KENDER, GULLY DWARVES, and GNOMES
Edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
featuring "Wanna Bet?"
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Interior Art by STEVE FABIAN
"Tas? Tasslehoff Burrfoot!" we shout sternly, peering
down the road. "Come back with our magical time-traveling
device, you doorknob of a kender!"
"I'll come out," shouts Tas, "if you tell me some more
"Promise?" we ask, peering behind bushes and into
"Oh, yes. I promise!" says Tas cheerfully. "Just let me
get comfortable." There is a tremendous sound of rustling
and tree-branch cracking. Then, "All right, I'm ready. Go
ahead. I love stories, you know. Did I ever tell you about
the time I saved Sturm's life - "
Tas goes on to tell US the first story in this new
anthology set in the world of Krynn. "Snowsong," by
Nancy Varian Berberick, relates an early adventure of the
companions. Sturm and
one hope of being rescued - Tasslehoff Burrfoot!
"The Wizard's Spectacles," by Morris Simon, is a "what-
if" story. Tas always SAID he found the Glasses of Arcanist
in the dwarven kingdom. But what if ...
A storyteller tells his tales not wisely but too well in
"The Storyteller," by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel.
"There's a lesson you could learn from that!" we yell to
Tas, but he ignores us and goes on to relate "A Shaggy
Dog's Tail," by Danny Peary. It is a kender favorite,
undoubtedly passed down from generation to generation
although Tas, of course, swears that he knew EVERYONE
Next, we hear the TRUE story of the demise of Lord
Toede in "Lord Toede's Disastrous Hunt," by Harold Bakst.
The minotaur race is the subject of "Definitions of Honor,"
by Rick Knaak. A young knight of Solamnia rides to the
rescue of a village, only to discover that his enemy
threatens more than his life.
"Hearth Cat and Winter Wren," by Nancy Varian
Berberick, tells another of the Companions' early
adventures in which a young Raistlin uses his ingenuity to
fight a powerful, evil wizard.
"All right, Tas!" we call. "Will you come out now? We
really MUST be going!"
"Those were truly wonderful stories," yells the kender
shrilly from his hiding place. "But I want to hear more
about Palin and his brothers. You remember. You told me
the story last time about how Raistlin gave Palin his magic
staff. What happens next?"
Settling ourselves down on a sun-warmed, comfortable
boulder, we relate "Wanna Bet?", Palin's very first
adventure as a young mage. And certainly NOT the type of
heroic quest the brothers expected!
Still sitting on the boulder, we are somewhat startled to
be suddenly confronted by a gnome, who thrusts a
manuscript at us. "Here, you! Tell the TRUE story about the
so-called Heroes of the Lance!" the gnome snarls and runs
off. We are truly delighted to present for your enjoyment,
therefore, "Into the Heart of the Story," a "treatise" by
"Now, Tas!" we call threateningly.
"Just one more?" he pleads.
"All right, but this is the last!" we add severely. "Dagger-
Flight," by Nick O'Donohoe, is a retelling of the beginning
of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT as seen from a
weird and deadly viewpoint - that of a sentient dagger!
"Tas, come out now!" we shout. "You promised."
Looking at each other, we smile, shrug, and continue on
our way through Krynn. So much for kender promises!
Nancy Varian Berberick
Tanis let the hinged lid of the wood bin fall. Its hollow
thud might have been the sound of a tomb's closing. Hope,
cherished for all the long hours of the trek up the mountain,
fell abruptly dead. The wood bin was empty.
A brawling wind shrieked around the gaping walls of the
crude shelter, whirling in through the doorless entry and the
broken roof. The storm had caught Tan-is and his friends
unaware at midday. Far below, in the warmer valleys, the
autumn had not yet withered under winter's icy cloak. But
here in the mountains autumn had suddenly become
nothing more substantial than a memory. Esker was a day
and a half's journey behind them. Haven was a two-day trek
ahead. Their only hope of weathering the storm had been
this shelter, one of the few maintained by the folk of Esker
and Haven as a sanctuary for storm-caught travelers. But
now, with the blizzard raging harder, it seemed that their
hope might be as hollow as the empty wood bin.
Behind him the half-elf could hear Tas poking around the
bleak shelter, his bright kender spirit undaunted by the toll
of the journey. There wasn't much to find. Shards of
crockery lay scattered around the hard-packed dirt floor.
The one narrow table that had been the shelter's only
furnishing was now a heap of broken boards and splintered
wood. After a moment Tanis heard the tuneless notes of the
shepherd's pipe that Tas had been trying to play since he
came by it several weeks ago. The kender had never
succeeded in coaxing anything from the shabby old
instrument that didn't sound like a goat in agony. But he
tried, every chance he got, maintaining - every chance he
got - that the pipe was enchanted. Tanis was certain that the
pipe had as much likelihood of being enchanted as he had
now of getting warm sometime soon.
"Oh, wonderful - the dreaded pipe," Flint growled. "Tas!
As though he hadn't heard, Tas went on piping.
With a weary sigh Tanis turned to see Flint sitting on his
pack, trying with cold-numbed hands to thaw the frozen
snow from his beard. The old dwarf's muttered curses were
a fine testament to the sting of the ice's freezing pull.
Only Sturm was silent. He leaned against the door jamb,
staring out into the blizzard as though taking the measure of
an opponent held, for a time, at bay.
The boy turned his back on the waning day. "No wood?"
"None." Tanis shivered, and it had little to do with the
cold. "Flint," he called, "Tas, come here."
Grumbling, Flint rose from his pack.
Tas reluctantly abandoned his pipe and made a curious
foray past the empty wood bin. He'd gamboled through
snow as high as his waist today, been hauled, laughing like
some gleeful snow sprite, out of drifts so deep that only the
pennon of his brown topknot marked the place where he'd
sunk. Still his brown eyes were alight with questions in a
face polished red by the bite of the wind.
"Tanis, there's no wood in the bins," he said. "Where do
they keep it?"
"In the bins - when it's here. There is none, Tas."
"None? What do you suppose happened to it? Do you
think the storm came up so suddenly that they didn't have a
chance to stock the bin? Or do you suppose they're not
stocking the shelters anymore? From the look of this place
no one's been here in a while. THAT would be a shame,
wouldn't it? It's going to be a long, cold night without a
"Aye," Flint growled. "Maybe not as long as you think."
Behind him Tanis heard Sturm draw a short, sharp
breath. If Tas had romped through the blizzard, Sturm had
forged through with all the earnest determination he could
muster. Each time Tas foundered, Sturm was right beside
Tanis to pull him out. His innate chivalry kept him always
ahead of Flint, blocking the wind's icy sting, breaking a
broader path than he might have for the old dwarf whose
muttering and grumbling would never become a plea for
But for all that, Tanis knew, the youth had never seen a
blizzard like this one. He's acquitted himself well, and
more's the pity that I'll have to take him out with me yet
again, the half-elf thought to himself.
A roaring wind drove from the north, wet and bitter with
snow. The climb to this tireless shelter had left Tanis stiff
and aching, numb and clumsy with the cold. He wanted
nothing less than to venture out into the screaming storm
again. But his choices were between sure death in the long
black cold of night and one more trip into the storm. It was
not, in the end, a difficult choice to make.
"It won't come to that, Flint. We're going to have a fire."
Flint's doubt was written in the hard set of his face. Tas
looked from the wood bin to Tanis. "But there's no wood,
Tanis. I don't see how we're going to have a fire without
Tanis drew a long breath against rising impatience.
"We'll get wood. There was a stand of pine trees along our
way up. No doubt Sturm and I can get enough from there
and be back before nightfall."
Tas brightened then. Now there would be something to
do besides spending a long cold night wondering what it
would feel like to freeze solid. Shrugging closer into the
warmth of his furred vest, he started for the doorway. "I'll
come, too," he announced, confident that his offer would be
"Oh, no." Tanis clamped both hands on the kender's
shoulders and caught him back. "You're staying here with
"But, Tanis - "
"No. I mean it, Tas. The snow is drifting too high. This
is something that Sturm and I will do."
"But you'll NEED my help, Tanis. I can carry wood, and
we're going to need a lot of it if we're not to freeze here
Tanis glanced at Flint. He thought he might hear a
similar argument from his old friend. He forestalled it with
a grim shake of his head, and Flint, recognizing but not
liking the wisdom of Tanis's decision, nodded agreement.
With a dour sigh Flint went to gather up the splintered
wood that had once been the shelter's table.
"It's something," he muttered. "Sturm, come give me a
Alone with Tas, Tanis went down on his heels. Mutiny
lurked in Tas's long brown eyes. There was a stubborn set
to his jaw that told Tanis that the only way he'd get the
kender to stay behind would be to give him a charge that he
considered, if not as interesting, at least as important as the
task of gathering fuel for a fire.
"Tas, now listen to me. We don't have many choices.
I've never seen a storm like this one come up so suddenly or
so early. But it's here, and tonight it will be so cold that we
will not survive without a fire."
"I know! That's why - "
"No. Let me finish. I need you to stay here with Flint.
It's going to be a dangerous trip out for wood. The tracks
we made only a short while ago are gone. I'll barely be able
to find the landmarks I need to get back to the pines. I have
to know that you'll both be here if we need you."
"But, Tanis, you'll NEED me to help with the wood-
The offer, Tanis knew, was sincere . . . for the moment.
But as clearly as he might see through a stream to the
sparkling sand below, that clearly did he see the
mischievous kender-logic dancing in Tas's brown eyes. Tas
had no fear of the killing cold, the battering winds. The
prospect of the journey back to the pines held only joyous
anticipation and a chance to satisfy some of that
unquenchable curiosity that had brought the kender to the
crumbling edge of many a catastrophe before now.
Well, I'm afraid! he thought. And it won't hurt for Tas to
know why if it keeps him here.
"Tas, the best way to make certain we don't survive this
night is to scatter, all four of us, all over this mountain. That
will be the fastest way to die. We're going to be careful. But
Sturm and I have to be able to depend on you two being
here just in case one of us needs to come back for help.
Tas nodded slowly, trying to ease his disappointment
with the sudden understanding that Tanis was trusting him,
depending on him.
"And I can count on you?"
"Yes, you can count on me," Tas said solemnly.
Privately he thought that staying behind, no matter how
virtuous it made him feel right now, might be just the least
Despite the cold and the bitter wind chasing snow in
through the open doorway, Tanis found a smile for the
kender. "Good. Now why don't you give Flint a hand, and
tell Sturm that we should be leaving."
For a moment it seemed to Tanis that his charge
wouldn't hold. He saw the struggle between what Tas
wanted to do and what he'd promised to do written on his
face as easily as though he were reading one of the kender's
precious maps. But it was a brief war, and in the end, Tas's
promise won out.
Sturm emptied both his and Tanis's packs. He took up
two small hand axes, tested their blades, and prepared to
leave. Tanis, preferring his bow and quiver if danger should
arise, left his sword with Flint.
"I won't need the extra weight, I think," he said, handing
the weapon to the old dwarf.
"Tanis, isn't there another way? I don't like this."
Tanis dropped a hand onto his friend's shoulder. "You'd
be alone if you did like it. Rest easy; it's too cold out there
to keep us gone long. Just keep Tas safe here with you. He
promised, but . . ."
Flint laughed grimly. "Aye, BUT. Don't worry. We'll
both be here when you get back." A high squealing, Tas at
the pipe, tore around the shelter. Flint winced. "Although
whether both of us will yet be sane is another matter."
With grave misdoubt Flint watched Tanis and Sturm leave.
Tas sidled up beside him, standing close to the old dwarf.
He called good luck after them but he didn't think that they
could hear him above the storm's cry.
"Come along, then," Flint growled. "No sense standing
any closer to the wind than we have to. We might as well
find the best kindling from that wood. When those two get
back they'll be fair frozen and needing a fire as quickly as
we can make one."
Tas stood in the breached doorway for a long moment.
The white and screaming storm quickly swallowed all trace
of Sturm and Tanis. Already he had begun to regret his
promise to stay behind.
I could find those trees straight off! he thought. For Tas,
to think was to do. He tucked his pipe into his belt and
stepped out into the blinding storm. The wind caught him
hard, and he laughed from the sheer pleasure of feeling its
bullying push, hearing its thundering roar. He hadn't taken
many steps, however, before two hard hands grabbed him
by the back of his vest and dragged him back inside.
"No, you DON'T!"
"But, Flint - "
The fire in the old dwarf's eyes could have warmed a
company of men. His face, Tas thought, certainly shouldn't
be that interesting shade of red now that he was out of the
"I only want to go a little way, Flint. I'll come right back,
Flint snorted. "The same way you promised Tanis to stay
here in the first place? That lad is a fool to put stock in a
kender's promise." He glared from Tas to the storm raging
without. "But he CAN put stock in mine. I said I'd keep you
here, and here you'll stay."
Tas wondered if there would be a way to get around the old
dwarf standing between him and the doorway. Well, there
might be, he thought, considering a quick run under Flint's
arm. Grinning, he braced for the dash, but then caught the
darkly dangerous look in Flint's eyes and decided against it.
There was, after all, his promise to Tanis, spider-web thin
but still holding after a fashion. And he could, he supposed,
manage to pass the time trying to find the magic in his pipe.
It was going to be, each thought, a very long, cold
Under the sheltering wings of the broad-branched pines
the storm seemed distant, deflected by the thick growing
trunks and the sweep of a rising hill. Deadfalls littered the
little stand. Tanis made right for the heart of the pines
where the snow was a thinner mantle covering the ground
and the fallen trees.
"Gather what you can first," he told Sturm. "It will be
easier if we don't have to cut any wood."
It had taken longer than he had hoped to reach the pines.
Though he could see little difference in the light under the
trees, he knew from some sure instinct that night had fallen.
The driving snow was no longer daytime gray, but brighter.
Only an hour ago the sky had been the color of wet slate.
Now it was an unreflecting, unforgiving black. It FELT like
a night sky for all that Tanis could see no moons, no stars.
The air was as cold and sharp as frozen blades.
They worked as fast as awkward hands would permit,
filling their packs with as much wood as they could carry.
Carefully used it would be enough to keep them from
freezing in the night.
Tanis shoved the last of the wood into his pack, lashed it
tight, and looked around for Sturm. He was a dark figure
hunched against the cold, kneeling over his own pack.
"Ready?" Tanis called.
Sturm looked around. "Aye, if you'll give me a hand
getting this on."
It was the work of a few moments to help Sturm with the
heavily laden pack. "Set?" Tanis asked, watching the boy
brace and find a comfortable balance.
"Set. Your turn."
The half-elf clenched his jaw and bit back a groan as
Sturm settled the burden on his shoulders. "Gods," he
whispered, "if I could wish for anything, it would be that I
were a pack mule strong enough to carry this with ease!"
For the first time that day Sturm smiled, his white teeth
flashing in the gloom beneath the pines. "It is an odd wish,
Tanis. But were it granted, I promise I would lead you
Tanis laughed and, for a moment, he forgot the cold.
Sturm's smile was like the sun breaking from behind dark
clouds, always welcome for coming so seldom. At the
beginning of the trip Tanis had wondered about the wisdom
of taking the youth along. It had been Flint, to Tanis's
surprise, who had urged that Sturm be included in the party.
"You argue his inexperience," the dwarf had said, "but
I'd like to know how he's to come by any if he spends all his
time in Solace."
It was, Tanis thought at the time, a telling point. But he
had not been swayed until he heard in Flint's careful silence
the echo of memories of another inexperienced youth:
himself. That was no argument against which he might win.
In the end he had been persuaded to include Sturm among
the party. It was, after all, to have been a brief trip, with no
And Sturm, to his credit, did not rail against the hardships
of the unlooked-for storm, but accepted the challenge and
deferred, with a solemn and graceful courtesy that
contrasted oddly with his youth, to Tanis's leadership.
Well, we've certainly been diverted now, the half-elf
thought, settling his pack and stamping numb feet in the
snow in a vain effort to urge into sluggish circulation the
blood that surely must be near frozen.
"Come on, Sturm. The sooner we get back, the happier
we'll all be. Tas's promise to stay behind will only hold for
so long. Were you inclined to gamble, I'd wager you
anything you like that though we've a long trudge ahead of
us, it is Flint who is beset with the worse trial."
When they stepped out into the rage of the storm again,
Tanis thought that were wishes to be granted he would
forsake a mule's strong back and ask instead for a dog's
finely developed instinct for finding home. The wind had
erased any tracks they'd made coming into the stand.
Flint glared out into the night, thinking, as Tanis had,
that this was to have been an easy trip. It had been a
journey of only a few days to reach Esker. The wealthy
headman of the village had welcomed them eagerly and
been well pleased with the pair of silver goblets he'd
commissioned the previous summer. The goblets, with their
elegantly shaped stems, gilded interiors, and jeweled cups,
were to be a wedding gift for the man's beloved daughter.
Flint had labored long over their design, obtaining the finest
jewels for their decoration and the purest silver for their
execution. His client had been well pleased with them and
not inclined toward even the ritual dickering over their cost.
Aye, Flint thought now, they were beauties. And like to
cost us our lives.
The weird, atonal wailing of Tas's shepherd's pipe keened
through the shelter, rivaling the whine of the storm,
drawing Flint's nerves tighter with each moment that
passed. It never seemed to find a tune, never seemed to
settle into anything he recognized as even remotely
"Tas!" he snapped. "If you're bound to fuss with that
wretched thing, can't you at least find a tune and play it?"
The piping stopped abruptly. Tas got to his feet and
joined Flint near the door. "I would if I could. But this is the
best I can do."
Before Flint could protest, Tas began to play again. The
awful screech rose in pitch, splintering his temper, never
very strong where Tas was concerned, into shards as sharp
and hard as needles of ice.
"Enough!" he snatched the pipe from Tas's hand. But
before he could fling it across the shelter, the kender leaped
up and caught it back handily.
"No, Flint! My magic pipe!"
"Magic! Don't tell me you're going to start that again.
There's no more magic than music in that thing."
"But there is, Flint. The shepherd told me that I'd find
the magic when I found the music. And I'd find the music
when I wanted it most. I really do want it now, but I don't
seem to be able to find it."
Flint had heard the story before. Though the
circumstances and some finer details varied from one
telling to the next, the core of the tale was always the same:
a shepherd had given Tas the pipe, swearing that it was
enchanted. But he wouldn't tell the kender what the magical
property of the pipe was.
"You will discover its use," he'd supposedly said, "when
you unlock the music. And when it has served you, you
must pass it on, as I have to you, for the magic can be used
only once by each who frees it."
Like as not, Flint thought, the instrument had been
acquired the same way a kender comes by most anything. A
quick, plausible distraction, a subtle movement of the hand,
and a shepherd spends the next hour searching for his pipe.
He probably should have counted himself lucky that half
his flock hadn't vanished as well!
"There's no magic in this," Flint said. "More likely
there's a flaw in the making. Give over now, Tas, and let me
wait in peace."
With a sigh that seemed to come straight from his toes,
Tas went back to where he'd been piping. He dropped onto
the frozen dirt floor and propped his back up against his
pack. In his head he could hear the song he wanted his pipe
to sing. In some places it was soft and wistful. Yet, in
others it was bright, almost playful. It would be a pretty
tune, a song for the snow. Why, he wondered, couldn't the
pipe play the music?
The blizzard raged, shaking the walls of the little shelter.
Night now held the mountain in its freezing grip. It
occurred to Tas that Sturm and Tanis had been gone much
longer than they should have been.
Likely, he thought, drifting with the memory of the tune
he heard but couldn't play, it only SEEMED that the waiting
was long. Probably Tanis and Sturm had only been gone a
few hours at most. It would take them that long to get to
where the trees were, find the wood, and fill their packs. He
was certain, though, that if he'd been with them, it wouldn't
take nearly that long to get back. And three could carry
more wood than two. Tanis's reasons for extracting his
promise seemed less clear to Tas now. He wished he had
gone with them!
It might have been the cold that set him to shivering deep
down in his bones. Or the sudden strange turn that the
storm's song took. Whatever it was, Tas found that his
music had faded and left him.
The wind roared and screamed. The snow, falling more
heavily now than it had in the afternoon, was like a gray
woolen curtain. Frustrated, Tas laid aside his pipe and went
to stand by the door.
"Doesn't the wind sound strange?"
Flint did not answer, but stayed still where he sat,
peering out into the storm.
"I heard you."
"It sounds like ... I don't know." Tas cocked his head to
listen. "Like wolves howling."
"It's not wolves. It's only the wind."
"I've never heard the wind sound like that. Well, once I
heard it sound ALMOST like wolves. But it was really more
like a dog. Sometimes you hear a dog howling in the night
and you think it's a wolf but it's not because wolves really
do sound different. More ferocious, not so lonesome. This
does sound like wolves, Flint, don't you think? But I've
never heard of wolves hunting in a blizzard unless they
were REALLY starving." Tas frowned, remembering a story
he'd heard once. "There was a village way up in the
mountains in Khur that was attacked by wolves in a
blizzard. I didn't see it. But my father did, and he told me
about it. He said it was really interesting the way the
wolves came down after dark and stalked anything that
looked like good food. And he said it was AMAZING what
wolves consider good food when they're starving - "
"Will you hush! And while you're at it, stop imagining
things that aren't there!" Gritting his teeth against his anger
and the fear that the kender's tale of starving wolves and
blizzards fanned, Flint climbed to his feet. He was stiff and
aching with the cold. "If you must do something, come help
me start a fire."
"With what. Flint?"
"With those old boards and - " Flint thought of the
blocks of wood in his pack. He sighed heavily, regretting
the loss of his whittling wood. "And whatever I have in my
"All right." But Tas lingered at the doorway. It WAS
wolves howling, he decided firmly, and not the wind. In his
mind's eye he could see them: big, heavy-chested brutes,
gray as a storm sky, eyes bright with hunger, fangs as sharp
as the blade of his own small dagger. They would leap
across the drifts and slink through the hollows, pause to
taste the air with their noses, howl in eerie mourning for
their empty bellies, and lope on again.
His father had also told him that the big gray wolves
could be almost invisible against a snowy sky. Lifting his
head to listen, he thought the howling was closer now. He
wouldn't have to go very far to get just a quick glimpse of
the beasts. Forgetting his promise to Tanis, forgetting the
uncooperative pipe, Tas decided that he simply had to see -
or not see - the wolves.
Checking to be sure that Flint was not watching, Tas
grinned happily and slipped out into the storm.
"Tanis!" He was but an arm's length behind the half-elf
yet Sturm could see Tanis only as a vague, dark shadow. He
hardly heard his own voice, bellow though he did above the
wind's scream, and he knew that Tanis had not heard him at
all. He caught Tanis's arm and pulled him to a halt.
"Listen!" Sturm shouldered his pack to an easier perch
on his back and moved in close. "You're not going to tell
me again about how that's the wind, are you? Those are
They were indeed. The fiction of the wind had been partly
for Sturm's sake, partly for his own. Tanis abandoned it as
useless now. "I know! But we have to push on, Sturm! We
can't let them get between us and the shelter!"
"Run? You want us to run?" The thought of fleeing from
danger sent a spasm of disgust across the youth's face.
Beneath that revulsion, though, was an instinctive fear. It
was not hidden, Tanis saw, as well as Sturm might have
Tanis's humorless laughter was caught by the wind and
flung away. "I do! But the best we can do is slog on. There
is no shame in this retreat, Sturm. We're no match for a
pack, and Flint and Tas won't appreciate our courage at all
if they have to consider it while freezing to death."
Though carefully given, it was a reprimand. Sturm
recognized it and took it with considered grace. "I'm not
accustomed to flight, Tanis," he said gravely. "But neither
am I accustomed to abandoning friends. Lead on."
Sturm, Tanis thought, seeking his bearings, you're too
solemn by half for your years! But, aye, I'll lead on ...
And that was another matter. How far had they come?
Tanis could no longer tell. He was storm-blind now, hardly
able to keep his eyes open for the merciless bite of wind-
driven snow and ice. The bitter wind had battered at their
backs when they'd left the shelter. As long as it roared and
screamed in their faces, clawing at their skin, tearing at
their clothing, he could be fairly certain that they were
moving in the right direction. He did not like to think what
might happen should the storm suddenly change direction.
Likely someone would find our bones in spring and
wonder and pity. Putting aside the grim thought, Tan-is
hunched his shoulders and bowed his head before the
storm's blast, protecting his eyes as best he could. His legs
were heavier and harder to move with each step. His neck
and shoulders ached beneath his burden of wood. And the
wolves were howling closer.
It only SEEMS A never-ending journey, he told himself
as he waded through still another drift. Before the night was
much older they would be back at the shelter. Then the
storm could tear across the mountains, then the wolves
could howl until they were hoarse. It wouldn't matter. Tanis
could almost hear Flint scolding and grumbling about two
young fools who couldn't come right back, but must linger
to catch their deaths in the storm. Beneath it all would run
Tas's chattering and incessant, never-ending questions.
Their miserable burdens of fuel would feed a crackling fire
to thaw hands and feet they could no longer feel.
Thinking to share the encouragement with Sturm toiling
silently behind, he turned, squinting into the blinding snow.
"Sturm! Soon!" he shouted.
Sturm looked up. Ice rimned his hair, long streaks of
white scored his face where the cold had bitten. "What?"
"Soon! We're almost - "
It might have been instinct that made Tanis slip
immediately out of his pack and reach for his bow and
quiver. Or it might have been the look of wide-eyed horror
on Sturm's face. He never heard the wolf's roar, or the
slavering snarl of its mate. He only felt the heavy weight
where it caught him behind the knees and drove him with
all the force of its hundred pounds face first into the snow.
His bow was beneath him, his dagger still sheathed at his
belt. Fear raced through him like a hot river. He shoved his
chin tight to his chest and locked his hands behind his head,
protecting his neck and throat. The wolf's hot breath,
stinking of its last kill, gagged him. Powerful jaws
snapping, unable to reach his neck or throat, the wolf
fastened on his shoulder, worrying at the thick cloth of his
cloak, tearing through it and his leather tunic to lay his flesh
bare to dripping fangs. Its eyes were gleaming green fire, its
mouth a roaring crimson maw.
Bucking and kicking, his mind empty of all thought but
survival, Tanis heaved onto his back. His head still low, he
freed his hands and found his dagger. The wolf rose up,
scrambling to regain position, belly exposed for an instant.
Tanis gripped his dagger hard. The icy air stung in his
lungs. He thrust upward with all his strength. The blade
drove into the wolf's belly to the hilt. Gasping hard, he
dragged until he struck breastbone. The beast fell away,
dead as it hit the snow.
Shuddering, locked for one painful moment in the rictus
of fear, Tanis lay on his back. Sweat froze on his face,
nausea churned in his belly. His breath, ragged and hurting,
sounded like the pumping of a bellows. Dark blood pooled,
steaming in the freezing night.
Behind and above him another wolf roared. That
challenge was followed swiftly by deadly snarling and then
a shocked scream of pain. So horrible was the sound that
Tanis could not tell if it had come from the lungs of man or
Sturm! Coppery, musty, the stench of fresh blood filled
the air. Tanis scrambled to his feet. The storm wind blinded
him, tore at him. He couldn't see!
Though he'd always wielded his blade well in practice
bouts with a confidence seldom disappointed, Sturm had
only blooded his sword once and that against a human
opponent whose moves could, to some extent, be gauged.
Could he have gone against a wolf who would charge in
under a sword's reach with the desperation of a predator
Sliding in the freezing snow, Tanis ran to where he
imagined the scent of blood was strongest. He crashed to
his knees and, cursing, regained his feet.
"Sturm!" he howled. He thought in that moment that no
blizzard wind could sound a cry as desolate. "Sturm!
Where are you?"
Tanis found him sitting in the snow, bending over
drawn up knees. The second wolf lay sprawled behind him,
its head nearly severed from its neck. Beside it, slick with
rapidly congealing blood, lay Sturm's sword. Tanis slid to
his knees beside his friend. The rest of the pack had to be
nearby! They had to get out of here!
"Sturm, are you hurt?"
The boy braced and straightened. The leather of his
tunic had been shredded by the wolf's fangs. A trail of
blood and ragged wounds whose edges were even now
freezing white showed Tanis where fangs had raked from
collarbone to breast. His hands trembling, the half-elf tried
to gently separate leather from freezing blood. A hiss of
indrawn breath, Sturm's only protest against the handling,
made Tanis wince for the pain he caused.
"A moment, lad, just a moment longer. There." The
leather came away, and Tanis heaved a long sigh of relief.
The wound was ugly and long. But though he had dreaded
to see the white glare of bone or the dark shadow of
exposed muscle, he did not. Working with hands made
awkward by the cold, Tanis tore thick strips of cloth from
his cloak and made a bandage.
"If we can bless the cold for anything, it's that it will
prevent you from bleeding overlong. Can you move your
Sturm lifted his shoulder, tried to reach. He managed a
grim smile. "Yes," he said, his voice rough with the effort
not to groan. "But I'll not be lifting a sword for a time."
Tanis shook his head. "The gods willing, you won't have
to. Sturm, we have to go on. Those two cannot have been
hunting alone. Can you walk?"
For an answer Sturm got to his feet. He stumbled a little,
but righted himself quickly. The hard gleam in his eyes
told Tanis what he needed to know. But when he made to
reach for his pack, Tanis stopped him.
"No. Leave it. We have to get out of here. It will only
slow us down."
"Tanis, we need the wood."
"DAMN the wood!"
"Tanis, no! The need for fire is still the same. And
without a guard fire, won't we have to face the rest of the
pack at the shelter? I can drag the wood."
Sturm was right. Tanis snatched up his pack and
shouldered it with a snarled oath. He retrieved Sturm's
sword, wiped it clean on his cloak, and helped the youth to
scabbard it. An arrow lay ready against the bow's string.
Don't rush! he told himself. Get your bearings now!
But that was not so easily done. The wind no longer
pushed from any one direction, but seemed to bellow and
thunder from all four. Tanis cast about him, searched the
snow to see if he could tell by the tracks where he'd been
standing when the wolves attacked.
There was no sign.
"Which way, Tanis?"
"I - I can't tell. No, wait. Up, we were moving up the
hill." He squinted into the wind. "There! That way."
Behind them, silent phantoms in the night, the rest of the
wolf pack moved in to do a starving predator's grisly honor
to fallen comrades. *****
Flint roared curses into the screaming wind. That
wretched, straw-brained Tas! If there was a god of mischief
and deviltry, he would be no god at all but a kender! He'd
not turned his back for a moment! But a moment, he
thought bitterly, was all it took to send Tas out into the
snow. What had he been off after? Tanis and Sturm? Likely
not. That would have been too sensible a motive to ascribe
to a kender.
"Tas!" he shouted, flinging up an arm to protect his eyes
against the wind's teeth. "Tas!"
The surest way to die, Tanis had said, was to scatter all
over the mountain. "Well and fine, and here we are," Flint
snarled, kicking furiously at the snow drifting past his
knees. "Scattered all over the mountain. If I had half the
brains I curse that kender for NOT having, I'd leave him out
here to freeze as a warning to the rest of his empty-headed
Then he heard, mourning above the wind, the howling of
the wolves he'd thought to deny. Fear shivered through the
old dwarf. They were close now. He hunched his shoulders
against the wind.
Wolves! Aye, and likely hungry enough not to turn aside
from stone-headed kender or young idiots who can't hie
themselves back from a simple wood-gathering trip in
decent time. . . .
"Tas! Where ARE you?!"
The snow erupted right at Flint's feet. Scrambling for
balance he slipped, tried to catch himself and, tripping over
a snow-mantled boulder, tumbled into a drift.
"Flint! Wait! Flint! Where'd you go?"
His long brown eyes ablaze with laughter, his face bright
with merriment, Tas leaped into the drift, narrowly missing
Flint's head. Tugging and pulling, then shoving and
pushing, he got the dwarf righted and on his feet again.
"Flint, it's a little cold for playing games, don't you
think? Look at you, I can't find your beard for the snow!"
His impish laughter skirled high above the wind's roar.
"What are you doing out here, Flint? I thought you said we
were to wait at the shelter. You know, you're really going to
be sorry later. There might not be a fire, after all, and you're
so wet you'll freeze solid. You should have stayed inside."
There WERE words, Flint thought later, to express his
fury. And a pity it was that he could not have found them
when he needed them; they would easily have melted the
last inch of snow from the mountain.
"I should have stayed inside?" Flint took a quick swipe
at the kender's head, missed, and slipped to his knees. "I
should have stayed?" He flung off the hand that Tas offered
him and climbed to his feet again. "I'd not be out here at all
if it weren't for you!"
"Me?" Tas's eyes went round with surprise. "You came
out after me? But I'm fine, Flint. I just went out for a look. I
thought I might be able to see a wolf. Or not see one. They
say they're almost invisible against a storm, you know." His
eyes darkened for a moment with disappointment. "But I
didn't see any. Or I didn't NOT see any. I'm not sure which.
And I didn't get very far. You know, Tanis was right. You
can hardly see where you've been out here. You certainly
can't see where you're going. On the whole," he decided,
reaching out a tentative hand to help Flint dust the snow
from his back, "I'd really rather be inside where it's
The logic was too tortuous for Flint to follow, and he
was too cold and wet - nearly frozen to death, he thought
furiously - to work it out now. He turned and stamped back
toward the shelter, growling and cursing.
Cold, but undaunted, frolicking like a half-grown pup
taken to play, Tas scampered ahead. "You'll feel better once
we get inside," he called back. "It's not much warmer there,
but it is drier. And I've been thinking about my magic pipe
while I was out looking for the wolves. I think I'd be able to
find the music if I tried just a little harder."
Oh, fine, Flint thought, trudging stiffly behind, the
dreaded pipe! It wasn't enough that he had to contend with
blizzards and promises to people who haven't the sense to
come in out of a storm, with brainless kender and wolves.
No. On top of all of that had to be laid a "magic" pipe.
When he stumbled, shaking and wet, into the shelter he
saw Tas sitting crosslegged and absent-eyed, hunched over
his pipe. The high, tortured wailing that had tormented Flint
all afternoon filled the air, rising almost loud enough to
compete with the wind and the wolves' howls.
"The dreaded pipe," he sighed.
He returned to his task of coaxing a fire from the broken
boards and fine, smooth blocks of his whittling wood. It
would barely be enough to thaw his frozen clothing. It
would not be enough to light the lost back to safety.
Tanis negotiated the gently descending slope as though it
were a vertical cliff face, and slid to a ragged halt at the
bottom. Sturm skidded past him, overbalanced by his pack,
and dropped to his knees in a drift that seemed to swallow
him to the shoulders. Tanis helped his friend to his feet. His
stomach lurched in fear when he saw a dark red spot of
fresh blood on Sturm's bandage.
"Don't stop!" he cried above the wind's scream. "We've
got to go on!"
"Aye, Tanis, we do! But WHERE? We're lost!"
They were. Or they might be. Tanis didn't know any
more. He was fairly certain of his direction. This hollow
was familiar, more filled with snow and drifts, but still
familiar. Or was that only hope, the last thing inside him
that hadn't frozen yet? He could not see ahead the length of
his arm. Had they come to the shelter? Had they passed it?
He couldn't think, and he did not see anymore how it
mattered. Now it only mattered that they keep moving.
The deadly lethargy of freezing had been dogging them
with patient tenacity. To give in now to aching limbs, to sit
down just once to rest, to ease the burning of their lungs,
the fire licking behind their eyes, would be to die.
And we'll not freeze to death an arm's length from that
damned shelter! Tanis vowed.
But Sturm went down a few moments later and did not
rise. He tried, foundered in a drift, and fell back. For a
moment fury blazed so bright in his brown eyes that Tanis
could see it despite the blizzard's concealing curtain.
He dropped to his knees beside his friend, shouted and
tried again to pull him to his feet. He could get no purchase
in the drifted snow, no grip with his frozen hands.
How could he have heard Sturm's whisper above the
wind's scream? Or was it that he read the protest in the
"Tanis . . . take the wood . . . go."
"No! We'll rest. Just for a moment. We'll rest." There
was more danger, he knew, in resting than in going on. The
very wind that tore at them now would carry the scent of
fresh blood to the wolves who must be trailing behind. But
he, too, was not accustomed to abandoning his friends.
Tanis went down on his knees again in the snow and
drew Sturm as close to him as he could, hoping to protect
the boy from the worst of the piercing wind. Just for a
moment, he promised himself. Just until Sturm can recoup.
So gentle is the paradoxical warmth that suffuses a man
just before freezing, so entrancing, that Tanis did not
recognize it for what it was. He only wondered briefly that
he had enough body warmth left to feel, then closed his
eyes wearily and forgot to open them.
The note, coming suddenly amid the squeaks and
protests of the pipe, startled Tas. It was soft, gentle, and
reminded him of the sigh of a mourning dove. He moved
his numb fingers over the holes, drew another breath, and
found the note again. And then he found another, higher,
and a third, lower. Almost it was a tune, and Tas caught the
change. He tried again.
There was a rabbit in the storm. Caught away from its
burrow, too young to know that it must dig into the snow
for its insulating warmth, it scurried this way and that, as
though it might outrun the cold. Home! screamed through
the rabbit's veins with the frantic pumping of panic-driven
blood. Home! But home, a burrow snug and warm,
smelling of good brown earth and the comforting odor of
safety, was too far away.
Tas heard the rabbit's frightened squeak above the
faltering tune he played. How could he have heard the
rabbit's cry? He didn't know, but he squeezed his eyes
tightly shut, let the pipe fall silent, and lost the image and
the sound. Before he could think of absurdity, before he
could decide that the pipe had nothing to do with the rabbit,
he hunched over it again and continued to play.
There was a deer, its antlers almost too heavy with the
snow's burden to bear. There was a mountain goat,
foundered in a drift, its bleating protest wailing and lost in
the biting wind.
Tas drew a sharp breath, knowing that the deer would
soon go to its knees in surrender, that the mountain goat
would thrash and surge against its snowy restraints and
surely break a leg.
If his attention was a vagrant thing, his heart was a kind
one. Poor rabbit! he thought, poor brave deer! He wanted,
as much as he had ever wanted anything, to go out to find
them, to show them a way out of the storm. He wanted this
more than he'd wanted anything before. More, even, than
he'd wanted to find the magic in his little pipe.
In Tas's mind there was something dark and still. It was
a man - it was Sturm! And beside him knelt Tan-is! They
might have been ice sculptures so cold and motionless were
Though it was no doing of his - and yet perhaps it was -
a long ache of sadness drifted through Tas's music when he
realized that they might be dead. Like the rabbit or the deer
or the mountain goat, there was no way to tell where they
were, near or far, no way to find them and help. There was
only the pipe. He played, then, with all his heart and trusted
to the magic that it would not be a song of farewell.
There was a rabbit in the doorway. Ears aslant, pink nose
twitching, it paused for a second beneath the slight
overhang of the roof as though asking permission to enter.
Where he sat before a fire dwindled to meager embers and
dying coals, Flint saw the ice frozen on its back, the snow
clumped between its toes. Part of him sighed for pity, and
part decided he must bid his wits goodbye.
And behind him the horrible squealing of Tas's pipe settled
gently into a sweet, low song.
The rabbit moved then, hunched forward, and fell onto
its side, eyes wide as though it could no more believe that it
now waited a foot away from the old dwarf than Flint
The storm, Flint told himself, it's only seeking shelter. . .
. Easier to believe that than to believe that his wits had
frozen solid around some mad dream. Moving slowly, he
reached his hand out to the rabbit. He had not Tanis's way
with animals. That lad could call a bird to hand, silence a
chattering squirrel in the tree with a whisper. Or so it had
often seemed to Flint. But the rabbit accepted the old
dwarf's touch and quivered only a little.
He gathered up the little creature in both hands, felt the
quick race of its heart, and moved his thumb carefully over
its broad feet. The snow fell away. Under the warmth of his
hands the ice melted from the rabbit's back.
"There," he whispered, amazed. He turned the rabbit
back toward the door. "Off with you."
But the rabbit did not, as Flint had expected, dart away
in fear. It paused in the doorway, seemed for a moment to
consider the storm, and turned, bounding back past Flint
and into the shelter. Flint saw it scamper into the shadows
behind him and vanish into the darkness. Tas, still bent over
his pipe, looked up only briefly to laugh.
Puzzled, Flint turned back to the door and gasped.
Looming like some dream beast was a rough-coated
mountain goat. To the left of the goat, its antlers heavy with
snow, a dark-eyed deer waited.
Dipping its antlers - courteous beast, Flint thought and so
thinking abandoned his sense and logic - the deer stepped
into the shelter. The goat, as though hanging back to await
the passage of mountain royal ty, entered last.
Nothing Flint had ever seen was brighter than the delight
shining in Tas's eyes. His pipe still in hand, the kender
leaped to his feet, ducked around the deer, patted the goat,
and scurried to the door.
"Flint! Look! Do you see? I brought them here!"
Flint shook his head. I can't be seeing this! he thought,
stubbornly. And I'm not!
"It's the pipe! It's the pipe, Flint! Listen!"
Again that enticing, gentle song. Behind him Flint heard
the thick flap of wings. He ducked only in time to miss
being struck by a wide-eyed owl. Two white-bellied mice
darted past his feet, saw the owl, and dove screaming
behind Tas's pack.
"No, Flint! It's the magic! They heard it! I wanted them
to hear, and they did."
Magic? Flint turned this way and that, and everywhere
he looked he saw what he knew he shouldn't be seeing.
Sputtering protest, stammering questions, he received no
answers from Tas.
The kender was on the floor again, bent over his pipe,
his eyes squeezed shut in fierce concentration. He'd brought
the rabbit and the deer. The mountain goat had heard and
found him. And two mice and an owl. Soon, surely, his
song would bring Tanis and Sturm.
Numbly, too stunned to know where to look first, Flint
clapped his hands to his ears. After a moment he closed his
eyes because there was a deer pawing at the frozen dirt
floor, an owl preening its wings in the rafters, and a goat
nibbling delicately at the straps of the dwarf's pack. He felt
something soft and warm touch him and looked down to
see the rabbit asleep against his foot.
He'd never heard that one of the first signs of freezing was
a wild slipping away of the wits. But he imagined that it
probably was because he still could not believe that what he
saw was real.
Get up, the words whispered. Get up! Come back, they
urged. Come back! Lies, they sighed. The cold is telling
lies! Like dreams of a blazing hearth seen through frosted
windows, the words wandered through Tanis's mind. Gently
they coaxed and encouraged. Beneath the simple words
danced the light, bright notes of a shepherd's pipe. Behind
the tune, beyond the words, flickered images of a place
where the cold had no power to touch him.
The wind, he thought, pulling away from Sturm. Or just
my sanity slipping away . . .
But there was no wind. Its howl was silenced. And when
he lifted his face to the night sky he no longer felt the
snow's deadly kiss. Beside him Sturm moved, slowly, but
with the deliberate care of a man marshalling strength.
"Tanis, do you hear?"
"The wind - it's died down."
"Aye," Sturm agreed, as though it had only just come to
his attention. "That, too."
Tanis looked at him in surprise. "You hear music?"
"Yes. It sounds like a shepherd's pipe. . . ." His words
wandered away, lost in surprise and sudden realization.
"Tas's pipe, Tanis! We must be near the shelter!"
Tas's pipe! But that poor, crippled little instrument, the
"dreaded pipe" Flint called it, had never given Tas music
this sweet. And yet, what other could it be? Tanis climbed
wearily to his feet and helped Sturm to rise.
"We'll follow it," he said. "No, leave your pack. If the
shelter is that close, I can come back for the wood. And
I've still got mine." HOME, the music sang, COME
HOME. . . .
Snow ghosts! The spirits of the storm-killed. Or so they
would have been called in the faraway mountains of his
homeland. Flint watched the eerie blue race of breaking
clouds across the white mantle of the snow. He shivered,
more from the memory of an old legend than from the cold.
Behind him Tas's pipe faltered, then fell silent.
In an odd little exodus, as soon as the snow had stopped
falling, moments after the wind finally died, Tas's strangely
assorted menagerie of storm refugees had filed past him
into the night. Still, even after the last creature had left, Tas
had continued to play, hoping that Tanis and Sturm would
hear the pipe's music, feel the call of its magic.
Magic! Flint thought now. The word felt bitter and hard
in his mind. He told himself that he never had believed.
Some wild coincidence, some quirk had led the animals to
the shelter. It hadn't been, after all, any of the pipe's doing.
Though he could still feel, in memory, the frightened race
of the rabbit's heart against his palms, and later the
confiding warmth of it where it lay against his foot.
Nonsense! The poor little beast was too exhausted and
frozen to care where it finally collapsed. He refused to
remember the deer and the goat, the mice or the owl. He
sighed and kicked at the blackened embers of the fire. We
can go out and look now, he thought. He would not allow
himself to think further. He did not want to consider what
they must find.
"They're home." Tas's voice was oddly hollow.
Flint turned slowly, the skin on the back of his neck
prickling. "What did you say?"
The kender's face was white, etched with weariness. But
his eyes were bright with some pleasure or satisfaction that
Flint did not understand. "They're home, Flint. They're
back." He put his pipe aside. Wobbling to his feet, he went
to stand beside the dwarf. He was tired, but it was the best
tired he'd ever felt.
Flint peered out into the night. Two shadows intersected
those pouring across the gleaming snow. They were darker
and more solid than that weird blue flow. Snow ghosts?
Shivering, the old dwarf squinted harder. Not yet! he
thought triumphantly. Not yet, they're not! But one of them
was staggering, leaning on the other.
Flint grasped Tas's shoulders and hurried him back
inside the shelter. "Stay here, Tas. STAY HERE. They're
Tas smiled and nodded. "Of course they're back. I TOLD
you they were. They heard the pipe, they felt the magic -
Flint! Where are you going?"
Yawning mightily, forgetting Flint's warning to stay
inside the shelter, Tas retrieved his pipe and jogged out into
As he had for the past two mornings, Tanis leaned
against the door jamb, smiling at the winter sun as though
hailing a well-met friend. Beside him Sturm gingerly lifted
"You're certain you are well enough to travel?"
The youth nodded once. "Yes." He was pale yet, but the
dressing covering his wound had come away clean with its
last two changings.
"You did well, Sturm."
Sturm's solemn eyes lighted, then darkened. "No. I
almost cost you your life, Tanis. I couldn't go on, and you
"I did. It was my choice. And," he said quickly, forestalling
further protest, "it was a choice, at the time, of freezing
with you or a few yards farther on. Where you did well was
in another place altogether."
"I don't understand."
"You are a good companion, lad, and one I would not
hesitate to travel with again."
Plainly Sturm still did not understand. But he took the
compliment with a notable absence of youthful
In the silence fallen between them Tanis heard the
beginnings of an argument between Tas and Flint that had
become all too familiar these last two days.
"There was no mountain goat," Flint growled.
But Tas was insistent. "Yes, there WAS. And not only
that, there was a deer - "
"There was no deer."
Grinning, Tanis went to join them.
"Flint, there WAS! You saw them. And the field mice,
and the owl. And what about the rabbit, Flint? It slept
against your foot all the time."
This time Flint made no firm denial. "Kender stories," he
snorted. He glanced sidelong at Tanis and veered sharply
away from the subject of magic pipes. "Are you certain
Sturm is ready to travel?"
"So he says, and I think he is."
"I'd like to check that bandage once more."
Tas watched him leave, then reached over to finger a
broken pack strap that had been giving the old dwarf
trouble. "Look, Tanis."
"Frayed, but it should hold with repair."
"No. Look. It's not frayed. The goat chewed it."
"Yes, well. . ." Tanis smiled and quietly relieved Tas of
Flint's small whittling knife. "Fell out of the pack, did it?"
Tas's eyes widened innocently. "Oh! I guess it did. Good
thing I found it. Flint wouldn't have been happy to leave it
behind. But what about the pack strap?"
"It looks frayed to me." He patted Tas's shoulder. "Come
on, now. It's time to go."
"I don't know why no one believes me, Tanis."
Tanis wished then, for the sake of the wistful hope in the
kender's voice, that he could believe in the magic pipe. But
it sounded too much like all of Tas's fantastic stories.
Some, doubtless, were true. But Tan-is had never been able
to separate those from the soaring flights of imagination
that Tas passed off as adventures.
"You know," he said kindly, "enchanted or not, your
piping saved our lives. If we hadn't heard it, Sturm and I
would have died out there."
"I'm glad it did, Tanis, I really am. But, still, I wish
someone would believe I found the magic. I don't know
why Flint won't. He saw the deer and the goat and the mice
and the owl. And the rabbit WAS sleeping against his foot."
That rabbit, Tanis realized then, was not among the
things that Flint denied. In matters of magic, that might be,
where Flint was concerned, considered avowal.
When he looked up again Tas had gone. Rising to join
the others, he caught sight of something small and
abandoned on the floor. "Tas, you forgot your pipe." He
picked it up and then saw words carved into the wood that
he had not seen before.
FIND THE MUSIC, FIND THE MAGIC.
"Did you carve this?"
Tas did not turn. "Yes," he said, reluctantly. "I have to
"But, Tas, why?"
Tas squared his shoulders as though firming some resolve.
But still he did not turn. "Because the shepherd said that it
could only be used once. That's why I can't get the pipe to
play that song again - or any song. I've used the magic." He
took a deep breath and went on. "And he said that once I
found the magic I had to pass the pipe on." He paused and
then he did turn, a scamp's humor in his long brown eyes.
"It's going to be a long winter. I'm going to leave it here for
someone else to find."
Suddenly, as sharply as though he was yet there, the
half-elf saw himself crouched in the snow, too aching and
exhausted to move. He felt again the bitter whip of the
wind, the life-draining cold. He heard, very faintly, the
coaxing tune that had called him back from freezing.
Maybe, he thought, seeing the earnest belief in the kender's
brown eyes. Maybe . . .
But no. If there were any magic in the shabby little pipe
at all, it lay in the fact that Tas, that inveterate and
inevitable collector, could be induced to believe that he
must leave behind a pipe he swore was enchanted.
Tanis grinned again. That, he supposed, was magic
enough for one pipe.
The Wizard's Spectacles
Nugold Lodston shook a gnarled fist at his youthful
"Get away! Pester somebody else! Leave me alone!"
The old hermit shielded his face with his forearm from
another flurry of pebbles amid the laughter of the dirty
street urchins and their audience of amused onlookers. He
despised these trips into Digfel and longed for the quiet
solitude of his cave on the banks of the Meltstone River.
"We don't want your kind in Digfel, you old miser. Go
home to Hylar where you belong, and take your worthless
gold with you!"
The aged dwarf squinted in the general direction of the
adult voice. His eyesight was terrible, even for his four
hundred years. A blurry outline of a heavy human figure
loomed in front of him, barring his way into Milo Martin's
shop. It was obvious that he had to either push past the
abusive speaker or retreat through his delinquent henchmen
without buying winter provisions.
"Remove your carcass from my path, and take your ill-bred
issue with you!" Lodston shouted. Several of the spectators
laughed at the old hermit's taunt. The blurry-faced speaker
leaned closer, revealing his florid cheeks and filthy,
tobacco-stained mouth to the dwarf's faded eyes.
"You heard what I said, scum! Get out of Digfel before I
feed your scrawny bones to my dogs!" blustered the fat
townsman. Lodston smelled the odors of stale wine and
unwashed human skin even before he could see the man's
quivering red jowls. He grinned and gestured toward the
"If those are your mongrels, you ought to be more
careful when you mate. You'll ruin your bloodline!"
Lodston sneered and shook his quarterstaff in the drunk's
face, which was darkening with rage as the catcalls grew
"You gonna let him talk to you like that, Joss?" someone
goaded the drunk.
"Kick that uppity dwarf in the teeth, if he's got any!"
yelled one of the urchins.
The drunken bully sputtered a curse and raised a beefy
hand. In the same instant, Lodston muttered a single word
with his bearded mouth pressed against the smooth shaft of
his heavy staff. The stick of rare bronzewood glowed
suddenly with an inner light and began to vibrate in the
hermit's hand. The old dwarf seemed almost as surprised as
everyone else by the force within the enchanted weapon
and nearly dropped it. He clutched its shaft more tightly,
feeling its inner power throbbing as it lifted itself in the air
above the bully's head.
Suddenly the staff descended repeatedly, faster than the
eye could see, upon the head of Nugold Lodston's assailant.
It appeared to the astonished onlookers as if it were a
drumstick in the hands of a practiced drummer. Each blow
landed with vicious force and accuracy, producing
lacerations and bruises on the startled bully's scalp and face.
