LOVE and WAR
Edited by MARGARET WEIS AND TRACY HICKMAN
featuring "Raistlin's Daughter" by Margaret
Weis and Dezra Despain
in association with TSR, Inc.
Fitting it is that the many years of creative work on
the DRAGONLANCER saga should come to a provisory
culmination with this collection of short stories, the most
pleasing and powerful yet. Some of the writers represented
in this volume are veterans of TALES 1 and 2, and certain of
them will continue to write about the world of Krynn in an
exciting series of DRAGONLANCE novels in the
"A Good Knights Tale" by Harold Bakst suitably begins
this volume that has love and war as its theme. Told by a
Knight of Solamnia, it is a tale that involves both love and
war - the warring of passions of a selfish father's heart.
Love is painted in a more tender aspect in "A Painter's
Vision," by Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel, but then what
can you expect when a dragon gets himself involved?
The story of love as sacrifice is recounted, along with
the tale of the undead who haunt Darken Wood, in another
of Nick O'Donohoe's revisionist interpretations of a portion
of DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT.
"Hide and Go Seek" by Nancy Berberick is the story of
the love friends bear each other as Tasslehoff risks his life
to save that of a kidnapped child.
"By the Measure" recounts the courage of a Knight of
Solamnia fighting impossible odds. Written by Richard A.
Knaak, this is the haunting story of a young knight's
courage and devotion to his Order.
The adventures of a very young Sturm are recorded in
"The Exiles" by Paul Thompson and Tonya Carter. The boy
learns his first lessons in courage, facing an evil cleric of
the Dark Queen.
A lighter moment is presented in "Heart of Goldmoon" by
Laura Hickman and Kate Novak. A tale of romance and
adventure, it tells of the first meeting of Riverwind and
Goldmoon and how the Que-shu princess came to learn of
the existence of the true gods.
Continuing in the romantic vein, "Raistlin's Daughter"
written by myself and Dezra Despain, relays a strange
legend currently circulating in Krynn. It will end, for the
time being, the DRAGONLANCER saga with - what else -
a question mark.
"Silver and Steel" is the legend of Huma's final battle
with the Dark Queen. There are many such legends about
the valor of Huma, but this one, written by Kevin Randle, is
a gritty, moving account of war that will not soon be
It is fitting that the book end with "From the Yearning
for War and War's End," Michael Williams's poignant
reminder for us all that war - though sometimes sadly
necessary - is a destroyer of both love and of life.
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
A Good Knight's Tale
In those chaotic years just after the Cataclysm, when
the frightened citizens of Xak Tsaroth were fleeing their
beloved but decimated city, there was among them a certain
half-elf by the name of Aril Witherwind, who, while others
sought only refuge, took to roaming the countryside,
carrying upon his bent back a huge, black tome.
Even without his peculiar burden, which he held by a
leather strap thrown across one shoulder, Aril Witherwind
was, as far as half-elves went, a strange one. Though he was
properly tall and willowy, and he had the fair hair, pale
skin, and blue eyes typical of his kind, he seemed not at all
interested in his appearance and had, indeed, a slovenliness
about him: His shoes were often unbuckled, his shirt hung
out of his pants, and his hair was usually in a tangle. He
often went days without shaving so that fine, blond hairs
covered his jaw like down. In addition to everything else, he
wore thick, metal-rimmed eyeglasses.
All this, though, had a simple enough explanation:
Aril Witherwind was, by his own definition, an academic.
More particularly, he was one of the many itinerant
folklorists who appeared on Krynn just after the Cataclysm.
"The Cataclysm threatens to extinguish our rich past,"
he would explain in his gentle but enthusiastic voice to
whoever gave him a moment of time. "And if peace should
ever again come to Krynn, we will want to know something
of our traditions before everything was destroyed."
"But this is not the time to do it!" often came the curt
response from some fleeing traveler, sometimes with
everything he owned in a wagon or in a dogcart or even
upon his own back, his family often in tow.
"Ah, but this is exactly the time to do it," returned Aril
Witherwind automatically, "before too much is forgotten by
the current sweep of events."
"Well, good luck to you, then!" would as likely be the
answer as the party hurried off to some hopefully safer
comer of Krynn.
Undaunted, Aril Witherwind criss-crossed the
countryside, traversing shadowy valleys, sun-lit fields, and
sombre forests. He stopped at the occasional surviving inn,
passed through refugee encampments, and even marched
along with armies, all the time asking whomever he met if
he or she knew a story that he could put into his big black
In time, it became clear to Aril that he usually had the
best luck with the older folks - indeed, the older the better.
These grayhairs were not only the most likely to remember
a story or two, but they were the ones most likely to be
interested in relating it. Perhaps it was because they
welcomed the opportunity to slow down and reminisce
awhile. Or perhaps it was because they had not much of a
future to give to Krynn, only their pasts.
In any case, Aril Witherwind soon learned to seek them
out almost exclusively, and his book slowly began to fill
with stories from before the Cataclysm, when Krynn had
been in what he considered its Golden Age.
He gave each story an appropriate title, and then he
gave due credit to the source by adding: ". . . as told by
Henrik Hellendale, a dwarven baker" or ". . . as told by
Verial Stargazer, an elven shepherd" or "... as told by Frick
Ashfell, a human woodchopper" and so forth.
People often asked Aril what his favorite story was,
but, with the professional objectivity proper to an academic,
he'd say only, "I like them all."
But, really, if you could read his mind, there was a
favorite, and that was one ". . . as told by Barryn Warrex, a
It had been on a particularly lovely spring day - a day,
indeed, when all of nature seemed happy and unconcerned
with the political upheaval miles away - when Aril, while
traversing the length of a grassy and flower-dotted valley,
espied a knight, kneeling at the base of the valley wall. The
knight, as luck would have it, was an old one.
"Perfect," murmured Aril to himself as he strode
toward the grand man, stopping several paces away.
At first, the old knight didn't seem to realize he had an
audience. He simply continued his kneeling, his head
bowed in either deep meditation or perhaps even in
respectful prayer to the recently deposed gods of Krynn.
Behind him was a low, rocky overhang, almost a cave
really, which was apparently serving as his humble, if
temporary, shelter - The Order of the Solamnic Knights,
you see, had been destroyed in the Cataclysm and fallen
into disrepute, its few remaining members scattered by the
It seemed to Aril Witherwind that such events must have
taken a truly terrible toll on this fellow, maybe making him
look even older than he was, for he had a drawn, haggard
face; his hair, though thick, was totally white; and his
hands, clenched before him, were gnarly, almost arthritic.
Still, Aril could see much in the man that boasted of the
old grandeur of his order. He was dressed in his full plate
armor, a great sword hanging at his side, his visorless
helmet and shield resting nearby on a flat rock. And though
he was kneeling, he did seem to be quite tall - that is, long
of limb. But what impressed Aril Witherwind the most was
his truly copious moustache, a long white one that drooped
with a poignant flourish so that its tips nearly brushed the
ground as he knelt there.
A lot of pride must go into that moustache, mused Aril
as he waited patiently for the knight to finish whatever he
Now, all that time, the itinerant folklorist thought he
was unobserved, so he was startled when the knight, not so
much as lifting his head or moving a muscle, spoke up in a
deep, though tired, voice:
"What do you want?"
"Oh! Pardon me," said Aril Witherwind, stepping
ahead, bent forward as if he were bowing, though, in fact,
he was merely carrying his heavy tome. "I didn't mean to
interrupt anything. Only, if you are done, I would like to
speak with you."
"I am in meditation."
"So you are. But perhaps you could return to it in a
moment," suggested Aril. "This will not take long."
The old knight sighed deeply. "Actually, you're not
interrupting much," he said, his body slumping from its
disciplined pose. "I no longer have the concentration I once
"Then we can talk?"
The knight began to rise to his feet, though it clearly took
some effort. "Ach, it's getting so I can't distinguish between
the creaking in my armor and the creaking in my bones."
"I believe it was your armor that time," said Aril with a
At his full height, the knight indeed proved to be a very
tall man, as tall as Aril, who himself, when he did not carry
his book, was a gangly fellow. And when the knight faced
him fully, Aril got goosebumps because engraved upon the
knight's tarnished breastplate was a faint rose, the famous
symbol of his order.
"On the other hand, I do not feel much like talking,"
said the knight sullenly, walking right past the half-elf and
seating himself upon a large rock where he leaned back
against another and gazed languidly up at the blue sky and
white clouds bracketed by the opposing walls of the valley.
"I am a man of action only."
"I quite understand," said Aril, following. "But it does
seem to me you are at the moment - um - between actions.
The thing is, I am a folklorist - "
"Yes, that's right. You've heard of me? I'm flattered."
The knight squinted at the gangly blond person with
the large book upon his back. "You are indeed a strange
"It takes all kinds," said Aril Witherwind, again with a
smile. "In any case, you know why I'm here."
"I do not wish to talk."
"Oh, but you must make yourself. A knight such as you
surely has many wonderful tales of derring-do, bravery.
Why, this may be one of your few opportunities to set the
record straight about your order before the world forgets."
The knight appeared unmoved at first. But then, despite
himself, he tugged contemplatively at the tip of his long
moustache. "Perhaps," he said slowly, "if I do think about it
"Yes, do think about it!" said Aril Witherwind as he
hurried to another, smaller rock, where he sat down, his
bony knees pulled up. He brought forth his book and
propped it open on his legs. He then took from his pouch a
quill and inkwell, placing the inkwell on the ground.
"You're a pushy one," said the knight, arching an
"These days, a folklorist must be," said Aril. "Now
then, first thing's first: What is your name?"
"Warrex," said the knight growing ever more
interested. He even sat up. "Barryn Warrex."
"Is Warrex spelled with one 'r' or two?"
"Fine. Now what do you have for me? Some tale, I bet,
of epic battles and falling castles, of heroic missions - "
"No," said the knight thoughtfully, again pulling on his
moustache, "no, I don't think so."
"Oh? Then perhaps a tale of minotaur slaying or a duel
with some fierce ogre - "
"No, no, not those either, though I've done both."
"Then, by all means, you must tell of them! People one
day will want to read such knightly adventures - "
"Please!" snapped Barryn Warrex, his old milky eyes
flashing in anger. "I have no patience for this unless you
will listen to the story that I WANT to tell!"
"Of course, of course," said Aril, closing his eyes in
contrition. "Forgive me. That is, of course, just what I want
you to do."
"To a Solamnic Knight - at least to this old Solmanic
Knight - there is one thing as important - more important -
than even bravery, duty, and honor."
"More important? My, and what would that be?"
"A tale of love? Well, that's good, too," said Aril
Witherwind, nodding his approval and dipping his quill into
the inkwell. "A knight's tale of chivalry - "
"I did not say 'chivalry', " snarled Barryn Warrex.
"Pardon me, I just assumed - "
"Stop assuming, will you? This is a tale told to me
when I was a mere child, long before I ever thought of
becoming a knight. And though much has happened to me
since, this tale has stayed with me all these years. Indeed,
these days, it aches my heart more than ever."
Aril was already scribbling in his book. "... more - than
- ever," he repeated as he wrote.
Barryn Warrex settled back once more, calming
himself. "It is about two entwined trees in the Forest of
Wayreth - "
"The Entwining Trees?" interrupted Aril, lifting his pert
nose from his book and pushing his slipping glasses back up
with a forefinger. "I've heard of them! You know their
"I do," returned Warrex, trying to stay calmer. "Indeed,
my garrulous friend, I intend to tell it you if you would but
be quiet long enough."
"Forgive me, forgive me, it's just that this is exactly the
sort of story I look for. The Entwining Trees, yes, do go
ahead, please. I won't say another word."
The knight looked at Aril Witherwind in disbelief. But,
sure enough, as he had promised, the bespectacled half-elf
said nothing further. He only hunched over his book, quill
at the ready.
Satisfied, Barryn Warrex rested his head back. Then an
odd change came over him: His eyes glassed over with a
distant look, as if they were seeing something many years
ago; his ears perked as if they were likewise hearing a voice
from that long ago; and when he spoke, it seemed to be in
the voice of someone else - so very long ago. . . .
Once, when the world was younger, there lived in a
small, thatched cottage on the outskirts of Gateway - where
cottages were a stone's throw from each other - a certain
widower by the name of Aron Dewweb, a weaver by trade,
and his young daughter, Petal, who was considered, if not
THE most beautiful, then certainly among the most
beautiful human girls for miles in any direction. Petal was
slender and delicate, with a long, elegant neck, large brown
eyes, and long fair hair that reached her narrow waist.
It came as no surprise, then, that when Petal reached
marriageable age, she found at her doorstep every young
bachelor who was looking for a wife. These fellows would
wander by the front fence, sometimes pretending to be
going on a stroll, when they'd "by chance" notice the young
girl gardening in her front yard, and they'd begin chatting
"Why, hello," they'd say, for instance, "what lovely
roses you have."
Naturally, Petal was very flattered to receive so much
attention, and she'd leave her gardening and go flirt with the
young men, which only encouraged them.
Now, Aron, though he had always been the kindest and
happiest of fathers when Petal was growing up, turned stem
and dark of expression. He stopped smiling. He grumbled a
lot. He became, in a word, jealous.
True, he tried, at first, to view the situation with
pleasure. After all, the attention she was receiving was that
due a young, beautiful, marriageable girl, and he tried to
pretend that he was prepared for it.
But he couldn't help himself. Whenever one of Petal's
would-be suitors came calling at the front fence, offering
Aron a wave and a "hello," Aron Dewweb could only grunt
back, or more likely, ignore the young man and stalk into
Several neighbors told him, "Look, Aron, you can't
keep nature from taking its course."
Aron listened politely, but that was because his
neighbors were also customers for his weaving. Really, he
didn't give a damn about nature or its course or their
opinions. He just couldn't bear the thought of some swain
taking away his only, precious daughter. As far as he was
concerned, no matter how old she got, Petal would always
be that little girl who laughed and squealed when he
bounced her lightly on his knee.
So he said, "Dash it all, I don't care what anyone thinks!
I don't like what's happening!" And he took to chasing off
the young men with a knobby walking stick he kept handy
near his loom. "Stay away!" he would cry as he came
running out of his cottage toward the fence. The young man
of the moment, startled by the attack, would leave Petal
standing by the gate and flee. "And tell your boorish friends
to stay clear, too!"
Petal was always very embarrassed by this display.
"Daddy, why can't they visit me?" she'd ask, near tears. "I'm
"Because!" answered Aron, his face red, his knuckles
white as he clenched his walking stick. "Just - just
because!" And then he'd storm back into the cottage.
Well, "because" wasn't good enough for Petal, and she
continued to encourage her suitors. A wink from her was
enough to draw them back like bees to a bright, fragrant
flower - though none of them dared actually enter the gate.
From his loom - which, incidentally, was a clever, if
noisy, contraption operated by various levers and pedals -
the stern weaver could look out his window and see the way
his daughter was behaving. And he saw the effect it had on
her callers, who were growing ever bolder, some even
venturing to open the gate. Apparently, waving a stick at
them was no longer enough to drive them away (which was
just as well since Aron was getting tired of running out
every other moment). So, finally, he decided there was only
one thing left to do: He would have to take Petal away from
This he did. He piled his loom and other possessions
high on a wagon, put Petal on the seat next to him, and off
they went, pulled by a tired, old ox, which he borrowed
from a neighbor. Petal sighed deeply as she waved farewell
to all her would-be lovers, who lined up along the road in
front of their own cottages to see her off. They waved back,
their hearts heavy.
Aron took Petal far away. The road became unpaved
and overgrown, and eventually it led to the Forest of
Wayreth. There, Aron had to leave behind most of his
possessions for the time being because there was no path
between the trees wide enough to allow the wagon to pass.
He would have to make several trips, but he loaded up his
goods on his back, took Petal by her slender hand, and off
they went through the sunless forest.
When he had gone far enough - that is to say, when he
became too exhausted to continue - Aron put down his load
and said, "Here! Here is where we shall live!" And right on
that bosky spot, he built a new cottage of sticks and thatch.
He included a small room for Petal, a larger one for himself,
and a still bigger one for the cooking hearth, table, chairs,
and, of course, his loom, which he had the ox drag through
the forest before he returned the beast to its owner.
Convinced at last that his daughter was now where no
young man would find her, or at least where she'd be too far
away to be worth the bother, Aron resumed his weaving.
Such a location among the reputedly magical woods was
inconvenient for him, for he had to make long trips to his
customers in Gateway, but it was worth the peace of mind
that came from knowing that his daughter was safe from
anyone who would dare try to take her from him.
As for Petal, she cried for days and days. She wanted to
go back to Gateway. She wanted to flirt with her suitors.
But Aron said, "You'll get used to it here. Soon, things
will be back the way they were before all this foolishness
Petal did, in fact, stop crying, but things never quite
went back to the way they were. Petal was lonely, and she
never looked happy.
"What's the matter?" Aron finally snapped one day from
his loom while Petal, long-faced, was sprinkling fragrant
pine needles on the floor. "I was good enough company all
"Oh, Father," said Petal, pausing in her work, her eyes
watering, "I still love you but as MY FATHER. Now it's
time I loved another, as my husband."
"Nonsense!" said Aron with a wave of his hand.
"There'll be plenty of time for that when I'm dead!"
"Don't talk that way!" said Petal, stepping toward her
father, dropping the rest of the pine needles.
"What way? One day I'll be gone, and then you'll be
able to entertain all the young men you want!" And, with
that, Aron turned his back on his daughter and continued his
The arguments usually went that way, and they always
broke Petal's heart. Finally, she stopped bringing up the
subject, which was what Aron wanted, anyway.
The days settled into a routine. Aron worked
methodically and constantly at his loom, and Petal tended
the cottage and the garden. Neither said much to the other.
Petal continued to look sad, and Aron, even way out in the
forest, continued to feel uneasy:
What if one of those tom cats should sniff his way to the
cottage, after all? What if a whole gang of them should
arrive and start wailing at his door?
Or, worse yet: What if Petal sneaked away?
This last thought truly began to worry Aron. He kept a
constant eye on his daughter, which caused many uneven
threads in his weaving. He became so nervous that if Petal
were out of his sight for any length of time - and he did not
hear her, either - he'd jump up from his loom, knocking
over his chair, and cry out, "Petal! Come here!"
"What is it, Father?" she'd call, hurrying into the
cottage, with, say, a basket of mushrooms she had been
Aron never answered. He was just glad to see his
daughter, and, relieved, he'd pick up his chair and resume
Nights, though, proved even worse for Aron than the
days. It was then he had to sleep, and so it was then he
could keep neither eye nor ear on his daughter. He kept
waking at the slightest sound, thinking Petal might be
sneaking away, and he kept checking up on her in her room.
She was always there, curled up beneath her blanket on a
mattress filled with her fragrant pine needles.
But then, on one warm summer night, shortly after
midnight, Aron peeked into her room and found her bed
"Petal!" he bellowed, stepping from her door back into
the large room. "Petal!"
She didn't answer.
Aron ran outside into the benighted woods, where only
sprinkles of silver moonlight fell through the canopy and
broke up the dark forest floor, the way Petal's pine needles
broke up the cottage floor.
There was no answer except for the hoot of a lone,
All the rest of that night, Aron scrambled about the dark
woods, calling his daughter's name and bruising himself as
he hit his head on low limbs and banged fully into unseen
By the time the sun rose, sending its early morning rays
to light the misty air and awaken the birds, who promptly
began their warbling, Aron was ready to faint from
exhaustion. He had been searching and calling all night.
Defeated and heartbroken, but determined to march to
Gateway to fetch his daughter if need be, he trudged to his
cottage to get his stick.
Yet, when he got there, whom did he find, sleeping
curled up in her bed as innocently as a doe, but Petal.
Aron rubbed his swollen eyes. His heart soared with
joy. Was it possible, in his great concern, that he had missed
her sleeping there the night before? Everything was as it
was supposed to be - except, Aron noted, that there were
little puddles of water, footprints really, leading up to
Petal's bed. This was curious, but Aron didn't give it much
thought. He was happy to have his daughter back. He told
himself he would try to be nicer to her from then on, for the
last thing he wanted was to drive her away.
That morning, when his daughter awoke, Aron acted
more chipper at the breakfast table. Petal was surprised by
his new demeanor, but she welcomed it. She, too, was
"You see?" said Aron as he sipped his tea. "Do you see
how easy it is for us to be friends?"
"Yes, Father," said Petal as she nibbled at a muffin.
"Forgive me for my pouting."
"No, no, it is I who must ask for forgiveness. I've been
"Only because you love me. I know that, now."
Aron reached over and patted his daughter's soft, fair
hair, which felt, strangely, a little damp. Again, he gave this
little thought. For the rest of the day, he whistled at his
loom while Petal hummed in her front garden - which,
actually, wasn't growing as well in the constant shade of the
woods as it had in Gateway.
In any case, for all his outward pleasantness, Aron, that
very night, tossed and turned uncomfortably in his bed,
certain once more that his daughter had indeed disappeared
the previous night. And those puddles popped into his mind,
It was no use. Aron jumped out of bed. He had to check
up on his daughter. But he didn't want her to know, for then
she'd be truly angry at him. So he tiptoed ever so quietly to
She was gone.
Aron grew frantic. He bolted out of the cottage. But
before he could call his daughter's name, he saw in the
moonlight that sprinkled through the tree cover Petal
herself, dressed in her flowing white gown, just
disappearing silently between two enormous tulip trees.
Again, Aron was about to call to her, but he stopped
himself. Was she meeting someone? He had to know. He
decided to follow and catch her in the act. He rushed back
into his cottage, grabbed his stick, and hurried out to catch
up to his daughter.
He passed between the two tulip trees and found himself
on a path, one that he had not even known existed. It was
narrow, virtually covered with fern fronds, but it was
illuminated clearly by the full moon, for there was a slit in
the tree canopy that followed the path exactly.
Aron failed to see his daughter, but he walked along the
bending path, confident it would take him to her. Using his
walking stick for its intended purpose, he proceeded as
quickly as he could without making too much noise. All
around him, just a step away to his right or left, was the
gloomy forest. Only those trees nearest the path were partly
lit, their dark and gray trunks marking his way. Behind
them, the trees were cast in shadow. And farther from the
path still, the trees were in total blackness.
The croaking of frogs grew louder, and soon he came to
a small glade, in the middle of which was a pond. Petal was
standing on its bank near an old beaver dam, her long white
gown bathed in the sky's ghostly light. For several moments
she did nothing but gaze at the black water, upon whose
surface floated many lily pads, their white blossoms open to
Then she softly called, "My love, my love, take me to
At that, some of the lily pads were jostled from beneath.
Petal then slipped off her gown and stepped into the water.
She waded toward the center of the pond, pressing past
some lily pads. The water rose steadily up her slender legs,
reaching her narrow waist, and continued to rise as she went
Aron was confused as to what was happening. But
when he saw his daughter in the pond up to her delicate
neck, her fair hair floating behind her, he burst from his
It was too late. Petal's head dipped below the surface,
her hair floating momentarily, then it, too, vanished below.
"Petal! What are you doing?" cried Aron. "Petal!" He ran
back and forth along the shore as he squinted and tried to
peer into the inky water. But he saw only the round, white
moon above and his own dark silhouette gazing up at him.
Finally, he jumped in.
The water was cold and black, and he couldn't see a
thing. He came up for air, then dove even deeper, grabbing
blindly at the water, ripping at lily pad stems and smacking
a few startled fish. But after becoming so tired that he
nearly drowned, Aron finally pulled himself onto the bank
and collapsed. There he slept, his legs and arms twitching as
if he were still diving, until he was awakened by the
morning sun and the warbling of birds.
Convinced that his daughter had drowned, Aron mulled
over the idea of taking his own life as he returned to his
cottage. But, lo and behold, who did he find there, once
more curled up in her bed as if nothing had happened, but
Aron shook his head. He was almost ready to believe
he had dreamed the whole adventure, except that, once
more, he saw puddles on the floor leading to his daughter's
Though he was overjoyed, Aron was also furious. He
was about to shake his daughter awake and demand an
explanation when he decided, No, let her confess to me on
her own. It would be better that way.
But confess what exactly? That she had gone for a
midnight swim? Surely that's all there was to it. Surely there
was nothing - no one - in the pond waiting for her.
Still, in the Forest of Wayreth, you never know.
So all that day, Aron waited for his daughter to tell him
what happened. From his loom he kept eyeing her, but all
she did was go happily about her duties.
Fine! thought Aron in frustration. Let her think she's
fooled the old man! I will just have to catch her in the act!
For the rest of the day, Aron played the innocent, too.
He smiled at his daughter, engaged her in polite
conversation during lunch and dinner, and generally acted
as if nothing were on his mind - except that, while at his
loom, he was busy weaving a plot.
Then, in the evening, earlier than usual, he said, "I'm
tired. I think I'll turn in."
Petal, darning in a rocking chair near the fire, said, "All
right, Father. I'll put out the fire."
Aron stretched a phony stretch and went to his room.
But he had never been more awake. He crouched by his
bedroom window and peered out into the night air, waiting
for his daughter to leave the cottage.
He waited so long, though, that he nodded off for a
moment. When he stirred himself, he hurried into Petal's
room and saw that she had left. Nearly panic-stricken that
he had lost an opportunity, Aron grabbed his stick, a
lantern, and a net, and he hurried outside and passed
between the two tulip trees.
By the time he reached the pond, Petal was already
standing on its banks and calling toward the abandoned
beaver dam, "My love, my love, take me to your home."
Then she slipped off her gown and stepped into the water.
Aron waited. He wanted to catch both Petal and
whoever came to her. When the water reached Petal's neck,
her long fair hair floating behind her, Aron sprang out and
tossed the net across the water. But Petal dropped below too
quickly, and Aron pulled in only a turtle and two frogs. He
quickly lit his lantern and held it over the water. What he
saw below horrified him.
Just beneath the surface, but sinking ever deeper, was the
pale form of Petal, hand-in-hand with another being, a
shadowy creature made indistinct by both night and water.
Aron pressed so close to the water to see that his nose and
lantern went under, the flame extinguishing with a hiss. The
two forms disappeared.
Aron pulled back and sat on the bank near his
daughter's gown, which he took in his hand. His heart was
pounding, but this time he would remain calm. He fully
expected Petal to return. And this time he would be waiting
Alas, lulled by the croaking of the frogs, he fell asleep.
In the morning when he awoke, the gown was gone
from his hands. He dashed straight back to his cottage
where he found, sure enough, Petal curled up in her bed, the
puddles of water on the floor.
"How innocently you sleep there," muttered Aron, his
eyes asquint, "just like the little girl I once knew, eh? But
look here, these puddles belie that innocence. Well, sleep
soundly, my daughter, for you will be deceitful no more."
Aron left the room, knowing what he had to do. For one
more day, he would play the innocent. For one more day, he
would pretend he had nothing burdensome on his mind. He
even whistled again at his loom, which had the intended
effect of reassuring Petal.
But as soon as night fell and Petal went to bed, Aron
dropped his pose. He quietly secured both her window
shutter and door with braces of wood. Taking up his lantern
and stick, he hurried to the pond.
When he got there, he placed himself near the old
beaver dam. There, in a high voice, he called out, "My love,
my love, take me to your home." Then, his lantern lit, he
crouched down and waited for the creature to rise to the
It didn't do so, either because it was fearful of the light, or
because it knew that it was not Petal who called.
No matter, thought Aron. He stood up. "You shall
reveal yourself whether you like it or not." And, with that,
he gripped his walking stick with two hands and started to
break apart the beaver dam.
He stabbed at the dam repeatedly, prying it, pulling out
the limbs, branches, and mud. The water rushed out of each
break, swelling the stream on the other side. The pond itself
slowly began to shrink, leaving behind a widening shore of
mud that was laced with stranded lily pads and their limp
stems. Several frogs left high and dry began burrowing by
backing into the mud, their bulbous eyes disappearing last
with a blink.
His heart pounding ever faster, Aron worked all the
harder. "Come, come!" he called out over the increasingly
loud rush of water. "Don't be shy! Let me see your fishy
face!" He put down his stick and eagerly held his lantern
over the surface.
He was rewarded for his efforts. He saw, swimming
among an ever thicker riot of fish, a large, human-shaped
something - no, two human-shaped some-things, both still
vague in the muddy, benighted water.
For a moment, one of them seemed to be the pale form
of Petal, and Aron had to remind himself that he had
secured her in her room. He was tempted to run back to the
cottage just to make sure, but the water was very low now,
and he would see everything soon enough.
Finally, though, as the water dropped to a depth of a
mere hand's span and the fish were bumping into each
other, many of them forced out and flopping about the
muddy shore, the two creatures began joining the frogs and
burrowing into the mud.
"No! Where are you going?" cried Aron, stepping
forward, his foot sinking in the mud with a slurp.
But the two forms burrowed deeper, even as the pond
became only a mud hole, leaving behind a mere trickle of a
stream that meandered among the stranded lily pads,
flopping fish, and stunned turtles, which just stood there
stupidly, not knowing which way to go. In the center of all
that was the writhing mud, as the two creatures dug down to
escape the lantern light, or the air, or Aron himself.
Eventually, the writhing slowed, the mounds flattened,
and the ground was still. All was quiet. Even the fish lay
exhausted, their gills opening and closing uselessly. Aron
felt cheated not to see the face of the creature whom Petal
had called "My love, my love," but he was satisfied that it
would be a problem no more.
But who was that second creature?
Aron returned quickly to his cottage and, first thing,
checked Petal's room. He saw, to his relief, that she was
indeed there, curled up in her bed. So he went to bed
himself and slept more peacefully than he had in a long
The next morning he awoke and went directly to his
loom, waiting for Petal to rise and make him some
breakfast. But she slept late that morning. Finally, his
stomach rumbling, Aron called out, "Petal! Come on! Make
your old father some breakfast."
She didn't answer.
Perhaps she knows what I did and is being spiteful,
thought Aron. "Come on, girl! Up!"
She didn't answer.
Aron went to her room and found her still lying in her
bed, curled up. Naturally, there were no puddles this
morning, a fact that gave Aron much satisfaction.
"Up, my girl!" he called, walking over to her and
brashly pulling away the covers.
His eyes nearly popped out of his head. It was not Petal at
all but pillows set up to mimic her form.
Without a moment's hesitation, Aron dashed from the
room, grabbed one of Petal's large gardening shovels, and
ran to the dried pond.
When he got there, he saw what, in his eagerness, he
had missed the night before: his daughter's gown, lying
rumpled on the bank. He immediately stepped into the mud
to get to the center, but the farther he went, the deeper his
legs went into the mud. At one point the mud came nearly
up to his knees, and he could hardly walk. But he pressed
on, thinking only of his darling Petal lying buried in the
Then, as he neared the center of the pond, Aron noticed
something odd. There, right where he meant to dig, was a
tiny green plant shoot. Or rather two tiny green plant shoots.
They were entwined delicately about each other. And before
Aron could pull his right leg from the mud, those two green
shoots, right before his eyes, began to grow.
In a matter of moments, they transformed into long,
elegant tree saplings, both still entwined about each other.
But they didn't stop there.
They continued to grow toward the sun, their trunks
thickening as they grew. And as they did so, they encircled
each other. They put out ever more branches, tiny leaves,
and even some reddish fruit that hung in clusters.
Soon, what had been two delicate shoots only moments
before were now two sturdy trees in full-grown glory, their
thick, nearly merged trunks coiled around each other, their
roots bulging from the mud, their lofty crowns meshed and
arching over the entire width of what had been the pond.
Aron pulled himself out of the mud by one of the roots.
He gazed at the two entwining trunks and at the leaves
overhead, which now filtered out the sun. "Petal," he
whimpered, "forgive me. I believed my love was enough."
And there, in the shade of the two trees, Aron Dewweb
sat and wept. By the time the sun had set and the moon had
risen, sending its sprinkles of silver light through the two
trees' crowns, Aron died of a broken heart, and little green
leaves fell gently to cover him. . . .
So ended Barryn Warrex's tale.
When Aril Witherwind looked up from his book, he
detected in one of the old man's eyes a solitary tear. The
half-elf himself sighed from sadness and had to brush away
from his page a teardrop or two that threatened to make his
ink run. "Well, I must say, that is not a story I expected
from a knight," he said.
Barryn Warrex stirred, his eyes and ears once more
seeing and hearing what was before him. And when he
spoke, it was once more with his own deep but tired voice.
"I warned you," he said. "It is what has been in my heart."
With a creaking of his armor and bones, he slowly rose to
"Well, now it's in my book, as well," said the half-elf,
blotting the page and shaking off his own sadness. "But as
to the title. How about, 'A Tale of Eternal Love'? - no, no,
too corny. How about, 'A Tale of Two Loves'? You see, it's
about two kinds of love, get it?"
Barryn Warrex, not much caring what title the folklorist
gave the story, trudged over to the flat rock where his
helmet and shield were lying.
"Well, I'll have to give that some thought," continued
Aril, tapping his quill feather against his downy chin. "By
the way, this is most important: Should I put this story
down as fact or as fable?"
The knight put on his visorless helmet, his grand white
moustaches flowing well out from it on both sides like two
elegant handles. "The story is true enough as far as I'm
"Well, I don't know," said Aril, squinting at the page
through his spectacles. "It seems pretty incredible - even
for the Forest of Wayreth. Perhaps if you had seen those
Entwining Trees yourself, it would lend credibility - "
With some effort, Barryn Warrex stooped and lifted his
heavy, dull shield. "My friend, all I know is that I, too, once
had a beautiful daughter, and that one day, she, too, reached
marriageable age. I behaved no better than this Aron
"Oh - I'm so sorry," said Aril Witherwind awkwardly,
not sure how to respond to such a confession. "Uh, I myself
have never had children - "
The old knight slung the shield across his back, and he
became as stooped under its weight as Aril was under his
tome. Even as he spoke, Barryn Warrex started off down
into the grassy, flower-dotted valley, where butterflies
flitted about him as if to cheer him up. "It is many years
since my own daughter ran away with her lover."
Aril remained perched on his rock, and, trying to hear
the retreating knight, he started a new page and began
scribbling once more in his book.
"Now this old knight has but one last mission in his
life," said Warrex, walking ever farther off, his voice
growing fainter, "and that is to find my daughter and this
husband of hers - "
" - and," murmured Aril, repeating the knight's words
exactly as he wrote them down, " - give - them - my -
A Painter's Vision
Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel
"It looks so real," said Curly Kyra with awe. She
brushed long ringlets of black hair away from her eyes and
stared at the painting, ignoring calls from down the bar for
another round of ale. "It's a beautiful boat." Softly, with
wonder in her voice, she added, "It seems as if it could
almost sail right off the canvas."
"Almost, but not quite," replied Sad-Eye Seron, the
painter. He was a skinny man with a gentle face. His
eyebrows drooped at the edges, giving him the perpetually
sad expression that had earned him his nickname. But he
smiled now, enjoying the effect his new painting was
having on the lovely, young barmaid he had courted all
"Will it make a lot of money?" asked Kyra hopefully.
Seron's smile vanished. "I sometimes think that you're
the only one who likes my work. Everybody else in Flotsam
says, 'Why buy pictures of things that I can see whenever I
look out my window?' "
"Hey, Kyra," bellowed a patron with an empty mug.
"Am I going to get a refill, or should I just come back there
and pour my own?"
The tavern owner stuck his head out of the kitchen.
"Tend to business," he warned his barmaid.
"All right, I'm going," Kyra said. But she didn't move.
Instead, she shook her head at the magnificent sailing scene
and stood there in admiration of Seron's artistry.
If Seron was an underappreciated painter, the same
could not be said of the pretty picture known as Curly Kyra.
Every unmarried man - and plenty of the married ones - had
hopes of bedding her. She had alabaster skin, bright brown
eyes, and full lips that seemed created expressly for kissing.
Even more inviting than her lips, however, was the purely
feminine shape of her figure; since coming of age this
summer, she had to slap men's hands more often than she
had to slap at bugs.
It was different, though, with Seron. Oh, he wanted to
bed her and made no pretense about it, but he truly cared for
her and made that clear in a thousand different ways. He
helped patch the roof of her family's cottage without asking
for so much as a cup of water in return. He gave her
painting lessons, teaching her everything from mixing
colors to the techniques of his brushstroke. And when she
was terribly sick with an unknown disease - and looked like
a particularly ugly dwarf he had once painted - Seron risked
his own health to help care for her.
The two of them leaned over the bar near each other,
the sea-faring picture between them. "You're wasting your
time working in this tavern," Seron said earnestly. "I've said
it from the very beginning - you're smart, talented,
perceptive; you can do more with your life than just serve
"You're only saying I'm smart," teased Kyra, "because I
like your work."
He smiled, but shook his head. "I really mean it," he
Involved in their intimate discussion, Kyra paid no
attention to the growing clamor of angry voices calling out
As for Seron, he hadn't yet tried to sell his latest
painting, but he saw that Kyra was so enamored of the
picture (and he was so enamored of her) that he suddenly
blurted, "I want you to have it. It's a gift."
Kyra was stunned by his offer. Her face turned red, and
it looked as if she couldn't breathe.
"Are you all right?" he asked worriedly.
She answered by throwing her arms around him and
kissing him on the lips.
That night Kyra lost her job but found a husband.
Her belief in Seron's talents was not misplaced;
soon after they were married, he finally began to sell
some of his paintings. He didn't receive much for them, but
at least it was a beginning. He supplemented their meager
income by painting family portraits for the local tradesmen.
Still, it wasn't enough.
"Why don't you give art lessons?" asked Kyra one late
afternoon as she took down the wash that had dried on the
"What? And create my own competition?" he said,
laughing as he folded the clothes she handed him.
"You have a wonderful talent," she continued, ignoring
him. "You could give classes. I know the kender would love
it; they couldn't possibly pass up a chance to try their hand
"What makes you think I'd be any good as a teacher?"
"Because you were so good at teaching me."
"I was good at teaching you," he said, "because you were
an excellent student. You could do anything you set your
mind to," he continued. "You settle for too little from
yourself. If only you - "
"Please! Not that speech again," she complained.
"But you could be so much more if only you tried," he
insisted, touching his fingers to the palm of her hand.
"Isn't that the same thing your brother always says to
YOU?" she countered. "Doesn't he always say that you're
wasting yourself on all these pictures?"
He scowled. "Don't change the subject. We're talking
about you - and you know I'm right. You're capable of
doing all sorts of things; you're too easily content."
"Content? Me?" she laughed seductively. "Never." And
with that, she dropped the sheet she had been holding and
began unbuttoning her blouse.
"No one stops an argument like you," he chuckled,
removing his own shirt.
Their bed was a sheet on the soft grass, their roof was
the afternoon sky, and their souls were one soul long after
their passion was spent.
As the afternoon light faded, Kyra felt a chill. She
snuggled up close to her husband, who tenderly embraced
her. She felt safe in his arms, protected. When he held her
like that, she knew both the strength and the tenderness of
his love. For her, there was nothing in all of Krynn to match
that feeling. Nothing.
Dutifully, Seron gave art lessons to the kender, and
anyone else who was willing to pay. Not that anything
valuable ever changed hands. Despite their enthusiasm, the
kender were inattentive students, and they generally walked
off with the paint, the brushes, and half of tomorrow's
To better provide for his wife, Seron took a job during the
evenings as a cook at the Sea Master Inn. Kyra didn't want
him to take the time away from his art, but he couldn't bear
to see her go hungry. He promised her he would work at the
inn only until his paintings brought in more money.
He hoped that would happen soon, for he had chanced
upon an entirely new and exciting subject when he met his
very first dragon. . . .
"Do you have a red blanket?" asked the young male
brass dragon standing at the edge of a clearing in the forest.
Seron could hardly believe his eyes, let alone his ears;
the dragon was talking to him!
"Are . . . are you real?" stammered the painter.
"That doesn't seem like an appropriate answer to the
question, 'Do you have a red blanket?' Would you like to try
Seron's curiosity was greater than his fear. He stepped
closer and touched the dragon's wing. "You are real," he
mumbled, astonished. He quickly stepped back again.
"I seem to have this effect on everybody," the dragon
said, shaking his head sadly. "Have you never seen or heard
of my kind before?"
"Only - only in legends," replied Seron as he carefully
examined the tall, majestic dragon standing before him. He
didn't want to forget any detail for the picture that he knew
he must paint. Finally, he thought, I'll be able to succeed for
Kyra. This painting will be worth a fortune!
"It's terrible," complained the dragon. "Wherever I go,
people stop and gawk at me. And really," he continued, "I
don't understand it. It's not as if I'm wearing flashy colors.
Which, by the way, brings me back to the question of the
red blanket. Do you have one or not?"
Seron didn't want the dragon to leave. Not yet. He needed
more time to study this wonderful creature. "I'll get you a
red blanket," he promised. "Just wait right here."
The painter raced to the hut.
"Kyra, where are you?" he cried when he found their
"I'm in the back ... in the vegetable garden."
Not wanting to waste any time, he quickly looked
through their trunk and closet. He was sure they had some
sort of red blanket - a strange request, come to think of it -
but he couldn't find it.
"Any luck?" called out the dragon, who was now
standing at the front door.
"You were supposed to stay where you were," said
Seron nervously, stepping out to meet the creature. He was
afraid the dragon might harm his wife.
"Is someone there?" Kyra called out gaily, walking
around the side of the hut. "I thought I heard another voice
and - "
She stopped in her tracks with a look of wonder on her
"A red blanket!" cried the animal happily, gesturing
toward the red shawl Kyra wore around her shoulders.
Seron blinked. That's what he had been looking for.
Kyra smiled at the dragon. She had grown up on tales
of these magical beasts. To Seron's surprise, she wasn't
afraid of the creature. "Do you like this?" she asked,
sweeping the shawl off her shoulders and holding it before
"Very much," replied the dragon.
"Then it's yours," she said. "I think you'll look
wonderful in it. Much better than I."
"Now, you're a human I could grow to like," the dragon
said. "What's your name?"
"Kyra," she replied with a warm smile. "What's yours?"
"Tosch. And may I say," said the dragon with a bow, "I
am very pleased to meet YOU. Him," he added, pointing at
Seron, "I must ponder."
"You must not offend me," Kyra reproached gently.
"Seron is my husband, and if you like me, you must also
The dragon made a frown. "Is this a rule of the
"It's my rule," said Kyra.
The dragon nodded.
"Good. Now come, let me give you your new cape."
Tosch lowered his head, and Kyra tied the red cloth
around the dragon's neck. It was a pitifully small splash of
red against the creature's massive body, but Tosch didn't
seem to care. He was thrilled with his new appearance and
he revelled in it - posturing every which way and asking
how he looked in every pose.
To Seron, it was all rather silly, but Kyra took the
dragon seriously, giving him her best advice on how to wear
the cape to his best advantage.
Finally, Tosch stood still and turned to Seron. "Your
wife gave me a wonderful gift," stated the dragon. "What
are YOU going to give me?"
"I'm going to paint your picture," he calmly replied.
"Once humans have seen your portrait, they won't be so
surprised when they see you in the flesh. Isn't that what you
Tosch looked at Kyra. "Can he draw?" he asked.
"Raise your right wing just a little higher," said Seron,
as he painted Tosch's picture in the forest clearing where
they had first met. "Just a bit higher. Yes. Good. Don't
"I think I look better with my wings lower and my head
higher," complained Tosch. "And I've got a great profile
from the left side. You said so, yourself."
"My purpose is to create a dramatic effect," the painter
reminded him, "not necessarily to make you look your
"I don't understand the difference," sniffed the dragon.
"If I look good, the picture looks good, right?"
"It's the other way around, my friend," laughed Seron.
"If the picture looks good, you'll look good."
No one else was offering to paint pictures of Tosch, so
he remained a willing model despite differences with Seron.
The peacemaker was Kyra. She often joined them in the
forest clearing, stroking the dragon's head when her
husband released him from a long, torturous pose.
Tosch, however, was not the easiest model to paint. The
brass dragon would often arrive late for sittings;
sometimes he wouldn't come at all. Often, he would
quietly mutter a magical incantation, slap his tail against the
ground three times, and make Seron's brushes disappear.
The dragon seemed bent on driving the artist to distraction.
But Kyra always soothed Seron's anger by explaining
yet again that the dragon tales of her youth told of the
creatures' freewheeling nature. "A brass dragon," she said,
"comes and goes as he pleases and likes to play tricks. It's
his nature; don't blame him."
And so the painting continued. At least for a short
while . . .
Tosch might have stayed for years instead of a few
short months, but when the Highlord and her forces invaded
Flotsam, the young dragon fled to the mountains.
Seron and Kyra might have done the same, but Flot sam
was all they had ever known; they had both been born
there, and neither of them had ever been anywhere else.
The truth was they were afraid to leave. Times were hard
after the dragonarmy took over. But even so, Seron eked out
a living. He managed to sell his pictures of Tosch, despite
the fact that dragons were now far more commonplace. One
of Seron's portraits went to the owner of the inn where he
worked as a cook. He sold another to a fierce female ship
captain who said she would hang it in her cabin. Yet
another was bought by a traveling peddler. All of the buyers
admired how skillfully the artist had, at once, captured both
the youthful innocence and the natural arrogance of the
With each sale, Kyra became ever more proud of her
husband. His reputation as a painter was growing, yet
nothing really changed. They still lived in the same small
hut, their clothes were still second-hand rags skillfully
repaired by Kyra, and Seron still had to work at the inn to
supplement their income.
"You won't believe it!" exclaimed Seron in a rush of
words as he burst into their one-room home. "I was up on
Cold Rock Point," he explained, "and I saw the Highlord
atop her blue dragon. She was leading a whole phalanx of
soldiers riding their own dragons. The entire sky was filled
with them. Everywhere you looked there were dragons!
Their wings were flapping with a power that nearly blew
me off the cliff, and their great mouths were screaming in
cries that nearly deafened me. But the sight of it, Kyra! I've
got to paint it!"
For days, then weeks, he worked on the image he had
seen. It consumed him. He had to finish it before he forgot
how it looked, how it felt, what it meant.
Kyra watched him work. At first she saw only dark
outlines, then the dragons appeared, one at a time. And each
of the dragons was more malevolent than the last. There
was danger in the picture. The Highlord and her
dragonarmy soldiers took shape with menacing faces, and
the sky was dark and forbidding. Kyra could feel the cold
wind from the wings of the huge beasts, sense the hot breath
from their snarling jaws, and she knew - all at once - that
the painting had captured the ineffable horror of their
Of course, they couldn't sell the painting. If the
Highlord or any of her soldiers ever saw it, they'd cut off
Seron's hands. Nonetheless, he wasn't sorry that he had
done it. And neither was Kyra. They both hoped that
eventually the dark days would pass, and his picture would
be a valued - and valuable - reminder of this evil time.
More than that, they both hoped it would forever establish
Seron as Krynn's pre-eminent artist.
They kept the bleak masterpiece hidden in a wooden
crate under their bed. However, it soon began to rankle
them both that Seron's greatest work had no audience. What
was the point of having painted the picture if no one ever
It was then that they conceived their daring plan to
smuggle the painting to Palanthas where it might be
prominently displayed in a gallery. But they would need
"Let's send word to Tosch," suggested Kyra. "He could
fly here one dark night and take the painting away with
"Do you think Tosch would really do it; would he risk
his life for a painting?"
"We have nothing to lose by asking," she said.
Two days later, the peddler who had bought a Seron
painting of Tosch carried a coded note out of the city and
into the mountain warrens. The note asked their friend to
come to them after sunset during the night when the two
moons were at their smallest. It was a great favor, and they
didn't ask it lightly. And they said as much in the note. If
Tosch felt it was too dangerous, they said, he shouldn't
come; they would understand.
But still they hoped he would glide down to them out
of the dark sky.
The nights passed as slowly as a gnome builds a
machine. The days were even longer. Eventually, though,
the moons went through their glowing phases. It was
As the sun descended, sending long shadows across a
sad, beleaguered city, Kyra and Seron grew anxious.
Tonight was the night.
"Do you think the note actually reached Tosch?"
"I don't know."
"What if the peddler were intercepted? If the Highlord
deciphered our message - "
Suddenly a loud knock sounded at their door.
Instinctively, they both reached for each other. Neither of
them uttered a word. The worst, it seemed, had happened.
They had been found out.
The pounding on the door continued, matched only by
the pounding of their hearts. Seron took a deep breath and
kissed his wife lightly on the forehead. "Let's try to be
brave," he said in a voice that nonetheless betrayed his fear.
Seron got to his feet and opened the door.
"What did I do, roust you two out of bed?" roared Seron's
brother, Long-Chin Cheb. "What took you so long to open
up? It's not as if you had so far to go to reach the door," he
added, glancing disdainfully at the walls of the tiny hut.
"We . . . we didn't expect to see you," said Seron,
catching his breath. "This is quite a surprise. What brings
you to Flotsam? Is - is anything wrong?"
"Must something be wrong for me to visit my only
"Seron didn't mean that," piped up Kyra in her
husband's defense. "He's glad to see you, just as I am."
Cheb smiled at his sister-in-law. "That's nice of you to
say. And let me tell you, you're still a pleasure to look at,"
he added. "I've always said, my brother's done an awful lot
of foolish things in his life, but marrying you wasn't one of
To accept the compliment was also to accept the slap at
her husband, and that Kyra would not do. She simply
nodded curtly and offered her brother-in-law a chair at the
He was dressed like a prince, but his clothes looked
better than he did. His face was long and sallow, with deep-
set green eyes that gave him a cadaverous, if mesmerizing,
As Cheb strutted through the doorway, Seron nervously
glanced out the window into the deepening twilight. Tosch
would not show himself if he saw a third person in the hut;
they had to get rid of Cheb. Assuming, that is, that Tosch
was actually coming.
"You'll be glad I made this surprise visit," Seron's
brother announced grandly, "when you hear what I have to
say. But first - " he dropped his satchel to the floor and
plopped down into the most comfortable chair in the house -
"pour me some ale, girl."
When she returned with a full mug, he winked and said,
"A barmaid never forgets her craft."
Kyra stepped across the room to stand with her hus band.
"You said you had news," she said coolly.
The older man downed the mug of ale in one long
draught. "Good for what ails you," he said. Then he
laughed. "Hey, I made a joke. 'Good for what ALE'S you.'
"The news?" asked Seron.
"Of course. You must be anxious to hear it. It's
obviously clear," he added gesturing at their home, "that
you're in need of glad tidings. Well," he continued, "one
day, lo and behold, I received a request for twenty paintings
from a wealthy man who wanted to decorate his new home
with an artistic touch. Naturally, he didn't want to pay very
much, but we managed to settle on a fair price. Of course, I
never told him that I had a brother who was a painter. Nor
did I tell him that this brother of mine had a hut overflowing
with his unsold works of art."
