time those two agree on what to

fix, we'll have run out of sky."

"Could anything fly as high as we are now?"

"There's no reason why another flying ship couldn't get

this high. It's largely a matter of aerodynamic efficiency." He

thumped a dial or two and added, "I suppose a dragon

might get this high. Assuming they still existed, that is."

"Dragons?" Sturm repeated.

"Dragons are a special case, of course. The really big

ones, Reds or Golds, could achieve very high altitudes."

"How high?"

"They had wingspans of 150 feet or more, you know,"

said Wingover, enjoying his lecture. "I'm sure I could do a

calculation, based on a fifty-foot animal weighing forty-five

tons -- of course, they couldn't glide worth shucks --"

"It's freezing on the inside now," interrupted Kitiara,

scratching the frost off a small pane of glass. She breathed

on the cleared spot, and it instantly turned milky white.

Stutts started up the ladder from below, but his Personal

Heating Apparatus caught on the ladder and there were

some moments of struggle to free him.

"Everything sh-shipshape?" he inquired.

"The controls are fine," Wingover responded, "but we're

still going up. The height gauge has gone off the dial, so

Sighter will have to calculate how high we are."

Stutts clapped his rope-wound hands together. "P-

perfect! That will make him very happy." The gnomes' lead-

er whistled into the voice tube. "N-now hear this! Sighter

r-report to the wheelhouse!"

 

In seconds, the little astronomer came banging up the lad-

der, tripped on the top rung, and fell on his face. Kitiara

helped him stand and saw why he was so clumsy. He had

pulled his jar-helmet on in such a way as to cover his face

with his long beard. Stutts and Kitiara worked and twisted

to get the jar off. It came away with a loud pop!

"By Reorx," Sighter gasped. "I was beginning to think my

own whiskers were trying to choke me!"

"Did you b-bring your astrolabe?" asked Stutts.

"When am I without it?"

"Then g-go up on the roof and shoot the stars. We need to

know our exact p-position."

Sighter snapped his fingers. "Not a problem!"

He went out of the deckhouse through the dining room.

They heard his feet stomping across the roof.

"Uh-oh," said Wingover, staring dead ahead.

Sturm said, "What is it?"

"The clouds are closing in. Look!"

They had flown into a box canyon of clouds. Even if

Wingover put the wheel hard about, they would still plow

into a cloud bank. "I'd better tell Sighter," Sturm said. He

went to the door, meaning to shout up at the gnome on the

roof. About the time he cracked the door open, the Cloud-

master bored into a wall of luminous white.

Frost formed quickly on Sturm's mustache. Snow swirled

around him as he cried, "Sighter! Sighter, come down!" The

frozen mist was so thick that he couldn't see a foot beyond

his nose. He would have to go get Sighter.

He slipped twice on his way up the ladder. The brass

rungs were encased in ice, but Sturm knocked it off with the

butt of his dagger. As he cleared the roof line, a blast of

frigid air stung his face. "Sighter!" he called. "Sighter!"

The rooftop was too treacherous to stand on, so Sturm

crept forward on his hands and knees. Flakes of snow col-

lected in the gap between his hood and coat collar, melted,

and ran down his neck. Sturm's hand slipped, and he almost

rolled right off the roof. Though there was four feet of deck

on either side, he had the horrible idea that he would tumble

right off the ship and fall, fall, fall. Cutwood would calcu-

late how big a hole he'd make.

 

His hand bumped a frost-rimed boot, and Sturm looked

up. Sighter was at his post, astrolabe stuck to one eye and

completely covered with half an inch of ice! Snow was

already drifting around his feet.

Sturm used his dagger to chip away the ice around Sight-

er's shoes. His Personal Heating Apparatus, Mark III must

have blown out, for the gnome was now stiff with cold.

Sturm grabbed the little man's feet and pulled --

"Sturm! Sturm, where are you?" Kitiara was calling.

"Up here!"

"What are you doing? You and Sighter get inside before

your faces freeze off!"

"It's too late for Sighter. I've almost got him loose -- wait,

here he is!" He passed the stiff gnome over the edge of the

roof to Kitiara's open arms. With commendable agility, he

then scooted down the ladder and hurried back inside.

"Brr! And I thought winters at Castle Brightblade were

cold!" He saw that Rainspot was on hand to doctor the fro-

zen Sighter. "How is he?" asked Sturm.

"Cold," said Rainspot. He pinched the tip of Sighter's

beard with a pair of wooden tweezers. A quick snap of the

wrist, and the lower half of Sighter's beard broke off.

"Dear, dear," Rainspot said, clucking his tongue. "Dear,

dear." He reached for the astrolabe, still in place at Sighter's

eye, with Sighter's hands clamped to it.

"No!" Kitiara and Sturm yelled. Trying to break the

instrument loose would probably take Sighter's eye with it.

"T-take him below and thaw him out," said Stutts. "S-

slowly."

"Someone will have to carry his feet," said Rainspot.

Stutts sighed and went over to help.

"He's g-going to be very angry that y-you broke his

b-beard," he said.

"Dear, dear. Perhaps if we dampened the edge we could

stick it back on."

"Don't be st-stupid. You'd never get it aligned p-properly."

"I can get some glue from Roperig --"

They disappeared down the hatch to the berth deck.

Sturm and Kitiara heard a loud crash, and both rushed to

the opening, expecting to see poor Sighter broken to bits

 

like a cheap clay vase. But, no, Stutts was on the deck,

Sighter cushioned on top of him, and Rainspot was hanging

upside down with his feet tangled in the rungs. "Dear, dear,"

he was saying. "Dear, dear."

They couldn't help but laugh. It felt good after spending

so much time worrying whether they would ever walk the

solid soil of Krynn again.

Kitiara stopped laughing first. "That was a crazy stunt,

Sturm," she said.

"What?"

"Rescuing that gnome. You might have been frozen your-

self, and I'll wager you wouldn't thaw out as easily as Sight-

er will."

"Not with Rainspot as my doctor."

To his surprise, she embraced him. It was a comradely

hug, with a clap on the back that staggered him.

"We're coming out of it! We're coming out!" Wingover

yelled. Kitiara broke away and rushed to the gnome. He

was hopping up and down in delight as the white shroud

peeled away from the flying ship. The Cloudmaster

emerged from the top of the snow squall into clear air.

Ahead of them was a vast red globe, far larger than the

sun ever appeared from the ground. Below was nothing but

an unbroken sheet of cloud, tinged scarlet from the moon's

glow. All around, stars twinkled. The Cloudmaster was fly-

ing headlong toward the red orb.

"Hydrodynamics," Wingover breathed. This was the

gnomes' strongest oath. Neither Sturm nor Kitiara could

improve on it just then.

"What is it?" Kitiara finally said.

"If my calculations are accurate, and I'm sure that they

are, it is Lunitari, the red moon of Krynn," said Wingover.

Sighter appeared in the hatch. His hair was dripping, and

his broken-off beard fluttered when he spoke. "Correct!

That's what I discovered before the snowstorm hit. We're a

hundred thousand miles from home, and heading straight

for Lunitari."

 

Chapter 8

To the Red Moon

The ship's complement assembled in the dining

room. Reactions to Sighter's announcement were mixed.

Basically, the gnomes were delighted, while their human

passengers were appalled.

"How can we be going to Lunitari?" Kitiara demanded.

"It's just a red dot in the sky!"

"Oh, no," said Sighter. "Lunitari is a large globular celes-

tial body, just like Krynn and the other moons and planets. I

estimate that it is thirty-five hundred miles in diameter and

at least 150 thousand miles from Krynn."

"This is beyond me," Sturm said wearily. "How could we

possibly have flown so high? We haven't been gone more

than two days."

"Actually, time references are difficult to make at this alti-

 

tude. We haven't seen the sun in a long time, but judging

from the positions of the moons and stars, I would say we

have been aloft for fifty-four hours," Sighter said, making a

few jottings on the tabletop. "And forty-two minutes."

"Any other r-reports?" asked Stutts.

"We're out of raisins," said Fitter.

"And flour and bacon and onions," added Cutwood.

"What does that leave for food?" Kitiara asked. Birdcall

made a very unbirdlike squawk. "What did he say?"

"Beans. Six sacks of dried white beans," said Roperig.

"What about the engine?" asked Sturm. "Have you fig-

ured out how to fix it?"

Tweet-tweedle-tweet. "He says no," Bellcrank translated.

"The lightning bottles are holding up quite well," Flash

reported. "My theory is, the cold, thin air offers less resist-

ance to the wings, therefore, the engine doesn't have to

work as hard."

"Rot!" said Bellcrank. "It's my ethereal air. All that flap-

ping impedes our flight. If we lopped off those silly wings,

we could have flown to Lunitari in half the time."

"Aerodynamic idiocy! That big bag is just a big drag!"

"Stop it!" Sturm snapped. "There's no time for these ridic-

ulous disputes. I want to know what happens when we

reach Lunitari." Ten pairs of gnome eyes looked at him and

blinked. They do it in unison, he thought, just to unnerve

me. "Well?"

"We land?" said Wingover.

"How? The engines won't shut off."

The room fairly buzzed with the brains of gnomes furi-

ously thinking. Roperig began to shake. "What does a ship

in distress do when it's driven toward the shoals?" asked

Roperig feverishly.

"Crash and sink," said Bellcrank.

"No, no! It throws out an anchor!"

Sturm and Kitiara smiled. Here was something they could

understand. Never mind lightning bottles and ethereal air --

throw out an anchor!

"Do we have an anchor?" asked Fitter.

"We have a few grappling hooks about this big,"

Wingover replied, holding his hands out, about a foot

 

apart. "They won't stop Cloudmaster."

"I'll make a big one," Bellcrank vowed. "If we scrap a few

ladders and iron fittings..."

"But what if we don't get the engine shut down?" Sturm

said. "No anchor in the world will stop us."

Kitiara cocked her head and regarded Stutts severely.

"What about it?" she asked.

"How 1-long will it take you to m-make an anchor7" asked

Stutts.

"With help, maybe three hours," said Bellcrank.

"When will we h-hit Lunitari?" Stutts asked Sighter.

Sighter scribbled across the table, around one corner, and

up the other side. "As it stands now, we will hit Lunitari in

five hours and sixteen minutes."

"Flash and B-Birdcall will keep working on the engine. If

n-no other course is open, we m-may have to smash the

engine b-before we can set down."

The gnomes erupted with cries of consternation. The

humans objected, too.

"How will we ever get home if you wreck the engine?"

demanded Kitiara. "We'll be marooned on Lunitari forever."

"If we c-crash, we'll be on L-Lunitari a lot longer than

that, and enjoy it a lot less," Stutts said. "W-we'll be dead." '

"Fitter and I will make a cable for the anchor," said

Roperig, heading below.

"I'll fill the deckhouse with our blankets and pillows,"

Cutwood offered. "That way, we'll have something to cush-

ion us when we crash, er, land."

The gnomes dispersed to their tasks, while Sturm and Kit-

iara remained in the dining room. The scarlet expanse of the

moon was visible through the skylight. Together they

looked up at Lunitari.

Sturm said, "Another world. I wonder what it's like."

"Who can say? The gnomes could give you theories; I'm

just a warrior," said Kitiara. She sighed. "If we end up

marooned there, I hope there will be battles to be fought."

"There are always battles. Every place has its own version

of good and evil."

"Oh, it doesn't matter to me who I fight for. Battle is my

virtue. You can't go wrong with a sword in your hand and a

 

good comrade at your side." She slipped a thickly gloved

hand into Sturm's. He returned her grip, but could not dis-

pel the anxiety that her words caused.

The gnomes, when aroused, had formidable amounts of

energy. In less time than it takes to tell, Bellcrank had forged

a monstrous anchor with four flukes and a huge weight

made of miscellaneous metal parts from all over the ship. In

his zeal to add weight to his creation, Bellcrank took ladder

rungs, doorknobs, spoons from the dining room, door

hinges, and only by threat of force could he be discouraged

from removing half of Wingover's control knobs.

Roperig and Fitter wove an appropriately stout cable;

indeed, their first offering was too thick to thread through

the eyelet that Bellcrank had fashioned in the anchor. Cut-

wood filled the dining room so full of pillows and blankets

that it was hard to walk across to the wheelhouse.

Lunitari grew visibly larger with each passing hour. From

a featureless red globe, it had developed dark red mountain

peaks, purple valleys, and wide scarlet plains. Stutts and

Wingover debated endlessly as to why the moon was so

dominated by red hues. As usual, they resolved nothing,

Kitiara made the mistake of asking how it was that they

seemed to be flying straight down at Lunitari when they had

been going up since leaving Krynn.

"It's all a matter of relative reference," Wingover said.

"Our 'up' is down on Lunitari, and the 'down' on Lunitari

will be up."

She set aside her sword, which she'd taken out to polish

and sharpen. "You mean, if I drop a stone from my hand on

Lunitari, it will fly up in the air and eventually fall on

Krynn?"

Wingover opened and closed his mouth silently three

times. His expression grew more and more puzzled. Finally,

Kitiara asked, "What will keep our feet on the moon? Won't

we fall back home?"

Wingover looked stricken. Stutts chuckled. "The same

p-pressure that held you to the fertile soil of K-Krynn will

 

allow us to walk normally on L-Lunitari," he said.

"Pressure?" asked Sturm.

"Yes, the p-pressure of the air. Air has weight, you know."

"I see," said Kitiara. "But what keeps the air in place?"

Now it was Stutts's turn to look stricken.

Sturm rescued them from their scientific quandary. "I

want to know if there will be people there," he said.

"Why not?" Wingover said. "If the air thickens and gets

warmer, we might find quite ordinary folk living on Luni-

tari."

Kitiara drew the whetstone down the length of her blade.

"Strange," she mused, "to think that people like us live on

the moon. I wonder what they see when they look up --

down? -- at our world."

Birdcall whistled for attention from the deck below. Bell-

crank had removed the ladder halfway down, so the chirp-

ing gnome couldn't reach a rung to pull himself up. Stutts

and Sturm reached through the open hatch and hauled him

out. Birdcall twittered a lengthy exposition, and Stutts

translated.

"He says he and F-Flash have figured out a way to disen-

gage the engine before we land. They will c-cut the main

power cable a hundred feet up, and t-time the wing beats so

that the wings will 1-lock in their extended position. That

way, we can glide in to a landing."

"And if they don't?"

Birdcall held up one hand with the fingers flat together.

His hand dived into the open palm of his other, making a

crunching noise when they smacked together.

"We have l-little ch-choice but to try." The others agreed.

Birdcall dropped to the deck below and hurried down to his

engine. Roperig and Fitter pooled the anchor and cable on

the deck by the ship's tail. Cutwood, Sighter, and Rainspot

boxed up their most valuable possessions -- tools, instru-

ments, and the big ledger with all the entries on raisin densi-

ty in muffins -- and buried them amidst the pillows in the

dining room.

"What can I do?" Sturm said to Wingover.

"You could throw out the anchor when we say."

"I can do something, too," Kitiara said.

 

"Why don't you go to the engine room and help Flash and

Birdcall? They can't tend the engine and cut the power cable

at the same time," said the gnome.

She raised her sword until the hilt was level with her chin.

"Cut it with this?" she said.

"Certainly."

"Right." Kitiara slipped the sheath over the blade and

started down the abbreviated ladder. "When you want the

cable cut, hit that crazy horn," she said. "That will be my

signal."

"Kit," Sturm said quietly, making her pause. "May Pala-

dine guide your hand."

"I doubt that I'll need divine aid. I've chopped through

thicker things than cable!" She smiled crookedly.

There was nothing in view now but Lunitari. Though

Wingover didn't change course, the moon seemed to sink

from overhead to bows-on. As the minutes sped by, the red

landscape spread to every horizon. Soon the airship was fly-

ing with the purple sky above and the red soil below.

The altitude gauge was working again. "Seventy-two

hundred feet. Four minutes to contact," said Wingover.

A line of jagged peaks flashed by. Wingover spun the

wheel hard to port. The wings on the starboard side flicked

past the sharp spires with scant feet to spare. The Cloud-

master careened farther, almost onto its side. Soft thumps

and muffled yells came from the dining room.

"Whoa-oh-oh-oh!" Wingover cried. "More bumps com-

ing up!"

The prow smashed into a lofty pinnacle and carried it

away. A cloud of red grit and dust hit the wheelhouse win-

dows. Wingover frantically pushed levers and turned the

wheel. The flying ship went nose up, then tail up. Sturm

staggered back and forth. He felt like a pea being rattled in a

cup.

The cliffs fell away to reveal a landscape of flat mesas

divided by deep ravines. The ship was down to a thousand

feet. Sturm opened the door. Melted ice ran along the deck

outside. "I'm going aft!" he said. Wingover bobbed his head

rapidly in reply.

He stepped out the door just as Wingover banked the

 

Cloudmaster in that direction. Sturm almost pitched head-

first over the rail. The scarlet world roared past at terrifying

speed, much faster, it seemed, than when they were cruising

through the high clouds. He felt a rush of vertigo, but it

quickly succumbed to his will. Sturm staggered aft, bounc-

ing from the rail to the wall of the deckhouse. He glimpsed a

queerly distorted face at one of the dining room portholes.

It was Fitter, his bulbous nose and ruddy lips smashed flat

against the pane.

The wind whipped at Sturm as he neared the anchor. The

hinged tail bowed and flexed under Wingover's control.

Sturm wrapped an arm around the tail's hinge post and held

on.

The tableland was replaced by a featureless plain. The

dark red soil was smooth and unrippled. At least Paladine

had favored them with an uncluttered place to land the fly-

ing ship! Sturm let go of the rudder post and cradled the

anchor in his arms. Bellcrank had done a good job; the big

hook weighed nearly as much as Sturm. He wrestled it to

the rail. They were very low now. The ground resembled a

sheet of marble, painted the color of blood.

Do it, Wingover. Blow the horn now, thought Sturm.

They seemed too low. He's forgotten, he thought. We're too

low. He forgot to sound the horn! Or had he himself failed

to hear it in the rush of wind and the pounding of his heart?

After a second of indecision, Sturm heaved the anchor

over. The multicolored rope, woven from everything

Roperig could find -- cord, curtains, shirts, and gnomish

underwear -- spilled after the hook, loop after loop. Roperig

said he'd made 110 feet of cable. More than enough. The

skein rapidly shrank. With a snap, it ran out, and the heavy

scrap metal anchor streamed out behind the flying ship.

Sturm had dropped it too soon.

He moved forward, watching the hook drop closer and

closer to the red soil. By the door to the wheelhouse, Sturm

paused, expecting the anchor to bounce and shatter as it hit,

but it did neither. The anchor sank into the surface of the

moon, plowing a wide, deep furrow.

He threw open the door. Wingover had his hand on the

horn cord. "Don't do it!" Sturm yelled. "The ground

 

below -- it's not solid!"

Wingover snatched his hand away from the cord as if it

had burned him. "Not solid?"

"I dropped the anchor, and it's flowing through the plain

as though it were in water. If we land, we'll sink!"

"We don't have any time left. We're less than a hundred

feet up now!"

Sturm went to the rail, staring desperately at the soft

ground. What to do? What to do!

He saw rocks. "Hard to starboard!" he sang out. "Solid

ground to starboard!"

Wingover spun the wheel. The right rear wing touched

Lunitari. It dipped into the dust and came out unharmed.

Sturm could smell the dirt in the air. The rocks thickened,

and the smooth, scarlet dust gave way to a stony plain.

AA-OO-GAH!

The Cloudmaster quivered like a living thing. The leather

bat-wings lifted in a graceful arc and froze there. Sturm

threw himself through the door and landed on his belly. He

covered his head tightly with his hands.

The wheels touched, spun, and snapped off with brittle,

wrenching sounds. When the hull of the flying ship plowed

into Lunitari, the bow bucked, rose, and jerked to port.

Sturm careened across the deck. The Cloudmaster tore

along, trailing a wake of dirt and stones. Finally, as if too

tired to continue, the flying ship settled to a creaking, grind-

ing stop.

 

Chapter 9

Foty Pounds of Iron

"Ane we dead?"