"Run, Joss! It's a magical staff! He'll kill you!" The bully's
eyes were blinded with his own blood from the wounds on
his forehead. He backed away from Lodston's flashing staff,
his hands raised in front of his face to ward off the unerring
blows of the enchanted weapon. To the hermit's failing
eyes, the scene was a muddled image of fleeing shapes as
the street emptied. Digfel was a superstitious town,
especially in the rough section where Milo Martin kept his
"Get in here, Nugold, before they come back!" Martin's
rotund figure was standing in the doorway of his shop. He
was gesturing frantically for the hermit to come inside. The
staff had already lost the aura summoned by the ancient
command word, but the merchant's bulging eyes were
staring greedily at it.
The hermit grunted a minor dwarvish epithet to himself
and pushed past the excited shopkeeper into the store.
Smells of candlewax, oil, and soap mingled with those of
wood smoke, spices, and leather - the comfortable and
familiar odors of Martin's General Store. Lodston came to
Digfel no more than four or five times a year, and this was
one of the few places he liked to shop for provisions. Digfel
was a rowdy human mining town on the outskirts of the
dwarven mountains, steeped in fears and prejudices dating
to the Cataclysm. Milo Martin's shop had a reputation as a
brief haven amid the turmoil of the times, perhaps because
Martin himself was such a tolerant man. The jolly but
enterprising little merchant sold his goods to anyone with
iron coins in his pockets, whether dwarf, human, or elf.
Only kender, those notorious shoplifters, were unwelcome
in his store.
"You old fool! Don't you know you can't fight all of those
bumpkins by yourself, with or without a magic staff?"
Milo's gentle reprimand was undercut by an excited sparkle
in his crisp blue eyes. The merchant was thrilled at the
promise of something new to talk about at the Pig Iron
Alehouse. He was also bursting with curiosity about the
mysterious bronzewood stick that seemed to have a life of
"Bah!" spat the dwarf. "You humans think that you know
everything. My people mined these mountains before you
farmers learned how to grow your nauseating vegetables.
We dig more than potatoes out of the dirt, I'll tell you that
Martin nodded judiciously, although he knew that the
old hermit's dwarven pride was only momentary. Lodston
lived alone because he had alienated his own people as
much as he had the humans in Digfel. The merchant wanted
to divert the conversation toward the staff. He certainly did
not want to provoke a long-winded discourse on past
dwarven glories and present human frailties.
"That's a fascinating quarterstaff, Nugold," he probed.
"If you tell me how you came by it, I might pay good iron
ingots for it. I've been needing a fine old stick like that!"
Lodston's bearded mouth curled in a sly smirk. Martin's
face was a mere blur to him, but the silkiness in the wily
human's voice betrayed his usual greed.
"How much?" he demanded quickly, cocking his head at
the shopkeeper's fuzzy features.
"Enough to pay what you owe me, and maybe for this
trip as well - IF the staff is worth that much," Martin added
"Oh, it's worth ten times the trash you sell in this place,"
vowed the dwarf. "I got it from an elven wizard!"
If the hermit's vision had been sharper, he might have
recognized the immediate frown on the shop keeper's face
as a look of disbelief.
"There aren't any elves in Hylar! No elf I've ever met
would have anything to do with a dwarf!"
"There's one who would, all right, and he lives in my
cave!" Lodston retorted defiantly. The hermit pulled a small
keg of pickled fish closer to the fireplace and sat on it. He
clutched the magical staff in front of him as if he were
guarding it from the merchant's covetous gaze. Then he
reached into a pocket and handed Martin a crumpled piece
"He wrote down what we need. You fetch all those
things while I rest my legs, and I'll tell you the strangest tale
you'll ever hear in this ugly town of simpletons."
Milo Martin's frown deepened as he grabbed the list
from the hermit's filthy fingers. He expected to see a barely
literate scrawl, and was astonished when he recognized the
fine penmanship of a scholar on the crude parchment. Each
character was fashioned with elegant swirls, while the
spelling and phrases were archaic.
"'Balls of twyne, a sette of three;
"Grinded millett, so fyne as to pass through a tea
"Twin hyves of honey, with compleat combs for
the waxxe . . .'"
It was obvious that the old dwarf hadn't written the list.
Martin doubted if the hermit was literate at all, and he was
positive that those gnarled hands and failing vision would
be incapable of such careful strokes of a nib.
"This is quite a list, Nugold," he admitted. "I might not
have it all. Tell me about this 'elven wizard' who lives in
your cave while I gather whatever I can to suit you and
"His name's Dalamar," the dwarf began. "I found him on
the riverbank last month, half-starved and out of his head. I
knew he was strange, because of his white skin and long
hair as jet black as his sorcerer's robe. 'This ain't no human,'
I says to myself. Then I drug him into my cave and made
him a bed by the fire. When he woke up, I thought he'd be
afraid, but he was just as calm as he could be. He acted like
he knew where he was, and like he knew me, too. Even
called me by name, he did!"
Milo Martin paused with some candles in his hand.
"Black hair, you say? Not just dark?"
"Nay!" Lodston replied irritably. "I said black, and I
meant it! It be black as soot, and his skin like white linen,
so white that it shines like a full moon in a night sky."
The merchant stroked his chubby chin, considering the
dwarf's words. "Well, if he's an elf as you say, I'd guess that
he was from Sylvanesti. I've heard that the eastern elves
look like that, but I've never seen one of them."
The dwarf nodded excitedly. "That's it!" he exclaimed.
"Sylvanesti is where he said he was from! You beat all I've
ever seen with those wild guesses, Milo!"
The shopkeeper shrugged. It was no guess, but he
decided to let the hermit believe that he possessed such an
unpredictable skill. People were more reluctant to cheat
someone who could "outguess" them.
"Go on with your story. Tell me about the staff," urged
Martin as he turned toward his shelves to collect more
items on the list.
"Well, he asks me right off if I found his box. When I tell
him not to fret about some box after I save him from
drowning, he doesn't say anything. He just stares at the fire
for a long time. Then he gets up and heads for the door.
'Wait!' I calls. 'You ain't fit enough to walk!'
'Come to the river with me,' he says in this strange voice.
It was like his words were stronger than I was! Before I
knew what I was doing, I was up to my ankles in mud,
helping the elf find this staff and that danged box."
"What kind of box?" Milo Martin had stopped gathering
items from the list and was leaning against his counter. His
curiosity had grown too great to bother hiding.
"A little wooden chest bound with brass strips," Lodston
replied. "I carried it back to the cave after we found the
staff. When we both was dry and warm again, he told me
his name and said he used to be a wizard for some king
named 'Lorac.' "
The name meant nothing to Martin. The enthralled
shopkeeper motioned for Lodston to continue.
"Dalamar said he got into some kind of trouble back at
this Sylvanesti place for changing his robes from white to
black or something like that. Said he had to leave before the
king killed him. When I told him I didn't think a king'd
worry that much about the color of a man's clothes, he just
smiled and laid his head back against the hearth."
Martin knew very little about magic and wizards, but he
did know more than old Lodston. The shopkeeper's pudgy
face flushed as he flaunted his superior knowledge of
"Idiot! Don't you even know the difference between
white-robed and black-robed sorcerers? You ever heard of
an evil elf, much less an evil elven wizard?"
"Evil?" demanded the hermit. "You mean like Joss out
there and his scum-brained kids?"
"No!" Martin growled. "I don't mean simple pickpockets
and drunks. If you'd ever got out of that cave of yours,
you'd know that some dark force is sweeping over Krynn,
and it sounds to me like your new buddy is part of it!"
The shopkeeper's crisp eyes clouded. The normally jolly
and mercurial man seemed suddenly overwhelmed with
melancholia. "I thought Digfel was too little to get involved
in this thing," he muttered sadly. "I thought everybody
would leave us alone as long as we supplied them with steel
for their swords and spears."
"What in Reorx's name are you mumbling about?"
"I'm talking about that guest of yours!" Martin replied
angrily. "He and his evil friends will bring the war to
"War? What war? I don't understand what . . ."
"Go on with your story," the shopkeeper urged,
interrupting the dwarf's flurry of questions in a calmer
voice. The hermit's naive ignorance of the outside world
was incorrigible. Martin could barely explain the sinister
events of recent years to himself, much less to the reclusive
"Harrumph!" snorted Lodston. He was too old and
battle-weary to listen to human war stories. Vivid memories
of THE war still lingered in his aged brain, the war which
had forced the mountain dwarves from their traditional
"Well, as I was saying," he continued, "Dalamar's been
wandering around in the west ever since they threw him out
of this Sylvanesti place. He said he had to take some kind
of 'test' at Wayreth to be a wizard, and it made him sick. I
asked him if his stomach hurt, but he just said I wouldn't
understand if he told me. He was up at Solace when a
Seeker priest tried to kill him. So he made this raft and
sneaked away on the river just before they came to bum
him as a witch."
"Are they after him now?" Martin demanded quick ly.
Digfel had been free of the Seeker insanity, and he hoped
that Lodston's refugee would not attract the zealous witch-
hunters to this rough but quiet comer of Krynn.
"You got me there," Lodston replied. "I think they lost
his trail during the storm that wrecked his raft. Nobody'd
ever believe that he could have drifted this far downstream,
all the way through the Qualinesti woods. I told him I'd
hide him from them maniacs till he was well enough to take
care of himself. He didn't thank me or anything, just rolled
over and went to sleep."
"Did you search his belongings while he was sleeping?"
Milo Martin asked eagerly. The opportunistic shopkeeper
was imagining what he would have done under the same
"What am I, a kender?" cried the insulted dwarf.
"Anyway, I didn't need to snoop. He showed me what was
in his box."
The hermit paused to retrieve a blackened clay pipe
from beneath his fur cloak and gestured toward the tobacco
jar on the counter.
"How's about some of that weed, the kind you sprinkle
with honey wine? And maybe a little ale and biscuits to go
with it," he added as Martin fetched the tobacco. The hermit
might have been nearly blind, but he knew when he had
hooked a listener on a story. The shopkeeper thrust a
foaming mug of freshly brewed stout at the dwarf, who
waited until his pipe was well-fired before accepting it. He
was enjoying tempting Milo Martin's curiosity.
"Ahhh!" exclaimed the hermit, wiping ale from his
mouth with a sleeve.
"Get on with it!" demanded the impatient shopkeeper.
"What was in the chest?"
"Scrolls and books!" Lodston replied in a coarse whisper.
"Dozens of them! And a pair of funny old glasses with wire
"What was on the scrolls?" cried Martin.
"Spells, I reckon," growled the dwarf. "How should I
know? I can't read!"
The shopkeeper's pudgy face clouded. "Then how do you
know they were magic?"
" 'Cause I saw Dalamar using one to see the future!"
Martin said nothing for several moments. His eyes were
wide with imagination as he speculated to himself about the
value of such a treasure - if the old dwarf was telling the
"It was a couple of nights ago. We just ate some fish
stew and bread. I'm sitting by the fire smoking some wild
tobacco, nothing like this stuff, when Dalamar puts on them
glasses. He unrolls a piece of parchment like it was holy
and stares at the fire for a long time before he starts to read
it. I ask him what he's doing, but he acts like he don't hear
Lodston took a long swig of ale and a few more puffs of
the fragrant cured tobacco before resuming his story.
"Dalamar reads the words out loud, but they's in a
language I never heard before. The words had a lot of 'ssss'
and 'ffff sounds that ended in 'i's or 'o's. You ever hear
somebody talking like that?"
"No!" blurted his impatient listener. "Forget the
language! What happened then?"
"Settle down, and let me finish the story! There was this
light, kind of a white glow like moonshine, that got stronger
with every word he read. It was coming from the scroll, but
it spread all over his body. By the time he finished reading
them words, it got so bright in my cave that it hurt my eyes
to look at him."
"How long did it last?" Milo Martin asked breathlessly.
"I reckon not more than two or three minutes after he
stopped reading," said the hermit. "Soon as it was gone, he
stands up and heads for the door. He steps outside and
looks around the cave, like he's checking the ground for
footprints or something. 'What are you doing?' I asks him.
'What was that bright light in there?'
" 'They're not here yet,' he says.
" 'Who's not here?' I asks him, but he just comes back
inside and sits by the fire again. That's when I looked at the
scroll he was reading."
"Well? What did it look like?" Martin prompted.
"Nothing," the dwarf answered. "There was nothing on
it at all. Dalamar wrote that list on it this mom-ing!"
The startled shopkeeper dropped the parchment onto the
counter as if it were a hot coal. Then he retrieved it and
studied the writing more carefully. He even held it near a
candle to see if the heat would reveal hidden characters of
any kind. Regardless of the events at the hermit's cave, the
"magic scroll" was now nothing more than a grocery list.
"See what I told you?" said Lodston. "The spellwords
are gone. All I know is that whatever he saw last night
"Why do you say that?"
"Because he didn't go right to sleep. He made a sign
with some ashes on the inside of the door and then bolted it
like he thought somebody was going to try to break in. In
the morning, he gave me that list and told me to get the
stuff in a hurry. He handed me his staff and said I needed to
take it with me; that's when he whispered the secret word in
my ear to make it work."
"What secret word?" demanded Martin, his eyes riveted
to the enchanted weapon.
"None of your business," replied the dwarf, "and I can't
give you this staff. It's the elf's, not mine. Now give me
those goods, and let me get back to the cave before dark. I
don't know why he wanted all this stuff, but he told me to
"You promised me . . ."
"I never promised you anything, Milo Martin!"
countered the hermit. "But if you want me to tell Dala-mar
that you wouldn't loan him the things on that list . . ."
"All right, all right!" growled the cautious merchant.
Martin was angry with himself for letting Nugold Lodston
trick him into another extension of his credit, but he was
also hoping to find a way to acquire much more than just
"Tell this Dalamar that I want to meet him," the
shopkeeper said in a calmer voice. "I have a few business
ideas that may interest him. Knowledge like this can be a
valuable piece of merchandise. I know of several people
who would pay fortunes to get a single glimpse of the
"Like you?" Lodston snorted sarcastically. He collected
the provisions in a bulky sack and headed for the door.
"Don't forget to tell him what I said!" Martin called as
the hermit stumbled into the empty street without looking
Lodston's "cave" was actually an abandoned dwarven gold
mine. For centuries before he was born, the hermit's people
had tunneled into the mountainside near the Meltstone
River, enriching both themselves and the local human
merchants with great amounts of the yellow metal. When
iron ingots replaced gold and silver as the most precious
substance on Krynn - to make weapons of steel - the rich
Hylar dwarves near Digfel became paupers. Only a handful
of the sturdy miners remained in human towns in the
foothills of the dwarven highlands, becoming blacksmiths
and armorers. Human prospectors took their place as
miners, but of iron ore rather than softer metals such as
gold and silver.
Nugold Lodston chose to remain in the Hylar hills,
making cheap golden toys and baubles for local children.
He cherished the gleaming metal more than he had ever
loved anyone, dwarf or human. He also could not bear the
tedium of toiling over a blistering iron forge to produce
weapons and tools of burnished steel. Humans craving such
products of the dwarven metallurgists regarded Lodston as
a traitor, one who had critical skills but refused to use them.
Even the few of his own race left in Digfel spat on the
ground whenever he passed, a sign of ultimate rejection
among the Hylar dwarves.
"Dalamar! Come help me!" the hermit called from the
trail by the river. "I've carried these things far enough
Lodston waited, staring up the riverbank toward the
entrance to the mine shaft, but there was no sign of
movement. Then he noticed that the door was ajar. The
worried elf had slammed and barred the thick portal behind
him seconds after Lodston had left for Digfel. Why would
Dalamar be leaving the door open now?
Dropping the heavy cloth sack on the sandy trail, the old
hermit broke into a doddering run up the hill to his cave. He
sensed that some terrible event had befallen the elven
sorcerer even before he saw the footprints in the dirt outside
the shaft entrance. There were scores of boot marks with
low heelprints in the soft earth, as well as the tracks of
several large hounds. The dwarf dropped closer to the
ground to focus his failing sight on the muddy threshold
where the searchers had entered his home. Four large
symbols had been drawn in black soot on the timber over
the gaping door, but the illiterate hermit could not
understand the inscriptions.
"Dalamar!" he called softly, hesitant to push the door. In
his nightmares, unseen evils always lurked within silent
doorways like this one. "Are you in there?"
Only the constant sound of the river below the shaft
broke the ominous silence. Lodston finally mustered the
courage to squelch his imagination and kicked the door
open wide enough to peer into the antechamber of the
ancient mine shaft.
It was empty. The fire was still warm, and a lamp had
been lit beside the small table. There were no remnants of
death and dismemberment, as he had expected to see - not
even a sign of a struggle. The door leading into the
abandoned network of shafts was bolted securely on the
antechamber side. Dalamar and his box of scrolls had
vanished, perhaps taken without a struggle by the strangers
with the dogs. The enchanted staff in Lodston's gnarled
hands seemed to be all that remained of his strange guest.
The hermit scrambled down the steep bank in the failing
light of dusk and retrieved the sack of provisions. When he
returned to the mine shaft, he slammed the door and slid the
heavy wooden bar into place to guard it from whomever
had come for the elven sorcerer. Then he threw another log
on the fire and fumbled among the large ingots of gold in a
basket beside the table for one to melt into a toy figure. He
saw the end of a parchment case as soon as he moved the
first bar of gold. It was one of the elf's scrolls!
"Ah! They left one behind!" he exclaimed aloud. The
familiar echoes of his own voice inside the mine's entry
chamber was a friendly, reassuring sound. Lod ston's
tension melted, giving way to excitement. The old hermit
fumbled clumsily with the scroll case, finally managing to
dump the neatly rolled white parchment into his filthy hand.
Trembling with anticipation, he pressed an end of the
scroll to the table and unrolled it beneath the light of the
lamp. There was a hasty line drawing at the top of the page,
just above some undecipherable characters in Dalamar's
"Hey, that's me!" Lodston croaked, peering at the
drawing. Sure enough, Dalamar had drawn a crude
caricature of the hermit's profile. The bulbous nose and
bushy eyebrows were unmistakable. Beside the face, the
wizard had drawn his own spectacles, equally obvious
because of their curious hexagonal lenses and wire rims. A
dotted arrow led from the glasses to Lodston's profile, and a
solid arrow from his eyes to the text below the drawing.
Even a child could understand the simple diagram.
"He wants me to put on his glasses, but where are they?"
muttered the hermit.
He began rummaging through the room, his excited
imagination blossoming into full-blown frenzy. After
searching inside, under and on top of everything in the
sparsely furnished chamber, the only thing he discovered
was the absence of his oldest cloak, a tattered, floor-length
garment of crudely woven wool. He sat down heavily in the
chair and stared once more at the elf's drawing.
Suddenly he knew where the glasses had to be. He whirled
around toward the basket of gold ore and began tossing the
heavy nuggets on the floor. The wire-rimmed spectacles
were at the bottom of the pile, wrapped in thick goatskin
and wedged into a crevice between two huge nuggets to
protect them from the weight of the ore. Lodston thrust the
wire rims around his hairy ears and peered again at the
The black characters beneath the drawing began to swim
and wriggle before his eyes. The motion was so distracting
at first that Lodston felt a little lightheaded and dizzy. Soon,
though, the characters settled into firmer images, more in
the dwarf's mind than on the scroll.
"I can't read," he muttered in amazement, "yet I know
exactly what this says!" The elf's message in wizard-scrawl
was brief but clear:
THE QUALINESTI MAGE HAS FOUND ME.
GUARD MY SCROLLS AND BOOKS WITH YOUR
LIFE. IF I FAIL TO RETURN WITHIN A MONTH, YOU
MUST TAKE THEM TO LADONNA, MISTRESS OF
BLACK ARTS IN THE TOWER OF HIGH SORCERY AT
WAYRETH. YOU WILL FIND THEM BEHIND THE
OLD DOOR. GO INTO THE TUNNEL AND TURN
LEFT AT THE FOURTH PASSAGE. WALK TWELVE
PACES AND LOOK UP. MY STAFF AND THESE
DWARVEN GLASSES OF TRUE SEEING WILL REPAY
YOU FOR YOUR PAST AND FUTURE KINDNESSES.
DO NOT TRY TO READ THE OTHER
PARCHMENTS! THEIR POWER WOULD DESTROY
YOU AND ATTRACT MY ENEMIES.
Lodston removed the enchanted glasses, only to see the
magical writing encode itself again in his mind. He
experimented with them a few more times, feeling the
message swim in and out of his awareness each time he
donned and removed the spectacles. He also noticed that he
could see his surroundings perfectly whenever he was
wearing the magical lenses.
" 'Glasses of True Seeing,' huh? Now that's some piece of
sorcery!" he exclaimed aloud. "Healing an old dwarf's
eyesight and teaching him to read secret spells all at the
same time!" Lodston could not have known that the
"healing" effects were accidental. The lenses, which some
unknown dwarven wizard had used to fashion the
enchanted spectacles, just happened to have the right angle
of refraction to improve Lodston's failing vision.
The jubilant hermit unbolted the inner door and ran into
the tunnels, following Dalamar's directions to the letter. At
the twelfth step in the fourth passageway, he looked
upward, using the lamplight and his wondrous new glasses
to study the shadows of the ceiling. The small chest was
wedged between the tunnel roof and a loose timber, just as
the parchment had promised. He quickly pried it loose and
scurried back to the antechamber to study his newfound
Lodston opened the unlocked lid of the chest and
dumped its contents on the table in the lamplight. Dalamar's
voluminous robe tumbled onto the rough wooden surface,
forming a black cushion for dozens of small parchment
cases and several slender books covered in purple silk and
bound with leather straps.
"So he traded me his fine black robe for my old cloak,
huh? Sorcerers might be brainy, but they're short on
common sense," Lodston muttered to himself. The hermit
picked up each scroll separately, weighing it in his hands
and examining it with his powerful new spectacles. Still he
saw nothing unusual about any of them.
"Why didn't he put labels on them?" mumbled the
curious dwarf. "What good are enchanted glasses if there's
nothing to read with them? At least they should have titles
so I'd know what I'm guarding 'with my life.' "
For several minutes of agonizing temptation, Lodston
stared first at the scrolls, then at the note from Dalamar.
Finally, he snorted and started returning the cases, one-by-
one, to the chest. He held the last one in his hand a moment
too long, letting curiosity win the battle with judgment.
With a muffled growl of surrender, he squinted behind the
tiny glasses perched upon his huge nose and opened the
Once again, the magical glyphs on the parchment
writhed into a meaningful form, the words of an incantation
in some unknown language forcing themselves from the
"DRISH FETTS, DRISH FETTS, LORGON TRITS," he
heard his own voice pronouncing, but he could not
understand what he was saying.
Lodston found it difficult to recall which of several
things happened first at the instant he uttered the last
syllable of the strange incantation. The scroll itself flared
with a yellow light, then disintegrated into fine ashes in his
hands. At the same time (it seemed) a huge sphere of
orange flames formed itself from the yellow glow of the
scroll and shot forward, away from the hermit. In a
blinding, deafening explosion, the fireball struck the pantry
wall with such stunning force that Lodston was slammed to
the rock floor of the antechamber.
"Great Reorx!" he swore when he was able to stagger to
his feet. The pantry, with its dirty dishes and utensils, plus
some sacks of food, had been completely destroyed! The
nearest comer of the ancient mine chamber was charred and
bare of everything. The wooden shelves had disintegrated
into smoking embers on the floor. Lodston looked at the
pile of seemingly harmless scroll-cases in the chest and
slammed its lid shut with a fearful cry.
"I won't touch another one of the damnable things!" he
vowed in a ringing shout, as if he were promising the
absent Dalamar that he would never disobey him again.
"You and this 'Ladonna' can have these evil things to
The old dwarf's dreams that first night were filled with
images of black-robed sorcerers who were fighting him
with deadly magic. He had no way of imagining Dalamar's
enemy, this "Qualinesti mage," but his mind constructed a
spectral figure in a hooded white robe, the face hidden by
the cowl except for terrible red eyes gleaming from its
shadows. Lodston woke from his nightmare with a shudder
and lay awake staring at the dying embers in the fireplace.
"What am I supposed to do if this mage from Qualinesti
comes for your scrolls and books?" he cried in a hushed
voice, as if Dalamar could hear and advise him. "I don't
know anything about magic. I wouldn't even know which
spell to read until it was too late. Why should I have to fight
your enemy when you ran away from him yourself?"
The silence that followed his desperate cry for help
offered no solace. Lodston fumbled in the darkness for the
staff and the glasses. When he had found both magical
items, he crawled to the door. The only thing he could do, it
seemed, was leave this business to Dalamar and the mage
from Qualinesti, whoever he was. He remembered stories
from his childhood about the Kinslayer Wars between
different elven clans and wondered fleetingly if that was the
"war" that Milo Martin had mentioned.
"It's none of my business, any way you look at it!" he
muttered at the door. Then he slid the wooden bar aside and
stepped into the darkness outside his dwarf-made cave. By
the silver light of the white moon, he could see the curious
inscription on his front door which he hadn't been able to
read before. The runes flowed together under the power of
the Glasses of True Seeing, startling the hermit with their
DEATH TO TRAITORS AND TO THOSE WHO HIDE
THEM! it read.
Lodston felt his skin prickle with fear as he read his own
death sentence. He whirled around and probed the darkness
with the aid of his new glasses, hoping to spot one of
Dalamar's enemies in the thick shadows of the cliff side
"And death to you!" he shouted into the darkness with a
shake of the quarterstaff. "This is my home! Leave me
alone! I want nothing to do with elven squabbles!"
The old dwarf tensed himself, prepared to fight anyone
who responded to his challenge, but the stillness remained
unbroken save for the steady gurgle of the Meltstone River
"Well, if magic's your game, then that's what you'll get
from Nugold Lodston!" the hermit shouted into the night.
With that burst of bravado, he darted back inside the mine
chamber and bolted the door behind him. Then he opened
the chest and looked at the mute wooden scroll cases.
Finally he shut his eyes behind the wizard's spectacles and
reached inside for another parchment.
He was more cautious this time. The gnarled fingers
shook as he unfurled an inch or two of the scroll's top edge
and examined its surface carefully with the aid of his
enchanted spectacles. A single line of glyphs began to twist
themselves into a meaningful phrase in his mind.
TISNOLLO'S WONDROUS INCANTATION OF
SUGGESTION read the parchment's title.
Encouraged by the fact that nothing dangerous had
happened, Lodston unrolled another few inches of the scroll
and continued to read.
"To win powerful control over the thoughts and body of
one's subject, the adept must focus his occult energies upon
the . . ."
Aha! Wait until I spring this one on Milo! he thought
gleefully. Lodston's childish excitement stifled his
immediate curiosity. He re-rolled the parchment tightly and
returned it to its case. Then he made a small mark on the
polished wood with a charred stick from the fireplace. He
couldn't write, but he might at least mark the scrolls to
distinguish those which seemed safe from those which were
more dangerous. Then he reached for another of the
By sunrise, the would-be wizard had catalogued each of
the scrolls into one of four categories: "tricks," which meant
(he thought) harmless spells he wanted to use on people he
knew, such as Milo Martin; "guard spells," which seemed
to protect their caster from harm; "attack spells," whose
titles suggested more aggressive results; and "unknown
spells," whose results the untrained hermit could not predict
even by reading and understanding the first few lines.
A sorcerer needs a sorcerer's robe, Lodston thought,
delighted with the promise of new and unusual powers. He
lifted Dalamar's black robe from the table and let it fall
loosely over his head. A blend of cloying fragrances
stormed his nostrils from the hundreds of hidden pockets
which had contained the wizard's spell components and
ingredients for herbal potions. The pockets were empty
now, but residue of their exotic contents remained to
perfume the silken fabric.
The hermit had planned to gather the voluminous garment
at the waist to adjust its length, but the robe seemed to
sense his shorter height. At the moment the light but strong
fabric settled on his shoulders, Lodston felt Dalamar's
power surging in the robe and spreading into his own body.
The flawless stitches seemed to shrink closer together,
drawing the garment's hem from the floor until it barely
covered the dwarfs boots.
Suddenly, the dark elf's lingering dweomer flooded
Lodston's mind with alien thoughts and impulses, confusing
the dwarf with flashing images of fire, pain, and dark
presences. Just as the psychic turmoil was becoming
unbearable, it stopped. The powerful memories melted and
receded into Lodston's aged brain, merging with his own
dim recollections of the past. A wave of energy swept into
his arthritic limbs, dulling their pain and moving him
toward the door. The black-robed figure that descended the
cliff and strode confidently toward Digfel bore little
resemblance to the reclusive dwarf who made golden toys
Four days later, the Pig Iron Alehouse was buzzing with
gossip about Lodston and his guest from Sylvanesti.
"He must be an evil sorcerer, part of that trouble in the
north," someone whispered.
"Nobody's ever seen him, but look at old Lodston!"
"I saw him reading a spell from a scroll!" claimed one
witness. "He called up a lightning bolt and set the
blacksmith's shop on fire, just because the smith spat on the
ground when he walked past! Old Lodston always was an
ornery cuss, but never that mean. I think that elf has cast an
evil spell on him."
"Dwarves don't know anything about magic," scoffed a
less superstitious townsman. "I heard that was some kind of
family feud - something to do with the old gold mine. The
hermit probably kept the blacksmith busy while the elf set
"I know what I saw!" protested the witness. "He had on
some funny glasses and was reading from a piece of
parchment when the lightning came right out of his hands
just before the scroll blew up!"
"I heard Lodston tell Tidbore Ummer that his sheep were
going to die, and they did - every one of them! Tidbore said
the old fool told him he read the future from a magic
"That old gold-hound can't read!"
"Read? By Paladine, he can't even see!"
"Well, he can now! I heard that this elf is a healer, not a
wizard, and that he made some glasses to heal the dwarf's
eyesight," someone whispered.
There was a nervous titter as a flurry of gossip about
healing spectacles spread among the tables.
"If that were true, the Seekers from Solace would be
crawling all over us. A healer in Krynn? Don't be a fool!"
"To me, the biggest puzzle is why a dwarf would take up
with an elf. They're supposed to hate each other, you
"That wouldn't be a special problem for Nugold Lodston.
He hates everybody and everything, except gold, that is!"
"That's not any harder to believe than an elf in black
robes, I tell you. If you ask me, it's got something to do
with all that mess in the north."
"Maybe he and this Dalamar like something else about
each other, if you know what I mean!"
The drunken insinuation cut through the underlying
tension of the conversation, causing peals of laughter to fill
the tavern. During the raucous outbreak of crude jokes
about Lodston and Dalamar, a man clad in a rough wool
cloak flipped the hood closer around his face. Then he
tossed an iron coin on the table and left the tavern.
While the patrons of the Pig Iron Alehouse were debating
over the nature of his relationship with Dalamar, Nugold
Lodston was on the other side of Digfel, shaking his stick in
Milo Martin's flushed face. Even his voice had changed in
the last several days, developing an impatient edge and a
curious clipped accent.
"You heard what we want! We'll expect delivery, as
usual, before nightfall!"
"I can't do that, Nugold," Martin insisted. "My cart was
in the blacksmith's shop when you . . . uh, when it caught
fire. It'll be a week before I'm able to bring all this stuff out
to you. Tell Dalamar it's not my fault!"
Martin looked away from the dwarf's angry gaze behind
the curious hexagonal glasses. Though he had never met the
elf, he now feared Lodston's guest. The powers which the
elven wizard had bestowed upon his unlikely dwarven
friend were more than the shopkeeper wanted to face.
Hadn't they changed the irascible but harmless old hermit
into a fearsome sorcerer with a more dangerous temper?
Hadn't the elf somehow healed the dwarf's failing vision
with the enchanted spectacles perched upon Lodston's huge
"Well, bring it as soon as you get your cart fixed,"
growled the dwarf as he turned to leave Martin's shop. "Just
remember what I said about the door, if you value your
"I know, I know!" the man mumbled. "You and the elf
have placed a curse on it. No thief in his right mind would
try to steal anything from you or your new 'friend.' "
Lodston smirked behind his whiskers and stepped through
the doorway onto the street. The curious little glasses
perched on his thick nose sparkled in the late morning sun.
The bully, Joss, interrupted a conspiratorial discussion with
a pair of teenaged pickpockets and muttered a hasty
warning. The unscrupulous trio darted into the shadows,
away from Lodston's path. The hermit scowled in their
direction, wishing he had a suitably vindictive spell to cast
upon the fleeing threesome.
I've used all the scrolls I understand, he mused on his
way home. I guess I'll just have to take a chance on a
strange one, if I mean to keep these human clods on their
When he reached the mine, Lodston headed
immediately for the chest. He had already used all of the
"fun" and "attack" spells and was ready to risk reading one
or two incantations in his "unknown" category in order to
strengthen his image in Digfel as a dangerous sorcerer. The
hermit unrolled the first scroll he found with four black
marks and began to read it.
HAPGAMMITON'S MODE OF INTERPLANAR GATING
TO SUMMON OTHER INTELLIGENCES RESIDING
ON OTHER PLANES OF EXISTENCE, IT IS
ESSENTIAL FOR THE CASTER TO PREPARE
HIMSELF FOR FIVE CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS PRIOR
TO UTTERING THE INCANTATION. FAILURE TO
PURIFY HIMSELF BEFOREHAND WILL RENDER
THE INCANTATION EITHER POWERLESS OR
Bah! I already knew it was unpredictable! Lodston
thought. The worst that can come of it is that it'll fail. In
that case, I can just pick another one. Undaunted, the
amateur wizard skipped the rest of the page and began
reading the ancient words at the bottom of the parchment.
His pronunciation and understanding of the forgotten
elvish dialect had grown more accurate with each reading
of Dalamar's scroll's. This time, his dwarven accents had
dwindled to a mere trace, as had much of his original
personality before it was dominated by the dark elf's spells
and robe. Lodston intoned the ancient words perfectly,
letting the scroll's dweomer fuse with the vestiges of
Dalamar's power within his mind and body.
MARGASH JORAS NOLLEN
GRATH GRISSIT DORSI, GRISSIT
ITEL FOMA DRILID SHUDE;
MARGASH NEPPS U HALLEM GRATH!
OBEY THESE WORDS OF POWER
WATCHERS OF THE THRESHOLD, WATCHERS AT
UNBAR THE GUARDED DOOR;
OBEY THE COMMAND OF THIS SERVANT OF
Beneath the dwarf's feet, the firm rock floor seemed to
quiver as he spoke the final spellwords. Lodston's untrained
concentration shattered completely when a thin stream of
opaque light seemed to slice through both floor and ceiling
of his sturdy artificial cave. The frightened hermit collapsed
in a babbling heap on the floor, shielding his face from the
Suddenly the beam began to split, as if a doorway were
opening onto a new yet darker dimension. Peering through
his trembling fingers, Lodston saw moving forms just
inside the opening, monstrous forms with scaly appendages
and tentacles writhing and lurching toward the threshold
produced by Dalamar's scroll.
The dwarf began to moan and crawled toward the door.
Just as he was reaching for the bar, the stout wooden
timbers exploded from some terrible force on the outside.
The blast drove scores of thick splinters into the dwarf's
head and chest and dashed him against the far wall with
such force that he crumpled to the floor in a daze. The
Glasses of True Seeing fell from his face into his lap,
adding natural blindness to the old hermit's stupor. He
could still see the gaping doorway because of the sunlight
outside the entrance. He could also see a bulky figure clad
and cowled in rough wool framed by the shattered sill.
"Idiot! What have you done?"
Dalamar's distinctive accent boomed in the small
"Dalamar!" the hermit tried to cry. "Help . . ."
"Quiet, you ignorant fool! I must try to undo what you've
done before the gate widens!"
Blood from several gashes in his head blinded the dwarf
even more. He was growing weaker and was clutching
desperately to consciousness. Through the haze, he could
barely see Dalamar marking the floor with a bit of chalk.
Tentacled paws and stranger appendages were probing the
air above the dark elf's head while he began chanting a
singsong phrase over and over again from within the
sanctuary of the hastily drawn pentagram.
For a moment it seemed that the horde of unearthly
creatures Lodston had freed would swarm into the chamber
and engulf the wizard. Yet he faced the monstrous beings
with unflinching, intense concentration until the "gate"
began to close. Then Dalamar raised both hands and his
voice, crying the same phrase as loudly as he could. The
final surge of energy was enough to dissipate the rest of the
ethereal light. Silence and semidarkness enveloped the
hermit's fading thoughts.
Dalamar glanced first at the dwarf and then at the crude
table that held the open chest with his spellbooks and the
remaining scrolls. The dark elf began removing the magical
writings from the chest, examining each one for signs of
"H ... H ... Help me, D ... D ... Dalamar," Lodston pleaded
weakly. He crawled forward, trailing blood from his many
wounds, until he could grasp the elf's ankle in his gnarled
hand. "I n ... n ... need some w ... w ... water."
Dalamar pulled his leg firmly away from the hermit's
"You'll need nothing in a moment or two, old dwarf," he
told the hermit. "You will have peace, but you will have
paid dearly for your disobedience. Already the dweomer of
your bumbling incantations has spread northward to
Qualinesti, if not farther. This quiet village will be drawn
into the Dark Queen's war, thanks to you and your
meddling. But you will have peace."
Dalamar watched in grim silence while Lodston's
grasping fingers relaxed on the floor at his feet. Then he
threw the hermit's crude cloak to one side and stooped to
retrieve his black robe from the dwarf's body.
Milo Martin could see that something was very wrong
the moment he arrived at the riverside trail leading to
Lodston's gold mine. He left the sacks of provisions on the
trail and picked his way stealthily among the bushes until
he could see the darkened entrance.
Fragments of the heavy door were hanging from its sill by
only one hinge. Some terrible force had blasted the thick
portal inward, shattering it as if it had been an eggshell. The
nervous storekeeper crept closer to examine the ground for
tracks. The sandy soil was riddled with hundreds of
footprints, tracks of boots with low heels, the kind
commonly worn by elves. He also noted pawprints of large
dogs, possibly bloodhounds used to track criminals.
Satisfied that none of Lodston's visitors were still in the
vicinity of the mine, Martin crossed warily to the gaping
doorway. Then he called in a low, halting voice, as though
he dreaded either an answer or no answer at all.
"Nugold! Nugold Lodston! It's Milo Martin, with your
Somehow the silence seemed more ominous than a reply
might have to the cautious shopkeeper. He entered the
murky chamber, stepping over the debris from what had
been the door. The chamber had been ransacked, and the
stench of rotten flesh nearly sickened him. Packages of
food from his own store were broken and scattered
everywhere. A fine layer of flour had settled throughout the
antechamber, lending an eerie white cast to everything in
Martin lit a lamp he found on a small table. Its light
shone through the haze of flour which he had disturbed
when he entered. At the rear of the room, he saw another
shattered door leading into a pitch-black tunnel. Whatever
force had blasted the heavy timbers of those doors was
more than a mere battering ram. In fact, the inner door
appeared to have been blown completely off its hinges.
The merchant was just starting toward the tunnel when
his feet stumbled over something soft beside the table. He
held the lamp closer and realized that it was the old dwarf's
tattered woolen cloak. It was draped over something much
firmer, something which was the obvious source of the
stench in the small chamber. Martin lifted a corner of the
filthy rag just enough to verify what he suspected. The old
hermit's rotting body was lying inside some kind of
mystical diagram with its bloated face staring vacantly at
the ceiling. The head and chest were riddled with sharp
splinters from the outer door, and the back of the scalp was
badly gashed and bruised.
"What did they do to you, old friend? Where's your fine
sorcerer's robe now?" Martin mumbled sourly, a few tears
moistening his blue eyes. Despite Lodston's crankiness, the
merchant knew that he'd miss the dwarfs trips to Digfel.
"You were playing with fire when you let that elven wizard
teach you magic!" he scolded the silent corpse.
Martin shook his head and turned away from Lodston's
body. Being a practical man, he found an empty flour sack
and began to rummage through the rubble, looking for
anything of value which he might resell in his store. He
found a metal cup and spoon in a scorched comer, as well
as several half-finished golden figurines and a bit of cheap
tobacco he could soak in wine to disguise its harshness. In
the lamplight, he could see footprints where the searchers
from Qualinesti had tracked flour into the mine. Just inside
the mine passage, he could see a sturdy little chest lying
empty on its side.
Whatever might have been in that box, magic or
otherwise, belongs to the dark elf or his friends now, Martin
thought grimly. Just as he was leaving, he noticed the light
from the doorway glinting on something under the table,
something made of metal and glass.
"Aha! The famous healing spectacles, I'll wager," Martin
muttered. He wiped them free of flour and gore from the
bloody floor, then balanced them on his nose. The thick
lenses distorted his vision so badly that his head began to
hurt almost instantly.
Humph! I don't know anybody in Digfel with eyesight
bad enough for these glasses. What a waste of good
workmanship! he thought. Still, some traveler might have a
need for them. Martin frowned and removed the glasses,
sticking them impulsively into one of his trouser pockets.
Then he turned toward the failing sunlight outside
Lodston's shattered door.
By Barbara Siegel & Scott Siegel
Spinner Kenro, you're under arrest!" announced the
dragonarmy officer, the point of his blade at my throat.
I swallowed hard, hoping my bobbing adam's apple
wouldn't be sliced by the edge of his sword. Struggling to
keep my voice from quivering, I said, "I haven't broken any
laws. On what charge are you arresting me?"
The officer, a human, his face a mottled mass of burn
scars surrounding dead, gray eyes, growled, "You were
warned, Kenro, to stop telling your stories. The Highlord
doesn't give second chances."
I was standing near the fireplace in the main room of the
Paw's Mark Inn. I had just finished telling one of my tales
to the assembled audience. How strange it was to see them
all in one place; the kender, with their comically bright-
colored clothes, stood out like stars in a dark sky against the
somber gray beards of the fastidious dwarves and the earthy
brown skin of the ever-so diligent gnomes.
The dragonarmy officer seemed to pay them no mind. I
suppose he had little fear because his fellow soldiers had
entered the inn just behind him and had stationed
themselves at every exit.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the kender, Quinby
Cull, strut forward. His face had turned red, and his cheeks
were puffed out. Though Quinby was unarmed and half the
size of the dragonarmy officer, he seemed thoroughly
unafraid. I wish I could have said the same for myself.
"Spinner is our friend, and you've no right to arrest him!"
"There's room for you in the Highlord's prison, too,
kender," the dragonarmy officer said darkly.
Quinby seemed to mull that over before he innocently
asked, "How much room is there in the Highlord's prison? I
thought it was already full."
The officer pulled the edge of his sword away from my
throat and stepped forward to threaten Quinby.
I grabbed the officer's arm. "He doesn't mean anything
by it," I quickly said. "Leave him be."
Quinby had become a good friend since I arrived in
Flotsam just a few short weeks ago. I had been disheveled
and my spirit nearly broken until my long, meandering
journey from the outskirts of Solace ended in this dark,
forbidding city. I had traveled more than half a continent
searching for an audience for my stories. And here, at last, I
had found one. But more than that, I had found friendship. .
"Please," I begged, hanging onto the soldier's arm.
The dragonarmy officer slowly lowered his sword.
"It's all right, Quinby," I said. "I'll go with this soldier
and get everything straightened out. I'm sure," I added with
more confidence than I felt, "that I'll be free by morning."
A dwarf named Vigre Arch suddenly stepped up beside
Quinby and said boldly, "I don't like this. You'd better stay
here with us, Spinner."
The dragonarmy officer's eyebrows raised in alarm.
Dwarves and kender in agreement? "The Highlord was
right," he muttered.
"Right about what?" I asked.
"That you're a dangerous man. Enough of this talk. Let's
go, Kenro, or I'll lop off your head right now. That'd put a
quick end to your storytelling, now, wouldn't it?" he
Not having any choice, I started following the officer out
of the inn. Both Quinby and Vigre Arch were shouldered
aside, but there was a growing rumble among the crowd.
"Where are you taking Spinner?" one of the kender
"We want another story!" shouted a dwarf at the far side
of the room. "Let Spinner go!"
"Yeah! Let Spinner go," yelled a young gnome, taking
up the cry.
Soon everyone in the room - except, of course, the
dragonarmy soldiers - began to chant, "Let Spinner go! Let
The kender, dwarves, and gnomes who crammed the inn
had never joined together for anything - except to fight
among themselves - and that had made it easy for the
Highlord to rule. But the dragonarmy soldiers were seeing
something that opened their eyes to a new and startling
reality. The three races had united in my defense!
Frankly, it amazed me, too.
The angry crowd - they easily numbered more than two
hundred - began to surge forward.
"Tell them to stop!" ordered the officer.
I saw the dragonarmy soldiers raise their crossbows.
This was madness.
"Listen," I said to the officer, "let me tell them a story. It
will calm them down."
The soldier looked at the ugly mob and his nervous
troops. He shrugged and then reluctantly said, "Make it a
I held up my hands for quiet.
Everyone quickly settled down into an expectant
silence. I was relieved. And so was the officer.
"I have to go with these men, but first let me tell you a
simple tale to end this rather remarkable afternoon." I
pointedly glanced at the officer who still had not sheathed
his sword. He glared back at me.
I took a deep breath and began, "This is a story as old as
time but as short as man's memory. It's a story of three
orphans growing up in a city not unlike Flotsam."
"It's a sad story," sighed Vigre Arch. "I love it when
Spinner makes me cry."
There was a sniffle in the audience as several dwarves
began to weep in anticipation of my tale.
"Yes, it's a sad story," I said, "but there is a lesson to be
learned in it. You see," I continued, "the orphans were
starving, and they fought each other over every scrap of
food they found. This was not a poor city, mind you, no.
This was a city rich with power, wealth, and finery. Only
not for our three little wretches. They were looked down
upon, spat upon, and abused by the city elders."
The dragonarmy officer eyed me closely. His knuckles
turned white on his sword handle.
I hurried on with my story.
"One day, the three orphans were at the edge of the city.
And it was there that they came upon a Great Red Clarion,
that fierce and magical bird that even some of the smaller
dragons fear. If they could catch the Clarion and hold its
magic in their hands, the orphans would never be laughed at
or go hungry ever again.
"The Clarion's wing was broken, and it couldn't fly
away. But its talons were sharp, and its beak made a
"Here, finally, was a chance for the three orphans to
make new lives for themselves, and all they had to do was
work together to capture the magical bird."
I swept my arm out in front of my body and pointed at
my audience. "But did they work together to capture the
Clarion's magic? No!" I declared. "So hungry, so desperate,
were these poor orphans that they didn't even think of
joining forces. Instead, they fought each other over the
Clarion. And while they fought, the city elders sneaked up
behind them and captured the bird - and its magic - for
"Oh, how could those orphans be so foolish and stupid!"
"It's a terrible shame!" declared Vigre, agreeing with the
kender. "The three orphans should have known better." The
dwarf saw Barsh wiping tears from his eyes. He gently
patted the leader of the gnomes on the shoulder.
The gnomes looked up to Barsh, not because he was the
tallest of them, but because he was the greatest, most
inspired of their inventors. Vigre, on the other hand,
thought of Barsh as a hopelessly confused creator of
useless, impossible machines. But at that moment, Vigre
and Barsh were of the same mind.
Barsh turned to look up at his new friend, Vigre, and
sobbed, "They should have designed a way to work
together. Then they could have taken all the power and
riches away from those cruel city elders!"
The dragonarmy officer who stood next to me hissed in
my ear, "You're a clever one, Kenro, but I'm not deceived. I
know what you're up to. End this story now, or I'll end your
A storyteller is nothing if his tales don't have the ring of
truth. And this story had but one true ending. . . .
"My friends," I said softly, making them all lean forward
and strain their ears to hear, "THE THREE ORPHANS ARE
HERE IN THIS ROOM."
The officer began to raise his sword.
At the same time, however, the kender began shouting,
"Where are they? I don't see them! Are they under the
"You doorknobs!" roared the dwarves, glaring at the
kender in disgust. They knew what I was talking about. As
for the gnomes, they became instantly agitated, but they all
spoke so fast that no one could understand a single word
they were saying.
The officer laughed at all three races. "The fools," he
said. Then he prodded me with the tip of his sword. "Out
the door, Kenro," he commanded.
I had come from a small woodland village and had never
known the intoxicating effect of hearing a crowd chant my
name. But Jawbone Jekson had. Now there was a man who
could weave a tale. People would walk two days to reach
our village in order to hear him. Their return trip, however,
always seemed to go faster because their heads were filled
with his wondrous tales.
When I was a child, I traipsed after Jawbone wherever he
went. I learned his stories, his little vocal tricks, the way he
moved his body at the climax of a tale. He took me under
his wing and taught me still more. Jawbone was more than
a teacher, he was a father to me - a father who told bedtime
stories from morning till night. But I was never as good as
he was, and no one wanted to listen to me when Jawbone
Jekson could be called upon to tell his tales. Despite
everything I had learned, I was unneeded, unwanted,
It was clearly time for me to go off on my own, but I was
afraid to leave. What if no one listened?
Late one night, Jawbone walked with me along the Patch
River and - what else? - he told me a story. In his little tale I
became a hero, a myth, a storyteller whose name lasted
through the ages. As I listened, I could see myself standing
high on a hill, the sun shining down on me, as hundreds -
no, thousands - of people gathered below to hear my words.
Despite my terrible fears, I left my home and sailed into
the unknown on a wispy cloud of Jawbone's words. Such
was his story telling power.
I traveled across Krynn, telling my own tales in little
villages and towns with barely a tear being shed or a laugh
being loosed. I thought myself a dismal failure. But then I
came to Flotsam. There were no storytellers among the
kender, dwarves, and gnomes. When they heard me tell my
tales, it was as if the first dragon had taken wing. Their eyes
opened wide, and they listened and stared with awestruck
Once, soon after arriving in Flotsam, I told a story in a
tannery to a small group of kender in exchange for a meal.
The tanner was crying by the end of my tale. One of his
friends took me home to feed me. As I ate, he told me that
the tanner's daughter had died during the last new moon.
The father did not cry at the funeral, yet he clearly loved his
little girl. "Why," he asked me, "could the tanner weep for
the people in my story and not for his daughter?"
I wanted to say that I was such a wonderful storyteller that
I could make a stone cry. But I didn't. I had no answer -
until now. I remember that Jawbone once said that stories
are the windows of life. They let everyone peek inside to
see that they are not alone in their suffering. It's that
knowledge that gives them hope when their world is bleak,
makes them laugh when they see their own folly, makes
them cry when tears are the only answer. Without that
window, he said, the greatest emotions are sometimes never
touched, never felt, and never shared.
Oh, how I wished Jawbone could have been there to see
the huge crowd in the Paw's Mark Inn chanting my name.
He would have been proud of me. I had opened a lot of
I was brought before the Dragon Highlord. She had long,
slender legs that were only partially hidden by her armor.
And there were tantalizing glimpses of flesh above her
breastplate. But it was her face, with blazing green eyes and
high cheekbones, that riveted me in place. She was the kind
of woman storytellers usually make the love interest of their
tales. Perhaps that's the difference between stories and
As I waited on my knees in front of her, the Highlord
whispered something to one of her generals. All I heard was
the name Tanis and an order to ready the dragons to attack
a ship that had just left the harbor. She obviously wasn't
planning on spending much time on my case.
"How do you plead?" she demanded, finally turning her
attention toward me.
"Plead?" I asked. "How can I plead when I don't know
Her full lips opened into a mirthless smile that revealed
sharp, white teeth.
"The charge," she said with surprising gentleness, "is
treason." Still smiling, she continued. "We need the kender,
dwarves, and gnomes working day and night if we are to
conquer Krynn. But now they shirk their jobs to come and
hear you prattle on about nonsense. Your silly stories have
turned them into hapless dreamers who stare into space and
ignore their work."
"Please," I began, answering her smile with one of my
own. "You must understand that telling stories is no crime.
The imagination is part of the soul. Without it, my
audience might as well be animals."
At that, the Highlord laughed. "Animals. Exactly. That's
what those races are. And that's what they shall remain.
Work animals. Now, how do you plead?"
I didn't know what to say. It is true I hated the tyranny
of the dragonarmy, but I had never regarded my story
telling as treason. "Not guilty," I said.
"In the interest of justice," announced the Highlord as
she rose to a standing position, "I have always given the
people of this court a chance to defend themselves." The
smile reappeared. "But I am the final judge of truth and
falsehood. And you, Spinner Kenro, are guilty as charged."
I began to rise from my knees to protest, but two
soldiers clamped their hands on my shoulders and held me
"I sentence Spinner Kenro to death by hanging," she
proclaimed. "The sentence shall be carried out tomorrow
morning at dawn. Be sure that his fate is known throughout
the city. Our 'citizens' " - she sneered - "must learn what
happens to those who lose themselves in dreams."
While awaiting my execution, I was thrown into a cell
with a young half-elf named Davin. He was quiet and didn't
speak a word. But I did.
