DRAGONLANCER TALES II
1992 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The world was forged upon three pillars: good, evil, neutrality. In
order to progress, a balance between the three must be maintained. But
there came a time in Krynn when the balance tilted. Believing himself
to be the equal to the gods in knowledge and in wisdom, the Kingpriest
of Istar sought the gods in arrogance and pride and demanded that they
do his bidding.
Having viewed with sorrow the tilting of the scales of
balance, resulting in hatred, prejudice, race divided against
race, the gods determined to restore the balance of the
world. They cast a fiery mountain upon Ansalon, then
withdrew their power, hoping those intelligent races who
dwelt upon Krynn would once again find their faith - in the
gods, in themselves, and in each other.
This catastrophe became known as the Cataclysm.
Michael Williams tells a tale of vengeance in his epic
poem, "The Word and the Silence." He and his wife, Teri,
continue the tale and turn it into a mystery, as the accused
murderer's son seeks to end the curse on his family in
"Mark of the Flame, Mark of the Word."
Matya, a very cunning trader, stumbles onto the
bargain of her life - literally - in Mark Anthony's "The
In Todd Fahnestock's story, "Seekers," a young orphan
boy embarks on a perilous journey to ask the gods a
For most people, the Cataclysm meant sorrow, death,
ruination. For the entrepreneurs in Nick O'Donohoe's
story, "No Gods, No Heroes," the Cataclysm means
Richard A. Knaak tells the tale of Rennard, known to
readers of THE LEGEND OF HUMA. Now a ghost,
doomed to torment in the Abyss, Rennard finds himself
transported back to Ansalon during the Cataclysm. Is it an
accident, or has he been brought back for a reason?
Dan Parkinson continues the adventures of the Bulp clan
of gully dwarves. Led by their valiant leader, Gorge III, the
Bulps leave Istar in search of the
find instead is certainly not what they expected, in "Ogre
Roger E. Moore reveals why Astinus never hires kender
to be scribes, in his story, "The Cobbler's Son."
A ship bound for Istar may be making its final voyage,
in Paul B. Thompson and Tonya R. Carter's story, "The
Voyage of the SUNCHASER."
Doug Niles continues the adventures of his scribe,
Foryth Teal, as that intrepid historian sets out to investigate
a priest's claim that he can perform miracles, in "The High
Priest of Halcyon."
In "True Knight," we continue the story of the cleric of
Mishakal, Brother Michael, and Nikol, daughter of a
Solamnic Knight. The two survive the Cataclysm, but now
they want answers. Their search leads them to an encounter
with the knight who, so rumor has it, could have prevented
MARGARET WEIS AND TRACY HICKMAN
THE WORD AND THE SILENCE
On Solamnia's castles
dark and unnumbered
like a year of deaths,
and dreamt on the battlements,
fixed and holy,
are the signs of the Order
Kingfisher and Rose -
Kingfisher and Rose
and a sword that is bleeding forever
over the covering mountains,
the shires perpetually damaged,
and the blade itself
is an unhealed wound,
convergence of blood and memory,
its dark rain masking
the arrangement of stars,
and below it the ravens gather.
Below it forever
the woman is telling the story,
telling it softly
as the past collapses
into a breathing light,
and I am repeating her story
then and now in a willful dusk
at the turn of the year
in the flickering halls of the keep.
The story ascends and spirals,
descends on itself
and circles through time
through effacing event
and continuing vengeance
down to the time
I am telling her telling you this.
But bent by the fire
like a doubling memory,
the woman recounts and dwells
in a dead man's story,
harsh in the ears
of his fledgling son,
who nods, and listens again, and descends
to a dodging country
of tears and remembrance,
where the memories of others
fashion his bent recollections,
assemble his father
from mirrors and smoke
and history's hearsay
twines and repeats,
and the wavering country,
Solamnia, muses and listens.
OUT ON THE PLAINS, ORESTES,
the woman is saying, OUT AMONG FIRES
WHICH THE BARD'S VOICE IGNITED
IN RUMOR AND CALUMNY,
THERE THEY ARE BURNING YOUR FATHER,
HIS NAME AND OUR BLOOD
FOREVER FROM CAERGOTH
TO HARBORING KALAMAN
AND OUT IN THE DYING
BAYS OF THE NORTH:
ALL FOR A WORD, MY SON,
A WORD MASKED AS HISTORY
SHIELDING A NEST OF ADDERS.
WITH WORDS ARE WE POISONED,
ORESTES, MY SON, she repeats
in the fragmenting darkness,
the firelight fixed
on her hair, on the ivory
glove of her hand
and the tilted goblet.
And always Orestes listened
and practiced his harp
for the journey approaching,
and the world contracted,
fierce and impermeable,
caged in the wheeling words
of his mother, caged
in a custom of deaths.
Three things are lost
in the long night of words:
the heart's long appeasement
the eye of the prophet.
But the story born
of impossible fragments
is this: that Lord Pyrrhus Alecto
light of the coast
arm of Caergoth
father to dreaming
and to vengeful Orestes
fell to the peasants
in the time of the Rending
fell in the vanguard
of his glittering armies
and over his lapsing eye
the scale of Hiddukel
riding west to the garrisoned city.
It is there that the edge
of history ends:
the rest is a song
that followed on song
the story involved
in its own devising
tied in devolving circles until
truth was a word
in the bardic night
and the husk of event
was a dim mathematics
lost in the matrix of stars.
But this is the story
as Arion told it,
Arion Corvus, Branchala's bard
the singer of mysteries
light on the wing
string of the harp.
Unhoused by the Rending,
traveling west, his map
a memory of hearth and castle,
unhoused, he sounded forever
the hymns of comet
and fire perpetual
sounded the Time of the Rending,
betrayals and uprisings
spanning the breadth of the harper's hand,
and history rode
on the harp incanting
the implausible music of breath.
His was the song I remember,
his song and my mother's retelling.
O sing the ravens
to the ears of my children,
O sing to them, Arion Stormcrow:
DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE:
PYRRHUS ALECTO, THE KNIGHT OF THE NIGHT OF BETRAYALS
FIREBRAND OF BURNING THAT CLOUDED THE STRAITS OF HYLO,
THE OIL AND ASH ON THE WATER, IGNITED COUNTRY.
FOREVER AND EVER THE VILLAGES BURN IN HIS PASSAGE,
AND THE GRAIN OF THE PEASANTRY, LIFE OF THE RAGGED ARMIES
THAT HARRIED HIM BACK TO THE KEEP OF THE CASTLE
WHERE PYRRHUS THE FIREBRINGER CANCELED THE WORLD
BENEATH THE DENIAL OF BATTLEMENTS,
WHERE HE DIED AMID STONE WITH HIS COVERING ARMIES.
FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS THE COUNTRY OF CAERGOTH
HAS BURNED AND BURNED WITH HIS EFFACING HAND,
A BARREN OF SHIRES AND HAMLETS,
AND Firebringer HISTORY HANGS ON THE PATH OF HIS NAME.
Look around you, my son
for the fire in Arion's singing:
For where in this country,
in forgotten Caergoth,
where does a single village burn?
Where does a peasant suffer
and starve by the fire of your father?
Somewhere to the east
before a white arras,
gilded with laurel
and gold adulation,
the bard sings a lie
in a listening house,
and Caergoth burns
in the world's imagining,
while the bard holds something
back from his singing,
something resembling the truth.
But let not the breath
of the fire touch your father,
Orestes, my son,
my arm in the dwindling world,
my own truth
soothed the effacing mother,
and darkly and silently
Orestes listened, the deadly harp
poised in his hand circuitous.
And the word turned to deed
and the song to a journey by night,
and the listening years
to a cloak and a borrowed name,
as the boy matured
in his mother's word,
and the harp strings droned
in the facing wind
as he rode out alone, seeking Arion.
High on the battlements
of Vingaard Keep
as the wind plunged over
the snow-covered walls,
in a dark cloak huddled,
the window below him
gabled in light,
and he muttered and listened,
his honored impatience
grown loud at the song
of the bard by the fire.
Melodiously, Arion sang
of the world's beginning,
the shape of us all
retrieved by the hands
of the gods from chaos,
the oceans inscribing
the dream of the plains,
the sun and the moons
appointing the country
with light and the passage
of summer to winter,
the bright land's corners
lovely with trees,
the leaves quick with life
with nations of kestrel
with immaculate navies of doves,
with the first plainsong
of the summer sparrow
and the song from the bard
sustaining it all,
breathing the phase
of the moon's awakening,
singing the births
and the deaths of the heroes,
all of it rising
to the ears of Orestes.
And rising beyond him
it peopled the winter stars
with a light that hovered
and stilled above him,
as nightly in song
the old constellations
resumed their imagined shapes,
breathing the fire
of the first creation
over the years to the time
that the song descends
in a rain of light
today on your shoulder
with a frail incandescence
of music and memory
and the last fading green
of a garden that never
and always invented itself.
For the bard's song
is a distant belief,
a belief in the shape of distance.
All the while as the singing
arose from the hearth and the hall,
alone in the suffering wind, Orestes
crouched and listened
beginning to sing,
his dreams of murder quiet
in the rapture of harp strings.
HIERONYMO he called himself,
HIERONYMO when down from the battlements
he came, supplanted and nameless
entering the hall
in the wake of the wind and darkness.
Arion dreamt by the fire,
and his words were a low, shaping melody:
the tongue of the flame
inclined in the hall of his breath
and the heart of the burning
was a map in the eye of Orestes,
who crouched by the hearth
and offered his harp
to his father's slanderer,
smiling and smiling
his villainous rubric,
TEACH ME YOUR SINGING, ARION, he said,
adopting the voice and the eye
of imagined Hieronymo
deep in disguises,
and none in the court
knew Alecto's son -
TEACH ME YOUR SINGING, MEMORABLE BARD,
THE LIGHT IN THE HEART OF WINTER,
SINGER OF ORIGINS, FRAMER OF HISTORY,
DRIVE MY DEAD THOUGHTS OVER THE WINTER PLAINS
LIKE WITHERED LEAVES TO QUICKEN A NEW BIRTH!
Old Arion smiled
at the boy's supplication
at the fracture of coals,
at the bright hearth's flutter
at the nothing that swirled
at the heart of the fire:
for something had passed
in his distant imagining,
dark as a wing
on the snow-settled battlements,
a step on a grave
he could only imagine
there in the warmth of the keep
where the thoughts were of song
and of music and memory,
where something still darker
was enjoining the bard
to take on the lad
who knelt in the firelight.
SOME THINGS, he said,
THE POET BRINGS FORTH.
OTHERS THE POET HOLDS BACK:
FOR WORDS AND THE SILENCE
BETWEEN THEM COMMINGLE,
DEFINING EACH OTHER
IN SPACES OF HOLINESS.
Softly the old hand
rose and descended,
the harp-handling fingers
at rest on the brow
of the bold and mysterious boy.
The apprenticeship was sealed
in Orestes's bravado,
the name of HIERONYMO
fixed to the terms of indenture,
all in the luck of an hour,
and depth of a season,
but somewhere within it
a darker invention
that sprawled in the depths
of the heart and the dwindling earth.
So masked in intention,
in a sacred name
for a year and a day
his anger to music and wind,
on the laddered wires
of a harp that the gods whispered over,
of a wandering in lore
and the cloudy geographies
tied to the fractured past,
and he dwelt by the poet
and traveled to Dargaard
to the heart of Solanthus,
to imperiled Thelgaard,
to nameless castles of memory
where the knights abided
in yearning for something
that moved in the channels of history,
redeeming the damaged blood of the rose,
while the story that Arion sang,
his back to the dream
and incredulous fire,
discovered the years
and the fading arm of the sword.
Seven songs of instruction
arose from the fire and the dreaming:
the spiral of Quen
love's first geometry
the wing of Habbakuk
brooding above the world
the circle of Solin
rash and recurrent heart
the arc of Jolith
dividing intention from deed
the white fire of Paladine
perfected song of the dragon
the prayer of Matheri
merciful grammar of thought
and the last one the high one
light of Branchala
that measures all song
in the shape of words
Alone in the margin
of darkness, Orestes
surrendered and listened
singing reluctantly, joyfully,
as the gods and the planets
and the cycle of years
devolved in a long dream of murder
and the cleansing of harp strings.
A year and a day the seasons encircled,
according to fable and ancient decrees of enchantment,
as the gnats' choir of autumn surrendered to ice
and the turn of the year approached like a death
and the listening castles mislaid under snow.
Orestes's apprenticeship led to a circle of fire,
where the harp he had mastered and the seven songs
and the fourteen modes of incalculable magic
circled him back to the night and the keep
and the wintry eyes of the bard singing memory
into flesh, into stone, into dreaming and wind,
and ARION, he said, and ARION, TELL ME OF TIME
OF THE RENDING OF KRYNN AND BETRAYALS.
The bard took the harp in the foreseen night:
for his memory darkened the edge of the past
when knowing devises the shape of creation,
and the Rending changed as he spoke of its birth
in the spiral of prophecy, the brush of its wing
on the glittering domes and spires of Istar
the swelling of moons and the stars' convergence
and voices and thunderings and lightnings and
and Arion told us that night by the hearth
that hail and fire in a downpour of blood
tumbled to earth, igniting the trees and the grass,
and the mountains were burning, and the sea became
and above and below us the heavens were scattered,
and locusts and scorpions wandered the face of the
as Arion told us, and Orestes leaned closer
and ARION, he said, and ARION, TEACH ME OF
OF THE FAMINE AND PLAGUE AND PYRRHUS ALECTO.
Arion stroked the harp and began, his white hair
cascading across the gold arm of the harp
as though he were falling through song into sleep
and the winter stilled at the touch of the string,
and he sang the last verses as hidden Orestes
reclined and remembered and listened:
DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE:
PYRRHUS ALECTO, THE KNIGHT OF THE NIGHT OF BETRAYALS
FIREBRAND OF BURNING THAT CLOUDED THE STRAITS OF
THE OIL AND ASH ON THE WATER, IGNITED COUNTRY.
FOREVER AND EVER THE VILLAGES BURN IN HIS PASSAGE,
AND THE GRAIN OF THE PEASANTRY, LIFE OF THE RAGGED ARMIES
THAT HARRIED HIM BACK TO THE KEEP OF THE CASTLE
WHERE PYRRHUS THE FIREBRINGER CANCELED THE WORLD
BENEATH THE DENIAL OF BATTLEMENTS,
WHERE HE DIED AMID STONE WITH HIS COVERING ARMIES.
FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS THE COUNTRY OF CAERGOTH
HAS BURNED AND BURNED WITH HIS EFFACING HAND,
A BARREN OF SHIRES AND HAMLETS,
AND Firebringer HISTORY HANGS ON THE PATH OF HIS NAME.
Orestes listened, as honor and song,
as blood and adoption warred in the cell of his thoughts,
his father redeemed by poison, by blade
by the song of the harp string rendered a garrotte,
closing the eloquent throat of Arion
silencing song, reclaiming his father,
and transforming Caergoth from desert to garden:
yet the hand of Orestes stilled in the arc of reprisal,
and into the night he warred and remembered,
and as I tell you this, memory wars with him still.
The mourning began when the doves circled Vingaard:
the poison had passed through the veins like imagined fires:
and alone in his quarters, the poet's apprentice
abided the funerals, settled accounts, awaited
the search of the Order through ravaged Solamnia
for rivals and villains, for the trails of assassins,
and late on the fifth night after the burning,
when the ashes had settled on Arion's pyre,
only then did Hieronymo bring forth the harp
(though some there were curious, who late in the night
had heard, or had thought they heard, the apprentice
weeping and playing the sonorous mode of the Rending),
and late on the fifth night after the burning
Hieronymo sang for the host at the Vingaard Keep
and the Rending changed as he spoke of its birth
in the spiral of prophecy, the brush of its wing
on the glittering domes and spires of Istar
the swelling of moons and the stars' convergence
and voices and thunderings and lightnings and
as Hieronymo told them that night by the hearth
that hail and fire in a downpour of blood
tumbled to earth, igniting the trees and the grass,
and the mountains were burning, and the sea became
and above and below us the heavens were scattered,
and locusts and scorpions wandered the face of the
as Hieronymo told us, and then he leaned closer
and NOW, he said, NOW, I SHALL TEACH YOU
OF THE FAMINE AND PLAGUE AND PYRRHUS ALECTO.
DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE:
PYRRHUS ALECTO, THE KNIGHT ON THE NIGHT OF BETRAYALS.
WHEN A FIREBRAND OF BURNING HAD CLOUDED THE STRAITS OF
LIKE OIL ON WATER, HE SOOTHED THE IGNITED COUNTRY.
FOREVER AND EVER THE VILLAGES LEARN HIS PASSAGE
IN THE GRAIN OF THE PEASANTRY, LIFE OF THE RAGGED ARMIES.
THEY CARRIED HIM BACK TO THE KEEP OF THE CASTLE
WHERE PYRRHUS THE LIGHTBRINGER CANCELED THE WORLD
BENEATH THE DENIAL OF BATTLEMENTS,
WHERE HE DIED AMID STONE WITH HIS HOVERING ARMIES.
FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS THE COUNTRY OF CAERGOTH
HAS TURNED AND TURNED IN HIS EMBRACING HAND,
A GARDEN OF SHIRES AND HAMLETS,
AND Lightbringer HISTORY HANGS ON THE PATH OF HIS NAME.
His duty dispatched
and the old bard murdered,
toward rescued Caergoth,
skirting the foothills,
and long were his thoughts
as he passed over Southlund,
the Garnet Mountains
red like a memory
of blood in the distance:
THERE IS NO LAW,
his hand on the harp strings,
NO RULE UNWRITTEN
THAT YOUR FATHER'S SLANDERER
CANNOT INSTRUCT YOU,
THAT THE MAN YOU MURDER
YOUR HEART CANNOT HONOR,
EVEN AS YOUR HAND
CONCOCTS THE POISON.
The landscape ahead
was diminished and natural,
no thing unforeseen
sprang from the heavens,
the waters were channeled
and empty of miracles.
SO THIS IS HISTORY,
SO THIS IS HISTORY
NOW I CAN UNDERSTAND
as the road lay before him
cut off from its making
and silenced by blood.
At the borders of Southlund
the smoke was rising,
the Arm of Caergoth
harbored incessant fire:
Orestes rode swiftly
through billows of prophecy,
the stride of his horse
confirming the dead words of Arion.
The cavalry plundering
the burgeoning fields,
approaching invulnerable Caergoth,
heeded little the ride
of a boy in their column
cloaked in the night
and in helpless mourning.
A bard, some said,
or a bard's apprentice
returned to his homeland
burning and desolate.
The captain of cavalry
turned to the weeping boy
and addressed him as soldier
as fellow and brother:
SOONER OR LATER, SING YOU THIS,
BARD OR BARD'S APPRENTICE.
FOR THE VOICE OF THE HARPER
THE MUSICIAN, THE PIPER
SHALL NO LONGER BE HEARD
IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH,
LONG KEPT FROM THE FIRE
BY THE SONG OF A POET
WHO SAID SHE WAS BURNING ALREADY:
FOR A FRESH FABLED COUNTRY
IS THE NEST OF INVASIONS,
THE QUARRY OF CAVALRY,
RIPE FOR THE SWORD AND THE FIRE.
Orestes rode forth
and the captain continued,
turning his pale horse
as a star tumbled down
from the fixed dream of heaven:
FOR THE BARD'S SONG, THEY TELL ME,
IS A DISTANT BELIEF
IN THE SHAPE OF DISTANCE.
FOR CAERGOTH WAS BURNING
WHEN SHE SAID IN HER HEART,
'I AM QUEEN, NOT A WIDOW
AND SORROW IS FAR FROM ME,
ELUSIVE AS THOUGHT
OR THE CHANGES OF MEMORY.'
SOONER OR LATER, SING YOU THIS.
And he vanished in histories
of rumor and smoke,
and sooner or later,
a bard will sing this,
in beleaguered castles
abandoned to night
and the cough of the raven.
Sooner or later,
someone will sing
of Orestes the bard,
for some things the poet
brings forth and fashions,
and others the poet holds back:
for words and the silence
between them commingle,
defining each other
in spaces of holiness.
and through them the story
ascends and spirals,
descends on itself
and circles through time
through effacing event
and continuing vengeance
down to the time
I am telling and telling you this.
MARK OF THE FLAME,
MARK OF THE WORD
Michael and Teri Williams
It began when I was fourteen, the burning, in the winter that the
fires resurged on the peninsula.
I awoke with a whirling outcry, my face awash in fire,
the blankets scattering from the bed. The dogs raced from
the cottage, stumbling, howling in outrage. Mother was
beside me in an instant, wrapped in her own blanket, her
pale hair disheveled, her eyes terror stricken.
The burning spread down my neck and back, the pain
brilliant and scoring, and I clutched at her hand, her
shoulders, and shrieked again. Mother winced and fumbled
silently, her thick fingers pressing hard, too hard, against
my scarred lips.
And then we were racing through the forest night.
The freezing rain lanced like needles against the hissing
scars on my neck and face. QUIET, MY DARLING, MY
DOVE, LEST THEY HEAR YOU IN THE VILLAGE, her
We moved over slick and glittering snow, through
juniper and AETERNA, and my breath misted and crystalized
on the heaped furs, and the dogs in the traces grumbled and
Then it was light, and I lay in a dry, vaulted cavern on a
Above me the druidess L'Indasha Yman rustled, draped in
dried leaves and holly bobs like a pageant of late autumn.
She was young for medicine, young even for divining, and I
was struck by her dark eyes and auburn hair because I was
fourteen years old and just becoming struck by such things.
She gave me the BEATHA to help with the pain, and it
tasted of smoke and barley. The burning rushed from my
scars to my throat, and then to the emptiness of my
"They've matured, the lad's scars," she said to my
mother. "Ripened." Expectantly, she turned to me, her dark
eyes riveting, awaiting our questions.
Mother's hands flickered and flashed.
"Mother wants to know . . . how long ..." I interpreted,
my voice dry and rasping.
"Always," said the druidess, brushing away the
question. "And you?" she asked. "Trugon. What would you
ask of me this time?"
She should have known it. Several seasons ago, the
scars had appeared overnight without cause, without
warning. For a year they had thickened slowly, hard as the
stone walls of our cottage, spreading until my entire body
was covered with a network of calluses. I could no longer
even tell my age. I was becoming more and more a
monstrosity, and no one could say why.
"Why. I would know why, my lady." It was always my
question. I had lost hope of her answering it.
Mother's gestures grew larger, wilder, and I would not
look at her. But when L'Indasha spoke again, my heart rose
and I listened fiercely.
"It's your father's doing," the lady said, a bunch of red
berries bright as blood against the corona of her hair.
"I have heard that much," I said, wincing as Mother
jostled me frantically. The pain drove into my shoulders,
and still I turned my eyes from her gestures. "I want all the
rest, Lady Yman. How it was his doing, and why."
The leaves crackled as the druidess stood and drifted to
the mouth of the cave. There was a bucket sitting there, no
doubt to catch rainwater, for it was half filled and glazed
with a thin shell of ice. With the palm of her hand, the
druidess broke the ice, lifted the container, and brought it
back to me, her long fingers ruddy and dripping with frigid
rain. She breathed and murmured over it for a moment.
I sat up, the heat flaring down my arms.
"Look into the cracked mirror, Trugon," she whispered,
kneeling beside me.
I brushed Mother's desperate, restraining hand from my
shoulder, and stared into the swirl of broken light.
There was a dead man. He was small. His shadow
swayed back and forth in a room of wood and stone,
dappling the floor below him with dark, then light, then
dark. His fine clothing fluttered and his hood lifted slightly.
I saw his face . . . his arms . . .
"The scars. Lady, they are like mine. Who is he?"
"Orestes," she replied, stirring the water. "Pyrrhus
Orestes. Your father, hanged with a harp string."
"And . . . WHO?" I asked, my sudden urge for
vengeance stabbing as hot as the BEATHA, as the burning.
"By his own hand, Dove," L'Indasha said. "When he
thought he could neither redeem nor . . . continue the line."
REDEEM NOR CONTINUE. It was quite confusing and
I was muddled from the potion and the hour.
L'Indasha's face reflected off the fractured ice in the
bucket: it was older, wounded, a map of lost lands. "You
weren't told. But Orestes got his desire and now the scars
Mother clutched my shoulder. The pain relented a bit.
"Continue what? Lady, 'tis a riddle."
A riddle the druidess answered, there in the vaulted
cave, as the weather outside turned colder still and colder,
on a night like those on which the fisherman claim you
could walk on ice from Caergoth across the waters to
She told me that my father, Orestes, had ridden
desperately westward as the peninsula burned at the hands
of the invaders. He rode with freebooters - with Nerakans
and the goblins from Throt, and they were rough customers,
but he passed through Caergoth unharmed. None of them
knew he was the son of Pyrrhus Alecto - "the Firebringer,"
as the songs called my grandfather.
"Why did he ... why DIDN'T he ..." I began to ask. I
was only fourteen.
The druidess understood and lifted her hand. "He was just
one, and young. And there is a harder reason. Orestes, NOT
YOUR GRANDFATHER, had brought the fires to the
peninsula. You see, he murdered his master. Your
grandmother had fostered his apprenticeship with Anon of
Coastlund. She taught him from childhood that he must
recover his father's honor at any cost. Your grandfather's
honor. So he killed Arion, that he should sing no longer of
your grandfather's shame."
Mother's grip tightened on my shoulder. I shrugged her
away yet again. Again the scars on my neck and face bit
"Then the goblins came, when they heard the new song
Orestes sang. ..."
When Orestes saw what his words had wrought, he ran.
It was at the last village seawards - Endaf, where the coast
tumbles into the Cape of Caergoth - that Orestes could
abide no more of the plunder and burning. Caergoth was in
flames behind him, and Ebrill, where the bandits first
camped, then Llun and Mercher, vanished forever in the
He was just one man, and he was young, but even so,
surely it shamed him as much as it angered him.
At Endaf he stopped and turned into the fray. He
dismounted, broke through the goblins, and joined in a
frantic attempt to rescue a woman from a burning inn.
Orestes was sent to the rooftop, or he asked to go. The
beams gave way with him, and the goblins watched and
laughed as Orestes fell into the attic, which fell around him
in turn, crashing down and up again in a rapture of fire.
But he lived. He was fire-marked, hated of men, and
they would know him by his scars henceforth. The burns
had bitten deep and his face was forever changed into a
stiffened mask of grief. A fugitive and a vagabond he was
upon Krynn, and wherever he traveled, they turned him
away. To Kaolin he went, and to Garnet, as far north as
Thelgaard Keep and south to the coast of Abanasinia. In all
places, his scars and his story arrived before him - the tale
of a bard who, with a single verse of a song, had set his
country to blaze and ruin.
He took to bride a woman from Mercher, orphaned by the
invasion and struck mute by goblin atrocity as they passed
through with their flames and long knives. Orestes spirited
her away to the woods of Lemish, where in seclusion they
lived a dozen years in narrow hope.
A dozen years, the druidess said, in which the child they
awaited never came.
That part I knew. Mother had told me when I was very
little, the soft arc of her hand assuring me how much they
had waited and planned and imagined.
That part I knew. And Mother had shared his death with
none but me. But I had never heard just how he had died.
"In despair," the Lady Yman told me, the cavern
lapsing into shadow as her brown, leafy robes blocked out
the firelight, the reflection on the ice. "Despair that his
country was burning still, and that no children of his would
extinguish the fires. He did not know about you. Your
mother had come to me, and she knew, was returning to
your cottage to tell him, joyous through the wide woods.
"She found what you've seen. Orestes could wait no
longer. Your mother brought me his note to read to her: I
HAVE KILLED ARION, AND THE BURNING WILL
NEVER STOP, it said. THE LAND IS CURSED. I AM
CURSED. MY LINE IS CURSED. I DIE."
L'Indasha reached for me as I reeled, as the room
blurred through my hot tears.
REDEEM NOR CONTINUE. I understood now, about
his anger and guilt and the terrible, wicked thing he had
done. The BEATHA raced through me, and the torchlight
surged and quickened.
"Why did you finally tell me?" I asked.
"To save your life," the lady replied. She passed her
hand above the broken water, and I saw a future where fires
arose without cause and burned unnaturally hot, and my
scars were afire, too, devouring my skin, my face, erasing
all reason and memory until the pain vanished and my life
"This ... this is what will be, Lady?"
"Perhaps." She crouched beside me, her touch cool on
my neck, its relief coursing into my face, my limbs.
"Perhaps. But the future is changeable, as is the past."
"The past?" The pain was gone now, gone entirely.
"Oh, yes, the past is changeable, Trugon," L'Indasha
claimed, passing from firelight to shadow, "for the past is
lies, and lies can always change." She was nearing the end
of the answer and the beginning of another riddle.
"But concern yourself now with the present," she
warned, and waved her hand above the troubled water.
I saw four men wading through an ice-baffled forest,
on snowshoes, their footing unsteady, armed with sword
"Bandits," L'Indasha pronounced, "bound to the service
of Finn of the Dark Hand"
I shivered. The bandit king in Endaf."
The druidess nodded. "They are looking for Pyrrhus
Orestes. Remember that only your mother and you know he
is dead. They seek him because of the renewed fires on the
peninsula. They are bent on taking your father to the beast,
for the legend now goes, and truly, I suppose, that no man
can kill a bard without dire consequence, without a curse
falling to him and to his children."
She looked at me with a sad, ironic smile.
"So the bandits are certain Orestes must die to stop the
Mother helped me to my feet.
"I ... I don't understand," I said. "It's over. He's killed
himself and brought down a curse on me."
L'Indasha waved her hand for silence. "It wasn't the
killing that cursed you. It was the words - what he said
before he died. Now you must go from here - anywhere, the
farther, the better. But not to Finn's Ear, the bandit king's
stronghold on the Caergoth shore."
"Why should I leave?" I asked. "They are after my
father, not me. I STILL don't understand."
"Your scars," she replied, emphatically, impatiently.
"The whole world will mistake you for your father, because
of the scars."
"I'll tell them who I really am!" I protested, but the
druidess only smiled.
"They won't believe you," she said. "They will see only
what they expect. Hurry now. FIND the truth about
Orestes. The finding will save your life and make the past .
. . unchangeable."
I thanked her for her healing and her oracle, and she
gave me one last gift - her knowledge.
"Although now you may regret your blood," she said,
"remember that you are the son of a bard. There is power in
all words, and in yours especially."
It was just more puzzlement.
We climbed, Mother and I, into the sled, moving
quickly over thick ice on our way back to the cottage.
Mother slept, and I guided the dogs and looked into the
cloudless skies, where Solinari and Lunitari tilted across the
heavens. Between them somewhere rode the black abscess
of Nuitari, though I could not see it.
The black moon was like the past: an absence waiting to
be filled. And looking on the skies, the four big dogs
grumbling and snorting as they drew us within sight of the
cottage, I began to understand my scars and my inheritance.
Frantically, as I gathered my clothing in the cottage,
Mother told me more: that my grandfather, Pyrrhus Alecto
was no villain. He had kept the Solamnic Oath, had fallen in
the Seventh Rebellion of Caergoth, in the two hundred and
fiftieth year since the Cataclysm. She showed me the oldest
poem, the one that Arion had taken and transformed. The
old parchment was eloquent. I read it aloud:
"Lord Pyrrhus Alecto
light of the coast
arm of Caergoth
father to dreaming
fell to the peasants
in the time of the Rending
fell in the vanguard
of his glittering armies
and over his lapsing eye
the scale of Hiddukel
riding west to the garrisoned city.
"And that was all?" I asked. "All of this trouble over a
poem?" I hated poetry.
I gave voice to her answer as she held forth rapidly, as
the words slipped from her fingers into my breath and
voice. "No, Trugon, not over that, over the other one."
She did not know the words of the other poem. She had
not even seen or heard it. It was the poem of trouble, she
insisted, crouching nervously by the door of our cottage. It
was the poem that Father . . .
She nodded, moving toward Father's old strongbox.
"Then Father lied as well as betrayed?"
Mother shook her head, brushed her hair back. She
opened the strongbox.
I knew what was inside. Three books, a penny whistle,
a damaged harp. I had never asked to see them. I hated
Mother held up one of the books.
It was the story of the times since the Rending, since
the world had opened under Istar. The work of the bard
Arion, it was, but more. It was his words and the words of
others before him: remote names like Gwion and Henricus
and Naso, out of the time when Solamnia was in confusion.
The book was battered, its leather spine scratched and
cracked. As Mother held it out to me, it opened by nature to
a page near its end, as though use and care had trained it to
fall at the same spot, to the same lines.
She gestured that the lines were in Father's hand.
Indeed, the whole book was in Father's hand, for neither
Arion nor any of the bards before him had written down
their songs and tales, preferring to pass them on to a
listening apprentice, storing their songs in the long
dreaming vaults of their memories. But Father thought he
was heirless and alone, and had written them all - every
poem and song and lay, from the edicts to the first shaking
of the city, down through the dark years unto this time. A
dozen lines or so of one verse he had worried over,
scratched out, revised, and replaced, only to go back to the
first version, to his first choice of wording.
I mouthed the lines, then read them aloud:
"DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE:
PYRRHUS ALECTO, THE KNIGHT ON THE NIGHT OF BETRAYALS.
WHEN A FIREBRAND OF BURNING HAD CLOUDED THE
STRAITS OF HYLO.
LIKE OIL ON WATER, HE SOOTHED THE IGNITED COUNTRY.
FOREVER AND EVER THE VILLAGES LEARN HIS PASSAGE
IN THE GRAIN OF THE PEASANTRY, LIFE OF THE RAGGED ARMIES.
THEY CARRIED HIM BACK TO THE KEEP OF THE CASTLE
WHERE PYRRHUS THE LIGHTBRINGER CANCELED THE WORLD
BENEATH THE DENIAL OF BATTLEMENTS,
WHERE HE DIED AMID STONE WITH HIS HOVERING ARMIES.
FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS THE COUNTRY OF CAERGOTH
HAS TURNED AND TURNED IN HIS EMBRACING HAND,
A GARDEN OF SHIRES AND HAMLETS,
AND Lightbringer HISTORY HANGS ON THE PATH OF HIS NAME."
It was as though Father had never been satisfied.
Something had drawn him to these lines again and again, as
if changing them would . . .
Would straighten the past, make it true.
" 'Tis here, Mother," I announced, so softly that at first
she did not hear, though she was staring directly at me as I
She cupped her ear, leaned forward.
" 'Tis in the poem. Or, rather, NOT in the poem."
Mother frowned. I knew she saw Orestes in me now-
poetic and full of contradictions.
I tried to be more clear about it.
"These lines Father wrote and rewrote and worked over
are... are the lie. Don't you see, Mother? The druidess said
that THE PAST IS LIES, AND LIES CAN ALWAYS
CHANGE. These are - " I thumbed through the book,
looking early and late " - these are the only lines he has
"It's as though ... he was trying to ..." I looked at
Mother. "... change the lies back to the truth."
I did not know whether that was so or not. I stepped
quietly to the strongbox and took out my father's harp, one
thick string missing, and held it for a long moment. It fit my
hand exactly and when I put it down, I could not shake
away its memory from my grasp. When I looked at Mother
again, her eyes had changed. We both knew what I would
"Yes, I MUST go, but not because they seek me. I will
go because I have to find the lost song," I announced.
"Father's words are still hiding something."
One of the dogs rumbled and rose from the shadows,
stretching and sniffing lazily in the dwindling firelight.
Then his ears perked and he gave a low, angry growl.
Mother scrambled to her feet and to the door, a
confusion of soundless sobs and flickering hands.
"I know. They're coming," I said. "I must hurry.
Finding the truth is saving my life. The druidess said so."
I stroked the ears of Mateo, the largest of the dogs, who
looked up at me solemnly, his thick shoulders pressing
against my legs until I staggered a little at the weight. I had
no thought of how small I was - how things far greater
would press against me when I stepped across the threshold
into the early winter morning.
Mother moved slowly aside as I passed into the pale
sunlight, her fingers brushing softly, mutely against my
hair. I gave her a smile and a long hug, and she assured me
of her own safety. In the sled lay an old hide bag, big
enough for the harp and the book, a loaf of bread, and a
wedge of cheese. I tossed everything in and moved off, as
quickly and silently as I could.
One of the dogs barked as I lost the cottage behind a
cluster of blue AETERNA branches, and the high wind
shivered faintly at their icicles like the vanished notes of a
song. Above the hillside nearest my home, four long
shadows fell across the trackless snow.
There were other adventures that led me back to the
peninsula - a wide arc of years and travels across the
continent, Finn's men at first only hours behind me, then
less constant, less menacing the farther south I traveled. I
sent the dogs back to Mother soon and traveled alone,
sometimes working for a while at jobs where nobody knew
me or thought they knew me, where nobody cared that I
never removed my hood.
It was a year, six seasons perhaps, before I realized
exactly what it was about the song I was searching for.
It has long been practice that when a bard travels and
sings, his songs are attended, remembered, and copied by
those in the regions nearby. If a song is a new one, it carries
to still farther regions by word of mouth, from bard to bard,
from orator to folksinger to storyteller to bard again.
It is a tangled process, and the words change sometimes
in the telling, no matter how we try to rightly remember.
The old lines from Arion's song I heard in Solamnia as
THE PRAYER OF MATHERI
MERCIFUL GRAMMAR OF THOUGHT
I had heard in the small town of Solace as
THE PRAYERS OF MATHERI
MERCY, GRANDMOTHER OF THOUGHT
and the southern lines made me laugh, distorted like
gossip in their passage across the straits.
For I had the book with me, and within it (he truth
unchangeable. As I traveled, I knew I would come to a
place when I would hear those scratched and worried lines
of my father's - the lines about Pyrrhus Alecto, about
Lightbringer and history and glory - but I would hear them
in a different version.
And I would know at last what Pyrrhus Orestes had
Across the Straits of Schallsea I once stowed away on
a ferry. The enraged ferryman discovered me under a pile
of badger hides, and he threatened to throw me overboard
for evading his fee. He relented when he pushed back my
hood and saw the scars from the burning.
"Firebringer," he snarled. "Only my fear of Branchala, of
the curse upon bard-slayers, stays my hand from your
murder." I cherished his greeting. It was the first of many
Over the grain fields of Abanasinia I wandered, in a
journey from summer to summer and threat to threat. Three
times I heard "Song of the Rending" - once from a minstrel
in Solace, again in the city of Haven from a seedy,
unraveled bard who had forgotten entire passages about the
collapse of Istar, whereby his singing lost its sense, and
finally from a blind juggler wandering the depths of the
plains, whose version was wild and comical, a better story
by far than Arion's.
The minstrel and the juggler repeated Father's altered
lines word for word. But the juggler recited them with a
curious look, as though he was remembering words contrary
to those he was speaking. Although I asked him and asked
him again about it, he would tell me nothing. Faced with his
silence, I began to believe I had imagined his discomfort,
that it was only my hope and dreaming that had expected to
find the missing lines.
And so, back across the straits I sailed, in the summer
of my sixteenth year, and again the ferryman called me
Fire-bringer, cursing me and spitting at me as he took my
On Solamnic shores once more, I started for home, but
discovered that no village would shelter me on the journey.
"Firebringer," they called me, and "Orestes the Torch,"
meeting me on the outskirts of the hamlets with torches of
their own, with stones and rakes and long peninsular knives.
Some even pursued me, shouting that the fires would
die with the one who brought them. Like the ferryman, like
Finn, they thought I was my father.
To the north lay the great Solamnic castles - Vingaard and
Dargaard, Brightblade and Thelgaard and DiCaela. Each
would take me in of a night for the sake of my grandfather.
These families would nurse me on occasion, for my scars
burned with growing intensity as the seasons turned and the
fires to the west raged and the years passed by me.
Sometimes the knights let me stay for a week, perhaps two,
but the peasants would clamor, would talk of traitors and
firebrands, and I would be asked to leave, would be
escorted from Solamnic holdings by a handful of armed
The knights would apologize there at the borders, and
tell me that their hearts were heavy for me ... that the
welfare of the order and the people took precedence . . .
that, had there been another way, they would have been
glad to ...
In all those high places, I asked after Arion's song.
Solamnia was, after all, the bard's sanctuary, the harp's
haven. All of the schooled poets had retreated to these
courts, and all knew the works of Arion of Coastlund.
I showed around the scratched and amended passage
near the poem's end. All the bards remembered it, and
remembered no other version. As I sat alone in the vaulted
hall of Vingaard Keep, my thickened hands strumming
Father's harp in the vast and echoing silence, it almost
seemed to me that the walls shuddered with my clumsy
music, the one string still and always missing.
In my seventeenth year, the peninsula had burned clear
up to Finn's own holdings.
Out of the stronghold of his lair in the seaside caverns
at Endaf, from which his horsemen could harry the trade
routes north from Abanasinia and his notorious ships, the
NUITARI and the VIPER, could find safe harbor, Finn
terrorized the cape and covered the shore with the husks of
schooners and brigantines, off course in the smoke from the
It was rumored by some that an ancient evil had returned,
in those brief years before the War of the Lance. Finn was
one of those who harbored them, the populace whispered.
For in the depths of his seaside cavern lay an intricate web
of still larger caverns, tunnel devolving on tunnel, the
darkness slick and echoing. This was the legendary Finn's
Ear, where it was supposed that all sounds muttered in
shelter of stone eventually and eternally circled and spoke.
At the heart of Finn's labyrinth was said to lay a monster,
his black scales glittering with cold malice and devouring
They said that the beast and the bandit had struck an
uneasy truce: Finn soothed the monster with the music of
well paid but exhausted bards, and, lulled by continual
song, the great creature received in turn the company of the
bandit king's uncooperative prisoners. And as to the fate of
those poor wretches, even the rumormongers were silent.
In the rough border country between Lemish and
Southlund, cooling myself in the high foothills of the
Garnet Mountains, I pondered the looming necessity of
actually going to Finn's Ear, where the bards were singing
and the caverns echoing. It was the only place I had not
searched for the song.
Hooded as always to hide my livid scars, I crossed that
border and stalked through the burning peninsula, keeping
the towers of Caergoth to the north as I traveled toward the
little villages in the west. My route took me within Finn's
own sight, had he cared to leave his rocky throne and look
west from the beetling cliffs.
For days I wandered through hot country and distant
rising smoke. I would stand outside the village pubs,
hooded and shrouded like a highwayman or a self-important
mage, and through open windows I heard the nervous talk,
the despair of farmer and villager alike.
Spontaneous fires arose in the dry grain fields, leaving
the countryside a wasteland of ash and cinder. In droves the
farmers were leaving, no longer able to fight the flames. All
this disaster, they claimed, had enraged Finn to the point
where, in the search for remedy, he had offered an
extravagant bounty to any bard or enchanter who could
extinguish the fires with song or incantation.
Hard words about a curse drifted through one of the
windows. I heard the name of my father. It lightened my
steps somehow, as I passed through the deserted village of
Ebrill in the early morning, then over the ruins of Llun and
Mercher, moving ever westward, believing now that my
quest would at last be done. Endaf was the last place Finn
would look for a far-flung quarry, and my father's name
rode on the smoky air.
It was midmorning when I reached Endaf. I wandered
the village for a while, weaving a path amid the deserted
cottages and charred huts and lean-tos, all looking like a
grim memory of a village. And it was odd walking there,
passing the old flame-gutted ruins of the inn and knowing
that somewhere in its vanished upper story my father had
received the scars I had mysteriously inherited.
I turned abruptly from the ashes. I was eighteen and
impatient, and had come very far for the truth. The old acrid
smell of Endaf faded as I walked from the ruins on a rocky
and shell-strewn path, and as I trudged west I caught the
sharp smell of salt air and heard the faint cries of gulls and
About a mile from the center of the village, Finn's Ear
burrowed into a sheer limestone cliff overlooking the Cape
of Caergoth. Black gulls perched at its edge, the gray rock
white with their guano, loud with their wailing cries.
Steps had been chopped in the steep rock face, whether
by the bandits or by a more ancient hand it was hard to tell,
given the constant assault of storm and birds. I took my
place in the middle of a rag-tag group of beggars, farmers,
bards and would-be bandits, each awaiting an audience
with King Finn of the Dark Hand.
As I waited, the bards talked around and over me in
their language of rumor. The gold thread at the hems of
cape and cloak was tattered, frayed; each wooden harp was
chipped and warped, each bronze one dented and tarnished.
No famous poets these, no Quivalen Sath or Arion of
Coastlund. They were courtiers with trained voices and a
studied adequacy for the strings. Now, in single file on the
rocky steps, each encouraged the other, thereby
Being praise-singer to a bandit king was a thankless
and shabby job, they said.
But Finn, they said, was different. Of course.
It was hard to keep from laughing. In the rationale of
such men, a bandit, a goblin, even a monster was
DIFFERENT when coin and a warm hearth were offered.
Finn, they claimed, had joined resolutely in the search
to lift a curse brought upon Caergoth and the surrounding
peninsula years ago by the fire-bringing Solamnics, Pyrrhus
Alecto and his son Pyrrhus Orestes. His search had entered
its fourth year, his seers and shamans telling him that the
curse would last "as long as Alecto's descendants lived," his
hirelings telling him always that they had just missed
catching Orestes. Desperate, Finn hoped that a
transforming hymn would lift the curse with its beauty and
The bards needled one another cynically, each asking
when they would write that certain song, make their
fortunes among the bandits. They all laughed the knowing
laughter of bards, then fell silent.
I leaned against the cold rock face, awaiting uncertain
audience. Pelicans and gulls wheeled over the breaking
tide, diving into the ardent waters as the sun settled over the
eastern spur of Ergoth, dark across the cape.
Carelessly, I touched the strings of the harp, felt in my
pockets for the poet's pen and ink. I had traveled hundreds
of miles to this stairwell, this audience. The pain of my
scars rose suddenly to a new and staggering level.
The song of the bards around me was skillful and
glittering and skeptical . . . and empty of the lines I sought.
I would have to brave the echoing caverns below Finn's
The druidess had told me that I could find the truth.
AND THE FINDING WOULD SAVE MY LIFE AND
MAKE THE PAST UNCHANGEABLE. The song had to be
here, or there was no song. And could the final pain of the
monster's acid be any worse than this perpetual burning?
"You'll have it, Father," I muttered into the dark of my
hood. "REDEEMED AND CONTINUED. The past will be
unchangeable. Whatever you have, it will be the truth. And
whatever I have, it will be better."
Finn of the Dark Hand sat in a huge chair hewn from
the cavern wall. He looked hewn from stone himself, a
sleepless giant or a weathered monument set as a sign of
warding along the rocky peninsular coast. His right hand
was gloved in black, the reason known only to himself.
Around him milled his company of bandits, rough and
scarred like burned villages. They bared their knives as they
watched the singers, smiling wickedly one to another, as
though keeping a dreadful secret unto a fast-approaching
I hovered at the mouth of the cave, listening for an hour
to the technically brilliant and lifeless songs of the bards.
They claimed to play the music for its own sake, for the
sake of the glory of song, but they all knew otherwise, for
always music serves some master.
Even Finn knew they were liars. Finn, who had held
neither harp nor flute, whose poetry was ambush and
plunder. He leaned into the eroded throne, dismissing the
pearly singer from Kalaman, the pale lad from Palanthas
and the merchant turned poet from Dargaard. Each gathered
a heel of bread for his song and turned, grumbling, eastward
toward Solamnic cities and the possibility of castles and
It was night. Bats rustled in the upper regions of the
cavern, and I remembered an old time, a winter time, a
cavern and a dry rustling sound. Two last supplicants stood
between me and the bandit: a beggar whose leg had been
damaged in a field accident, and another bard.
While the beggar begged and was given a loaf, and
while the bard sang and received a crust, I waited in the
shadow of the cave.
None of them had the song. None of them. Neither bard
nor minstrel nor poet nor troubadour. Their songs rang
thinly in the cave, echoing back to them and to us, throwing
the music into a doubling confusion.
I had come this far, and for me there was still more to
discover, more than thin music and mendicant rhymes.
When summoned, I stepped to the light, and when the
dulled eyes of the bandit king rested upon me, I threw back
"Firebringer," he rasped, and "Orestes the Torch."
As all the bandits hastened to be the one to slay me, to
end the line and the curse before the approving eye of their
leader, Finn raised his hand and stayed theirs.
"No," he rumbled. The blood of the line of Pyrrhus
should not stain the floors of this cavern. For remember the
curse. Remember the harm it might visit."
One shaman, seated by the stone foot of the throne,
nodded in agreement, beads rattling as he fondled his bone
I followed the bandit guards into the throat of the cave,
to a confusing depth where all light had vanished except the
glow of candles wedged in rocks and later only the torch
that guided us. In a great rotunda hundreds of feet below
the surface they left me, the last of the guards covering their
tracks, candle by extinguished candle, and their footsteps
echoed over each other until the cavern resounded of a
passing, vanished army.
I sat in a darkness most absolute. After only a moment,
I heard a voice.
The language was quiet, insinuating, weaving with the
fabric of my thoughts until I could no longer tell, especially
in this darkness, what words lay outside me and what
OH, TO A WANDERING EYE ... it began, a fragment
of song in the darkness.