Sturm uncovered his head and lifted it. Wingover was

jammed through the spokes of the steering wheel, his short

arms squeezed tightly against his chest. His eyes were just as

tightly closed.

"Open your eyes, Wingover; we're all right," said Sturm.

"Oh, Reorx, I'm stuck!"

"Hold on." Sturm grabbed the gnome's feet and pulled.

Wingover protested all the way, but when he was finally

free, he forgot his discomfort and said, "Ah! Lunitari!"

The gnome and the man went out on deck. The rear door

of the dining room banged open, and the other gnomes piled

out. Wordlessly, they surveyed the barren landscape. Aside

from a distant hump of hills, Lunitari was flat all the way to

 

the horizon.

One gnome gave a high chortle of delight, and they all

scampered inside. Sturm heard things flying as they sorted

through the pillows for their tools, instruments, and note-

books.

Kitiara appeared on deck with Flash and Birdcall. They

hadn't been able to see from the engine room, being too

busy to stare out the porthole. Kitiara had a fine goose-egg

bruise over her right eye.

"Hello," said Sturm. "What happened to you?"

"Oh, I knocked my head against an engine fitting when

we crashed."

"Landed," he corrected. "Did you break the fitting?"

His rare attempt at humor left Kitiara silent for a

moment. Then they threw their arms around each other,

grateful for their lives.

The ramp in the starboard side of the hull dropped down,

and the whole gang of gnomes boiled out onto the red turf.

Kitiara said, "I guess we'd better go down and look after

them, before they hurt themselves."

The gnomes were lost in their specialties by the time Kiti-

ara and Sturm joined them. Sighter scanned the horizon

with his spyglass. Bellcrank and Cutwood were filling jars

with scoopfuls of red dirt. Rainspot stood apart from the

rest, his nose and ears tuned to the weather. He reminded

Kitiara of a hunting dog. Stutts was rapidly filling pages in

his pocket notebook. Wingover walked around the hull of

the Cloudmaster, kicking the tight wooden planks now and

then. Roperig and Fitter examined their anchor line and

measured the amount that it had stretched when pulled taut.

Birdcall and Flash were in a heated discussion. Sturm over-

heard something about 'wing camber variance' and listened

no further.

He scooped up a handful of Lunitarian dirt. It was flaky,

not granular like sand. As it fell from his fingers, it made a

tinkling sound.

"Do you smell what I smell?" asked Kitiara.

He sniffed. "Dust. It'll settle," he said.

"No, not that. It's a feeling more than a smell, really. The

air has a tingle to it, like a draft of Otik's best ale."

 

Sturm concentrated for a moment. "I don't feel anything."

Stutts bustled over. "Here are m-my preliminary find-

ings," he said. "Air: normal. Temperature: c-cool but not

cold. No sign of w-water, vegetation, or animal life."

"Kit says she feels a tingle in the air."

"Really? I h-hadn't noticed anything."

"I'm not imagining it," she said tersely. "Ask Rainspot,

maybe he's noticed."

The weather-wise gnome came running when called, and

Stutts asked for his impressions.

"The high clouds will dissipate soon," said Rainspot.

"Humidity is very low. I don't think it has rained here in a

very long time, if ever."

"Bad news," Kitiara said. "We haven't much water left on

the ship."

"Do you sense anything else?" Sturm queried.

"Yes, actually, but it's not a weather phenomenon. The air

is somehow charged with energy."

"Like l-lightning?"

"No." Rainspot pivoted slowly. "It's constant, but very

low in intensity. It doesn't feel harmful, just... there." He

shrugged.

"Why don't we feel it?" Sturm asked.

"You're not the sensitive type," Kitiara said. "Like old

Rainspot and me." She clapped her hands. "So, Stutts, now

that we're here, what do we do?"

"Explore. Make m-maps and study local conditions."

"There's nothing here," said Sturm.

"This is only one small 1-location. S-suppose we had land-

ed on the Plains of Dust on Krynn. W-would you then say

that there is nothing on Krynn but s-sand?" Stutts asked.

Sturm admitted that he would not.

Stutts called his engineers, and Flash and Birdcall trotted

up. "St-status report."

"The lightning bottles are two-thirds empty. If we don't

find some way to refill them, we won't have enough power

to fly home," Flash said. Birdcall sang his report, and Flash

translated for the humans. "He says the engine was shaken

loose from its mountings by the hard landing. But the cut

power cable can be patched."

 

"I have an idea about that," said Wingover, who'd joined

them. "If we install a switch at that juncture, we can bypass

the fused setting damaged by Rainspot's lightning."

"My lightning!" the weather gnome protested. "Since

when do I make lightning?"

"Switch? What kind of switch?" Cutwood asked. The

sound of disputation had drawn him and Bellcrank.

"A single throw-knife switch," said Wingover.

"Ha! Listen to the amateur! Single-throw! What's needed

is a rotary pole switch with isolated leads --"

Kitiara let out a blood-curdling battle cry and swung her

sword around her head. The silence that followed was

instant and total.

"You gnomes are driving me mad! Why don't you just

appoint someone to each task and be done with it?"

"Only one mind on each task?" Sighter was scandalized.

"It would never get done right."

"Perhaps Bellcrank could make the switch," Fitter suggest-

ed timidly. "It will be made of metal, won't it?"

Everyone stared at him, mouths open. He edged nervous-

ly behind Roperig.

"Wonderful idea!" Kitiara said. "Brilliant idea!"

"There isn't much spare metal left," Wingover said.

"We could salvage some from the anchor," Rainspot said.

The other gnomes looked at him and smiled.

"That's a good idea," said Cutwood.

"Fitter and me'll pull in the anchor," Roperig said.

They picked up the thick cable hanging down from the

tail and hauled away. Fifty feet away, where the field of

stones gave way to the deep dust, the buried anchor leaped

ahead in dusty spurts. Then the hook caught on something.

The gnomes strained and pulled.

"Want some help?" called Sturm.

"No -- uh -- we can do it," Roperig replied.

Roperig slapped Fitter on the back and they turned

around, laying the rope over their shoulders. The gnomes

dug in their toes and pulled.

"Pull, Roperig! Heave ho, Fitter! Pull, pull, pull!" shouted

the other gnomes.

"Wait," said Kitiara suddenly. "The rope is fraying --"

 

The hastily woven cable was coming undone just behind

Fitter. Twine and strands of twisted cloth spun away, and

the two gnomes, oblivious, braced their backs against it.

"Stop!" This was all Sturm had time to shout before the

rope parted. Roperig and Fitter fell on their faces with a

plunk. The other end of the cable, weighted down by the

anchor, snaked away. Bellcrank and Cutwood took off after

. it. The roly-poly chemist tripped over his own feet and

stumbled. The ragged end of the cable whisked out of his

reach. Cutwood, with surprising verve, leaped over his

fallen colleague and dived for the fleeing rope. To Sturm's

amazement, he caught it. Cutwood weighed no more than

fifty or sixty pounds, and the anchor weighed two hundred.

As it continued to sink into the red dust, it dragged Cut-

wood along with it.

"Let go!" Sturm shouted. Kitiara and the gnomes echoed

him, but Cutwood was already in the dust. Then, as the oth-

ers looked on in horror, Cutwood upended and disap-

peared. They waited and watched for the carpenter gnome

to surface. But he did not.

Bellcrank got up and took a few steps toward the rim of

the rock field. He was shouted to a halt. "You'll go in, too!"

Kitiara said.

"Cutwood," said Bellcrank helplessly. "Cutwood!" A rip-

ple appeared in the motionless dust. It roiled and grew into a

hump of crimson grit. Slowly the hump became a head,

then developed shoulders, arms, and a squat torso.

"Cutwood!" was the universal cry.

The gnome slogged forward heavily, and when he was

waist-high out of the dust, everyone could see that his pants

had ballooned to twice their usual size. The waist and legs

were packed with Lunitarian dust. Cutwood stepped to

firmer ground. He lifted one leg and shook it, and a torrent

of grit poured out.

Bellcrank rushed forward to embrace his dusty friend.

"Cutwood, Cutwood! We thought you were lost!"

Cutwood responded with a mighty sneeze, which got

dust on Bellcrank, who sneezed right back, prompting Cut-

wood to sneeze again. This went on for some time. Finally,

Sighter and Birdcall came forward with improvised Dust-

 

Free Face Filters (handkerchiefs). The siege of sneezing over-

come, Cutwood lamented, "My suspenders broke."

"Your what?" asked Bellcrank, sniffling.

Cutwood pulled up his deflated pants. "The anchor

dragged me under. I knew it was taking me down, but I

couldn't let all our scrap metal get away. Then my sus-

penders broke. I tried to grab them and the rope jerked out

of my hands." He sighed. "My best suspenders."

Roperig walked around Cutwood, plucking at his baggy

trousers. "Give me your pants," he said.

"What for?"

"I want to do some structural tests. There may be an

invention in them."

Cutwood's eyes widened. He quickly removed his rusty

twill trousers and stood by in blue flannel long johns.

"Brrr! This is a cold moon," he said. "I'm going for

another pair of trousers, but don't you invent anything until

I get back!" Cutwood hurried to the Cloudmaster with

showers of dust still cascading from his shoulders.

Sturm took Kitiara aside. "Here's a pretty problem," he

said in a low voice. "We need metal to repair the engine, and

all our scrap was lost in a lake of dust."

"Maybe Bellcrank could salvage a bit more from the fly-

ing ship," Kitiara said.

"Maybe, but I don't trust him not to ruin the whole ship in

the process. What we need is more metal." He faced the

crowd of gnomes who were busy examining Cutwood's

pants as if they were the find of a lifetime. Now and then a

gnome would turn his head and sneeze.

"Oh, Bellcrank? Would you come over here, please?"

Sturm said.

The gnome scurried over. He stopped, pulled out a hand-

kerchief stained with grease and chemicals, and blew his

nose loudly. "Yes, Sturm?"

"Just how much metal do you need to fix the engine?"

"That depends on what type of switch I make. For a dou-

ble throw, rotary pole --"

"The very least you'll need, in any case!"

Bellcrank chewed his lip a moment and said, "Thirty

pounds of copper, or forty pounds of iron. Copper would

 

be easier to work than iron, you see, and --"

"Yes, yes," Kitiara said hastily. "We don't have forty

pounds of anything except beans."

"Beans wouldn't work," Bellcrank offered.

"All right. We'll just have to find some metal." Sturm

looked around. The high clouds were beginning to thin, and

the twilight that had persisted since their landing was begin-

ning to brighten. The sun that warmed Krynn was rising

higher in their sky. Taking that direction as east (for conven-

ience), they could see a distant range of hills far off to the

north.

"Bellcrank, would you know iron ore when you saw it?"

said Sturm.

"Would I know it? I know every ore there is!"

"Can you smelt it?"

The germ of Sturm's idea spread to the gnome, and he

smiled widely. "A fine notion, my friend. Worthy of a

gnome!"

Kitiara slapped him on the back. "There you are," she

said. "A few days in the air and you start thinking like a

gnome."

"Never mind the wit. We've got to organize an expedition

to those hills to see if there is any metal there."

Bellcrank ran back to his fellows to share the news. Excla-

mations of joy rang across the empty plain. Cutwood, com-

ing down the ramp from the Cloudmaster, was nearly

bowled over as his fellows charged up. He was carried back

inside with them. The thumps and crashes that always signi-

fied gnomish enthusiasm were not long in coming.

Kitiara shook her head. "Now see what you've done."

The first argument began over who would go on the trek

and who would stay with the flying ship.

"Everyone can't go," Sturm said. "Wfhat food and water

we have won't sustain us all on a long march."

"I'll st-stay," Stutts said. "Cloudmaster is m-my responsi-

bility."

"Good fellow. Who will stay with Stutts?" The gnomes

 

looked at the purple sky, the stars, their shoes, anywhere

but at Sturm. "Whoever stays will get to work on the ship."

Birdcall whistled his acceptance. Hearing him agree,

Flash said, "Oh, well, burn it! No one understands the light-

ning bottles but me. I'll stay."

"I'll stay behind," Rainspot offered. "I don't know much

about prospecting."

"Me, too," Cutwood said.

"Hold your horses," Kitiara objected. "You can't all stay.

Rainspot, we need you. We'll be out in the open, and if

storms threaten, we'll want to know beforehand."

The gnome grinned and placed himself by Kitiara. He

gazed happily up at her, pleased that someone needed him.

"Three should be enough to watch over the ship," Sturm

said. "The rest of you get your belongings together. No one

is to take anything more than he can carry on his back." The

gnomes all nodded vigorous affirmatives. "After we eat,

we'll all get some sleep and start fresh in the morning."

"When is morning?" asked Bellcrank.

Sighter unfolded his tripod and clamped his telescope in

place. He studied the sky, searching for familiar stars. After

a lengthy perusal, he announced, "Sixteen hours. Maybe

more. Hard to tell." He snapped the telescope tube shut.

"Sixteen hours!" said Kitiara. "Why so long?"

"Lunitari doesn't sit in the same part of the heavens as

Krynn. Right now, the shadow of our home world is over

us. Until we move clear of it, this is all the light we'll get."

"It will have to do," Sturm said. To Fitter, who as the

youngest gnome had permanent kitchen duty, he said,

"What is there to eat?"

"Beans," said Fitter. Boiled beans, seasoned with their last

tiny bit of bacon, was dinner, and it promised to be their

breakfast, too.

Sturm squatted under the overhang of the flying ship's

hull and ate his bowl of beans. As he ate, he tried to imagine

what lay beyond the dust and stones. The sky was not

black, but purple, lightening at the horizon to a warm clar-

et. Everything was wrought in tones of red -- the dirt, the

rocks; even the white beans seemed vaguely pink. Was all of

Lunitari like this, lifeless? he wondered.

 

"Kitiara sauntered up. She'd shed her heavy furs for a less

confining outfit. The hip-length jacket and leggings she'd

retained, and had slung her sword over her left shoulder, as

the Ergothites often did. In that position, it freed the legs for

walking.

"Good, huh?" she said, dropping down beside Sturm.

"Beans are beans," he replied, letting them fall from his

spoon back into the bowl. "I've eaten worse."

"So have I. During the siege of Silvamori, my troops'

menu was reduced to boiled-boot soup and tree leaves. And

we were the besiegers."

"How did the people in the town fare?" Sturm asked.

"Thousands died of starvation," she said. The memory

did not seem to trouble her. Sturm felt the beans turn to

paste in his mouth.

"Don't you regret that so many died?" he asked.

"Not really. If a thousand more had perished, the siege

might have ended sooner, and fewer of my comrades would

have died."

Sturm all but dropped his bowl. He stood up and started

to walk away. Kitiara, puzzled by his reaction, said, "Are

you through? Can I finish your beans?"

He stopped, his back to her. "Yes, eat them all. Slaughter

spoils my appetite." He mounted the ramp and disappeared

into the Cloudmaster.

A quick flush of anger welled within Kitiara. Who did he

think he was? Young Master Brightblade presumed to look

down on her for her warrior's code.

The spoon Kitiara had clenched in her fist suddenly

snapped. The pieces fell from her fingers. She stared at

them, her anger dissolving as quickly as it had come. The

spoon was made of sturdy ash wood. But it broke cleanly

where her thumb had pressed on it. Kitiara's eyebrows rose

in amazement. Must be a defect in the wood, she thought.

 

Chapter 10

The First Lunitari

Exploration March

The gnomes emerged from the ship after a few

hours' nap, staggering under a burden of tools, clothing,

instruments, and other less identifiable rubbish. Kitiara

spied Roperig and Fitter pushing a four-wheeled cart

between them.

"What have you two got there?" she asked.

Roperig dug in his heels to stop the cart. "A few essential

things," he said. He had a coil of rope over his left shoulder

that was so thick he couldn't turn his head in that direction.

"This is ridiculous. Where did you get this contraption?"

"Fitter and me made it. It's all wood, you see? No metal."

Roperig thumped the rear wall of the cart with his foot.

"Where did the wood come from?" said Kitiara.

 

"Oh, we knocked out a few of the inside walls in the ship."

"Great suffering gods! It's a good thing we're going on this

march. Otherwise, you gnomes would have the whole ship

dismantled before long!"

The explorers mustered on the plain below the Cloudmas-

ter's port side. The gnomes, in their usual endearing earnest-

ness, lined up like an honor guard on parade. Despite the

bleakness of their situation, Sturm couldn't help but smile at

the goofy, ingenious little men.

"Stutts has asked me to lead this march to the hills, in

search of ore to repair the flying ship, and you all have

agreed to follow my directions. My, ah, colleague, Kitiara is

to be equally responsible. She's had considerable experience

in forays like this, and we should all be guided by her wis-

dom." Kitiara did not acknowledge his compliment, but

leaned back against the ship's hull and looked on impassive-

ly, one hand resting on the pommel of her sword.

"Sighter estimates the distance to the hills as fifteen miles.

We should reach them at about the time daylight breaks,

isn't that right?"

Sighter checked a column of numbers scrawled on his

shirt cuff. "Fifteen miles in six hours; yes, that's right."

Sturm looked down the line of his 'troops.' He couldn't

think of anything else to say. "Well, let's get going," he said,

embarrassed. So much for his first speech as a leader.

Fitter and Roperig ran around their makeshift cart, fitting

long poles into prepared brackets on the front and back.

Bellcrank and Cutwood placed themselves on the pole in

front, while Roperig and Fitter took up positions at the rear.

"A four-gnome-power exploratory wagon," said

Wingover admiringly.

"Mark I," added Rainspot.

"Move out," said Kitiara impatiently. With no more fan-

fare than that, the First Lunitari Exploration March began.

Stutts, Birdcall, and Flash waved from the roof of the deck-

house as their colleagues marched away. From their high

perch, they watched the expedition's progress long after the

Cloudmaster was lost to the marchers' view in the fluid

mauve shadows.

 

"Nope," Sighter said. "Sound as the slopes of Mt. Never-

mind." He squinted up at Kitiara, who still held the broken-

off pole in her hand. "You broke it with one hand."

Wordlessly she held the pole in both hands, straight out in

front of her. Bending her elbows in, Kitiara bent the pole.

The wood splintered with a loud crack.

"I had no idea you were so strong," said Sturm.

"Neither did I!" she replied, equally astonished.

"Here," said Bellcrank, picking up one of the pieces of the

pole from where Kitiara had dropped it. "Break it again."

The piece was less than a foot long. Kitiara had to use her

knee for a brace, but she snapped even that short length.

"Something is happening here," said Sighter, narrowing

his eyes. "You've gotten undeniably stronger in the twenty

hours we've been on Lunitari."

"Maybe we're all getting stronger!" Cutwood said. He

grasped another bit of the pole and tried to bend it. His flor-

id face turned quite purple, but the wood did not so much as

crack. Similar efforts by the others, including Sturm,

showed no increase in strength. Kitiara beamed.

"Looks like you're the sole beneficiary of this gift, what-

ever it is," said Sturm evenly. "At least it will be useful. Can

you free the cart?"

She snapped her fingers and swaggered around the rear of

the cart. Kitiara flattened one hand against the cargo box

and shoved. The cart leaped out of its ruts, almost running

Fitter and Wingover down.

"Careful!" said Sturm. "You've got to learn to handle this

newfound strength, or you may hurt someone."

Kitiara wasn't listening. She ran her hands up and down

her arms again and again, as if to feel the power radiating

from her strangely augmented muscles.

"I don't know why it happened or how, but I like it," she

said. Sturm noticed a new swagger in her walk. First his

weird dream (it had been so real), and now Kit's new

strength. All was not natural on the red moon.

Four hours later the hills were well within range. Close

up, they had an oddly soft appearance, rounded, as though

a giant hand had smoothed them.

Kitiara took over the lead when Sturm's step faltered. He

 

was tired, and his meager breakfast of beans and water

wasn't enough to keep him at his best. In fact, as the marchers

approached six and a half hours out from the Cloudrnaster,

Kitiara ran ahead to be the first to reach the hills.

"Kit, wait! Come back!" Sturm called. She waved and

sprinted on.

The gnomes let the cart coast to a stop at the foot of a hill.

Kitiara shouted and waved from the top. She skidded down

the slope, coming to a halt by bumping into Sturm. He

caught her arms. Panting, she smiled at him.