I told him my story.
While I was telling him who I was, what I was, and what
was to become of me, something miraculous was happening
out beyond the prison walls.
QUINBY CULL, THAT FEARLESS KENDER, BRAVELY
CROSSED OVER INTO THE DWARF SECTION OF THE
CITY AND SOUGHT OUT Vigre Arch.
"Did you hear about Spinner's sentence?" he demanded
of the dwarf. Before Vigre could answer, Quinby declared,
"We've got to help our friend. If he dies, there will be no
Vigre Arch dug his boot heel into the hardpacked
ground before he finally said, "You know how I feel about
humans. They aren't worth the skin they're packed into.
You just can't trust them. But," he added, looking Quinby
straight in the eye, "Spinner is different. He isn't like the
other humans. And he certainly isn't like those dragonarmy
soldiers. I like him just as much as you do. Maybe more."
Quinby sniffed. "That's ridiculous," he said. "I like
Spinner more than you, and he likes me best of everyone."
"Does not," said the dwarf.
"Does so," countered the kender.
"Does not," said the dwarf.
"Does so," insisted the kender.
This debate might have gone on all night had not Barsh,
the gnome, suddenly arrived in a rush.
"Spinner is to be hanged at dawn!" declared the gnome.
Quinby and Vigre stopped their argument and soberly
nodded their heads. "We know," said Vigre.
"It's terrible," exclaimed Barsh. "If the Highlord kills
him, there will be no more beautiful females who bring the
dead back to life with a kiss, no more exciting chases
through walls of fire, and no more great heroes who fight
and die for freedom. How dull everything will be if he is
Vigre Arch looked at these two creatures, the kender and
the gnome, both of whom he and his people had never
much liked. But just then he felt a kinship with them that
stirred his heart. They had a common bond in their love of
Spinner Kenro. And maybe that was enough to help them
unite the way those three orphans in Spinner's story should
have done. Vigre smiled to himself. It struck him as a funny
coincidence that Spinner's story was so similar to their
present dilemma. But he shrugged it off. There were more
important matters at hand.
"What if we tried to rescue Spinner?" suggested the
"What?" asked Barsh, not quite believing his ears.
"He said, 'What if we tried to rescue Spinner?', "
repeated the kender helpfully.
"I heard him," said Barsh.
"Then why did you ask, 'What?'," questioned the
Vigre Arch sighed deeply. Sometimes there was just no
talking to kender.
"Never mind all that," piped up Barsh. "We've only got
until dawn before they hang Spinner. Between now and
then we have to find a way to break into the prison, free
him, and spirit him to safety before the Dragon Highlord
and her soldiers can stop us. Once he's free, we'll protect
him and hide him so he can always tell us his stories."
"The Highlord won't like it," said Vigre.
"Since when do you care what the Highlord thinks?"
The dwarf had to grin. "I never really have."
"Me neither," said Quinby.
"The same goes for me," added Barsh. "The Highlord is
no friend of mine. But Spinner is. And I say we save him
The three of them agreed that Spinner had to be saved.
They shook hands on it and went immediately to work on a
It fell to Barsh and his gnomes to quickly create a device
that would help them scale the prison walls and open the
gate. It was up to Quinby to rally every kender in the city to
storm through the prison gates once they were open, then
hold them long enough so that Vigre and his dwarves could
race through the prison and return with Spinner Kenro
safely in tow.
Word of the impending attack on the prison swept
through the city. Every kender, dwarf, and gnome knew of
the plans, and they all readied themselves for the battle to
The Highlord and her soldiers thought of these little
people as foolish and simple, so they suspected nothing.
But facing death was not foolish or simple. And everyone
who prepared for the coming battle knew that he might
never see the rising sun.
The life of Spinner Kenro, however, was worth the risk.
Yet it was more than Spinner's life that they were fighting
for. It was the spark of their souls, the light of their minds,
the richness of their imaginations that spurred them on that
memorable night. Somewhere inside each of them there
was an epic tale bursting to be told and they sensed it, knew
it, believed it, and were willing to die for it.
As the night wore on, hundreds of gnomes stumbled
through the dark, windswept streets of Flotsam carrying
heavy joints, long poles, and hundreds of tree branches still
sprouting their leaves. These were the basic elements of
their wall-scaling device which they carried past
dragonarmy patrols who merely shrugged their shoulders at
yet another gnome oddity.
Barsh's hastily conceived invention was quickly
assembled in a big, empty barn just beyond the rear prison
walls. Nearly a thousand gnomes had gathered there to put
the finishing touches on the wall-scaling device, and they
were anxious to put it to the test.
The invention, a huge, rectangular ladder, was as long as
the entire southern wall of the prison. Two hundred fifty
gnomes could climb it at one time. The tree branches
attached to the top of the ladder were meant to camouflage
the ladder as they approached the enemy fortress.
Just before dawn, the kender began arriving at the Paw's
Mark Inn. At first they filled the main room. Then their
numbers swelled into the garden in the back. Luckily, the
garden was surrounded by trees and bushes that kept the
small army of kender hidden from the dragonarmy soldiers
who watched the streets.
Quinby Cull had given his fellow kender strict
instructions to remain perfectly quiet. They knew that to do
otherwise might mean death and the failure of their
mission. And failure meant the end of Spinner Kenro.
Nonetheless, Quinby heard little shouts of surprise,
followed by titters and giggles, as his fellow kender
constantly poked each other with their hoopaks, swords,
and lances, curious to see if the weapons were in good
Not far from the Paw's Mark Inn, in a hidden ravine dug
deep into a hillside near the prison, Vigre Arch complained
bitterly about the cold wind - and that wasn't all he grumped
about. "How come we're out here?" he mumbled angrily.
"Barsh and his gnomes are warm inside that barn, and
Quinby and his kender are drinking and having a fine old
time in the Paw's Mark Inn. It isn't fair! Maybe," he
muttered, "we ought to just go home and get some sleep
and forget this nonsense."
But Vigre didn't utter any such orders. He was proud of his
people that night. And he was proud of himself. If their plan
to free Spinner Kenro failed, Vigre vowed that it wasn't
going to be because the dwarves didn't do their part.
It seemed, somehow, that the stars were moving more
swiftly across the sky than usual. It was nearly time.
The gnomes were to lead the attack. But because the
original idea had been Quinby Cull's, the kender was given
the honor of giving the signal to start the battle. . . .
Quinby looked out the window of the Paw's Mark Inn. It
had stormed all night, but the sky was beginning to lighten.
It was now or never. He looked at his fellow kender and
smiled with satisfaction. If he had been a painter he would
have drawn the scene inside the inn so that he'd never
forget it. Perhaps Spinner, when he was a free man, would
tell a story about this glorious adventure. It occurred to
Quinby that Spinner might even make him a hero in the
tale. Wouldn't that be something? he thought. But then
Quinby laughed at himself. How could a kender be a hero?
he scoffed, shaking his head. Such things never happened.
Yet, in his imagination, stoked by the stories that Spinner
had told, Quinby Cull held on to the dream.
With those thoughts circling in his mind, the kender
opened the door of the inn. He took a horn made of bone
from his waistband and lifted it to his lips.
The shrill, piercing sound of Quinby's horn echoed
throughout the silent city. Vigre heard it. Barsh heard it.
And so did the dragonarmy guards who stood atop the
The Highlord's soldiers rubbed the sleep from their
eyes, wondering what that strange sound might mean.
It didn't take them long to find out.
Suddenly, they heard shouts and cries coming out of the
darkness. Then, illuminated by the torch light from the
parapets, one guard saw the forest moving first one way,
then another, and yet in a third direction.
"What magic is this?" cried the guard, staring at the
Suddenly, a gnome popped his head through the front of
the forest and shouted, "It's this way, you idiots!"
"We can't see!" a chorus of voices answered.
An entire squad of gnomes came forward and began
chopping the branches off the wall-scaling device in full
view of the startled dragonarmy guard. But even then, the
Highlord's soldier had no idea what the gnomes were doing.
At least not until the shrubbery was fully hacked away and
the gnomes charged with their massive ladder.
When they leaned it against the prison wall, though, the
top of the ladder soared far beyond the top of the
"It's the wrong way!" cried Barsh, exasperated. "Turn it
down on its side!"
By this time, of course, the dragonarmy guard had
yelled for help. As the correct side of the ladder finally
settled down across the battlement, the Highlord's soldiers
rushed to the rear of the prison. But the wall-scaling device
was so heavy with gnomes climbing upon it that the enemy
couldn't push the ladder away from the wall. And soon the
gnomes were climbing over the parapets!
The first gnome to stand on the prison wall was Barsh
himself. A tall dragonarmy guard swung a heavy
broadsword at Barsh's head. The gnome ducked under the
blade and dove at the feet of the soldier. As the guard
prepared to swing his sword down on Barsh's back, the
gnome pulled the soldier's legs together while another
gnome whacked the enemy in the belly with a stick. The
soldier lost his balance, falling off the battlement and
landing with a heavy thud on the prison grounds below.
Barsh couldn't believe that he was still alive.
And not only was Barsh alive, but his fellow gnomes
were swarming onto the parapet, overwhelming the small
number of dragonarmy soldiers who had been on watch.
"To the gate!" cried Barsh, leading his people along the
battlement to the front of the prison.
Even as they worked their way toward the gate, prison
guards were racing out of their barracks to fight the
intruders. If the gnomes couldn't get the gates opened
quickly, they'd be destroyed by the powerful dragonarmy
soldiers. It was only with the help of the kender as
reinforcements that they had a chance of holding out
against the fierce soldiers of the Dragon Highlord.
The kender, with Quinby Cull urging them on, had
already begun their charge. The Paw's Mark Inn was just a
short distance from the prison, and now the kender were
racing like an angry wind toward the gate.
Quinby could see the battle unfolding up on the parapet.
The gnomes were fighting furiously to reach the gate's
pulley system. Quinby knew that if they failed, he and his
kender army would be racing toward death.
He saw gnomes dying. A dragonarmy soldier pierced
one of them in the chest with his sword. Another gnome
was thrown over the wall. And still another had his head
split open with an ax. But the gnomes fought on, gallantly
pushing the prison guards away from the gate. Until . . .
"It's opening!" cried Quinby just as he and his army of
kender were about to give up hope. Without having to
break their stride, they surged under the rising metal gate
and plowed right into a phalanx of dragon-army soldiers!
"Are we supposed to fight KENDER?!" demanded one
of the enemy with contempt in his voice.
Quinby heard the soldier and, filled with fury, he
shouted in return, "On this day you will not only fight
kender, you will die at our hands!" The soldier thrust his
sword's point toward Quinby's throat. But the kender
nimbly parried, then lunged forward and stabbed the
enemy clean through the heart.
Scores of kender and gnomes witnessed Quinby's bold
declaration and even bolder swordplay. A great cheer went
up when the dragonarmy soldier fell. For, in that moment,
Quinby Cull had done more than simply kill one enemy.
He had shown that the kender were a force to be reckoned
with. He had given dignity back to his race. And he had
shown that a kender could be a hero!
On the heels of Quinby's dramatic battle, the kender
drove the better-armed and better-trained dragon-army
force away from the gate as they fought for control of the
But the Highlord's soldiers quickly formed a new battle
line. Their bowman sent one withering volley after another
into the kender ranks. In their fearless-ness, the kender
didn't let the arrows stop them. Even with bloody shafts
sticking in their stomachs, shoulders, and legs - many of
them dying on their feet - the kender troops charged
headlong into the dragonarmy lines. They swung crude
swords and knives at the soldiers until their enemy was
It was then that a shockingly small number of dwarves
led by Vigre Arch came streaming through the open gate.
"Where are the rest of your people?" demanded Barsh.
"You promised you would have an army of dwarves,"
echoed Quinby. "There are barely a hundred of you here.
What's going on?"
Vigre took a deep breath and told them the bad news.
"Dragonarmy soldiers are coming this way," he reported.
"We saw them from the top of the ravine. There must be at
least two thousand of them marching through the city. We'd
all be trapped in the prison if they got here before Spinner
was freed. So I ordered most of our people to meet the
dragonarmy soldiers in the street and fight them there. It
was the only way to stall for time."
Barsh and Quinby turned pale. A ragtag group of
dwarves didn't have a chance against two thousand crack
dragonarmy troops. Vigre's people were going to be
slaughtered. They must have known their fate, yet they
were willing to sacrifice their lives for stories they would
never hear. Truly, thought Quinby, this was the stuff of
legend. He put his hand on Vigre's shoulder and said, "If I
were a dwarf, I'd be proud on this day. Then again," he
added, considering, "I'm not a dwarf."
Vigre looked at the kender trying to decide what Quinby
"No matter what happens," Quinby went on, oblivious to
Vigre's questioning stare, "your people belong in Spinner's
stories. Not all of his stories," he hastily added. "Just one of
Vigre gave up trying to figure out the kender's intentions
and simply said, "Spinner could make a fine, though tragic,
tale of the battle in the city. So let's make sure that he lives
to tell it. I'll take what's left of our force and fight our way
through the prison till we find our storyteller."
"But there aren't enough of you," Quinby declared.
"You're going to need help. I'll take some kender and go
"And I'll come, too," volunteered Barsh. "I'll bring a
small troop of gnomes along."
Vigre couldn't refuse. He knew they were right. There
was no telling how many of the Dragon Highlord's soldiers
were waiting for them inside the prison's labyrinth of cells.
"Come on," he said. "Spinner must be wondering what
all the noise is about."
I was, indeed, wondering what all the noise was about.
The night had nearly passed, and I waited for the dawning,
resigned to my fate. My cellmate, Davin, had listened to me
throughout the night, offering not a word of his own.
Then I heard shouts and screams filtering down to the
depths of the filthy dungeon where I had been left to
languish until my death.
"What's going on?" I called out to a dragonarmy guard
who raced past the cell.
He ignored me.
"What do you think is happening?" I asked Davin. He
shook his head.
The noise grew louder. It sounded like battle. There was
the clash of steel on steel. There were howls of pain, boots
running on stone, and shouts of ... MY NAME!
"Here!" I cried. "I'm here! This way!"
I couldn't believe my own senses. But yes, it was the
voice of Quinby Cull calling out to me! Then I heard Vigre
Arch. My mind was reeling when even that clever gnome,
Barsh, made his presence known.
"It's impossible!" I exclaimed. And then I turned to Davin.
"Do you hear them, or have I gone mad? Are my friends
really here to save me?"
My cellmate was about to answer, but then, instead, he
shouted, "Look out!"
Too late. A prison guard had suddenly appeared at my
cell and grabbed me through the bars. "I'll see you dead
before they free you," he vowed. And then he lifted his
dagger and plunged it toward my chest.
Davin was faster than I was. He lunged forward and
grabbed the guard's wrist just before the knife could strike
me. He twisted the man's arm against the iron bars until
there was an audible crack. The guard screamed as the knife
clattered to the floor. He ran in terror as Quinby, Vigre, and
Barsh led a legion of their people toward my cell.
"Keys!" crowed Barsh, dangling them happily in the air.
"We took them from an officer at the landing,"
explained Vigre. "You're going to be free."
"We're glad to see you," said Quinby, standing back
from the door with tears of joy in his eyes.
"YOU'RE glad to see me?" I cried in disbelief. "To be
sure, it's the other way around!"
The cell door flew open.
"Come with us," said Quinby. "We came to save you.
Now you and your stories can live forever!"
Spinner Kenro ended the long tale about himself with a
flourish, his voice rising in a dramatic crescendo. His
timing was impeccable. No sooner had he finished than a
prison guard unlocked the cell door. "It's dawn," said the
Highlord's emissary. Spinner took a deep breath and rose to
his feet. "Sometimes," he said softly, "I half believe my
own stories. There was a part of me that really thought my
friends would come and save me. Do you think I'm foolish,
I couldn't answer. I was crying.
Spinner had not slept. He had sat up against a wall,
weaving his final story during the last hours of his life. And
I was his only audience.
They hanged Spinner Kenro at daybreak.
Spinner died a great many years ago, but his memory
lives on. For that night in the prison he opened the window
of my soul. And though his voice was stilled, his gift was
somehow passed to me. I've told many stories throughout
the years as I've traveled across Krynn. But I never fail to
tell this, the one, great, final story exactly as Spinner told it
to me that night in the prison.
Oh, I know what really happened. Quinby, Vigre, and
Barsh did try to save Spinner. But once they made their
plans, Quinby forgot all about them - he was true to his
kender soul; out of sight, out of mind. Vigre, ever
distrustful of humans, had second thoughts about the entire
enterprise. Meanwhile, Barsh and his gnomes did set about
creating a huge wall-scaling device. The problem was that
it was so big that they couldn't get it out of the building in
which they had constructed it. It's still there to this day.
Now, you might say that the truth doesn't make a good
tale. But that's not the point. There is a higher truth than the
facts. And that truth reveals itself every time I tell Spinner's
story. For as the years went by, the kender, dwarves, and
gnomes of Flotsam grew to BELIEVE that they had saved
Spinner. They have convinced themselves that on one cold,
windswept night they joined together to make history, to
reach greatness, to become heroes. And if they did it once,
might they not do it again?
A Shaggy Dog's Tail
by Danny Peary
poem by Suzanne Rafer
Word spread like wildfire that Tasslehoff Burrfoot was in
Spritzbriar. "I'm just passing through," he told the villagers
as they rushed home to lock up their valuables. "But if
anyone wants to hear some stories, I might just hang around
a bit." Of course, everyone knew that as long as anyone
would listen to the kender's improbable tales, he wasn't
going anywhere. That's what worried the men and women
of Spritzbriar. They knew that while they were
safeguarding those belongings they feared might wind up in
the kender's pouches, their children would slip out doors
and wriggle out windows in order to see the illustrious
As the boys and girls raced across the grassy field toward
Prine Lake at the edge of the forest, they looked nervously
over their shoulders, hoping their absences wouldn't be
discovered until AFTER Tas had spun a few yams. Most
had promised their parents to never again listen to his
stories after even the bravest had had nightmares in the
wake of his last visit. But they'd grown tired of those cheery
tales told by their mothers and grandmothers. Because
kender weren't frightened of anything, Tas thought nothing
of telling the children about bloody battles in war-torn areas
of Krynn, vicious dragons, hobgoblins, or black-robed
magic-users. The children found such stories well worth
risking a night without supper.
The children who gathered at Prine Lake sat on the
ground and formed a tight circle around Tas, with the oldest
by his small, wriggling feet. Tas sat proudly under a
mammoth vallenwood, propped like a king on a wooden
stool so everyone could see him. He stroked his hoopak
staff and grinned broadly, delighted his audience was so
large. If only Flint could see him now.
While everyone waited impatiently, Tas took a
meticulously carved flute from an elegant, woven-rope,
yellow pouch that was strapped around his neck. As he
brought it toward his lips, a young boy named Jespato
intercepted his hand.
"My, that looks like my father's flute!" the boy
exclaimed without suspicion.
"Your father's flute?" asked Tas innocently.
"It's been missing since the last time you were in
The kender's childlike face flushed red. He examined
the instrument. "Great Uncle Trapspringer! It IS your
father's flute! Good eye, boy! Now I remember: I took it for
safekeeping. It was sticking out of his pouch, where any
thief might have snatched it."
"His pouch disappeared at the same time as the flute,"
said the boy. "It was YELLOW, just like the one you've got
around your neck!"
Tas grinned sheepishly. "Of course, THIS pouch is older
and more worn than the one your father carried," he said,
failing to remind Jespato that it had been some time since
he'd been to Spritzbriar. "But please give MY pouch to him
to replace his missing one." Tas pulled the strap over his
head and handed the pouch and the flute to the young boy.
He forced a big smile.
Jespato looked at Tas with great respect. "My father will
surely change his opinion of you when I give him your
present. Imagine: he said you're the type who'd snatch
candy-bubbles from children!"
The kender's face turned even redder. "I was just
borrowing them," he replied with deep embarrassment as he
reached into a red pouch and retrieved a dozen multi-
colored candy-bubbles. The children around him checked
their pockets and were startled to discover they were empty.
Tas sadly returned the tasty treats, saying weakly, "I didn't
want anyone to have his appetite spoiled."
Tas would have enjoyed playing that nifty flute, but he
was cheered by the children's willingness to share their
candy-bubbles with him and by the sight of eager faces
around him, anticipating his story.
"Are you going to tell another whopper?" asked a
young, curly-haired boy who sat to his left.
"I ... I never tell whoppers!" Tas insisted, a bit indignant.
Everyone groaned. They knew better.
A little freckle-faced girl stood up and asked politely,
"What will your first story be about, sir?"
There was a definite trace of mischievousness in the
kender's big brown eyes. "Revenge!" he barked with such
force that the startled little girl plopped over backward.
Everyone else slid forward.
"Revenge! I want revenge!" Gorath's threatening words
resounded through the little shack, causing all the pots and
pans to rattle and the rickety furniture to creak. His angry,
blood-shot eyes doubled in size, and the veins on his temple
were ready to burst. "Revenge, I want . . ."
This time his words were stifled by a large wooden
spoon that was being forced into his gaping mouth. The
spoon carried an ugly mound of undercooked slug stew. A
stream of steaming, foul-smelling gravy dribbled down his
chin and drenched his long black beard. Gorath groaned.
"Oh, so sorry, darling," said Zorna. Using her long, bony
fingers, she managed to push most of the gravy back into
Gorath's mouth. The huge man nearly gagged. "There,
there," said the tiny old woman, her teeth clicking with
every word. "You don't want to lose a drop, do you,
darling?" Her shrill, scratchy voice was irritating, but there
was no mistaking it was full of love. She wiped her
shriveled hands on her shabby black robe. "After what
you've suffered, darling, a meal is just what you need."
"Stop calling me DARLING, you old hag!" growled
Gorath, spitting stew across the room. "You don't even
"But I do love you!" Zorna protested softly, her feelings
hurt. "And I'll cook, and clean, and care for you for the rest
of your life." She brushed away a tear, wiped her dripping
nose, and smiled lovingly. "We'll have such a happy time
This thought horrified Gorath. He tried to rise, but he
couldn't budge. All he could move was his head. That's why
he could offer no resistance when Zoma again stuffed slug
stew into his mouth.
Gorath couldn't believe his terrible luck. He had been the
most decorated and feared human officer in the
dragonarmy. In the war campaigns against the Que-shu, no
one had razed more villages, slaughtered more enemies, or
enslaved more women and children than the mighty
Gorath! For amusement, he had broken men's backs with
his bare hands and held beautiful women prisoner in his
tent, forcing them to do his bidding. But now he suddenly
found himself paralyzed from the neck down and the
prisoner of an old lady who kept him strapped to a chair in
her gloomy, windowless shack in the Forest of Wayreth.
What an indignity!
He thought back to when his bad fortune began.
Was it yesterday morning or early afternoon when he
awoke from a drunken stupor to find that Meadow had fled
his tent? He was so stunned by her brazen act that at first all
he could do was scream, "Revenge! I want revenge!"
No wonder her escape troubled him so much. With her
long, flowing black hair, alluring green eyes, slim figure,
and delicate features, Meadow was the loveliest female he
had ever abducted during a raid of the Que-shu tribe.
Moreover, she had already lived longer than any of the
previous women he'd captured, although he had worked her
endlessly and beat her mercilessly.
In Gorath's twisted mind, Meadow had actually
BETRAYED him by running away and deserved to be
punished severely. Gorath never forgave anyone for what
he believed was a wrong action against him. In the past, he
had sworn revenge on dragonarmy soldiers he suspected of
talking mutiny behind his back, friends he suspected of
trying to steal his women, and even his brothers, who he
suspected of plotting his death so that they could confiscate
his goods. Now all those men lay in their graves. At last,
Gorath's lone companion had been this woman he held
captive. How dare Meadow desert him and leave him
Pulling in his huge belly, his head pounding, Gorath
knelt to examine the heavy chain that had kept Meadow
attached to an iron post even when she slept. It had been
severed by a sharp weapon, probably a sword. Meadow had
an accomplice, another person who had betrayed him!
Gorath reasoned that the trespasser had been Starglow,
the tribesman for whom Meadow had pined during her
torturous term of captivity. The barbarian smiled slyly. It
would give him great pleasure to kill Starglow while
Meadow looked on. He sheathed his sword. "Revenge! I
want revenge!" he thundered as he stormed from the tent.
The lovers' trail led north toward Solace. It was easy to
follow because they were traveling on foot and were too
hurried to attempt deception. Without stopping to rest or
water his horse, Gorath rode at full gallop over rocky roads,
treacherous mountain paths, and overgrown trails where
sharp spines ripped into his steed's flesh. The poor beast
finally collapsed under Gorath's great weight, unable to
endure the punishing journey or its master's whip any
longer. Gorath cursed and reviled the animal, but rather
than putting it out of its misery, he left it to die in the
He proceeded on foot, feeling meaner with every step.
He thought how much he'd enjoy strangling Starglow with
his mighty hands or piercing his enemy's heart with his
sword while Meadow screamed helplessly. Maybe he
would stab her as well, or make her drop to her knees and
beg him to allow her to be his slave again. How he would
make her suffer! Gorath shouted: "Revenge! I want
As the sun sank low in the west, Gorath discovered that
Meadow and Starglow had veered east, thereby avoiding
Solace and well-traveled roads on their way back to their
own village. Gorath followed blindly although he had to
travel over unfamiliar terrain. He wasn't one to worry about
the possible consequences of acting so impulsively,
especially with thoughts of revenge dancing on his dizzy
Soon the mighty warrior stood facing the Forest of
Gorath had heard eerie legends throughout Krynn about
Wayreth and how it often played tricks with the minds of
those who dared pass through. "They think I'll be too
frightened to follow," said Gorath, attempting to laugh.
"But Gorath is scared of nothing!" Nevertheless, before
taking another step, he peered through the trees on the
perimeter of the strange forest. He was relieved that it
seemed peaceful inside, even inviting.
Suddenly a dozen dark-colored birds floated down from
the nearest tree and circled above him. They taunted him in
IS THIS THE MIGHTY GORATH, HOVERING LIKE
A CHILD AT WAYRETH'S EDGE, AFRAID TO
MOVE BELITTLED, BEWITCHED, BEGUILED?
YOU HAVE KILLED WITH BRUTISH STRENGTH
ONCE DID GRIEVE YET
YOUR MIND IS NOT SO
STRONG THUS EASY TO
SO, DARE YOU ENTER WAYRETH, KNOWING NOT
PATHS TO TREAD
AND SEEK REVENGE YOU THINK IS
SWEET? . . . BETTER TURN AROUND
The warrior nervously yanked his sword from his scabbard
and thrust it wildly into the air. "Get away, you silly birds!"
he demanded, his voice shaky. "Don't you know that Gorath
is scared of nothing?"
Gorath thought it very strange that the birds seemed to
disappear into thin air. He was tempted to turn around and
try to find his way home, but he reminded himself why he
had come this far: "Revenge! I want revenge!" Forgetting
about the birds, he stomped into the forest, angrily using his
sword to hack off branches that blocked his path. He turned
and looked behind him. He noticed that while it was bright
inside the forest, night had fallen outside. None the wiser,
he shrugged and marched forward, content that he could
clearly see the trail of Meadow and Starglow.
Deeper in the forest, the trail divided in two. Gorath
stopped and studied both paths. When he saw fresh tracks
on the one that angled to the left, he rubbed his sweaty
palms together and licked his lips. "It won't be long now,"
he said. He started to follow the path to the left. But
suddenly a strong gust of wind knocked him off balance
and pushed him toward the other path.
He tightened his fingers around his sword and looked
about suspiciously. All seemed calm. Was the forest
playing tricks with him?
Looking in all directions, Gorath stealthily moved
toward the path to the left. But he never made it. A second,
much stronger gust of wind came howling and twisting
toward him. It nearly lifted the big man off the ground.
Before Gorath knew what hit him, he was being blown at
great speed down the path to the right. Because his legs
were thick as tree trunks and rubbed together whenever he
moved, it was difficult for him to stay on his feet. But each
time he fell, the wind swept him up and forced him to
The wind ceased as quickly as it had begun, leaving
Gorath sprawled on the ground with his boots twisted
together. The dazed warrior spat dust and struggled to
catch his breath. Then he slowly rose and, still quite bleary-
eyed, looked around.
He was facing a small, crumbling black shack. It had no
windows, just a crooked black door. A walkway of broken
stones led from the path to the door. Tall weeds filled a
garden to the left, and strange, twisted vegetables grew on
the other side. Gorath thought the shack deserted until he
noticed that thick black smoke curled upward from a
crooked chimney on the dilapidated roof. Suddenly it blew
in Gorath's direction, carrying with it a ghastly aroma.
Gorath's stomach became queasy. He could have sworn
someone was cooking a stew consisting of spoiled meat
and rotten vegetables.
Gorath prided himself on his bravery, but his instincts
urged him to get away at once. Without understanding
why, Gorath walked briskly past the house and farther
down the path. But he didn't get very far. An angry gust of
wind grabbed him, spun him around, and hurled him
through the air toward the house, causing him to crash into
the door and bounce off with a loud thud.
Again, the wind quickly subsided. The large man
staggered to his feet, rubbing his bull neck and bruised left
arm. He was only a few feet from the door. He started to
back away, but it was too late. The door creaked open.
An old woman peeked out. Gorath had never seen anyone
uglier. She had a hatchet-face, with sharp bones pushing
through the skin, a needle-shaped nose, and tiny, pointed
ears. Her hair was white and wild, yet her thick eyebrows
were black. Her eyes were pale yellow, her thin lips were
colorless, and her complexion was as pale as a fish's belly.
It would have taken Gorath a lifetime to have counted the
deep wrinkles that lined her face.
The tiny woman looked the big man up and down. She
wiggled her nose as if she were smelling him. Her scowl
gave way to a smile. Her heart, which had so long ago
resigned itself to eternal loneliness, began to pound. Her
chest began to rise and fall. Her eyes looked at the stranger
hungrily. Women had always been repulsed by Gorath's
appearance, but he left this one breathless. At last she
"You're so handsome, I must hold you," she said
brazenly. As the stunned Gorath backed up, she moved
toward him out of the shadows. That's when Gorath saw
how she was garbed.
"Ah, I ... I see you are a black-robed magic-user," he
said, somewhat relieved. "Then we are both servants of the
Queen of Darkness."
The old woman stopped in her tracks upon hearing
Gorath's remarks. "You are mistaken, my darling," she
replied humbly, her teeth chattering annoyingly. "I am just
Zorna, a poor and forgotten old woman. This robe was
discarded in the forest by a sorceress who was passing
through. I took it because I had nothing to wear."
"You don't know how to perform magic?" asked Gorath
"I swear I am no sorceress. But I have other talents,
darling. I can cook the finest slug stew you've tasted in your
life. Won't you be my guest?"
Gorath didn't know what to make of this weird woman. He
wanted to laugh at her invitation, run her through with his
sword, and ransack her shack for anything of value. But he
kept his distance, not fully convinced she wasn't a black-
robed magic-user. "I have no time to waste with you," he
told her coldly. "Now I must find the woman who betrayed
me and slay the scoundrel who stole her from me."
"Forget your woman!" Zorna shrieked. "She doesn't
love you. I love you. And I'll cook, and clean, and care for
you for the rest of your life . . . IF you will let me ...
"Enough, you batty crone," snapped Gorath,
remembering how he had tried without success to force
Meadow to say such words to him. "Only one thing
matters: Revenge! I want revenge!"
Before Zorna could protest, Gorath wheeled around and
walked down the path that brought him into her lonely life.
He felt her sad eyes upon him and heard her pitiful, blood-
curdling wail of anguish. He laughed.
Gorath returned to where the trail into the forest divided.
This time there were no mysterious gusts of wind to prevent
him from going in the direction he intended. So he followed
the left path, the one Meadow and Starglow had taken.
He walked quickly, anticipating the kill. Soon he came
to a large clearing. There he spotted Meadow and Starglow
standing by a fallen vallenwood, about twenty feet from a
deep ravine. The lovely young woman and handsome
tribesman were locked in an embrace.
Drawing his sword, Gorath charged from the bushes
toward the lovers. "Gorath!" Meadow screamed in terror.
"He's found us!"
Starglow eyed his sword, which was resting on the ground
near the far end of the fallen tree. He made a dash for it, but
wasn't quick enough. As the fingers of his right hand
touched the handle, Gorath's sword slashed his wrist,
causing blood to spurt and the young warrior to grimace in
pain. Meadow screamed and ran toward her stricken lover.
"Meadow!" Starglow shouted. "Stay back!"
Starglow's agony was great, but his desire to protect
Meadow was much greater. So he again reached for the
sword. Just as he lifted it, Gorath's heavy boot smashed into
his hand. The sword flew out of Starglow's weak grip and
landed by Meadow's feet. Without hesitating, she picked up
the weapon and ran to Starglow's side. Surprised, Gorath
backed up a few feet to contemplate the situation. He
certainly hadn't expected Meadow to put up any physical
Starglow reached for the sword Meadow held. "No!" she
said firmly. "You're hurt." When he started to protest, she
calmly said: "I am a woman and your lover, Starglow. But
don't forget that I am also a warrior like you."
Starglow nodded and smiled slightly. He kissed her
trembling lips and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Together they bravely waited for Gorath to approach them.
They were going to resist to the death even though they had
little chance to defeat the mighty Gorath.
"We're ready," said Meadow boldly. As she looked at
Gorath, revulsion showed clearly in her beautiful green
eyes. She had withstood his drunkenness and savage nature
long enough. She preferred to die here with her beloved
Starglow by her side rather than return to Gorath's cabin.
Never again would she be a slave to him, endure his
beatings, or have him clutch her in his filthy arms.
Gorath's eyes were sour and mean. He laughed cruelly.
"So you want to die together. How touching! I'll grant your
wish as long as you die first, Starglow, so Meadow can
watch the blood pour from your body. Revenge! I want
Gorath began to drool as he walked toward the lovers, who
pulled closer together. He lifted his sword higher and
higher. Meadow dug her feet into the soil and held the
sword in front of her, gripping it with both hands.
All at once Gorath noticed that an intruder sat between
him and his intended victims.
He stopped and tried to figure out where this large,
mangy dog had come from. There had been no dog in this
clearing just a moment before. And what a strange dog it
was. Gorath suspected it was a red-rover, but it was the
only red-rover he'd ever seen sporting a shaggy tail with a
The dog sat perfectly still, its tongue hanging out the
right side of its mouth.
"Call off your dog, Starglow," Gorath threatened, "or
I'll chop it into a million pieces!"
"But I have no dog," replied Starglow, puzzled.
"Wh . . . what dog?" asked Meadow, also bewildered.
"Very well, you had your chance!" Gorath shouted as
he attacked the animal. He swung his sword with all his
might at the dog's head, expecting to see it rolling in the
sand. But the dog easily dodged the blow. Now Gorath
aimed for the shaggy tail with the snow-white tip. Gorath's
sword whistled through the air repeatedly. The dog moved
from side to side, causing the brute to miss by a hair, a
shaggy hair, each time.
Gorath's frustration increased because he could sense
that the dog was actually enjoying itself, as if it were
unaware its life was in danger. It barked happily and
playfully nipped at Gorath's feet. When Gorath raised his
sword above his head, the dog jumped up, put its front
paws on his chest, and licked his face several times.
Gorath lost all patience. He shoved the dog away and
simultaneously swung the sword with all his might. He
missed badly. He also lost his balance. So when the big dog
jumped back up on his chest to continue their game, it
knocked Gorath back a few steps toward the ravine. Again
the dog jumped up. Again Gorath was knocked backward,
his curses shattering the quiet of the forest. This happened
several more times. Each time, the force of the dog's paws
increased, and Gorath was knocked farther back. Then
came the mightiest blow of all.
Suddenly, Gorath found himself somersaulting
backward through the air, falling helplessly into the deep,
deep ravine. Gorath expected to see his life flash before his
eyes, but for some reason he had a vision of Zoma's old,
ugly face instead. He screamed. Then everything went
When Gorath opened his eyes, he was looking directly
into Zoma's face. Only this time it was no vision. It really
was Zorna. He screamed again.
She attempted to comfort him, wiping the sweat off his
feverish brow with her icy hand. "There, there, darling,"
she whispered into his ear. "I'll make you feel better."
Gorath realized he was strapped to a chair. But where
was he? He looked around. He was in Zoma's cold, musty
house. It was as inviting as a tomb. It was too dark to see
clearly, but he could make out some crooked furniture in
the shadows, some heavy pots hanging from cobweb-
infested walls, and a large bubbling kettle by the fireplace.
There was a horrible stench in the air, and Gorath
suspected Zorna was still preparing slug stew. "How did I
get here, old woman?" he snapped.
"I brought you from the ravine."
Gorath looked at the frail woman. "How could YOU
carry me all the way from the ravine?"
"I love you," she said simply.
"Then untie this strap before I lose my temper!"
"I've strapped you to the chair so you won't fall," she
said tenderly. "I'm sorry, my poor darling, but when you
landed in the ravine, you struck a boulder and snapped
your spine. You're paralyzed from the neck down." A look
of shock and anguish came over Gorath, terribly saddening
Zoma. "But please don't worry, darling. I'll cook, and
clean, and care for you for the rest of your life."
Upon hearing those words, Gorath could think of only
one thing: "Revenge! I want revenge!"
That's when Zorna began to feed Gorath slug stew.
By the time Zoma shoved the final spoonful into
Gorath's miserable mouth, he had figured out his only
chance for exacting the revenge he desperately desired.
He batted his eyes at Zorna and sighed happily. "That
was delicious!" he said.
Zorna nearly blushed. "I'm so happy you liked it,
"Could you make it for me again some time, dear?" he
Zorna nearly cried from happiness. "I make it EVERY
Gorath looked around the shack. "You know, dear, you
have a lovely home. I think I'll enjoy spending the rest of
my life here with you."
Zorna gushed. "We'll be so happy together!"
Gorath frowned. "But you wouldn't want to take care of
"Oh, darling, it would give me such pleasure!" Zorna
Gorath shook his head. "That's so sweet, dear. But I could
never be happy unless I could hold you in my arms . . . and
I can't do that because I'm paralyzed." He closed his eyes as
if he were trying to hold back a flood of tears.
Zorna was overwhelmed with pity. She kissed Gorath
on his fleshy cheek. She felt him tremble. "My darling,"
she said softly, her voice quivering. "I understand your
misery. I have lived alone, always. Eternity passed, and I
almost gave up hope of finding a man I could open my
heart to. Now that I have found you, it would be torture not
to be able to express my love."
Gorath opened one eye. "If only you could help me. . .
"Darling, maybe I can."
Gorath opened his other eye, his hopes rising. "Only
someone with magic powers could mend my severed spine.
But you have said you are not a black-robed sorceress."
"This is true, but many years ago a black-robed
sorceress traveled through the Forest of Wayreth and
rewarded my hospitality by granting me the power to
perform ONE feat of magic, only once."
Gorath immediately became worried. "Just ONE feat?
Only ONCE?" he asked nervously. "Have ... have you
performed it . . . y . . .yet?"
"I am a simple woman. I never had reason before."
Relieved, Gorath batted his eyes again. "Will you
perform it now . . . dear?" he asked, trying not to sound too
"First you must promise me something."
"Anything, dear, I promise."
"If I heal you, I want you to promise that you will stay
with me forever and that you will forget that other woman
and your quest for revenge."
"Of course, dear," Gorath said sincerely. "I long only to
hold you in my strong arms."
Zorna nearly swooned. She was so happy. "Very well,
darling. I'll do as you ask."
The old woman stood in front of Gorath. He expected her
to call on the Queen of Darkness, recite a lengthy chant,
and go into contortions. But she merely pointed a lone
finger at him and wiggled her sharp nose a couple of times.
Gorath immediately felt a wave of heat deep in his back.
He felt bones shift and fuse together. Then his chair started
spinning, faster and faster. The strap broke, and Gorath was
propelled to his feet. He stretched his arms and legs. He
smiled broadly. He was no longer paralyzed.
Zorna moved toward him with arms spread, expecting
Gorath to draw her to his powerful chest. Instead Gorath
shoved her aside, knocking the feeble woman to the ground.
"Out of my way, foolish woman," he said, taking broad
steps toward the door. "Too bad you wasted your only feat
of magic on ME," he said mockingly.
"So you lied to me," said Zoma, showing no emotion.
"You BETRAYED me."
Gorath laughed. "Be thankful that I don't throw you in
the kettle with your wretched stew. But I have no time."
"Your sword is next to the door," said Zoma quietly, her
Gorath retrieved his weapon and needlessly kicked open
the door on his way out. As he raced into the forest, he
shouted: "Revenge! I want revenge!"
It didn't take long for Gorath to find his way back to the
large clearing. Once again, he found Meadow and Starglow
by the fallen vallenwood, about twenty feet from the deep
ravine. Again they were locked in an embrace.
He was surprised that they hadn't traveled further. But
then he figured they thought they were out of danger after
he'd fallen into the ravine and become paralyzed.
However, he couldn't figure out why Starglow showed
no sign of injury. He remembered distinctly striking
Starglow's wrist with his sword and seeing blood spurt.
What was going on?
Drawing his sword, Gorath charged from the bushes
toward the lovers. "Gorath!" Meadow screamed in terror.
"He's found us!"
Starglow eyed his sword, which was resting on the
ground near the far end of the fallen tree. He made a dash
for it but wasn't quick enough. As the fingers of his right
hand touched the handle, Gorath's sword slashed his wrist,
causing blood to spurt and the young warrior to grimace in
pain. Meadow screamed and ran toward her stricken lover.
"Meadow!" Starglow shouted. "Stay back!"
Although in obvious agony, Starglow again reached for
the sword. Just as he lifted it, Gorath's heavy boot smashed
into his hand. The sword flew out of Starglow's weak grip
and landed by Meadow's feet. Without hesitating, she
picked up the weapon and ran to Starglow's side. Surprised,
Gorath backed up a few feet to contemplate the situation.
He was bewildered. Why was this experience so similar
to the earlier one, when he first found Meadow and
Starglow at this clearing?
Starglow reached for the sword Meadow held, just like
before. "No!" she said firmly. "You're hurt." When he
started to protest, she calmly said: "I am a woman and your
lover. But don't forget that I am also a warrior like you."
Just like before.
As before, Starglow nodded and smiled slightly. And
again, he kissed her trembling lips and placed a gentle hand
on her shoulder. Together they bravely waited for Gorath to
approach them. Just like before.
"We're ready," said Meadow boldly. As she looked at
Gorath, revulsion showed clearly in her beautiful green
Just like before.
"Revenge! I want revenge!" Gorath demanded, but he
seemed only mildly interested in either Starglow or
Meadow. He didn't approach them but instead looked
around the clearing. "I'll deal with you two later," he said
at last, searching for the one creature he hated more than
Starglow and Meadow, the creature that had been the last
to hurt him and had hurt him worst of all. "FIRST,
Starglow," he announced, "I must kill your DOG!
Revenge! I want revenge!"
"But I have no dog," said Starglow, puzzled.
"Wh . . . what dog?" asked Meadow, also bewildered.
"You know very well what dog!" Gorath bellowed. "The
dreadful beast that tried to kill me! The one that caused me
to be prisoner of an ugly crone and eat her awful slug stew.
The one that pushed me into that ravine. . . ."
Meadow and Starglow seemed to be completely baffled.
"When did you fall into that ravine?" asked Starglow
"You know very well it happened when I last confronted
you at this clearing."
Meadow and Starglow looked at each other as if they
were dealing with a madman.
"But, Gorath," said Meadow slowly, "this is the first
time we've seen you since we fled your tent . . . . The Forest
of Wayreth must be playing tricks with your mind."
Gorath snarled. He didn't know what to think. Was this
indeed the first and only time he'd found Meadow and
Starglow in this clearing? While standing here facing them,
had he blanked out and imagined that horrible red dog?
And falling into the deep, deep ravine? And being
paralyzed? And returning to Zoma's shack? Had the Forest
of Wayreth indeed played tricks with his mind?
Suddenly Gorath heard growling. He turned toward the
ravine. The red dog sat by the ledge, wagging its shaggy tail
and whipping the snow-white tip into the ground as if it
were issuing a challenge. "Ah, ha! There's the DOG!"
howled Gorath, thrilled to have proof that his story was
Meadow and Starglow looked at each other, then at
Gorath. "What dog?" they both wondered aloud.
But Gorath wasn't listening. He was slowly stepping
toward the ravine, hoping to exact the most satisfying
revenge of his entire life. He did not even notice that
Meadow and Starglow had seized the opportunity to escape
in the opposite direction. They would not halt their anxious
flight until they were out of the Forest of Wayreth and
safely back in their Que-shu village.
Hiding his unsheathed sword behind him, Gorath
approached the shaggy dog. He attempted a friendly, toothy
grin. The shaggy dog responded by growling and baring its
teeth. This time it was not in a playful mood.
Gorath stopped smiling. He lifted his sword high in the
air. He charged and took a mighty swing at the dog.
Amazingly, the dog slipped out of the way. Gorath turned
around, the heels of his boots touching the edge of the cliff.
"Oh, no!" cried Gorath as the dog jumped at him, striking
him a mighty blow in the chest with its entire body.
Again Gorath found himself somersaulting backward
through the air and helplessly falling into the ravine. This
time it seemed even deeper.
When Gorath regained consciousness, he was not surprised
to find himself paralyzed from the neck down and strapped
to the chair in Zorna's shack. And there was Zorna, busily
preparing slug stew. He yelled: "Revenge! I want revenge!"
Zorna turned toward him, her eyes blazing with anger.
"I've heard enough about YOUR revenge! After you
deceived and deserted me, it's ME who wants revenge!"
Gorath's eyes showed fear. "But I ... I ... I love you,
dear," he stammered.
Zoma pointed a finger at Gorath and wiggled her nose.
Instantly, he lost his ability to talk. "That will teach you
never to betray a black-robed sorceress!" she sneered,
causing sweat to pour down Gorath's unhappy face. "I hope
a few years without speech will help you learn your lesson."
She pointed toward her terrified guest, and his chair slid
toward her. She waved her hand slightly, and the chair rose
into the air so their noses nearly touched. "I'll never forgive
you or let you forget your cruelty toward me!" she shouted.
Then, as she looked into his eyes, she calmed down and
even smiled slightly. "But I do love you, darling," she said
thoughtfully. "And I'll cook, and clean, and care for you for
the rest of your life. You'll see. We'll have such a happy
Leaving Gorath in midair, Zoma turned back to the
kettle. The black-robed magic-user caused the fire to rise
underneath just by raising her finger. She then leaned over
the kettle to stir the stew, putting her hand directly into the
boiling water without feeling any discomfort. The folds at
the back of her black robe separated slightly.
Gorath's frightened eyes bulged from their sockets. Even
if he still had the ability to talk, he couldn't have uttered a
sound. He stared in disbelief at what was sticking out from
Zoma's black robe.
It was a shaggy red tail with a snow-white tip.
Lord Toede's Disastrous Hunt
by Harold Bakst
The Pilgrim's Rest was a pretty old tavern, having been
started by the great grandfather of its owner, a gnarly old
dwarf by the name of Pug. But the place looked even older
than it was because it was built into the hollow of a huge
and truly ancient oak tree near the Darken Wood.
Following the shape of the trunk, the room was basically
round and soared up into the dark heights of the tree's
interior. Up there, unseen, were woodpeckers, bats, a few
squirrels, and various other critters. Occasionally one of
them would fly or creep down along the wall to steal food
from the round, rough-hewn tables, and old Pug was
constantly chasing them back up again with a broom.
"Don't feed the animals!" he kept telling his patrons. "It
only encourages them!"
Business at the Pilgrim's Rest was usually good, thanks
to the forest paths that crisscrossed all around it. On any
given day, there was likely to be an assortment of many
peoples - elves, dwarves, humans, and such - all traveling to
and from the four comers of Krynn.
On one particular evening, this crowd was joined by a
kender. Old Pug kept an eye on the little, slight-boned
fellow, for he knew a kender was likely to slip away
without paying his tab. True to form, the kender, dressed in
red leggings and tunic, sat at a table near the door.
But this kender, apparently a bit inebriated, was talking
loudly, and this reassured Pug, who could at least turn his
back and hear him.
"... I tell you," the kender was saying, "Kronin and I
DID kill him!"
"You expect us to believe," said a squat, black-bearded
dwarf sitting at the kender's table, "that two puny kender
killed Toede, a Dragon Highlord?"
"Why, Kronin isn't just ANY kender! He's our leader!"
"Even so," said another patron, a lanky human who was
walking over with his beer stein, "kender are no match for a
The kender's pointy ears turned red. "Do you think I'm
lying?" he shouted.
"Yes!" came back all the patrons as they gathered
around the boaster's table.
"And how did you two kill Toede?" asked a tall,
willowy elf, a fair eyebrow arched incredulously. "With
that silly what-do-you-call-it you kender carry?"
"The hoopak," said the dwarf, picking up the pronged
stick from under the table for everyone to see.
"Leave that alone!" shouted the kender, snatching the
"What's this?" said the human. "A kender getting angry?
Where's your usual sense of humor?"
"He's had too much ale," suggested the dwarf with a
"Yes, that explains his ridiculous claims," agreed the elf,
waving the story away with his long, slender hand.
"Phooey on you all!" shouted the kender. "Kronin and
I are heroes whether you believe it or not!"
"Tell me," called old Pug from behind the counter,
"did anyone actually see you do this deed?"
There was a brief silence.
"That's right," said the lanky human, resting his stein
on the table. "Can anyone back you on this?"
The kender started to sputter in frustration, when, from
across the room, someone shouted:
Everyone turned in surprise to see who had spoken.
Sitting at a table near the wooden wall was a hooded
figure slouched over a stein. It was unclear what sort of
being he was, but his robes were all in tatters. "And who,
pray tell, are you that you should know?" asked Pug, his
thick eyebrows rising inquisitively.
"I was there," said the hooded stranger. "I saw it all.
This kender's name must be Talorin."
The kender beamed, proud that news of his deed had
reached another's ears and that this stranger actually knew
his name. He crossed his slender arms. "Thank you, sir," he
called to the stranger. "Perhaps
you can tell these Doubting Trapspringers what you saw."
Everyone, still gathered around the kender's table,
waited for the stranger to speak. But he didn't seem to
care to continue, and he sipped from his brew
"Yes, why don't you tell us?" asked the dwarf, taking his
stein and waddling over to the stranger's table.
"What difference does it make?" growled the stranger
from beneath his cowl. "Toede was a sniveling, cowardly
idiot. He had no business being a Dragon Highlord."
At this, Talorin's pointy ears grew red again.
"Maybe so," said the elf, also walking over. "But he
caused much harm. If he's dead, then I for one would like
to know how it came about."
From deep within his hood, the stranger seemed to be
staring at the nearly empty stein sitting before him.
"Perhaps if someone were to buy me another ale - "
"Pug! Bring the gentleman another brew!" called the
dwarf, settling himself on a chair at the stranger's table, his
broad, leather-clad feet dangling. Soon everyone who had
been around Talorin drew closer to the stranger. But the
kender, not to be left out, squeezed himself back into their
midst. Pug brought the stranger another stein of ale and
clunked it before him, the foamy head spilling over and
onto the table.
The stranger took a sip and cleared his throat. "I once
served that wretch-of-a-hobgoblin," he said. "And, yes, I
was there that day. . . ."
And so the stranger told a tale that, since then, has been
retold many times throughout Krynn.
For many weeks Toede had been stewing in his somber
manor in the decrepit port city of Flotsam, grumbling about
how his subjects were not paying him the respect due to a
Dragon Highlord. "They don't pay their taxes, they desert
my army, they laugh behind my back!" he growled. Then
he would just sit slumped on his throne, his two pink eyes
squinting out of his flat, fleshy face as if he were hatching
some plot that would make everyone realize he was not to
be taken so lightly.
But all he did was put himself in a worse and worse mood.
If anyone crossed him during those weeks - if an attendant
so much as spilled something at the table - Toede fell into a
rage. More than one such fellow was tossed off the docks to
be eaten by sharks.
Naturally, his attendants were getting increasingly
nervous. Finally one of them, Groag - a fat hobgoblin like
Toede but who liked to dress in elegant, stylish robes and
wear large, bejeweled rings - tried to divert his master from
his self-pity. "Perhaps Lord Toede would like to disport
himself," he said, standing by the squat, round-backed
Toede glanced up and sideways at the dandified
attendant. "Do you have anything in particular in mind?" he
snarled. He always felt that Groag, like everyone else,
showed him little genuine respect and always sounded
"There are many things," said Groag. He counted them
off on each bejeweled finger. "You could take your ship out
and harpoon dolphins, you could attend a dogfight, you
could go hunting - "
"Hunting," snarled Toede, slumping even deeper into his
throne. "How can I be expected to catch anything when my
forest is full of poachers?" He began to stew again.