I scrambled to my feet and lurched toward, I hoped, the
passageway. Bones clattered beneath my feet, rattled
against rotting wood and rusted strings, striking a hollow
music. Spinning blindly in the dark, I realized I had left
father's harp behind, and knew at once that I could not find
my way back to it.
A second voice caught me standing stupidly in the same
place, huddled in my cloak, expecting the fangs, the
monster's fatal poisons. At the new sound, I jumped,
flinging my pitiful knife away into the darkness, where it
clattered much too loudly against the rock wall.
"EST SULARIS OTH MITHAS ..."
And then, behind me, or what I thought was behind me,
BUILD YE THE WESTERNMOST WALL IN THREE PARTS . . .
And, beyond that, another voice, and yet
another, until I spun about dizzily, buffeted by voices, by
echoes, by wandering sound from centuries before. For not
only did the voices of Southlund and Coastlund mingle in
the darkness with a chorus of High Solamnic, but the
ancient ritual language seemed to change as I heard it,
traveling from voice to voice, each time its pronouncements
varying slightly until I realized that the last voices I had
heard were another language entirely and that I had
followed a passage of familiar words, familiar sounds, back
to a voice that was entirely alien, speaking a tongue as
remote as the Age of Might, as the distant and unattainable
I WOULD KNOW WHY, said a young man's tortured voice.
YOU CAN FIND THE TRUTH, another voice said - softer, more familiar.
AND THE FINDING WILL MAKE THE PAST. . . UNCHANGEABLE.
I followed the familiar voice of the
druidess L'Indasha Yman, my shoulder brushing against
stone and a cool liquid draft of air rushing into my face,
telling me I had found a passage ... to somewhere else.
The voices were ahead of me now, ahead and behind,
contained, I suppose, by the narrow corridor. Some shouted
at me, some whispered, some vexed me with accents
curious and thoughts fragmentary. . . .
. . . SE THE FOR DRYHTNES NAMAN DEATHES THOLDE . . .
. . . HERE ON THE PLAINS, WHERE THE WIND ERASES THOUGHT. . .
. . . OUR MEDSIYN IS A STON THAT IS NO STON, AND A THYNG IN
KENDE AND NOT DIVERSE THYNGES, OF WHOM ALL METALLES BETH
MADE . . .
. . . YOUR ONE TRUE LOVE'S A SAILING SHIP . . .
. . . DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE . . .
I stopped. In the last of the voices, somewhere behind me in
the corridor, the old words had sounded. I forgot them all -
the druidess, the erasing wind of the plains, the medicine
and bawdy songs - and turned about.
In the midst of a long recounting of herb lore I discovered
that voice again . . . the bard's intonation masking the
accents of Coastlund. I followed the northern vowels, the
rhythmic sound of the verse. . . .
And I was in another chamber, for the echo swirled
around me and over me, and I felt cold air from all quarters,
and a warmth at a great distance to my left. The voice
continued, louder and unbroken by noise and distraction,
and it finished and repeated itself as an echo resounds upon
I held my breath, fumbled for pen and ink, then
remembering the monster, sniffed the air for acid and heat.
It was indeed Arion's "Song of the Rending," echoing
over the years unto this cavern and unto my listening.
So I waited. Through the old narrations of the sins of
the Kingpriest, through the poet's account of the numerous
decrees of perfection and the Edict of Thought Control. I
waited as the song recounted the glittering domes and spires
of Istar, the swelling of moons and the stars' convergence,
and voices and thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes.
I listened as hail and fire tumbled to earth in a downpour of
blood, igniting the trees and the grass, and the mountains
were burning, and the sea became blood, and above and
below us the heavens were scattered, and locusts and
scorpions wandered the face of the planet. . . .
I waited as the voice echoed down the generations, from
one century to the next to the third since the Cataclysm,
awaiting those lines, not letting myself hope that they would
be different from the ones in the leather book in my pack, so
that when the lines came, they were like light itself.
DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE:
PYRRHUS ALECTO, THE KNIGHT OF THE NIGHT OF BETRAYALS
FIREBRAND OF BURNING THAT CLOUDED THE STRAITS OF HYLO,
THE OIL AND ASH ON THE WATER, IGNITED COUNTRY.
FOREVER AND EVER THE VILLAGES BUM IN HIS PASSAGE,
AND THE GRAIN OF THE PEASANTRY, LIFE OF THE RAGGED
THAT HARRIED HIM BACK TO THE KEEP OF THE CASTLE
WHERE PYRRHUS THE FIREBRINGER CANCELED THE WORLD
BENEATH THE DENIAL OF BATTLEMENTS,
WHERE HE DIED AMID STONE WITH HIS COVERING ARMIES.
FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS THE COUNTRY OF CAERGOTH
HAS BURNED AND BURNED WITH HIS EFFACING HAND,
A BARREN OF SHIRES AND HAMLETS,
AND Firebringer HISTORY HANGS ON THE PATH OF HIS
I sat on the cold stone floor and laughed and cried
quietly, exultantly. I waited there an hour, perhaps two, as
the "Song of the Rending" ended and began again. I
wondered briefly if this were the echo of Arion himself, if I
was hearing not only the words but the voice of the bard
my father had killed a generation back.
I decided it did not matter. All that mattered was the
truth of the words and the truth of the telling. Arion's song
had marked my grandfather as a traitor, but it had preserved
the land, for what bandit or goblin would care to invade a
fire-blasted country? Orestes's song had rescued Alecto's
name, at the price of flame and ruin and his own life. So
when Arion's song returned again, I was ready to hear it, to
commit it to memory, to wander these caves until I
recovered the light, the fresh air, the vellum or hide on
which to write the lines that would save my father's line,
It did return, and I remembered each word, with a
memory half trained in the listening, half inherited from a
father with bardic gifts. For the first time in a long while,
perhaps the first time ever, I was thankful for who he was,
and I praised the gifts Orestes had passed on to me.
And then, with a whisper that drowned out all other
voices, at once the beast spoke. It was a dragon!
So HE HAS SENT ANOTHER FROM UP IN THE
LIGHT... O MOST WELCOME . . . THE STRUGGLE IS
OVER IS OVER . . . REST THERE REST... NO
CONTINUING ... NO ... NO ...
Oh. And it seemed not at all strange now to fall to the
monster without struggle or issue, to rid myself of the
shifting past and the curse of these scars and their burning,
and to rid all above me of the land's torture . . .
So I stood there, ridiculously clutching pen and ink,
and though it was already darker than I could imagine
darkness to be, I closed my eyes, and the alien heat
engulfed me, and with it the evil smell of rust and offal and old
blood. The jaws closed quickly around me as I heard a man's voice,
saying, I HAVE KILLED ARION, AND THE BURNING
WILL NEVER STOP. THE LAND IS CURSED. I AM
CURSED. MY LINE IS CURSED. I DIE.
And then, like a last sudden gift, a woman's whisper:
THERE IS POWER IN ALL WORDS, AND IN YOURS ESPECIALLY.
It was the hot fetor that awakened me. I gasped and
coughed and closed my eyes immediately to the fierce and
I was sitting upright in very confined quarters.
Slowly I tested my surroundings, my eyes clasped
tightly against the foul biting mist. I stretched my arms, and
to each side I felt slippery leather walls.
It came to me slowly what had happened.
I sat in the dragon's stomach, like a hapless sailor at the
end of an ancient tale.
I cried out in panic and kicked against the pulsing walls,
flailing frantically, but it seemed that the great beast had
settled and fallen asleep, assured by long experience that the
dark corrosives of his stomach would do the rest.
I felt my scars hiss and bubble. The tissue was old and
thick as hide, and it would take hours for the acid to eat
through. There was a fair amount of air, though it was foul
and painful to breathe. What was left to me was the waiting.
For a while, for the space, perhaps, of a dozen
heartbeats, the absurdity of my quest rushed over me like a
harsh, seething wave. Four years of wandering across two
continents, hiding away in castles and marshes, under the
abutments of bridges and in filthy, narrowing alleys,
enduring searing pain in silence . . .
Only to come ignobly to the filthiest, narrowest end of
all, and with me the line of Pyrrhus Alecto, dissolved and
digested miles beneath our beloved peninsula. I had gone
down to the depths of the mountains, and the earth with her
bars was about me forever.
I cried out again, certain no one would hear me.
Then it seemed almost foolishly simple. For after the
weeping, the vain recollection of my hundred adventures, I
recalled the last thing I had heard:
"There is power in all words, and in yours especially."
My first purpose, many seasons past and a hundred
miles away, when I left my mother and home, had been to
discover and make known the truth about Orestes and
I had discovered. Now I must make it known. I would
salvage the truth in the last dissolving hour. And though I
assumed the words would never see light or catch a willing
eye, I brought forth quill and inkhorn, and said aloud,
canceling my father's words as he had canceled Arion's,
"The fires are extinguished. The land is free. I am alive."
Dipping the quill, I began to write blindly on the
quivering stomach walls of the dragon.
DOWN IN THE ARM OF CAERGOTH HE RODE . . .
Some men are saved by water, some by fire. I have
heard stories of happy rock slides releasing trapped miners,
of a ship and its crew passing safely through hurricanes
because the helmsman nestled the boat in the eye of the
storm, in sheer good fortune.
I am the rare one to be saved by nausea.
Credit it to the ink, perhaps, or the incessant, swift
scratching on the walls of the dragon's stomach. Whatever
it was, the fishermen skirting the coast of Endaf, the good
folk of Ergoth who drew me sputtering from the water, said
that they had never seen the likes of it on sea or land.
They said that the caverns of Finn of the Dark Hand had
exploded, the rubble toppling down the cliff face and
pouring into the circling waters of the cape, that they thought
for certain it was an earthquake or some dwarven enchanter
gone mad in the depths of the rock until they saw the black
wings surge from the central cavern, bunched and muscled
and webbed like the wings of a bat. And they told me how a
huge creature pivoted gracefully, high above the coastal
waters, plunged for the sea, and inelegantly disgorged above
the Cape of Caergoth.
It seemed a clear, sweet grace to me, lying on the deck of
their boat as they poured hot mulled wine down me and
wrapped me in blankets, their little boat turning west toward
the Ergoth shore and the safety of Eastport, a haven in that
ravaged and forbidding land.
The fishermen's attentions seemed strange, though - as
if, in some odd, indescribable way, I was one of their
fellows. It was not until we reached the port itself and I
looked into a barrel of still water that I noticed my scars had
But the memory of the burning returns, dull and heavy in
my hands, especially at night, here in this lighthouse room
overlooking the bay of Eastport. Across the water I can see
the coast of my homeland, the ruins of the bandit stronghold
at Endaf. Finn, they tell me, dissolved with two dozen of his
retainers when the dragon thundered through their chambers,
shrieking and flailing and dripping the fatal acid that is the
principal weapon of his kind.
And the creature may as well have dissolved himself. He
has not been seen since that day on the Caergoth coast. But
the same fishermen who rescued me claim that, only the
other night, a dark shadow passed across the face of the red
moon. Looking up, they saw nothing but Lunitari and a
They saw an omen in this, and now carry talismans on
board, but sailors always were a superstitious lot, fashioning
monsters out of clouds and the wind on the waters.
At night I sit by the window, by lamplight, and watch the
constellations switch and wink and vanish in this uncertain
time, and I set before me a fresh page of vellum, the lines of
each day stored in my memory. For a moment I dwell on the
edges of remembrance, recalling my mother, L'Indasha
Yman, the reluctant knights, and the fortunate fishermen.
But, foremost, I recall my father, come down to me in an
inheritance of verse and conflicting stories. It is for him, and
for Grandfather before him, and for all those who have
vanished and been wronged by the lies of the past, that I dip
the quill into the inkwell, and the pain in my hand subsides
as I begin to write . . .
On SOLAMNIA'S CASTLES
DARK AND UNNUMBERED
LIKE A YEAR OF DEATHS,
AND DREAMT ON THE BATTLEMENTS,
FIXED AND HOLY,
ARE THE SIGNS OF THE ORDER
KINGFISHER AND ROSE -
THE BARGAIN DRIVER
I'll give you the two bronze knives, the string of elven beads, and
the silver drinking horn, but that is my final offer."
"Are you mad, Matya?" the grizzled old trader said in
exasperation. He gestured to the bolt of fine cloth that lay
between them on the counter, in the center of the trading
post's one dingy, cluttered room. "Why, this was woven for
a noble lord in the city of Palanthas itself. It's worth twice
what you're offering me. Nay, thrice!"
Matya watched the trader calculatingly with her bright
brown eyes. She could always tell when she was about to
best Belek in the driving of a bargain, for his nose
invariably would begin to twitch.
"If the doth is so fine, why did the noble lord for whom
it was made not buy it?" Matya asked pointedly.
Belek mumbled some excuse, but Matya waved it away
with a ring-covered hand. "You may take my offer or leave
it, Belek. You'll not get so much as a bent nail more."
The trader sighed, a look of dismay on his haggard face.
"You're determined to drive me out of business, aren't you,
Matya?" His bulbous nose gave a violent twitch.
Matya smiled inwardly, though she did not let the trader
see her satisfaction. "It's simply business, Belek, that's all."
The trader grunted. "Aye, so it is. But I'll warn you,
Matya. One day you'll drive a bargain too cleverly for your
own good. There are some bargains that aren't worth taking,
no matter how profitable they seem."
Matya laughed at that. "You always were a sore loser,
Belek." She pushed the goods she had offered across the
counter. Belek sighed - his nose twitching furiously - and
pushed the bolt of cloth toward her. Matya spat on her palm.
Belek did likewise, and the two shook hands. The bargain
had been struck.
Matya bade Belek farewell and loaded the bolt of cloth
into her wagon outside the ramshackle trading post. The
wagon was a colorful, if somewhat road-worn, affair - a
wooden box on wheels, painted in countless bright but
peeling hues. Hitched in front was a single dun-colored
donkey with patient eyes and extraordinarily long ears.
Matya's wagon was filled nearly to overflowing with all
manner of wares, both mundane and curious: pots and pans,
cloaks and boots, arrows and axes, flints, knives, and even a
sword or two, plus countless other objects she had bought,
haggled for, or - most of the time - scavenged. Traveling
from town to town, trading and striking bargains, was how
Matya made her living. And it was not a bad one at that.
Like the wagon, Matya herself was a bit worn with the
years. Her long hair, coiled in a thick braid atop her head,
had been flaxen, but now was ash gray. Countless days of
sun and wind had tanned and toughened her ruddy cheeks.
Fine wrinkles touched the comers of her eyes and mouth,
more from smiling than frowning, and so were attractive.
And, like the wagon, Matya was clad in a motley collection
of clothes representing all colors of the rainbow, from her
ocean-blue skirt to her sunflower-yellow shirt and forest-
green vest speckled with tiny red flowers. Her willowy,
figure had plumped out, but there was still an air of beauty
about her, of the simplest and most comforting kind - when
her nut-brown eyes weren't flashing fire, that is.
"Let's be on our way, Rabbit," Matya told the donkey as
she climbed onto the wagon's wooden bench. "If we hurry,
we can reach Garnet by nightfall. There's a merchant there
who's an even worse haggler than Belek." The donkey gave
a snort that sounded uncannily like laughter.
Matya tied a bright red kerchief over her graying hair and
grasped the wagon's reins in her strong, thick fingers. She
whistled sharply, and Rabbit started off at a trot down the
dusty highway, pulling the gaudily colored wagon behind.
It was midafternoon when she saw the ravens circling
lazily against the azure sky not far in the distance. Matya
knew well what the dark birds portended: Death ahead.
"Keep those ears up, Rabbit," she told the donkey as the
wagon jounced down the heavily rutted road. "There's
danger on the road these days."
Matya watched warily as the serene, rolling hills
slipped by. Autumn had touched the land with its frosty
hand, coloring the plains of southern Solamnia in a hundred
shades of russet and gold. The honey-colored sunlight was
warm and drowsy, but Matya resisted the temptation to
doze, as she might have done otherwise. The land was
beautiful, but beauty could conceal danger. She remained
wide awake and alert.
The wagon crested a low rise. Below her, the road split,
and it was here the ravens circled. The highway continued
on to the north, and a second road led east, toward the dim
purple range of mountains marching on the horizon.
Scattered about the dusty crossroads were several queer,
twisted objects. A raven dived down and pecked at one of
the objects before flapping again into the air, and only then
did Matya realize what the strange things were: corpses,
lying still in the dirt of the road.
She counted five of them as Rabbit - eyeing the dead
nervously - pulled the wagon to the crossroads. Matya
climbed down and knelt to examine one of the bodies, an
older man's, dressed in neat but threadbare attire. A crudely
made arrow with black fletching protruded from its throat.
"Goblins," Matya said in disgust. She had heard rumors
that the verminous creatures were creeping down from the
high places of the mountains of late to waylay travelers. By
her guess, these had been pilgrims, making for Caergoth, to
the south, to visit the temples of the new gods there.
"They found their gods sooner than they thought," Matya
muttered. She spoke a brief prayer to speed the dead on
their journey, then began rummaging about the bodies,
seeing if any of them carried something that might be worth
trading. After all, the dead had no use for objects of value.
Matya, on the other hand, did.
After several minutes, however, she gave up in disgust.
Like most pilgrims, these owned little more than the clothes
on their backs. She would not have scorned even these, but
they were threadbare and stained with blood. All she had
got for her trouble was a single copper coin, and a bent one
"There's nothing for us here," Matya told Rabbit as she
climbed back into the wagon. "Let's be on our way. Men
riding out from Garnet will find these folk soon enough and
lay them to rest - hopefully dead with the goblins."
Rabbit let out a low bray and started into a trot, anxious
to be away from the crossroads and the smell of blood.
Matya guided the donkey down the east road, but after a
hundred paces or so she pulled hard on the reins, bringing
the wagon again to a halt.
"Now what on the face of Krynn is that?" Matya asked
herself. Something glinted brightly among the nettles and
witchgrass to the side of the road. She started to ignore it,
flick the reins, and continue on - the hour was growing late -
but curiosity got the better of her. She slid from the wagon's
bench, pushed through the weeds, and headed toward the
glimmer she had seen. The nettles scratched at her ankles,
but in a moment Matya forgot the sting.
"Why, 'tis a knight 1" she gasped aloud, staring at the
man who lay, unmoving, in the weeds at her feet.
The man was clad in armor of beaten steel, but his
visage was more that of a shiftless vagabond than a noble
knight. His eyes were deeply set, his features thin and
careworn, and the mouse-brown moustache that drooped
over his mouth was coarse and scraggly.
Whether he was, in truth, a knight or a looter in stolen
armor, it didn't much matter now, Matya thought. His hair
was matted with blood, and his skin was ashen with the
pallor of death. She said the familiar words to appease the
spirit of the dead, then knelt beside the corpse.
The steel armor alone would be worth a fortune, but it
was terribly heavy, and Matya was not entirely certain she
would be able to remove it. However, the knight wore a
leather purse at his belt, and that boded well for Matya's
fortunes. Deftly, she undid the strings, peered inside, and
gasped in wonder.
A woman's face gazed out of the purse at her. The tiny
face was so lifelike that, for a moment, Matya almost
fancied it was real - a small, perfect maiden hidden within
"Why, it's a doll," she realized after a heartbeat had
The doll was exquisitely made, fashioned of delicate
bone-white porcelain. The young maiden's eyes were two
glowing sapphires, and her cheeks and lips were touched
with a blush of pink. It was a treasure fit for a lord's house,
and Matya's eyes glimmered like gems themselves as she
reached to lift it from the purse.
A hand gripped her arm, halting her. Matya froze, biting
her lip to stifle a scream. It was the dead man. His fingers,
sticky with dried blood, dug into the flesh of her arm, and
he gazed at her with pale, fey eyes.
The knight was very much alive.
"Tambor . . ." the knight whispered. He lay slumped
against the wheel of Matya's wagon, his eyes shut. "She
sings . . . Tambor . . ." His mumbling faded, and he drifted
deeper into a feverish sleep.
Matya sat near the small fire, sipping a cup of rose hip
tea and watching the knight carefully. Twilight had
descended on the grove of aspen trees where she had made
camp, transforming all the colors of the world to muted
shades of gray.
Tambor, Matya thought. There's that word again. She had
heard it several times in the knight's fevered rambling, but
she did not know what it meant, or even whether it was the
name of a place or a person. Whatever it was, it was
important to him. As important as that doll, she thought.
Even now, in his sleep, the knight clutched tightly at the
purse that held the small porcelain figurine. It had to be
While Matya was not one to go out of her way to help
others when it was unclear what - if any - reward she might
gain from it, neither was she without a heart. The knight
would have died had she left him there by the road, and she
would not have wanted that weighing on her conscience to
the end of her days. Besides, she suspected there was a good
chance the knight would die regardless of her aid, in which
case the doll would be hers, free and clear. Either way, it
was worth her while to help.
Getting the knight into her wagon had been no simple
task. Fortunately, Matya was a strong woman, and the
knight had roused himself enough to stumble most of the
way with her help. She had hoped to make Garnet by
nightfall, but she had tarried too long at the crossroads.
Shadows were lengthening, and the town still lay many
leagues ahead. Knowing night was not far off, fearful of
Rabbit stumbling into a hole or missing the trail in the dark,
she had made camp in the grove of aspen by the road.
She had tended to the knight's wounds as best she
could. The cut on his scalp was shallow, but he had lost a
good deal of blood from it. More troubling had been the
wound in the knight's leg. She had found the broken shaft of
an arrow embedded in the flesh behind his knee. Goblin
arrows were wickedly barbed, Matya knew, and there was
only one way for her to remove the arrow tip. Steeling her
will, she had pushed the broken shaft completely through
the flesh of his leg. Mercifully, the knight had not
awakened. Blood flowed freely from the wound, which she
had deftly bound with a dean cloth. The bleeding soon
The night deepened, and the stars came out, one by one,
like tiny jewels in the sky above. Matya sat by the fire to eat
a supper of dried fruit, nuts, and bread, regarding the
knight's sleeping form thoughtfully through the back of the
If he still lived when she reached Garnet the next day, she
would leave him at one of the monasteries dedicated to the
new gods - if the brethren would accept a Solamnic Knight
into their sanctuary, she amended. There were many who
frowned upon the Knights of Solamnia these days. Matya
had heard tales that told how, long ago, the knights had
been men of greatness and honor, who had protected all
Solamnia against creatures like goblins. Matya, however,
was not certain she believed such tales.
Most Solamnic Knights she had ever heard of were
little more than fools who expected others to be impressed
simply because they wore ridiculous suits of rusting armor.
Some folk even said it was the knights themselves who
brought about the Cataclysm, the fiery destruction that had
rained down upon the face of Krynn more than half a
century ago, bringing an end to the Age of Might.
"Not that I think the Cataclysm was really such a
terrible thing," Matya said to herself. "I daresay I wouldn't
make as good a living as I do if these self-important knights
still patrolled the highways. And while times may be hard,
it only means that people will spend more dearly for the sort
of things I can bring them in my wagon. If anything, the
Cataclysm has been good for business, and that's all that
matters to me."
With a start, Matya realized that the knight had heard
her talking, was watching her. His eyes were pale, almost
"To whom do I owe my life?" he asked her.
Matya stared at him in surprise. Despite his unlikely
looks, the knight's voice was resonant, deep and almost
musical, like the sound of a hunting horn.
"My name is Matya," she said briskly, recovering her
wits. "And as for what you owe me, we can discuss that
The knight inclined his head politely. "I am Trevarre, of
the House of Navarre," he said in his noble voice. "For your
assistance, I thank you, but if it is a reward you seek, I fear
we must discuss it now, not later." He gripped the wagon's
side and tried to pull himself up, heedless of his injuries.
"What are you doing?" Matya cried.
"Leaving," Trevarre said. A crooked smile touched his
lips, and determination shone in his deep-set eyes. "You
have been more than kind, Matya, but I have traveled day
and night to reach the end of my journey. I cannot stop, not
"Why, you knights are greater fools than the tales say,"
Matya said angrily, hands on her hips. "You'll only kill
"So be it," Trevarre said, shrugging as if this prospect
did not disturb him. He grimaced, breathing hard, as he slid
from the wagon and balanced on his good leg. "I must go
on" He took a step onto his injured leg. His face went white
with pain. He groaned and slumped to the ground.
Matya clucked her tongue, helped him sit back up
against the wagon wheel. "I don't think you're going
anywhere, except to a monastery in Garnet - or the grave, if
you try that again" She poured a cup of water from a
goatskin and handed it to him. The knight nodded in thanks
and drank it down.
"You do not understand, Matya," Trevarre said, an
intent look on his weathered face. "I must journey to
Tambor. I have received a plea for help. I cannot refuse it."
Matya scowled. "Why ever not?"
Trevarre sighed, stroking his scraggly moustache. "I do
not know if I can make you understand this, but I will try. I
am a Knight of the Sword, Matya." He rested his hand
against his steel breastplate, decorated with the symbol of
the sword. "This means I cannot live my life as other men
do. Instead, I must live by another, higher standard - by the
Oath and the Measure. It is written in the Measure that
there is honor in aiding those who cry out in need. And, by
the Oath, I swore that my honor is my life. I will fulfill my
quest, Matya." A faint light glimmered in his pale eyes. "Or
"And what reward will you get for performing this
'honorable' task?" Matya asked with a scowl.
"My honor is reward enough."
Matya sniffed. "This 'Oath and Measure' hardly sounds
practical. It's rather difficult to eat one's honor when one
gets hungry." She paused a moment. Her real interest was in
the doll, but she couldn't think of how to ask about it
without rousing the knight's suspicion. Maybe, if she could
keep him talking about himself, he'd tell her what she
wanted to know. "And how is it you came to hear this plea
for help, Knight? How do you know it's not simply a trick
to lure you into a den of robbers?"
"I know." The crooked smile touched Trevarre's lips
once again. "By this, I know." He slipped the porcelain doll
from the leather pouch.
Matya was thrilled. She had not thought to get another
glimpse so easily. Seeing it closely now, Matya realized the
doll was even more beautiful than she had thought. She
clasped her hands behind her back so she would not be
tempted to reach out and touch its smooth surface.
"Passing fair, would you not say?" Trevarre said softly.
Matya could only nod. "It is a most remarkable thing. I
came upon it some days ago, by the banks of a stream that
flows from the mountains. It lay in a small boat woven of
rushes, caught in a snag by the shore." He slipped the
figurine back into its pouch. "By it, I learned of a maiden
who lives in a village called Tambor. She is in dire need.
The code of the Measure is most clear on this. I must go to
Matya raised an eyebrow. It was a peculiar tale. She
guessed Trevarre had stolen the doll and simply was
making up the story. After all, he looked more like a thief
than a knight, despite his armor. If so, stolen goods were
fair game. Ask any trader.
"How is it you learned of this maiden?" she asked,
hoping to trip him in his lie. "Was there a message in the
"No," the knight replied, "not as you mean, at least.
You see, the doll is magical. Each night, when Solinari
rises, the doll speaks with the maiden's voice. That is how I
heard her call for help."
Matya laughed aloud, slapping her knee. "A wondrous
tale indeed, Trevarre, but I believe you have taken up the
wrong vocation. You should be a storyteller, not a knight."
Trevarre's expression became grave, serious. "You
must know, Matya, that on his life a Knight of Solamnia
cannot speak falsehood. I can understand why you do not
trust in magic. We knights do not think much of sorcerous
powers either. But wait until Solinari is on the rise. Perhaps
you will change your mind."
Matya studied the knight attentively. His was not
exactly a trustworthy face, despite his pretty voice. Still,
there was something about the intentness of his pale eyes.
"Perhaps I won't," she said.
It was nearly midnight. The knight had slipped into a
doze, less fitfully this time, and Matya rummaged through a
wooden box in the back of her wagon. The light of a single
candle illuminated scrolls and parchments. Finally, she
found what she was searching for - a bundle of yellowed
sheets of vellum.
Matya untied the bundle's silken ribbon and unrolled
the sheets, spreading them out on the lid of the box. They
were maps, rendered in fading ink. A kender had given
them to Matya some years ago in exchange for a silver
knife. It had proved to be one of the few unprofitable trades
Matya had ever made. She soon had learned that the maps
contained many mistakes. They showed land where there
were seas, mountains where there were deserts, and
populous cities in which no one lived. She should have
known better than to trust a kender. They were little
tricksters, all of them. Still, poor as the maps were, they
were the only maps she had, and she was curious about
She shuffled through the maps until she found one that
had SOLAMNIA written on the top. The mountains were
missing, and the map showed Caergoth to be an inland city,
while Matya knew very well that it stood on the coast.
Some features had been added to the map in a bold,
scrawling hand, and Matya suspected these were the
kender's own additions. Among other things, the kender's
scrawls showed the highways leading to Garnet and
Caergoth, and the crossroads as well.
"Now where is it?" Matya muttered, running a finger over
the yellowed, cracking vellum. "It has to be here." Then she
found what she sought. Written in small, faded letters was
the word TAMBOR. By the markings on the map, the
village of Tambor was no more than ten miles north and
east of the crossroads. "But that would put it in the foothills
of the mountains, though this map shows southern Solamnia
to be nothing but plains," she added in disgust.
The kender had written something beside the spot
marked TAMBOR. She had to squint to make out the
scrawling words. They read, DEESTROYD IN
KATAKLISM. Matya mumbled an oath under her breath.
If this was true, then the village the knight sought had
been destroyed more than fifty years ago. So much for his
plea for help! A liar, as she'd suspected. She didn't know
why that hurt her.
Trevarre called out. Matya hastily put away the maps.
She found the knight still sitting by the wagon wheel. The
porcelain doll stood on the ground before him.
"It is almost time," he said, nodding toward the west. A
pearly glow had touched the distant horizon. Solinari, the
largest of Krynn's three moons, soon would rise.
Matya sat on a fallen log near the knight, eyes on the
doll. While she did not believe Trevarre's story, she was
curious to see what he would do when the doll failed to
"Wait," Trevarre said softly. "Just wait."
Matya sighed, resting her chin on a hand, and waited.
This was rapidly growing tedious. Finally, a thin, silvery
sliver of Solinari lifted above the far-off horizon.
The doll began to sing.
Matya stared at the porcelain statuette in shock. The
maiden's lips moved. A sweet, wordless song drifted upon
the night air. There was no doubt but that the song came
from the doll.
Matya shot a look at Trevarre. The knight's pale eyes
were triumphant. The song continued, a sad melody that
tugged at Matya's heart. Finally the sweet music ended, and
the doll spoke.
"Please, come to me, whoever finds me," it said, its
voice cool and lilting but filled with sorrow as well. "I beg
you. Come to the village of Tambor. I need help
Solinari lifted full above the horizon, and the doll fell
silent. Matya's eyes glimmered as she stared at it calculatingly.
"An enchanted doll!" she said to herself. "Why, it is worth
a king's ransom."
"Do you believe my tale now?" Trevarre asked, a slight
smile beneath his mousy moustache.
Matya nodded. "I believe you." She was glad to believe
in him, too, but she didn't tell him that.
"I have something to ask of you," the knight said. "It
appears my legs are set on betraying me. I cannot journey to
Tambor on foot, but your wagon could carry me. Take me
there, Matya. Take me to Tambor, please."
"And what would I gain for my trouble?" Matya asked
Trevarre reached inside the collar of his woolen cloak
and undid the clasp. He held it out to her. "Will this do?"
The clasp was fashioned of finely wrought silver, inlaid
with pearl and lapis lazuli. Matya appraised it with a
practiced eye. The jewel obviously was quite valuable. By
any measure, the trade would be a good one, but it was not
"Give me the doll as well," Matya said crisply, "then I
will take you to Tambor."
Trevarre gazed at her for a long moment, but Matya did
not so much as blink. Finally he laughed. "You drive a hard
bargain, I see. It appears I have little choice but to accept.
Very well, I will give you the doll - but only after we reach
"Agreed," Matya said, her eyes flashing. She took the
jeweled clasp from his outstretched hand and spirited it
away to a pocket in her dress. 1 will keep this as assurance."
She knew that Trevarre likely would be distressed when he
found Tambor in ruins and his quest proved a folly.
However, if he was a man of honor, he would keep his
word. The doll would be Matya's. I'll take you to Tambor,
She spat in her hand and held it out. Trevarre looked at
her in puzzlement for a moment, then nodded solemnly and
did the same. They shook hands firmly. The bargain had
Matya and the knight set out with the dawn, traveling
east down the road to Garnet. The mountains loomed high
before them, like great gray giants. Their summits were
already dusted with a coating of snow, bespeaking the
winter that soon would blanket the rest of Solamnia.
Matya studied the kender's map as Rabbit plodded on,
pulling the wagon along the jouncing road. The map was
terribly faded and crumbled a bit each time she touched it,
but Matya could make out the line of a faint road leading
south from the place marked Tambor. If the kender had
drawn in the highway to Garnet at all accurately, they
ought to reach the road to Tambor sometime around midmorning.
"'Two giants point the way,'" Trevarre said. Matya
looked questioningly at the knight, who was propped up on
the bench beside her. "That was the sign the doll spoke of
that would guide me to the village," he explained. "I
imagine it means two mountains, or some such thing."
"You were going to try to find the village with
directions like that?" Matya asked.
Trevarre only shrugged.
"Humph!" Matya snorted. "If this maiden of yours was
going to all this trouble to get rescued, she might have
given you dearer instructions."
Before Trevarre could reply, one of the wheels hit a
deep rut, and he winced as the wagon lurched roughly. He
was in better shape today than he'd been the night before,
but his face was still pale, and the roughness of the wagon's
ride obviously was causing him pain. He did not complain,
Midmorning passed and noon approached, and still
Matya saw no sign of a road leading north from the
highway. Finally she pulled on the reins, and Rabbit came
to a halt. "It's time for a rest," she said.
She fastened a feedbag over Rabbit's muzzle, then found
food for herself and Trevarre. A jumble of massive, oddly
shaped granite boulders, warmed by the sun, lay next to the
road. The two sat on these as they ate a meal of cheese,
bread, and dried fruit. When they had finished, Matya
checked Trevarre's bandages. "Your hands are gentle,
though your tongue is sharp," said the knight, smiling at
her. Matya blushed, but ignored him and nodded in
satisfaction. The knight's wounds had closed, and none of
them showed signs of festering.
"We had best be on our way," she said, eyeing the sun,
which now shone directly overhead. She helped Trevarre
stand, offered him her shoulder to lean on. He smelled of
oiled steel and leather, not an unpleasant scent, she thought,
as the two started making their way back to the wagon.
Suddenly Matya froze.
"What is it?" Trevarre asked, looking quickly about in
"No," Matya whispered. "No, it's a face."
She pointed to the boulder Trevarre had been sitting on.
They had not noticed it earlier, because the shadows had
obscured it, but with the sun directly overhead, Matya now
saw it as plain as day. The boulder was carved in the face of
The carving was weathered and cracked - it must have
been ancient - but Matya still could make out the proud,
kingly features, the aquiline nose, and deep, moss-filled
eyes. Looking around, she saw that other overgrown
boulders were parts of a man - one shaped like a hand,
another like a shoulder, still another like a boot.
"It is a statue," Trevarre said in amazement, "a gigantic
statue. It must have fallen over years ago, by the looks of it,
probably in the Cataclysm."
"Wait, there are two of them," Matya said, pointing to
another broken boulder, which was carved in the form of a
"The two giants," Trevarre said. "It seems the maiden's
directions were not so inadequate after all."
The road beyond the ruined statues was all but hidden
by a tangle of willows and brambles. Matya doubted that
anyone had come this way in a long time. The way was
passable but overgrown and rutted. Trevarre winced each
time the wagon's wheel hit a bump, but he said nothing.
"He has courage, if not sense," Matya told herself. She
glanced at him, and for a brief moment her hard expression
softened. She found herself wondering just how. old
Trevarre was. He was not a young man, she suspected,
despite his foolhardiness.
The narrow road wound across the rolling foothills,
over grassy knolls and through groves of aspen and fir. In
places the trail was so faint Matya could hardly see it, and
several times it ended abruptly, only to be found continuing
a hundred paces to the left or right. It was almost as if the
land itself had shifted beneath the road, breaking it into
As the hills slipped away to either side, Matya began to
feel a growing sense of unease. The land around them was
strangely silent. There are no birds here, she realized with a
start, here where the meadows should have been filled with
It was late in the afternoon, and the amber sunlight had
grown heavy and dull, when the wagon crested a low ridge.
Below lay a small, grassy dell, and in its center stood -
"Tambor," Trevarre said triumphantly.
Matya shook her head in astonishment. She had
expected to see a pile of ruins in the dell, the burned-out
husks of a few cottages perhaps, and some crumbling stone
walls. Instead she saw a prosperous village. More than a
score of well-tended cottages lined a main street, busy with
people, horses, chickens, and dogs. Smoke rose from a low
stone building - probably a smithy - and a mill's waterwheel
turned slowly in a small stream.
"You have kept your end of the bargain, Matya,"
Trevarre said solemnly. "Now it is my turn." He handed her
the leather pouch that contained the doll. Matya gripped the
purse with numb hands.
The kender had been wrong, she told herself, that was
all. Tambor had NOT been destroyed in the Cataclysm.
Matya didn't know why she was surprised. Still, there was
something about this that did not seem entirely right.
"What is such a prosperous village doing at the end of
such an overgrown road?" she asked herself, but she had no
answer. Not that it mattered. She had the doll now. That
was all she cared about.
"I can walk the rest of the way," Trevarre said, starting
to climb down from the wagon, but Matya stayed him with
a hand on his arm.
"I know it's hard, but try not to be a fool, Knight. I'll
take you into the village. I'll need to stay here anyway. It's
growing late. I'll set out again in the morning."
Matya guided the wagon to the banks of the stream. A
small stone bridge arched over the clear, flowing water. A
young woman stood on the far side of the stream. She was
clad in a gown of flowing white, and her hair was as dark
as jet. She was beautiful, as beautiful as the porcelain doll.
"My knight, you have come to me!" the woman cried
out. Her voice was the doll's sweet voice. Matya thought
this odd, disconcerting, but it didn't bother Trevarre. His
pale eyes shining, he slipped from the wagon and limped
across the stone bridge, ignoring the pain of his injury. He
knelt before the young woman and kissed her fine-boned
Matya scowled. He never kissed my hand, she thought
"I am Ciri," said the sweet voice. "Welcome, Sir
Knight. My deliverance is at hand."
Ciri led Trevarre and Matya around the edge of the
village. "Quickly," she said softly. "The fewer the folk who
see us, the better."
Matya wondered why, but it wasn't HER place to ask.
Trevarre tried to walk faster, but it was clear his wounded
leg was causing him great pain. Ciri laid a fine hand on his
elbow, and the grimace eased from the knight's face. He
walked more easily with her hand on his arm. Matya
noticed that Trevarre seemed to have taken more than a
passing interest in Ciri's lovely face. "I'll warrant he's more
interested in her looks than his honor," she muttered,
suddenly annoyed for no particular reason.
As they walked, Matya looked at the village in the ruddy
light of the setting sun. Nothing appeared out of order, but
something was not right. You're tired, Matya, that's all, she
told herself. Tomorrow you'll ride into Garnet and leave this
knight and his foolishness behind. That thought should have
made her feel better, but it didn't.
Ciri led them to a small, thatch-roofed cottage standing
slightly apart from the others. She looked about to make
certain no one was watching, then opened the door,
gesturing for Trevarre and Matya to enter.
The cottage was warm and neatly kept. A fire burned on
the fieldstone hearth, and the wooden floor had been
scrubbed clean. Ciri bade them sit down. She filled a
wooden cup with crimson wine for each of them. Matya
raised the cup of wine, then set it down without drinking it.
It had a funny smell to it. Trevarre, however, drank deeply,
thanking the woman for her hospitality - all politeness, as
his Measure called for, Matya supposed with a frown.
"And now, my lady, you must tell me why you have
called to me," Trevarre said. Ciri smiled at him, a sweet,
sorrowful smile. "And I hope your reason is a good one,"
Matya noted, crossing her arms. "It was no mean feat
getting this knight here, I'll tell you"
Ciri turned her gaze toward Matya for a moment, and
suddenly her smile was neither sweet nor sorrowful. 'Tor
that, I do thank you, my good woman," Ciri said. Matya
could not mistake the coldness in Ciri's otherwise lovely
voice. It was clear that Matya's presence had not been
expected; neither was it wanted.
Ciri's gaze turned soft again as she regarded the knight.
Matya scowled, but she said nothing. If the young woman
feared competition for the knight's attention, then she was
as much a fool as Trevarre. There was little room in a
bargain driver's life for love. Such fancies dulled the sharp
edge Matya depended on for her livelihood. Besides, there
was nothing about the knight she liked, even if his pale eyes
were strangely attractive and his voice DID remind her of a
The gloom of twilight descended outside the cottage's
window. Ciri began her tale. "I fear the fate that lies before
me is dark, my knight. A terrible wizard - my uncle - means
to force me to marry him, against all propriety and my own
wishes. He is a mage of great power, feared by all the folk
of Tambor, and even beyond. He is away now, gathering
components for his magecraft, but when he returns, he will
compel me to wed. You have arrived none too soon, my
"Well, why don't you simply run away?" Matya asked.
Ciri gave her another chill look. "I fear it is not so simple.
You see, my uncle dabbles in the BLACK ARTS, heedless
of the peril to his soul. He has cast an enchantment upon
me. I am unable to leave the village. The banks of the
stream are as far as I may tread. Should I take but one step
beyond, I would perish."
"But what of your father?" Trevarre asked. "Will he not
protect you from your barbarous uncle?"
Ciri shook her head sadly. "My father and mother both
died many years ago. There is no one here to protect me.
That was why I wove the boat of rushes and sent the doll
down the waters of the stream, hoping someone might find
it and hear my plea"
"How does the doll speak with your voice?" Matya
asked, not caring if she aroused more of Ciri's displeasure.
"It was but the echo of my voice," Ciri explained, her
eyes on the knight. "The doll is a magical thing. My rather
brought it all the way from Palanthas for me when I was a
child. If you speak to it, or sing it a song, it will echo your
words back to you with the rising moon, exactly as you
Matya's eyes glittered brightly. This was better and
better. The doll would be almost beyond price. ALMOST,
that is. Matya always had a price.
"And how can I break this grievous enchantment?"
Trevarre asked earnestly. He was good at this knightly
business, Matya had to admit, despite his sorry looks. Ciri
stood and walked to the window, gazed through it sadly a
moment, then turned to the knight.
"There, in the center of the village, stands a shrine. In that
shrine is an altar carved of marble. The altar is the focus of
all my uncle's dark powers. I know, for I have seen him
work his wicked spells there. From it, he draws his strength.
But the magic of the doll has the power to counter it. If one
who is strong of heart sets the doll upon the altar of his own
free will, the enchantment will be broken."
"And what will happen to the doll?" Matya asked
"Its magic will be dissipated," Ciri answered. "It will
become an ordinary doll and nothing more."
She walked to Trevarre then, and he rose to meet her.
She laid a hand gently upon his breastplate. Matya could
see the pulse beating rapidly in the man's throat. It was
clear Trevarre was not immune to Ciri's bewitching beauty.
Another weakness of knights, Matya thought acidly. Not
that she cared one way or the other, she reminded herself.
"Will you do this task for me, my knight?" Ciri
pleaded. "I cannot break the enchantment with my own
hand, and there is none in the village brave enough to defy
my uncle. Will you help me?"
Trevarre sighed and glanced at Matya. "I would, with
all my heart, that I could do this thing, my lady, but I fear I
cannot. You see, I have given Matya the doll in payment
for bringing me to this place. On my honor, I cannot ask
her for it back"
Ciri's face twitched. She shot Matya a look so filled
with malice that Matya shivered. Then, aware of the
knight's eyes on her, Ciri's sweet, sorrowful look had
returned to her lovely face. She bowed her head.
"Then I am doomed, my knight."
"No," he said, with a fierce smile. "No, I cannot think
that. I am no sorcerer, but I expect there is another - albeit
cruder - way to free you." His hand moved to the hilt of the
sword at his hip. "I will stand before your uncle when he
returns, and I will demand a duel. The enchantment will be
broken when your uncle lies dead at my feet. Won't that
solve your problem, my lady?"
Ciri sighed. "My knight, you are indeed brave," she
murmured. "So very brave."
Matya noticed, however, that Ciri did not answer
Matya awoke in the gray light before dawn. Ciri had
provided her a bed. Trevarre slept soundly on a bed of furs
before the cottage's hearth. Matya looked around the
cottage, but Ciri was nowhere to be seen.
Just as well, Matya thought. This way she would not
have to bid the strange young woman good-bye.
Matya knelt beside the sleeping knight before she left.
His careworn face was peaceful in slumber, his brow
"I hope you find your honor truly reward enough,
Knight," she whispered softly. She hesitated a moment, then
reached out a hand, as if to smooth his mouse-brown hair
over the bandage on his head. He stirred, and she pulled her
hand back. Quietly, Matya slipped from the cottage.
"Trevarre has what he wants," she reminded herself,
"and so do I."
The ruddy orb of the sun crested the dim purple
mountains to the east as Matya made her way through the
village. A few folk already were up at this hour, but they
paid her no heed as they went about their business. Once
again, Matya had the feeling there was something peculiar
about this village, but she could not quite fathom what it
was. She hurried on toward her wagon and the restless
Then it struck her.
"The shadows are all wrong!" she said aloud.
Her own shadow stretched long before her in the low
morning sunlight, but hers was the only shadow that looked
like it was supposed to look. The shadow cast by a two-
story cottage to her left was short and lumpy - much shorter
than she would have expected for a building so high. She
looked all around the village and saw more examples of the
same. Nowhere did the outline of a shadow match that of
the object that cast it. Even more disturbing were the
villagers themselves. None of them cast shadows at all!
Her sense of unease growing, Matya gathered up her
skirts and hurried onto the stone bridge. She suddenly
wanted to be away from this troubling place. She was nearly
across the bridge when something - she was unsure exactly
what - compelled her to cast one last glance over her
shoulder. Abruptly she froze, clapping a hand over her
mouth to stifle a cry.
The village had changed.
Well-tended cottages were nothing more than broken,
burned stone foundations. The smithy was a pile of rubble,
and there was no trace of the mill except for the rotted
remains of the waterwheel, slumped by the bank of the
stream, looking like the twisted web of some enormous
spider. There were no people, no horses, no dogs, no
chickens. The dell was bare. The dark ground was hard and
cracked, as if it had been baked in a furnace.
Matya's heart lurched. She ran a few, hesitant steps
back across the bridge, toward the village, and she gasped
again. Tambor looked as it had before, the villagers going
about their business. Blue smoke rose from a score of stone
Perhaps I imagined it, she thought, but she knew that
wasn't true. Slowly, she turned her back to the village once
more and walked across the bridge. She looked out of the
comer of her eye and again saw the jumbled ruins and
blackened earth behind her. Slowly, she began to
Tambor HAD been destroyed in the Cataclysm. The
people, the bustling village, were images of what had been
long ago. It was all illusion. Except the illusion was
imperfect, Matya realized. It appeared only when she
traveled TOWARD the village, not AWAY from it. But how
did the illusion come to exist in the first place?
Resolutely, Matya walked back across the bridge. She
found that, if she concentrated, the illusion of the bustling
village would waver and grow transparent before her eyes,
and she could see the blackened ruins beneath. She walked
to the center of the village, toward the single standing stone
of pitted black basalt. This was the shrine of which Ciri had
spoken. At the base of the standing stone was an altar, but it
was not hewn of marble, as Ciri had claimed. The altar was
built of human skulls, cemented together with mud. They
grinned at Matya, staring at her with their dark, hollow
"Did you really think I would allow you to leave with the
doll?" Ciri spoke behind her in a voice cool and sweet.
Startled, Matya turned around. She half expected to see
that Ciri had changed like the rest of the village. The
woman was as lovely as ever, but there was a hard, deadly
light in her sapphire-blue eyes.
Ciri gazed at Matya, then understanding flickered
across her face. "Ah, you see the village for what it is, don't
Matya nodded silently, unable to speak.
Ciri shrugged. "It is just as well. It makes things easier.
I'm glad you know, in fact."
"What do you want from me?" Matya asked.
"To strike a bargain with you, Matya. Isn't that what you
like to do above all things?"
Matya's eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.
"You have something I want very much," Ciri said
"The doll," Matya said, eyeing the woman.
"You see, Matya, despite the illusions I have used to
mask the appearance of the village, much of what I told you
last night was the truth. An enchantment does prevent me
from leaving the village, and only the doll can break it."
"How is it you came to be here in the first place?"
"I have always been here," Ciri said in her crystalline
voice. "I am old, Matya, far older than you. You see me
now as I was the day the Cataclysm struck the face of
Krynn, more than half a century ago."
Matya stared at her in shock and disbelief, but Ciri did
"By my magic, I saw the coming of the Cataclysm. I
prepared an enchantment to protect myself from it." A
distant look touched her cold eyes, and her smile grew as
sharp and cruel as a knife. "Oh, the others begged at my
door for me to protect them as well. The same wretches
who had mocked my magic before wanted me to save them,
but I turned my back on them. I wove my magic about
myself, and I watched all of them perish in agony as the rain
of fire began." Ciri's face was exultant, her fine hands
clenched into fists.