"You can see a long way from up there," she gasped. "The

hills go on for miles, but there are wide trails running

between them."

"You shouldn't go off on your own like that," Sturm said.

Kitiara lost her smile and shook herself free of his grasp.

"I can take care of myself," she said coolly.

The gnomes flopped down where they stood. Uphill

tramping had considerably dampened their ardor for the

march. Against all advice, they rapidly drank up their mea-

ger water supply and were soon wishing for more.

"If only we could find a spring," said Wingover.

"Or if it rains, we could spread our blankets and catch the

water," said Sighter. "Well, Rainspot? Might it rain?"

The weather seer, lying flat on his back, waved one hand

feebly. "I don't think it has ever rained here," he said flatly.

"Though I wish to Reorx it would."

At his words, a wisp of vapor, no denser than steam,

abruptly formed over the exhausted gnome. The vapor

expanded, thickened, and turned into a small white cloud,

three feet wide. The gnomes and humans watched, speech-

less, as the white cloud went murky gray. A single droplet

fell on the motionless Rainspot.

"That's not funny," he complained. Rainspot's eyes

opened in time to catch the tiny shower that fell from his

personal rain cloud.

"Hydrodynamics!" he exclaimed.

The other gnomes crowded in under the little cloud, their

round, upturned faces ecstatic as the raindrops pelted them.

Sturm came over. He swept a hand through it and it came

out sopping wet. Then, as quickly and mysteriously as it

 

had come, the cloud faded away.

"This smacks of magic," Sturm said.

"I didn't do anything," Rainspot insisted. "I just wished it

would rain."

"Maybe you have the power to grant wishes now," said

Wingover. "Like Kitiara has gained strength."

The gnomes took up this theory and besieged their poor

colleague with a barrage of requests. Wingover wanted a rib

roast. Cutwood asked for a bushel of crisp apples. Bellcrank

wanted a roast pig and apples. Roperig and Fitter wanted

muffins -- with raisins, of course.

"Stop, stop!" Rainspot pleaded tearfully. He couldn't bear

so many demands at once. Sturm shooed the shouting

gnomes away. Only Sighter remained, staring at the weep-

ing Rainspot.

"If you can wish for anything, wish for a switch to repair

the ship with," he said sagely. The others -- Sturm and Kiti-

ara included -- were surprised by his wise suggestion.

"I-I wish for a new switch to repair our engine," Rainspot

said loudly.

"Made of copper," said Cutwood.

"Iron," muttered Bellcrank.

"Shhh!" said Kitiara.

Nothing happened.

"Maybe you have to use the same formula each time," said

Wingover. "How exactly did you wish for rain?"

"I said something about Reorx." Reorx, creator of the

gnomish race, was the only deity the gnomes worshiped.

"So try again and mention Reorx," said Sighter.

Rainspot drew himself up -- all thirty inches of him -- and

declared, "I wish to Reorx that we had a copper --"

"Iron."

"-- switch to repair our engine with!"

Nothing happened..

"You're useless," said Bellcrank.

"Worse than useless," added Cutwood.

"Shut up!" Kitiara snapped. "He tried, didn't he?"

"I'm sorry," the weather seer said between sniffles. "I wish

it would rain again. Then everyone would be happy." Hard-

ly had he said this than a new cloud formed over his head.

 

The rain poured down on Rainspot, making a puddle in

the red dirt of Lunitari. It seemed insulting somehow, as if

Reorx were teasing the gnome. Rainspot then did a rare

thing: He got mad.

"Thunder and lightning!" he cried. The cloud flasherd

once, and a puny clump of thunder sounded.

"Ha, some storm!" said Roperig.

"It proves one thing," said Sighter. "The limits of Rain-

spot's power. He can make it rain. That's all."

"Useless, useless," said Bellcrank.

"Shut up," said Kitiara. "Rainspot's ability is very useful."

The gnomes regarded her blankly. "We need water, don't we?"

As usual, once the gnomes were sparked off, they

embraced a new concept with exasperating enthusiasm.

Planks were torn off the sides of the cart and pounded into

the ground with Cutwood's mallet. Roperig ripped their

blankets into long triangles and sewed these together, leav-

ing a hole in the center of the resulting circle of cloth. The

edges of the blanket were nailed to the upright planks. One

of Fitter's canvas buckets was put under the hole in the cen-

ter of the blanket.

"Rainspot, sit in the middle and wish for rain," said

Wingover. Rainspot complied, and the water was captured

by the improvised funnel and led to the waiting bucket.

Rainspot sat on the soggy blanket, soaked and bedraggled,

wishing over and over for rain.

"I wish for rain." The cloud formed and sprinkled him.

"Wish for rain." Water ran in the bucket. The gnomes changed

buckets and filled it, too. "Rain," said the sodden, tired gnome.

Poor Rainspot didn't enjoy it at all, but he wished for plenty of

water to save them from the agonies of thirst.

"Happy to do my part," he said flatly when they finally let

him off the blanket, squishing in his shoes all the way.

"I wonder who will get it next," Wingover said as they

plodded into the first gully.

"Get what?" said Bellcrank.

"We seem to be acquiring new powers," Sighter said. "Kit-

iara's strength, Rainspot's rainmaking. The rest of us may

get new abilities, too."

Sturm pondered Sighter's claim. His dream (if it was a

 

dream) had been so vivid. Was it part of this mysterious

process, too? He asked Sighter if he could think of a reason

why they should be affected like this.

"Hard to say," said the gnome. "Likely, there is something

on Lunitari that has done this to them."

"It's the air," said Bellcrank. "Some effluvium in the air."

"Piffle! It's all due to the red rays reflecting off the ground.

Red light always has strange effects on living creatures.

Remember the experiments done by The-Clumsy-But-

Curious-Doctor-Who-Wears-The-Tinted-Lenses-In-

Frames-On-His-Face --"

"Hush!" said Kitiara. She held up a hand. The others

watched expectantly. "Do you feel it, Rainspot?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. The sun's coming up."

A brace of shooting stars raced across the heavens from

west to east. The crests of the red hills glowed, and a subtle

ringing sensation filled the air. They all felt it. The line of

sunlight crept down the hillsides toward the shadowed

ravines. As the explorers watched, the soft, spongy cover-

ing of the hills writhed. Bumps appeared in the turf. The

bumps moved in an unpleasantly animal fashion, twisting

and swelling under the crimson carpet. The explorers had to

hop about to avoid the moving bumps. Then a single spear

of pale pink poked through the turf. It grew longer and

thicker, rotating in slow circles as it pushed itself toward the

sunlight.

"What is it?" breathed Fitter.

"I think it's a plant," Cutwood replied.

More pink spears bored through the ground and climbed

on wine-colored stalks. Other bumps erupted into different

types of flora. Fat, knobby puffballs sprang up and inflated

themselves. Carmine sticks popped after growing straight

out of the turf, and dozens of spiderlike flowers floated to

the ground from their ruptured stems. Toadstools with pur-

ple spots on top and lovely rose gills underneath emerged

and grew visibly as the explorers looked on. By the time the

sun shone fully into the ravine, every inch of the hillsides

was covered with weird, pulsating life. Only a narrow track

at the bottom of the ravine, still shadowed by the surround-

ing hills, was clear of the speedily growing plants.

 

"An instant forest," said Sighter.

"More like an instant jungle," said Sturm, observing the

clogged path ahead of them. He drew his sword. "We'll have

to cut our way through."

Kitiara drew her sword. "It's an insult to honest steel," she

said, eyeing the garish plants with distaste, "but it has to be

done." She raised her arm and slashed into the growth

crowding the path on the right. With her greater strength,

she had no difficulty hewing the pink spears and spider-

sticks cleanly off.

Kitiara stepped back. The chopped-off parts lay on the

ground, wriggling.

The stumps oozed red sap that looked amazingly like

blood. She noticed her sword was smeared with the same

fluid. Holding the blade near her nose, she sniffed.

"I've been in many battles," she said. "I know the smell of

blood, whether it be human, dwarven, or goblin." She

dropped the blade from her face. "This is blood!"

The gnomes thought this was terribly interesting. They

bunched together over the bleeding stumps, taking samples

of the bloodsap. Bellcrank picked up the shorn length of a

spiderstick. It popped, and eight white flowers burst out.

Bellcrank yowled in pain. Each tiny flower had ejected a

thorn into his face.

"Hold still," Rainspot said. With a pair of bone tweezers,

he plucked the thorns from his colleague's face.

The gnomes filled fifteen jars and boxes with specimens of

the Lunitarian plants. Sturm and Kitiara had a head-to-head

talk and opted to travel a little farther. If they didn't find

any ore by nightfall, they would return to the ship.

Steeling themselves, they started hacking. The plants

groaned and screamed; when severed, they bled and twitch-

ed horribly. After a mile of this, Kitiara said, "This is worse

than the massacre of Valkinord Marsh!"

"At least they don't appear to suffer long," Sturm said, but

the screams and blood were wearing on him.

The gnomes wandered through the path the humans had

cut, poking and sniffing and measuring the dying plants.

For them it was, as Cutwood said, "better than a train of

gears." The trail led down a broad draw. Being well shaded

 

from the low sun, there were fewer plants growing there,

and Sturm called for a break. Kitiara borrowed a bucket

from the gnomes' cart and filled it with rainwater. She

dipped a soft rag in the water and wiped the sticky bloodsap

Erom her blade. The sap dissolved easily. She lent Sturm the

rag and he cleaned his weapon.

"You know," she said, as he rubbed the sap off his sword

hilt, "I'm no coward, and I'm certainly no delicate lady who

faints at the sight of blood, but this place is disgusting! What

kind of world is it where plants grow before your eyes and

bleed when they're cut?"

"How's your sword arm?" Sturm asked. "How does it

feel? I noticed that you're not even breathing hard. Look at

me; I'm tired, as you should be, having swung a heavy

sword for more than a mile through that weird jungle!"

"I feel fine. I feel -- strong. Want to wrestle?"

"No, thank you," he said. "I wouldn't like to trust a bro-

ken arm to gnomish medicine."

"I won't hurt you," she said mockingly. Kitiara's smile fad-

ed. She scraped a shallow line in the turf with her heel.

"What are you so worried about? We're alive, aren't we?"

"There are strange forces at work here. This new strength

of yours is not normal."

Kitiara shrugged. "Lunitari isn't my idea of paradise, but

we haven't done badly so far."

Sturm knew this was true. So why did he feel such fore-

boding? He said, "Just be wary, will you, Kit? Question

what comes to you -- especially what seems like a great gift."

She laughed shortly. "You make it sound like I'm in per-

sonal danger. Are you afraid 111 fall into evil ways?"

Sturm stood and emptied the sap-stained water from the

bucket. "That's exactly what I'm afraid of." He wrung out

the rag and left it to dry on a stone, then walked away to

speak with Wingover.

The empty canvas bucket sat by her boot. Where Sturm

had poured out the water, the turf was dark and slick. It

looked like so much blood. Kitiara wrinkled her nose and

kicked the bucket away. The toe of her boot split the fabric

and sent the bucket soaring over the tops of the pink and

crimson foliage.

 

Chapter 11

The Crusty Pudding

Plant

The trail wound between the hills in no particular

direction. Among the fast-growing plants, there was no

way for the adventurers to identify landmarks or remember

where they'd been. Sturm discovered that the path they had

made grew tall again after they had passed. The explorers

were virtually cut off in the living jungle.

Sturm halted the party finally and announced that they

were lost. Sighter promptly tried to find the latitude by

shooting the sun with his astrolabe. Even though he stood

on Sturm's shoulders, the sun was too low for him to sight

correctly, and he fell over backward trying. Fitter and Rain-

spot picked Sighter up and dusted him off, for he'd fallen on

a puffball and was coated with pink spores.

 

"Useless!" Sighter said. Spores got up his nose and mouth

and he coughed in fits and starts. "All I can tell you is that

the sun is setting."

"We've not had but four or five hours of daylight,"

Wingover protested.

"The position of Lunitari in the heavens is eccentric," the

astronomer gnome explained. Rainspot tried to dab the dust

from his face with a damp rag, but Sighter swatted his hands

away. "The nights are very long and the days very short."

"We haven't found any ore yet," Bellcrank said.

"True," said Wingover, "but we haven't tried digging,

either."

"Digging?" said Roperig.

"Digging," said Sturm firmly. "Wingover's right. Pick a

spot, Bellcrank, and we'll dig to see what we can find."

"Could we make supper first?" the tubby gnome asked.

"My stomach's so empty!"

"I don't suppose an hour will matter too much," said

Sturm. "All right, we'll camp here, eat, then dig."

The gnomes fell to in their cheerfully scatterbrained way.

Roperig and Fitter unpacked the cart in a very simple way:

they upended it. Fitter was buried in the mound of junk and

came out with his favorite clay kettle.

"Supper will be ready in a jiffy!" he said brightly. The oth-

er gnomes hooted derisively.

"Beans! Beans! Beans! I'm sick of beans," Cutwood said.

"I'm sick, sick, sick of beans, beans, beans."

"Shut up, you dumb carpenter," said Sighter.

"Ah-ah-ah," Kitiara warned, as Cutwood picked up a

mallet and tiptoed up behind Sighter. "None of that."

Fitter took a hatchet and chopped a plank off the side of

the cart bed. Sturm saw this and said, "Have you been burn-

ing pieces of the wagon all along?"

"Of course," said the gnome. "What else is there?"

"Why don't you try some of the plants?" said Bellcrank.

"They're too green," Wingover said. "They'd never burn."

"Start a fire with the kindling you've got and lay the green

plants on top. When the fire dries them out, they'll burn,"

Kitiara said.

Fitter and Cutwood scavenged along the trail and

 

returned with double armfuls of chopped Lunitarian flora.

These they dumped on the ground by the wagon. Fitter built

an arch of pink spear plants over the smoky fire. Within a

few minutes, a tantalizing aroma filled the air. The hungry

band surrounded Fitter.

"Fitter, my lad, I never would've believed it, but that bean

pot smells just like roast pheasant!" said Wingover.

"Your gears are slipping," said Roperig. "It smells like

fresh-baked bread."

"Roast venison," said Sturm, wrinkling his nose.

"Sausages and gravy!" Bellcrank said, licking his lips.

"I haven't even put the beans in yet," Fitter declared, "and

it smells like raisin muffins to me."

"It's those things," Rainspot said, pointing to the pink

spears. The parts nearest the flames had darkened to a rich

brown. The sap had oozed out and hardened in streaks

along the stalk.

Sighter picked up one spear by the raw end. He sniffed the

cooked tip, and very gingerly bit it. Chewing, his suspicious

frown inverted. "Pudding," he said with a catch in his voice.

"Crusty pudding, like my mother used to make."

The gnomes tripped over each other in a rush to try the

other spears. Sturm managed to save one from the first

batch. With his dagger, he sliced the roasted portion in two,

stabbed a piece, and offered it to Kitiara.

"It looks like meat," she said, then nibbled off a bit.

"What does it taste like to you?" asked Sturm.

"Otik's fried potatoes," she said, amazed. "With lots of

salt."

"A most unique experiment," Sighter commented. "To

each of us, this plant tastes like our favorite food."

"How can that be, if it's all the same plant?" Kitiara asked,

munching vigorously.

"My theory is it has to do with the same force that has

given you your strength and Rainspot his rainmaking abili-

ty."

"Magic?" asked Sturm.

"Possibly. Possibly." The word seemed to make Sighter

uncomfortable. "We gnomes believe that what is commonly

called 'magic' is just another natural force yet to be tamed."

 

The rest of the pink spears were rapidly consumed. For

their size, the gnomes were hearty eaters', and finished the

meal lying about the camp, holding their bellies. "What a

feast!" exclaimed Bellcrank.

"One of the finest," Roperig agreed.

Sturm stood over them, fists on his hips. "A fine lot you

are! Who's going to help dig now?"

"Nap first," Cutwood mumbled, wiggling around to get

comfortable.

"Yes, must rest," said Rainspot. "To ensure proper diges-

tion. And adequate relaxation of the muscles." Soon the lit-

tle clearing rattled with the high-pitched snores of seven sets

of lungs.

The sun sank rapidly below the hill. When the light

diminished to a deep amber glow, the tangle of plants began

to wither. Almost as quickly as they had sprouted with the

morning sun, they now shriveled. Spear tips dried and fell

off. The spider flowers curled up and bored into the soil.

The puffballs deflated. The toadstools crumbled into pow-

der. By the time the stars came out, nothing remained above

the ground but a fresh layer of red flakes.

Kitiara said, "I think' I'll stand watch for a while. Get

some sleep, why don't you, then you can relieve me later."

"Good idea," he said. Sturm was suddenly aware of how

very tired he was. Constant wonders had dulled his senses,

and hacking through the daylight jungle had worn him out.

He spread his bedroll beside the upturned cart and lay

down.

A full Krynnish day they'd marched, and still no sign of

any ore deposits. He wondered what would happen if they

dug into one of the hills and still found none. There was one

desperate measure that they could resort to: He and Kitiara

still carried their swords and armor. The gnomes could very

likely forge new parts from the steel and iron of these. But

he wanted that to be their last possible choice.

The air of Lunitari, never warm, grew chillier. Sturm

shivered and pulled his furry cloak up to his chin. The lining

was wolf fur. He and Tanis had hunted in the mountains of

Qualinost last winter and had done very well. Tanis was a

dead shot with a bow.

 

He heard the arrow's hum.

Sturm was on Krynn suddenly, and it was daytime,

though cold and overcast. He was in a forest, and there were

four men moving through the trees ahead of him. Two men

carried a third between them, his arms across their shoul-

ders. When Sturm got closer he saw why: the carried man

had an arrow in his thigh.

"Come on, Hurrik! You can make it!" the leader was say-

ing. Sturm couldn't see the fourth man's face, but he heard

him urging the others on. There was a crackle in the dead

brush behind him. Sturm looked back and saw dim figures

in white flitting among the trees. They wore wolfskin cowls

and carried bows. He knew who they were: the dreaded

Trackers of Leereach. Hired huntsmen who would track

down anyone or anything for a price.

"Stay with us, Hurrik! Don't give up!" the leader whis-

pered urgently.

"Leave me, my lord!" the wounded man replied.

The leader stood with his men. "I'll not leave you to those

butchers," he said.

"Please go, my lord. They will want to give me to their

master, and that will give you time to get away," Hurrik

said. There was blood on his armor. Sturm could see it

smeared across the man's coif.

The two men carrying Hurrik propped him against a tree.

They drew his sword for him and wrapped his fingers

around the grip. Sturm could see his face, waxen from loss

of blood.

The trackers stopped. A snickering whistle rattled

through the forest. The prey was turning, at bay. The signal

meant close in for the kill.

The leader, his face still hidden from Sturm, drew a long

dagger from his belt and put it in the wounded man's left

hand. "Paladine protect you, Master Hurrik," he said.

"And you, my lord. Now hurry!" The three unhurt men

ran away as fast as their armor would allow. Hurrik raised

his sword with pain-filled effort. A wolf's head parted a

stand of ripe holly. "Come out," said Hurrik. "Come out and

fight me!"

The tracker was having none of it. Coolly, he nocked an

 

arrow and let fly. The broadhead found its mark. "My

lord!" Hurrik cried.

The leader paused to look back to where his comrade had

died. Sturm saw his face.

"Father!"

He returned to Lunitari with that scream. Sturm was

lying on his stomach, his bedroll in knots. Wearily, he sat up

to find Kitiara watching him.

"I had a nightmare," he said, ashamed.

"No," she said. "You were awake. I saw you. You've been

thrashing about and moaning for a long time. Your eyes

were wide open. What did you see?

"I was - I was on Krynn again. I don't know where, but

there were trackers. They were after some men, one of

whom was my father."

"Leereach Trackers? Sturm nodded. Sweat stood out on

his lip, though the air was cold enough for his breath to

show.

"It was real, wasn't it? he said.

"I think it was. This may be your gift, Sturm. Visions.

Like my strength, this is what Lunitari has given you."

He shuddered. "Visions of what? The past? The future?

Or am I seeing the present in far-away places? How can I

tell, Kit? How can I know?"