"Well," Groag shrugged, "perhaps you can catch a
At this, Toede's beady eyes lit up, and his broad fleshy
mouth actually spread into a twisted smile. "Hmm," he
began, drumming his stubby fingers on the throne's broad
armrest. "Wouldn't that be fun . . ."
Now, Groag hadn't really been serious about catching a
poacher, but the idea did seem to catch his master's
imagination. So he said, "Say no more, my lord."
Whereupon he hastily arranged a hunting party.
For the hunt, Toede left behind his faithful amphi dragon,
Hopsloth, who was much too clumsy on land (pity the
terrorized servants who had to comfort the disappointed
beast!) and, instead, he rode his fastest, furry-legged pony,
Galiot. He also took a large pack of black hunting hounds,
each of which was held on a leash by an iron-collared slave
who ran along on foot. The hounds were vicious, long-
fanged beasts, and sometimes, out of impatience to be let
loose, they nipped at the slaves holding them. All the
hapless slaves could do to defend themselves was keep the
mongrels at bay with sticks found along the way.
Also for the hunt, Toede surrounded himself with half a
dozen pony-backed, spear-carrying bodyguards -
hobgoblins all - just in case he came upon a particularly
nasty poacher. Toede himself wore his armor, which, of
late, had become an especially tight fit, causing his flab to
squeeze out of the chinks. Only Groag, preferring to remain
in his fancy, flowing robes and rings, went unarmored. As
he rode beside Toede, however, he did carry his master's
bow and arrows.
It was late morning when the hunting party paraded
through the crooked, filthy streets of Flotsam. Soon they
entered a large, grassy field, at the far end of which was a
somber fringe of dark pine forest. Not surprisingly, no
poachers were quick to reveal themselves, but Toede did
spot a great big stag at the perimeter of the woods. As the
party approached, the animal raised its magnificently
antlered head and sniffed the air suspiciously.
"Shh," hissed Toede as Groag handed him his bow and
an arrow. "No one make a sound."
From atop Galiot, Toede nocked the arrow and pulled
back on the bowstring, his red tongue poking out the comer
of his mouth as he concentrated on his aim.
But before he could release the arrow, a sudden screaming
whine pierced the air, startling the stag. The creature spun
around, crashed into the outlying underbrush of the woods,
and disappeared. Then ensued a series of muffled, skittering
noises that receded into the distance.
"Damn it!" shouted Toede, his pink eyes reddening. He
spun in his saddle toward his bodyguards. "Who did that?
Come on! Speak up!"
The hobgoblin guards shrugged and looked at each other
"The noise did not come from our party," said Groag,
sounding typically haughty.
"Oh? Then who from?" asked Toede.
"A kender," said Groag. "Perhaps more than one. The
sound was made by a hoopak, of course."
"Kender!" snapped Toede, his eyes darting about the
field and woods. "I should have known! I bet they're the
ones who've been poaching in my forest!"
"I wouldn't be surprised," said Groag, though in fact he
was indeed surprised to learn that their quest for poachers
might have real results.
"All right, then," said Toede, handing the bow and
arrow back to the know-it-all attendant, "let's keep our eyes
open for damned kender!"
With that, Toede and his hunting party continued on,
searching for kender. They saw none. Soon they were
skirting the edge of the dark pine forest, whose lower,
horizontal branches were dead, gray, and bare.
Of course no kender showed, but Toede did spot a
second stag just within the gloomy woods, drinking at the
near bank of a purling brook. "Shh," whispered Toede,
sticking out his hand for his bow and arrow;
Groag handed them over. Toede acted faster this time,
quickly nocking the arrow and pulling back on the
But, once again, before he could even take proper aim,
another whining scream pierced the air.
"Damn it!" roared Toede as the stag darted off,
splashing to the other side of the brook and disappearing
deeper into the woods. Toede stood straight up in his saddle
and scanned all around him. "Where are they? Where are
these blasted kender?"
"They are quite good at hiding," said Groag as if it were
too obvious to even mention. "You won't spot them so
"I won't, won't I?" said Toede, straining his eyes even
harder. "We'll see about that!" He turned to his bodyguards.
"You there," he hissed at one of them, "circle around with
some slaves! We'll use them as beaters!"
"Yes, sire!" snapped back the hobgoblin, excited at the
idea. He took several slaves and dogs, and off he went,
spurring his pony and hoping to encircle the kender,
wherever they were.
Toede glared at Groag, who averted his eyes. The rotund
Highlord led the hunting party back into the center of the
field so that he'd have a wide view of the forest perimeter.
Grumbling to himself, he waited atop the impatient Galiot,
who kept snorting and pawing at the ground with his small,
When at last Toede heard the yelling of the distant
beaters deep in the forest, he muttered, "Now, my little
kender, the tables are about to be turned. . . ."
The shouts of the beaters and the dogs barking got
louder. In trying to flee these beaters, plenty of other game
now burst forth from the forest: rabbit, fox, grouse, even
another stag, all hurried past Toede and his hunting party.
Toede ignored them all, intent and filled with malicious
glee. But two of his hobgoblin bodyguards couldn't resist.
They chased and felled the dashing stag with thrusts of their
"Stop that!" shouted Toede, waving them back. "Prepare
yourselves for the kender!"
The two hobgoblins looked at each other, then, if a little
reluctantly, let the dead deer lay where it fell. They rode
obediently back to Toede's side.
Suddenly the dark hounds around Toede began barking
furiously and straining at their leashes, testing the strength
of the scrawny slaves holding them. Straight ahead,
breaking from the forest with the other game, were two
small beings running from the beaters and chattering to
each other and not at all looking where they were going.
"What have we here?" Toede chuckled smugly, sticking
his hand out for his bow and arrow; Groag handed them
over. "The dogs shall have some kender meat tonight!"
Toede nocked the arrow and drew back the bowstring. He
squinted and aimed, sticking his red tongue out the corner
of his mouth.
But just when the two kender were within range, Toede
relaxed the bow. "No," he said as a contorted smile spread
across his face. "No, I have a better idea - a much better
idea . . ." He savored the thought a moment and nodded
approvingly. He turned to his bodyguards. "Catch them!"
The bodyguards spurred their ponies and galloped off.
They were almost on top of the kender before the little
people knew what was happening. One of them had stopped
to replace a button on his raiment, and the other was
offering him a variety of choices from his pouches, so they
were surprised by the onslaught.
But it wasn't so easy catching those kender. They were
very spry, and one of them kept swinging his hoopak,
eliciting that whining scream. This scared the ponies,
which, in turn, nearly trampled over the beaters as they
themselves came forth from the woods. In the confusion,
the kender nearly escaped as they bolted across the field.
But they were chased down by two hobgoblins who held an
outspread net between their ponies. The two kender were
swooped up, the hoopak flying - with a final whine - from
the hand of the kender who had held it.
Toede, watching this from a distance, nearly fell out of
his saddle from excitement. "Bring them here! Bring them
here!" he shouted hoarsely. He settled back on his saddle
and began rubbing his pudgy hands expectantly. He leered
at Groag, who nodded, if begrudgingly, to acknowledge his
The two hobgoblins rode up to Toede, the snared kender
dangling between their mounts. The dogs continued
barking, straining at their leashes and snapping their jaws
only a hand's length from the net.
"Now what have we here?" said Toede, leaning down.
Suddenly his beady eyes widened. "What's this? Groag!
Look who we've bagged!"
Groag leaned forward, and even he seemed impressed.
"I do believe - goodness, could it be?"
"It could!" said Toede with great satisfaction. "The
kender leader! Oh, won't this impress the other Highlords!"
It was, indeed, Kronin Thistleknot. Except for a certain
regal bearing and minnow-silver hair, he looked like an
ordinary kender, although slightly taller and sturdier. Also,
he had twice as many pouches and ornaments slung around
his slender waist. In his company was a more youthful
kender with a gap-toothed smile, as thrilled as could be to
find himself in the middle of such an unusual experience as
being captured by the great Toede.
"Good afternoon," said Kronin casually, swinging in his
net-hammock. "Fine day for hunting."
"Fine day, indeed," responded Toede with a sneer.
"Mind you, my dear Kronin, the real hunting hasn't even
Toede quickly looked about until he spotted the slain stag
crumpled on the ground some dozen paces away. His eyes
glinted with a notion. "Bring that here!" he ordered.
The two hobgoblins who had killed the animal hurried
over to it on their ponies, chasing away some complaining
jackals and buzzards that had already gathered there. They
grabbed the buck by its antlers and dragged it back before
"Now," said Toede, gesturing impatiently in the
direction of his highly prized prisoners, "release them."
The hobgoblins holding the net tilted it, and out plopped
the two small beings. They dusted their similar red leggings
and white tunics, and Kronin adjusted his furry vest.
"Now," continued Toede, slowly unfolding his plan,
"chain them to the carcass!"
The kender looked at each other in some confusion as
two hobgoblins quickly obeyed, chaining a slender wrist
from each kender to a separate broad antler. The kender
raised their arms questioningly, hefting the head of the dead
Toede slapped his hands together. "Now, then, my
pointy eared pests, I will give you a head start."
"A head start?" repeated Kronin.
"That's right," said Toede. "And when I feel you've gone
a fair distance, I will release these hounds and hunt you
down and kill you. What have you got to say to that?"
Kronin smiled broadly with realization. "Oh, I do love a
good game," he said, looking up at the fat hobgoblin who
regarded him with such contempt.
"Then you're in luck!" came back Toede, trying to sound
as glib as the kender leader. "Now, you'd best be off, my
friends. I won't wait TOO long."
"Oh, I'm sure of that," said Kronin. "Until we meet . . ." He
bowed deeply. The other kender, who was a bit smaller
than Kronin, did likewise. It seemed the polite thing to do.
"Bah!" snapped Toede. "You won't be so smart-alecky
when I get through with you!"
But Kronin ignored the Dragon Highlord and turned to
his small friend. "Come, Talorin," he said. "We must be
The other kender grinned and jumped up and down in
anticipation of the sport to begin. "Yes, sir, my liege!" he
said. "Oh, I do love a good game, too!"
The two kender began to shuffle away, dragging the
bloody stag carcass - which was bigger than both of them
combined - across the field. At the edge of the forest they
turned around, waved farewell to Toede, then disappeared
through the underbrush, heroically tugging the deer carcass.
Toede drummed his fingers impatiently on his saddle
pommel. Galiot snorted and pawed the ground nervously.
The dogs yanked at their leashes. The slaves looked
imploringly up at Toede, waiting for the command to
release the beasts.
"Um, we shouldn't wait too much longer," said Groag,
looking a bit concerned. "Kender are awfully tricky - "
"I know how long to wait!" snapped back Toede. And
he waited still longer to prove it.
But finally he, too, got nervous, and so he shouted:
"Release the hounds!"
The hounds bolted ahead, and the hobgoblins galloped
behind them while the panting slaves, watched over by two
rearguards, were forced to try to keep up on foot.
At the edge of the forest, the hounds slowed and began
sniffing for the scent of the deer carcass, their dark muzzles
sweeping feverishly across the ground, snorting now and
then to clear dirt from their wet nostrils. After a few
moments of this, one of them suddenly plunged into the
woods, pulling the others after it, all of them yapping away.
The hunting party followed, the riders forced to duck
beneath the low, dead limbs of the pine tree.
"Whew!" said Talorin, pulling his chain with both hands,
barely keeping up his share of the burden. "I think I'm
actually beginning to sweat!"
The two kender were slowly making their way among
the towering trees of the gloomy and silent inner forest
where only flecks of sunlight broke through the branches
above, dappling the forest floor.
"Good for you!" said Kronin as he also tugged away,
taking care to show less strain, because, after all, he was the
leader. "You don't get enough exercise."
"Oops!" said Talorin, turning his head. "I think I hear the
dogs!" He paused to listen. "Yes, yes, that's them all right.
You know, my liege, I think we ought to be making better
Kronin also stopped, and as he did the deer's head
slumped to the soft bed of brown pine needles. "Well," he
said, trying to catch his own breath, "these low branches
should slow the riders down a bit." He pointed to the
crisscrossing limbs, most of which were over the heads of
the two kender. "But you're right, my friend - " he casually
rested an elbow on one of the dead animal's upright antlers
" - although I feel certain if we had enough time, we could
pick these two locks." He looked thoughtful.
"Doubtless!" said Talorin, rattling his chain. "Only . . ."
He hesitated to break into Kronin's meditation. "Only, the
dogs are coming closer as we speak. . . ."
"No kender should be hobbled this way," continued Kronin
philosophically, shaking his head. "It's so embarrassing.
And then, of course, as far as the game goes, it doesn't seem
"True enough. Those dogs are getting rather loud, aren't
"Perhaps," Kronin mused, "we ought to do something
about those dogs. ..."
"Yes, yes! Capital idea!" Talorin brightened. "And I
even have an idea how to do it! We need only - oh. Dam.
We'd need the hoopak for that." He furrowed his brow to
think. "Of course!" said Talorin again, snapping his fingers.
"We could take - ahhh - no, that wouldn't work, either.
We'd need four more kender. . . ."
Kronin rolled his eyes upward.
"Hey! We could try to - darn it! That's no good! There
are too many trees in here! Well, I suppose we could
always - drat! I doubt even hobgoblins are that stupid."
Talorin rubbed his slender face. "Say, how about - ?"
"Um, don't trouble yourself, my friend," interrupted
Kronin finally. He spat into his hands, rubbed them, and
took up the chain again. "I do believe I already have an
idea. . . ."
Toede and his hunting party had now been riding
through those gloomy woods a long while - so long, in fact,
that they eventually came to a groaning halt. The slaves
collapsed to catch their breath. Toede scratched his broad,
squat face. "It seems," he said, only slowly perceiving the
truth, "that we've been returning to the same spot over and
"Yes, it does seem that way," said Groag, somewhat
fatigued by the long search. "The kender apparently
dragged the carcass in a circle."
Toede's pink eyes reddened. "So! Kronin thinks he's put
one over on me, does he? We'll see about that! Leash the
The slaves, who had only just gotten comfortable lying
on the bed of pine needles, forced themselves to their feet
with a moan. When the dogs were leashed, the hunting
party, at Toede's orders, proceeded more slowly and
methodically along the scent trail. Toede kept some dogs on
the outside of the circle the kender had made, hoping to
catch the spot where Kronin and Talorin had veered off.
Sure enough, the dogs ranging the perimeter soon grew
wild and loud, snorting at the ground and tugging on their
"Do you see?" shouted Toede gloatingly. "They've only
managed to postpone their end - and, may I add, not for
very long!" He turned to the slaves. "Release them!"
The slaves were only too happy to obey. The dogs, once
free, bolted deeper into the forest in the direction of the
fresh scent, scaring up several grouse and other birds along
"Oh, I've never felt such a thrill!" declared Toede
gleefully as he galloped after his dogs, the needles on the
ground kicking up under the hooves of Galiot. "We ought to
hunt kender more often!"
"Yes, sire," responded Groag without much conviction,
his robes fluttering. He was more concerned with trying to
stay in the saddle.
"Oops! I hear them again!" said Talorin as he and Kronin
sat on rocks by the purling stream that meandered among
Kronin was fumbling with a pin at the lock around his
skinny wrist. His pointy ears perked. "You're right," he
said, distracted. "I think they've caught on to our ruse."
Talorin rested his slender face in an open hand and
sighed. "Boy, I really do hate being chained. I really do."
"It's no picnic for me, either," said Kronin, now
standing, his attention focused on the barking. "My, they
do make a racket, don't they? I'm glad we don't do this
"They seem a little too . . . how would you put it?"
"Yes, that's it: enthusiastic! Bad for us, huh?"
"Could be. Perhaps we ought to run in circles again."
"Frankly, I'm a bit bored with that."
"Well! Aren't we being finicky!" said Kronin. "Very
well, I'll just have to think of another idea." So, with the
distant barking getting ever louder, Kronin took a moment
to reflect. He furrowed his brow and scratched his chin. He
looked around. He thought harder.
"Um, my liege, could you think a bit faster?"
"Got it!" blurted Kronin, his eyes lighting. He sat down
and began to untie the leather thongs of his shoes. "Come
on," he pressed.
Talorin looked at him in confusion. "What on Krynn -
"And you'll want to roll up your leggings, too," said
Kronin, rolling up his own.
Talorin, with a heavy sigh and clank of his chain,
slowly pulled one foot onto his bony knee and began
removing a shoe. "Well," he said wistfully, "at least the
hounds seem to be having a good time. . . ."
The hounds snorted excitedly at the spot where the two
kender had been sitting, but they grew frustrated because,
once more, they had lost the scent of the kender. They
searched frantically around the fern-covered bank, scaring
the daylights out of a small green frog who jumped into the
"Apparently, my lord, the kender waded into the stream,"
said Groag, squirming uncomfortably in his saddle and
wishing desperately to return to the manor. "There's no
telling which way they went."
"No telling?" came back Toede. "You think Kronin has
won this little sport?"
"I'm only being practical," said Groag, massaging his
rear. "You should have killed them when you had them in
"Bah!" came back Toede. "You give up too easily!" He
turned to the rest of his hunting party. "All right, comb the
The hunting party split up and covered both sides of the
stream in each direction. Toede, more impatient than ever
now, waited with Groag and drummed his fingers on his
saddle pommel while Galiot took the opportunity to drink
some of the cool, crystalline water. "We'll see," muttered
Toede. "We'll just see . . ."
Before too long, the dogs upstream on the opposite side
began barking furiously. A hobgoblin there blew his horn.
"Ha! Now what do you say, Groag?" called Toede as he
splashed across the stream on Galiot. He hunched over to
avoid some low branches. "Kronin is not as clever as he -
or you - believes!"
An exhausted Groag, falling to the rear of the pursuing
hobgoblins, didn't answer. A dead branch had torn the
sleeve of his fancy robe.
"Uh oh, do you hear what I hear?" asked Talorin as he
and Kronin dragged the dripping wet, impossibly
cumbersome deer carcass through the woods. They stopped
to listen. Talorin leaned against a large, rough-barked tree
and slid to the ground to rest. "Goodness, they are
persistent," remarked Kronin. "My poor wrist is starting to
chafe," complained Talorin, "and I'm tired and hungry - "
"My, my, such a grumpy boy," said Kronin. "How do
you think I feel? Is there a worse curse than for two kender
to be chained together?"
But then Talorin, only half listening to the older kender,
snapped his fingers. "Say, I have an idea!"
Kronin looked at him skeptically.
"No, really, I do! It's a good one!"
"Are we going to need anything special for this one?"
"No, no, just some muscle grease!" Talorin jumped to
his feet. His face shone with eagerness.
"Well, that's too much. Mine requires only - ahh.
Hmmm. No. We'd need lard for that - "
"You see? Our situation is dire. Please let me tell you
my idea! Please, please, please - "
"All right, all right!" said Kronin, half covering his
pointy ears. "Just keep your voice down. They're getting
Talorin beamed and rubbed his hands. He leaned toward
Kronin and whispered, "That hobgoblin dunderhead will
never figure this one out!"
"At last!" said Groag, wiping his forehead with a silk
handkerchief and looking up into the high branches of an
especially large pine. "We've treed them!"
"It would seem so," said Toede, peering up and rubbing
his weak chin. He frowned grotesquely. "Although for the
life of me, I don't see anyone up there."
All the guards looked up stupidly and scratched their
heads. The dogs, which had led the party to the tree,
continued jumping up onto its trunk and sliding back down
again - though one of them had actually managed to jump
onto a particularly low limb and now stood upon it on
jittery hind legs, barking furiously.
"You're right," said Groag over the din. "I don't see them
either. Can kender fly?"
But even as Groag suggested this, a smile spread slowly
across his master's face. "Sire?" Groag prodded dimly.
"Fly, Groag?" blurted Toede. "Ha! Fly, you say? Is that
"Well, no. I was only wondering - "
"Don't you see what they did?"
"Um, let me see - "
"And you think you're so smart!" Toede pointed with a
stubby finger at the various heavy limbs jutting from the
tree. "It's obvious! They climbed along one of those upper
branches, crossed to another tree, down they came, and - "
Toede turned to the rest of his party. "Everyone! Spread
The hunting party radiated from the tree. Toede, more
confident than ever, waited with Groag. Every so often he
smirked at his uppity attendant. Sure enough, one of the
dogs started yapping at the base of a neighboring pine.
"Oh, I do love it!" shouted Toede as he galloped off
behind his noisy black dogs. "We'll show Kronin yet!"
"I'm sure we will, my lord," sighed Groag, mostly to
himself as another limb tore at his robe.
"Darn! I almost had it!" said Kronin, hunkered down
before a large cave at the base of a rocky hillside. His own
reddened wrist was at last free of the chain, and he was now
working on Talorin's. From the rim of the cave, the two
kender had a good view across a clearing of the
"Will you please hurry, sir?" asked Talorin, sitting on the
glassy eyed deer carcass. "Those dogs are getting awfully
Kronin rose to his feet. "You're right." He looked pensive
for a moment. "Say! Why don't we split up? That would
"What? Me lug this deer all alone?"
Kronin's face showed that he did not think it was such a
terrible idea. "You could always hide in this cave - "
"Hmm. I suppose not." But he looked unconvinced.
"Sir, perhaps it would help you to think if you pretended
you were still chained."
"You may be right," said Kronin. "Let. me pretend I'm
still chained. Hmmmm . . ." And while Kronin pondered,
the dogs' barking got steadily louder.
Talorin cleared his throat and held out his wrist, rattling
his chain. "Um, in all due respect, sir, maybe you should
continue picking the lock." Of course, Talorin could pick
the occasional lock, but Kronin was better at it, and besides,
he was the leader.
"Maybe," said Kronin vaguely, taking Talorin's shackled
wrist. "But I can't pick locks and think at the same time."
"That's all right, my liege. I'll think for us. In fact, I've
already got an idea. Why don't we - rats! We already tried
that. Or, maybe . . ."
The barking got louder; in addition, the pounding of the
ponies' hooves could be heard along with Toede's own
hoarse shouting as he frantically barked orders at his
"This is going to be just a bit too close for comfort," said
Kronin, fumbling at the lock.
Talorin, still sitting on the carcass, squinted in deep
thought. Every so often he brightened, but then quickly
shook his head and fell back to his cogitating. "Well, that
does it!" he finally announced, slapping his thigh with his
free hand. "I'm fresh out of ideas!"
Suddenly Kronin stopped picking the lock. His ears
twitched. "Say, did you hear something?"
"Hear something?" repeated Talorin, who was busy
scooping up pebbles and inspecting them to see if any
might, accidentally, be jewels. "Yes, but I thought it was
you tugging at the lock - "
"No, no - " said Kronin. His ears twitched again. He
turned to face the cave behind them. "I think it came from
Talorin directed his attention to the cave as well. He
leaned toward it to listen better, dropping his pebbles.
"You're right! Hmm! Someone's an awfully loud snorer!"
The two kender stared at each other a moment. Their
eyes lit up with recognition. Kronin resumed picking the
lock more feverishly than ever. Talorin was almost giddy
with excitement. "Hold still, will you!" said Kronin.
"Oh, this will be a good one!"
The dogs soon came to the cave and barked furiously at
its dark entrance, refusing, however, to go in.
"At last!" shouted Toede, pulling up on the reins of
Galiot and stopping behind his dogs. He slid off. "They're
"I hope so, sire - " groaned Groag.
"Oh, they're in there, all right," said Toede. He stuck out
his hand for his bow and arrow.
"Yes, but every time - "
"Come, come! Be quick about it!" shouted Toede,
snapping his fingers impatiently.
Groag handed the weapons over. "They've been very
sneaky so far - "
"That's right! Very sneaky, indeed!" said Toede,
nocking his arrow. "And look where it's gotten them!
"All the same, my lord, I would proceed carefully - "
"Bah! You just don't like seeing me outwit a kender,"
came back Toede, turning his back on Groag and peering
eagerly into the darkness of the cave.
"You're wrong, my lord," said Groag, sliding his bulk
clumsily off his pony. "Nothing would please me more.
But - "
"Never mind 'but', " said Toede, turning back. "Just
follow your orders. Stay by the trees and watch the mounts
and dogs. I'll leave you the slaves and the two rearguards.
If Kronin and that other pointy eared pipsqueak should
sneak by us, kill them at once! Understand?"
"Yes, sire," said Groag, grateful at least for the respite.
"The rest of you follow me!"
While four of the hobgoblins eagerly dismounted, Groag
retreated back across the clearing to the trees with the
slaves, dogs, ponies, and the two rearguards. Toede peered
once more into the cave, but this time more tentatively. His
faithful attendant had given him second thoughts. "Damn
that Groag," he muttered. "Always ruining my fun! Well,
not this time!" Bow and arrow nocked at the ready, Toede
padded stealthily into the cave, followed closely by his
guards. Soon they disappeared in the blackness.
There was a moment or so when nothing much
happened, except that the dogs kept barking and yanking at
their leashes, pulling some of the exhausted slaves from the
trees into the clearing. Groag himself settled against a tree
and sat down on a bed of pine needles. He gently fingered
the tatters of his robe and sighed.
Suddenly, several prolonged hobgoblin screeches echoed
from the cave. They were followed almost immediately by
none other than Toede himself and his four guards, all
squealing like pigs at the top of their lungs and bolting out
of the cave as fast as their fat, armor-clad bodies would
"My lord, what happened?" called Groag, jumping to his
The answer came quickly enough. Out of the cave
emerged a huge, very angry, reptilian head. Right between
its flaring nostrils was stuck Toede's puny arrow. The
emerging head was quickly shown to be attached to a long,
thick serpentine neck that slid out and out until the entirety
of an enormous green dragon stood before the cave.
"Attack! Attaaaack!" screamed Toede, his hands flailing
the air as he retreated across the open ground, his
bodyguards clanking after him. Meanwhile, the dogs had
reversed themselves and were now lunging in the opposite
direction, yelping and dragging some of the slaves with
them back into the forest.
The dragon sat back on its haunches before its cave, its
head soaring above the surrounding pine trees, its leathern
wings opening like two green sails of a great ship. Around
the dragon's thick rear ankle, looking like nothing more
than a bracelet and charm, were attached the chain and deer
"Attaaaack!" screamed Toede, continuing his dash
toward the forest.
The two hobgoblins who had remained with Groag
stepped forward uneasily, their little pig eyes widening,
their spears trembling. "Kill it! Kill it!" Groag squealed.
"Protect your master!"
The two seemed inclined to head for the rear, but they
were pressed forward by Toede. Planted behind them, he
was grabbing at the arms of the other fleeing hobgoblin
guards, trying to spin them around. "Where are you going,
you cowards? Stop! Stop!"
By now most of the guards, dogs, and slaves - with Galiot
leading the way - had scattered into the woods.
The dragon kept its glare fixed on the fat hobgoblin
Highlord who stood at the edge of the forest, jumping up
and down, waving his fists, and barking orders at the two
quivering guards he had pushed into the clearing. Groag
was frozen to his spot.
"Get him! You idiots! What are you waiting for?" Toede
At last the angry dragon, tired of the squealing, opened
its great maw, rolled its pink tongue out of the way, and
released a great, thunderous discharge of flame that caught
Toede right in the middle of one of his jumps. The flames
passed right over the heads of the two hobgoblins edging
their way backward. Tossing their spears in the air, they
fled in opposite directions.
The dragon's flames were so loud that they drowned out
Groag, standing several paces away from Toede, could
only watch in horror, his torn robes slowly being singed.
And when at long last the flames stopped, all he could see
remaining of his master was his red-hot, glowing armor,
partly melted, lying on the ground.
The dragon roared victoriously, causing pine needles to
rain from the trees. Then, using a front claw, the dragon
swatted the irritating arrow from between its nostrils and
slowly crawled back into its cave, the deer-carcass bracelet
disappearing with it, followed by the dragon's own tapering,
In the ensuing silence, Groag, pine needles covering his
head and shoulders, stood alone, gawking at where Toede
had been ranting only moments before. After a moment
more, he was finally able to move his legs a bit. About to
slink back into the forest, he heard an odd sound - a sort of
high-pitched, squeaky laugh ter. He stopped and looked to
see where it was coming from.
His eyes fell upon two small beings perched on the
rocky hill, just over the entrance to the cave. So hard were
they laughing that they had fallen right over onto their
backs and were holding their aching stomachs. . . .
And that, more or less, was the tale that was told in the
tavern and came to be retold over and over throughout
When the hooded stranger had finished speaking, the
other patrons looked first at him, then at Talorin, who was
smiling proudly from pointy ear to pointy ear. "Kender can
sneak up on any sleeping dragon," he added unnecessarily.
Old Pug scratched his curly hair. "Well, I'll be," he said.
"So it's true about Kronin."
Another patron, the lanky human, patted the proud
kender on the back.
"And now, kind stranger," continued Talorin
expansively, "perhaps you would like to offer thanks for
your liberation. I would be most happy to relay your
gratitude to the great Kronin himself."
"Gratitude?" grumbled the hooded stranger. "Gratitude?
For my LIBERATION?"
"Why, of course. Everyone knows Toede was a horrible
tyrant, and ever since that day - "
"Ever since that day," broke in the stranger, "I have sure
enough been free - but free to what? To wander aimlessly?
To go hungry? To find no shelter? Gratitude, you say?
Look! Look upon my gratitude!" And, with that, the
stranger tossed back his hood. The once elegant and
haughty, once well-fed minion of the Highlord was now
gaunt-faced and clothed in rags.
"Groag!" yelped the kender, sitting up straight.
And before anyone knew it, the crazed hobgoblin
brought forth from under the table a rusty double-edged
battle-ax, which he immediately swung overhead. Down he
came with it, just as the inebriated kender jumped away, his
abandoned chair cracking in two. Everyone else around the
table jumped back, knocking over their chairs.
"Stand still!" cried the enraged hobgoblin, jumping to
his feet and hefting the heavy axe once more. "I want to
show you how damned grateful I am!"
"Some other time, perhaps!" called back Talorin,
springing lightly back toward the door.
Groag rushed him and swung the axe, smashing a row of
clay steins on the counter.
"Oops!" cried Talorin. "I think maybe it's time I take my
leave!" And, with that, he hopped out a round window.
"Farewell!" he called, his voice already distant in the
woods. "I'll give Kronin your best!"
"Come back!" raged Groag, holding the axe aloft and
dashing out the tavern door. "Come back and let me thank
you and all your meddling race!"
The remaining patrons pressed back to the circular tree-
trunk wall for safety and looked at each other in disbelief.
Then the elf, a twinkle coming to his eye, began to chuckle.
His cheeks reddened merrily. The others slowly joined him,
and soon everyone was laughing.
"Well, how do you like that?" said the elf, wiping a
cheerful tear from a pale blue eye as he returned to pick up
his chair. "Some people just don't know how to say thank
Everyone was now roaring heartily and shaking their
heads in amusement as they resettled themselves into their
chairs to resume their drinking.
All, that is, except old Pug. He only sighed deeply as he
returned to his counter to sweep away the shards of his
broken clay steins. Once again, as he knew would happen, a
kender had left without paying his tab.
Definitions of Honor
Richard A. Knaak
They called the village Dragon's Point. It was a grand
name for a tiny human settlement located at the tip of a
peninsula northeast of Kornen. Fishtown might have been
more appropriate. All who lived in Dragon's Point played
some part in the fishing trade. Young and old, men and
Visitors were rare in this part of the world: a few traders,
a wandering soul, even a minor cleric now and then. A
Knight of Solamnia, then, should have been a sight rare
enough to make every villager cease his work and stare in
astonishment. At least that was what Torbin had believed.
Yet, they did little more than eye him suspiciously and then
disappear into their respective homes. They seemed more
frightened than surprised.
Those standing nearest to him - those that did not run or
sneak away - watched him with narrowed, covetous eyes.
His personal wealth amounted to little, but it must have
seemed a king's treasure to these folk. His hand strayed to
his sword just long enough to warn potential bravados. The
message shot home with the swiftness of an arrow. Torbin
soon found himself alone in the midst of the very village he
had come to protect.
A young knight, he had a tremendous desire to prove
himself to the world. He wanted to make a name for
himself, something that would gain him the respect of the
elders of his order, something that would make the common
folk gaze at him in wide-eyed admiration. In short - though
he would not have admitted it to himself, much less to
anyone else - Torbin wanted to be a hero.
Most of his fellows had chosen to go south toward the
more populous regions. They would fight a few bandits,
stare down a few peasants, and come back boasting of their
great struggles. Torbin wanted much more than that. He
wanted a real struggle, a worthy adversary. That was why
he had chosen to head toward Kornen and then up the
peninsula. The minotaurs lived near here. Savage man-
beasts with their own code of honor.
A commoner, making his ways to the more hospitable
lands to the southwest, had spoken of the village held in a
grip of terror by a great band of minotaurs. The man-beasts
prowled the woods and marched along the shore. Any day
now they would surely overrun the helpless settlement.
Torbin suspected the commoner of being a great
embellisher, and further questioning proved him correct in
that assumption. The great band was reduced to one lone
minotaur and a few whispered but unaccountable incidents.
The situation seemed ideal.
Two weeks later, Dragon's Point's new savior had
reached his destination.
It stank heavily of fish.
Three slightly better-dressed men met him at the village
center. By their continual bickering over which of them was
to speak - none of the three seemed to want the actual honor
- he assumed them to be members of the local governing
power. As a matter of fact, they turned out to be the mayor,
the chief fisherman, and the tax collector. Torbin took the
choice out of their hands by steering his horse toward the
mayor. The man looked ready to faint, but managed to
sputter out a greeting. The knight removed his helmet and
returned the greeting.
The three elders seemed a bit disappointed in his
youthful appearance. Torbin was clean-shaven and rather
handsome, though his nose hooked slightly. His eyes were a
bright blue, which seemed to accentuate his lack of
experience. His brown hair contrasted greatly with the
blond locks that dominated in this village. The tax collector,
a weed of a man who stared down his prominent nose at
everyone, sniffed at the newcomer with open disdain. The
others shushed him.
"My name is Torbin. I am merely seeking a place to stay
for a night before I continue my journey." He had decided
to play it dumb for the time being, the better to check the
accuracy of his own information.
The mayor, a plump, bald man with the unlikely name of
Hallard Boarbreaker, looked even more distressed. "Then
you have not come to save us from the minotaurs?"
The knight stiffened. "Minotaurs? I vaguely remember
hearing that the islands of the great man-beasts were said to
be somewhere near here, out beyond the Blood Sea of Istar,
correct?" He waited for them to nod. "I know nothing about
your plight. How many? How near?"
Between the three of them, he eventually discovered that
there was indeed only one such creature, though it had
originally arrived in a boat with others. The rest had
immediately turned around and headed for home, to plan
more war strategy, no doubt. The remaining minotaur had
situated itself somewhere on the shore, though from their
inconsistent accounts, the exact location could be anywhere
within an hour's to a day's ride. The one thing all three
agreed on was that this minotaur must be an advance scout
for an invading army. Those brave enough to spy on the
creature had reported that it sat in the same spot every day,
cutting sharp sticks from wood it gathered and staring out at
the sea in expectation.
A grand image was swiftly forming in the young knight's
mind. He pictured himself standing over the gutted body of
the horrific minotaur, his sword bearing the severed head of
the beast on its point. A better trophy he could not have
asked for. It did not occur to him that such a scene could
easily be reversed. He was, after all, a Knight of Solamnia.
Looking as stern as possible, he nodded. "Very well.
Come the dawn, I will ride out to deal with the minotaur.
Before the sun sets, I will be back with its head. You have
my word on it."
They looked rather dubious at this last statement, but
thanked him nonetheless. If he succeeded, they would be all
too happy to honor him with a feast. If he failed, they
would be no worse off than if he had never come.
At Torbin's request, they found him a place to stay for
the night. He was also served one of the finest meals the
inn's cook had ever made, though the knight himself had
never really been that fond of fish and thus did not realize
the trouble the woman had gone through. As it was, he was
barely able to down the foul dish. Torbin was also ignorant
of the fact that she had outdone herself for the sole reason
that she believed this young man was going out to die and
deserved one last fine meal.
Torbin made no attempt to converse with those who
drifted in and out of this poor attempt at a public inn. The
few who stayed for very long only glanced his direction,
that same hungry look in their eyes. The knight found
himself anxiously awaiting the morrow.
He bedded down for the night - it could only loosely be
called a bed, being more of a bug-ridden mattress on a
piece of wood - and eventually drifted off into sleep despite
his numerous tiny companions. In his dreams he finally
found pleasure, skewering his hapless foe a thousand
different ways, each one more daring and skillful than the
one preceding it.
He rode quietly, hoping not to alert the minotaur. The
tracks he had come across were fresh and spoke of a large
beast. Torbin's pulse quickened. Legends said the minotaurs
were crafty fighters, as skilled in their own way as the
Knights of Solamnia. They also had their own code of
honor of which some of the older knights had spoken with
For a short time, he was forced to ride around trees on a
path that could be described as maddening at best. It twisted
this way and that, and the knight even found himself
momentarily facing the direction he had just come from.
Abruptly, it turned toward the coastline and led him to a
gritty, open area.
Off to the north, his left, he saw the lean-to; nearby sat
the feared minotaur, his great horned head bent over some
Using the natural curve of the land to hide him, Tor-bin
readied his sword and shield and backed the horse up in
order to give it more time to build up speed before he
clashed with the minotaur. A smile flickered on his face. He
took a deep breath, quickly searched his mind for any
options he might have missed, and then spurred the horse
The warhorse's great speed quickly ate away at the
distance between Torbin and the minotaur. The knight saw
his adversary stand at first notice of the noise and turn
quickly toward him. The minotaur was unarmed, but there
were a large number of long wooden shafts beside it. The
man-beast could easily reach one of them long before
Torbin came close enough to strike.
Nevertheless, the minotaur made no move toward its
weapons. Torbin's grim determination gave way to puzzled
indignation. He had never struck down an unarmed foe. It
went against everything he considered honorable, even
when fighting a creature such as the minotaur.
They would close soon. The minotaur had still not
reached for a weapon and, in fact, looked ready to die. With
a sudden curse, the young knight pulled sharply on the reins
of his horse, trying desperately to go around the creature
rather than run into it. He did not think even a minotaur
could survive the blows of a trained warhorse if the victim
had no intention of defending itself.
The horse finally allowed itself to be turned. For several
seconds, man and steed whirled wildly around as the horse
fought to rebalance itself. Torbin lost his sword in an
attempt to keep the reins from slipping from his hands. The
horse snorted loudly and then slowed. The knight was able
to regain his own balance and pull the horse to a halt. It was
then that he first noticed the loss of his weapon.
He twisted around and locked gazes with the minotaur. The
massive creature calmly walked over to the sword and
picked it up. Turning it so that the hilt pointed toward
Torbin, the minotaur returned it to him. The knight blinked,
then accepted the blade. The minotaur returned to its
carving, staring once more out at the Blood Sea while it
Torbin led his horse so that the minotaur's view would
be blocked. The creature looked up at him. Torbin pointed
the sword at the minotaur.
"Will you stand and fight? I've always been told that
minotaurs were courageous, fierce warriors, not cowards!"
The man-beast's nostrils flared, but it made no attempt
to attack. Instead, it put down one stick and began work on
another. Torbin grew angrier. How was he to prove himself
if his adversary refused to fight? His sense of honor
prevented him from striking an opponent who refused
The minotaur chose that moment to talk. Its voice was
deep and tended to rumble like thunder. "I would rather talk
than fight, Knight of Solamnia, who is too far from home.
Please, join me."
It took several seconds for the words to sink in. Tor-bin
stared at the minotaur. With those first words the minotaur
became a person, not an "it" like so many people, including
Torbin, considered the individual members of the minotaur
race to be. Torbin accepted the invitation without thinking.
It did not occur to him until he had dismounted and
sheathed his blade that the minotaur could have easily
skewered him several times.
"Sit here." His unusual host indicated a spot next to his
own. Torbin followed his lead.
"Who are you? Why do you disturb me? I have done
nothing save sharpen a few sticks." The minotaur was
genuinely annoyed, as if this were his personal beach and
no one else's. He paused in his labors to inspect the latest
stick. Grunting, he threw it away.
Torbin, who had not expected to play question games with
a full-grown minotaur, took some time in answering. He
was still not sure that he was not sitting in some sort of
elaborate trap. Minotaurs were highly intelligent creatures
who enjoyed proving their superiority over other races.
The minotaur repeated his questions. Torbin saw no
reason not to relate the truth. The creature nodded as he
listened to him go over the story of his arrival in Dragon's
Point, the fears of the people there, and what the town
elders had asked of him.
The creature shook his head. "Humans! So ready to fall
prey to the shadows of fear. Your race has a mind;
it should learn to use it."
Torbin did not disagree, but felt the case was rather
overstated. Men, he told the minotaur, were not all the
same. Some were brave, some were fools, some had honor,
some were thieves.
"Let us talk of honor." The minotaur's gaze was oddly
intent. He had completely abandoned his woodwork.
Having never studied the minotaurs or their way of life,
Torbin allowed the man-beast to go first. The creature
turned his eyes once more to the sea. Torbin looked, but
could see nothing but the eternal motion of waves rolling
toward the shore.
"Minotaurs, like some men, believe that honor is first
The knight nodded. "Without honor, a man's life is
worthless. He is damned. The tale of Lord Soth is legend
among the Knights of Solamnia."
"I have heard the tale. The knight who abandoned his
mate for an elf woman, condemned now to haunt the halls
of his castle, reliving his crimes to his family and friends."
"That is essentially correct."
The man-beast seemed to consider something. "Was he
an honorable man before this great transgression?"
"To my knowledge. As I understand it, he was high ly
thought of by all among the orders. That is what makes his
crime that much more terrible. To abandon honor so
abruptly. It is unthinkable."
"Apparently not. Soth did so. I wonder what he felt?"
Torbin shrugged. Only Soth knew, and no one was going
to take the risk to ask him.
The minotaur blinked. "On the islands, honor is
everything. It sets us above the lesser races. The elves claim
they are honorable, but they are perhaps the greatest
tricksters other than kender. Worse yet, they will not fight.
They run and hide, shouting all the while that it's none of
their concern, they had nothing to do with it, it wasn't their
fault. In the end, they are an old, cowardly people."
Torbin, who had never met an elf face-to-face and had
heard a number of stories concerning them, could not judge
how much truth the minotaur's statements contained. He did
know, however, of the rather egotistical attitude of the
minotaurs in general.
"One day, the minotaurs will swarm from the islands and
conquer all of Krynn. Our leader claims that. His
predecessor claimed that we are the supreme race."
Fearing the conversation was steering toward the blind
rhetoric of superiority the minotaurs were famous for,
Torbin dared to interrupt. "You were speaking of honor?"
The minotaur nodded. "On Mithas and Kothas, we fight
for our place in society. In the name of honor, we slay one
another. A minotaur who does not fight has no honor. He is
a coward, a non-being."
"A cruel society. The Knights of Solamnia would never
permit such useless bloodshed."
The minotaur gave a fierce snort. Torbin froze, sure that
the man-beast was preparing to jump him. As the snorting
continued, the young knight realized the minotaur was
laughing. There was no humor in his laughter, though.
"I have heard many tales of the Knights of Solamnia.
You are well respected by my people. There are stories of
bands of knights who have fought on, refusing to yield their
position, until all are dead. Forget that in many
circumstances they could have retreated to better ground, to
fight another day. I have heard of knights who have taken
their own lives because they have shamed themselves
before their fellows."
Torbin's hand went to the hilt of his sword. "What you
say is true; there are such tales. Yet, you twist them so that
they sound like acts of - "
"Blind pride and stupidity. Are honor and pride really so
important to you, young knight? If a friend died because
you were lax, would you leave the Knighthood?"
"A knight who fails in his duty is not worthy of his
title." The quote by one of his instructors came to Tor-bin
with little difficulty.
"Could you not make up for your mistake?"
"The friend would still be dead. It would still be my
The minotaur sighed, a sound much like a roaring wind.
"How long would you go on paying for that mistake? Ten
years? Twenty? If you should save a dozen lives, would
you still punish yourself for that one?"
"Your question is beyond the point of ridiculousness."
"Is it?" The man-beast studied his own hands. "Would
you run a man through from the back? A man who did not
even know there was a hint of danger?"
Torbin gasped. "A minotaur might slay a man in such a
way, but a Knight of Solamnia would never do such a foul
deed! I would challenge him!"
"Indeed? What if you knew this man could easily
outfight you? What if you knew that, if he survived, he
would cause the deaths of many?" The minotaur's eyes now
bore deep into the young knight's. "I ask again, are honor
and pride such good things? Must we always do 'the right
Torbin did not answer. He was confused. The minotaur's
words made some sense, yet, they could not.
The man-beast turned away from him, an almost sad
look in his eyes. Torbin waited, but the minotaur would not
speak. Instead, he commenced once more with his carving.
The knight sat and watched him for a few minutes more,
and then he stood up. The minotaur paid him no mind and
went on carving another shaft. Torbin returned to his horse
and mounted up.
He rode away without looking or speaking to the
The mayor, the chief fisherman, and the tax collector
were all waiting for him. As he rode up to them, he noticed
how their eyes kept returning to the sword in his sheath. He
remembered his earlier promise and gritted his teeth. The
mayor stepped forward.
"Is the beast dead, then? Would that I had been there!
We feared for you - such a silly thing! Did you severe his
head from his body? Campos!" The chief fisherman
trundled forward, picking his yellowed teeth as he walked.
"Have some of your boys drag the carcass back here! We'll
put it where all can see it!"
"The minotaur is not dead."
Torbin might well have demanded the mayor's firstborn
child by the look on the man's pudgy face. The chief
fisherman looked grim and spat. The tax collector smiled
"Not dead?! Wounded? Run off, has he?"
This part was even more difficult for Torbin to get out.
"I did not fight him. We talked."
"TALKED?!?" all three shouted in one voice. A number
of villagers popped their heads out of windows and
doorways to see what the noise was all about. A few began
muttering and pointing in Torbin's direction. Someone
"I do not think he will harm you."
"Coward!" The mayor raised his fist, though his distance
to the knight did not shrink by even the minutest amount.
"I should have you run out of Dragon's Point!"
Torbin was turning red with anger. On top of everything
else, he did not need idiotic backwoods fishermen calling
him a coward for no reason at all. He pulled out his sword
with one swift motion and tucked the point neatly under the
plump man's chin. The mayor let out a gurgle and froze.
Villagers began pouring out of their homes, though none
moved close enough to lend the stout, blustery man a hand.
"I did not come here to be insulted. You know very little
about the situation as it really is. If it will satisfy you, I'll
keep an eye on the minotaur. Should he attempt to cause
any harm, I'll deal with him. Will that suit you?" In truth,
he could not have cared less if it did or did not. This
village, this whole region could be damned for all he cared.
It stank. The people stank even more.
The chief fisherman whispered something into the
mayor's ear. The mayor nodded as best he could,
considering the circumstances. The tax collector joined in.
Breathing a little slower now, Torbin removed the point
from the mayor's throat. After several seconds of
swallowing, the man was able to speak.
"It - it has b-been decided that your suggestion is quite
reasonable - " He paused as Torbin's grip grew tight around
the hilt of the sword. " - I mean REALLY reasonable.
Therefore, we will let you deal with the situation as it
stands. Provided - " The mayor hesitated again until he felt
it safe " - provided that you give us your oath that you will
kill the creature at the first sign of hos-hostility."
Torbin sheathed his sword and eyed the three in disgust.
The meal he received that evening was far inferior to
the one the night before, though Torbin was unaware of it.
He had a great desire to leave this village. He was sick of
fish already and sick of these people. The minotaur was
better company than these thieving worm-diggers, despite
his maddening questions. Were it not for his pride, the
young knight might have ridden out of the village there and
then. As it was, he merely retired early, relieved to be away
from the inhabitants of this godforsaken village and
anxious to see what the next day would bring.
Sunrise saw him far from the village, nearing the shore
where the minotaur made his home. The man-beast was
there; in fact, he looked as if he had not budged from the
spot since yesterday. As usual, he was carving. Torbin
wondered why the ground was not littered with short spears
from his previous efforts. Perhaps the minotaur used them
for hunting at night, the knight reasoned.
He steered the horse toward the minotaur. The animal
snorted its displeasure at being forced to go peaceably
toward what it considered a major threat. Training won out,
though. Torbin was master and must be obeyed. The
minotaur continued to gaze out at the sea so intently that the
young knight was unsure whether the creature knew of his
As if on cue, the minotaur spoke. His gaze remained fixed
on the Blood Sea. "Welcome back, Knight of Solamnia.
Torbin had not been aware that he had had an
appointment, but he chose to say nothing. Today, he wanted
to talk to the minotaur, find out more about the man-beast's
homeland. By his manner, the minotaur was unlike many of
his race. The tales of bloodthirsty, arrogant monsters was
too consistent to be entirely false.
Buried in his subconscious, hidden by a number of
excuses, lay the true reason for his visit; Torbin's mind was
now riddled with doubts about himself and that which he
had believed in until now.
" I have come to a decision today."
The knight blinked. "A decision?"
The minotaur spoke as if Torbin's words had gone
unheard. "I have come to a decision today. Honor and pride
are nothing without reason. It is not an abrupt decision; in
fact, it is the same decision I made long ago. There is a time
to fight, a time to give up one's life for another, and a time
to run. Tomorrow, the run will be over."
"Run?" Torbin climbed off his horse very quietly lest he
destroy the minotaur's chain of thought. The man-beast
ignored him. He seemed to be watching every wave,
marking every turn of the breeze.
"Minotaurs must fight for their place in society. A
minotaur who does not fight does not exist. He shames his
family. They call him 'kenderwhelp' or 'elf-bastard.' Even
'manling.' He is shunned by those who know him and
cursed by those who do not. Might makes right; honor is
The minotaur abruptly turned to Torbin, who had forgotten
to sit, so intent was he on following the other's words.
"Tomorrow, honor will be returned. No longer will they
hold their heads in shame." The final word sounded almost
like a curse. The minotaur threw his latest effort far into the
sea. He watched it hit with an unruly splash and then vanish
Torbin found himself oddly concerned. "What happens
"Is it pride or love? Is it honor or fear?" The man-beast
stood. For the first time, Torbin noticed the small, neat
stack of short spears. Each point had been finely honed.
The best of the minotaur's work. "Forgive me if I leave you
so soon. I have preparations to make which must be made
in private. I ask you not to follow me. I will harm no one."
Torbin protested, but the minotaur held up one massive,
clawed paw. "I know what the village thinks. They are
humans, after all, with human idiocies. Let them believe
what they wish to believe. Come the morrow, they will
know the truth of things."
The minotaur chose two of the sharpened sticks and
hefted them, his skill and knowledge evident as he dropped
one in favor of another. Eventually satisfied with two, he
trudged off toward the woods, his huge feet leaving deep
holes in the soft ground. Torbin estimated him to be well
over seven feet when standing upright, seven feet of
fighting minotaur, undoubtedly a champion among his race
if he so chose.
Yet, he had not. Torbin could only guess at the twisted
turn the other's life must have taken.
He returned to the village shortly thereafter, refusing to
acknowledge the mocking stares of the inhabitants. Most of
the day was spent checking and rechecking his equipment,
running through his exercises, caring for his horses. It was
all done halfheartedly, like some sort of stalling maneuver.
Torbin could not find it in himself to push on, but at the
same time could not stand the thought of staying any
longer. He could feel the eyes at his back, hear the whispers
He stayed the night at the inn again, this time completely
avoiding any meal even remotely smelling of fish. He had
long ago learned to live off the land. He did not even
consider eating something else; food prepared in the village
left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He woke at first light, the decision to leave this place
firmly planted in his mind. Despite such grand
determination, however, he still found himself packing as
the sun neared midday. That was when the decision was
taken away from him. 'The minotaur had entered the
The people were in a panic. Women were pulling
children off the streets. Men rushed to the town elders,
demanding that something be done. The town elders, once
again led by the less-than-eager mayor, in turn rushed to
Torbin, demanding that he do as he promised or suffer the
consequences. Torbin idly wondered what sort of
consequences the mayor could have in mind if he really
thought the minotaur was there to destroy the village. Did
he expect the minotaur to wait his turn?