"At what price did you propose this sale of my
paintings?" asked Seron.
"Never mind the price," Cheb said with a wave of his
hand. "It isn't important. All you need to know is that I will
take twenty of your paintings - of my choosing - and give
you five percent of everything I make."
Seron physically flinched at his brother's words.
Though he could almost feel the knife wound of betrayal, he
fought his temper and quietly said, "Forgive me if I choose
to ignore this opportunity. I know how you made your
fortune - buying unsold goods at a fraction of their cost in
one city and then selling them at a generous markup
somewhere else. You're entitled to your profits, but five
percent of twenty paintings means I'm giving nineteen away
for free. No, thank you."
"Come now," said Cheb. "Don't be foolish. This is money
in your pocket. Why hesitate? You can't sell this stuff,
anyway. Might as well let me take it off your hands."
Seron was silent. He had turned away to look out the
window, then glanced back at Kyra. "What do you think?"
"I say no," she said with firm resolution. "Someday
soon," she added pointedly, following his gaze into the dark
sky, "your paintings - all of them - will be worth a great
"You have your answer," said Seron to his brother.
"This is ridiculous," insisted Cheb. "I found a willing
buyer and you turn me down. But I'll be magnanimous. I'll
raise the offer to a full ten percent. Now what do you say?"
"No," Seron answered emphatically. "You'd best be on
your way," he added, afraid that his rage was beginning to
break through his calm exterior.
The two brothers glared at each other. Cheb could not
understand such an empty-headed artist, while Seron knew,
from sad experience, that he could never explain himself to
such a money-hungry man.
"Here, take a candle," offered Kyra. "You can light
one of our torches outside and use it to find your way along
Seron led the grumbling Cheb to the door. "If you
hurry," he said, "you'll still find a bed at the Sea Master
Inn. Tell the owner that I sent you. He knows me."
Cheb was already out the door, lighting his torch,
when he realized he'd left his satchel in the hut. He rushed
back in with the torch aflame and reached for the bag on
the floor by the chair.
At the same time, Kyra said, "Here, let me help you."
They accidentally collided while both reached for the
satchel, and Cheb lost his balance. Falling over backward,
the torch went flying out of his grasp.
The burning torch landed in the comer of the hut,
right in the middle of Seron's paints. They exploded in a
ball of bright orange flame!
Cheb quickly scrambled to his feet. "Run for your
lives!" he cried. He snatched up his satchel and ran out
the door without ever looking back.
"Get out! Save yourself!" Seron shouted to his wife,
who was trying to drag the heavy wooden crate out from
beneath the bed.
"I'm not leaving without your painting," she cried. The
fire quickly spread far beyond the comer of the hut. Soon,
the bed and all the rest of their furniture were burning.
Two of the walls were aflame, as was part of the roof; a
heavy, deadly smoke filled their one-room home.
Seron grabbed his wife around the waist and hauled
her to her feet. Both of them were coughing, their eyes
were tearing, and their skin was beginning to blister. The
fire snapped at the edges of their clothing as he carried his
wife to the door of the hut and threw her onto the soft grass
outside the door.
But he didn't follow her out into the safety of the night.
Instead, he rushed back into the burning hut, diving to the
floor next to the bed. The wooden crate was beginning to
char, but he knew there was still time; the painting inside
had not yet been damaged. He hauled the crate out from
beneath the bed and lifted it. The door was just a few yards
away. . . .
Though the doorway was open, the smoke and flames
were too thick for Kyra to see inside the hut. "Forget the
painting!" she screamed. "Seron! Get out of there! Hurry!"
The roof caved in. The hut collapsed. Seron was buried in
an avalanche of fire, and Kyra gave out an anguished cry of
pain that stretched on for minutes. When there was nothing
left inside her, she crumpled to the dew-wet grass.
Kyra didn't move. There was no reason. Much later, in
the darkest hour of the night, a voice whispered in her ear. .
"Am I late?"
At first, Kyra was startled. She lifted her head and saw
Tosch. The familiar sight of the brass dragon set Kyra
crying all over again. He did his best to comfort her,
nestling her frail, shivering frame between his right wing
and his body. But he couldn't see what was so upsetting.
As best she could, she told Tosch what had happened.
Then she wept throughout the rest of the night. Finally, just
before dawn, Kyra fell into an exhausted sleep. The dragon
sighed. The sun would be coming up soon - and he
supposed he had better take her with him. There was
nothing for Kyra here. He lifted her onto his back and then
gently took wing.
Tosch watched a female brass dragon sailing in small,
lazy circles overhead. Without thinking, he turned his good
profile in her direction.
"I don't think I ever told you, but I do like Palanthas,"
Kyra announced from her seat on a nearby tree stump.
Tosch nodded absently, glancing down at the blue,
yellow, and orange clothes Kyra was sewing together for
him. "When will my new cape be finished?" he asked.
"I told you it would take six months," she said. "It's
only been four."
"You know only humans count time," he replied with a
shrug of his gigantic shoulders. "Has it really been four
"I can't quite believe it, either," she said in
an aching, hollow voice.
"Ah, you seem so ... lonely, Kyra. Perhaps you
should marry again."
"No!" she said emphatically. A moment later, a sad
smile washed over her face. "I know you mean well," she
said, "but I could never love another man after Seron. We
were best friends as well as lovers. We finished each
other's thoughts, laughed at each other's jokes." She closed
her eyes. "I can't sleep without him. I reach for him at
night," she softly admitted, and then rubbed her eyes open.
"I saw you preening for that female up there," she gestured
with a wan smile on her face, "and my first thought was
that I wanted to tell Seron that you hadn't changed a bit."
"Please don't point," he said, embarrassed. "She'll
know that we're talking about her."
Kyra lowered her hand. "Sorry," she said. "Apology
accepted," he said indulgently. She reached out and
stroked his head the way she used to back in the old days.
Kyra had spent all her waking hours - and many of her
sleeping hours, as well - reliving her life with Seron. Over
and over again, every conversation, every hug, every night
of passion played in her mind. She remembered he had
always wanted her to do something more with her life. He
had said she was capable of doing anything she set her mind
to. The only thing she had set her mind to, though, was
loving him. Shouldn't that have been enough?
He had tried so hard for her. He never brought home a
pocketful of money, but he always brought home kindness,
laughter, and a sweetness of spirit. If he had wanted her to
accomplish more with her life, why couldn't she try to do
that for him now?
She laughed at herself. He would have said, 'Don't do it
for ME, do it for YOU!"
Was it too late now to do it for either of them?
She glanced down at her hands. Tentatively, she
allowed herself to ask the question, If I can do anything I set
my mind to, what should I do?
Her mind was blank.
"So, what do you think of the way I'm wearing my
scales?" asked Tosch, interrupting her reverie.
"My scales ... on my back," said the dragon, turning to
give her a better look. "I've forced the edges up just a bit.
Pretty stylish, huh?"
"It looks very modem. You might start a trend."
"You think so?"
"If anyone can," she laughed, "it's you."
"Well, the only way I can start a trend is if I am seen by
everyone," Tosch said thoughtfully. "So I guess I'd better be
on my way."
He flapped his wings and slowly rose off the ground.
"I'll be back soon to pick up my new cape. Bye, now."
She went back to the only trade she knew - serving ale.
She worked long hours at a new tavern where the owner
favored her and the customers appreciated her diligence.
But the years of hard work and scraping by had taken a toll
on her. Now, the younger barmaids had to fend off the
pinches and the propositions, and only the regulars took
notice of the pale, disheveled Kyra. She did not care - she
did not care about much.
Six years passed before Tosch returned. Kyra
understood that to a brass dragon, six years was hardly more
than a week; she wasn't angry with him. Besides, in her
great and enduring sadness, there was precious little
happiness. Seeing her old friend was a welcome relief from
her neverending sense of loss.
They sat on a sandy beach at the edge of the bay. She
glanced up and smiled, slightly averting her eyes. It was
self-preservation. Tosch was covered with every
imaginable color of cloth; it nearly blinded her whenever
she tried to gaze at him. He obviously was not interested
in the three-color cape that she had painstakingly made.
"Look," he said, insisting that she focus her eyes on
him, "I've had my teeth chiseled. What do you think?
Good and straight now, right?"
She shielded her eyes and glanced at his mouth.
"Every time I see you, you're different," she said. "I
can hardly remember what you looked like six years
A tear suddenly ran down her cheek. Her chin
"Now what's wrong?" asked Tosch, perturbed. "I'm
sorry. It's just that I sometimes forget what Seron used to
look like, too."
The dragon lowered his plummaged head and sighed
with exasperation. "You still think of him?" "I never stop."
"Well, I still can't understand what you saw in him. I
grant you, he was a passable painter, but after all, he had a
wonderful subject. You know," Tosch added, "he was never
very nice to me."
"He liked you very much," Kyra said defiantly. "And I
don't want you to say another bad word about Seron. Not
"Sorry," apologized Tosch, shrinking just a bit under
her wrath. He thought it wise, just then, to say something
nice about her late husband. "It's too bad he never did a self-
portrait," offered the dragon. "He would
have done a fine job. And then you would have had a
picture of him always."
Kyra nodded sorrowfully. "Listen, let me take you for a
ride," suggested the dragon, trying to change the subject.
"It'll lift your spirits. Where would you like to go?"
"Home," she said sadly. "I'm not very good company
when I'm feeling like this."
She lay in bed for hours, unable to keep from crying.
It's been six years, she thought to herself. Why am I still
grieving? Why can't I stop?
The answer was as plain as the tears on her face:
Her love did not die in that fire. Yes, her memory was
fading, but her feelings were as strong as ever.
Finally, late that afternoon, she climbed wearily out of
bed and built a fire in order to make herself a light meal.
Later, after sitting down at her rickety wooden table to eat,
she noticed that her hands were smeared with charcoal.
Without thinking, she absently cleaned her fingers by
etching an image of her husband in charcoal on her faded
When she realized what she had done, she stopped and
stared at her work. The picture stared back at her. It wasn't a
very good likeness of Seron, but it was still undeniably him.
More than that, though, while she had been sketching, she
had sensed - for the first time in more than six years - the
peace and security she had felt in her husband's arms.
After all this time, Kyra finally knew what she could do
with her life besides serving ale. Still staring at the sketch,
she whispered, "I'm going to paint you, Seron. I may not be
the artist that you once were, but I'll do my best to be as
good as I can be. I won't settle for less; I can't settle for less,
because it's the only way I can have you close to me."
With paints, brushes, and a canvas bought out of her
meager savings, Kyra started the memory portrait of her
husband that very night. Painting by firelight, she worked
until dawn. Her body ached, her eyes were strained, and she
was thoroughly exhausted. And when the sun came up, she
was also thoroughly disgusted. She hurled the canvas to the
floor, where it landed face down. "Terrible," she muttered.
"He didn't look anything like that."
It was then that Tosch flew to her door, calling out,
"Come look at my new wings!"
Kyra stuck her head out the window and saw gold
sparkles on Tosch's wings, dancing in the dawn light.
"You've outdone yourself," she declared.
"And so have you," Tosch cried happily, seeing the
paint smears on her face. "Are you coloring your body now,
"No," she sighed wearily. "But I have decided to do
"Ooh, let me see. I want to see." Tosch bubbled with
"There's nothing for you to look at yet," she explained.
But she knew deep in her heart that even if there had been,
she would not have shown it to anyone, not even Tosch. Her
painting was too private, too personal. Later, when she
improved her craft, when she had captured Seron the way
she remembered him, only then would she let the world see
her work. Not before.
Tosch was disappointed that he couldn't see her
pictures, but the color on her face buoyed him up
nonetheless. "I'll fly you over to the tavern," he offered
cheerfully. "Lets go."
"Not today," she said. "I want to keep working."
Her old friend shrugged and said, "Okay. I'll see you
Tosch did, indeed, see her later . . . fourteen years later.
By then, Kyra was an aging barmaid, working only to earn
enough money to keep her in paints, brushes, and canvas.
She had never stopped painting her beloved Seron.
"Notice anything different?" the dragon said easily, as if
he were just picking up yesterday's conversation.
Kyra was used to it, though, and happily beamed with
joy at his appearance in front of her crumbling shack. "It's
your nose," she said, after looking him over. "It's changed . .
. it's smaller!"
"That's right!" he exclaimed. "I knew you'd notice."
"But what happened to it? It looks, well, sort of pinched
"Isn't it cute?"
"Well . . ."
"I asked a bunch of gnomes to do it for me. I just had to
have a smaller nose. I don't know exactly what they did.
They built a strange contraption, but I think it worked. Look
at me. Isn't it darling?"
"Can you breathe all right?"
"Not too bad. You do like it, don't you?" he asked,
suddenly concerned that he had made a mistake.
"I'll show you what I think of it," she said. "Lean down
close to me."
The great brass dragon lowered its head close to Kyra,
and she gave him a loving kiss on the nose. "You'll always
be the handsomest, cutest, most adorable dragon to me," she
Tosch blushed, though it was hard to tell against the
multi-colored cape he wore. To hide his embarrassment, he
cleared his throat and asked, "How is your painting coming
along? Can I see your pictures now?"
"I'm sorry," she replied evasively. "They're really not
good enough yet. Someday," she promised.
A smile creased her worn, but still lovely face. "By
your standards, yes. Soon."
* * * * *
Highlords came and went. Great cities rose and fell.
Wars were fought, lost, and won. But Tosch, in his
fashion, was ever constant. Throughout the years, he
visited his aging friend, coming to see her eleven years
later, then nine years, then finally twelve years after that.
But during none of those visits, did she ever show him her
It was beginning to annoy him. While the dragon was
as young and vibrant as the day he had met Kyra and Seron,
she had reached an age where it seemed she was always
cranky. Especially on his latest visit. He had seen her earlier
in the day and found her to be strangely unimpressed with
his new purple hat. All she wanted to do was get back to her
painting. She said she was finally getting close to achieving
what she'd been after all these years. That was just fine with
him, but why couldn't she pay more attention to his hat?
After all, everyone else thought it was boldly original.
There was no doubt in his mind; he had to talk with her about her
moods. He resolved to go see her that very night.
Kyra always felt a sweet melancholy after Tosch's
visits ended; it was only then that she was truly aware of her
loneliness. This time it was no different, but after a hectic
evening of waiting tables she was anxious to pick up her
brushes and paint while she still had some strength.
She had no idea how many pictures she had painted of
Seron; she had long ago forgotten the count. In fact, she had
forgotten many things - but not the face of her husband.
Her husband's image, with all of its sweetness, hung
above her bed.
Seron's likeness, with all of its ambition and drive, hung
in the alcove that she called her studio.
Even where she cooked and ate, his face looked down
upon her with all of its childish charm and humor.
Everywhere there were pictures of Seron. They were
piled one upon another, and hung in every corner of her
shack. She was surrounded by his image. And yet she was
not finished with her work.
Frail and sickly, she had continued to paint. With
eyesight fading, her joints aching, her fingers shaking, she
kept on dabbing at the canvas with her brush, hoping to
finally capture the perfect image of the man she still loved.
On this late night, painting by the light of red coals in a
dying fire, Kyra's breath came in short gasps. She was tired.
But she didn't want to stop - not before she completed her
In this picture of Seron, he was lying on a sheet that
was spread out on the grass behind their hut. A pile of
neatly folded laundry was off to the left. There was a look
of longing on his sad-eyed face. He was alone in the picture,
facing forward, with his arms outstretched, reaching.
Was that the way it really was? she wondered.
She gazed at the image of Seron. The sad eyes of her
husband stared back at her. Slowly, just as the red mist on
the Blood Sea would disappear when the sun reached its
zenith, so did the fog lift away from Kyra's memory.
That was exactly how it was. It was Seron in every
detail. His hands, with their long, shapely fingers, his
prominent cheekbones, his jutting chin, the shoulders she so
often lain her head upon - it was all just right.
Or was it?
Kyra's heart began to beat wildly in her chest. Was
there something wrong with the painting? Something
missing? The picture seemed to cry out to her for its final
perfection. But, somehow, she had left something vital
out, and she didn't know what it was.
In that moment, she felt so unworthy of her Seron
that she turned her back to the wet canvas. Except there
was no escaping her husband's sad eyes; he looked down
upon her from every wall.
She lifted her arms to him and wailed, "I wanted all
of Krynn to stand before you and look up lovingly, just
like I did. I wanted them to feel something of what I felt.
But look," she sobbed, her arms sweeping in a
wide arc, "I never captured your love in a single
painting. Not one!"
Kyra fell to her knees and wept with as much anguish
as the night the fire took her husband away from her.
Against a deep crushing pain in her chest, she cried out,
"Did I fail you all these years? Are you
ashamed of me? Oh, Seron, am I even half the woman
you hoped I would be?"
When Tosch arrived at Kyra's shack, he called out
to his old friend . . . but he heard no answer. Again he
sang her name out. And again there was silence.
Finally, in exasperation, he roared, "Kyra!" as loudly as
Half the inhabitants of Palanthas were stirred out
of their beds by the frightful sound.
But Kyra didn't answer him.
Tosch had no patience left. He slammed one of his
huge feet against the door and it flew wide open.
The brass dragon's anger instantly turned to pity
when he saw the crumpled form of Kyra lying on the
floor at the foot of a painting.
Tosch let out a deep, mournful sigh. As old
as Kyra was, he never really thought she
would act like just another human and die.
She was always there to tell him how he looked,
to tell him what he should wear - to be his friend. And now
she was gone.
She had died all alone in this old, dilapidated shack.
He peered inside and, for the first time, focused on the
picture that loomed over Kyra's body. Tosch's eyes opened
wide. It was Seron, just the way he used to be. It was a
magnificent likeness that caught every bit of character,
every nuance of emotion, in the long-dead painter's face.
The dragon stuck his head farther inside and saw scores
upon scores of Seron's image. Seron in every imaginable
pose and activity. But Tosch's gaze kept coming back to the
picture on the easel. The paint on that one was still wet. He
knew that this had been Kyra's last, impassioned work.
He had never known, never guessed, what she had been
painting all these years. Even now, staring at the evidence
of Kyra's lifelong devotion to Seron, Tosch could only
shake his head in wonder. He couldn't quite understand how
she could have loved Seron so much. But then again, maybe
he could. After all, didn't he love her in his own way, too?
He felt his wings quivering and he knew he was going
to do a rare thing - he was going to cry. Kyra had meant so
much to him, and he had done so little for her. He felt
suddenly ashamed, realizing that he had been selfish,
always taking. Why didn't he give her gold dust for her
clothes? Why didn't he chisel her teeth, too? He could have
done all sorts of things for her. But he hadn't. And what
could he give her now?
He stared at her limp, cold body and then lifted his gaze
to the painting of Seron. Then he looked a bit closer . . .
Something was missing. The picture didn't seem quite
right. He studied it for a long, quiet moment, trying to
discover what was overlooked.
Ah, I know what it is, Tosch said to himself. It's so
obvious! He spoke a magical incantation and then slapped
his tail against the ground three times.
Kyra was in the picture with Seron. Now it was right.
They were laughing and crying in each other's arms
alive in their art. Within the bounds of the canvas, Seron
and Kyra were living, breathing, loving souls.
Tosch flapped his wings with joy. He had made Kyra
happy. When he turned to fly away, he heard Seron say to
his beloved, "You are ALL the woman I had hoped you
"Now THAT'S a good painting," said the dragon as he
flew off into the night. "Then again," he mused as he
soared among the clouds, "a little more color wouldn't
By daylight, the stag, with an effort of will, appeared to
the knight. The knight's enthusiasm was gratifying, if
anything could please in Darken Wood. The knight even
mentioned Huma's having followed the stag. The stag
moved forward on Prayer's Eye Peak, knowing the knight
and his companions would follow. If it was his destiny to lead, it
was others' to follow him.
But they did not follow immediately. With
one ear he heard the company debating behind him. The half-elf said,
"Though I have not seen the white stag myself, I have been
with one who has and I have followed it, as in the story the
old man told at the Inn of the Last Home."
The stag, turning to look, saw the half-elf fingering a
ring of twisted ivy leaves, presumably because it reminded
him of his former companion who had seen the stag.
Neither half-elf nor ring brought any memory to the stag.
The mage among them, a robed figure with hourglass
eyes, spoke more of the story they had heard, apparently a
few nights ago, at an inn. An old man had told how Huma,
lost in a forest, prayed to Paladine. A white stag had
appeared and led him home. "That I remember," the stag
thought, "but I had thought no other living being did.
Whatever man they met was old indeed, though if he were
older, he would remember it as song, not story." A pang of
regret for simpler days and easier faith swept over the stag,
much as it sweeps over old men for times gone by. He
shook his rack of antlers fiercely and kept listening.
The dwarf with the company snorted, almost like an
animal himself. "You believe old stories? Here's another,
then: Once there was a stag who caused Shadow Wood to
turn to Darken Wood."
Another companion squatted on the trail, his ears
pricked forward. "Nothing like a good story. When was this,
The dwarf scowled at the other - a kender, the stag
remembered now. It had been long since he had seen one.
The dwarf went on, "Before the Cataclysm. And it's not a
good story, not any way at all. The stag chose to betray the
Forestmaster - the ruler of this wood, whoever that is. So he - "
"Why?" the kender interrupted. The stag put his ears
forward, straining to hear.
The dwarf admitted, "I don't know why." The stag
relaxed. "But he wanted to. So he - "
"It doesn't make sense if we don't know why." The
kender clearly enjoyed interrupting.
"Nothing makes sense to you; let me go on. The stag
went to the king who was pledged to guard the wood - "
"Guard it against what?"
The dwarf reached for the kender. "I'll tie back those
foolish ears and make you listen - "
The half-elf stepped between them. "Let him be, Flint.
Tas, let Flint tell his story."
"That's better." The dwarf took a deep breath, as
much to calm himself as to launch the tale. "Why this stag
wanted to betray the Forestmaster, whatever a
Forestmaster is, I don't know. It's an old story, and parts of
it are all muddled by now. The point is, he did betray the
Forestmaster, back in the days when Darken Wood was
only Shadow Wood."
"That's not the point at all," the stag murmured,
knowing he could not be heard. "I've always thought the
why of it more important than the sorrows that followed.
Still, I am glad that the why is forgotten."
The dwarf went on: "There was a human king in the
woods in those days, as well as living soldiers who
guarded the woods. They were pledged to hold the borders
against invaders, or robbers, but especially against the
"Who?" That was all that the kender said. Flint
swallowed his annoyance. "The Dark Army. An army of
the dead raised by dark clerics. In exchange for the dead
helping the clerics take the wood from the Forestmaster and
make it a fit place for the Queen of Darkness."
All, including the stag, shivered.
"The clerics would cast a spell that made the forest a
place where the dead would live again. That's why the
Forestmaster set guards on the border, to keep the wood
free of evil - but mostly to ward off the Dark Army."
"But the guards failed," the half-elf said softly. Flint
snorted again. "Failed? Failed? They broke their vows. The
stag offered the king and his men a chance to hunt in the
woods - the story's messy there;
I can't tell whether they hunted the stag or something else
- and the king leaped at it. He was rebellious, or
untrustworthy, or wanted some time away from his job.
That's another missing detail. Anyway, the king and his
men left their posts at the edge of Shadow Wood, for only
"But that was time enough." The knight who had first
seen the stag sounded grim. Clearly, the stag thought, this
one took oaths seriously. The stag shifted from hoof to hoof
The dwarf went on, "Time enough and more. While
King Whoever and his oath-breaking guards hunted, the
clerics led the dead into Shadow Wood. Once inside, the
dead formed a circle, and inside it the dark clerics did
something, it has a name like the Song of Dead Land or the
Chant - "
The hooded mage in the company said abruptly, "The
Curse of Carrion Land. If it is spoken over a place, all
shadows deepen into darkness, and all the buried dead rise
again." He smiled at his own knowledge. "It's quite easy to
do, once you are inside the borders of a land."
After an uncomfortable silence, Flint said, "Right. And
then the dead hunted down the traitor king and his men as if
they were animals, and killed them and buried them.
"But the dark clerics had made a mistake. The Dark
Army hadn't been buried in Shadow Wood, which was now
Darken Wood, but the traitor king and his men had been. So
at sunset of the first day, the Dark Army died again, this
time for good. And that night the buried king and his men
rose again and chased the clerics out." Flint looked around
uneasily. "But the Curse of Carrion Land stayed. That's why
Darken Wood is evil. And every night, the traitor king and
his men go hunting, with no rest for them until they redeem
their pledge somehow."
The kender sighed loudly in the silence, making the
company jump. "But what about the stag? And doesn't the
story have an end?"
Forget the stag, the listening animal thought. And no:
there is no end. There will never be an end.
"The stag. Right." The dwarf thought a moment.
"There was something - "
The listening stag was relieved when the dwarf
admitted, "I don't know exactly what happened to the stag.
He died, too, and he had some kind of punishment for his
betrayal. He and the king are tied together, but the story is
all twisted up by now; in some versions the king and his
men hunt the stag, in some they hunt a unicorn, and in some
they hunt the Forest-master, whatever the Forestmaster is.
But I know that the stag is like the king; he's punished every
night for being a traitor. He has to repeat the betrayal over
and over, and he and the king can break out of it only if they
fulfill their vows of service and loyalty to the Forestmaster.
Only they can't. Somebody else is pledged to guard Darken
Wood now, and the story says that the stag is too proud or
angry or something to renew his vow of service. So there
isn't an end. Yet," he finished uncertainly.
"Not a good story," the kender said firmly. "I've heard
"So have I," Flint said. "The point is, which kind of stag
are we following? The one Huma saw, or the traitor in
The stag barely listened to the argument. "Perhaps," he
said to himself, "they are the same stag, servant and
betrayer. Have any of these fools considered that?" He was
relieved when the company, done debating his past and
intentions, chose to follow him. He led silently,
By night he watched the company discuss with the king
of the dead. "They are greatly afraid," the stag observed.
"That must please the very-late King Peris no end."
Later still, the stag watched them mount on centaurs,
who were the Forestmaster's pledged guards, and ride to the
Central Glade. Two centaurs remained behind, guarding the
way. The stag, freed of his duties as guide, was about to
follow the riding company when he heard one of the
sentries sing, in a rough and uncouth voice:
THERE WAS A PROUD AND NOBLE STAG,
IN SHADOW WOOD WAS BORN,
AND THERE HE GREW, AND THERE HE MET
AND LOVED A UNICORN.
The stag froze, listening.
"There now," the sentry said to his companion with
satisfaction, "years it's been since I've sung that, but I can
still put it to the tune."
The other centaur answered dubiously, "It rubs against
the tune, some places. Are the words right? I wouldn't
know, it being new to me."
"New?" the first one questioned. "New? Why, that's the
oldest song I know. It was old when our folk fled to the
wood, in the time - what's the name? When the seas shook
and rocks charged downhill like wild beasts - "
"Cataclysm," the other said.
"Cataclysm," the singer said carefully. "Right. And
that's when we were pledged to guard this place. The
Forestmaster, she had no living guard then, her own guards
being dead and a lot of traitors."
"Traitors? Why?" the other asked.
The stag held his breath, thinking quietly, "Let them
not remember. Let it be lost in time. If I know, and if she
knows - and if the king knows - that is more than enough."
The first centaur slapped his own bristly side.
"Why? The song tells why. Let me see if I can put
of it in mind. Somewhat about the stag serving the
unicorn - "
He sang more hesitantly:
HE SERVED HER LONG, HE SERVED HER WELL,
HE SERVED HER, WHOLE AND PART
UNTIL ONE NIGHT IN SHADOW GLADE
HE TOLD HER ALL HIS HEART.
The other said firmly, "If this song turns filthy, I'll
hear none of it."
"No, no. She turns him down. 'She did not laugh - ' No,
that's not it. 'She told him no' - I have the matter of it there,
but not the music."
The centaur guards moved off on their rounds. The
stag remained, then sang softly, to himself:
SHE DID NOT MOCK, SHE DID NOT LAUGH,
BUT SOFTLY TOLD HIM NAY;
HE DID NOT GRIEVE, BUT CHOSE TO LEAVE
AND PLOTTED TO BETRAY.
HE SOUGHT OUT THEN KING PERIS'S MEN;
HIS WORDS WERE COLD AND BLUNT,
"OH, SENTRY HOSTS, DESERT YOUR POSTS:
I OFFER YOU A HUNT."
The stag stopped and said bitterly, "Ill-rhymed, ill-
metered common trash. The song about my leading Huma is
doubtless long gone, but this wretched lyric - " His own ears
pricked up at the rancor in his voice, and he bounded after
the riding company.
He watched them look up at the rock and stare in awe at
the Forestmaster. The stag, remembering his own first
meeting with the Forestmaster, nursed his dark heart and
said nothing as the unicorn met the companions, fed them,
Finally they were away, born aloft by pegasi. The stag
looked at the ridiculous bipeds, particularly the dwarf, and
felt contempt for the vileness of the winged horses'
servitude. (Cloven-hooved animals feel naturally superior to
those with unsplit hooves: the horses, the centaurs, even the
pegasi.) "How typical," the stag said to himself, "that they
would degrade themselves in that obedience, as close to the
stars as they are."
Even after a long and often painful history, the stag was
quite sensitive of his honor.
He entered the glade and called, as much command as
"I am here." The unicorn had returned to the rock
above the glade.
Forestmaster and stag stood poised, as though pausing
before re-entering an old ritual. Each knew what the other
Still they looked, as though they could not help
themselves. The stag stood proud and erect, as though
posing for a statue. Every hard muscle and taut sinew, every
sharp line of limb and deadly point of antler, was etched in
shadows. As with all shadows in Darken Wood, they
seemed deep and full of death.
The Forestmaster herself seemed all light, as though
the curse that held the Wood could never touch her. Her
mane shone and half-floated, and the arch and curve of her
neck seemed to draw all the way down her flanks and stop
only at the ground. Only her eyes were dark, and those not
the tainted shadows of Darken Wood but the liquid
blackness of a wild thing's eyes, pure and powerful nature.
The stag spoke first. "I have served you this night."
"Did I not serve you well?"
"Have I not always served you well?"
"You have often served me well"
The stag seemed not to notice the distinction. "And I
have asked little in return."
"It was service freely given, gladly accepted." She
stared down at him, her horn pointing into the night. "You
have more to ask now."
"No. More to offer."
"It is the same thing."
That nearly silenced him. Finally, however, he went on:
"I offer my love. I give it freely, generously; since
there is none like me, a gift without parallel." "I know."
After a silence, the stag finished angrily, "Yet you
"I must." The Forestmaster broke the feeling of ritual
by saying, "Humans say of my kind that only a virgin may
"It is an old legend. That is not why you refuse me."
"It is old, and it is exactly why." She spoke less firmly,
more sadly. "And like most old legends, it is twisted and
half true. It is not the humans who must be chaste. To be
who I am, to serve whom I must - "
"Enough," the stag said harshly. "Noble vows aside,
you have refused my love."
The Forestmaster stared into his death-laden, proud
eyes and closed her own. "I have."
"Why?" The word came out hard and sharp, as fresh
and painful as it had been the first time it was spoken.
"Why, when I have told you my own weakness and
admitted that I love you?" For a moment the stag's proud
pose was gone, and he looked almost alive in his hurt and
The Forestmaster said quietly, "Because I must."
The stag had regained his poise. "Because you choose.
That choice is not without consequence."
"For you? For myself?"
"For both. How do you dare refuse me?" He tried to
sound dignified, arrogant. His voice barely shook.
"I have refused others."
"None like me. There are none like me."
"And that, you feel, obliges me to yield the needs of a
world to you. Go then." She added, "But know I never
wished you to."
He snorted, derisive even in a deer. "Naturally not.
Service without debt is more pleasant than solitude."
As the Forestmaster watched him stride off, she
murmured, "Anything is more pleasant than solitude." He
did not hear her.
"One thing more." He turned back to her, and she bent
her head to listen. "You said something about destiny to the
She nodded, her mane rippling. "I said it to the warrior,
though I was thinking of the knight. 'We do not mourn the
loss of those who die fulfilling their destinies.' "
"Coldly put. Whom do you mourn? Those who die
unfulfilled? Those with no destinies at all?"
"All have destinies." She looked up at the sky. From
where he watched, her horn drew a line from him to the
north star. "As all have stars. As you have a star."
"What of those who refuse their own star and would
She held the point of her horn unwavering. "Stars last.
We do not. Refuse it as long as you must; it will still wait
"But I may refuse it as long as I wish."
When she did not respond, he said, "If I cannot shape
my own destiny, I still refuse the destiny shaped for me.
Farewell - again."
He barely heard her say, "I know - again." He
wondered if she were mourning.
Near dawn the stag came to a dark and cheerless spot.
When he arrived at the point near which the sedge was
withered from the lake and no birds sang, he gazed around.
Ahead of him a shadowy spirit in armor stood, waving
his sword restlessly among the weeds. He bent forward, his
lips moving in curses too old to mean much to any but the
The king jerked upright, startled, as the stag sang
KING PERIS'S MEN WERE DUTY BOUND,
TO GUARD THE WOOD FROM FEAR.
THE KING, IN PRIDE, SET SWORD ASIDE,
TO BARGAIN WITH THE DEER.
King Peris responded, waving his sword in time to the
"THERE IS NO HUNT FOR ME," SAID HE,
OF ANY CREATURE BORN,
UNLESS I COULD IN SHADOW WOOD
HUNT DOWN THE UNICORN."
After a moment's hesitation, the stag responded:
"NONE KNOWS SO WELL WHERE SHE MAY DWELL
AS I WHO DID HER WILL,
IF YOU WILL HEED, THEN I WILL LEAD,
AND YOU MAY HAVE YOUR KILL."
The king resumed his search in the weeds. "Imagine
hearing that old thing again, clumsy meter and all. What
made you think of it?"
The stag made no move to help the king. "I heard parts
of it being sung last night."
"Well, well. Folk art endures amazingly, wouldn't you
say? I wouldn't have thought anyone alive would remember
it." He looked sharply at the stag. "It was, I assume,
"It was. One of the centaurs - you remember them;
they replaced you as guardians? - still knows some of the
song. But you shouldn't be surprised; scandal always
"True. For example, look at us - though we can hardly
be said to be outliving anything."
Presently the spirit grunted in satisfaction and raised a
timeworn crown on his sword-point. He put it on with a
bony hand, adjusting it carefully and standing straight. For
barely a moment he looked like some mockery of a real
The stag said deliberately, "Long live the king."
"The king lived long enough." The dead king sat a
moment, looking much like a tired man, for the dead who
may not rest know more weariness than any of us. "Tell me,
did you see anyone this night?"
"You know I did. A knight, a mage, a half-elf, assorted
two-legged shortlings. They are important to you?"
"They are important, I think." The king said absently,
"You seem curious. I had thought you indifferent to
"To everything beneath me, which is much of the
world. And you, great and loyal Peris?"
"Much the same. Of course, more is beneath a dead
The stag said drily, "Long though we have endured, our
standards are still better preserved than we are. May they
last forever. What is their importance?"
"Their importance is self-evident, or it is none. I mean
the strangers; how are they important?" "To the future of
our wood and world."
"Ah. Politics." The stag nodded wisely. "I try to avoid
"I understand completely," the king said casually. "I
tried to avoid politics - once."
"A question of permission to enter, and of forced
entry, wasn't it?"
"It was." He added with uncustomary frankness, "A
question of entry by evil, and into these woods - which at
that time were not called Darken. Perhaps you remember
the stanzas - "
"I do." The stag sang, a little too eagerly for the king's
BUT ONE LONE GUARD FOREWARNED THE KING:
"THIS HUNT IS EVIL-STARRED;
FOR THOSE WITH ARMS AND POTENT CHARMS
AGAINST WHOM WE MUST GUARD
NO MORE WILL WAIT WITH EYES OF HATE
AND SOULS AND HEARTS OF GALL,
BUT PURGE THE WOOD OF LIGHT AND GOOD,
AND GODS FORGIVE US ALL."
He looked expectantly at King Peris, who sighed
hollowly and sang with as full a voice as a spirit could
STILL PERIS BOASTS, "STEP DOWN, MY HOSTS,
AND HEAR THE HUNTING-HORN,
LET MEN INVADE BOTH WOOD AND GLADE,
WE HUNT THE UNICORN."
He lowered his sword, which he had raised for emphasis.
"It wasn't that way at all, of course. And it wasn't rebellion,
or wilful treason, or any of those things. My men were
bored; I was bored. A hint or two from their commanding
officer - " he made a mock bow" - was all it took." He
looked around himself. "Imagine thinking anything in a
short life and a merry one could be boring. I threw away a
kingdom for a day's amusement and an afterlife of painful
"I am surprised to hear you admit it."
"I am surprised also. Perhaps something is troubling
me. Let us change the subject."
"I shall. Did you speak to any of the strangers?" As the
king shook his head, the stag nodded, "For I thought I saw
one address you."
"Ah. That one was a mage. He spoke first." The king
looked as though he had never even tried to evade
"What did he say to you? I could not hear."
King Peris said with difficulty, "He knew that we were
the spirits of men who had failed a pledge, that we were
doomed to perform that same task endlessly until we
somehow earned final peace."
"Mages often are. I think he meant to remind me that I
could earn final peace."
"And what did you say to him of your present state, 0
King? For if I may be truthful, you do not appear in full
majesty. Empty majesty is more like it."
"I told him that we were called to fulfill our oath, one
"When you say we," the stag said carefully, "I assume
that you meant 'my men and I.' "
"I was not specific. I did not mention you by name, but
that does not mean he did not know you also were called to
fulfill your oath."
"Did you tell him," the stag inquired, "How long it
has been since we first heard that call?"
The king shifted, a move of discomfort in the living.
"Discussing these things is not easy. Have you no
understanding of how shameful it feels to rehearse a
"I have more feelings than I commonly show. Let us
change the subject."
"I shall. Something troubles you."
"Of course. I am in love." Even now the admission
"That is always trouble. Unrequited, I assume."
"Strangely, yes. Can you imagine my love not being
"By now, it is easier to imagine than it once was; habit
and repetition make all realities seem more real." Seeing
the stag tense, the king added hastily, "But because it was
true long ago, and for your feelings now, let us say it
"It does." The stag tossed his head. "I will, of course,
want revenge for my hurt feelings."
"Feelings?" The king struck one shadowy arm with
another. The blow left no mark, and the king's expression
did not change. "You can still speak of feelings?"
"I can." The stag looked away. "I prefer to speak of
them, though I still have them."
"Time changes feelings. Time may change all things,
"Time has not changed what we do, nightly." The stag
turned his head, briefly, to look at the north star. "I do not
think it can change what I am, nor will it change what I do.
I choose, again, to betray the one whom I - the one whom I
"Another might not so choose. Even you, after some
consideration, might not."
When the stag did not respond, the king continued, "Tell
me, though you have told me often before: is this a lover
one could betray to hunters?" "One could. Does that
surprise you?" "No more than it surprises me that you
would." Without warning the stag lashed out at a sapling
with one of his front hooves. The kick left a sharp imprint
in the wood. "How could she have refused me? How can
she refuse me?" He kicked again, splintering the small tree.
"How DARE she refuse me?"
He stood trembling with anger, then mastered himself.
"Excuse me," he said to the king. "I'm not myself today."
The king said heavily, "I rather fear that even after ages
of punishment, you are still yourself."
"Perhaps you are right. Still, I like to think I would not
burst out so, except that I had rather a long night last night."
Peris nodded. "Your feelings have always been hard to
contain; long ages of irony and veiled illusion cannot hide
them. As for your night, all of our nights are long." He
added more slowly, "I have news that may interest you. A
second band of strangers, seeking to kill the first, has
entered Darken Wood. They are on the same path as the
"And no sentries have stopped them? History repeats
"It does, as we do. I am inclined to make an end to
The stag paid no attention to the king's last remark. "If
these strangers are not invaders, might they be hunters?" the
stag asked indifferently.
"Hunters of men and of other bipeds. They might be
lured to other hunts." He added, "And as for invading, this
band, too, is politically important, though they are - " he
"Evil. One would not have thought more evil could
be done to Darken Wood, but apparently so."
"After what you have received at the hands of
Darken Wood, does that disturb you?"
"It should," Peris said with assumed indifference. He
gave up the pose. "It does. The peace of a world is more
important than my petty grievances."
The stag pointed out, "Once, long ago, the fate of a
"Now it is."
The stag was too stunned to respond. The king added,
"I am no longer the sworn guard of Darken Wood,
but I choose to return to my post. I will not hunt you this
"You have hunted at my request - have hunted me, as
my punishment - every night for - " The stag
stopped. How, in this endless cycle, could he measure
The king nodded. "Granted. But a king may change his
mind. Once you have seen these strangers, you will
"Will I? You seem sure of that; what are these
The king hesitated. "Complete strangers, let us say."
He said nothing more. "Go see them. Perhaps they will
change their mind."
"Or perhaps they will hunt at my request." The king said
simply, with more emotion than he
had shown before, "Look on them for yourself, and
think what they mean. The hunt must end." "The hunt
will end when I choose it - which means
that the hunt will never end," the stag finished bitterly,
"oh, great and loyal king."
King Peris dropped his hands silently. "Then go and ask
them if they will hunt you. Let them slay you, let them
listen to the same bitter words, the same old pain, over and
over. I also can choose - and I choose never to hunt again. If
you have ever loved these woods, this world - if you have
ever loved at all - see what these strangers mean for our
world, and choose to break the cycle." He fell silent again.
The stag ruminated - as befits a thoughtful ruminant.
Finally he said, "Evidently, you have business with those
who enter Darken Wood. Might you be persuaded to leave
that business - "
" - for a later time? Yes. After all, as you point out, I
have left my post before; I could postpone returning to it for
a while. At my time of life - " he gave a grisly and
meaningless smile - "one day or night is as good as the
"I gather you find it easy to postpone duty. A matter of
The king scratched his ghostly beard with a ghostly
finger. "Or else I am betraying my current habits. One is
inclined to hope that you, too, could betray your current
habits, as easily as you once, and ever thereafter, betrayed
the For - "
"Now who is tactless?"
"Granted. You will consider all that I said? You may
still choose - "
"I may. I will consider." The stag bounded off, knowing
he did not need to agree on a later meeting-place with the
dead king. Some meetings are all but foreordained.
Near the edge of the wood, the trail stopped abruptly,
leaving only brush and a dense wall of plants. On the
outside were false vallenwood, which looked like the great
trees but grew no taller than a dwarf, some berry bushes,
thorned and unthorned, and bright wildflowers.
On the inside were stands of twisted nightroot, the bane
of all animal life; guantvine, dense enough to bind the
unwary; and Paladine's Tears, the tiny blue flowers that
grew and wove into an upright mat between tree trunks.
Though the wall kept curious folk out, the stag knew how
many reckless souls it had kept in.
As he watched, the brush swayed and shivered under
the pressure of hands.
Hands - of a sort. The stag stared at the first clawed
fingers that emerged, waving in the air blindly to push
more branches aside, finding none. The scaled man-thing
that followed them out, blinking, into the sunlight stretched
batlike wings in the open space.
"Kin to dragons." There was no question in the stag's
mind, though the stag had never seen these creatures before.
He knew also how few would know that:
if the stag's appearance to Huma was barely legend now,
the dragons were less than that.
More armored figures followed the first. The stag
backed a few steps, more for his world than for himself.
There were only a few creatures, if ugly ones, but their
presence in this wood, in this world, meant unthinkable
He shook himself and murmured aloud, "The Royal
Peris has a gift for understatement. 'Strangers' indeed." He
tensed his muscles for flight, but stepped forward. "I greet
Nothing happened. The dragon-men stared in all
directions, unhearing and unseeing.
He concentrated and said more loudly, "I greet you."
The leader leapt into the air, his wings holding him aloft
a moment. Where the pegasi in flight looked graceful, this
thing looked foul as it sank back, half-rejected by ground
and air alike.
It watched the stag suspiciously. "Where did you come
The stag shuddered at the hollow, awkward voice that
sounded like a dried man, but he answered it bravely. "From
Darken Wood, where you are. Where have you come
The dragon-thing ignored the question. "Darken
Wood?" He held his sword at guard. "This is an evil place."
He lisped slightly.
The stag wondered, none too happily, if the thing's
tongue were forked.
"Evil only to those who bring evil with them." He
added to the ritual response, "Many have. They do not leave
again." He thought, briefly, of King Peris, of the
Forestmaster, and of betrayal. "But there is much to be
gained here, as well as risk."
"Name the gain." The dragon-man signaled behind
him. The arriving troops moved to the very edges of the
trail, not beyond, and formed twin lines, guarding each
others' backs without a word. They were well-trained for
The stag considered what that meant, but went ahead.
"There is one who watches over this wood." He hesitated,
then amended, "Who rules this wood. All in it, living and . .
. human and animal, serve her." He took a deep breath and
finished, "To take this wood, it is only needed to slay her."
Treachery neither surprised nor impressed the dragon-
man. "And she is?"
"The Forestmaster. The ruler here. A white unicorn."
Several of the company hissed involuntarily. The
leader started. "A unicorn? You suggest a blood-force of
draconians could - "
"Hunt her and slay her, yes." The stag added drily, "It
appears the moral requirements for such a hunt were
exaggerated. That seems sensible, since there is no
morality to such a hunt." He added more plainly, "You
need not be virgins."
The dragon-man waved a claw. "We have no capacity
for desire." He made a face that could have been a smile.
"Or for love."
"You are happier than you know," the stag said,
mainly to himself. Aloud he repeated, "I have offered you
a unicorn hunt. Will you take my offer?"
The dragon-man considered. "How would we find
"You would not. I would, and you would follow. For
the rest - " The stag shrugged, his shoulders rippling the
motion up his well-muscled neck. "Surely you need not ask
me how to hunt and slay animals." An old ache reminded
him what this betrayal meant, to the lover as well as to the
loved. For one moment he had a vision of those teeth, those
claws, tearing at the shadowless white flesh of the
The dragon - draconian - had not moved for some time.
"We would do this for conquest, as well as for reasons we
will not share." He smiled, after his kind, with a great many
teeth. "Why would you do this?"
"For reasons I will not share." He finished more softly.
"For reasons which, apparently, would mean little to you."
More and more, the stag was wondering why scorned love
and thwarted desire meant much to himself. "I was not
aware that soldiers needed excuses, or perhaps you do not
feel up to your quarry."
The draconian answered without anger, "Look in
our faces. We could hunt any creature alive to its death."
"I see. And beyond?" the stag asked politely, but the
joke was lost on them. "Follow, then. Not too closely."
As he turned and bounded away, he heard a single
command, a word or a language he did not know. Once
again he was afraid - for his world, and not for himself.
"Perhaps I grow sentimental. Next I will write bad
songs and carry noisy bipeds on my back," he said aloud.
But the joke was flat, and he realized that sarcasm and self-
parody could no longer protect him from his own feelings.
Behind him he heard the rasp of strange and wicked claws,
tearing at the wood that was his whole world.
He was more than halfway to the clearing when bulky
shapes, half-hidden in leaves, blocked his way. He froze in
place, hoping the draconians behind him would do the
A voice called, "Halt."
"Remarkably alert," the stag observed, "if unnecessary."
"Don't be giving rudeness to those who keep faith." The
deep voice, unbothered at the stag's sarcasm, went on,
"Where does tha go?"
"I have an errand." He spoke coldly, hoping the sentry
would take offense and turn away. "Is it habitual in this
wood to question duty?"
"Not my habit, nor that of my kind." The figure
emerged from the undergrowth. It was, as he had known
from the size and voice, a centaur.
Nonetheless, he peered at it curiously.
"Ah," he said as if in recognition. "A draft human. Tell
me, how is life in harness?"
The centaur regarded him, as always, with the easy
contempt that the hooved and human show the merely
human or the merely hooved.
"We are not in harness but in service - as others should
be," the centaur said heavily. He tossed his head restlessly.
"I have heard rumors and smelled scents this day, as well.
Are more strangers in Darken Wood?"
The stag would not look in the centaur's large, dark
eyes. "Perhaps you smell the strangers from last night. Is
there any reason that their smell would cling to you?"
"We bore them on our backs," he said with dignity.
"As all in this wood know. Are more strangers in Darken
Wood?" he repeated.
"Why ask me? Surely you think you know more than I;
your breed studies stars as well as any beast of burden
"Mockery. It's all tha has." He snorted, horselike. "Try
to hide the truth from us both, if tha wishes. I study little,
but I know stars. These past nights they tell of battle, and of
life and death for a stag. It's a' there - for them as looks
close." He added, "Maybe tha has not seen these strangers -
but tha will." He turned to go.
The stag watched him. "I have a retort," he called,
"timed and well framed, laden with irony and literary
allusion - but I refuse to favor you with it. I have my
The centaur said nothing, and in the stag's heart he
knew that was the best retort of all. The centaur waited a
moment longer, then went his way.
A moment later the lead draconian appeared, sword
ready, behind the stag. "He is gone?"
"He is." The stag was looking where the centaur had
been, thinking hard. He tried to imagine the centaurs dead
and defeated, bleeding as the wood fell again to strangers.
He could not imagine that any centaurs would run, or
would turn traitor, or would think at all of themselves.
"Then we remain undiscovered."
The stag thought over the centaur's words. "Let us say
you remain unseen. Remain so a while longer, by moving
behind me again."
The draconian looked at the stag without love and
withdrew. The stag moved slowly, thoughtfully, toward the
center of Darken Wood.
He caught himself humming. "It's that damned song,"
he muttered. "Crude and folkish, but the tune sticks in the
Actually, it was the words which stuck in his mind. He
found himself singing, half-unwillingly:
THE STAG LED ON FROM NIGHT TO DAWN,
FROM SUNRISE INTO MORN,
AND IN THE SHADE OF SHADOW GLADE
BETRAYED THE UNICORN.
SHE SPOKE TO HIM; HER VOICE WAS GRIM:
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR PRIDE?
YOU KNOW AND SEE YOUR DESTINY
AND YET YOU TURN ASIDE.
YOU WOULD BETRAY ME TO MY DEATH
AND QUITE FORSAKE YOUR VOW?
THEN SERVICE LENT WITHOUT CONSENT
IS ALL YOU DO ME NOW."