"I don't know." She combed through her black curls with

her fingers. "It hurts, doesn't it? Not knowing."

"I think I shall go mad!"

"No, you won't. You're too strong for that." She rose and

came around the dying fire to sit by him. Sturm refolded his

blanket and lay down. These visions which had been thrust

upon him were maddening. They smacked of magic and tor-

mented him without warning. However, Sturm found him-

self trying to fix every detail in his mind, going over and

over the terrible scene; there could be a clue to his father's

fate hidden in these specters. Kitiara laid a hand on his chest

and felt the rapid beating of his heart.

 

Chapter 12

 

Some of Our Gnomes

Are Missing

 

The gnomes recovered from their post-prandial

lethargy and bounced around the camp, shouting and toss-

ing tools to each other. Bellcrank found a long dowel and

scratched a mark on the side of a hill. "There's where we

dig," he announced.

"Why there?" asked Cutwood.

"Why not?"

"Wouldn't it be better to go to the top and drive a shaft

straight down?" suggested Wingover.

"If we wanted to dig a well, maybe, but not when we're

prospecting for iron," Bellcrank said. After lengthy discus-

sion about such esoteric matters as geological strata, sedi-

mentation, and the proper diet of miners, the gnomes

 

discovered that all they had to dig with was two short-

handled wooden scoops.

"Whose are these?" asked Sighter.

"Mine," Fitter spoke up. "One for beans, one for raisins."

"Isn't there a proper shovel or spade in the cart?"

"No," said Roperig. "Of course, if we had some iron, we

could make our own shovels -" Cutwood and Wingover

pelted him with dirty socks for his suggestion.

"If scoops are what we have, scoops it'll have to be," said

Bellcrank. He offered them to Cutwood and Wingover.

"Why us?" said Cutwood.

"Why not?"

"I wish he'd stop saying that," Wingover said. He shoved

his sleeves above his elbows and knelt by the circle that Bell-

crank had scratched in the turf. "Oh, rocks," he sighed.

"You'd better hope to Reorx we strike rocks," said Cut-

wood, "else we'll be digging all day."

The gnomes gathered around as their two colleagues fell

to. The upper layers of flaky red fluff were easily scraped

away. The diggers flung scoopfuls over their shoulders, hit-

ting Sighter and Rainspot in the face. The gnomes withdrew

to a cleaner observation point.

Bellcrank bent down and grabbed a handful of the soil

that Wingover had tossed back. No longer dry and spongy,

this dirt was hard, grainy, and damp. "Hello," he said. "Look

at this. Sand."

Sturm and Kitiara examined the ball of damp sand that

Bellcrank had squeezed in his small fist. It was quite ordi-

nary sand, tinged pale red.

"Ugh! Ow, here's something," Cutwood grunted. He

kicked a large chunk of something out of the tunnel. The

thing wobbled down the slope a little way and stopped. Fit-

ter picked it up.

"Feels like glass," he said. Sighter took it from him.

"It is glass. Crude glass," Sighter said.

More bits of glass came out of the hole, along with sand,

sand, and more sand. Wingover and Cutwood had tunneled

headfirst into the hillside and now only their feet showed in

the opening. Sturm told them to stop digging.

"It's no use," he said. "There's no ore here."

 

"I must agree with Master Brightblade," said Bellcrank.

"The whole hill is likely one big pile of sand."

"Where does the glass come from?" Kitiara asked.

"Any source of heat can melt sand into glass. Lightning,

forest fire, volcano."

"That's not important," Sturm said. "We dug for iron and

found glass. The question is, what do we do now?"

"Go on looking?" said Fitter timidly.

"What about Stutts and the others?" Kitiara asked.

"Strip my gears, I forgot about our colleagues," said

Roperig. "What shall we do?"

Sturm said, "We'll go back. It'll be daylight again before

we reach the flying ship, and we can harvest some spear

plants for Stutts, Birdcall, and Flash to eat. Once we're all

together, we can repair the engine -" He regarded Kit grave-

ly. "- 'with the iron that Kitiara and I wear on us. You

gnomes can forge our arms and armor into the parts you

need." Murmurs of approval rippled through the gnomes.

"Do you think I'd allow my sword, my mail, to be ham-

mered into machine parts? With what will we defend our-

selves? Scoops and beans?" Kitiara said furiously.

"All we've used our weapons for so far is chopping

weeds," Sturm countered. "This could be our only way

home."

Kitiara crossed her arms. "I don't like it."

"Nor do I, but what choice do we have? We can be well-

armed and marooned, or unarmed and on our way home."

"Not a handsome choice," she had to admit.

"You needn't make up your mind right now. Whatever

you decide, we should return to the ship first," said Sturm.

No one disputed his decision. The gnomes prepared to

break camp. Like their unpacking, this was a brisk proce-

dure. Each gnome tossed an item into the righted cart.

Sometimes they wrestled over the same item, and Rainspot

and Cutwood even got carried away and threw Fitter in.

Sturm pulled the littlest gnome out before he was buried.

With a clear sky and plenty of stars, the explorers were

able to plot their way back to the plain of stones. Once they

left the chain of hills, they beheld a lovely sight. On the

southwestern horizon, a blue-white glow lit the sky. Within

 

a few hundred yards' walk, the source of the glow was

revealed to be the world of Krynn, rising into sight for the

first.time since their arrival on the red moon.

The party stopped to admire the great azure orb. "What

are the fuzzy white parts?" asked Kitiara.

"Clouds," said Rainspot.

"And the blue is ocean, the brown, land?"

"Exactly right, lady."

Sturm stood apart from the rest, contemplating his home

world. Kitiara peered through the gnome's spyglass, squint-

ing one eye closed and bending far down to Sighter's level.

When she was done, she went to where Sturm stood.

"Don't you want to take a look?" she asked.

Sturm rubbed his newly bearded chin. "I can see it fine."

The bright white light of Krynn caught on his ring and glim-

mered. The emblem of the Knights of Solamnia's Order of

the Rose caught his eye.

He inhaled smoke and coughed.

Not again! The vision was upon him without any warn-

ing." Sturm fought to stay calm. Something always hap-

pened to trigger the experience - first the moon's chill air,

then the feel of his wolf fur cloak, and now the light reflect-

ing off his ring, the only real relic of his Solamnic heritage. It

wasn't his father's ring, but his mother's; Sturm wore it on

his little finger.

A high, dark wall loomed over his back. Sturm was

standing in the shadow of the wall, and it was night. Twenty

yards away, a fire burned. He seemed to be in the courtyard

of a castle. Two men in ragged cloaks stood hunched over

the fire. A third lay on the ground, unmoving.

Sturm came nearer, and saw that the tallest man was his

father. Sturm's heart raced. He held out his hands to Angriff

Brightblade for the first time in thirteen years. The old war-

rior lifted his head and stared right past Sturm. They can't

see me, Sturm thought. Was there a way he could make him-

self known?

"We should not have come here, my lord," said the other

standing man. "It's dangerous!"

"The last place our enemies would look for us is in my

own sacked castle," replied Lord Brightblade. "Besides, we

 

had to get Marbred out of the wind. The fever has settled in

his chest."

Father! Sturm tried to shout. He could not even hear him-

self.

Lord Brightblade squatted by the man on the ground. His

breath had frozen on his beard, making it as white as

Marbred's. "How do you feel, old friend?" Sturm's father

asked.

Marbred wheezed, "Fit for any command of my lord."

Angriff squeezed his old retainer's arm, stood, and turned

his back on the sick man.

"He may not last the night," he said. "Tomorrow there

may be only you and I, Bren."

"What shall we do, my lord?"

Lord Brightblade reached under the tattered layers of

cloak and blankets that hung from his broad shoulders. He

unbuckled his belt and brought out his sword and scabbard.

"I will not allow this blade, forged by the first of my ances-

tors and borne with honor all these years, to fall into the

hands of the enemy."

Bren grabbed Lord Brightblade's wrist. "My lord - you

don't intend - you can't mean to destroy it!"

Angriff pulled six inches of the sword from its covering.

The fitful firelight caught on the burnished steel and made it

glitter. "No," he said. "As long as my son lives, the Bright-

blade line will continue. My sword and armor will be his."

Sturm felt as if his heart would burst. Then, suddenly, the

pain caused by the scene was replaced by an odd lightness.

It stole into Sturm's limbs and, though he tried to hold him-

self in the vision, to keep everything in sharp focus, the

image faded. The fire, the men, his father, and the sword of

the Brightblades wavered and dissolved. Sturm's fingers

clenched into tight fists as he tried literally to grasp the

scene. Sturm found himself clenching the nap of Kitiara's fur

coat.

"I'm all right," Sturm said. His heart slowly resumed its

normal rhythm.

"You were very quiet this time," she reported. "You stared

into space as if you were watching a stage play in Solace."

"In a way, I was." He described his father's vigil. "It must

 

be the present or the recent past," he reasoned. "The castle

was in ruins, but my father did not look so old - perhaps fif-

ty years. His beard had not grayed. He must be alive!"

Sturm became aware that he was lying on his back and

moving. He sat up hastily and almost fell off the gnomes'

cart. "How'd I get up here?" he asked.

"I put you there. You didn't look as if you could make it

on your own," said Kitiara.

"You picked me up?"

"With one hand," said Wingover. Sturm looked down.

All the gnomes but Sighter were on the poles pushing the

cart along. He suddenly felt embarrassed' to be such a bur-

den to his companions, and jumped off the cart. Kitiara slid

down, too.

"How long was I out?" Sturm asked.

"Better part of an hour," said Sighter, referring to the

stars. "The visions are getting longer, aren't they?"

"Yes, but I think they're triggered when I'm reminded of

something from the past," Sturm said. "If I concentrate on

the present, perhaps I can avoid episodes like this."

"Sturm doesn't approve of the supernatural," Kitiara

explained to the gnomes. "It's part of his knightly code."

Krynn was now high overhead, and the terrain around

them was as bright as day. No plants grew in the brilliant

light, however; all was cold and lifeless under the planet's

clear glow. Sighter led his colleagues in another long discus-

sion. Kitiara and Sturm were trailing behind the cart," so no

one saw the ditch until the front wheels spilled into it. The

gnomes on the front pole - Cutwood, Fitter, and

Wingover - fell on their faces. Roperig, Rainspot, and Bell-

crank struggled to keep the heavily laden wagon from turn-

ing over. Kitiara and Sturm rushed in and steadied the sides.

"Let it roll down," Kitiara said. "Let go."

Rainspot and Bellcrank stepped back, but Roperig did

not. The cart bounded down the side of the ditch with the

humans running alongside and Roperig bouncing painfully

against the push-pole.

"What's the matter with you?" Bellcrank said, when the

cart halted. "Why didn't you let go?"

"I-I can't," Roperig complained. "My hands are stuck!" He

 

wallowed to his feet. Dust poured from his pockets and

cuffs. His stubby fingers were firmly attached to the push-

pole. Rainspot tried prying his colleague's fingers free. "Ow,

ow!" Roperig yelled. "You're tearing my fingers off!"

"Don't be such a crybaby," said Sighter.

"Cutwood, did you put glue on this end of the pole?"

asked Rainspot.

"Absolutely not! By gears, I would never do that without

telling him first." Cutwood's invocation of the sacred word

'gears' proved that he was telling the truth.

"Hmm." Kitiara drummed her fingers on the cart wheel.

"Maybe it's more of this crazy Lunitari magic."

"You mean I'll be stuck to this cart forever?"

"Don't be distressed, master. I can saw this pole off," Fitter

said. He patted his boss on the back consolingly.

"Rot," said Bellcrank. "If Master Brightblade will lend me

his knife, I'll scrape your fingers off in no time."

Roperig blanched. "You will not!"

"Then we can saw very carefully around your fingers."

"No one's going to cut or saw anything," Kitiara said. "If

this stickiness is related to my strength or Sturm's visions,

then you ought to give some thought to how it works before

you start hacking away on a fellow's fingers."

"Quite so," said Sighter. "Now, could it be more than

coincidence that we acquire abilities connected to our life's

work I Rainspot makes rain, Lady Kitiara grows mightier as

a warrior - and Roperig, master of cords and knots finds

himself bound by his own hands. It's as though some subtle,

yet powerful, force were enhancing our natural attributes."

"Roperig can probably free himself if he wishes to," said

Kitiara. "Just as Rainspot can wish for his rain."

"All I wanted to do was keep my grip when we slipped in

the ditch," Roperig said glumly.

He screwed his eyes tightly shut and wished hard.

"Harder! Concentrate!" urged Sighter. Cutwood whipped

out his magnifying glass and peered intently at Roperig's

stuck hands. Slowly, with faint sucking sounds, his hands

peeled off the cart pole.

"Ow, ow!" Roperig whimpered, waving his hands about.

"That stings!"

 

The cart was shoved to the top of the gully rim. The

gnomes passed a water bottle around. Fitter handed it to

Kitiara, who had a short swig before offering it to Sturm.

He held it a long time, staring at the ground and not drink-

ing.

"Now what?" she said, taking the bottle back.

"This magic worries me. Couldn't we refuse it somehow,

give it back?"

She pushed the plug back into the bottle. "Why should

we? We ought to get used to it, learn to control the effect."

Kitiara flexed a hand into a fist. She could feel the strength

within her, like the warmth of sweet wine in her veins. It

was intoxicating, that taste of power. She looked Sturm in

the eye. "If we return to Krynn penniless, weaponless, and

armorless, I hope our powers remain."

"It isn't right," he said stubbornly.

"Right? This is the only right that matters!" The water

bottle exploded when she crushed it in her fingers.

Little Fitter stooped to get the glazed shards. "You broke

the bottle, lady," he said. "Did you cut yourself?"

She showed him her undamaged hand. "A lot of things

may get broken around here before I'm through," she said

angrily.

By the hour Krynn had set on the northeast horizon, the

explorers were more than halfway back to the Cloudmaster.

There was nothing ahead but flat ground, rocks, and red

dust. They trod on, the humans apart and silent, the

gnomes once more chattering.

The pilot of the flying ship walked slower and slower,

until finally he stopped.

"Move along, lad," said Sighter, pushing Wingover in the

back. "Don't want to get left behind, do you?"

"It's gone," announced Wingover.

"What's gone?"

"The ship. The Cloudmaster."

"You're plain daft. We're a good eight miles away, how

could you see from here?"

"I don't know, but I can see the spot clearly," said

Wingover. He squinted into the distance. "There's a big rut,

some skid marks, and a few broken crates lying around, but

 

the ship is gone."

Sturm and Kitiara converged on the far-seeing gnome.

"Are you sure, Wingover?" said Sturm.

"It's gone," the gnome insisted.

Sighter and the other gnomes were loudly skeptical, but

Sturm ordered them to quicken their pace. The miles rolled

aside, and still Wingover said the flying ship was missing

from its landing place. He described in precise detail the jet-

sam left at the scene, and his certainty infected the party

with apprehension. With barely a mile left to go, Kitiara

could stand it no longer. She broke into a run and quickly

left the rest behind.

Sturm and the gnomes plodded on. Kitiara came jogging

back. "Wingover's right," she said. "The Cloudmaster is

gone." The gnomes immediately surrounded Wingover and

started poking his face and pulling at his eyelids. The gnome

pilot slapped at the intruding fingers, while his colleagues,

completely forgetting the news Kitiara had brought, tried to

discover the cause of his remarkable eyesight.

"It's the Lunitari magic," Wingover said. "Leave me

alone!"

"Could Stutts and company have repaired the ship them-

selves and flown away?" Sturm asked.

Kitiara loosened her fur collar to let the cool air in. "There

are tracks all over - little circular imprints - I think the ship

was carried off."

"Carried off?" said Fitter in awe.

"Do you know how much that ship weighs?" said Sighter.

She put out her chin and replied, "I don't care if it's heavi-

er than Mt. Nevermind. Somebody or something picked it

up and carried it away."

Sturm said, "Then 'they' are very strong, or very numer-

ous."

"Or both," said Kitiara grimly.

 

Chapter 13

 

The Walking Trees

 

The sun shone over the fiels of stones where

the Cloudmaster had first met Lunitari. The exploration

party ringed the site, gazing helplessly at the empty furrow

in the ground. As Wingover had seen from eight miles away,

the flying ship and the three gnomes who remained on it

were gone. The landing wheels that had broken off when

they struck the moon were the only part of the ship left

behind. Aside from the wheels, there were two empty

crates, some bean sacks, and the remnants of a campfire.

"Who could have done this?" Bellcrank asked.

Cutwood crawled about with his lens, studying tracks.

Sturm kicked through the pitiful remains of the camp and

said, "At least there's no sign of bloodshed."

"Sixty," Cutwood proclaimed. He had dirt on his nose and

 

in his beard. "At least sixty people were here. They must've

carried the Cloudmaster away on their shoulders, 'cause

there are no marks of the hull being dragged."

"I don't believe it," said Sighter. "Sixty humans couldn't

carry the Cloudmaster away on their shoulders."

"Even if they were as strong as Lady Kitiara?" asked

Roperig. That gave them all pause.

Kitiara squatted by the trail of footprints. "No human

feet made these," she said. "The impressions are round,

almost like the hooves of unshod horses." She noted how

closely spaced they were, too. "The clumsy fools must have

been treading on each others' heels! We'll have to go after

them. Track them down and get the ship back."

"No question about it," said Sturm. Kitiara fished the

whetstone out of her belt pouch and sat down to hone the

edges of her sword. Sturm gathered the gnomes together.

"We're going after your colleagues," he announced. The

gnomes set up a cheer. Sturm waved for quiet. "Because we

don't know how much of a head start they had, we have to

move as fast as possible. That means," he saw the anticipa-

tion in their faces, "each of you can take along only what

you can carry."

That threw the gnomes into a tumult of preparation and

counter-preparation. Before Sturm's eyes, they tore the

Four-Gnome-Power Exploratory Cart to pieces and began

assembling Single-Gnome Exploration Packs, made of

wooden slats and strips of canvas and blanket cloth. The

packs strapped on like knapsacks, but they towered twice as

high as the gnomes stood. This called for all kinds of sup-

porting straps and cords and counter-load balancing. Soon

each gnome staggered under a complex tent of wood and

cloth, but in the end they didn't leave one bit of their

beloved equipment behind.

Sturm looked them over and groaned inwardly. At this

rate, they would never find the Cloudmaster, never get back

to Krynn, and never find his father. He wanted to rail at the

little men, but he knew it would do no good. Gnomes pro-

ceed at their own rate, awkwardly and haphazardly, but

they do proceed.

Sighter waddled past, scribbling his notes under a creak-

 

ing canopy of canvas. "I'm starting a new log," he said,

swaying from side to side. The top of his exploration pack

just missed Sturm's nose. 'This is no longer the Lunitari

Exploratory March." He walked on. Wingover puffed along

behind him.

"Now we are the Lunitari Flying Ship Rescue Mission,"

Wingover said.

The trail was wide and plain, and as far as anyone could

tell, no effort had been made to hide it. Either those who had

captured the flying ship were not very smart, or else they

thought Stutts, Birdcall, and Flash were the only crew on

board.

Kitiara and Wingover moved out ahead of the rest. She

tested his long-distance vision by having the gnome describe

arrangements of rocks from as far away as six miles. Poor

Wingover got a terrific headache, and his short legs were no

match for Kitiara's long, powerful stride". She shouldered his

exploratory pack (its straps were strained to the bursting

point) and lifted him by the coat collar. Tucking Wingover

under her arm, Kitiara took to sprinting far ahead, relying

on the gnome's far-seeing to keep them from getting lost.

The trail carried on in an unswerving line due west.

Sturm plodded along with the overburdened gnomes.

They marched on both sides of the trail, arguing over the

reasons for Wingover's gift of far-seeing. Sturm shaded his

eyes from the sun and looked at the footprints. They were

strikingly regular circular depressions in five distinct

columns. He said to Bellcrank, "Don't these prints seem

strange to you?"

"Undoubtedly, yes, Master Brightblade, as we've seen no

animal life since arriving on the red moon," replied the

gnome.

"Exactly! Have you noticed how very precise the foot-

prints are? All of them are perfectly aligned."