The man-beast did not slink into the village. Despite
being realistically outnumbered should the villagers
discover their backbones, he walked straight and tall. Even
the tallest man in the village came no higher than his
shoulder. There was disdain in the minotaur's eyes;
Dragon's Point was no argument for the strengths of man. It
smelled. The people were dirty, cowardly. Among all of
them, only the Knight of Solamnia, an outsider, deserved
respect. The others deserved nothing - not even notice.
Minotaur and knight met just before the center of the
village. Torbin forewent meeting the other on horseback,
which would have given the knight a psy chological edge.
The minotaur had given no indication that he had come to
fight. Torbin could do no less.
Revealing empty hands, the man-beast acknowledged
the knight. Torbin returned the greeting. The villagers had
mostly vanished by this time; a few hardy souls dared to
stand in the shadows and watch. The mayor and his allies,
more out of fear for their positions than their lives, actually
remained out in the street, only a few yards from the
encounter itself. The minotaur did not even glance in their
"I have come to you because you are the only one
worthy of notice amongst this rabble." The minotaur's
breathing was ragged, as if the man-beast had been running
or was anxious about something. Torbin studied the other's
form. With the exception of a loincloth, the minotaur was
bare of any sort of clothing. Though the fur-covered skin
glistened slightly, it was not the sweat of heavy movement.
The knight's curiosity deepened.
"What is it you wish of me?" Torbin did not bother to
whisper. No one was close enough to hear him.
The words were difficult for the man-beast to get out. "I
ask that you follow me back to the shore. Today things will
come to a proper conclusion. The village will have no need
to fear me anymore."
The knight wanted to know more, but his trained eye
could see that the minotaur was under heavy strain and
wanted to be away from those he still considered his
lessers, despite his rather peaceful ways. "I'll need to get my
"One hour. No later." As an afterthought - "Please hurry.
Time is short."
The minotaur turned to leave and again noticed how the
villagers scurried out of sight whenever he turned toward
them. He turned back to Torbin and glared, not at him, but
at the village and what it represented. "They live in constant
fear here, yet they will not leave. A stupid lot. One more
thing you can tell them: should they even come near the
shore this day, they will bring the wrath of the supreme race
down upon them. There will be nothing but ashes to mark
where this village once stood. Understand that I do not
threaten; what I say is merely fact."
Torbin stood there and absorbed the full impact of the
minotaur's words as he watched him stalk off, purposefully
noticing every human on his way out. The knight doubted
any warning was necessary. It was more stubbornness than
bravado that kept the villagers at the tip of the peninsula.
What their ancestors had been like Torbin could only guess.
The present inhabitants of Dragon's Point, however, were
not the adventurous type.
He relayed the minotaur's message to the mayor and
those villagers who had already dared to step foot out of
their homes and was more than pleased by their reactions.
Torbin had almost as little love for these people as the
minotaur had; it was his duty, though, to protect them in
spite of themselves. For that reason alone - not his chief
reason, assuredly - he would be at the minotaur's dwelling
by the time of the deadline.
Returning to his restless steed, he mounted up. Though
it would have been to his preference if the horse had
charged, he forced himself to keep the animal under control
and make it trot slowly through the village street. The
mayor, who seemed to have nothing better to do than to
stand in the streets, wished him the best of luck in what the
people of Dragon's Point had now assumed was at long last
the great battle. Torbin focused his eyes straight ahead and
remained silent. He would explain the truth when it was all
The minotaur was at the shore when Torbin arrived. The
huge man-beast was startingly swift. He was sweating and
breathing heavily, but he was far from exhausted. He
greeted the knight with a slight nod of his massive, horned
head. Torbin dismounted and sat down beside him. The
minotaur waited until his breath returned to him before
"The village is in no danger from my people. It probably
never will be. Dragon's Point is nothing - a foul-smelling
pool of your people's dregs. In fact, its presence may very
well be important to us. It lets us point at humans and say
'see them - see how weak and pathetic they are.' "
The dark brown eyes shifted to the familiar horizon.
Torbin automatically followed suit and thought he saw
something in the distance. A speck, little more.
Letting loose an animalistic snort, the minotaur said,
"My people. Despite their prowess, their disdain for the
'lesser' races, they are less than gully dwarves in some
The man-beast's words startled Torbin. From what he
understood of the race, such words were nearly treason. The
minotaur gave his equivalent of a smile, one filled with
more mockery than humor.
"We are blind to our faults. The lesser races have no
need to fear us. We will continue to kill and maim one
another in order to prove our individual superiority and gain
ourselves rank. We have done so for as long as memory has
existed and will do so until the Final Day. It is our way; it
has become . . . habit."
The minotaur's eyes never strayed from the Blood Sea.
Now, they widened ever so little. Torbin, trained to notice
such minor things, turned his attention back to the sea. The
speck was still there, but it was now just close enough to be
It was a boat.
He heard the minotaur groan softly and looked at him.
The massive creature stood up and stretched. His animallike
features contorted in an attempt to frown. "Thus it begins
again. For their sakes."
The words did not seem directed to Torbin. Rather, they
were unconscious thoughts accidentally spoken out loud.
The minotaur peered intently at the incoming craft, as if
assuring himself that it was really there. He then bent over
and began selecting the best of his woodwork.
Torbin reacted instantly. If the passengers on the boat
meant trouble, he was more than willing to lend his strength
to that of the minotaur, whom he had come to think of as a
kindred spirit. To his surprise, however, a hand prevented
him from drawing his blade. He turned to find himself
staring into the bottomless, dark eyes of the man-beast.
"The feeling is appreciated, human, but I cannot permit
you to risk yourself. This is my battle. I ask that you only
observe." The minotaur would not remove his hand until
the knight had sworn an oath.
With incredible speed, the boat made its way toward the
shore. Though he should have expected it, Torbin was still
taken aback by the crew's appearances. They were all
minotaurs, to his eyes varying only slightly in appearance;
they wore some armor and carried swords or tridents. He
noted that as a group they stared at the first minotaur
As the boat ran aground, four of the creatures jumped out
and helped drag it farther to shore. Watching them work,
Torbin could not help being awed by the strength in their
arms and legs. He tried to imagine a large, coordinated
force of minotaurs and shuddered. Better that they should
continue to kill one another than turn on the world itself. If
not for their brutal ways amongst themselves, they would
have swarmed over the eastern part of the continent long
Torbin's friend muttered, "I tried to convince them of the
idiocy of fighting one another. Only later did I realize what
that would result in. Fortunately, they were too ashamed of
me to listen."
There were six all together. None seemed as tall as the
original minotaur. They saluted him solemnly. The
minotaur saluted them back. The leader of the new band
glanced at the knight.
Torbin's companion spoke. "A Knight of Solamnia, here
to observe. The rules permit - no, demand - such a witness."
The leader snorted. His voice was even deeper than the
first minotaur's. "We greet you, Knight of Solamnia. The
honor of your order precedes you." He paused, considering
the other minotaur's statement. "I also accept you as
witness, though I believe it may very well be the first time
that one other than our race has stood for a possible
Torbin forced himself to utter an empty, formal greeting.
Like and unlike fish, it left a bad taste in his mouth.
The leader turned back to the original minotaur. "Have
you come to terms?"
"I still remain the same. My thoughts have not changed."
The newcomer seemed almost sad. He tightened his grip
on the sword he carried. "Then there is nothing more to
"Nothing. We may begin whenever you wish."
Turning to his own companions, the leader said, "Form
the circle. Alternate order."
There were three minotaurs armed with tridents. An equal
number, including the leader, carried huge broadswords.
Each minotaur, barring Torbin's companion, wore a
breastplate and arm and ankle guards. The six formed a
circle and held their weapons before them in ceremonial
The original minotaur, carrying two of his best hand-
crafted stakes, stepped into the middle. He saluted the
others. They returned the salute. The leader gave a shout in
some tongue Torbin could not understand. The six dropped
into fighting stances. The single figure in the center copied
their actions almost immediately.
A trident flashed toward the encircled minotaur.
Armed with only the two stakes, the entrapped minotaur
ducked below the jab and thrust. The attacker backed
away, but two others moved in. A great gash appeared in
the right arm of the condemned man-beast. He showed no
sign of pain and fended off both weapons.
The battle began in earnest.
As one, they moved in with swift thrusts, jabs, and
counterattacks. Blood flowed freely. At least one attacker
went down. A sword fell near the condemned. He made no
move toward it. A trident point caught him in the side of
the chest. He grunted and stumbled to one knee. The over-
eager executioner charged into the circle, expecting to
bring an end to the fight. He was greeted with a stake to his
throat, which the trapped minotaur threw with amazing
The loss of that weapon, though, was the condemned
man-beast's undoing. He was not allowed time to reach any
of the weapons that had been dropped. Nor could he defend
himself completely with only the stake in his left hand. The
edge of a blade cut into his good arm. A trident sank deep
into his chest. The minotaur fell back, still clutching the
simple weapon in his hand.
Three of the other minotaurs backed away. A single
executioner, armed with a trident, stepped toward the
bleeding, slumping form. The minotaur on the ground
closed his eyes.
Torbin remembered shouting something at that point,
but the exact words would forever be lost. One of the
minotaurs turned toward him and made sure he did not
interfere. His emotions screamed for him to interfere - to
stop the final blow - but the Training and the Oath held him
back. The empty words made him pause that one initial
The trident came down with terrible speed.
It was over quickly. The outcome had never been in
doubt, though the possible damage was. Blades had thrust,
tridents had jabbed. All the while, two simple, sharpened
sticks had attempted to hold them off while also trying to
reach targets of their own.
The condemned lay crumpled in a large heap, the
broken points of a trident sticking out of the side of his
chest. The owner of the trident would not care about the
loss of his weapon; he lay sprawled no more than a foot
away, blood flowing from the opening which had once been
his neck. Slightly away from the two, a third limp form lay
spread across the ground, a gaping wound in the stomach
Of the remaining four minotaurs, not one had escaped
some sort of injury. The leader sported a jagged cut on his
right arm, made just before the final thrust of his own
weapon. Two of the others, covered with minor cuts, were
attempting to remove part of a wooden stake from the leg of
the third. Torbin's companion had more than accounted for
After assisting the minotaur with the leg wound aboard the
boat, the other three quietly turned to the task of picking up
the dead. They carried both of their fallen comrades to the
vessel, but completely ignored the remaining corpse.
Torbin could stand no more. He had sworn that he
would not interfere, and he had not. The pure callousness of
the man-beasts, however, had shaken him completely. He
pulled forth his sword and stepped forward, shouting such
violent curses at them that they could not possibly pretend
to not hear.
At first he thought they would all come charging at him.
The leader, though, raised his good arm and prevented any
movement by his warriors. Alone, he walked calmly over to
"We have no quarrel with you, Knight of Solamnia. You
are here as witness, no more. Do not force disaster upon
yourself." The minotaur eyed Torbin's weapon as if it were
a child's toy. Compared to his own massive weapon, it
might have been.
"You can't leave him there! He fought against
impossible odds and fought admirably!"
The minotaur glanced coldly at the remaining body. "It
was to be expected of him ... to make up for his cowardice.
He brought shame upon his family, so great and strong . . .
until now." The cold stare fixed on Torbin. "You would not
understand. You are still only a human, even if one of the
Knights of Solamnia."
Torbin's grip tightened on his sword hilt. "Then explain
it to me. Please."
The man-beast sighed. "His family is great and powerful.
For ten generations, they have had a champion, a living
symbol of our superiority. He was to be the symbol of this
generation." The voice lowered. The coldness slipped away
without warning, revealing a figure silently fighting
anguish. "Some say he must have met a cleric on one of his
journeys to the continent. They are known to seek out our
kind, subvert them to the weak gods of the humans and the
other races. No one would have expected it of him. Not the
preaching of peace, of dwarves and kender being our equals
- ha! - or of us abandoning the games! How else can we
find our place in society? Who would we choose for our
leaders? An unblooded cow?"
The minotaur stiffened, his mask on once more. "Thus
he was given the choice. His family was disgraced. Combat
was their only hope. We would see if his cowardice was so
great that he would pull his family down with him, for they
would have suffered if he had refused combat. Such
weakness can only be inherited."
Torbin sheathed his weapon, but did not otherwise
move from his place. "This? This is combat?"
"He could have run. We gave him days to prepare or
flee. The choice was his."
"That is no choice."
The minotaur sighed once more. "As I said, you would
not understand our way of honor. It is not your fault.
Forget it and return to your kind. The scales have been
balanced; honor has been returned to his family."
"He deserves burial."
"His honor has been vindicated. His crimes can never
be. It is forbidden to bury criminals on home soil."
One of the other minotaurs came up behind the leader
and whispered something. The leader thought for a
moment and nodded. "This one would speak to you alone.
He is kin to the condemned."
The leader returned to the boat. The newcomer sniffed
in the direction of Torbin, apparently finding his odor
offensive. He pointed at the body. "I have been given
permission to make a request of you."
Puzzled, the knight allowed the minotaur to continue.
"Despite his weakness, I would have my kinsman buried
with some sort of ceremony. He was good before the
madness overtook him."
Torbin mentally questioned who was actually mad.
Aloud, he said, "What do you want of me?"
"You seem to be a fr - companion or acquaintance. I ask
if you will give him burial. I will compensate you for your
time. I know how much humans value m - "
The knight cut him off, shocked by the insinuation. "I
will bury him. I want no money."
The minotaur blinked in confusion, then nodded slowly.
"Thank you. I must return to the boat now."
Torbin watched while the creatures pushed the boat
back into the water. Only then did he realize that the
minotaur who had asked for the burial of his kin had also
been the final executioner. He wondered briefly if this were
another part of minotaur custom.
The leader glanced at him briefly, but made no attempt
to communicate. Torbin continued to watch the vessel as it
began its journey home. He did not turn away until it was
no more than a tiny speck on the horizon.
The knight chose a spot near the site of the lean-to yet
well hidden from the prying eyes of the locals. It was a
shallow grave; the ground was too loose on top and too
hard about four feet down. In addition, he was forced to use
make-shift tools left behind by his friend, the minotaur.
The prayers lasted until the sun set. Torbin, his body
stiff, rose and wandered over to the lean-to. He picked up
the small, crude blade with which the lone man-beast had
created his handiwork. After studying it, he put it into one
of his pouches.
His mount greeted him energetically, inaction and the
scents of the minotaurs having caused him no end of
frustration. Torbin soothed the animal and then slowly
climbed on. He did not look back. *****
His reappearance in the village caused a great
commotion, despite the lateness of the day. Villagers
pressed around him, asking if the beast was dead. The
mayor and his cronies located him some five minutes later
while he was packing the rest of his gear onto his horse.
"Is it true? Have you dispatched the beast?" The mayor's
breath smelled of fish and beer.
"The minotaur is dead." Torbin continued to concentrate
on packing his equipment.
The group let out a rousing cheer. The mayor declared
the next day a holiday. A feast would take place, each
villager bringing food or drink as a contribution. The
victorious Knight of Solamnia would be the guest of honor.
Various members of the town council began vying for spots
at the main table. Others formed committees and
subcommittees designed to coordinate the feast. A few
talked of bringing the body back to the village. Eventually,
most of the townspeople drifted off to plan the next day's
His own preparations complete, Torbin steadied his
horse and then remounted and moved away at a trot.
Villagers smiled or bowed in his direction as he rode;
others looked at him with puzzlement. The knight kept his
eyes on the path before him.
At the edge of town, a breathless mayor caught up to
him. "Sir Knight! Where are you going? Will you not join
us at our feast tomorrow? We wish to do you honor."
Torbin pulled the reins tight, bringing the trained
warhorse to a dead stop. He turned the animal around and
matched gazes with the round man for a full half-mmute.
The mayor shifted like a small child under his stare.
Then, as abruptly as he had stopped, Torbin turned his
horse back around to the path and rode off at a trot.
He did not look back.
Hearth Cat and Winter Wren
by Nancy Varian Berberick
The golden tabby eyed the caged squirrel with sleepy
interest. The squirrel panted miserably, not certain which
was worse: the grim possibilities inherent in the cat's white
teeth or the aching reality of his own imprisonment. The
cage, he decided wretchedly.
The cage made his bones hurt and his heart race hard in
frightening fits and starts. But when he saw the fire
smouldering in the cat's almond-shaped, green eyes, the
squirrel thought that it might not be such a bad thing that
there were bars between them.
TELL ME, SQUIRREL, the cat murmured, WHEN
DO YOU THINK HE'LL FEED US AGAIN?
OH, SOON, SOON, I'M SURE! the squirrel chattered.
VERY SOON. BUT I CAN'T IMAGINE YOU'RE STILL
HUNGRY. YOU ATE TWO MICE ONLY A LITTLE WHILE
AGO. . . . The squirrel winced, then flicked his tail and
scrubbed at his whiskers with his small white paws. He
didn't like to think about the mice or their helpless
scurrying. And he especially did not like to think about the
cool and deadly look of the cat as he licked his lips with his
rough pink tongue, or the pitiful crunch of little mousy
And they had been small mice. The squirrel wondered
whether the cage would hold if the tabby decided to knock
it from the table.
CAT, he said, trying to be as friendly and amiable as he
could through his fear, I THINK THERE MIGHT BE
ANOTHER MOUSE AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE.
JUST IN CASE YOU'RE HUNGRY, THAT IS. In some
place far back in his mind, he felt a little ashamed that he
would so readily cast another luckless creature into the cat's
jaws to save his own gray hide. But he ignored that. He
was, after all, a squirrel. And what are mice to squirrels but
The tabby purred gently, the softness of the sound belied
by the hard glitter of his eyes. He leaped gracefully to the
table. SQUIRREL, he sighed. To the squirrel it sounded as
though the cat might be remembering with fondness a meat
he hadn't tasted in some time.
OH, CAT, OH, CAT, WHY DON'T YOU NAP A WHILE
IN THE SUN? THERE'S A LOVELY BIT OF SUNSHINE
THERE ON THE HEARTH. THERE HAVEN'T BEEN TOO
MANY WARM DAYS LIKE THIS. I SHOULD THINK
YOU'D WANT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT. HE'LL BE
BACK TO FEED US BOTH SOON.
And, in truth, the squirrel was hungry. He could almost
taste the sweet, chewy meat of a chestnut. Oh, for a nice
pile of chestnuts now! Or even a few bitter acorns.
A soft paw tapped at the bars. Chattering and scolding,
the squirrel made himself as small as he could and ducked
into the farthest comer of his cage. He was caught between
an instinctive need to be free of the confining cage and the
understanding that only the bars kept the cat at bay.
Frustrated, the squirrel flashed his tail once more.
The cat only purred again, the sigh of one who had decided
it best to save a tasty snack for later. He dropped to the
floor and went to preen in the golden splash of late
afternoon sun. Now and then he looked up at the squirrel to
yawn and grin.
The grin was deadly and dark and very confident.
Though the day had been warm, almost springlike, the
weather, as it often did in late winter, had changed swiftly
sometime just before night. Rain poured now from a dirty
gray sky, pounded angrily against the snug roof and walls
of Flint's house. The smell of the vallenwood's wet bark
mingled comfortably with the scent of a cozy fire.
The old dwarf carved a last, feathering stroke on the
small object he'd been whittling all afternoon. Not since he
had started work had he looked at what it was he was
making. There were times, when he was thinking hard
about something, or when he was very peaceful, that he
could simply let his hands take over. The result of his work
then was not craft but art.
The talk that night was desultory and wandering,
aimless paths of conversation that made for no goal but,
more often than not, returned to Tasslehoff's sudden and
urgent departure three days before. Urgent to Tas, at least.
It had to do with a talking wren. Tas had been certain
that the bird had spoken, pleading for help. His long brown
eyes had been bright with that certainty. No one had been
able to convince him otherwise. So off he'd gone like some
small knight on a quest.
And, everyone agreed, it was best to give Solace a chance
to cool its collective temper and forget about Tas for a time.
A winter-bound kender in Solace could do about as much
damage as a skulk of foxes in a henhouse, or an invading
army. Few folk had the patience for Tas's long and tangled
explanations about how he had simply "borrowed" the
missing item, truly meant to return it, and just couldn't
understand how the pilfered goods ended up in HIS
Across the room Caramon's deep, bright laughter
pounced and overrode the quiet voices of his friends.
"A talking wren!" He attempted to raise the pitch of his
voice in imitation of the kender's piping insistence that he
had, indeed, spoken with a wren. He failed utterly. "And
one who asks for help, at that. Then off he goes with hardly
Raistlin murmured something, and Tanis smiled. Sturm
only shook his head and continued to polish the already
gleaming blade of his sword.
Flint closed his hands over the little carving, rubbing the
edges of it with his thumbs. His home, these days, seemed
always to be filled with these oddly assorted young
Tanis, the quiet, seemingly young half-elf whose hazel
eyes were alight now with good humor, seemed always to
have been here, though the old dwarf could remember a
time when he wasn't.
Caramon, all six feet of him, had made it his life's duty
to keep Flint's larder as empty as possible. Raistlin, thin
and as cloaked in uneasy mystery as he was now cloaked
by the shadows of the comer he habitually inhabited near
the hearth, was often so silent that one almost forgot he
was there. Almost . . .
And then there was Sturm, taller though slimmer than
Raistlin's brawny twin. This one should have matched
Caramon's high spirits flash for shine. But he did not. Too
grim by half! Flint thought now, watching the young man
working intently over his sword. The weapon must be as
perfect as its master strove to be.
"Tas'll be back," Caramon said, yawning. "How far can
he follow a bird, anyway?"
Tanis, quiet through most of the conversation, got to his
feet and stretched. "Likely not far. It's what catches his eye
after he's lost the bird that will keep him away." He smiled
and shook his head. The kender's attention was like a
feather on the wind. "Still, I don't doubt you're right,
Caramon. This rain will be snow before morning. We're not
done with winter yet, and Tas likes a warm fire and a good
meal as well as anyone. I don't think Solace is going to have
a chance to miss him before he's back."
"Miss him?" Raistlin left his seat by the fire and gave his
brother a quick look and Tanis a dour smile. "He could be
gone for a year and go unmissed around here. The hour is
late. Are you coming, Caramon?"
Caramon nodded, bade his friends good night, and
followed his brother from the room. Sturm was up and gone
a moment later, and the house was silent but for the
drumming rain on the roof.
Tanis poked up the fire in the hearth and poured himself
a last cup of wine. He settled down on the floor next to
Flint's chair and watched the flames dance.
"Talking wrens," he said, after a time. "I think it was
more boredom and restlessness. I can understand that. It has
been a long winter."
Flint snorted. "Long winters are fine, peaceful things
when they're not plagued by kender."
"And old dwarves are solemn, grim creatures when
they've no kender to be plagued with. You've had little
enough to say tonight, Flint."
"I've been working, and listening to your chatter."
Tanis eyed the little carving still nestled in Flint's hands.
He reached for it, asking permission with a questioning
smile. Flint reluctantly gave it over.
Tanis always met Flint's work with his hands first.
"Know what it is with your hands," the old dwarf had
taught him, "before you see what it is with your eyes."
Now the half-elf traced the careful detail, the artful
evocation of wing and feather. "Nice. A wren, is it?"
With a scowl he hoped was forbidding, Flint snatched
the wooden bird away. "Don't you have a home to go to?
Off with you now, and let me get some sleep."
Tanis rose gracefully and dropped a hand to his old
friend's shoulder. "Well, get some then, and don't spend the
night worrying about Tas. He'll be fine."
"Worry? Not me! Not unless it's to worry about the
person who is luckless enough to encounter him on his bird
chase. Talking wrens, indeed. As likely as finding a kender
with a brain that works. Good night, Tanis."
Tanis grinned. "Good night, Flint."
The hard, hollow scent of the cat's hunger filled the
small cottage now. There was murder in the golden tabby's
You CAN'T BE NEARLY AS HUNGRY AS I AM, CAT!
the squirrel thought resentfully. Or at least he hoped not.
The cat had killed a third time just as the setting sun's
orange light gilded the windowsill. It was full dark now,
and the squirrel was glad that clouds and rain hid the moons
tonight. Lunitari's light might remind him too much of
I'M SO HUNGRY! AND SO THIRSTY! IF THAT
CAT KNOCKS THE CAGE OFF THIS TABLE TO
GET AT ME, I DON'T KNOW IF I'LL HAVE THE
STRENGTH TO RUN. THEN I'D REALLY BE UP A
TREE. . . .
Almost the squirrel laughed. He wished he WERE up a
tree, curled all safe and warm, his nose tucked into his thick
gray tail. With a nice fire blazing in the hearth.
The squirrel shook himself and whipped his tail over his
head. Where had that strange thought come from? What he
really wanted was a nice leaf-lined nest, a hearty cache of
nuts to nibble on from time to time, a little water from the
puddles on the ground ... AND SOME EGGS AND
CHEESE, A LITTLE FRESH BREAD AND NEW HONEY
... He wondered if hunger was making him lose his wits. He
wondered, too, when the man would return to feed him and
The cat leaped onto the table again, rubbing against the
bars and making an ominous rumbling sound in his throat.
The squirrel could smell dead mice on the tabby's breath.
CAT, he ventured, YOU LOOK LIKE YOU NEED A
I'VE BEEN NAPPING ALL DAY, SQUIRREL.
YOU'VE BEEN EATING ALL DAY.
I WOULDN'T MIND EATING ALL NIGHT.
The squirrel sniffed then and bared his teeth. BE
FAIR, CAT! YOU'VE EATEN EVERY POOR LITTLE
MOUSE WHO WAS FOOLISH ENOUGH TO COME
INTO THIS COTTAGE. I HAVEN'T HAD A THING TO
EAT SINCE I GOT LOCKED UP IN THIS HORRIBLE
CAGE. AND I DON'T THINK YOU'D FIND ME VERY
PALATABLE - I'LL BE SKIN AND BONES BEFORE
BONES, ANYWAY, the cat purred, IF I HAVE MY
HE'LL BE BACK SOON, HE WILL.
HE MIGHT BE. SOMETIMES HE STAYS AWAY
FOR DAYS AT A TIME.
The squirrel felt his belly rub up against his ribs. Days!
Days in this dreadful cage with no food, no water, and a
hungry cat! He had to get out!
He'd no sooner had the thought than the cat lifted his
head, ears cocked, and glided silently across the table and
to the floor. Man-scent filled the air; booted footsteps
sounded outside the door. Twitching and trembling, the
squirrel rose onto his hind legs. He smelled food!
The man had food, indeed, but he took his time about
passing it out. He kicked off his boots at the door, sloughed
cold rain from his black robes, and complained in his deep,
rumbling voice about how the rain would soon turn to
snow, and about some wren that couldn't be found.
Wren? The wren . . . The squirrel wanted to think about
the wren, he knew he SHOULD be thinking about the wren,
that the wren was somehow important to him. But all he
could manage to concentrate on was the man as he went
about poking up the fire in the cold hearth and dropping,
from time to time, terrified mice from some hidden pocket
in his robe.
To the man's great amusement, the cat promptly
dispatched the first mouse, took his time with the second,
and only knocked the third one witless.
SAVING IT FOR LATER NO DOUBT, the squirrel
thought sourly. He smelled acorns, bitter and likely woody
and thin. All his patience fell away. Chattering furiously,
berating the man for his cavalier attitude toward his
starving condition, he threw himself against the wooden
"Ah! Yes, yes, I was getting around to it, noisy one."
The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a handful of
winter-dull acoms. Dark eyes coldly alight in a craggy face,
he slid them, one by one, into the cage.
GETTING AROUND TO IT! GETTING AROUND - !
The squirrel dove for the acoms. He lashed his tail here and
there, stopped once or twice to glare up at the man, and
finally managed to get the nuts all into a pile.
"Hungry, eh!" the man said. There was a hard light in
his black eyes that made the squirrel even angrier.
HUNGRY? OH, YES, YOU HIND END OF A MULE!
I'M HUNGRY! I'M STARVING! AND I'VE HAD TO
SPEND ALL DAY TRAPPED IN HERE WITH THAT
MURDEROUS VILLAIN OF A CAT!
The cat snarled and twitched the tip of his tail. Enjoying
both the tabby's reaction and the squirrel's anger, the man
laughed and stuck his finger between the bars of the cage to
taunt the squirrel some more.
Gleefully, the squirrel sunk his sharp little teeth into the
soft flesh of the finger. He almost didn't care that his brains
were nearly rattled out of his head when the man's fist
knocked the cage into the wall.
Caramon was certain that if it had been Tanis who'd
heard the wren's cry for help, or Raistlin, or Sturm, packs
would have been out, provisions gathered, and swords and
bows checked for readiness. As it was, he was the one the
wren had chosen to cry to this time, and Flint was not
having any of his story.
"But, I tell you," Caramon insisted, "I HEARD it!"
Flint sighed. He had been listening to this tale all
morning, and he was growing more than a little tired of it.
"Have done, now, won't you? It was barely a decent joke
when Tas tried it."
The brawny youth was not noted for his patience or for
any great skill at cunning or strategy in matters other than
martial. But his instincts were often good, and they served
him well now. He took a long breath, clamped his teeth
down on the loud protest he'd meant to make, and poured
another cup of ale. He looked around the deserted inn,
heard only Otik in the kitchen, and sighed heavily.
"Flint, listen," he said in what he hoped was a calm and
reasoning manner. "I was the first to laugh at Tas. I was still
laughing at him last night. I'm not laughing this morning,
because I heard the wren."
"The gods know," Flint muttered, "I will be more than
glad when winter is over. You youngsters are like colts
chasing the wind these days; you hear the call to run in
every stray breeze."
"Flint, the bird was asking for help. That's what Tas said,
and off he went. He's been gone for three days. And now
the bird is back."
"And you can tell one wren from another, can you?"
Caramon could not keep the mischief from his grin. "When
they speak, I can."
"Hah! You're starting to sound like your brother now."
That stopped the young man short, left him wondering to
what he must reply now: Flint's implied insult (though he
wasn't quite certain that he HAD been insulted), or the
dwarf's still patent disbelief. He was spared the need for any
retort when the door to the inn swung slowly open.
"Caramon, I think you'd better find your brother."
Sturm's was not the voice to which Caramon responded.
He heard, and from the comer of his eye he could see that
Flint had, too, the small piping of the wren. She rode
Sturm's wrist with serene confidence. The late morning
light glinted along a chain of tiny gold links around her
HELP! OH! HELP!
All the morning's trial of disbelief was worth that one
moment, Caramon thought as he bolted for the door, worth
that one, stunned look on the old dwarf's face. Laughing, he
clattered down the wooden steps from the inn built high in
the mighty vallenwood to the bridgewalks.
Around the town women looked up from their washing
and baking, merchants abandoned their customers to run to
windows, and children came flying from their games, all
wondering what it was that caused the big youth's
bellowing summons of his brother and his friend Tanis
When the squirrel awoke he was confused. He slept a lot, it
being still winter and he having some deeply rooted NEED
to sleep. But when he slept he dreamed. And there was the
source of his confusion: no squirrel ever dreamed during
long winter sleeps. And, as though the fact of the dreaming
wasn't enough, the dreams themselves were decidedly odd.
He dreamed about people. Not the gray-furred, broad-
tailed squirrel people. Humans walked in his dreams, and a
dwarf, and a long-eyed half-elf with hair the color of a fox's
pelt. In his dreams he knew who they were; sometimes he
spoke with them and they with him. And when they spoke
with him he knew - though he didn't quite understand how
he knew - that they were not speaking to a squirrel.
It was almost as though he were having someone else's
Yawning now, stretching first his hind legs and then his
front, he poked among the neatly piled acorn shells for
some left-over tidbit. There was none.
He looked around the cottage, noted that the man was
gone again, though his scent still clung to everything in the
place, and then felt a sudden tightening of alarm: the cat
prowled restlessly from window to door to window.
NOT HUNGRY AGAIN, ARE YOU?
ALWAYS, the cat murmured without looking around.
YOU SLEEP A LOT, SQUIRREL. HE'S OFF AGAIN,
LOOKING FOR THE WREN.
The wren . . . Yes, WELL, I'D LIKE TO FIND HER
MYSELF. I THINK I MIGHT HAVE SOME UNFINISHED
BUSINESS WITH HER.
The tabby did look around then, his green eyes alight
with a certain careful curiosity. WITH THE WREN? AND
WHAT BUSINESS MIGHT THAT BE?
The squirrel wasn't sure, and said so. Again he felt
confused and uncomfortable. He remembered thinking the
night before that the wren meant something to him. Now,
though, when he tried to recall what it might be, he could
not. His attempts to remember were as distressing as his
dreams had been.
The cat padded silently across the room and leaped easily
onto the table. When the squirrel scolded and skittered to
the back of his cage, the tabby only yawned and smiled.
EASY, SQUIRREL, EASY. He eyed the squirrel closely,
and this time the squirrel had the impression that he was
not being considered as dinner. After a moment the tabby
twitched his tail and murmured, I THOUGHT - MAYBE -
BUT I SUPPOSE NOT. YOU'RE JUST A SQUIRREL,
I - I GUESS SO, responded the squirrel, THOUGH
SOMETIMES I DON'T QUITE FEEL LIKE ONE. MAYBE
IT'S JUST THAT I'M TRAPPED IN HERE, AND I HATE
IT. I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL, I SUPPOSE, THAT
THERE ARE BARS BETWEEN YOU AND ME, YOU
BEING AS HUNGRY AS YOU ARE ALL THE TIME - OH!
WELL, I DIDN'T MEAN ANY OFFENSE, OF COURSE -
OF COURSE, the cat murmured.
I DIDN'T REALLY, BUT YOU ARE A CAT AND LAMA
SQUIRREL, AND YOU CATS DO HAVE A TASTE FOR
SQUIRRELS FROM TIME TO TIME AND -
I AM NOT A CAT.
WHAT? WELL, OF COURSE YOU ARE. YOU'RE A
CAT, I CAN ASSURE YOU. AND YOU'D HAVE A HARD
TIME CONVINCING THE MICE YOU TERRORIZE
AROUND HERE THAT YOU AREN'T.
I AM NOT A CAT. The tabby raised his head, and for
the first time the squirrel noticed a small collar of braided
leather clasped loosely around his neck. Do YOU SEE
THE COLLAR? VERY NICE.
AYE, the cat sighed, IT IS, AND SO I THOUGHT
WHEN SHE GAVE IT TO ME.
The wren. The squirrel was beginning to have a
headache. He closed his eyes and burrowed his nose into
his front paws. CAT, I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE
NO, LIKE AS NOT YOU DON'T, BEING A SQUIRREL.
AND ONE WHO IS TOO CONFUSED TO WORRY
ABOUT WRENS AND COLLARS.
The tabby purred softly. WHAT CONFUSES YOU,
DREAMS, the squirrel sighed.
DREAMS . . . The cat cocked his head. DREAMS?
YES, DREAMS. AND SQUIRRELS AREN'T SUPPOSED
TO DREAM. I KNOW THAT. I KNOW THAT BECAUSE
I'M A SQUIRREL. BUT I STILL DREAM.
AND YET, the cat said, YOU WEAR NOTHING.
The squirrel blew his cheeks out indignantly. OF
COURSE NOT, OR NOTHING BUT MY SKIN. AND THAT
ONLY BECAUSE THERE'S A CAGE BETWEEN YOU
AND ME. WHAT ELSE AM I SUPPOSED TO WEAR?
YOU'D BE WEARING SOMETHING IF YOU WERE
MORE THAN A SQUIRREL. THE WREN WEARS A
GOLDEN CHAIN. I WEAR A COLLAR. IT KEEPS US,
DESPITE YOUR FORM, WHAT WE ARE.
The squirrel's headache was getting worse. I DON'T
I AM A MAN. MY NAME IS PYTR. THE WREN IS A
WOMAN WHOSE NAME IS, WELL, WREN. Pytr stretched
lazily, then curled up on the table next to the cage. It was a
long tale he had to tell, and he thought he might as well be
comfortable. It had begun to snow again, and the day was
waning. He was hungry and restless and worried. It helped
a little to have someone to tell his story to, even if it was
only a squirrel with a headache.
. . . AND SO, the wren sighed, WHEN I WOULDN'T
AGREE, WHEN I REFUSED TO FORSAKE PYTR FOR
HIM, THE MAGE LAID AN ENCHANTMENT UPON US
BOTH. "WREN," HE SAID, and she fluttered her wings a
little, a small shudder, "WREN YOU ARE CALLED AND
WREN YOU SHALL BE." AND - AND PYTR HE MADE
INTO A CAT. THEN I ESCAPED. I FLEW FAR AND
CAME TO SOLACE WHERE I FOUND THE LITTLE
KENDER WHO HEARD ME AND CAME TO HELP. AND
NOW THE MAGE HAS HIM, TOO.
OH, IS THERE NO WAY YOU CAN HELP US?
On the strength of that tale, Wren had led them far and
long, flying ahead and darting back, making sure the five
did not deviate from the way. All of her small strength was
for leading, for bringing help. She had none to talk and so,
though Caramon wondered and Sturm speculated, Tanis
and Raistlin agreed that greater detail must be garnered
later when Wren had recouped her strength. Flint neither
speculated nor wondered. He feared. And, since he did not
like to show it, he hid his fear behind a spate of grumbling
in which stone-headed kender played a large part. He
fooled no one.
They followed her through all of the snowy day and as
much of the night as they could. When camp was made,
Wren dropped again to her perch on Sturm's wrist. She was
comfortable there, sensing a steadiness and kindness in the
young man that gave her confidence. She only gripped him
lightly and tucked her head beneath her stippled wing as
though to rest.
"Wren," Sturm said gently. "Wren?"
She looked up, weary with flying and fear, and cocked
"What happened to the kender. Wren?"
THE SQUIRREL WAS UNHARMED WHEN I SAW HIM
Sturm frowned, puzzled. They heard Wren's voice as a
bird's song with their ears, but in their minds they heard the
soft, gentle voice of a woman. This, at times, could be
confusing. But Sturm suddenly understood Wren's reply
when he heard Raistlin's dry, whispered laugh.
"What else?" the young mage asked. "What else would
you make a kender? This mage, whoever he may be,
understands kender as well as any it seems."
HE'S CAGED THE SQUIRREL. IT AMUSES HIM, I
THINK, AS IT AMUSED HIM TO MAKE A CAT OF PYTR
AND A BIRD OF ME.
Tanis winced at that. Flint growled low in protest. The
soul of a kender caged or bound would wear the bruised
colors of misery. "Who is this mage, Wren?"
RIEVE IS HIS NAME.
Raistlin lifted his head then, the way a man who scents
smoke on the wind does. Tanis glanced at him. Caramon,
silent till then, sat forward.
"Raist?" Caramon said, his hand moving reflexively to
the hilt of his sword lying scabbarded at his feet. "You've
heard of this mage?"
"He has an evil reputation, this Rieve. I've heard of
him." Raistlin smiled slowly then, humorlessly, as though
he understood the question his twin hesitated to ask. "But
you need have no fear, brother mine. Though I would be
foolish indeed if I did not acknowledge that Rieve's skills
are greater than mine might be now, I think he has gone so
far in his cruelty that he has given me a weapon against
"A weapon?" Tanis asked.
Raistlin's pale blue eyes glittered. Had there been light
from the moons that night, its wash across the new snow
would have been as cold. "A weapon. Or perhaps four."
But though they pressed him, the young mage only
settled back into the warmth of his cloak and did not answer
further. He stared into the fire.
As Tanis set the night watches he wondered what
weapons Raistlin might be forging out of the silence and
Pytr knew that the squirrel was in trouble. This was not, he
realized, a squirrel after all. The dreams said that. But what
he might be, Pytr did not know. He did know, however, that
whatever the squirrel might have been before now would
fade and vanish one day. With no piece of his real self to
cling to, whoever he might have been, he would wake,
dreamless, to find that he was indeed a squirrel. And likely,
Pytr thought with a cold shudder, he would never know that
there had been a time when he wasn't.
COME, SQUIRREL, TELL ME YOUR NAME.
MY NAME? SQUIRREL, I GUESS.
NO, TELL ME YOUR REAL NAME. I DON'T THINK
YOU ARE TRULY A SQUIRREL. WHAT IS YOUR REAL
I DON'T KNOW.
THINK, WON'T YOU?
The squirrel tried, but thinking only made his head throb
worse. LET IT GO, CAT - PYTR. I THINK I'LL NAP.
I DON'T THINK YOU SHOULD.
WHY? MAYBE I'LL DREAM AGAIN, MAYBE . . .
Ah! The dreams. Pytr purred softly, nudged the squirrel
through the bars, and managed to ignore the cat-hunger that
reminded him just how tasty a squirrel could be. DON'T
SLEEP, SQUIRREL. TALK TO ME, EH? TELL ME, HOW
DID HE CATCH YOU?
RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR. The squirrel sighed.
RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR.
THAT'S WHY I THOUGHT YOU WERE REALLY A
SQUIRREL. I DIDN'T SEE HIM CHANGE YOU. I
THOUGHT - WELL, I'M SORRY, BUT I THOUGHT YOU
I CAN UNDERSTAND HOW YOU WOULD. BUT I
STILL THINK I AM.
NO. A SQUIRREL. I DON'T REMEMBER BEING
"CHANGED." I THINK I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A
SQUIRRELS DON'T DREAM, REMEMBER?
MAYBE CRAZY SQUIRRELS DO.
NO, NO, YOU'RE NOT CRAZY, SQUIRREL. Pytr made
a sound low in his throat that might have been a chuckle.
YOU'RE NOT CRAZY.
The squirrel looked up then, and Pytr thought he saw the
light of some memory shine in his black eyes.
NOT CRAZY - STONE-HEADED.
A STONE-HEADED . . . SOMETHING. THAT'S WHAT
HE ALWAYS CALLS ME. I DON'T THINK HE REALLY
MEANS IT, BUT THAT'S WHAT HE ALWAYS CALLS ME.
Pytr purred his satisfaction. WHO? WHO CALLS YOU
But the light and the memory were gone. The squirrel
curled up again, nose to tail, and sighed heavily. I DON'T
KNOW. I CAN'T REMEMBER. WON'T YOU LET ME
SLEEP NOW, PYTR? I NEED TO SLEEP. IT'S WINTER. I
NEED TO SLEEP.
POOR SQUIRREL, Pytr thought. He slipped from the
table and crossed the room to the hearth. He didn't see any
way he could help, though he badly wanted to.
RIEVE, he thought, growling at the moonless night and
wondering if there were any mice to be had, YOU ARE
GOING TO HAVE SO MUCH TO PAY FOR.
There was a certain elegance about Raistlin's plan. Tanis
acknowledged it with a grin.
"What do you want us to do, Raistlin?"
Tanis frowned. "What?"
"Eat. Eat everything you can, all the provisions we
brought along." The young mage's lips twisted in a wry
smile. "That should be no trial for my brother, but everyone
should eat until he is full."
"But - "
"Don't debate with me, Tanis. I know what I'm doing. But,
I will tell you why. These are not the shapes of animals that
you will be taking on. You will BE these creatures. And the
primary need of an animal in winter is to be sure that his
belly is full. If that need is not satisfied, all of your other
purposes will fall aside. You will have, to a degree, your
own minds, but not your own bodies, nor your own
instincts. And instinct to an animal is what your mind is to
you. Do you understand?"
Tanis did, and he was not certain now that the plan was
quite so elegant. "Raistlin, I - "
The young mage raised an eyebrow, offered a mild
challenge. "Afraid, Tanis?"
"I'd be a fool if I wasn't."
"Yes, you would be. What does it come down to, then?
Can you trust me? You'll have to answer that. For yourself
and for the others. They will do what you ask of them."
Tanis knew that this was true. It had been proved many
times before now. He looked away from the young mage to
where his friends sat near the mom-ing's dying fire.
Caramon, he thought, would not require convincing. He
trusted his twin completely. Sturm, speaking quietly with
Wren who yet rode his wrist, could be made to understand.
But Flint? There would be a problem. The old dwarf
disliked and mistrusted anything that had to do with magic.
As though he heard the half-elf's thought, Raistlin leaned
forward and spoke quietly. "Let Flint be the first. I'll do it
quickly, before he knows."
"If you give him a chance to argue, we could be here
until the day after tomorrow."
Tanis smiled without humor. It was true. "He'll be all
"He'll be fine. You all will be. They trust you, Tanis. Do
you trust me?"
Trust was a habit, gained slowly and lost quickly. The
habit of trusting Raistlin was still on him, despite the
unease Tanis felt now. "I trust you."
"Good. Then go tell them to eat. The last thing we need is
one of us turning on another out of hunger. Most
particularly," he said, smiling as though over some private
jest, "my brother."
I trust you, Tanis thought as he rose to leave, but you do
make it hard sometimes.
Raistlin was kind with his choices. And kind in other
matters. Tanis knew that when he saw the young mage step
silently behind Flint as though the old dwarf was the last
thing on his mind. The air around the two shivered, sighed
softly, and before Tanis could draw a breath, Flint was
In his place stood a dog who shook himself as though
shaking off rain. Tanis grinned. This was no lean-shanked
mongrel, but a broad-chested, thick-furred shepherd's dog.
Though the dog's muzzle was white with invading age, his
long, tapered jaws were still powerful. Those jaws, Tanis
knew, could tear the throat out of a marauding wolf. Or,
under noble restraint, could lift a kitten carefully by the
scruff of its neck to carry it out of harm's way. It was to
this breed that shepherds had trusted their flocks and their
families for generations.
Right now, though, Flint the dog looked dangerous. Ears
back, he snarled and bared long teeth made for slashing.
Wren left Sturm's wrist and dropped to the ground
before the dog. She whispered something that sounded like
encouragement and the snarling faded to a familiar low
grumbling. As he'd planned with Raistlin, Tanis dropped to
his knee beside the dog - FLINT! he reminded himself - and
tied around his neck a bright blue square of cloth torn from
the spare shirt in the dwarf's pack. There was a look in the
shepherd dog's eyes that made Tanis glad he resisted the
urge to ruffle the silky ears.
Caramon drew a breath to speak - to laugh or question,
Tanis didn't know - and suddenly a tawny panther, muscles
rippling, tail switching restlessly, stood where once
Raistlin's twin had sat.
Well done! Tanis thought. Across the panther's thick
chest and shoulders he strapped Caramon's belt in the form
of a harness. He looked around for Sturm but saw neither
the young man nor a beast to which he might have been
The mage pointed upward to the trees. A black-headed,
gray-bodied peregrine falcon sounded a long, high wail and
spread its wings with unconscious grace.
He knows them, Tanis thought, he knows them well to
choose so fittingly. He offered his wrist, and the falcon
glided down, gripping with sharp talons.
"Easy, Sturm, easy!"
The grip relaxed a little; when the falcon lowered his
head Tanis slipped a tightly knotted thong and the signet
ring from which Sturm was never parted over the
"Only one left, Tanis," Raistlin said softly.
Raistlin met the half-elf's eyes and held them. "I'll be
with you," he assured. "I'll be right with you to bring you
Once more the air shivered, then sighed. Raistlin was
alone in the clearing with Wren, the shepherd dog, the
panther, the bright-eyed falcon, and a quick, red-pelted fox.
"What else?" Raistlin said to Wren when she cocked her
head as though to question his choice. "A fast and far
hunter." He collared the fox with another square of cloth,
this garnered from Tanis's pack, and sat back on his heels.
"Follow the wren and the hunt well, fox. Use all your
cunning. And remember, do not harm the mage, for I can
only undo those spells of my own working."
Pytr smelled danger in the wind. Rieve, back since the
afternoon from another fruitless search for Wren, brooded
darkly before the fire. The danger smell did not come from
him. In him Pytr noted only the hard, bitter scent of anger.
This smell was different. It was a combination of odors,
woven together to send a fearful message of disparate
creatures banded for some common purpose. Dog, he
smelled - and fox. Pytr lifted his head and caught the scent
of a bird, large and bold and bright: a deadly raptor. Over
them all rode the thick, musky scent of a far-removed
cousin; a mountain panther prowled near. They hunted,
their scents told him, but they were not hungry.
In the cage on the table the squirrel roused and sniffed
CAT! PYTR! DO YOU SMELL IT?
I DO. THE SCENT OF ENEMIES.
Enemies? The squirrel's tail danced. Yes, these were the
scents of enemies. And yet the dream from which he'd just
woken was not one of enemies.
CAT - PYTR, I THOUGHT WHEN I WAS DREAMING
THAT I SCENTED FRIENDS.
Pytr's tail switched impatiently, then slowed to a
considering wave. FRIENDS?
WELL, IT'S HARD TO EXPLAIN. IT'S . . . I SMELL
THE DOG AND THE FOX, THE FALCON AND THE
PANTHER. AND MY NOSE TELLS ME TO BE AFRAID.
BUT . . . IN MY MIND I DON'T SEE THE BEASTS THE
SMELLS ARE SUPPOSED TO SHOW ME. I ... I DON'T
KNOW HOW ELSE TO EXPLAIN IT.
Pytr wondered then if maybe the squirrel WAS CRAZY.
He sighed and left his place by the window. He gave Rieve
wide berth and leaped to the table. WHAT DO YOU SEE IN
YOUR DREAMS, THEN, SQUIRREL?
I DON'T KNOW. I DON'T SEE ANYTHING THAT I
CAN TELL YOU ABOUT FOR SURE. I JUST DON'T SEE
A DOG. OR A FOX, OR THE REST OF THEM. WHAT
ABOUT THE MAN?
RIEVE? HE'S NOSE-BLIND, LIKE ALL HIS KIND.
The squirrel sighed. I DON'T KNOW HOW I KNOW
THIS, PYTR, BEING A SQUIRREL AS I AM, BUT I HAVE
A FEELING THAT FRIENDS ARE COMING.
The long, eerie howl of a dog cascaded through the
night. The hackles rose on the back of Pytr's neck. A fox's
sharp yipping followed, and a falcon wailed high, then low.
The panther was silent, but Pytr knew he was near.
Pytr rose, back arched, tail swollen to nearly the width
of the squirrel's. Rieve was on his feet, his back to the fire.
His fear scent, sour and urgent, filled the room.
LET US HOPE, SQUIRREL, THAT THESE ARE
FRIENDS, INDEED. THOUGH IF THEY ARE, I WILL
TELL YOU NOW THAT YOU HAVE SOME VERY
STRANGE FRIENDS FOR A SQUIRREL.
Part of the squirrel agreed completely. Another part,
however, the part that dreamed memories he knew he
shouldn't have, laughed happily.
The falcon descended on a dropping air current and
caught the tree's bare branch neatly to perch. He spread his
wings, his dark eyes flashing, and screamed an imperious
STURM! the fox thought, stretching his sharp-toothed jaws
in a grin of acknowledgement. Behind him he heard the
shepherd dog, Flint, just drifting down the hill. That path
would take him right into the cottage's dooryard, shadowed
now by night and trees. To his left and ahead, around the
far side of the cottage, rumbled the low growl of the
panther. Caramon was in place. It occurred to the fox -
Tanis - that it was a very good thing that Caramon had
eaten well before the change.
The fox tested the air carefully, identified the scents of
his companions and of those within the cottage. Man-scent
was strong, and so was the smell of cat and squirrel.
Squirrel. His mouth began to water in spite of himself.
Squirrels, he knew from some heretofore untapped well of
information, tasted nearly as good as rabbits. Tanis
shuddered and shook himself.
He caught man-scent again, this time from a hill behind
him. That scent he knew well, though he had only recently
come to recognize it: Raistlin. Light and sweet, the small
scent of a wren hovered near. All were in position.
WREN, he whispered, though to any who heard it might
only have been the soft pant of a fox pausing to rest in his
YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO?
YES. I'M READY.
She stitched the night air gracefully, darting from the
bushes where Raistlin was concealed, down through the
shadows pooled beneath the trees near the cottage door
where Flint crouched ready.
The panther, Caramon, had silenced his ominous
rumbling, but Tanis scented him closer now and knew he
was prowling, ghost-silent, along the side of the house.
Above him the falcon took wing and landed on the roof
above the door. Tanis caught his breath; had he seen the
falcon anywhere he would have known him for Sturm by
the proud lift of his head.
Wren alighted on the windowsill and fluttered her wings
against the glass. In the voice of the bird she piped and
lamented. She might only have been some night-caught
creature seeking shelter.
A shadow crossed the glass. Tanis heard an indrawn
breath. Man-scent rose on the air, stronger now. The
panther's green eyes glittered dangerously in the light
spilling from the window. It seemed to Tanis, with his
heightened sense of smell, that Rieve must know what
waited outside his door.
Wren left the sill, flew to the door, and came near to
hitting Flint where he waited in the shadows.
Rieve's shadow left the window, vanished, then fell to
block the line of light leaking from beneath the door. A red
ghost in the night, Tanis glided down the hill, keeping to
the shadows until he was aligned with Flint at the opposite
side of the door. He heard the sound of the latch being
"Wren," a cold voice said from within. "So, you've
YES! she piped. OH, PLEASE LET ME IN!