SHE TOUCHED HIM ONCE, SHE TOUCHED HIM TWICE,
AND THREE TIMES WITH HER HORN;
AND THERE HE FELL, AND WHERE HE FELL,
HE ROSE A UNICORN.
He heard reptilian muttering behind him and stopped
singing. If those behind him were truly to kill the
Forestmaster, all music here - perhaps, eventually, all the
music in the world - would cease, and all for the stag's petty
A winged shadow drifted overhead. He ducked
automatically, but it was only one of the pegasi, cir cling
and diving above the wood.
The stag could picture something larger, something
with wings like the draconians', stooping onto the pegasi.
He could hear them shrieking, flapping frantically,
tumbling from the sky -
"Not them," he murmured. "Not by my doing, surely.
But what can I do against these invaders?"
And a moment later, he thought, startled, "And could
I give up my revenge, my vengeance for being scorned,
after treasuring it for so long? In this cycle of sorrow,
vengeance is all that sustains me."
It was something to consider on a long walk.
At mid-day the stag entered the Central Glade alone,
well ahead of the draconians. "Master!" The woods took
his cry in, draining it, not echoing.
"I am here," came the voice from the rock softly. "I
am always here." The woods echoed ALWAYS.
"I have a question."
"You have often had questions. You may ask."
"There are many and diverse beings who l-live - " he
stumbled over the word " - inhabit this wood. Some
hooved, some human, some both; some living, some dead,
some a mix of living and dead."
"That much is true." She waited.
"How do they think of me? Do they think of me as
one of them?" The loneliness in his own voice startled
"You are regarded differently by different beings. Do
you wish to be thought one of them?"
The stag thought of those he knew and taunted, then
thought of the draconians. "I had not thought so. But
recently I discovered a threat which I do not want to harm
creatures here, as though they were mine and I cared for
"Then by that care, they are yours and you theirs. Does
that please you?"
After a long silence, the stag said quietly, "I had not
thought it would."
"I am glad." The Forestmaster added, "But that is not
why you came, this night, as you have come all the others."
"True." The stag came forward to the rock. "I have
come to you a final time. Will you not have me?"
"In service, yes. In love, no." She leapt from the rocks,
landing in a cascade of light like stars, even by day. Like
the king, like the stag himself, she did not seem surprised by
But she was astonished when the stag bent his forelegs
and knelt awkwardly in the dust before her. He swayed,
unaccustomed to kneeling. "Then I will serve you, a final
time. This last thing I do of my own choosing."
The unicorn stared at his lowered head. "May I ask
The stag answered, not moving. "Do not think me
"That is the last thing I would think you."
"Good. All that I felt, all that I wish for and desire - "
his voice wavered" - are unchanged. But in all the endless
times that I have left here, returned here, betrayed here, I
never saw the simplest reality of this place: That the wood
is larger than I am. It is larger than my need. In the end, it
will be larger, and last longer, than even my love could. I
offer that love, to it and you, freely and without asking in
return - since without asking, you and the wood itself and
all in it have always given what you could. I offer my
service, and," he finished humbly, "I hope it is well done
enough to be of use."
The unicorn looked at him for a long time, seeing every
detail of him, every hair and horn and eyelash. At last she
said gently, "Most well done, beloved. And remember that I
have only said that I COULD not love you - never that I
DID not. Go with the hunt."
She touched his forehead with her horn three times.
He fell sideways, legs jerking and twitching. Terrible
cries came from him, most loudly when the antlers broke
off. His coat grew paler with each moment, and where the
Forestmaster had touched him a single spiral horn emerged,
blood-tipped, pulling itself through his splintered forehead.
When the draconians emerged, they saw a rock peak
and only one unicorn, tottering unsteadily on its hooves.
With shouts of triumph they leaped into the air, gliding in
pursuit of the unicorn, with their swords swinging and their
fanged mouths wide.
The stag moved, stumblingly at first, into Darken
Wood. One by one the draconians alit and stalked him on
Through the long afternoon, the stag learned again the
old lesson: some hunters one may outrun, but not outlast.
Whenever he entered the slightest clearing, the draconians
covered more ground than he, gaining rest from the time
spent gliding. He wondered if they could fly at all, but soon
he was too tired to wonder. While he stayed in the densest
forest they could not fly, but he could not run easily, either.
Moreover, in the forest he had to break his own trail, but
they could follow in the way he left behind;
he was doing their trailbreaking as well as his own. If he
stopped to rest even a moment, he heard the snap of brush
and swish of branches closer behind him than they had been
when last he rested.
"I would not," he observed to himself as he raced after
one such pause, "have thought they could be so patient. It is
like being pursued by the dead, as I above all have cause to
They had swords and daggers, and perhaps other
weapons as well, but the animal in the stag thought most of
those pointed teeth, the cold eyes, the hissing breath. He had
been pursued - how many times? - for sport, for the
challenge, even for his antlers or for a vow, but being
chased as meat -
His heart went sick within him and pounded every beat
as hard as his hooves pounded the rock-strewn ground.
Behind him came the cold cries of the hunting
draconians. To the rhythm of his own rock-chipped hooves,
he could not choose but hear the darkest verse of the song
touching on himself and on King Peris:
THE GUARDS HAVE FLED; THEIR TRUSTING LAND
ALL UNDEFENDED LIES;
AND THROUGH THE WOOD INVADERS RIDE
WITH DARKNESS IN THEIR EYES.
WITHOUT ALARMS THEY PRACTICE CHARMS
THAT DRIVE AWAY THAT LIGHT
AND SHADOW INTO DARKEN WOOD
IS MADE THAT EVIL NIGHT.
AND AFTERWARD, WITH SWORD AND SPEAR
AND HORSE AND HORN AND HOUND
THEY HUNTED DOWN KING PERIS'S MEN
AND RAN THEM ALL TO GROUND.
THE KING WAS SLAIN, HIS BODY LAIN
AMONG HIS DYING MEN,
BUT THEY WERE TOLD ERE THEY WERE COLD
TO RISE AND HUNT AGAIN.
He ran over the green and sunlit hill called Huma's
Breast, and found no peace there. Within sight of Prayer's
Eye Peak he raced along the river called Night, and took no
sleep by it.
He passed the Vale of Sorrow. He passed the Cliffs of
Anger. He passed the Slough of Betrayal. Always the
draconians grew closer.
"I had not thought Darken Wood so large," he thought
once. "Surely I should never have chided the king for a
single lapse in guarding so large a trust." He thought
briefly of all the scorn he had shown the king, and more
fleetingly of how he had originally tempted the king into
betraying his trust, but there was little time for apology.
Twice, in the late afternoon, they encircled him and
began closing. The first time, he leaped contemptuously
over a startled draconian, in full view of the company. The
soldier jerked his sword upright hastily, but barely managed
to leave a furrow along the stag's flank.
"A scratch, nothing more," he told himself as he limped
away. He considered tossing a stinging retort over his
shoulder, but thought better. "I would only be lowering
myself." And he might, he admitted silently, need the
The second time, panting and exhausted in the Glen of
Thorns, he had lain frozen under a branch of blooming
sorrow's end, waiting until the draconians had plodded past
him to slip quietly away, unmissed until a soldier looked
back and saw the white mane as the transformed stag
scuttled, head lowered, through the thorn bushes.
"A fawn's trick," he panted, ashamed. "I got away by
hiding like a fawn."
He stared at his own side, mottled with thorn scratches
and rock scrapes. "No wonder it worked. Still, perhaps these
creatures don't see well by day." But he looked at the sun,
already sunk below treetop level, and he knew that there
would be no third escape.
By dusk he was tottering, barely ahead of the
draconians, barely able to move his legs. His eyes showed
white all around the edges, and he smelled his own blood in
his nostrils. Each step brought a new ache, each breath
There was no question but that they would kill him. All
that mattered was when and where.
Once he nearly sank down on a patch of deathwort,
ready to let it end appropriately. If this were but one more
death in an endless series, what did it matter whether he
died well or badly?
But he heard them coming and struggled wearily to his
feet. "I have," he gasped, "an appointment. With a friend,
and with - others. I will fail no one this time."
The sun was no more than a blood-red sliver in the
brush when he lurched across the trail and into the small
glade. He looked around dazedly, though he knew the place
well. Even where there were no trees, there seemed to be
shadows, and the grass itself seemed tainted with death.
The stag nodded. "Here." His voice was rasping, half
As the draconians arrived in the clearing, he half-fell off
the trail and sank down on the grass a few lengths away.
A draconian saw him and called, "Captain."
The lead draconian shouted in triumph and leaped off
the trail. The others followed.
The draconian cried, "Pride of kill belongs to Captain
The stag reared up. "Pride, it seems, is universal,
Captain. So is kill."
He punched forward with a hoof. Zerkaz had time to
screech with pain before his heart ruptured and his body
turned to stone. It wavered once, but remained standing.
While the soldiers gaped, the stag charged another,
He had forgotten that he had but a single horn, not
antlers. As he pierced the draconian, the dying soldier
brought his sword down as hard as he could at close
quarters. The horn cracked all the way into the stag's skull.
He staggered back with closed eyes, barely noticing as
the second soldier turned to stone. A third, sword out, was
facing him, but the others had closed behind him and stood
almost touching each other, staring into the field. Their
blades wavered, almost trembled.
Around them, dead human warriors, Darken Wood's
best guard, were rising, at last ready to fulfill an old
promise. Beside them stood King Peris in full battle gear a
thousand years old.
The king's armor was white silver over steel, decorated
in rubies, for the blood of enemies, and emeralds and
sapphires, for an archer's clear eyes. It was, as the stag had
often noted, largely ornamental. Perhaps that was why the
king and his body of men had once failed to guard against a
The soldiers of the dead king writhed up from the grass,
unbraiding from it as though their bodies were
recomposing. Swords in hand and no shields, they fell into
a battle line; their empty eyes showed no mercy, no hatred,
and no hope.
The stag cried in what voice it had, "Forward!" It
leaped awkwardly and took a sword full in the chest as it
punched a third draconian. As the sword withdrew, the stag
made no sound at all.
Peris the King leaped over the falling animal. "I, not you,
lead my men, beast. Forward!" The troops of the dead
advanced, and the draconian ranks, weakened already,
The battle was like some deadly mime. The dead's
weapons made no noise - yet their attackers fell, bleeding
green liquid and turning stony in anguished poses. Blows
against the dead passed through - yet many dead spiraled
back into the carrion-tainted earth, and their lightless eyes
glowed with an odd relief as they sank.
Forces were in disorder, yet few commands were
needed; the dead fought as they had for so long, and the
draconians fought for their lives. Except for a few cries of
anger and pain from the draconians, the only other sound
was the slow fall of stone bodies as, one by one, the
draconians fell to earth clutching unseen wounds and half-
twisting scaley faces in agony. Starlight flickered off real
and ghostly weapons; bodies twisted or toppled into grassy
shadows and were bodies no longer.
To an onlooker it might have seemed some strange
dance without music. It was a war with little sound and no
corpses, a battle for nightmares.
Through it all walked the king, his sword flashing right
and left at arm's length. By himself, in the brief fight, he
accounted for three draconians, and his heart seemed to beat
again with his own pride as they dropped to the right and
left. His arms felt, not the endless weariness of the accursed
dead, but the growing soreness and strain of a living
warrior. His eyes flicked back and forth alertly, noting even
how a sweet night wind ruffled the grass into which allies
and enemies were falling.
Ahead of him a draconian crouched over the prone stag,
bringing a sword down with all the force he could above the
near-motionless neck. The stag had not even looked up, dust
and chaff barely moving in its nostrils.
The king dove forward, sword aimed at the draconian's
heart. He made no attempt to parry the descending sword as
it passed through his ornamental armor and into him.
His own blow took effect a moment later; the
draconian doubled over, gasping, and froze that way, a
corpse carved from a boulder. The king, carried by his own
momentum, rolled against the stone body and winced with
the pain. "I'll have a bruise tomorrow," he thought vaguely,
unsure after all these years what a bruise felt or looked like.
He lay still and listened, hearing nothing but the stag's
labored breathing. He struggled to his feet, barely able to
hold his sword but aware of triumph and of great pain.
The stag opened his eyes. "Peris. The draconians?"
"Dead." Never, in Darken Wood, had the word been said
with such satisfaction.
"An unusual way to end a hunt, with dead hunters." "You
have said so before." The king knelt, taking the stag's head
on his lap. The stag's chest wound, pulled free of the
ground, re-opened, but the king paid no attention. "You
have often said that at a hunt's end the hunter should be
alive, the quarry dead."
"I have often been insulting." His eyes blurred; with
great effort he shook his head and cleared them angrily.
"What will happen now?"
"If I know soldiers, the commanders who ordered the
search of Darken Wood will decide to delay another search
until they feel they can risk further loss. They will also hope
that their quarry, the questing party of the other night,
appears elsewhere, as someone else's responsibility." He
shuddered. "At any rate, we will have saved this part of the
world for a while - if, as they say, I know soldiers."
"You know soldiers well. You lead them still better."
"Thank you." The king sat down heavily by the
bleeding stag. "A satisfying night, but not an easy one. I
have been wounded."
"Recently?" The stag grunted as its forehead horn,
cracked by the sword-blow, split all the way to the skull.
"Tonight, in fact."
"At any other time, I enjoy a joke - "
"Seriously." Red leaked through the holes in the king's
armor, as though the rubies were melting. "I had forgotten
how painful this was."
"You could have asked me." The stag raised its pain-
wracked head. Now the split horn sagged apart, its cleft
gaping, and exposed bone at its root.
"I could have," the king agreed. "It seemed rude." He
spoke with difficulty. "It seems I have fulfilled a pledge and
will die in service."
The stag said, "I also." He added, "Could you help me
over to the last standing draconian? I would not mind dying
with such memorial."
The king, gasping, carried the shuddering body of the
stag to the foot of the standing draconian. "He has - " He
"Can you speak no more clearly than that? I seem not
to hear well just now." The rumble of the moving horns
covered all sound.
The king braced himself and said distinctly, "This one
has a hoof-print on his chest. Yours?"
"I would nod, but I have a headache." Blood ran from
his split forehead. As though watered, the twin horn-shards
sprouted buds of antlers.
"Then he will wear my marks as well." Holding the
stag with one arm, the king removed his own crown and
placed it on the stone figure before sliding wetly down its
side to the grass.
The stag rasped, "Either I am overly sensitive by
nature, or this seems harder than usual." Blood was flowing
darkly around the dust in his chest wound. "Could you not
"I could try." The king tilted his head back in pain as he
inhaled, and sang in a quavering voice:
"FOR EVERY WRAITH WHO BREAKS HIS FAITH
MUST WANDER WITHOUT CEASE
AND, COLD, PERFORM WHAT HE DID, WARM,
AND NEVER REST IN PEACE.
He coughed, and a hairline of blood ran from the corner
of his mouth. The stag, looking up through filmy eyes, took
up the song for him:
SO, EVERY NIGHT THE STAG BETRAYS
THE LOVE HE COULD NOT KEEP
AND KING AND HOST DESERT THEIR POST
TO HUNT AND NEVER SLEEP.
They finished, singing together. It took them a long
time, since one or the other often stopped to gasp for air,
and it seemed important to them that they finish as one:
AND SO THEY SHALL BETRAY AND HUNT,
UNTIL THE DAY THEY SHOW
THAT THEY SOMEHOW FULFILL THE VOW
THEY BROKE SO LONG AGO."
Done, they collapsed against each other. "Not a bad
song, really," the king said. "Needs a little tightening here
and there, perhaps, fewer cousin-rhymes, but at least it's
something of us left behind."
"True. Many have died with less fame and with worse
poetry." The stag's antlers shuddered painfully back into
place. The stag, eyes upward, lay his head on the king's lap
and stared at the draconian. "Who would have thought that I
should be hunted by such as this? Or that you should hunt
The king's voice was low and halting. "True. They are
vile, and we were proud. But for once, we both have died
for something besides ourselves. And when you have been
dead as long as I - " he wavered, and said in a last breath -
"a little variety in one's chosen way of dying is not such a
And as the stag joined the king in final death, he
thought sleepily that after a thousand years of nightly
betrayal, transformation, pursuit by the dead, painful death
and more painful rebirth, almost any change was pleasant.
He cradled his head against King Peris's stomach, and the
two accepted death as, long ago, it had accepted them.
No one but Time removed the bodies; eventually they
disappeared. The stone draconians became overgrown and
powdered under the pressure of weather and vines; time's
best warriors. Only the one draconian, wearing an ancient
crown and scarred on its breast with a cloven hoof, remains.
For reasons no one living knows, it does not crumble. Go to
the wood, no longer called Darken, and you may see it yet.
Once, not long ago, the Forestmaster came into the glade
and stood before the single draconian. The crown was
tarnished, the sword rusted; only the hoof-print was still
sharp and clear. The Forestmaster stared at the print, then
looked thoughtfully around the glade. There was not so
much as a mound to show that anyone had died here, and
even the memory of the draconians was fading from those
who lived in Shadow Wood.
The unicorn tipped her head up and quietly sang two
stanzas she had heard recently, added onto a very old
"THE SHADOWS IN THE WOODS ARE PLAIN
AND MINGLE NOW WITH LIGHT;
THEY FLOW AND PLAY WITH SUN BY DAY
AND DANCE WITH MOON BY NIGHT.
FROM DARKEN WOOD HAS SHADOW WOOD
BEEN GRANTED ITS RELEASE,
THOSE WHO WERE KILLED IN VOWS FULFILLED
HAVE THERE BEEN GRANTED PEACE."
She strode to the edge of the woods and thrust her horn
in among the vines, circling it quickly. Walking back to the
statue, she lifted her horn to the stone and slid a floral
wreath onto it. It slid down too far; she moved parallel to
the sword and adjusted it. For a moment, sword and horn
both pointed to the north star, faintly visible in the
She stepped back. "Sleep well, beloved" She turned and
The wreath of Paladine's Tears stayed fresh a long time.
Hide and Go Seek
Nancy Varian Berberick
For a long time Keli did not know where he was.
Sometimes he smelled the forest and the river, sometimes
only dirt and rocks. Once the boy thought he heard thunder
rumbling far, far away. Then, on the tenuous bridge
between darkness and consciousness, he knew with the
flashing certainty of lightning's strike that it was not thunder
he was hearing.
It was the voice of nightmare: the voice of a goblin.
"Tigo, let's dump the little rat in the river. We have
what we want."
Keli expected to feel the goblin's huge gray hands drag
him up and cast him into the river.
Far back in his mind he knew about the leather thongs
pinioning his arms, binding him at knee and ankle. Too, he
felt the hard earth, the fist-sized rock digging into his ribs.
Pain, however, was not as immediate as death-fear.
A second voice, sounding like the rattling of old bones,
growled, "Bring him over here, Staag; see what he's
Someone shouted, then yelped. Keli's eyes flew open, his
heart leaped hard against his ribs. He was not alone in his
Bruised, pinioned, and bound as Keli was, his fellow
prisoner was in a worse plight, caught hard by the neck in
the goblin's iron-fingered grip. He was small, but no child;
the cant of his ears as well as his slim build and small
stature marked him as a kender. Several pouches of varying
sizes and materials bounced at the kender's belt each time
Staag shook him. And Staag, that slope-shouldered, gray-
skinned nightmare, shook him often and hard simply
because it amused him to do so.
The kender, a game little fellow, hitched up his knees
and drove them into the goblin's belly. Had a mouse
attacked a mountain the result would have been the same.
Laughing, Staag loosed his grip on the kender's neck and
The kender writhed against his bonds. "Swamp-
breathed, slime-brained bull," he croaked.
Keli's heart sank. So much for the kender, he thought.
Staag's going to kill him now!
But the goblin didn't. Tigo stopped him with a
If Staag, his arms too long, his legs too short, his skin
the color of something a week dead, was the nightmare, his
human companion Tigo was reality gone twisted. Tall and
lean, bony-shouldered, with limbs that might have been
stolen from a scarecrow, Tigo bore a four-pronged grapnel
where his right hand should have been. His eyes, muddy
and brown, held little sanity in them.
"I said bring him over here, Staag." Tigo glanced at
Keli, who shivered despite the close heat of the summer
morning. "And the boy, too."
A bull, the kender had called the goblin, and bull-strong
he was. He tossed the kender over one shoulder, Keli over
the other and, with no thought, he dropped them next to
Breathless, Keli lay still where he fell. The kender, his
face in the dirt, snarled another insult.
"Let's just kill the kender and get it over with," Staag
grunted. "We should have slit his throat at the tavern and
got done with it."
"Aye," Tigo drawled. "And left him bleeding all over
the place for anyone to find. I don't think this one traveled
Staag snorted. "Since when do these little vermin travel
in company? Tigo, we waste time." He peered up through
the forest's brooding green canopy. "It's almost noon and
we're still too close to that village. Let's just kill him and the
boy and get OUT of here!"
Keli clamped his teeth down on a whimper and prayed
to every god his mother had told him was real.
"Be patient, you'll have your fun. But we're not going
to kill the boy yet." Tigo, his hands thief-light, slipped a
finely tooled leather map case from the kender's shoulder.
He laughed, a sound that reminded Keli of rusty hinges
creaking. "Nice collection of maps, kender."
The kender hitched himself onto his back, spat dirt, and
looked at Tigo with the expression of a guileless child.
"Used to clean middens for a living, did you? I can tell by
Keli groaned again, hoping the kender's blood wouldn't
splatter all over him. Yet, though he paled, Tigo didn't
reply. Staag kicked the kender.
"Please, kender," Keli breathed. "Be quiet!"
Sometimes a bad dream, steeped in terror and warped
perspective, turns funny. Keli felt he was in one of those
odd turns now: the kender winked.
Before Keli could be certain he'd seen the wink, Tigo
cuffed the kender hard.
"These maps! How recent, how dependable?"
With a speed that left Keli confused, the kender became
the spirit of helpful affability. "Some are very old - I've
been collecting them for years, you know. It's kind of a
hobby of mine. I like the drawings, especially the things the
mappers sketch when they don't know who or what lives in
the land. And I like the little legends and poems in the
borders of the larger ones. That one, the one drawn on hide,
is my oldest and the one I think I like the best. I got it in
Schallsea; an old man gave it to me and he said - "
Tigo's hook-hand flashed silver in a shaft of sunlight,
dancing threateningly before the kender's eyes.
"Right. Some of them are old, some are new. I guess it
depends on where you want to go," the kender added
"Away from here," Staag growled, "and fast."
The kender did not give the goblin a glance, but spoke
to Tigo. "Then you're really lucky you brought me along.
I've been all around these parts, many times, and I know
them nearly as well as I know the inside of my own eyelids.
That's why I don't have any maps of this area in the case.
Who needs one? Not me. Where do you want to go?"
Tigo hissed a snake's warning. "What makes you think
we need a guide?"
"You said so." The kender was all innocence now. Keli
marveled at his composure. "Not in so many words, of
course, but I can tell. Otherwise why would you be so
interested in my maps?"
"You make a large guess, kender."
Keli thought so, too, but held his breath now, waiting.
The kender shrugged as best he could. "Maybe I was
wrong. But if you DID need a guide - and I'm not saying
that you do - I'd be the one you'd need. As I said, I know - "
"Aye," Staag snarled, "all the lands about here."
"That's right, I do. What do you think? Do you need a
guide?" The kender lowered his voice in a confidential
manner. "If you want to kill someone, for example - "
Staag rumbled threateningly, loosed the dagger at his
"Whoa! Wait! I'm not saying you do. I'm not saying
you don't. But I can take you to a place I know where you
can do whatever you need to do and no one will be the
"In exchange for what?" Tigo asked.
The kender snorted. "For my life!"
Keli's heart sank. Whatever that wink had been, it
certainly hadn't been an expression of solidarity.
Tigo shook his head, baring his teeth in a deadly smile.
"What's your bond, kender? What will keep you from
sneaking off in the middle of the night, leaving us with
daggers in our backs?"
Staag laughed then, thunder and nightmare. Keli's
stomach turned weakly. "The same thing that keeps him
here now, Tigo. Loose his feet so he can walk, but keep his
hands tied and him on a short rein."
Keli shifted away from the kender. This was no fellow
prisoner now, but one in league with these two who, for
some reason Keli could not figure out, wanted to kill him.
He squeezed his eyes shut against a cold wash of despair
and only partly heard the argument between Tigo and the
goblin about whether the kender's pouches should be rifled
now or later.
It hardly bore listening to anyway: Tigo argued that
there was no time, and clearly Tigo was someone whom
even the goblin feared. I'm not dead yet, the boy thought,
but it's only a matter of time and place now. And I don't
even know why!
Tanis had suspected all winter that the real purpose for
Flint's journey this year was to attend Runne's wedding.
Flint mentioned the occasion only once, when he and Tanis
were mapping out the summer's trips, and then only told a
brief tale of how the girl was the grandchild of Galan, the
man who had been the old dwarf's first customer and who
many, many years ago had become a friend.
"Runne's father, Davron, was killed a few years ago in
a hunting accident. And Galan ... is gone now. Someone
must stand in her father's place at the ceremony and, while
there are uncles to spare, the little maid has remembered her
grandfather's old friend and asked me to fill that place. I
want to do that, Tanis."
Though it was high summer now, the dust of the only
street in Seven Wells dancing in the hot breeze like
phantoms around his knees, Tanis well remembered how
the winter firelight had looked like memories in Flint's eyes
when he told that lean little tale. Yet every event of the
summer seemed part of a conspiracy to keep Flint from
Long Ridge and the wedding.
Hot and too early the summer had come, drying the
stream beds and cutting hard into their travel time. Near
Gateway one of the few storms of the season sent lightning
lancing from the sky to ignite the tinder-dry forest. Two
weeks on the fire line there, digging trenches to help defend
the town from the burning rage of the forest fire, ate into
their travel schedule. A merchant late for their rendezvous
at Pine Glen, and another customer who never did meet
them at Fawn's Run, left them here in Seven Wells with a
two-day journey to Runne's home in Long Ridge which
must be reached in one.
Now Tas had vanished.
Caramon would have no part of a search around Seven
Wells for Tas. "Who knows where the little ban dit's got off
to now? I'M not spending the cool of the morning looking
for him. He knows where we're bound. Let him catch up."
Raistlin removed himself from the discussion
altogether. Sturm, who decided it might be profitable to
look while the others argued, returned after a time with the
news that Tas was not to be found.
"Right," Flint snapped. "Because he probably took off
in the middle of the night for who knows what foolish
reason." He lifted his pack with one easy swing and settled
it on his back. "I'm not waiting around for him to remember
where he's supposed to be. Caramon's right, he'll catch us
up on the road. And if he doesn't - then he doesn't."
No one was disposed to argue. The road before them
would be a long and hot one. Tas had too often romped
ahead, lagged behind, or struck out on some kender-quest of
his own for anyone to be concerned about him now.
Tanis hefted his own pack and fell in beside Flint. The
kender could be as troublesome as a heel-snapping pup, but
he was well able to take care of himself. This
disappearance, like so many others, would be explained
away with some fantastic tale of adventure or discovery.
Tas had been looking forward to the celebration at Long
Ridge. Likely he would join them there.
Tanis was not concerned.
Keli wasn't walking well. Tethered to Tigo, as the
kender was to Staag, he stumbled, fell, and this time did not
try to get up. He was too tired, too hot and frightened, and
too certain that wherever the kender was leading them
would be the place where Tigo would kill them both.
It was the kender, loping back from where he'd been
ranging for trail marks and paths, who helped him. Keli
pulled away from his hand and staggered to his feet. "Do
you really think they're not going to kill you,too?"
The kender only grinned and shook his head. "They
won't. And they won't kill you either."
Staag hauled hard on the kender's line. "Move away,
The kender went where he was pulled, but before he
resumed his scouting he looked once over his shoulder and
again winked. Trust me, the wink seemed to say.
Keli was in the way of trusting no one, and he certainly
wasn't going to trust a kender who would bargain with
killers. The boy hunched his shoulders against the heat and
his fear and trudged on. He ached for home, he who had
been so proud to leave it as his father's courier only a week
Ergon, his father, had been almost casual about
charging his son with the message to his old friend Carthas.
"Give him the scroll, son, but remember to give him
first my regards and personally tender my regrets that I will
not be able to accompany him this year on his horse-buying
expedition. I must honor my promise to your mother's
sister. Your uncle was a long time ill before he died.
Though he tended his business as best he could, your aunt
will need my help to untangle the mare's nest he left her.
"Tell all this to Carthas. He will understand."
Keli had accepted the charge as though entrusted with a
message to the High Clerist himself.
The tavern at Seven Wells had been Keli's third stopping
place. And, it now seemed, his last. He'd come in late,
stabled his horse, and snatched a quick meal. When he tried
for a room, he was able to get lodging only in the barn with
his horse. A party of horse traders filled the paddocks with
their stock and most of the tavern's rooms with themselves.
So tired had Keli been that the straw seemed a princely
bed. He'd fallen asleep easily to the stamp and chuff of
And wakened to the nightmare of the goblin and
moonlight streaming along Tigo's hook-hand. One of them
hit him hard. There had been nothing but pain and darkness,
and finally, the woods.
His horse they must have turned out among the stock in
the paddocks so that none would wonder in the morning
why the young courier had gone and left his mount behind.
And they'd snatched up the kender as well. Keli still
didn't understand why, couldn't fasten on a reason. Tigo
jerked on the tether again as though calling to heel a
wandering dog. Keli tried to pick up his pace.
He could either look at the ground or the kender
scouting ahead, and he chose the kender coursing the forest
as though leading them through streets of a town he knew
well. Bright blue leggings flashing in and out of the
underbrush, topknot bouncing, the kender reminded Keli of
a blue jay.
Chatters like one, too, Keli thought. The boy didn't
mind the kender's chatter very much. Running like the song
of the river they'd left behind, it took his mind off what
must await him at the journey's end.
That would be death. The kender talked long and often,
but he was not the only one who did. In fits and snatches
Keli had picked up bits of his captors' guarded conversation.
Staag was pressing for opening ransom negotiations.
Tigo had other plans.
"Aye," Tigo snarled once, "we'll send a ransom demand.
But it's not only ransom that one will be paying out for his
son. He owes me, Ergon does. He'll pay the coin, but all
he'll find is a body."
Sweat traced paths in the dust on Keli's face, ran
stinging into his eyes. After a moment the kender dropped
back, jostled him lightly, and stumbled to cover the move.
"Don't worry," he whispered. "This is just like a game
of Hide and Go Seek, only I'm sure my friends will find us.
Tanis is the best tracker there is. And Raistlin and Sturm
and Caramon learned from him. The place I'm going to take
us to is a place Flint showed me a couple of years ago. Once
they get on our trail, Flint will know right off where I'm
Hide and Go Seek? Keli turned away in disgust. "This
is not a game, kender. I told you, those two are going to kill
As before, the kender grinned and shook his head.
"Those two? Flint alone could handle three or four of that
sort. Or five, or six, depending on the circumstances . . ."
Tigo booted the kender up ahead again, and Keli was
left with something to consider.
His friends, the kender had said. Keli squinted hard at
the kender's back. He DID look familiar. Had he been at the
tavern last night? Aye, and, despite what Staag had said
about kender not traveling in company, this one had been
with a red-haired hunter who had an elven look about him,
three young men, and a dwarf. He remembered them
because one of the young men, thin and pale-eyed, no
warrior like his two companions, had threatened to turn the
kender into a mouse and fill the tavern with cats if he so
much as looked at his pouches again. A mage, by the sound
of that threat. Keli had thought at the time that the others
probably traveled with the mage just to keep the kender in
Could it be that these companions would be looking for
the kender? I'M MAKING SURE THAT MY FRIENDS
FIND ME. . . . How? Keli drew a breath, and hope with it.
But the hope was small and too slim to flare. Hide and
Go Seek, the boy thought, is played with friends in the
streets and alleyways of the town you live in. Not with
goblins and thieves in the forest.
The bride was a summer princess, her hair golden
wheat, her eyes blue-touched with dawn's mist. Roses
blossomed in her cheeks. Her laughter rose and dipped the
way a bird's song will.
So she seemed to Tanis. She must have seemed that
way to Flint, too, for he gifted Kavan, the miller's son, with
her hand as though presenting the boy with jewels. How
Karan felt was clear for all to see; all the jewels of Krynn
would be but poor stones and rubble when compared with
"Lucky fellow, this Kavan," Caramon murmured when
the ceremony was ended.
Tanis gave him a sidelong look and a grin. "Caught, is
what he is, but the jailer is pretty enough, isn't she?"
"Aye, and it won't be bread and water for him. Though
it will be some time before he has any interest in kitchen
matters - " He did not finish the thought but jerked around
when a hard finger caught him between the ribs.
"Keep a civil tongue in your head, youngster," Flint
"I didn't mean - "
"I know what you meant. Now why don't you go off
and do what you do best: find yourself something to eat."
It was a suggestion Caramon never found amiss. When
he was gone, Tanis grinned again. "Runne is a beauty, isn't
"Aye, she's that. Her grandfather would have been
proud this day."
Memories darkened the old dwarf's eyes again, clouds
in a clear sky. As though to deny the sudden thread of
sadness running through his day, Flint looked around,
searched the crowd of family and friends now surging
around the new bride and her husband. "That addle-pated
kender never turned up."
"I haven't seen him, but Tas isn't one to miss a
celebration. He'll be here before long and likely you'll be
wishing he wasn't."
Yet through the long summer afternoon and into the hot
dark of night the guests at the wedding moved easily,
refilling wine goblets or ale pots and plates too soon
emptied of the good food. No one cried thief, no one
wondered where his purse had got to, no lady missed even
the smallest trinket or scarf.
There was no kender in attendance, and by the time red
Lunitari reached his zenith and white Solinari left the
horizon behind, Sturm came to Tanis wondering.
The forest had thinned near sunset, the oaks and pines
were spare now, replaced by stony ground and boulders.
Night's dark cloak brought no relief from the day's heat, and
Tigo was not bearing the simmering night well at all. His
eyes were black pits, his lean, hard jaw jerked from time to
time under a tic of which he seemed unaware. His fingered
hand stroked the grapnel's hook as though he'd decided to
do murder with it.
Beyond a gulp of water, Keli and Tas were granted
nothing. The rope tethers were gone, the knee and ankle
thongs were back. Above the whine and drone of gnats, the
bright song of crickets, Keli heard the kender's low cursing.
Twisting so that he faced the fellow, Keli grudgingly
whispered, "Are you all right?"
"It's not," the kender grumbled, "so much that I'm
nearly starved to death and those two have eaten everything
but the bones of that rabbit. It's these thongs. It's not easy to
breathe when your hands, your knees, AND your feet are
The kender was more actively suffering now, so
completely bound, than he had been all day. His breathing
was the short, hard gasping Keli had seen once in a dog
whose collar was caught in a fence.
"Kender," he whispered, thinking to distract his
companion from his troubles, "I'm Keli. What's your
"Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Call me Tas, all my friends do."
"Tas, how did they get you? And why?"
"With a sack over the head, followed quickly, I can tell
you, by a big stick of wood. I was in the barn, at the tavern,
just looking. Someone had ridden in that night on a big red
horse, and Caramon said he'd never seen a bay with a mane
and tail that color before. They were all gold, you see, and I
just wanted a look. Nasty beast, too. Nearly took off all my
fingers when I went to touch his mane. It was like gold,
though, soft and yellow." Tas hitched himself up so that the
small of his back rested against a boulder. In restless
preoccupation, he worked his wrists against the binding
leather. "I walked in on them just as they were tying you
From where he lay Keli saw a thin line of blood, black
in the darkness, trickling down Tas's wrists to his fingers.
"Stop - " he hissed, "you're bleeding!"
After a moment, Tas sat still. "Why did they take you?"
Keli shook his head. "I - I don't know."
Tigo's shadow, thin as a black knife, cut between them.
Keli fell silent, hoping the kender would do the same. For
once Tas did.
Tigo's eyes gleamed like dark, hateful stars. "Don't you
Keli chewed his lip and shook his head.
"You don't know the tale of the brave knight Ergon who
went boldly against a barely armed pickpocket with his
Keli flared. "My father would NEVER fight an
opponent who was not equally matched!"
"Wouldn't he?" Slowly Tigo raised his hook-hand. For a
moment he seemed lost in the play of Lunitari's blood-red
light along the steel. His eyes dimmed as though all their
gleam had gone into the grapnel. When he spoke again, his
voice was flat. If dead men could speak, Keli thought, his
was the voice they would use.
"This hook is a thing I must thank the courageous
knight Ergon for. My hand he claimed in payment for an
old man's purse."
"You lie," Keli spat.
"Careful, boy. This hand is not flesh and it cuts deep."
"Aye, and you'll kill me anyway. You've said as much.
I'd sooner die for the truth than a lie."
Tigo's eyes burned, his jaw twitched. "It is no lie!"
The night's heat was cool when compared with Keli's
outrage. It was no easy thing to be a knight in these troubled
days. All his life Ergon had followed the rules of his order
humbly, honorably, as though they were a code he was born
"I remember the tale well - I thought my father would
die of the wounds he got at your hands and those of your
accomplices. And the old man, he DID die, thief. He was no
match for four daggers. My father barely was. And it was
no sword my father used, but his own dagger."
Keli choked on his fury, would have said more, but Tas,
under pretense of shifting cramped muscles, fell hard
against him. Tigo reacted with a howl of outrage. "You'll
die for your twisted truth, boy, soon enough. But not yet.
For now," he said, eyeing Tas, "I've an interest in the
"What's in your pouches, little bandit?"
Tas shrugged and grinned. "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Like a hawk diving, Tigo's good hand came
down, caught the kender by the front of his shirt and lifted
him full off the ground, dangling him in front of Staag.
"Why don't I believe that?"
The buzzing of the gnats and the shrilling of the crickets
seemed louder to Keli. He hoped with all his heart that the
kender wasn't going to do something to get himself killed.
And from the look of things, he thought, hunching around
so that he could see, it wouldn't take much.
The thief's dark eyes were only narrow slits now. His
teeth, gleaming white in the light from the fire, were bared
in a snarl. He threw the kender down at the goblin's feet.
The snarl turned to a grin the moment Staag began to cut
the pouches from Tas's belt and the kender raised his
Keli didn't understand the kender. What seemed a
matter of soul-wrenching pain only a short time ago - his
bound wrists and knees and feet - was as nothing now
compared with the rifling of his pouches, the throwing away
of what he called his treasures.
"A line of wicking," Staag grumbled, "a gray feather,
two chipped arrowheads, a bundle of fletching - junk!
Nothing but junk!" He pawed through first one pouch, then
another. Tas's fury only amused him.
A gold earring he kept, stuffing it into his own belt pouch
along with a ring set with polished quartz and a small
enameled pin. The rest, an assortment of things that could
not have been of value to any but a kender, he kicked aside.
Tigo, like some thin, black vulture, leaned over Tas.
"Just where are you taking us, kender?" he demanded
"I told you, to a place I know where you can do
whatever you have to do and no one will find you."
"Aye? Not on some roundabout trail that will lead us to
Keli felt Tigo's fury, banked but still hot, where he lay.
He prayed the kender would be careful now.
He wasn't. "Not trouble of my making."
Tigo kicked Tas hard, and the whoosh of air exploding
from the kender's lungs made Keli's stomach hurt. The
kender jack-knifed over, nearly wrapping himself around
the thief's ankle. He was furious, but not so furious that he
didn't take good aim when he bit. His teeth clamped on the
man's leg above his boot and it took Staag to pull him off.
Tigo roared. "Hold him while I rip the belly out of
Keli screamed protest, struggling against his bonds.
"Go on," Tas taunted. "Where will you be then, you
brain-sizzled, hook-handed ass? Stranded, that's where
you'll be! You haven't a drunk's idea where you are now!"
Tigo would happily have crimsoned the earth with the
kender's blood, but Staag had no appetite for killing their
guide. Moving faster than Keli thought any goblin could, he
whisked the kender away and threw him down next to Keli.
"Keep your mouth shut, kender," he hissed. "I won't be
able to keep him off you next time."
Tas choked, gasped for air, and coughed. Keli shrugged
himself closer to the kender and nudged him with his
"You all right?"
Tas muttered something into the dirt.
"I want my dagger, my hoopak, a rock, anything!"
Keli braced his own shoulder against the kender's,
offering companionship, commiseration, comfort. "Maybe,"
he whispered, more for Tas's sake than because he believed,
"maybe your friends will find us soon."
Merciless summer sun glared from the hard blue sky,
baked the ground, radiated from the humped clusters of
rocks. Tanis wiped sweat from his eyes with the heel of his
hand and bent to retrieve the one thing Flint had missed: a
fog-colored wing feather from one of the gray swans of
Because a cut through the forest from Long Ridge
would take a day off their journey to Karsa, the half-elf and
his friends had bidden the bride and her new husband
farewell the night before and struck south and east at first
light. Runne would have kept them longer, but Flint pleaded
business and promised her that he would see her again on
his way back north.
"I don't think," he told Tanis wryly, "that she's going to
miss me or anyone for a time."
Tanis, remembering the hard poke in the ribs Caramon
had earned for himself with a similar remark, had offered
only a noncommittal smile. It seemed that where Runne was
concerned some things could only be said avuncularly.
Now, the darkness bordering the edges of those
memories, the half-elf absently stroked the edge of the large
gray feather with his thumb. Tas had been here recently.
Or his pouches had. And those had been ruthlessly
emptied, their contents carelessly scattered. The hot breeze
carried Caramon's deep voice from up the trail and Sturm's
answer. Tanis knew by their tones that they had found no
sign of either struggle or a body. He left the underbrush and
joined Flint where he knelt in the path.
"One more thing, Flint."
The old dwarf took the feather without looking and
added it to the pile of oddly assorted objects to be stuffed
with hard, angry motions into Tas's pouches.
A blade-broken dagger, a blue earthenware ink pot, a
little carved tinderbox, a copper belt buckle that Caramon
had lost somehow and which Tas would swear he'd always
meant to return, a soft cloth the color of dawn's rose, a
bundle of the stiff green feathers Tanis liked best for
fletching his arrows ... all of these kender-treasures and
more had been discarded as so much junk.
Flint's anger might seem, from his tight-lipped
muttering, to be directed against a packrat of a kender.
Tanis knew the old dwarf better than that.
"We'll find him, Flint."
Flint still did not look up, but drew the thong tight on
the last of the kender's pouches. "Did you find his map
"Good. I wish whoever took it the joy of trying to find
his way with those maps! Hardly one of them is worth the
parchment it's penned on."
Tanis found a smile. Few of Tas's maps were any good
at all without his interpretation and translation. And those
were never the same twice.
"We'll not make Karsa any time soon now, Flint."
"AYE," Flint grumbled. "And you can be sure that I'll
take it out of that rascally kender's hide when we finally
catch up with him, too."
Tanis thought the threat lacked conviction.
Silent as a shadow moving in the breeze, Raistlin came
up beside them. "If someone took the map case, and there is
nothing to show that the kender was killed here, it would
not be amiss to consider that the case, Tas, and whoever
waylaid him are still together. The trail is rocky up ahead,
"None. But there is something else." Raistlin nodded
toward a small grouping of boulders. "Camp signs. Perhaps
you should see them."
Tanis moved as though to signal Flint to join them, but
the young mage shook his head. Fear, like a dark thread of
night, crawled through Tanis's belly.
The campfire had been small, ringed by rocks. Several
yards beyond them was a flat-sided boulder. On the near
side of the boulder, a handspan from the ground, was a
mark no larger than a kender's fist. Though it was rough-
sketched in blood, Tanis recognized the sign at once: a
stylized anvil bisected by a dwarven F rune. Flint's plate
"Who else would leave that mark?" Raistlin touched the
rusty brown blood. "It was fresh not long ago."
Both turned at the sound of an approach. Flint stood at
"Wretched kender!" The old dwarf clenched his fist.
"Vanishing out from under our noses and getting himself
into Reorx only knows what kind of trouble!" He stared for
a long time at the device which had always marked his best
and most beautiful work, sketched now in dark blood on the
stone. It was as though he'd never seen the mark before and
sought now to memorize it.
Tanis said nothing, did not want to speculate at all now.
Raistlin it was who spoke, and when he moved his shadow
fell between Flint and the mark.
"The blood is fresh, Flint, not a day old. He's still
alive." The young mage looked from one of his friends to
the other. "And, by the look of this, hoping that we're on his
trail. We'd best waste no time in wondering now."
Tanis did wonder: He wondered if they were too late.
The sound of the waterfall might have been the angry
roar of some outraged god. Racing and tumbling, the river
threw itself from the cliff nearly two hundred feet above
and slid in foaming white sheets only to vanish a third of
the way down. Then, like some conjurer's trick, the falling
river reappeared from a spout after twenty-five feet of
sheer, burnished cliff face and finished its headlong dash
into the narrow lake.
The mist was as thick as rain on the shore and as
drenching. Though Keli and Tas were tied to the base of a
thin spire of rock, all the thirst and heat of the day seemed
to vanish beneath the soothing kiss of the vapor.
Keli sidled as close to Tas as he could. He sent a quick
glance over his shoulder, assured himself that Tigo and
Staag were well occupied refilling their water flasks, and let
a long, gusty breath speak of the almost solemn wonder that
filled him at the sight of this wild and glorious falls.
"You knew," he whispered, "you knew this was here."
"Oh, yes. I've been here before." Tas frowned a little,
then shrugged. "Although it's not exactly where it's
supposed to be."
"Well - it isn't the place Flint knows. The trail looked like
the one to there. But I guess it wasn't. This must be" - he
squinted at the setting sun - "sort of east of it. Or north. Or -"
Keli's heart sank and with it any hope he might have
nourished for rescue. "They're not coming," he said bleakly.
"Oh, yes, they are. It - just might take them a little
longer to get here. But that's all right. Things will work out
if you stick with me." Tas winked, something Keli was
beginning to recognize as a sign that more trouble was on
the way. "All the way."
"All the way?"
"All the way to the top."
"The top of the FALLS?" Keli's mouth went suddenly
drier than it had been all day. "I don't - I'm not sure - "
"Don't worry!" Tas's eyes were bright with expectation.
"Really, Keli, you worry more than anyone I've ever met.
Except Flint. Now, there's a worrier. How old are you,
"Twelve! Far too young to be worrying as much as you
Keli closed his eyes against the sight of the roaring
falls. "Tas, I'm sorry you got caught by those two . . ."
"I got caught?!" Tas was indignant. "Why, it's more
like they got caught by me! After all, they didn't even know
where I was taking them! Ha! Of course, as it turns out, I
didn't know either, but that's a small point. By the way, can
"Yes," Keli said warily.
"Good! That's the last problem solved."
"The last? But - "
"What are they doing, can you see?"
Again Keli looked over his shoulder. "They're still at
the lake. I can see Tigo, but not Staag. I hear him, though."
"Good enough. Now, look."
Tas twisted a little so that his back was to Keli.
Clutched in the kender's bound hands was a small dagger.
"Tas! Where did you get that?"
Tas shrugged. "Oh, well, you know, sometimes people
are a bit careless about where they put things and I ... just . .
. find them. This," he said, grinning again, "I found in
Staag's belt this morning. He'll miss it sooner or later. But
by then I think we'll be too far away to give it back. Now,
turn around and stand very still. I don't want to nick you."
He cut Keli's thongs blind, his back to the boy. The
patience to unknot the most tangled puzzle and nimble, firm
hands were a kender's gifts. Keli was free before he could
worry that Tas would sever a wrist rather than a thong.
"There. Now do mine."
Keli worked carefully, his fingers still numb, his hands
aching with the sudden rush of blood in veins. Soon the
kender, too, was free.
"Now," Tas whispered, "follow me!"
With one glance backward, swift and silent as a hare on
the run, Keli followed the kender. They made distance,
angled sharply north and then abruptly west to the stony
shore of the lake. When Tas skidded to a halt on the rocks,
Keli nearly toppled into him.
"Tas! I don't think - " Keli swallowed his doubt. Tigo
had discovered his captives' escape and his cry echoed
along the shore. In an instant, the goblin and the thief were
in furious pursuit.
"Keli, make straight for the falls, then cut to the north
when you begin to feel the force of the cascade. Slip in
behind the wall of water. I'll be waiting for you."
Tas's dive was a whirl of arms and legs. He hit the water
hard and whipped his hair out of his eyes. "Come on!"
The inside of Keli's mouth was like sand. He shot a
terrified glance over his shoulder and another at the lake
and its thundering falls. He knew with certainty that if Tigo
caught him now he'd rip the heart out of him with that
grapnel hand. There would be no false ransom note to his
father, nothing but bloody revenge for a wrong never
There was no reasoning with insanity.
The drop to the lake from the rocky ledge was as deep
as a tall man's height. Keli drew in all the air he could and
dove, feet first, into water as cold as a newly melted glacier.
"Go!" Tas yelled to the boy. "Go!"
Keli struck out hard and fast, and Tas overtook him a
moment later, cutting the lake as smoothly as any sleek
They'd not covered even a quarter of the distance to the
falls when two splashes behind them told them they had not
lost their pursuers.
"Where are your friends?" Keli wailed.
"I don't know!" Tas shouted back. "They're usually
better trackers than this!"
The waning sun twined ribbons of golden fire through
the cascading water and ran along the sheer sides of the far
cliff face as though etching veins of gold and rubies. The
narrow part of the lake was at the western shore. On the
eastern side, the chum of the thundering falls turned the lake
white and deadly.
For a long moment, squinting through the light and the
mist, Tanis forgot to breathe. His breathing was not stilled
by the beauty of the place. That he hardly saw at all. It was
stilled by horror.
Far out across the lake, small as abandoned nestlings, two
swimmers surfaced at the roil's edge. There was something
about the dive and play of one to tell him right off that he
was Tas. The other, clutching at air and shimmer, looked
like a boy.
Behind the two, closing fast even as Tanis watched,
were two other swimmers. One, huge-armed and gray-
skinned, was clearly a goblin. The other, lean and one-
handed, coursed ahead, angling as though he meant to cut in
behind the boy.
Flint's groan could have risen straight from the depths
of Tanis's own fear. Moving quickly, the half-elf tossed
aside his bow and quiver and pulled off his boots. Raistlin's
light hand caught his wrist. * "Wait! Tanis, let my brother
go, and Sturm. You're the bowman and the longest-sighted
of us all. Defend them while they swim."
Though reluctantly, Tanis agreed.
They were fast, the two young men, out of most of
their clothes and into the water on smooth, long arcs almost
before Tanis could reclaim his bow and quiver. But there
was more than half the lake to cover and the goblin was
closing fast, his lean companion already cutting in behind
"They'll never reach them in time," Flint whispered.