"I don't follow."

"Even a gaited horse will have a little jog, a sideways

motion now and then that distinguishes its track."

"A machine!" Bellcrank exclaimed. "Master Brightblade,

you've done it! "Bellcrank grasped Roperig by his lapels.

"Don't you see, what else could pick up the Cloudmaster

 

and carry it off but another machine!"

"By Reorx, I hadn't thought of that," said Roperig. Fitter

rattled to Rainspot and told him Bellcrank's theory. The idea

then leaped the trail to where Cutwood and Sighter were

walking. Sighter pooh-poohed the notion.

"That doesn't solve a thing!" he said. "Where there's a

machine, there has to be a machine-maker, yes?"

Bellcrank opened his mouth to vent his opinion, but just

then Kitiara and Wingover came running at them. The war-

rior woman carried the gnome under her arm like a loaf of

bread. Wingover's head bounced and jiggled each time her

heels struck the ground. In another situation, the image

might have been comic.

Kitiara braced to a halt in front of Sturm. "There's a vil-

lage up ahead," she said. She wasn't even out of breath.

"Village? What sort of village?" asked Roperig.

"A village village," said Wingover from under Kitiara's

arm. "There's some kind of keep in the center of the place."

"Does the trail lead to this village?" asked Sturm.

Kitiara shook her head. "It veers off to the north, avoid-

ing it completely."

"We ought to inspect this village," Cutwood called from

thirty yards away. Sturm and the others looked at each oth-

er, then at Cutwood.

"Can you hear what we're saying?" said Wingover in a

bare whisper.

"Well certainly! Do you think I'm deaf?" Cutwood yelled

back. Sighter tapped him on the shoulder.

"I can't hear them," he said. He grabbed Cutwood by the

ears and turned his head from side to side, peering into the

carpenter's ears. "Everything looks normal," he said. "Does

my voice sound loud to you?"

"It does when you yell from an inch away!"

Sighter took Cutwood by the hand to where the others

stood. "It's happened again," he reported. "Cutwood can

hear normal conversation from thirty yards away, maybe

more."

"Really? This calls for some tests," said Rainspot. He low-

ered his pack to the ground and tried to disentangle himself

from the cords and straps.

 

"Never mind!" Kitiara said. "What do we do about the

village'?"

"How close will we have to pass if we follow the trail?"

Sturm queried.

"Spitting distance."

He squinted into the sky. "Half the day's gone. If we start

now, we can be past the village before nightfall and not lose

the trail." Sighter grumbled about the human's lack of scien-

tific curiosity, but no gnome seriously considered going

against Sturm's plan.

Sturm formed the party single file and sternly admon-

ished the gnomes to keep quiet. "I feel trouble coming," he

said. "A keep means a lord of some kind, and probably

armed retainers. If," he added, "if this world is anything like

Krynn."

Looking straight ahead, Kit said, "Are you afraid?"

"Afraid, no. Concerned, yes. Our stay here has never

been more precarious. A pitched battle could destroy us

even if we win."

"That's the difference between us, Sturm. You fight to pre-

serve order and honor; I fight for myself. If trouble is brew-

ing, the only thing to do is come out on top."

-No matter what happens to the rest of us?"

He scored a touch. Kitiara's eyes flashed. "I have never

changed sides in a battle, nor betrayed a friend! The little

men need our protection, and I'll shed my last drops of

blood defending them. You've no right to imply otherwise!"

Sturm walked on silently for a moment, then said, "I'm

sorry, Kit. It's becoming harder for me to know your mind. I

think this magical strength you've gained has affected your

outlook."

"My mind, you mean."

"Trust you to say it the most brutal way."

"Life is brutal, and so are facts."

At the rear of the column, Cutwood could hear every-

thing, and he said, "I think they're mad at each other."

"Shows how much you know," Sighter replied. "Human

males and females always act strangely toward each other.

They never want their true feelings to show."

"Why is that?"

 

"Because they don't want to seem vulnerable. Humans

have a lot of this attitude called 'pride,' which is sort of like

the satisfaction you get when your machine performs cor-

rectly. Pride makes them act contrary to the way they really

feel."

"That's silly!"

Sighter shrugged under his towering pack and almost fell

down. "Unh! By Reorx! Of course it's silly, and these two

humans have especially bad cases of pride, which means the

fiercer they act and the louder they yell, the more they care

about each other."

Cutwood was dazzled by his colleague's understanding of

human behavior. "Where did you learn so much about

humans?" he said.

"I listen and learn," said Sighter, very ungnomishly.

Though he didn't yet realize it, that was the change wrought

in Sighter by the magic of Lunitari. From an intuitive,

impetuous gnome, he had become a logical, thoughtful,

deductive gnome, a creature that had never before existed.

 

* * * * *

 

The field of stones was largely barren of plants, even by

day, so the first sign the marchers had that they were near

the village was when stands of scarlet-capped mushrooms

seven feet tall appeared, growing in neat rows between two

low stone walls. Roperig picked a section of wall apart to

study; it was simply made of loose rocks stacked conven-

iently together. "Very primitive," was his disdainful verdict.

The mushroom orchard served to screen them from the

village itself. Sturm, Kitiara, Wingover, and Cutwood crept

through the rows of fungus to the very edge of the settle-

ment.

By Krynnish standards, it wasn't much of a village. There

weren't any houses at all, just a series of concentric stone

walls about waist high, plus a few cribs filled with harvested

food. The only full-scale structure was the keep, a squat,

single-story, windowless block in the center of the village

walls. A lone pole stuck up from the keep, and a dirty gray

banner hung limply from it.

 

"Not exactly the golden halls of Silvanost, is it?" said Kiti-

ara. To the gnomes, she said, "Can you hear or see anything

stirring down there?" Wingover could see nothing moving.

Cutwood squinted one eye shut and listened hard.

"I hear footsteps," he said uncertainly, "pretty faint.

Someone's walking around inside the keep."

"Fine. Let's bypass this place," said Sturm.

The other gnomes waited patiently on the other side,

chattering in whispers. When Wingover, Cutwood, and the

humans returned, they shouldered their lofty packs and

formed a single file again.

"The village looks deserted," Sturm said. "So we're going

past it. Be quiet anyway."

The trail of the Cloudmaster bent away from the village

just beyond the walls of the mushroom orchard. As they

rounded the tall red stalks, Kitiara, who was leading, saw

that the path was lined on either side by tall, leafless trees.

"Odd," she said. "Those weren't there before."

"Did they grow up suddenly, like the other plants?" asked

Roperig. Kitiara shook her head and drew her sword.

v' The trees stood about seven feet high. Their trunks were

graduated in bands of color, ranging from deep burgundy

red at the base to the lightest of pinks at their rounded-off

tops. All had branches that grew out and bent down.

"Ugliest trees I ever saw," said Cutwood. He left the line

long enough to chip a piece of the flaky bark off with his

Twenty Tool Pocket Kit. He was examining the fleshy gray

wood when the tree's left branch flexed and swatted the

specimen from his hand.

"Hey!" he said. "The tree hit me!"

The double row of trees launched into motion. They

pulled their roots out of the ground and freed their limbs.

Black dishlike eyes opened in the trunks, and ragged mouths

split apart.

Sturm grabbed for his hilt. The gnomes bunched together

between him and Kitiara.

"Suffering bloodstained gods! What are these things?"

Kitiara exclaimed.

"Unless I'm gravely mistaken, these are our villagers.

They were expecting us," Sturm replied, keeping the tip of

 

his sword moving back and forth to discourage the tree-

things.

The tree-folk emitted a series of deep hooting sounds, like

a chorus of rams' horns. From recesses in their own bodies

they produced an array of swords and spears - all made of

clear red glass. The tree-folk closed the circle around the

besieged band.

"Be ready," Kitiara said, her voice taut with anticipation.

"When we break through them, everybody run."

"Run where?" asked Fitter tremulously.

One tree-man, the tallest of the lot, broke ranks with its

fellows and advanced. It did not actually walk. Rather, the

tangle of roots that made up its feet flexed and carried the

creature forward. The tree-man raised its crude, hiltless

glass sword in one bark-covered hand and hooted loudly.

"Yah!" Kitiara sprang forward and cut at the glass blade.

She knocked it aside and swung again, this time striking the

tree-man below its left arm. Her sword bit deeply into the

soft wood-flesh - so deeply that it would not easily come

out. Kitiara ducked the return cut by the tree-man's sword

and let go of her own. She retreated a few steps, leaving her

blade embedded in the foe. The tree-man did not appear too

much discomforted by the yard of steel stuck in him.

"Sturm, lend me your sword," said Kitiara quickly.

"I will not," he replied. "Calm down, will you? That crea-

ture wasn't attacking, it was trying to speak."

The impaled tree-man regarded them with wide, unblink-

ing eyes. In a raspy bass voice it said, "Men. Iron. Men?

"Yes," said Sturm. "We are men."

"And we're gnomes," said Bellcrank. "Pleased to meet -"

"Iron?" The tree-man plucked Kitiara's sword from its

flank, grasping it by the blade. He offered the hilt to Kitiara.

"Iron, men -" She gingerly took the handle and let the point

fall to the ground.

"Men, come," said the tree-man. His eyes and mouth van-

ished, only to reappear on the opposite side. "Men, come,

iron king."

The tree-man reversed direction without turning around.

The other tree-folk did likewise; their eyes closed up on one

side of their heads and reopened on the other.

 

"Fascinating," said Cutwood. "Completely saves them the

trouble of turning around."

"Do we go with them?" asked Rainspot.

Sturm looked away to the trail of the stolen flying ship.

"For now," he said. "We should pay our respects to this iron

king. Maybe he knows what could've taken our ship."

The tree-folk made straight for the village keep. Sturm,

Kitiara, and the gnomes fell in behind them. Closer to the

village, they saw signs of damage to the walls and gardens.

Something had battered down a long section of wall, and a

crib full of yellow fruit shaped like corkscrews had been

plundered. Slippery pulp and seeds were splashed all over

the place.

The tree-men's leader, the one Kitiara had cut, halted

before the door of the keep. The gate consisted of overlap-

ping slabs of red glass, hanging from hinges of the same

material. The tree-man boomed, "King! Men, iron come."

Without waiting for any reply, the tree-man leaned on the

gate, and it swung in. The tree-man did not enter himself,

but stood back, and with a sweep of his arm indicated that

the visitors should go in.

Kitiara slipped in, her back pressed against the rough

stone wall. With a practiced eye for danger, she surveyed

the scene. The interior was well lit, as it had no roof. The

walls rose ten feet and slanted in, but no thatch or shingles

kept out the sun. The room she'd entered was actually a cor-

ridor, branching off to the left and right. The facing wall

was blank, though smoothly plastered with gritty mortar

painted white.

"It's clear," she reported. Her voice was taut and low.

Sturm let the gnomes enter.

"Man." Sturm looked up at the impassive eyes of the tree-

man. "Iron king. Him." It pointed left.

"I understand. Thank you." The tree-man tapped his

long, jointed finger on the gate and Sturm pushed it shut.

"Our host will be found down the left corridor," he said.

"Everyone, be on your guard!" Kitiara moved to the end of

the line, steeled for signs of treachery. The hall turned right

and widened. The high walls and lack of ceiling made Sturm

feel as if he were in a maze.

 

They came upon an unexpectedly familiar artifact: a low,

thick door made of oak and strapped with iron hinges. This

relic leaned against the wall. Fitter peeked behind it.

"It doesn't lead anywhere," he said.

"There's something familiar about it," mused Cutwood.

"You silly loon, of course it's familiar. You've seen doors

before!" said Bellcrank.

"No, it's the style that's familiar. I have it! This is a ship's

door!" he announced.

"It's not from the Cloudmaster, is it?" Sturm said,

alarmed.

"No, this door is oak, the Cloudmaster's are pine."

"Now how would a ship's door get on the red moon?"

Wingover asked rhetorically. Cutwood was composing an

answer when Kitiara shooed him on.

They passed more debris from their world: empty kegs,

clay pots and cups, tatters of canvas and scraps of leather, a

rusty, broken cutlass. Some coils of rope were identified by

an eager Roperig as ship's cordage made in southern Ergoth.

Excitement mounted as more and more tantalizing things

cropped up.

The corridor turned right again, this time into a wide

room. There, standing by an overturned wooden chair, was

a man. A genuine man, short and scrawny. He was dressed

in a dirty tan vest and cut-off pants, rope sandals, and a

peaked canvas cap. His face was dirty and his gray-streaked

beard came down almost to his stomach.

"Heh, heh, heh," rasped the man. "Visitors at last. I've

been wanting visitors for a long, long time!"

"Who are you?" asked Sturm.

"Me? Me? Why, I'm the King of Lunitari," proclaimed the

tattered scarecrow.

 

Chapter 14

 

Rapaldo the First

 

"You don't believe me," said the self-proclaimed

monarch.

"You hardly conform to the stereotypical archetype," said

Sighter. The king of Lunitari cocked his head.

"What'd you say?" he asked.

"You don't look like a king," Sturm interpreted.

"Well I am! Rapaldo the First, mariner, shipwright, and

absolute ruler of the red moon, that's me." He approached

the band in a nervous, hesitant shuffle. "Who are you?"

The gnomes eagerly pushed themselves up to King

Rapaldo, shaking hands in quick succession and rattling off

the shorter versions of their impossibly long names.

Rapaldo's eyes glazed over from the barrage.

Sturm cleared his throat and gently steered Fitter, the last

 

gnome, away from the bewildered man. "Sturm Brightblade

of Solamnia," he said of himself.

Kitiara stepped forward and pushed back her fur collar.

Rapaldo gasped aloud. "Kitiara Uth Matar," she said.

"L-Lady," Rapaldo stammered. "I have not seen a real lady

in many, many years."

"I'm not sure you're seeing one now," Kitiara said with a

laugh. Rapaldo gently took her hand. He held it carefully,

looking at the back and palm with embarrassing intentness.

Kitiara's hands were not refined or delicate. They were the

strong, supple hands of a warrior. Rapaldo's reverent inter-

est amused her.

As if suddenly aware that he was being foolish, Rapaldo

dropped Kitiara's hand and drew himself up to his full

height - not much more than five and a half feet - and

announced, "If you would follow me to the royal audience

hall, I'll hear the story of your coming here, and tell the tale

of my own shipwreck." He went back to his overturned

chair and righted it. "This way," said the king of Lunitari.

They followed Rapaldo through a series of mostly empty

rooms, all open to the sky. What furniture there was had a

nautical cast to it, here a seaman's chest, there a railed cap-

tain's chair. Other bits of ship were hung on the wall. A

brass hawse pipe liner, some loops of anchor chain, a lathe-

turned rail studded with iron spikes.

Bellcrank tugged on Sturm's sleeve. "Metal," he whis-

pered. "Lots of it."

"I see it," Sturm said calmly.

"This way. This way," Rapaldo said, gesturing.

The very center of the keep was the audience hall, a

square room ten yards wide. When Rapaldo entered, a half

dozen tree-men snapped glass spears to their nonexistent

shoulders in salute. They hooted in unison three times, and

dropped their spears to a ported position.

"My palace guard," Rapaldo said with pride.

"Are they intelligent?" asked Wingover.

"Not like you and I are. They learn things I teach them,

remember orders, and such like, but they weren't civilized

when I first came here."

At the far end of the room, a crude throne was set up, a

 

high-backed chair mounted on a thick rectangle of ruby

glass. The chair had obviously been cobbled together from

ship's timbers; the peg holes from the trenails were still visi-

ble.

Rapaldo hopped upon the glass pedestal and picked up

his scepter from the seat of the chair. He turned around and

sat down with a sigh, laying the emblem of his office in the

crook of his arm. It was a broadhead axe.

"Hear ye, hear ye. The royal court of Lunitari may begin,"

Rapaldo recited in a high-pitched voice. He coughed once,

and his skinny chest convulsed. "I, King Rapaldo the First,

am present and speaking.

"In honor of the unexpected guests who have arrived

today, I, King Rapaldo, will relate the marvelous tale of my

coming to this place." Roperig and Fitter, sensing that a long

story was beginning, sat down.

Rapaldo leaped to his feet. "You will stand in the presence

of the king!" he shouted, punctuating the command with a

sweep of his scepter-axe. The two gnomes stood with alacri-

ty. Rapaldo shivered with fury. "Those who do not show

respect will be removed by the Royal Guard!"

Sturm flashed Kitiara a knowing look. She bowed and

said, "Forgive us, Your Majesty. We've not been in the pres-

ence of a king for quite some time."

Her intervention had an almost magical effect. Rapaldo

relaxed and sat on his wooden throne again. There was a

distinct clink as he did so. Sturm spied a glint of chain

around his waist.

"Better, better. What's a king without subjects who pay

him respect? A captain without a ship, a ship without a rud-

der? Ta-ra!" Rapaldo gripped the arms of his throne tightly

for a moment. "It's been t-ten years since last I spoke to

another human being," he said. "If I rattle and prattle, lay it

to that fact."

He drew a deep breath. "I was born the son and grandson

of sailors, on the island of Enstar, in the Sirrian Sea. My

father was slain by Kernaffi pirates when I was but a lad,

and the day the word came home, I ran away to sea. I

learned to use the axe and adze."

Cutwood heard this and squirmed to comment. Sighter

 

and Wingover both put hands over his mouth.

"The trade of the shipwright built a man out of a boy, heh,

heh, and as the summers passed, I stopped going to sea and

stayed ashore on Enstar, making craft that plied the wide

green ocean." The royal axe slid down to Rapaldo's lap.

"Had I stayed a land-bound shipwright, though, I would

not now be the royal person you see before you." A frayed

sleeve slipped off his bony shoulder. Absently, Rapaldo

replaced it. "I would not now be on this moon," he mut-

tered. "A prosperous ship owner named Melvalyn hired me

to sail with him to southern Ergoth. Melvalyn planned to

buy timber to build a new fleet of merchant ships, and he

wanted an expert along to grade the available wood. We

were to depart from Enstar for Daltigoth on the third day of

autumn, an ill-starred day. The soothsayer, Dirazo, the one

I always consulted for times of good luck and bad, parleyed

with the dark spirits and pronounced the sailing date as

damned by the rise of Nuitari, the black moon. I tried to beg

off, but Melvalyn insisted the voyage begin as planned.

Heh, heh, old Melvalyn learned what it means to disregard

the omens! Yes, he learned!

"Cold, contrary winds from the southeast blew us west of

Ergoth. We tacked and tacked, but made little headway

against the Kharolis Blow. Then, four days out to sea, the

wind died. We were becalmed.

"There's not a more helpless feeling than being at sea with

no wind. Melvalyn tried all the tricks, wetting the sails,

kedging with the anchors, and such like, but we didn't move

enough to measure. The sky sort of closed in on us, fish-eye

gray, and then the father of all storms broke on us."

Rapaldo, caught up in his own monologue, stood abrupt-

ly. He made swift, jerky gestures to illustrate his story.

"The sea, it was running like this, and the wind, it was

blowing like this -" His hands swung in from opposite

directions and clashed in front of his face. "Rain was

screeching over the deck flat sideways. The Tarvolina, that

was our ship, lost her topmast and yards straight away. And

then, and then, it came down and grabbed us." Rapaldo

stepped upon his throne and crouched, his head ducked to

protect himself from the memory.

 

"What was it?" Rainspot burst out unwittingly. Rapaldo,

waiting for this cue, didn't get angry this time.

"A waterspout," he said, shivering. "A mighty, twisting

column of water a hundred feet wide at the bottom! It

sucked up the Tarvolina like a dry leaf, and we went right

through the hollow middle of it, up and up and up! Some of

the sailors got scared and jumped overboard. Those that

jumped down the middle fell all the way back to the sea,

miles and miles, but those that hit the wall of twisting water

..." Rapaldo stamped his foot on the chair. All the gnomes

jumped in fright. "They were ripped to pieces. Might as well

have jumped into an ocean of knife blades." The metaphor

seemed to please him, for he smiled. For all his scruffiness,

the king of Lunitari had a fine set of straight white teeth.

"The waterspout carried us so high that the blue went out of

the sky. Only six men out of the full crew of twenty lived to

the funnel's end. The waterspout turned inside out, and

dropped the Tarvolina upside down, here on Lunitari."