"Of course, little one, of course." There was silky threat
in the mage's voice. "You've reconsidered?"
YES! ONLY LET ME IN! PLEASE!
The door opened quickly, orange light spilled out into
the night, and Wren shot past the mage like a small brown
comet. He turned, then fell, breathless beneath the weight
of a large black shepherd dog and a slim red fox.
The mage kicked hard at the fox and sent it tumbling
across the floor. Before he could move to rise, however, the
dog's teeth clamped onto his shoulder. Behind him the cat
hissed and the caged squirrel scolded and chattered. He
brought up his knee and drove it into the dog's stomach.
Snarling, the beast fell away.
Rieve scrambled to his feet, kicked again at the dog, and
missed. He spun toward the door and came eye to razor-
sharp beak with a dark-eyed falcon.
"No!" he shouted, flinging up an arm to protect his eyes.
The falcon's talons raked along the back of his hand. "No!"
As though in response to his protest, the falcon darted
away, lifting high to take perch on the mantel. Rieve drew
a shuddering breath and stumbled again to the door. A
heavy, tawny paw hit him hard in the chest and dropped
him where he stood. The panther's fangs shone like daggers
in the fire's glow.
Standing at the panther's shoulder, one hand on the
mountain cat's broad golden head, another extended in a
parody of greeting, stood a light-eyed, pale young mage.
His cold smile awoke a fear in Rieve that even the
panther's gleaming fangs had not.
Rieve moaned. He wondered if he would have time to
prepare for death.
Animals were turning into people all around him, and the
squirrel didn't know where to look first. The falcon, that
beautiful bird, became a tall, dark-haired young man. There
was still something of the falcon's brooding about him. The
squirrel thought that it must always have been this way. The
fox, limping from having been kicked half-way across the
cottage, was no fox at all but a red-haired half-elf who
leaned against the wall, holding ribs that must truly hurt
from the look in his long eyes.
The dog . . . ah, the dog! The squirrel almost knew that
he would be a dwarf, brown-bearded and grumbling about a
sore stomach even before he was changed.
There remained only the panther, crouched over Rieve,
his heavy paw still planted firmly in the middle of the
mage's chest. The slight young man scratched the big cat's
ears idly, smiling as though he had only dropped in for a
cup of something warm to take the chill out of the night.
"Four more changes we need, friend Rieve," the young
man murmured. "I will effect one after you effect three."
Rieve panted something, and the squirrel thought it must
be hard getting enough air to speak with the panther leaning
so heavily on him.
"Do I take that for agreement?"
"Do I - do I have a choice?" Rieve asked sourly.
"Well, yes. We always have choices. Yours, however,
Rieve swallowed hard, recognized the limits, and
nodded. The squirrel flashed his tail and scurried around in
CAT! PYTR! WATCH! WATCH! THEY'RE GOING
TO DO MORE CHANGES! PYTR? PYTR, WHERE
Pytr was gone. Or the cat was gone, anyway, replaced by
a stocky, golden-haired man who wore around one wrist a
slim bracelet of braided leather.
And the wren, who had clung so fearfully to the edge of
the table near the squirrel's cage during the whole splendid
attack only moments ago, was gone as well. Instead, a
small, pretty girl, her hair the color of the wren's brown
feathers, rested her hand on the cage.
"One more," she said, "And this, perhaps, the most
THE PANTHER, OF COURSE, the squirrel thought. HE
LOOKS FIERCE ENOUGH TO EAT THE MAGE FOR
DINNER AND STILL COME AWAY HUNGRY. THEY'LL
CHANGE THE PANTHER NEXT.
But to the squirrel's surprise, the panther remained a
panther, rumbling and growling deep inside his broad chest.
The girl leaned over his own cage and undid the latch. She
gathered him carefully into her hands and lifted him out.
No more cage I As though he hadn't breathed in days, the
squirrel drew in a lungful of air and leaped from the girl's
hands. He could smell the sweet night air. He could taste it,
and it tasted like freedom.
The girl cried out, the dark-haired young man shouted
something, and the half-elf leaped to kick the door shut.
But squirrels can make themselves very small. Sucking in
all the air that he could, the squirrel dashed between the
closing door and the jamb and plunged into the night. He'd
had enough of men and beasts and cages. He wanted trees,
cozy nests, and sweet caches of chestnuts. And he was
going to have those now, no matter what they shouted
inside. . . .
"Come BACK here, you stone-headed kender!"
Halfway up the closest tree the squirrel stopped, frozen
by the dwarf's cry. Not crazy, he'd told Pytr, but stone-
headed. Stone-headed . . . something. Stone-headed
Something strange happened to the cold night air. It
shivered, the way it does under summer's heat, and then it
sighed, the sound of a small drifting breeze. The squirrel
tried to breathe but found that he couldn't quite draw in the
air he needed. Suddenly he lost his grip and tumbled to the
"And where, in the names of all the gods, did you think
you were going?"
"I - " Tas got his legs under him and climbed to his feet.
Some of the squirrel feeling was in him yet. He had to
swallow hard to ignore the imperative to run from the
dwarf. "I - don't know. I don't even really know how I got
here, wherever here is. I was following the wren, I think,
and . . . well, then I was here, falling out of this tree. But I
think I remember some dreams . . . strange ones, about
squirrels and cats and - "
Flint snorted and pulled the kender to his feet. For all his
scowling, though, his hands were gentle. "Come on, now,
back inside. You can be sure Caramon is getting hungry by
now. And Raistlin has some work to do yet."
"But Caramon is always hungry," Tas said, dusting
himself off. "What's so important about that - oh, the
Flint nodded. Tas, remembering Pytr's intense and
always sharp cat-hunger, grinned slyly. He was not
unhappy that Rieve must be learning even now what it
meant to be the object of that hunger. "It's just a thought,
Flint, but perhaps they could just feed Caramon whatever's
lying around the cottage?"
In the end, though Tas had not been alone in his wistful
wish, they did not feed Rieve to the panther. Some oath or
promise was extracted from him, though what passed
between him and Raistlin none ever learned, for Raistlin
banished all but the big panther from the cottage. If
Caramon heard or understood, he was uncharacteristically
silent about it. And a week later, when those who had been
cat and squirrel, wren and falcon, fox, dog, and panther
were gathered in Solace, it was yet a matter for speculation.
Wren watched Raistlin, who sat in the shadows of Flint's
hearth. "Were truth told, I'm not sure that I want to know."
"I wouldn't mind knowing," Pytr muttered. He stroked
her hair and sighed. "I'd like to know with what coin
Rieve's debt has been paid."
The young woman shook her head and smiled. Small
and cheerful, her brown eyes bright now when she looked
at Pytr, she was, Flint thought then, very like the wren for
which she'd been named and which she had, for a time,
Tanis, who at that moment had the same thought, glanced
once at the dwarf and, when he received a slight nod,
crossed to the hearth and took up one of Flint's small
"For you," he said, taking a seat next to Wren.
"But - what is it? Surely you've given us enough?"
"One more thing, but you must close your eyes now."
Curious, Sturm and Caramon leaned closer and Tas
ducked under Pytr's arm to get a closer look. They saw
nothing, however, for Tanis had the object hidden in closed
hands. In the hearth's shadow, Raistlin stirred but did not
rise to join his companions.
Wren closed her eyes, and Tanis placed the small object
in her hands. "Now, this is something Flint has taught me:
let your hands know what it is you hold before your eyes
tell you. Our eyes, as we have lately learned, can too easily
Wren let her fingers discover the wings first, then the
carefully rounded back, the beak, and finally the deftly
carved tail feathers. "A bird!" she cried. "A wren?"
A little breeze sighed, then wandered away.
Yet when she opened her eyes and saw the small
carving, Wren wore a small, puzzled frown. "But. . . it
FELT like a wren. I don't understand."
Neither did Tanis. Nor did Flint. It was Tas, finally, who
"Flint! That's wonderful! That's the nicest miniature I've
ever seen! When did you carve it?"
"I didn't," Flint said shortly. "I had nothing to do with
this piece." He peered hard at the little carving and shook
his head. It was Wren in every perfect detail, her soft hair
pulled back low on her neck as it was now, her serene smile
shown in lips and eyes, her hands quietly folded at her
Flint shivered and looked across the room. Though he
could not be sure, he thought he saw Raistlin smile from the
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(or Afterword, as the case may be)
"A fine mage you are little brother," muttered Tanin,
standing on the dock, watching the ship sail away. "You
should have known all along there was something strange
about that dwarf!"
"Me?" Palin retorted. "YOU were the one that got us
mixed up in the whole thing to begin with! 'Adventures
always start in such places as this', " the young magic-user
said, mimicking his older brother's voice.
"Hey, guys," began Sturm in mollifying tones.
"Oh, shut up!" Both brothers turned to face him. "It was
YOU who took that stupid bet!"
The three brothers stood glaring at each other; the salt
breeze blowing the red curling hair of the two elder into
their eyes and whipping the white robes of the younger
about his thin legs.
A ringing shout, sounding over the dancing waters,
"Farewell, lads! Farewell! It was a nice try. Perhaps we'll
do it again some day!"
"Over my dead body!" all three brothers muttered
fervently, raising their hands and waving halfheartedly,
sickly grins on their faces.
"That's ONE thing we can all agree on," said Sturm,
beginning to chuckle. "And I know another." The brothers
turned thankfully away from the sight of the sailing vessel
lumbering through the waters.
"And that is ... ?"
"That we never tell another living soul about this, as long
as we live!" Sturm's voice was low. The other two brothers
glanced about at the spectators standing on the docks. They
were looking at the ship, laughing. Several, glancing at the
brothers, pointed at them with stifled giggles.
Grinning ruefully, Tanin held his right hand out in front
of him. Sturm placed his right hand on his brother's, and
Palin put his right hand over the other two.
"Agreed," each said solemnly.
"Adventures always start in such places as this," said
Tanin, regarding the inn with a satisfied air.
"You can't be serious!" Palin said, horrified. "I wouldn't
stable my horse in this filthy place, let alone stay here
"Actually," reported Sturm, rounding the corner of the
building after an inspection tour, "the stables are clean
compared to the inn, and they smell a damn sight better. I
say we sleep there and send the horses inside."
The inn, located on the docks of the seaside town of
Sancrist, was every bit as mean and ill-favored in
appearance as those few patrons the young men saw
slouching into it. The windows facing the docks were small
as though staring out to sea too long had given them a
perpetual squint. Light from inside could barely filter
through the dirt. The building itself was weather- and sand-
blasted and crouched in the shadows at the end of the alley
like a cutpurse waiting for his next victim. Even the name,
The Spliced Jib, had an ominous sound.
"I expected Little Brother to complain," Tanin remarked
sourly, dismounting and glaring at Sturm over the pommel
of his saddle. "He misses his white linen sheets and mama
tucking him in at night. But I expected better of you, Sturm
"Oh, I've no objection," Sturm said easily, sliding off his
horse and beginning to untie his pack. "I was just making
an observation. We don't have much choice anyway," he
added, withdrawing a small leather pouch and shaking it.
Where there should have been the ring of steel coins, there
was only a dismal clunk. "No linen sheets tonight, Palin,"
he said, grinning at his younger brother, who remained
seated disconsolately upon his horse. "Think of tomorrow
night, though - staying at Castle Uth Wistan, the guests of
Lord Gunthar. Not only white linen but probably rose petals
strewn about the bed as well."
"I don't expect white linen," Palin returned, nettled. "In
fact, bed sheets at all would be a pleasant change! And I'd
prefer sleeping in a bed where the mattress wasn't alive!"
Irritably, he scratched himself under the white robes.
"A warrior must get used to such things," Tanin said in
his worldly wise Elder Brother voice that made Palin long
to toss him in the horse trough. "If you are attacked by
nothing worse than bedbugs on your first quest, you may
count yourself lucky."
"Quest?" Palin muttered bitterly, sliding down off his
horse. "Accompanying you and Sturm to Castle Uth Wistan
so that you can join the knighthood. This isn't a quest! It's
been like a kender outing, and both you and Father knew it
would be when you decided I could go! Why, the most
danger we've been in since we left home was from that
serving wench who tried to cut off Sturm's ears with a
"It was a mistake anyone could make," Sturm muttered,
flushing. "I keep telling you! - I intended to grab her mugs.
She was what you might call a buxom girl and, when she
leaned over me, holding the tray, I wasn't exactly paying
attention to what I was doing - "
"Oh, you were paying attention, all right!" Palin said
grimly. "Even when she came at you with a knife, we had
to drag you out of there! And your eyes were the size of
"Well, at least I'm interested in such things," Sturm said
irritably. "Not like some people I could mention, who seem
to think themselves too good - "
"I have high standards!" retorted Palin. "I don't tumble
for every 'buxom' blonde who jiggles in my direction - "
"Stop it, both of you!" Tanin ordered tiredly. "Sturm,
take the horses around and see that they're brushed down
and fed. Palin, come with me."
Palin and Sturm both looked rebellious, and Tanin's tone
grew stern. "Remember what Father said."
The brothers remembered. Sturm, still grumbling,
grabbed the horses' reins in his hand and led them to the
stables. Palin swallowed a barbed comment and followed
Although quick-tempered like his mother, Tanin
appeared to have inherited few other qualities from his
parents. Instead, he was in temperament more like the man
in whose honor he had been named - his parent's dearest
friend, Tanis Half-Elven. Tanin idolized his name-father
and did his best to emulate his hero. Consequently, the
twenty-four-year-old young man took his role as leader and
elder brother quite seriously. This was fine with one
younger brother. The fun-loving Sturm was almost the
epitome of his father, having inherited Caramon's jovial,
easy-going nature. Disliking to take responsibility himself,
Sturm generally obeyed Tanin without question. But Palin,
just twenty-one, possessed the keen mind and intellect of
his uncle, the powerful, tragic archmage Raistlin. Palin
loved his brothers, but he chafed under what he considered
Tanin's overbearing leadership and was irritated beyond
measure by Sturm's less than serious outlook on life.
This was, however, Palin's "first quest" - as Tanin never
failed to remind him at least once an hour. A month had
gone by since the young mage took the grueling Test in the
Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. He was now an
accepted member of the Order of Wizards on Krynn. But
somehow that didn't satisfy him. He felt let down and
depressed. For years, his greatest goal had been passing the
Test, a goal that, once attained, would open countless doors.
It hadn't opened one. Oh, admittedly Palin was a young
mage. He had little power yet, being able to cast only minor
spells. Ideally, he would apprentice himself to some skilled
archmage, who would take over his tutelage. But no
archmage had requested his services, and Palin was shrewd
enough to know why.
His uncle, Raistlin, had been the greatest wizard ever to
have lived. He had taken the Black Robes of Evil and
challenged the Queen of Darkness herself, intending to rule
the world. An attempt that ended in his death. Though Palin
wore the White Robes of Good, he knew that there were
those in the Order who did not trust him and who, perhaps,
never would. He carried his uncle's staff - the powerful
Staff of Magius, given to him under mysterious
circumstances in the Tower of High Sorcery at Palanthas.
Rumors were already buzzing among the Conclave as to
how Palin could have acquired the Staff. It had, after all,
been locked in a room sealed with a powerful curse. No,
whatever he accomplished, Palin knew deep within himself,
he would accomplish as his uncle had - studying, working,
and fighting alone.
But that was in the future. For the time being, he supposed,
he must be content to travel with his brothers. His father,
Caramon, who, with his own twin brother, Raistlin, had
been a hero in the War of the Lance, was adamant on that
point. Palin had never been out in the world. He'd been
sheltered by his books, immersed in his studies. If he went
on this journey to Sancrist, he was to submit to Tanin's
authority, placing himself under his brothers' guidance and
Palin swore a sacred oath to his father to obey his
brothers, just as Tanin and Sturm swore to protect him. In
point of fact, their deep love and affection for each other
made the oath superfluous - as Caramon knew. But the big
man was also wise enough to know that this first outing
together would put a strain on brotherly love. Palin, the
more intelligent of the brothers, was eager to prove himself
- eager to the point of foolhardiness.
"Palin has to learn the worth of other people, to respect
them for what they know, even if they're not as quick-
thinking as he is," Caramon said to himself, remembering
with regret the twin who had never learned that lesson.
"And Sturm and Tanin have to learn to respect him, to
realize that they can't solve every problem with a whack of
their swords. Above all, they've got to leam to depend on
each other!" The big man shook his head. "May the gods go
with them," he muttered.
He was never to know the irony of that prayer.
It appeared, at the beginning of the journey, that none of
these lessons was going to be learned easily. The two older
boys had decided privately (certainly not mentioning this to
their father) that this trip was going to "make a man" of
their scholarly sibling.
But their views as to what constituted "manhood" didn't
accord with Palin's. In fact, as far as he could see, "being a
man" meant living with fleas, bad food, worse ale, and
women of dubious character. Something Palin considered
pointing out when Tanin muttered, "Act like a man!" out of
the corner of his mouth as he and Palin entered the inn.
But Palin kept his mouth shut. He and his brothers were
entering a strange inn, located in what was reputedly a
rough part of Sancrist. The young mage had learned enough
to know that their very lives might depend on presenting a
unified front to the world.
This the brothers, despite their differences, managed
quite successfully. So successfully, in fact, that they had
met with no trouble whatsoever on the long trip northward
from Solace. The two older brothers were big and brawny,
having inherited Caramon's girth and strength. Experienced
campaigners, they bore their battle scars proudly and wore
their swords with practiced ease. The youngest, Palin, was
tall and well-built, but it was the slender body of one
accustomed to study rather than to wielding weapons. Any
who might consider him an easy mark, however, could look
into the young man's handsome, serious face, note the
intense, penetrating gaze of the clear eyes, and think twice
about interfering with him.
The Staff of Magius that Palin carried might have had
something to do with this as well. Made of plain wood,
adorned with a faceted crystal held fast in a dragon's claw
made of gold, the staff gave no outward, visible sign of
being magical. But there was a kind of dark, unseen aura
around it, perhaps associated with its late master, that
viewers invariably perceived with a sense of uneasiness.
Palin kept the staff near him, always. If he wasn't holding it,
the staff rested near him, and he often reached out to touch
This night as on other nights, the sight of Tanin and Palin
entering the inn did not particularly impress those within,
except for one party. Seated at a grubby booth in a comer,
this group immediately began to jabber among themselves,
whispering and pointing. The whispering increased,
growing even more excited, when Sturm came in and
joined his brothers. Several members of the group nudged a
figure who was sitting nearest the wall, his face hidden in
"Aye, I see, I see!" grumbled the figure. "You think
they'll do, do you?"
The others at the table nodded and chattered among
themselves enthusiastically. Smaller than the figure in the
shadows, they were just as hidden. Muffled to the eyebrows
in brown robes, their features and even their hands and feet
The figure in the corner gave the young men a shrewd,
appraising scrutiny. The brown-robed creatures continued
to jabber. "Shut up, you buggers," the figure growled
irritably. "You'll attract their notice."
Those in the brown robes immediately hushed, falling
into a silence so deep they might have all tumbled into a
well. Naturally, this startling silence caused everyone in the
common room of the inn to turn and stare at them,
including the three young men.
"Now you've done it!" snarled the figure from the
shadows. Two of the brown-robed creatures hung their
heads, though a third seemed inclined to argue. "Be quiet!
I'll handle this!" said the figure, getting to his feet.
Leaning forward into the light, he gave the three young
men an amiable smile from the depths of a full, glossy
black beard and, raising his mug, said cheerfully, "Dougan
Redhammer, at your service, young gents. Will you take a
drink with an old dwarf?"
"That we will, and with pleasure," Tanin said politely.
"Let me out," grunted the dwarf to the brown-robed
creatures, who were so packed into the booth it was
impossible to tell how many of them there might have been.
With much groaning and swearing and "ouch, that's my
foot, you widget-brain" and "mind my beard, gear-head,"
the dwarf emerged - somewhat flushed and panting - from
the back of the booth. Carrying his mug and calling for the
innkeep to bring "my private stock," Dougan approached
the table where the young men were seated.
The others in the inn, sailors and local residents for the
most part, returned to their own conversations - the
subjects of which appeared to Palin to be of a sinister
nature, judging from the grim and ill-favored expressions
on their faces. They had not welcomed the brothers, nor did
they seem interested in either the dwarf or his companions.
Several cast scowling glances at Dougan Redhammer. This
didn't disconcert the dwarf in the least. Pulling up a high
stool that compensated for his short stature, the stout and
flashily dressed (at least for a dwarf) Dougan plopped
himself down at the brothers' table.
"What'll you have, gentlemen?" asked the dwarf. "The
spirits of my people? Ah, you're men of taste! There's
nothing better than the fermented mushroom brew of
Dougan grinned at the brothers expansively as the
innkeeper shuffled to the table, carrying three mugs in his
hand. Putting these down, he thumped a large clay bottle
stoppered with a cork down in front of the dwarf. Dougan
pulled the cork, inhaling the fumes with a gusty sigh of
contentment that caused Sturm's mouth to water in
"Aye, that's prime," said the dwarf in satisfaction. "Hand
your mugs round, gents. Don't be shy. There's plenty for all
and more where this came from. I don't drink with
strangers, though, so tell me your names."
"Tanin Majere, and these are my brothers, Sturm and
Palin," said Tanin, sliding his mug over willingly. Sturm's
was already in the dwarf's hand.
"I'll have wine, thank you," Palin said stiffly. Then he
added in an undertone, "You know how Father feels about
Tanin responded with an icy glare and Sturm laughed.
"Aw, loosen up, Palin!" Sturm said. "A mug or two of
dwarf spirits never hurt anyone."
"Right you are there, lad!" said Dougan roundly. " Tis
good for what ails you, my father was wont to say. This
marvelous elixir'll mend broken head or broken heart. Try
it, young wizard. If your father be the Hero of the Lance,
Caramon Majere, then he lifted a glass or two in his day, if
all the tales I've heard about him be true!"
"I'll have wine," Palin repeated, coldly ignoring his
brothers' elbow-nudging and foot-kicking.
"Probably best for the young lad," said Dougan with a
wink at Tanin. "Innkeep, wine for the youngster here!"
Palin flushed in shame, but there was little he could say,
realizing he'd said more than enough already. Embarrassed,
he took his glass and hunched down in his white robes,
unable to look around. He had the feeling that everyone in
the inn was laughing at him.
"So, you've heard of our father?" Tanin asked abruptly,
changing the subject.
"Who hasn't heard of Caramon Majere, Hero of the
Lance," said Dougan. "Here's to his health!" Lifting his
mug, the dwarf took a long pull of the spirits, as did both
Tanin and Sturm. When the three set the mugs down, there
was no sound for the moment except slight gaspings for air.
This was followed by three, satisfied belches.
"Damn good!" said Sturm huskily, wiping his streaming
"I've never had better!" Tanin swore, drawing a deep
"Drink up, lad!" said the dwarf to Palin. "You'll surely
drink a toast to your own father, won't you?"
"Of course he will, won't you, Palin?" said Tanin, his
voice dangerously pleasant.
Palin obediently took a sip of his wine, drinking to his
father's health. After that, the others quickly ignored him,
becoming absorbed in conversation about the parts of the
world each had traveled recently and what was transpiring
where. Palin, unable to take part in the conversation, fell to
studying the dwarf. Dougan was taller than most dwarves
the young man had known and, although he called himself
"old," he couldn't have been much over one hundred years,
an age considered to be just suitably mature for a dwarf.
His beard was obviously his pride and joy; he stroked it
often, never failing to draw attention to it when possible.
Shining black, it grew thick and luxuriant, tumbling over
his chest and down past his belt. His hair, too, was as black
and curly as his beard, and he wore it almost as long. Like
most dwarves, he was rotund and probably hadn't seen his
feet below his round belly in years. Unlike most dwarves,
however, Dougan was dressed in a flamboyant style that
would have well become the Lord of Palanthas.
Outfitted in a red velvet jacket, red velvet breeches,
black stockings, black shoes with red heels, and a silk shirt
with puffy sleeves - a shirt that might once have been white
but was now stained with dirt, spirits, and what may have
been lunch - Dougan was an astonishing sight. He was
remarkable, too, in other ways. Most dwarves are somewhat
surly and withdrawn around members of other races, but
Dougan was jovial and talkative and altogether the most
engaging stranger the brothers had come across on their
travels. He, in his turn, appeared to enjoy their company.
"By Reorx," said the dwarf admiringly, watching Tanin
and Sturm drain their mugs, "but you are lads after my own
heart. Its a pleasure to drink with real men."
Sturm grinned. "There are not many who can keep up
with us," he boasted, motioning the dwarf to pour the
spirits. "So you better have a care, Dougan, and slow
"Slow down! Look who's talking!" The dwarf roared so
loudly that all eyes in the common room turned on them,
including the eyes of the small creatures in the brown
robes. "Why, there isn't a human alive who can outdrink a
dwarf with his own brew!"
Glancing at Sturm, Tanin winked, though he kept his
face solemn. "You've just met two of them, Dougan
Redhammer," he said, leaning back in his chair until it
creaked beneath his weight. "We've drunk many a stout
dwarf under the table and were still sober enough, Sturm
and I, to guide him to his bed."
"And I," returned Dougan, clenching his fist, his face
turning a fiery red beneath the black beard, "have drunk ten
stout humans underneath the table and not only did I lead
them to their beds but I put their night-clothes on them and
tidied up their rooms to boot!"
"You won't do that to us!" vowed Tanin.
"Wanna bet?" roared the dwarf with a slight slur.
"A wager, then?" cried Sturm.
"A wager!" shouted Dougan.
"Name the rules and the stakes!" Tanin said, sitting
Dougan stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I'll match you
lads one on one, drink for drink - "
"Ha!" Sturm burst out laughing.
" - drink for drink," continued the dwarf imperturbably,
"until your beardless chins hit the floor."
"It'll be your beard and not our chins that hits the floor,
dwarf," Sturm said. "What stakes?"
Dougan Redhammer pondered. "The winner has the very
great satisfaction of assisting the losers to their beds," he
said, after a pause, twirling a long moustache around his
"And loser pays the tabs for all," added Tanin.
"Done," said the dwarf, with a grin, holding out his hand.
"Done," said Tanin and Sturm together. Each shook
Dougan's hand, then the dwarf turned to Palin, his hand
"I want no part of this!" Palin said emphatically, glaring
at his brothers. "Tanin," he said in a low voice, "think of
our funds. If you lose, we - "
"Little Brother," Tanin interrupted, flushing in anger,
"next journey, remind me to leave you home and bring
along a cleric of Paladine! We'd get preached at less and
probably have more fun."
"You have no right to talk to me that way - " Palin
"Ah, it must be all three of you," Dougan interrupted,
shaking his head, "or the bet's off. There's no challenge in a
dwarf outdrinking two humans. And it must be dwarf
spirits. Why, the lad might as well be drinking his mother's
milk as that elf water!" (ELF WATER - a name dwarves use
for wine, which they can't abide.)
"I won't drink that - " Palin began.
"Palin" - Tanin's voice was stern and cold - "you are
shaming us! If you can't have some fun, go to your room!"
Angrily, Palin started to rise, but Sturm caught hold of
the sleeve of his robes.
"Aw, come on, Palin," his brother said cheerfully, "relax!
Reorx's beard! Father's not going to walk through that
door!" He tugged at Palin's sleeve until his brother slowly
resumed his seat. "You've been studying too hard. Your
brain's gone all cobwebby. Here, try some. That's all we
ask. If you don't like it, then we won't say any more about
Shoving a full mug over to his brother, Sturm leaned
close and whispered in Palin's ear, "Don't make Tanin mad,
all right? You know how he sulks, and we'll have to put up
with him from here to Lord Gunthar's. Big Brother's got
your own best interests at heart. We both do. We just want
to see you have a little fun, that's all. Give it a try, huh?"
Glancing at Tanin, Palin saw that his brother's face was
grim and unhappy. Maybe Sturm's right, Palin thought.
Maybe I should relax and have some fun. Tanin was more
than half serious when he said that about leaving me home.
He's never talked that way before. It's just that I've been
wanting them to take me seriously, to quit treating me like
a kid. Maybe I HAVE gone too far. . . .
Forcing a laugh, Palin lifted the mug. "To my
brothers?" he said huskily, and was pleased to see Tanin's
green eyes brighten and Sturm's face break into a broad
grin. Putting the mug to his lips, Palin took a drink of the
infamous brew known as dwarf spirits.
The taste wasn't bad. It was pleasant, in fact, a kind of
dark and earthy flavor that brought visions of the dwarves'
underground home of Thorbardin to his eyes. Rolling it on
his tongue, Palin nodded in pleased surprise and
swallowed. . . .
The young mage wondered suddenly if a fireball had
exploded in his head. Flames shot through his mouth. Fire
burst out his ears and nose, roared down his throat, and
seared his stomach. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't see.
He was going to die, he knew it ... any moment . . . here, in
this filthy, godforsaken tavern. .. .
Someone - Palin had the vague impression it was Sturm -
was pounding him on the back and, at last, he was able to
gasp for air.
"I do enjoy seeing a man enjoy his liquor," said Dougan
seriously. "My turn now. A drink to the young mage!"
Putting his mug to his lips, the dwarf tilted his head back
and drained it in one long swallow. When he reappeared,
his eyes were watery and his large, bulbous nose bright red.
"Ahhh!" he breathed, blinking back his tears and wiping his
mouth with the end of his beard.
"Hear, hear," cried both Sturm and Tanin, raising their
mugs. "A drink to our brother, the mage!" They, too,
drained their mugs, not quite as fast as the dwarf, but
without stopping for breath.
"Thank you," said Palin, deeply moved. Cautiously, he
took another gulp. The effect wasn't so awful the second
time. In fact, it was pleasurable. Palin took another drink,
then another, and finally drained the mug. Setting it down
on the table amid cheers from his brothers and Dougan, the
young man felt warm and good all over. His blood tingled
in his veins. Tanin was looking at him with approval and
pride, Sturm was filling his mug again. Dougan downed
two more mugs in a row, Sturm and Tanin drank theirs, and
then it was Palin's turn. He lifted the mug to his lips. . . .
Palin was smiling and he couldn't quit smiling. He loved
Tanin and Sturm better than anyone else in the world, and
he told them so, until he broke down and cried on Sturm's
broad shoulder. But no! There was someone else he loved -
that was the dwarf. He staggered to his feet and went round
the table to shake the dwarfs hand. He even made a speech.
Fast friends . . . firm friends, like his father and his father's
friend ... old Flint, the dwarf ... He went back to his chair,
only there seemed to be four chairs now, instead of just one.
Picking one, Palin sat down, missed and would have ended
up on the floor if Tanin hadn't caught him. He drank
another mug, watching his brothers and his new friend with
tears of affection streaming down his face.
"I tell you, lads" - Dougan's voice seemed to Palin to
come from a long distance away - "I love you like my own
sons. And I must say I think you've had a wee bit more to
drink than you can handle."
"Naw!" Sturm cried indignantly, pounding his hand on
"We can keep up with you," Tanin muttered, breathing
heavily, his face beefy red.
"Damnrigh'," said Palin, striking the table - or he would
have if the table hadn't suddenly and unaccountably leaped
out of the way.
And then Palin was lying on the floor, thinking this was
an interesting place to be, much safer than up there in four
chairs, with tables jumping. . . . Glancing around blearily,
he saw his staff on the floor beside him. Reaching out, he
caressed it lovingly.
"SHIRAK!" he slurred, and the crystal atop the staff burst
into light. He heard some commotion at this;
high, shrill voices jabbering and chattering somewhere in
the background. Palin giggled and couldn't quit giggling.
From somewhere up above, he heard Dougan's voice
come floating down to him. "Here's to our beds," said the
dwarf, "and a sound night's sleep!" And if there was a
sinister note in the gruff voice or more than a trace of
triumphant laughter, Palin discounted it. The dwarf was his
friend, a brother to him. He loved him like a brother, his
dear brothers . . .
Palin laid his head on the floor, resting his cheek on the
staff's cool wood. Shutting his eyes, he slipped away into
another world - a world of small creatures in brown robes,
who lifted him up and ran away with him. . . .
A Really Bad Hangover
The world heaved and shivered, and Palin's stomach
heaved and his skin shivered in agreement, misery loving
company. Rolling over on his side, he was violently sick,
and he wondered as he lay on whatever it was he was lying
on - he couldn't open his eyes to see, they felt all gummed
together - how long it would take him to die and end this
When he could be sick no more and when it seemed that
his insides might actually stay inside, Palin lay back with a
groan. His head was beginning to clear a little, and he
realized suddenly, when he tried to move, that his hands
were tied behind his back. Fear shot through his muzzy
brain, its cold surge blowing away the mists of the dwarf
spirits. He couldn't feel his feet, and he dimly knew that
cords tied around his ankles had cut off his circulation.
Gritting his teeth, he shifted his position slightly and
wiggled his toes inside his soft leather boots, wincing as he
felt the tingling of returning blood.
He was lying on a wooden plank, he noticed, feeling it
beneath him with his hands. And there was a peculiar
motion to the plank, it was rocking back and forth in a
manner most unsettling to Palin's aching head and churning
stomach. There were strange noises and smells, too - wood
creaking, an odd whooshing and gurgling, and, every so
often, a tremendous roaring and thudding and flapping
above his head that sounded like a stampede of horses or,
Palin thought with a catch in his throat, his father's
description of attacking dragons. Cautiously, the young
mage opened his eyes. Almost instantly, he shut them
again. Sunlight streaming through a small, round window
pierced his brain like an arrow, sending white-hot pain
bouncing around the backs of his eyeballs. The plank
rocked him this way and that, and Palin was sick again.
When he recovered sufficiently to think he might not die
in the next ten seconds - a matter of extreme regret - Palin
braced himself to open his eyes and keep them open.
He managed, but at the cost of being sick again.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there was nothing left inside
him to lose, and it wasn't long before he was able to look
around. He was lying on a wooden plank, as he had
surmised. The plank had been built into a curved wooden
wall of a small room and was obviously intended as a crude
bed. Several other planks lined the walls of the oddly
shaped room and Palin saw his two brothers lying
unconscious on these, bound hand and foot as he was.
There was no other furniture in the room, nothing but a few
wooden chests, which were sliding along the wooden floor.
Palin had only to look out the small, round window on
the wall across from him to confirm his worst fears. At first,
he saw nothing but blue sky and white clouds and bright
sunlight. Then the plank on which he was lying dropped - it
seemed - into a chasm. The wooden chests scraped across
the floor, running away past him. Blue sky and clouds
vanished, to be replaced by green water.
Shutting his eyes once more, Palin rolled over to ease
his cramped muscles, pressing his aching head against the
cool, damp wood of the crude bed.
Or perhaps he should say "berth." That's the nautical
term, isn't it? he said to himself bitterly. That's what you
call a bed on a ship. And what will they call US on the
ship? Palin asked himself in despair. Galley slaves?
Chained to the oars, subject to the overmaster
with his whip, flaying the flesh from their backs. . . .
The motion of the ship changed, the sea chests skittered
along the floor in the opposite direction, sky and clouds
leaped back into the window, and Palin knew he was going
to be sick again.
"Palin . . . Palin, are you all right?"
There was an anguished tone in the voice that brought
Palin to consciousness. Painfully, he once again opened his
eyes. He must have slept, he realized, though how he could
have done so with this throbbing in his head and the queasy
state of his stomach he had no idea.
"Palin!" The voice was urgent.
"Yes," said Palin thickly. It took an effort to talk, his
tongue felt and tasted as though gully dwarves had taken up
residence in his mouth. The thought made his stomach
lurch, and he abandoned it hurriedly. "Yes," he said again,
"I'm ... all right. . . ."
"Thank Paladine!" groaned the voice, which Palin
recognized now as Tanin's. "By the gods, you looked so
pale, lying there, I thought you were dead!"
"I wish I was," Palin said feelingly.
"We know what you mean," said Sturm, a very subdued
and miserable Sturm, to judge by the sound.
Twisting around, Palin was able to see his brothers. If I
look as bad as they do, he thought, no wonder Tanin
believed I was dead. Both young men were pale beneath
their tan skin, their pallor had a faint greenish tinge, and
there was ample evidence on the deck below that both had
been extremely sick. Their red curls were tangled and wet
and matted, their clothes soaked. Both lay on their backs,
their hands and feet tied with rough leather thongs. Tanin
had a large bruise on his forehead and, in addition, his
wrists were cut and bleeding. He had obviously been trying
to free himself and failed.
"This is all my fault," said Tanin glumly, with another
groan as nausea welled up inside of him. "What a fool I
was, not to see this coming!"
"Don't give yourself all the credit, Big Brother," said
Sturm. "I went right along with you. We should have
listened to Palin - "
"No, you shouldn't have," Palin mumbled, closing his
eyes against the sight of the sea and sky constantly shifting
places in the porthole. "I was being a superior, self-
righteous twit, as both of you tried to point out." He was
silent a moment, trying to decide if he was going to be sick
or not. Finally, he thought he wasn't and added, "We're in
this together now, anyway. Either of you know where we
are and what's going on?"
"We're in the hold of a ship," Tanin said. "And, from the
sounds of it, they've got some great beast chained up there."
"A dragon?" Palin asked quietly.
"Could be." Tanin answered. "I remember Tanis
describing the black dragon that attacked them in Xak
Tsaroth. He heard a gurgling noise and a hissing, like water
boiling in a kettle. . . ."
"But why would anyone chain a dragon up on a ship?"
argued Sturm weakly.
"All kinds of reasons," Palin muttered. "Most of them
"Probably keeps slaves like us in line. Palin," called
Tanin in a low voice, "can you do anything? To free us, I
mean? You know, your magic?"
"No," said Palin bitterly. "My spell components are gone -
Not that I could get to them if I had them, since my hands
are tied. My staff - MY STAFF!" He recalled with a pang.
Fearfully he struggled to sit up, glanced around, then
breathed a sigh of relief. The Staff of Magius stood in a
corner, leaning up against the hull of the ship. For some
reason, it did not move when the ship listed, but remained
standing perfectly still, seemingly unaffected by the laws of
nature. "My staff might help, but the only thing I know how
to make it do is give light," he admitted shamefacedly.
"Besides," he added, lying wearily back down, "my head
aches so I can barely remember my name, much less a
The young men were silent, each thinking. Tanin
struggled against his bonds once more, then gave it up. The
leather had been soaked with water and had tightened when
it dried so that it was impossible for the big man to escape.
Then Sturm gave a low whistle and twisted his body to face
his younger brother.
"Palin," he said softly, "I remember a story about Uncle
Raistlin, how he and Father were captured by bandits and
he freed himself using a knife he had hidden on his wrist.
Do you - "
"Yes," said Palin. "I've got a knife like his. Justarius sent
it to me when I passed the Test. It's attached to my wrist
with a thong." He paused, then said reluctantly, "And I have
yet to figure out how the damn thing works."
Sturm and Tanin, sitting up hopefully at the beginning
of this conversation, lay back down with groans at its
"So, it looks like we're prisoners in this wretched hole -
"Prisoners?" called a booming voice. "Losers, maybe.
But prisoners, never!"
A trapdoor in the ceiling opened, and a short, stocky figure
in bright red velvet with black curling hair and beard poked
his head through. "My guests you are!" cried Dougan
Redhammer lustily, peering at them through the hatch.
"And fortunate beyond all humans, because I have chosen
you to accompany me on my grand quest! A quest that will
make you famous throughout the world! A quest that will
make that minor adventure your parents were involved in
seem like a kender scavenger hunt!" Dougan leaned down
so far through the hatch that his face became quite red with
the exertion and he almost tumbled through upside down.
"We're not going on any quest of yours, dwarf!" Tanin
said with an oath. And, for once, both Palin and Sturm were
in full agreement.
Leering down at them through the hatch, Dougan
grinned. "Wanna bet?
"You see, lads, it's a matter of honor," said the dwarf,
eyeing them complacently. Throwing down a rope ladder,
Dougan - somewhat perilously - climbed down into the
hold of the ship, his journey being hampered by the fact
that he couldn't see his feet for his great belly. Finally, after
several slips, he made it. Reaching the deck, he rested a
moment from his labors, removing a lace-covered
handkerchief from the sleeve of his coat and using it to mop
his perspiring face.
"I tell you, lads," he said solemnly, "I'm feeling a bit
under myself. By Reorx, but you can drink! Just like you
said." Stumbling slightly as the deck listed beneath him, the
dwarf pointed at Sturm. "You, especially! I swear by my
beard" - he stroked it - "that I saw two of yourself, lad, and
I was workin' on four before your eyes rolled back in your
head and you crashed to the floor. Shook the foundations of
the inn, you did. I had to pay damages."
"You said you were going to cut us loose," Tanin
"That I did," Dougan muttered, drawing a sharp knife from
his belt. Making his way around the sea chests, the dwarf
began to saw away industriously at the leather thongs that
bound Tanin's wrists.
"If we aren't prisoners," Palin asked, "then why are we
bound hand and foot?"
"Why, laddie," said the dwarf, looking around at Palin
with an injured air, "it was for your own safety! I had only
your welfare at heart! You were so enthusiastic when you
saw we were carrying you aboard this fine vessel, that we
had to restrain your enthusiasm - "
"Enthusiasm!" Tanin muttered. "We were out cold!"
"Well, no, actually, you weren't," Dougan admitted. "Oh, he
was." The dwarf jerked his head back at Palin. "Sleeping
like he was in his mother's arms. But you two, as I saw the
moment I clapped eyes on you, lads, are grand fighters.
Perhaps you were wondering how you got that bit of a clout
on your head - "
Tanin said nothing, simply glared at the dwarf. Sitting
up, the young man gingerly put his hand to his forehead
where there was a lump the size of an egg.
"Enthusiasm," said the dwarf solemnly, going over to
cut Sturm loose. "That's one reason I chose you for my
"The only quest I'd consider going on with you is to see
you in the Abyss!" Tanin retorted stubbornly.
Lying back, Palin sighed. "My dear brother," he said
wearily, "has it occurred to you that we have little choice in
the matter? We're on a ship, miles away from land" - he
glanced at Dougan, who nodded assent - "and completely
at the mercy of this dwarf and his crew of cutthroats. Do
you think he would release us from our bonds if we had the
slightest chance of escaping?"
"Intelligent lad," said the dwarf approvingly, cutting Palin's
ropes as Sturm sat up stiffly, rubbing his wrists. "But then,
he's a mage. And they're all intelligent, at least so's I've
heard. So intelligent," continued Dougan cunningly, "that
I'm certain he'll think twice about casting any spells that
might come to mind. A sleep spell, for example, might be
very effective and give my CUTTHROAT crew a rest, but
can you three sail the ship? Besides," he continued, seeing
Palin's grim expression, "as I said before - it's a matter of
honor. You lost the bet, fair and square. I kept my part, I
put you to bed. Now you must keep yours." Dougan's grin
made the ends of his moustaches curl upwards. He stroked
his beard in satisfaction. "You must pay the tab."
"I'll be damned if I'm going to pay," snarled Tanin. "I'll
yank your black beard out by its roots!"
Tanin's voice literally shook with anger, and Palin
cringed, watching helplessly as his hot-tempered brother
made a lunge for the grinning dwarf - and fell flat on his
face in the muck and filth.
"There, there, lad," said Dougan, helping Tanin stagger
to his feet. "Get your sea legs first, then you can yank out
my beard - if you refuse to honor your bet. But from what
I've heard of Caramon Majere, I'd be disappointed indeed to
see his sons turn out to be welchers."
"We're no welchers!" said Tanin sulkily, leaning weakly
against the berth and clinging to it with both hands as the
ship rocked out from underneath him. "Though some might
say the bet was rigged, we'll pay it just the same! What do
you want of us?"
"To accompany me on my quest," said the dwarf.
"Where we're bound is perilous in the extreme! I need two
strong, skilled fighters, and a wizard always comes in
"What about your crew?" Sturm asked. Carefully, he edged
himself off his berth and dropped to the deck just as the
ship listed, sending him crashing backward into the hull.
Dougan's grinning face went abruptly sober. He glanced
up above, where the strange roaring sound could be heard
again, mingled this time, Palin noted, with shrieks and
cries. "Ah, my . . . um . . . crew," said the dwarf, shaking
his head sadly. "They're . . . well, best you come see for
Turning on the heel of his fancy shoes, Dougan made
for the rope ladder, stumbling awkwardly as the ship canted
off in the other direction. "Ouch! That reminds me," he
said, cursing and rubbing his leg where he had come up
against one of the roving sea chests. "We stowed your
equipment in here." He thumped on the lid. "Swords,
shield, armor, and such like. You'll be needing them, where
we're headed!" he added cheerfully.
Catching hold of the swinging rope ladder, the dwarf
scrambled up it and pulled himself through the hatch.
"Don't be long!" they heard him shout.
"Well, what do we do now?" Sturm asked, standing up
cautiously, only to fall forward with the motion of the ship.
The young man's face was decidedly green, beads of sweat
stood on his forehead.
"We get our swords," Tanin said grimly, stumbling
toward the sea chests.
"And we get out of this foul place," said Palin. He
covered his nose and mouth with the hem of his sleeve.
"We need fresh air, and I for one want to see what's going
on up there."
"Wanna bet?" Tanin mocked.
Smiling ruefully, Palin managed to make his way to the
Staff of Magius, which was still standing up against the
hull. Whether it was any magical property of the staff, or
whether just holding it gave him confidence, the young
mage felt better the moment his hand wrapped around the
"Think of the danger this staff has seen and led its
masters through safely," Palin whispered to himself.
"Magius held it as he fought at Huma's side. My uncle held
it as he entered the Abyss to face the Dark Queen. This
situation probably doesn't bother it at all."
Gripping the staff in his hand, Palin started up the rope
"Hold on there, Little Brother," Tanin said, catching
Palin's sleeve. "You don't know what's up there. You
admitted yourself you weren't feeling up to spellcasting.
Why don't you let Sturm and me go ahead?"
Palin stopped, looking at Tanin in pleased astonishment.
His older brother had not ordered him, as he would have
done earlier. He could almost hear him, "Palin, you fool!
You wait below. Sturm and I will go first." Tanin had
spoken to him respectfully, presented his argument
logically, and then left it up to Palin to decide.
"You're right, Tanin," Palin said, stepping back away
from the ladder - only it was back a little farther than he had
intended as the swaying ship threw him off balance once
again. Sturm caught hold of him and the three stood,
waiting for the ship to right itself. Then, one by one, they
climbed up the rope ladder.
Sturm's strong hand hauled Palin up on deck.
Thankfully, the young mage breathed the fresh air, blinking
in the bright sunlight and doing his best to ignore the
throbbing in his head. His eyes were just adjusting to the
glare when he heard the roaring behind him - a frightful
sound, a combination of howling, shrieking, creaking, and
hissing. The deck below his feet thrummed and shivered.
Alarmed, he started to turn and face whatever horrible beast
was attacking when he heard Tanin cry, "Palin, look out!"
His brother's weight struck Palin, knocking him off his feet
and onto the deck just as Something dark and awful
thundered overhead with a wild flapping noise.
"You all right?" Tanin asked anxiously. Standing up, he
offered Palin his hand. "I didn't mean to hit you quite so
"I think you broke every bone in my body!" Palin
wheezed, trying to catch his breath. He stared at the prow of
the ship, where the Thing was disappearing over the edge.
"What in the name of the Abyss was that?" He looked at
Dougan. The dwarf was also, somewhat shamefacedly,
picking himself up off the deck.
His face as red as his velvet breeches, Dougan was
brushing off bits of wood, strands of rope, and sea foam
when he was suddenly surrounded by a horde of jabbering,
small creatures, endeavoring to help him.
"Ahoy there!" Dougan roared irritably, flapping his
hands at the creatures. "Stand off! Stand off, I say! Get back
to your tasks!"
Obediently, the creatures ran away, though more than a
few took a second or two to eye the three brothers. One
even approached Palin, an eager hand stretched out to touch
the Staff of Magius.
"Get back!" Palin cried, clutching the staff to him.
Sniffing, the creature retreated, but its bright eyes
lingered hungrily on the staff as it returned to whatever it
"Gnomes!" said Sturm in awe, lowering his sword.
"Uh, yes," muttered Dougan, embarrassed. "My . . . um .
. . crew of cutthroats."
"The gods help us!'" Tanin prayed fervently. "We're on a
"And that Thing?" Palin's voice failed, he couldn't ask.
"That's the ... uh ... sail," Dougan mumbled, wringing
water out of his beard. He made a vague gesture with his
hand. "It'll be back again in about ten minutes, so ... um ...
"What in the Abyss is a dwarf doing on a gnome ship?"
Dougan's embarrassment increased. "Ah, well, now," he
muttered, twirling his long moustache around his index
finger. "That's a bit of a long story. Perhaps I'll have time to
tell you - "
Balancing himself on the heaving deck with the aid of
the staff, Palin looked out to sea. An idea had occurred to
him, and his heart was beginning to sink at about the same
rate it appeared this vessel was sinking. The sun was behind
them, they were heading west, riding on a gnome ship with
a dwarf captain. . . .
"The Graygem!" Palin murmured.
"Aye, laddie!" Dougan cried, clapping the young mage
on the back. "You've womped the lizard in the gullet, as the
gully dwarves say. THAT is the reason I'm on this . . . um . .
. somewhat unique vessel and THAT," continued Dougan,
rocking back on his feet, his belly thrust out in front of him,
"is my quest!"
"What?" asked Tanin suspiciously.
"My brothers," said Palin, "it appears we are bound on a
voyage in search of the legendary lost Graygem of
"Not 'in search of'," Dougan corrected. "I have found it!
We are on a quest to end all quests! We're going to
RECOVER the Graygem and - Ahoy, lads, look out."
Casting an uneasy glance behind him, Dougan threw
himself down on the deck.
"Here comes the sail," he grunted.
The gnomish sailing vessel was a true technological
wonder. (The wonder being, as Sturm said, that it managed
to stay afloat, much less actually sail!) Years in design
(longer years in committee), and centuries of craftsmanship
later, the gnome ship was the terror of the high seas. (This
was quite true. Most ships fled in terror at the sight of the
gnome flag - a golden screw on a field of puce - but this
was because the steam-generating boilers had an
unfortunate habit of exploding. The gnomes claimed to
have once attacked and sunk a minotaur pirate ship. The
truth of the matter was that the minotaurs, rendered helpless
by laughter, negligently allowed their ship to drift too close
to the gnomes who, in panic, released the pressurized air
stored in casks used to steer the vessel. The resulting blast
blew the minotaurs out of the water and the gnomes off
course by about twenty miles.)
Let other races mock them, the gnomes knew that their
ship was years ahead of its time in practicality, economy,
and design. The fact that it was slower than anything on the
water - averaging about half-a-knot on a good day with a
strong wind - didn't bother the gnomes. They know that
nothing is perfect. (A committee is currently working on
this problem and is confidently expected to come up with a
solution sometime in the next millennium.)
The gnomes knew that all ships had sails. This was
requisite, in their opinion, of a ship being a ship. The
gnome's ship had a sail, therefore. But the gnomes, upon
studying vessels built by other, less intelligent races,
considered it a waste of space to clutter the deck with masts
and ropes and canvas and an additional waste of energy
hoisting sails up and down in an effort to catch the wind.
The gnome ship, therefore, used one gigantic sail that not
only caught the wind but, in essence, dragged it along with
It was this sail that gave the ship its revolutionary
design. An enormous affair of billowing canvas with a
beam the size of ten stout oaks, the sail rested upon three
greased wooden rails, one on either side of the ship and one
down the middle. Huge cables, running the length of the
ship and driven by steam generated in a giant boiler down
below operated this miracle of modem naval technology,
pulling the sail along the greased wooden rail at a high rate
of speed. The sail, moving from front to back,
manufactured its own wind as it roared along and thus
propelled the ship on its course.
When the sail had completed its impressive sweep across
the deck and reached the ship's prow at the rear. . . . (There
WAS one tiny problem. It was impossible to turn the ship
around. Therefore the stem looked just like the prow. The
gnomes had solved this slight hitch in design by fixing the
sail so that it could go either forward or backward, as
needed, and had given the ship two figureheads - buxom
gnome maidens, one on either end, each holding screws in
their hands and staring out to sea with resolute intensity.) . .
. Where were we? Ah yes. When the sail reached the prow
at the rear, it rolled itself up neatly and traveled under the
ship through the water until it reached the prow at the front.
Here it leaped out of the water, unfurled itself, and
thundered along the deck once more.