Matya watched her with calculating eyes. "Something
went wrong, didn't it?"
"Yes," Ciri hissed angrily. "Yes, something went
wrong!" She paused, recovered her composure. "I could not
have foreseen it. The power of the Cataclysm twisted my
magic. The enchantment protected me, as I commanded, but
it also cursed me to remain here alone in this ruined town,
not aging, not changing, and never able to leave."
Matya shuddered. Despite herself, she could not help
but pity this evil woman.
"I want to be free of this place - I WILL be free of this
place," Ciri said, "and for that I need the doll."
Matya was no longer afraid. Magic was Ciri's element,
but bargaining was Matya's own. "And what would you
give me in exchange for the doll?" she asked. "It is worth a
lot to me."
"I made that one, and once I am free I will have the
power to make more," Ciri replied. "I will fashion you a
dozen such dolls, Matya. No one in Ansalon will be
wealthier than you. All you have to do is give the doll to
Trevarre. HE wants more than anything to rescue me, to
preserve his precious HONOR". She said this last word with
a sneer. "He will place the doll upon the altar, and I will be
free. And so will you. I swear it, by Nuitari."
"And what will happen to Trevarre?" Matya asked, as if
she didn't much care.
Ciri shrugged. "What does it matter? You and I will
have what we want."
"I'm curious, that's all," Matya said, shrugging.
"You'll find out anyway, I suppose," Ciri replied. "He
will take my place in the enchantment. He will be
imprisoned within Tambor even as I am now. He will not
suffer, however. I will see to it that HIS soul is destroyed.
The empty husk of his body will dwell here until the end of
all days." Ciri arched her eyebrow. "Are you satisfied?"
Matya nodded, her expression unchanging. "I'll need to
think this bargain over."
"Very well," Ciri said, annoyed, "but be swift about it. I
grow tired of waiting. Oh, and if you are thinking of
warning the knight, go ahead. He won't believe you." The
enchantress turned and stalked away, vanishing among the
ruins of the village.
Matya retrieved the leather pouch with the doll from its
hiding place in her wagon and tied it to her belt. She sat for
a time on the wagon's bench, alone with her thoughts, then
finally made her way back to Ciri's cottage. Like all the
others, this building was in ruins. The roof was gone, and
two of the walls had fallen into a jumble of broken stone.
Trevarre had risen and was in the process of adjusting
the straps of his ornate armor. He looked up in surprise.
"Matya. I did not hear you open the door."
Matya bit her tongue to keep from telling him there
WAS no door.
"Have you seen Ciri this morning?" he asked. He ran a
hand through his lank brown hair.
"I saw her out in the village," Matya said, afraid to say
"Is something wrong, Matya?" Trevarre asked her,
Matya's hand crept to the leather purse. She could have
everything she had ever wanted, if she just gave Trevarre
the doll. He would take it. She knew he would. As unlikely
as Trevarre looked on the outside, the heart that beat in his
chest was a knight's, true and pure. He would break the
enchantment, and Ciri would be free. She had sworn her
oath by Nuitari - a vow no sorcerer could break. Matya
would be rich beyond her dreams. It would be the greatest
bargain Matya had ever struck.
Her hand reached into the pouch, brushing the smooth
porcelain. "I wanted to tell you . . ." She swallowed and
started over. "I just wanted to tell you, Trevarre . . "
"Go on," he said in his resonant voice, his pale eyes
regarding her seriously.
Matya saw kindness in his gaze, and, for one brief
moment, she almost imagined she saw something more -
Matya sighed. She could not do it. How could she live
with herself, knowing it was she who had silenced
Trevarre's noble voice forever? She could strike a bargain
for anything - anything but another's life. Belek had been
right. There were some bargains that weren't worth making.
"There IS something wrong," Matya blurted. "Something
terribly wrong." She told Trevarre of her conversation with
Ciri. "You see, we must leave - now!"
The knight shook his head.
"She is evil!" Matya protested.
"I cannot believe it, Matya."
"What?" she said in shock. Although Ciri had warned
her, Matya still was shocked. She had given up the greatest
bargain of her life, and now he claimed that he didn't
believe her? "But what reason would I have to lie to you,
Trevarre? Has her loveliness made a slave of you already?"
Her voice was bitter.
He held up a hand. "I did not say that I do not believe
you, Matya. I said that I cannot. I cannot believe evil of
another without proof." He sighed and paced about the
ruined cottage, which to his eyes still looked warm and
hospitable. "How can I explain it to you, Matya? It has to do
with the Measure I swore to uphold. Ciri sent out a plea for
help, and I have answered it. Yes, she is lovely, but that is
hardly the reason I cannot heed your warnings, Matya. She
has shown me nothing but courtesy. To leave without aiding
her would be a grave dishonor. And you know - "
"Yes, I know," Matya said harshly. " 'Your honor is
your life.' But what if she tried to harm you?"
"That would be different. Then I would know she is
evil. But she has not. Nothing has changed. I will help her
break the enchantment that keeps her here in this village if it
is at all in my power to do so."
Trevarre fastened his sword belt about his waist and
walked to the door of the ruined cottage. Before he stepped
outside, he laid a gentle hand upon Matya's arm. "I doubt
that it matters to you," he said hesitantly in his clear voice,
"but, to my eyes, you are every bit as lovely."
Before Matya could so much as open her mouth in
surprise, Trevarre was gone.
Matya stood in silence for a long moment, then muttered
angrily under her breath, "The Solamnic Knights aren't
fools. They're idiots!" She stamped out of the open doorway
Ciri was waiting for her.
"Do you have an answer for me, Matya?" Ciri asked in
her lilting voice.
Trevarre stood before the enchantress, the wind blowing
his cloak out behind him. He would not raise a hand against
her, Matya knew. What happened next was going to have to
be up to her.
"The answer is no, Ciri," Matya said calmly. "I won't
accept your bargain."
Ciri's eyes flashed, and the wind caught her dark hair,
flinging it wildly about her head. Anger touched her lovely
face. Trevarre, startled, fell back before her fury.
"That is a foolish decision, Matya," Ciri said, all pretext
of sweetness gone from her voice. "I will find another who
will break the enchantment for me. I'll have the doll back!
You both will die!"
The enchantress spread her arms wide, and the wind
whipped about. Dry dust stung Matya's face. Trevarre
looked around, shock on his face. The illusion had
vanished. The evil-looking ruins were laid bare and
Ciri spoke several strange, guttural words. Instantly the
swirling wind was filled with dead tree limbs and dry,
brown leaves. As Matya watched, the broken branches and
leaves began to clump together, growing denser, taking
"Trevarre, look out!" Matya cried out in terror.
The dead, brittle branches and dumps of rotting leaves
had taken the shape of a man. The tree creature was huge,
towering over the knight. It reached out a bark-covered arm
that ended in splintery claws. Its gigantic maw displayed
row upon row of jagged, thorny teeth.
Trevarre drew his sword, barely in time to block the
creature's swing. Branches and splinters flew in all
directions, but the knight stumbled beneath the blow. His
face blanched with pain; his wounded leg buckled beneath
him. He was too weak to fight such a monster, Matya
realized. One more blow and he would fall. Ciri watched
the battle with a look of cruel pleasure on her face. The tree
monster roared again, drawing back its arm for another
Matya drew the doll from the leather pouch and stared
at it. She hesitated for a moment, but the sight of Trevarre -
standing before the monster, his face grim and unafraid -
steeled her resolve. Regretfully, she bade her dreams of
wealth farewell. . . and hurled the doll at the altar.
Too late Ciri saw Matya's intent. The enchantress
shrieked in rage and reached out to catch the doll. Her
fingers closed on thin air.
The figurine struck the altar and shattered into a
thousand pale shards - dirty, broken bones. The wind died
as suddenly as it had started. The tree monster shuddered
and collapsed into a pile of inanimate wood and leaves.
Trevarre stumbled backward, leaning on his sword to keep
from falling. His face was ashen, his breathing hard.
"What have you done?" Ciri shrieked, her sapphire-blue
eyes wide with astonishment and horror.
"I've given you what you wanted," Matya cried.
"You're free now, Ciri. Just let Trevarre go. That's all I
Ciri shook her head, but her lips moved wordlessly
now. She took a few steps toward Matya, each one slower
than the last. Her movements had become strangely halting,
as if she were walking through water, not air. The
enchantress reached out a hand, but whether the gesture
was one of fury or supplication, Matya did not know.
Suddenly, Ciri shuddered and stood motionless. For a
moment, the figure of the enchantress stood there among
the ruins, as pale and perfect as a porcelain doll. Her eyes
glimmered like clear, soulless gems.
Then, even as Matya watched, a fine crack traced its
way across the smooth surface of Ciri's lovely face. More
cracks spread from it, snaking their way across Ciri's
cheeks, her throat, her arms. As if she had been fashioned
of porcelain herself, Ciri crumbled into a mound of
countless fragments, a heap of yellowed bones - all that
was left of the enchantress.
The doves were singing their evening song when the
gaudily painted wagon bounced past the fallen remains of
the gigantic statues and turned eastward down the road,
heading toward the town of Garnet. Matya and Trevarre
had traveled in silence most of the way from the ruined
village of Tambor. The knight, still recovering from his
wounds, had slept the better part of the day. Matya was
content to occupy herself with her thoughts.
"You gave up your dreams to help me, didn't you,
Matya?" Trevarre asked.
Matya turned her head to see that the knight was
awake, stroking his mousy brown moustache thoughtfully.
"And what reward do you have to show for it?"
"Why, I have this," Matya said, gesturing to the
jeweled clasp she had pinned to her collar. "Besides, I can
always find new dreams. And I am certainly not ready to
give up bargaining. I'll make my fortune yet, you'll see."
Trevarre laughed, a sound like music. "I have no doubt
They were silent for a time, but then Matya spoke
softly. "You would do the same again, wouldn't you, if you
heard a call for help?"
Trevarre shrugged. "The Measure is not something I
can follow only when it suits me. It is my life, Matya, for
good or ill. It is what I am."
Matya nodded, as if this confirmed something for her.
"The tales are right then. The Knights of Solamnia ARE
little better than fools." She smiled mischievously. "But
there's one more bargain that must be struck."
"Which is?" Trevarre asked, raising an eyebrow.
"What are you going to give me in return for taking
you to Garnet?" Matya asked slyly.
"I'll give you five gold pieces," Trevarre said flatly.
"I'll not take less than fifty!" Matya replied, indignant.
"Fifty? Why, that's highway robbery," Trevarre
"All right," Matya said briskly. "I'm in a kindly mood,
so I'll make it twenty, but not one copper less."
Trevarre stroked his moustache
thoughtfully. "Very well. I will accept
your offer, Matya, but on one condition."
"Which is?" Matya asked, skeptical.
A smile touched Trevarre's lips. "You must allow
me this." He took Matya's hand, brought it
to his lips, and kissed it.
The bargain had been struck.
Gylar Radilan, of Lader's Knoll, set his mother's hand back onto her
chest, over the rumpled blanket. It was done then. Gylar wasn't sure
whether to be relieved or to crumple into the corner and cry. Finally,
though, it was done. Stepping back, he fell into the chair he'd put by
her bed, the chair he'd sat upon all night while holding her hand.
His head bowed for a moment as he thought about the
past few days. The Silent Death had swept through the
entire village, killing everyone. It had been impossible to
detect its coming. There were no early symptoms. One
minute, people were laughing and playing - like Lutha, the
girl he had known - and the next, they were in bed,
complaining weakly of the icy cold they felt, but burning to
the touch. Their skin darkened to a ghastly purple as they
coughed up thicker and thicker phlegm, and in a few hours
their bodies locked up as with rigor mortis.
Poor Lutha. Gylar swallowed and sniffed back tears.
She'd been the first one, the one who had brought about the
downfall of the village. Gylar could remember going with
her into the new marsh, the marsh that hadn't been there
before the world shook. People had told their children
repeatedly not to go in. They said it had all sorts of evils in
it, but that had never stopped Lutha. She'd never listened to
her parents much, and once she got something into her
head, there was no balking her. She'd had to know about
their tree, his and her tree.
Now she was dead. Now everyone was dead. Everyone,
of course, except Gylar. For some reason, he hadn't been
affected, or at least not yet. His parents had seemed to be
immune as well, until the day they collapsed in their beds,
Gylar rose and crossed the room. He looked out the
window to the new day that was shining its light across the
hazy horizon and sifting down over the trees skirting the
new marsh. He clenched his teeth as a tear finally fell from
his eye. If it hadn't been for the marsh, none of this would
have happened! Lutha never would have brought the evil
back with her, and everyone would be okay. But, no, the
gods had thrown the fiery mountain. They'd cracked the
earth, and the warm water had come up from below, and
with it whatever had killed the town.
Gylar banged his small hand on the windowsill. Why
did they do it? The villagers all had been good people.
Paladine had been their patron; Gylar's mother had been
meticulously devoted to her god, teaching Gylar to be the
same. She had loved Paladine, more than anyone in the
village. Even after the Cataclysm, when everyone else
turned from the gods in scorn and hatred, Gylar's mother
continued her evening prayers with increasing earnestness.
What did she, of all people, do to deserve such punishment?
What did any of them do to deserve it? Was everyone on
Krynn going to die, then? Was that it?
Gylar was young, but he wasn't stupid. He'd heard his
parents talking about all the other awful things now
happening to people who'd survived the tremors and floods.
Didn't the gods care about mortals anymore?
Caught up in a slam of emotions, Gylar turned and ran
from the house. He ran to the edge of the new bog and
yelled up at the sky in his rage.
"Why? If you hate us so much, why'd you even make us
in the first place?"
Gylar collapsed to his knees with a sob. Why? It was
the only thing he could really think of to ask. It all hinged
on that. Why the Cataclysm? How could humans have been
evil enough to deserve this? How could anyone?
For a long moment he just slumped there, as though
some unseen chain were dragging at his neck, joining the
one already pulling at his heart. Gylar sniffled a little and
ran his forearm quickly across his nose.
Stumbling to his feet, he looked at the sky again.
Clouds were rolling in to obscure the sun, threatening a
storm. Gylar sighed. Although he had nowhere else to go,
he didn't want to stay in this place of death. His eyes swept
over Mount Phineous. The towering mountain still looked
over-poweringly out of place, like a sentinel sent by the
gods to watch over the low, hilly country. The top fourth of
it was swept by clouds. Another result of the Cataclysm, the
mountain seemed a counterpart of the new swamp. Brutal
and imposing, powerful, the towering rock was the opposite
of the silent, sneaky swamp of death.
His fatigue overcame his sadness and revulsion, at least
for the moment. Slowly, he made his way back to the house,
back to the dead house. Stopping in the doorway, Gylar
turned around to look at the land that was growing cold with
winter. It was likely going to snow today.
He turned and slammed the door shut behind him. It
didn't matter. Nothing much mattered anymore. His limbs
dragged at him heavily. Sleep, he thought, that's all. Sleep,
then, when I wake up - if I wake up - I'll figure out what to
So, for the first time in three days, Gylar slept.
Eyes focused on his prey, Marakion stilled his
breathing, though a haze of white drifted slowly from his
mouth. The scruffy man before him leaned heavily against
the tree, huffing frosty air as he tried to recover from the
run. Although exhausted, the man never once turned his
fearful eyes from Marakion.
"A merry chase, my friend," Marakion said in a voice
that was anything but merry. "Tell me what I wish to know.
This will end."
The man stared in disbelief. Marakion was barely winded.
The man gulped another breath and answered frantically, "I
told you! I never heard of no 'Knight-killer Marauders!'"
Marakion hovered over the thief, his eyes black and
impenetrable, his lip twitching, barely holding his rage in
check. The bare blade of his sword glimmered dully.
"Knightsbane Marauders," he rumbled in a low voice. The
scruffy man quivered under the smoldering anger. "You are
a brigand, just like them. You must know of them. Tell me
where they are."
"I told you!" The thief cringed against the tree. "I don't
In brutal silence, Marakion let loose his pent up rage.
One instant his sword, Glint, was at his side, and the next,
the flat of it smashed into the man's neck. The thief was so
surprised by the attack that he barely had time to blink. The
strike sent him reeling. Two more clubbing strokes dropped
him to the frosty earth, unconscious.
"Then you live," Marakion said, breathing a bit harder.
Leaning down, he searched the body thoroughly for the
insignia that gave his life burning purpose.
There was none to be found.
Furiously disappointed, he left the useless thug where
he lay and headed for the road.
The town that had been his destination before the small
band of ruffians had attacked him lay ahead. He had
searched all of the towns and outlying areas east of here,
only to come up empty-handed, forever empty-handed. But
this desolate area showed promise. Marakion was sure the
marauders were here. They had to be. During the last few
days, he'd come across numerous wretches like the one he'd
just felled. None of them belonged to the Knightsbane, but
their presence might be a sign that he was getting close to
It wasn't long before sparse trees gave way to a huge,
rolling meadow. On its edge stood a squat, dirty little town.
Marakion didn't even look twice at the ramshackle
buildings, the muddy, unkempt road, the muck-choked
stream. The sight of people living in such squalor was not
unusual to him, not unusual at all. In fact, this place was
better than some he'd seen.
The few people he saw as he followed the road to town
gave him quick, furtive glances from beneath ragged,
threadbare cowls. Marakion ignored them, made his way to
the first tavern he could spot.
He didn't even read the name as he entered. It didn't
matter to him where he was, and the names only depressed
him - new names, cynically indicative of the time, such as
"The Cataclysm's Hope," or old names, which the owners
hadn't bothered to change. Those were even worse, sporting
a cheerful concept of a world gone forever, their signs
dangling crookedly from broken chains or loose nails.
Marakion opened the door; it sagged on its hinges once
freed of the doorjamb. He pushed it shut, blocking out the
inner voice that continued to remind him how worthless life
was if everything was like this.
Marakion turned and surveyed the room, walked
forward to the bar that lined the far wall.
The innkeeper had smiled as Marakion had entered, but
now blanched nervously at sight of the hunter's stony face,
the dark, deliberate gaze.
"Uh, what can I do for you, stranger?"
"What do you have to eat this day, innkeep?"
"Fairly thick stew tonight. Mutton, if you've the
"Sure, stranger, fairly fresh, if you've the wealth."
Marakion did not return the man's feeble attempts to be
friendly. "A chunk of fresh bread and the stew." He tossed a
few coins on the bar. "I'll be at that table over there."
The innkeeper scooped the coins off the counter in one
movement. "I'm Griffort. You need anything, I'm the man to
talk to. I don't suppose you'll be staying for the night. Got a
couple of rooms open - "
"One room," Marakion interrupted, "for the night." He
left a stark pause in the air and waited.
"Uh, um, another of those coins'll do it," the unnerved
Marakion paid the man and made his way to the table he'd
indicated. As he sat down, he touched his money pouch.
Not much left. A filthy inn, rotten food, a room likely
crawling with rats, and costing him as much as a night in
Palanthas - that was the type of world he was living in now.
The type of world he lived in now . . . Marakion put his
fingers to his face and massaged his eyes gently. He
couldn't make the memories go away. Even if he blocked
the images, the essence of them still came to him. He
couldn't seem to shut that out. It infected his every thought,
his every action.
He relaxed, and his muscles began to unknot from the
day's exercise. He could feel the pull of exhaustion on him.
His fingers continued to massage closed eyelids, and the
inn slowly drifted from his attention.
WHERE IS SHE, MARAKION? A familiar voice asked
the question again inside his head.
"I don't know. Nearby somewhere. I don't know," he
THAT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH, MARAKION.
WHERE IS SHE? WHERE?
"I'm looking, trying to find her!"
NOT GOOD ENOUGH, MARAKION. THERE CAN BE
NO EXCUSES. THEY'LL KILL HER, YOU KNOW. EVERY
DAY YOU FAIL TO FIND THEM IS ANOTHER DAY
THEY COULD KILL HER, OR USE HER.
"I know. I'll find them. If I have to rip apart this entire
continent. I will."
The accusing voice drifted away, to be replaced by the
vision that haunted his nights when he slept and his waking
hours whenever he lost the concentration that kept it at bay.
FIRE. FIRE AND SMOKE. THE FLAMES LICKED
THE TOP OF THE TOWER WINDOWS. THE SMOKE
SPIRALED UP FROM EVERY PART OF THE CASTLE,
BLACKENING THE SKY. DESPAIR WRENCHED AT
MARAKION'S HEART. HE HAD RETURNED HOME IN
TIME TO SEE IT FALL TO THE HANDS OF A
PILLAGING GROUP OF BRIGANDS.
HIS HORSE SLIPPED ON THE COBBLESTONES THAT
LED INTO THE CASTLE. HE YANKED BRUTALLY ON
THE REINS, PULLING THE GALLOPING ANIMAL TO A
STOP. THE HORSE ALMOST STUMBLED TO ITS
KNEES. MARAKION LEAPT FROM ITS BACK AND
RACED INTO THE CASTLE GARDENS. THEY WERE
TRAMPLED, DESTROYED, BURNED.
"MARISSA!" HE SHOUTED ABOVE THE
CRACKLING FLAMES AND TEARING, RENDING
SOUNDS OF DESTRUCTION THAT CAME FROM
WITHIN THE CASTLE PROPER. "TAGOR! BESS!" HE
WAS ACROSS THE GARDEN IN A HEARTBEAT AND
RAN THROUGH THE ENTRYWAY. THE GREAT
DOUBLE DOORS LAY BROKEN AND SCATTERED ON
THE FLOOR. THE HUGE FOYER WAS DESTROYED, A
SHAMBLES, A MOCKERY OF ITS ORIGINAL
GRANDEUR. ONE SCRUFFY-BEARDED RUFFIAN
STOOD GUARD AT THE ENTRANCE.
THE MARAUDER CHARGED. HE HAD
DETERMINATION AND PURPOSE IN HIS EYES;
MARAKION HAD MURDER. RAGE FUELED MARAKION'S
SWORD ARM, FEAR FOR HIS FAMILY
INFUSING HIS BODY WITH UNCANNY SPEED. HE
SMASHED THE INVADER'S SWORD ASIDE AND
DELIVERED A VICIOUS RETURN STROKE AT THE
THE MARAUDER DUCKED UNDER THE
POWERFUL ATTACK AND SLIPPED A CUT AT
MARAKION'S MIDRIFF. MARAKION PARRIED,
STEPPED INSIDE THE INVADER'S GUARD, AND RAN
THE INVADER FELL AND GASPED AS HIS LIFE
SEEPED AWAY. MARAKION PUT HIS FOOT ON THE
MAN'S CHEST AND KICKED VIOLENTLY, FREEING HIS
BLADE. THE DYING MAN'S SCREAMS ENDED BY THE
TIME MARAKION REACHED THE TOP OF THE LEFT-
MARAKION RACED TO HIS YOUNGER SISTER'S
ROOM, THE FIRST ROOM ON THE SECOND LEVEL.
SHE WAS NOT THERE, BUT, AS WITH THE FOYER,
HER ROOM WAS CAST INTO DISARRAY - BOOKS
THROWN ON THE FLOOR, THE BED A SMOLDERING
PILE OF BURNED SHEETS, STRAW, AND WOOD. NEXT
TO THE BURNING MASS LAY A PIECE OF CLOTH. HE
RECOGNIZED IT, GRABBED IT: A SCRAP OF HER
DRESS, THE LAVENDER DRESS SHE ALWAYS WORE
FOR HIS HOMECOMING. A SPATTERING OF BLOOD
TAINTED THE REMNANT.
"MARISSA!" HE YELLED IN IMPOTENT RAGE. HIS
SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD SISTER, HIS BEST FRIEND, SO
BRIGHT, SO ALIVE . . . MARAKION UTTERED A
STRANGLED CRY, CLUTCHED THE CLOTH IN HIS
FIST. . . .
Sir . . . ?
"Sir, are you asleep?"
Marakion started awake as the hand touched him. He
was disoriented, thought he was still there, still back at his
burned and devastated home. His hand reacted to the touch
with the quickness of a snake. Snatching the thin wrist, he
held it tightly. There was a gasp of pain. Marakion stared
hard, trying to focus his eyes.
The eyes of the woman were wide, and she was frozen
where she stood.
Marakion's harsh stare did not relent, but his grip lost
some of its steel. No, not Marissa, a barmaid, just a
"What?" he asked shortly, releasing the woman's wrist.
Her hair was a dirty red, and as unkempt as the plain,
rumpled brown dress she wore.
She appraised him coolly with shrewish eyes. "Griffort
wants to know if you want pepper in your stew."
"Fine," Marakion said, "that's fine."
"I'll tell him," she said curtly, and left.
Marakion slowly withdrew something from his tunic.
Unfolding it, he laid the piece of lavender cloth out in front
of him. It was worn, faded; dark brown spots stained it.
Closing his eyes, Marakion pressed the cloth against his
"Marissa. . . ."
The following morning dawned cold and unpleasant. It
was snowing. As Marakion shouldered his pack and tied on
his cloak, he stared out the window in his room and thought
that today would be the day he found the marauders. Today
would be the day he found where the scum holed up.
Griffort was wiping down the bar, looked up to see him.
"Morning, sir," he said. "Breakfast for you today? I
might be able to scrape together some eggs, if you've the
wealth for 'em."
"No. I'm leaving."
Griffort nodded. "Which way you headed?"
Griffort's face darkened, and he motioned Marakion
closer. The innkeeper spoke in a low voice, "You want a
copper's worth of free advice?"
Marakion nodded for him to continue.
"Don't go west, at least not straight west. Skirt Mount
Phineous if you can. Evil things going on up there."
Marakion was interested. "How so?"
"Lader's Knoll." The innkeeper shook his head. "We
used to have an arrangement with a farmer up there in
Lader's Knoll. Taters don't grow down here, as well as
other stuff Bartus likes for his cooking, so we'd swap bread
and the like for vegetables and such - but I can see you're
not into long stories, so I'll cut it short. One day, the farmer
stopped bringing his wagon down. I sent one of the town
boys to Lader's Knoll to see what had happened. The kid
never came back. Something bad's going on up there,
stranger - " Griffort stopped at the sight of Marakion's
"Perfect," Marakion said. "Does the name 'Knightsbane
Marauders' mean anything to you? Have you heard of
The disconcerted innkeeper shook his head slowly.
Marakion stared at him hard, then turned and left the
inn. Behind him he heard the innkeeper's comment to the
barmaid: "Must'a got his noggin cracked somewhere.
World's full of crazies nowadays."
Gylar awoke the next morning in a better mood. He'd
slept all the previous day and all night. His confusion and
fear were replaced by purpose. He wanted to know why the
gods killed everyone, why they allowed people like his
mother, and like Lutha, to die needlessly. Well, he would
The question turned over again and again in his head as he
buried his mother next to the rest of his family. The snow
fell lightly on him and the ground at which he worked. It
was almost as though the skies knew Gylar didn't want to
look at the village anymore.
When his mother was resting with his little brother and
father, Gylar went back inside the house.
He closed the door on the storm outside, went to his
father's room, and pulled down the pack he'd kept on the
wall, the pack Gylar had seen his father use countless times
when they'd gone hunting together. A brief wash of
memories splashed over Gylar. He sniffled and ran a sleeve
across his nose.
Turning his thoughts to more immediate tasks, Gylar
took the pack into the kitchen. He collected some food
suited to traveling, a good kitchen knife, a spoon, and a
small pot. Gylar looked about for anything else he might
need. A bedroll, he thought. He went to his room, stripped
the woolen blanket off the bed, and rolled it up, tied it onto
his father's already laden pack.
He put on a thick cloak and pulled the pack to the door.
The snowfall had sheathed the ground in white. Mount Phineous
was hidden in the distance, but its presence still
loomed in Gylar's mind. What better place to contact the
gods than from the top of their latest creation?
He adjusted his cloak more snugly, threw the heavy
pack over his shoulder. It unsteadied him for a moment, but
he regained his balance and thrust an arm through the
remaining strap, securing the burden. He turned and looked
one last time at what once had been his home. Gylar said
nothing, bowed his head, and began walking toward the
Marakion watched as the young boy, bundled to the
teeth, left Lader's Knoll.
"Off on a journey, are we?" he said quietly from the
shadow of a wall. "And just where are you going, little
Marakion had been in the small village for about half an
hour, and he hadn't seen a living being. His disappointment
was acute. He'd assumed that Lader's Knoll was the
marauders' camp. It was perfect, a desolate place; all those
within traveling distance were scared to visit.
But instead of seedy shacks full of murderers and
cutthroats, he'd found fresh graves or, sometimes, a few
bodies, sleeping the slumber of the dead. The gaunt faces
were a faint purple, and dried blood covered their lips.
Another false trail. His frustration was painful almost
beyond bearing. He wandered the town in search of some
sign, any sign that this had been the hideout of the
marauders, but it appeared that the only curse to take up
residence in this town was a plague.
"There's your evil, Griffort," he'd muttered.
He'd been about to start off from the devastated village
when he'd seen a door to one of the houses open. He slid
from view behind one of the nearby buildings.
With a quick-beating heart and silenced breathing,
Marakion watched the boy leave the village. "Well, well.
Looting the dead, eh? Where are your cohorts, Marauder?
Or did they just send you to scout the area?"
Marakion exulted in his discovery. The boy was headed
toward Mount Phineous! Marakion berated himself for not
thinking of it before. What better place for a band of
brigands than a Cataclysm-spawned, uninhabited mountain?
Marakion detached himself from the shadow of the
house and followed. He was not about to reveal himself to
his guide, at least not until the sanctuary was found.
"I'm coming, Marissa," he whispered as he fell into a
loping stride behind his prey.
Occasionally during the trek up the mountain, the boy
turned to look at the sky, or at how far he'd separated
himself from the village. The ever alert Marakion moved
skillfully into a nearby copse of trees, ducked behind an
outcropping of rock or shrubbery. It wasn't difficult for
Marakion to remain hidden from the youngster's view. The
cloud cover made the terrain gloomy, and the falling snow
decreased visibility dramatically.
It was afternoon when the boy first stopped. After
extracting a few things from his pack, he dumped it on the
ground, sat on it, and began eating.
Marakion watched from just over a small hillock, built
up by a tremendous snowdrift, then settled down to a meal
of his own, consisting of some strips of dried rabbit.
The snow stopped falling sometime before noon, and
the afternoon opened up clear and bright, making
Marakion's stalking much more difficult, but not
impossible. He smiled. It wouldn't be long now.
While tearing at the rough meat with his teeth,
Marakion studied the youngling with interest. The boy was
not very large; Marakion guessed him at about eleven or
twelve years old. He looked innocent enough, sitting there,
chomping on his lunch, not much like a sneak-thief. But,
no, he was one of them - a messenger, maybe, or a
pickpocket. He had to be.
Marakion's teeth fought the dried meat for another bite.
He gauged the size of the mountain. It was not the biggest
he'd seen, but impressive in its own right.
Marakion turned his attention back to the boy. He
wasn't going anywhere for the moment. Obviously he'd
settled down for a long rest. Marakion set his excellent
hearing to guard and hunkered down comfortably.
Relaxing, he slipped into a light drowse, waiting for the
boy to make the next move. He was startled back to wake-
fulness. His ears caught a crunching sound from up the
mountain. Rolling to his feet, he peered over the drift.
The boy had heard the sound, too. He scrambled
upright. The bramble-breaking noise grew louder. Marakion
tensed his body, relaxed his mind, letting it disappear,
allowing the energy to flow. This was it. This must be some
rendezvous point. The entire band, maybe! He was ready.
But the boy did not run into the trees to welcome a gang
of murderers. He did not call a greeting to comrades.
Instead, he let out a fearful yell and, stumbling over himself,
began running down the hill. Marakion stared curiously into
the trees to see what was following.
A huge ogre burst from the foliage. Sallow and crusty-
skinned, the ogre charged forward with long, quick strides.
Wet brambles and a few straggling pine needles showered
off the creature as it ran, sending snow flying in a blinding
Marakion cursed as he watched the ogre closing on the
boy. The damned ogre was ruining everything! Scaring off
Marakion's guide, the ogre might kill the boy before
Marakion could question him!
Gylar's heart beat against his rib cage like a
woodpecker. The snow impeded every step of his short
legs, while the ogre's strides cleared the terrain as though it
were midsummer ground. It was just a matter of time.
Gylar gulped for air as he struggled onward. His mind had
gone numb, and all he could think of was escape. He'd
heard stories about what ogres did to children. . . .
Just at the height of his despair, when the ogre loomed
over him, casting a nightlike shadow that engulfed Gylar,
the strap of his pack slipped off his shoulder.
If Gylar had been thinking straight, he'd have
abandoned his pack and kept going, but he reflexively hung
onto it as it scraped the snow. Too late, he realized his
error. The momentum of his flight sent him sprawling, then
tumbling down the hill. He careened into a snowbank in a
fluff of white.
The massive arm of the ogre plunged into the snow,
groped around, then plucked out a struggling Gylar. The
ogre's craggy mouth split like a crack in a tree's bark,
revealing a fairly complete row of sharp teeth as dingy
yellow as the ogre's mottled skin.
Twenty feet away, Marakion leaned against a tree,
listening. A shimmer ran the length of Glint.
The ogre chuckled at the boy as it began to walk home.
"Glad came," the ogre said, with a thick, grating accent.
"Hungry, me. We eat, I and you." The ogre chuckled again,
sounded like someone scraping rough rocks together. "Take
home you to me. Dinner, we have - "
"Not today." Marakion said clearly in the frosty air as the
two walked past the tree he stood behind. The ogre took one
look at Marakion and dropped the boy into the snow with a
But Marakion was on the ogre before it could even
raise its arms in defense. Marakion kicked out, struck the
ogre in the knee, swung the Hat end of Glint into the side of
the ogre's head.
The creature went down in a tumble of arms and snow.
Marakion stood ready as the ogre surged onto its feet. It
was calm, imposing.
"Leave, friend. The boy is under my protection. If you
have any wits at all, you'll seek food elsewhere. Surely
catching a deer could not be as much trouble as this little
one will cost you."
The ogre growled, flexing its muscles under its rough
yellow skin, but it did not take a step forward. It was
accustomed to fearful enemies, not one facing it with
confidence. The ogre showed its teeth viciously. "Hungry.
Food mine. You leave."
"Not on your life." Marakion smiled, his stance
immobile. It felt good to fight, for whatever reason. The
despair, the frustration, the hopelessness - all disappeared
when Marakion went into combat. "You leave, or we fight.
If you insist, I must say I'm really in the mood for the
battle. Is it worth it?"
The ogre stood swaying back and forth, wondering,
perhaps, what it was that made this human brave enough to
challenge it. It showed its teeth again. "Hungry!" it
growled, clenching and unclenching its clawed fists
Marakion's eyes narrowed. "Times are hard for all of
us, friend. Everyone's got - "
Marakion didn't have time to finish his sentence. The
ogre - a madness in its eyes, daws extended - charged the
Having thought he was actually having some effect
with his words, Marakion was surprised by the sudden
onslaught. Quick reflexes moved him to the side of the
hulking swing that cracked a tree trunk behind him.
Marakion slid under the ogre's arm and dodged behind the
yellow giant. His sword flashed out, slashing once, twice on
the ogre's back. Blood welled from cuts, a muted crack
sounded. Broken bone, Marakion realized. The ogre roared
in pain, struck out with its huge fist. Yellow-fleshed arm
bone and steel whacked together harshly, and the ogre
Another huge yellow hand came down. Marakion didn't
have enough leverage to sidestep. The jagged claws raked
his left side. He grabbed hold of the forearm and slammed
Glint's pommel into the ogre's left eye. A follow-up strike
cracked into the side of the bark-skinned head. The ogre
reeled backward, stunned. Marakion hit it again and again.
Snow exploded outward as the huge body fell heavily to
the ground. Jumping forward, Marakion hovered over the
ogre like a dark angel, clenching Glint tightly in his fist. His
breathing was hard and quick. He stared down at the ogre,
waiting for it to rise again, waiting for it to attack.
The ogre didn't rise, though the eyes fluttered open.
Marakion raised his finely honed arm, preparing to end the
creature's life, then he paused. The rough yellow hide was
pulled tight over the protrusion of the creature's ribs; the
bloody, bruised face was gaunt. The ogre's muscles were
Marakion lowered Glint. The ogre struggled sluggishly
to get up, only to fail and plunge back into the snow. It
raised its arms a bit in a feeble attempt to ward off another
blow - one that never descended.
This wasn't a monster, Marakion thought, just another
creature devastated by the Cataclysm, whose life had been
turned upside down, ruined, like his own. The ogre was just
trying to survive. Marakion wondered what lengths he
would go to if he were starving. Definitely he wouldn't be
above eating ogre flesh.
Marakion noticed the young boy watching his
"Go on," the man said harshly to the ogre. "I gave you
one chance. This is your second. You won't get a third."
The emaciated ogre finally made it to its feet. Its unswollen
eye gave one final, hungry look at Gylar, then it turned
and limped slowly into the woods from which it had come,
blood drops dotting its tracks.
Marakion's brow furrowed. Sheathing Glint, he turned
to face the boy.
"What's your name?" Marakion asked harshly.
The boy looked dazed, still recovering from shock and
fright. "Uh, Gylar, sir. I... Thanks," he tacked on lamely.
"You shouldn't be out here alone. Ogres might not be
the worst you'll find. I hear there's a dangerous band of
brigands in these hills."
Marakion watched for some reaction. Gylar's face gave
no telltale signs of anything but relief.
"I - I'm on a quest, and . . . Who are you?" Gylar
couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. "What are you
doing up on the mountain here? My village is the only one
Marakion noted the honest innocence in the boy's face,
and he cursed again, silently.
"I do a bit of traveling. Just passing through, really." He
paused and looked at Gylar closely once more. He began to
doubt again. The boy might be a cunning liar.
"Tell you what, kid. Looks like we both need to rest a
little." He touched his raked side gingerly. "What do you
say to putting your quest on hold and setting up camp? I
saw a cave, over there a ways.... When we get a good fire
going, you can tell me all about it."
Gylar smiled and nodded.
"I went with Lutha. I knew she wasn't supposed to go in
there. Mom had told me about the evil in the new marsh,
and Lutha's parents had told the same thing to her. But
Lutha wasn't afraid. You see, there was something we'd put
in an old tree before the marsh came, before the Cataclysm
and Mount Phineous. A couple of necklaces we made out of
leather and wooden disks." Gylar's mouth became a straight
line, and his brow furrowed.
The warm fire popped and crackled, illuminating
Marakion's intent face and the makeshift bandages that he
was wrapping slowly around his middle.
Gylar sighed and continued, "She was always doing
stuff like that. Anyway, the marsh wasn't really scary, just
wet and mucky. The only thing that happened was that
Lutha fell down in the water once.
"But Mom was real mad when I got back. She knew
where we'd been. I guess the smell of the marsh and my
wet boots gave us away. Anyway, I snuck out of the house
later, when Mom was down at the stream washing and Dad
was chopping wood. I went to see Lutha.
"I didn't knock at the door, because her parents were
probably just as mad at her as mine were at me. Instead, I
went around back and looked in the bedroom window.
Lutha was in there and she was shivering real bad. And her
face was real red. That was the first time I saw the sickness
on somebody. Lutha was the first. . . ."
Gylar tossed a twig into the fire. "I didn't see Lutha
again." He wiped his nose. "The day after that, it was the
talk of the village. Lutha had died of a strange sickness.
Then her parents died. No one knew how to stop the
sickness. Everybody went into their houses and didn't come
out, but it didn't matter. I'm not sure who died after that,
because Dad closed us up in our house, too. When Rahf
died, my little brother, Mom said it didn't matter anymore
that we stayed in the house."
Gylar sighed again. "It was awful. Hardly anyone was
alive in the village when we came out. We went from door
to door, looking for people. Everyone was in their beds,
shaking with the fever or already dead. I wanted to leave.
Since we hadn't caught it yet, I told Mom we should run
away from it. She shook her head and didn't answer me.
We helped those who had it. We took care of them, but it
didn't matter, just like staying in the house didn't matter
anymore. They were going to die, but Mom said we could
help them. I know now she didn't mean help them live, but
help them to die better. I guess . . .
"Then Dad died." Gylar's voice was subdued. He shook
his head; his cheeks were wet. "He went just like everyone
else, shivering but so hot. I didn't want. . ."
His eyes focused again on Marakion. "He was one of the
last ones to go, then it was my mother. When she died, I felt
so alone, so alone and numb. I could touch something, like
the blanket, or - or her hand, and I wouldn't really feel it. I
had to go. I had to get out."
Gylar looked intently at Marakion. "Why did the gods
do it, sir? I just don't understand. Why did they have to kill
so many people? It doesn't make sense. We didn't do
anything! We just lived. We worshiped Paladine. But Krynn
was still cracked, and then the new marsh rose and Lutha
caught the sickness and now everyone . . . everyone I ever
knew is dead." He bowed his head.
Then his mouth set defiantly and his brows came
together in anger. "And so I'm going to ask them. I want
them to answer just one question. Why? Why did they do it
to everyone? What did we do wrong?"
Marakion smiled. "Supposing the gods even respond,
they might drop another mountain on you."
"I don't care," Gylar said petulantly, gathering his
blanket around him and resting his head on his pack. "I
don't care if they do. If they do, they don't care about us and
it won't matter. But. . . but I will ask." He yawned. "I will
ask HIM . . . Paladine."
Gylar fell asleep. Marakion gazed at the young face.
The flame's light played off the round, boyish features that
would not fade for several years yet. Marakion sighed aloud
this time. Watching the boy tell his story, the knight had
realized Gylar was indeed no marauder's lackey. He actually
was what he claimed: a simple country boy in search of
Gylar's story made Marakion think of all the things he'd
lost because of the Cataclysm. If the gods had not dropped
the fiery mountain, his home would not have been attacked.
"You're right, Gylar," he said to the sleeping boy.
"Paladine should be confronted, asked . . ." Marakion's iron
doors creaked open. "So much like Tagor," he said to
himself. "A victim, like Tagor. I wonder what will happen
Flames and smoke danced in the fire inside his head.
Very much like Tagor. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU?
SCREAMS. CLANGING STEEL. THE SOUNDS OF BATTLE.
THE CRY OF HIS YOUNGER BROTHER.
"I'M COMING, TAGOR!" MARAKION SHOUTED FROM
MARISSA'S DESTROYED BEDROOM.
THE YELL HAD SOUNDED FROM DOWN THE HALL.
MARAKION PROPELLED HIMSELF TOWARD IT. THE LIBRARY!
TAGOR WAS TRAPPED IN THE LIBRARY.
MARAKION SLAMMED THROUGH THE DOOR WITH THE
FORCE OF A BATTERING RAM. HE KNOCKED ONE OF THE
INVADERS TO THE FLOOR. HIS SWORD TOOK OUT ANOTHER.
FIVE MORE WAITED. TAGOR STOOD ON TOP OF A TABLE
IN THE COMER, FIGHTING OFF THE MEN WHO WERE
HARASSING HIM. THE TEASING GRINS THEY WORE TURNED
TO SCOWLS WHEN MARAKION ENTERED.
"THE KNIGHT! KEEP HIM THERE!" A THICK-BEARDED
MAN YELLED. "I'LL FINISH THIS YOUNG ONE OFF."
MARAKION SHOVED HIS FALLEN FOE AWAY AND
SLAMMED INTO THE NEXT, TRYING DESPERATELY TO COME
TO THE AID OF HIS YOUNGER BROTHER, BUT HIS NEW
OPPONENT WAS A SKILLED SWORDSMAN, NOT A BRAWLER.
MARAKION SLASHED INSANELY AT THE MAN'S GUARD,
TRYING AT THE SAME TIME TO SEE TAGOR.
PERCHED ON THE STUDYING TABLE, WIELDING THEIR
FATHER'S SWORD, TAGOR DELIVERED A WICKED SLASH TO
THE BEARDED MAN, OPENING UP HIS FOREHEAD. HE WAS
HOLDING HIS OWN MOMENTARILY, BUT THAT WOULDN'T
LAST LONG. ALTHOUGH TAGOR WAS A FINE SWORDSMAN
FOR FIFTEEN, HE WAS NO MATCH FOR THE BRIGANDS'
STRENGTH, OR THEIR NUMBERS.
MARAKION LET OUT A ROAR. "BASTARDS! LEAVE HIM
ALONE! FIGHT ME!"
TAGOR TWISTED SIDEWAYS, SCREAMED. A SWORD
SLASHED THROUGH HIS LEG. HE STUMBLED TO THE EDGE
OF THE TABLE AND LOST HIS FOOTING, CRASHED TO THE
MARAKION BASHED THROUGH THE SWORDSMAN'S
GUARD, SENT THE MAN'S HAND SPINNING FROM HIS WRIST
IN A TRAIL OF BLOOD.
MARAKION RAN FORWARD. THERE WERE THREE LEFT.
TWO CHARGED HIM AND KEPT HIM FROM HIS BROTHER.
THE THIRD . . . THE THIRD WAS CLUBBING . . . CLUBBING A
BODY ON THE FLOOR.
Marakion started, beat the vision down into the recesses
of his memory. Breathing hard, he closed his eyes. Think of
NOW, only of NOW. Forget Tagor. Forget all of it.
He sat still for long moments, trying to forget, holding
his breath with gritted teeth, but the pent up air hissed out
slowly in a shudder. Marakion crumpled and sobbed. "Tagor ..."
MARAKION BEAT HIS WAY THROUGH THOSE THREE
MARAUDERS, KILLED THEM ALL. HE KNELT AT TAGOR'S SIDE.
"THEY CAME . . . FROM THE NORTH. . . . THEY TOOK
MARISSA. THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KNIGHTSBANE,
MARAKION. . . . THE KNIGHTS - KNIGHTSBANE. WHY,
MARAKION? . . . WHY?"
IT WAS HIS LAST WORD, THEN HE DIED.
Marakion's cheeks were wet with tears. He turned and
gazed down at another brave youth.
"I hope you get your answer, kid. I really do. There's
quite a few questions I'd like to ask Paladine myself."
Marakion turned his face heavenward and focused on the
constellation of the platinum dragon, high above. "At least a
Marakion came out of a reverie that had slipped into a
doze. The fire was dwindling. Blinking his eyes, he picked
up a couple of sticks and tossed them on, poking at the
embers to stir the flames up again. After he'd tended the fire
and stoked it for the night, he turned to adjust his bedding
for sleep when he heard Gylar give a low moan. Marakion
hurried to the young boy's side.
Gylar shuddered a little, his eyes moving under shut lids,
as he huddled deeper into his blanket. He shivered again,
turned over, pulled the covers closer about him. Marakion
pulled his cloak off and draped it over the boy.
Beneath the double cover, Gylar still quaked. Marakion
moved his hand to the boy's forehead.
It was as hot as fire to the touch.
Marakion closed his eyes. "What will happen to you?"
He repeated his thought of earlier in the evening. "Yeah,
that's what, same as everyone else. It doesn't matter what
you've already suffered. It's not enough yet, is it? It's never
Marakion lay awake, staring silently at the cave's
ceiling, for a long, long time. He could not sleep with the
anger that burned through him as hotly as the fever now
burned through Gylar's body. The brutal injustice galled
"I'm going to take you to the top, kid. It's not going to
end like this, not without a fight. No, not without an answer.
By my dead brother, I swear you'll get to ask your
He turned over and tried to go to sleep, but it wasn't
until morning that exhaustion closed those eyes that were
very tired of looking at the world.
The morning broke, warm and sunny. A few clouds
drifted through the sky, but gave no threat of any type of
storm. Snow gathered on tree limbs, slipped heavily from
leaves, as the warmth of the day melted it. Pine needles
shrugged off sheets of snow and rustled as they adjusted to
their newfound freedom from winter's blanket.
Marakion stood at the cave's entrance. Nature was
adapting to the freak warmth of the winter's day. The snow
on the ground was glazed with a sheen of wet sparkles.
Everything was adapting - everything except Gylar.
The sickness moved fast once the fever started. Gylar
had slept late into the morning without knowing it, and
Marakion had not come to a decision about waking him
yet. As he stood there, though, he could hear the boy
He scuffed a groove into the wet snow. Casting a scathing
glance heavenward, he turned and made his way back into
the small cave.
Marakion stopped a half-dozen paces from the boy. Gylar
knew what was happening to him. Maybe he'd realized
it in the middle of the night - the fear was on his face - but
the fear was held at bay by determination.
Gylar looked up. The boy tried to manage a smile, but
failed. Tears stood in his eyes. Marakion wanted to say
something, some word of comfort, but he knew if he tried
to talk, it would come out choked.
"I have it, Marakion."
I know, Marakion spoke in a voice with no sound.
Clearing his throat, he said again, "I know."
"I'm going to die." The boy's eyes were wide. They
blinked once, twice.
Marakion nodded and lowered his gaze, his boots again
scuffing a trench in the dirt floor. "Yeah," he said.
A different kind of fear entered Gylar's voice.
"Marakion, you have to leave me, now. You have to go."
His teeth chattered. Closing his mouth, he tried again. "You
might have it already, but. . . but maybe not. You have to
Marakion knelt beside Gylar. The man smiled. "You
want to try to make me, kid?"