King Rapaldo hopped down to the glass throne base. His

shaggy eyebrows closed in over his dark brown eyes.

"Three men survived the shipwreck: Melvalyn, Darnino,

the navigator, and Rapaldo the First. Melvalyn had a bro-

ken leg, and died not long after. Darnino and I almost

starved, until we learned to eat the plants that grow by day

and drink the dew that collects in the red turf at night."

That's something we didn't know, Sturm thought.

"Darnino and I stayed together until we met the Oud-

ouhai, the tree-people. The tree-folk had never seen men

before, and they took us for their dread enemies -" Here

Rapaldo paused. He peered at each member of the group in

turn. "Anyway, there was a fight, and Darnino was killed.

The Lunitarians were about to kill me, too, when I raised

my axe." He suited the action to the words. "And they were

so awestruck that they proclaimed me oem-owa-oya,

supreme ruler of them all and wielder of the holy iron."

Rapaldo finished his story with a giggle. Unmindful of the

guards standing nearby, he added, "The worthless savages

had never seen metal before! They figured it must have

come from the gods, and that I was a holy messenger sent to

look after them."

 

"Have the Lunitarians no metal of their own?" asked Bell-

crank.

"There's no metal on the whole bloody moon, as near as I

can tell," said Rapaldo. He flopped into his throne and

adjusted his ragged clothes with extreme care and dignity.

"Now I would hear of your own coming," he said loftily.

Wingover started to speak, but the king rapped the side of

his axe on the throne. "Let the lady tell it."

Kitiara unhooked her sword belt and stood the weapon,

in its sheath, before her. She leaned on the sword and told

the tale of how she and Sturm had met the gnomes in the

rainstorm, the flight to the red moon, their expedition, and

the theft of the Cloudmaster.

"Heh, heh, heh," Rapaldo laughed. "You can't leave things

lying about unguarded, not even on Lunitari. The Micones

have taken your craft."

"Micones?"

"The enemies I spoke of. The Oud-ouhai have no preda-

tors to fear, as there are no animals on Lunitari, only plants.

But the Micones, when directed, are a plague indeed."

"But what are they?" asked Kitiara.

"Ants."

"Ants?" said Sighter.

"Giant ants," said Rapaldo. "Six feet of solid rock crystal.

The magic in this moon gives them the power to move and

work, but they haven't got a single brain among them."

"Who - or what - directs these Micones?" asked Sturm.

The king of Lunitari shrank from the question. "I've never

seen it," he said evasively, "though I once heard it speak."

Sturm saw Kitiara ball a fist in frustration. Rapaldo's

quirky behavior was getting on her nerves. She relaxed her

hand slowly and said as evenly as her temper would allow,

"Who is their mastermind, Your Majesty?"

"The Voice in the Obelisk. Some ten miles from my palace

sits a great stone obelisk five hundred feet or more high. It's

hollow, and a demon dwells within. It speaks in a sweet

voice to the Micones, who live in a burrow under the base.

The demon never comes out of its tower, and I've never

gone in to see it."

"And these Micones have taken our ship?" asked Sturm.

 

"Did I not say it?" Rapaldo answered sulkily. "Two nights

ago, a host of crystal ants marched past in the dark. They

tore down one of our walls to clear a path. Evil, I tell you -

they could've walked around. It must have been your craft

that they were carrying."

"Why didn't your warriors oppose them?"

"Because they are trees, after all! When the sun sets, they

root themselves where they stand and feed all night long.

Only with the coming of day can they shake off the dirt and

walk about." Rapaldo popped up again. He directed a glare

at Sturm. "Your manners are impertinent! I won't answer

any more questions." The shrillness left his voice and he

added, "We are tired. You may leave us now. If you follow

the corridor to the right, you will find rooms you can sleep

in."

Kitiara and Sturm bowed, the gnomes waved, and the

group filed out of the audience hall. A tree-man led the way.

"What did you think of that!" Kitiara said in a loud whis-

per.

"Later," Sturm replied softly. The roofless walls were no

guarantee of privacy.

Along the corridor that Rapaldo had mentioned, they

found a series of niches. Some were filled with more wreck-

age of the lost Tarvolina, others were empty. The tree-man

indicated that the empty niches were their "rooms," then

departed.

The gnomes shrugged off their packs and set to work

making as much noise and confusion as seven gnomes could

make. Sturm pulled Kitiara aside.

"I fear that His Majesty is a bit out of the weather," Sturm

whispered.

"He's as crazy as a bug chaser."

"That's another way to say it, yes. But Kit, we need him

to take us to this obelisk, if that's where the giant ants have

taken the Cloudmaster. So we'll have to humor his royal

pose to keep his good will, at least till we leave."

"I'd like to give him a good shaking," she said. "That's

what he needs."

"Use your head, Kit. There are probably hundreds of

tree-men around, all loyal to King Rapaldo. How do we kill

 

a tree'? Even with your increased strength, all you did was

cut a chunk out of one of them."

"You're right," she said. Her expression darkened. "I'll tell

you something else: He's wearing mail under those rags. I

heard it clink when he sat down. There are two reasons for

people to wear mail - when they know they're going to be

attacked, or when they think they're going to be attacked.

Mad he may be, but old Rapaldo is afraid of something."

She tapped a finger on Sturm's chest. "I say it's us."

"Why us?"

"'Cause we're human, and we've got metal of our own,

which probably confuses the Lunitarians to death. Most of

all, we're younger, bigger, and stronger than His Majesty."

"Oh, let him be king of the tree-men, if he wants. If

Rapaldo's afraid of anything, it's this mysterious demon of

the obelisk. Have any ideas about it?"

"On this crazy moon, it could be anything, but if the

demon's got Stutts and the others with the flying ship, he'd

better be prepared to give them over, or face a fight!"

Fitter appeared with two steaming bowls. "Dinner," said

the gnome. "Pink spears and mushroom gills seasoned with

puffball dust." Fitter handed over the bowls and returned to

his colleagues.

They ate their food in silence for a while. Sturm said at

last, "I've been thinking about when we get back to Krynn."

"Optimist," she said. "What were you thinking?"

"If my visions so far have been true, then the first thing I

should do is go to my ancestral home. It may be that my

father secreted his sword there somewhere. He may also

have left me a clue as to where he was going."

Kitiara idly stirred her pink soup. "And what if you can't

find it, or him? What then?"

"I shall keep searching," he said.

She set the bowl down on the ground between her feet.

"How long, Sturm? Forever? Haven't you thought of any

life beyond your family? I never faulted you for wanting to

find your father - it seemed a worthy cause and a great

adventure - but I see now that there's more to it than that.

You're not out to restore just the Brightblade name and for-

tune; you want to restore the entire knightly order." Her

 

tone was derisive.

Sturm's hands grew cold. "Is that such a terrible goal? The

world could use a force for good again."

"These are modern times, Sturm! The knights are gone.

The people cast them off because they couldn't change to

meet the changing times. There's a new code among war-

riors: Power is the only truth."

He stared at her. "Am I to give up my quest, then?"

"Look beyond, will you? You're a good fighter and you're

smart. Think of what we could do together, you and I. If we

joined the right mercenary band, in a year's time we'd be the

captains. Then the glory and power would be ours."

Sturm stood up and slung his sword belt over one shoul-

der. "I could never live like that, Kit."

"Hey!" she called to his retreating back. Sturm continued

down the corridor. The heat of fury filled Kitiara's heart. It

surged through her, and she felt an overwhelming need to

smash something. How dare he be so righteous! What did he

know of the world, the real world? Sentimental, boring,

knightly rubbish -

"Ma'am?" Fitter stood before her, the stew pot in his

hand. "Are you all right?"

The quickening heat in her limbs subsided rapidly. She

blinked at the gnome and finally said, "Yes, what do you

want?"

"You were pounding on the wall," said the gnome.

"Sprockets! You've cracked it!"

Kitiara saw a spider's web of cracks radiating from a shal-

low hole in the soft sandy mortar. There was white dust on

her knuckles. She didn't remember hitting the wall at all.

 

* * * * *

 

Rapaldo the First watched as his Royal Guard members

slowed to rooted immobility and froze where they were.

Their eyes and mouths closed, leaving not a trace in the

ridged bark. Seeing them this way, no one would ever imag-

ine that they could walk and talk.

Rapaldo walked over and kicked the nearest Lunitarian.

It hurt his toe, and he hopped backward on one foot, curs-

 

ing the entire pantheon of Enstar.

"Soon I'll be gone, and you'll have a new king," he said to

the unheeding tree-man. "Flown away, that's what, in a fly-

ing ship built by gnomes! There's a neat trick! I had an

accursed whirlwind lift me to this rotten moon, and they go

and make wings and fly here on purpose! Ta-ra-ra! They can

stay here, too. They'll stay behind, and I'll fly home."

He slipped an arm conspiratorially around the tree-man

and whispered to him, "I could take the woman with me,

yes? She is very beautiful, though a bit too tall. If the king

commands it, she will go with me, yes? Yes, yes - how could

she resist? I'll give the big fellow with the mustache to you.

He can be the new king, Brightblade the First. I appoint him

heir apparent, remember that. For all I care, you can make

him a god. I shall fly, fly, fly away home."

The lengthening shadows crept across the royal audience

hall. Rapaldo stared into the darkest corner and shivered.

He grasped his axe and stalked to the middle of the room.

"I see you there, Darnino! Yes, it's you! You always come

back to visit, don't you? Dead men should stay dead,

Darnino! Especially when I kill them with my royal axe!" He

charged into the shadows, throwing the axe from side to

side. The heavy blade clinked off the rock walls, striking

sparks. Rapaldo flailed away at the ghost in his mind for

some time. Fatigue chased Darnino away more surely than

any of the king's axe cuts.

"There's a lesson for you," he said, panting. "Trifle with

Rapaldo the First, will you?"

He dragged his feet across the hall. By the throne, he

stopped, ear cocked to the open sky. "Laughing? Who said

you could laugh?" he said. The Lunitarians were still. "No

one laughs at the king!" Rapaldo cried. He hurled himself at

the nearest Lunitarian, chopping fiercely with his ship-

wright's axe. Chips of gray flew off the tree-man, who could

not resist the unwarranted attack. Rapaldo yelled and

cursed and chopped until the guard was a stump surrounded

by scraps of broken wood-flesh.

The axe fell from his hand. Rapaldo staggered a few feet

toward his throne and collapsed, sobbing.

 

Chapter 15

The King's Garden

 

Sturm awoke to a tapping on his nose. He cnacked

an eyelid and saw Rainspot standing over him, his stubby

forefinger poised for another tap.

"What do you want?" he rumbled. The gnome withdrew

his finger.

"We're having a secret meeting," whispered Rainspot. "I

can't find the lady, but we want you to take part."

Sturm sat up. It was still night and he could hear hushed

murmurs from the gnomes down the hall. Kitiara's place

was empty, but he wasn't too concerned. Sturm knew that

she could take care of herself quite well.

He tightened the lacings on his leggings and went down

the hall with Rainspot. The gnomes flinched in unison when

they appeared.

 

"I told you it was them," said the sharp-eared Cutwood.

"But you didn't say when they were coming," objected

Bellcrank.

"You should learn to be more exact," said Roperig. There

was general nodding of small pink heads.

Sturm rubbed his forehead. It was too soon after waking

to jump into a gnomish conversation. "What's all this

about?" he asked at normal volume.

"Shh!" seven gnomes said at once. Wingover waved for

Sturm to come to their level, so he knelt beside Sighter.

"We're discussing plans to, uh, abscond with some of

King Rapaldo's scrap metal," said Wingover. "We'd like to

hear your ideas."

Sturm was surprised at such tactics coming from the

gnomes.

"My idea is, don't steal from your host," he said bluntly.

"Don't misunderstand, Master Brightblade," said Bell-

crank quickly. "We don't want to steal from the king, it's just

that we haven't any gold or silver to pay him with."

"Then we must arrange some other method," Sturm said.

"After all, we sorely need his help, and it will serve us ill to

rob a potential benefactor."

"Suppose he won't give us any metal," said Wingover.

"We have no reason to be so suspicious."

"His Majesty seems rather unstable to me," Sighter said.

"He's completely off his gears," said Fitter.

"It's not our place to judge," said Sturm. "If the gods saw

fit to take Rapaldo's wits, it's because he was so lonely here.

Imagine being on this moon for ten years or more with no

one but the tree-folk for company. You should feel pity for

Rapaldo." Sturm looked over the gnomes' crestfallen faces.

"Why not think of some way to win Rapaldo's gratitude?

Then he would probably give us the metal we need."

The gnomes looked ashamedly at the ground. After a

moment's silence, Wingover said, "Perhaps we could invent

something to cheer His Majesty up."

Six gnome faces popped up, smiling. "Excellent, excel-

lent! What shall it be?" asked Bellcrank.

"A musical instrument," said Roperig.

"Suppose he doesn't know how to play it?" countered

 

Sighter.

"We'll make one that plays itself," said Cutwood.

"We could give him a Personal Heating Apparatus -"

"An automatic bathing device -"

"- an instrument!"

Sturm stood and backed out of the newest wrangle. Let

them figure it out, he thought. It'll keep them occupied. He

decided to find Kit.

He wandered along the corridor. By night, the way was

dim and confusing, and more than once he walked into a

dead end. This place is a maze, he decided. He doubled back

to what he believed was the main corridor and started again

for the outside. There was a series of niches along the right

again, but he didn't hear the gnomes. The niches were dusty

and empty. It was not the same hall.

At the end, the passage turned left. Sturm swung into the

black gap and immediately stumbled over some dry sticks

on the floor. He fell hard on his chest and banged his head

against something solid that skittered away when he hit it.

The object bounced off the wall and rolled back to Sturm.

He heaved himself up on his hands. A wedge of starlight fell

across the open end of the niche. Sturm held up the object

that he'd knocked his head on. It was a dry white human

skull. The 'sticks' he'd tripped over were bones.

He went back out into the open passage and examined the

skull. It was broad and well developed; certainly a man's.

The most disturbing feature was the deep cleft in the bone of

the forehead. The man had died by violence - as by an axe

stroke.

Sturm carefully replaced the skull in the cul-de-sac. Out

of reflex, he checked to see if his sword was hanging in its

scabbard. The cold hilt was reassuring to his touch. He was

worried. Where was Kitiara?

He bumped into Kitiara as she came skulking down the

passage. She had a tousled, slightly wild look that made him

think she'd been drinking. But no, ale was hard to come by

on Lunitari.

"Kit, are you all right?"

"Yes. I am. I think."

He put an arm around her waist to support her and

 

steered her to a low stretch of wall, where they sat.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I went walking," she said. "Rapaldo's gardens take longer

to vanish after dark than the wild plants we saw. There were

some big toadstools, with pink spores coming out. They

smelled good."

"They've affected you," he said, noting the light dusting of

pink on her shoulders and hands. "How do you feel I"

"I feel - strong. Very strong." She gripped his free hand

and squeezed his wrist. Pain raced up Sturm's arm.

"Careful!" he said, wincing. "You'll break my arm!"

Her grip didn't slacken. Sturm felt the blood pounding in

his fingertips. In her present state, it wasn't prudent to strug-

gle. She might crush his arm without realizing it.

"Kit," he said as evenly as the pain would allow, "you're

hurting me. Let go."

Her hand snapped open, and Sturm's arm dropped out

like a dead weight. He massaged the bruised arm back to

life.

"You must've inhaled those spores," he said. "Why don't

you go lie down? Do you remember the way?"

"I remember," she said dreamily. "I never get lost." She

slipped away like a sleepwalker, making unerring turns and

avoiding all the wrong passages. Sturm shook his head.

Such uncontrolled strength was deadly. What was happen-

ing to her - to all of them?

Then, curious, he decided to see those mushrooms from a

safe distance. He went along the path Kitiara had used until

he reached the outside wall. The neatly boxed-in garden

beds were empty. No trace of the mushrooms remained. He

stepped over the low wall and dipped his hand into the ever-

present scarlet dust. Had she indeed been walking in her

sleep? Or had the mushrooms withered in the short time

between her seeing them and his arrival? The stars and set-

ting silver moon offered no clues.

Sturm noticed a dull light moving along the gallery on the

north side of the palace. He cut across the gardens to inter-

cept the light. It proved to be His Majesty, carrying a weakly

burning oil lamp.

"Oh," said Rapaldo, "I remember you."

 

"Good evening, Your Majesty," said Sturm graciously. "I

saw your lamp."

"Did you'? It's a feeble thing, but the oil I make is not of

the best quality, heh, heh."

"Your Majesty, I wonder if I might have a word with you."

"What word?"

Sturm fidgeted. This was as bad as trying to talk with the

gnomes. "My friends were wondering, Sire, if we might be

able to get some scrap metal from you to fix our flying ship,

once we find it."

"You'll never get it back from the Micones," said Rapaldo.

"We must try, Sire. Could we get some metal from your

 

supply?"

"What kind and how much'?" asked the king sharply.

 

"Forty pounds of iron."

"Forty pounds! Ta-ra! That's a king's ransom, and I

should know. I am the king!"

"Surely iron is not so precious -"

Rapaldo hopped backward, the wavering lamp throwing

weird shadows behind him. "Iron is the most precious thing

of all! It was the iron axe I carry that made me master of the

red moon. Do you not see, Sir Knight, that there is no metal

at all here? Why do you think my subjects bear swords of

glass? Every scrap of iron is a buttress to my rule, and I will

not part with any of it."

Sturm waited until Rapaldo's quivering hands had grown

more steady. He said, slowly, "Sire, perhaps you would like

to go with us when we leave on the gnomes' flying ship."

"Eh? Leave my kingdom?"

"If you so desire."

Rapaldo's eyes narrowed. "My subjects would never

allow it. They won't even let me leave the town. I've tried.

I've tried. I'm their link with the gods, you know, and they

are very jealous of me. They won't let me go."

"What's to stop you from leaving at night, when the Luni-

tarians are rooted where they stand?"

"Heh, heh, heh! They would hunt me down by daylight!

They move very fast when they want to, don't worry! And

there's never been anyplace else to go. The ants have your

craft and will not let you have it. The Voice has it now."

 

Sturm said firmly, "We intend to ask this Voice to return

our ship."

"The Voice! Ta-ra-ra! Why not ask the High Lords of

Heaven to bear you home on their backs, like birdies, tweet,

tweet? The Voice is evil, Sir Knightblade; beware of it!"

Sturm felt as if he were swimming against a strong cur-

rent. Rapaldo's mind could not follow the course of reason

that Sturm had set out, but there were some nuggets of truth

in what he said. The 'Voice,' if it existed, was a great

unknown quantity. If it refused them, their hopes for getting

home were destroyed.

Sturm made one last attempt to persuade Rapaldo. 'Your

Majesty, if my friends and I can convince the Voice to release

our flying ship, would you then provide us with forty

pounds of iron! In return, we'll carry you back to Krynn -

to your home island, if you wish."

"Enstar?" said Rapaldo, blinking rapidly. Tears formed in

his eyes. "Home?"

"To your very doorstep," Sturm promised.

Rapaldo set the lamp on the ground. His hand flashed to

his hip, and came back gripping the broad shipwright's axe.

Sturm tensed.

"Come!" said Rapaldo. "I will show you the obelisk."

He padded away, leaving the lamp flickering on the floor.

Sturm looked at the lamp, shrugged, and followed the mad

king of Lunitari. Rapaldo's skinny, rag-wrapped feet made

only the faintest thumps as he scampered ahead of Sturm.

"This way, Sir Brightsturm! I have a map, a chart, a dia-

gram, heh, heh."

Sturm followed him around half a dozen twists and turns.

When he faltered or felt uncertain, Rapaldo urged him on.

"The obelisk is in a secret valley, very hard to find! You must

have my map to locate it!" Then Rapaldo's tread abruptly

ceased, as did his lunatic cackle.

'Your Majesty?" Sturm called quietly. No reply. Careful-

ly, Sturm drew his sword, letting the blade slip through his

fingers to deaden the scrape of metal. "King Rapaldo?" The

passage ahead was violet shadows and silence. Sturm

advanced into the darkness, sliding his feet along the floor

to avoid being tripped.