Tanis nocked an arrow to his bow's string, drew and
sighted. Released, the arrow cut through the sun-jeweled
mist and shied its mark, the goblin's neck, by the width of
its shaft. It was enough, however, to send the surprised
creature diving beneath the water for cover.
Tanis drew again, searched for a target, and found
none. The lake was suddenly empty of all but Caramon and
Sturm swimming strongly for the falls. Caramon faltered,
rose high, shaking his hair out of his eyes.
Both his quarry and their victims were gone.
The water was liquid ice, his limbs as heavy as lead.
Keli twisted hard, kicked back once, and then again. He was
free of the pull of Tigo's hook-hand! Off to his right, blurred
figures wrestled: Staag and Tas. Ahead, close enough to
suck at his legs, to draw him farther down, was the roil of
Thunder roared all around him. The black-watered lake
was white as diamonds here. Tigo surged forward and up,
wielded his hook and snagged it again on the back of the
Keli rolled and jack-knifed, his lungs afire and
screaming for air. He reached down, grabbed Tigo's ears,
and pulled as though he would tear them from the man's
head. When Tigo opened his mouth to scream, he took in
what Keli thought must be a gallon of icy water.
Again the boy kicked, and once more he was free. He
surfaced, sucking air in huge, greedy gulps and saw Tas
break into the light at the same moment. Behind the kender,
rising like a sea drake from the water, Staag roared and then
flung himself aside and out of the path of a green-fletched
"Tas!" Keli waved and pointed back toward shore.
Tas rose, whooping with glee. "It's all right! That's
Tanis! Our rescuers! Look!"
Two young men, one broad-chested and brawny, the
other slimmer and faster, cut through the water with strong,
"Caramon and Sturm!" Tas threw his head back,
laughing. "Ready or not, here they come!" He dove and
angled through the water, coming up beside Keli. Staag shot
up behind him, grabbed, and missed by a hand's breadth.
"Tas! They're too far away!"
Tas yanked the boy under the water, ignoring his
sputtering protest. Staag's thick legs thrashed to the right of
them, and Tigo surfaced just behind the goblin.
Tas released Keli, jerked his head to the left, and dove
down and around the goblin and Tigo before either could
get his bearings. Keli followed gamely, hoping with all his
heart that the kender knew where he was going.
Down just didn't seem like the answer to their
Sturm shouted once, then again. He'd lost the hook-
handed man or found Tas and the boy - Tanis couldn't be
sure which and did not spend a moment's concentration
wondering. His hands knew nothing but his bow, his eyes
only his arrow's target. That target, the gray-skinned,
maddened goblin, had dragged Caramon beneath the lake's
surface and held him there now.
His breath held tightly, legs braced wide, Tanis waited
the interminable space of five heartbeats for Caramon to
surface again, afraid to loose his arrow for fear that
Caramon would come up between it and the goblin. Dimly,
he was aware of Raistlin's soft intake of breath, of Flint's
curse and then his whispered plea.
Caramon did not surface.
Tanis let fly and prayed for the gods' grace, for their
favor, for mercy.
Rainbows danced in the air, shimmering along the
tumble of the falls. Mercy, and the arrow, were delivered at
the same time. The shaft flew true and took the goblin full
in the throat. In the veil of the mist, Sturm broke the water,
graceful as a dolphin leaping.
Seeing himself alone, he dove again, resurfaced, and filled
his lungs with air. He returned to the water twice, and the
second time he came up dragging Caramon, gasping, to
light and air.
They were alone in the lake, Staag's body gone into the
rage of the falls, Tigo vanished. There was no sign of Tas
and the boy.
Though they dove and searched for longer than those
on the shore knew anyone could survive beneath the water,
they did not find Tas or his small companion.
Caramon raised his fists to the thundering falls. The
dying sun colored his brawny arms red and gold. His howl
of rage echoed for a long time between the shores, so loud
and grieved that Tanis did not hear the small clatter of his
own bow when it fell from his hands to the rocky shore.
Numb, Tanis watched as Caramon and Sturm made
their way back to land. He joined Raistlin and Flint to help
them, awkward and earth-bound again, onto the shore. For a
long time he felt vacant, emptied. The feeling well matched
what he saw in Caramon's eyes, in Sturm's, in Flint's
Then after a time, when the sun was nearly gone and
they were still waiting - for something - he heard the old
dwarf draw a sharp, hard breath.
"He's lost his mind." The words hardly matched the
breathless awe, the chilled amazement, of Flint's tone. "By
Reorx's forge, if that kender ever had a mind to lose, he's
lost it now. Tanis! Look!"
Tanis raised his head from his drawn-up knees, looked
to where Flint pointed. Impossible, the half-elf thought
dully, he's dead, drowned.
"Impossible" was not a word one could apply to a kender's
resourcefulness with any hope of accuracy. Tas - topknot
flying in the wind from the falls, arms spread for balance -
negotiated a natural bridge no wider than the span of two
hands across the cascade's spout high above the lake. Even
as Tanis watched, the kender turned his head as though
speaking to the one who followed him on hands and knees.
Tanis scrambled to his feet and ran out to the edge of
the shore. Sturm and Caramon joined him, squinting up into
the last light of the day.
"Aye," Sturm muttered. "And there's that hook-handed
villain who escaped me in the lake! How did they GET
there?" He looked around wildly as though seeking a way to
get to the arch above the falls. There was only the lake, and
he would have made that swim again.
- Tanis held him back. "You'd never get there in time,
"Where does he go after he gets across? There's
nothing but cliff and rock!"
Tanis shook his head. "Nowhere," he whispered. He
turned away from the lake and saw Raistlin standing above
him, looking into the rainbow dance of the falls' mist. The
young mage smiled, his light eyes eager and sharp.
"Raistlin, can you help him?"
The mage nodded slowly, thoughtfully, his eyes still on
the jeweled mist and the last shafts of sunlight. "I think I
can. He has a mountain climber's skill, our little friend, and
it is a good thing he does: he's going to need it."
Stone bit sharply into Keli's hands. Stalled and frozen
in the middle of the narrow rock span, he dared not look
down, could not look back.
Across the arch Tigo crouched, a lean and hungry
predator waiting for his prey to realize that it was trapped,
caught. There was no need for him to venture on the bridge,
no need to pursue farther. At last he would have his
Across the bridge, his back to the spray-soaked wall,
Tas shouted, "Keli! Come on!"
"I - I can't - I can't - " Keli could not move, it was all he
could do to speak.
"You have to! You can't stay there! Pretend you're a
spider! Spiders don't ever fall! Come on! It'll be fun!"
Fun! Keli swallowed dryly and tried hard to be a
spider, wishing all the while he were a bird instead. Hand
over hand, he crawled across the slick stone bridge,
swearing futile boy's oaths under his breath. Fun!
"That's it!" Tas called. "I told you it would be fun!"
Tigo, across the span, laughed. His laughter was
ghostly, only faintly heard above the roar of the water. Keli
ignored him, concentrated on Tas and the bridge.
"Come on, Keli, a little more! You've almost got it!
Ever do anything as much fun as this?"
Keli groaned and shook his head. He regretted that at
once. The bridge seemed to sway and rock under him. "No,"
he panted, staring at his white knuckles. "Nothing like this!"
Hand to hand, knee to knee, Keli crept, trying not to
give in to black-winged vertigo, wishing it weren't so hard
After what seemed a lifetime of crawling, Keli's fingers
touched the kender's, cold and slick. Tas leaned a little
forward to grasp a wrist, then an arm. "Up now, on your
feet. I've got you."
Keli gained his feet, wobbled a little, and then
"That's right. Now just edge over here. We can both fit
on this ledge. Probably."
Probably! "Crazy as a kender" was an expression Keli had
heard from time to time. He used to think he knew what it
meant. Now he was certain. Keli dragged up every bit of
strength he had and lurched hard against the wall. He
pressed his face to the wet, black stone, shuddering. "Now
Tas attacked the answer obliquely. "We can't go back,
but he's not coming on, either."
"We can always wait."
Out over the lake the jeweled and dazzling mists of
sunset were gone. On the far shore twilight's purple
shadows gathered, the outriders of the night.
"It would be nice," Keli said tightly, "if we could fly."
"Sure would," Tas agreed, "and a lot better than being
stuck up here"
Keli wanted to wail. He clamped his back teeth hard
and whispered, "Then - but - why are we out here? I thought
you knew a way OUT of this mess!"
Tas shrugged. "I didn't think he'd follow us. I thought
he was drowned in the lake. Twice."
Across the arch Tigo sat, his back against the stone,
patient as inevitable doom. Keli couldn't look at him
without feeling sick, without feeling, in imagination, the rip
of his grapnel hand and the long, shattering fall to the water
Light, the faint and fading gold of sunset, the silver of
approaching twilight, danced up from the black surface of
the lake and came together, shining in the gloaming like
Far below, the red-haired bowman Tas called Tanis and
one of the young men who had been in the lake stood on the
shore. The other was in the water again and swimming hard
toward the falls. The dwarf and the slim young man moved
quickly to the north.
"Tas, what are they doing?"
"Something, they're up to something. Look! Tanis sees
us! He's pointing." The kender leaned so far out to see that
Keli had to catch him back by his belt.
"Don't DO that!"
Clearly the fact that he'd almost tumbled to his death
didn't bother the kender at all. He laughed, and the sound of
his glee skirled high above the roar of the falls.
"Look, Keli! Raistlin's doing something to the air!" Tas
thumped the boy's shoulder joyfully, nearly knocking him
from his tenuous perch. "I don't know what he's up to, I
usually don't, hardly anyone ever does. But it's always
magic, and it's always worth waiting for."
Clinging like a soaked bat to the wall, Keli swallowed
his nausea. Whether or not what the mage was up to was
indeed worth waiting for the boy couldn't say, but he didn't
see that they had much choice.
Raistlin's hands moved, deft and certain, in magic's
dance. He gathered translucent rainbows and gemmed mist,
separated their shimmering strands, and wove them swiftly,
one around the other, into a rope of gleaming enchantment.
It grew quickly, the magic rope, and leaped away from
the young mage's hands, directed and sped upon its way by
will and spell. Out across the black surface of the water it
flew, with the grace of a hawk rising, with the certainty of
one of Tanis's well-drawn arrows speeding to its mark.
Sturm leaped into the lake, cutting through the icy
water with powerful strokes. By the time he reached
Caramon, the shining line had passed well over their heads,
flying toward the arch and Tas's outstretched hand. On the
shore Flint shouted, his voice rising high in triumph, ending
on an oddly broken note, a cry of warning.
Tigo was halfway across the bridge, the hook that passed
for a hand glittering balefully in the fading light.
Tas stepped in front of Keli and wound the shimmering
rope around the boy's hands. "We'll go together. It'll hold, I
swear it. Just slide right down. It won't burn your hands -
you can hardly feel it."
Keli eyed the water, then Tigo advancing slowly across
the arch. "Tas, it's not a rope - it's LIGHT AND AIR! It can't
"Oh, sure it will. It's Raistlin's magic." Tas cocked his
head as though he'd had a sudden thought. "You're worrying
again, are you?"
"Worrying?" Keli gasped. "Tas, I'm so afraid I can't even
"But it'll hold. I TOLD you: it's magic. And Raistlin
does the best magic I've ever seen. He'd never let you fall."
"Tas, the rope's not real!"
"It IS real! But - well - look! Down in the lake. There's
Caramon and Sturm - Did I tell you that Sturm wants to be
a knight? Like your father. He'll be a good one, too. He
knows that solemn old Code and Measure like he made 'em
up himself, and - "
"Well, right. So if you do fall - which you won't - they
will get you. You'll be all right. Now let's go or we're going
to have an appointment with Tigo real soon!"
That last, more than any of Tas's assurances, decided
Keli. He grasped the rope, silver and gold, woven of magic
and light. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, sucked in a
lungful of air, and left the ledge.
Behind them Tigo raged, a beast whose prey had
flown, wingless, from his reach, abandoning him to his
The air was cool and shivery by the night-dark lake.
Far over the water's black surface stars reflected and, Keli
thought, as he hunched closer to the fire, something else did
too. Ghostly light and shimmer, faintly rainbowed and
silver. A residue of Raistlin's magic? The boy thought so.
None sat waking now in night's darkest hour but Keli
and Tas, the half-elf Tanis, and the dwarf Flint. The young
mage had been the first asleep. Keli knew nothing of magic
or its tolls, but it was clear to him that Raistlin's light-
weaving had left him drained. It seemed to Keli that the thin
young man was hardly strong enough to exert such effort
often. Or, the boy thought as he stole a covert glance at the
sleeping mage, maybe he is. Even in exhaustion something
of power and strength had lighted the mage's eyes.
The mage's brother was Caramon, warrior big, with
mischief dancing in his brown eyes, a kind of magic of his
own. He slept so soon after his brother that the difference
could hardly be measured. His snoring was like low
"Asleep between one bite of rabbit and the next," Flint
had growled. "We could be witnessing the dawn of a new
age of miracles." Keli had wanted to laugh at that, but he
didn't. The old dwarf bore a forbidding look in his eyes,
scowled easily and grumbled often. Here was one who
would need a wide berth.
For a time it looked as though Sturm would stay awake
long enough to make good his claim on the first watch of
the night. He didn't. Likely, Keli realized, his friends knew
him well enough not to argue the point. And well enough to
know that Sturm's exertions in the lake would put him
quickly to sleep.
Tanis - his red hair the color of copper in the firelight, his
long elven eyes sometimes the gray-green of leaves turned
to an approaching storm, more often emerald bright -
divided his time between smoothing Flint's grumbling and
listening to the endless stream of Tas's chatter. This he did
with the air of one who knows that a storm will not end
until all the thunder has rolled and all the rain has fallen.
These, then, were Tas's friends of whom he'd been so
certain. Of all of them only Tanis and Flint remained awake
to hear the tale of capture and escape told in odd tandem by
Keli and Tas. Though neither, Keli thought indignantly,
seemed to want to credit Tas with the heroics Keli stoutly
attributed to him. His back propped against a rock, his feet
as close to the fire as he dared put them, Keli now looked
first at Flint, then at Tanis.
"If it hadn't been for Tas, Tigo would have killed me.
He's a real hero."
"Hero!" Flint laughed. "That one? Aye, lad, and I'm
"He IS," Keli declared stoutly.
Tanis tried, for the sake of Keli's rising anger, to
swallow his own laughter. He glanced at Tas crouched
before the fire. The kenders dignity was not in the least
disturbed by Flint's customary derision.
"He saved my life," Keli insisted. "He got those two
good and lost, found the caves behind the falls, and the
stairs that led up to the top. I'D never have known about the
caves or the stairs or the bridge."
Flint shook his head. "I don't suppose Tanis's tracking
or Raistlin's light-weaving had anything to do with the fact
that you're here and safe, lad?"
Keli did not quail before the dwarf's gruff question, but
defended his friend. "They did, and I thank you all for what
you've done. But - but you were almost too late. And - "
Keli foundered, looking from one to the other. They were
still amused, and Keli could not understand what was so
funny. "And - Tas DID save my life."
"Risked your neck about a half a dozen more times
than you remember or know about is more like it," Flint
growled. "It's lucky you are that you're here to tell us the
"Look at you, lad, you're half-starved despite eating a
rabbit and a half, and dead tired. Get some sleep now, you'll
see the right of the matter in the morning."
"I know the right of it," Keli maintained. He looked to
Tas, who only shrugged.
"They're a little slow," the kender drawled. He grinned
then, suddenly, and that grin was like the flash of a comet
across a midnight sky. "But they always manage to catch
up." He stretched and yawned hugely. He shot one quick
look at Flint and then winked at Keli. That wink, always
trouble for someone, sparked Keli's smile.
Flint started to protest, but Tas only grinned again. He
waved an off-hand goodnight and went to find a place to
sleep. As tired as he was, Keli knew he wouldn't be able to
sleep yet. He settled down more comfortably near the fire
After a moment Tanis said, "We'll have to get you
home somehow, Keli."
"Just back to Seven Wells would be fine," Keli
murmured. "I'm sure my horse is still there and there is the
message to be delivered to my father's friend."
"Oh, no," Flint rumbled. "If we let you out of our sight
now, who knows what you'll get yourself into next? Home,
lad, and the message can be delivered along the way." He
reached into his pack, pulled out a block of wood, and
applied his dagger's blade silently for a time. Keli would
have offered his thanks, but Tanis caught his eye and stilled
him with a smile and a shake of his head.
When Flint looked up again, he spoke not to Keli but to
"If we've any sense at all, we'll make for home
ourselves after we've delivered this lad and his message."
That was not what the half-elf had expected to hear.
"Back to Solace this early in the summer?"
Flint was quiet for a long moment. When he spoke at
last his voice was rough. Almost cold, Keli thought.
"I thought he was dead," Flint said, and Keli knew it
was Tas of whom he spoke. "I really did. I didn't fear it.
Fear still allows you to slip hope in behind it. I thought he
was dead from the minute I saw my mark 6n that rock, and I
didn't expect to find anything else.
"It is a bad thing to be without hope." He cleared his
throat softly and went on. "And Caramon. When he didn't
come up from the lake, when Sturm had to dive to find him,
I thought, between the first time and the last, that he was
Keli felt that fear, and heard it in the dwarf's voice. His
eyes were not so hard now, his expression not nearly as
forbidding as it had been. An odd look graced his rough
features, but Keli could not put a name to it. He'd seen the
look before on his father's face.
Tanis poked up the fire and by its flare Keli saw that he,
too, had thought his friends dead. When he spoke, though, it
was not to reassure himself but Flint. "They're all right
The old dwarf drew a long breath and let it out in a heavy
sigh. He looked at his young friends sleeping around the
fire: Caramon, his scabbarded sword lying near to hand;
Sturm, who slept deep and looked as though he could wake
fast at need; Raistlin, likely walking in dreams only he
could understand; and Tas, curled like an exhausted pup
against Caramon's back. When the dwarf spoke again, Keli
sensed that some decision was being made. He sat forward
"Aye, Tanis, they are. But the lands are changing, lad.
I feel it in my bones that things are shifting, growing
darker. At first it was good to have them along on these
trips for their company. Lately, it's been good having them
along because I could not ply my trade, such as it is these
days, along the old routes without them. Look at what
happened to the lad here! Goblins and bandits! And rumors
of worse and stranger things haunt the roads now."
Tanis reached out absently to ruffle Keli's hair. "You'll
not keep them safe in Solace by wishing it so, old friend."
"No, I know them better than that. And we're partners,
you and I, have been for a long time. This isn't a decision I
can rightly make for both of us." Flint shook his head. A
smile warred with a scowl. The scowl won, but only barely.
"And we don't get much done these days chasing that pesty
kender from one end of the land to the other, do we? No,
home sounds better and better to me."
As hard as the dwarf was to read, that was how easy it
was to divine Tanis's thought: plainly he doubted that
Solace would keep Tas or any of his friends long for all that
it seemed to be home. But aloud he only said, "All right,
then, Flint. Home it is, for Keli and for us."
Solace won't keep them long, Keli thought. Hawks
may grace your wrist for a time, his father had once told
him, but they do not domesticate well at all.
Now, Flint leaned forward and gently roughed the
sleepy boy's chin. "Home, aye, lad?"
Keli smiled in the night's shadow. "Oh, aye, home."
By the Measure
Richard A. Knaak
His head was pounding, and his mouth was dry. He
had neither eaten nor slept for two days - not since burning
Standel after a day of mourning. Standel, his one
companion. The only other knight to accompany him on his
flight from an Order that had decayed. Brave, strong
Standel. He had never understood his own death.
Garrick scanned the terrain as well as his bleary eyes
were able. More of the same. Villagers were coming from
the south, away from the advancing army sent by the
Dragon Highlord. They were seeking protection from the
garrison at Ironrock. The knight smiled bitterly through
cracked lips. How long did they think a garrison of one
hundred men was going to hold out against an army one
hundred times its size? Not to mention the added pressure
of trying to feed several hundred refugees.
He steered Auron away from the group. The war-horse
turned reluctantly, perhaps sensing the grain the people
carried. The horse had been forced to subsist on what little
it could forage in this bleak area. Garrick sympathized with
its plight, his own last meal having consisted of a handful of
berries and some cheese and hardbread bought from the
innkeeper who had been indirectly responsible for Standel's
death. The lands he had traveled through since offered
nothing in the way of sustenance. The inhabitants
themselves had long ago spirited away anything edible.
He could not believe what the Order had become. The
older knights smiled patronizingly at his plaints;
some of the younger ones scoffed. Some understood him,
though. Understood that even the Knights of Solamnia had
turned away from Paladine more than they admitted. The
Knights were no longer an Order that aided the repressed so
much as a petty sect living on its past glories and shunning
those they believed had turned on them. Never mind that the
Order had such black marks as Lord Soth to live down.
In his worn state, he did not notice the second group of
villagers until they were almost on him. Like so many
before, they spat at him as they passed and cursed him for
being what he was. A stocky man with slightly gray hair
and a perpetual scowl blocked his path with an open cart
drawn by two oxen. Several other villagers stood behind the
"What do you want here, oh great and noble knight?"
The venom fairly dripped from his mouth.
Garrick sighed. "I have sworn by the Measure that I will
defend my fellow men from the evil that is the Queen. I
intend to keep that pledge."
They laughed. Laughed loudly. The laughter was
magnified a thousand times in Garrick's mind, though he
knew it would come. It always had. The loud, bitter
The stocky leader stepped closer, his eyes shifting back
and forth between the knight and the warhorse. It was
obvious that he did not trust either of them. Closer now, he
studied Garrick's battered armor, the chipped and bent
weapons, his pale and sweating face.
"Aye, you look like a terror that will frighten away the
dark ones. Frighten them into conquering the world, I'd
There was more laughter, though much more muted
than before. The looks the villagers gave Garrick were ugly,
full of hate. Hate for his not having been there when it
counted. The leader shifted closer, his intentions clear. Pull
the knight down into the mud where he belonged. The
knight drew his well-worn blade with a speed that belied his
weary appearance. He kept the group at bay with the
weapon, allowing no one within arm's length.
"For your own sakes, move on."
Muttering, they did so, much more quickly and
complacently than Garrick would have thought possible for
them. He realized why with a sadness that sank him deeper
into the darkness he had ridden in since Standel's death. He
was nothing to them. If anything, they were disgusted with
him. Disgusted with all the knights.
It hurt Garrick that they had good reasons for their
The few huts he passed now were stripped of anything
worth carrying. Mere shells. Skeletons. It was as if the war
had already been through here. In a sense, he realized,
perhaps it had. Standel would have been stronger, more able
to cope with the shouts, the curses, the looks. Garrick could
not understand why he should live while a better knight
should die so ignominiously. Not for the first time since his
companion's death, he wavered slightly in his belief in the
The ground reached for him. Garrick steadied himself and
wiped his brow. To collapse this close, to leave his task
unfinished, would be unforgivable. Paladine would surely
condemn him. He waited for exhaustion to overtake him,
but something held back the final fall. A warmth in his
chest, around his neck. A feeling of guidance and love.
His shaking hand tugged hard on the chain circling his
throat. The medallion given to him so long ago gleamed
despite the lack of any sunshine. On each side of the
medallion were engraved words from the Measure. More
important, the medallion carried the face of Paladine as
known by the Knights of Solamnia.
The pain in his mind eased. Paladine had not
condemned him after all. There was still some purpose to
Garrick's life, some reason the god still watched over him.
He thanked his lord and allowed the piece to thump against
his chest again. Though his body was worn beyond the
limits of most men, he smiled gratefully. He would be
allowed the chance to fulfill his Oath.
Somewhere to the south lay his objective. Somewhere
to the south, perhaps four days, perhaps only two, lay part
of the advancing army of the Dragon Highlord - a sizable
portion commanded by one of the Highlord's most
dangerous generals. Pushing ever closer, its only real
obstacle was the tiny garrison four days north from
Garrick's present location.
They would be forced to travel through the woods to
obtain the pass, he realized. In the woods, they would be
vulnerable. In the woods, he stood a chance.
He came across the bodies just after crossing a stream.
They had been carelessly stacked to one side. Plague
victims. The stench nearly overwhelmed him. The knight
shivered. Better to die in battle than waste away in the end.
He covered his nose and mouth with tattered, dirty cloth and
urged the warhorse to move at a quicker pace. That their
loved ones had left these poor shells to rot did not bother
him. Now was a time to take care of the living, to help those
still with the breath of life within them. The dead were in no
The light began to fade as the sun, hidden by clouds,
plunged closer toward its own death. Garrick eyed the huts
in this region. Unlike those he had passed shortly before,
these were more or less whole. Knowing them to be
contaminated, though, he could not bring himself to rest in
one. He dared not rest, anyway. Each moment was as
precious to him as if it were his last.
The woods came into view less than an hour later,
marking the beginning of the pass even before the great
ridges that stood to each side. Garrick blinked, rather
surprised that he had made it this far. That in itself was a
miracle. He gave thanks to Paladine and suddenly felt warm
The first trees were little more than stumps. This part
of the forest had been raped by the desperate villagers.
Panic had finally taken over at some point. To one side was
a small stack of firewood. A little farther, a tree stood with
its trunk chopped half through. Idly, Garrick wondered if
the woodsmen had fled because of plague or because of the
Auron was hesitant to enter the woods and would do so
only after much persuasion. Garrick frowned. The warhorse
was not prone to hesitancy. The knight put one hand on the
hilt of his sword, but did not draw it. With more urging, he
managed to get the horse to move at a reasonable pace.
The woods were deathly silent. No birds, no ground
creatures. Not even the faintest hint of a breeze. Auron
snorted. Garrick tightened his hold on the sword. He
searched for but did not find any trace of draconian activity
in the woods. The feeling of death was in the air, though. It
was as if animal life had abandoned this area to the Queen.
Even the trees seemed to have given up; many were
obviously dying - another sign of things to come should the
armies of darkness emerge triumphant.
He rode on. The night air cooled his burning head. He
forgot some of his pain. To either side, the ridges grew
higher and higher. Garrick pulled his mount to a halt
momentarily and picked out a likely spot on one ridge.
Auron snorted and would not move. The animal had given
more than most and had finally reached its limit. Even its
training could not overcome such exhaustion.
Garrick patted the animal gently and dismounted.
Leaving the horse to rest, he made his way to the ridge top.
It was steep but by no means impassable. Discarding some
of his heavier equipment, the knight made progress.
He thanked Paladine that it was not a long climb. The
campfires became visible just after he had cleared the tops
of the trees. Further in, the pass sank deeply, giving him a
much better view of the region than he had hoped. Seeing
the vast number of fires, Garrick knew he had located the
Queen's forces. They had dared to settle in an area where
they could easily have been trapped if there had existed an
army to trap them. The northern garrison, of course, was too
small. All other resistance had been crushed. The
commander of the army had a right to be confident.
Tomorrow they would head through the pass and into
the unprotected lands. It would not take them long to reach
the garrison then. The battle would be even shorter.
Once more, he wished that Standel had survived rather
than he. Standel would have looked at the massed forces
and scoffed. He would have organized, would have planned.
Garrick had only a few wild ideas and a hope that Paladine
would grant him the chance.
His head pounding, Garrick returned to his mount. The
horse was grazing peacefully. He saw no reason to disturb
the animal. Auron had already performed miracles for his
master. The knight could not honestly ask for anything
more. It was up to Garrick alone.
With shaking fingers, he pulled out the medallion. It
was still warm to his touch and seemed to shine even in the
darkness. He caressed it for a moment and then sank to his
knees in prayer.
They came just before dawn.
He had just put out the last of the fires. Now he rested
against the side of a tree, sword drawn, shield ready. He had
released Auron and sent him away, not wishing so loyal a
beast to perish for little reason.
The fires had been easy to build. The forest was dying;
branches littered the ground. Most were dry and made good
kindling. The fires were strong, though not long in burning
themselves out. That they existed was more than sufficient
for Garrick's purposes.
By their slowed movements, he knew that scouts had
found the remains of more than one of the fires. He had
been careful to scatter a few fragments around each fire,
junk he had gathered on his way here. Just enough to lend
truth to the thoughts of the enemy - that the Queen's foes
awaited her army in this forest.
Garrick heard the hiss of an indrawn breath. A leathery,
misshapen foot moved into sight.
The knight's sword was a blur. It was into and out of the
draconian's neck before the creature had a chance to die.
The body solidified to stone and tumbled forward. Garrick
glanced around the tree and then darted swiftly away.
He did not stop until he was some distance from the area
where he had killed the reptilian warrior. Again, he pushed
himself tightly against the tree and waited. This time, the
wait was not long. His eyes were already getting blurry;
soon he would be unable to see.
These scouts were men. His first blow took out the
closest of the two. The scout had time to gasp and no more.
Even as he fell, Garrick was already working on his
companion. This man had time to ready his weapon, but his
skill was far inferior to the training a Knight of Solamnia
received. Garrick disarmed him first and then stunned him
with a blow to the shoulder. When the man attempted to
crawl away, Garrick knocked him out. Sheathing his sword,
he dragged his senseless opponent behind a tree. He forced
himself to concentrate on necessary actions. There were
some things that had to be done.
He stayed as long as he felt was safe and then moved
off to what would be his third, and probably final, position.
He dared not take any longer. His head was already
Falling against a tree, he sought desperately to catch his
breath. They were ready for him now. The bodies of their
fallen comrades had alerted them to the immediate threat.
No longer did they attempt to sneak through the brush.
Garrick estimated at least five adversaries, two of whom
were almost within striking distance. He steadied his hands
as best he could and blinked several times in a futile attempt
to clear his vision. He could hear the hiss of the draconians
as clearly as if they were breathing in his ears.
The first to pass him made the mistake of looking the
wrong way as it passed. Garrick nearly sheared its head off.
Unfortunately, his speed had slowed considerably. The
draconian petrified and fell, pulling the great sword from
the knight's weakened grasp even as it dropped.
Weaponless, Garrick's luck nevertheless remained with
him. The second draconian had been momentari ly stunned
by the sudden attack. Before it could react properly, Garrick
was already on it. They struggled fiercely, the draconian's
awkward build proving a disadvantage in hand-to-hand
combat on the ground. Only the knight's exhaustion evened
There were shouts from all around, both human and
draconian. A patrol had arrived. Garrick was torn away
from his adversary, who remained on the ground, gasping
for breath. He was able to strike one human in the stomach,
sending the recipient of the blow back a good four or five
steps. Then, his arms were pinned behind his back and he
was forced down. A draconian slapped him hard on the
face. There was the sound of steel being drawn, but
someone muttered something Garrick was unable to
understand. The muttering was followed by the sound of the
weapon being sheathed once more. As he had surmised,
they had been ordered to take him prisoner.
Two of the draconians, their wings fluttering in anger,
held him tight while one of the humans bound his hands
together behind him. Someone produced chains. Garrick's
feet were hooked together so that he stumbled when he tried
to take normal steps. His helm was torn from his head and a
leather collar with a leash attached to it wrapped around his
neck, nearly choking him. He stumbled then and fell to his
knees. Determination more than anything else made him
stand once more. He could barely feel the blows of his
A human who must have been in charge led the entire
group back to camp. They were obviously convinced that a
large band of knights was lurking somewhere in the woods.
Having faced one knight who, despite his appearance, was
readily capable of taking on a good half dozen opponents,
they were in no hurry to meet up with a larger force. The
various members of the patrol took turns pulling him. Had
they not been convinced that he must have information of
some sort, they would have gladly killed him in order to
speed up their retreat even more.
At some point during the trek, Garrick could hold out
no longer. His head felt like it was bursting. The woods
became unbearably hot. He was no longer able to
coordinate his movements, nor could he even tell what was
happening around him.
Mercifully, the entire world chose to go black.
Cold reality struck him in the face and dripped down
his neck. Garrick shivered and tried to focus his eyes. The
light of midday burned into his very mind, forcing him to
close his eyes once more. He tried to stand, but found
himself bound tight to some sort of chair. Someone stirred.
"Shall I throw another bucket in his face, General?"
The voice was as cold as it was commanding. "I think
not. If our knight is anything of a man, he will open his eyes
and face us. Still, if he is a coward, perhaps another bucket
of water would be . . ."
Garrick gritted his teeth and forced himself to look into
the light, despite the agony it caused him each moment.
After seeing nothing but glare for the first few seconds, he
was eventually able to make out two figures. One had the
slightly stooped look of a draconian. The other was human -
so to speak. All Garrick could tell at first was that the
human stood a good seven feet in height. Both the knight
and his captors were in a large tent. Tables and chairs stood
to one side. Numerous piles of armor and equipment lay
scattered elsewhere. There seemed to be no one purpose for
the tent. For now, it served as his prison.
The giant chuckled softly. "Very good. I see the Knights
of Solamnia deserve something of their repu tation after all.
I was beginning to think it was all myth."
"Untie me." The words escaped the knight's lips as little
more than a croak, but the giant caught them nonetheless.
"Oh, I couldn't risk that. You might overwhelm us and
crawl to safety - given six or seven hours head start."
The draconian hissed its amusement. Garrick studied
the two as they became clearer. The reptilian aide was much
like its brethren, save that it was motley-colored compared
to those the knight had seen earlier. There was, however, a
vicious look in its eyes, one that said that this draconian
would readily pull Gar-rick's fingers from his hands and his
arms from his shoulders if given the chance. By all practical
consideration, this was the general's torturer.
The general himself was most definitely a giant among
his fellow men, and not just in height. He easily outweighed
Garrick by almost one-third again his own weight, and none
of it could be called fat. Strength alone, though, was not
sufficient to coordinate a major army with great success.
The knight did not doubt for one minute that the massive
frame was matched by an equally impressive mind.
"I am General Krynos of Culthairai, a land I'm sure
you've never heard of and which does not deserve any
notice whatsoever. When I learned of the Queen's return
and the armies being raised, I seized the chance to join and
prove my skills. Up until now, though, I've lacked a
In truth, even the Knights of Solamnia had been awed by
some of the accounts they had heard about Krynos. The
armies he had crushed would have turned back a number of
Dragon Highlords, much less their various generals. It was
even said that the next opening in the ranks of the Highlords
would see the addition of Krynos.
Only a garrison stood in his way. A tiny army. A tiny
army and Garrick.
Krynos stroked his rich, black beard. He was a
handsome, proud man. Proud and stubborn.
"What is your name, Knight of Solamnia?"
"That's it? Just Garrick? Not Garrick the Great? The
Champion? The Draconian Slayer?"
The wings of the torturer spread in anticipation. The
draconian bore a huge reptilian smile that told of deadly
delights to come when Garrick was its to play with. The
knight pointedly ignored the creature.
"Well then, 'Just Garrick,' how many of your comrades
lie in wait in the forest? The scouts and patrols count at
least three dozen fires. The Knights of Solamnia, whatever
their faults, do not run away. Even against impossible
"I am the only one. You can search all you like. You
will find no others. I came on my own."
Krynos laughed, and the draconian hissed. The sharp
claws of the latter slapped Garrick hard across the mouth.
He could feel the blood flowing from his lip. The general
put a hand out to halt another blow by the torturer.
"Not yet - and not the mouth. We want to be able to
understand him when he talks. And you will talk, Knight.
Ssaras is very good at this job, especially with humans. You
would do well to give up on such a stupid tale and tell us
where your comrades have hidden themselves. I can afford
to wait them out for a few days. Nothing lies beyond them
that can stop me. Only an already-battered land and a tiny,
insignificant garrison. The nearest force of substantial
strength is two weeks away and much too busy with
problems of its own to bother worrying about me."
It did not surprise Garrick that the general was so well-
informed about the region. That was perhaps one thing that
had helped the knight. Used to the thoroughness of his
information network, Krynos could not accept the solitary
presence of Garrick. The fires might be real; they might be
fakes. If one knight could wait in hiding, could not others?
Everyone knew that the Knights of Solamnia were skilled in
all aspects of warfare. Who knew what sort of tricks they
might pull? Krynos could not afford a mistake at this time.
Even a minor one would cause him a loss of face.
Garrick remained silent. Krynos frowned and then,
nodded to Ssaras. The draconian waddled eagerly to a table
upon which a number of devices, recognizable and
unrecognizable, had been placed. The creature selected one
and showed it eagerly to its master. The general eyed it with
almost clinical interest before shaking his head.
Disappointed, the draconian put down the instrument and
waited for further orders. Krynos turned his attention back
to his prisoner.
"Where are your companions, Garrick? How do they
plan to meet us? In one massive charge on the field? Sounds
foolish, but I know your Order. I wanted to become of your
kind before I came to my senses and turned to the Queen."
Earlier, such a statement might have stung Garrick.
Now, though, he was well beyond such petty things. It was
difficult enough just to remain conscious, much less be
bothered by meaningless slurs from the tongue of his foe.
The general snapped his fingers. Ssaras scurried over to a
pile of odds and ends and picked something up. Garrick
gradually identified it as his own shield. The general took it
from the draconian and looked at it with some amusement.
"Perhaps I am overestimating the noble Knights of
Solamnia. Perhaps they are indeed skulking around in the
woods, hiding out of sight, fighting like elves or gully
dwarves - with no honor - coming from behind their
opponents." He dropped the shield and spat on the front.
One heavy boot came down on the wet spot. With little
effort, Krynos had put a great dent in the shield.
Garrick's growing madness threatened to burst then, but
the warmth around his chest checked it. It occurred to him
then that they had removed his armor but not his medallion.
He could see no way that they could have possibly missed it
in their search.
Ssaras looked hopefully at the general. Krynos was
calculating his possibilities.
The torturer hissed. "Thaygan is a fraud. All clerics are
"Would you like to tell that to the Queen herself,
Ssaras? She might beg to differ."
The draconian quieted immediately. Without further
ado, it scurried away to seek the cleric. Garrick muttered a
prayer to Paladine. Should Thaygan be a strong enough
cleric, the knight would have little chance of defending his
mind from the psychic onslaught. Unlike many of his
brethren, he had a strong respect for the power of clerics.
A strong, gauntleted hand pulled his head up by the
hair. Krynos moved close to him, so close that Garrick was
able to feel the other's hot breath on his face. "Tell me what
I want to know now, and I'll spare you the tender touch of
Thaygan. In his own way, he leaves a prisoner much worse
off than Ssaras does."
"There is only me."
The general's eyes flared. "Do you swear to that?"
Garrick avoided the binding trap by repeating his
statement once more. As he hoped, his refusal to swear only
convinced Krynos even more that there were other knights
lurking around somewhere near or in the forest ahead.
The general let Garrick's head drop. He paced the width
of the tent several times before the sudden presence of the
dark cleric brought him to a startled halt. The cleric stared
at the general and then at the prisoner, who was struggling
feebly with the bonds. Nothing of the cleric was visible save
"You have need of my services, General Krynos?"
"Regretfully so. I need information from this man, and
you know how stubborn Knights of Solamnia can be."
"A Solamnic Knight? Here?"
"Are your ears still stuffed with the chants and
incantations of your order? A Knight of Solamnia, found in
the woods - and where there's one, there's more. I want the
truth from him. Beware, though. He is not in the best of
condition. I fear my men must have mussed him up a little
bit too hard."
The cleric drew back his hood. Garrick had the brief
notion that he was being visited by Death itself. The cleric
was emaciated beyond normal tolerances. To the prisoner, it
seemed as if Thaygan's face should crack in pieces each
time the old man spoke.
As the cleric stepped toward the knight, Krynos
actually blanched slightly. Garrick dimly wondered what
could frighten a man of the general's reputation. That
thought vanished with all others as the cleric reached down
and put a hand to each side of the prisoner's head.
The knight fell down an abyss. He screamed all the way.
Somewhere, he could hear a commanding voice that
demanded things of him. The words meant nothing to him,
though, and he kept falling.
A mighty hand came from the darkness. It glowed with
a light all its own. With little effort, it caught the
plummeting Garrick and held him tight. The pressure of the
monstrous grip was not stifling; rather, it reassured the
knight. Overwhelmed by a wave of peace and love, Garrick
slid off into velvety blackness.
He awoke briefly to see two men arguing. One was
incredibly ancient and looked more like an old corpse. The
other was a giant who looked capable of breaking the thin
man in two without trying. They seemed to be arguing
about something. Occasionally, one would point at Garrick.
The knight waited patiently for someone to ask him a
question. When none was forthcoming, he drifted slowly
back to sleep.
THE GOLDEN-ARMORED MAN LOOKED DOWN
AT GARRICK WITH FONDNESS AND RESPECT.
GARRICK FOUND HIMSELF UNABLE TO LOOK THE
OTHER STRAIGHT IN THE EYES. HE DID NOT FEEL
WORTHY OF THE AUDIENCE GRANTED TO HIM.
THE OTHER SMILED. "IT IS TIME, GARRICK, TIME
YOU JOINED THE RANKS. TIME YOU JOINED HUMA
AND THE OTHERS."
FOR THE FIRST TIME, THE YOUNG KNIGHT SAW
THE RANKS BEHIND PALADINE. AMONG THEM
STOOD ONE HE KNEW WELL. FROM HIS PLACE,
STANDEL NODDED GRAVELY TO HIM - AND THEN
BROKE OUT INTO A BIG SMILE.
PALADINE BADE HIM STAND. "THE TIME IS NOW,
"Time to wake, Knight!" A rough hand shook his head.
Garrick's vision was red, and he realized belatedly that
blood was dripping from his forehead. His right foot felt
numb, his arms burned with excruciating pain. He spat
blood from his mouth.
A draconian stood next to the general. It was Ssaras and
what expression was readable on the reptilian face showed
that the creature was angry beyond words. The draconian's
breathing was haggard, as if it had been laboring hard. Of
the cleric, whom Garrick only vaguely remembered, there
was no sign.
General Krynos scowled at him. "What are you made
of, Knight? For three days, you've endured tortures that
have turned other men into screaming maniacs! You've sat
there all this time, mumbling to your god! Even Thaygan
could get nothing from you!"
Garrick did not answer. There seemed no need for a
reply, and his head hurt too much to think, anyway.
"You are useless to me, Knight. Whether or not your
allies are out there - and I admit for the first time that you
may have fooled me by giving me the truth - I will lead my
army come the morrow. We will be through the pass and
well on our way to the garrison by the time the day is
ended. The Queen will see who among her followers is
most valuable to her."
Ssaras swayed unsteadily. The general frowned. With
some effort, the draconian stood straight. Its mottled color
looked even more splotchy than before.
Krynos wiped the sweat from his forehead. "In all
fairness, you've proved a worthy challenge. Any last request
before I have Ssaras make an end of you?"
With superhuman effort, Garrick forced himself to sit
straight. The glazed look was gone from his eyes. "I
demand death in combat."
The general raised an eyebrow. "Combat? You can
barely stand, much less fight. I will make Ssaras give you a
swift, painless cut across the throat. Yes, that would be
much better, much more efficient, I think."
Garrick virtually ground the words out with his teeth. "I
demand death in combat - with you, unless you're afraid."
One mailed fist went for a weapon. The general was
barely able to restrain himself. He slowly released his grip
on the hilt of his sword.
"Very well. I shall grant your request for death."
The torturer looked at him in shock. "Master! Think
what you say! This is a trick!"
"It is the request of a dead man, Ssaras! If he wishes to
fight me, then so he shall. It will give me some little
amusement before I begin final preparations for our
departure. Untie him, Ssaras."
"Lord master Krynos, powerful warlord, I beg - "
"Untie him - unless, of course, you think that I am
incapable of defeating one such as he."
Ssaras moved over to Garrick and pulled out a knife.
For a brief moment, the draconian eyed the knight's
unprotected throat. A frown appeared on the reptilian's face
as it tried in vain to discern something.
"I'm waiting, Ssaras."
The draconian hurried about its work. The strangling
bonds fell away. Slowly, carefully, Garrick rose from the
chair he had been tied to for at least four days. His muscles
were cramped, but he otherwise felt little pain.
He moved one foot and discovered part of the reason
for such little pain. Much of his body was numb, probably
permanently. Blood still trickled from a few wounds.
Garrick purposely turned his mind to attaining a weapon of
"Ssaras, present him with an appropriate toy."
Scurrying to a junk pile of Garrick's own equipment,
the draconian pulled out the chipped, dirty sword. In a
mockery of the knights, the creature held it high and waved
it three times, hissing the whole while. Krynos smirked and
motioned the torturer to get on with things.
Ssaras dragged the sword over to Garrick and dropped it
by the knight's feet. Garrick bent down slowly and retrieved
it, each movement sending shocks through his system. If not
for the medallion still hidden under his tunic, he would have
given in to his pain. Only the warmth and strength it
provided kept him going.
With the shadow of a smile, General Krynos pulled out
his own weapon. It was a tremendous broadsword which
many men would have had to handle with both hands. The
general swung it around easily with only one. He saluted
Garrick. "Are you ready?"
In answer, the knight held his sword before him and
tested its balance. It was like holding an old friend.
Somewhere to the side, by the tent entrance, Ssaras hissed
The look of amusement left the face of General Krynos
the moment he saw the sword coming toward him. He was
barely able to block the blow. Cursing silently, he backed
away to regain his balance. Garrick followed through,
giving his larger opponent little time to do anything but
defend. The draconian jumped up and down, hissing all the
time. Sharp claws continually stroked the hilt of the knife
that the creature always kept tucked in its belt for when a
prisoner broke loose. The draconian's greatest fear was not
knowing whether its master would approve of such
initiative or cut off his servant's head.
Krynos was bleeding from three minor wounds, but
Garrick's attack was slowing. The general was able to
breathe and think now. The tide was turning swiftly.
All his strength left Garrick's arm with a suddenness that
surprised both fighters. The knight's sword went flying
toward the tent entrance, where an alert Ssaras was barely
able to leap aside before the blade buried itself in the spot
where the draconian had just been standing. Garrick blinked
and let his hand fall to his side. Krynos moved in to finish
the fight and his opponent with one thrust.
Garrick fell to the ground, untouched by the general's
Krynos stood there, staring at the body. The torturer
rushed over and turned the knight face up. The reptilian face
moved to within an inch of Garrick's. After a quick
examination, the draconian looked up at his lord.
"He is dead. His wounds must have been more than he
"It's a wonder he lived through what he did." The
general sheathed his weapon. "He was half-dead when the
patrol brought him in. I wonder why."
"What shall I do with him, master?"
"Bury him. He deserves that much - fool that he was."
"As you command." The draconian left the tent.
General Krynos, late of Culthairai, studied the figure
sprawled before him and sighed. He had been hoping for
much more from the knight. The war had grown dull.
The four soldiers that buried Garrick, Knight of
Solamnia, were half-asleep. Most of them were sweating
profusely, despite the cool breeze blowing. One had to be
excused to seek out a cleric after he nearly fell into the hole.
The remaining three continued their work, trying to finish
the job quickly and get back to more important things, like
their card game. In their haste, not one of them happened to
notice the medallion which slipped out of hiding when the
corpse was tossed in. Even as they buried it with the body,
the medallion seemed to glow brighter and brighter, despite
the lack of any real light.
On the following morning, the army did not move. A
great number of soldiers complained about heat and great
thirst. Most of them had become bedridden. The number of
ill grew quickly.
The clerics were of no help whatsoever. They had been
the first to be stricken and, oddly, the worst cases. Most of
them died within a day.
General Krynos attempted to organize the remainder of
his troops. He had the healthy separated from their fallen
comrades. Yet more and more men collapsed, a total of one-
quarter of the army's strength in only one day.
Confusion reigned. Some soldiers attempted to sneak
away. Many were caught and executed, and the rest were
tracked down. Each time, they were found dead no more
than a few hours from the main camp.
It was General Krynos who first understood what had
happened. He had let the bait of the trap lure him into a
battle with the one foe he could not defeat. Even as he
himself fell victim to the plague, which by that time had
claimed almost half his army, he could not understand how
he and the others, especially the late cleric Thaygan, could
have missed the signs.
Four days later, the plague, which Garrick had fought to
a stalemate for more than a week, had wiped out all but a
few scattered remnants of the once-powerful army. The
tales told by the survivors would prevent any other army
from coming through that way for the rest of the war. Even
the clerics of the Queen refused to go near, for they could
feel that the power of Paladine was involved somehow.
With time, the villagers would return, the garrison
would be reinforced for an enemy that would never come.
No one would remember the single knight who had kept his
vow the only way he knew how.
Paul B. Thompson and Tonya R. Carter
He dreamed of battle. The small bed shook with the
shock of phantom cavalry and the tramp of spectral men-at-
arms. In the midst of this dream melee a deep voice said,
"Sturm, wake up. Get up, boy."
Sturm Brightblade opened his eyes. A tall, burly man,
dark of eye and fiercely moustached, towered over him.
The torch he carried cast smoky highlights on his steel
breastplate and wolf-fur mantle.
"Father?" said the boy groggily.
"Get up, son," Lord Brightblade said. "It's time to
"Go? Where, Father?"
Lord Brightblade didn't answer. He turned quickly to
the door. "Dress warmly," he said before going out. "Snow
is flying. Hurry, boy." The door thumped shut behind him.
Sturm sat up and rubbed his eyes. The tapers in his
room were lit, but the ashes in the grate were cold. He
pulled on a heavy robe, wincing when his feet touched the
bare stone floor. As he stood, unsure of what to do next, he
heard a knock on the door.
"Enter," he said.
Mistress Carin, handmaid to his mother, the Lady Ilys,
bustled in. Her usually cheery face was pale under a close
"Are you not yet dressed, Master?" she asked. "Your
mother sent me to speed your packing. Do hurry!"
Sturm rubbed his nose in confusion. "Hurry, Mistress?
Why? What's happening?"
"It's not for me to tell you, young lord." She hastened
across the narrow room to a black wooden chest and began
tossing clothing out of it. "This, and this. Not that. This,
yes," she muttered. She glanced at the puzzled boy and said,
"Well, get your bag!" Sturm pulled a long leather bag from
under the bed. He was big for his eleven years, but the bag
was nearly as long as he was tall. As clothing rained on his
bed, Sturm gathered each item and folded it neatly into the
"No time for that," Carin declared. "Just fill the bag,
He threw a single woolen stocking aside. "Where are
we going, Mistress?" he demanded. "And why are we
Carin looked away. "The peasants," she said.
"The people of Avrinet? I don't understand. Father said
they were suffering from the hard winter, but - "
"There's no time for talk, young lord. We must hurry."
Carin shook her head and dug into the half-empty chest
again. "It's a terrible thing when people forget their place. . . ."