Gylar was puzzled. "No . . ." His brows furrowed in
confusion. "Make you? No, but, Marakion, if you don't
leave - "
"But, sir, I told you what happened to - "
Marakion shrugged. "Do you want to make it to the top
of this mountain?"
"Then I'm staying."
Gylar started to protest, but Marakion cut him off with
a motion of his hand. "You've got heart, I'll give you that,
but you aren't going to make the summit without me." He
smiled expansively. "Even if you try."
Gylar nodded, wanned by the smile. Marakion
suddenly reached out, held the small boy close.
"I'm afraid, Marakion," Gylar whispered, his shaking
hands clinging tenaciously.
"I know" The man patted the small back. "I know."
"But it's all right." Gylar sniffed and let go. Running a
sleeve across his nose, he smiled with effort and looked up
at Marakion. "I just want to make it to the top, before . . .
well, before . . ." He gulped. "I just want to make it there,
"Yeah." Marakion took a deep breath. "You will, I
promise." Standing, he extended his hand. "Let's go, kid."
Gylar grabbed it, and they began again.
The cave they'd spent the night in was near a natural
groove - almost like a trail - worn in the side of the
mountain. Once the groove ended, the terrain became
exceedingly precarious. More than once, Gylar slipped, and
only Marakion's quick reflexes and strength saved the boy.
About three hours after midday, Gylar stumbled and
had a hard time getting to his feet again.
"I'm sorry, Marakion," he said, shivering as he tried to
stand up once more. "It's - It's just so cold. I can't seem to
make my legs work right."
Marakion helped him to his feet. "You sure you want to
keep going, kid?"
"Yes. I - I have to." Shakily, Gylar moved forward
By evening, Marakion had to carry him.
A few hours after nightfall, Marakion gently set the boy
down in the snow at the summit of Mount Phineous.
Lunitari was a thin crimson slash in the sky. Solinari was
full and bright; it bathed them in a sparkling wash. The
untouched snow looked like flawless, molten silver that had
been poured over the top of the mountain and had hardened
there. The only thing that marred the icy, detached beauty
was a straggling trail gouged up the mountainside, a trail
that led to the two solitary figures who had reached their
The stars shone brightly from all around. Marakion's
cloak, wrapped around the boy, furled and straightened
softly in the breeze. His heavy breathing plumed out white
in front of his face.
"Here . . ." Gylar said in a whisper. He nodded, with a
smile. "Yes, this is perfect, so perfect."
Marakion swallowed hard and knelt next to Gylar. He
spread a blanket and moved the boy onto it, then covered
him with his own bedroll, trying to make him as warm as
"Let me be alone now, Marakion." Gylar whispered, "I
want to call Paladine. It's time for me to call him."
Marakion nodded, slowly rose from his kneeling
position, and walked a distance away. He scuffed the snow
with his boot, wondering again about this whole thing.
For an hour, Marakion walked about in the cold. He
turned to watch Gylar from time to time. He could see the
boy's mouth move, hear him talking to the skies.
Another hour passed, this time in silence. Nothing
answered Gylar's feeble summons. Marakion tromped
about, fuming. He knew he shouldn't have expected an
answer, but suddenly he was furious that none was coming.
After a time, Marakion realized the boy was beckoning
weakly to him. The man was instantly at the boy's side.
Gylar's flesh was almost completely wasted away. The
effect of the fever over such a short time was astounding.
But there was a smile on the boy's face. "Marakion ..." He
could barely speak.
Marakion leaned forward. "Yes, Gylar."
Gylar shook his head. "Paladine's not coming. He's not
even going to - " The boy was cut off by a coughing fit.
"He's not even going to drop a mountain on me, Marakion."
Gylar set a shaky hand on Marakion's forearm.
"Remember the ogre, Marakion? I was s-so scared. It was
going to eat me. You remember?"
"You let it go, Marakion," Gylar whispered. "You said
for it to choose something else, a deer or something. You
said it had made the wrong choice. It didn't believe you, and
you beat it up, but you let it go. You forgave it, Marakion.
You forgave it for being itself. It didn't realize what it was
Marakion swallowed a lump in this throat. Gylar closed
his eyes. His hand still gripped the warrior's arm.
"Maybe Paladine didn't either, Marakion. Maybe he still
doesn't. B - But that's okay. I forgive him. It's okay. I
forgive them all. . . ."
Gylar's grip went slack on Marakion's arm. Marakion
grappled for the hand and caught hold as it started to slip
off. Squeezing his eyes shut, he bowed his head.
"Damn!" was all he said.
Hours later, Marakion stood next to a grave he'd had to
fight the cold earth and snow to dig. His hands were
blistered; Glint was caked in dirt.
Marakion did not speak a eulogy. Everything had
already been said. Who would he speak words of comfort
to, anyway? The only ones able to hear on this distant,
isolated mountaintop were the gods, and they hadn't
listened. This boy, alone, beneath the frosted, snow-swept
ground, could pardon a god for his mistake, though that one
mistake had destroyed everything Gylar had held dear.
Marakion adjusted the clasp at the neck of his cloak and
pulled the edges together. He took a last look at the sky
from the summit of Mount Phineous.
"Somebody learned something from your show of godly
power. HE forgives you."
Marakion slowly began his descent down the mountain,
continuing on his own hopeless quest.
"Revel in it, Paladine, because, by the Abyss, I don't."
NO GODS, NO HEROES
The road was blocked just over the crest of the hill. The ambush was
nicely planned. Graym, leading the horses, hadn't seen the warriors
until his group was headed downhill, and there was no room to turn the
cart around on the narrow, wheel-rutted path that served as a road.
Graym looked at their scarred faces, their battered, mis-
matched, scavenged armor, and their swords. He smiled at
them. "You lot are good thinkers, I can tell. You can't
protect yourselves too well these days." He gestured at the
cart and its cargo. "Would you like a drink of ale?"
The armored man looked them over carefully. Graym
said, "I'll do the honors, sir. That skinny, gawking teenager
- that's Jarek. The man behind him, in manacles and a chain,
is our prisoner, name of Darll. Behind him - those two
fierce-looking ones, are Fenris and Fanris, the Wolf
brothers. Myself, I'm Graym. I'm the leader - being the
oldest and" - he patted his middle-aged belly, chuckling -
"the heaviest." He bowed as much as his belly woud let
The lead man nodded. "It's them."
His companions stepped forward, spreading out. The
right wing man, flanking Graym, swung his sword.
Darll pulled his hands apart and caught the sword on
his chain. Sparks flew, but the chain held. Clasping his
hands back together, he swung the looped chain like a club.
It thunked into an armored helmet, and the wearer dropped
straight to the ground soundlessly.
Jarek raised his fist, gave a battle cry. The Wolf
brothers, with their own battle cry - which sounded
suspiciously like yelps of panic - dived under the ale cart,
both trying unsuccessfully to wedge themselves behind the
The cart tipped, toppling the heavy barrels. The horses
broke their harnesses and charged through the fight. A
cascade of barrels thundered into the midst of the fray. One
attacker lay still, moaning.
That left four. Darll kicked one still-rolling barrel, sent
it smashing into two of the attackers, then leapt at a third,
who was groping for his dropped sword. Darll kicked the
sword away, lifted one of the barrel hoops over the man's
head. The attacker raised his arms to defend himself, neatly
catching them in the hoop. Darll slammed him in the face
with his fist.
Jarek yelled, "Yaaa!" and threw a rock at the leader.
The rock struck the man, knocked him into Darll's reach.
Darll whipped his chain around the man's throat,
throttling him. Hearing a noise behind him, Darll let the
man drop and spun around.
Two of the others were crawling to their knees. Darll
kicked one and faced the other, prepared to fight.
A hoarse voice cried, "No!"
The leader was gasping and massaging his throat.
"Leave them. Let Skorm Bonelover get them," he told his
The attackers limped away, carrying their two
It was suddenly very quiet. The Wolf brothers, still
under the cart, were staring at Darll in awe. Jarek - a second
rock cradled in his hand - was gazing at the fighter with
open-mouthed admiration. Graym took a step toward Darll,
glanced at the fleeing attackers, and stepped away again.
"Six men," Graym said. "Six trained men-at-arms,
beaten by a man in chains."
"It'll make one helluva song," Darll said acidly. "I
suppose I'm still your prisoner?"
After a moment's thought, Graym nodded. "Right, then.
Let's reload the barrels."
Graym and Jarek tipped the cart back upright and propped
a barrel behind the rear wheel. The first barrel was easy to
load. Too easy. Graym handled it by himself. He stared at it
in surprise, then worked to load the second.
The third barrel was on, then suddenly and
inexplicably it was rolling off.
The Wolf brothers, working on top, grabbed frantically
and missed. The barrel slid down the tilted cart. Darll fell
back. Jarek, standing in the barrel's path, stared up at it with
his mouth open.
For a fat middle-aged man, Graym could move
quickly. He slammed into Jarek, and both went sprawling.
The barrel crashed onto a rock and bounced off, spraying
foam sideways before it came to rest, punctured end up.
Graym, unfortunately, came to rest on top of Jarek.
Darll, manacles clanging, pulled Graym to his feet.
"You all right?"
"Fine, sir, fine." Graym felt his ribs and arms for
"Pity," Darll grunted. "What about you, boy?" He bent
down and helped Jarek up. "If you only hurt your head,
we're in luck."
Jarek wheezed and gasped.
"He'll be fine," Graym said, slapping Jarek's shoulder.
Jarek collapsed again, and Graym helped him up again.
"Probably do us both good. Exercise new muscles."
"Try thinking. That should exercise a new muscle for
you." Darll looked down at their feet. Foam was seeping
quickly into the ground. The smell of ale was
Graym followed his glance. "Only another loss," he
said cheerfully. "Crisis of transport, sir. Part of business."
He and Jarek limped over to the broken barrel.
Jarek, still wheezing, managed to say, "I'm sorry,
Graym. You said 'Stop pushing when I say now,' and that
was when you said 'now,' so then I thought you meant
"Don't you feel bad at all, boy." Graym looked at the
damp rock and the damp soil below it. "This'll drive the
price up when we reach Krinneor. Supply and demand."
He added, struck by it, "Makes the other kegs worth
He finished, convinced, "Best thing that could happen,
Graym shook Jarek's limp hand. "Thank you for upping
profits. A bold move - not one I'd have made - but worth it
in the long run."
Jarek smiled proudly. Darll snorted.
The Wolf brothers looked down from the perch on top
of the cart. "Want us to roll another off?" Fenris asked
"Say when," Fanris added.
Graym shook his head. "Let's take inventory first."
The Wolf brothers slid cautiously off the wagon. They
looked (and claimed) to be several years older than Jarek,
but no one would ever know their real age until one of them
washed, which was hardly likely. From their narrow beetle-
browed eyes to their black boots, they looked wickedly
A songbird whistled, and the two jumped and crouched
low behind the wagon wheel.
"Don't crawl underneath," Graym pleaded. "That's how
you tipped it the last time. It's all right now. The bad men
are gone. And they weren't that bad, once we got their
weapons away from them."
"We? WE?" Darll demanded.
"I helped," Jarek said proudly. "I threw a rock at one.
You did most of it," he added honestly. "But you should
have. You're supposed to be a great mercenary."
"I'm SUPPOSED to be your prisoner" Darll said
Graym put a hand on Darll's shoulder. "Don't take it so
hard, sir. You're the Bailey of Sarem's prisoner. We're just
transporting you to Krinneor." He patted Darll. "Think of
us as company."
"I think of you," Darll said bitterly, "the way I'd think
of the underside of an owlbear's - "
"I'm going to be a mercenary like you someday," Jarek
Fenris came out from behind the wagon wheel. He
looked worried. "Did you hear what that man said just
before running off?"
"You mean the part about 'Let Skorm Bonelover take
them'?" Fanris finished nervously. "I heard it. What does it
mean? Who's Skorm Bonelover?"
Graym was checking the fallen barrel. "An idle threat.
Poor man, I don't think he was happy." He examined the
"You may be a cooper," Darll said, "but you can't mend
Graym felt along the keg sides, skilled hands finding
the sprung barrel stave. "Not on the road," he said
reluctantly. "And it's over half full still."
The Wolf brothers edged forward hopefully. "Be a
shame to let it go to waste, Fan."
"Right again, Fen."
Jarek, rubbing his head, looked meaningfully at the
bung-puller stored inside the cart.
"Half a keg of Skull-Splitter Premium. Well . . ."
Graym sighed loudly, then smiled. "Not a bad place to
They waited until nightfall to light the fire, so no one
would see the smoke. They hung a shield of blankets around
the fire to hide the light. Both were Darll's idea. Graym saw
no need for such precautions, but was willing to humor him.
The sunset was blood red, like every one had been since
Graym sipped at the bowl of Skull-Splitter and said, to
no one in particular, "Life is attitude - good or bad." He
waved an arm at the desolate landscape. "What do you
Darll grunted. "What else? Disaster. Broken trees,
clogged streams, fallen buildings, and a godsforsaken
broken road rougher than a troll's - "
"That's your problem, sir." Graym thumped Darll's
back. "You see disaster. I see opportunity. Look here." He
traced a map in the dirt. "See this road?"
He looked up and realized that Darll - ale rolling in his
mouth, eyes shut to savor the flavor - wasn't seeing
anything. "Excuse me, sir, but do you see the road?"
"The road from Goodlund to Krinneor," Jarek breathed
"Right. And do you know what's ahead?"
Darll opened his eyes. "Nothing. The end of the world."
Graym downed an entire bowl of Skull-Splitter, wiped
his lips on his sleeve, and smiled genially. "Maybe it is, sir,
but I say" - he waved the empty dipper for emphasis - "if
I'm going to see the end of the world, I should see it with a
positive attitude." He gazed up at the sky. "I mean, look at
the world now. No gods, no heroes." He sighed loudly and
happily. "It makes a man feel fresh."
"We were heroes this afternoon," Jarek objected, "me
and Darll. We whipped those bastards."
"Now, now," Graym said admonishingly. "You hardly
knew them, Jarek. Don't speak ill of people just because
they tried to kill you."
Darll agreed. "Other than being the usual low, sorry
sort of lowlifes you find in these parts, they weren't bad at
all. They were bounty hunters." He eyed Graym
"Seems an unfriendly way to make a living," Graym
said. He scratched his head, belched, and settled back.
"Inventory," he announced.
The others suddenly looked nervous. "Will we have to
sign for things?" Jarek asked. "I hate that."
Graym shook his head. "Nah, nah. This is just counting,
and remembering" - he took another sip of ale - "and
history. We started with nine barrels. Remember the
loading? We pushed them on from all sides, and they
shifted when we started rolling."
Fenris nudged his brother. "And one rolled away and
smashed on Dog Street."
Fanris kicked him. "I couldn't hold it. It was hard to
see, it being dark and all."
Darll's eyes opened. "You loaded in the dark? For the
love of Paladine, why?"
Jarek said reasonably, "We didn't want to be seen."
Darll laughed, a short bark. "No wonder the horses ran
off. They didn't even know you, did they? You stole them!
AND the cart, I'll wager."
"Jem and Renny, poor flighty nags. They never liked
us," Graym said sadly. "Well, that's one barrel. Eight left."
"There was the barrel on the bridge," Jarek offered, "out
side of town."
"We'd picked up Darll, and he was putting up a fight - "
"That's right, blame me." Darll glared at them all. "I
only wanted to leap off at the bridge."
"And hit us," Fenris said.
"And kill us," Fanris added, hurt.
"And hit and kill you," Darll agreed. "I did fairly well,
for being hung over."
"You might have drowned, sir," Graym said. "That
wouldn't do when you're in our charge, would it?"
"He hit me," Jarek said, rubbing his head.
"And me," Fen said.
"And me," Fan added.
Darll settled back. "Stop whining. I didn't kill you." His
scowl, fierce under his salt-and-pepper beard, seemed to
add an unspoken "yet."
After a short silence, Graym continued. "One of the
barrels dropped into Mirk River, leaving seven. After that,
we didn't lose a one - not in the Black Rain, not in the Dry
Lands, not in the swamps. We can be proud of that."
Jarek squared his shoulders. The Wolf brothers grinned,
exposing teeth best left hidden.
Graym went on. "And today we beat back a better-
trained force - "
"Any force would be better trained," Darll muttered.
"That's harsh, sir. We won through strategy - "
"Or luck, but not," Graym said sadly, "without
casualties. We smashed two barrels, a major loss." He
stared, brooding, into the fire.
Jarek counted on his fingers twice, then said proudly. "I
know! I know! That leaves six barrels - "
"Yes. Five full barrels," Graym said. He walked
unsteadily to the wagon. "And one other" He thumped it
three times, pausing to let it echo. "One . . . empty . . .
The others ducked their heads, avoided his eyes. "It
leaked," Darll said, shrugging.
Graym rocked the barrel back and forth and ran his
hands around it. "Bone dry. No water marks, no foam
"Ghosts." Jarek looked solemn.
Graym snorted. "Ever seen a drunk ghost?"
Since none of them had seen a ghost of any sort, drunk
or sober, they all shook their heads reluctantly.
"Might have been magic," Fenris said.
"True enough," Fanris said quickly.
Graym wiped the mud off the barrel end to expose a
second, cleverly hidden bunghole. He felt in the comer of
the wagon and pulled out a second tap. "And which one of
you," he said firmly, "was the mage?"
He folded his arms. "Now, I know it's been a long,
hard, dusty trip. A man gets thirsty. And you've all known
me as long as you've worn dry pants. I'm not a hard man."
"You're a soft man," Darll said, but wouldn't look him
in the eye.
"I'm a forgiving man."
"Hah! If you were, you'd let me go, but no - "
"It's a matter of principle, sir," Graym said firmly.
"And the money," Jarek reminded him.
"And the money, of course."
"Tenpiece," Darll said bitterly. "Took me straight from
the Bailey of Sarem with a promise and a bag of tenpiece."
"Plus twenty when we get to Krinneor," Fen said.
"When we hand you up," Fan said.
"Thirtypiece." Darll shook his head. "The best fighter in
Goodlund, second or third best in Istar, carted off to prison
"But enough prologuizing." Graym was swaying on his
feet. "I can't stand a fella who prologuizes all the time. Let's
say I'm forgiving and let it go at that. And, now, I'm going
to ask who's been sneaking ale while I wasn't looking. I
expect an honest answer. Who was it?"
Jarek raised one hand.
The Wolf brothers each raised a hand.
Graym looked at them in silence.
Darll raised a hand, his chains pulling the other after it.
After a long pause, Graym sighed. "Good to have it out
in the open at last. Better to be honest with each other, I
" 'True thieves best rob false owners,' " Darll muttered.
"I've always thought that a fine saying, sir," Graym said.
"Witty, yet simple. But I don't see it applying here."
Darll shook his head.
"Still and all," Graym continued, "we've done well.
Three months on the road, and we've four barrels left." He
shook a finger at the others. "No sneaking drinks from here.
We'll need it all at the end of the road in Krinneor."
Jarek said eagerly, "Tell us about Krinneor, Graym."
Jarek wasn't alone. Fen and Fan begged to hear the
story, and even Darll settled, resignedly, to listen.
Graym picked up a bowl and took a deep swig of Skull-
Splitter. "I've told you this night after night, day after day -
in the Black Rains, when the dust clouds came through, and
in the afterquakes, and when we'd spent a long day dragging
this wagon over flood-boils, potholes, and heaved-up rock
on the road. And now you say you're not tired of it." He
looked at them fondly. "I'm not either.
"Back in Sarem, I was nobody. Every town needs a
cooper, but they don't care about him. They buy his barrels
and leave. And I'd watch them, and I'd know they were off -
to fill the barrels, travel up roads, and sell their stock."
Jarek leaned forward. "The city, tell us about the city!"
"I'm coming to that." Graym loved this part. "Every time
a stranger came down the road, I'd ask him where he'd been.
And he'd talk about Tarsis by the sea, or the temples of Xak
Tsaroth, and one even showed me a machine from Mount
Nevermind, where the gnomes live. The machine didn't
work, of course, but it was a lovely little thing, all gears and
sprockets and wires.
"But one and all, dusty from the road and tired from
travel, told me about Krinneor, and the more I heard, the
more I wanted to see it." Graym's eyes shone. "Golden
towers! Marble doors! And excellent drains." He looked at
them all earnestly. "I hear that's very important for a city."
They nodded. Graym went on. "After the Claychasm - "
"Cataclysm," Darll snapped.
"Cataclysm, thank you, sir. I keep forgetting. After that
night, when the ground shook and the western sky was all
fire, people were frightened. They quit buying barrels,
saying that trade was too risky. That's when I realized that
no one was coming down the road from Krinneor, and no
one was going there."
He tapped the bowl of Skull-Splitter, which he had
emptied again. "And that's when I realized there was no
more good Sarem ale going from Sarem to Krinneor. The
poor beggars there would be as dry as a sand pit in no time.
"So I made these." He thumped the broken barrel,
refilled the bowl from it. "Extra thick staves, double-
caulked, double-banded. Bungs four fingers deep. Heads of
the last vallenwoods in stock this far west. Harder than any
man has seen. I spent everything I had making them, then
borrowed from you all to finish them. And when the bailey
heard we were going, he asked me to take you, sir, to the
Bailey of Krinneor for safekeeping." He nodded
respectfully to Darll.
"For prison, you fat fool," Darll said. "I can't believe I
let a man like that capture me, especially after I beat the
town soldiery. A scrawny, bald-headed, weak-armed man
with no more strength in him than in a dead dwarf's left - "
"You wouldn't have if you hadn't been drunk," Jarek
pointed out. He looked at Darll admiringly. "Single-handed,
and you beat them all. If you hadn't been drunk - "
Graym interrupted. "And I hope it serves to remind you,
sir, that ale is not only a blessing, but can also be a curse,
and not to be taken lightly." He downed the bowl of Skull-
Splitter. "Back to my story. I took you, sir, and the tenpiece
from the bailey - "
"Then we got the ale," Jarek said. "And the horses," Fen
and Fan said together. "Without paying for them," Darll
finished. "And I gathered victuals and water and spare
clothes and knapsacks, and off we set" - Graym pointed to
the east - "down the long, dangerous road! Facing
hardship! Facing hunger and thirst..." He broke off. "Not as
much thirst as I thought, apparently, but some thirst. Facing
the unknown! Facing a ruined world! And for what?" He
looked around at the watching faces. "I ask you, for what?"
Jarek blinked. "For Krinneor."
"True enough. For the golden spires, the marble towers,
the excellent drains, and the fortunes that made them. Think
of it!" Graym waved an arm unsteadily. "A city with all the
gold you can dream of, and nothing to drink. And us with a
cart full." He glanced to one side. "A cart HALF full of the
best ale left in the world!"
"Our fortunes are made. We can ask what we want for
it, and they'll pay twice what we ask. One barrel of Sarem
ale will be worth the world to them, and five barrels leaves
us one apiece."
Darll looked up, startled. "You're counting me?"
"You did your share on the road, sir," Graym said.
"Each of us gets profits from one barrel of ale. And, if we're
all clever - " he looked at Jarek and amended hastily, " - or
at least if we stick together, we get exclusive Sarem trade
rights to Krinneor. We'll have all the food we want, and
"And a sword?" Jarek asked eagerly. "I've always
wanted a sword. My mother wouldn't let me have anything
Graym smiled at him. "And a sword. And maybe a
quick parole for friend Darll, and a tavern for me to run - "
"And a woman for me," Fenris said firmly.
"And me," Fanris echoed.
Graym scratched his head, looked dubious.
"Right," Darll said. "I'm sure that somewhere in
Krinneor there's a pair of dirty, nearsighted women with no
The Wolf brothers brightened considerably.
By late night, the blanket screens were down and they'd
piled wood on to make a man-high flame. The Wolf
brothers were singing a duet about a bald woman who'd
broken the heart of a barber, and Darll was weeping.
"You 'member," he said, his arm around Graym,
"'member when the bounty hunters attacked, and I saved
"You did well, sir," said Graym.
Darll snuffled. "I was going to run off, but then I
remembered you had the keys to the manacles."
Graym patted his pocket. "Still do, sir."
Darll, tears running down both cheeks, wiped his nose.
"You know that when you free me, I'm going to kill you."
Graym patted Darll's shoulder. "Anybody would, sir"
Darll nodded, wept, belched, tried to say something
more, and fell asleep sitting up.
Graym lay down, rolled over on his back, and stared at
the stars. They were faint in the dusty air, but to Graym they
shone a little clearer every night. "I used to be afraid of
them," he said comfortably to himself. "They used to be
gods. Now they're just stars."
When the sun came up the next morning, it rose with
what Graym heard as an ear-splitting crack.
He opened one eye as little as possible, then struggled
to his feet. "Isn't life an amazing thing?" he said shakily to
himself. "If you'd told me yesterday that every hair on my
head could hurt, I wouldn't have believed you."
Fenris stared out at the dusty field nearby and quavered,
"What's that terrible noise?"
Graym looked where Fenris was pointing and found the
Fenris nodded - a mistake. His eyes rolled back in his
head and he fell over with a thud. Fanris, beside him,
whimpered at the sound of the impact.
Graym, moving as silently as possible, crept over to
Darll, shook him by the shoulder. Darll's manacles rattled.
Darll flinched and opened two remarkably red eyes. "If
I live," he murmured fuzzily, "I'm going to kill you."
Graym sighed and rubbed his own head. "I thought you
already had, sir."
By midmorning, they were back on the road and near the
first rank of western hills. Graym, pulling the cart along
with Darll, was almost glad they had lost so many barrels.
The wagon lurched to a stop at every rock in the road . . .
and there were many rocks.
At least the companions were feeling better. Skull-
Splitter's effect, though true to its name, wore off quickly.
Jarek was humming to himself, trying to remember the
Wolf brothers' song of the night before. Darll, after
swearing at him in strained tones for some time, was now
correcting him on the melody and humming along.
Fenris, perched on the cart, yelled, "Trouble ahead!"
Fanris gazed, quivered. "Are they dangerous?"
Darll grated his teeth. "Kender! I hate the nasty little
things. Kill 'em all. Keep 'em away. They'll rob you blind
and giggle the whole time."
Graym looked up from watching the rutted road. Before
he knew what was happening, he was surrounded by
kender: eager, energetic, and pawing through their
belongings. The kender had a sizable bundle of their own,
pulled on a travois, but the bundle changed shape
"Ho! Ha!" Darll swung two-handed at them, trying to
make good on his threat to kill them all. They skipped and
ducked, ignoring the length of chain that whistled
murderously over their heads.
"Here now, little fellers," Graym said, holding his pack
above his head. "Stay down! Good morning!" He smiled at
them and skipped back and forth to keep his pack out of
reach, and he seemed like a giant kender himself.
One of the kender, taller than the others and dressed in
a brown robe with the hood clipped off, smiled back. "Good
morning. Where are we?"
"You're in Goodlund, halfway to Sarem if you started
from just west of Kendermore." Graym snatched a forked
stick from the hands of the tall kender - who didn't seem to
mind - and hung his pack from it, lifted it over his head.
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, around." The tall kender took a forked stick from
one of the others, who didn't seem to mind either. "East,
mostly." He spun the stick, making a loud whistle. "Do you
know, the gods told me that the world's greatest disaster
would happen in a land to the west? Only it didn't."
"What are you talking about?" Graym looked openly
astonished. 'The Catcollision?"
"Cataclysm!" Darll snarled.
"Cataclysm, thank you, sir. I keep forgetting." Graym
turned back to the kender. "All that happened in the east,
"I know," the kender said, and sighed. "The gods lied to
me. They did it to save our lives - we were going west to
see the run - but still, a lie's a lie." He fingered the torn
collar of his cleric's robe. "So we don't believe in the gods
"Good enough," Graym said, brightening. "Smashed the
world, didn't they? We're well rid of that lot."
"But they did save our lives," Fenris pointed out.
"From horrible deaths," Fanris added, "like being
"Or squished, Fan."
The tall kender shrugged. "You miss a lot, worrying
about things like that. Say, what's that smell?" His nose
"Dirt, mostly," Jarek said.
The Wolf brothers scowled. "It's a perfectly natural
smell," Graym said. "Strong, but natural." He smiled down
at the kender. "My name's Graym."
The kender smiled back. "Tarli Half-kender. Half man,
Graym looked startled, then shrugged. "Well, I'm
He offered his hand, taking care to keep his pack and
pockets out of reach. But at a shout from Jarek, Graym
whipped his head around.
"Here now! Off the cart. Mind the barrels." His
knapsack fell from the stick.
Tarli caught the pack nimbly, flipped it over once in his
deft fingers, and passed it to Graym, who was surprised that
a kender would return anything. "Thank you," he said to
Tarli, but his mind was on the kender falling and climbing
all over the cart. The barrels, three times their size, wobbled
dangerously. "Don't they know they could be killed?"
Tarli looked puzzled. "I don't think it would make much
difference. Like I said, you can't worry about things like
that, like Skorm Bonelover, coming from the east."
"Who?" The name sounded vaguely familiar to
Graym's still-fuddled mind.
"Skorm," Tarli said helpfully, "the Fearmaker, the
Crusher of Joy."
"Oh, THAT Skorm. You know him, do you?"
"Only by reputation. Everyone's talking about him."
Tarli looked to the east. "Well, we'd better keep going if we
want to meet up with him." He put two fingers into his
mouth and whistled.
The crowd of kender scrambled off the cart and
scampered down the road again, pulling the travois behind
them. To Graym's watchful eyes, their pockets seemed
fuller, and their bundle of supplies seemed larger, but there
was nothing he could do about it.
"Cunning little things." Graym watched the kender
running happily away. "Good attitudes, the lot of them. You
can't keep them down."
"I'll try," Darll grated, "if you'll let me go." He held out
his manacled hands.
"Ah!" Graym reached into his pack. "Can't do that, sir,
but I could give your arms a rest while we're dragging the
cart. You promise not to run off, sir?
He vaguely remembered Darll's saying something last
night that should make Graym nervous, but dragging the
cart was hard work, and Darll deserved a reward.
Darll looked sly. "Word of honor." He braced his feet
for a quick start and smiled at Graym.
The Wolf brothers ducked under the cart. Even Jarek
"Right, then." Graym fumbled in the pack, then reached
into his left pocket. . .
Then checked his right breeches pocket, his hood, and
his jacket.. .
Then stared at the departing kender. He looked back at
Darll's impatient face. "Life," he said thoughtfully, "can be
funny, sir . . ."
When Darll understood, he shook both fists at the
kender and swore until he was panting like a runner.
Darll and Graym started off again. They grabbed the
crosspiece of the wagon tongue, braced their feet in the dirt,
and pulled. The wagon rolled forward quickly. Graym
dropped the crosspiece.
"That was too easy. Jarek?"
Jarek hopped into the cart and counted loudly. "One,
two, three, four - "
After a pause, Graym said, "And?"
"That's all," Jarek said.
Graym stared, disbelieving, at the distant dust cloud of
the departing kender. "They walked off with a BARREL?"
"Cunning little things," Fenris said.
"Industrious, too," Fanris said.
Jarek finished the inventory. Finally he hopped down
and announced, "They got the barrel of Throat's Ease lager,
our spare clothes - "
Graym laughed. "Picture one of those little fellows
trying to wear my canvas breeches 1"
"And most of the food."
Graym fell silent.
"So we make it to Krinneor in one night or go hungry,"
"We can do it," Graym said confidently. Landmarks
weren't hard to read, but he had often discussed the road -
wistfully - with merchants buying barrels and casks.
"There's this hill, and one little town, and a valley, then, and
a downhill run from there to Krinneor."
"And prison for me. and a forced march to get there,"
Darll said gruffly. "I'd be running away free, and you'd be -
" He looked at Graym sharply. "I'd be gone if it weren't for
those nasty, little, pointy-eared thieves."
Graym said gruffly, "You ought not to criticize others,
sir. Not to drag up the past, but you've done worse."
Darll glared at him. "That wasn't a fair trial. The bailey
wanted blood, and he got it."
"Of course, he wanted blood. You hurt his dignity. You
had only a sword, and you half-killed ten soldiers armed
with spears, maces, and swords."
Darll objected. "When I half-kill ten men, I leave only
five left alive. I beat them badly, but that wasn't the charge
against me, anyway, unless you count resisting arrest."
"True enough, sir," Graym said agreeably. "You
scarpered the town treasury and then nicked a hay wagon."
"Nice way to put it. A real sophisticate, you are."
"Assault, theft, intoxication, breaking and entering,
reckless endangerment, incitement to stampede, vandalism,
arson." He paused. "That's the lot, isn't it, sir?"
"Still and all," Darll said stubbornly, "it WAS a first offense."
"First offense?" Graym gaped. "From you, sir?"
"Well, for this sort of crime."
Graym shook his head. "You tell your side of it well,
sir, but I have a contract."
"It's the money, then."
"No, sir." Graym shook his head violently. "I gave a
promise. Even if I persuaded the others to agree to forfeit
the twentypiece we have coming, I'd still be unable -
outstanding warrant and all - to go back to Sarem and return
the ten - " He felt in his pocket. . . .
He sighed, didn't bother feeling in his other pockets.
Darll, watching his face, smiled. "Cunning little
"Thrifty, too," Graym muttered.
By midday, they had reached the top of the first large
hill - low and rocky, with a fault crack running across it.
Jarek, scouting ahead for the easiest route for the cart on the
broken road, returned, announcing, "People coming." Fen
said fearfully, "What if they're robbers?" Fan added, "Or
maybe they're the bounty hunters." The Wolf brothers
edged toward the back of the cart. Graym grabbed their
shirts, pulled them back. He then wiped his hands on his
own shirt. "Wait till we've seen them, at least."
He edged to the top of the hill and peered over the top. A
group of humans was walking toward them - townsfolk,
seemingly, coming from the small knot of cottages standing
on the road.
Graym retreated below the crest of the hill, reported
what he'd seen. "We can't run, and there's no place to hide.
Best we go forward and be friendly. Folks like that."
Jarek looked dubious. "They might rob us."
"Not of much."
"Or we might rob them. Are they rich?"
"I didn't grow up with 'em," Graym retorted. "How
should I know?"
Jarek dug in the dirt with his boot. "Well, if they are,
and we robbed them, then we'd be better off, right?"
Graym considered. "Now that's an idea. We rob from
the rich. And then . . ."
"And then what?" Jarek asked.
"Can't rob from the poor," Fenris said.
"No future in it," Fanris agreed.
Jarek objected, "There's more poor people than rich
people. Easier to find."
"Ah, but they don't have as much, do they?"
"Now that's telling him what, Fen."
"Thank you, Fan."
Darll said firmly, "You're not robbing these people."
Graym wasn't too keen on robbing, but he thought Darll
was being a bit bossy, for a prisoner, even if he was a
mercenary. "And why not, sir?"
Darll shook his head wearily. "Because they have us
While they had been talking, the townspeople had
encircled the hill and closed ranks. They approached
silently. There were thirty or forty of them, dressed in
ragged, ill-fitting clothes. Several wore robes.
Graym looked around at the circle of men and women.
"Good to sec so many of you here to greet us." He waved an
arm. "I'd offer a drink, but we're running short."
A robed and hooded figure came forward. The robe was
too long, clearly borrowed, and had been dyed a neutral
color. "I am Rhael," said the person. "I am the elder."
The voice was strong and dear, strangely high. Graym
said dubiously, "Are you sure? You sound kinda young for
"Quite sure." The woman pulled back her hood and
shook her hair free of it.
Darll snorted. "Who are you all?"
"I am Rhael. These are my people. We come from the
village of Graveside."
Darll asked, "A law-abiding village?"
"Good." He raised his manacled hands. "Arrest these
fools and free me."
"Arrest them? Why?"
"Because they're crooks."
"What have they done?"
"What haven't they? Theft, resisting arrest, drunk and
disorderly plenty of times, drunk but not disorderly at least
once, sober and disorderly a few times - "
Rhael seemed impressed. "What are they like as
Terrible," Darll said truthfully. "Awful to watch. You
"That man - " Darll pointed to Graym - "drove off a
band of bounty hunters, with only me in chains to help
"That one . . ." He pointed to Jarek. "He nearly killed a
man with one blow." More or less true, counting a thrown
rock as a blow.
"And those two . . . ?"
Darll glanced at the Wolf brothers, who waited eagerly
to hear what he could say about them.
"Well, just look at them," Darll said.
The folk of Graveside looked them up and down. The
Wolf brothers did look dangerous, both as criminals and as
a health risk.
Darll held out his arms, waiting for his release.
Rhael walked straight up to Graym. "Would you be
willing to lead an army?"
Darll choked. Graym's mouth sagged open.
"We need brave men like you," Rhael said. "We're
facing a scourge."
One of the elders quavered, "A terrible scourge!"
"I didn't think it would be a nice scourge," Darll muttered.
"His name," Rhael lowered her voice, "is Skorm Bone-
"Not his given name, I take it, Miss?" Graym said.
"He is also called the Sorrow of Huma, the Dark Lady's
Liege Man, the Teeth of Death, the Grave of Hope - "
"I've always wanted a nickname," Fen said wistfully.
"We've had some," Fan reminded him.
"Not ones we've always wanted, Fan."
"True enough, Fen." He sighed.
Darll said, suddenly interested, "Don't you people have
any fighters, or a bailey or something?"
They all looked sorrowful. "Gone, gone," one said.
"Killed?" Graym said sympathetically.
Rhael shook her head. "The Protector came to me one
morning and warned me about the coming of Skorm. A
stranger had come in the night and told him, said that he had
already fled before Skorm's army. The Protector said the
only sensible thing to do was flee, leaving all our things
behind, so that Skorm would stay and plunder instead of
Graym frowned. "This Protector wasn't much of an
"He was terrified," Rhael said. "He said that Skorm
would drink the blood of one victim, only to spit it in the
face of another. He said Skorm once bit through the arm of
a warrior and stood chewing on it in front of him. He said -
"Never mind," Graym said hastily. His stomach had
been wobbly all day. "Where is this scourge?" He looked
around fearfully. "Not with you, I take it."
"He and his troops are camped in the bone yard - "
"Picturesque," Graym murmured, approving.
"In the Valley of Death, beyond Graveside. There are
more than a hundred of them now. Every dawn," Rhael said
with a voice like death, "we see more warriors standing by
Skorm's tents. Every day his troops increase."
Graym turned to his companions. "And you all told me
no one was hiring. It was nothing but a necessary market
downturn, and you call it a Catechism."
"Cataclysm," Darll hissed.
"Right you are, sir." Graym turned to Rhael. "And, now,
young elder ... I can't get used to that, by the way. Why are
you an elder, Miss?"
"Elders aren't chosen because they are old," a man next
to her, quite old himself, explained. "We are chosen because
each of us represents one of the elder virtues."
"And what," Graym asked, feeling his ears turning red,
"is Miss Rhael's virtue?"
"Elder Rhael embodies fearlessness."
"No wonder she's so young," Darll said dryly. "Fearlessness
never reaches old age. What about you?" He pointed
with both chained hands at the elder who had spoken. "Who
The old man stepped back from Darll. "I am Werlow,"
he said. "I embody caution."
"Good for you," said Darll. "And what did you do about
"I convinced the rest of the people to evacuate," Werlow
said. "We elders have stayed, to pray for the coming of
"We're here," Jarek said happily. "We're heroes, aren't
we?" He looked to Graym for support.
Graym cleared his throat. "I don't like to boast. We're
desperate men . . . and bold warriors, but we've left our
robbing ways behind us. We have trade goods" - he didn't
want to say 'ale,' though the barrels made it obvious - "that
we're taking all the way to Krinneor, where our fortunes
will be made and our lives will be good, in the richest city
in the world." His voice went husky. "The golden towers,
the marble doors, the excellent drains."
The elders exchanged glances. They were silent.
Finally Rhael said, "The road to Krinneor winds around
the Valley of Tombs. There is no way there, except through
The Wolf brothers made most unwarlike whimpering
sounds. Darll edged over and kicked them each, hard.
Graym frowned. "Don't they ever move out of the
cemetery, Miss? Parade, or bivouac, or do any of those nice
martial things that make armies so popular with
Rhael shook her head. "They have no need to," she said
sadly. "They just grow strong and plan to attack us."
"How much, to fight them?" Darll asked suddenly.
The elders looked at each other.
"Nothing," a reed-slender old woman said. "We heard
of your fight with the bounty hunters. That is why we
sought you. If you refuse to fight, we'll inform every hunter
we can find, and you'll be taken or killed."
"That seems harsh, Ma'am," Graym said. "Fight or die?
"And what elder virtue are you?" Darll asked.
The old woman smiled thinly. Thrift."
Graym made up his mind, turned, and addressed his
companions. "These pick-me-up armies are all bluff. Farm
boys and fishermen, not one real soldier in twenty."
Jarek was counting on his fingers. "How many real
soldiers does that make against each of us?"
"One," Fenris said flatly.
"Maybe even two," Farms added.
Graym waved his hand. "What's that to us? Nothing at
all. They're just trainees. We're road-tested. Months of
hardship, baking sun, blinding rain - "
"Great ale - " Jarek said, caught up in the enthusiasm.
Graym interrupted hurriedly. "And there you are. We'll
frighten off this lot in no time and be back on the road." He
raised a fist and shouted, "To Krinneor!"
"To Krinneor!" Jarek shouted. Darll said nothing. The
Wolf brothers looked worried.
The elders had tears in their eyes. Graym was pleased to
think he had moved them. He held out his hands. "As long
as we're fighting the good fight for you, so to speak, can
you lend us your swords?"
The elders stared at him.
"We didn't bring any," he added.
"It's not as if we needed them," Jarek said.
The elders were suitably impressed.
"The Protector fled with most of our good weapons. We
still have a few." Rhael lifted a rag-wrapped bundle and
gave it to Graym. "This is Galeanor, the Axe of the Just."
"Just what?" Jarek asked.
Graym took the axe, eyed it dubiously. "Just kidding."
Darll muttered in his ear. "Perfect. The fat man fights
and dies with the Axe of the Just Kidding."
Rhael handed the others dented weapons, the few the
Protector had left behind. Darll examined his sword with
distaste. Jarek looked at his with delight. The Wolf brothers
picked up two badly corroded maces, after touching them
gingerly to be sure they weren't dangerous. They stood
there, then, staring at one another.
"Don't you think you'd better take up positions opposite
the enemy?" Rhael suggested.
"You're absolutely right, Miss," Graym said firmly.
"Move out." With only a small twinge of guilt, he added,
"And we'll take the cart with us - for supplies . . . and . . .
They traipsed down the hill, walked through Graveside.
It was, Graym noted, a pleasant enough place, not much
bigger than Sarem. There were cart tracks in front of the
homes and manure piles in the tilled fields. It obviously was
a farm-to-market town for a larger city. "Krinneor isn't far
now," Graym said to the others. "We're closer to the city
itself. I know it. Now, if we can just shake this lot. . ."
Graym glanced behind him. Werlow began organizing
the elders for a safe retreat down the road. Rhael had gone
into one of the cottages.
Graym smiled; they continued on.
At the crest of the hill, Darll raised his hand in silent
warning. The others obediently stopped the cart.
"Keep low!" he ordered. They dropped to the ground
and peered into the valley below.
Tombstones and open graves, white tents and a great
many ropes stippled the valley and spread up the opposite
hill. A hundred helmeted, armored warriors stood in line,
ready for inspection. Graym looked shocked.
"These scum robbed the graves," said Darll. "And
they're wearing the corpses!"
"Odd taste in armor, made out of bones. What for, d'you
think, sir?" Graym asked.
"Wolves love bones," Darll said bitterly. "Sheep shy
away from them. No use in shying, though. The wolves
always win." He smiled grimly. "I know. I'm a wolf."
He pointed downhill cautiously. "The two in front with
the swords are drillmasters, showing close-quarter thrusts.
The ones checking the lines are lower-rank officers."
A man dashed up to a soldier, who was twisting this
way and that, cuffed him, and yelled in his face. The
shouting carried all the way to the hilltop.
"That," Darll said dryly, "would be the sergeant."
"Which one is Skorm?" Graym whispered.
"My guess would be the big guy, wearing the sawed-off
They watched as Skorm paced calmly and evenly,
inspecting the troops. The warlord, stepping over a skeleton,
kicked the skull. It shattered on a tombstone.
Graym peered down at him. "Now there's a man who
knows the value of appearances."
"Don't you ever say anything bad about anybody?"
Graym shrugged. "There's more than enough of that
around, sir, if you want it."
"What if we split them down the middle?" a voice said.
They rolled and turned around, Graym snatching the
axe from his belt. Rhael, a battered spear with a mended
haft in her hands, was standing behind them. She was
dressed in leather armor that probably had been trimmed
from a butcher's apron.
"I've always heard that was how to deal with a larger
force," she said.
"Young Elder Rhael," said Graym, "why don't you go
back to town and keep bad folk from climbing the hill to
Rhael looked at Graym admiringly. "You have the
mind of a warrior." She stood stiffly. "I won't let you down.
They watched her run back over the hill crest. "I wish I
could move like that," Graym said, envious.
"Wouldn't look good on you," Darll muttered.
Graym rubbed his rotund middle. "True enough, sir."
"Now," Darll said, "what's your battle plan?"
"Battle plan, sir?"
"You left Rhael to guard our rear - and an ugly rear at
that. What's your plan of attack?"
Graym shuddered. "Attack? Don't even think it, sir. My
plan is to run around Skorm and go on to Krinneor. Why do
you think we brought the cart?"
The Wolf brothers looked vastly relieved. Darll stared
at him, then began to laugh. "I like your style, fat man."
Graym hefted the axe. "Right. The chains, sir."
Darll was suspicious. "You're setting me free?"
"On good behavior." Graym glanced sideways down
the hill at the soldiers. "I can't send you running past that lot
in chains. They'd hear the rattle for sure."
Darll dropped to one knee and laid the chain on a
boulder, turning his head away and shutting his eyes tightly.
Graym swung the broadaxe overhead, brought it down.
Sparks shot in all directions. The Axe of the Just Kidding
sliced through the chain and gouged the rock. Shards Hew,
He raised his right hand to wipe his cheek. His left hand
automatically followed, a chain's length behind, then
dropped. He looked with wonder at his hands, then looked
longingly at the horizon ahead of them, beyond the army.
"Right. Ready to run for it?"
He pulled a thong from his pocket, wrapped it around
the sleeve of his right arm. Then he bent, tightened his
boots, and stood straight.
Graym stared. With only a few tucks and touches, Darll
had gone from prisoner to razor-sharp man of war. Graym
stared down the hill, where an army was blocking their way.
"Just think, sir," he said, "earlier today, the world was
sweet, and I wanted it to last forever. Isn't life amazing?"
"While you've got it," Darll said. He poked at Jarek,
who was playing mumblety-peg with his sword. "Tighten
everything, boy. You want free limbs. Loosen for marches,
tighten for fights or retreats."
Jarek tightened his belt hurriedly. Groaning with the
effort, Graym bent and tucked his breeches down into his
boot tops. He stood puffing and stared down the hill.
Jarek said eagerly, "Are we going to fight now?"
Graym shook his head. "That, my boy, would be the
worst disaster since the Cattle-Kissing."
"Cataclysm!" Darll said automatically. "I think we can run
around the end of the valley there and be safely on our way
to Krinneor before they know what happened."
"We'll be the first traders through Skorm's blockade,"
said Graym suddenly. "They'll call us heroes and pay triple
the value on every glass of ale."
He raised the Axe of the Just Kidding. "To Krinneor!"
Skormt turned around, looked in their general direction.
The Wolf brothers shrieked and dived for the cart.
"No!" Graym shouted.
It was too late. In the struggle to fit underneath the cart,
Fanris's foot dislodged the chuck block. The cart started
The ale!" Graym ran forward. Darll followed, swearing.
Jarek whooped and charged alongside him. The Wolf
brothers, terrified at being left alone, jumped up and ran
Cart and barrels hurtled down the hill, bouncing over
rocks, heading straight for Skorm and his officers.
The officers took one look and ran.
Astonishingly, none of the rank-and-file warriors
budged. "Training's training," Darll panted, "but that's not
The lead barrel, now thundering down faster than a man
could run, bounced off a dirt pile and into the first row of
warriors, who didn't even look up.
The second barrel hit the second row. The third barrel
tangled the ropes that had strung the soldiers together. The
bodies fell apart.
Darll gripped Graym's shoulder. "They're fake! Nothing
but armor on sticks and bones!"
He ran toward the "officers," apparently the only living
men on the field. Skorm shouted a command in a harsh
Two of the men sidled around Darll, keeping out of
range of his sword. One of them raised a throwing mace
and swung it with a deadly whir.
Graym, desperate, flung the axe end-over-end. It
thunked handle-first into the mace-swinger, knocked him
Darll leapt over the fallen man, stepping on his back.
"Officer material," he grunted, and wrapped his dangling
manacle chain around the other man's sword and pulled.
The sword flew out of the man's hand.
Darll shouted back to Jarek. "Pick up his sword!"
Jarek picked it up, dropping his own sword. Graym
punched an opponent in the stomach and doubled him over,
sent him stumbling into two men behind him.