 

Rapaldo leaped down from a recess in the wall and

brought the axe down on Sturm's head. His helmet saved his

skull from the fate of Darnino, but the blow drove the light

from his mind and left him laid out cold on the floor.

"Well, well," said Rapaldo, breathing quickly. "A rude

dint, I'm sure, and not at all fitting for the new king of Luni-

tari, eh? The tree-men would never allow their only king to

fly away, fly! So I'll take the flying ship and lady, I will, and

the trees will have their king. You! Ha, ha!" He giggled and

picked up Sturm's helmet. The iron pot had taken the axe's

edge with only a slight dent. Rapaldo tried the helmet on. It

was far too large for him, and fell over his eyes. The mon-

arch of the red moon stood over his victim, spinning the hel-

met around his head with his hands and laughing

ceaselessly.

 

Chapter 16

 

The Royal Axe

 

The long night was almost spent when the gnomes

dared wake Kitiara. She grunted with pain and got to her

feet. "Suffering bloodstained gods," she muttered. "What

happened? I feel like somebody's worked me over with a

stick."

"Are you sore?" asked Rainspot.

She worked one shoulder around and grimaced. "Very."

"I have a liniment that may be of comfort to you." The

gnome searched rapidly through his vest and pants pockets.

He produced a small leather bag with a tight drawstring.

"Here," said Rainspot.

Kitiara accepted the bag and sniffed the closed mouth.

"What is it?" she said suspiciously.

"Dr. Finger's Efficacious Ointment. Also known as the

 

Self-Administered Massage Balm."

"Well, ah, thanks, Rainspot. I'll give it a try," she said,

though she thought it more likely that the liniment would

blister her skin than soothe her muscles. She tucked it away.

"Where's Sturm?" Kitiara asked with sudden realization.

"We saw him several hours ago. He was looking for you,"

said Cutwood.

"Did he find me?"

"How should we know? He told us we couldn't take any

of Rapaldo's iron without asking permission, then he went

looking for you," said Bellcrank peevishly.

Kitiara rubbed her aching temples. "I remember I went for

a walk, came back obviously, but outside of that my mem-

ory is dry." She coughed. "So's my throat. Is there any

water?"

"Rainspot called down a batch this morning," said Sight-

er. He proffered a full bottle to Kitiara, and she drank

deeply. The gnomes watched this process solemnly. When

Kitiara at last lowered the water bottle, Wingover said,

"Lady, we are unanimous in our resolve to be gone from

here as quickly as possible. We think the king is dangerous;

also, the trail of the Micones grows colder as we wait."

Kitiara surveyed the serious little faces. She'd never seen

the gnomes so united and intent. "Very well, let's see if we

can hunt down Sturm," she said.

Rapaldo was in his audience hall, flanked by twenty tall

tree-men when Kitiara and the gnomes arrived. He was

wearing Sturm's horned helmet, padded out with rags so

that it wouldn't fall over his eyes. The axe lay nestled in his

arms.

He regarded them idly. "I didn't send for you. Go away."

"Cut the lip wagging," Kitiara snapped. She recognized

the helmet. "Where's Sturm?"

"Do all of the women of Abanasinia have such bad man-

ners? That's what comes of letting them carry swords -"

She drew both weapons, sword and dagger, and took one

step toward Rapaldo. The Lunitarians promptly raised their

glass swords and spear.s and closed ranks around their

divine, though mad, king.

"You'll never reach me," Rapaldo said, giggling. "It might

 

be fun to see you try."

"Your Majesty," said Sighter diplomatically, "what has

become of our friend Sturm?"

Rapaldo leaned forward and waggled a bony finger at the

gnome. "See? Now that's the proper way to ask a question."

He slumped back in his high chair and pronounced, "He is

resting. Shortly he will be the new king of Lunitari."

"New king? What's going to happen to the old one?"

asked Kitiara with barely concealed fury.

"I'm abdicating. Ten years is long enough to rule, don't

you think? I'm going back to Krynn and live among my own

kind as an honored and respected shipwright." He licked his

fingers to smooth back his lank gray hair. "After my sub-

jects take back the aerial ship, you all shall remain here,

except for whatever gnomes are needed to fly it." He cocked

his head toward Kitiara. "I was going to take you with me,

but I see now that you are completely unsuited. Heh, heh.

Completely."

"We won't fly you anywhere," said Wingover defiantly.

"I think you will - if I order my faithful subjects to kill

you off, one by one. I think you'll fall in with my plan."

"Never!" said Kitiara. The rage was rising in her.

Rapaldo looked up at the nearest tree-man and said, "Kill

one of the gnomes. Start with the littlest one." The gnomes

closed in a tight circle around Fitter.

The Lunitarian came at them straight on. Kitiara cried,

"Run!" and moved to meet the tree-man. She parried his

strong but clumsy cuts. Chips of glass flew each time her

steel blade met the glass one, but the haft of the tree-man's

weapon was so thick that she didn't think it would snap

without a direct crosswise blow. The gibbering gnomes

retreated in a body to the door. None of the other Lunitar-

ians deigned to bother them.

She had managed to pin the tree-man's point to the floor

and now she raised her foot and smashed the glass sword in

two. The Lunitarian stepped back out of her reach.

Rapaldo applauded. "Ta-ra!" he crowed. "What a show!"

There were too many of them. Though she hated to do it,

Kitiara backed out of the room with her blood boiling.

Rapaldo laughed and whistled loudly.

 

Out in the passage, Kitiara halted, her face burning furi-

ously with shame. To be whistled out of a room - what an

insult! As if she were some juggler or painted fool!

"We're going back in there," she said tensely. "I'm going to

get that lunatic woodcutter if I have to -"

"I have an idea," said Sighter, tugging vainly at her trouser

leg.

"Suffering gods, we've got to find Sturm! We don't have

time for a silly gnomish idea!"

The gnomes drew back with expressions of hurt. Kitiara

hastily apologized, and Sighter went on. "As this place has

no roof, why don't we climb the walls? We could walk along

the top of the walls and peer down into every room."

Kitiara blinked. "Sighter, you - you're a genius."

He polished his nails on his vest and said, "Well, I am

extremely intelligent."

She turned to the wall and ran a hand over the dry plaster.

"I don't know if we can get enough purchase to climb up,"

she said.

"I can do it," said Roperig. He pressed his hands on the

wall and muttered, "Strong grip. Strong grip." To everyone's

delight, his palms stuck, and he proceeded to climb right up

the wall like a spider. The gnomes cheered; Kitiara hushed

them.

"It's all right," Roperig said from atop the wall. "It's just

wide enough for me to walk on. Boost Fitter up, will you?"

Kitiara hoisted Fitter up with one hand. Roperig caught his

upstretched hands and pulled his apprentice up beside him.

Cutwood and Wingover were next.

"That's enough," said Sighter. "We'll stay with the lady

and divert the king's attention. You find Sturm."

The four gnomes on the wall set off. Kitiara went back to

the entry of the audience hall, banging sword and dagger

together for attention. Bellcrank and Sighter stood close

behind her, filling the doorway.

'You're back. Happy, happy to see you!" exclaimed

Rapaldo, who was still hooting from his roost.

"We want to negotiate," Kitiara said. It was galling, even

if it was a lie.

"You touched me with your sword," Rapaldo said petu-

 

lantly. "That's treason, impious blasphemy and treason.

Throw your sword into the hall where I can see it."

"I won't give up my sword, not while I still live."

"Really? The king will see about that!" Rapaldo hooted

some words in the Lunitarians' language. The guards in the

room took up the message and repeated it again and again,

louder and louder. Soon thousands outside were hooting

the words.

Roperig and the others could hear the tree-men take up

Rapaldo's chant as they fairly flew over the narrow wall

tops, peeking into every room in the keep'. Cutwood, of

course, stopped to make notes of the contents of every room

and passage, while Wingover kept probing the distant vistas

instead of searching the nearer rooms below. Only Fitter

' took his task to heart. The little gnome raced along at blind-

ing speed, running, leaping, searching. He doubled back to

his panting boss.

"Where did you learn to run so fast?" Roperig gasped.

"I don't know. Haven't I always run this way?"

"No indeed!"

"Oh! The magic has gotten to me at last!" Fitter flashed

along the wall, sidestepping Cutwood, who was in the midst

of compiling his umpteenth catalog. Cutwood, startled by

the speedy Fitter, lost his balance and fell.

"Oof!" said Sturm as the forty-pound gnome landed in his

lap. "Cutwood! Where did you come from?"

"Sancrist." He called out to Roperig, and the other three

gnomes quickly found them.

"My hands are bound," Sturm explained. He was sitting in

an old chair, and his feet were tied to the chair legs.

"Rapaldo took my knife."

"The lady has the dagger," said Roperig.

"I'll get it!" said Fitter, and in an instant he was gone.

Sturm blinked. "I know I've got the grandfather of all

headaches, but our friend Fitter seems to me to have gotten

awfully fast since last I saw him."

"Here it is!" called Fitter. He dropped the dagger, point

first. Cutwood picked it up and started sawing away at

Sturm's bonds. The dagger was made for thrusting, not cut-

ting, and didn't have much of an edge.

 

"Hurry," said Fitter breathlessly. "The others are in big

trouble."

"What are we in, a pleasant daydream?" Cutwood said

sourly.

"Don't talk, cut," said Sturm.

'Trouble' was a mild word for what Kitiara and the two

gnomes were facing. Scores of Lunitarians had filled the cor-

ridor behind them, and guards from the audience hall had

seized each of them. Rapaldo strutted in front of them, tap-

ping the back of the axe head against the palm of his hand.

"Treasonous piglets," he said imperiously. "You are all

worthy of death. The question is, who shall feel the royal

axe first?"

"Kill me, you witless scab; at least then I won't have to lis-

ten to you spout on like the gibbering swabby you are," Kiti-

ara said. She was held by no fewer than seven tree-men.

Their wooden limbs were wrapped around her so securely

that only her face and feet showed. Rapaldo smirked and

lifted her chin with the handle of his axe.

"Oh, no, pretty, I shall spare you, heh, heh. I would make

you queen of Lunitari, if only for a day."

"I'd rather have my eyes put out!"

He shrugged and stepped in front of Sighter, held by a sin-

gle guard. "Shall I kill this one?" said Rapaldo. "Or that?"

"Kill me," pleaded Bellcrank. "I'm only a metallurgist.

Sighter is the navigator of our flying ship. Without him,

you'll never reach Krynn."

"That's ridiculous," Sighter argued. "If you die, who will

fix the damage to the Cloudmaster? No one can work iron

like Bellcrank."

"They're just gnomes," said Kitiara. "Kill me, rotten

Rapaldo, or I'll surely kill you!"

"Enough, enough! Heh, heh, I know what to do, I do. You

try to fool me, but I am the king!" He strode away a pace or

two and dropped his axe. The king of Lunitari pulled apart

the tied ends of his decrepit tunic. Under his shirt, but over

his woolens, Rapaldo wore chain. Not chain mail, but

heavy, rusty chain, wound around his waist.

'You see, I know what it means to live on Lunitari,"

Rapaldo said. He let his shirt fall off and untwisted a bale of

 

wire that held the end of the chain in place. He unlooped

several turns of chain. As the links piled up on the floor,

Rapaldo's feet rose. Soon he was floating two feet in the air,

and the tree-folk were rapt in their devoted attention.

"I fly! Ta-ra! Who are you puny mortals to bandy words

with me? I float! If I didn't wear fifty pounds of chain, I'd

drift away. They won't let me have a ceiling, you know, the

tree-people. Shade makes them take root. Without this

chain, I'd fly away like a wisp of smoke." Rapaldo let

another loop of chain fall to the floor. He pivoted until his

feet were floating out behind him. "I am the king, you see!

The gods have given me this power!"

"No," Sighter tried to explain. "It must be a consequence

of the Lunitari magic -"

"Silence!" Rapaldo made clumsy swimming motions with

his hands and drifted over to Kitiara. "You wear armor, but

you can take it off when you want to. I can't! I have to wear

this chain every hour, every day." He shoved his dirty,

bearded face close to hers. "I renounce the power! I'm going

home, I am, and walk like a man again. The trees will not

miss me with Sir Sturmbright as king.

"Treason! Treason! You're all guilty!" Rapaldo somer-

saulted in the air, away from Kitiara. He scooped up his axe

and flung it at his chosen victim.

 

Chapter 17

 

Without Honor

 

The last loop of cord gave way, and Sturm's hands

were free. He snatched the dagger from Cutwood and

quickly worked through the ropes around his ankles. The

hemp from the Tarvolina was old and quickly parted. Sturm

leaped to his feet.

"Lead me back to the audience hall!" he said to the

gnomes atop the wall. Fitter waved and ran all the way

around the room before veering off for the king's audience

chamber. Roperig and Wingover trotted behind him.

"Come on, Cutwood," Sturm shouted, hoisting the

gnome on his shoulders.

The sun was going down. Sturm thanked Paladine for

that. Without sunlight, the hordes of tree-men loyal to the

mad Rapaldo would soon revert to rooted plants.

 

He passed through another opening in the wall and found

himself facing a dozen armed tree-men. They presented a

solid front, barring his progress. Sturm had only Kitiara's

dagger to oppose their long glass swords.

"Hold on, Cutwood," he said. The gnome gripped Sturm's

head tightly.

Flat shadows climbed the walls. The sun was sinking fast.

Already the lower halves of the Lunitarians were in shade;

soon their feet would fix where they stood. A tree-man

thrust the forty-inch span of his scarlet glass sword at

Sturm. Though the guard was slow, the blade flickered past

Sturm's chin, far outreaching his twelve-inch dagger.

Woodenness began to claim the Lunitarians' lower

bodies, and they took root. The edge of night was midway

up their trunks now. The tree-men's arms wavered in slow

motion, like weeds beneath the surface of a pond. The

guard that Sturm faced snagged the tip of his sword on

Sturm's fur hood and ripped through the hide and hair. That

was the tree-man's last act. Bark closed over his eyes, leav-

ing him and the others featureless and inert.

Wingover appeared atop the wall. "Master Brightblade!

Come quickly! Something terrible has happened!" Before

the human could ask what, the gnome ran back the way

he'd come.

"He was weeping," Cutwood. noted in astonishment.

"Wingover never weeps."

Sturm thrust his arms and shoulder between the trunks of

the tree-men and heaved himself through. Their bark

scraped and pulled at him, but he struggled on until he

broke out of the rear rank of guards. The passage ahead was

clear.

Sturm and Cutwood burst into the audience hall. The

knight looked first to Kitiara. Was it her? Was she hurt,

dying, or dead? The woman and the two gnomes were

locked tightly in the embrace of their now-immobile guards.

Blood stained the knotty fingers of the one that held Bell-

crank.

Bellcrank was dead. Rapaldo was nowhere to be seen.

"Kit! Are you all right?" Sturm called.

"Yes, and Sighter, too, but Bellcrank -"

 

"I see. Where's Rapaldo?"

"He's nearby. Be wary, Sturm, he's got that axe."

The room was thick with immobile tree-men. The gather-

ing darkness made the audience hall a forest of shadows.

Out of the uncertain dark came Rapaldo's snickering laugh.

"Who has a lamp to light you to bed? Who has a chopper

to chop off your head?"

"Rapaldo! Face me and fight!" Sturm cried.

"Heh, heh, heh."

Something moved overhead. From the wall, Wingover

shouted, "He's up there! Duck, Sturm!"

Sturm dropped to the floor just as the axe blade whisked

through the place his head had been. "Kit, where's your

sword? Rapaldo has mine!"

"On the floor in front of Sighter," she said.

Sturm scrambled forward on his belly as Rapaldo flitted

through the tops of the tree-men. Kitiara called to Sturm,

explaining the crazed king's ability to levitate.

"He's dropped part of his weights," Sighter added. "He's

floating about six feet off the ground."

Sturm's hand closed over Kitiara's sword handle and was

up in a flash. Her blade was light and keen, and seemed to

slice the air with a will of its own".' Sturm saw Rapaldo's tat-

tered pants' legs and rope sandals stepping on the heads of

the tree-men. Sturm slashed at him, but only succeeded in

chipping off bits of the Lunitarian that Rapaldo was stand-

ing on. The king of Lunitari bounded away, giggling.

"I can't see him!" Sturm complained. "Wingover, where is

he?"

"On your left - behind -" Sturm ducked the axe blow

and cut at Rapaldo. He felt the tip of Kitiara's sword snag

cloth and heard the cloth tear.

"Close, very close, Sir Sturmbright, but you're too heavy

on your feet," Rapaldo said, chortling.

"Kit, I'd welcome any tactical suggestions you might

want to make," Sturm said, his chest heaving in the chill

night air.

"What you need is a crossbow," Kitiara hissed. She

strained against the enfolded limbs of solid wood that held

her. Because her arms were pinned at her sides, she could

 

not get any leverage. Kitiara tried to twist her shoulders

from side to side. The tree-man's arms groaned and cracked,

but held firm.

Sturm shifted the dagger to his right hand and put the

sword in his left. The hall was very quiet. The gnomes, who

had been crying for their fallen colleague, ceased all noise.

Sturm crouched low and moved to the ramshackle throne.

He climbed up on the chair and stood erect. "Rapaldo!

Rapaldo, I'm on your throne. I spit on it, Rapaldo! You're a

petty, lunatic carpenter who dreams he is a king."

The clink of chain warned him - a split second later the

axe bit deeply into the back of the chair and stuck there,

wedged tightly by the tough oak of Krynn. Rapaldo tried

frantically to free the axe, but his spindly arms and lack of

leverage prevented him.

"Surrender!" Sturm demanded, presenting the point of

the dagger to Rapaldo's throat.

"Ta-ra-ra!" cried the king, planting his feet on the back of

the throne. He heaved the tall chair over backward, sending

him, Sturm, bare sword, axe, and dagger down together in a

heap. There was a mighty crash, a scream, and silence.

"Sturm!" called Kitiara.

He shook himself free of the shattered chair and stood. A

gash in his cheek bled, but Sturm was otherwise unhurt.

Rapaldo was pinned to the floor, the dagger through his

heart. His legs and arms floated above aimlessly. Drops of

blood flowed up the dagger's hilt and detached, drifting up

into the air.

Sturm found the axe in the debris. Stolidly ignoring the

fact that the trees would be living beings again by morning,

he chopped Kitiara and Sighter free. The other gnomes

descended from the wall and helped get Bellcrank out of the

wooden bonds. They laid the stout gnome gently on the

floor and covered his face with their kerchiefs. Fitter began

to sob.

"What shall we do?" asked Wingover tearfully.

Kitiara said, "Bellcrank is avenged. What more is there to

do?"

"Oughtn't we to bury him?" said Roperig heavily.

"Yes, of course," said Sturm. He gathered Bellcrank in his

 

arms and led the sorrowing band outside.

The gnomes stood together. The only sounds were sniffles

and the scuffing of small shoes. Sighter brushed the wood

chips from his clothes and strode off. The others fell in

behind him. He went to the middle of the mushroom garden

and stopped. Pointing to the red fluff, he declared that this

was the spot.

The gnomes began to dig. Kitiara offered to help, but

Cutwood politely declined. The gnomes knelt in a circle and

dug the grave with their hands. When they were satisfied,

Sturm stepped in and, with great feeling, laid the heroic

Bellcrank in his final resting place.

Sighter spoke first. "Bellcrank was a fine technician and a

good chemist. Now he is dead. The engine has ceased to

run, the gears have seized and stopped." Sighter tossed a

handful of pale crimson soil over his friend. "Farewell, fare-

well."

Wingover said, "He was a skilled metallurgist," and added

another handful of dirt.

"An excellent arguer," noted Cutwood, choking back

emotion.

"A dedicated experimenter," Rainspot said, sprinkling his

portion.

"The finest of gear makers," said Roperig sorrowfully.

When Fitter's turn came, he was too upset to think of any-

thing to say. "He-he was a hearty eater," the littlest gnome

murmured at last. Roperig managed a fond smile and patted

his apprentice on the back.

