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Darkness & Light
Paul B.Thompson and Tonya R.Carter
* * *
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Better watch yourself, old dwarf. Our Master Sturm has an
uncommonly strong arm. Once he learns not to hold to outdated knightly
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"Can I go with you?" Caramon said.
"No, you can't, brother."
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
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.
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"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."
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
"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-
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-
"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
"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
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.
"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
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?
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,
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
"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-
"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
"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
"I had a dozen," said Kitiara. "Now I have five. They are
yours if you ferry us to Caergoth."
"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.
"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
Kitiara put a hand to his shoulder and said, "Keep your
"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!"
"Hail hail, Tirolan Ambrodel!"
"We've two fine horses to bring aboard, Kade. See to it,
"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
"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?"
"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,
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.
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
"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!"
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
He remembered the goblin's fork-bladed dagger and said,
"You have a point. Still, killing that scruffy magician was no
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
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?"
"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
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!"
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
"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-
Sturm interrupted, knowing the length of gnomish
names. "Please! What do those not of the gnomish race call
The gnome sighed, and said very slowly, "I am often
c-called 'Stutts', a wholly inadequate approximation of my
"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-
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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-
"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 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
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
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
"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.
"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
"Everyone knows who you are," said Stutts without look-
ing up. "I s-sent out a memorandum while you were b-being
"Then you can introduce your crew to us," said Kitiara.
Stutts's head snapped up. "They're n-not crew. We are
"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
Rainspot, weather seer and physician by designation.
"How did you come to build this, uh, machine?" asked
"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
"Preposterous," said Sighter. "This so-called ethereal air is
"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
"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
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."
"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
"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
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
'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-
"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-
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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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!"
"Could we unfasten the wings? That would bring us
down," said Roperig.
"Yes, and make a nice big hole when we hit," Bellcrank
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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."
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
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
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
"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."
"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.
"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-
"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.
"Rescuing that gnome. You might have been frozen your-
self, and I'll wager you wouldn't thaw out as easily as Sight-
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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-
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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-
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
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
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.
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-
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
"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
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-
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
"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
He scooped up a handful of Lunitarian dirt. It was flaky,
not granular like sand. As it fell from his fingers, it made a
"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
"Do you sense anything else?" Sturm queried.
"Yes, actually, but it's not a weather phenomenon. The air
is somehow charged with energy."
"No." Rainspot pivoted slowly. "It's constant, but very
low in intensity. It doesn't feel harmful, just... there." He
"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!"
"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.
"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?"
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
"Bellcrank, would you know iron ore when you saw it?"
"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
Kitiara slapped him on the back. "There you are," she
said. "A few days in the air and you start thinking like a
"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-
"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
"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
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
"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
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.
The First Lunitari
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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-
"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
"Made of copper," said Cutwood.
"Iron," muttered Bellcrank.
"Shhh!" said Kitiara.
"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 --"
"-- switch to repair our engine with!"
"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-
"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
"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
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
The Crusty Pudding
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,"
"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,
"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,"
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
"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
"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,
"My theory is it has to do with the same force that has
given you your strength and Rainspot his rainmaking abili-
"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
"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
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
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-
"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
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
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.
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
"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.
Some of Our Gnomes
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.
"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.
"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
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-
"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
Father! Sturm tried to shout. He could not even hear him-
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
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
"I'm all right," Sturm said. His heart slowly resumed its
"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
"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?"
"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.
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-
"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
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.
"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
"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-
"Or both," said Kitiara grimly.
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
"Now we are the Lunitari Flying Ship Rescue Mission,"
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"How close will we have to pass if we follow the trail?"
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
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
"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
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-
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
Sturm grabbed for his hilt. The gnomes bunched together
between him and Kitiara.
"Suffering bloodstained gods! What are these things?"
"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-
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
"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,
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 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
"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,
"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
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
Rapaldo the First
"You don't believe me," said the self-proclaimed
"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-
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-
"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."
"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?" 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
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-
"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
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
"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."
"'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
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
"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.
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
"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
"I told you it was them," said the sharp-eared Cutwood.
"But you didn't say when they were coming," objected
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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."
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
"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,"
"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
"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
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.
"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
"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
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,"
"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
"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
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?"
"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
"What are we in, a pleasant daydream?" Cutwood said
"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
"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
"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.
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
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 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
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-
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
"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
"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
"What shall we do?" asked Wingover tearfully.
Kitiara said, "Bellcrank is avenged. What more is there to
"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-
Wingover said, "He was a skilled metallurgist," and added
another handful of dirt.
"An excellent arguer," noted Cutwood, choking back
"A dedicated experimenter," Rainspot said, sprinkling his
"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-
"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
"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
"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
* * * *
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
"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.
'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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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-
"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
"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
"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.
"I'll leave enough cloth to make a sling," he said sympa-
'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