Sturm was still methodically folding every article of
clothing when the maid took it away from him and stuffed
in the last few remaining items.
"There," she said. "All done." She dragged the bag to
the door. "Someone will come for that. In the meantime,
finish dressing. Wear your heaviest cloak - the one with the
"Mistress Carin?" Sturm's lost tone halted the woman.
"Are you coming with us?"
She drew her short, round body up proudly. "Where my
lady goes, so go I." And then she was gone.
The main hall of Castle Brightblade was in a hushed
tumult. Only a few candles burned in the wall sconces, but
by their troubled light Sturm saw that the entire household
was astir. In recent days, many of the servants had fled,
taking tools and petty valuables with them. Sturm had only
the vaguest notion of how things were beyond the castle
Armed men stood at every door, pikes at the ready.
Sturm fell into a stream of rushing servants and was carried
with them to the door of the guardroom. His father was
there, with another large man who lifted his head when the
boy entered. Sturm recognized his father's good friend and
fellow knight, Lord Gunthar Uth Wistan.
"I'm packed, Father," Sturm said.
"Eh? Good, good. Go to your mother, boy. You'll find
her in the north corridor." He looked back to the map spread
on the table before him. Sturm bowed his head and
withdrew, his heart heavy. He leaned against the outside of
the guardroom door.
"He's only a boy, Angriff," he heard Lord Gunthar say.
"Not yet a man, much less a knight."
Lord Brightblade replied, "Sturm is the son and
grandson of Solamnic Knights. Our blood goes back to
Berthal the Swordsman. He must learn to cope with
Sturm lifted his chin and strode away. Following the line
of burning torches along the corridor, he ran a finger in a
joint of mortared stones, as he had every day since
becoming tall enough to do so. This might be the last time
Sturm would trace the crack. He slowed his pace to make
the feeling linger.
Overhead, a loophole shutter banged loose in the wind.
Sturm mounted the narrow steps to the loophole and
reached out into the cold to catch the wayward shutter.
Through the silently falling snow he saw a red glow on the
horizon. It was too early for dawn.
"Close that shutter!"
Sturm whirled. Soren Vardis, sergeant of the household
guard, was striding toward him. He took the steps two at a
time. Soren reached easily over Sturm's head and closed the
shutter, letting the bolt fall in its slot with a loud clank.
He smiled at the boy. "There are bowmen in the woods,"
he said. "A face in a lighted window makes an excellent
"Sergeant, what will the villagers do?"
A crack in the shutter let in the red glow. It striped
Soren's face with a streak of blood. He looked at Sturm,
standing so straight and proper. "I suppose you have a right
to know," he said. "The peasants are in arms. They've set
fire to the north wood and burned the fallow pastures east
and south. Your father's cattle have been stolen and
slaughtered. Some of my men were killed in Avrinet, but
not before reporting that the villagers were preparing to
"They can't get in the castle," Sturm said in a pleading
"Alas, young lord, they can. I have less than a hundred
men to defend all of the wall, and of those I trust not
Sturm could not fathom these revelations. "Why are
they doing this, Soren? Why? My father never used them
"The common folk, here as throughout Krynn, blame the
knights for not calling down the aid of Paladine in the dark
times." Soren shook his head in sor row. "In their mad anger
they have forgotten all that the knights have done for them."
They descended the steps. "So Father will fight our way
out?" asked Sturm.
Soren cleared his throat. "My Lord Brightblade will
remain behind to defend his home and lands."
"Then I shall stay, too!"
The sergeant paused and rested a battle-hardened hand
on the boy's shoulder. "No, young lord. Your father has
given orders that you and the Lady Ilys be sent to far Solace
for safety. Our duty is to obey." He knelt in front of Sturm
and scrubbed away the tears with his rough thumbs. "None
of that now, lad. Your mother will need all your strength to
make this journey. It will fall to you to be the Brightblade
man of the party, you know."
Wind sighed through the north corridor. The double
doors to the courtyard were open. A two-wheel cart waited
in the calf-deep snow. Lady Ilys, splendid in a cape of white
rabbit, was bidding farewell to her husband.
"May the gods go with you," Lord Brightblade said,
clasping her hands between his own. "You will always be
Their cheeks touched. "And you, my lord," said Lady
The sniffling from the front of the cart was Mistress
Carin. Sturm and Soren halted before Lord Brighblade. The
sergeant saluted. The master of Brightblade Castle clapped
the guardsman on his ironclad shoulders.
"My best man-at-arms," he said. "Keep them safe,
"Aye, my lord."
He faced his son. "Sturm, heed what your mother and
the sergeant tell you."
"Yes, sir." How he ached for just one embrace! But that
was not his father's way, not even at a time of parting.
Soren lifted him into the back of the cart, then mounted
his own horse. Mistress Carin snapped the reins, and the
cart jerked forward. Sturm buried his face in his sleeve. He
couldn't bear to leave. In spite of Soren's admonition, the
bitter tears returned.
At the west gate, torches were doused before the portal
opened. The guardsman and the cart moved into the night.
The castle was quickly lost from sight in the swirling snow.
The road west was high-centered and paved with stone, a
relic of the great days before the Cataclysm.
Sturm and his mother were nestled among the soft
heaps of baggage. Though warmed and rocked by the easy
motion of the cart, neither could find sleep. The boy could
hear the sharp clat-clat of the war-shod hooves of Nuitari,
Soren's black gelding. The sergeant kept to a measured pace
as he watched the road ahead for trouble. As soon as was
practical, they would leave the well-marked, well-paved
track for a less conspicuous route. If the peasants had a
mind to pursue them, they would be harder to find that way.
Soren reined up short. He snagged the carthorse's bridle
and pulled the beast off the road. No sooner was the party
screened by a stand of cedars than Sturm heard a low
rumble of voices. His heart beat quickly as he peeked
through the slatted side of the cart.
A band of rough-looking men came slogging through
the snow. Some wore fresh, hairy hides over their backs,
hides with the Brightblade brand.
"I'm cold!" one declared loudly.
"Shut your gob, Bron. We'll all be warm enough when we
put the torch to the knights' hall!" Ugly laughter greeted the
boast. Sturm heard his mother praying quietly to Paladine.
Soren led them back onto the road. Thev reached the
fork the sergeant wanted. Mistress Cann hauled back the
reins, and the cart slipped off the stones into a narrow,
muddy rut. The naked, black arms of leafless trees closed
over their heads. At last Sturm dropped into a light and
He awoke to the sound of weeping. "Mother?" he said.
She put a hand over his mouth. "Quiet, child." He saw
the tracks of tears on her face. He sat up and saw what was
making her cry.
Below, across a snow-gilt field, three houses burned.
Against the curtain of flame dark figures moved. Cows and
calves bawled in pain as cudgels beat them to the ground.
Angry, starving men tore them to pieces with billhooks and
"They would do the same to us," said Lady Ilys.
Sturm looked to the sergeant in helpless anger. Soren
was afoot, his back to Nuitari, sword drawn. The fire
displayed his blue eyes burning under the brim of his
helmet. There was nothing he could do against twenty. And
there were the women and boy to protect.
They slipped away as if they were the brigands. The
snow continued until dawn, when the sun split the dense
gray clouds. Their hearts did not lighten with the sky. They
ate cold bread and cheese, and sipped tepid melted snow
from the sergeant's pigskin water-bag.
Sturm spelled Mistress Carin on the reins. He simply kept
them clear of the traces, as the old carthorse was content to
follow the rutted path without guidance. Carin fussed over
Lady Ilys, trying to screen her from the new sun and cold
wind. Sturm knew the woman was exhausted. He wondered
why his mother let her carry on with needless niceties of
Sturm stayed at the reins until midday, when Soren
halted again for food and a consultation.
"As I recall," he said, chewing on a strip of dried beef,
"the way forks again not far ahead. If we go straight, we'll
end up in the mountains along the coast. Should we bear
south, we'll reach the coast in a day's steady ride."
"Where on the coast?" asked Lady Ilys.
"Near the port of Thel, where ships on the Inland Sea
"Ships, yes ... a sea voyage would be more comfortable
than rolling in this cart," she said. "Could we find passage
to Abanasinia in Thel?"
"Easily, my lady. 'Tis a thickly traveled route."
"Then we shall proceed to Thel, then take ship."
The carthorse wheezed and shivered. "I pray the beast
holds out till then," said Soren.
The beast did not. By the time they reached the fork, the
poor carthorse collapsed in harness, never to rise again.
"Oh, lady, what shall we do?" Carin wailed.
"Nuitari will have to serve," said Lady Ilys. Soren could
only obey in silence. He loosed the tracings from the dead
animal and dragged the carcass aside. Then he backed the
black, straight-limbed Nuitari between the poles of the over-
burdened cart. Soren patted the horse's nose consolingly.
"There's no shame in it," he said in a low voice, though
Sturm was near and heard him. "We all must serve beneath
our worth sometime, my friend."
Day passed and night came. The two bright moons rose,
shone their faces on Krynn, and set again. Mistress Carin
drove all night, and Sturm noticed that his mother parted
with one of her fine scarves so that her maid might have
some protection from the facing wind.
The air warmed with day, and the ice on the track
changed to mud. It gripped the cart wheels and the
sergeant's boots with fervor, but neither Soren nor the brave
Nuitari complained. They climbed a long, grassy hill to an
ancient ring of standing stones. Strange images were graven
on the triliths. Sturm knew dark forces were abroad in the
land. He held close to his mother when they stopped amid
the ruined circle.
Soren advanced to the crest of the hill. He pointed down
to a vista Sturm could not see. "It is Thel," he said.
Thel was a modest town of five-hundred souls, but to
Sturm's eye, it was a complete city. Some of the half-
timbered houses had three stories - not so tall as the towers
of Castle Brightblade, but so full of people! Sturm was
Soren walked the cart along the high street. The toll of
four days and nights on the road was obvious. Even Lady
Ilys was bedraggled, her fair face chapped by raw wind and
her soul weighed down with bitterness and hurt.
The Thelites paid them no large attention as they
passed. Strangers and refugees were common in the town.
Lady Ilys, for her part, ignored them in turn.
"Rabble. Riff-raff," she said through pursed lips.
"Remember, Sturm, you are the son of a knight. Do not
speak to these people unless they address you properly, with
the deference due us."
Soren found an inn off the waterfront. He went in to
dicker with the owner, leaving the women and boy in the
cart. Sturm climbed atop the baggage and watched the
passing crowds with total absorption.
One fellow in particular caught Sturm's eye: he was
short and slender, a green mantle draped over his shoulders.
His ears drew back in sharp points, and his eyes slanted
down at the corners. He walked with smooth, unconscious
"There's elf blood in him," Mistress Carin said
Across the street, a hulking figure loafed in an open
doorway. A shaggy mane of hair did little to conceal his
ugliness, and his lips could not hide the jagged teeth
protruding from his outthrust jaw.
"Half-orc," said Carin.
Soren returned. "My lady," he said. "The innkeeper has
a small private room for you and Master Sturm. Mistress
Carin may have a place by the kitchen hearth, and I a bench
in the beerhall. All this for four silver pieces."
"Four! That's outrageous!"
"I chaffered him down from seven."
"Very well," she said. "If it is the best we can do." She
sniffed the moist, salty air. "I suppose there are ELVES and
things in there?"
"No, lady. In the cold season, such folk generally go to
"Let us be thankful for that, at least." Lady Ilys took
four coins from her purse. Soren helped her down from the
cart and escorted her and Sturm into the inn.
The innkeeper was a fat, bald man who grinned through
rotten teeth. He bobbed his head and waved Lady Ilys to the
stairs. Before Sturm reached the steps, the innkeeper let out
"Put that back, you two-legged rat! Don't tell me you
found it; I know you stole it!" he cried. A diminutive
manlike creature, a head shorter than Sturm, silverware
poking out of his pockets, stood by a beer keg. When the
innkeeper yelled again, the little man put his fingers in his
ears and stuck out his tongue. Spoons, coins, and buttons
cascaded from his clothes onto the floor.
"I'll swat you good, you roach!" the innkeeper bawled.
He reached for a stout broom. The tiny fellow - a kender,
according to Carin - stooped to retrieve his booty. The
broom's first swipe was a miss, but the innkeeper caught the
kender by the seat of his pants and swept him out the door.
"My 'pologies, ma'am," the fat man said. "I never allow
them kender in here, but they slip in sometimes when I'm
Lady Ilys gave the man a glacial look and dropped only
three silver coins in his palm. The man was too flustered to
protest. He bowed and backed away. Soren hoisted two
bags on his shoulders and went up the steps, chuckling.
The room was small, and the beds were stacked one
above the other. Sturm was delighted and climbed nimbly
up the ladder to the top bunk.
"We will need more money for the voyage," Soren said.
"May I have my lady's approval to sell the cart for what it
"Nuitari too?" asked Sturm, aghast. Soren nodded
"See to it, Sergeant. We shall not stir till your return,"
said Lady Ilys.
It was long dark before Soren came back. He thumped
on the door. Mistress Carin admitted him. Soren bore a
wide trencher of food. He'd intercepted the innkeeper's wife
on the stair and taken the heavy platter off her hands. Soren
set the trencher down on the lone table and announced, "We
have a ship."
Sturm stabbed a slab of boiled mutton with his knife. A
stern look from his mother froze him at once.
"What ship? And where bound?" asked Lady Ilys.
"The good ship SKELTER is bound directly for
Abanasinia and the Hartshorn River," said Soren. "From
there we can go upriver to Solace itself."
"Who is master of this SKELTER?"
"One Graff, a mariner of many years' experience on
"Very good, Sergeant. And when do we sail?"
"With the morning tide, my lady."
WITH THE MORNING TIDE. Sturm repeated those
words over and over in his head. Since leaving the castle, he
had imagined their quick deliverance. He would hear a
sharp tattoo of hoofbeats behind, and Lord Bright-blade
would gallop over the hill at the head of a troop of
horsemen. "Come back! All is well!" he would shout. How
would his father ride to them across the sea? The answer
was clear, and Sturm did not like it.
The good ship SKELTER lay fast against a long wooden
pier. Short and round, she was freshly caulked and painted.
Sturm wondered what exotic cargoes had been carried
under the green planking of her hull.
Dark-skinned sailors clung to the rigging, doing
mysterious things with lengths of rope and bundles of
sailcloth. Sturm never took his eyes off them as he trailed
after his mother and Soren down the pier. The captain of the
SKELTER greeted them at the foot of the gangplank. He
clasped his own hands across his belly and bowed shortly to
"Captain Graff, at yer service, ma'am," he said. His
beard was plaited in intricate braids, and a dull gold bead
hung from one earlobe. "We'll be weighing anchor ere the
sun strikes the housetops of Thel. Will ye board now?"
She made only the slightest nod of assent. Mistress Carin
went ahead, and two husky sailors fell upon their baggage.
Soren stood aside, one hand on the pommel of his sword.
Sturm stayed by him, taking in the busy spectacle of a ship
being readied for sea.
"Will it be a long voyage, Sergeant?" asked the boy.
"Depends on the sea and the wind, young lord. And the
skill of the mariners."
"Couldn't we wait a while longer? For news from
Father?" asked Sturm.
Soren did not reply. He stared at the housetops of the
town, waiting for the pink sky beyond them to blaze yellow,
then blue. Vapor steamed from his nostrils in the chill air.
"Sergeant, I shall board now," Lady Ilys said. Soren
offered his arm. "Come along, Sturm," she said. The boy
responded with a sigh. He dragged his feet up the worn
plank, looking back often to the barren hills east of town.
Lines fell from the ship to the water. Gangs of sailors
manned two broad sweeps and rowed SKELTER out of Thel
harbor. Open pilot boats guided them past the bar into the
Inland Sea. Sturm watched them turn back as SKELTER'S
single sail was raised.
Captain Graff rigged a screen of hides below the
sterncastle for Lady Ilys and Carin. Barrels and crates of
trade goods were pushed aside to create a space for the
women under the castle platform. A smoky oil lamp was lit,
and Mistress Carin set to making pallets for her lady and
The ship rolled with a steady motion to which Sturm
quickly adapted. He wanted to go on deck and watch the
sailors at their work, but Lady Ilys forbade him. The strain
of recent days was bearing on her hard, and she wanted
most of all to rest.
"Stay by me, Sturm," she said. "I need a strong man at
my side while I rest. I won't feel safe otherwise."
She took off her fur cape and lay down, pulling the soft
wrap around her as a blanket. Sturm lay down, his back to
hers, vigilant as a knight and wary as a Brightblade - for all
of ten minutes. Then he, too, lapsed into heavy slumber.
He sensed a change. The ship's motion had lessened.
The air in the hide enclosure was close and hot. Sturm
rolled to his feet, tightened the drawstring of his pants, and
went out on deck.
A cold, thick, white fog had settled on the warmer sea.
The SKELTER glided under a feeble following wind. They
were far out in the midst of the Inland Sea. No land was
visible; indeed, nothing could be seen ten paces beyond the
Sturm prowled the waist of the ship, scampering out of
the way of the sailors as they tightened the mainsail tackle.
The big square of canvas hung limply in the misty air,
flopping only rarely when a stray gust struck it.
Soren was on the poop. The steersman leaned on one
leg behind the sergeant, shifting the thick black staff of the
rudder with practiced ease. Timbers and rigging creaked as
SKELTER eased across the flat, languid water.
The weather was no fairer the second day at sea,
Captain Graff and his first mate - a squat, dwarvish fellow
with yellow eyes - put their heads together by the mast.
Naturally, Sturm was on hand to listen.
"Do ye think it's for the wind cord?" asked the mate.
Sturm was fascinated by the brass tooth in the front of the
"Nay, 'tis not the time. This cursed mist may rise soon,
and the natural wind will spring up," said Graff.
Sturm asked Soren what the mate meant by 'wind cord.'
"Magic," he said. "Mariners often buy wind from seaside
warlocks. They keep the wind bound in knots of magical
cord. When the ship's master needs a breeze, he unknots as
much of a blow as he dares."
"Is there much magic on the sea?" Sturm asked, wide-
Soren wiped mist from his helmet brim before it could
drip off. "Far too much to suit me, young lord. This fog
seems too clinging to be nature's work."
Midday was no brighter than dawn. The sea flattened
out like the puddled wax around Sturm's study candle in
Castle Brightblade. The lapping waves fell silent, and the
sail stayed slack against the mast. Captain Graff emerged
from below deck with a length of rawhide two spans long.
Sturm peered through the sterncastle rail as the captain
crossed the waist and mounted the steps to the poop.
"Sargo," he said to the helmsman. "I'm loosing a knot."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Graff put one end of the cord in his teeth. There were a
dozen knots along its length. The idea of a magic cord
intrigued and repelled Sturm at the same time. Such power
was forbidden to the knightly orders.
Graff picked at the first knot with his blunt fingernails.
In the stagnant air, each of his mutters was clear.
"Come loose, you son of a snake," he said.
Soren moved suddenly off the rail to the sternpost. He
gazed into the fog. "Captain Graff," he said calmly. The
master of the SKELTER cursed some more at the tough loop
in the cord. "Captain!" Soren barked, using the parade-
ground voice that Sturm had heard so often from the
training yard. The old seaman looked up.
"Don't bother me, lad; I'm engaged," he said.
"There's a ship out there," Soren said. "It's coming toward
"What? Eh? Do ye have the second sight?"
"No, just two good ears. Listen!"
Graff put a hand to his ear. Sturm came up on Soren's
left and listened, too.
There ... a faint knocking sound . . . like two blocks of
wood slapping together.
"By the gods, yer right!" Graff said. "Those are oars
beating, or I'm a thieving kender!"
Idle sailors collected in the stern to hear the
approaching ship. Soren backed out of the press, drawing
Sturm with him.
"You must go and tell your mother what is happening,"
"What IS happening, Soren?"
"A galley, a ship rowed by many men, is close upon us.
I fear they mean us mischief."
"Pirates?" asked the boy, half-fearful, half-delighted.
"Mayhap, or rogues of a darker stripe. Run to your
mother and tell her this."
Sturm slipped down a stayrope, as he'd often seen the
sailors do, and dropped to the deck outside his mother's
enclosure. He pulled back the flap. It was dim and smoky
inside, but he spied Mistress Carin tending a small fire in a
"Mother! Mother!" he called.
"What is it?" Lady Ilys said from the shadows.
"Sergeant Soren says a rowing ship is coming for us. It
may be pirates!"
Mistress Carin gasped. Lady Ilys's face appeared out of
the darkness. She was very pale, and her expression was
"Why would pirates bother so small a ship as this?" she
"It's so foggy, my lady, Paladine wouldn't know us for
who we are," Carin said.
"Sturm, fetch the sergeant to me. I want a soldier's view
of the matter." The boy bowed hastily to his mother and ran
out to find Soren.
The thump and swish of oars was clearer now, even to
Sturm's young ears. The fog swallowed the sound,
dispersing it, making it hard to tell from what quarter the
galley approached. Definitely astern; that was certain.
"Sergeant! Sergeant!" Sturm shouted. He found the
guardsman on the poop deck, whetting the blade of his
broadsword. The SKELTER'S crew of lean, raffish seamen
nervously shifted hatchets and cutlasses from hand to hand.
Only Captain Graff and Sargo, the aged helmsman, were
"Sergeant, my mother wishes to speak to you," Sturm
"I honor your noble mother, but I regret I cannot leave
the deck just now," Soren said. "The enemy, it enemy they
be, is near."
"Treading on our heels."
Sturm strained to see. The oars pounded ceaselessly. ...
"Ship on the port stem!" sang out a man in the rigging.
Out of the white murk came a massive object wrought in
bronze. To Sturm it looked like the head of a mace.
"The galley's ram," Soren told him.
"Hard a-starboard!" cried the captain. Sargo put the
tiller over, but the becalmed SKELTER scarcely noticed.
Graff ordered the helm kept over. He held the wind cord
aloft and undid the knot he'd worked so hard to loosen.
"Elementals of the air, I release you!" he exclaimed.
The sail snapped out with a crack, and the deck dropped
from under Sturm's feet. SKELTER heeled sharply to
starboard just as the phantom galley charged through the
dead water where the roundship once plodded.
Wind freed from the cord sang in the rigging. "How
long will it last?" Soren asked the captain. Graff rubbed his
ears and shrugged, a confession of total ignorance.
SKELTER bounded over the waveless sea, tearing the
fog apart like rotted cheesecloth. The galley trailed them,
trying to draw nearer. Sturm held on the port rail, the wind
in his eyes, as the galley swept clear of the mist. The bronze
ram gave way to a black timber hull that cut the water in
spurts with each dip of the oars. The galley's upperworks
were daubed blood red. Movement on the deck suggested
men behind the red planking, and a hedgehog of spears
bristled in the air. Below them, blending back into the fog,
were the oars, black with water, rising and falling in time
with a muffled drum.
"Keep back from the rail, lad," the captain told Sturm.
"They may have archers."
The boy forgot his mother's request and stood with
Sergeant Soren on the port quarterdeck. The magic wind
pushed the roundship without falter for one notch of the
candle. At one notch and a half, the galley ran its oars in.
The SKELTER'S crew cheered. Sturm said, "Have we
bested them, Captain?"
"Not yet, lad, not yet."
Sturm saw dark triangles billow from the galley's masts.
Their pursuers were taking to sail, using SKELTER'S own
wind to keep up with them.
The sun burned a hole in the clouds. Details of the black
galley stood out at once. A pennant whipped from the
foremast. Sargo squinted his good eye at it.
"That be no pirate," he said. "That be a ship of Kernaf."
"Who is Kernaf?" asked Sturm.
" 'What' be more like it - the isle of Kernaf. That's a
ship of their navy," Graff said.
As Sturm watched, the magic wind diminished, and the
SKELTER slowed. The galley wallowed in the press of sail
and drew along their port side.
"Hail, ship of Kernaf!" Graff shouted through his hands.
"What would ye want with us?"
"Heave to! We mean to board!" was the reply. Sturm
could see men massing on the forecastle.
"We're a free trader out of Solamnia. What business
have ye with us?" bawled Graff.
"You are sailing in waters claimed by our great Sea
Lord," the Kernaf spokesman said. "Heave to, or we'll take
you by force."
Oars sprouted from the galley's sides like legs on a
centipede. "Go, young lord. Go to your mother," said Soren.
He plucked a dagger two spans long from his belt. "You
must defend her when all else is lost."
Sturm accepted the iron blade. It was heavy and keen,
and in the guardsman's hand it could easily pierce a single
thickness of mail. Sturm darted across the deck to the hide
enclosure. Mistress Carin and Lady Ilys stood together by
the starboard bulwark, amid the wine casks and clay pots of
"Mother, I am here to defend you!" he said, brandishing
"Come here," she said. She gathered Sturm in her arms
and hugged him tightly. "My brave boy," she said. "Carin
and I heard all."
Shouts from the deck: "The ram! The ram!" SKELTER
leaped sideways in the sea, rolling far to starboard. Lady
Ilys and Carin fell back on the pots and casks. Sturm's head
banged onto the deck, and the dagger flew from his hand.
Above came the sounds of fighting - heavy thuds, the
ring of metal on metal, the screams of the wounded and
dying. Men fell overboard with loud splashes.
A shaft of sunlight slashed into the enclosure. Kernaffi
marines had cut down the hides. Sturm groped dazedly for
the lost dagger. The boarders charged in. Mistress Carin
bravely faced them, but the nearest man grabbed her by the
hair and dragged her out on deck. Lady Ilys called for her
son. By then Sturm was crawling about, searching for
Soren's weapon. The Kernaffi approached Lady Ilys, but
she walked out on her own and stood regally in a circle of
Sturm saw his mother confront the rough, kilt-wearing
Kernaffi. His throat tightened when the ring of spearpoints
closed in. He cast around desperately for the dagger. Back
among the crates of cloth the braided handle gleamed.
Sturm reached for it. ...
A rough hand grasped the hood of his cloak and hauled
him to his feet. "KOY ESK TA?" said the Kernaffi, laughing
in the boy's frightened face.
By the time Sturm was drag-marched to deck, the battle
was over. The Thelite sailors were bunched together by the
mast, on their knees and begging for mercy. Sheer numbers
of javelin-armed Kernaffi had forced Soren back to the
starboard rail. They pinned him there, spearpoints at his
throat. Soren's broken sword lay at his feet, as did a good
number of wounded Kernaffi.
Carin was weeping. Lady Ilys comforted her. There
was a scuffle on the poop deck. Two marines in conical
leather hats shoved old Captain Graff down to the main
"Who commands here? I demand to see yer captain!"
Graff said, rising to his feet.
"POLO KAMAY!" said the Kernaffi holding Sturm. All
eyes followed his glance.
Down a narrow boarding bridge came two
extraordinary figures. The first, in a gilded breastplate and
plumed helmet, was obviously the commander of the galley.
Behind him, and taller by half a head, came a woman in
mail and black leather armor. A corona of copper-colored
hair shone around her conical cap.
"Which one is the ship's master?" said the woman,
stepping down onto the SKELTER.
"I am Graff."
"Captain, this ship is ours. Yield your cargo manifest."
"Demons take you!" he said, spitting at her feet. The
woman backhanded him with one mailed fist. Graff's head
snapped back, and blood ran from his split lip.
"I am Artavash, lieutenant to our great Sea Lord," said
the woman in a loud, ringing voice. "You people are now
The plumed commander went to Lady Ilys and Carin.
"What's this? Passengers?" he said. "Lady Artavash, look
The tall warrior woman looked down at Lady Ilys. She
ran a finger over the nap of the fine velvet dress Sturm's
mother wore. "Wealthy, highborn, or both?" she said. When
Lady Ilys failed to answer, Artavash drew a knife and put
the point to Carin's stomach.
"It would cost me not a moment's rest to gut this lady
like a chicken," she said. "Who are you?"
"Lady Ilys, wife to Lord Brightblade of Solamnia."
"And why is a great knight's lady traveling the open sea
without her noble husband?"
Lady Ilys's lips set firmly until Artavesh pushed the
knife tip through the first layer of Carin's dress. The maid
"We are traveling - for our health," Lady Ilys said.
Artavash laughed and translated the remark for the
Kernaffi. They joined her in mocking laughter.
"MUJAT! Enough!" She turned to the galley's
commander and said, "Well, Sir Radiz, how shall we treat
this poor company?"
"They have nothing we want, lady. Why not let them
sail on?" the beplumed Kernaffi said.
Just then, Sturm managed to slip his arms out of his
cloak. He dropped on his heels and left the marine holding
an empty bundle of cloth. Sturm ran to the women. He
pushed the knife away from Carin and interposed himself
between Artavash and his mother.
Artavash turned her strangely burning eyes on him.
"Well!" said the red-haired warrior. "Here's a young hero.
Another Brightblade, I'll wager."
"Sturm, Angriff's son," the boy said.
Artavash smiled. "How old are you, boy?"
Sturm was put off balance by this ordinary question.
That, and the smile of one who was in fact quite beautiful.
"E-eleven years," he said.
She unlaced the mitt from her right hand and ran
tapered fingers through his long brown hair. "Ah, yes. Our
master will be pleased to meet you."
"Lady, I do not think - " began Radiz.
"That I know," Artavash snapped. "Take the boy and
the women to the SEA RAVEN."
Radiz glared at Artavash, but held his temper in check.
A quartet of Kernaffi shepherded the women and Sturm
toward the boarding bridge. Soren started to struggle
against his captors despite the naked blade at his throat. A
sharp exclamation from one of the soldiers brought
Artavash and Radiz up short.
"What about him?" asked Radiz.
"Kill him," said Artavash with a shrug.
"No!" cried Sturm. He ducked under a hedge of
javelins and dashed to the sergeant. "Please do not harm
"And why not?" demanded Artavash. "He is a man-at-
arms, and dangerous. I cannot take him aboard the SEA
RAVEN as a guest."
"He is my f-friend," Sturm pleaded.
Artavash went to where the five Kernaffi held the far
bigger Soren immobilized. The sergeant was the only man
present tall enough to look her in the eye.
"Give me your oath," she said, "that you will be
peaceful, and I will let you live."
Sturm looked up at him and his eyes said, "Please,
"Don't do it, man!" Captain Graff shouted. "Don't trust
that bloody sea witch!"
Artavash whirled and flung her knife at the old captain.
It buried to the hilt in his chest. The soldier holding him let
Graff sag to the deck. Sturm stared in shock at the growing
stain of red soaking through the captain's coat.
Artavash stood over the dying man. "Do you think I am
to be trifled with, old fool? Mine is the power of life and
death here." She flung her unmailed hand at Soren. "Will
you give your oath?"
"I cannot," said Soren. "While I live, I cannot willingly
allow my lady or my lord to enter anyone's captivity."
Artavash smiled again. The effect on Sturm was near
magic, for, in spite of her violent acts, he was charmed.
"Good, good," she said. "That's what I wanted to hear.
Sir Radiz! Strip this man of his arms and armor. Set him to
an oar on the SEA RAVEN, and mind you, double-chain
him. It would not do to have him loose among the other
The Kernaffi hauled the belligerent sergeant to the
bridge. Lady Ilys and Carin waited until the men surged by.
Artavash went to Graff and rolled his limp form over with
the toe of her boot. She freed her blade and wiped it clean
on the captain's sleeve.
Lady Ilys and her maid started for the bridge. Sturm
moved in behind his mother. Just as he was about to step
up, a hand grabbed his ankle. He almost cried out in
surprise, for it was the captain who held him.
"Boy," Graff whispered.
Sturm knelt. He swallowed hard and said, "Yes, sir?"
"Take . . ." Graff's leathery fingers were twined in the
wind cord. "Take . . ." he gasped again. "Ver' strong ..." Dry
rasping filled the old man's throat, and the captain breathed
Sturm stared at the dead man until a voice broke his
"What have you got there?" said Radiz. Sturm showed
him, his heart pounding for fear he might be punished.
Radiz looked uncomprehendingly at the strip of rawhide.
He rolled it between his fingers and gave it back to Sturm.
"Come along," he said.
From the forecastle of the SEA RAVEN, SKELTER
seemed small and forlorn. The impact of the ram had been a
glancing one, and the hull was crushed rather than torn
open. The surviving Thelite sailors lined the rail as the
galley backed away.
"What will happen to them?" asked Sturm.
"With luck, they can bring her in," said Radiz. "If they
sink, it will be the sea god's fault, not ours."
Even at his young age, Sturm found that hard to
The stern of the SEA RAVEN was covered by a luxurious
pavilion. Walls of rosewood and cedar rose from the oak
deck. Overhead was a cloth of gold canopy, and tinkling
brass chimes hung from ivory ridge posts inside.
Artavash swept in and bade Lady Ilys and Sturm to sit.
She unbuckled her armor and tossed the segments in an
ebony chest whose hasp and hinges were of silver. A
steward appeared, dressed in red velvet vest and billowing
"Wine, Dubai," Artavash said. She scratched her sides
where the armor chafed, just like Sturm's father always had,
and settled onto a heap of plush pillows.
Sturm strained his neck taking in the opulence of the
pavilion. When Dubai returned with a silver ewer and three
goblets, he had to ask, "Is this your ship, Lady?"
"Mine? No. It belongs to the Lord of the Sea. I'm not
even its captain; Sir Radiz sees to our progress over the
The steward poured three measures of dark red wine.
Artavash sipped, nodded, and allowed Dubai to offer the
other two goblets to Lady Ilys and Sturm. Sturm's mother
refused for the both of them.
"You offend my hospitality," Artavash said darkly.
"I would prefer to be recognized as a prisoner, rather
than a guest," Lady Ilys said. Artavash sent the wine to
Mistress Carin. She too declined to drink.
"Pah! Why are you northerners so haughty? Could your
noble Order of knights prevent the Cataclysm? Has your
devotion to Paladine brought you glory? You mystify me.
Wealth and power belong to the strong. If you cling to your
outdated ideals, you will all vanish like the ancient deities
you serve." Artavash took a long drink, then waved for
Dubai to refill her cup.
"What is to become of us?" asked Lady Ilys.
"That is for the Lord of the Sea to decide."
"We cannot be ransomed. Lord Brightblade will not pay
one copper to you."
"Your knight's money means nothing to my master.
Gold runs from his fingertips, and his tears are purest
"If not for vulgar money, why did you take us?" Lady
Artavash leaned back, reaching out to idly stroke
Sturm's hair. "My master will have a use for you, never
Another measure of wine disappeared down Artavash's
throat. Dubai filled her goblet automatically.
"If you do not drink with me, I shall finish the wine
alone," she said.
"Drunkenness is a common fault of barbarians," said
Artavash glared and flung the silver cup at Sturm's
mother. Lady Ilys closed her eyes but did not cower. The
goblet hit the rosewood panel behind them, and wine
splattered over them like scarlet rain. A single drop ran to
the corner of Sturm's mouth. It tasted sweet and hot.
"I will not be insulted on my own ship!" Artavash
declared. "Guard! Guard!" Two armed Kernaffi entered the
front flap. "Escort this LADY and her servant to a cabin
below. Put a watch on the door." She stood, to get the
benefit of her commanding height. "Now, begone!"
Lady Ilys rose and put out a hand to her son. Sturm rose
"He will remain," said Artavash. Sturm could feel the
tension between the two strong-willed women. This time his
mother did not press her point, and instead, drew him close
and kissed his forehead.
"Be wise," she said in a confidential voice. "And
remember who and what you are."
Artavash sent the steward out so she and Sturm would
be alone. "You are a brave boy," she said. "You might have
been killed on the roundship, yet you defended your mother
and friends courageously."
"Tomorrow is too late to be brave, my father says,"
"Hmm, just so. Your father is a wise man. Is he a great
warrior as well?"
"He is a Solamnic Knight." That said it all.
Artavash held out her hand. "Come, sit by me. I wish to
know you better." Sturm half-knelt in the pile of cushions
by her right hand. She said, "You are educated, are you
"I know my letters, and have studied the Chronicles of
"Huma? Who is that?"
"You don't know? Huma was the greatest hero of
Krynn." Sturm cleared his throat and recited:
THUS HUMA, KNIGHT OF SOLAMNIA,
LIGHTBRINGER, FIRST LANCER,
FOLLOWED HIS LIGHT TO THE FOOT OF THE KHALKIST MOUNTAINS,
TO THE STONE FEET OF THE GODS,
TO THE CROUCHED SILENCE OF THEIR TEMPLE.
HE CALLED DOWN THE LANCEMAKERS, HE TOOK ON
THEIR UNSPEAKABLE POWER TO CRUSH THE UNSPEAKABLE EVIL,
TO THRUST THE COILING DARKNESS
BACK DOWN THE TUNNEL OF THE DRAGON'S THROAT.
Sturm finished the canto. Artavash was smiling again.
Very quietly she said, "And this demigod, this Huma; you
are a descendant of his?"
"From olden times, yes," Sturm said with pride.
"I cannot wait to present you to my master," she said.
The fog dispelled and never returned. SEA RAVEN'S
oars beat day and night.
Sturm worried about Soren. There had been no sign of
the sergeant since he disappeared into the dark, fetid hold of
the galley two days ago. Artavash was not available, so the
boy complained to Radiz.
"You will not like what you see," Radiz told him.
"I want to see Sergeant Soren," Sturm insisted. The
commander agreed without any more argument.
"Perhaps it would be instructive for you to visit the
benches," he mused.
The boy and the commander descended a steep set of
steps into the hold. There, a long wooden walkway ran from
forecastle to stern. Below on either side were the rowers'
benches. Four men were chained to each oar, and twenty
oars were set on each side. Hard, grim-faced men prowled
the walk, lashing the rowers at random. The sight and smell
of the neglected slaves was fearsome.
Soren was not hard to find. Compared to the skinny
wretches around him, he was a giant. Radiz let Sturm on the
catwalk to speak with his friend.
"I'm sorry, Soren!" he said, choking on disgust and
angry tears. "I didn't know they'd put you in this horrible
The guardsman hauled back his oar. "Don't - worry -
young - lord," he panted in time to the sounding drum.
"Alive - there is - hope."
"Hope is a good breakfast, but a poor supper,"
countered Radiz. He led Sturm away. The boy went back to
his mother. He sat between Lady Ilys and Carin and said
nothing to anyone for a long time.
After four days and three nights, the SEA RAVEN hove in
sight of land. The coast of Abanasinia lay like a low, brown
cloud off the port beam. Lady Ilys looked longingly at the
"So near" she said. Sturm leaned on her arm. "If I knew
we were close enough, I'd throw you overboard to swim it
and find help."
"I could try," he said eagerly.
She stroked his tangled hair. "No, my son. I fear you
Abanasinia receded as the SEA RAVEN bore south and
west. A plume of smoke followed the wind away from the
"Kernaf is a fire-mountain," explained Artavash. "The
natives call it 'HEJ MARAF,' - the Furnace."
"Are you not a native?" asked Sturm.
"Me, a fish-eater? My ancestors laugh at the idea!"
Sturm peeked at Radiz. The swarthy face under the
shiny helmet could not conceal annoyance at her insult.
SEA RAVEN gained steadily against an offshore breeze.
The sea was empty of ships, even as she drew in sight of the
mouth of the main harbor. From the high forecastle, the city
of Kernaf spread in a half-circle around the bowl-shaped
bay. Two tall, stone towers flanked the narrow harbor
entrance. The tower tops were blackened by fire.
"Has someone attacked your town?" asked Sturm.
Radiz squinted into the morning glare. "No, boy. Those
are signal towers. Fires were burned up there to mark the
entrance for passing ships," he said.
"Don't they use them anymore?" Sturm asked. Radiz
Artavash ordered message pennants sent as the galley
churned to its haven. They passed large numbers of fishing
smacks moored to buoys. They were waterlogged from
neglect. In the main dockyard, large merchant ships swung
untended at anchor, their rigging ragged and their main
yards lying rotten on their decks.
"Strange," said Lady Ilys. "Everything looks
abandoned. I thought this would be a teeming port."
"Not a soul in sight," agreed Mistress Carin.
That changed when a light ketch skimmed out to meet
the SEA RAVEN. A Kernaffi stood in the boat and called to
the galley in his native tongue. Radiz replied at length.
"What do they say?" asked Sturm.
"Merely the greetings of our great lord to his returning
ship," said Artavash. The man in the boat did not look so
very pleased to Sturm.
SEA RAVEN dropped anchors fore and aft. The oars
were run in. The pilot ketch put about and tacked back to a
long stone pier. Radiz shouted orders, and all hands except
slaves assembled on the main deck.
A squat barge rowed out to the galley's bow. Sturm, his
mother, and Carin followed Artavash to a ramp that led
down to the bobbing barge. Sturm stopped short of the
"What about Sergeant Soren?" he said.
"He will come ashore with the other rowers," said
Sturm appealed to Artavash. "He must come with us,"
he said. She seemed willing to accommodate the boy's
wishes, so she sent for the sergeant. Soren was half-carried
from the hold and dumped on the ramp by Kernaffi sailors.
"You see, my lady, how four days with an oar tames
the boldest warrior," Radiz said. Artavash laughed all the
way down to the barge.
Sturm helped his friend stand. "Are you well, Soren?"
"Well enough, my lord." His quilted tunic was in tat ters,
and red welts streaked his back. The rowing master had not
spared Soren the whip. The guardsman's hands were also
raw from gripping the heavy oar.
The barge glided in to the pier. An honor guard awaited
them. Brass horns blared as Artavash led the group up some
steps to the street. A parade formed:
the warrior woman leading Sturm by the hand, followed
by a grim Lady Ilys and Carin. Soren, Radiz, and the
Kernaffi guard brought up the rear. Fifes shrilled and drums
rumbled as they began to march.
The streets of the city were as empty as the harbor. A
few people peered out their windows, and some curious
loafers filled open doorways. As soon as they caught sight
of Artavash, doors closed and shutters shut.
"Passing strange," Sturm said. "Harbors without ships,
streets without people."
"The natives seldom venture out this time of day,"
Artavash replied. "They think it's too hot."
The parade turned a comer. Ahead rose an imposing
facade, a palace of some sort. Before the palace was a high
wooden platform covered with a golden canopy. Artavash
halted Sturm ten paces from the foot of the platform. The
guards ran ahead, forming a double line from Artavash to
the bottom of the steps. Javelins clanked on shoulders in
salute, and the music stopped.
"Hail, Lord of the Sea!" Artavash cried.
"KAI! NAM KAMAY DURAT!" echoed the guards.
Sturm shaded his eyes. How warm it was here! The
afternoon sun glared over him, making sweat break out on
his face. Maybe the natives had the right idea!
Something stirred on the platform. A thin shape, black
against the dazzling light, came to the front of the platform.
Two hands rose, spread in greeting.
"Welcome, beloved Artavash. Who have you brought to
me?" said a high, reedy voice.
"Noble guests, my lord." She introduced Lady Ilys,
Carin, and Soren. Then she pushed Sturm forward. "And
this, Master, is Sturm, Angriff's son, of the house of
A thin, gurgling sound emanated from the platform.
"So? Come closer, young fellow, that I may see you better."
Sturm cast a glance back at his mother for guidance.
Artavash didn't wait; she put a hand to his back and steered
him up the wooden steps. When the shade of the gilded
canopy fell across his face, he saw the man known as the
Lord of the Sea.
He was tall, and so thin his back bowed under the
weight of his large head. The black robe he wore hung
loosely from his shoulders. Long, smooth fingers were
clasped together at the Sea Lord's waist. And his face -
Sturm would long remember that face! Two black eyes
glittered on either side of a sharp nose. The skin of his
beardless face was gray and dry as autumn leaves . . .
strange that his hands, though bony, were pink and
unwrinkled. The Lord of the Sea had only a few wisps of
black hair clinging to his globular skull.
"My name is Mukhari Ras," he said. His voice was like
a creaking door. "I am so pleased to meet you." He
extended a hand to the boy. Sturm took it uncertainly. It was
dry and hot, almost feverish.
"Have I done well?" asked Artavash.
"Oh, very well, far better than I expected," said
Mukhari Ras. "And you shall be rewarded. All my loyal
subjects will be rewarded."
He picked up a large canvas sack, grunting from the
obvious weight. Shuffling to the front of the platform,
Mukhari said, "Loyal men of Kernaf! I am pleased with the
guests you have brought me. Taste the gratitude of Mukhari
Ras!" So saying, he dipped his hand in the sack and flung a
handful of the contents into the air. A shower of gold coins
fell on the soldiers below. The men broke ranks and
scrambled after the money, which rang and rolled on the
Sturm blinked. He saw coins hit the ground, but it was
sand, common sand, that Mukhari threw by fistfuls from the
"You - you're a magician!" he said.
"No, boy. I am no crude conjurer, but a humble acolyte
of the mysteries of cosmic matter. My alchemical art has
made me master of this island. Soon I shall command all the
Inland Sea." Mukhari threw another handful of sand to the
Kernaffi. "More! Take more! All the gold in the world is
yours if you serve me!" The men dropped their weapons
and crawled on all fours in the dirt. They filled their helmets
with gold and laughingly chased each new coin as it struck
The sack emptied, Mukhari Ras tossed it aside. "That's
done," he said, showing blackened teeth in his smile.
"Artavash, my dear, bring the boy and his noble
companions to the palace. I shall receive them for dinner."
Sturm, Lady Ilys, and Carin were taken to an airy suite
of rooms on the east side of the palace. There, amid
billowing sheets of gauze, the smell of incense, and the
ever-present tinkling of wind chimes, bowls of scented
water were brought for their bathing. Vested servants stood
by with towels, even presuming to pat dry the Solamnians'
faces and hands for them. "What odd people they are," said
Carin. "That Mukhari Ras is the oddest of them all. Who
could imagine a quacksalving alchemist as the ruler of an
island? It's - it's contrary to nature, that's what it is," said
"Mother, what will become of us?" Sturm said once the
towel was taken away from his face.
"I cannot guess," she confessed. "A man who throws
gold in the street cannot desire ransom money. In truth,
were it not for the violence of our being brought here, I
would believe we were honored guests."
Sturm was uneasy. Why had no one else noticed that
Mukhari's gold was only sand? He opened his mouth to
mention it to his mother, but before he could say a word,
Artavash appeared at their door.
"The table of my master is laden. Let us eat," she said.
Dinner in the palace was a major event, presented in an
elaborate style. Sturm enjoyed sitting on the floor at the low
table, though Lady Ilys provoked a minor crisis by insisting
that a proper chair be provided for her. It was not decent,
she said, for a well-born lady to squat on her haunches like
the family wolfhound.
As the diners - including Sir Radiz, Artavash, and Soren
- were busy hacking open their first course of melon, Lady
Ilys said, "Lord Mukhari, may I ask how you came to rule
this country? Your servant," she gestured to Artavash,
"admits not being native to Kernaf."
The alchemist, who sat by a plate heaped with fruit,
replied, "I was marooned on the south coast of Kernaf by
men of my own land."
"What land is that?" asked Sturm.
"Moranoco, or as you call it, the Plains of Dust."
"You were exiled then?" said Lady Ilys. Without
looking, she handed a napkin to Sturm. The boy blotted
melon juice from his chin.
"Indeed, lady; as you are now, so was I once a hard-
pressed refugee. By my skill in the Art, I won the loyalty
and affection of the people of Kernaf. I know the straits you
are in, which is why I make you welcome."
"Your servants have not always been so kind," Soren
said, giving Artavash a caustic glance. The warrior woman
plunged a blunt table knife into her melon and split the fruit
"Ah, well! It has been explained to me that your ship
refused the SEA RAVEN'S summons and resisted with blood
when boarded. Is it surprising that my good Artavash
resorted to stern measures to bring you here? If murder and
plunder were our aims, you would not be dining with us
now," Mukhari said.
Carin looked confused. Lady Ilys said, "Why do your
ships stop free traders on the open sea?"
"Tribute is necessary for the maintenance of Kernaf's
position," said Artavash. She popped a sliver of melon in
her mouth. Sturm watched her every move with fascination.
There was silence around the table for a moment.
Everyone was eating except Mukhari. Sturm wondered why
he had the choicest fruit on his plate if he weren't going to
eat any of it.
The alchemist fixed his black eyes on Lady Ilys.
"Where were you bound, Lady?"
"Solace, in Abanasinia," she replied.
Mukhari wiped his mouth on a linen napkin, though no
food had touched his lips. "Shall I put one of my ships at
"That would be wonderful!" said Mistress Carin.
"It is gracious of you to offer," said Lady Ilys.
Radiz interjected, "Only SEA RAVEN is on hand, Lord."
"When can it be ready for sea?"
"Not for nine days, Lord. The hull was strained when we
rammed the roundship. The seams should be re-caulked,"
Artavash said. Radiz opened his mouth to say something
but was cut off by her harsh glance. "No other vessel is
expected back in less than a fortnight," she said.
"It seems you must be my guests for nine more days,"
Mukhari said. "So that you will be comfortable, please feel
free to roam my palace at will." He stood to leave, though
the second course had yet to be served. "And now I retire to
my nightly studies. Good health to you, my friends."
He waved a hand through the air. A slim glass vial
appeared in his fingers. Mukhari hurled the vial to the floor.
It shattered, and a coil of rose-colored smoke snaked out.
The smoke enveloped Mukhari Ras. The last thing Sturm
saw was the alchemist's face. In a halo of pink smoke he
looked quite benign.
The cloud dispersed, and Mukhari was gone.
"Oh!" said Carin.
"Tricks," muttered Radiz.
It was hot. Sturm rolled over and pushed back the slick
satin sheets. Currents of air stirred the filmy curtains, but
the heat in the room was stifling. He got up, pulled on his
Kernaffi-style pants and vest, and checked on his mother.
Lady Ilys was sleeping soundly. Her cheek was cool and her
forehead dry. So why am I sweating so? wondered Sturm.
He tip-toed through the colonnade to the main room.
The cool tiles felt good under his feet. Beyond the columns
was an atrium. Stars glittered overhead. As Sturm stood
searching for familiar constellations, he heard footsteps and
muffled voices. He went to the door and lifted the latch.
Two Kernaffi soldiers flanked a third, taller man.
Chains clinked faintly from the middle man's wrists and
feet. Sturm cracked the door wider. The men passed a wall
torch. The fettered man was Sergeant Soren - and he was
Sturm shut the door quickly. His mind raced in tan dem
with his heart. Why was Soren in chains? Where were they
taking him? When the footsteps faded around the corner,
Sturm knew he had to follow.
The massive suite door swung back without a whisper.