The men staggered back and raised their swords,
jumping at the Wolf brothers, who were closest.
Fanris and Fenris looked at the armored, bone-covered
sword-carrying men. Panic-stricken, the brothers both
shrieked, "We surrender!" and tossed their maces in the air.
The maces hit each man squarely in the head. Fenris
and Fanris looked at each other in relief and turned to run
The remaining men, daunted by five berserkers crazed
enough to charge an entire army, fled.
Skorm turned his skull face toward Graym. The grave-
robber charged, aiming a vicious two-handed sword straight
for Graym's heart.
Darll yelled, "The axe!" picked it up, and threw it.
Graym caught the axe by the thong, just as it struck
Skorm's sword and shattered the blade. Graym grabbed the
axe handle clumsily, and smacked Skorm on the head.
Skorm Bonelover, the Sorrow of Huma, the Dark
Lady's Liege Man, the legendary Eater of Enemies, dropped
to the ground with a whimper.
The fat cooper, axe in hand, stood panting over him.
Rhael ran down the hill, spear in hand.
"We won!" she cried exultantly.
Halting, she looked down at Skorm's shattered sword
and frowned. "That looks familiar," she said. "That's the
Protector's Sword of Office!"
Graym bent and pulled the skull off Skorm's face. He
was conscious again and looked pinched and scared, but
fairly ordinary beyond that.
"Protector!" Rhael gasped.
Darll kicked the Protector's sword hilt away from him
and stood watching over him.
Rhael was staring admiringly at an embarrassed Graym. "I
heard the noise. I saw the whole thing. You charged an
army by yourselves!"
Darll opened his mouth to explain, but Jarek trod on his
foot. "We toppled our barrels on them. Then Graym was the
first one down. Not even Darll could outrun him."
Rhael sighed. "What a wonderful idea. But your trade
goods - your ale - you sacrificed them for us?"
"One barrel made it," Jarek told her. "It rolled off to
one side and didn't hit anybody." He shook his head. "But I
bet all those other soldiers are drinking it now."
"There are no other soldiers, rock-brain!" Darll
growled. "This Protector and his friends built them out of
corpses, tugged on ropes to make them move, pretended to
train them. They wanted to scare everyone out of town,
then loot it, and it nearly worked."
Jarek scratched his head. "Why didn't the town set up a
bunch of fake soldiers to fight back?" he asked.
Darll looked at Graym, at Jarek, and at the Wolf
brothers, who, seeing the fight was over, had returned. Darll
"They did set up fake soldiers. Sort of."
Graym cleared his throat. "Well, we'd best get on the
road." He handed the Axe of Just Kidding back to Rhael.
"Business calls, Miss. Glad we could help, and all."
She brushed his cheek with her finger. "You knew," she
said wonderingly. "Even before you attacked, you knew
Skorm was a fraud."
Graym looked uncomfortable. "Well, I had an idea.
Couldn't be sure, of course."
Darll rolled his eyes.
Graym, feeling awkward, said simply, "Nice meeting
you, Miss." He turned and walked through the graves and
the shattered mock soldiers.
They collected the cart and the single surviving barrel.
Graym tried, briefly, to find the barrel taps and the rest of
their belongings, then said, "Give it up." They dragged the
cart through the scattered armor, framework, and bones of
the open graves.
The cart rolled freely. Jarek looked at the single barrel
in it and said happily, "The price of ale must be way up
"Best thing that could happen, really," Graym said, but he
sounded troubled. He and the Wolf brothers drew the cart
alone. Darll and Jarek walked alongside as they moved up
the last hill before Krinneor. Darll was trying to learn the
second verse of "The Bald Maid and the Barber."
Fenris, beside Graym, said, "I hate to turn him in."
Graym nodded. "He's not a bad lot. Wanted to kill us or
jail us, but face it. Who wouldn't?"
Fanris, on his other side, said, "Can't we just let him
Graym stared at the road. "He's expected. We were paid
half in advance. We can't just two-step into Krinneor - "
"Do we need to go there so bad?" Fenris asked softly.
Graym looked back at the cart, bouncing easily with
one barrel of ale and no supplies. "It's all we've got left."
They walked in silence, watching Darll try to teach
Jarek to juggle. The mercenary, even while mocking Jarek's
efforts, had a hand affectionately on the man's shoulder.
The road cut through a pass and angled to the left.
Jarek sniffed the air. "I smell something funny."
"That's the sea, boy," said Graym.
But Darll looked troubled. "I didn't know there was an
arm of the sea here."
"A port city," Graym explained. "Not just rich, but a
trade center. We're nearly here. Beyond this curve, we'll see
the road on the shore, probably a lovely seaside view, all
the way to Krinneor - "
They rounded the comer.
The hill plunged down to a sandy beach strewn with
rocks. The road ended, half-covered with sand, sloping
down into the water and disappearing. Ahead was water, all
the way to the horizon,.a new sea, still gray with the silt
and mud of the land collapsing and the waters rushing in.
A half mile out from shore, a group of battered golden
spires stuck upright, barely a man's height above the waves.
Gulls were nesting on them.
The men rolled the cart to the beach and stood.
"The golden towers," Fenris said.
"The marble doors," Fanris said.
"And excellent drains," said Darll.
Graym, staring at the spires in shock, murmured, "I
hear that's very important for a city."
The others laughed for quite a while. Graym sat on a
rock by the shore, staring.
Jarek moved down the beach, picking up stones to skip.
The Wolf brothers, once they were over their fear of gulls,
took off their boots and went wading. Darll walked up to
Graym. "Where to from here?"
"Nowhere." Graym stared, unseeing, over the open
water. "No horses, no food, no money. No Krinneor." He
blinked his eyes rapidly. "All gone."
Darll was shocked. "There's a world out there. You can
Behind them, a voice said, "You can stay here."
Rhael came forward, holding some sort of medallion
and twisting it in her fingers. Her determination was gone;
she looked unsure of herself.
Graym stared at her a moment. "You knew the truth
about Krinneor, didn't you?"
"We all knew. No one wanted to tell you before you
"I don't suppose you did, Miss," Graym said heavily.
"Afterward, Elder Werlow was afraid of you. You're
Darll had the grace not to laugh.
"So you let us go. Good joke." Graym sighed.
She twisted the medallion chain almost into a knot. "I
argued with them and said I'd follow you and apologize,
and - and give you this."
She held up the medallion, realized how twisted it was.
"Sorry." She untwisted the chain nimbly, then dropped it
over Graym's neck. "There."
The medallion was a small shield with a single piece of
black opal in the shape of an axe. Graym looked down at it.
"It was brave, your coming here when you were
embarrassed. Thank you, Miss. I'll keep this."
"Until he gets hungry," Darll said bluntly, "then he'll sell
it. He'll have to."
Rhael ignored the mercenary. "Why not stay in
Graveside?" she asked. She touched the medallion. "To fill
the office that goes with this."
"Office?" Graym said blankly, opening his eyes.
"Of Protector," Rhael said. On impulse, she kissed his
cheek. "Please take it. Your men, too. You'll have food and
lodging, and we know we can trust you."
Graym stared bemusedly at her. "Me, a law officer?"
He turned to Darll. "Would I be any good, sir?"
"Unless you rob them, you can't do worse than the last
one they had." He looked at the dangling chain. "I suppose
you'll put me in jail there?"
Graym sighed. "Can't do it, now that I'm their Protector.
Wouldn't be right, would it, sir? I mean, you're their war
hero and all."
He frowned, concentrating, then smiled and slapped
Darll on the back. "You can go, sir. It's all right. You're
Darll's jaw fell and he goggled at Graym. "You're
"First offense, like you said, sir. You've matured since
then. Probably be an upstanding citizen of Graveside." He
puckered his brow, thinking, and suddenly brightened. "You
could stay and be my military advisor."
"You lead? Me advise?" It was too much. Darll shook
his head and walked away, swearing, laughing, and
"What's he upset about?" Jarek asked. "He fought all
"You all fought wonderfully," Rhael said firmly.
"You're our heroes." She kissed Graym again, then walked
swiftly back through the pass toward Graveside.
"Heroes?" the Wolf brothers said at once, and laughed.
Graym said gruffly, "There've been worse."
Darll looked back up the road toward Graveside, at the
retreating Rhael. "Lucky for them they found us, in fact."
Graym grinned at the others. "Best thing that could
have happened, really."
Suddenly he was back at the cart, tugging on one of the
shafts. Darll joined him. "Right, then. Let's get back."
Graym pointed at the remaining barrel of ale. "Skull-Splitter
all around, when we get there, on the house."
It was a surprisingly fast trip.
INTO SHADOW, INTO LIGHT
RICHARD A. KNAAK
The knight stalked across the hellish landscape, sword in hand. The
fog failed to conceal the desolation around him. Gnarled trees and
churned dirt were sights all too familiar after so long. His world, his
cursed world, was always much the same: dry, crackling soil, no sun, no
shadows, no refuge, no life, just endless devastation . . . and
somewhere in the fog, those who ever hunted him.
The fever burned, but, as always, he forced himself to
withstand the pain. Sweat poured down his face, trickling
into his armor. The plague that coursed through him never
rested. Oddly, it had been a part of him so long that he
probably would have felt lost without it.
The rusted armor creaked as the knight stumbled up a
small hill. Beneath the rust on his breastplate there could
still be seen a ravaged insignia marking him as a knight of
the Solamnic orders. He rarely looked down at the fading
mark, for it was a mockery of his life, a reminder of why he
had been condemned to this existence.
The price of being a traitor had been heavier than he had
ever thought possible.
As he started down the other side of the ravaged hill, the
knight caught sight of something odd, something out of
place in this wasteland. It seemed to glitter, despite the lack
of sunlight, and to the weary knight it was worth more than
a mountain of gold. A stream of clear, cool water flowed no
more than a few yards from where he stood.
He smiled - a rare smile of hope. The knight staggered
forward, moving as fast as he could manage, ignoring pain,
fatigue, fear. How long since his last drink of water? The
memory escaped him.
Kneeling before the stream, he closed his eyes. "My
Lord Paladine, I beseech you! Hear this simple prayer! Let
me partake this once! A single sip of water, that is all I ask!"
The knight leaned forward, reached out toward the
stream . . . and fell back in horror as he stared into its
"Paladine preserve me," he muttered. Slowly leaning
forward again, he stared at his image in the stream.
Pale as a corpse, his face was gaunt, almost skull-like.
Lank, wispy hair - what could be seen beneath his helm -
was plastered to his head. His eyes were colorless; had they
always been that way? A faint, sardonic smile briefly
touched his countenance. "I look like a ghost. How
appropriate now," he said to his reflection.
The water continued to flow past, and he recalled the
purpose for which he had paused. Again he stretched forth
his gauntleted hand. The water might rust the metal, but the
parched knight did not care. All that existed was the hope
that this once - just this once - he might be allowed a sip.
His fingertips reached the surface of the tiny river,
passed through it without even touching.
He cursed, cursed the gods who had doomed him to this
wretched life. In frustration, he thrust his hand as deep into
the water as he could. The stream flowed on. He didn't
create so much as a ripple.
Growing more desperate, the knight thrust his other
hand into the water. He tried to cup some of the liquid, but
each time his hands came free of the stream, they held
nothing. This land might have been a desert for all he could
His head lowered. The sound of mocking laughter came
to him, but he did not know if it was real or his imagination.
He had never known.
"How long must I pay?" the knight demanded of his
unseen tormentor. "What must I do to earn a sip of water?"
He pounded his fist against the ground, but even that
much comfort was denied him. His hand could not touch the
soil. There was always a small distance between the world
and him. The ground, like everything else, refused to accept
his touch, refused him peace.
"I am dead!" he roared at no one. "Let me rest!"
Dead. He was nothing more than a ghost now, a ghost
sentenced to pay in death for the darksome deeds he had
performed in life. Now and forever, the Abyss was his
home, his reward for living that life.
How long since his death? He had no idea. Time meant
nothing here. But he thought the Dragon War must be long
over. What was happening now in the world of his birth,
Krynn? Had centuries passed since his spirit had been
exiled to this phantom plain where no one existed but
himself and those who sought vengeance? Or had it been
The clink of armor warned him that he was no longer
alone. His pursuers had found him again. The knight
reached for his sword, but it was flight that was on his
mind. Combat was a last, desperate effort; it was
predestined that he would lose any battle.
Then the whispers began.
RENNARD. . . WE COME!
His name. After so long, he often forgot. They were
always there to remind him, however. They could never
forget the name of the one responsible.
BETRAYER. . .
OATHBREAKER. . .
Rennard may not have remembered his name, but now
the other memories were too terrible to forget.
His pursuers could not be far behind. Despite his
danger, the cursed knight could not help but take one last
desperate glance at the cool, sparkling stream.
"One sip," he prayed, reaching his hand a last time
toward the water. "Is that so much to ask?"
And then ... it was as if the world, ALL worlds, shrieked
in agony, began to shake.
Rennard found himself cast out into an invisible
maelstrom, caught up in some new, inventive torment of
The whispers died. He wondered if his pursuers, too,
had been caught up by this chaos. Rennard stood. The
desolate realm that was his home, his prison, began to fade
before his eyes. He caught a glimpse of shadowy forms,
swords, and bitter eyes, then they dwindled away to
nothing. He heard a sound - one so out of place that he
could not believe he heard it.
"The Honor of Huma survives
The Glory of Huma survives
Solamnic breath is taken
My sword is broken of Dragons"
It was a human voice singing. And he heard a name . . .
Huma? How could such a thing be? What did it mean? The
melody drew the knight. Without thinking, Rennard moved
toward it, followed it. ...
He found himself standing in a fogbound, desolate land.
Something is different, Rennard thought. This is not the
The song faded away, but Rennard barely noticed. He
stared at his surroundings. Some sort of terrible upheaval
had wrecked this land. Trees - leviathans - lay broken on
the ground. What once had been a well-traveled road was
cracked and half buried under rubble. Thick clouds filled
the heavens. A mortal might have thought this some
variation of the infernal Abyss, but Rennard knew better.
The living forest, struggling to survive, a bird fluttering
overhead, the sounds that assailed him - all spoke of LIFE.
He fell to his knees.
"Krynn!" Rennard whispered. "How have I come here?
Is this truly the real world?"
A part of him was afraid it was a dream, that any
second he would find himself once more fleeing his ever-
present enemies. "Is this Krynn? Or have I merely entered
some new phase of my punishment?" he asked bitterly.
A low laugh - or was it the wind? - teased him. The spec
tral knight twisted around, searching for the source. "Morgion,
dark Lord of Decay and Disease, master of my grief,
do I still entertain you?" he cried out.
No answer came.
Was that a tall, bronze tower he saw in the distance, a
tower perched upon the edge of a precipice? A tower
dedicated to Morgion, used by those who served him? The
knight stared, but all he saw was a lone tree leaning
precariously over the edge of a newly formed cliff. It was
not the sanctum of the malevolent deity.
Bewildered, confused, he stared at his surroundings and
made a bitter discovery. The muddy ground in which he
knelt was soft. Despite the weight of his bulky armor,
Rennard had not sunk so much as a finger's width into
Krynn's blessed soil. He made not the slightest impression.
The knight rose to his feet. He cursed the gods who had
brought him to this new fate. He was free of his prison, but
not free of his damnation. Ansalon - if this was Ansalon -
offered him nothing more than the demonic plain from
which he had been cast out. Rennard raised his fist to the
shrouded sky and wished that there had never been gods.
Dread, familiar sounds - the pounding of hooves, the
dash of armor - jolted him. His pursuers had followed him!
The knight turned at the sound, the sight strengthening
A knight in war-scarred armor, riding a black horse,
came at him. The steed - spittle flying as it strained to keep
its mad pace - covered the distance between itself and
Rennard in great strides. The horse's master, riding low,
urged the animal on in harsh, unintelligible cries.
The horse charged straight at Rennard, but it was not a
demonic phantom. It was a flesh-and-blood horse, a flesh-
and-blood man - a man whose armor marked him as a
Knight of Solamnia.
To see a living being, even one wearing the armor of
those Rennard had betrayed, was so overwhelming that the
ghost could not readily accept the vision. Rennard stretched
a tentative hand toward the oncoming knight. The ghost
longed to touch a living, breathing person.
The horse shied, nearly throwing its rider. The other
knight cursed and turned the animal back on the path, the
path upon which Rennard stood. The horse stared fearfully
at the wraith, then galloped forward.
It took Rennard several seconds to realize the truth.
The horse, unable to swerve, had run THROUGH him. The
ghost stared after the knight and his dark steed, riding
madly down the broken road.
Rennard had to follow. Here was the first living being
he had seen since his death, and a knight! Although he had
betrayed the knighthood, Rennard felt a kinship for the
warrior. Besides, here might be a chance to discover why
the ghost had come to be once more on the face of Ansalon.
"I must catch him ... But it's too late. I'll never be able
to keep pace with the swift animal." As he started forward,
the world seemed to ripple.
The ghost found himself standing in a new location,
several yards AHEAD of the rider.
The other knight rode past. Rennard followed. Once
more, the world rippled. Once again, Rennard had
journeyed to a location ahead of the mortal.
Suddenly, the rider brought his horse to a halt, forcing
his mount to veer off the path.
Rennard joined the mortal.
A body - that of an elderly man, a peasant by his
clothes - lay in the brush, no more than a day dead.
The knight couldn't force his steed nearer. Rennard
gradually realized that he was at fault. The animal could
sense the ghost, though its master could not. Rennard
stepped back a few paces, out of sight. The skittish horse
The rider dismounted and approached the body.
Rennard was amused to note that the knight drew a sword,
just in case the wretched figure rose from the dead. A
moment later, Rennard realized that perhaps the knight was
not so foolish. Rennard was proof that anything was
The knight pushed back his helm, bent down to study
the remains, and carefully noted the direction the old man
had been traveling. Rennard took time to study the knight.
He was young, though still old enough to bear the symbol
of the Order of the Rose on his breastplate.
Rennard sneered. Arrogant and self-serving, that was the
Order of the Rose. Most of the high lords of the Solamnic
brotherhood came from the ranks of the Rose.
Rennard had murdered one of them, and here was the
epitome of the handsome and heroic warrior that peopled
the stories of bards and the dreams of maidens: perfect,
honed features; dark, brooding eyes and firm jaw; black hair
that curled from under his helm; a well-groomed moustache
in the style still traditional among the Knights of Solamnia.
The ghost touched his own marred features. Here was
everything that Rennard had never been. He'd rather look at
the corpse, and the young knight was studying the corpse,
too, with more than casual interest.
Although the hapless peasant evidently had suffered
from many things, disease had killed him. Rennard, who
knew of such things, could see the signs.
"Aaah, good folk of Ansalon," Rennard muttered as he
looked at the corpse, "the gods treat you so well!"
The young knight had lost interest in the corpse and
was now gazing down the road.
The peasant had not been alone. The tracks of more
than a dozen people and one or two animals spoke of a long,
arduous journey by a group of people in great haste.
Rennard saw an endless trek, much like a journey he once
had made. One by one, the members of the party had
collapsed and been left behind, like this, left behind by
those too terrified to stop to bury their dead.
The young knight began to talk, and at first Rennard
wondered if another ghost haunted this region, for there was
no one to respond.
"A day, Lucien, not much more. They're on foot. I'll
surely catch up tomorrow. Then I will avenge you!" The
young knight kicked the body with the heel of his boot,
kicked it again and again until he wearied of the sport.
Then, face twisted in bitterness and rage, the knight turned
Vengeance? Not - if Rennard recalled correctly - an act
approved of by the knighthood.
Virtuous on the outside, foul within. Rennard had been a
traitor and murderer - that was true - but others in the
knighthood carried their share of dark secrets as well.
Eyeing the mortal with growing distaste, he muttered, "And
what are YOUR secrets, great Knight of the Thorny Rose?"
His living counterpart stiffened, then looked in the
ghost's direction, a trace of puzzlement on the young
knight's features. His exhaustion was evident. Rennard saw
rings under the eyes; the eyes themselves had the sunken
look of a man who had driven himself for days. After a few
moments - moments in which Rennard would have held his
breath (provided he still breathed) - the young fighter
rubbed his eyes, turned away, and resumed his inspection of
the corpse and the trail.
The young knight took a few steps, following the
direction of the dead man's footprints. Each step was less
certain than the last. He was almost too tired to go on.
Perhaps realizing this himself, the young knight returned to
his mount and used the tired beast as support.
"Tomorrow, Lucien. I'll find them tomorrow." He
clenched his fist. "cThey'll pay, the murderous carrion!
They'll pay a hundredfold for your life. As my name is Erik
Dornay, so I swear over and over it shall be!"
With some effort, Dornay mounted. He didn't give the
corpse a second look, but for a brief instant his eyes
returned to the general area where the ghost stood,
watching. Frowning, Erik finally urged his horse along the
trail. The animal needed no encouragement; it set off at a
brisk pace, fueled by its obvious desire to get as far from
Rennard as possible.
The horse's desperate efforts were useless. This young
knight interested Rennard too much to let him go. The
mortal might know where Rennard was, why he was here.
And the ghost was anxious to know the reasons behind the
vengeance that drove the young Solamnian to turn against
the Oath and Measure.
Rennard had one other reason, one that he did not like
to admit to himself. Night was fast approaching and night -
in his mind - brought the hunters. But would they close the
circle with a living person nearby?
Better the company of a Knight of the Rose than yet an
other confrontation with the bitter souls who owed their
damnation to Rennard.
Rennard gripped the hilt of his sword and vanished after
the diminishing figure of Erik Dornay.
Shortly after nightfall, Dornay ended his ride and made
camp in a small copse of tangled trees. The halt was not by
choice, if Rennard was any reader of expressions, but made
out of necessity. The horse s breathing was ragged; it was
doubtful that the unfortunate animal would have lasted
much longer without rest. Dornay himself nearly collapsed
as he dismounted, but the young knight took care of his
horse, fed and tethered the animal. He built a small campfire,
over which he set a piece of meat to cooking.
The aroma of the cooking meat drifted over to Rennard.
The smell brought a terrible hunger for food. Without
thinking, he stepped toward the fire. The horse, sensing
him, neighed loudly and pulled on its reins.
Erik, just removing his helm, looked swiftly around.
Rennard paid no attention to the knight. The ghost bent
down by the fire and stared at the meat. He nearly forgot the
agony of the plague that eternally tormented him.
"Paladine, Kiri-Jolith, Morgion, Takhisis . .. Gilean . . ."
Rennard chanted in rapid succession. "If there be one who
still watches over me, let me eat! Let me taste it. . ."
The meat sizzled. The ghostly knight reached out.
His fingers went through it, just as they had passed
through the water earlier.
"Not again!" Frustrated, Rennard swung his hand at the
Dornay's meal, spit and all, collapsed into the fire.
Rennard stared at his hand. Erik leapt forward and tried
to rescue his meal. Cursing, the young knight dusted off his
food and reset it to cooking.
"Did I do that?" wondered the ghost. He reached out
again, but, to his dismay, his fingers could not touch it. He
could only watch as Dornay removed the hot flesh a minute
or two later and began to eat. Rennard envied every bite.
"This is madness!" Rennard cursed. "Better the ravages
of plague or the thrust of a thousand swords than to suffer
this hunger!" He stepped back, intent on departing but
strangely reluctant to leave.
Dornay lifted a flask of cool water to his mouth.
Rennard rushed from the encampment. He had traded
the endless running for this? Which was worse, he
wondered, the fear or the desire?
Searing pain made him stumble - the ever-present
torture of the plague. Rennard gritted his teeth and struggled
to remain standing. Fever consumed his already dead flesh.
Chills shook a body that did not exist.
Then a melody drifted to him, a melody that seemed to
ease the plague's torment. Rennard slowly recovered, and
as he did, his attention focused on the song.
temper me now
Grant me grace and love
When the heart of the Knighthood
wavers in doubt
Grant me this, Warrior Lord"
"Huma . . ." he whispered. It was the same song that
had carried him through the chaos and into the plane of the
living. The singer was Erik Dornay.
Walking toward the camp, the ghost listened to the
Heroes existed only in tales, not reality. They were the
products of the ignorant, who had no other hope. The
knighthood itself was proof, as far as Rennard was
concerned. No heroes there. More darkness than light.
Yet even Rennard could not deny Huma's courage, his
honor, his compassion ... for one who had betrayed him.
Step by step, Rennard moved closer to the fire. Erik
Dornay sang quietly, with a tenderness and awe that
seemed out of place after his callous treatment of the
corpse, his sworn oath of vengeance.
Rennard stared at the young knight. Dornay had thrust his
sword into the ground. He knelt before it, still singing.
Rennard realized that it was the young knight's way of
easing his mind, preparing for the evening rituals that were
an integral part of a knight's training.
"Honor is Huma
Glory is Huma
Solamnic Knight Huma survives
Glorified Huma survives
Huma. Erik began to pray, spoke of him as Huma of
the Lance, spoke about a lance that had won the Dragon
War and swept the Dark Queen from the heavens.
Seeing Erik in the dim light of the campfire, Rennard
could almost imagine his former comrade kneeling there.
Huma and Erik Dornay were similar in appearance, even
without the hypnotic influence of the song.
"So, Huma, young squire - my kinsman - you have
become a hero. A hero." The irony was not lost on the
ghost. He had betrayed the knighthood, betrayed Huma -
one of the few Rennard had ever thought worthy of the
ideals of the Oath and the Measure. "And it was I who
helped train you, not knowing you would cause my
Was this the reason he was here? the cursed knight
wondered. A reason involving the mortal before him? Or
was it mere coincidence?
The singing and prayers had ceased. Dornay was on his
feet now, and the sword, which had stood like a monument,
was in his hands - a deadly weapon in the grip of one well-
versed in its use.
"Who's there? Who spoke? Enough of this! I've heard
you before! Show yourself!"
Rennard, alarmed, looked to see if his pursuers had
come while he had been lost in reverie. For a moment, the
shadows of night became the hunters, but the ghost soon
saw that there was no one, living or dead, other than Dor-
nay and himself.
"You hear me, then, Knight of the Prickly Rose?"
Rennard asked, not expecting an answer.
"I hear you too well, cur! Come out of hiding! Reveal
yourself to me or I will let my blade find you!"
Dornay shifted to face the location where the ghost
Rennard stared, amazed.
"You would not like me, mortal," the ghost replied,
testing. "And your blade would be sorely disappointed."
"Where are you?" Exhausted as he was, Dornay was
calm, alert. "I hear where you must be, but I see nothing
Rennard walked slowly toward his young counterpart.
"There is something here, Knight of the Rose, but nothing
you can touch, not even the smallest bone remains. The
physical shell I once wore was burned shortly after I killed
myself, so very long ago."
"Killed yourself?" Erik's eyes rounded. "So you claim
to be a ghost? You lie! More likely a spellcaster in hiding!
Yes, that's who you must be!"
Rennard shook his head. "I am no mage, Erik Dornay.
Do you recall the body you found not too far from here?
The old man? I was watching you then. You thought you
heard something . . . even saw something, didn't you?"
Dornay's countenance was nearly as pale as that of his
unholy companion. The young knight backed slowly away,
the sword stretched out before him. Rennard could guess
some of what the knight must be thinking. Exhaustion
could do things to the mind, especially one filled with grief
and a burning desire for vengeance. Dornay probably
debated which was more terrible - the thought that he had
gone insane or the prospect that he faced a spirit from
"A trick," he muttered.
"I am real, Erik Dornay, as real as the armor you wear,
but as insubstantial as your faith in the oaths you took when
you donned the mantle of a knight." Rennard laughed.
Erik put a hand to his breastplate and touched the rose
symbol. "Why do you haunt me, specter? Why reveal
yourself to me now? Leave me! Go back to your rest!"
"Rest?" The word struck Rennard as sharply as a
wellhoned sword. "I cannot rest! I am not allowed to rest!"
He stalked forward until he was almost face-to-face with the
other knight, who continued to stare wildly around. "Gladly
would I call an end to this accursed existence of mine!
Gladly would I earn my REST!"
Erik stepped back again, aware that whatever haunted
him lurked just ahead, but not at all certain what could be
done about the situation.
Rennard found relief in venting his centuries-old anger
on someone. "Would that I could reveal myself to you,
Knight of the Rotting Rose, so that you could see the fate
I've been condemned to!"
And there and then, Erik Dornay, staring in mute
horror, nearly dropped his sword and fled, for the ghost,
without knowing it, had done just that.
"A knight!.. . You are a knight... ." Dornay stared at the
ghost's ruined face - the pale, drawn skin, the boils, and the
"Plague!" Erik's sword arm extended as straight as
possible. "Keep back!"
Rennard moved closer.
"Where is your brotherly concern?" he mocked. "I am
in need. The plague still thrives within me, gnaws at me
even after death. Surely, it is for you to aid a comrade!" He
opened his arms, as if to embrace Dornay.
"May the gods forgive me!" Erik leapt forward and
thrust his sword between Rennard's helm and breastplate.
The young knight's aim was true, so much so that the
ghost expected to feel the death blow. Then, to Rennard's
bitter amusement and Erik's disbelief, the blade passed
through without obstruction.
The young Solamnian dropped his sword and stared at
his hand, as if IT were somehow to blame for the impossible
sight he had just witnessed.
"Had it been my choice," Rennard said, "the blade
would have sheared my head from my body, once and for
all ending this accursed existence!"
"Paladine save me!" Erik cried.
"Paladine cannot save you. He did not save ME," the
ghost knight hissed. "That was for another, darker lord to
do. Morgion it was, who finally heard my plea, but he
demanded a heavy price."
"Who - " The young knight pulled himself together.
"Who are you, wraith? Why does your tragic existence
haunt me now, in my grief?"
"You should know. It was YOU who called me. You -
with your song."
"The . . . song?" Erik eyed the phantom, more
perplexed than he was anxious. He frowned. "I am no foul
necromancer, like the followers of Chemosh!"
"Nonetheless, it was your song." Rennard circled
Dornay, his eyes never leaving the mortal. "The one you
sang about ... Huma."
"Huma? Huma of the Lance?"
"Just Huma to me, a knight who believed and, because
he believed, fought as few others could. I knew him well,
you see, even aided in his training. That was before . . ."
Erik's eyes were wary and thoughtful. One did not rise
to the Order of the Rose without being able to adapt to the
unknown, even if that included the undead.
Rennard guessed what he was thinking. "If you have a
way, Mortal, to rid yourself of me, by all means try. I
would welcome rest after so long. I am tired of running, of
fighting in futility." Here, at last, Rennard could not hide
his own despair. "Tired of the pain."
"Your name, Ethereal One. You still have not said."
The flickering flames of the tiny campfire caught the
ghost's attention. He reached down and passed his hand
through the fire. "You see? Nothing, not even now." He
straightened. "My name? You probably would not know it.
I daresay that it was stricken from the rolls when the truth
of my betrayal was known. I had, after all, murdered one
grand master and attempted to kill his successor. Although
many servants of the Dark Queen fell by my sword, I
betrayed the plans of the knighthood whenever possible and
caused the deaths of many men by my actions, all in the
name of Morgion, dread Lord of Disease and Decay."
Dornay gasped. "I know YOU! I know the tales that
they whisper, even now!" His handsome face twisted.
"Rennard the Oathbreaker!"
Bowing, mocking, the ghost replied, "I thought myself
forgotten. Yes, I have the dishonor of being him."
Erik snatched his sword from the ground, held it before
him. His eyes were narrow slits, his breathing rapid. He
began muttering under his breath.
Rennard recognized the litany and was amused.
"Exorcising demons? You are not so well-versed for one of
your rank. I doubt I will be so easily dismissed, even if you
should happen upon the proper chant."
"Why does the ghost of a traitor and murderer visit me?
Do the gods think you will stop me in my chosen course?
Lucien's death demands justice! He was murdered
needlessly, and I will see that his killers pay! Now begone!"
Rennard turned his horrific face toward the mortal. "I
would very much like to be gone, Erik Dornay, but not to
where I have been since my death. Peace is what I ask . . .
peace and a sip of water." He stared into the flame, recalling
the past. "I want nothing to do with you, but something has
drawn me here. This is not the first time I have heard the
song you sang tonight, a song about him. Huma never
would have believed it. He would have shaken his head - "
"Do not speak his name!" Erik pointed the useless
sword at the ghost as if he still intended somehow to run
Rennard through. "He was everything that you were not,
traitor! He was everything that I wanted to be!"
Wanted to be? thought the ghost. "And so you no
longer desire to be like him?"
The young knight stiffened, then lowered his sword. "I
cannot, not now, not after I kill them." His gaze strayed to
the woods beyond. "So much has changed since the
Cataclysm. At first they begged for our help. Then, with a
swiftness unmatched even by the wind, the rumors began!
Some of the rumors were not without foundation, but to
blame the knighthood as a whole is unthinkable! If we were
spared the brunt of the disaster, surely it meant that we were
Paladine's chosen! We should have been their guides on the
path of recovery. Instead, the scum we tried to protect
turned on us. 'Look!' they cried. 'Ansalon shakes and
quivers, people die, and the knights are untouched!' "
The young Solamnian laughed harshly. "Some even
claimed we had conspired with the gods, for it was Ergoth,
our ancient tyrant, and Istar, our magnificent rival, who
suffered most. Lucien tried to reason with them - the
ignorant offal. And they dragged him down from his horse
and murdered him!"
None of this made much sense to Rennard. "And was
the knighthood responsible for this . . . this Cataclysm?"
Erik glowered. "How can you ask that? You were a
"Yes," said Rennard dryly, "I was a knight."
"I swear that we were not!" Dornay's voice shook. "It
could never be!"
After a pause, Erik asked, "Did you really know him?"
"Very well." Rennard stood silently, his mind a
whirlpool of memories. He stared at the mortal before him
and saw Huma. The similarities were more than skin deep.
Am I supposed to turn him along the proper path?
Rennard asked whoever had sent him. I was a puppet in
life. Am I to be one in death? Better he make his own
destiny, whatever the consequences! At least the choice
will be his!
Rennard saw, to his surprise, that the young Knight of
the Rose was staring at him, not in fear and loathing, but in
desperate need. "Huma . . . What would he have done?
Would he have understood? Lucien was my friend, more
than friend ... he was dearer than any brother. Please,
specter, tell me, what would Huma - ?"
"Huma would have done what Huma would have
done," Rennard interjected quickly. Thinking of Huma
stirred memories and emotions that the ghost refused to
acknowledge. "Just as you will do what you will do."
"That is no answer!" Dornay said angrily. "Would he
have understood my need for vengeance? Tell me!"
I will not do this! Rennard told those who'd sent him.
Dornay's path must be his own! What course his life takes
will be his choice, not that of some interfering deity!
The ghost thought he heard whispers then, but perhaps
they were only his own thoughts, speaking back to him:
WOULD YOU CONDEMN ANYONE, EVEN YOUR
WORST ENEMY, TO A FATE SUCH AS yours?
A fate such as mine? Erik's thirst for vengeance could
hardly be as great a crime as those I committed. But,
Rennard could not help wondering, once he's done murder,
he might sink lower still. One day, he might find himself
trapped in a futile flight from those he killed and who,
because of him, would never be able to rest either.
The "Song of Huma" ran through his mind.
"Huma," Rennard whispered. The man who was now
legend never abandoned me, he even looked up to me.
Huma - the man, not the legend - had been there in the end,
trying to save me from myself. Rather than face him, I took
the coward's way out. I slit my own throat.
Rennard turned his eyes briefly to the murky heavens. "I
will do this for you, Huma ... of the Lance. I will do it for
you, not the gods. Never them."
Pale eyes narrowing, the ghost answered the young
knight's question. "He would have understood VERY well
what you were doing, Erik Dornay. You have my oath on
that. Unlike you, however, Huma would have understood
the meaning and the consequences as well. And, therefore,
he would never have considered your dark course." Rennard
shifted so as to allow the fire to illuminate his features.
"Huma would have known that such a course can lead one
only to a fate . . . like mine. Each life I took follows me,
punishes me." Rennard shivered, the flickering shadows
caused by the fire too lifelike at that moment. "The number
still horrifies me, when they begin to gather."
"But they killed Lucien! They don't deserve to live! I
have to ... to ..." Backing away, Dornay stumbled over to his
horse. He untied the animal and wearily mounted, ignoring
the fact that his helm still lay on the ground.
"You may deny me, mortal. You may even deny Huma,
whom you claim to admire. Can you, though, deny
Erik Dornay did not respond. He turned his horse and
urged the animal on with a harsh kick to the ribs.
Rennard materialized in front of him. "Huma - the squire I
trained, the knight I fought beside and against, the legend
that led you to the Solamnic orders - watches us. He had a
way of affecting others, Erik Dornay, even me. For that
reason and that reason alone, I will not let this end. I will
haunt you day and night if I have to."
The Knight of the Rose kicked his protesting charger
again, forcing the horse to ride through Rennard.
The ghost disappeared, made himself reappear in front
of the startled animal. The horse tried to turn away, but Erik
once more forced the terrified beast to keep to the chosen
route. Snorting in frustration and anxiety, the mount again
raced through the apparition and galloped down the path.
Rennard followed. He'd wait until the horse could go
no farther, which couldn't be very long. What would Erik do
when he realized it was impossible to escape the ghost?
Rennard did not know. The young knight was wavering in
his desire for revenge, but it was at such an emotional
junction that the greatest danger lay. Erik might go through
with his dark plan merely to prove to himself he was not a
man of weak resolve, that he kept his promises to his
friends. The ghost was all too aware of what people had
done for lesser reasons.
Dornay's flight took them into thickening woods. A
number of the trees had been uprooted, but most had more
or less survived intact. The forest should have meant
nothing to the ghost. Yet, for some reason that made no
sense to him, he was reminded of Morgion. Rennard grew
more cautious, even drawing his sword, just in case.
Ahead of him now, the Knight of the Rose suddenly
reined to a halt. The flatter land gave way again to hills.
There was a campfire in the distance.
The refugees? Those he pursued? Dornay evidently
thought so, for he moved with more stealth now.
Rennard debated with himself. He stared at the not-so-
distant flame and decided it would be wise to take a closer
look. Erik would not reach the camp for several minutes,
whereas the ghost could flit in and out in less time than it
took to draw a breath.
It proved easy to pick out a spot near, but not too near,
the encampment. As a precaution, Rennard was careful to
hide behind a gnarled oak, on the off-chance that he was
visible to all, not merely Erik.
In the dim light of Solinari, the ghost saw the terrible mob
that had murdered the knight Lucien.
These wretched people looked little more alive than
Rennard. They hardly seemed like a dangerous lot: sick old
men, desperate young men, worn down women, crying
children. With not enough to eat or wear, they were lost,
with no knowledge of surviving off the land.
They will not survive their journey. If Erik doesn't kill
them, they will wander around in circles until they all fall
from disease and exposure and starvation.
Without raising a finger, the knight could sentence them
all to death. With Erik's help, the group could survive.
Rennard returned to Erik, materialized next to him. The
young knight had found another corpse.
In the light of the moon, the dead man's visage was
nearly as horrible as that of the ghost. Rennard shivered,
though not from fear. There was no doubting that the
peasant - a man younger and much more burly than the
previous corpse - had not died easily. He had struggled until
"Do not touch him!So" Rennard commanded.
Erik looked up, his surprise giving way quickly to
nervous annoyance. "What are you doing here, phantom?"
"Saving you. This man died of plague."
Dornay quickly backed a respectable distance away.
Rennard moved closer, noted the man's contorted features,
the red splotches on his hands and face. A dusty film that
sparkled a bit in the moonlight had already settled on the
upturned visage. It had been a cruel death.
"Did you touch him?" Rennard demanded.
"No, thank Paladine, but I was almost ready to do so."
Rennard turned from the corpse, Morgion's legacy.
Legacy? Rennard turned back.
He thought of all disease as originating from the dark
lord, but some had origins more human than godly. Rennard
leaned close and studied the film on the unfortunate man's
visage. Even in the dim moonlight, the dust shimmered with
a metallic gleam.
"So some accursed things continue," Rennard muttered.
The victim had not died of plague. To the unknowing, it
would seem so, but Rennard recognized the dust. The other
symptoms, too, made sense, now that he knew the truth.
The legacy of Morgion had indeed killed this man, but
it was human hands that had done the work - an evil
powder, a poison, whose signs mimicked the plague. The
ghost knew its uses all too well. The powder was a favorite
tool of those who served the Master of the Bronze Tower. It
was sacred to them, as if they held the very power of their
god in their hands. The poison could be created by anyone
with the knowledge. The Lord of Decay was not a trusting
god, even with his followers. Only the most devout learned
the secrets of his worship. Morgion's powers were reserved
for those who guided the cult, the Nightmaster and his
Any loyalty Rennard had ever owed to his dread master
had* died with his body. Morgion rewarded failure with
death. Rennard had failed to kill the Solamnic warrior who
had discovered that there was a traitor in their midst.
Rennard had failed to kill Huma.
Rennard knew then the fate of the doomed peasants.
They would die, a few at a time, in the name of the faceless
god he once had called master.
"What do you see, specter?" Erik demanded.
"I see that your sword would be a kind fate to these
folk, Erik Dornay. They are being culled and sacrificed in
the name of Morgion."
The Knight of the Rose gripped the hilt of his sword
tightly. "You are certain?"
"I think I know well enough. The poor wretches are
easy prey for the cultists. Look at what lies here. They do
not have the strength to bury their dead anymore."
The young knight was grim, pale. He sheathed his
sword. Slowly, Erik returned to his horse.
"What will you do?" Rennard asked.
Dornay would not look at him. "I am leaving. I have no
need to stay. You should be pleased. I won't kill them"
As the Knight of the Rose mounted, the wraith
appeared before him. "You haven't spared the people. You
merely have given their deaths into the hands of others."
"They are no more concern of mine." The young Solamnian
Rmounted his steed, trying to depart. "I'm finished with
the knighthood, Oathbreaker. I have sung the 'Song of
Huma' for the last time."
He sounded resolved, but he was shaking. Rennard
knew that a battle was going on inside the young knight,
one that in some ways was as painful as the one Rennard
himself constantly fought.
"Very well," the ghost knight told him. There was only
one thing he could think of to do, and he prayed that both
his memory and the spirit of Huma - who seemed to have a
hand in this - would guide him. "I will stand aside."
Erik began slowly riding away. As he passed the
wraith, however, Rennard began to sing.
"Huma's death calls me!
Temper me with such death!
Paladine, lord god of knights!
Huma's life is all our lives!
Dornay halted. The cursed knight continued to sing,
finding that the words - or words enough - were given to
him. The melody would forever play in his mind.
Erik pulled tightly on the reins, turned the horse
around, and gazed at the phantom. Rennard continued to
sing softly, his own memories of Huma adding a vibrancy
to the saga that made it come alive, for his memories were
tinged with truth, not stretched by time and legend.
"You - " Dornay began.
A stone whistled through the darkness and struck the
young knight soundly on the side of the head.
He grunted and fell from his mount. His charger
hesitated, but when Rennard ceased singing and started
toward the fallen knight, the terrified animal shied away.
Rennard stood over Erik, wondering what had
happened, what a ghost could do to help. Even if he were
able to touch the mortal, he might do more harm than good.
He might infect Dornay with the plague he carried. Morgion
would laugh at that.
When the shadows began to move, the ghost drew his
sword, prepared to face his own enemies. Then he saw that
these were not the ones who hunted him, but mortal men,
well-versed in hiding from their victims.
"The armored one is down," said one.
Someone else spoke, but his words were too quiet for
the ghost to hear. Then there came an answer.
"Crazy or not, he is a Knight of Solamnia! No, I have
something different in mind for him. Perhaps HE will
please our lord."
Seven figures, more like ghosts than the ghost himself,
gathered around the fallen knight. They did not see Rennard,
who stood among them.
"Take him," said one whose voice was a harsh rasp. He
turned to another, who was trying to catch the reins of the
horse. "Forget the beast! If he causes trouble, a little dust
will settle him!" The hooded figure rolled Dornay over,
peering at his armor. "A Knight of the Order of the Rose!
This must be a sign, that one of the servants of the Great
Enemy should fall into our hands so easily! Our infernal
Lord Morgion MUST find this sacrifice satisfactory."
"What of the others, Nightmaster?" The newcomers
were covered from head to toe in enveloping cloaks and
hoods. Only the Nightmaster's features were visible. He had
a long, vulpine face, and his skin looked mottled.
"This one will die this eve. The rest are sheep and will
be sacrificed as needed. The knight is of utmost importance.
For him, we must plan a ceremonial death, a slow,
debilitating death, with one of the slower, more intricate
"But, Nightmaster," pleaded another, "we've tried
before and failed. Some are saying the gods have all
abandoned Krynn - "
"Blasphemy!" The leader's shout silenced the
questioner. Under the cleric's baleful gaze, the other cultists
reached down and took hold of the knight.
"Bind and gag him . . . just in case."
The acolytes obeyed with cold efficiency.
Desperate, Rennard swung his sword at the closest, but
his weapon passed through the man without harm. Rennard
stared at his hand, thinking how useless it was despite the
heavy gauntlet. To all living things, I am less than the wind!
A wave of agony sent him to his knees. His frustration
had left him open to the curse. The plague was coursing
through his body. He fought back the pain. Through blurred
eyes, Rennard watched the cultists carry Dornay away.
"Paladine . . . great lord . . . you cannot want this! I do
not want this and neither does Huma, your most loyal
servant! Will you give another victim to the foul, faceless
Master of the Bronze Tower?"
This plea, however, went ignored as far as he could tell.
The cultist had spoken of a rumor of the gods leaving
Krynn. Was that so? Was there no one, then, who could
save the young Solamnian?
No one . . . except a ghost. . . ?
"It seems I am always too weak! To save my life, I
gave myself to Morgion. Later, I killed myself, as Huma
watched. Now, I must let Erik die."
Unbidden, the "Song of Huma" came to his mind. Try
as he might, Rennard could not drive the melody away.
"Huma," the ghost whispered, "why must you, of all
people, continue to have faith in me?"
He struggled to his feet and started to follow, each
movement sheer torture. Every dead muscle, every long-
decayed organ, every broken joint in his body burned with
pain and fever. What he hoped to accomplish, the ghost did
not know. Rennard knew only that he could not yet give in.
He could hear the acolytes whisper.
"... death of another knight . . ."
"... Morgion reigns . . ."
"... another soul to add to his collection . . ."
Rennard doubled his pain-filled efforts to keep pace
with them. Fortunately, the servants of Morgion were
hampered by Erik's armored body.
Too soon, the Nightmaster signaled his acolytes to stop.
"This will do." The leader pointed to a small, cleared
patch of ground by a stream. Morgion's servants preferred
privacy for their work. It would not do for some peasant to
stumble on them. He might escape and warn the others.
The Nightmaster began chanting a litany that brought
back to Rennard faint memories of stench-ridden ruins and
dark practices for the glory of the despotic deity who was
their lord. It would not be long before the sacrifice. The
special death of a Knight of the Rose was a great gift to the
dark god. Small wonder that the Nightmaster might think it
sufficient to at last reunite the cultists with their master.
Rennard had willed himself to be visible to the young
knight. Now the ghost sought to do the same with the
cultists, hoping that his horrific appearance would send
them fleeing. Exactly how he had accomplished the feat the
first time, the ghost didn't know. Intense need, anger,
bitterness . . .
At first, he thought he'd failed, for surely someone
should have noticed him, then one of the acolytes raised his
head. His eyes settled on where the ghost stood.
An indrawn hiss alerted the others. Hoods shifted as the
servants of Morgion turned to see what had so startled their
companion. The acolytes quickly retreated at the sight of an
armed knight, but the Nightmaster held his ground.
"Have you come for your companion, Knight of
Solamnia? Come and take him ... or join him, perhaps.
Morgion will be doubly pleased, yes." The cloaked figure
held out his hands, presumably to show he had no weapon.
Rennard stepped forward, his eyes on the Nightmaster.
A cloud of dust shot forth from the hand of the cult
leader. Rennard stopped. The assassins leaned forward in
expectation, awaiting the horrible death that soon would
come to the knight.
He did not need to look down to see that the poison had
ended up settling on the ground beneath his feet. "I am
beyond your deadly trick, mortal. The poison dust affects
only those who still draw breath. I am long past that."
He stepped closer, enabling them, even in the dim light
of Solinari, to see him clearly.
Not entirely certain whether what they saw was truly
what they saw, two of the acolytes drew daggers. If the
blades were as Rennard recalled, each was coated with one
of the cult's concoctions.
The nearest thrust his dagger into the ghost's throat.
The weapon found no substance.
The acolyte dropped his dagger, turned, and fled. An other
"Who are you, phantom?" the Nightmaster demanded.
"One who knows your ways, servant of Morgion. One
who once went by the name Rennard."
His name meant nothing to the acolytes who dared to
remain, but the Nightmaster reacted with glee. "Rennard -
still called Oathbreaker by the knighthood! He has sent you
to me as a sign! Our work has not been in vain. Our Lord
Morgion has not abandoned us after all! The lies that the
gods left Krynn have been disproved! All our sacrifices, all
the lives we have sent to our lord, have at last won his
notice again!" He eyed Dornay's still form with pleasure.