At least, that is what the sail did on the drawing board and
in numerous gnomish bathtubs. In actuality, the gears that
controlled the winding-up mechanism rusted almost
immediately in the salt water, and the sail often hit the
water either completely or partially open. In this manner it
swept under the ship, creating a tremendous drag that
occasionally pulled the vessel back farther than it had gone
forward. This small inconvenience was considered to be
fully outweighed, however, by an unlooked-for bonus.
When the open sail came up from the sea, it acted as a net,
hauling in schools of fish. As the sail lifted up over the
prow, fish rained down upon the deck, providing lunch,
dinner, and the occasional concussion if one had the
misfortune to be struck by a falling tuna.
The ship had no tiller, there being nowhere for a tiller to
go, since the boat had, in essence, two prows and no stern.
Nothing daunted, the gnomes designed their vessel to be
steered by the use of the aforementioned pressurized air
casks. Located at either side of the hull, these were kept
filled with air by giant, steam-driven bellows. Letting the
air out of one or the other allowed the ship to be whooshed
along on a different tack. (We have said earlier that it was
impossible to turn the ship around. We were in error. The
gnomes had discovered that the ship COULD be turned by
means of releasing the air in both casks simultaneously.
This caused the ship to revolve, but at such an alarming rate
that most of the crew was flung overboard and those that
remained could never afterward walk a straight line. These
unfortunates were promptly hired by the gnome Street
The name of this remarkable vessel was THE GREAT
GNOME SHIP OF EXPLORATION AND QUESTING
MADE OF WOODEN PLANKS HELD TOGETHER BY
THE MIRACLE OF GNOME GLUE (OF WHICH THE
LESS SAID THE BETTER) INSTEAD OF THAT PALTRY
HUMAN INVENTION THE NAIL WHICH WE HAVE
DESIGNED MORE EFFICIENTLY ANYWAY AND
DRIVEN BY STEAM CREATED BY BRINGING WATER
TO A RAPID BOIL and so forth and so on, the full name
taking up several volumes of text in the gnomes' library.
This name, or rather a shortened version, was carved upon
the hull and, when the gnomes ran out of room, the deck as
Needless to say, traveling upon the MIRACLE (the
shorter human version of the name) was not conducive to
either peace of mind or keeping one's dinner down. The
ship wallowed in the water like a drunken sea elf when the
sail was underneath it, surged forward with a stomach
wrenching jolt when the sail was sweeping along the deck,
and rocked sickeningly when the sail hit the water behind.
The bilge pumps were at work constantly (due to the
wonders of gnome glue). Fortunately, the gnomes were
heading in a straight direction - due west - so that it was not
necessary to turn the ship, thus avoiding the need to open
the air casks (a thrill akin to being caught in a cyclone) - a
blessing rather lost upon Tanin, Sturm, and Palin during the
mercifully short voyage. This, then, was the MIRACLE with
a crew of gnomes, a dwarf for its captain, and three sea-
sick, hung-over adventurers (though Dougan assured them
solemnly that they should thank their respective gods for
Night was falling. The sun sank down into the sea in a
blaze of red, as though trying to outshine the gaudily
dressed dwarf. Crouching miserably on the foredeck, the
brothers were glad to see night come. They had spent a
wretched day, forced to duck every time the sail raced
overhead. In addition, they were pelted by fish and
drenched with water streaming down from the sail. There
was little for them to eat except fish (plenty of that) and
some sort of gnome biscuit that looked suspiciously like the
miracle glue. To take their minds off their troubles and
prepare them for the quest ahead, Dougan proposed to tell
them the story of the Graygem of Gargath.
"I know that story," Tanin said sullenly. "Everyone on
Krynn knows that story 1 I've heard it since I was a child"
"Ah, but do you know the TRUE story?" Dougan asked,
gazing at them intently with his bright dark eyes.
No one replied, being unable to hear themselves think as
the sail - with much flapping of canvas and creaking of
winches - leaped out of the water and hurtled along the
deck. Fish flopped about their feet, the gnomes hopping
here and there after them. The sail's traversal along the deck
was punctuated by shrieks and screams as certain unlucky
gnomes forgot to duck and were swept overboard by the
beam. Since this happened almost every time the sail made
a pass, several gnomes were stationed permanently along
the sides of the ship to yell "Gnome overboard!" (which
they did with great gusto) and heave their floundering
fellows life-saving devices (which also doubled as anchors
when in port).
"How should we know whether or not it's the true
story?" Tanin said grumpily when he could be heard again.
"I know that there are differing accounts depending on
whether one hears the tale from a dwarf or any other race,"
Dougan appeared extremely uncomfortable. "Aye, lad,"
he said, "and there you've touched on a sore point. But, for
now, you go ahead and tell it, young mage. Tell it as you
heard it. I assume you've studied it, since it involves the
bringing of magic into the world."
"Very well," said Palin, rather pleased and flattered at
being the center of attention. Hearing that the human was
going to tell their favorite story, many gnomes left their
duties (and fish chasing) to settle down around Palin,
regarding the mage with varying expressions ranging from
eager assurance that he was going to get it wrong to
downright suspicion that he might accidentally get it right.
"When the gods awakened from Chaos and took parts of
it to rule, the Balance of the Universe was established and
Chaos subdued. The pendulum of Time swung between
Good and Evil, with Neutrality watching to see that neither
grew stronger. It was at this time that the spirits of the races
first began to dance among the stars, and the gods decided
to create a world for these races to inhabit.
"The world was forged, but now the gods fought over
the spirits of the races. The Gods of Good wanted to give
the races power over the physical world, nurturing them
toward Good. The Gods of Evil wanted to enslave the
races, forcing them to do their evil bidding. The Gods of
Neutrality wanted to give the races physical power over the
world, but with the freedom to choose between Evil and
Good. Eventually, the later course was decided upon, the
Gods of Evil believing that they would have little trouble
gaining the upper hand.
"Three races were born, then - the elves, beloved of the
Gods of Good; the ogres, willing slaves of the Gods of Evil;
and the humans, the neutrals, who - of all the races - had the
shortest life span and therefore were easily drawn to one
side or the other. When these races were created, the god
Reorx was given the task of forging the world. He chose
some humans to help him in this task, since they were the
most willing workers. But Reorx soon grew angry at the
humans. Many were greedy and worked only to gain
wealth, taking little pride in what they created. Some sought
to cheat, others stole. Furious, Reorx cursed his followers,
turning them into gnomes - small creatures doomed - I don't
really mean DOOMED," Palin interrupted himself hastily,
seeing the gnomes begin to frown - "I mean ... uh ...
BLESSED to be tinkers" - the gnomes smiled - "and to
spend their entire lives tinkering with mechanical devices
that would never, er, I mean, rarely work. . . ."
The sail rumbled overhead, and Palin paused thankfully.
"Getonwiththegoodpart!" shouted the gnomes, who
always speak extremely fast and jamtheirwordstogether.
Deciding that this was good advice (once he understood it),
"Soon after this, Reorx was tricked by one of the evil
gods into taking the vast power of Chaos and forging it into
a gem. It is generally believed that the god behind this was
Hiddukel, god of corrupt wealth - "
"No, lad." Dougan sighed. "It was Morgion."
"Morgion?" repeated Palin in astonishment.
"Aye, the God of Decay. But I'll go into that later." The
dwarf waved his hand. "Carry on."
"At any rate," continued Palin, somewhat confused,
"Reorx made the Graygem and set it into the moon, Lunitari
the Red, the moon sacred to the Gods of Neutrality."
The gnomes were all grinning, their favorite part was
"During this time, the gnomes had built a Great
Invention, designed to take them off the world and out into
the stars. This Invention lacked only one thing to make it
operational, and that was a force to propel it. Looking into
the sky at night, they saw the Graygem shining from the
heart of Lunitari and knew, instantly, that if they could
capture the power of Chaos that resided in the Graygem,
this would drive their Invention."
Much nodding of heads and wise looks among the
gnomes. Sturm yawned. Tanin stood up and leaned over the
railing, where he was quietly sick.
"One extremely gifted gnome built an extension ladder
that actually worked. It carried him up to the moon and
there, with a net he had brought along for the purpose, he
captured the Graygem before the gods were aware of him.
He brought the gem down to the world below, but there it
escaped him and sailed off to the west, passing over the
lands and trailing chaos behind. Chaos entered the world in
the form of magic. Beasts and creatures were transformed
by the gem in its passing, becoming wondrous or hideous as
the gem chose.
"A band of gnomes followed the Graygem across the
sea, hoping still to catch it and claim it for their own. But it
was a human, a man named Gargath, who trapped the stone
and held it in his castle by certain magical means. Reaching
the castle, the gnomes could see the light of the Graygem
illuminating the countryside. They demanded that Gargath
give the stone up. He refused. The gnomes threatened war -
" shouts and cheers among the gnomes here - "Gargath
welcomed the battle. He built a high wall all around the
castle to protect it and the gem. There was no way the
gnomes could get over the wall, so they left, vowing,
however, to return."
"Hear! Hear!" cried the gnomes.
"A month later, a gnome army arrived at Castle Gargath
with a huge, steam-powered siege engine. It reached the
wall of the castle, but broke down just short of its goal. The
gnomes retreated with heavy losses. Two months later, the
gnomes returned with an even larger steam-powered siege
engine. This engine plowed into the first, caught fire, and
burned. The gnomes retreated with even heavier losses.
Three months later, the gnomes were back with a colossal,
steam-powered siege engine. It lumbered over the ashes of
the first two siege engines and was thundering toward the
wall when the drive mechanism broke down. The engine,
with a mighty groan, toppled over on its side, smashing
down the wall. Although not quite what they'd had in mind,
the gnomes were delighted."
"But, as they rushed through the breech in the wall, a
steel gray light beamed forth from the stone, blinding
everyone. When Lord Gargath could see again, he saw - to
his astonishment - that the gnomes were fighting among
Frowns here and cries of "Liar! We were misquoted!"
"One faction of gnomes was demanding that they be
given the Graygem to carve up and turn into wealth. The
other faction demanded that they be given the Graygem to
take apart and see how it worked.
"As the two sides fought, their aspect changed. . . . Thus
were born the races of the dwarves, who carve rock and
think constantly of wealth; and kender, driven by their
insatiable curiosity to roam the world. The Graygem
escaped during the confusion and was last seen heading
westward, a party of gnomes and Lord Gargath in pursuit.
And that," finished Palin, somewhat out of breath, "is the
story of the Graygem - unless you ask a dwarf, that is."
"Why? What do the dwarves say?" demanded Tanin,
looking at Dougan with a somewhat sickly grin.
Dougan fetched up a sigh that might have come from the
tips of his black shoes. "The dwarves have always
maintained that THEY are the chosen of Reorx, that he
forged their race out of love, and that gnomes and kender
came about from trial and error until he got it right."
Boos. The gnomes appeared highly indignant, but were
instantly subdued by Dougan whirling around and fixing
them with a piercing stare. "According to the dwarves,
Reorx created the Graygem to give them as a gift and it was
stolen by the gnomes." More boos, but these hushed
immediately at a glower from Dougan.
"Well, it seems to me," said Sturm, with another yawn,
"that the only one who knows the true story is Reorx."
"Not quite, lad," said Dougan, looking uncomfortable.
"For, you see, I know the true story. And that is why I'm on
"Which is right, then?" asked Tanin, with a wink at
"Neither," said Dougan, appearing even more
uncomfortable. His head drooped down, his chin buried
itself in his beard, while his hands fumbled at the golden
buttons on his sopping-wet velvet coat. "You ... uh ... you
see," he mumbled, making it extremely difficult for anyone
to hear him over the splashing of the sea and the flapping of
fish on the deck, "Reorx . . . uh . . .
"What?" asked Palin, leaning forward.
"Helostit," muttered the dwarf.
"I still didn't hear - "
"HE LOST THE DAMN GEM IN A GAME OF BONES!"
Dougan roared angrily, lifting his face and glaring around
him. Terrified, the gnomes immediately scattered in all
directions, more than a few getting clonked on the head by
the sail as it whizzed past. "Morgion, God of decay and
disease, tricked Reorx into making the gem. Morgion knew
that if Chaos were loosed in the world, his evil power
would grow. He challenged Reorx to a game, with the
Graygem as the stakes and . . ." The dwarf fell silent,
scowling down at his shoes.
"He gambled it in away in a BONE GAME?" Sturm
finished in amazement.
"Aye, lad," said Dougan, sighing heavily. "You see,
Reorx has one little flaw. Just a tiny flaw, mind you,
otherwise he is as fine and honorable a gentleman as one
could hope to meet. But" - the dwarf heaved another sigh -
"he does love his bottle, and he does love a good wager."
"Oh, so you know Reorx, do you?" Sturm said with a
yawn that cracked his jaws.
"I'm proud to say so," said Dougan seriously, stroking
his beard and curling his moustaches. "And, with his help,
I've managed after all these years to locate the Graygem.
With the assistance of these lads here" - he smote a
passing gnome on the shoulder, completely bowling the
little fellow over - "and with the help of you three fine
young men, we'll recover it and . . . and . . ." Dougan
stopped, seeming confused.
"And return it to Reorx, naturally," the dwarf said,
"Naturally," Tanin responded. Glancing over at Sturm,
who had fallen asleep on the deck, the big man caught a
gnome in the act of making off with his brother's helm.
"Hey!" cried Tanin angrily, collaring the thief.
"Ijustwantedtolookatit!" whined the gnome, cringing.
"Iwasgoingtogiveitbackhonest. You see," he said, talking
more slowly as Tanin released his grip, "we have
developed a revolutionary new design in helms. There's
just a few problems with it, such as getting it off one's
head, and I - "
"Thank you, we're not interested," Tanin growled,
yanking the helm away from the gnome, who was admiring
it lovingly. "C'mon, Little Brother," he said, turning to
Palin. "Help me get Sturm to bed."
"Where is bed?" Palin asked tiredly. "And, no, I'm not
going back into that foul-smelling hold again."
"Me either," Tanin said. He looked around the deck and
pointed. "That lean-to-looking thing over there seems to be
about the best place. At least it'll be dry."
He indicated several wooden planks that had been
skillfully and ingeniously fit together to form a small
shelter. Leaning against the hull, the planks were beneath
the sail as it rumbled past, and protected those lying within
from water and falling fish.
"It is dry," said Dougan smugly. "That's my bed."
"It WAS your bed," returned Tanin. Leaning down, he
shook Sturm. "Wake up! We're not going to carry you! And
hurry up, before that god-cursed sail decapitates us."
"What?" Sturm sat up, blinking drowsily.
"You can't do this!" roared the dwarf.
"Look, Dougan Redhammer!" Tanin said, bending down
and staring the dwarf grimly in the eye. "I'm hung over,
seasick, and I haven't had anything to eat all day. I've been
doused with water, hit by fish, run over by a sail, and bored
to death by kids' bedtime stories! I don't believe you, I don't
believe your stupid quest." Tanin paused, seething, and
raised a finger, shaking it at the dwarf's nose. "I'm going to
sleep where I want to sleep and tomorrow, when I'm feeling
better, I swear by the gods I'm going to make these little
bastards turn this ship around and take us back home!"
"And if I stop you?" Dougan threatened with a leer, not
at all disconcerted by Tanin's rage.
"Then there'll be a new figurehead on which ever end of
this stupid boat is the front!" Tanin hissed through clenched
teeth. "And it'll have a long, black beard!" Angrily, the big
man stalked over to the lean-to and ducked inside. Sleepily,
"If I were you, Dougan," Palin muttered, hurrying after
them, "I'd keep out of his way! He's quite capable of doing
what he says."
"Is he, lad? I'll keep that in mind," the dwarf replied,
tugging thoughtfully at his beard.
The shelter was crammed with the dwarf's possessions -
most of which appeared to be gaudy clothes. These Palin
shoved unceremoniously out onto the deck with his foot.
Tanin stretched out on the floor, Sturm collapsed next to
him, and both were asleep almost as quickly as if their
younger brother had cast a spell over them. Palin lay down
in the small remaining space, hoping sleep would come to
him as swiftly.
But he was not the campaigner his brothers were, he
realized bitterly. Sturm could sleep in full armor on the
sands of a desert while Tanin had been known to snore
blissfully as lightning cut down a tree standing next to him.
Soaked to the skin, shivering with cold, Palin lay on the
deck and gave himself up to misery. He was hungry, but
every time he thought of food, his stomach lurched. His
muscles ached from the sickness, the bitter taste of salt
water filled his mouth. He thought with longing of his bed
at home; of clean, sweet-smelling sheets; of hours of
peaceful study, sitting beneath the sheltering limbs of the
vallenwood, his spellbook in his lap.
Closing his eyes, Palin tried to keep back the tears of
homesickness, but it engulfed him like a wave. Reaching
out his hand, he touched the Staff of Magius. And suddenly
the memory of his uncle came to him. From where? Palin
had no idea, Raistlin had died long before Palin was born.
Perhaps it was from the staff ... or maybe he was recalling
some tale of his father's and it had become real to him now
in his weakened state. Whatever the reason, Palin saw
Raistlin clearly, lying on the ground in a dismal, rainswept
forest. Huddled in his red robes, the mage was coughing,
coughing until it seemed he could never draw breath again.
Palin saw blood upon the ashen lips, he saw the frail body
wracked by pain. But he heard him speak no word of
complaint. Softly, Palin approached his uncle. The
coughing ceased, the spasm eased. Lifting his head, Raistlin
looked directly into Palin's eyes. . . .
Bowing his head in shame, Palin drew the staff nearer to
him, resting his cheek upon its cool, smooth wood and,
relaxing, fell into sleep. But he thought he heard, in the
final moment before he slipped over the edge of
unconsciousness, the voice of the dwarf, and he thought he
saw a head peering into the lean-to.
"I've a deck of cards here, lads. . . . What do you say?
High card sleeps here tonight? . . ."
The Isle of Gargath
Both brothers knew that Tanin was quite capable of
carrying out his threat to take over the ship, though just
how he was going to force the gnomes to sail it was another
matter entirely. During the night, the gnomes, just as firmly
determined to continue the voyage, began to organize a
supply of weapons. Since most of these weapons were of
gnomish design, there was every possibility that they would
do as much or more damage to the wielder as to the
intended victim, and thus the outcome of the battle - two
warriors and a mage against numerous gnomes and a dwarf
- was open to question.
The question was, fortunately, never answered. The
next morning the brothers were awakened by a tremendous
crash, the heart-stopping sound of splintering wood, and
the somewhat belated cry of "Land Ho!"
Staggering to their feet, they made their way out of the
lean-to and across the deck, not an easy task since it was
listing steeply to port.
"What is it? What's happened? Where are we?"
demanded Tanin, rubbing his eyes.
"We've arrived!" announced Dougan, smoothing his
beard in satisfaction. "Look!" He made a grand, sweeping
gesture toward what was - at this time - the prow. "The Isle
The brothers looked. At first all they could see was a
confused mass of split sail, dangling ropes, broken beams,
and gnomes waving their hands, arguing furiously, and
shoving each other about. The motion of the ship through
the water had ceased, due, no doubt, to the presence of a
cliff, which had bashed in the fig urehead, part of the hull,
and snapped the mast of the sail in two.
His face grim, Tanin made his way through the
wreckage, followed by Sturm and Palin, several bickering
gnomes, and the dwarf. Reaching the prow, he clung to the
side and stared out past the cliff toward the island. The sun
was rising behind them, shedding its bright light upon a
stretch of sandy beach that curved out of sight to the north,
vanishing in a patch of gray fog. Strange-looking trees with
thin, smooth trunks that erupted in a flourish of frondlike
leaves at the top surrounded the beach. Beyond the wide
sandy strip, towering above the trees and the cliff face upon
which the boat now rested, was a gigantic mountain. A
cloud of gray smoke hung over it, casting a pall upon the
beach, the water, and the ship.
"The Isle of Gargath," Dougan repeated triumphantly.
"Gargath?" Palin gaped. "You mean - "
"Aye, laddie. The Lord himself followed the Gray-gem,
if you remember, when it escaped. He built a ship and
sailed after it as it vanished over the western horizon, and
that was the last anyone on Ansalon ever heard of him. His
family figured he had dropped off the edge of the world.
But, a few years back, I happened to be drinking with a
group of minotaurs. One thing led to another, there was a
game, as I recall, and I won this map off of them."
Reaching into the pocket of his red velvet coat (now much
the worse for wear and salt water), Dougan pulled out a
piece of parchment and handed it to Tanin.
"It's a minotaur map, all right," Tanin said, setting it down
on the listing rail and smoothing it out, trying to keep his
balance at the same time. Sturm lurched over to see, and
Palin crowded next to him, bracing himself on the Staff of
Magius. Though it was written in the uncouth language of
the man-beasts, the map was drawn with the precision and
skill for which minotaurs are grudgingly renowned by the
civilized races of Krynn. There was no mistaking the
continent of Ansalon or, much farther to the west, a tiny
island with the word "Gargath" written out to the side.
"What does that mean?" Sturm asked, pointing to an
ominous-looking symbol next to the island. "That thing that
looks like a bull's head with a sword stuck through it."
"That?" repeated Dougan, shrugging nonchalantly.
Snatching the map from Tanin, he rolled it up hastily.
"Some minotaur doodle, no doubt - "
"The minotaur 'doodle' for danger," Palin said grimly.
"Isn't that right?"
Dougan flushed, thrusting the map back into his pocket.
"Well, now, laddie, I believe you may be onto something
there, although I personally don't put much stock in what
those savage creatures might take it into their heads to draw
"Those 'savage creatures' have marked this island with
their strongest warning!" Palin interrupted. "No minotaur
ship will land anywhere bearing that mark," he added,
turning to his brothers.
"And there are few things in this world or the next that
minotaur fear," Tanin said, staring at the island, his face
"What more proof do you need?" asked Dougan in a soft
voice, following Tanin's gaze; the dwarf's dark, bright eyes
were filled with hunger. "The Graygem is here! It is its
power the minotaurs feel and fear!"
"What do you think, Palin?" Tanin turned to his
youngest brother. "You're the magic-user. Surely you can
Once again, Palin felt the thrill of pleasure, seeing his older
brothers, the two people he looked up to in this world most
with the exception of his father - or maybe even more than
his father - looking at him respectfully, waiting his
judgment. Gripping the Staff of Magius, Palin closed his
eyes and tried to concentrate and, as he did so, a chill
feeling clutched his heart with fingers of ice, spreading its
cold fear through his body. He shuddered, and opened his
eyes to find Tanin and Sturm regarding him anxiously.
"Palin - your face! You're as pale as death. What is it?"
"I don't know. . . ." Palin faltered, his mouth dry. "I felt
something, but what I'm not sure. It wasn't danger so much
as a lost and empty feeling, a feeling of helplessness.
Everything around me was spinning out of control. There
was nothing I could do to stop it - "
"The power of the gem," Dougan said. "You felt it,
young mage! And now you know why it must be captured
and returned to the gods for safekeeping. It escaped man's
care before, it will escape again. The gods only know," the
dwarf added sorrowfully, "what mischief it has wrecked
upon this wretched island."
Wagging his black beard, Dougan held out a trembling
hand to Tanin. "You'll help me, lads, won't you?" he asked
in heartfelt, pleading tones, so different from his usual
braggadocio that Tanin was caught off guard, his anger
punctured. "If you say no," continued Dougan, hanging his
head, "I'll understand. Though I DID win the wager, I guess
it was wrong of me to get you drunk and take you prisoner
when you were weak and helpless."
Tanin chewed his lip, obviously not welcoming this
"And I swear by my beard," said the dwarf solemnly,
stroking it, "that if you say the word, I'll have the gnomes
take you back to Ansalon. As soon as they get the ship
repaired, that is."
"IF they get the ship repaired!" Tanin growled at last.
(This appeared unlikely. The gnomes were paying no
attention whatsoever to the ship, but were arguing among
themselves about who was supposed to have been on
watch, who was supposed to be reading the gnomes' own
map, and the committee that had drawn up the map in the
first place. It was later decided that, since the cliff hadn't
been marked on the map, it wasn't there and they hadn't
bashed into it. Having reached this conclusion, the gnomes
were able to get to work.)
"Well, what do you two say?" Tanin turned to his
"I say that since we're here, we ought to at least take a
look around," Sturm said in low tones. "If the dwarf is right
and we could retrieve the Graygem, our admittance into the
Knighthood would be assured! As he said, we'd be heroes!"
"To say nothing of the wealth we might obtain," Tanin
The young mage's heart beat fast. Who knows what
magical powers the Graygem possesses? he thought
suddenly. It could enhance my power, and I wouldn't need
any great archmage to teach me! I might become a great
archmage myself, just by touching it or ... Palin shook his
head. Raising his eyes, he saw his brothers' faces. Tanin's
was ugly with greed, Sturm's twisted with ambition. My
own face - Palin put his hand on it - what must it look like
to them? He glanced down at his robes and saw their white
color faded to dirty gray. It might just be from the salt
water, but it might be from something else. . . .
"My brothers," he said urgently, "listen to us! Think
what you just said! Tanin, since when did you ever go in
search of wealth and not adventure!"
Tanin blinked, as if waking from a dream. "You're right!
Wealth! What am I talking about? I never cared that much
for money - "
"The power of the Graygem is speaking," Dougan cried.
"It's beginning to corrupt you, as it corrupted others." His
gaze went to the gnomes. The shoving and pushing had
escalated into punching and tossing one another overboard.
"I say we should at least investigate this island," Palin
said in a low voice so that the dwarf would not overhear.
He drew his brothers closer. "If for no other reason than to
find out if Dougan's telling the truth. If he is and if the
Graygem IS here and if we could be the ones to bring it
back . . ."
"Oh, it's here!" Dougan said, eagerly poking his black-
bearded face into their midst. "And when you bring it back,
lads, why the stories they tell of your famous father will be
kender lies compared to the legends they'll sing of you! To
say nothing of the fact that you'll be rescuing the poor
people of this island from their sad fate," continued the
dwarf in solemn tones.
"People?" Tanin said, startled. "You mean this place is
"Aye, there are people here," the dwarf said with a
gusty sigh, though he was eyeing the brothers shrewdly.
"Yes," said Sturm, staring intently at the beach. "There
are people, all right. And it doesn't look to me, Dougan
Redhammer, like they want to be rescued!"
Tanin, Palin, Sturm, and the dwarf were ferried across the
water from the MIRACLE by a party of gnomes in a dinghy.
Bringing along the dinghy had been the dwarf's idea, and
the gnomes were enchanted with something so practical and
simple. The gnomes had themselves designed a lifeboat to
be attached to MIRACLE. Roughly the same weight and
dimensions as the ship, the lifeboat had been left behind, to
be studied by a committee.
As the boat drew nearer shore, surging forward with the
waves and the incoming tide, the brothers could see the
welcoming party. The rising sun glinted off spears and
shields carried by a crowd of men who were awaiting their
arrival on the beach. Tall and muscular, the men wore little
clothing in the balmy clime of the island. Their skin was a
rich, glistening brown, their bodies adorned with bright
beads and feathers, their faces were stem and resolute. The
shields they carried were made of wood and painted with
garish designs, the spears were handmade as well - wooden
with stone tips.
"Honed nice and sharp, you can believe me," said Sturm
gloomily. "They'll go through flesh like a knife through
"We're outnumbered at least twenty to one," Tanin
pointed out to Dougan, who was sitting in the prow of the
boat, fingering a battle-ax that was nearly the size of the
"Bah! Primitives!" said Dougan contemptuously, though
Palin noted the dwarf's face was a bit pale. "First sight of
steel, they'll bow down and worship us as gods."
The "gods' " arrival on the beach was something less
than majestic. Tanin and Sturm did look quite magnificent
in their bright steel armor of elven make and design - a gift
from Porthios and Alhana of the United Elven Kingdoms.
Their breastplates glittered in the morning sun, their helms
gleamed brightly. Climbing out of the boat, they sank to
their shins in the sand and, within minutes, were both
Dougan, dressed in his suit of red velvet, demanded that
the gnomes take him clear into shore so he would not ruin
his clothes. The dwarf had added to his costume a wide-
brimmed hat decorated with a white plume that fluttered in
the ocean breeze, and he was truly a wonderful sight,
standing proudly in the prow of the boat with his axe at his
side, glaring sternly at the warriors drawn up in battle
formation on the beach. The gnomes obeyed his injunction
to the letter, running the boat aground on the beach with
such force that Dougan tumbled out head first, narrowly
missing slicing himself in two with his great battle-ax.
Palin had often imagined his first battle - fighting at the
side of his brothers, combining steel and magic. He had
spent the journey into shore committing the few spells he
knew to memory. As he drew toward shore, his pulse raced
with what he told himself was excitement, not fear. He was
prepared for almost any eventuality . . . with the exception
of helping a cursing, sputtering, irate dwarf to his feet;
trying to dislodge his brothers from the sand; and facing an
army of silent, grim, half-naked men.
"Why don't they attack us?" Sturm muttered,
floundering about in the water, trying to keep his balance.
"They could cut us to ribbons!"
"Maybe they have a law prohibiting them from harming
idiots!" snapped Tanin irritably.
Dougan had managed, with Palin's help, to stagger to his
feet. Shaking his fist, he sent the gnomes on their way back
to the ship with a parting curse, then turned and, with as
much dignity as he could bluster, stomped across the beach
toward the warriors. Tanin and Sturm followed more
slowly, hands on the hilts of their swords. Palin came after
his brothers more slowly still, his white robes wet and
bedraggled, the hem caked with sand.
The warriors waited for them in silence, unmoving, their
faces expressionless as they watched the strangers
approach. But Palin noticed, as he drew near, that
occasionally one of the men would glance uneasily back
into the nearby jungle. Observing this happening more than
once, Palin turned his attention to the trees. After watching
and listening intently for a moment, he drew nearer Tanin.
"There's something in the jungle," he said in an
"I wouldn't doubt it," Tanin growled. "Probably another
fifty or so warriors."
"I don't know," Palin said thoughtfully, shaking his
head. "The warriors appear to be nervous about it, maybe
even - "
"Shush!" Tanin ordered sharply. "This is no time to talk,
Palin! Now keep behind Sturm and me, like you're
"But - " Palin began.
Tanin flashed him a look of anger, meant to remind the
young man who was in charge. With a sigh, Palin took up
his position behind his brothers. But his eyes went to the
jungle, and he again noticed that more than one of the
warriors allowed his gaze as well to stray in that direction.
"Hail!" cried Dougan, stumping through the sand to
stand in front of a warrior who, by standing out slightly in
front of his fellows, appeared to be the chief. "Us gods!"
proclaimed the dwarf, thumping himself on the chest.
"Come from Land of Rising Sun to Give Greeting to our
Subjects on Isle of Gargath."
"You're a dwarf," said the warrior glumly, speaking
excellent Common. "You've come from Ansalon and
you're probably after the Graygem."
"Well ... uh ... now . . ." Dougan appeared flustered.
"That's ... uh ... a good guess, lad. We are, as it happens,
mildly interested in ... uh ... the Gray-gem. If you'd be so
good as to tell us where we might find it - "
"You can't have it," said the warrior, his voice still
depressed sounding. He raised his spear. "We're here to
The warriors behind him nodded unenthusiastically,
fumbling with their spears and clumsily falling into some
sort of ragged battle formation. Again, Palin noticed many
of them looking into the jungle with that same nervous,
"Well, we're going to take it!" Tanin shouted fiercely,
apparently trying to drum up some enthusiasm for the
battle. "You'll have to fight us to stop us."
"I guess we will," mumbled the chief, hefting his spear
in half-hearted fashion.
Somewhat confused, Tanin and Sturm nevertheless drew
their swords, as Dougan, his face grim, lifted his axe. The
words to a spell chant were on Palin's lips, the Staff of
Magius seemed to tremble with eagerness in his hand. But
Palin hesitated. From all he'd heard, battles weren't
supposed to be like this! Where was the hot blood? the
ferocious hatred? the bitter determination to die where one
stood rather than give an inch of ground?
The warriors shuffled forward, prodding each other
along. Tanin closed on them, his sword flashing in the sun,
Sturm at his back. Suddenly, a cry came from the jungle.
There was movement and a rustling sound, more cries, and
then a yelp of pain. A small figure dashed out of the trees,
running headlong across the sand.
"Wait!" Palin yelled, running forward to stop his
brothers. "It's a child!"
The warriors turned at the sound. "Damn!" muttered the
chief, tossing his shield and spear into the sand in disgust.
The child - a little girl of about five - ran to the warrior and
threw her arms around his legs. At that moment, another
child, older than the first, came running out of the woods in
"I thought I told you to keep her with you!" the chief
said to older child, a boy, who came dashing up.
"She bit me!" said the boy accusingly, exhibiting bloody
marks on his arm.
"You're not going to hurt my daddy, are you?" the little
girl asked Tanin, glaring at him with dark eyes.
"N-no," stuttered Tanin, taken aback. He lowered his
sword. "We're just" - he shrugged, flushing scarlet -
"talking. You know, man-talk."
"Bless my beard!" exclaimed the dwarf in awe. More
children were running from the jungle - children of all ages
from toddlers who could barely make their way across the
sand to older boys and girls of about ten or eleven. The air
was filled with their shrill voices.
"I'm bored. Can we go home?"
"Lemme hold the spear!"
"No, it's my turn! Dad told me - "
"Apu said a bad word!"
"Look, Daddy! That short, fat man with the hair on his
face! Isn't he ugly?"
Glancing at the strangers in deep embarrassment, the
warriors turned from their battle formation to argue with
"Listen, Blossom, Daddy's just going to be a little
longer. You go back and play - "
"Apu, take your brothers back with you and DON'T let
me hear you using language like that or I'll - "
"No, dear, Daddy needs the spear right now. You can
carry it on the way home - "
"Halt!" roared the dwarf. Dougan's thunderous shout cut
through the confusion, silencing warrior and child alike.
"Look," said Tanin, sheathing his sword, his own face
flushed with embarrassment, "we don't want to fight you,
especially in front of your kids. . . ."
"I know," the chief said, chagrined. "It's always like
that. We haven't had a good battle in two years! Have you
ever" - he gave Tanin a pained look - "tried to fight with a
Profoundly perplexed, Tanin shook his head.
"Takes all the fun out of it," added another warrior as
one child swarmed up his back and another bashed him in
the shins with his shield.
"Leave them at home with their mothers, then, where
they belong," said Dougan gruffly.
The warriors' expression grew grimmer still. At the
mention of their mothers, several of the children began to
cry. The whole group began to turn away from the beach.
"We can't," muttered a warrior.
"Why not?" demanded Dougan.
"Because their mothers are gone!"
"It all started two years ago," said the chief, walking with
Dougan and the brothers back to the village. "Lord Gargath
sent a messenger to our village, demanding ten maidens be
paid him in tribute or he'd unleash the power of the
Graygem." The warrior's eyes went to the volcano in the
distance, its jagged top barely visible amid the shifting gray
clouds that surrounded it. Forked lightning streaked from
the cloud, thunder rumbled. The chief shivered and shook
his head. "What could we do? We paid him his tribute. But
it didn't stop there. The next month, here came the
messenger again. Ten more maidens, and more the month
following. Soon, we ran out of maidens, and then the Lord
demanded our wives. Then he sent for our mothers! Now" -
the chief sighed - "there isn't a woman left in the village!"
"All of them!" Sturm gaped. "He's taken ALL of them!"
The chief nodded in despair, the child in his arms wailed
in grief. "And not only us. It happened to every tribe on the
island. We used to be a fierce, proud people," the chief
added, his dark eyes flashing. "Our tribes were constantly at
war. To win honor and glory in battle was what we lived
for, to die fighting was the noblest death a man could find!
Now, we lead lives of drudgery - "
"Our hands in dishwater instead of blood," said another.
"Mending clothes instead of cracking skulls."
"To say nothing of what ELSE we're missing, without
the women," added a third with a meaningful look.
"Well, why don't you go get them back!" Tanin
The warriors, to a man, looked at him with undisguised
horror, many glancing over their shoulders at the smoking
volcano, expressions of terror on their faces, as if fearing
they might be overheard.
"Attack the powerful Lord Gargath?" asked the chief in
what was practically a whisper. "Face the wrath of the
Graygem's master? No!" He shuddered, holding his child
close. "At least now our children have one parent."
"But if all the tribes fought together," Sturm argued,
"that would be, how many men? Hundreds? Thousands?"
"If there were millions, we would not go up against the
Master of the Graygem," said the chief.
"Well, then," said Dougan sharply, "why did you try to
stop us back there on the beach? Seems to me you would be
only too glad to rid yourselves of the thing!"
"Lord Gargath ordered us to fight any who tried to take
it," said the chief simply.
Reaching their village - a scattering of thatched huts
that had seen better days - the warriors dispersed, some
taking children to bed, others hurrying to look into
steaming pots, still others heading for a stream with
baskets loaded with clothes.
"Dougan," said Tanin, watching all this in astonishment
almost too great for words, "this doesn't make any sense!
What's going on?"
"The power of the Graygem, lad," said the dwarf
solemnly. "They're deep under its spell and can no longer
see anything rationally. I'll lay ten to one that it's the
Graygem keeping them from attacking Lord Gargath. But
us, now" - the dwarf looked at the brothers cunningly -
"we're not under its spell - "
"Not yet," mentioned Palin.
" - and therefore we stand a chance of defeating him!
After all, how powerful can he be?"
"Oh, he could have an army of a couple thousand men
or so," said Sturm.
"No, no," said Dougan hastily. "If he did, he would have
just sent the army to attack the villages, kill the men, and
carry off the women. Lord Gargath is using the power of
the Graygem because that's all he's got! We must act
quickly, though, lads, because its power will grow on us
the longer we stay near its influence."
Tanin frowned, considering. "How do we get the
Graygem, then?" he asked abruptly. "And what do we do
with it after we've got it? It seems to me, we'll be in worse
danger than ever!"
"Ah, leave that to me!" said Dougan, rubbing his hands.
"Just help me to get it, lads."
Tanin kept on frowning.
"And think of the women - poor things," the dwarf
continued sadly, "held in thrall by this wicked lord, forced
to submit to his evil will. They'll undoubtedly be grateful to
the brave men who rescue them. . . ."
"He's right," said Sturm in sudden resolve. "It is our
duty, Tanin, as future Knights of Solamnia, to rescue the
"What do you say, Little Brother?" asked Tanin.
"It is my duty as a mage of the White Robes to help
these people," Palin said, feeling extremely self-righteous.
"ALL these people," he added.
"Plus it's a matter of honor, lad," Dougan said solemnly.
"You DID lose the bet. And it will be a few days before the
gnomes have the ship repaired. . . ."
"And the women will probably be VERY grateful!"
struck in Sturm.
"All right, we'll go!" said Tanin. "Though I'd rather face
a dragon than fight the power of some sort of weird rock - "
"Ha, ha, dragon!" repeated the dwarf, with a sickly grin
that Tanin was too preoccupied to notice.
The brothers and the dwarf walked up to the chief, who
was hanging laundry out to dry and keeping an anxious eye
on the stew pot to see that it didn't boil over.
"Listen to me, men!" Tanin called loudly, motioning the
warriors of the village to gather around him. "My brothers
and the dwarf and I are going to go to the castle of this Lord
Gargath to take the Graygem. Would any of you like to
Glancing at each other, the warriors shook their heads.
"Well, then," Tanin continued in exasperation, "will any
of you go with us as our guide? You can come back when
we reach the castle."
Again, the warriors shook their heads.
"Then we'll go alone!" Tanin said fiercely. "And we will
return with the Graygem or leave our lives in that castle!"
Spinning on his heel, the big man stalked out of the camp,
his brothers and the dwarf marching behind. As they left,
however, they encountered dark looks from the warriors
and heard muttered comments. More than a few shook their
fists at them.
"They certainly don't look pleased," Tanin muttered.
"Especially since we're the ones facing all the danger. What
is it they're saying?"
"I think it's just occurred to them that the women will
probably be VERY grateful," Dougan answered in a low
A Matter of Honor
Sturm later maintained that Tanin should have realized
what was going on and kept the dwarf out of the game that
night. Tanin retorted that Sturm should stay out of it since
he slept through the whole thing. But Palin reminded them
both that they were all under the influence of the Graygem
at the time, so it probably wouldn't have made any
They had walked all day, moving easily through the thick
jungle, following a trail that had obviously been there for
years. The major problem was the heat, which was intense.
Sturm and Tanin soon took off their armor and packed it
away and finally convinced Palin to strip off his white
robes, though he protested long against wandering the
wilderness clad only in his undergarments.
"Look," said Tanin, finally, after Palin was on the verge
of collapse, his robes dripping with sweat, "there aren't any
women around, that much we know. Hang your spell bags
around your waist. We can always get dressed again before
we reach the next village." Palin reluctantly agreed and,
other than taking some ribbing from Sturm about his skinny
legs, was thankful he did so. The jungle grew steamier as
the sun rose higher. Intermittent rain showers cooled the
brothers and the dwarf occasionally, but in the end served
only to increase the humidity.
Dougan, however, steadfastly refused to shed so much as
his broad-brimmed hat, maintaining that the heat was
nothing to a dwarf and ridiculing the humans for their
weakness. This he did with perspiration streaming down his
face until it dripped off the ends of his moustaches. He
marched along with a defiant air, as if daring one of them to
say something, and often grumbled that they were slowing
him down. Yet Palin saw Dougan more than once, when he
thought no one was looking, slump down on a rock, fan
himself with his hat, and mop his face with his beard.
By the time they arrived at the next village, which was
about a day's walk through the jungle, all of them - even the
dwarf - were so limp and tired that they barely had the
strength to put their clothes and their armor back on in
order to make an impressive show. Word of their coming
must have traveled in some mysterious way (Palin thought
he knew, then, the reason for the strange drum beats they'd
been hearing), for they were met by the men of the village
and the children. The men regarded them coldly (though
more than a few eyes flashed at the sight of the elven
armor), gave them food and drink, and indicated a hut
where they could spend the night. Tanin made a stirring
speech about storming Gargath Castle and asked for
The only response was dark looks, shuffling feet, and a
muttered comment, "I can't, I got a chicken stewing. . . ."
This being no more than they had expected, the brothers
stripped off their armor and their clothes and went to bed.
Their night's rest was unbroken, save for slapping at some
sort of winged, carnivorous insect that apparently had a
craving for human flesh, and one other incident.
Around midnight, Tanin was wakened by the dwarf,
shaking his shoulder and loudly calling his name.
"Whasit?" mumbled Tanin sleepily, fumbling for his
"Nay, lad, put your weapon away," said Dougan, hurriedly.
"I just need to know something, lad. You and me and your
brothers, we're comrades, aren't we?"
Tanin recalled, as well as he could recall anything, that
the dwarf had seemed particularly anxious about this and
had repeated the question several times.
"Yeah, comrades," Tanin muttered, rolling over.
"What's mine is yours, yours is mine?" persisted the
dwarf, leaning over to look the young man in the face.
"Yeah, yeah." Tanin waved a hand, brushing away a
feeding insect and the dwarf's beard at the same time.
"Thank you, lad! Thank you," said Dougan gratefully.
"You won't regret it."
Tanin said later that the dwarf's last words, "You won't
regret it," lingered ominously in his dreams, but he was too
tired to wake up and ponder the situation.
As it was, he had plenty of time for pondering the next
morning when he woke to find a spear point at his throat
and several tall warriors standing over him. A quick glance
showed him his brothers in similar circumstances.
"Sturm!" Tanin called, not daring to move and keeping
his hands in plain sight. "Palin, wake up!"
His brothers woke quickly at the sound of alarm in his
voice, and stared at their captors in sleepy surprise.
"Tanin," said Palin, keeping his voice even, "what's
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out!" Tanin angrily
thrust the spear point aside. "What is this nonsense?" he
asked, starting to stand up. The spear point was at his throat
again, joined, this time, by two more - one at his chest, the
other jabbing him in the back.
"Tell them that no matter how grateful the women are, it
won't matter to us!" said Sturm, swallowing and trying in
vain to inch backward. The spear fol lowed him. "We're
going to be knights! We've taken vows of celibacy. . . ."
"It's ... uh ... not the women, lad," muttered a shamefaced
Dougan, entering the hut and thrusting his head in between
the warriors. "It's ... uh ... a matter of honor ... so to speak.
The truth of it is, lads," the dwarf continued with a heart-
rending sigh, "I got into a wee bit of a game last night."
"So?" grunted Tanin. "What has that got to do with us?"
"I'll explain," Dougan began, licking his lips, his eyes
darting from one to the other of the brothers. "I threw the
bones well the first hour or two. Won the chief's feather
head-dress AND two cows. I was going to quit then, I swear
it, but the old boy was upset, and so what could I do but let
him try to win them back? My luck was going that good, I
bet it all on one toss, plus threw in my axe and my own hat
Tanin looked at the dwarf's bare head. "You lost."
Dougan's shoulders slumped. "I didn't miss the other so
much, but I couldn't do without my hat, now could I? So I
bet all my money against the hat and - " He looked at Tanin
"You lost that, too," Tanin muttered.
"Snake eyes," said the dwarf sadly.
"So now you've lost your money and your hat - "
"Not quite," Dougan hedged. "You see, I just couldn't do
without my hat. . . . And I didn't have anything left that the
old boy wanted, my jacket not fitting him. And you DID
say we were comrades, share and share alike - "
"When did you say that?" Sturm demanded, glaring at
"I don't remember!" Tanin growled.
"So, I bet your armor," said the dwarf.
"You what?" Tanin roared in fury.
"The chief had taken a liking to it when he saw it on you
last evening," continued Dougan rapidly. Even with five
spears pointed directly at him, Tanin looked extremely
formidable and extremely angry. "I bet your armor against
my hat, and I won." The dwarf was smug.
"Thank Paladine!" breathed Tanin, relaxing.
"Then - " said Dougan, looking uncomfortable, "since
my luck was obviously turning, I decided to try for my
money back. I bet the armor, my hat, and" - he pointed -
"the magic staff against my money, the cows, and a goat."
This time it was Palin who sat forward (oblivious of the
spears), his face deathly pale, his lips ashen. "You bet . . .
my staff!" He could scarcely speak. Reaching out a
trembling hand, he grasped hold of the staff which lay at his
side even while he slept.
"Aye, lad," said Dougan, regarding him with wide-eyed
innocence. "We're comrades. Share and share - "
"This staff," said Palin in a low, shaking voice,
"belonged to my uncle, Raistlin Majere! It was a gift from
him - "
"Indeed?" Dougan appeared impressed. "I wish I had
known that, lad," he said wistfully, "I would have wagered
more - "
"What happened?" Palin demanded feverishly.
"I lost." Dougan heaved a sigh. "I've seen a man roll
snake eyes twice in a game only once before and that was
when I - Well, never mind."
"You lost my staff!" Palin seemed near fainting.
"And our armor?" Sturm shouted, veins swelling in his
"Wait!" Dougan held up his hand hastily. The warriors
with the spears, despite their weapons and their obvious
advantage, were beginning to look a little nervous. "I knew
how upset you lads would be, losing all your possessions
like this, so I did the only thing I could. I wagered your
This time the shock was so great that neither Tanin nor
Sturm could speak, they simply stared at Dougan in stunned
"I put up the swords and my battle-ax against the magic
staff and my hat - I truly wish" - Dougan glanced at the
shaken Palin - "that I'd known the staff belonged to Raistlin
of the Black Robes. Even here, they've heard of him, and I
likely could have gotten the chief to throw in the armor. As
it was, he wasn't all that impressed with what he'd seen of
the staff - "
"Get on with it!" Palin cried in a choked voice, clutching
the staff close.
"I won!" Dougan spread his hands, then sighed again,
only this was a sigh of ecstasy. "Ah, what a throw that was.
. . ."
"So ... I have my staff?" Palin asked timidly,
"We have our swords?" Tanin and Sturm began to
"Finding that my luck had shifted," the dwarf said,
plunging the brothers into gloom once more, "I decided to
try for the armor again. Figuring what good were swords
without armor, I bet the weapons and - " He gestured
bleakly toward the warriors with the spears.
"You lost," Tanin said glumly.
"But I still have my staff?" Palin asked nervously.
"Aye, lad. I tried to use it to win back the swords, my
axe, and the armor, but the chief didn't want it." Dougan
shook his head, then gazed at Palin intently, a sudden,
cunning expression twisting his face. "But if you were to
tell him it belonged to the great Raistlin Majere, perhaps I
could - "
"No!" snarled Palin, holding the staff close.
"But, lad," pleaded the dwarf, "my luck's bound to change.
And we're comrades, after all. Share and share alike ..."
"This is great!" said Sturm gloomily, watching the last
of his armor being carried out of the hut. "Well, I guess
there's nothing left to do now but go back to the ship - "
"The ship?" Dougan appeared astonished. "When we're
so close! Why, Lord Gargath's castle's only a day's march
"And what are we going to do when we get there?"
Tanin demanded furiously. "Knock on the door in our
underwear and ask him to lend us weapons so that we can
"Look at it this way, Big Brother," Sturm muttered, "he
might drop over dead from laughter."
"How can you joke at a time like this?" Tanin raged.
"And I'm not certain I'm ready to leave yet."
"Easy, my brothers," Palin said softly. "If all we've lost
from this fool quest is some weapons and armor, I'm
beginning to think we can count ourselves lucky. I agree
with Sturm, Tanin. We better head back for the ship before
the day gets much hotter."
"That's easy for you to say!" Tanin retorted bitterly.
"You've still got your precious staff!" He looked over to the
chief's hut, where the old man was happily decking himself
out in the bright armor, putting most of it on upside down.
Then he cast a dark glance at the contrite Dougan. "I
suppose Palin's right," Tanin said grudgingly, glaring at the
dwarf. "We should count ourselves lucky. We've had
enough of this fool quest, dwarf. We're getting out of here
before we lose anything else - like our lives!"
Turning, Tanin found himself, once again, facing a ring
of spears and this time his own sword, held by a grinning
"Wanna bet, lad?" Dougan said cheerfully, twirling his
"I thought as much," Palin remarked.
"You're always thinking 'as much' when it's too late to
do anything about it!" Tanin snapped.
"It was too late when we first set eyes on the dwarf,"
Palin said in low tones.
The three, plus Dougan, were being escorted down the
jungle trail, spears at their backs, the castle of Lord
Gargath looming ahead of them. They could see it quite
clearly now - a huge, misshapen building made entirely of
shining gray marble. All three brothers had visited the
Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth Forest, and they had
been impressed and overawed by the magical aura that
surrounded it. They felt a similar awe approaching this
strange castle, only it was an awe mingled with the wild
desire to laugh hysterically.
None of them could tell afterward what Castle Gargath
looked like, since the appearance of the castle shifted
constantly. First it was a massive fortress with four tall,
stalwart towers topped by battlements. As they watched in
amazement, the towers swelled out and spiraled upward
into graceful minarets. Then the towers melted together,
forming one gigantic dome that separated into four square
towers once more. While all this was going on, turrets
sprouted from the walls like fungi, windows blinked open
and shut, a drawbridge over a moat became a bower of
gray roses over a still, gray pond.
"The power of the Graygem," Dougan remarked. "'The
power of the Graygem,'" Tanin mimicked sarcastically. He
shook his fist at the dwarf. "I'm getting so sick of hearing
about that blasted rock that I - "
"I meant that I've figured out what's going on!" Palin
"Well, what?" Sturm asked miserably. "They don't want
us to go, apparently. Yet they threaten to kill us if we try to
turn back! They take our clothes . . ."
In addition to losing their armor and their weapons, he
and Tanin had been stripped of their clothes; the chief
having discovered that the armor chafed without anything
underneath it. Sturm and Tanin, therefore, were now
approaching Gargath Castle clad only in loin cloths (having
coldly refused the offer of breastplates made of bone).
Palin and Dougan had been more fortunate, the mage
having kept his robes and the dwarf his red velvet jacket
and breeches (minus the hat). The reason for this leniency
on the chief's part was, Palin suspected, Dougan's
whispered remarks to the chief concerning the staff.
Contrary to what the dwarf had anticipated, the fact that the
staff belonged to Raistlin Majere caused the chief to open
his eyes wide in terror. Palin also suspected Dougan of
continuing to try to drum up a game (the dwarf wanted his
hat back badly), but the chief obviously wanted no part of
an object of such evil. The members of the tribe kept a
respectful distance from Palin after that, some waving
chickens' feet in his direction when they thought he wasn't
It didn't stop the warriors from marching him off down
the trail at spear point toward the castle with his brothers
and the chagrined Dougan, however.