Sturm saw the hinges were made of ruby. There seemed no
limit to the wealth of the alchemist-lord. He slipped down
the hall, straining to hear the last word of the Kernaffi
guards and Soren. The palace was still.
He kept close to the wall, just as he did when he played
'Storm the Citadel' in Castle Brightblade. His damp palms
moved stickily over the glossy wood panels. A strange,
irresistible smell came to Sturm's nostrils, an odor of spice
such as he had never known before. Where the corridor
crossed another he stopped, uncertain which way to go. A
fresh waft of spice drew him to the right. Down the hall a
high, curving staircase of black marble spiraled up,
following the sweep of the palace wall. Midway up, a single
torch burned in an iron bracket.
Sturm mounted the steps. The odor was stronger and
more compelling with every rising step. As he passed under
the torch, Sturm heard a peculiar sound - the gurgle of slow-
moving liquid. The steps ended at a black door studded with
silver spikes. It was ajar.
Sturm's hand reached out, wavered ... He could not
resist. He touched the door with one finger, and it opened
wide for him.
Even yellow light filled the room beyond. It was a
workshop of some sort, filled with all sorts of strange
things: tables laden with crystals of odd color and shape;
stuffed animals with glass-bead eyes that stared knowingly
back at Sturm. Shelves lined with fancy canisters and
bundles of dried herbs, neatly labeled in some foreign
script. And books. More books than Sturm had ever seen in
He found the source of the gurgling and the spice
aroma. An elaborate arrangement of clear tubes and bottles
bubbled slowly on a round table in the center of the room.
Beside this apparatus was a large red candle, as thick as his
wrist. The odor was coming from it.
"Careful, young lord," said Mukhari Ras, appearing
ghostlike from a deep alcove. "The essence still is very
delicate, and I have need of it soon."
Sturm flinched and stood away from the table. The fluid
in the tubes was thick and dark, very like the color of -
"Blood," said the alchemist. "Merely the unwholesome
remnants of my last experiment," said the alchemist. He
drew nearer even as the boy shrank from him.
"Human blood?" asked Sturm in a small voice.
"Of course," said Mukhari. "No other kind is of any use
Sturm slowly pointed to the red, sweet-smelling candle.
"What is this made of? It smells good."
"I am pleased you noticed. It is a very SPECIAL candle.
You see, I cannot smell it at all." Sturm couldn't believe
that. The spicy aroma was almost overwhelming in the
close room. "Only very special people can smell it. The
young and pure."
A cold hand came to rest on the back of Sturm's neck.
"What does that mean?" he asked.
"It means, my boy, that I needed to know what sort of
boy you are, to know if you were suitable for my purposes."
Sturm backed a step. "What purposes?"
"At the command of my Dark Goddess, I seek the true
restorative medicine, the elixir of life. My research
uncovered the formula, but to make it work, I need noble
blood. Your blood."
"Mine!" cried Sturm. "Why mine?"
"You passed the test. The candle led you here."
Sturm bumped into a table. He cast about wildly for a
way out. Mukhari did not seem to notice. He looked far
away, musing about his experiments.
"Artavash brought me children from Kernaf, but they
were imperfect, unworthy. The elixir made from their blood
was only partially effective." He held out an arm and pulled
back the loose sleeve to his shoulder. "See? I have the arms
of a man of thirty, while the rest of me rots at sixty-six."
Fear and disgust rose sourly in Sturm's throat. "So
that's why the town is empty - you murdered the children!"
"Don't be silly, boy. Most families fled, true, but they'll
come back once I'm rejuvenated. They will come back and
fall to their knees to worship the Goddess of Darkness who
grants eternal life!"
"Life purchased at the cost of others! Paladine will not
"And who is Paladine's representative? You?" Mukhari
grinned evilly at the boy. "No matter. In two days the dark
moon will rise, and the celestial conditions for the making
of the elixir will be propitious."
"You will not suceed - Sergeant Soren - " Sturm began
The alchemist clucked his tongue. "He cannot help you.
Even now he lies trussed up in my dungeon. As for you, my
young lord, if you give me the slightest difficulty, I shall
order harm done to your mother and her maid."
"You will not!"
"Nonsense, boy. You're not in Solamnia. I am master
Sturm closed his hand around a smooth, cold object - a
flask. He hurled the flask at Mukhari and turned to run. The
aged alchemist dodged awkwardly. Mukhari, reached for a
braided bell cord. Hidden chimes rang. A concealed door
sprang open, and Artavash came in. Sturm rushed blindly
into her grasp.
"Take charge of him, my dear," Mukhari said. "Only
don't bruise him. I wouldn't want him less than perfect for
"As you command, master," said Artavash. She laid a
firm hand on his neck and guided Sturm from the room.
* On the stairs Sturm said, "So - so this was your plan all
"Why do you think my master had me scouring the
seas?" she said. "Other ships have come and gone, seeking
pure blood for Lord Mukhari's work. Noble offspring are
hard to find; they're usually well guarded. It was the
greatest stroke of luck that I intercepted your ship."
Sturm didn't feel at all lucky. He submitted without a
struggle as Artavash took him to her chambers. All the
while, even when she bound him to a heavy chair with
silken sashes, he was thinking, thinking. He batted the
feeling of helpless terror that gnawed at his mind. Soren a
captive, his mother and Carin hostages, . . . and himself. To
be bled dry, his life drained to further the evil work of the
Queen of Darkness . . .
He thought of his father, standing on the battlements of
Castle Brightblade with only a few loyal retainers while a
mob of madmen howled around them. Lord Brightblade
would meet the foe face to face, head to head, to conquer or
perish. It was the knightly way. It was the Brightblade way.
The tremors in Sturm's limbs faded. In their place a heat
grew in his chest. He was angry. His father had trusted him
to take care of his mother, and he had failed! And who
would bear the Brightblade name back to their ancestral
home if not him?
"Be still, boy," Artavash said. She tipped a clay cup to
her lips and drank.
"Lady Artavash?" said Sturm, his voice cracked with
"What do you want?"
"Would you help me?"
She yawned and kicked off her sandals. "Don't be silly,
"All you need do is untie me. Then I'll get Soren, and
together we'll take my mother and Mistress Carin - "
"You're not going anywhere. Mukhari Ras has decreed
your fate." Artavash sat on her high couch and leaned back
against the wall. She laid the naked blade of a shortsword
across her lap.
"How can you serve a man like him? H-he is a monster
who kills children!" said Sturm.
"Children die every day," she said flatly. And with that,
young Sturm saw Artavash for what she was: a heartless
mercenary. Her only loyalty was to her paymaster.
She drained another cupful of wine, the last of many
that evening. "Now, go to sleep." Artavash slumped over a
pile of pillows. Her hand went slack, and the clay cup rolled
out of it.
Sturm waited until her breathing was soft and regular
before he tried to shift the chair. The stout seat bumped
loudly on the bare stone floor. Sturm froze. Artavash
snorted and buried her face deeper in the satin cushions.
He gazed longingly at the sword Artavash had drawn,
now lying point out on the couch. If he could only reach it!
He strained against the sashes, but the silken knots only
tightened further. Sturm relaxed and shook the damp ends
of his long hair from his face.
The lamp above Artavash's couch guttered and went
out. In the dense darkness, Sturm could feel his pulse
throbbing in his hands and feet. He wiggled his fingers
under the binding. His hands were crossed over his lap, so
his left hand was over his right pocket, and vice-versa.
There was a lump in his left pocket he recognized as
Captain Graff's wind cord. He counted the knots. Two
hands, plus one; eleven fresh gusts of magic were locked in
that dirty strip of rawhide.
But it WAS magic. As a knight, he was forbidden by the
Measure to make use of it. Still ... to fight the Dark Queen. . . .
The day dawned bright and hot. Sturm awakened from a
tense, shallow sleep with the sun in his eyes. His body
ached from being tied all night. Artavash did not stir until a
pounding on the door compelled her to rise.
"What in thunder?" she grumbled, her voice husky and dry.
"Where is my son?" demanded Lady Ilys through the door.
"Here, Mother! I'm in here!" he shouted.
Artavash winced. She yanked a bell pull by her couch.
By the time she staggered to the door and opened it, eight
soldiers were waiting for her outside. Two more stood by
with Soren, whose hands were chained together.
Artavash slit Sturm's sashes with the shortsword, and
the young Brightblade threw his arms around his mother.
"They're going to kill me!" Sturm cried.
"This can't be true!" Lady Ilys gasped, turning to
Artavash, who merely shrugged.
"My lady, your son spoke truly. These people mean to
kill young Sturm," said Soren.
Lady Ilys pushed her son behind her skirt. Mistress
Carin moved in on Sturm's other side. Lady Ilys declared,
"No one shall move from this spot until some explanation is
given for the barbarous manner in which we are being
Artavash rubbed her temples a few times and said, "The
explanation is this. My master, Mukhari Ras, has need of
your son's life. If you interfer in the slightest way, you, your
maid, and your man will be speedily killed."
"Impudent pirate! Do you think my son is a lamb, to be
butchered for that walking scarecrow's evil purposes?"
"It matters little what you say, Lady. Mukhari Ras
commands it, and it will be done." She gestured to the
Kernaffi soldiers. They pulled Lady Ilys and Carin apart.
Artavash reached for Sturm.
Chained or not, Soren could not stand idly by as
Artavash laid hands on his charges. He gathered the bond
links in his hands and lashed out at the nearest man. The
guard folded under the blow and bowled over his comrades.
Soren lumbered forward. Artavash released Sturm and
turned to meet the sergeant.
"No, Soren! Stop!" cried Sturm. Artavash nimbly
dodged the guardsman's rush. She brought the flat of her
blade in hard on Soren's head. The sergeant buckled and fell
face down on the cool marble floor. Carin screamed.
Artavash waved the sword point under Carin's nose.
"Don't shout so! My head is splitting!"
"Too much wine," said Lady Ilys coldly.
"Enough! By the gods, your tongue is sharper than a
dozen swords," Artavash said. "I have no more time to dally
with you. The guards will lock you in your rooms." She
gave the orders in Kernaffi. Two men picked up Soren, and
the rest formed in close order around the two women.
"Sturm! Sturm!" his mother called. He made a step
toward her, but was collared by a grim-faced Artavash.
"The time for indulgences is past," she said. "If you
resist, the two women will die."
"Mother!" he cried desperately.
"Come." Artavash seized Sturm by the wrist and
dragged him away.
Radiz joined them in the main hall. He was splendid in
his fine armor and plume, but his face was expressionless.
He and Artavash exchanged a look Sturm could not fathom.
Then the Kernaffi gave him a handkerchief.
"Dry your eyes," he said with a strange note of
Radiz and Artavash stood on either side of him as
Sturm faced the steps leading up to the palace roof. Radiz,
Sturm noted, kept one hand on his sword hilt all the way to
Four bearded Kernaffi priests stood to one side, offering
up prayers and incense to the Dark Queen. Radiz stopped
and bowed to them, but Sturm thought he detected a look of
disgust on the man's face when he rose. Artavash shaded
her aching eyes from the brilliant sun.
Ten paces away, Mukhari Ras worked to prepare the
special table for his great experiment. His gaunt, bent figure
scuttled from one side to another, reminding Sturm of the
vultures that haunted the southeast tower of Castle
Brightblade. The alchemist's wide black robe added to this
The air was still. The sun burned fiercely over them.
Sturm shivered in spite of the heat. PLEASE, PALADINE,
PLEASE SAVE ME!
"Bring him over. Come, come along," said Mukhari,
waving his youthful hands. Sturm rubbed his cold, sweating
palms on his pants. He looked to Radiz for some sign of
sympathy. The commander of the SEA RAVEN stared
straight ahead and said nothing.
Halfway to Mukhari, Sturm stumbled. He heard the
snick of a sword being freed from its scabbard. A strong
hand grabbed the back of his vest.
"Pick up your feet, boy," said Artavash.
Mukhari was waiting, hands folded deep into his
voluminous sleeves. Up close, the table was basically just a
copper funnel flat enough to lie on. The legs were heavy
columns of marble.
"Put him on the table," instructed Mukhari. The priests
chanted louder and began to beat a brass gong.
Shouts and clangs of metal rose from the open stairwell.
Radiz drew his weapon out of reflex. Artavash shoved
Sturm to Radiz and got her own sword ready. A death-
scream cut the air, and a few heartbeats later, Soren
bounded up the steps, a bloody sword in his chained hand.
"Sturm Brightblade! I am here!" he roared.
"Stop that man!" quavered Mukhari.
Artavash moved out to meet Soren. His stolen blade
thrust in; she parried and beat his sword out of line. Soren
was severely hampered by his bonds. Only with his
extraordinary strength could he even carry on such a fight.
He cut hard at Artavash, one, two, three - right-left-right.
She dodged, fox-quick, and struck home in the guardsman's
chest. Soren staggered back. Artavash circled, circled;
feinting an overhand cut, she changed direction in the wink
of an eye and thrust through Soren's weakened guard. The
point of her blade grew out his back.
Eye to eye, she said, "You should have stayed on your
oar." Artavash recovered, and Soren collapsed.
Sturm broke free from Radiz and ran to his fallen
friend. "Soren! Soren!"
His eyes were open. He said, "My lord . . . sound the
"Leave him, boy. He's dead." Radiz was standing over
Soren. Nearby, Artavash casually wiped the blood from her
Sturm was numb. With leaden feet, he walked between
Radiz and Artavash to the alchemist's killing table. His hope
was gone. Four steps to go. Below the neck of the table's
funnel was a large iron pot. Three steps. Mukhari was pale
and sweating in the heat. Two steps.
He had nothing left, nothing at all but Graff's wind
cord. Magic . . . forbidden . . . The last step . . .
Artavash swept Sturm off his feet and laid him on the
table. The metal was warm from the sun. "Lie still," she
warned. "Remember your mother."
She backed away. Mukhari Ras loomed above him.
With both hands, Mukhari clasped a long, wickedly curved
dagger. Sturm's heart missed a beat. His jaw tightened, and
he said the briefest prayer of his life:
"Paladine, help me."
The dagger wavered in the frail alchemist's grasp.
Artavash opened Sturm's vest and shirt. Mukhari Ras
smiled down at him. "Here, then, is your destiny," he
whispered. "I give you to my Queen!" He closed his eyes
and raised the dagger high to strike.
Down came the blade. Sturm held out the wind cord
taut between his fists. The keen edge of the dagger scraped
the briefest instant against the rawhide. Mukhari felt it and
opened his eyes. "What - ?" was all he could say before the
A mighty wall of wind, invisible, irresistible, blast ed
across the palace roof. The emaciated alchemist, his robes
filling with air like black bat's wings, was lifted off his feet.
Screeching with terror, Mukhari Ras flew backward to the
edge of the roof. An upward gust filled his skirt, lofting
him. The Lord of the Sea soared into the sky, borne by the
ensorceled wind. On and on he flew, his brittle body spread
flat by the torrent of air, until he was lost in the billowing
clouds and dust.
Mukhari was gone, but the danger was not yet passed.
The wind blew Sturm over the table, but he managed to
thrust an arm through the funnel hole. He held on dearly as
the tempest howled around him. Retorts and alembics from
the spirit still toppled over and were blown away. The
Kernaffi priests collapsed in a heap, only to be torn from
each other by the brutal wind. One by one they were swept
away, the last pair clinging together even as they were
Sturm cried out in pain as the wind tore at him. He
thought his arm would snap off at the shoulder, but he was
able to get a relieving grip with his free hand. The table
shifted and turned. Sturm pressed his face to the copper top.
Dust scoured the roof, stinging the boy's exposed flesh. Just
when it seemed he could endure no more, the wild fury
He clung fiercely to the table, the instrument of death
that had preserved his life. He heard a faint call for help.
Gingerly, Sturm removed his aching arm from the funnel
hole. The arm was black and blue from wrist to elbow.
The cry came again: "Help me, help . . ." Sturm shaded
his eyes and looked around. He was alone on the roof.
Everything, including Soren's body, was gone.
Radiz, his plume bent at an angle and his golden armor
dented, hobbled up the steps. He stared around. The groan
for help came again. Radiz and Sturm walked converging
paths to the edge of the roof.
"At last, we are free!" he murmured.
Dangling from a rain gutter was Artavash. The gaping
dragonmouth spout had snagged her long military cape as
she fell. Now she was suspended high above the housetops
"Help me!" she pleaded. The cape tore a little and
Artavash begged for quick assistance.
Sturm eyed Radiz. The Kernaffi blinked dazedly. "I
leave it to you, boy. If you wish, we'll bring her up. Or I can
cut her free and let her fall. What do you wish?"
Her gray eyes appealed for mercy. "She killed Soren,"
True," said Radiz. He pulled the sword from his belt.
"No," said Sturm. "The Measure teaches mercy, even to
He dropped on his stomach and reached for her cape.
Radiz took hold as well. They hauled Artavash to safety.
Once securely on the roof, she rolled over on the tiles and
gasped for air. Radiz took her sword and knife away.
He jerked Artavash around on to her stomach and
quickly bound her arms and legs tightly. When she cursed
too loudly, he drew a brightly colored scarf from his pocket
and jammed it into her mouth. At last he stood and faced
"Now, what can I do to make amends, young lord?"
Sturm cradled his bruised arm and frowned with
concentration. "I wish to leave," he said. "I want a ship to
take my mother, Mistress Carin, and me to Solace. It was
my father's wish that we go to Solace, so that is what we
Radiz nodded. As they walked slowly to the steps, the
commander laid a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Whatever made you think of using the old sailor's magic
string?" he asked.
"I didn't plan it," said Sturm, swallowing. "My only
thought was to turn Mukhari's knife away."
"You didn't realize cutting the cord would release all
Sturm shook his head. "I don't know anything about
magic. It's not a fitting subject for knights."
Paladine would forgive him for bending the Measure. . .
At the top of the stairs Sturm paused. "Radiz?"
"Yes, young Sturm?"
"Would you have your men search for Sergeant Soren?
He deserves an honorable burial."
"It shall be done."
They descended the steps together. Radiz remarked,
"You know, Mukhari was right about one thing; you are a
"I am my father's son," said Sturm.
The voices of the boy and the Kernaffi commander
echoed through the palace halls long after the rooftop had
returned to the clean air, bright sun, and nature's honest
The road to exile was very long. For Sturm Brightblade, this was
only the beginning.
Heart of Goldmoon
Laura Hickman and Kate Novac
The air of excitement was high as the Que-shu tribe
milled before the ancient stone platform that was the focus
of their village. Everyone was clad in colorful festive
raiment. Adding to the delight of the senses was the
delectable smell of foods being prepared for the celebration
One by one, however, the exhilarated men, women, and
children fell into silence as their attention was caught by a
lone young woman, climbing the granite construction
before them. Soon, all was still. No child giggled, no babe
even cried. Nothing disturbed the faint shuffling sound
made by the slippered feet of the holy woman as she
ascended to the platform.
The woman was Goldmoon, princess and priestess of
the Que-shu. Those who watched knew that upon her death
- in the far future - Goldmoon would become a goddess, as
had her mother, Tearsong, and all her deceased ancestors.
Goldmoon was the tribe's link to their gods. Her father,
Chieftain Arrowthorn, would also achieve godhood, but, as
revered as he was, the silence and awe of the crowd was
reserved for the slender woman who was his only heir.
Goldmoon's long, silken hair was brighter than the
golden grasses waving in the fields near the village. Sight of
her hair still astonished the dark-haired tribesmen. "It is a
mark of her favor with the ancestors," they said. As she
reached the platform and bowed to the crowd, the sun
glinted from those golden tresses, and no one present
witnessing her grace, her beauty, or that bright crown of
hair doubted Goldmoon's worth in being honored with this
Goldmoon turned from the platform edge and bowed
respectfully to her father, who had previously ascended the
platform. Though it was her mother's blood that decreed
Goldmoon's status as priestess, it was her father's greatness
as a warrior that had won him Tearsong's hand in marriage.
Only Arrowthorn's cunning and wisdom had kept the reins
of power from being torn from their family's hands after the
crushing blow of Tearsong's early death, and had held them
until she, Goldmoon, was old enough to serve as priestess to
Goldmoon moved to Arrowthorn's right side and fixed
her gaze out over the plains to the mountain on the northern
horizon. She could not see it from here, but she knew that
near the summit was a vast cavern, called the Hall of the
Sleeping Spirits, where the mortal remains of Goldmoon's
dead ancestors lay, behind a door opened by the rays of
Lunitari, the red moon, only once every ten years. On the
morrow, Goldmoon would journey to that cavern for the
first time to speak with her ancestors, her gods. She found
herself excited and perhaps a little anxious.
First, however, must come the games that would decide
who her escorts were to be. Only those two warriors who
proved to be the best would accompany and protect her on
the journey. Twenty young Plainsmen, lean and muscled, all
eager for the honor, filed onto a lower tier of the platform
and formed a semicircle before their princess. Goldmoon,
seemingly transfixed by the heat thermals shimmering in
the air before her, appeared not to notice the men.
When the last man took his place, however, Goldmoon
turned her gaze to the historian seated on the platform
behind her father, writing on a parchment with deliberate
strokes. She heard Arrowthorn let out a breath that might
have been a subdued snort of annoyance at Loreman. The
historian's painstaking slowness was an obvious ploy to
demonstrate to the tribe the importance of his own position.
Loreman finished writing the names of the contestants with
a flourish, then looked up and nodded to the princess.
Goldmoon had already performed hundreds of religious
ceremonies. Since her mother's death she had carried all the
burdens of priestess - praying for her people, their crops and
livestock and weaponry, tending the sick and injured,
settling disputes, burying the dead. But because of the
infrequency with which the door to the Hall of the Sleeping
Spirits opened, she had not been able to perform this most
important ceremony, during which she would dedicate her
life to her people. Now, this day had arrived. These men
seated below her would fight for the privilege of escorting
her, and undoubtedly one of them would eventually court
her, as her father had courted her mother.
"One of you had better be worthy," she said silently to
Goldmoon unfurled her personal banner; the gold
crescent moon emblazoned on the dark cloth shone in the
sun as brightly as her hair. She called out, "May the
blessings of the Ancient Dead give courage, endurance, and
strength to the greatest among you."
Cheering in reply, the Plainsmen held the banners of their
individual houses aloft.
Leaning down, the priestess drew a crystal dagger from
her boot scabbard. Cunningly fashioned and hollow within,
the dagger doubled as a vial containing a handful of sacred
sand. With a twist, Goldmoon slipped the handle from the
blade and poured some of the fine, warm, dry contents into
her palm. Turning with a flourish, Goldmoon sprinkled the
golden powder over the men before her, taking care that no
head should escape at least a little dusting.
Resisting the impulse to brush the remaining grains
from her palm, the priestess began to touch each head With
her fingertips in blessing. Each warrior, as she stood before
him, knelt and gazed up at her with admiration and
devotion. All but the last one.
He wore well-cared-for but well-dented armor, and his
clothing showed equal signs of wear and repair. His was not
a familiar face, but Goldmoon recognized his banner as
belonging to a poor family that lived in a hut at the edge of
the grazing lands the Que-shu shared with bordering tribes.
The warrior's name was Riverwind, and there was
something about him that Arrowthorn, Goldmoon's father,
spoke about with other men, but it was a subject always
dropped when she entered the room.
Goldmoon moved into position before Riverwind,
wondering idly what emotion she would see in his eyes, but
he stepped back with a feline grace. Startled, and annoyed
at the break in the smoothness of the ceremony, Goldmoon
managed not to show her surprise. Believing the young
peasant too simple to understand the ritual, she said softly,
"We are not quite finished. If you will kneel before me, I
will bless you."
"I need no blessing to pass this day's test, and I will not
kneel to you or any other mortal creature," Riverwind
replied. He spoke quietly, but his deep voice sounded across
Goldmoon stiffened with repressed anger. She would
not be embarrassed before the tribe, her holiness denied.
She gestured for the guards to come from the side of the
platform. They stood behind the infidel, prepared to haul
him away at her command.
Before she could motion for them to remove Riverwind
from her sight, however, Arrowthorn was by her side
interceding. "If it please, your grace," he whispered to her,
"this one" - he glared icily at Riverwind - "intends no
disrespect; he simply does not believe as we do."
The chieftain spoke up so the crowd could hear,
"Riverwind, grandson of Wanderer, why are you here at this
ceremony? It is not required for you to attend."
Riverwind shifted his eyes from the daughter to the
father. Goldmoon's breath caught in her throat at his daring
and pride. Yet the warrior's blue eyes showed not a hint of
nervousness. Calmly, but with enough volume to carry to
the tribe below, he replied, "I am a warrior, and my
swordarm will be a strength to my people. Although I do
not worship as you do, you have my loyalty. I, too, desire a
safe journey for my Chieftain's Daughter. Today's games
will prove my worth."
Riverwind glanced away from Arrowthorn, capturing
Goldmoon's own reluctant gaze. He smiled ever so slightly.
Goldmoon quickly shifted her focus out across the plains.
What she had seen in those eyes in that brief instant caused
her to shiver despite the golden heat of the sun. It was the
look of a hunter stalking his prey.
"Well said," Arrowthorn stated, then he turned to the
waiting crowd. "Let the games begin."
Goldmoon stood stunned, not seeing the men before her
or the plains spread out around her. She could not believe
what she had just heard. How could her father give his
approval to this arrogant, rebellious peasant? And how dare
he circumvent her will? He might be her father, but SHE
was the priestess!
The warriors filed from the altar, Riverwind at the end
of the line. Goldmoon followed behind him stiffly. She took
each step down the stairs firmly, as though she were
trodding on this Riverwind's head.
The chieftain followed his daughter, appearing
completely calm. Loreman remained up above, still
scratching away at the parchment with his quill, relating his
version of the events which had just passed.
Goldmoon entered her lodge, closing the door behind
her father. Then she whirled about, free to vent her anger
and confusion. "I do not understand how you could allow -"
"Silence!" Arrowthorn said.
Goldmoon bit back her words.
The chieftain surveyed his daughter critically. She
wore a formal robe that Tearsong, his dead wife, had also
worn, and was, but for her hair, the image of her mother.
She performed all the duties of Chieftain's Daughter
without trouble or complaint. Goldmoon was, in fact,
nearly flawless, yet Arrowthorn could never bring himself
to tell her so. Godhood was not earned by the careless.
He suppressed his pride and snapped, "Your circlet is
Goldmoon felt her face flush crimson as her hands rose
to straighten the slender silver band on her head.
"How are young men supposed to see a goddess in you
if you do not take better care of your appearance? That
won't do. Take it off. Have your women comb your hair
again before you replace it."
She was a full-grown woman of power, yet her sub jects
would be astonished to see how she shook before her
Still, it was not easy for Arrowthorn to watch his only
child tremble with shame. He put his hand on her shoulder
and lifted her chin to bring her eyes up to his own. "It would
hardly matter in Riverwind's case. His whole family is
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Arrowthorn drew in a long breath. "Wanderer,
grandfather of Riverwind, learned too much in his
wanderings. He broke pact with our gods and taught his
family to do the same."
"Is that why they are so poor?" Goldmoon asked,
remembering their shabby hut out on the plains.
"That is not important. Suffice it to say that I do not
question their loyalty, despite their peculiar beliefs."
"But, how can you not when they deny us?"
"You remember once we spoke together of those
among us who say their faith is strong, or their loyalty is
great, and yet the truth is another matter?"
Goldmoon nodded. The priesthood of the Que-shu passed
from mother to eldest daughter, but - peculiar among the
tribes of the Plains - the position of chieftain went to the
man who won the hand of the priestess. Such a man's
worthiness was judged both by the priestess herself and the
current chieftain, her father. It was a tradition stemming
from antiquity, a tradition that had kept the royalty of the
Que-shu strong. Yet there were men, especially chieftains'
sons and spumed suitors, who rankled that their bids for
power were thwarted by one healthy girl-child grown to
womanhood. Arrowthorn had warned her once that many
argued against this tradition, though none dared do so in the
royal family's presence - yet. That was why she must be
perfect in her example. The people obeyed their goddess-to-
be, but evil men could turn them away from her if they
could make her seem no more than a mortal woman.
Arrowthorn continued, "And just as it would not be
expedient to probe these false claims of loyalty too deeply,
we accept the loyalty of those who claim a different belief."
Arrowthorn sighed. "Because they are only mortals, my
child. And though mortals are not infallible, they must be
given the freedom to make their own choices. How else are
we to choose the truly righteous when it comes our time to
judge as gods?" Goldmoon mused over that for some
moments, then argued, "But we must teach them the true
"Teach, but not force them to march along it."
"Perhaps Riverwind could be coaxed to follow the
path," Goldmoon pointed out.
Secretly, Arrowthorn thought: He might follow quarry
down it some ways, but he'd drag it back once he'd shot it.
Aloud, he merely warned his daughter, "I would not waste
too much time on him, my daughter. Men like Riverwind
will take orders, but persuasion only brings out their
stubborn streak. More likely he will make you look
"Is that what you discuss with Loreman and the rest
when I am not about, how his family makes us look
Arrowthorn would not lie, so he merely shrugged and
replied, "Among other things."
"Like what things?"
But Arrowthorn turned about to go, commanding her as
he left, "Have your hair done, replace the circlet, and go
about your other duties. They are numerous this day, aren't
As the contest time neared, Goldmoon crossed the
challenge ground, her hair and circlet now as perfect as the
rest of her appearance. All about the edges of the clearing
warriors were warming up and practicing. As they caught
sight of her, they stopped their activity and watched her
approach. The priestess kept her eyes fixed on her
destination, the weapons tent. Thus, while all eyes were on
her, it was she alone who saw a man crawl out from beneath
the canvas near the rear of the tent.
Goldmoon's brow furrowed upon recognizing the
intruder. It was Hollow-sky, son of Loreman. The historian
was a man of wealth and influence in the tribe;
his family had kept the records of the Que-shu for many
generations. Goldmoon knew that he had been one of her
mother's suitors, but it was impossible for the priestess to
imagine Tearsong choosing him over Arrowthorn. His
stature was only average, his frame wiry, and the features of
his face - though considered handsome and refined by many
women - were so pale and ill-defined that Goldmoon
sometimes felt sorry for him. He faded into the background
beside her father's strongly masculine and still hearty form.
Loreman wasn't half the warrior her father was, he was
arrogant and tight with his money, and he lost his temper or
brooded when he did not get his way. After Tearsong died,
he had argued constantly with her father about the
management of the tribe. Yet Lore-man's son Hollow-sky
was among the few men Arrowthorn had judged fit
company for his daughter in her childhood.
The princess had thought once how magnanimous that
was of her father, but she came to realize it had been the
chieftain's way of bartering for peace with Loreman. The
unity of the tribe was of the utmost importance to her father.
He would buy it at any price, even if it meant selling his
daughter's affection to his enemy's son.
Once, Goldmoon might not have minded, for when she
was a child she had loved Hollow-sky dearly. But when
Hollow-sky began training as a warrior with his older
brother, Hawker, he had changed. For the next few years
her former playmate, engrossed in more "manly" pursuits,
had practically ignored her. When his attentions to her were
finally renewed, it had been all too obvious that he was not
interested in her as a friend, but only as a prize.
At first, his attentions had been exceedingly satisfying,
for then she had thought Hollow-sky was attractive and
powerful; but soon his personality began to irritate her as
Loreman's irritated her father. Worse, his courtship was
tainted by his persistent conviction that he was the wiser,
the stronger, the superior of the two of them. He made
decisions for her without her leave, or tried to dissuade her
from decisions she had already considered carefully. When
they fought, he made a point of reminding her of their
youthful games to coax her out of her anger, tainting the
only pleasant memories she had of him.
Unfortunately, her father seemed to assume her
dwindling feelings of friendship for Hollow-sky would
grow into love because of his own need to keep the tribe
unified, and others whispered what a perfect match they
would be - he so strong, she so beautiful. No one could see
how her feelings had changed, and she had no mother to
Now Hollow-sky was up to some mischief in the weapons
tent, a place he should not even be near. Goldmoon knew
she should question him, but she did not want to confront
him today. She didn't want to listen to his excuses or even
speak with him, so she said nothing as she approached the
guards posted at the opening to the weapons tent. Oblivious
to their fail ure, they bowed respectfully to the priestess and
held back the flaps of the tent for her to enter.
Left alone inside, Goldmoon found nothing apparently
amiss. All weapons were stored here on festival days,
ostensibly in acknowledgement of the chieftain's
sovereignty, though it coincidentally cut down on injuries in
brawls that might develop as the celebration wore into the
night. Goldmoon shrugged. Whatever Hollow-sky had been
up to she would get out of him later. For now she must put
him out of her mind and bless the warriors' weapons.
She took a deep breath to calm herself, but her eyes
caught on some feathers that she recognized as marking
Riverwind's sparring pole. There was nothing shabby about
the rare and precious wood, probably something his
grandfather, Wanderer, had harvested on his journeys.
Angrily Goldmoon snatched it up and started to toss it to the
side. "We'll see what a marvelous weapon this is and what a
great warrior he is without my blessing." But then she
noticed the thin crack running along the upper third of the
pole. She saw at once that it was not a natural crack.
"Hollow-sky!" she whispered.
Knowing that Hollow-sky and his brother, Hawker,
were clear favorites to win the contests, Goldmoon
immediately assumed he'd done this deed for her. Perhaps
he'd even tell her later how he had paid Riverwind back for
the unbeliever's insult to herself.
Unsure she wanted this sort of championship,
Goldmoon debated what to do. Perhaps ignominious defeat
was the fate the ancestors had decided for Riverwind. Yet . . . why
would the gods have let her discover the crack, if not to correct the
Her duty was clear to her.
Finding another pole of the same rare wood was not easy.
She had to substitute one of her father's old poles, and
affixing Riverwind's feathers to the replacement was a
nuisance. Finally, when she had finished the work and
placed the substitute pole among the blessed weapons, she
began to have second thoughts.
Her father's sparring pole was a weapon her mother had
undoubtedly blessed, perhaps even the one her father had
used when he'd won the right to escort Tearsong to the Hall
of the Sleeping Spirits. Stubbornly she tried to recall if there
was a way to UNsanctify the weapon.
"Goldmoon?" Arrowthorn entered the tent and looked
quizzically at his daughter. A slight smile crossed his lips.
"Still praying? They are only going to fight one another,
you know, not our enemies 1"
Goldmoon lowered her eyes to hide her worry and
confusion. "Father, please. This is serious to me."
"Forgive me. Of course. But everyone waits on you."
Goldmoon followed her father and took her place in the
viewing stand. The contests started with a series of
wrestling matches. The tribe all gathered about, unreserved
in their cheers and boos. Goldmoon watched silently with
intense interest. She was the leader of a warrior tribe and
was herself a trained fighter, as were all Que-shu women.
A new bout was just starting when she heard
Clearwing, one of her female attendants, whisper to the
other, "Perhaps it's true what they say of this Riverwind."
Goldmoon's eyes remained on the games, but her
attention was drawn to her servants' conversation.
"What?" Starflower, her other attendant, whispered
"They say he was raised by leopards," Clearwing
"What nonsense!" Starflower sniffed. "There are no
leopards on the plains."
Clearwing shrugged. "My grandmother says he was
raised by leopards and that Wanderer brought him back
with him from one of his wanderings."
Goldmoon turned her attention back to the wrestling.
Riverwind's bout was just starting. Undeniably powerful
and graceful, there WAS something feline in his movements.
"You have to admit he has the grace of a cat,"
Clearwing added, echoing her mistress's thoughts.
"So true!" Starflower said with a sigh.
Not wishing to listen to any more praises of Riverwind,
Goldmoon sent both girls off with some coin to purchase
stickycakes to keep their mouths closed. The smell of the
sweetened bread set her stomach rumbling, but she bore it
stoically. The royal family ate in public only on ceremonial
occasions so as not to remind their subjects of their
The wrestling matches, a footrace, and an archery
contest culled the contestants down to eight. The ancestors
had yet to bring Riverwind to his knees, and Goldmoon
wondered if he attributed his victory to whatever gods he
did worship. As he came forward with the others to collect
his sparring pole, the priestess watched him deliberately,
but he gave no sign at all that he detected the switch she had
made. He did, however, look up at her and smile.
The grim hunter's expression disappeared from his eyes.
His smile was that of a young man, warm and friendly, and
Goldmoon saw there the loyalty her father had not
The final event was longsticks, a contest fought in a large
circle, in which the fighters had to stay armed and within
the circle. At the judge's signal, the men engaged each other
with dangerous thrusts and parries, and the crack of wood
shattered the air.
Two men quickly managed to knock each other out of
the ring and roll clumsily into the crowd, instantly
disqualifying themselves. Goldmoon saw that Hawker and
Hollow-sky were being very aggressive, smashing at their
opponents' weapons time and again. Riverwind, with a
series of unrelenting, well-timed jabs and blows, wore down
his opponent, Treewhistle, until Treewhistle lost his grip on
his pole. The weapon clattered to the ground and rolled out
of the circle before its owner could retrieve it.
There was a sudden snap of wood, and then another, as
Loreman's sons both broke the weapons of those they
fought. Goldmoon frowned. This could not be coincidence.
The full extent of Hollow-sky's activities in the weapons
tent was now clear. This was sacrilege! She would let him
know of her displeasure.
Simultaneously, the brothers turned on Riverwind. It
seemed a foregone conclusion that they would double-team
him and win the contest together, but Riverwind had had a
moment to breathe and analyze their movements. He held
his pole high, almost inviting them to smash it. Only one of
them could strike without getting in the other's way, so
Hawker declined in his brother's favor.
Hollow-sky swung, but Riverwind was a blur of color
as he dodged, weapon and all, beneath Hollow-sky's arms.
The unblessed warrior slammed his pole at the unsuspecting
and relaxed Hawker. Hawker's weapon soared from his
hands over the heads of the crowd and landed on the
viewing stand at Goldmoon's feet.
Hollow-sky, witnessing his brother's defeat, seemed about
to smash his weapon down on Riverwind's head, but the
judge rushed forward between the two, proclaiming them
the winners. Riverwind and Hollow-sky would be
Goldmoon's escorts to the Hall of the Sleeping Spirits.
The crowd cheered, but the priestess eyed both
critically as they approached her. Hollow-sky gave
Riverwind a vicious glare, then stepped forward as
Goldmoon extended her hand to touch his forehead in
blessing. But Hollow-sky grasped her fingers and pressed a
lingering kiss on them.
Though this was hardly customary, the crowd cheered
again, laughing. There was, after all, that other aspect to
these games - finding a warrior worthy of courting their
priestess/princess. Distressed, however, by the ardor in
Hollow-sky's gaze and still angered by the broken poles, the
princess was determined to show him no favor. She held her
hand out to Riverwind to give him the same advantage.
Riverwind looked startled at the slender, graceful
fingers before him. He took the hand as though it were very
fragile and turned it over, seeming uncertain as to what he
"Well, Riverwind?" Goldmoon said, arching her
eyebrows expectantly. Inside, the sudden fear surged that,
for religious reasons, this . . . peasant might refuse to kiss
her, and she would be embarrassed before the whole tribe.
"Perhaps he reads your palm, my princess," Hollow-sky
Goldmoon was instantly grateful to Loreman's son for
breaking the silence and saving her.
"No," Riverwind replied gravely. "That is not one of my
"What? You don't even see a long journey?" Goldmoon
teased, though inwardly she was growing just a little
nervous - the warrior's grip on her wrist was now quite firm.
Riverwind's countenance grew more serious, though his
smile never entirely left his lips. "A journey you shall have,
no doubt. And with my protection it will be a safe one. I
Without turning her hand over he lifted it to his lips.
Goldmoon's heart started pounding as she felt him sniff at
the scent on her wrist and then, very gently, kiss her palm.
Long after he released it and she lowered it to her side, she
could feel Riverwind's warm breath on her hand.
The Princess Goldmoon spent the remainder of the
afternoon in the privacy of her lodge while the rest of the
tribe began celebrating in earnest - eating, drinking,
dancing, arguing, and brawling. The music filtered into her
quarters, making the priestess wish that she could join them,
like any other young woman. She sat at her loom, but her
shuttle lay unmoving in her lap. Riverwind and Hollow-sky
would be seated with her at the evening feast, and she was
anxious to know what further surprises they had in store for
Finally, her father sent a servant, signaling that it was
time for the priestess to dine with the tribe.
A flute and a drummer accompanied her entrance to the
torchlit feasting grounds, where she sat at her father's right.
The two chosen warriors then entered as the tribe sang a
victory song in their honor. They sat opposite her.
Goldmoon rose and, with a quick wary glance at Riverwind,
invoked a blessing over the food. If the shepherd/warrior
objected, he gave no sign. Then the feast began.
Goldmoon hadn't eaten more than two bites, however,
before Hollow-sky rose and begged leave to speak.
"I have a gift to present to you, Princess, in honor of
this day," he announced.
As the young man spoke, his father, Loreman, walked
proudly toward the head table. He wore a ceremonial cloak
decorated with feathers, and he was carrying a heavy, ornate
Loreman lay the book on the table beside Goldmoon,
saying, "It has taken me many long hours to complete this
work. It is a history of the generations of Que-shu since the
great Cataclysm three hundred years ago. I have condensed
many old writings and made them into one book. The last
page, you will see, describes the events of this very day. It
is for all the people of our tribe to read, but we give it into
the care of the princess, and hope she is the first to read it."
There were many murmurs of appreciation from the
people seated at the tables near the royal family. A book
was a rare thing, and the gift was completely unexpected,
especially coming, as it did, from Loreman, who was not
noted for his generosity. Goldmoon ran her hand along the
smooth cover, delighting in its texture.
Hollow-sky leaned over the table, placing his hand over
her own. "Read it carefully, Princess," he whispered.
Goldmoon wanted very dearly to see this last page. She
wondered if Loreman had anticipated his two sons winning
today's contests, and if he had had to rewrite it. Hawker,
seated at his father's table, did not accept defeat graciously,
and did not bother to hide his scowl. Goldmoon was
suddenly very pleased that Riverwind had defeated him.
"We had best keep it from harm by storing it in your
lodge right away," her father suggested, and he abruptly
whisked the book out of her possession.
"Perhaps she would prefer to leave it on display or to
look at it further," Loreman argued.
"Forgive my haste, Loreman, but it may rain, and we
would not want it damaged," Arrowthorn replied in a tight,
The two men stared at each other in an obvious contest
of wills, but a moment later the historian deferred with a
bow and returned to his own table.
Arrowthorn summoned some of his own men to convey
the book to his daughter's lodge.
Goldmoon, anxious to cover the moment's strain, called
for the musicians to play. Her father, too, recognized the
need for distraction and bid them, "Play a merry tune, to
whet the people's appetite for dancing so that they might not
Laughing at the chieftain's joke, the people began to
feast in earnest. Goldmoon noted that Riverwind had a
hearty appetite, if not the most dainty table manners.
Hollow-sky, on the other hand, though well-trained in what
passed for courtly graces among the Que-shu, picked sulkily
at his meal.
Less than half an hour into the meal, young people
began to rise from their tables to dance. Goldmoon felt a
momentary twinge of envy at their freedom and knew that
the emotion had shown on her face when Riverwind asked,
"Would you like to dance?" Once again he gave her that
Hollow-sky quickly interjected, "Chieftain's Daughter
does not dance. But then an infidel shepherd could not be
expected to know her as well as a longtime family friend.
Perhaps a short walk would suit better," he added, holding
out his arm for her to take.
Goldmoon gritted her teeth. It was true that she did not
dance. If she were to grow winded, it would be another
reminder to her subjects of her mortality, something her
father objected to. But Arrowthorn had left the meal early to
throw the bones with his generals, and since he was free to
indulge in the vice of gambling, Goldmoon could not see
what harm there could be in one little dance. There was
another reason, as well. She was determined to show
Hollow-sky that he could not make her decisions for her.
"Chieftain's Daughter does dance, she just does not
always choose to do so," Goldmoon replied coldly. "She
chooses to dance now with Riverwind. Later she chooses to
walk with Hollow-sky, for she has a few things to say to
"Alas, lady, but I must rest early tonight if I'm to be a
good guardian in the morning," Hollow-sky objected.
"Then rest well, Hollow-sky," Goldmoon remarked,
shrugging. Abruptly, she took Riverwind's arm and moved
toward the dancers.
Actually, Goldmoon had NEVER danced in public
before. Humming the music, she had practiced in the
privacy of her lodge, doing as many of the steps as she
could recall seeing. But REALLY dancing was quite
different. As Riverwind led her away from the tables, she
began to stiffen.
A calloused but gentle finger ran down the inside of her
forearm, startling her into looking up at her partner. "The
musicians want to know what dance you choose,"
Riverwind said softly.
"Please, choose for me," Goldmoon whispered back
"Something simple enough for my great, clumsy feet,"
Goldmoon looked up into his blue eyes. He knows, she
thought, that at this I am not infallible, yet he is kind
enough to cover for me.
Riverwind untied the long, burgundy sash at his waist
and held it above his head with a great flourish. "The
princess chooses 'Tiger-hunt,'" he announced loudly.
Goldmoon relaxed. Tiger-hunt was a reel. Very simple.
She noted Hollow-sky's sister, Ravenhair, smiling weakly at
her, obviously vexed. But for Goldmoon, Ravenhair had the
highest standing among the women of the tribe. She would
have led the dance if the princess had remembered her place
and stayed off the dance ground.
The high staccato notes of the flutes pierced the air as
Goldmoon took her place a few paces behind Riverwind.
Riverwind stamped his foot and tossed one end of the sash
behind him. Goldmoon echoed the stamp with a lighter
patting of her foot, just short of the sash's end. Riverwind
walked a few steps forward, pulling the sash in a teasing
manner, a hunter baiting a tigress.
Goldmoon pounced forward and scooped up the end of
the sash in one graceful motion. She gave it a tug and
Riverwind spun on his heel to face her. The hunter's look
was in his eyes again, and the torchlight glittering in his
blue irises made them appear red. Holding the sash between
them, the shepherd and the princess circled one another,
Goldmoon entranced by those eyes.
She had always found this dance a little silly, and never
understood its popularity. It seemed better suited to
children's play. Yet, as Riverwind fell to one knee and she
spun about him at the end of the sash, she suddenly
understood the dance's true meaning.
Riverwind gave a tug, and Goldmoon began spinning
toward him, winding herself into the sash. As soon as she
was within his reach, Riverwind caught hold of her and
pulled her self-tied form down to his knee. With his arm
wrapped about her, it seemed to Goldmoon that Riverwind
was not as large as her father, but there was no doubt he
was powerful, at the height of his manhood.
There was a pause in the music, and Goldmoon became
aware that all about them young men were taking the
opportunity to snatch kisses from their "helpless" partners.
Her heart beat with anticipation. With a flick of her tongue,
Goldmoon moistened her lips, but Riverwind held her
stiffly, his eyes averted from her face, staring out into the
Though his face was stem, Goldmoon could tell that he
was breathing more heavily than the dancing's pace
warranted, and with her arm pressed against his naked
chest, she could feel his heart pounding.
Goldmoon leaned closer. Riverwind's breathing
quickened. He started to turn his face directly to hers when
the flute trilled without warning and the dance resumed.
Riverwind and all the other "hunters" gave a tug on
their sashes, sending the "tigresses" spinning outward like
tops. In a flurry of laughter and bright-colored clothes, each
woman shifted around the next man.
"I'll have that flute player flogged!" Goldmoon
muttered to herself as she smiled politely at her new partner,
Hartbow, Watcher's son. They repeated the same silly
pantomime with his blue sash. Hartbow's eyes were blue,
too, but the light did not catch them the way it had
Riverwind's, and Hartbow's look was not very predatory.
He, too, took no liberty with her as she sat, bound up, on his
knee, but smiled shyly at her.
It was the same with all the rest of her partners. Some,
she sensed, would have kissed her if they'd had more nerve.
Hollow-sky would certainly not have hesitated, but he had
not stayed for the dance. Still, she found herself irritated
that no other Que-shu warrior had the courage to touch his
lips to her own. No one had even held her as closely as
"Is Riverwind kissing his other partners?" she wondered
curiously. "Does he watch them with the same hunter's
look?" It was impossible to sneak a peek at him, though,
and still pay attention to what she was doing. The pauses in
the music and the uneasiness of her partners became more
unbearable. Embarrassed and frustrated, she vowed silently
not to wait until her wedding night for a kiss. . . .
Then Goldmoon was once again only one partner away
from Riverwind. He danced with Ravenhair. They held each
other as aloofly as possible. Goldmoon understood that
Ravenhair resented Riverwind's defeat of her brother,
Hawker. But whether her escort had been so distant with all
his other partners, the princess could not know.
The last repeat to the dance came with all the original
couples together. Goldmoon studied the lines of
Riverwind's back and legs, not truly paying much attention
to the sash he snaked in front of her, so she was a little late
diving for it. But when he tugged, she had a firm grip and
tugged back with equal ferocity.
He looked just a little surprised, which made her smile,
and if she could have seen herself, she would have
recognized the tigress in her eyes. She spun about him,
pulling hard, watching his muscles strain to hold onto the
sash. Then she twirled herself into his arms. Bound, sitting
on his knee with his arms about her, she realized that he was
as much a prisoner as she, hardly able to dump his princess
on the ground before the whole tribe. The tigress had won.
Placing her arms around Riverwind's neck, Goldmoon
pulled his head toward her and pressed her soft lips against
his, just as she'd seen the others do but as she'd never done
Riverwind's arms tightened about her, and he kissed her
back with a passion that sent an unexpected thrill of
pleasure through her body. His mouth tasted of the sweet
fruit they'd eaten at dinner, and his bare arms were warm
against her sweat-cooled flesh. Suddenly he pulled his head
away from hers, as though he had just realized he was
kissing Chieftain's Daughter before the entire tribe. His face
flushed darkly as he heard murmurs and giggles.
Goldmoon, breathing hard, spun out of his sash without
his help. She turned abruptly and walked from the dance
ground, leaving her partner behind as the music diminished.
Her father, standing at the edge of the crowd, watched
her approach. But before he could begin to chide her,
Goldmoon raised her chin and announced, "I go now to my
lodge to pray for a safe journey to the resting place of my
ancestors. Good night, my chieftain." She kissed him gently
on his cheek and walked past him. Suddenly he didn't seem
so very much larger than Riverwind. For that matter,
Riverwind did not seem quite so overpowering either.
Arrowthorn came to Goldmoon's lodge before dawn,
before even the night owls ceased their hunting. He sat
beside her on the edge of her cot. "We must speak."