"We must do something special for you, Sir Knight."
Rennard had visions of more and more sacrifices made
in the name of Morgion ... all deaths for which he would be
More shadows to haunt him.
"I do not come to you . . . but FOR you!" Acting
instinctively, his anger deluding him into believing he was
flesh and blood, Rennard leapt at the unsuspecting
Nightmaster, grappling for the man's throat.
The ghost's hand touched cloth and flesh.
The discovery was so shocking that he almost lost his
grip on the Nightmaster. The man's hood fell back as the
ghost dragged his captive forward. His pale, ravaged face
was almost as horrible as the ghost's, but Rennard was well
used to such sights from when he had been one of them.
Slowly and carefully, he spoke, his voice as chill as death.
"There is no Morgion. The god of disease has indeed fled
us." The ghost felt his pain ease. "There will be no more
The leader of the cultists shivered and, at first, the ghost
thought that the chills were from fright. Then he saw the
man sweat, saw the patches of inflamed skin that gave the
scarlet plague its name.
Rennard had transmitted his accursed disease to the
Nightmaster . . . and like a flame on dry kindling, it was
"Please!" the man begged. He knew what was happening.
No one understands poison better than the poisoner. "Let
me go, before it's too late!"
A grim satisfaction filled Rennard. "You wanted Morgion.
Here is his legacy. You should be happy, Nightmaster."
He threw the infected cultist into the remaining
acolytes, who were staring, frozen in fear. They fell
together in a jumbled heap, the servants frantically trying to
separate themselves from their stricken leader. It was too
late for them, however. They were infected the moment the
Night-master touched them, for such was the intensity of
the malady the gods had granted to the traitorous knight
after his death. For the only time he could recall, Rennard
was grimly pleased at the rapid speed of the plague. He
doubted any of them would live to see morning.
During the chaos, Erik Dornay woke from the blow that
had laid him unconscious. He stared at the screaming
acolytes, then his unholy companion.
"Rennard?" he asked, still dazed from the blow.
The Nightmaster rose and took a step toward Erik. The
ghost shifted, standing in front of the assassin. The Night-
master stumbled back. His remaining followers ran away.
When the Nightmaster tried to join them, however, he found
the spirit before him. Rennard drew his sword.
"I regret I cannot leave you to the fate you deserve. I
can take no chances, mortal."
The ghost knight thrust his blade into the man's chest.
The sword proved very solid.
"Why did you kill him?" Erik asked, struggling to free
himself from his bonds. "His face ... he looked as if he was
Rennard glanced down at the body. "The others will
run back to their temple, beg Morgion to save them. He
won't. He can't. When they die, the scarlet plague dies, for
such is its way. This one, however, would serve his master
to the end. Nightmasters are chosen from among the most
fanatical of Morgion's followers. If I had let him go, he
might have tried to spread the curse to those poor souls in
"You . . . you have my gratitude for saving me."
"Huma saved you, not I," Rennard remarked, thinking of
the song. Sheathing his blade, he moved to Erik's side and
tried to take one of the young knight's daggers in order to
cut the ropes. His hand passed through it. Dornay managed
to free himself.
Rising, Erik stared at the body of the cleric, then back
in the direction of the refugee camp. "You were right. These
fiends were trailing them."
"Yes, Morgion's toadies were sacrificing them one at a
time in the hope of calling the Faceless One back. Come
now, there is something I want to show you."
"Your friend's murderers."
On foot, it took several minutes to reach the outskirts
of the encampment. Someone evidently had heard the short,
fierce struggle, for the party had gathered close around the
fire. Four of the more fit were keeping watch. Women
clutched whimpering children. Men held sticks of wood for
weapons. All looked terrified.
"There they are," Rennard said. "What will you do?"
"They look . . ." Erik hesitated.
"Hopeless? Desperate? In the Dragon Wars, I saw
many who looked that way."
Erik eyed him. "You're asking me to go to them, aid
them? But the danger is past!"
"If the cultists do not get them, then bandits or
starvation will. Look at them, Erik Dornay. They need your
pity, not your hatred. Huma would have tried to help them.
He would have understood that a moment of despair turned
them into an inhuman mob. His duty would have been to
restore their humanity."
The Knight of the Rose still hesitated. "If I go to them,
they'll attack me. I'll be forced to kill them! I am not Huma!
He was a - "
"Huma was a man." Rennard saw movement and
glanced around. The shadows seemed to thicken, come to
"What's wrong?" Dornay began to move closer.
Rennard kept him at bay with his sword.
"Come no closer. I have already risked you once. If I
can spread my curse to those curs, then I can spread it to
Erik stepped back with great reluctance.
The shadows, Rennard saw, were taking shape and form.
"Now it is time for you to go, Erik Dornay."
"But what about you?"
Rennard heard no whispering yet, but he was certain
the eyes of the hunters burned into him. The ghost readied
his blade and moved farther from the encampment. "I must
attend to matters of my own."
"Matters . . ." Erik looked into the shadows. "Paladine
save us! What are they?"
"I told you that even ghosts may be haunted by ghosts,
Erik Dornay. These are mine - the shadows of every knight
who died by my hand or by my actions. They cannot rest,
and so I cannot."
"What will they do?" the mortal whispered in awe.
"Pursue me, fight me, and kill me. Then, when their
need for vengeance is sated, I will rise, and the entire
tragedy will happen all over again."
"It is justice. Even I know that."
"What can I do?" Dornay began to reach for his sword.
"Help those people."
"I mean for you!"
The ghost laughed. "So I now have two champions -
you and Huma! Both trying to save me from what I am!"
Rennard shook his head. "There is one thing you can do for
me, my ... my friend. Go to those you sought to kill. Let me
see that I have accomplished my task."
Dornay looked at the shadows of long-dead knights,
gathering to attack, then at their intended victim. At last, he
straightened and brought his sword up to his face in the
knight's salute. "I will pray for you, Sir Rennard."
The shadows still had not moved. They, too, were
waiting. "Once you depart, do not look back," Rennard said.
"I would prefer it that way."
Erik nodded and turned away. The ghost watched, his
own renewed pain and the nearing shadows forgotten. The
young Solamnian moved through the woods and, without
pause, entered the camp. The people were frightened,
staring at him uncertainly. Those who held weapons waited
for the knight to attack.
The Knight of the Rose planted his sword in the earth and
held up a hand in a sign of peace. He said something that
Rennard could not hear, but which caused the refugees to
lower their weapons.
One of them stepped forward. Erik held out his hand.
The man grasped the knight's hand thankfully.
Rennard nodded, satisfied. He turned away from the
mortals to face the shadows who waited for him, across a
stream. Fog began to envelop him, and he knew that his
brief journey to Krynn soon would be only a memory.
Had it all been coincidence? Or did the gods, who had
left Krynn, still have ways of watching over those who
The hunters waited, even when the sounds of mortal
beings faded away in the fog. Rennard tensed. Around him,
the fog gathered thicker.
"Why do you wait?" he shouted. "Why now?" They made
no answer. Even their whispers were preferable to the
silence, he realized.
The sound of sword striking shield came from behind
him. Rennard turned and stepped into the stream. Water
splashed. His boot struck the surface and sank in. Rennard
stared at the water. He dropped his sword and fell to his
knees. Fearfully, the ghostly knight reached down.
Small ripples spread out from his fingers. The tips of
his fingers TOUCHED the stream. Rennard thrust his hands
into the water. He cupped his hands together.
His own words came back to him. WHAT MUST I DO
TO EARN EVEN A SIP OF WATER?
Rennard brought the liquid to his parched lips and
drank. For the first time since his death, the eternal fever
that burned within him cooled.
Rennard lowered his hands into the stream again.
Another sip. He needed another sip.
This time, however, all was as it had been. The stream
flowed through his fingers as if they were not there . . .
which they were not.
The shadows moved. He had been granted his drink of
water. Now, it was time to return to the Abyss.
Krynn faded completely then. The stream disappeared
before his eyes. In its place lay the familiar plain of death.
Rennard grabbed his sword and began to back away
from the oncoming knights. Oddly, he did not feel as afraid
as before, even knowing that this flight, like so many others,
would end with his downfall.
Another question came to his mind, one that he often
had asked before without hope.
"I earned the sip of water. Will I earn my rest as well?"
The shadows closed in. Rennard thought he heard the
distant strains of a song.
SONG OF HUMA
Sularus Humah durvey The Honor of Huma survives
Karamnes Humah durvey The Glory of Huma survives
Draco! Dragons, hear!
Solamnis na fai tarus Solamnic breath is taken
Mithas! Life; hear!
Est paxum kudak draco My sword is broken of Dragons
oparu sac temper me now
coni parl ai fam Grant me grace and love
Saat mas Solamnis When the heart of the Knighthood
vegri nough wavers in doubt
Coni est Lor Tarikan Grant me this, Warrior Lord
Sularus Humah Honor is Huma
Karram Humah Glory is Huma
Solamnis Humah durvey Solamnic Knight Huma survives
Karamnes Humah durvey Glorified Huma survives
Mithas! Life; hear!
Humah dix karai! Huma's death calls me!
Ex dix! His death!
Oparu est dix! Temper me with such death!
Solamnis Lor Alan Paladine! Paladine, lord god of knights!
Humah mithas est mithasah! Huma's life is all our lives!
Draco-Humah durvey! Dragon-Huma survives!
Through most of a day - from when the sun was high overhead until
now, when the sun was gone behind the dagger-spire peaks of the
Khalkist Mountains and night birds heralded the first stars glimpsed
above - through those hours and those miles he had trailed the puny
ones, thinking they might lead him to others of their kind. Now they
had stopped. Now they were settling in on the slope below him, stopping
for the night, and his patience was at an end.
Crouching low, blending his huge silhouette with the
brush of the darkening hillside, he heard their voices
drifting up to him - thin, human voices as frail as the bodies
from which they issued, as fragile as the bones within those
bodies, which he could crush with a squeeze of his hand. He
heard the strike of flint, smelled the wispy smoke of their
tinder, and saw the first flickers of the fire they were
building - a fire to guard them against the night.
His chuckle was a rumble of contempt, deep within his
huge chest. It was a campfire to heat their meager foods and
to protect them from whatever might be out there, watching.
Humans! His chuckle became a deep, rumbling growl. Like
all of the lesser races, the small, frail races, they put their
trust in a handful of fire and thought they were safe.
Safe from me? His wide mouth spread in a sneering grin,
exposing teeth like sharpened chisels. Contempt burned
deep within his eyes. Safe? No human was safe from Krog.
Krog knew how to deal with humans - and with anyone else
who ventured into his territory. He found them, tracked
them down, and killed them. Sometimes they carried
something he could use, sometimes not, but it was always a
pleasure to see their torment as he crushed and mangled
them, a joy to hear their screams.
There were a dozen or more in the party below him.
Four were armed males, the rest a motley, ragged group
bound together by lengths of rope tied around their necks.
Slaves, Krog knew. The remnants of some human village
ransacked by slavers. There were many such groups
roaming the countryside in these days - slavers and their
prey. Small groups like this, usually, though sometimes the
groups came together in large camps, to trade and to export
their prizes to distant markets. Those, the big groups, he
enjoyed most, but now he was tired of waiting.
He studied them; his cunning eyes counted their
shadows in the dusk below. The slaves were grouped just
beyond the little fire, but it was their captors he watched
most closely, marking exactly where each of the armed ones
settled around their fire. Experience had taught him to deal
first with the armed ones. He carried the scars of sword and
axe cuts, from times when armed humans had managed a
slash or two before he finished them. The cuts had been
annoying. Better, he had learned, to deal with the weapon-
bearers quickly. Then he could finish off the others in any
way that amused him.
For a long time now, ever since the beginning of the
strangenesses that some called omens, humans and other
small races had been wandering into the territory that Krog
considered his - the eastern slopes of the Khalkist
Mountains. Chaotic times had fallen upon the plains
beyond, and the people of those plains were in turmoil.
Krog knew little of that, cared less. Every day, humans and
others were drifting westward toward the Khalkists, some
fleeing, some in pursuit. . . and they all were sport for Krog.
Below him on the slope, the humans' campfire blazed
brightly, and the humans gathered around it. He watched,
and repressed the urge to rush down at them, to hear their
first screams of terror. Let them have a minute or two to
stare into their precious fire. Let them night-blind
themselves so they would not see him until he was among
them. It would make his attack easier, with less likelihood
of any of them fleeing into the darkness.
Stare into the light, he thought, licking wide, scarred
lips with keen anticipation of the pleasures to come. Stare
into the fire, and . . .
He raised his head; his grin faded. He stared into
another fire, a fire that sprang from a glowing coal in the
overhead sky and grew until it seemed to fill half the sky.
Searing light far brighter than firelight, brighter than the
light of day, billowed out and out until the entire eastern sky
was ablaze with it. Sudden winds howled high above,
shrieks and bellows of anguish as though the very world
were screaming. The radiance aloft grew and intensified,
instant by instant, a blinding blaze of sky in which
something huge, something enormous and hideous,
coalesced, spinning and shrieking, and plunged downward
to meet the eastern horizon in a blinding blast of fury.
Stunned and half blinded, he stood on the slope, barely
aware of the sounds all around him - birds taking terrified
flight, small creatures scurrying past, the screams and
shouts of the terrified humans just down the slope. Panic
and fear, everywhere... then silence. A silence as complete
as the recesses of a cavern seemed to grow from the world
itself as the brilliant, distant light dimmed beyond the
horizon. A slow, agonizing dimming, like the reluctant
ebbing of a hundred sunsets, all at once descended.
Out of the silence came a sound that was not a sound
as much as a tingling in the air, a mounting of invisible
tensions. Past the eastern horizon, where the immense flare
still lingered, lightning danced and black clouds like
mountain ranges marched up the sky, one after another.
The inaudible sounds grew and grew, becoming a torrent of
vibration that strummed the winds and made rocks dance
on the slope. In the distance, gouts of brilliance spewed
upward, rising above the clouds to shower the eastern
world with marching storms of fire.
Shouting and screaming, terrified creatures rushed past
him, the largest among them less than half his size and
wide-eyed with fear. The humans from the slope below,
slavers and enslaved, fled together in panic. They ran within
arm's reach of him, and he barely noticed them as they
passed. Dazed and dazzled, he stared out across a landscape
gone insane, a landscape where distant mountains writhed
and shattered and sank from view, where serpentine
brilliance danced in a fire-lit sky gone black with climbing
smoke, where the horizon heaved upward like a tidal wave,
rushing toward him.
Winds like hammers swooped down from aloft and
struck him with a force that sent him tumbling backward,
arms and legs flailing helplessly as oven-hot gusts rolled
him uphill a dozen yards and dropped him into a heaving
pit. His club was wrenched from his fingers and flew
skyward, carried by raging winds. Struggling, fighting for
balance, he got his feet under him and climbed, drawing
himself over the edge of the chasm just as it closed with
stone jaws behind him.
In a bedlam of howling, furnace winds, shattering
stone, and deep, bone-jarring rumbles from beneath the
ground, he lay gasping for breath, then raised stricken eyes
as the nearer mountains to the west began to explode.
Huge boulders rose into the sky like grains of flung
sand, then showered back down onto the slopes, bounding
and rolling downward, bringing other debris with them as
He struggled upward, dodging and dancing, flinging
himself this way and that as monstrous rock fragments shot
past, shaking the ground with their force. A tumbling
boulder the size of an elven mansion bore down on him, and
he flung himself aside, hugging the ground as it hit,
bounced and sailed over, missing him by inches. He raised
himself and turned to watch it go, and something hit him
from behind - something massive and stone-hard that
smashed against his head, bowling him over. Chaos rang in
his ears, and he saw the hard, shaking ground rise to meet
him . . . then saw nothing more.
Where he fell, shards of stone skidded and bounced,
piling up in drifts around him. After a long time, the stonefalls
slowed and stopped, and a creeping, gurgling torrent of
mud and silt from ravaged slopes above rolled down to bury
the lesser debris. He was not aware of being buried. He
wasn't aware of anything now. The flowing soil found him,
covered him and passed on, and there was nothing there to
With the winds came clouds, and with the clouds came
rain - torrents of rain washing over a ravaged land, rain and
more rain, scouring channels and gullies in the sediment
among the tumbled stones.
The rains came and went and came again, and between
storms the ravaged land lay in silence.
On a caprock hillside, where scoured stone rose in
stacked layers above the climbing slopes, evening light
made a patchwork of shadows, hiding indentations in the
stone cliffs, camouflaging them from prying eyes. Here on
the south face of the cliff, low in its surface, one of those
somber shadows might have seemed slightly different from
those around it, to the practiced eye - darker and deeper,
the opening of a cavern that opened to other caverns
Screened from view by jutting rock, the spot was just
the sort of place the combined clans of Bulp had been
seeking for weeks - a place that could be This Place until it
was time to move on to Another Place.
And, seeking it, they had found it and moved right in.
Furtively, they entered, scouted around, were satisfied, and
reported the find to their leader.
With great ceremony, then, His Royalness Gorge III,
Highbulp by Choice and Lord Protector of This Place and
Who Knew How Many Other Places, made his own brief
tour of inspection, strutting here and there, looking at this
and that, muttering under his breath and in general behaving
like a Highbulp.
Various of his subjects trailed after him, occasionally
stumbling over one another.
At a wall of rock, Gorge stopped and raised his candle.
"What this?" he demanded.
At his shoulder, his wife and consort, the Lady Drule,
peered at the wall and said, "Rock. Cave have rock walls.
Wouldn't be cave without walls."
Old Hunch, the Grand Notioner of the Bulp Clan,
padded forward, leaned on his mop-handle staff, to ask,
"What Highbulp's problem?"
"Want to know what is that." The Lady Drule pointed at
"That wall," Hunch said. "Rock wall. So what?"
"Highbulp doin' inspec . . . explo . . . lookin' 'round,"
Gorge proclaimed. He moistened a finger, touched the wall,
then tasted his finger. "Rock wall," he decided. "Cave got
rock wall this side."
"Other sides, too," Hunch pointed out. "Caves do."
Satisfied, Gorge wandered away from the wall, raised
his eyes to look critically at the rock ceiling, and tripped
over a bump in the rock floor. He sprawled flat and lost his
"Highbulp clumsy oaf," Drule muttered, helping him to
his feet. Someone returned his candle to him, and he looked
around, found a foot-high ledge, and sat on it. "Bring Royal
Stuff," he ordered.
Several of his subjects scouted around, found the
tattered sack that was the Holder of Royal Stuff, and
brought it to him. Digging into it, throwing aside various
objects - a rabbit skull, a broken spearhead, a battered cup -
Gorge drew forth a broken antler nearly as tall as he was.
An elk antler, it once had been part of a set, attached to a
tanned elk hide. The hide and the other antler were long
gone, but he still had this one, and he raised it like a scepter.
"This place okay for This Place," Gorge III decreed, "so
this place This Place." The ceremony ended, he tossed aside
the elk antler. "Get stew goin'," he ordered. " 'Bout time to
The Lady Drule stepped aside to confer with other
ladies of the clan. There were shrugs and shaking heads.
She paused in thought, gazing into the murky reaches of the
"Rats," she said.
Gorge glanced around. "What?"
"Rats. Need meat for stew. Time for hunt rats."
Within moments, small figures scurried all around the
cave and into the tunnels leading from it. Their shouts and
chatter, the sounds of scuffing, scrambling feet, the thuds
of people falling down and the oaths of those who
stumbled over them, all receded into the reaches of the
Gorge looked distinctly irritated. "Where ever'body
"Huntin' rats," the Lady Drule explained.
"Rats," Gorge grumbled. No longer the center of
everyone's attention, he felt abandoned and surly. He
wanted to sulk, but sulking usually put him to sleep, and
he was too hungry to sleep.
It was a characteristic of the race called Aghar, whom
most races called gully dwarves: Once a thing was begun,
simply keep on doing it. When at rest, they tended to stay at
rest. But once in motion, they kept moving. One of the
strongest drives of any gully dwarf was simple inertia.
Thus the rat hunt, once begun, went on and on. The
cave held plenty of rats, the hunting was good, and the
gully dwarves were enjoying the sport . . . and exploring
further and further as they hunted.
Stew, however, was in progress. Seeing that her
husband was becoming more and more testy, the Lady
Drule had rounded up a squadron of other ladies when the
first rats were brought in. Now they had a good fire going,
and a stew of gathered greens, wild onions, turnips and
fresh rat meat was beginning to bubble.
Gorge didn't wait for the rest to come to supper. He dug
into one of the clan packs, found a stew bowl that once had
been the codpiece on some Tall warrior's armor, and helped
He was only halfway through his second serving when
a group of gully dwarves came racing in from the shadows
at the rear of the cave and jostled to a stop before him.
"Highbulp come look!" one said, excitedly. "We find . .
. ah ..." He turned to another. "What we find?"
"Other cave," the second one reminded him.
"Right," the first continued. "Highbulp come see other
cave. Got good stuff."
"What kind good stuff?" Gorge demanded, stifling a
The first turned to the second. "What kind good stuff?"
"Cave stuff," the second reminded him. "Pretty stuff."
"Cave stuff, Highbulp," the first reported.
"Better be good," Gorge snapped. "Good 'nough for
inter . . . int . . . butt in when Highbulp tryin' to eat?"
"Good stuff," several of them assured him.
"What kind stuff? Gold? Clay? Bats? Pyr . . . pyr . . .
pretty rocks? What?" Another resounding belch caught him,
this one unstifled.
The first among them turned to the second. "What?"
"Pretty rocks," the second reminded. "Highbulp come
"Rats," Gorge muttered. Those around him seemed so
excited - there were dozens of them now - that he set down
his codpiece bowl, picked up his candle, and went to see
what they had found. A parade of small figures carrying
candles headed for the rear of the cavern - the guides
leading, Gorge following them, and a horde of others
following him. Most of them - latecomers on the scene -
didn't know where they were going or why, but they
followed anyway. Far back in the cavern, a crack in the rock
led into an eroded tunnel, which wound away, curving
As he entered the crack, Gorge belched mightily. "Too
much turnips in stew," he muttered.
By ones and threes and fives, the gully dwarves entered
and disappeared from the sight of those remaining.
The Lady Drule and several other ladies were just
coming back from a side chamber, where they had been
preparing sleeping quarters. At sight of the last candles
disappearing into the tunnel, Drule asked, "Now what goin'
on? Where Highbulp?"
Hunch was inspecting the stew. He looked up and
shrugged. "Somebody find somethin'. Highbulp go see." He
tasted the stew. "Good," he said. He tasted again, then
turned away, philosophically. "Life like stew," he said.
"Fulla rats an' turnips."
The Lady Drule glanced after him, mildly bewildered,
then glanced around the cavern. Only a few of the males
were there, some asleep, some more interested in eating
than in following the Highbulp around, and two or three
who had started on the trek into the tunnel, then lost interest
and turned back.
She could see them clearly, she noticed. The cavern
suddenly was very well lighted, light flooding in from the
entrance and growing brighter by the moment. Near the fire,
a sleeping gully dwarf rolled over, sat up and blinked,
shading his eyes. "Huh!" he said. "Mornain' already?"
The light grew, its color changing from angry red to
orange, to yellow and then to brilliant white, nearly blinding
them, even in the shadows of the cavern. Other sleeping
souls awoke and gaped about them.
"What happenin'?" the Lady Drule wondered. Hunch
returned with a bowl and filled it with stew. "Get-tin'
lighter," he said, absently. Abruptly there was a howling at
the entrance, and a gust of wind like an oven blast swept
into the cave. The stew in Hunch's bowl seemed to come
alive. It spewed up and out, showering gravy halfway
across the chamber. The bowl followed, wrenched from the
Grand Notioner's grip, and Hunch followed that, rolling
and shouting, his mop-handle flailing.
Everywhere, then, gully dwarves were scurrying for
cover - stumbling, falling, rolling, fleeing from the brilliant,
howling entrance. They scurried into crevices, rolled into
holes, dodged behind erosion pillars . . . and abruptly there
was silence. The bright light still flooded in from the
entrance, but now not quite so blinding. The roaring wind
died away and the howling diminished to a low, continuing
rumble almost below hearing.
Silence . . . then the rumbling increased. The floor of
the cavern seemed to dance, vibrating to the sound. Bits of
stone and showers of dust fell from the walls, and chunks of
rock parted from the ceiling to crash downward. A rattling,
bouncing flood of gravel buried the stew pot and the fire,
and there was a new sound above the rumbling - the high,
keening wail of stone splitting.
The cavern's entrance collapsed with a roar. Tons of
broken stone slid across the opening, burying it, sealing it.
Within, the rumbling and the rattle of rockfall were a chaos
of noise, but now the noise built in darkness, for there was
no light to see.
The tunnel from the back of the cavern called This
Place wound deep into the capstone of the hill, bending and
turning, always angling upward. His Royalness Gorge III,
Highbulp and leader of clans, was somewhat to the rear of
his expedition when the rest of them rounded a bend in the
rising tunnel and saw the light ahead. Somewhere along the
way, Gorge had decided that his feet were sore, and had
taken to limping whenever he thought about it.
But when he heard the shouts and exclamations ahead
of him - cries of, "Hey! This pretty!" and "Nice stuff, huh?"
and "Where that light comin' from?" - he forgot his limp
and hurried to see what was going on. Rounding a bend, he
found a traffic tie-up in a well-lighted cave, where the light
seemed to grow brighter moment by moment. The first
arrivals there had stopped in awe; others had piled into them
from behind, and several had fallen down. Wading around
and through tangles of his subjects, Gorge pushed past them
and stopped. The cavern was a wide oval, an erosion
chamber where ancient seeps had collected, and at the top
of it was a hole that opened to the sky ... a sky that suddenly
was as bright as day.
"What goin' on here?" Gorge demanded. "What light
through yonder . . . yon . . . why hole all lit up?"
"Dunno," several of his subjects explained. Then one of
them pointed aside. "See, Highbulp? Pretty rocks."
He looked, and his eyes widened. One entire wall of
the cavern glistened like brilliant gold, layer upon layer of
bright embedment shining in the dark stone. "Wow," the
Highbulp breathed . . . and belched. As though echoing him,
the whole cavern shuddered and rumbled.
"Way too much turnips," Gorge decided, as those
around him looked at him in admiration. He turned his
attention again to the wall of pyrites. He moistened a finger,
rubbed it against a glittering lode, then licked it. "Real
nice," he said. "Good pyr . . . pyr . . . pretty rocks."
Spying an exceptionally bright nodule, he reached for it.
The cavern belched again - a deep, rumbling roll of sound -
and the node fell loose in his hand. Gorge belched in
surprise, and the cavern echoed him. The light in This Place
had dimmed slightly, and suddenly became murky with
dust. Gravel fell and rattled around them as the whole cave
shook in a spasm. "Hiccups?" someone asked.
"Not me," the Highbulp declared. "What goin' on
here?" As though the mountain had given a stone belch, the
cavern vibrated and began to shake. Gully dwarves danced
around in confusion, stumbling and falling over one
another. The spasm subsided slightly, then came again, this
time far more violently. Fallen gully dwarves piled up on
the gravel-strewn floor, and the Highbulp was thrown head
over heels, to land atop them.
" 'Nough of this!" he shrieked. "Ever'body run like
They would have, gladly, but a rumbling like
approaching thunder growled all around them. Debris from
above pelted down on them, and the cavern's floor heaved
and rose, pitching them into the center, where they piled up
writhing, struggling mass with the Highbulp buried
Then, with a tremendous roar, the hole in the ceiling
split wide, the cavern's floor heaved upward, the very world
seemed to belch mightily, and the hilltop above erupted in a
gout of gravel, pyrite fragments, dust and tumbling gully
The Highbulp found himself airborne, and shrieked in
terror, then he was falling, and thudded onto hard ground
beneath a smoky red sky. Someone landed on top of him,
and others all around. For a time he lay dazed, then he
raised eyes that went round with wonder. He was on a hill-
top, surrounded by other stunned gully dwarves, and all
around was confusion. In the distance to the east, the
horizon and the sky above it were a cauldron of blazing,
writhing flames, where smoke and black clouds marched
across a howling sky. And in the opposite direction, to the
west, mountains were exploding.
"Wha' happen?" several voices echoed one another.
"Cave all turnippy," someone said. "Burp us out."
For long minutes, the ground beneath them shook and
danced, and they hugged its surface in panic. The sky rained
dust and cinders on them, and huge winds howled overhead.
Then there came a lull, the quaking subsided, and dark
raindrops thudded into the dust around them.
One by one, the gully dwarves got to their feet. They
crowded around the Highbulp, making it almost impossible
for him to get his feet under him.
"Back off," he growled. Those nearest backed away,
creating a ripple effect in the crowd that knocked some of
those on the outside down again. Gorge stood up, tried to
dust himself off, and a large raindrop splattered on his nose.
He looked around at his gathered followers, squinting in the
darkness that had replaced the brilliant light.
Lightning split the sky overhead, illuminating
everything, and Gorges latest belch turned to a shriek of
panic. All around them were Talls - humans - armed men
with swords and axes that glistened in the storm light -
armed, determined human slavers . . . and there was
nowhere for the gully dwarves to run.
The rains came and went and came again, scouring a
savaged land that never again would be as it had been
before. Gray morning light shone on silent chaos, a land
rent and ripped and devastated, a landscape of desolation,
where huge boulders lay scattered upon silt-buried slopes, a
place of sundered silence in a land torn and rent by
Mountains no longer had the dagger-spire silhouettes
of yesterday, but instead presented cratered and tumbled
faces to the dawn. Their slopes were strewn with boulders.
Jagged shards jutted like teeth from the pitted flows of
settling topsoil scoured from ravaged ranges above.
On one such slope a searching falcon circled near the
surface, drawn by scurrying rodents among the stones. The
bird spiraled downward, gliding just above the stones, then
beat its wings and darted away when something moved in a
place where nothing should be.
The falcon beat away, and behind it a grotesque, recum
bent figure stirred. Half buried in silt, it had seemed only a
fragment of thrown rock - until it moved. It stirred, shifted
a portion of itself upward, and drying mud sloughed away
to reveal a large, rounded head surmounting great, knotted
shoulders. It raised its head and opened puzzled eyes,
peered this way and that for a moment, then pushed its
huge torso upward on massive arms, and the rest of it
became visible. Legs the size of tree trunks bent and
flexed, and the creature paused on hands and knees to look
around again, then shifted to a sitting position.
Big, calloused hands went to its head, and it closed its
eyes in momentary pain. A growl like distant thunder
escaped it. Its grimace revealed teeth like yellow chisels, in
a mouth that was wide and cruel.
The jolt of pain passed, and the creature sighed,
opening its eyes again. Something had happened.
Something inconceivable that seemed at the edge of
memory but was just beyond recall. In a muttering voice as
deep as gravel in a well, it faltered with words. "Wha . . .
what? What happen? Where?" Wincing at the effort, it tried
to remember . . . and could not. Only a word came to memory, one
significant word. A name? Yes, a name.
His own name. Krog.
Sore and shaking, he stood. Small, unseen things
scurried away among the tumbled stones.
KROG. "I... am Krog," he muttered. It was true. He
knew that, but nothing more. His name was Krog, but what
had happened to him? Where was he? And WHY?
"Who am I?" he whispered. "Krog... what is Krog? WHO is
The battered landscape told him nothing. In the
distance, where dawning grew, were smoke and haze. In the
other direction were high mountains, but they meant
nothing to him. Everywhere he looked, he saw a bleak and
sundered landscape that was the only landscape he knew
because he remembered no others.
It was as though he had just been born, and abruptly he
felt a terrible loneliness - a need for ... something ... for
belonging. There must be someone somewhere, someone to
care for him. Someone to teach him, to help him
understand. There HAD to be someone.
He turned full circle, big hooded eyes scanning the
distance. Nothing moved. Nothing anywhere suggested that
there was another living creature other than himself.
"Not right," he muttered, the words a low growl that
came from deep within a great chest. "Not just Krog. Not all
alone. Has to be ... somebody else here."
He started walking on unsteady legs. All directions were
the same, so he went the way he had been facing, with the
mountains to his left and the gray, hazed morning to his
right. Ahead was a caprock hill, and he headed toward it.
Remembering nothing except his name, knowing nothing
except that he had awakened from nowhere and was headed
to a place, aware of nothing except his aching head and the
driving need not to be alone, Krog went looking for
"Even the mountains are different," one of the men said,
pointing with a coiled whip at the distant peaks standing
against a high gray sky. "What in the names of all the gods
could have done this?"
Those nearest him shrugged and shook their heads.
Men of the tribe of Shalimin - reviled by those who knew
them as "the raiders," or "marauders," or, simply, "the
slavers" - were men who knew the ways of the wild, not the
ways of the world. The changes they saw now in that world
were abrupt and massive; the night of change had been
terrifying. Yet, whatever had done it, now it seemed to be
past. And if sawtooth crags now stood where before had
been dagger-spire peaks, if what had been meadows now
were fields of strewn stone, if entire forests that had stood
yesterday now lay fallen and desolate, it was not theirs to
It was over. The world was still here, and they still
walked on it, and it was time to regroup.
"You!" one of them shouted, brandishing a whip. "Back in
line and stay there!" Ahead of him, a small, terrified
creature scurried back into its place in the ragged line
proceed ing northward. "Gully dwarves!" He spat. "We
won't show much profit from this haul, Daco."
"Better than nothing, though," his companion said.
"They can be sold for simple work. They're strong enough
to tote and fetch."
"They won't bring a copper a head." Daco sneered.
"Slave buyers know about gully dwarves. They're
unreliable, they're clumsy, and they can't be taught
"Devious, I've heard," someone added. "I wouldn't
want one for a slave of my own. Always plotting and
scheming. They'd be a danger to have around if they could
concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two.
You, there! Get on your feet and walk! Nobody said you
could stop and sleep!" He turned to the flanker opposite
him. "See? That's what I'm talking about. The one with the
curly beard there . . . just like that, he was taking time out
for a nap."
The motley assemblage made its way northward across
a strange and tumbled land, a dozen armed men driving
several dozen gully dwarves. The little creatures - barely
half the size of their captors - stumbled in an erratic double
line, each bound to those in front and behind by a length of
cord tied around his neck. The men surrounded them,
herded them like cattle.
The slavers had been two separate parties only days
before, and each party had been successful. Good slaves for
the market. Human slaves - men, women and children. Then
the Cataclysm - whatever it was - had occurred. Each party
had lost its captives in the ensuing chaos, and now they had
nothing to show for their expeditions except these pitiful
gully dwarves they had chanced across.
Little enough to show, when they arrived at the main
camp. Still, the gully dwarves were better than nothing.
The line topped a ridge, and they looked out on yet
another scene of chaos. A forest of tall conifers once had
lined the narrow valley. Now, hardly a tree was standing.
The valley was a patchwork maze of fallen timbers,
scattered this way and that as though some giant thing had
trod there and paused to scuff its feet.
The men stared at the scene in wonder, then movement
caught their eyes. "Ah," Daco breathed. "There. Look."
Among the fallen timbers were people, a ragged line of
them making their way northward. Even from the ridge top,
it was obvious that they were refugees . . . from something.
There were at least a dozen of them, maybe more, and
among them were women and children. No more than two
or three carried weapons of any sort. "Well, well." Daco
grinned. "It seems our luck has just improved. That lot will
bring a fine price at the pens."
This Place was a mess. Whatever had happened was
through happening, but the entire cavern was a litter of
fallen stone, gravel dumps, and dust. Holding candles high,
the Lady Drule and the others with her poked about, seeing
what could be salvaged. There wasn't much: a few iron stew
bowls, Hunch's mop-handle staff, about half of the
Highbulp's prized elk antler, a few bits of fabric, a reaver's
maul, a battered stew pot, a stick used for stirring . . . odds
and ends. Most of what the clans had owned was either
destroyed or lost.
The Lady Drule shook her head sadly. "Gonna need to
forage soon," she said. " 'Bout outta stuff."
She wandered toward the entrance - or where the
entrance had been - and looked at a mighty wall of fallen
stone. There was no way out. The entrance was sealed.
Behind her, a whining voice said, "So much for that."
She turned to see the Grand Notioner, leaning on his
mop handle. "Guess so," she said.
"So what we do now?"
"Dunno." Lady Drule shrugged. "All go find Highbulp,
I guess. Let him decide."
"Decide what?" Hunch frowned. "Highbulp dumb as a
post. What bright idea he gonna have?"
"Highbulp our glorious leader," Drule pointed out. "He
think of somethin'."
He followed along, though, with all the rest, when the
Lady Drule set out in search of the Highbulp. The last she
had seen of him, he and most of the other males had been
disappearing into a crack in the back of the cave. The
search began there.
Beyond the crack was an erosion seep, a damp,
winding tunnel that led away into the hill, curving beyond
sight, heading generally upward. Drule started treading
along it, and there was a clamor behind her. "What
happen?" She turned to look.
"Nothin'," someone said. "Somebody fall down."
"Come on," the Lady Drule urged them. "Keep up."
A smoke-hazed sun had crossed much of the sky, and
the hot, searing winds from the east had changed to cool,
whispering winds drifting down from the shattered peaks to
the west. Time and miles were behind Krog since his
awakening, but still he had found no one.
It was as though the world were an empty place, and
he the only being on it. Confusion and sheer loneliness
drove him on, though his search seemed more and more
Then, atop a barren caprock hill, he heard voices.
People - somewhere - talking among themselves. With a
whimper of sheer glee, Krog searched for the source of the
sounds, his eyes alight, his ears twitching. He saw no one,
but after a time he heard the voices again and found where
they came from. Amidst a pile of rubble was a hole in the
ground, and somewhere below were voices, coming nearer.
He knelt, peered into the darkness. He could see nothing.
He tried to lower himself into the hole, but only his head
would go in. The hole was far too small for his shoulders.
He backed out, sniffling in frustration, and heard the voices
again - various voices, close enough now that he could
almost make out the words.
Knowing nothing else to do, Krog lay beside the hole,
listening. The sound soothed and comforted him. He was
not alone after all. He sniffled again, and tears glistened in
his eyes as he closed them.
The old seep wound upward, and upward again, and the
gully dwarves followed it, their candles casting weird
shadows on the stone walls. It was slow going. Whatever
had made the cavern shake and had sealed its entrance, had
littered the tunnel with shards and slabs of broken rock.
Footing was tricky, requiring more concentration than most
of the Lady Drule's followers could maintain in a place with
so many distractions - layers of fresh stone to be looked at
and tasted, small, furry things to be noted in case there was
time later for a rat hunt, and their own distorted shadows
bobbing here and there.
As a result, the journey was punctuated with thuds and
bumps, trips and falls, and a running commentary up and
down the line:
"Look here! Pretty shine."
"What that over there? Dragon?"
"Not dragon, dummy, just bat shadow."
"Hey, floor bouncy 1"
"Not bouncy. You fall on me. Get off."
"Somethin' shiny there? Nope, just Bipp's eyes."
"Anybody bring stew?"
"Where we goin', anyway?"
"To find Highbulp."
"Find Highbulp? Why?"
"Dunno. Lady Drule say so."
Then, from the head of the line, "Sh!"
The Lady Drule had rounded a bend and saw light
ahead. She stopped, and several of her followers bumped
into her. "Sh!" she repeated.
Behind her, around the bend, someone complained,
"Hunch! Get staff off my foot!" Then, "Hunch? Hunch!
Wake up, get staff off my foot!"
There were sounds of a tussle, and the Grand Notioner's
voice, "What? What goin' on?"
The Lady Drule turned, frowning. She put a finger to
her lips. "Sh!"
This time the message was relayed back down the line,
and there was silence. She turned again, peering toward the
dim light ahead. The tunnel seemed to widen there, and
something glistened. Raising her hand to keep the rest
hushed, Drule crept forward. Another cavern was just
ahead, its floor strewn with broken rock and glitters of pyrite,
and the light came from overhead. She tiptoed into the
open, peering around. The light was daylight and came
from a hole in the ceiling. There was no sign of the
Highbulp and his explorers, but among the glitters lay two
or three candles, a forage pouch, and a shoe. The others
had been here.
The Lady Drule's ears perked at a sound that was like
faraway thunder - or someone snoring. It came from
overhead, and her eyes brightened. "Gorge?" she called
softly. "Highbulp, where you?"
"Lady Drule find Highbulp?" someone asked.
"Must be close," someone else suggested. "Sure
sounds like him snorin'."
Drule looked up at the opening in the ceiling, then
handed her candle to the one nearest her. "All wait here,"
she said. "Maybe they up there. I go see."
Clambering onto a pile of fallen stone, she found
handholds on the stone wall and climbed toward the light.
The opening above was small - about two feet across - but
it was big enough for any gully dwarf to go through.
The Lady Drule climbed, then hoisted herself into the
hole. The sound of snoring came again, very close. If that
was Gorge snoring, he was outdoing himself. She had
never heard even the Highbulp sleep so loudly.
With a final pull, she raised her head above the hole
and looked around. She was on a hilltop littered with stone.
Fragments and grotesque shapes were all around, and a
particularly ugly large boulder blocked her view on one
side. She raised herself from the hole, dusted herself off,
and started to climb over the boulder, then stopped in
confusion. It didn't FEEL like stone. As she bent to look at
it more closely, the snore came again, then cut off abruptly.
A pair of huge yellow eyes opened directly in front of her.
For an instant, Drule froze in panic, then she pivoted and
tried to run . . . and had nowhere to go. A pair of enormous
hands rose behind her, blocking her escape, and the big
the yellow eyes came upright and gazed at her. Below
the eyes, a huge mouth opened, exposing great, chisellike
teeth. In horror, the Lady Drule gaped at the monster, and it
grinned back, then the big mouth moved, and it spoke one
In the cavern below, the rest of the ladies - and the few
males with them - waited with growing impatience. They
could no longer see the Lady Drule, and could no longer
hear the snoring. There were voices somewhere above - or a
voice and intermittent rumbles of thunder - but they couldn't
hear what was being said.
By threes and fives, they started wandering around the
cavern, looking at the pyrite deposits, the fallen stone,
anything of momentary interest. Several had nearly decided
to go back down the tunnel to the lower cavern and put on a
pot of stew, when the hole above darkened and Drule's
voice came down. "Ever'body come up," she called.
Hunch peered upward. "Lady Drule find others? Find
what's-'is-name . . . th' Highbulp?"
"Not here," she called back. "Tracks, though. Maybe
we follow an' find."
The first ones to the top glanced at the Lady Drule,
started to hoist themselves out of the hole, then spotted the
huge, ugly creature crouched nearby - its gaze fixed
lovingly on Drule - and retreated in panic, dislodging those
below them. Within seconds, there was a tumbling pile of
gully dwarves on the cavern floor and nobody climbing.
The Lady Drule appeared at the opening again, looked
at them curiously. "What happen? Ever'body fall down?"
"What that you got up there?" someone asked. "Big,
"Oh." She glanced around, then looked down again.
"That just Krog. Stop wastin' time! Come up."
Several of them began climbing again. Heads reached
the surface and poked out, wide eyes looking past Drule at
the creature still squatting nearby.
"That Krog?" someone asked.
"Krog," Drule assured them.
"What Krog?" another demanded.
"Dunno," she shrugged. "Just Krog. That all he
remember. All come on now. Got to find Highbulp."
"Why?" several of them wondered. Then one added,
"We don' like Krog. Make him go 'way."
Drule stamped her foot impatiently, then turned and
walked to Krog. "Go 'way, Krog," she said. "Shoo!"
Obediently, the creature stood and backed away
"More go 'way than that!" somebody called from the
"Shoo!" Drule repeated, waving her arms at Krog.
Looking very puzzled, the creature retreated farther,
then squatted on its haunches again, a smile of contentment
on its face.
It was some time before the Lady Drule got all of her
people out of the hole. When she did, they crowded around
her, staring at the creature she had found. She was so
hemmed in that she could hardly move, and began pushing
her way out of the crowd.
" 'Nough look at Krog!" she commanded. "Come on.
We gotta look for Highbulp!"
A layer of dust had settled on the hilltop, and there
were tracks all around. Three distinct sizes of footprints -
gully dwarf prints, human prints twice their size, and Krog
prints twice the size of the human prints.
She showed the rest of them the tracks, then pointed.
"Highbulp an' rest go that way with Talls."
Hunch stared at the tracks, frowning. "Highbulp real
dimwit to go with Talls," he declared. "Why do that?"
"Dunno." The Lady Drule shrugged. "We go see."
She set out northward, the rest falling in behind her.
Behind them, Krog realized that they were leaving. He
"Mama?" he rumbled. "Wait for me." He hurried to
catch up with the Lady Drule, and gully dwarves scattered
this way and that to avoid being stepped on.
Drule looked back at the confusion and shook her head.
"Ever'body come on!" she demanded. "No time for fool
"It not us fool around. It Krog!"
"Make Krog go 'way."
After they had gone a few miles, the Lady Drule gave
up on getting rid of Krog. She had tried everything she
could think of to make the creature "go 'way," and nothing
had worked. Faced with the inevitable, she accepted it and
just tried to ignore him. It was difficult. Every time she
turned around, the first things she saw were enormous
knees. Even worse, he insisted on calling her "mama," and
kept trying to hold her hand.
Worse yet, Krog's presence tended to discourage the
others from following closely. Sometimes, when the Lady
Drule looked back, they were barely in sight. Then, when
the smoky sun was setting beyond the mountains to the
west, she looked around and couldn't see them at all.
On the verge of exasperation, she climbed a broken
stump and peered into the brushy distance. "Now where
they go?" she muttered.
"Who?" Krog asked.
"Others," she said. "S'posed to be followin'. Can't see
"Oh," he rumbled. "Here." Great fingers circled her
waist, and he raised her high. "See, mama? There they are."
A half mile back, the others had stopped at the edge of
a fallen forest and were scurrying about. They had built a
"Oh," the Lady Drule said. "Time for eat."
"Yeah," Krog agreed, setting her on her feet. 'Time for
eat. What we eat?"
"Make stew," she explained. "What else?" With a sigh,
she started back.
"What else?" Krog rumbled, and followed.
Partway back, on a wind-scoured flat littered with
fallen stone, Drule saw furtive movement among some
rocks, and her nose twitched. "Rat?" she breathed. She
circled half around the rocks, saw movement again, and
dived at it, her fingers closing an inch behind the rodent's
fleeing tail. She stood and shook her head. "Rats," she said.
Krog watched curiously, repeated, "Rats," and squatted
beside a boulder. With a heave, he lifted it, and several rats
scurried away. The Lady Drule made a dive for one, missed
it. Her hand closed around a stick. A second rodent raced
by. Drule swatted it on the head.
She picked it up, looked at it, then looked at the stick in
her hand. It was a sturdy hardwood branch an inch thick and
about two feet long. "Pretty good bashin' tool," she decided.
"Bashin' tool," Krog rumbled.
By the time they got back to the others, Drule had three
rodents for the pot and Krog was busy fashioning a bashing
tool of his own. He had found a section of broken tree trunk
about five feet long, and was shaping it to his satisfaction
by beating it against rocks as they passed. It was a noisy
process, but the implement pleased him. It felt right and
natural in his hand. He held the forty-pound club in front of
him, studied it with satisfied eyes, tossed it in the air, caught
it, and studied it again. "Pretty good bashin' tool," he said.
By the time the stew was ready, daylight was gone.
"Better stay here for sleep," the Lady Drule told the others.
"Go on tomorrow."
"Go where,S Mama?" Krog wondered.
"These others?" He indicated the crowd around the fire.
"No," she said. "Other others."
"Fine," the Grand Notioner said, picking out a stew
bowl. He dipped it and sat down to eat as others made their
way to the pot. There weren't enough iron bowls to go
around - much had been lost when the cavern of This Place
had collapsed - but they made do with vessels of tree bark,
cupped shards of stone, and a leather boot that someone had
found and cut down.
Drule had just started eating when she heard a sniffle in
the gloom, a very large sniffle. She looked up. "What matter
"Want some, too," the monster explained.
The Lady Drule filled a tree-bark bowl and gave it to
Krog. He sniffed it, opened his mouth, and popped it in,
bowl and all. He swallowed. "Good," he said. "More?"
Hunch, the Grand Notioner, stared up at the big creature
in disbelief. "Gonna need lots more rats an' greens," he said.
"Bark, too, if Krog keep eatin' th' bowls."
"Rats?" Krog's eyes lit up. "Krog get rats with bashin'
He stood, picked up his club, and vanished into the
darkness. He was gone for a long time, and most of the
gully dwarves were asleep when he returned.
Drule saw him approaching and held a finger to her
lips. "Sh!" she said.
Quietly, Krog came to the waning fire, found a clear
spot and dropped something on the ground, something very
big. "Rats too quick for Krog," he whispered. "Can't catch
'em. This do?"
Drule gaped at the thing. She had seen cave bears
before, but never a dead one, and never up close. It certainly
would make a lot of stew, she decided.
The Highbulp Gorge III was not happy. First to be
snatched up by armed Talls and herded cross-country with
a rope around his neck, lashed with whips and insulted at
every stumble, then to be thrown into a cage with the rest
of his followers and dozens of Tall captives as well - Gorge
was almost certain that his dignity had been offended,
among other things.