"Put yourself in the place of one of these warriors," said
Palin, sweating in his hot robes but not daring to take them
off for fear the warriors would grab them. "You are under
the influence of the Graygem, which is literally Chaos
personified. You hate the Graygem more than anything, yet
you are ordered to guard it with your life. Because of the
Graygem, you've lost your women. Strangers come to take
the Graygem and rescue your women, who will
undoubtedly be grateful to their saviors. You don't want
strangers saving your womenfolk, but you'd give anything
to have your women back. You must guard the Graygem,
but you'd do anything to get rid of it. Are you following
"Sort of," Tanin said cautiously. "Go on."
"So you take the strangers," Palin finished, "and send
them to the castle naked and weaponless, knowing they're
bound to lose, yet hoping in your heart they'll win."
"That makes sense, in a weird sort of way," Sturm
admitted, looking at Palin with undisguised admiration.
"So, what do we do now?"
"Yes, Palin," Tanin said gravely. "I can fight minotaur
and draconians ... I'd RATHER be fighting minotaur and
draconians," he added, breathing heavily, the heat and
humidity taking its toll on the big man, "but I'm lost here. I
can't fight chaos. I don't understand what's going on. If
we're going to get out of this, it's up to you and your magic,
Palin's eyes stung with sudden tears. It had been worth
it, he thought. It had been worth this whole insane
adventure to know that he had finally won his brothers'
respect and admiration and trust. It was something a man
might willingly die to achieve. . . . For a moment, he did
not trust himself to speak, but walked on in silence, leaning
on the Staff of Magius, which felt oddly cool and dry in the
hot, humid jungle.
Glancing over at the dwarf, Palin was disconcerted to
find Dougan regarding him with a wolfish leer on the
black-bearded face. The dwarf didn't say anything aloud
but, giving Palin a wink, he formed words with his lips.
It was nearing sundown when they reached the outer
walls of Castle Gargath. The walls shifted aspect just like
the castle. Sometimes they appeared to be built of bricks.
When the brothers looked again, however, the walls were
hedges, then iron bars.
On reaching the base of the shifting walls, the warriors
left them, returning to their villages despite another
recruiting speech from Tanin. The speech was a half-
hearted attempt at best. The fact that he was giving it
practically naked lessened his enthusiasm, plus he was
fairly certain it was bound to fail.
"Come with us! Show this evil lord that you are men!
That you intend to stand up to him and fight! Show him you
are willing to risk your lives in defense of your homes!"
He was right. The speech had not worked. The moment
the shadow of the shifting castle walls fell over them, the
warriors backed away, looking up at it in terror. Shaking
their heads and muttering, they fled back into the jungle.
"At least leave us your spears?" Sturm pleaded.
That didn't work either.
"They need their spears," Tanin said, "to make certain
we don't hightail it back to the ship."
"Aye, you're right, lad," said Dougan, peering into the
trees. "They're out there, watching us. And there they'll stay
until - " He stopped.
"Until what?" Palin demanded coldly. He could still see
the dwarf's leer and hear the unspoken words, and he
shivered in the jungle heat.
"Until they're certain we're not coming back. Right?"
"Now, laddie, we'll be coming back," Dougan said
soothingly, stroking his beard. "After all, you have me with
you. And we're comrades - "
"Share and share alike," Tanin and Sturm both said
"The first thing we have to do is make some weapons,"
Tanin continued. He looked around. Thick jungle
vegetation grew all around them. Strange-looking trees of
various types and kinds festooned with hanging vines and
brightly colored flowers grew right up to within a foot of
the wall that was now made of thorny rose-bushes. And
there it stopped. "Not even the jungle comes near this
place," he muttered. There were no animal noises either, he
noticed. "Palin, give me your knife."
"Good idea," said the young mage. "I'd forgotten about
it." Rolling up his white sleeve, Palin fumbled at the dagger
in its cunning leather thong that held it to his forearm and
was supposed to - at a flick of its owner's wrist - release the
dagger and allow it to drop down into Palin's hand. But the
cunning thong was apparently more cunning that its master,
for Palin couldn't get the dagger loose.
"Here," he said, flushing in embarrassment and holding
out his arm to Tanin, "you get it."
Keeping his smile carefully concealed, Tanin managed
to free the dagger, which he and Sturm used to cut off tree
branches. These they honed into crude spears, working
rapidly. Day was dying a lingering death, the light fading
from the sky, leaving it a sickly gray color.
"Do you know anything of this Lord Gargath?" Tanin
asked Dougan as he worked, whittling the point of the
green stick sharp.
"No," said the dwarf, watching in disapproval. He had
refused to either make or carry a wooden spear. "A fine
sight I'd look if I'm killed, standing before Reorx with a
stick in my hand! Naw, I need no weapon but my bare
hands!" the dwarf had snarled. Now he was rubbing his
chin, pacing back and forth beneath the strange walls that
were now made of shining black marble. "I know nothing
of this present Lord Gargath, save what I could find out
from those cowards." Dougan waved his hand
contemptuously at the long-gone warriors.
"What do they say?"
"That he is what you might expect of someone who has
been under the influence of the Graygem for years!"
Dougan said, eyeing Tanin irritably. "He is a wild man!
Capable of great good or great evil, as the mood - or the
gem - sways him. Some say," the dwarf added in low tones,
switching his gaze to Palin, "that he is a wizard. A
renegade, granting his allegiance to neither White, nor
Black, nor Red. He lives only for himself - and the gem."
Shivering, Palin gripped his staff more tightly.
Renegade mages refused to follow the laws and judgments
of the Conclave of Wizards, laws that had been handed
down through the centuries in order to keep magic alive in a
world where it was despised and distrusted. All wizards,
those who followed both the paths of Good and of Evil,
subscribed to these laws. Renegades were a threat to
everyone and, as such, their lives were forfeit.
IT WOULD BE PALIN'S DUTY, AS A MAGE OF THE
WHITE ROBES, TO TRY TO RECLAIM THE RENEGADE
OR, IF THAT FAILED, TO TRAP HIM AND BRING HIM TO
THE CONCLAVE FOR JUSTICE. IT WOULD BE A
DIFFICULT TASK FOR A POWERFUL WIZARD OF THE
WHITE ROBES, MUCH LESS AN APPRENTICE MAGE.
THOSE OF THE BLACK ROBES HAD IT EASIER. "YOU,
MY UNCLE, WOULD HAVE SIMPLY KILLED HIM," PALIN
MURMURED IN A LOW VOICE, LEANING HIS CHEEK
AGAINST HIS staff.
"What do you think he's done with the women?" Sturm
The dwarf shrugged. "Used them for his pleasure, tossed
them into the volcano, sacrificed them in some unholy
magic rite. How should I know?"
Sturm looked grave; Tanin scowled; and Palin, truth be
told, looked frightened.
"Well, we're about as ready as we'll ever be, I guess,"
Tanin said heavily, gathering up a handful of spears. "These
look stupid," he muttered. "Maybe the dwarf's right. If
we're facing an evil wizard gone berserk, we might as well
die fighting with dignity instead of like kids playing at
knights and goblins."
"A weapon's a weapon, Tanin," Sturm said matter-of-
factly, taking a spear in his hand. "At least it gives us some
advantage. . . ."
The three brothers and the dwarf approached the wall
that was still changing its aspect so often it made them
dizzy to watch it.
"I don't suppose there's any point trying to find a secret
way in," Tanin said.
"By the time we found it, it'd likely be turning into the
front door," Dougan agreed. "If we wait here long enough,
there's bound to be an opening."
Sure enough, but not exactly the opening any of them
One moment they were looking at a wall of solid stone
("Dwarvish make," remarked Dougan, admiringly) when it
changed to a wall of water, thundering down around them
out of nowhere, soaking them with its spray.
"We can get through this, I think!" Sturm cried above
the noise of the waterfall. "I can see through it! The castle's
on the other side!"
"Yes, and there's likely to be a chasm on the other side as
well!" Tanin returned.
"Wait," said Palin. "SHIRAK!" He spoke the magic
word to the staff and, instantly the faceted crystal globe on
top burst into light.
"Ah, I wish the chief had seen THAT!" said the dwarf
Palin thrust the staff into the water, simply with the idea
of being able to see something beyond it. To his
amazement, however, the water parted the instant the staff
touched it. Flowing down around the staff, it formed an
archway that it seemed they could walk through, safe and
"I'll be damned!" Tanin said in awe. "Did you know it
would do that, Little Brother?"
"No," Palin admitted shakily, wondering what other
powers Raistlin had invested into the staff.
"Well, thank Paladine it did," Sturm said, peering
through the hole in the water. "All safe over here," he
reported, stepping through. "In fact," he added as Palin and
Tanin and Dougan - with a wide-eyed gaze of longing at the
staff - followed. "It's a grass lawn!" Sturm said in wonder,
looking around in the gray gloom by the light of the staff.
Behind them, the water changed again, this time to a wall of
bamboo. Ahead of them stretched a long, smooth sward that
rose up a gentle slope, leading to the castle itself.
"Now it's grass, but its liable to change into a lava pit
any moment," Palin pointed out.
"You're right, Little Brother," Tanin grunted. "We better
run for it."
Run they did; Palin hiking up his white robes, the stout
dwarf huffing and puffing along about three steps behind.
Whether they truly made their destination before the sward
had time to change into something more sinister or whether
the sward was always a sward, they never knew. At any
rate, they reached the castle wall just as night's black
shadows closed in on them, and they were still standing on
smooth, soft grass.
"Now all we need," said Sturm, "is a way inside - " The
blank wall of gray marble that they had been facing
shimmered in the staffs light, and a small wooden door
appeared, complete with iron hinges and an iron lock.
Hurrying forward, Tanin tugged at the lock. "Bolted
fast," he reported.
"Just when a kender would come in handy," Sturm said
with a sigh.
"Kender! Bite your tongue!" Dougan muttered in
"Palin, try the staff," Tanin ordered, standing aside.
Hesitantly, Palin touched the brilliantly glowing crystal
of the staff to the lock. The lock not only gave way, but it
actually melted, forming a puddle of lead at Palin's feet.
"Lad," said the dwarf, swallowing, "your uncle must
have been a remarkable man. That's all I can SAY."
"I wonder what else it can do?" Palin muttered, staring at
the staff with a mixture of awe, pride, and frustration.
"We'll have to worry about that later! Inside," said
Tanin, yanking open the door. "Sturm, you go first. Palin
follow him. We'll use your staff for light. The dwarf and I'll
be right behind you."
They found themselves crowded together on a flight of
narrow, winding stairs that spiraled upward. Walls
surrounded them on all sides; they could see nothing save
the stairs vanishing into darkness.
"You realize," said Palin suddenly, "that the door will - "
Whirling around, he shone the light of the staff on a blank
"Disappear," finished Tanin grimly.
"There goes our way out!" Shuddering, Sturm looked
around. "These stairs could change! Any moment, we could
be encased in solid rock!"
"Keep moving!" ordered Tanin urgently.
Running up the steep stairs as fast as they could,
expecting to find themselves walking on anything from hot
coals to a swinging bridge, they climbed up and up until, at
last, the stout dwarf could go no farther.
"I've got to rest, lads," Dougan said, panting, leaning
against a stone wall that was, unaccountably, remaining a
"Nothing inside seems to be changing," Palin gasped,
weary himself from the unaccustomed exercise. He looked
with envy at his brothers. Their bronze-skinned, muscular
bodies gleamed in the staff's light. Neither was even
"Palin, shine the light up here!" Sturm ordered, peering
His legs aching so that he thought he could never move
them again, Palin forced himself to take another step,
shining the staff's light around a comer of the stairwell.
"There's a door!" Sturm said, in triumph. "We've reached
"I wonder what's beyond it," Tanin said darkly.
He was interrupted by, of all things, a giggle. "Why don't
you open it and find out?" called a laughing voice from the
other side of the door. "It's not locked."
The brothers looked at each other. Dougan frowned.
Palin forgot his aching body, forcing himself to concentrate
on his spell casting. Tanin's face tightened, his jaw muscles
clenched. Gripping his spear, he thrust his way past Dougan
and Palin to come stand beside Sturm.
Cautiously, both warriors put their hands on the door.
"One, two, three," Sturm counted in a whisper. On the
count of three, he and Tanin threw their combined weight
against the door, knocking it open and leaping through,
spears at the ready. Palin ran after them, his hands
extended, a spell of fire on his lips. Behind him, he could
hear the dwarf roaring in fury.
They were greeted with peals of merry laughter.
"Did you ever see," came the giggling voice, "such cute
The mist of battle rage clearing from his eyes, Palin
stared around blankly. He was surrounded, literally, by
what must have been hundreds of women. Beside him, he
heard Sturm's sharp intake of breath and he saw, dimly,
Tanin lower his spear in confusion. From somewhere on the
floor at his feet, he heard Dougan swearing, the dwarf
having tripped over the door-stoop in his charge and fallen
flat on his face. But Palin was too stunned, staring at his
captors, to pay any attention to him.
An incredibly gorgeous, dark-haired and dark-eyed
beauty approached Tanin. Putting her hand on his spear, she
gently pushed it to one side. Her eyes lingered
appreciatively on the young man's strong body, most of
which - due to the loincloth - was on exhibit.
"My, my," said the young woman in a sultry voice, "did
you know it was my birthday?"
More laughter sounded through the vast stone hall like
the chiming of many bells.
"Just - just stay back," Tanin ordered gruffly, raising his
spear and keeping the woman at bay.
"Well, of course," she said, raising her hands in mock
terror. "If that's what you REALLY want."
Tanin, his eyes on the dark-haired beauty, fell back a pace
to stand beside Palm. "Little Brother," he whispered, beads
of sweat on his upper lip and trickling down his forehead,
"are these women enchanted? Under some sort of spell?"
"N-no," stammered Palin, staring around him. "They . . .
they don't appear to be. I don't sense any kind of magic,
other than the force of the Graygem. It's much stronger
here, but that's because we're closer to it."
"Lads," said the dwarf urgently, scrambling to his feet
and thrusting himself between them, "we're in big trouble."
"We are?" Tanin asked dubiously, still holding the spear
in front of him and noticing that Sturm was doing likewise.
"Explain yourself, dwarf!" he growled. "What do you know
about these women? They certainly don't appear to be
prisoners! Are they banshees, vampires? What?"
"Worse," gasped the dwarf, mopping his face with his
beard, his eyes staring wildly at the laughing, pointing
females. "Lads, think! We're the first to enter this castle!
These women probably haven't seen a man in two years!"
Surrounded by hundreds of admiring women reaching
out to touch them and fondle them, the confused and
embarrassed "rescuers" were captured by kindness.
Laughing and teasing them, the women led the brothers
and the dwarf from the vast entry hall to a smaller room in
the castle, a room filled with silken wall hangings and
large, comfortable silk-covered couches. Before they knew
quite what was happening, the men were being shoved
down among the cushions by soft hands, the women
offering them wine, sumptuous food, and delicacies of all
sorts . . . ALL sorts.
"I think it's sweet, you coming all this way to rescue
us," purred one of the women, leaning against Sturm and
running her hand over his shoulder. Long blonde hair fell
down her bare arm. She wore it tucked behind one ear, held
back by a flower. Her gown, made of something gray and
filmy, left very little to the imagination.
"All in a day's work," said Sturm, smiling. "We're going
to be made Knights of Solamnia, you know," he added
conversationally. "Probably for doing this very deed."
"Really? Tell me more."
But the blonde wasn't the least bit interested in the
Knights. She wasn't even listening to Sturm, Palin realized,
watching his brother with growing irritation. The big
warrior was rambling on somewhat incoherently about the
Oath and the Measure, all the while fondling the silky
blonde hair and gazing into blue eyes.
Palin was ill-at-ease. The young mage felt a burning in his
blood, his head buzzed - not an unusual sensation around
such lovely, seductive females. He felt no desire for these
women, however. They were strangely repulsive to him. It
was the magic he sensed, bum-ing within him. He wanted
to concentrate on it, on his feeling of growing power.
Thrusting aside a doe-eyed beauty who was trying to feed
him grapes, Palin inched his way among the cushions to get
nearer Sturm. The big man was enjoying the attentions of
the attractive blonde to the fullest.
"Sturm, what are you doing? This could be a trap, an
ambush!" Palin said in an undertone.
"Lighten up for once, Little Brother," Sturm said mildly,
putting his arm around the blonde and drawing her close.
"Here, I'll put your mind at ease. Tell me," he said, kissing
the blonde's rosy lips, "is this an ambush?"
"Yes!" She giggled, wriggling closer. "You're under
attack, right now"
"There you are, Palin. No help for it. We're surrounded."
Sturm kissed the girl's neck. "I surrender," he said softly,
"Tanin?" Alarmed, Palin looked to his oldest brother for
help, and was relieved to see the serious young man getting
to his feet, despite all efforts of the dark-haired beauty to
drag him back down beside her. The dwarf, too, was doing
his best to escape.
"Get away! Leave me be, woman!" Dougan roared,
slapping at the hands of a lithesome girl. Struggling up
from among the cushions, the red-faced dwarf turned to
face the women.
"What about Lord Gargath? Where is he?" the dwarf
demanded. "Using you women to seduce us, then capture
us, no doubt?"
"Lord Gargath? Hardly!" The dark-haired beauty who had
been making much of Tanin laughed, as did the other
women in the room. Shrugging her lovely shoulders, she
glanced at the ceiling. "He's up there ... somewhere," she
said without interest, caressing Tanin's bare chest. The big
man shoved her away, glancing nervously about the room.
"For once you've made sense, dwarf. We better find this
Gargath before he finds us. Come on." Tanin took a step
toward a door at the end of the perfumed, candle-lit
chamber, but the dark-haired beauty caught hold of his
"Relax, warrior," she whispered. "You don't need to
worry about Lord Gargath. He won't bother you or
anybody." She ran her fingers admiringly through Tanin's
thick, red curls.
"I'll see for myself," Tanin returned, but he sounded less
"Very well, if you must." The woman sighed
languorously, nestling her body against Tanin's. "But it's a
waste of time - time that could be spent in much more
pleasant pursuits. The dried-up old wizards been our
prisoner now for two years."
"He's YOUR prisoner?" Tanin gaped.
"Well, yes," said in the blonde, looking up from
nibbling at Sturm's ear. "He was such a boring old thing.
Talking about pentagrams and wanting to know which of
us were virgins and asking a lot of other personal
questions. So we locked him in his old tower with his
stupid rock." She kissed Sturm's muscular shoulder.
"Then who's been taking the women hostage all these
months?" Palin demanded.
"Well, we did, of course," said the dark-haired beauty.
"You?" Palin said, stunned. He put his hand to his
forehead and noticed his skin felt abnormally hot. He was
dizzy, and his head ached. The room and everything in it
seemed to be just slightly out of focus.
"This is a wonderful life! " said the blonde, sitting back,
and teasingly rebuffing Sturm's attempts to pull her down.
"The Graygem provides all we need. We live in luxury.
There is no work, no cooking and mending - "
"No children screaming - "
"No husbands coming back from battle, bleeding and
dirty - "
"No washing clothes in the stream day after day - "
"No endless talks of war and bragging about great deeds
"We read books," said the dark-haired beauty. "The
wizard has many in his library. We became educated, and
we found out we didn't have to live that kind of life
anymore. We wanted our sisters and our mothers to share
our comfortable surroundings with us, so WE kept up the
ruse, demanding that hostages be brought to the castle until
all of us were here."
"Bless my beard!" exclaimed the dwarf in awe.
"All we lack are some nice men, to keep us from being
lonely at night," said the blonde, smiling at Sturm. "And
now that's been taken care of, thanks to the Graygem. . . ."
"I'm going to go find Lord Gargath," said Palin,
standing up abruptly. But he was so dizzy that he
staggered, scattering cushions over the floor. "Are the rest
of you coming?" he asked, fighting this strange weakness
and wondering why his brothers didn't seem afflicted.
"Yes," said Tanin, extricating himself with difficulty
from the dark-haired beauty's embrace.
"Count on me, lad," said Dougan grimly.
"Sturm?" said Palin.
"Just leave me here," said Sturm. "I'll act as ... rear
The women broke into merry laughter.
"Sturm!" Tanin repeated angrily.
Sturm waved his hand. "Go ahead, if you're so keen on
talking to some moldy old wizard, when you could be here,
Tanin opened his mouth again, his brows coming
together in anger. But Palin stopped him. "Leave this to
me," the young mage said with a twisted smile. Setting the
staff down carefully among the cushions, Palin lifted both
hands and held them out, pointing at Sturm. Then he began
"Hey! What are you doing? Stop!" Sturm gasped.
But Palin continued chanting and began raising his
hands. As he did so, Sturm's prone body rose into the air,
too, until soon the young man was floating a good six feet
off the floor.
"Wonderful trick! Show us some more!" called out the
Palin spoke again, snapped his fingers, and ropes
appeared out of nowhere, snaking up from the floor to
wrap themselves around Sturm's arms and legs. The
women squealed in glee, many of them transferring their
admiring gazes from the muscular Sturm - now bound hand
and foot - to the mage who could perform such feats.
"G-good trick, Palin. Now put me down!" Sturm said,
licking his lips and glancing beneath him nervously. There
was nothing between him and the floor but air.
Pleased with himself, Palin left Sturm in the air and
turned to Tanin. "Shall I bring him along?" he asked
casually, expecting to see Tanin regarding him with awe as
Instead, Palin found his older brother's brows furrowed
in concern. "Palin," said Tanin in a low voice, "how did you
"Magic, my dear brother," Palin said, thinking suddenly
how unaccountably stupid Tanin was.
"I know it was magic," Tanin said sharply. "And I admit
I don't know much about magic. But I do know that only a
powerful wizard could perform such a feat as that. NOT one
who just recently passed his Test!"
Looking back at the levitated Sturm hovering helplessly
in the air, Palin nodded. "You're right," he said proudly. "I
performed a high-level spell, without any assistance or aid!
Not even the Staff of Magius helped me!" Reaching out, he
took hold of the staff. The wood was cold to the touch, icy
cold, almost painful. Palin gasped, almost dropping it. But
then he noticed that the dizziness was easing. He felt his
skin grow cool, the buzzing in his head diminished. "My
magic!" he murmured. "The Graygem must be enhancing
it! I've only been here a short while, and look what I can
do! I have the power of an archmage. If I had the gem, I'd
be as strong as my uncle!" Palin whispered to himself.
"Maybe stronger!" His eyes glistened, his body began to
tremble. "I'd use my power for Good, of course. I would
seize the Tower at Palanthas from Dalamar and cleanse it of
its evil. I would lift the curse from the Shoikan Grove, enter
my uncle's laboratory." Thoughts and visions of the future
came to him in a swirl of wild colors, so real and vivid he
literally reeled at the sight.
Strong hands held him. Blinking, clearing the mist from
his eyes, Palin looked down to see himself reflected in the
bright, dark, cunning eyes of the dwarf. "Steady, laddie,"
said Dougan, "you're flying high, too high for one whose
wings have just sprouted."
"Leave me alone!" Palin cried, pulling away from the
dwarf's grip. "You want the gem yourself!"
"Aye, laddie," said Dougan softly, stroking his black beard.
"And I have a right to it. I'm the ONLY one who has a right
to it, in fact!"
"Might makes right, dwarf," Palin said with a sneer.
Picking up his staff, he started to walk toward the door.
"Coming?" he asked Tanin coldly, "or must I bring you
along as I'm carrying that great oaf!" Gesturing toward
Sturm, he drew the young man toward him with a motion
of his hand. Twisting his head, Sturm gazed back at Tanin
in fear and alarm as he drifted through the air.
"Oh, no! Don't leave! Do some more tricks!" cried the
women in dismay.
"Stop, young mage!" Dougan cried. "You're falling
under the spell!"
"Palin!" Tanin's quiet voice cut through the buzzing in
his brother's head and the laughter of the women and the
shouts of the dwarf. "Don't listen to Dougan or me or
anyone for a moment. Just listen to yourself."
"And what's THAT supposed to mean, my brother?"
Palin scoffed. "Something wise that suddenly struck you?
Did a brain finally make an appearance through all that
He leered mockingly at Tanin, expecting - no, HOPING
that his brother would become angry and try to stop him.
Then I'll REALLY show him a trick or two! Palin thought.
Just like my uncle showed my father . . .
But Tanin just stood there, regarding him gravely. "I - I
- Name of the gods!" Palin faltered, putting his hand to his
head. His cruel words came back to him. "Tanin, I'm sorry!
I don't know what's come over me." Turning, he saw
Sturm, hanging helplessly in the air. "Sturm!" Palin
snapped his fingers. "I'm sorry! I'll let you go - "
"Palin, don't - !" Sturm began wildly, but it was too late.
The spell broken, the young man fell to the floor with a
yell and a crash, to be instantly surrounded by cooing and
clucking women. It was a few moments before Sturm made
his appearance again, his red hair tousled, his face flushed.
Getting to his feet, he pushed the women aside and limped
toward his brothers.
"I was wrong," Palin said, shivering. "I understand now.
These women ARE being held in thrall. ..."
"Aye, lad," said Dougan. "Just as you were yourself. It's
the power of the Graygem, trying to take hold of you,
exploiting your weaknesses as it did theirs - "
" - by giving us what we want," Palin finished
"That's what we'll turn into, the longer we stay here,"
Tanin added. "Slaves of the Graygem. Don't you see, these
women are guarding it just as effectively INSIDE this castle
as their men are OUTSIDE. That's why nothing changes in
here. The Graygem's keeping it stable for them!"
The women began sidling nearer, reaching out their
hands once more. "How boring . . . Don't go .. . Don't leave
us ... Stupid rock . . ."
"Well, let's go find this Lord Gargath then," Sturm
muttered, shamefaced. Try as he might, his gaze still
strayed toward the blonde, who was blowing kisses at him.
"Take your spears," said Tanin, shoving aside the soft
hands that were clinging to him. "These women might or
might not be telling us the truth. That old wizard could be
laughing at us right now."
"They said he was 'up there.' " Palin gazed at the ceiling.
"But where? How do we get there?"
"Uh, I believe I know the way, laddie," Dougan said.
"Just a hunch, mind you," he added hastily, seeing Tanin's
dark look. "That door, there, leads upstairs . . . I think. . . ."
"Humpf," Tanin growled, but went to investigate the
door, his brothers and the dwarf following behind.
"What did you mean, YOU'RE the only one who has a
right to the Graygem?" Palin asked Dougan in an
"Did I say that?" The dwarf looked at him shrewdly.
"Must have been the gem talking. . . ." "Oh, please don't
go!" cried the women. "Never mind. They'll be coming
back soon," predicted the dark-haired beauty.
"And when you do come back, maybe you can show us
some more of those cute magic tricks," called the blonde to
Dougan was right. The door led to another flight of
narrow stairs carved out of the stone walls of the castle. It
was pitch dark; their only light was the burning crystal atop
the Staff of Magius. After another leg-aching climb, they
came to a large wooden door.
"Would you look at that!" Sturm said, stunned.
"What in the name of the Abyss is it?" Tanin muttered.
IT was a fantastic mechanism, sitting on the door-stoop
in front of the door. Barely visible in the shadows, it was
made of iron and had all sorts of iron arms and gears and
rope pulleys and winches extending from the stone floor up
to the ceiling.
"Hold the light closer, Palin," Tanin said, stooping
down beside it. "There's something in the center,
surrounded by a bunch of ... mirrors."
Cautiously, Palin held the light down near the device
and the room was suddenly illuminated as if by a hundred
suns. Tanin shrieked and covered his eyes with his hands.
"I can't see a thing!" he cried, staggering back against the
wall. "Move the staff! Move the staff!"
"It's a sundial!" Palin reported, holding the staff back
and staring at the device in astonishment. "Surrounded by
mirrors . . ."
"Ah," said Dougan triumphantly, "a gnome time-lock."
"Aye, lad. You wait until the dial casts the shadow of
the sun on the correct time, and the lock will open."
"But," pointed out Palin in confusion, "the way the mirrors
are fixed, there could never be a shadow! It's always noon."
"Not to mention," added Tanin bitterly, rubbing his
eyes, "that this place is pitch dark. There're no windows!
How's the sun supposed to hit it?"
"Small design flaws," said Sturm sarcastically. "I'm sure
it's in committee - "
"Meanwhile, how do we open the door?" Tanin asked,
slumping back wearily against the wall.
"Too bad Tas isn't here," said Palin, with a smile.
"Tas?" Dougan scowled, whirling around. "You don't
mean Tasslehoff Burrfoot? The kender?"
"Yes, do you know him?"
"No," the dwarf growled, "but a friend of mine does.
This crazy dwarf under a tree near my for - near where I
work, day in, day out, whittling his endless wood and
muttering 'doorknob of a kender this' and 'doorknob of a
kender that.' "
"A friend?" Palin said, mystified. "Why that sounds like
a story our father told about Flint - "
"Never you mind!" Dougan snapped irritably. "And quit
talking about kender! We're in enough trouble as it is.
Brrrrr." He shivered. "Makes my skin crawl . . ."
The faintest glimmering of understanding lit the
confused darkness of Palin's mind. Dimly he began to see
the truth. But though the light shone on his thoughts, they
were such a confused jumble that he couldn't sort them put
or even decide whether he should feel relieved or more
"Maybe we could break the mirrors," Tanin suggested,
blinking in the darkness, trying to see beyond the sea of
bright blue spots that filled his vision.
"I wouldn't," Dougan warned. "The thing's likely to
"You mean it's trapped?" Sturm asked nervously,
"No!" Dougan snapped irritably. "I mean it's made by
gnomes. It's likely to blow up."
"If it did" - Tanin scratched his chin thoughtfully - "it
would probably blow a hole in the door."
"And us with it," Palin pointed out.
"Just you, Little Brother," Sturm said helpfully. "We'll
be down at the bottom of the stairs."
"We have to try, Palin," Tanin decided. "We have no
idea how long before the power of the Graygem takes hold
of us again. It probably won't be a big explosion," he added
soothingly. "It isn't a very big device, after all."
"No, it just takes up the whole door. Oh, very well,"
Palin grumbled. "Stand back."
The warning was unnecessary. Dougan was already
clambering down the stairs, Sturm behind him. Tanin
rounded the comer of the wall, but stopped where he could
Edging up cautiously on the device, Palin raised the end
of the staff over the first mirror, averting his face and
shutting his eyes as he did so. At that moment, however, a
voice came from the other side of the door.
"I believe all you have to do is turn the handle."
Palin arrested his downward jab. "Who said that?" he
shouted, backing up.
"Me," called the voice again in meek tones. "Just turn
"You mean, the door's not locked?" Palin asked in
"Nobody's perfect," said the voice defensively.
Gingerly, Palin reached out his hand and, after removing
several connecting arms and undoing a rope or two of the
gnome timelock that was not locked, he turned the door
handle. There was a click, and the door swung open on
Entering the chamber with some difficulty, his robes
having caught on a gear, Palin looked around in awe.
He was in a room shaped like a cone - round at the
bottom, it came to a point at the ceiling. The chamber was
lit by oil lamps, placed at intervals around the circular floor,
their flickering flames illuminating the room brightly as
day. Tanin was about to step through the door past Palin,
when his brother stopped him.
"Wait!" Palin cautioned, catching hold of Tanin's arm.
"Look! On the floor!"
"Well, what is it?" Tanin asked. "Some sort of design - "
"It's a pentagram, a magic symbol," Palin said softly.
"Don't step within the circle of the lamps!"
"What's it there for?" Sturm peered over Tanin's broad
shoulders, while Dougan jumped up and down in back,
trying to see.
"I think ... Yes!" Palin stared up into the very top of the
ceiling. "It's holding the Graygem! Look!" He pointed.
Everyone tilted back their heads, staring upward, except
the dwarf, who was cursing loudly about not being able to
see. Dropping down to his hands and knees, Dougan finally
managed to thrust his head in between Tanin's and Sturm's
legs and peered up, his beard trailing on the polished stone
"Aye, laddie," he said with a longing sigh. "That's it!
The Graygem of Gargath!"
Hovering in the air, below the very point of the cone,
was a gray-colored jewel. Its shape was impossible to
distinguish, as was it size, for it changed as they stared at it
- first it was round and as big as a man's fist; then it was a
prism as large as a man himself; then it was a cube, no
bigger than a lady's bauble;
then round again. . . . The jewel had been dark when they
entered the room, not even reflecting the light from the
lamps below. But now a soft gray light of its own began to
beam from it.
Palm felt the magic tingle through him. Words to spells
of unbelievable power flooded his mind. His uncle had
been a weakling compared to him! He would rule the
world, the heavens, the Abyss -
"Steady, Little Brother," came a distant voice.
"Hold onto me, Tanin!" Palin gasped, reaching out his
hand to his brother. "Help me fight it!"
"It's no use," came the voice they had heard through the
door, this time sounding sad and resigned. "You can't fight
it. It will consume you in the end, as it did me."
Wrenching his gaze from the gray light that was fast
dazzling him with its brilliance, Palin stared around the
conical room. Across from where he stood was a tall, high-
backed chair placed against a tapestry-adorned wall. The
chair's back was carved with various runes and magical
inscriptions, designed - apparently - to protect the mage
who sat there from whatever beings he summoned forth to
do his bidding. The voice seemed to be coming from the
direction of the chair, but Palin could not see anyone sitting
Then, "Paladine have mercy!" the young man cried in
"Too late, too late," squeaked the voice. "Yes, I am Lord
Gargath. The wretched Lord Gargath! Welcome to my
Seated upon the chair's soft cushion, making a graceful -
if despairing - gesture with its paw, was a hedgehog.
"You may come closer," said Lord Gargath, smoothing
his whiskers with a trembling paw. "Just don't step in the
circle, as you said, young mage."
Keeping carefully outside the boundaries of the flickering
oil lamps, the brothers and Dougan edged their way along
the wall. Above them, the Graygem gleamed softly, its light
growing ever brighter.
"Lord Gargath," Palin began hesitantly, approaching the
hedgehog's chair. Suddenly, he cried out in alarm and
stumbled backward, bumping into Tanin.
"Sturm, to my side!" Tanin shouted, pushing Palin
behind him and raising the spear.
The chair had vanished completely beneath the bulk of
a gigantic black dragon! The creature stared at them with
red, fiery eyes, its great wings spanning the length of the
wall, its tail lashing the floor with a tremendous thud.
When the dragon spoke, though, its voice held the same
sorrow as had the hedgehog's.
"You're frightened," said the dragon sadly. "Thank you
for the compliment, but you needn't be. By the time I could
attack you, I'd probably be a mouse or a cockroach."
"Ah, there! You see how it is," continued Lord Gargath
in the form of a lovely young maiden, who put her head in
her hands and wept dismally. "I'm constantly changing,
constantly shifting. I never know from one moment to the
next," snarled a ferocious minotaur, snorting in anger,
"what I'm going to be."
"The Graygem has done this to you?"
"Yessssss," hissed a snake, coiling around upon itself on
the cushion in agony. "Once I wasssss a wizzzzard like you,
young one. Once I wassss . . . powerful and wealthy. This
island and its people were mine," continued a dapper young
man, setting in the chair, a cold drink in his hand. "Care for
some? Tropical fruit punch. Not bad, I assure you. Where
"The Graygem," Palin ventured. His brothers could only
stare in silence.
"Ah, yes," burbled a toad unhappily. "My great-great-great
- well, you get the picture - grandfather followed the damn
thing, centuries ago, in hopes of retrieving it. He did, for a
time. But his power failed as he grew old, and the Graygem
escaped. I don't know where it went, spreading chaos
throughout the world. But I always knew that . . . someday
... it would come within my grasp. And I'd be ready for it!"
A rabbit, sitting up on its hind feet, clenched its paw with a
stem look of resolve.
"Long years I study," said a gully dwarf, holding up a
grubby hand. "Two years. I think two years." The gully
dwarf frowned. "I make pretty design on floor. I wait. Two
years. Not more than two. Big rock come! I catch . . .
"And I'd trapped the Graygem!" shrieked an old,
wizened man with a wild cackle. "It couldn't escape me! At
last, all the magic in the world would be mine, at my
fingertips! And so it was, so it was," squeaked a red-eyed
rat, chewing nervously on its tail. "I could have anything I
wanted. I demanded ten maidens - Well, I was lonely,"
said a spider, curling its legs defensively. "You don't get a
chance to meet nice girls when you're an evil mage, you
"And the Graygem took control of the women!" said
Palin, growing dizzy again, watching the transformations
of the wizard. "And used them against you."
"Yes," whinnied a horse, pacing back and forth
restlessly in front of the chair. "It educated them and gave
them this palace. My palace! It gives them everything!
They never have to work. Food appears when they're
hungry. Wine, whatever they want ... All they do is lounge
around all day, reading elven poetry and arguing
philosophy. God, I HATE elven poetry!" groaned a middle-
aged bald man. "I tried to talk to them, told them to make
something of their lives! And what did they do? They shut
me in here, with that!" He gestured helplessly at the stone.
"But the women are getting restless," Palin said, his
thoughts suddenly falling into order.
"One can only take so much elven poetry," remarked a
walrus, gloomily waving its flippers. "They want diversion
"Men . . . and NOT their husbands. No, that wouldn't
suit the Graygem at all. It needs the warriors to guard the
gem from the outside while the women guard it from inside.
So, to keep the women happy, it brought - "
"Us!" said Tanin, rounding upon the dwarf in fury.
"Now, don't be hasty," Dougan said with a cunning grin.
He glanced at Palin out of the corner of his eye. "You're
very clever, laddie. You take after your uncle, yes, you do.
Who was the gem guarding itself from, if you're so smart?
What would it have to fear?"
"The one person who'd been searching for it for
thousands and thousands of years," said Palin softly.
Everything was suddenly very, very clear. "The one who
made it and gambled it away. It has hidden from you, all
these centuries, staying in one place until you got too close,
then disappearing again. But now it is trapped by the
wizard. No matter what it does, it can't escape. So it set
these guards around itself. But you knew the women were
unhappy. You knew the Graygem HAD to allow them to
have what they wanted - "
"Good-looking men. They'd let no one else in the
castle," said Dougan, twirling his moustache. "And, if I do
say so myself, we fill the bill," he added proudly.
"But who is he?" said Sturm, staring from Palin to the
dwarf in confusion. "NOT Dougan Redhammer, I gather - "
"I know! I know!" shouted Lord Gargath, now a kender,
who was jumping on the cushion of the chair. "Let me tell!
Let me tell!" Leaping down, the kender ran over to embrace
"Great Reorx!" roared Dougan, clutching his empty money
"You told!" The kender pouted.
"My god!" whispered Tanin.
"That about sums it up," Palin remarked.
"Yes!" roared Dougan Redhammer in a thunderous
voice. "I am Reorx, the Forger of the World, and I have
come back to claim what is mine!"
Suddenly aware of the presence of the god, aware, now,
of the danger it was in, the Graygem flared with brilliant
gray light. Trapped by the magic of the wizard's symbol on
the floor, it could not move, but it began to spin frantically,
changing shape so fast that it was nothing more than a blur
of motion to the eye.
The aspect of the wizard changed too. Once again, the
black dragon burst into being, its great body obliterating the
chair, its vast wingspan filling the cone-shaped room.
Palin glanced at it without interest, being much more
absorbed in his own internal struggles. The Graygem was
exerting all its energy, trying to protect itself. It was
offering Palin anything, everything he wanted. Images
flashed into his head. He saw himself as Head of the Order
of White Robes, he saw himself ruling the Conclave of
Wizards. HE was driving the evil dragons back into the
Abyss! HE was doing battle with the Dark Queen. All he
had to do was kill the dwarf. . . .
Kill a god? he asked in disbelief.
I will grant you the power! the Graygem answered.
Looking around, Palin saw Sturm's body bathed in
sweat, his eyes wild, his fists clenched. Even Tanin, so
strong and unbending, was staring straight ahead, his skin
pale, his lips tight, seeing some vision of glory visible only
Dougan stood in the center of the pentagram, watching
them, not saying a word.
Palin held fast to the staff, nearly sobbing in his
torment. Pressing his cheek against the cool wood, he heard
words forming in his mind. ALL MY LIFE, I WAS MY OWN
PERSON. THE CHOICES I MADE, I MADE OF MY OWN
FREE WILL. I WAS NEVER HELD IN THRALL BY
ANYONE OR ANYTHING; NOT EVEN THE QUEEN OF
DARKNESS HERSELF! BOW TO OTHERS IN
REVERENCE AND RESPECT, BUT NEVER IN SLAVERY,
Palin blinked, looking around as though awaking from a
daze. He wasn't conscious of having heard the words, but
they were in his heart, and he had the strength now to know
their worth. NO! he was able to tell the Graygem firmly,
and it was then that he realized the black dragon behind him
was undergoing similar torture.
"But I don't WANT to flay the skin from their bones!"
the dragon whimpered. "Well, yes, I wouldn't mind having
my island back the way it was. And ten maidens who would
act like maidens and not turn into poets."
Looking at the dragon in alarm, Palin saw its red eyes
gleaming feverishly. Acid dripped from its forked tongue,
burning holes in the polished floor; its claws glistened.
Spreading its wings, the dragon lifted itself into the air.
"Tanin! Sturm!" Palin cried, grasping hold of the
nearest brother and shaking him. It was Tanin. Slowly the
big man turned his eyes to his little brother, but there was
no recognition in them.
"Help me, wizard!" Tanin hissed at him. "Help me slay
the dwarf! I'll be the leader of armies. . . ."
"Dougan!" Palin ran to the dwarf. "Do something!" the
young mage shouted wildly, waving his arms at the dragon.
"I am, laddie, I am," said Dougan calmly, his eyes on
Palin could see the black dragon's eyes watching him
hungrily. The black wings twitched.
I'll cast a sleep spell, Palin decided in desperation,
reaching into his pouches for sand. But as he drew it forth a
horrible realization came to him. His fingers went limp, the
sand trickled from them, spilling down upon the floor.
His magic was gone!
"No, please, no!" Palin moaned, looking up at the
Graygem, which appeared to sparkle with a chaotic
The wooden door to the room burst open, banging
against the wall.
"We have come as you commanded us, Graygem!"
cried a voice.
It was the voice of the dark-haired beauty. Behind her
was the blonde, and behind them all the rest of the women,
young and old alike. But gone were the diaphanous gowns
and seductive smiles. The women were dressed in tiger
skins. Feathers were tied in their hair, and they carried
stone-tipped spears in their hands.
And now Tanin's voice rang out loudly as a trumpet call,
"My troops! To my side! Rally round!" Raising his arm, he
gave a battle cry and the women answered with a wild
"Bring me wine!" cried Sturm, executing an impromptu
dance. "Let the revelries begin!"
The blonde's eyes were on him and they burned with
lust. Unfortunately, it was lust of the wrong kind. She
raised her spear, her eyes looking to her leader - Tanin - for
the order to attack.
"You promise me?" said the black dragon eagerly, its
forked tongue flicking in and out of its dripping mouth. "No
more gully dwarves? I didn't mind the rest so much, but I
WON'T be changed into a gully dwarf again!"
"The world's gone mad!" Palin slumped back against the
wall. He felt his strength and his sanity draining from him
as the sand fell from his nerveless fingers. The chaos
around him and the loss of his magic had overthrown his
mind. He stared at the Staff of Magius and saw nothing
more than a stick of wood, topped by a glistening bauble.
He heard his brothers - one dispersing his troops for battle,
the other calling for the pipers to strike up another tune. He
heard the dragon's great wings creak and the intake of
breath that would be released in a stream of acid. Shutting
his eyes, Palin cast the useless staff away from him and
turned his face to the wall.
"Halt!" thundered a voice. "Halt, I command you!"
Chaos whirled wildly an instant longer, then it slowed
and finally wound down until all was silence and stillness
in the room where before had been a blur of noise and
motion. Raising his head, Palin looked fearfully around.
Dougan stood on the pentagram in the center of the room,
his black beard bristling in anger. Raising his arm, he cried
out, "REORX DRACH KALAHZAR!" and a gigantic
warhammer materialized in the dwarf's hand. The huge
hammer glowed with a fierce red light that was reflected in
Dougan's dark, bright eyes.
"Yes!" shouted the dwarf, staring up at the flaring
Graygem. "I know your power! None better! After all, you
are my creation! You can keep this chaos going eternally,
and you know that I cannot stop you. But you are trapped
eternally yourself! You will never be free!"
The Graygem's light flickered at instant, as though
considering Dougan's words. Then it began to pulse,
brighter than before, and Palin's heart sank in despair.
"Wait!" Dougan cried, raising one hand, the other
grasping the handle of the burning red warhammer. "I
say we leave everything up to chance. I offer you ... a
The Graygem appeared to consider, its light pulsed
more slowly, thoughtfully.
"A wager?" the women murmured, lowering their
"A wager," said the dragon in pleased tones, settling
back down to the floor once more.
"A wager!" Palin muttered, wiping his sleeve across his
sweating brow. "My god, that's what started all this!"
"We agree to it, " said the dark-haired beauty, striding
forward, the shaft of her spear thumping against the floor
as she walked. "What will be the stakes?"
Dougan stroked his beard. "These young men," he said
finally, pointing at Tanin, Sturm, and Palin, "for
yourselves. Freedom for the Graygem."
"What?" Both Tanin and Sturm came back to reality,
staring around the room as though seeing it for the first
"You can't do this to us, dwarf!" Tanin shouted, lunging
forward, but two of the larger and stronger women caught
him and, with strength given them by the brightly burning
Graygem, bound the struggling man's arms behind him.
Two more took care of Sturm. No one bothered with Palin.
"If I lose the wager," Dougan continued imperturbably,
"these young men will stay with you as your slaves. I'll
break the magic spell that holds the gem trapped here, and
it will be free once more to roam the world. If I win, the
Graygem is mine and these men will be released."
"We agree to the stakes," said the dark-haired beauty,
after a glance at the Graygem. "And now what is the
Dougan appeared to consider, twirling his moustaches
round and round his finger. His gaze happened to rest on
Palin, and he grinned. "That this young man" - he pointed at
the mage - "will throw my hammer in the air and it will
hang suspended, never falling
to the floor."
Everyone stared at the dwarf in silence, considering.
What was the angle?
Then, "No! Dougan!" Palin cried frantically, pushing
himself away from the wall. One of the women shoved him
"This young man?" The dark-haired beauty suddenly
caught on. "But he is a magic-user - "
"Only a very young one," Dougan said hastily. "And he
won't use his magic, will you, Palin?" the dwarf asked,
winking at the young mage when the women weren't
"Dougan!" Palin wrenched himself free from the
woman's grasp and lurched across the floor, his knees so
weak he could barely walk. "I can't! My magic - "
"Never say 'can't,' laddie," Dougan said severely. "Didn't
your uncle teach you anything?" Once again, he winked at
It seemed the dark-haired beauty suddenly realized
Palin's weakness, for she glanced about at her fellows and
smiled in pleased fashion. "We accept your wager," she
"Dougan!" Palin said desperately, grabbing hold of the
dwarf, who was looking up at him with a sly grin.
"Dougan! I CAN'T use my magic! I don't have any! The
Graygem drained it!" he whispered urgently in the dwarf's
Dougan's face crumpled. "You don't say now, laddie,"
he muttered, glancing at the women and rubbing his
bearded chin. "That's a shame," he said sadly, shaking his
head. "A real shame. Are you sure?"
"Of course, I'm sure!" Palin snapped.
"Well, give it your best shot, lad!" the dwarf said,
clapping Palin on the arm with his hand. "Here you go!"
He thrust the handle of the warhammer into Palin's hands.
Feeling the unfamiliar touch, the hammer's red glow faded,
turning an ugly, lead gray.
Palin looked around helplessly at his brothers. Tanin
regarded him gravely, his expression grim. Sturm averted
his head, his big shoulders heaving in a sigh.
Swallowing, licking his dry lips, Palin wrapped his
hands around the handle of the hammer, uncertain, even,
how to hold the weapon. He tried to lift it. A groan escaped
his lips - a groan echoed by his brothers.
"By Paladine!" Palin gasped. "I can barely move this
thing, Dougan! How can I throw it?" Leaning closer,
staring into the dwarf's eyes, the young man murmured,
"You're a god ... I don't suppose . . ."
"Of course not, laddie!" The dwarf looked shocked. "It's
a matter of honor! You understand . . ."
"Sure," Palin grunted bitterly.
"Look, lad," Dougan said, positioning Palin's hands.
"It's not that difficult. You just hold the hammer like this . .
. there . . . Now, you pick it up and began spinning round
and round in a circle. Your momentum will help you lift
the hammer and, when you're going good, just give it a
heave, like so. Nature will do the rest."
"Nature?" Palin appeared dubious.
"Yes" answered the dwarf gravely, smoothing his
beard. "It's called Centrifug's Force or some such thing.
The gnomes explained it to me."
"Great!" Palin muttered. "Gnomes!"
Drawing a deep breath, the young man lifted the hammer.
A groan of pain escaped his lips, sweat stood out on his
forehead from the strain, and he heard several of the women
giggle. Gritting his teeth, certain that he had ruptured
something inside him, Palin began to turn in a circle, the
hammer in his hands. He was startled to notice that Dougan
was right. The momentum of his motion made the hammer
seem lighter. He was able to lift it higher and higher. But
the handle began to slip in his sweaty palms. . . .
"He's losing it! Get down! Everyone!" Tanin called out,
falling flat on his face. There was a clattering of spears as
the women followed suit. Even the black dragon - seeing
Palin spinning about in the center of the room, out of
control, the hammer starting to glow a fiery red - crouched
on the floor with a whimper, attempting to fold its wings
over its head. Only the dwarf remained standing, his face
split in a broad grin.
"I... can't . . . hold . . . it!" Palin cried and, with a gasp,
he let the hammer fly.
The young mage fell to his knees, in too much pain and
exhaustion to even bother looking to see what happened.
But everyone else in the room, lying flat on the floor, raised
their heads to watch the hammer. Round and round it
whizzed, flying over the heads of the women, buzzing over
Tanin and Sturm, whisking past the cowering dragon.
Round and round it flew and, as it flew, it began to rise into
the air. Dougan watched it placidly, his hands laced across
his great belly.
Glowing now a fiery red, the hammer circled higher and
higher and, as it rose, the Graygem's light began to waver in
sudden fear. The hammer was aiming straight for it!
"Yes, my beauty," murmured Dougan, watching the
hammer in satisfaction. "You forged it. Now, bring it
Desperately the Graygem sought to dim its light,
realizing, perhaps, that it was its own power that was
drawing the hammer to it. But it was too late. The hammer
flew to the Graygem it had helped create as a lass flies to
her lover's arms. There was a shattering sound and a
blinding flare of red and gray light, so brilliant that even
Dougan was forced to shade his eyes, and no one else could
see anything for the dazzling radiance.
The two energies seemed to strive together, the red light
and the gray, and then the gray began to dim. Peering
upward, tears streaming from his eyes in the bright light,
Palin thought he caught a glimpse of a gray, sparkling
jewel tumbling from the air to land in Dougan's hand. But
he couldn't be certain because, at that moment, the red
glowing hammer fell from the air as well, plummeting
straight down on top of them!
Clasping his aching arms over his head, Palin hugged
the floor, visions of his head being split open and his brains
splattering everywhere coming to him with vivid clarity.
He heard a resounding clang.
Timidly raising his head, he saw the hammer, glowing
red in triumph, lying on the floor at Dougan's feet.
Slowly, trembling, Palin stood up, as did everyone else
in the room. He was hurting and exhausted; Tanin had to
come help him or he would have collapsed. But Palin
smiled up at him as his big brother clasped him in his arms.
"My magic's returned!" he whispered. "It's back!"
"I'm back, too," said a voice. Glancing around, Palin saw
the dragon was gone. In its place, crouched on the floor, his
hands over his head, was a thin, middle-aged wizard
dressed in black robes. The wizard sat up, staring around
him as if he couldn't believe it. "I'm back!" he cried out
joyfully, patting his head and his neck and his shoulders
with his hands. "No rabbit ears! No dragon's breath! No
minotaur muscles! I'm me again!" He burst into tears.
"And you lost the bet, dwarf!" the dark-haired beauty
cried out suddenly, getting to her feet. "The hammer fell!"
"Yes!" shouted the women. "You lost the bet! The men
"Dougan . . ." growled Tanin ominously.
The women were closing in on them, eyes burning with
the fire of love instead of the fire of battle.
Dougan raised the hammer above his head. His face was
stem, his black eyes flashed as red as the glowing hammer.
The voice that spoke was no longer the voice of the dwarf
with the flashy clothes, but a voice as ancient as the
mountains it had carved, as deep as the oceans it had
"Women!" the god called out in stem tones. "Listen to
me! The power of the Graygem over you is broken.
Remember now your children and your husbands.
Remember your brothers and your fathers! Remember your
homes and those who love you and need you!"
One by one, the women looked around in dazed fashion,