Goldmoon sat up with a yawn. She thought the lecture
on dancing was coming. But when she looked at
Arrowthorn, she knew something much more serious was
wrong. Her father looked tired, as though he had not slept.
"It's about Riverwind, isn't it?" She sighed.
Arrowthorn snorted derisively. "Among other things,"
he answered. "Since he is still the least of our worries, we
will start with him. You know you can never marry him?"
"Oh? Why not?"
"Because our tribe has enough trouble remaining stable
without you adding the killing blow. Riverwind is an
unbeliever. The man you marry will become chieftain when
I die, and the chieftain cannot be an unbeliever. If a
chieftain denies your authority, he denies his own, leaving a
wedge for another power to drive into the tribe, destroying
Goldmoon shrugged. "Riverwind is taking me to the
Hall of the Sleeping Spirits. There, when I speak with the
gods, he will learn his error."
"More likely the gods will speak with you and not allow
their words to be heard by the heretic," Arrowthorn argued.
"But for his disbelief, he would make a good chieftain,"
Goldmoon countered. "Even you were Impressed with him -
I could tell. I will beg the gods to give him a sign. Surely
Mother will not deny me that."
At the mention of Tearsong, Arrowthorn's warrior's
frame shuddered. The years since his wife had died of fever
and slipped into godhood had been too long and too lonely.
He had carried all the responsibility for raising their
daughter, ruling and protecting the tribe, and keeping the
likes of Loreman from tearing it apart. But the joy that
should have been his reward - lying beside Tearsong every
night - was denied him. His leadership and strength had
suffered from her absence, and he knew it better than any
other. Whenever he let Loreman get his way without an
argument, whenever he wasted entire evenings gambling,
whenever some battle scar ached or a coughing fit seized
him (as they did more and more often these days),
Arrowthorn was full of self-loathing. He cursed his
unworthiness and lived in despair that he would ever join
Tearsong as a god.
The only thing he had to feel proud of was Goldmoon,
but if she continued with this stubborn championing of the
heretic Riverwind, she, too, would be lost.
There were more immediate dangers than River wind,
however. "We waste time on this," Arrowthorn declared.
"We must speak of the book."
"Hollow-sky's gift? I was wondering about that. I could
not find it last night. I wanted to read the last page."
"It is in my lodge. If I could, I would bum it before I
would let it defile your eyes."
"It is full of slanders, vile insinuations against the line
of priestesses and all the warriors they have married and
made chieftains. At the same time it praises Loreman's line.
One who reads this book would think the tribe survived
only because of the wisdom and generosity of Loreman's
"But how can that be? Loreman said he condensed it
from ancient writings?"
"If I could get my hands on those writings . . . but
Loreman's grandfather hid them away from the tribe. 'For
safekeeping,' he said, in anticipation, no doubt, of the day
his jackal heirs would gain the daring to threaten us."
"They've given it to me in public, for the whole tribe to
read, so we could not bum it," Goldmoon reasoned.
Arrowthorn nodded. "Loreman must have hoped that
you would believe it, be shamed by it, and marry one of his
sons to gain some semblance of respectability."
"That is exceedingly unlikely." Goldmoon sniffed.
"There was a time you cared very much for Hollow-
sky," he said quietly.
Goldmoon's eyes narrowed.
Arrowthorn looked away from his daughter, his eyes
misted with tears she must not see. The chieftain had hoped
Goldmoon could love whatever man she must marry, but
her disgust for Hollow-sky was clear. He spoke softly,
"This matter has weighed heavily on me for many years. I
do not want you to be unhappy, Goldmoon, and I can
understand that your feelings for Hollow-sky have cooled
now that you are older and your judgment more sound. But
if no other powerful warrior of worthy family can be found,
you must consider Hollow-sky your only suitor. Your
marriage to him would keep our tribe together." He paused
and added, "That is your duty."
Goldmoon breathed deeply, controlling her turbulent
feelings. It was rare that her father expressed his concern for
her happiness, and she was touched that he did so now. But
that did little to soften her anger. Now any accusations she
made against Hollow-sky for sabotaging his opponents'
poles yesterday would look like a weak counter-attack;
Hollow-sky's character did not enter into this, only his skill
as a warrior and his family's position in the tribe. The
injustice galled her.
"Why must my duty to the tribe always come first?"
she asked. "Why can't I choose with my heart as other
"You are not as other women." Arrowthorn raised his
hands as though they were the trays of a balancing scale.
"Weigh carefully which is more important, your heart or
your duty. Consider - Loreman is powerful, Hollow-sky
may become even more so. Unless you wed a strong leader
whom all the people will follow, you will never be able to
fend off the historian's or his son's lust for the office of
chieftain. They will divide and splinter the tribe. Then there
will be no priestess, no Book of the Gods, no faith. We must
prevent this at all costs, even if it means sacrificing our
happiness." He rose and gently stroked her hair as he had
when she was a child. Then he left without another word.
Goldmoon's head remained bowed in humility at her
father's words and the tears she had seen gleaming in his
eyes. Arrowthorn was right. The tribe must be kept together
at any price. She could not leave her people without her
guidance as a priestess. And the Book of the Gods must be
preserved, for in that volume the names of those who were
to become gods at death were written down. The faith that
had bound her people since the time of darkness must
remain intact. She resolved to put her father's worries to
rest. She would bear the burden for these responsibilities,
but on her own terms.
It was now imperative that Tearsong help her bring
Riverwind to the true religion of the Que-shu. If the warrior
became a believer, her father could have no strong objection
to their union. She was confident that Loreman and Hollow-
sky would be no match for her with Riverwind by her side.
The princess was dressed in her riding leathers of
doeskin when Clearwing and Starflower finally came in to
attend her. She had already packed up her own bedroll for
"Forgive us for keeping you waiting, mistress,"
"It is of no matter, Clearwing," Goldmoon said softly.
"I rose very early. Just do my hair quickly. I'm anxious to be
The very first golden rays of morning lit the grasslands
as Chieftain's Daughter stepped from her lodge to begin her
journey to speak with her gods. Many villagers had turned
out to see her off, despite the early hour. Riverwind held her
horse's reins and stroked the animal's forehead. Hollow-sky
"Allow me to help you up, Princess."
Goldmoon paused. Her father watched them, looking
older and more tired than she had ever seen him look
before. She could make his life and her own much simpler.
Hollow-sky's hand reached out for her own.
What kind of goddess has no pride? she thought. She
turned a withering look on Hollow-sky and said in a frigid
tone, "I've been riding horses since before I could walk! Do
I look as if I need help, Hollow-sky, son of Loreman?" She
grabbed her horse's mane and pulled herself onto its back.
Hollow-sky and Riverwind mounted their own beasts
while Clearwing and Starflower climbed into a small cart
driven by Clearwing's younger brother.
Without warning, a flutter of dark wings swooped
down on the princess. Goldmoon felt a pinch at her scalp.
She cried out more from surprise than pain. Glancing up,
she saw a huge raven circling overhead, cawing fiercely,
waiting for another opportunity to strike.
"It is an evil omen!" Loreman cried.
"Nonsense," Riverwind countered. The bird plunged
again at the princess, but a twang of a bow put an arrow
through its breast, and it dropped to the ground with a thud.
A boy in the crowd retrieved it and handed it up to
Riverwind, for it had been the shepherd's arrow that felled
"You are a very quick notch and aim," Goldmoon
Riverwind smiled at her.
"It is an omen," Loreman repeated more loudly, "of
"Just a crow" - Riverwind laughed - "that wanted to
steal the princess's shiny treasure." Carefully he drew out
several strands of long, golden hair clenched in the bird's
claws. He held them up for the crowd to see. "Wealth
beyond any man's dreams," he called out. "Who can blame
the poor crow?"
The crowd laughed, and as the sun shone even brighter,
the evil feeling was dispelled. The crowd cheered as the
party left, Goldmoon in the lead.
When the near-silent party crossed into lands the Que-
shu shared with other tribes - sometimes disputed over -
Hollow-sky took the point, which he considered his by his
superior rank, while Riverwind rode behind the princess.
As they settled into their new positions, Goldmoon held
her horse back from Hollow-sky's and signaled for
Riverwind to ride alongside her. She saw that the raven was
strapped to his saddlebag.
"What are you going to do with that bird?"
Riverwind grinned. "Later, we will see if it is good
eating. Some of them are, you know."
Goldmoon shook her head. It was not a dish she had
ever been served. Noticing then that the Plainsman had her
strands of stolen hair still wrapped about his fingers, she
gave a slight, hastily concealed smile.
Riverwind looked down at his hand to see what made
her smile. "Stolen gold," he murmured, flushing. "These are
yours, I believe, lady," he said, untangling the golden
threads from his fingers and leaning over to hand them to
Goldmoon took the hair carefully.
"It is a lovely color." Greatly daring, he reached over to
push back a strand of living hair that had fallen across her
Feeling a thrill at his touch and knowing that her own
cheeks must be burning, Goldmoon hastily smoothed her
hair over her shoulder. To cover her pleasure, she held up
the broken strands. "Thank you for saving these for me,"
she laughed awkwardly. "I can hardly be Goldmoon without
the golden hair."
Riverwind looked back at her. "Of course you can. You
were Goldmoon when you were born, and you were quite
"That's ridiculous!" Goldmoon said, shocked. "How
Riverwind shrugged. "It's true. You can ask Hollow-
sky, if you like - he must remember. Though he's not likely
to tell you the truth if he thinks it will displease you."
Goldmoon closed her mouth on the disparaging
comment she had been about to make. Riverwind certainly
understood Hollow-sky. She thought for a moment, then
argued, "I don't believe there is such a thing as a bald baby.
I've never seen one."
"Well, you've never seen anyone with hair like yours,
have you?" Riverwind returned. "I was five when I first saw
you. I remember asking Wanderer if you'd been sick,
because you had only tiny, pale wisps of hair. He told me
that you were going to have light hair, and that sometimes
light hair comes in more slowly. He said such things were
natural among distant tribes. You will see for yourself, no
"What do you mean?" Goldmoon asked.
"When you have a baby of your own," Riverwind
Goldmoon flushed and looked away, disturbed at the
direction the conversation had taken. She lowered her head,
allowing her golden hair to fall across her feverish cheeks.
The thought of bringing up little Hollow-skys,
grandchildren for Loreman, was disgusting! But Riverwind
. . .
She was silent for so long that Riverwind asked, "Is
something wrong, Princess? Have I offended - "
Goldmoon shook her head. "Tell me about your
family," she said, glad to change the subject. "Didn't your
father used to be a tanner? Why did he leave the village and
become a shepherd?"
Riverwind raised his eyebrows in surprise. "The story is
common knowledge," he answered.
"I have not heard it," Goldmoon replied firmly.
Riverwind shrugged and proceeded to explain. "During
the summer of drought, the Que-shu battled with the Que-
kiri, and my grandfather Wanderer was wounded. Your
father went to the village of the Que-kiri to negotiate a
peace, and since you were still far too young to sit in
judgment, Loreman sat in your place. As Wanderer lay
dying, Loreman came to him and offered to write his name
in the Book of the Gods - to make him a god for his bravery
in battle. But Wanderer refused, saying that men could not
make gods of each other."
Goldmoon bit her lip, determined to hear Riverwind's
story in full before debating truths with him.
"Loreman was angry and declared that Wanderer had
planted a dark seed, meaning, of course, my family's belief
in gods more ancient than the gods of the tribe. Loreman
decreed that the seed must not spread beyond our family. So
he confiscated my father's trade and cast us out. We may
live only at the edge of the Que-shu's lands. Therefore,
tending sheep and hunting are our only ways of making a
"And having granted Loreman the authority, my father
could not undo what he had decreed," Goldmoon added.
She silently determined that she would do something to
reverse Loreman's ban on Riverwind's family when she
returned. She had only to prove to Riverwind that her
ancestors were the true gods to get him to give up his
ridiculous belief in the foreign gods of Wanderer.
Hollow-sky dropped back by the twosome, causing the
cart-horse behind them to whinny in annoyance and prance
to reposition itself behind the riders' horses. A peevish look
marred Hollow-sky's fine-boned face. He gave Riverwind a
cursory glance of disdain and then turned his attention on
Goldmoon. "Great Lady," he began, "if you would ride
ahead with me, I would enjoy talking with you on such a
Riverwind's face darkened with hostility, and
Goldmoon wished Hollow-sky would vanish.
"Lady?" Hollow-sky queried, impatiently. His hands
gripped his reins too tightly.
Riverwind's hand slid smoothly along his longstick in a
vaguely threatening manner. In response, Hollow-sky, with
seeming casualness, ruffled the feathers atop his own pole.
If I do not separate them, Goldmoon thought, they are
likely to continue with yesterday's contest.
"Please excuse me," she said regretfully to Riverwind.
"Come, Hollow-sky." She nudged her horse ahead a bit, and
The party of riders and servants made only a few short
stops to stretch their legs. They ate dried meat and fruit on
the trail. It was a typical summer afternoon on the open
plains - hot and still. Grass insects hummed and swarmed
and made a nuisance of themselves. The only excitement of
the ride came when their passing flushed birds out of the
grass or when snakes or small animals underfoot startled the
At last, just when Goldmoon felt she could no longer
bear her own trickling sweat, they began to climb into the
hills at the foot of the mountain that held their goal. Cool,
pine-scented air reached the travelers, renewing their energy
The trail became steeper and narrower. Just when it
seemed that the cart could go no farther, a high meadow
came into view. Here Goldmoon instructed Clearwing and
Starflower to unhitch the cart horse and load it with her
belongings. They were then to make camp and await her
return, which should be by midday the next day. Her
serving women were reluctant to let her go on without them,
but she repeated her orders, eyeing them sternly. No one but
herself and her two escorts were allowed on the holy
Goldmoon and her escorts continued upward with the
cart horse. The trail grew worse; in some spots it became
almost vertical. The cart-horse-turned-pack animal balked,
and Riverwind had to dismount and coax, tug, and push it
along. Hollow-sky watched without offering to help, an
amused look on his face. Finally, they came to a spot where
the horse refused to be moved no matter what Riverwind
Tossing her horse's reins disdainfully to Hollow-sky,
Goldmoon slid off her horse and joined Riverwind. She
covered the animal's eyes with her hands and murmured
softly in its ears. When she sensed the beast relax, she
tugged gently and it followed her along the rim.
Riverwind stared at her with admiration, but Goldmoon,
failing to acknowledge it, remounted without a word, and
they continued on.
The path divided unexpectedly on the lower slopes of
the mountain itself, one trail heading up the west slope, the
other the east.
"Which way, Princess?" Hollow-sky asked.
Goldmoon's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "I do not
know. I thought there was only one trail."
"The shadows are lengthening," Hollow-sky said
unnecessarily. "If we take the wrong route and need to turn
back, we shall have to travel in the dark to be there when
Lunitari's rays open the cavern, and that could be
The princess wondered why Arrowthorn had not
warned her of this. She looked for signs that one trail was
newer than the other, but she really could not tell.
"Why don't you rest, Princess?" Hollow-sky said. "I will
scout down one path and return as quickly as I am able. And
you, shepherd, scout the other."
Goldmoon bristled. Riverwind was not an underling for
Hollow-sky to command, and worse, the son of Loreman
was again making decisions and giving orders on her
"You will scout the trail, Hollow-sky," she said firmly,
"and Riverwind will remain here as guard." Her tone
brooked no argument.
Hollow-sky sat stiffly astride his horse as Riverwind
dismounted, tossing a tight-lipped smile at his rival.
Hollow-sky's fingers strayed to the feathers atop his long
stick as they had earlier. Ignoring the subtle challenge,
Riverwind defiantly turned his back on Hollow-sky.
The Plainsman stood alertly at the path's divide and
watched Hollow-sky depart, as Goldmoon sat down on the
ground and leaned against a tree.
"Come sit with me, please," she commanded.
Riverwind lowered himself into a cross-legged position
before his Chieftain's Daughter.
"I have something for you. I made it during the ride
across the plain," Goldmoon whispered. She held out her
hand, displaying a small golden circlet. "You rescued them
from the crow," she said, and Riverwind saw that she had
woven the strands of her hair which he had rescued into a
lacy ring. She laid it in the warrior's palm, where it
glistened golden in the sun.
Riverwind was silent for many long moments staring
down at the gift. When he finally slipped it around a finger,
Goldmoon let out the breath she found she'd been holding
for fear he would reject it.
Drawing a chain from his shirt and removing it over his
head, Riverwind said, "I would like you to have this."
Goldmoon quickly shook her head. "You don't have to
give me anything in return."
"You must take it," Riverwind insisted. "I have already
accepted two gifts from you."
Riverwind reached up and placed a hand over the pole
strapped to his back. "This was not Wanderer's weapon."
"Well, I'm afraid his weapon was . . ." Goldmoon
paused confusedly - "damaged."
"I thought as much. Why did you replace only mine?"
"It was the only one I knew about. I wanted the contest
to be judged by the gods, not by mortals."
Riverwind nodded. "I see."
"But I am not displeased that you were one of the
victors," Goldmoon assured him.
Riverwind smiled at her, the smile of a friend. "Then
please," he said, "accept this."
Taking the chain from him, Goldmoon saw that it was
made of common brass, but the charm hanging at the end -
two circles joined together - was of brilliantly polished
silver-blue steel, so valued a metal among the Que-shu that
it was never used to make jewelry.
"It's called an infinity sign or a forever charm. But it is
more than a decoration - it will protect you, keep you from
Looking slightly puzzled, Goldmoon ran her fingers
around the steel circles. "This has something to do with the
ancient gods, doesn't it?" she asked.
Riverwind nodded. "It is the symbol of a goddess, but
her name was lost to the memory of our people as were all
the names of the true gods. I suspect Loreman knows them,
but he will not say."
On first hearing that the charm was a symbol of a strange
goddess, Goldmoon was tempted to reject the gift.
However, if Loreman does not like it, she thought, perhaps
there is some good to it. She slipped the chain over her head
and tucked the amulet into her shirt.
Riverwind, too, let out his held breath and smiled gently
at his princess.
They sat quietly, giving in to their fatigue. Goldmoon's
The sound of galloping hooves startled Goldmoon
awake. While she slept Riverwind must have tucked her fur
cloak around her. He stood alert, his bow at the ready. But it
was Hollow-sky who rode up, his face flushed with
"This must be the right path. It leads to a road like none
I have ever seen before. Hurry, the sun is going down."
Goldmoon and Riverwind mounted up and followed
Hollow-sky down the path he had scouted. About a quarter
of a mile along it suddenly turned into a broad road, at least
ten feet wide and paved with huge, flat stones, work never
seen among the tribes of the plains. Still, it seemed familiar
to Goldmoon, though she could not tell why.
Although the slope was steep, traveling was easier now,
for the way was quite smooth and they could let the horses
trot. There was still plenty of light in the sky when they
arrived at the landmark Arrowthorn had described to
Goldmoon - a large stone arch straddling the road.
"I recognize this stonework," the princess said, relieved
to know they were on the right road. "It's just like the
platform in our village."
Riding underneath the arch, she halted her horse where
she could touch the cool rock. Looking up, she saw symbols
carved on the underside of the arch. Many were
unrecognizable, but the largest, carved at the apex of the
arch, consisted of two circles joined together. Goldmoon
drew out the amulet Riverwind had given her and gasped
softly. The steel charm glowed with a soft blue light in the
shadow of the rock.
"Is something wrong, Princess?" Hollow-sky asked,
turning to see why she had not passed all the way through.
Instantly Goldmoon cupped her hand about the symbol
to hide its light and tucked it back into her shirt. "No,
nothing," she said coolly, riding on through the archway.
Beyond the arch was a large, grassy clearing,
surrounded by tall, ancient pine trees. The clearing sloped
upward to a stairway carved out of the stone of the
mountain. Set into the cliff face at the top of the stairs was a
pair of huge stone doors. Goldmoon sat motionless on her
horse for several minutes, just gazing at those doors.
Beyond them, she knew, lay her ancestors who were now
gods and goddesses. But most special to Goldmoon was her
Goldmoon remembered her mother alive, laughing and
beautiful. She also remembered her ill and dying. And she
remembered her dead, encased in the sarcophagus which
held her remains until the doors above had opened ten years
ago, allowing Arrowthorn to entomb them at last. The
princess's dearest and most secret wish was to see her
mother again, as a goddess, laughing and beautiful.
A touch on her forearm made Goldmoon turn. Silently,
Riverwind made a gesture toward the plains they had
crossed. Far below, the sun was setting on the golden fields,
painting them a rosy-purple hue. She could pick out a
hundred hawks rising on late afternoon thermals, sighting
prey, and swooping down on their dinners. Farther off,
barely visible, were the thin wisps of smoke which she
knew came from her father's village. "It's beautiful," she
"Shepherd, you cook supper while I tend to the
animals," Hollow-sky ordered, tossing a bag of ground
grain at Riverwind's feet.
Riverwind nudged the bag with his boot and said flatly,
"I will roast the crow instead - after I've cared for my own
horse and pitched the princess's tent."
Hollow-sky clenched his jaw, and his eyes narrowed as
he inhaled deeply, an angry reply bubbling to his lips.
Assessing the tension, Goldmoon took command. "It is
kind of you to raise my tent, Riverwind," she said lightly.
Turning to Hollow-sky, she added, "You may make the
porridge after you've attended to the pack animals."
"As you command, Princess," Hollow-sky replied
When Riverwind finished pitching her tent, Goldmoon
arranged her things within. She laid out the ceremonial garb
she would wear later - a long, sky-blue gown embroidered
with gold crescent moons on the hem and sleeves.
Outside, Riverwind roasted the bird that had stolen
Goldmoon's hair, while Hollow-sky stirred a pot of boiling
cereal, eyeing the bird with apparent disdain. In the brisk
mountain air, after the long day's journey, Goldmoon would
have found anything delicious. Hollow-sky's well-prepared
meal was quite satisfying, but the smell of Riverwind's bird
was mouthwatering. So when the warrior declared it done
and offered her a portion, Goldmoon could not resist,
though Hollow-sky only sneered and would have none of it.
Replete, Goldmoon rose to go to her tent. She smiled
when she saw Riverwind attempt to hide a yawn and fail
Hollow-sky, on the other hand, seemed to be filled with
energy. "If it pleases you, Princess, I will take first watch.
Riverwind has worked hard to get us here, he could use
Goldmoon looked at Loreman's son, amazed at his
sudden thoughtfulness, not to mention the fact that he'd
asked her permission before making a decision.
Observing her astonishment, Hollow-sky said lamely,
"It is the least I can do."
Wordlessly nodding her assent, Goldmoon hurried off
to her tent. The night air was bitter cold. Once wrapped in
her warm sleeping furs and rugs, the princess/priestess
dropped off to sleep immediately.
She seemed to have slept only a few minutes when
Hollow-sky, at the door to her tent, called her name softly.
"Dawn is only half an hour off."
Shaking off the temptation to curl up in her warm rugs
again, Goldmoon dressed hurriedly in her ceremonial robe
and stepped out of the shelter of her cozy tent into the
predawn coolness. It was time for the ceremony for which
she had waited all these years. She fastened several, small,
ancient crystal globes on her belt. In the Hall of the
Sleeping Spirits, they would be filled with sacred sand.
"Where is Riverwind?" she whispered to Hollow-sky as
he handed her a torch.
"I could not wake him, so I took both watches. The
sheep-herder sleeps like a rock," he said, contempt in his
"Try again!" Goldmoon commanded.
Hollow-sky shrugged. "Why bother? The sheep-herder
is not a believer. The ceremony will mean nothing to him.
He may even spoil it. Let him sleep."
Hollow-sky's refusal to obey her orders angered the
Goldmoon quickly knelt by Riverwind's bedroll and
gave the warrior a shake. But he did not respond.
She spun about and stood to face Hollow-sky. "You've
drugged him," she accused.
"Yes," he admitted. "I couldn't let him spoil my plans."
"YOUR plans? What are you talking about?" The
princess suddenly felt chilled and even a little frightened in
the predawn darkness. She began to search through her
saddlebags for something, anything, that might bring
Hollow-sky shrugged. "I know you will think this
presumptuous of me, but I guarantee you will find my plans
infinitely preferable to my father's."
"I know about the book, if that's what you mean." She
could see nothing of use among her things.
Grabbing her arms, Hollow-sky forcibly turned her
back around to face him. "You have no idea, do you?" He
grinned and then said, as if explaining to a child,
"Goldmoon, my father wants the title of chieftain for
himself, but he can't take it as long as Arrowthorn has an
heir. If you were out of the way, my sister Ravenhair would
be priestess, then my father would be chieftain."
"Out of the way?" she asked in a sharp voice,
determined not to reveal the fear spreading through her.
"Yes. Gone. Dead!" He bit off the words as he drew a
sharp dagger from his belt and grabbed her roughly around
the waist. The knife's edge glinted in the pale light as
Hollow-sky held it menacingly near her throat.
"So why didn't you kill me in my sleep?" Goldmoon
demanded, feeling the world reel about her. Stubbornly she
forced herself to concentrate.
"I told you, I have other plans. I want you for myself,
though the gods know why. You really are an arrogant
witch sometimes. We'll marry, and then I'LL be chieftain.
Loreman wants the power for himself, but the knowledge
that his son, and later his grandchildren, will rule should
satisfy him. In the meantime, he'll be content with your
dowry." He smiled slightly, a smile that made Goldmoon
shudder. "You should thank me for saving your life."
With his free hand, Hollow-sky clenched her hair close
to the scalp, forcing her head to tilt back. As tears came to
her eyes, Loreman's son kissed her as no man had ever
dared to kiss her before. His passion was not an expression
of affection, but an assault.
Struggling to wrench her face from him, Goldmoon
gasped, "You're dreaming! I'll never marry you." Desperate,
she threatened the first thing that came to her:
"I'll scream! I'll - "
"There is no one to hear you," he said, sneering.
His crushing grip bruised her shoulders through the
silken cloth of her gown. She forced her arms down on the
hand holding the dagger and almost succeeded in thrusting
him away. He snatched at her and ripped the sleeve from
her shoulder. Holding her more firmly than before, his face
just inches from hers, the dagger point resting gently against
her chin, he said, "Of course, you love the peasant!" He
gave Riverwind's unconscious body a sharp kick and smiled
cruelly when Goldmoon flinched. "That's why we'll ride
down to the Que-kiri this morning. Any woman a man can
drag to their priest, they'll declare married. Then, if your
father ever wants to see you again, he'll have to agree to my
worthiness and accept the vows of the Que-kiri as binding."
HE IS INSANE! Goldmoon thought to herself. I will
humor him, stall him, until the doors to the hall open. Then
surely the ancestors will aid me!
Goldmoon felt the weight of the forever charm against
her breast. Her fingers closed around it. "Please, if this
charm truly has a god, then help me now!" she prayed
silently. A slow tingling sensation rose in the fingers that
held the charm. It was so slight that she wasn't certain she'd
felt it. She waited expectantly. Nothing happened. She
suddenly felt foolish and angry with herself for even testing
Forcing herself to relax, she pressed against him,
though his hot breath on her face sickened her.
"That's better," Hollow-sky whispered, squeezing her
tighter. "Oh, Goldmoon, you'll get used to the idea. You'll
discover that I'm more of a man than . . . than that shepherd
there." He motioned at the still figure behind his back and
moved his face close to hers. "You are so beautiful," he
murmured, and then he kissed her again, even more
intimately than before.
As Hollow-sky kissed her, she was astonished to detect
movement in Riverwind's sleeping-bag. His head poked
above the edge, two fingers pressed against his lips in a
gesture for silence.
She roughly pushed Hollow-sky back. He scowled and
thrust the dagger toward her threateningly, but it never
reached the skin. The forever charm gleamed brilliantly,
and a single arc of lightning leaped from it and flashed
down the dagger, causing Hollow-sky to yelp in pain and
drop the weapon. Goldmoon gasped in wonder.
As Hollow-sky stared disbelievingly at his burned hand,
Riverwind threw back his bedclothes and stood.
The man reputedly raised by leopards stalked his prey so
silently that Hollow-sky was totally unaware of him until
Riverwind's two fists landed on his neck. Hollow-sky
stumbled forward, stunned, letting go his grip on
Goldmoon, who fell back away from him.
The shepherd could have drawn his sword and finished
Loreman's son before he ever knew what hit him, but
instead Riverwind slid his sparring pole off his back and
waited for the other man to recover.
Hollow-sky turned about, his eyes widening with
astonishment. "How - ?" he started to gasp.
"Draw your pole, carrion crow," Riverwind snarled. "I
didn't eat your drug-tainted porridge."
Hollow-sky's hand went for his sword, but Riverwind's
pole lashed out. Hollow-sky cradled his injured hand in his
other already stinging hand.
"I didn't hurt you badly. Draw your pole before I do,"
Hollow-sky drew out his sparring pole. The two
warriors circled each other warily. Goldmoon crouched on
the grass in the pearl-gray of the predawn sky as the
echoing crack of wood shattered the silence.
The men thrust and blocked, using jabbing maneuvers
that she hadn't seen at the games. With a sharp intake of
breath, she realized they weren't sparring but using moves
meant only for real combat. Riverwind took a fierce jab
under the kneecap, and she heard his gasp of pain. But pain
seemed to spur the Plainsman on, for he suddenly whirled
his pole aggressively, trying to disarm his opponent.
Hollow-sky twisted his pole vertically and stopped the
twirling of Riverwind's stick, nearly disarming the
The men were more evenly matched than Goldmoon
had thought. Hollow-sky was good. Why he had bothered to
sabotage his opponent's poles for the contest, Goldmoon
could not understand. Is it possible he did not believe in his
own skill, or is he simply so inured to his father's
treacheries that he just automatically cheated? she
Goldmoon bit her lip anxiously.
The sky had taken on a faint reddish light, indicating
that the red moon, which would open the doors to the hall,
was about to rise. The dawn of the sun was brightening the
sky all about her. She could see the combatants' faces
clearly now. Riverwind's features were grim and
determined. Hollow-sky's eyes were filled with bloodlust
and hatred. Goldmoon shivered, but not with cold.
Sweat trickled off the men's bodies despite the cool
mountain air. They circled each other again, waiting for an
opening in the other's defenses. Goldmoon's fingers dug
into the flesh of her arms as the tension rose like the mist in
Suddenly, Riverwind snarled like a wild cat. The sound
mocked a real wild cat's so accurately that it flushed a small
flock of birds from the trees. The noise of their wings
diverted Hollow-sky's attention for just an instant, but that
was all it took. Riverwind knocked his adversary down, and
Hollow-sky lost his grip on his pole. Riverwind closed in to
deliver a blow that would knock the traitor senseless - or
But Riverwind's injured knee slowed his attack, and
Hollow-sky rolled away, scrambling to his feet. He slipped
beneath Riverwind's blocking swing and ran up the stairs
that led to the doors of the Hall of the Sleeping Spirits,
dragging his pole behind him. Riverwind pursued him, just
two steps behind. Goldmoon sprang to her feet and ran
across the grass, following the warriors up the stairs.
As she reached the top step, Lunitari, the red moon, made
its appearance above the horizon, shedding its light directly
across the great stone doors. Very slowly the massive
portals began to swing outward, showering gold sparks
down on the two men locked in their deadly struggle. The
footing on the rock platform out side the doors was slippery
with sand, and the sides adjacent to the staircase edge and
the door fell off sharply over sheer cliffs.
Goldmoon forgot her desire to gain entrance to the hall
as she watched Riverwind, by jabs and blows, push Hollow-
sky toward the cliff. Both men teetered dangerously near
The opening doors nudged Riverwind slightly, breaking
his concentration and forcing him to struggle to keep his
balance. In that moment, Hollow-sky managed to land a
blow across the side of the shepherd's head and face. Dazed,
Riverwind raised his staff to block the next attack, but his
reactions were slowed. Hollow-sky jabbed wickedly at the
shepherd's already injured knee, bringing him crashing
down on both knees. Seeing Hollow-sky close in on
Riverwind, Goldmoon, consumed by fear for Riverwind's
life, drew her crystal dagger.
She lunged forward, holding the dagger high over her
head. Hollow-sky, intent on the kill, failed to look up.
Goldmoon slammed the dagger down hard, gashing his
right arm deeply. Hollow-sky's blood splashed over her
dagger and wrist and onto the rock platform.
Startled, Hollow-sky staggered backward - and lost his
footing on the sandy precipice. He tumbled over the edge,
and his scream echoed up the cliff face, seemingly forever .
. . until his body hit the ground below. Bathed in red
moonlight, Goldmoon stood staring over the rock's edge,
her hair stirred by a gentle thermal rising from below.
"Goldmoon! Come away from there," Riverwind cried,
As if in a dream, the priestess of the Que-shu turned from
the cliff face and moved to the shepherd's side, helping him
to his feet. Hollow-sky's scream echoing through her head,
she sheathed her dagger without cleaning it.
"I had no choice. He was going to kill you!" she said
and suddenly burst into shuddering sobs.
"I know," he answered. "I wanted to protect you this
morning, but felt helpless while he held the dagger to your
throat. Then the charm . . ." His voice trailed off as
Goldmoon softly answered, "Yes, it protected me." Pulling
her close to his chest, he stroked her hair in a gentle,
Suddenly Goldmoon was very much aware of the man's
arms around her. Then, remembering why she was here and
how urgent it was that she convince Riverwind of the reality
of her gods, she sprang away from him.
"The hall!" she cried. "We must get inside and hold the
ceremony quickly before the doors close!"
As though mocking her attempts, the first ray of
sunlight shot over the horizon, striking the doorway. The
huge stone doors began closing on their own, scraping and
rumbling against the stone platform beneath them.
"Hurry!" Goldmoon insisted, tugging Riverwind. With
his injured knee, Riverwind had to lean on her to make it
through the rapidly narrowing portal.
As they slipped through the opening, it closed with a
thunderclap. Beneath the deafening echo, Goldmoon heard
Riverwind gasp in pain. "Are you all right?" she asked.
"My injuries are minor," he answered curtly. "How do
we open the doors again?"
Goldmoon hesitated. "I'm not sure we can. The
ceremony is supposed to be held quickly between the red
moon rising and the sunrise, while the doors stand open."
"You mean you risked being trapped in here?" Riverwind
hissed angrily. "It's not enough you almost get yourself
killed attacking Hollow-sky, you have to also bury yourself
"I stabbed him to save your life," Goldmoon reminded
him with equal curtness.
Riverwind drew away from her. "You should have run,"
he said coldly, "not tried to save me. After all, I'm supposed
to protect you, not the other way around."
"You are no use as a bodyguard if you are dead!"
Goldmoon retorted, not understanding her own anger.
Remembering those terrible moments when she thought
Riverwind was going to die, she began to tremble.
"I suppose not," Riverwind said, chagrined. She could
hear him withdraw even further.
Reaching out, Goldmoon found his hands in the
darkness and took them in her own. "And, if you had died, I
would have died out there, too," she whispered.
Riverwind drew several deep breaths without speaking.
Goldmoon could feel his hands quivering in her own.
Releasing his hands and moving forward, she wrapped her
arms about him and rested her head against his chest. This
time she noticed that his leather armor smelled of the spiced
oil used to clean it. Riverwind pressed her near, holding her
gently. In the cold, damp cavern, he radiated heat like a fire.
"When you first approached womanhood," he
whispered, "and I saw then your beauty, I asked my family
what age you would have to be before Arrowthorn would
allow men to court you." He stroked her hair as he spoke.
Not interrupting him, Goldmoon luxuriated in the feel
of his broad back beneath her hands, of his arm about her
"My adopted parents tried to make me see that my
poverty and faith would always keep us apart," Riverwind
continued, "but I would not believe them. You never
noticed me when I watched you, but others did, and
Loreman himself came to our hut to warn my parents to
keep me away from you."
Goldmoon guessed that that must have been the time
she'd first heard her father discussing Riverwind with
Loreman in hushed tones.
Riverwind continued his story. "My father sent me out
to watch sheep in the fields farthest from the village. My
mother's skill at weaving is great, so many send their
daughters to apprentice under her, even though Loreman
has forbidden it. My mother would invite the loveliest of
these girls to eat with our family, but the memory of your
face stayed with me. Then one night, Wanderer's spirit came
to me and told me of the games held to choose escorts for
the priestess's pilgrimage to this place. He said that some
day you would give your heart to one of those escorts."
"And so I have," Goldmoon whispered. She raised her
lips, so that she could kiss him, but Riverwind pulled away
from her and held her at arms length.
"I must admit," the warrior said, "I felt certain of
myself, seated next to you at the banquet. I could not
imagine you with Hollow-sky, though my mother often
warned me that the two of you were a likely match. When I
saw you watching the dancers and realized you wanted to
dance, I thought, 'She is just a woman, like other women.'
But I was wrong. You will never be just a woman. You are
and always will be Chieftain's Daughter. Now I doubt my
worthiness. I am still poor, and our gods remain different."
Goldmoon was silent for many moments, before she
said, "If I do not doubt your worthiness, then neither should
you. And your fortunes might change."
"And the gods?" Riverwind asked.
"They will show us a way."
"Yours, mine, both - it makes no difference. My mother
used to say that hope is a gift from the gods we must never
"My mother has said that, too," Riverwind replied.
"Well, we must find some way out of here, or it will truly
make no difference to our corpses!"
Goldmoon felt him take her hand in his and together
they edged their way along the wall. They reached the
passageway without trouble.
Wondering if her eyes were playing tricks, Goldmoon
asked, "Is that a light ahead?"
"I think so." They moved more quickly along the
corridor toward the light. Soon it grew bright enough that
they could see all about them. Looking for the source of the
illumination, Goldmoon saw movement on the smooth cut
rock. Looking closer, she realized that the light came from
brightly glowing red spots on the insects' backs.
"I think they're fire beetles," Riverwind said.
"Those are only in children's stories."
"I think we are in a children's story," Riverwind said,
able to chuckle a little in relief. "Let me have your crystal
globe. These little light legends may not live in other
passages, so we will need to take them with us."
Goldmoon unfastened the crystal globe from her belt
and surrendered it. The other two globes still lay on the
grass outside. Riverwind gently scraped several of the
beetles into the sphere.
"Here's the lid," she offered.
"I'm afraid they might suffocate."
"Air will get in. There are tiny holes in the lid," the
priestess explained. "I've often wondered why. Do you
suppose these globes were originally made for this
purpose?" she asked.
"This one functions well as a lamp. That is all that is
important." Riverwind held the globe up by its straps, and
they made their way safely into the crypts of the Que-shu
The crypt cavern was so huge that their little light did
not illuminate the ceiling or the walls beyond. At the edge
of the darkness they could make out the shape of the tombs.
The very first they came to bore the inscription, "Tearsong -
beloved of Arrowthorn." Goldmoon slid her hand along the
words and then snatched it back. The rock was cold. "Cold
as death," she thought, shuddering slightly. She moved
hurriedly past the memorial to her mother.
The floor sloped down as they passed the remains of
three centuries of the princess's ancestors. At the bottom of
the slope, Goldmoon could make out a stone altar, carved
with the forever sign of her amulet. Realizing that she
shouldn't be able to see the carving in the darkness, she
became aware that the light around the altar was blue, not
red, and that it came from the altar.
The priestess knew that the moment she had awaited
had come. She knelt in front of the altar and sang:
"THE RED SUN HAS RISEN.
THE BLUE DOORS HAVE OPENED.
I KNEEL HERE BEFORE YOU,
TO SING YOU MY SONG.
YOU WHO HAVE LEFT US,
WE ASK FOR YOUR BLESSING."
Goldmoon waited patiently in prayerful silence for
several minutes, but nothing happened, no one answered.
Fear crept into her. Was there some part of this ceremony
that her father had not known about, something that
Tearsong had carried with her to the grave?
Then a voice spoke, "My beloved child! What
joy it is to see you!"
"Mother!" Goldmoon cried out. Her throat constricted
in emotion as all the years of loneliness and longing for
Tearsong, of quickly suppressed doubt that she would ever
actually speak to her again, overwhelmed the young
Tearsong's laughter rang through the hall like tinkling
glass and filled Goldmoon with a pleasure that was also
painful. The air shimmered with light as Tearsong's form
coalesced in the air behind Goldmoon. Tears of grief and
joy welled in the princess's eyes. A harvest of loving
memories, which had long lain dormant in sorrow, filled
her. Her mother's sculpted features and jet-black hair were
even more lovely than she remembered.
"Mother. This is Riverwind," Goldmoon started to say,
turning around to summon the warrior forward, but all was
darkness behind her.
"I cannot appear to Riverwind."
"But you must! You see, he does not believe that - "
" - that I am a goddess." Tearsong nodded. "He is right.
I am a spirit only, and I have only a little time to speak with
you - so listen carefully. You are a woman now, Goldmoon,
and you must hear the truth and accept it. The gods of the
Que-shu, the gods I served all my life, are false. It makes no
difference whether or not Loreman has written your name in
the tribe's Book of the Gods. Men cannot make gods of each
"But I am Chieftain's Daughter!" Goldmoon protested
The spirit of Tearsong smiled at her daughter's arrogance.
"Your status in life, whether chieftain or healer, priestess or
shepherd, has no influence on the judgment of the true gods.
And the true gods will be your final judges, not your tribe,
not your father, not myself. The true gods reward each
person in the afterlife according to his or her virtues, not
some circumstance of birth."
Goldmoon shook her head, stunned. After Lore-man's
betrayal and Hollow-sky's attack, this was too much to bear.
An idea came to her. "This is some kind of test of my faith.
Oh, Mother, I will never turn from our gods. I will believe
in you always."
A sad expression crossed Tearsong's face. "Your love
for me is very great," she said. "That is why I was chosen to
tell you of the true gods."
Tears filled Goldmoon's eyes, streaming down her
cheeks, dropping onto her robe, leaving dark marks on the
blue fabric. "But the spirits of the Que-shu will not obey me
after death if I am not a goddess - " the princess argued,
Her mother's tone sharpened impatiently. "You would
do better to be grateful now for the gift of life and all it has
to offer you, than to dwell on what power you will have in
death." Death, even without godhood, had not robbed
Tearsong of her air of authority. Goldmoon was instantly
silent and looked down at the ground in shame.
Tearsong's voice softened at the sight of her daughter's
confusion and unhappiness. "Time grows short. Will you
listen to what I have to tell you, daughter?"
"Yes," Goldmoon nodded, eager to please her mother,
lest she leave her.
"This place was really once the temple of one of the
true gods, Riverwind's gods, a goddess known as the Great
Healer. Long ago, after the Cataclysm, people despaired and
abandoned their belief in the true gods. They must believe
again, or this world will be conquered by an ancient evil. I
have been sent to offer you the first of many tests. If you
pass these tests, you will, in time, serve the Great Healer
and lead people as her priestess, as a true healer."
"Tell me what this test is, and I will accept it."
"It will not be easy. If you pass this test, harder tests
will follow, tests that may break your spirit, others that may
destroy your body."
Goldmoon straightened her back and answered proudly,
"I accept that."
"Very well, daughter. The first test is this. You must
sacrifice these three things:
THAT WHICH HINDERS HEALING.
THAT WHICH HINDERS LOVING.
THAT WHICH HINDERS DARING.
"Let Riverwind guide you. He will be the leader of a
leader. It is foreseen that someday he will bring great power
to your hands."
"But he already has, Mother," Goldmoon said excitedly.
"He gave me this." The princess removed the forever charm
and held it out for her mother to examine.
"That is the symbol of the Great Healer. It is powerful,
but only on these sacred grounds." The vision of Tearsong
reached out and took the amulet. "When you have passed all
the tests set for you and have become a true servant of the
Great Healer, this amulet will be returned to you." The
vision began to fade. "Farewell, daughter. I know you will
prove worthy of the honor bestowed upon you. Remember
that my love is with you always." Then the vision was gone.
Goldmoon remained kneeling, still feeling the warmth
of her mother's love and puzzling over the test her mother
had given her. She did not know how long she had been
silent when she heard Riverwind crying out her name. The
altar no longer glowed blue, and all about her was darkness.
When she turned toward Riverwind's voice, she could see
the circular, red glow of their fire-beetle lantern.
"I'm over here," the princess called out.
"Goldmoon! Are you all right?" the warrior asked as he
ran, limping, up to her. "Where have you been? Why didn't
you answer me?"
"I've been here all along, holding the ceremony I came
to perform. I didn't hear you call me."
"I've been shouting your name for a long time now,"
Riverwind insisted. Goldmoon could see that his face was
pale and anxious.
"How strange," the princess whispered. "And I thought
YOU had disappeared."
Riverwind's voice grew stem, hiding his fear for her in
a show of annoyance. "Don't ever go off without me again!
There's no telling what evil creatures inhabit this tomb! And
you with nothing to defend yourself but that stupid crystal
dagger of yours."
"It isn't a stupid dagger," Goldmoon retorted. "It is a - "
The princess stopped in mid-sentence. She had been about
to say that it was a sacred relic of the Que-shu, but a sudden
insight made her gasp: A dagger HINDERED healing. She
drew it from her boot-sheath. She had not wiped off the
blade after stabbing Hollow-sky, and the traitor's blood
made the crystal appear to be rusted. Shuddering from the
memory of his final, long scream, she placed it on the altar.
"Riverwind, hand me your shield," she commanded.
Puzzlement clearly written on his face, Riverwind
unstrapped the wooden disk from his arm. "What are you
going to do?" he demanded.
Goldmoon put her fingertips on his lips and said, "Trust
me." Riverwind let her take the shield from him. She
stepped close to the altar and raised the shield high over her
head, but then she paused and lowered it again to her side.
If she destroyed the dagger, she would have to explain to
her father, probably to the whole tribe, why she had done
so. Loreman would find some way to twist her action to
make it seem evil. Her father would never forgive her. The
tribe would not easily let go of their belief in their false
Stealing a glance at Riverwind, she saw that he looked
weary and ill. He limped with each step, and there was a
blood-red bruise on his cheek where Hollow-sky's longstick
had struck him.
If she earned the amulet back, she could heal all his
wounds, make him whole. That was a power unknown in
her tribe, a power that could help them all. A power, her
mother had said, that might prevent an ancient evil from
conquering mankind. She raised the shield quickly and
smashed it down upon the crystal weapon.
Goldmoon dropped the shield to the side as the shards
of crystal began to glow with a blue light; the light grew
brighter until it was painful to look at. The sound of glass
chimes tinkling in the wind crescendoed. Goldmoon heard
her mother's voice.
"Taste now what you will know in full one day, my
child, but think of the healing as a GIFT from the gods, not
The shards of crystal on the altar spun about as though
they were sand caught in a dust devil.
Riverwind gasped in fear.
Then, in a flash, the jagged crystalline shards flew at the
princess, penetrating her flesh like darts.
"Goldmoon!" Riverwind shouted. He dashed forward to
catch her as she fell back from the altar. Her skin glittered
with the splintered crystal.
"I'm all right," she whispered calmly.
Riverwind gasped. There was no sign of pain on her
face, no sign of blood on her robes. "You should be dead."
"No," she answered hesitantly. "I have never felt so
Riverwind lowered her gently to her feet, but he did not
let go of her fully.
Placing her hands on his cheeks, Goldmoon wished for
him to feel as she did.
The warrior drew a deep breath of surprise. She smiled,
feeling the tingling energy flow from her hands into him.
The crystal shards faded and disappeared. The weariness
left Riverwind's face, and the color returned to it. The
wound on his cheek vanished without a trace of a scar, and
he stood up straighter, without any sign of pain in his knee.
"What have you done?" he asked in awe.
"I've sacrificed the dagger as my mother told me to do."
Riverwind's eyes narrowed. "I see. You've spoken to
your gods." His tone was bitter.
"I've spoken with my mother," Goldmoon corrected.
She could tell that the blank look he gave her masked
"Oh, Riverwind," she said softly, drawing him near.
"Wanderer was right! You are right! My mother told me
this and more, much more! But - "
Goldmoon lowered her head, her voice caught in her
throat. She hadn't realized how hard this would be to
confess. Maybe she wouldn't tell him! Maybe she should let
him continue to think of her as a goddess. She had her
pride, after all. ... Suddenly, the feeling of peace began to
seep from her. Her love for Riverwind turned into a knot of
anger and resentment.
Riverwind, sensing her growing coldness, began to
draw away from her. . . .
THAT WHICH HINDERS LOVING!
"Don't! Please don't leave me!" she cried, clinging to
him in panic.
"I won't!" he whispered, holding her close. "Not if you
want me! Tell me," he added wistfully. "Did your mother
say there was a way for us, even though you are a
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Goldmoon
said, ashamed. "I'm NOT a goddess. I am mortal." Half
teasing, yet half fearful, she glanced at him through her long
lashes. "Can you love an ordinary woman, one who is not a
"You - ordinary?" he repeated, his breath coming faster.
"You could never be ordinary," he said solemnly.
Sinking into his arms, Goldmoon longed to remain
there, wrapped in this blessed happiness forever. But a
thought caused her to raise her head and look up at him.
"My mother told me that she is not a goddess, nor are any of
our ancestors. The true gods are the ones Wanderer taught
your family to believe in. I sacrificed the dagger as part of a
test so that I might one day become a priestess of the Great
Healer, one of the ancient goddesses whose temple this
once was. But when I sacrifice my pride and return to the
village and tell them what I have learned, denying the old
ways, I will be ridiculed. I will be Chieftain's Daughter no
Riverwind smiled down at her. "You will always be
Chieftain's Daughter," he said, smoothing the golden hair.
"That is not something that depends on false gods, it is
something within you. Even if you had not been
Arrowthorn's child, you would be a leader. And someday, I
know, you will lead people to the true gods. That is
something to be proud of. It is only your pride in false
things that you need to sacrifice."
Goldmoon entwined her fingers in his hair and pulled
his head down so his face was within her reach. The lantern
light made his eyes sparkle red, and a grin fluttered across
his lips just before their mouths met.
The shepherd's tenderness eased her worries about the
future. As Riverwind caressed her lips with his own, he
kneaded away all the tension in her shoulders with his
They both whispered, "I love you," simultaneously.
Goldmoon laughed, and Riverwind smiled with a pleasure
the priestess had never imagined she could evoke in the
man. He put his arms about her shoulders and pulled her a
little closer. But Goldmoon was tired of respectful, delicate
embraces. She pressed against his warrior's body and
wrapped her arms about his waist to keep him from pulling
Without witnesses to inhibit him, he let the passion of his
kiss match her own. All the while, his hands slid her long
hair up and down her back, against the silky fabric of her
robe. Goldmoon wanted to bring him the same sensual
pleasure he gave her, but his armor covered him like a shell.