"This intoler . . . outra . . . unforgiv . . . this stink!" he
grumbled, pacing back and forth in the comer of the roofed
pen where the gully dwarves were huddled. "Slave, Talls
say. Not slave. I Highbulp!"
"Not slave either," several of his subjects agreed.
A voice growled, "You gully dwarves pipe down or
you'll feel the lash."
"Hmph!" Gorge muttered, but lowered his voice.
"Maybe dig out? Skitt? Where Skitt?"
"Here," a sleepy voice said. "What Highbulp want?"
"Skitt, you dig hole."
"Tried it," Skitt said in the gloom. "Rock underneath.
Need tools, no tools. G'night."
"Might cut through bars," another suggested. "Bars are
"Cut with what?" still another pointed out. "Same thing.
Got no tools. If had anything for cut, could - "
"Shut up over there!" a human whispered from the
other side of the pen. "You'll get us all in trouble!"
"Hmph!" Gorge said, feeling helpless and hopeless.
Armed guards patrolled around the pen. Nearby, the
fires of the slavers' camp burned bright. They had been
coming in all day, groups of four to eight at a time, most of
them bringing captives, and now there were at least thirty in
the camp, and dozens of slaves in the pen.
A guard passed near the wood-barred enclosure, and a
human voice inside said, "If only I could get my hands on a
sword, I'd . . ."
The guard laughed. "You'd what, slave? Fight? By the
time we sell you, we'll have beaten all the fight out of you.
Now shut up."
Another guard strolled past on the gully dwarves' side,
and the Highbulp and his followers cringed away from the
bars. They didn't like the way these Talls talked, at all.
At first dawn, the ladies packed as much bear meat as
they could carry, while the Lady Drule went looking for
tracks to follow. Krog tagged along, happy as a duckling
following its mother.
Drule searched northward, then stopped and scratched
her head. There had been tracks before, she was certain, but
now there were none. "Where they all go?" she wondered.
Krog squatted beside her, scratching his head in
imitation. "Who?" he asked.
"Highbulp an' th' rest," she reminded him. "Ones we
been tryin' to find."
He scowled - a frightening and fierce expression, on his
face. "Mama want find those ones?"
"Sure," the Lady Drule said. "Don't know where to look,
"No problem," Krog said, standing and pointing
northward. "They over there."
"There. See smoke? That where other others go."
He seemed certain of it, so Drule said, "Fine. We go
there, too. Highbulp prob'ly need 'tendin' to 'bout now."
She called to the rest, and they set off northward - a
nine-foot creature guiding, a long line of three- to four-foot
creatures tagging after. In the distance, far across a wide,
sundered valley littered with the debris of nameless
catastrophe, was a ridge. Beyond the ridge, Krog said, were
their lost people. It would take all day to get there, Drule
guessed, but they had nowhere else to go.
It was midday when Drule and Krog rounded a spire of
rock that might once have been a mountaintop, and came
face-to-face with a stranger, a human, carrying an axe.
As any good gully dwarf would do, faced with an
armed Tall, the Lady Drule shrieked, turned and ran.
Behind her, gully dwarves scattered in all directions.
Krog looked after Drule for a second, thoroughly
puzzled, then looked again at the bug-eyed man standing
there, gawking up at him in terror. Krog shrugged
eloquently, then voiced a mighty shriek, flung up his hands
just as Drule had done, and pounded away after her. His
shriek drowned out the screams of the man, who was now
bounding away in the other direction, shouting, "Ogre!
Some distance away, Krog found the Lady Drule hiding
behind a clump of grass. Krog did the same, though his
clump of grass covered no more than the lower part of his
face and maybe one shoulder. He stayed there until Drule
rose. Deciding the danger was gone, she went to regather
her followers. Krog didn't know why they had been hiding,
but whatever suited Mama was all right with him.
It was late evening. Hazy dusk lay in the long shadows of
the Khalkists, and the smoke of campfires hung in the air
when a gully dwarf named Bipp crept through the brush to
the shadowed slave pen and looked inside. He squinted.
Several faces turned toward him. "Hey," someone said.
"What you doin' out there, Bipp?" another asked.
Bipp put a finger to his lips. "Sh!"
"Where Highbulp?" Bipp whispered.
"Right here, somewhere. Highbulp? Highbulp, wake
up. Bipp here." A pause, then, "Highbulp! Wake up!
Highbulp sleepy oaf. Wake up, Highbulp! Bipp here."
"Shut up over there!" a human voice shouted. "Can't
you little dimwits ever be quiet?"
At the sound, an armed guard at the far comer of the
pen looked around, and Bipp flattened himself in the
shadows. "Shut up in there, or you'll wish you had," the
Then Gorge was there, peering through the lashed-post
bars. "What Bipp want?"
"Lady Drule send me. She lookin' for you. Why ever'-
"Can't get out," the Highbulp said, peevishly. "Talls got
us incarcera ... in custo ... got us locked in for sell."
"Oh." Bipp studied the bars, shrugged, and turned away.
"Okay," he said. "Have nice evenin'. I go tell Lady Drule."
In a moment he was gone, but behind him a babble of
voices echoed, and a guard roared, "You slaves heard what I
A torch flared. A guard with a patch on one eye drew a
sword and thrust it viciously between the bars. A human
screamed, and the scream became a whimper as the guard
withdrew the sword, bloody.
The man put away his sword, grinned at another guard.
"That ought to quiet them," he said. "Slaves don't need two
Atop the ridge, the Lady Drule and the others listened
wide-eyed as Bipp made his report. He told them what he
had seen and what he had heard, and there was no doubt
what it all meant. Most of the males of the Bulp clan were
prisoners of heavily armed Talls, and would be sold into
Drule scratched her head, wondering what to do about
that, then gave up and went to find Hunch. "You Grand Notioner,"
she reminded him. "Time for Grand Notion."
The Grand Notioner was preoccupied, trying to repair
the bindings on his feet after a long day's walk. "What
about?" he grumbled.
" 'Bout how get Highbulp an' all away from Talls! Pay
"Oh." He thought about it for a while, then shrugged
and pointed at the stick in her hand. "Use bashin' tool, I
"For what?" Drule looked at the stick.
"For bash Talls," he explained.
To the Lady Drule, that didn't sound like much of an
idea, but when several long minutes of fierce concentration
didn't produce a better one, she resigned herself to it.
Bashing Talls, in her opinion, was a very good way to get
into a lot of trouble, but maybe it was worth a try.
"Anybody wanna bash Talls?" she asked around,
hoping for volunteers. There were none. She would just
have to do it herself, then.
Nearing the foot of the ridge, Drule suddenly was aware
that Krog was right behind her, mimicking her stealthy
approach. She turned and raised a hand. "Krog wait," she
whispered. "I got somethin' to do."
In a rumbling whisper, the big creature asked, "What
She pointed toward the pen, where a guard was sitting
on a rock. "See Tall there? Gotta bash him. Now be quiet."
"Oh," Krog said. "Okay."
With Krog silenced, the Lady Drule crept on down the
slope toward the guard. Even sitting on a rock, the man was
taller than she was, and his ready sword glinted in the
Trembling with dread, Drule crept up behind him,
raised her rat-bashing stick, and brought it down on the
back of the man's head as hard as she could.
"Owl" the man said. His hand went to his head. "What
th' - " He reached for his sword.
The Lady Drule tried to run, but tripped over her own
feet and fell.
The raider guard spied her, spat. "Gully dwarf!" He
grasped the hilt of his sword . . . then raised his eyes to see
the last sight of his life - a massive club descending on his
The Lady Drule got her feet under her, started to run
again, then saw the squashed body of the man sprawled
across the rock. Krog stood to one side, disinterestedly
gazing out over the fire-lit camp.
"Wow!" Drule breathed. Raising her rat-stick, she stared
at it in amazement. "Pretty good bash!"
Quietly, then, she crept toward the pen, bright eyes
looking for other Talls to bash. Somewhere nearby, a
rumbling whisper said, "Ones with weapons first,D Mama."
That, she realized, made pretty good sense. She
wondered how Krog came to know such sound strategy. At
the bottom of the slope, she began to circle the slave pen.
The gully dwarves were all crowded into one comer of the
wooden cage enclosure, spumed by the humans inside.
As Drule neared that comer, a voice whispered, "There
Lady Drule! Hi there, Lady Drule." Another voice
whispered, "Highbulp! Wake up! Lady Drule here . . .
Highbulp? Highbulp sleepy oaf. Wake up, Highbulp!"
Drule said, "Sh!" and went on. Behind her, a giant
shadow moved, but those inside were too busy watching her
to notice it.
Just beyond the comer of the stockade, a man stood
leaning on a spear staff. He yawned, and a stick smacked
him sharply across the buttocks. "Here now!" he started to
say, but only part of it was ever said. The club that smashed
into his skull put an end to it.
"Wow," the Lady Drule muttered.
Another guard stood at the next comer, and just beyond
him burned the coals of a cook-fire. Other men lay in sleep,
their weapons at hand. Quietly, Drule approached the guard,
raised her stick, and whacked him on the back. The man
said, "Ow!" and spun around, raising his spear. "Gully
dwarf," he said. "And a female one. Where did you come
"Woop," Drule shouted. She raised her stick and struck
The stick whacked across the man's knuckles, and he
dropped his spear. His eyes narrowed. "Why, you little
snake," he hissed. "You'll pay for that." He drew a long
knife from his boot and lunged at the gully dwarf, who
dodged aside, tripped, and fell.
The slaver aimed another thrust, then stopped. A chorus
of shrieks sounded from inside the pen. Some of the slaves
had just noticed Krog stepping into the light of the fires.
Crashing, thudding sounds erupted. Thuds, rending snaps,
and a high-pitched scream abruptly silenced.
The guard turned, gaped, screamed, "Ogre!"
He started to run, tripped over the Lady Drule, and
A stick whacked him on the back of his head, and a
voice said, "Take that!" Then, "Don' know what wrong with
this bashin' tool. Used to work real good."
As the man got to his knees, Drule decided she had
done enough bashing, and ducked away. The area around
the nearby campfire was a shambles - sprawled bodies
everywhere, dropped weapons lying here and there . . . and
blood, lots of blood. Krog had finished there and gone on to
the next fire, unleashing havoc. There were screams of fear,
screams of agony, the rhythmic thudding of a huge club
against flesh and bone.
Like huge death, Krog strode around and through the
sleeping-fire, a growling, implacable horror with rending
fingers, ripping teeth, and a great club as tireless and
relentless as a harvester's scythe. Wide-eyed, terrified
slavers came out of their blankets, grabbing up weapons to
confront him. Some never even got to their feet before the
heavy club flattened them and great feet trod across their
bodies. Others tried to regroup and fight, and were
splattered with their companions' blood even as their own
blood splattered others.
A man with an eye-patch rolled aside, hid for a second
in shadows, then sprang to his feet, aiming a heavy sword at
the marauder's backside. He swung - and the sword thudded
into hard wood, embedded itself, and was torn from his
grasp. A huge hand closed around his helmed head and
squeezed, and the iron helm collapsed, crushing the skull
within. Krog flung him aside and went on, growling his
Somewhere, deep in Krog's mind, a glimmer of memory
awakened - memory triggered by the violence and the smell
of fresh blood. Rampant and towering in the remains of the
sleeping camp, Krog raised his club toward the sky, and a
growl sounded in his throat - a growl that became a roar that
echoed from the hillsides, a roar of challenge and of
pleasure, the cry of a rampaging ogre.
Ahead of him were other fires, where men with
weapons scrambled in all directions, and his eyes lit with
But then, behind him somewhere, a voice called, "Krog!
'Nough foolin' 'round! Got better things to do!"
The glimmer of memory held for a moment, urging him
on, then became tenuous and faded. Feeling a
disappointment he didn't understand, Krog turned and
headed back, pausing only for a casual swat that brained a
panicked, fleeing slaver. "All right, Mama!" he thundered,
his lower lip jutting in a huge pout. "Comin'!"
The ladies of Lady Drule's retinue, and the few males
with them, had followed Drule and Krog as far as the pen.
Not finding a hole in the cage, they made one. Using the
edges of burnished iron stew tureens, they chipped away
enough sapling bars and lashings for the gully dwarves to
come tumbling out, and a flood of crouched Talls right
behind them. Pushing past and through the gully dwarves as
though they were not there, the Talls grabbed up fallen
weapons and launched a murderous attack on the stunned
and disorganized slavers.
The minute Gorge III, Highbulp of This Place and
Those Other Places Too, was free of captivity, he threw
back his shoulders, donned his most regal pose and issued
the orders of a true leader. "Everybody run like crazy!" he
It was many hours later, and broad daylight, when the
reunited Clan of Bulp paused on the devastated lower slopes
of the Khalkist Mountains to regroup. Through night and
morning they had fled, each and severally. But now Gorge
remembered that he had sore feet and decided it was a good
time to stop and reassert his authority. He proclaimed a
temporary This Place, and by threes and fives they gathered
There was one small problem. Through it all, nobody
had thought to tell Gorge about Krog, so when the Lady
Drule and her band showed up, shrieks and screams filled
the hazy air and they found a This Place with no one in
attendance except old Hunch, sitting on a rock.
Drule looked around in confusion. "Where Highbulp?
Where ever'body go?"
"All run an' hide." Hunch shrugged.
"Dunno. Didn' say. Ever'body just holler an' run an'
Impatiently, Drule set her fists on her hips, stamped her
foot, and shouted, "Gorge! Where you?"
Here and there, shadows moved. From brushy crevices
and piles of stone, faces peered out. The Highbulp's voice
said, "Yes, dear?"
"What goin' on?" the Lady Drule demanded. "You
More of the gully dwarves peered from hiding places,
all gaping at the towering Krog. "What that you got with
you, dear?" the Highbulp called.
Drule looked up at the ogre, then turned toward the
voice. "Nothin'! Just Krog! Stop fool 'round!"
Reassurance didn't come easily, but lapse of attention
did, and soon the whole tribe was gathered.
Within an hour, they had stew on, and the Lady Drule
handed a tureen to Gorge III. He sniffed, tasted, and
proclaimed, "This superi . . . excep . . . pretty good stew!
What in it?"
"Cave bear an' skinny green plant," she said. "An'
mushroom an' tall-grass seed an' leftover bird nest."
He took another sip and nodded. "Good stuff. Best I...
CAVE BEAR? Where get cave bear?"
Offhandedly, Drule pointed at the hulking Krog, who
was waiting for the crowd around the stew pot to disperse
so that he could finish the pot. "Krog get," she said. "Krog
not much for hunt rats, but bash bears real good."
"Krog," the Highbulp said, scowling in thought as he
studied the amiable monster. He hadn't really thought much
about Krog since the first shock of encounter, but when he
did, troubling notions tumbled around in his head. He
glanced at Drule suspiciously. "Krog call you Mama," he
said. "You been up to somethin', dear?"
"Krog lost, needed mama." She shrugged. "Keeps
callin' me that."
"Oh." Gorge sipped at his stew, relieved but still
troubled. "Dear, wha' happen to Talls at slave camp? Some-
thin' squash 'em?"
"Mostly Krog," she explained. "He got th' hang of
bashin' Talls pretty quick. Had lotta fun."
"Hmph!" Gorge sat in thought for a time, then asked,
"How you an' others find us?"
Again she pointed at the huge creature nearby. "Krog
find place. Krog pretty handy have around, right?"
"Right." The Highbulp scowled. Tossing aside his
empty tureen, he stalked away, sulking.
The Lady Drule stared after him, then beckoned the
Grand Notioner. "Hunch, what wrong with Highbulp?"
"Highbulp?" Hunch shrugged. "Highbulp is Highbulp.
That his main problem."
"What that mean?"
"Highbulp gotta be Highbulp alla time," he explained,
puzzling it out as he went. "Gotta be big cheese, top turkey,
main mullet, otherwise, no good be Highbulp."
"So now Krog big hero. Ever'body lookin' up to Krog.
Not good for Highbulp. Steal his thunder."
The Lady Drule pondered, trying to understand. "Okay,"
she said finally. "What do about it, then?"
"Maybe Highbulp make Krog a knight," Hunch
said simply, "like Tall kings do. Heroes real nuisance to
kings, but if king make hero a knight, alla glory belong
to king again."
"Oh," Drule concurred. "Okay" With renewed
purpose, she strode to where the Highbulp was sulking
and faced him. "Highbulp better knight Krog," she told
He frowned a puzzled frown. "What?"
"Knight Krog, then Highbulp be like a king, get
"Highbulp already glorious," he pointed out, then
squinted at her. "Knight Krog good idea, huh?"
"Real good idea."
"Right," he decided. "Jus' what I was thinkin
Gorge strode to the middle of the camp and raised
his arms. "All pay attention! Highbulp got announ...
proclam . . . somethin' to say!"
When he had their attention, he pointed at Krog.
"Highbulp gonna . . . Ever'body! Stop lookin' at Krog!
Look at Highbulp!"
When he had their attention again, he said,
"Highbulp deci . . . conclu . . . make up mind to do Krog
big honor, for - " he turned to Drule " - for what?"
"For be hero" she whispered. "For valor an'
service. For be brave an'... an' bashful."
It was a bit complicated for the Highbulp. Turning
back to his assembled subjects, he said, "For bein' a
good guy, make Krog be Sir Krog. Krog!" he ordered.
"Go over by big rock an' prost. . . recumb . . . hunker
down real low."
With a nod from Drule, the big creature did as he
was told. Kneeling before a boulder, he bent low enough
that it was almost as tall as himself. Gorge walked
around him, trying to remember what he had heard
about knighting. He glanced at the huge club in Krog's
hand and pointed at it. "What that?"
"Bashin' tool," the Lady Drule said. "Krog made
"Good," Gorge said. "Krog, give bashin' tool to
Hunkered low before the boulder,
Krog turned his head, saw Mama's nod of
approval and extended his club. The
Highbulp took it and, when Krog
released it, sat down hard with the club
across his lap. It weighed almost as
much as he did.
"Gonna need volunteers," the Highbulp muttered. He
pushed the club away, stood and called, "You, Chuff. An'
Bipp. An' Skitt, all come help."
Three sturdy young gully dwarves stepped forward.
Gorge climbed to the top of the boulder and beckoned.
"Bring bashin' tool up here."
Between them, the three managed to hoist the club and
themselves onto the boulder, scattering dust from its top.
Beside it, Krog wrinkled his nose, shook his head, and
began to fidget.
"Hol' still, Krog," the Lady Drule told him.
With the Highbulp supervising, the three volunteers
positioned the club above Krog's left shoulder.
Gorge drew himself up regally. "Krog, 'cause of exce . .
. unusu ... for doin' good stuff, I dub you SIR KROG." To the
volunteers, he said, "Dub Krog on shoulder now."
Falling dust tickled Krog's nose. He sneezed. A cloud
of dust blew up around the boulder, blinding the dubbers.
Bipp sneezed and lost his grip on the club, Chuff fell over
backward, and Skitt, suddenly lifting the full weight of the
thing, lost control of it. With a resounding thud, the club
descended on the back of Krog's head.
For a moment there was a stunned silence, then Krog
shook himself like an angry bear, raised his head . . . and the
Highbulp found himself staring into a huge face that was no
longer amiable. A growl like approaching thunder shook the
slopes. Krog's once-innocent eyes brightened with a flood
of returning memory - brightened and glittered with a
"Uh-oh!" the Highbulp gulped. He turned, leapt from
the stone, and shouted, "Ever'body run like crazy!"
Gully dwarves scattered in all directions, disappearing
into the shattered landscape. Behind them, a mighty roar
sent echoes up the mountainsides - the roar of an ogre
Krog stood, picked up his club, and brandished it,
roaring again. "Krog!" he thundered. "I am Krog! Not Krog
Aghar! KROG OGRE! Krog!"
Seeing movement, he sped after it, his feet pounding.
Beyond a shoulder of stone, he skidded to a stop. A female
gully dwarf lay there, staring up at him in horror. "Krog?"
Her voice - the remembered voice and the remembered
face of the little creature - made him hesitate, and his
hesitation angered him. For an instant he felt . . . soft. "Shut
up!" he thundered. "I am Krog! Krog ogre!"
She blinked, and a tear glistened in her eye. "Krog... not
want Mama anymore?"
"I am ogre!" he roared. "You . . . nothing to me!"
Furious, he raised his club high, then hesitated as another
small figure darted out of a shadowed cleft to face him, a
little gully dwarf male with curly whiskers, the one they
called Highbulp. The gully dwarf faced him with terror in
its eyes and an elk tine in its hand, and again Krog
The absurd little thing was challenging him! A snarl
tugged at Krog's cheek, but still he hesitated, looking from
one to the other of the puny creatures. They meant nothing
to him, nothing at all, and yet, there was something about
the pair . . .
For a moment Krog stood, his dub lifted high to strike,
then he shook his head and lowered it. Wrinkling his nose
in disgust - mostly at himself - he turned and stalked away.
Behind him, the Highbulp Gorge III lifted the Lady
Drule to her feet with trembling hands. They clung together,
staring at the monster's receding back.
"'Bye, Krog," Drule whispered.
THE COBBLER'S SON
ROGER E. MOORE
The Authentic Field Reports of Walnut Arskin
To Astinus of Palanthas,
As Set Down by Me, Walnut,
Foster Son of Jeraim Arskin,
Famed Amanuensis, Scribe of Astinus,
and Licensed Cobbler
(Open All Week Long)
Newshore-Near-Gwynned, North Island, Ergoth
Report Number One
Year 22, New Reckoning
Spring day 12 or maybe 13 (I forget), dawn
Hi, Astinus! It's just after dawn and I'm now your
newest field recorder, and I'm making my very first official
field report to you on official Palanthas paper with my
brand-new steel pen while wearing my once-holy symbol of
Gilean and my official gray recorder's robes and my best
walking boots. I've even put on clean underwear. I just want
you to know, Astinus, that I will be your best field recorder
ever, and someday I might even become a great amanuensis
It's pretty cold outside for springtime right now, so my
handwriting is sorta wiggly, but I can still read it. Can you?
I'm a little hungry, as I would have had breakfast by now
only I lost it after Ark sent me out of the shoe shop right
after he made me his official field recorder, which is an
interesting story, and I should write it down in case it's
important, and anyway there's not much else to do in this
alley at this hour of the morning.
Ark - known to you as your loyal scribe and amanuensis
Jeraim Arskin from Newshore, but known to me as Ark and
sometimes Dad, and known to everyone else in New-shore
as Arkie - woke me up early and told me to get ready for the
ceremony. I'd been begging him to let me be a scribe for
ages, and Ark said he was going deaf from hearing me beg,
but then something happened last night and he said he had
something important for me to do today, but I'd have to be
out on my own and out of his way. He was awfully nervous,
and when he got me up he looked like he hadn't slept much,
and he wanted to hurry through everything, and when I
asked him what was wrong, he just said, "Don't be a kender
right now," which I can't help, since I am one.
Ark first gave me a set of gray scribe's robes that he had
hemmed up, which I put on, and then he gave me some
official paper from Palanthas, where you live, and this new
steel pen and this once-holy symbol that used to belong to a
real cleric of Gilean until he disappeared (the cleric, that is)
when the gods lowered the boom on Istar twenty-two years
ago and left without telling anyone their next address, but I
guess you know that part, since you're a historian.
I looked over at the wall mirror then and saw all three
feet nine inches of me in the candlelight, with my dark
brown hair combed out and bound in a high tassel and my
gray robes with the nice silver borders and my writing paper
and once-holy symbol and official steel pen. It was strange,
because I didn't look like me, and that made me feel funny.
I looked like a kender I didn't quite know.
Ark stood behind me, and in the candlelight he looked
old, and that made me feel funny, too. He's about average
in size for a human and is almost bald and has a hooked
nose and a potbelly, and I knew who he was, but just then
he didn't look much like the man who had raised me and
told me funny stories when I was sick and took me fishing
and bailed me out of jail every so often. Maybe it was the
hour, but he looked old and tired, like something was both
ering him. I worry about him sometimes.
Ark sighed after a moment and said, "Well, let's get
started. I've got a lot of work to do today - and so do you,
of course." Then he put his hand on my head and used
some big words that I didn't know, but you probably do,
and when he was done, he said, "Walnut, you are now my
official field recorder. Your mission is to go out among the
people of Newshore and record all things of importance. I
know I can trust you to do a good job. Don't come back
until sundown, stay out of jail, take lots of notes, don't
upset anyone, and let me get my correspondence done. I'm
a little behind, and Astinus will use my skin for book
covers if I don't get those reports to him."
(I should say here that I certainly hope you do not
intend to skin Ark, Astinus, especially not for book covers.
You may skin me instead if you have to, as Ark is late with
his correspondence only because I made paper fishing
boats out of his last reports. I thought they were just waste
paper, like when he writes letters to you when he's mad
and tells you to jump off the roof of your library but then
never sends them. He says it makes him feel better, and he
gives the letters to me to make boats out of them. I grabbed
the wrong stack and am sorry.)
Anyway, I am now a field recorder, which Ark tells me
is the first step toward becoming a real-live scribe and
eventually an amanuensis, which is the most incredible
word, isn't it? I've wanted to be a scribe for years, ever
since Ark taught me to read and write, and I've learned
almost every word there is, except the biggest ones (except
for "amanuensis") and I've practiced and practiced at my
writing until Ark says that if I write on the walls or
furniture one more time, he will put me in jail himself, but I
think he was only kidding, except maybe once or twice.
I am determined to make Ark proud of me, and after
the ceremony, I said, "Ark, I will be the best field recorder
ever, and you are going to be so proud of me that you will
Ark smiled without looking happy and said, "Good, good.
Just stay out of jail." Then he hurried me toward the door
and gave me a pouch with some hard rolls and cheese and
dried bacon and raisins and other stuff in it, which I
dropped when I cut through the Wylmeens' garden on the
way into town and their big brown mastiff, Mud, chased me
out. Stupid dog.
I tried to get my pouch back, but Mud tore it apart and
ate it, so I went back to the shoe shop after that to get
another bag for breakfast, and when I went in, Ark was
sitting at the kitchen table, sound asleep. He had all of his
papers out and his pens and his ink bottles, and he had just
started what looked like a long report to you about the
political and religious situation in Newshore, but he must
have been pretty tired, what with staying up so late last
night, and I wondered if it was because I had been up late,
too, because I was so excited about being made a recorder,
and maybe I shouldn't have tried to make tea, because I
spilled hot water all over the dirt floor in the kitchen so that
it turned to mud. I didn't want to bother Ark, so I went
looking for food, and while I was doing that I found his
"facts machine," which is why you are getting my reports
the moment I write them down.
The facts machine was in a leather satchel by Ark's
feet, and I couldn't help but look at it, because Ark usually
throws a fit if I get near it. He says gnomes and wizards
made it and that all you have to do is put a page of paper in
the machine and it sends the page by magic to your library
so you can read all the facts right away. What will those
gnomes and wizards think of next? Ark said only the most
trusted scribes get their own facts machines, and the
machines are the most incredible secret, and I must never
tell anyone about them, and I never have, not even Widow
Muffin, who comes over to see Ark and me now and then
and is the sweetest person, so don't worry, because you can
As I was looking through the satchel I also found the
letter you sent to Ark yesterday, telling him he had better
send in his assignment to find out how people feel about the
Cataclysm (as you call it) and how peeved you were that
Ark had not done so before now. I also read the part where
you said you understood Ark's concerns about talking to the
wrong people and being lynched, but his job required
dedication, and you seemed to imply that being lynched
wasn't half as bad as what you had in mind if Ark missed
his next deadline, which was tonight at sundown.
You said that Ark's assignment was important because
you were concerned that the purpose and lessons of the
Cataclysm were being lost in a sea of deliberate ignorance
and intolerance that could lay the foundation for future
disasters (I'm copying from your letter now), and you said
you counted on Ark and others like him to keep you
informed of the condition of the land and its peoples,
because if the peoples couldn't get off on the right foot (or is
that feet?), then maybe they never would and one day we'd
Well, I was amazed that anyone wouldn't know why
Istar had a flaming mountain dropped on it, since Istar was
such a poop nation and went around enslaving and torturing
and killing people, all the while saying the people were
being killed for their own good, until the gods got fed up
and turned Istar into the bottom of the Blood Sea of Istar for
everyone else's own good. Ark taught me all that, and I
always thought everyone knew that but then I never asked,
and I was surprised to read that Ark said he was afraid to
ask, and I couldn't figure out why not understanding the
Cataclysm meant we would be sorry later. Are we going to
be tested on it?
Anyway, you had told Ark to send in his report by
sundown tonight or else, and I knew Ark couldn't very well
do that while he was asleep, so I've decided to do his work
for him and surprise him when he wakes up. Isn't that great?
I'm going to find out what everyone thinks of the
Cataclysm, and I'll write it all down and send it right to you
on the facts machine, which I took with me. Ark will be so
proud! Sometimes, when he's bailing me out of jail, he says
that he should have left me by the side of the road, which is
how he became my foster father, as he found me on his way
into town when I was a baby just after the time of the
Cataclysm. He raised me and showed me how to fix shoes
and how to count and read and everything, but we do have
our moments when things don't go right, which seems to
happen more often lately, now that I'm bigger, but that's
how families work sometimes, you know.
Anyway, here I am now, down by the harbor in the
alley beside Goodwife Filster's bakery, trying to stay out of
the wind and keep warm. Ark said I should write down
important things while I'm out today, so I will do that and
send them to you, and I think I should write down
something about Newshore and its politics and religion, but
Newshore doesn't have much of either. I could also talk
about how Newshore got its name, as it used to be a farm
until Istar got mashed and the sea came up and northern
Ergoth turned into an island, and you can still see the
sunken foundation stones of an old barn just offshore, in a
place Ark shows me when we go fishing, but everybody
here knows about that. I could talk about Goodwife Filster's
sugar rolls, which I can smell baking now, and they are on
my mind a lot because I forgot to get something to eat
before I left the shop the second time, but no one would
want to read that, either. I should just get started on my
But, first, I am going to get a sugar roll.
Report Number Two
Same day, about midmorning
Hi, Astinus! I am writing this from the Newshore
magistrate's jail in cell number four. It is dark in here, and I
cannot see what I am writing or even if my pen is still
working. It smells like somebody drank too much ale and it
didn't agree with him, so he got rid of it in every way he
could and then didn't bother to clean it up. I can hear
someone snoring in cell number one, and cell three has
someone in it who needs to use a handkerchief.
How I got here is very interesting, so I will put it down
in case it is important. I was really hungry and was getting
cold in the alley, so I went on into the bakery, which
smelled of fresh-baked sugar rolls and breakfast pastries,
the whirly kind with the melted cheese stuff on top that Ark
says gives him gas but which I like anyway (the pastries
with cheese I mean, not the gas, which is awful).
Ark always buys pastries from Goodwife Filster by him
self. When I tell him I want to get them, he always says,
"That wouldn't be a good idea," and he buys the pastries.
Goodwife Filster always frowns at me while I wait for Ark
outside her shop. She knoFws I'll be eating the sugar rolls
Ark is buying, which I think makes her mad, but I have no
idea why. She's one of the people I want to understand by
being a recorder, but so far I haven't figured her out.
When I opened the oak door and went inside where it
was toasty warm from the baking ovens and smelled the
way I imagine Paradise does, Goodwife Filster saw me and
frowned (she never smiles) and said in a nasty voice, "I'm
not open yet, kender."
I said, "I thought you always opened about now."
And she said, "Get out of here, before I call the
magistrate. Go on!"
About then I knew I wasn't going to get a sugar roll or
even a cheese pastry, because Goodwife Filster is funny
sometimes about people who aren't human like her, only
she's not really funny as in funny ha-ha, she's funny as in
funny uh-oh. Ark calls her the Minotaur, on account of she's
strong and heavy and has such a terrible temper, but he says
it's because she's as ugly as one, too.
I was leaving when I remembered what you had asked
Ark to do, so I stopped and said, "I have just one question to
ask before I go."
Goodwife Filster's face knotted up in a way that
reminded me of the Wylmeens' dog, but she didn't say
anything, so I quickly got out my papers and pen and got
ready to write down her answer. When she looked like she
was going to yell at me, I asked my question, which was,
"Do you think the gods did the right thing when they struck
down Istar so that the balance of the world was preserved
and freedom of thought, will, and action was granted to all
once more?" I'm not sure I asked the question exactly as
you wanted Ark to, and I borrowed some of your phrases
from your letter to get it right, but I figured I was close
enough and didn't think it would hurt.
On the other hand, maybe I didn't ask the question
properly after all, since Goodwife Filster called me a name
that meant that my real parents weren't married, which for
all I know they weren't, but that wasn't any business of hers,
and then she came at me with a bread knife, so I ran outside
and down the street and was cold and hungry again before I
As I was standing outside her shop with my arms
crossed under my robes because it was too cold to write
this down yet, a fisherman came up to go into the bakery,
and I said, "It's not open yet," because I'd never known
Goodwife Filster to lie, even if she once said that all elves
carried diseases and kidnapped children, which I don't think
they do, or at least not all of them, or at least not the ones I
know. Anyway, the fisherman said, "Oh," and left.
Then the Moviken kids came up, and I said, "It's not
open yet," so they made faces at the bakery window and
left. Then the spinster sisters Anwen and Naevistin Noff
came up, and I said, "It's not open yet," and they groaned
Then Goodwife Filster came out, wiping her hands on a
towel, and she looked around and frowned at me, and I
said, "Are you open yet?"
And she made a snorting noise through her nose and
said, "When Istar rises, you damn kender," then went back
inside to bake some more.
Then Woose, the dwarf, came by and said, "Morning,
Walnut," and I said, "Morning, Woose. The bakery's not
Woose peered at the bakery door and scratched his
beard and said, "That's funny. She's usually open at this
hour," and then he left. Woose isn't a human, but he has lots
of steel coins from his mining business, and maybe Good-
wife Filster forgives him for not being human on account of
Five more people came by whose names I've forgotten,
and they left, and then Goodwife Filster came out and
mumbled to herself and looked around and glared at me
and said, "What did you tell those last two people who
were here just now?"
And I said, "That you weren't open yet," and she got a
look on her face that reminded me of the Wylmeens' dog
when it bit me on the finger, and she called me a name that
meant I liked my mother more than normal people were
meant to, which was silly because I don't even remember
my mother, and Goodwife Filster grabbed me by my robes
and brought me here to the magistrate to be hanged.
We had to wait until Jarvis, the magistrate, could get
out of bed and find his spectacles, and he was as tall and
thin as ever, and his black hair was all messed up from
sleeping on it. He combed out his hair and big moustache,
then looked at me and said, "You again?" and looked sad,
probably on account of this being the fifth time this year he
would have to throw me in jail for being a public nuisance,
which Jarvis says is really just a way to let everyone cool
off and forget whatever I had done so they wouldn't tie me
to a rock and drop me on a kelp farm, as Jarvis puts it,
which sounds interesting but which I don't understand, since
that would mean I was underwater.
"What now?" said Jarvis to Goodwife Filster, who then
said a lot of things that weren't true, like that I was a plague
carrier and a thief and a liar, and she was about to explain
what she meant by my being responsible for the fall of Istar
when Woose, the dwarf, ran into the magistrate's office and
yelled, "Fire! Fire at Goodwife Filster's!"
Then Woose saw Goodwife Filster and yelled, "Gods,
woman, your bakery is on fire!" and Goodwife Filster went
all white and staggered like someone had hit her, then she
ran out, and Woose ran out, and Jarvis ran out, but before
Jarvis ran out he locked me in here and said he would be
So here I am with my facts machine and nothing to do. I
should write down some notes on the economic situation in
Newshore after Istar blew up and the crops drowned
because of the ocean that used to be two days north of here
but now comes up to the place where the Karkhovs once
had a giant melon field and is where Ark and I fish for
moonfins, but Jarvis is back now, and he's waiting for me to
leave my cell after I finish this first.
"What are you writing?" he just now asked me, and
now he's looking and . . .
Report Number Three
Same day, about an hour after noon
Hi, Astinus! I'm writing this from the rooftop of the
Cats & Kitties, which is really just a tavern with a sign
showing a woman's bosom with no dress on and isn't a pet
shop at all, which was what I thought all the time I was
growing up but Ark wouldn't take me there to find out. It's
warmer now, and the sun is out and the sky is clear blue,
and I can see lots of bird droppings on the roof from last
year now that the snow is gone, and I might be sitting on
some but I can't help it. Someone should clean this roof up,
but then no one is supposed to be up here and I wouldn't be
either except that Magistrate Jarvis said I was safer here
than in jail, and he's gone to try to calm down the mob
before I show up in town again.
So here I am, writing away on the roof and reading
over some letters that Ark left in the satchel with the facts
machine, and those letters are very interesting, though I
can't imagine why Ark put them in here since I doubt very
much he meant to send them to you. I think Widow Muffin
wrote these letters to Ark, and she says a lot of things that
make me think that maybe they aren't telling me the whole
truth whenever Ark asks me to go into town to buy
groceries when Widow Muffin comes over, and when I get
back they tell me they were just talking. I was quite amazed
at some of the things she said, and I don't think I will ever
be able to look at either her or Ark again and not think
about them playing "warming the weasel," which I should
probably explain but am too embarrassed to do, and you
wouldn't believe me anyway.
How I got up here on the roof is an interesting story,
and I will write it down in case it is important. After I left
off last time, Magistrate Jarvis took my satchel away while
I was sending my report through the facts machine inside,
and he took me out of jail, then gave me my satchel back
and said that I could leave now, but I shouldn't try to talk to
Good-wife Filster for a few years.
"What happened to her bakery?" I asked, and he said,
"Oh, the old windbag left a cloth sitting on an oven when
she went outside, and the cloth caught fire, and that spread
to the wall and ceiling. The place is pretty well ruined now.
She's probably going south to Gwynned to stay with her
brother until she gets things sorted out."
I felt bad for her having to leave town, but I also felt
bad for myself and everyone else, since she had the only
good bakery. Jarvis went on about there being a lot of
confusion as they were trying to put out the fire, but when
Woose tried to get people organized, no one would listen to
him, because he was rich or a dwarf or both, so the whole
place burned up and took the tailor's shop with it. Jarvis said
a lot of things about certain people that I should probably
not put down here, because I think he was just angry, and I
doubt he would really know if those people were as much in
love with their barn animals as he implied they were.
Magistrate Jarvis stopped and rubbed his face and then
looked at me and said, "By the way, where did you get
those?" and he pointed at my gray robes, so I said, "Ark
made me his official recorder this morning, and these are
my official recorder's robes, and this is my official Palanthas
paper, and this is my steel scribing pen, and this is my
once-holy symbol," and I showed him my silver necklace
that has the tiny silver open book with the tiny little
scribbles in it that you can't read no matter how close you
hold it to your eye, which I did once when I was smaller but
poked myself in the eyeball and couldn't see for two days,
so I don't do it now.
Magistrate Jarvis snorted and said, "Arkie'd be better off
sticking to his shoe business. People don't have a need to
read or write all that much. A little bit of knowledge goes a
I was going to ask what he meant by that, but he looked
at my satchel and asked about that, too, and I said it was just
to hold all my papers.
Jarvis sighed and said, "You'd better be getting on out
now. Try not to get yourself killed before nightfall," and I
promised, and he let me go.
I was almost out the door when I remembered what you
wanted, so I turned around and said, "Can I ask just one
Jarvis was heading back to bed, but he groaned and
said, "If it means I can get to sleep afterward, sure,
So I took out my papers and my pen and tried to
remember the question, and I asked him, "Do you think the
gods did right when they sank Istar to preserve the balance
of the world and to protect the freedoms of will, thought,
and action among all beings?"
Jarvis stood real still for a while, which made me a bit
uneasy, and I slowly began to roll up my papers in case I
had to run for it. His face got old and white, and his black
moustache looked droopy and dark, but he only said, "Why
would you ask me such a damned foolish question as that?
By the Abyss and its dragons, no, that wasn't good at all.
The gods ruined everything for us. Istar had evil on the run.
We had those goblins and minotaurs and other scum in our
grip, and we were smashing down the wizards' towers right
and left. We could have had a golden age here on our
world, the first true age of freedom ever, but the gods broke
Istar and turned their backs on us. I was a soldier for Istar
before the fall. I was out here in Ergoth hunting down
blood-crazed barbarians when the sky lit up to the east and
the mountain fell on my homeland. Then the earthquakes
and windstorms came, and there was suffering and
starvation for all of us who were left, every damn one. That
was twenty-two years ago, and I remember every moment
of it, every single thing, just like it was yesterday. The gods
did us wrong. The good gods turned evil and sold us out.
They sold us into a pit of serpents like the lowest goblin
Jarvis didn't look much like the Jarvis I knew. He
looked more like someone else, and I thought maybe I'd
better be going before he threw something at me even if he
did promise not to. But Jarvis only stared at me some more
and then said, "Get out of here," so I left and didn't write
anything down at all until now.
I walked around town for a little bit after that, thinking
about what Jarvis had said and wishing I could get
something to eat, because I hadn't had anything so far, what
with being chased and thrown in jail and starting fires by
accident. I wasn't getting very far on my assignment, and I
didn't feel very good at all. I finally got a drink of water
from the town fountain, and that helped a little, so I sat on
the fountain rim and bunched myself up because if was still
a little cold, and I wondered why you were so worried about
Ark finding someone who understood why the gods had
destroyed Istar, and how you would feel if no one ever
understood but Ark and me, and how you would feel if
sometimes even Ark and me don't quite understand, either,
since the Cataclysm seems to have made everyone so rude-
minded. And I didn't understand how not understanding
would cause everyone more problems later. Nothing made
any sense then, and it still doesn't now, but I'm getting
ahead of myself, because it's boring to be here on the
rooftop, even with the nice view.
Anyway, I was sitting by the fountain when a man
riding a horse came over. He wore a little bit of armor, so I
knew he wasn't from town even if I didn't recognize him
anyway, since no one here wears any armor because goblins
never come to the coast and the barbarians aren't bothering
anybody this year, because they're all sick. The man looked
like he was very old but very strong, and he had a
moustache bigger and thicker than Jarvis's, but it was full of
gray hair. He rode his horse up to the fountain and got off
and let his horse drink while he stretched and scratched his
backside and began to rub his horse down. It was about the
time when he pulled a cloth out of his pocket and began
wiping off his armor that I thought he might be a knight,
because only a knight would do that. Nobody else cares
what his or her armor looks like.
Ark had told me a lot about the Knights of Solamnia when
I was younger, and I never knew if he liked them or didn't
like them, because the knights did both good things and bad
things, but they often did them both at the same time, so I
was pretty confused as to which side they were on. I got out
my papers and pen so I could ask my question, but I saw the
knight pull out a long steel sword with notches and scrapes
cut into the blade, so I decided I would wait a little while
and ask about the weather first instead. Ark always says I
should think first, since I'm not very good at it sometimes,
and maybe I would live longer that way, and right then I
decided that maybe he knew what he was talking about.
The knight glanced at me a few times but said nothing
as he cleaned his armor, every bit of it, then got himself a
drink from the fountain. He acted like I wasn't really there. I
forgot how hungry I was getting because I had never seen a
real knight up close, and this one smelled like old sweat and
leather and fur and steel. His eyes were like a gray winter
sky, and the more I looked at him the less I wanted to ask
my question, but I knew I'd have to do it anyway for Ark
and you. I was just clearing my throat and was trying to get
the question framed properly, so that I could run if
necessary, when I saw Kroogi walk up from the
blacksmith's shop to wash his face before lunch like he
always does, and I knew I was saved. I would ask Kroogi
the question first.
I smiled at Kroogi and sat up straight when he came
over, only he wasn't looking at me. He was looking at the
knight and the knight was looking back, and neither was
looking away, and they didn't look too happy about seeing
each other. I waved at Kroogi to get his attention, but he
didn't wave back. He slowly stripped off his shirt to wash,
and you could see the old tribal tattoos on his chest and
arms from when he was a warrior with the Red Thunder
People who lived east of here before they all died from
fighting or being sick, which was why Kroogi left them.
The knight stared at Kroogi's tattoos and Kroogi stared at
the knight's armor, and neither of them said a thing.
"Kroogi!" I said, waving my arms. "Kroogi, I have a
question. Do you have a moment?" I felt safe asking
Kroogi, because he was real quiet and never did anything
mean, even if Jarvis said Kroogi once cut two men in half
using a hand axe in a battle with Istarian army renegades
before the fall of Istar, but that wasn't anything anyone
would hold against him, as Istarian army renegades were
not very nice and they're mostly dead now anyway.
Kroogi didn't look at me, because he was still staring at
the knight, and then Kroogi began flexing his huge arm and
chest muscles so you could see the places where spears or
swords or arrows had cut him here and there. Finally, he
looked away and bent down to soak his shirt in the fountain
water, ignoring the knight.
Several more people had wandered over to the fountain
in the meantime, so I knew I'd have lots of other people to
ask if the knight or Kroogi didn't give me an answer.
"Kroogi!" I said.
Kroogi glanced at me as he began to wash himself using
his shirt, and I knew I could go ahead and ask my question.
He never said much, but he always made what he said
"I just have one question," I said, and cleared my throat.
It would be easier to get a response from the knight after
asking Kroogi first. "Kroogi, do you think the gods did right
in dropping the flaming mountain on Istar so that - "
"Yes," said Kroogi. He lifted his wet shirt and ran it
across his chest, washing away the ash and dust.
"Wait," I said. "I didn't get to finish the question. Do
you think the gods did right when - "
"Yes," he said again. 'They did right in killing the
murdering mongrel dogs of Istar and their Solamnic iron-
assed lackeys. The blessed gods, praise their names, did
right in crushing out the Kingpriest's filth and purifying the
lands that Istar and Solamnia had defiled, washing them
with clean fire and water." He dabbed at his forehead. His
face never changed expression. It rarely did.
"Oh," I said in surprise. This was easier than I'd
thought. "Oh, well, would you - "
"I agree that the gods did right," interrupted the knight.
His voice was like low thunder from a distant storm. "They
killed the mad murderers of Istar, who would have chained
or slain us all, but afterward they allowed evil to roam the
lands in the form of ignorant, filthy, barbarian scum who
spread plague as they looted and burned their way across
the injured lands. The gods did right in destroying Istar, but
they didn't finish the job when they let hordes of masterless
vermin prey on innocent and law-abiding people. The gods
instead left the cleaning up to those with the wisdom to
separate the grain from the chaff, and the strength to dispose
of the chaff properly."
Well, I thought this was great! Here I had two people who
completely agreed that the gods had done right. I was going
to ask both of them to detail their answers just a little bit
more, when Kroogi's arm snapped put and he Hung his wet
shirt into the knight's face and knocked him off balance.
Then Kroogi screamed at the top of his lungs so loudly that
my ears rang, and he leapt at the knight with his big hands
going for the knight's throat.
I was so surprised that I just sat there with my papers
and pen and satchel and watched the two of them fighting
and rolling in the dirt, yelling and cursing each other and
using words that Ark would have slapped my face for
using, as he'd done once when I said a word I'd heard a
fisherman use but which I won't say ever again, or at least
not when Ark is around.
More townspeople gathered around, shouting at Kroogi
to beat the knight up, but some people came who yelled for
the knight to beat up Kroogi because they didn't like the
fact that Kroogi was once a barbarian, even if he was a nice
guy mostly and made toys at Yuletime for some families
when he had the chance.
Then someone pushed someone else, and then the
whole crowd was going at it and everyone was kicking and
punching and shoving and flailing away, and grown men
had blood coming from their noses and mouths, and their
hair was pulled out, and some had clubs and hoes, and
someone else screamed like he was dying, and about then I
felt someone grab me around the waist and drag me off,
and it was Jarvis.
"Damn you!" he shouted at me as he dragged me off.
"What in the Abyss did you do now?"
So I told him, and he put me up here on the roof of the
Cats & Kitties, where he said I couldn't cause any more
trouble while he tried to restore order in town. It's nice and
warm up here, and I have a great view of the town and sea
and farms, but I can still hear people yelling, and some lady
is wailing over and over, and I wish I had asked Jarvis for
something to eat, because now I am really hungry. I think
Jarvis is coming back up the ladder now, so I'd better close
this up. Oops! I see that it isn't Jarvis, it's Goodwife Fils -
Report Number Four
Same day (Cotterpin says the 13th), late afternoon
Hi, Astinus. I'm a few miles outside of town now,
sitting under a tree, where no one except Cotterpin can find
me, I hope. This is probably my last official report to you,
because there doesn't seem to be much point in continuing
to try to find someone who understands why the gods got so
tired of Istar, when everyone gets so upset about the whole
issue and thinks either that Istar was wonderful or that Istar
was bad but wasn't as bad as some other places around here
that should have gotten hit with their own fiery mountains
My stomach hurts but I'm not hungry, and I feel just
awful, like I'm going to have a good cry in a minute after I
finish writing this all down, even if Ark says boys shouldn't
cry, but I'm a kender and not a human so maybe it's okay if
I feel bad for just a little while.
Everyone hates me, and I hate me, and I hate being a
recorder, and I hate sitting out here on a rock in the
wilderness because I have no one to talk to except for
Cotterpin, the tinker gnome, but he's already gone to sleep
in his steam-powered lawn chair under the oak tree here.