They mounded the dirt over their fallen friend. Wingover

went back into the keep and returned with a piece of iron-

work from Rapaldo's wrecked ship. It was a gear, part of the

Tarvolina's capstan. The gnomes set this on the grave, as a

monument to their colleague.

Kitiara turned her back and headed for the keep. After a

moment of respectful silence, Sturm hurried after her. 'You

might have found something to say to the gnomes," he chid-

ed.

"We have much to do before the sun rises again. We've

got to gather our belongings and get as far from here as the

night will let us," she said.

 

"Why the haste? Rapaldo is dead."

Kitiara swept an arm around. "His subjects are very much

alive! How do you think they'll feel when they awaken and

find their god-king dead?"

Sturm pondered this a moment, then said, "We can hide

the body."

"No good," she said, crossing the outer wall. "The tree-

men will assume the worst if we're gone and Rapaldo's miss-

ing." Kitiara paused at the door to the throne room. "All the

more reason to get out of here and find the Cloudmaster."

She was right. Sturm found his dented helmet and put it

on. Kitiara replaced her sword and wrenched the dagger out

of the dead man's chest. Seeing Rapaldo bobbing like a cork

gave her a macabre idea. She knelt on one knee and

unwound the remaining chain from Rapaldo's waist. They

could use it when they found the flying ship.

Kitiara gripped Rapaldo's bloody shirt and guided the

body toward Sturm. "Here's my idea of a quick and easy

funeral," she said, letting go. The lifeless body of Rapaldo

the First rose slowly, turning slightly as it went. Within min-

utes, it was lost from sight in the violet vault of the sky.

Sturm was aghast.

"It could just as easily have been me he killed, you know,"

she said flatly. "My only regret is that you got to him instead

of me."

"He was a demented wretch. There was no honor in slay-

ing such a person."

"Honor! One day you'll face a foe without your concept

of honor, and that will be the end of Sturm Brightblade."

They went back to the mushroom garden. The gnomes

were waiting. Their tall expedition packs were weighed

down even further with bits of metal salvaged from

Rapaldo's cache. Kitiara announced her intention to follow

the path that the Micones had been on before their tracks

were lost in the rocks. Sighter looked to Sturm.

"What do you say, Master Brightblade?"

"I have no better plan," he replied simply. A chill was

growing in his heart. The woman who dealt so harshly with

a dead foe was more and more like a stranger to him.

This was their darkest hour since leaving Krynn. One of

 

their own was dead, buried in the cold moon soil, and a

poor, insane king spiraled ever upward, a weightless corpse

with no place to land. It would be a long, unhappy night.

And yet, when the sun next shone over Rapaldo's garden,

a giant mushroom grew out of the grave of Bellcrank.

Unlike the scarlet fungi around it, this one was pure and

shining white.

 

* * * *

 

Sturm had another vision. It came to him while he

walked, yet his step never faltered.

A horse neighed. Sturm saw four bony beasts tied' to a

charred post. It was day, but heavy shadows lay over every-

thing. Sturm looked up and recognized the ruined battle-

ments of his father's castle. Across the courtyard he saw a

broken wagon lying with one wheel off. A man was lashed

to the remaining wheel, his wrists cruelly bound to its rim.

Sturm closed on this desperate figure. He prayed to Pala-

dine that it was not his father.

The man lifted his eyes. Through the wild growth of

beard and the bruises of a brutal beating Sturm recognized

Bren, his father's companion in exile. As in Sturm's last

vision, Bren looked right through Sturm. The younger

Brightblade was a phantom, a thing of no substance.

Four men shuffled out of the shadows on Sturm's right.

They were lean, rough-looking men of a type Sturm had

often seen on the road. Vagabonds. Brigands. Killers.

"When is we moving on, Touk?" said one of the men.

"This here castle is haunted, I tell you."

"You afraid of ghosts'" said the dirty-faced fellow with

the brass earring.

"I'm afraid of anything I can't stick my billhook through."

"When are we leavin'?" asked the last brigand in line.

Dirty-Face laughed, showing yellow teeth. "When I'm

sure there ain't no more swag here'bout, that's when." Touk

spat in the dirt. "Let's have a word wi' our honored guest."

The bandit and two of his men stood over the prisoner.

Touk grabbed Bren by his matted hair and lifted his head.

Sturm ached to help him, but he could do nothing.

 

"Where's the treasure, old man?" asked Touk, flashing a

wicked knife under the old soldier's chin.

"There's no treasure," Bren gasped. "The castle was

sacked years ago."

"Come on! Do you take us for fools? There's always a few

coins tucked away somewhere, eh? So where are they?" He

pressed the tip of the blade into Bren's throat.

"I-I'll tell," he said weakly. "Below the great hall - a secret

room. I can show you."

Touk removed the knife. "This better be a straight story."

"No tricks. I'll take you right to it."

They cut him loose and dragged him along. Sturm fol-

lowed on their heels, close enough to smell the mingled

stench of sweat, grime, fear, and greed.

Bren guided them to the cellar beneath the great hall.

There, in a long corridor, he counted the torch sconces on

the right side. At number eight, he said, "That's it, that's the

one." One of the brigands lit the stump in the sconce with the

brand he carried.

"The bracket turns," said Bren.

Touk seized the stout iron holder and shook it. It swung to

the left and stayed there. A section of the tiled floor lifted

with a loud grinding sound. Touk tossed his torch into the

widening gap. It bounced down a steep stone staircase and

came to rest, still burning, at the bottom. Something shiny

gleamed in the torch light.

"Good work," Touk said, grinning. Without another

word, he shoved his knife between Bren's ribs. Angriff

Brightblade's loyal man groaned and slid down the wall. His

head sagged as the dark stain spread over his chest.

"C'mon, lads, let's collect our reward!" Touk led his two

cronies down the steps.

Sturm bent to see Bren's face. Though his skin had gone

waxen, Bren's eyes still glittered with life. "Young master,"

he said. Blood flecked his lips.

Sturm recoiled. Bren could see him!

Slowly, with terrible effort, the old soldier gripped the

rough stone wall and dragged himself to his feet. "Master

Sturm - you've come back. I always knew you would."

Bren reached out to Sturm, hand swaying. Sturm tried to

 

clasp his hand, but of course he had no substance. Bren's fin-

gers passed through him and closed on the sconce. As death

claimed him, Bren fell, and his weight bore the bracket back

to its original position.

The trap door lowered noisily. One robber gave a yell and

dashed to safety. At the top of the steps, he stopped, riveted,

staring at Sturm.

"Ahh." he screamed. "Ghost!" He stumbled back, bowl-

ing over Touk and the other brigand. The slab of stone

descended, cutting off their screams for help.

 

* * * * *

 

The world went red. Sturm shook his head, where the

screams of Touk and the other robbers still rang. He was

plodding across the plains of Lunitari as before.

"Back with us?" asked Kitiara. Sturm made inarticulate

sounds. This had been his longest vision yet, and somehow

near the end, the men on Krynn had been able to see him.

He told his companions his tale.

"Hmm, it's said that dying men have second sight," Kiti-

ara mused. "Bren and the thief were both facing death; may-

be that's why they could see you."

"But I couldn't help them," Sturm complained. "I had to

watch them die. Bren was a good man. He served my father

well."

"Did you see or hear of your father at all?" asked Sighter.

Sturm shook his head. That very omission preyed on his

mind. What had separated Bren from Lord Brightblade?

Was his father well? Where was he?

Wingover let out a yell. "I see the tracks!" he cried. Where

the slabs of wine-colored sandstone broke into fingers of

rock, crimson sand had drifted in between. And there were

the circular prints, as regular as clockwork. Kitiara's notion

had been right - the Micones had come this way.

 

Chapter 18

 

'The Valley of the Voice

 

At last Wingover spied the great obelisk. The band

had come to a place where the rocky ledges reared up as

low, jagged peaks. Kitiara and Wingover climbed this saw-

toothed barrier and reported that beyond lay a magnificent

bowl-shaped valley that stretched far beyond the limits of

the horizon. Kitiara could not see the obelisk, but Wingover

assured them that a single, tall spire stood forty miles away,

in the exact center of the valley.

The gnomes took heart from the news. They had been

uncommonly subdued on the trek from the village.

"Bellcrank's death has them hanging their heads," Kitiara

said privately to Sturm. "I guess the little fellows have never

faced death before."

Sturm agreed. What the gnomes needed was a problem,

 

to stimulate their imaginations. He called them together.

"Here's the situation," Sturm began. "Wingover estimates

the obelisk is forty miles away. Forty miles is a ten-hour

march, if we don't stop for food or rest. Fifteen hours is a

more reasonable estimate, but by then the sun will be up

and the Lunitarians can be on the move, too."

"If only we had some way to get down in a hurry," said

Kitiara. "Horses, oxen, anything."

"Or carts, for that matter," Sturm mused.

Kitiara shot him a knowing glance. "Yes, the slope down

from the saw-toothed ridge is steep but fairly smooth. We

could roll quite a ways."

The spirit of technical challenge was infectious, and

ideas - wild, gnomish ideas - began flashing about the little

group. The gnomes dumped their packs into one big heap

and went into a close huddle. Their rapid patter made no

sense to Sturm or Kitiara, but the humans saw it as a good

sign.

As suddenly as the gnomes had put their heads together,

they broke apart. Tools appeared, and the gnomes pro-

ceeded to knock their wooden backpacks to pieces.

"What are you making this time?" Sturm asked Cutwood.

"Sleds," was the simple reply.

"Did he say 'sleds'?" asked Kitiara.

Within half an hour, each gnome had constructed,

according to his lights, a sled - that is, a Single-Gnome Iner-

tia Transport Device. "By these we expect to descend the

cliff slope at prodigious speed," announced Sighter.

"And break your reckless little necks," said Kitiara under

her breath.

"These are for you and Master Sturm," said Roperig. He

and Fitter pushed two flimsy sleds to the human's feet. Hav-

ing only short slats of wood to work with, the gnomes held

their inventions together with nails, screws, glue, string,

wire, and, in Rainspot's case, his suspenders. Wingover had

designed his sled to let him ride on his belly; Sighter's

allowed the rider to gracefully recline. Because of their rela-

tive size, Sturm's and Kitiara's sleds allowed them only a

wide bit of plank for a seat.

"You can't be serious," Kitiara said dubiously. "Ride that

 

down there?"

"It will be fast," encouraged Sighter.

"And fun!" Fitter exclaimed.

"We've calculated all the available data on stress and

strength of materials," Cutwood noted. He brandished his

notebook as proof; there were five pages covered with tiny,

closely spaced letters and numbers. "In all cases except

yours, there'll be a safety factor of three."

"What do you mean, 'in all cases except yours''" Kitiara

felt obliged to ask.

Cutwood stowed his notebook in his vest pocket. "Being

larger and heavier, you will naturally put more stress on the

Single-Gnome Inertia Transport Devices. Your chances of

reaching the bottom of the hill without crashing are no more

than even."

Kitiara opened her mouth to protest, but Sturm fore-

stalled her with a tolerant glance. "Those are better odds

than the Lunitarians will give us," he had to admit. He

boosted the flimsy sled to his shoulder. "Are you coming!"

She looked more than doubtful. "Why don't we stay here

and break each others' necks? Then we'll at least save the

trouble of tumbling and rolling."

"Are you afraid?"

He knew just how to provoke her. Kitiara flushed and

took up her sled. "Want to..wager who gets to the bottom

first?" she said.

"Why not?" he replied. "I haven't any money."

"What good is money here? How about if the loser has to

carry the winner's bedroll all the way to the obelisk?"

"It's a wager." They shook hands.

Wingover was giving his colleagues an impromptu course

on steering and braking. "Mostly you steer by leaning in the

direction you want to go," he advised. "For stopping, use the

heels of your shoes, not the toes. The downhill momentum

can turn your feet under and break your toes."

Rainspot and Cutwood flipped open their notebooks and

scribbled furiously. "Given a maximum velocity of fifty-six

miles per hour -"

"And feet approximately seven inches long -"

"One can expect to break three toes on the left foot -"

 

"And four on the right," said Rainspot. The gnomes

applauded.

"Wingover just told us not to use our toes, so why in the

name of the suffering gods do you calculate something no

one in his right mind would try?" Kitiara asked.

"The principle of scientific inquiry should not be limited

to merely the practical or the possible," explained Sighter.

"Only by investigating the unlikely and the unthought-of is

the sum total of knowledge advanced."

Sturm was looking at his feet. "What I don't understand is

why more toes on the right foot would break than on the

left."

"Don't encourage them!" Kitiara told Sturm. She dragged

her shaky bundle of slats to the edge of the cliff. The glass-

smooth slope plunged down at a breathtaking angle. Kitiara

inhaled sharply and looked back. The gnomes crowded for-

ward to the edge, quite unafraid.

"Obviously an example of vitreous concretion," observed

Cutwood, running a hand over the smooth, bubbly surface.

"Do you think? Volcanic?" Wingover said.

"Hardly. I should say this entire valley constitutes a ther-

moflexic astrobleme," theorized Sighter.

Kitiara uttered an angry snort that cut off further gnom-

ish theorizing. She dropped her sled and straddled it. When

she let her weight down on it, the slats creaked ominously.

"You did say even odds?" she said to Cutwood. The

gnome babbled something about "within two standard

deviations," and Kitiara decided not to query further. She

pulled herself forward by hands and heels until she teetered

on the brink.

"C'mon, Sturm! Or do you want to pack my bedroll for

the next forty miles?"

Sturm laid his sled on the ground. He told Wingover that

he and Kit were going to race. Wingover replied, "Oh! Then

you'll need someone at the bottom to see who wins! Wait,

wait - I'll go down first, and when I'm in place, I'll call you."

"All right with you, Kit?" She waved a casual affirmative.

"All right, lads. Here I go!" said Wingover. "For science!"

he proclaimed, and slid over. immediately, the other

gnomes lined up and went right after him.

 

Cutwood called, "For Sancrist!" and went over.

"For technology!" cried Rainspot, as he tipped over the

edge.

"For the Cloudmaster!" was Roperig's toast.

"For raisin muffins!" Fitter followed close behind his boss.

Sighter, the last, pushed his sled forward and slipped into

the seat. "For Bellcrank," he said softly.

The gnomes' sleds bounded down the hill, swaying and

leaping over bumps in the glasslike rock. Wingover, lying

prone on his mount, steered skillfully around the worst

obstacles. He'd built a front yoke on his sled, and weaved a

serpentine course down the slope. On his heels, Cutwood

howled straight down, knees tight against his chin, his silky

beard clamped firmly between them. Sturm and Kitiara

heard his high-pitched "Woo-haa!" as he hit bump after

bump.

Rainspot had a drag-brake on the tail of his sled, and he

coasted along at a relatively mild rate. Roperig, who had

designed his sled to be ridden in a standing crouch, whistled

by the weather seer, frantically waving his outstretched

arms in an effort to keep his balance. His apprentice was

having all sorts of trouble. Fitter's mount was wider than it

was long, and it tended to rotate as it slid. This made his

progress somewhat slower than the others but the spinning

threatened to turn his stomach. Sighter, cool and rational,

proceeded under perfect control. He would touch his heels

to the ground at specific points to correct the direction he

was taking.

All was going fairly well until Wingover reached bottom,

four hundred feet away. There the glass cliff face changed to

dry red gravel, and Wingover's sled stopped dead on its run-

ners. His stop was so sudden that the trailing gnomes piled

right into him - Cutwood and Roperig immediately, Fitter

and Rainspot a little later. Slats and tools and gnomes flew

through the air after a series of hair-raising crashes. Sturm

saw Sighter move unflinching toward the pile, but averted

his eyes and missed Sighter's sharp turn, which left him two

feet to the right of the scrambled group.

Kitiara burst out laughing. "Acres of slope, and they all

have to stop on the same spot!"

 

Sturm frowned. "I hope no one's hurt."

Feet and legs and wreckage untangled into six shaky

gnomes. Sighter helped them untangle themselves.

Wingover finally waved to the humans.

"That means go!" Kitiara shouted, and pushed herself off.

Sturm was caught off guard.

"Not fair!" he cried, but dug in his heels and tipped over

the cliff lip in hot pursuit.

He immediately lost control. The sled careened sharply to

the right, and Sturm leaned away from the turn. There was

a sickening snap, and his seat sagged under him. Sturm less-

ened his lean, and the sled slowly corrected itself.

Kitiara barreled straight down the slope at full speed, her

feet pressed together and her knees poking out on either

side. "Ya-ha-ha-ha!" she crowed. She was far out in front of

Sturm, who couldn't seem to get his sled to run in a straight

line for more than a few feet at a time.

Kitiara hit a hump and bounced several inches off her

seat. Instead of frightening her, the bump only increased her

delight. A whole series of bumps approached, and she didn't

slacken speed at all.

It wasn't until she hit the fourth bump that she realized

she was in trouble. That bump slammed her hard against the

flimsy seat struts. The left runner splintered along its length.

Kitiara put her left boot down to slow herself. The hobnails

in her shoe sole bit, and her left leg was yanked back. Mind-

ful of what Cutwood had said about breaking toes, she

didn't resist the pulling and was swept off the sled. She land-

ed hard on her right shoulder and rolled over and over.

Sturm didn't dare try to stop his sled, and coasted to the bot-

tom. The second his runners stuck in the gravel, he was on

his feet. Kitiara lay motionless on her stomach.

Sturm ran to her, closely followed by the gnomes. He

dropped on one knee and gently turned her over. Her face

was contorted, and she uttered a ferocious curse.

"Where does it hurt?" he said.

"My shoulder," she hissed through clenched teeth.

"Could be a broken collarbone," said Rainspot.

"Is there any way to tell for sure?"

"Ask her to touch her left shoulder with her right hand,"

 

suggested Roperig. "If she can, the bone must not be bro-

ken."

"Such anatomical ignorance!" said Sighter. "One must

probe with one's fingers in order to find the ends of the sepa-

rated bone -"

"Don't let them touch me," Kitiara whispered. "If they

can't prove it any other way, they may decide to cut me

open to examine my bones." Just then Sturm heard Cut-

wood saying something about "exploratory surgery."

Wingover, who was standing by Kitiara's feet, said, "No

bones are broken."

"How do you know?" asked Cutwood.

"I can see them," he replied. "There don't even seem to be

any cracks. It's probably a sprain."

"You can see through flesh nowt" Sturm asked incredu-

lously. Put so bluntly, Wingover suddenly realized what he

was doing.

"By Reorx!" he said. "This is terrific! I wonder what else I

can see through?" The gnomes crowded around him, Kitiara

forgotten. They took turns having Wingover peer through

their bodies and describing what he saw. Cries of "Hydro-

dynamics!" filled the air.

Kitiara tried to sit up, but the pain took her breath away.

"Keep still," Sturm cautioned. "I'll have to find something

to bind up your shoulder."

He rummaged through his belongings and found his only

change of shirt - a white linen blouse made by the best tailor

in Solace. Regretfully, he tore it into inch-wide strips and

tied their ends into one long bandage.

"You'll have to get your arm out of the sleeve," he said.

"Cut the seams," said Kitiara.

Sturm checked. "The seams are underneath. You'll still

have to slip it off."

"All right. Help me up."

As easily as he could, Sturm helped Kitiara to sit up. Her

face went pale, and as he tried to loosen the sleeve from her

right arm, tears of pain trickled down her face.

"You know, I've never seen you cry before," he said in a

low voice.

"Ah! Ah! - what's the matter, didn't you think I could?"

 

Sturm kept his mouth shut and turned her fur coat. The

leather he could cut away, but underneath she still wore her

mail shirt. "I'll have to bind you over the mail," he said.

"Yes, yes," she said. Pain made her impatient.

He sat down facing her and carefully lifted her right arm

until she could rest it on his shoulder. Sturm wound the lin-

en bandage over Kitiara's shoulder and under her arm.

"Tight enough?"

Gasp. "Yes."

"I'll leave enough cloth to make a sling," he said sympa-

thetically.

'Whatever." She lowered her head into her left hand. Her

face was flushed.

I thought she'd be stronger than this, Sturm thought, as

he wrapped. Surely she's been wounded in battle worse than

this! Aloud, he said, "With all your combat