She wriggled one hand beneath the leather and then inside
his shirt, where she could press her fingertips against his
Riverwind straightened, and his head jerked up. A low
moan rumbled through his chest as Goldmoon ran her
fingers along his spine.
"You sound like a cat purring," she teased.
Riverwind gave a little snarl like a wild cat. Though
she'd heard him use it in the battle with Hollow-sky, it
startled her now. Riverwind grinned at the look on her face,
then bent over and very lightly licked her behind the ear. He
drew her hands forward and flicked his tongue over both
Goldmoon shivered with delight. She caught the ends of
the ceremonial sash about his waist and wound them once
about his wrists. "Now I am the tiger hunter," she joked and
pressed against him harder, kissing his mouth, then his chin,
Goldmoon had never before sensed so much buming
warmth within her body. The dank cavern no longer felt
chill, but Riverwind suddenly struggled free of the sash and
held her away from him. "This hunt must end," he gasped.
"What's wrong?" she asked, frightened by the way his
whole frame shuddered.
The warrior took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Calmer, he stroked her cheek with his forefinger. "We will
change many of our people's ways," he explained, "yet there
are some customs which we ought still to follow. I have yet
to ask your father's permission to court you."
Goldmoon tapped her foot in annoyance. "I suspect that
I might change more customs than you, if I have my way,"
"Is the honor of marriage vows so worthless a thing to
wait for?" he asked.
"No, but Father might not agree," Goldmoon said
"He cannot deny me," Riverwind pointed out, "if I go
on a courting quest."
She gave a sly grin. "The look on Arrowthorn's face
will be worth seeing." More seriously she added, "I will
wait for you, Riverwind, however long it takes." She
sighed. "Though I do not think the waiting will be easy."
"And now," Riverwind said firmly, "we must find the
"What's that?" asked Riverwind, tilting his head to hear
as they walked along by the light of the fire-beetle lantern.
"It sounds like water running," Goldmoon replied,
listening. She licked her dry lips. "We can fill our
waterskins, at least."
"Better yet," said Riverwind, "it is probably an
underground stream that may lead us to the surface and out
of here if we follow it!"
Hope rising in their hearts, the two hurried toward the
source of the sound and came upon a swiftly flowing,
"Crow's luck!" Goldmoon snapped with annoyance as
the strong current tore her waterskin from her grasp.
"Don't worry, I'll get it," Riverwind offered, stepping
into the water to reach after the bag.
"No, Riverwind. The water's too swift. Leave it,"
But Riverwind took another step, then slipped on
something underfoot, and plunged forward with a cry. He
tried to swim back to the bank, but despite his efforts, the
current dragged him off into the darkness.
"Riverwind!" Goldmoon screamed. She stood up and,
in her haste, knocked over the lantern. The lid fell off and
the fire beetles skittered out and away from the water.
Echoes of her call rang through the cavern, mocking
her. Absolutely alone in the pitch-black, unfamiliar cave,
Chieftain's Daughter stood frozen with terror.
"I've got to go after Riverwind! What if he's hurt? But
do I dare?" she whispered, her fear of drowning pulling her
back from the water as strongly as her love for Riverwind
pulled her toward it.
Suddenly Goldmoon laughed grimly. "Of course I
dare," she cried out. Tearsong had told her to sacrifice that
which hindered her daring - her fear.
The princess unfastened the clasp to her fur cloak and
let it fall to the ground. Taking a deep breath, she dove into
the water toward the spot where Riverwind had
The cold of the water was a painful shock. Goldmoon
tried to surface immediately, but the weight of her long
dress hindered her and the undercurrent held her in its
clutches. Her lungs were ready to burst.
That's it, she thought. I'm going to drown. Let it be
quick, without pain, she prayed. She began to feel numb all
But with a last burst of energy, Goldmoon kicked her
legs hard, driving her up into the small pocket of air
between the deep water and the top of the cavern.
Her respite was short-lived. A deep thrumming filled
the air all about her. A waterfall, she realized, and she was
being carried straight toward it!
Light blinded Goldmoon's eyes, and for a moment, as
she shot over the edge of the waterfall, she felt as though
she were a hawk hanging over the world. Then she plunged.
Shooting pains surged from her stomach and heart, and
when she hit the water below, she was too disoriented to tell
up from down.
Then strong arms grasped her and pulled her gently
from the water to the shore. Too weak to do more than turn
her head, she smiled sweetly as Riverwind collapsed beside
her. They lay dripping and shivering on the sweet-smelling
grass in the warm sunshine, taking deep breaths of the fresh
They were in a valley beneath the mountain. The
waterfall poured out of a cliff face so far above them that
their survival seemed a miracle.
"I knew," Goldmoon gasped, "that you would find us a
Riverwind laughed, and Goldmoon laughed with him.
She rolled near to him and lay her head on his shoulder.
Then she sighed heavily and her eyes became clouded with
concerns for the future - now that they had one. "We'll have
to explain about Hollow-sky. At least now we know just
how far Lore-man will go. He won't catch us off guard
"I don't understand," Riverwind said. "After he tried to get
Hollow-sky to kill you, won't your father just banish his
"We have no proof - just Hollow-sky's words - and he is
dead. Loreman is very powerful; there are too many people
who will take his side. Since Hollow-sky failed, Loreman
will probably denounce him as a traitor himself."
"And what do we say about us?" Riverwind asked.
"Father won't be pleased," she said. "But I will tell him
that I will wed none but you."
"If I ask him for a courting quest, can he deny me?"
Riverwind asked tensely.
"No. He'll be forced to follow tradition. But he may send
you to find or do something impossible."
"If it will earn me you, the gods will aid me."
Riverwind smiled gently and slid his fingers through her
Goldmoon shifted her position and sat up on her knees,
facing him. "Tearsong told me that one day you would
bring great power to my hands. So I know you will return
"And quickly," Riverwind added hopefully.
"Do you know what happens at the questing ritual?"
Riverwind shook his head no.
"Well, after you've spoken privately with Father, you'll
stand before the whole tribe. Arrowthorn will proclaim that
you will go on a quest to prove your worthiness to be my
husband. Then, he'll ask me if that is what I want - "
"And you'll say yes," Riverwind added with a smile of
"Well, yes." She smiled back. "Then he'll announce us
betrothed, until such a time as the quest is fulfilled or
"It will be fulfilled," he said solemnly, capturing one of
her hands in his own.
"And then," she said, "we'll kiss before the whole tribe.
. . ." She placed her free hand on his shoulder and leaned
toward him. She heard his swift intake of breath before she
kissed him lingeringly. "Well, perhaps not quite like that,"
she whispered sweetly.
"The servants are probably wondering where we are,"
Riverwind said huskily. "It's going to be a long way around
the mountain to find them."
"We should get started," he added.
"If I must wait for you," Goldmoon whispered, once
again settling herself in the crook of his arm with her head
on his shoulder, "surely you can wait for me - until . . .
until . . ." She pondered. "Until the sun dries my hair," she
said finally, laughing.
"That may take some time."
"But not long enough." Goldmoon sighed.
"I will enjoy the waiting," Riverwind assured her as he
spread locks of the golden strands across his armored chest.
"Who knows? Maybe a cloud will pass by."
Margaret Weis and Dezra Despain
I first heard the legend of Raistlin's Daughter about five
years after my twin's death. As you can imagine, I was
extremely intrigued and disturbed by the rumors and did
what I could to investigate. In this I was assisted by my
friends - the old Companions - who had by this time
scattered over most of Ansalon. We found versions of the
legend in almost every part of the continent. It is being told
among the elves of Silvanesti, the people of Solamnia, and
the Plainsmen who have returned to Que-shu. But we could
find no verification of it. Even the kender, Tasslehoff
Burrfoot, who goes everywhere and hears everything (as
kender do), could discover no first-hand information
regarding it. The story is always told by a person who heard
it from his aunt who had a cousin who was midwife to the
girl . . . and so forth.
I even went so far as to contact Astinus, the Historian,
who records history as it passes before his all-seeing eyes.
In this, my hope to hear anything useful was slim, for the
Historian is notoriously close-mouthed, especially when
something he has seen in the past might affect the future.
Knowing this, I asked only for him to tell me whether or not
the legend was true. Did my twin father a child? Does he or
she live still on this world?
His response was typical of that enigmatic man, whom
some whisper is the god Gilean, himself. "If it is true, it will
become known. If not, it won't."
I have agreed to allow the inclusion of the legend in
this volume as a curiosity and because it might, in the
distant future, have some bearing upon the history of Krynn.
The reader should be forewarned, however, that my friends
and I regard it as veritable gossip.
- Caramon Majere
Twilight touched the Wayward Inn with its gentle
hand, making even that shabby and ill-reputed place seem a
restful haven to those who walked or rode the path that led
by its door. Its weather-beaten wood - rotting and worm-
ridden when seen in broad daylight - appeared rustic in the
golden-tinged evening. Its cracked and broken
windowpanes actually sparkled as they caught the last rays
of dying light, and the shadows hit the roof just right so that
no one could see the patches. Perhaps this was one reason
that the inn was so busy this winter night - either that or the
masses of gray, lowering clouds gathering in the eastern sky
like a ghostly, silent army.
The Wayward Inn was located on the outskirts - if the
magical trees deemed it so - of the Forest of Wayreth. If the
magical trees chose otherwise, as they frequently did, the
inn was located on the outskirts of a barren field where
nothing anyone planted grew. Not that any farmer cared to
try his luck. Who would want anything from land
controlled, so it was believed, by the archmages of the
Tower of High Sorcery, by the strange, uncanny forest?
Some thought it peculiar that the Wayward Inn was built
so close to the Forest of Wayreth (when the forest was in
appearance), but then the owner - Slegart Havenswood -
was a peculiar man. His only care in the world, seemingly,
was profit - as he would say to anyone who asked. And
there was always profit to be made from those who found
themselves on the fringes of wizards' lands when night was
There were many this evening who found themselves in
those straits apparently, for almost every room in the inn
was taken. For the most part, the travelers were human,
since this was in the days before the War of the Lance when
elves and dwarves kept to themselves and rarely walked this
world. But there were a few gully dwarves around; Slegart
hired them to cook and clean up, and he was not averse to
allowing goblins to stay in his place as long as they behaved
themselves. There were no goblins this night, however,
though there were some humans who might have been taken
for goblins - so twisted and crafty were their faces. It was
this large party who had taken several of Slegart's rooms
(and there weren't many in the small, shabby place), leaving
only two empty.
Just about the time when the first evening star appeared
in the sky, to be almost immediately overrun by the
advancing column of clouds, the door to the inn burst open,
letting in a chill blast of air, a warrior in leather armor, and
a mage in red robes. From his place behind the dirty bar,
Slegart frowned. It was not that he disliked magic-users
(rumor had it that his inn existed by the grace of the wizards
of the tower), but that he didn't particularly like them
staying in his place.
When the big warrior (and he was a remarkably big young
man, as both Slegart and the others in the common room
noted) tossed down a coin and said, "Dinner," Slegart's
frown broadened immediately to a smile. When the big man
added, "and a room for the night," however, the smile
"We're full up," growled Slegart, with a significant
glance around the crowded common room. "Hunting moon
"Bah!" The big warrior snorted. "There'll be no moon
tonight, hunting or otherwise. That storm's going to break
any moment now and, unless you're partial to hunting
snowflakes, you won't shoot anything this night." At this,
the big man glanced around the common room to see if any
cared to dispute his remark. Noting the size of his
shoulders, the well-worn scabbard he wore, and the
nonchalant way his hand went to the hilt of his sword, even
the rough-appearing humans began to nod their heads at his
wisdom, agreeing that there would definitely be no hunting
"At any rate," said the big man, returning his stem gaze
to Slegart, "we're spending the night here, if we have to
make up our beds by the fire. As you can see" - the warrior's
voice softened and his gaze went to the magic-user, who
had slumped down at a table as near the fire as possible -
"my brother is in no condition to travel farther this day,
especially in such weather."
Slegart's glance went to the mage and, indeed, the man
appeared to be on the verge of exhaustion. Dressed in red
robes, with a hood that covered his head and left his face in
shadow, the magic-user leaned upon a wooden staff
decorated at the top with a golden dragon's claw holding a
faceted crystal. He kept this staff by him always, his hand
going to it fondly as if both to caress it and to reassure
himself of its presence.
"Bring us your best ale and a pot of hot water for my
twin," said the warrior, slapping another steel coin down
upon the bar.
At the sight of the money, Slegart's senses came alert.
"I just recollect - " he began, his hand closing over the coins
and his eyes going to the warrior's leather purse where his
ears could detect the chink of metal. Even his nose
wrinkled, as though he could smell it as well. " - a room's
opened up on t'second floor."
"I thought it might," the warrior said grimly, slapping a
third steel piece down on the bar.
"One of my best," Slegart remarked.
The big man grunted, scowling.
"It's goin' to be no fit night for man nor beast," added
the innkeeper and, at that moment, a gust of wind hit the
inn, whistling through the cracked windows and puffing
flakes of snow into the room. At that moment, too, the red-
robed mage began to cough - a wracking, choking cough
that doubled the man over the table. It was difficult to tell
much about the mage - he was cloaked and hooded against
the weather. But Slegart knew he must be young, if he and
this giant were, indeed, twins. The innkeeper was
considerably startled, therefore, to catch a glimpse of
ragged, white hair straying out from beneath the hood and
to note that the hand holding the staff was thin and wasted.
"We'll take it," the warrior muttered, his worried gaze
going to his brother as he laid the coin down.
"What's the matter with 'im?" Slegart asked, eyeing the
mage, his fingers twitching near the coin, though not
touching it. "It ain't catchin', is it?" He drew back. "Not the
"Naw!" The warrior scowled. Leaning nearer the
innkeeper, the big man said in a low voice, "We've just
come from the Tower of High Sorcery." Slegart's eyes grew
wide. "He's just taken the Test. . . ."
"Ah," the innkeeper said knowingly, his gaze on the
young mage not unsympathetic. "I've seen many of 'em in
my day. And I've seen many like yourself" - he looked at
the big warrior - "who have come here alone, with only a
packet of clothes and a battered spellbook or two all that
remains. Yer lucky, both of you, to have survived."
The warrior nodded, though it didn't appear - from the
haunted expression on his pale face and dark, pain-filled
eyes - that he considered his luck phenomenal. Returning to
his table, the warrior laid his hand on his brother's heaving
shoulder, only to be rebuffed with a bitter snarl.
"Leave me in peace, Caramon!" Slegart heard the mage
gasp as the innkeeper came to the table, bearing the ale and
a pot of hot water on a tray. "Your worrying will put me in
my grave sooner than this cough!"
The warrior, Caramon, did not answer, but sat down in
the booth opposite his brother, his eyes still shadowed with
unhappiness and concern.
Setting down the tray, Slegart tried his best to see the
face covered by the hood, but the mage was huddled near
the fire, the red cowl pulled low over his eyes. The mage
did not even look up as the innkeeper laid the table with an
unusual amount of clattering of plates and knives and mugs.
The young man simply reached into a pouch he wore tied to
his belt and, taking a handful of leaves, handed them
carefully to his brother.
"Fix my drink," the mage ordered in a rasping voice,
leaning wearily against the wall.
Slegart, watching all this intently, was considerably
startled to note that the skin that covered the mage's slender
hand gleamed a bright, metallic gold in the firelight!
The innkeeper tried for another glimpse of the mage's
face, but the young man drew back even farther into the
shadows, ducking his head and pulling the cowl lower over
"If the skin of 'is face be the same as the skin of 'is
hand, no wonder he hides himself," Slegart reflected,
wishing he had turned this strange, sick mage away -
money or no money.
The warrior took the leaves from the mage and dropped
them in a cup. He then filled it with hot water.
Curious in spite of himself, the innkeeper leaned over
to catch a glimpse of the mixture, hoping it might be a
magic potion of some sort. To his disappointment, it
appeared to be nothing more than tea with a few leaves
floating on the surface. A bitter smell rose to his nostrils.
Sniffing, he started to make some comment when the door
blew open, admitting more snow, more wind, and another
guest. Motioning one of the slatternly barmaids to finish
waiting on the mage and his brother, Slegart turned to greet
the new arrival.
It appeared - from its graceful walk and its tall, slender
build - to be either a young human male, a human female,
or an elf. But so bundled and muffled in clothes was the
figure that it was impossible to tell sex or race.
"We're full up," Slegart started to announce, but before
he could even open his mouth, the guest had drifted over to
him (it was impossible for him to describe its walk any
other way) and, leaning out a hand remarkable for its
delicate beauty, laid two steel coins in the innkeeper's hand
(remarkable only for its dirt).
"A place by the fire this night," said the guest in a low
"I do believe a room's opened up," announced Slegart to
the delight of the goblinish humans, who greeted this
remark with coarse laughs and guffaws. Even the warrior
grinned ruefully and shook his head, reaching across the
table to nudge his brother. The mage said nothing, only
gestured irritably for his drink.
"I'll take the room," the guest said, reaching into its
purse and handing two more coins to the grinning
"Very good. . . ." Noticing the guest's fine clothes,
made of rich material, Slegart thought it wise to bow. "Uh,
what name . . . ?"
"Do the room and I need an introduction?" the guest
The warrior chuckled appreciatively at this, and it
seemed as if even the mage responded, for the hooded head
moved slightly as he sipped his steaming, foul-smelling
Somewhat at a loss for words, Slegart was fumbling
about in his mind, trying to think of another way to
determine his mysterious guest's identity, when the guest
turned from him and headed for a table located in a
shadowed comer as far from the fire as possible. "Meat and
drink." It tossed the words over its shoulder in an imperious
"What would your . . . your lordship like?" Slegart
asked, hurrying after the guest, an ear cocked attentively.
Though the guest spoke Common, the accent was strange,
and the innkeeper still couldn't tell if his guest was male or
"Anything," the guest said wearily, turning its back upon
Slegart as it walked over to the shadowy booth. On its way,
it cast a glance at the table where the warrior, Caramon, and
his brother sat. "That. Whatever they're having." The guest
gestured to where the barmaid was heaping a wooden bowl
full of some gray, coagulating mass and rubbing her body
up against Caramon's at the same time.
Now, perhaps it was the way the mysterious guest
walked or perhaps it was the way the person gestured or
even perhaps the subtle sneer in the guest's voice when it
noticed Caramon's hand reaching around to pat the barmaid
on a rounded portion of her anatomy, but Slegart guessed
instantly that the muffled guest was female.
It was dangerous journeying through Ansalon in those
days some five years before the war. There were few who
traveled alone, and it was unusual for women to travel at all.
Those women who did were either mercenaries - skilled
with sword and shield - or wealthy women with a horde of
escorts, armed to the teeth. This woman - if such she was -
carried no weapon that Slegart could see and if she had
escorts, they must enjoy sleeping in the open in what boded
to be one of the worst blizzards ever to hit this part of the
Slegart wasn't particularly bright or observant, and he
arrived at the conclusion that his guest was a lone,
unprotected female about two minutes after everyone else in
the place. This was apparent from the warrior's slightly
darkening face and the questioning glance he cast at his
brother, who shook his head. This was also apparent from
the sudden silence that fell over the "hunting" party
gathered near the bar and the quick whispers and muffled
snickers that followed.
Hearing this, Caramon scowled and glanced around
behind him. But a touch on the hand and a softly spoken
word from the mage made the big warrior sigh and stolidly
resume eating the food in his bowl, though he kept his eyes
on the guest, to the disappointment of the barmaid.
Slegart made his way back of the bar again and began
wiping out mugs with a filthy rag, his back halfturned but
his sharp eyes watching everything. One of the ruffians rose
slowly to his feet, stretched, and called for another pint of
ale. Taking it from the barmaid, he sauntered slowly over to
the guest's table.
"Mind if I sit down?" he said, suiting his action to his
"Yes," said the guest sharply.
"Aw, c'mon," the ruffian said, grinning and settling
himself comfortably in the booth across from the guest, who
sat eating the gray gunk in her bowl. "It's a custom in this
part of the country for innfellows to make merry on a night
like this. Join our little party . . ." - The guest ignored him,
steadily eating her food. Caramon shifted slightly in his
seat, but, after a pleading glance at his brother, which was
answered with an abrupt shake of the hooded head, the
warrior continued eating with a sigh.
The ruffian leaned forward, reaching out his hand to
touch the scarf the guest had wound tightly about her face.
"You must be awful hot - " the man began.
He didn't complete his sentence, finding it difficult to
speak through the bowl of hot stew dripping down his face.
"I've lost my appetite," the guest said. Calmly rising to
her feet, she wiped stew from her hands on a greasy napkin
and headed for the stairs. "I'll go to my room now,
innkeeper. What number?"
"Number sixteen. You can bolt lock it from the inside to
keep out the riff-raff," Slegart said, his mug-polishing
slowing. Trouble was bad for business, cut into profits.
"Serving girl'll be along to turn down the bed."
The "riff-raff," stew dripping off his nose, might have
been content to let the mysterious person go her way. There
had been a coolness in the voice, and the quick, self-
possessed movement indicated that the guest had some
experience caring for herself. But the big warrior laughed at
the innkeeper's remark - a chuckle of appreciation - and so
did the "hunting" party by the fire. Their laughter was the
laughter of derision, however.
Casting his comrades an angry glance, the man wiped
stew from his eyes and leaped to his feet. Overturning the
table, he followed the woman, who was half-way up the
"I'LL show you to yer room!" he leered, grabbing hold
of her and jerking her backward.
Caught off-balance, the guest fell into the ruffian's
arms with a cry that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt
that she was, indeed, a female.
"Raistlin?" pleaded Caramon, his hand on the hilt of his
"Very well, my brother," the mage said with a sigh.
Reaching out his hand for the staff he had leaned against the
wall, he used it to pull himself to his feet.
Caramon was starting to stand up when he saw his
brother's eyes go to a point just behind him. Catching the
look, Caramon nodded slightly just as a heavy hand closed
over his shoulder.
"Good stew, ain't it?" said one of the hunting party.
"Shame to interrupt yer dinner over somethin' that ain't none
of yer business. Unless, of course, you want to share some
of the fun. If so, we'll let you know when it's your tur - "
Caramon's fist thudded into the man's jaw. "Thanks,"
the warrior said coolly, drawing his sword and twisting
around to face the other thugs behind him. "I think I'll take
my turn now."
A chair flung from the back of the crowd caught Caramon
on the shoulder of his sword arm. Two men in front jumped
him, one grabbing his wrist and trying to knock the sword
free, the other flailing away with his fists. The mob - seeing
the warrior apparently falling - surged forward.
"Get the girl, Raist! I'll take care of these!" Caramon
shouted in muffled tones from beneath a sea of bodies.
"Everything's . . . under . . . contr - "
"As usual, my brother," said the mage wryly. Ignoring
the grunts and yells, the cracking of furniture and bone,
Raistlin leaned on his staff and began climbing the stairs.
The girl was fighting her attacker with her fists - she
apparently had no other weapon - and it was easy to see she
must soon lose. The man's attention was fixed on dragging
his struggling victim up the stairs, and he never noticed the
red-robed mage moving swiftly behind him. There was a
flash of silver, a quick thrust of the mage's hand, and the
ruffian, letting loose of the girl, clutched his ribs. Blood
welled out from between his fingers. For an instant he
stared at Raistlin in astonishment, then tumbled past him,
falling headlong down the stairs, the mage's dagger
protruding from his side.
"Raist! Help!" Caramon shouted from below. Though
he had laid three opponents low, he was locked in a vicious
battle with a fourth, his movements decidedly hampered by
a gully dwarf, who had crawled up his back and was beating
him over the head with a pan.
But Raistlin was not able to go to his brother's rescue.
The girl, weak and dizzy from her struggles, missed her step
upon the stairs and swayed unsteadily.
Letting go of his staff - which remained perfectly
upright, standing next to him as though he were holding it -
Raistlin caught the girl before she fell.
"Thank you," she murmured, keeping her head down. Her
scarf had come undone in her struggles and she tried to
wrap it around her face again. But Raist lin, with a sardonic
smile and a deft movement of his skilled hands, snatched
the scarf from the girl's head.
"You dropped this," he said coolly, holding the scarf
out to her, all the while his keen eyes looking to see why
this young woman hid her face from the sun. He gasped.
The girl kept her head down, even after losing the
scarf, but, hearing the man's swift intake of breath, she
knew it was too late. He had seen her. She checked the
movement, therefore, looking up at the mage with a small
sigh. What she saw in his face shocked her almost as much
as what he saw in hers.
"Who . . . what kind of human are you?" she cried,
shrinking away from him.
"What kind are you?" the mage demanded, holding
onto the girl with his slender hands that were, nevertheless,
"I - I am . . . ordinary," the girl faltered, staring at
Raistlin with wide eyes.
"Ordinary!" Raistlin gripped her more tightly as she
made a half-hearted attempt to break free. His eyes gazed in
disbelief at the fine-boned, delicate face; the mass of hair
that was the brilliance and color of silver starlight; the eyes
that were dark and soft and velvet-black as the night sky.
"Ordinary! In my hands I hold the most beautiful woman I
have seen in all my twenty-one years. What is more, I hold
in my hands A WOMAN WHO DOES NOT AGE!" He
laughed mirthlessly. "And she calls herself 'ordinary!' "
"What about you?" Trembling, the girl's hand reached
up to touch Raistlin's golden-skinned face. "And what do
you mean - I do not age?"
The mage saw fear in the girl's eyes as she asked this
question, and his own eyes narrowed, studying her intently.
"My golden skin is my sacrifice for my magic, as is my
shattered body. As for you not aging, I mean you do not age
in my sight. You see, my eyes are different from the eyes of
other men. . . ." He paused, staring at the girl, who began to
shiver beneath the unwavering scrutiny. "My eyes see time
as it passes, they see the death of all living things. In my
vision, human flesh wastes and withers, spring trees lose
their leaves, rocks crumble to dust. Only the young among
the long-lived elves would appear normal to me, and even
then I would see them as flowers about to lose their bloom.
But you - "
"Raist!" Caramon boomed from below. There was a
crash. Endeavoring to shake off the gully dwarf - who was
holding his hands firmly over the big man's eyes, blinding
him - Caramon tripped, and fell headlong on a table,
smashing it to splinters.
The mage did not move, nor did the girl. "You do not
age at all! You are not elven," Raistlin said.
"No," the girl murmured. Her eyes still fixed on the
mage, she tried unsuccessfully to free herself from his
grasp. "You - you're hurting me. . . ."
"What are you?" he demanded.
She shrugged, squirming and pushing at his hands.
"Human, like yourself," she protested, looking up into the
strange eyes. "And I thank you for saving me, but - "
Suddenly she froze, her efforts to free herself ceased.
Her gaze was locked onto Raistlin's, the mage's gaze was
fixed upon her. "No!" she moaned helplessly. "No!" Her
moan became a shriek, echoing above the howling of the
storm winds outside the inn.
Raistlin reeled backward, slamming into the wall as
though she had driven a sword into his body. Yet she had
not touched him, she had done nothing but look at him.
With a wild cry, the girl scrambled to her feet and ran up
the stairs, leaving the mage slumped against the wall,
staring with stunned, unseeing eyes at where she had
crouched before him on the staircase.
"Well, I took care of the scum. Small thanks to you,"
Caramon muttered, coming up beside his brother. Wiping
blood from a cut on the mouth, the big warrior looked over
the railing in satisfaction. Four men lay on the floor, not
counting the one his brother had stabbed, whose inert body
was huddled at the foot of the staircase in a heap. The gully
dwarf was sticking out of a barrel, upside down, its feet
waving pathetically in the air, its ear-splittling screams
likely to cause serious breakage of the glassware.
"What about damages?" Slegart demanded, coming
over to survey the ruin.
"Collect it from them," Caramon growled, gesturing to
the groaning members of the hunting party. "Here's your
dagger, Raist," the warrior said, holding out a small silver
knife. "I cleaned it as best I could. Guess you didn't want to
waste your magic on those wretches, huh? Anyway - hey,
Raist - you all right?"
"I'm . . . not injured. . . ." Raistlin said softly, reaching
out his hand to catch hold of his brother.
"Then what's the matter?" Caramon asked, puzzled.
"You look like you've seen a spirit. Say, where's the girl?"
He glanced around. "Didn't she even stay to thank us?"
"I - I sent her to her room," Raistlin said, blinking in
confusion and looking at Caramon as though wondering
who he was. After a moment, he seemed more himself.
Taking the dagger from his brother's hand, the mage
replaced it on the cunningly made thong he had attached
around his wrist. "And we should be going to our rooms,
my brother," he said firmly, seeing Caramon's gaze go
longingly to the pitcher of ale still on their table. "Lend me
your arm," the mage added, taking hold of his staff. "My
exertions have exhausted me."
"Oh, uh, sure, Raist," Caramon said, his thirst forgotten
in his concern for his brother.
"Number thirteen," grunted Slegart, helping the ruffians
drag their wounded comrade off into a comer.
"It figures," Caramon muttered, assisting his brother up
the stairs. "Hey, you got a good look at that girl? Was she
"Why ask me, my brother?" Raistlin replied softly.
Pulling his hood down low over his face again, he evaded
his brother's question. "You know what these eyes of mine
"Yeah, sorry, Raist." Caramon flushed. "I keep
forgetting. Damn! That one bastard broke a chair over my
back end when I was bending over. I know I got splinters. . .
"Yes, my brother," Raistlin murmured, not listening.
His gaze went to the door at the end of the hall, a door
marked with the number 16.
Behind that door, Amberyl paced restlessly, clasping
and unclasping her hands and occasionally making that low,
"How could this happen?" she asked feverishly,
walking back and forth, back and forth the small chamber.
The room was chill and dark. In her preoccupation,
Amberyl had allowed the fire to go out. "Why did this
happen? How could it happen? Why didn't any of the wise
foresee this?" Over and over again she repeated these
words, her feet tracing the circular path of her thoughts out
upon the grime-encrusted wooden floor.
"I must talk to him," she said to herself suddenly. "He is
magi, after all. He may know some way . . . some way to ...
help. . . .Yes! I'll talk to him."
Grabbing up her scarf, she wound it around her face again
and cautiously opened the door. The hallway was empty
and she started to creep out when she realized she had no
idea which room was his.
"Perhaps he isn't even staying the night," she said,
sagging against the door frame in despair. "What would I
say to him anyway?" Turning, she started back into her
room when she stopped. "No, I MUST find him!" she said
and closed the door firmly so that she might not be tempted
back inside. "If he isn't up here yet, I'll go after him."
Moving down the hall, Amberyl crept near each door,
listening. Behind some she heard groans and muttered oaths
and hurriedly shied away from these, realizing that her
attackers were inside, recovering from their fray with the
mage and his brother. At another door there was the shrill
giggle of a female and the deeper laughter of a man.
Amberyl continued to number 13.
"But, Raist! What am I supposed to say to the girl?
'Come down to our room, my brother wants you'?"
Recognizing the voice, Amberyl pressed closer against
the door, listening carefully.
"If that is all you can think of saying, then say that."
The whispering, sneering voice, barely heard above the
howling of the storm wind, sent tiny prickles of pain
through Amberyl's body. Shivering, she drew closer still. "I
don't care what you do, just bring her to me!"
Amberyl heard a shuffling sound and a deprecating
cough. "Uh, Raist, I don't know how grateful you think she's
gonna be, but from what I've seen of her - "
"Caramon," said the whispering voice, "I am weary and
sick, and I have no more patience to cope with your
stupidity. I told you to bring the girl to me. Now do so. . . ."
The voice trailed off in coughing.
There came the sound of heavy footsteps nearing the door.
Fearful of being caught listening, yet unable to leave,
Amberyl wondered frantically what to do. She had just
decided to run back to her room and hide when the door
"Name of the gods!" Caramon said in astonishment,
reaching out and catching hold of Amberyl as she shrank
backward. "Here she is, Raist! Standing outside in the hall.
"Is she?" The golden-eyed, golden-skinned mage
looked up curiously from where he sat huddled by the fire
as his brother half-dragged, half-led Amberyl into the room.
"What were you doing out there?" he asked, his eyes
For a moment, Amberyl could say nothing. She just stood
staring at the mage, twisting the bottom of her scarf in her
"Hold on, Raist," Caramon said gently. "Don't yell at
her. The poor thing's freezing. Her hands are like a ghoul's.
Here, my lady," the big man said awkwardly, leading her
closer to the fire and drawing up a chair for her. "Sit down.
You'll catch your death." He put his hand on her scarf. "This
is wet from the snow. Let me take - "
"No!" Amberyl cried in a choked voice, her hands
going to the scarf. "No," she repeated more softly, flushing
to see Raistlin look at her with a grim smile. "I - I'm fine. I
... never . . . catch cold. Please. . . ."
"Leave us, Caramon," Raistlin said coldly.
"What?" The big man looked startled.
"I said leave us. Go back to your pitcher of ale and the
barmaid. She appeared not insensible to your attractions."
"Uh, sure, Raist. If that's what you want ...." Caramon
hesitated, looking at his brother with such a dumb-founded
expression on his face that Amberyl started to laugh, only it
came out in a sob. Hiding her face in her scarf, she tried to
check her tears.
"Leave us!" Raistlin ordered.
"Sure!" Amberyl heard Caramon backing out the door.
"Just . . . just remember, you're not strong, Raistlin . . . ."
The door closed gently.
"I - I'm sorry," Amberyl faltered, raising her face from
the scarf, using the hem to dry her eyes. "I didn't mean to
cry. I lost control. It - it won't happen again."
Raistlin did not answer her. Comfortably settled in a
battered old chair, the mage sat calmly staring at Amberyl,
his frail hands clutching a mug of tea that had long ago
gone cold. Behind him, near at hand, his staff leaned against
the wall. "Remove the scarf," he said finally, after a long
Swallowing her tears, Amberyl slowly reached up and
unwound the scarf from her face. The expression in the
golden eyes did not change; it was cold and smooth as
glass. Amberyl discovered, looking into those eyes, that she
could see herself reflected there. She wouldn't be able to
enter again, not as she had on the stairs. The mage had put
up barriers around his soul.
Too late! she thought in despair. Too late. . . .
"What have you done to me?" Raistlin asked, still not
moving. "What spell have you cast upon me? Name it, that I
may know how to break it."
Amberyl looked down, unable to stand the gaze of those
strange eyes a moment longer. "No - no spell," she
murmured, twisting the scarf round and round. "I - I am not.
. . not magi... as surely you can tell - "
"Damn you!" Raistlin slid out of the chair with the speed
of a striking snake. Hurling the mug to the floor, he grabbed
hold of Amberyl's wrists and dragged her to her feet.
"You're lying! You have done something to me! You
invaded my being! You LIVE inside me! All I can think of
is you. All I see in my mind is your face. I cannot
concentrate! My magic eludes me! What have you done,
"You're hurting me!" Amberyl cried softly, twisting her
arms in his grasp. His touch burned. She could feel an
unnatural warmth radiate from his body, as though he were
being consumed alive by some inner fire.
"I will hurt you much worse than this," Raistlin hissed,
drawing her nearer, "if you do not tell me what I ask!"
"I - I can't explain!" Amberyl whispered brokenly,
gasping as Raistlin tightened his grip. "Please! You must
believe me. I didn't do this to you deliberately! I didn't mean
for this to happen - "
"Then why did you come here ... to my room?"
"You - you are magi. ... I hoped there might be some
way . . . You might know - "
" - how to break the enchantment," Raistlin finished
softly, loosening his grip and staring at Amberyl. "So - you
are telling the truth. It is happening to you. I see that now.
That's the real reason you came here, isn't it? Somehow I
have invaded your being as well."
Amberyl hung her head. "No. I mean yes. Well,
partly." Raising her face, she looked at the mage. "I did
truly come here to see if there wasn't some way . . ."
Laughing bitterly, Raistlin dropped her hands. "How
can I remove a spell when you won't tell me what you have
"It isn't a spell!" Amberyl cried despairingly. She could
see the marks his fingers had left on her flesh.
"Then what is it?" Raistlin shouted. His voice cracked
and, coughing, he fell backward, clutching his chest.
"Here," Amberyl said, reaching out her hands, "let me
help - "
"Get out!" Raistlin panted through lips flecked with blood
and froth. With his last strength, he shoved Amberyl away
from him, then sank down into his chair. "Get out!" he said
again. Though the words were inaudible, his eyes spoke
them clearly, the hourglass pupils dilated with rage.
Frightened, Amberyl turned and fled. Opening the door,
she plummeted out into the hallway, crashing headlong into
Caramon and the barmaid, who were heading for another
"Hey!" Caramon cried, catching Amberyl in his arms.
"What is it? What's the matter?"
"Your - your brother," Amberyl said in confusion,
hiding her face in her long hair. "He . . . he's ill. . . ."
"I warned him. . . ." Caramon said softly, his face
crumpling in worry as he heard his brother's rasping cough.
Forgetting the barmaid, who was setting up a disappointed
cry behind him, the big warrior hurried back into his room.
Amberyl ran blindly down the hall, yanked open her
door, and stumbled inside her room to stand, shivering,
against the wall in the darkness.
She may have slept. She wasn't certain. Her dreams
were too near her waking thoughts. But she'd heard a sound.
Yes, there it was again. A door slamming. Though it could
have been any one of the rooms in the inn, Amberyl knew
instinctively whose door it was.
Rising from the bed on which she'd been lying, fully
dressed, the girl opened her door a crack as a voice echoed
down the hall.
"Raist! It's a blizzard out there! We'll perish! You can't
"I am leaving this inn! Now!" came the mages voice.
No longer whispering, it was hoarse with anger and fear. "I
am leaving, and I go with or without you. It's up to you!"
The mage started walking down the hall, leaning upon his
staff. Stopping, he cast a piercing glance at Amberyl's room.
Panic-stricken, she ducked back into the shadows. The
mage headed toward the stairs, his brother standing behind
him, hands spread helplessly.
"This has to do with that girl, doesn't it?" Caramon
shouted. "Name of the Abyss, answer me! I - He's gone."
Left alone in the hall, the big warrior scratched his head.
"Well, he won't get far without me. I'll go after him.
Women!" he muttered, hurrying back into the room and
reappearing, struggling to lift a pack to his back. "Just after
we got out of that damn magic forest, too. Now, I suppose
we'll end up right back in it."
Amberyl saw Caramon look down the hall toward her
room and, once more, ducked back.
"I'd like to know what's going on, my lady," the big
man said in her general direction. Then, shaking his head,
Caramon shouldered the pack and clumped hastily down the
Amberyl stood for a moment in the darkness of her
room, waiting until her breathing calmed and she could
think clearly. Then, grabbing her scarf, she wound it tightly
around her face. Pulling a fur cloak from her own pack, she
cautiously crept down the hall after Caramon.
Amberyl could recall no worse storm in her life and she
had lived many years in the world, though she was young
yet by the standards of her kind. The snow was blinding.
Blown by a fierce wind, it blotted out all traces of any
object from her sight - even her own hands held out before
her were swallowed up by the stinging, blinding white
darkness. There was no possible way she could have
tracked Raistlin and his brother - no way except the way she
did it - by the bond that had been accidentally created
between her self and the mage.
Accidental. Yes, it must have been accidental, she
thought as she trudged along. Though the snow had been
falling only a matter of hours, it was already knee-deep.
Strong as she was, she was having some difficulty plowing
her way through the steep drifts and she could imagine the
magic-user ... in his long robes...
Shaking her head, Amberyl sighed. Well, the two
humans would stop soon. That much was certain. Wrapping
her scarf tighter about her face, covering her skin from the
biting snow, she asked herself what she intended to do when
they did stop. Would she tell the mage?
What choice do I have? she argued with herself bitterly
and, even as she asked the question, she slipped and
stumbled. There! she thought, a sickening wave of fear
convulsing her. It's beginning already, the weakness that
came from the bond. And if it was happening to her, it must
be happening to him also! Would it be worse in a human?
she wondered in sudden alarm. What if he died!
No, she would tell him tonight, she decided firmly.
Then, stopping to lean against a tree and catch her breath,
she closed her eyes.
And after you've told - then what?
"I don't know . . ." she murmured to herself brokenly.
"The gods help me. I don't know!"
So lost in her fear and inner turmoil was Amberyl that,
for a moment, she did not notice that the snow had suddenly
ceased falling, the cutting, biting wind had lessened. When
she became aware of the fact, she looked around. There
were stars, she saw, and even moonlight! Solinari shone
brightly, turning the snow silver and the white-covered
woods into a wondrous realm of the most fantastic beauty.
The woods. . . . She had crossed the boundary.
Amberyl laid her hand gently upon the trunk of the tree
against which she leaned. She could feel the life pulsing in
the bark, the magic pulsing within that life.
She was in the magical Forest of Wayreth. Though the
blizzard might rage unabated not one foot away from her,
here, within the shelter of these trees, it could be summer if
the wizards commanded it. But it wasn't. The wind, though
it had ceased its inhuman howl, still bit the flesh with teeth
of ice. The snow was piled thigh-deep in places. But at least
the storm was not permitted to vent its full fury inside the
forest. Amberyl could see now quite clearly. Solinari's light
against the snow was bright as the sun. No longer was she
stumbling in the dark, led on only by the burning
remembrance of the mage's golden eyes, his touch. ...
Sighing, Amberyl walked on until she found tracks in
the snow. It was the humans. Yes, her instincts had led her
unerringly. Not that she had ever doubted her powers. But
would they hold true in this forest? Ever since she had come
to this land, she had been hearing tales about the strange
and magical wood.
Pausing, Amberyl examined the tracks, and her fear
grew. There were two sets - one pair of footprints that went
through the deepest drifts without stopping. The other,
however, was a wide swath cut through the snow, the swath
left by a man floundering along in heavy, wet robes. In
more than one place, she could see quite clearly the marks
of hands, as though the mage had fallen. Hurrying forward,
her heart began to beat painfully when she saw that one set
of tracks - the mage's - came to an end. His brother must be
carrying him! Perhaps he ... perhaps he was . . .
No! Amberyl caught her breath, shaking her head. The
mage might be frail-looking, but there was a strength in him
greater than the finest steel blade ever forged. All this meant
was that the two must stop and find shelter, and that would
work to her advantage.
It wasn't long before she heard voices.
Dodging behind a tree, keeping within its moon-cast
shadow, Amberyl saw a tiny bit of light streaming outside
what must be a cave in the side of a cliff, a cliff that had
apparently appeared out of nowhere, for she could have
sworn she had not seen it ahead of her.
"Of course," she whispered to herself in thankful-ness,
"the mages will take care of one of their own. Do they know
I am here?" she wondered suddenly. "Would they recognize
me? Perhaps not. It has been so long, after all. . . ." Well, it
did not matter. There was little they could do. Hopefully,
they would not interfere.
"I've got to get help, Raist!" she heard the big warrior
saying as she drew near. Caramon's voice sounded tense
and anguished. "You've never been this bad! Never!"
There was silence, then Caramon's voice rose again in
answer to words Amberyl could not hear.
"I don't know! Back to the inn if I have to! All I know
is that this firewood isn't going to last until morning. You
yourself tell me not to cut the trees in this forest, and they're
wet anyway. It's stopped snowing. I'll only be gone a few
hours at most. You'll be safe here. Probably a lot safer in
these accursed woods than I will." A pause, then. "No,
Raist. This time I'm doing what I think best!"
In her mind, Amberyl could almost hear the mage's
bitter curse, and she smiled to herself. The light from the
cave was obliterated for an instant by a dark shadow -
Caramon coming out. It hesitated. Could the man be having
second thoughts? The shadow half-turned, going back into
Quickly murmuring words to herself in a language that
none on the continent of Ansalon had heard for countless
centuries, Amberyl gestured. Barely visible from where she
stood, a glimmer of firelight burst into being far off in
another part of the forest.
Catching a glimpse of it from the comer of his eye,
Caramon shouted. "Raist! There's - a fire! Someone's close
by! You stay wrapped up and . . . and warm. . . . I'll be back
The shadow merged with the darkness, then Amberyl
saw the bright glint of armor in the moonlight and heard the
heavy footsteps and labored breathing of the big man
slogging through the snow.
Amberyl smiled. "No, you won't be back very soon, my
friend," she told him silently as he passed right by the tree
where she was hiding. "Not very soon at all."
Waiting until she was certain Caramon was well off on
his pursuit of the elusive blaze that would, she knew, keep
always just beyond his reach, Amberyl drew a deep breath,
said a silent prayer to her god, and crept swiftly through the
sparkling silver snow toward the cave.
Pushing aside the blanket Caramon had strung up in a
pathetic attempt to block out the elements, Amberyl entered
the cave. It was cold, damp, and dark, being lit only by a
fire that sputtered feebly near the doorway to allow for
ventilation. Glancing at it, Amberyl shook her head. What
firewood Caramon had been able to find was wet with snow
and ice. It was a tribute to the big man's skill in woodslore
that he had been able to coax a flame from it at all. But it
wouldn't last long and there was no wood to replace it when
it was gone.
Peering into the shadows, Amberyl couldn't find the mage
at first, though she could hear his rattling breath and smell
the spicy fragrance of his spell com ponents. Then he
coughed. A bundle of clothes and blankets near the fire
moved, and Amberyl saw a thin hand snake out to clasp
hold of a steaming mug that stood near the blaze. The
fingers trembled, nearly dropping the mug. Hurriedly
kneeling by his side, Amberyl caught hold of it.
"Let me help you," she said. Not waiting for an answer,
she lifted the mug in her hand, then assisted Raistlin to sit.
"Lean on me," she offered, seeing the mage endeavoring
weakly to prop himself up.
"You're not surprised to see me, are you?" she asked.
Raistlin regarded her for a few moments with his flat,
golden eyes, then - with a bitter smile - rested his frail body
against Amberyl's as she settled down beside him. Chilled
as he was, Amberyl could feel that strange warmth emanate
from the thin body. He was tense and rigid, his breathing
labored. Raistlin lifted the mug to his lips but began to
cough again, a cough that Amberyl could feel tear at him.
Taking the mug from him, she set it down and held onto
him as he choked and gasped for breath, wrapping her arms
around him as though she would hold his body together.
Her own heart was torn, both in pity for him and his
suffering and with fear for herself. He was so weak! What if
But, finally, the spasm eased. Raistlin was able to draw
a shuddering breath and motioned for his drink. Amberyl
held it to his lips, her nose wrinkling at the foul smell.
Slowly, Raistlin sipped it. "I wondered if you would
find us here," he whispered. "I wondered if the wizards
would allow you inside the forest."
"I wondered the same myself," Amberyl said softly. "As
for me finding you" - she sighed - "if I hadn't, you would
have found me. You would have come back to me. You
couldn't help yourself."
"So that's the way it is," Raistlin said, his breathing
"That's the way it is. . . ." Amberyl murmured.
"Help me lie down," Raistlin ordered, sinking back
among his blankets. Amberyl made him as comfortable as
possible, her gaze going to the dying fire. A sudden gust of
wind blew the blanket aside. A flurry of snow hissed and
danced on the glowing embers.
"I feel myself growing strangely weak, as though my
life were being drained off," the mage said, huddling into
the wet blankets. "Is that a result of the spell?"
"Yes ... I feel it, too. And it isn't a spell," Amberyl said,
doing what she could to stir up the blaze. Coming around to
sit in front of the mage, she clasped her arms around her
legs, looking at him as intently as he stared at her.
"Take off your scarf," he whispered.
Slowly, Amberyl unwound the scarf from her face,
letting it fall about her shoulders. She shook out her snow-
wet hair, feeling drops of water spatter on her hands.
"How beautiful you - " He broke off. "What will happen
to me?" Raistlin asked abruptly. "Will I die?"
"I - I don't know," Amberyl answered reluctantly, her
gaze going to the fire. She couldn't bear to look at him. The
mage's eyes burned through her, touching something deep
inside, filling her with sweet pain. "I have . . . never heard
of this . . . happening to - to a . . . human before."
"So you are not human," Raistlin remarked.
"No, I am not," Amberyl replied, still unable to face
"You are not elven, nor any of the other races that I am
familiar with who live upon Krynn - and I tell you - What
is your name?"
"Amberyl," he said it lingeringly, as though tasting it.
She shivered again.
"I tell you, Amberyl," he repeated, "I am familiar with
all the races on Krynn."
"Wise you may be, mage," Amberyl murmured, "but
the mysteries of this world that have yet to be discovered
are as numberless as the snowflakes."
"You will not reveal your secret to me?"
Amberyl shook her glistening hair. "It is not my secret
Raistlin was silent. Amberyl did not speak either. Both
sat listening to the hissing and popping of the wood and the
whistling of the wind among the trees.
"So ... I am to die, then," Raistlin said, breaking the
silence at last. He didn't sound angry, just weary and
"No, no, no!" Amberyl cried, her eyes going to the
mage. Reaching out impulsively, she took his thin, wasted
hand in her own, cradling her cheek against it. "No," she
repeated. "Because then I would die."
Raistlin snatched his hand from hers. Propping himself
up weakly on his elbow, his golden eyes glittering, he
whispered hoarsely, "There IS a cure? You can break this . . .
"Yes," Amberyl answered without a voice, feeling the
warm blood suffuse her face.
"How?" Raistlin demanded, his hand clenching.
"First," said Amberyl, swallowing, "I - I must tell you
something about . . . about the VALIN."
"The what?" Raistlin asked quickly. Amberyl could see
his eyes flicker. Even facing death, his mind was working,
catching hold eagerly of this new information, storing it
"The VALIN. That is what it is called in our language. It
means . . ." She paused, frowning, trying to think. I suppose
the closest meaning in your language is LIFE-MATE."
The startled expression on the mage's face was so funny
that Amberyl laughed nervously. "Wait, let me explain," she
said, feeling her own face growing more and more flushed.
"For reasons of our own, in ages so far back that they are
past reckoning, my people fled this land and retreated to one
where we could live undisturbed. Our race is, as you were
able to detect, long-lived. But we are not immortal. As all
others, in order for our race to survive, we must produce
children. But there were few of us and fewer still as time
went by. The land we chose to live in is a harsh one. We
tend to be loners, living by ourselves with little interaction
even among our own kind. What you know as families are
unknown among us. We saw our race begin to dwindle, and
the elders knew that soon it must die out completely. They
were able to establish the VALIN to ensure that our young
people . . . that they . . ."
Raistlin's face had not changed expression, his eyes
continued to stare at her. But Amberyl could not continue
speaking beneath that strange, unblinking gaze.
"You chose to leave your