Ark is going to be very disappointed that I got thrown in jail
and made part of the town burn up and started a riot and
everything. I'll write down how I got here, but I don't care if
it's interesting or important anymore.
After Magistrate Jarvis caught Goodwife Filster on the
tavern roof and wrestled with her and they both almost fell
off and he took her butcher's cleaver away and made her get
down the ladder again and leave me alone, he said it would
be best if I left town for a while.
"How long is 'for a while'?" I asked, and he said, "Until
Goodie Filster leaves town, that's how long. Maybe it would
be even better if you were gone for good. Permanently.
We climbed down from the roof of the Cats & Kitties, and
he took me by the arm and ran me back to his office. I could
hear people fighting in town all the way there, and I
wondered how they could keep it up for so long and
wouldn't they be tired of it all by now, but obviously they
Jarvis kept me inside his office long enough to give me
a blanket, a bag of bread rolls with no sugar, some cheese,
and a skin he said was full of water but which was really
only half full of ale, which I hate and have already poured
out. Then he said, "Just get out of here. It's for your own
good as well as everyone else's. You can't stay here any
longer until Goodie Filster's out of here."
And I said, "Where can I go?" And he said, "Gods, you
idiot, anywhere! Just get out of this town. She'll kill you if
she sees you here!" And I said, "But what about Ark? Can't
I go see Ark?" Then Jarvis called me a name that means my
head looks like my backside and told me to leave, so I left.
I walked and walked until I was past the Dormens'
farm, which was as far as I'd ever gone away from town in
my whole life, and then I went around a hill I always used
to look at when I was small but had never visited, and I
looked back one last time at the town and felt like part of
my insides had fallen out and been left behind, and I missed
Ark terribly but didn't know if I could ever go back, because
things were in such a mess.
There was smoke drifting over the town near the water-
front, but I couldn't see if it was from Goodwife Filster's
bakery or someone else's place that was burning up. I turned
around and walked on down the road, scuffing my feet in
the dust and kicking rocks and holding my blanket and
wishing I was dead.
I thought of you, Astinus, and Ark, and I was ashamed
because I had promised to do my best to find out if anyone
understood the Cataclysm, but I had done it all wrong and
now I would never get to be a real scribe, much less an
amanuensis. Even worse, I was afraid that because I
couldn't find out the answer to the question, then something
would go wrong someday and no one would know what to
do about it and it would be all my fault.
But even this was not as bad as missing Ark, because Ark
is my father, even if he isn't my real father, because he took
care of me when no one else would, and I knew he would
be upset with me, and I missed him so much that I just
couldn't feel anything at all. I was empty inside and knew I
would be empty forever. I wasn't even hungry anymore.
I walked a long time, but I didn't walk very fast. Part of
me wanted to keep on walking forever, but I got so numb
and tired that I found a rock under an oak tree by the road
and dropped my blanket and satchel and just sat down and
didn't move at all. I must have sat there a long time before I
noticed that a donkey cart had stopped in front of me and
the driver had come over and was asking me something.
The driver was shorter than I am and had wrinkled leathery
skin and a snow-white beard and eyes like the deep sky. He
wore a red and brown outfit covered with belts and pockets
and tools. It was Cotterpin, the tinker gnome.
Cotterpin has been visiting all the villages in a huge
circle around the coast of northern Ergoth for years, and
everyone knows him. When I was small, he let me play with
some of the toys he had in his cart, and he was always
careful to take most of them back from me so other kids
could play with them in other towns, but he always left
some toys behind. I think now that he did it on purpose, but
I used to think he was just forgetful.
"Obviously a newly generated social outcast," he was
saying to me as I sat under the oak tree. "Sociological
tragedy of the first magnitude. Disgraceful phenomenon."
I just looked at him, then looked at the dirt at my feet as
I had been doing for however long I'd been there. I thought
for a moment that I should ask him the question you wanted
Ark to ask, but I didn't want to ask anyone that question
ever again. I knew if I asked him, he would hate me like
everyone else hated me, and I just couldn't stand that.
Cotterpin went back to his cart and heaved something out
of the back, then began to set up something beside my rock
that looked like a box with a metal plate on it and a switch
on one end, with red gnomish lettering all over it that I
couldn't read. He fiddled with the box for a bit, then went
back to the cart and got a clay mug from it and filled it with
liquid from a tap on the side of his cart, then set it on the
box and flipped the switch. I knew I should run or hide or
shield my face when he did that, as everyone knows that
gnome-built things can make craters as big as the one Istar
now rests in, but I didn't feel like running, and I thought
maybe it would be best if I blew up with the box.
But the box didn't blow up; it just got warm after a
while and the tea in the mug got warm, too. I was trying to
figure that one out while Cotterpin went back to the cart and
brought back a steam-powered folding chair that also failed
to blow up and which he set up next to me under the tree so
he could relax in it and enjoy the same warm setting sun
that I was not enjoying.
"A pleasant respite it is to renew our long acquaintance,
Walnut Arskin," he said in his same old deep but nasal
voice, "though I suffer some concern about the
circumstances. Perhaps you would care to elaborate on your
I thought about it and finally said, "No."
"Mmm." Cotterpin took a sip of his tea, then held the
mug in his short, thick fingers and swirled the contents. "I
am not unaccustomed to seeing wayfarers as youthful as
yourself fall victim to any number of unfortunate mishaps in
the undisciplined confines of the wilderness. Being
moderately fond of our visits together in the recent past, I
was hoping to hear some motive or rationale for your
presence here before you, too, encounter any of the
aforementioned mishaps. Are you perhaps running away
"No," I said, and then I said, "Yes," and then I said,
"No. Maybe. I don't know."
"Mmm." Cotterpin took another sip of his tea and
looked off at the sun, which was just above the hill that
hides New-shore from view. He didn't say anything more
for a long time, and before I knew it I had told him
everything, even the part about the question that you wanted
Ark to answer (but I didn't tell him about the facts
"Mmm," he said when I was done. "I see." Cotterpin
was quiet for a while, and we looked at the open fields
around us and watched deer graze and a hawk hunt for
rabbits. The wind was getting a little cooler, but it was still
okay to be out.
"It seems like an eon ago that I dwelled in Istar," said
Cotterpin at last, watching the hawk with a peaceful face.
"Yet even now I remember it far better than I would like. In
the twilight years of that sea-buried land, I labored as a
menial slave, the chattel of a priest. I had arrived there but
scant decades before as a fully accredited diplomat from my
homeland - the extinct geothermal vent called Mount Nevermind
by the knights. Unfettered I was at first, able to
commune with priest and commoner alike in that proud
city, until the Istarians manifested great annoyance with my
fellow diplomats and me over the failure of one of our gifts
of technology. We had directed the construction of a new
mode of urban transport, a steam-powered cart that traveled
over fixed rails, but on its trial run it caused considerable
damage to some important buildings in the capital. I was put
on trial and sentenced to enforced servitude for the
remainder of my life, as were my fellow diplomats, whom I
never saw again.
"My overseer, whose glacial visage I shall bear with me
to my grave, brought me along on an inspection tour of a
distant military encampment just before catastrophe
overtook Istar. In the anarchy and discord that followed, I
was able to effect my escape and leave my overseer and his
retainers to their own fate, which could not have been
pleasant given the multitude of ills that plagued the region
at that time. I journeyed westward on foot, feasting on the
meager bounty of nature like an untamed beast, until I
found a bare remnant of civilization in old Solamnia. There,
among bitter-eyed men who cursed the gods and slew one
another over trifles, I labored until I had saved enough steel
to cross the new sea to Hylo, on this island's eastern shore. I
then purchased a cart and a donkey - dear old Axle, whom
you see now - and took up my most recent and probably
final vocation as a tinker. As such, I am now content with
my lot and desire nothing more."
"Did you ever want to go home to Mount Nevermind?" I
asked. I had forgotten all about my problems and was trying
to imagine what it would be like to walk across the whole
continent, from Istar to northern Ergoth. I couldn't imagine
it. I was also thinking about Ark and wishing that I could go
"Mmm," Cotterpin mumbled. "The thought has made
its disquieting presence known to me on occasion, but I
take thorough comfort in the realization that Mount
Nevermind will continue to exist regardless of my actual
physical location. I have determined that my best course is
to find my own footway in the world and meanwhile
examine the long-range consequences of the catastrophe
that the gods visited upon Istar. I have been content with
my work since then and have not regretted a moment of it.
My original life quest was to have something to do with
mass transit, but given the results of my development of the
prototypical urban travel system in Istar, for which I was
enslaved, I decided that another form of life-quest
expression was called for. I also fear that I've been much
contaminated socially by my contact with humans, and I
am concerned that my brethren at Mount Nevermind might
find my speech and mannerisms peculiar and would
perhaps ask me to volunteer for psychiatric research, which
at this time I am minded to avoid. No, I'd rather not voyage
to fair Mount Nevermind again. I am an itinerant vagabond,
happy at last, and wish to remain so to the end of my
We sat there for a while longer, and Cotterpin sighed.
"Would that I could render some comfort to you, Walnut,"
he said, "but I wonder if perhaps your father, Jeraim, might
give you more comfort than I, and if perhaps a visit with
him might not reassure him that you have not fallen victim
to tragedy. You have taken up a dreadful and thankless
assignment. It might be time to recuperate from your
excursion and renew your personal energies."
Cotterpin yawned and set aside his mug. "Tea always
has a soporific effect on my psychomotor system," he said,
his words slurring a bit. "The local angle of solar radiation
is also inducing drowsiness, and if you would be so
generous as to excuse my lapse, I would like to take a brief
moment to relax my ... to relax my eyelids." He closed his
eyes, and, only two heartbeats later, he began to snore.
I looked at the countryside for a while more, then took out
my paper and pen and wrote all of this down. The sun is
about to sink behind the hill, and I can hear crickets chirp
ing and birds singing, and I can still see a deer across the
field, near some trees.
I stopped after I wrote the last paragraph above and
thought for a while like Ark told me to do. I don't feel as
upset as I did when I started to write down this report. I've
just put my blanket over Cotterpin and left my bag of food
with him after I ate some of it, and I've made sure that Axle
has enough grass where she is standing, off to the side of
the road. I am taking my papers and pen and facts machine,
and I am going back to see Ark. I might have something to
write to you about later, but if not, then it won't matter.
Report Number Five
Same day, after midnight, I think
Hi, Astinus! Its really late, I know, but I had to get one
last report to you about how everything went. Ark doesn't
know that I'm up or that I found out where he hid the facts
machine after I gave it back to him and he ordered me never
to touch it again or else I'd go to jail for a year, so don't tell
him, please. He and Widow Muffin are asleep right now,
and I don't think they could wake up for anything, and I'd
rather not wake them up anyway. It's been a busy evening.
I went back into town right at sundown and went home
to the shop, though part way there I slowed down a lot and
was worried about what Ark would do when he found that I
had his facts machine and had burned down the town and
all, even if the last part was an accident. I felt bad, too,
because I had failed to find out everything I think you
wanted and Ark would be angry and disappointed in me,
and I was also rather mortified that Ark might find out that I
read Widow Muffin's letters, but I didn't read them all, just
the first twelve.
The town was quiet again, though I could smell some
smoke, and I saw candles burning in the window at the back
of the shop where I usually go in. As I got closer, I saw that
the back door was open, and I could hear voices inside the
shop. The light inside was flickering, and at first I thought it
was the stove. As I got even closer, I could tell that one of
the voices was Ark's and one was Widow Muffin's, and I
almost stopped, but I kept going anyway, even if my face
It was when I got even closer still, almost up to the
doorway, that I could hear a third voice in the shop, and
that voice was Goodwife Filster's.
I stopped right then, holding the satchel and not moving
a muscle. Goodwife Filster was saying something in a loud
voice, growling like the Wylmeens' mastiff when he
catches scent of me walking through the garden that he
thinks is his territory. After a moment, I edged up to the
door on one side, so no one could see me, and I listened to
them talk, though Ark had once told me to never spy on
anyone, and I never have, except just then and maybe two
"You have to be reasonable about this," Ark was
saying. His voice was a little too high and tight. "If you
could just listen to me for a minute and think about - "
"Shut your dung-eating trap," shouted Goodwife
Filster. "You brought that wicked little monster into this
good town, and look at me now! My bakery's burned down,
and I've got nothing left to my name except the clothes on
my back. My whole life has been a sewage pit ever since
blessed Istar died, and it's all because of vermin like that
kender and maggot-brained asses like yourself who feed
and clothe them! You're to blame for this even more than
he is. You brought him among us, and you blinded
everyone to his evil nature. You let him work his evil on us,
and now he's had his way, and good people like myself are
destroyed! I'm ruined!" And then she called Ark some
names that I'm not going to write down here, because they
were awful and I don't think I could spell them correctly
anyway. I might ask Ark about them tomorrow.
When Goodwife Filster stopped for breath, I heard
Widow Muffin say, "Goodie Filster, please, listen to us.
You need to go back to the inn and rest for a while. If you
do anything to hurt us, you'll feel terrible about it. You've
had some terrible things happen to - "
The wall I was leaning against vibrated when Goodwife
Filster yelled, and among other things she called Widow
Muffin a prostitute, only she didn't use that word.
"You can't talk to me!" Goodwife Filster finished. "You
have no right to say anything to me! You deserve the same
fate that the kender should have had years ago! He should
have died out there, eaten by rats and wolves. It's your fault,
Arskin, for dragging that demon child in among good folk."
"He's not a demon," Ark said, his voice shaky. "You're
just upset, now. He's a kender, and they're just like you and
me, even if they cause a little more - "
"The Abyss take you!" screamed Goodwife Filster.
"The evil gods delivered him into your hands to destroy
"Goodie, he was just a little baby, and his mother was
dead. She'd been wounded by goblins or bandits, and she'd
carried him all the way through the wilderness to get him to
safety. I couldn't leave him there after I buried her. If you
had been me, you would have done the same. You know it!"
Ark sounded like he was trying to reason with a swamp
viper he'd almost stepped on.
I was shocked to hear about my mother, because Ark
had never said a word to me about her, and for a moment I
couldn't think of anything else until Goodwife Filster
"I would have known what to do to the little bastard,"
she said, and my insides went cold when she said it. "I
would have spared us all this torment. But because of you
and that kender, I lost everything I ever owned. It's only
right that you should suffer as I have, just exactly as I
I slowly moved around the door frame. No one was by
the door, but I could look into the wall mirror nearby and
see part of Goodwife Filster's back and one of her arms. She
was holding a torch in one hand and had a meat-cutting
knife stuck in her belt. That was bad enough, but, being so
close to the door, I could also smell something like lamp oil,
only it couldn't have been - or so I thought - because Ark
doesn't own any oil lamps, because he says the local oil
burns too fast and smells awful, like burned fish, which is
what it comes from (we call them greasegills).
Of course, my next thought was that Goodwife Filster had
brought her own lamp oil, and that she meant what she said
about Ark suffering exactly as she had, and suddenly all I
could think about was my growing up in the shoe shop and
how it was the only home I had ever known and how Ark
and I, and later Widow Muffin, had always had so much fun
here. I realized I had no idea how much lamp oil Goodwife
Filster had brought in with her, but it smelled like enough to
burn up my memories and the shoe shop and maybe some
people with it.
I stopped listening then so I'd have a chance to think.
Think first, Ark always tells me, even if it's just for a
moment. At first I thought I should run for help, but I didn't
know if Goodwife Filster would behave herself long enough
for me to find Magistrate Jarvis and get back without
anyone being hurt. I carefully put down the satchel with the
facts machine and looked down at the steps and thought and
thought. Goodwife Filster was saying something about
beasts and dragons and fires from the Abyss, and she wasn't
making a lot of sense, though in a way she was, even if it
was a very awful sort of logic.
About then I remembered a trick I had once played on
Ark when I was small, something I had sworn never to do
again after I'd tried the trick, and Ark had broken two of his
fingers, for which I'd been spanked and felt bad over for
weeks. I was looking at the bottom of the door frame, where
part of the frame had fallen off but left some nails sticking
out, just enough to tie a string across the bottom of the door
above ankle height.
I felt in my robe pockets for some string, but I didn't
have any. Then I remembered my once-holy symbol of
Gilean, and I carefully slid its chain off my neck and knelt
down by the door as quietly as I could. It took a few
seconds for me to wrap the chain around the nails on either
side of the doorway. It was dark, and I didn't think
Goodwife Filster would see the chain until it was too late.
Then I grabbed the satchel.
I thought about calling for Goodwife Filster to come
outside, but I thought she might say no and burn down our
home. That left only one solution, and from the sound of
things inside, I was going to have to do it now.
"Don't set the house on fire," Ark was begging. "I don't
want any of us to get hurt. Please take the torch outside."
"I have no fear of you," cried Goodwife Filster. "I am
the arm of righteousness. I am the avenger of fallen Istar."
"Goodie, that's crazy talk!" said Widow Muffin, and
right then I knew she had said the wrong thing. I leaped up
the two back steps, stepped over the chain at the bottom of
the doorway, and stomped into the shop as loudly as I
"You - !" Goodwife Filster was starting to shout a bad
word, but she stopped when I came in and turned around.
When I saw her, I wondered if I had made a very bad
mistake, because Goodwife Filster had a hatchet in the hand
that didn't have the torch. Her eyes were shining like black
stones at the bottom of a cold creek. Ark and Widow
Muffin were bunched up in a corner, and Ark was holding a
footstool with the widow back behind him. The place stank
of burned fish. Everyone froze as I came in. The only thing
I could hear was the crackling of the torch flames.
It was time to do something, so I waved my arms and
the satchel and shouted the first thing that came into my
head. "Hey!" I yelled at Goodwife Filster. "Got any sugar
I didn't know what to expect, but I certainly didn't
expect that Goodwife Filster could move so fast for
someone built so dumpy. She didn't say a thing, at least not
that I remember, but she came at me like a wild horse, and I
knew I was going to be a very sorry kender if I didn't move.
I ran for the back door, and my plan to trip Goodwife Filster
and hit her over the head with the satchel would have been
perfect, except that I forgot about the chain at the bottom of
the door in trying to get away from her and that axe and
torch she had, and the chain snagged my foot, and I fell out
the back door and down the steps into the dirt.
I got up right away, and it was a good thing I did, too,
because Goodwife Filster hit the chain right after I did and
fell down the steps, too, but she fell right next to me, and
the torch singed my hair before it stuck in the dirt and went
out. I had no time to do anything with the facts-machine
satchel except hold it. I had to run, so I did.
I took off for the low place in the stone wall between
Ark's place and the Salberins' property, and it was hard to
see where I always came up and hoisted myself over the
wall, but I could hear Goodwife Filster behind me, her thick
feet thumping on the ground, and suddenly I had the idea of
vaulting over the wall on my hands, so I did exactly that -
the first time I ever did it - and I sailed over the wall on one
hand, holding the satchel in the other, just as something
struck the top of the wall by my hand and threw up sparks
as it went by. It looked like her hatchet, but I didn't want to
find out for sure, so I hit the ground on the other side and
almost lost my balance and the satchel, too, but I managed
to keep running. I thought I could hear Ark shouting my
name way back behind me, but it didn't make much difference
to me right then.
As I tore across the Salberins' flower beds and headed
for the rail fence between their place and the Wylmeens'
property, I heard someone scrambling over the wall behind
me, screaming something like "evil spawn" over and over.
For a moment, I wondered if Goodwife Filster had always
been strange in that way, and if she was really crazy or was
just so angry she couldn't think straight anymore, and
maybe having her bakery burn down was just the last straw.
She had always been mean but never really awful or
strange like she was now.
I reached the rail fence, slowing down just enough to
climb over it with one hand because it was too high to vault
over. I couldn't seem to get a grip on the wood for a
moment, but I heard her shout, "Evil spawn!" right behind
me, and in moments I was over the fence and on my back
in the Wylmeens' tomato bed. I scraped my leg on a tomato
post in falling over the fence and the satchel banged my
nose, but none of it hurt very much and I had a lot more to
think about right then than a scratch. I also thought that I
didn't have the faintest idea of where I was going to go, but
I just wanted to get Goodwife Filster and her torch away
from Ark and Widow Muffin and our shoe shop. That was
all that mattered.
I got up and started running across the tomato bed and
into the cucumber vines, but it was dark and my foot caught
in a bunch of vines and I fell Hat on my face and knocked
all the wind out of my lungs. I still had the satchel, so I
started to get up and run again, but I fell down right away
because my ankle felt like someone had stuck it with a red-
hot iron. I heard someone scramble over the fence and land
on the ground a dozen feet behind me, so I got up again but
couldn't run on my bad leg or even hop on my good leg, and
I fell again and said the very same bad word I'd heard the
fisherman use, the very same word Ark had told me never
to say again, and I said it real loud.
And that's when I heard Mud coming.
The Wylmeens call their dog Mud because he has the
same color coat as the mud in the road after a heavy rain.
He comes up almost to my shoulders and has eyes that glow
white when he sees something he wants to kill, and the
Wylmeens haven't been very good about teaching Mud not
to kill everything that comes into his yard. He killed a
wolverine one year in an hour-long battle, and the
Wylmeens stuck the carcass on a post by the road, where it
stayed until Mud figured out how to get it down and tore it
into little pieces. I sometimes slip through the Wylmeens'
garden because I figured out how to get to the other side
before he could get off the back porch and catch me, and I
have to confess that it was a little exciting to tease him like
that, even though I knew I shouldn't if I wanted to live a
Unfortunately, I had never expected to fall down in the
Wylmeens' garden, though I had long ago figured out from
the number of close calls that I'd had with Mud that falling
down meant I would probably not get a second chance to
get out of the garden in one piece. I heard Mud coming off
the back porch, and I looked up over the vines in front of
my face to see him hurtling across the garden right at me,
moving like a wild black shadow with white moons for
eyes. I couldn't see much of him but I saw enough, so I
wrapped my arms over my head and curled up and hoped
the Wylmeens would be able to call him off me before I
looked like that wolverine.
Mud was on me in a rush. Then he was over and past me,
and I heard a shriek that could have awakened a graveyard
full of dead people. Mud was snarling and fighting, and
someone was screaming, and I decided it was time to get
out of there no matter what had happened to my ankle. I
started to crawl away on my hands and knees as fast as I
could, but as I was trying to leave I heard Goodwife Filster
screaming "HELP ME!" at the top of her lungs, and I did
what I had never thought I would do. I crawled back to save
Humans think that because I'm a kender I am not
supposed to be afraid of anything, and I guess it's true, but I
must admit that my stomach turned over when I saw how
big Mud was and what he was doing to Goodwife Filster on
the ground. Mud wasn't paying any attention to me, so I
crawled over and got up on my knees and banged him twice
on his dog butt with the satchel. It was like hitting a tree
stump for all the good it did, and the satchel handle broke
right then anyway, and the facts machine fell out in the dirt
and cucumber vines. Goodwife Filster was screaming, and
Mud was about to tear her arm off, so I picked up the facts
machine and threw it at Mud, and I hit him.
I have to admit that I didn't expect the facts machine to
light up like it did and shoot out little lightning bolts and
make Mud Hip up into the air and spin around for a moment
before he crashed back into the cucumbers and wiggled
around in really bizarre ways. I found the facts machine,
and it didn't seem to be broken, so I put it back in the
satchel and crawled over to see what I could do for Good-
wife Filster, who was groaning and holding her arms in
front of her face.
About then Ark came over the fence and all twenty of
the Wylmeens came out of their house and ran over to help,
too, which was a good thing, as I had never seen someone
with so many cuts and bites before and I wasn't sure where
to start in trying to fix them all.
They carried Goodwife Filster into the Wylmeens' house
and washed her off and wrapped up her arms and face and
legs and everything else in white bandages until she almost
looked like one of her own sugar buns. It seemed to me that
she was going to live, though she wasn't going to be chasing
people around with sharp objects and torches very much in
the foreseeable future. They also wrapped up my ankle,
which wasn't broken, only sprained, and made me sit off to
the side out of sight while they made Goodwife Filster more
comfortable. I admit that I was a little jealous of the
attention she got because, after all, she was the one who had
been chasing me with a knife and axe and torch and had
wanted to burn down Ark's shoe shop, but I decided not to
point that out. It was when I was watching everyone get
Goodwife Filster fixed up that I had a funny thought, and I
hopped over to ask her a question.
They had finished wrapping up her head and everyone
was gathering around her to talk when I came over. No one
paid any attention to me, so I went right up and stood beside
the cot where she lay, and I put down the satchel, which
Ark had forgotten to take back from me right then but did
later. Goodwife Filster looked terrible, but she was
breathing and that was good, I guess.
"Goodwife Filster?" I whispered, and when she didn't
do anything, I asked again, "Goodwife Filster?"
She groaned then and half-turned so she could look at
me through all the rags that were tied over her head. Her
eyes opened, but they looked like they were dead.
"You were pretty mad at me for asking about Istar,
weren't you?" I asked.
Goodwife Filster just stared at me and didn't make any
noise, but I assumed her answer was yes. No one else said
anything. They all just looked at me, so I kept going.
"I was supposed to ask that question for Astinus of Palanthas,
to help out Ark," I said. "I was just thinking about it
all, and I think I know the reason Astinus wanted to find out
what people thought of the Cataclysm. It goes like this:
Nobody liked Istar very much, except maybe for you and
a few other people. But, then, from what I've heard, nobody
really liked anybody at all very much back then, and things
don't seem to have gotten much better now, because
everyone down deep still hates everyone else. Asking
people about Istar brings out all the worst in them and opens
up all the old wounds, though I'm saying that as a metaphor
and not because you have so many wounds right now,
really. I think Astinus knew that would happen, and he
wanted to find out just how bad things really were now, and
maybe he wasn't so much interested in Istar after all.
Astinus is really worried that someday something bad will
happen that will need all of us to pull together and work
together and maybe fight together to set things right again,
and if we don't learn that being different is really okay, then
we aren't going to make it in the long run and we'll be just
like the Karkhovs' melons and be swept away by the ocean
or whatever it is that Astinus is afraid will come at us. What
do you think?"
Goodwife Filster kept staring at me while her lips
moved. I had to lean close to hear her. "Astinus and you?"
she asked. "You were both doing this?"
I nodded. "Yup. See, Ark made me a field recorder, and
I decided to - "
I'm afraid I didn't get much further with my
explanation, because at that point Goodwife Filster sat up
on the cot and yelled out that both you and I should get
together and do something that was remarkably disgusting
and which I'll bet is physically impossible, but which I have
to admit sounded pretty funny to me later on, though you
might not think so. Then she tried to get off the cot and
come after me, but the Wylmeens got to her first.
After things calmed down a bit, Ark and Widow Muffin
carried me back to the shop. On the way, we picked up
Woose, the dwarf, and Cotterpin, the tinker, and Magistrate
Jarvis and Kroogi and several other people who were
friends of at least one of us, and when we got back to the
shop, Ark closed the back door and everyone cleaned me up
and fed me while Ark and the widow told the story of how I
had saved them. They put fresh dirt over all the lamp oil
Goodwife Filster had spilled in the shop and swept it out,
but it still smelled almost as bad as the gas Ark gets from
eating cheese pastries, which I guess he won't eat anymore.
In the process, I heard that the Wylmeens' dog, Mud, was
still alive but he wasn't the same old Mud and was actually
pretty quiet now and wasn't chasing or biting anyone this
evening and maybe won't do it again, or so I hope.
Eventually everyone went home and Ark took his facts
machine and satchel away from me, and the machine was a
little dirty but not broken, and Ark never once asked me if
I'd seen the widow's letters, and I never once brought it up. I
never even asked why the widow happened to drop by the
shop while I was gone or where her shoes had gone. (When
I got the satchel and facts machine back just a few minutes
ago to send this to you, I noticed that Ark had taken the
letters out of the satchel and had hidden them somewhere
else, but I won't try to find out where they are, as I don't
think I could stand the shock. Widow Muffin stayed on with
us tonight, but I didn't mind. She and Ark seem the happier
This will be my last report to you, Astinus. I told Ark
that being a recorder was very exciting, but it was maybe a
little too exciting, and I would rather be a cobbler for now
and later an amanuensis, though to tell the truth I have
given some thought to being a cave explorer or a sea pirate
(I didn't tell him that part, though).
I also asked Ark if tomorrow he would show me where
my mother is buried so I could say hi to her and maybe
visit her once in a while. Ark said yes and also said he was
sorry he had never told me about her before and said it had
hurt him to even think about it. All he could remember
about her was that she was pretty. I thought about it and
finally figured that I could forgive him, because I don't
know what I would have done had it been me finding a
baby Ark, and it was all past anyway.
I have been thinking about the question I tried to answer
for you and how much trouble that one question caused, and
for a while I was feeling bad about myself for asking it, but
now I don't so much. I feel sorry for Goodwife Filster, even
if she is so crazy and angry that she lost control of herself,
but there are a lot of people like her around who have bad
attitudes and don't want to make life better for anyone else.
If you are afraid that people haven't learned anything about
working together as a lesson of the Cataclysm, then it seems
to me you have a lot to worry about. But Ark and I (and
maybe the widow, too, though I haven't asked) have it
figured out most of the time, so there's still hope.
It was fun working for you, Astinus. Maybe I will get to
see you again someday when I sail my own pirate ship. Be
looking for me!
THE VOYAGE OF THE SUNCHASER
PAUL B. THOMPSON
AND TONYA R. CARTER
A dense red haze surrounded the sun in a hot, silent sky. The sea
was calm, though swirls and eddies showed on its surface. The violent
upheavals in the air and water had lasted through the long night; now
they were done. Across this desolate scene drifted the merchant ship
SUNCHASER, listing hard to port, its tangled yards and spars trailing
in the oily water.
The ship's master, Dunvane of Palanthas, slipped the
loops of rope from around his wrists. In the worst part of the
storm, he had lashed himself to the ship's wheel. His wrists
were raw and bloody from the hemp's chafing. Dunvane
took the wheel now and turned it left and right, but the
steering ropes were slack and the ship did not respond.
He drew in a deep breath and coughed. Feathers of
smoke clung to the SUNCHASER; the shredded sails were
still burning. Dunvane had never seen anything like the
blazing hot tempest that had swept down upon them. The
wind was like fire itself, and it consumed more than the
ship's sails. Those sailors who'd had the ill fortune to be
standing on the windward side of the ship had ignited like
candles. Half of Dunvane's crew of fourteen died in that
instant. He and the others who'd been on deck had burns on
their faces and hands and arms.
Then came the waves. Breakers as high and solid as cliffs
fell on them. Only Dunvane's seamanship had saved the
SUNCHASER, as he turned stern first to the crushing
waves. The ship rode out the extraordinary storm, but with
all the spinning and turning, the captain had no idea where
they'd come to be.
What crewmen remained were scattered on deck, laid
out by exhaustion. Dunvane staggered to the waist of the
ship, shaking the sailors awake. Four men, he found, were
beyond waking. Within a short time, the only three
survivors of the SUNCHASER'S crew were on their feet.
"Set the lads to clearing away those fallen shrouds,"
First Mate Norry croaked the order, then asked his
captain, "As we're short-handed, sir, will we be puttin' back
Dunvane squinted into the billowing clouds. "Nay.
We've come more than halfway. It's better to make for
Gardenath, on the Istar coast." He shook his head and
tugged thoughtfully at his dark brown beard. "I haven't a
clue where we are, Norry."
"Surely the Solamnic coast lies south," offered the
mate, pointing over the starboard rail.
Dunvane was not sure of anything, and said so.
"Well," Norry said, "at least the cargo is safe."
Dunvane looked at the reason for their voyage. Lashed
to the deck hard by the mainmast was an enormous bowl,
carved out of serpentine stone by master artisans in
Palanthas. Dunvane and his crew were being well paid to
ferry this stone bowl from Palanthas to Istar. The sight
eased Dunvane's fear.
"I'll speak with the Revered Son," the captain said.
"He'll know what's going on. In the meantime, keep the men
busy. Don't give 'em time to think too much."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Dunvane circled the serpentine bowl, watching the
iridescent colors flare and die on its surface as he moved
around it. Although made of stone, the bowl was
remarkably light, in part because of the skillful fluting of
the underside. It was seven feet in diameter and two feet
deep in the center, yet four Palanthian stevedores had
loaded it without strain. Once the captain was satisfied that
its lashings were intact, he went aft to the sterncastle.
A gust of wind disturbed the eerie calm. Something
borne on the wind pattered on the deck and stung his face.
He stared at it - fine, black dirt. Here was a fresh wonder -
a shower of dirt this far out at sea! The wind swirled and
stole the dark dust from his sight.
Dunvane hurried aft and knocked loudly on the stern
cabin door. "May I enter?" he called.
Dunvane pulled off his knitted wool cap and raised the
latch. The cabin inside was hot and dark. The sole candle
had gone out. Dunvane's eyes adjusted to the lack of light,
and he saw a pale face emerge from the shadows near the
"Are you well, Revered Son?"
"I am well, Captain." The passenger stood and stepped
into the well of faint light from the open door. A tall,
ascetic-looking man, not yet thirty years of age, his fair
skin and blond-white hair shone in the gloom. Despite the
violence of the night, he appeared remarkably composed.
His white priestly robes were neatly draped around his
narrow shoulders, and his hair was smoothed back from his
forehead. Composure came easily to Revered Son Imkhian
of Istar. He wore it as part of the costume of his office.
Seating himself at the table in the center of the cabin,
Imkhian asked in a calm, deep voice, "What has
Dunvane opened the side shutters and let diffuse red
light fill the cabin. "A storm like no other I ever
encountered in my life, Revered Son. I shot the stars just
before eight bells, and everything was as calm as a farmer's
pond. The sky was fair. Then the lookout called, 'Fire!
Fire!' 'Whereaway?' says I. 'In the air,' says the lookout."
"Fire in the sky? Most strange," Imkhian said coolly.
"A great globe of fire fell into the sea, and a burning
hot wind struck us." Dunvane went on to enumerate his
losses - sailors, sails, rigging. "But your special cargo is
safe,' Revered Son, safe and undamaged."
The priest nodded. "That is well. The Kingpriest
himself is expecting the serpentine bowl before the great
Festival of Purification."
"If I may ask - what is it for?"
Imkhian folded his hands. "It will be placed in the great
temple in the center of the city, and there an eternal flame
will be kindled. That is why it must be made of serpentine;
any other stone would eventually crack under the
Cries outside interrupted the priest. "Heave away!"
yelled a voice, and there was a loud crash. The ship slowly
"The men have cut away the broken foremast that was
making us list," Dunvane explained. "The hull is
"How will we proceed without sails?"
"There is spare cloth on board. We'll patch together a
small sail, Revered Son. We are being drawn by a current.
Our progress will be slow, but we can proceed."
Imkhian frowned, his pale blue eyes narrowing. "Time
is short, Captain. The voyage was only supposed to last a
The captain shifted nervously, his head still bent in a
posture of deference. "No one could have foreseen the
tempest last night, but I don't think it will delay us more
than a day. But . . . Revered Son, what could that globe of
fire have been?"
The priest looked thoughtful. "Forces of evil are
rampant, Captain, and the work of our great Kingpriest is
often threatened. Since the Proclamation of Manifest
Virtue, evil sorcerers have plotted to stop this great
cleansing work. Perhaps some wizard sought to prevent the
serpentine bowl from reaching Istar." Imkhian drew
himself up taller, his eyes glinting proudly. "But the will of
the Kingpriest is not easily thwarted."
"May his blessings continue upon us," Dunvane
murmured with feeling.
Imkhian frowned and studied the sea captain intently,
as if searching for some sign of insincerity. Dunvane
"Ahoy! Shipwreck, ahoy!" came a cry from on deck.
Bowing, Dunvane hastily quit the cabin, jamming his hat
back on his head. The mate and the other two members of
his crew stood at the starboard rail, peering into the murk.
The first mate put his hands around his mouth and crowed
again, "Shipwreck, ahoy!"
Then the captain saw it. Lying very low in the water,
some thousand yards off, was a dark, floating object. It
resembled a fair-sized vessel, lying on its beam ends.
"Is the helm answering?" asked Dunvane.
"Aye, Captain, but without sheets, we're flowing with
the current," Norry replied.
"That will do. Bring her about, four points to
Sluggishly, the SUNCHASER turned its bluff bow
toward the distant wreck. The smoky dust hanging in the air
parted silently as the SUNCHASER glided along.
"Two points more," called Dunvane. He climbed the
rigging and clung to the shrouds, studying the wreck as they
came steadily closer. From his loftier perch, he saw that the
sea ahead was flecked with flotsam of every kind: tree
branches, boards, straw, bottles, the carcasses of drowned
animals. Norry steered the ship until the bow was dead-on
to the half-sunken vessel.
The water was muddy, a turbid brown mixture. It was
impossible to see the usual changes in sea color that warn of
shallows. Dunvane stared hard at the water, praying they
wouldn't run aground.
"Keep us off that wreck," ordered the captain. "I don't
want to foul her."
A sailor went forward with a hefty boat hook in hand.
At the last moment, Norry spun the wheel, and the
SUNCHASER sheered left of the wreck.
A figure rose up on top of the hulk and waved both
"Bring him aboard!" shouted Dunvane, and the sailor
with the boat hook held it out to the castaway. The mud-
coated figure threw both arms around the pole. The sailor
levered him up and around.
Dunvane's attention was drawn from the rescue by a
scraping sound below him. He looked down to where the
side of the SUNCHASER was brushing against the wreck.
Tufts of hay, tied with string, broke loose and floated away
from the sunken ship. Bundled straw . . . thatch from a roof . . .
"I'll be damned!" Dunvane exclaimed. "That's no ship! It's
The rescued castaway collapsed on deck. Dunvane slid
down a line and dropped onto the deck beside the stranger -
"Thank you!" she gasped, brown eyes gleaming out
from under a thick mask of mud. She kissed Dunvane's
hand fervently. "Bless you, sir! I saw your ship and thought
it was a vision - !" Her voice choked off.
Embarrassed, the captain pulled away and stood up. He
ordered a sailor to push them off from the wreck, and soon
the unusual current was once more pulling them along.
Norry fetched a bucket of clean water and a rag. The
woman wiped her face, then raised the heavy bucket to her
lips, drinking deeply. The water cut rivulets in the mud
plastered on her throat.
"Who are you?" asked Dunvane. "Where do you come
"My name is Jermina. I am from Gardenath."
Dunvane stared. "WHERE?"
The woman repeated her answer.
"How in all Chaos did you get out here, in the middle
of the ocean?" he demanded.
Jermina looked forlornly at the receding bulk of the
wreck. "This was Gardenath," she said. "Right where you
"You're lying!" said Norry.
She shook her head, dazed, in shock. "That house was
Herril's Inn. It stood on the highest hill in Gardenath. The
wall of water fell upon us, covering the land in a single
night. Nothing remains. . . ."
"Bah!" Norry snorted, but the others weren't so sure.
"Can it be true, Captain?" one of the sailors asked.
"I cannot count it so. There was an upheaval, we know
that, but I cannot believe that a town of ten thousand souls
has sunk beneath the sea."
"So it happened," said Jermina softly.
The sailors frowned, exchanging glances. It was
obvious they were beginning to believe her.
"I will ask the Revered Son," said Dunvane firmly. "He
will know the truth!"
He took hold of the woman and headed for the priest's
cabin. Dunvane knocked until the door opened and Imkhian
appeared. The captain brought Jermina forward. She
told her story.
The priest's composure remained untouched, and he
spared no more than a glance at the muddy, bedraggled
woman. "It is a lie, Captain," he said flatly. "Such things do
not happen. The Kingpriest does not permit them to
Jermina blinked at him. "Why would I lie? I tell you,
the town of Gardenath lies under the water around you!"
Imkhian's impassive gaze remained on the captain.
"Resume your course, Master Dunvane. I am on an
important mission, given me by the Kingpriest himself. The
serpentine bowl must arrive in Istar for the ceremony. Don't
waste any more precious time worrying about this
"We'll set to work on the sail at once, Revered Son,"
said Dunvane, relieved, as Imkhian slammed shut the cabin
"Captain!" shouted Norry.
The SUNCHASER shuddered and heeled slowly to port.
Dunvane and his men ran to the rail. The strange current
that had been carrying them along was changing direction,
and the ship's rudder, tied straight ahead, was fighting the
"Look!" Norry pointed.
"By all the holy gods," breathed Dunvane.
Off the port side was a scene from a nightmare. A vast
shoal of floating debris covered the water. Clinging to the
mass of logs, shake roofs, and uprooted trees were
bedraggled, muddy, sunburned people. All stared hopefully
at the oncoming SUNCHASER.
The first cries from parched throats reached their ears.
"Help . . . help us ... water, water . . . help . . ."
The captain recovered from his shock. "Norry. Take the
wheel. Steer wide of them." Dunvane ran to Imkhian's door
once again. "Revered Son! Come out, please! You must see
Imkhian emerged. The captain pointed at the scene
A flicker of surprise marred the smooth surface of the
priest's composure. His eyes moved left and right, taking in
the dreadful panorama.
The flotsam shoal was only a ship's length away. Norry
wrestled with the wheel, but, without sails, the
SUNCHASER could not resist the current. The ship's blunt
bow was pointed at the thickest concentration of rafts. The
people were making ready to climb on board.
"Do not stop," Imkhian said swiftly.
"But, Revered Son, a seaman's duty is to aid - "
"We cannot help them," answered the priest. "There is
neither food nor water enough on this ship to save twenty,
much less such a multitude. We can do nothing for them.
You must fulfill your mission, Captain. The serpentine
bowl must be delivered."
"Help us ... mercy, please . . . save my baby . . ." came
The cutwater struck the first line of rafts with a
sickening crunch. Dunvane saw Norry's hands trembling
violently on the wheel. In a cold, anguished fury, the
captain shoved the mate away and took the wheel himself.
The SUNCHASER rode over everything in its path. The
screams and groans of the dying people were horrible to
hear. Dunvane knew he'd be haunted by the memory for the
rest of his days.
Jermina, left to herself, cast about wildly for some
succor to give to the people in the water. She found a coil
of rope and threw its free end over the side. The castaways
clung to it, trying to climb the rope onto the ship.
Dunvane saw her as she steered to starboard in an
attempt to miss a raft laden with people. "The Revered Son
is right," he said through clenched teeth. "We've not
enough food or water to share. Cut the line, Norry."
Jermina screamed. Norry pulled out his sheath knife,
casting a look of agony at his captain. Dunvane could not
speak the order again, but he nodded once. Norry cut the
rope with one stroke, just as a pair of raw, blistered hands
reached for the rail.
Dunvane would never forget that dreadful voyage. When
at last they were clear of the floating refugees, he tied off
the wheel and slumped against the sterncastle behind him.
Dunvane opened his eyes. Norry stood before him.
"We're with you, sir," the mate said. "Me and the men, we
don't want to die, but we're scared. What's happened,
Captain? Who were all those people?"
"Pirates," said Imkhian, looming in the doorway to his
"Your pardon, Holy One, but those were ordinary
townsfolk, not even sailors, by the look of their pale skin,"
"Could they be? Could the woman be telling the
truth?" Norry asked slowly. "Were those the people of
"You're speaking blasphemy," warned the priest.
Still sobbing, Jermina cried, "Since when is the truth a
"Enough," Dunvane barked. The sullen sky was
darkening to purple as the sun began to set. "If there is a
coast to find, it's got to be south. Norry, you and the men
work on rigging a trysail on the foremast. Once it's done,
maybe we can steer ourselves out of this current."
The sailors dispersed to their tasks. The woman,
Jermina, went forward to sleep in the shadows on the
foredeck. Imkhian began to speak of faith and trust in the
gods, and faith in the goodness and power of the
Kingpriest. After a few minutes, the priest realized no one
was heeding him. Scowling, he withdrew in offended
dignity back to his cabin.
A wind sprang up before midnight. The breeze scoured
the smoke and clouds away, and stars glittered overhead.
Dunvane called for his quadrant. He shot the stars and
called out their positions to Norry, who scratched figures on
a wax tablet.
"Something's not right .about these figures, Captain,"
Norry muttered. He chewed the blunt end of his wooden
stylus. "We're nowhere near where we should be."
Dunvane sent below for a chart of the Istar coast. By
lantern light, he compared the figures he'd just taken to the
ones given on the parchment scroll. His jaw dropped in
astonishment. He shot the stars again, with the same result.
The heavens did not lie. He stabbed his knife into the map
at their position. "We're a hundred miles from the Istar
coast," said Dunvane. "A hundred miles INLAND of the
"The woman's right," said Norry grimly. "The land's
gone under the sea. What do we do now, sir?"
Dunvane snatched up lantern, knife, and chart. "The
Revered Son must see this." He burst into the priest's cabin
without knocking. Imkhian stirred sleepily in his berth.
"What's the meaning of this disturbance?" he asked
"I have important news, Holy One," Dunvane replied.
"We have reached Istar?" Imkhian sat up. "The
Kingpriest will be very pleased! We're a day early - "
"We're in Istar all right, Revered Son, but Istar is not
"Did you wake me to ply me with riddles?"
Dunvane spread the map on the table and set the lamp
on it. "By the stars of heaven, which I shot not five minutes
ago, I got this as our position." He pointed to the hole in the
chart made by his knife point. Imkhian bent over to study
"You've simply made an error - "
"I shot our position twice, Holy One," the captain
interrupted. 'The woman was right. What we took for a
tempest was some kind of great upheaval. There's no way of
knowing how far the destruction spreads."
Imkhian straightened. He ran his fingers through his
mussed hair and tugged his wrinkled robe into a semblance
of order. "I am certain the city of Istar is safe, Captain. The
Kingpriest's power is proof against any catastrophe or evil
Imkhian's voice was strong, positive, calm. But this
time, the captain's fears were not stilled. The two men
stared at each other for a long minute.
"I hope you're right, Revered Son," said Dunvane at last.
He rolled up his chart. "I'd best take the wheel. We're in
unknown waters now, and a captain's place is at the helm."
He turned to go, but Imkhian caught his arm. "Leave
the lantern," he said. "I wish to pray."
Dunvane pulled the cabin door shut quietly. Norry
came up behind him.
"The trysail's been rigged, sir," he reported, "and we've
spotted lightning. Looks to be a terrible storm, dead ahead."
What else could happen? Dunvane sighed and followed
his mate to the wheel. A red glow lit up the horizon, too
early and too easterly to be the dawn. "What is that?" asked
the captain, staring.
"Dunno, sir. Could be a ship on fire."
Dunvane squinted through the tangle of rigging, masts,
and the billowing trysail. "If so, it's a big one," he muttered.
Lightning flickered around the scarlet glow. An
uncommonly warm wind blew over them; patches of mist
rose from the cooling sea. They could hear the sound of
thunder. The previously calm sea was roughened by rising
swells. The SUNCHASER wallowed in the waves. The
motion roused Jernina, who came aft to see what was
"What's that light?" she asked, clutching at the binnacle
Before anyone could reply, Imkhian, white robe
flapping in the increasingly hot wind, appeared like a pale
ghost at the captain's elbow.
"Let the gods steer your ship, Captain," he commanded.
"We are in their hands now."
"Every sailor is in the hands of the gods," Dunvane
said, "but my hands stay on this wheel, Holy One."
A thunderclap was punctuated by a stinging hail of
dust. The wind crackled the frail trysail. The ship glided
along with the speeding current. The dust storm passed
quickly, replaced by a steady blast of furnace-hot air. The
sailors and Jermina coughed and covered their faces.
Dunvane blinked through the grit lodged in his eyes and
stared at the rapidly brightening red glow. It soon filled the
sky from port to starboard. From its midst rose a column of
smoke, reaching from the sea surface up to the sky, where it
spread into a flat-topped cloud.
"The whole world's on fire!" Norry gasped.
"The water's starting to seethe like a soup kettle," cried
Dunvane stared over the bow. Steam rose from the sea.
The water was the color of blood. "I'm putting about,"
Dunvane said and tried to put the helm over to starboard.
Imkhian's long white fingers gripped the wheel. "Go
forward, Captain. In my prayers I was given to know that
we must seek out the fire, not hide from it. Fire purifies all
it touches. The gods will protect us."
The priest's voice was calm, his gaze fixed upon the
crimson glow before them.
Dunvane shook his head. "We must turn away, Revered
Son. The ship would go up like a torch."
The priest made his way past the sailors and stood by
the rail. His gaze roved around the spectacle before them,
the unknown red light, the pillar of smoke, the steaming,
blood-red water. He turned abruptly, his eyes blazing.
Lightning flickered overhead as the hot, glowing
column of smoke closed out the last bit of night. The red
glow lit them like a bloody sunrise. Dunvane spun the
wheel left and right, but the SUNCHASER could not break
out of the rushing stream that propelled it.
"It doesn't look as if we've got much choice," Dunvane
said bitterly. Norry and the other two crewmen began to
fidget and cast anxious looks at the churning sea.
Something boomed against the hull. A sailor bent over
the side and sang out, "Timbers! There's timbers in the
water! Heading straight for us!"
Unable to steer, Dunvane could do nothing. Massive
building timbers rammed into the SUNCHASER. Dunvane
held grimly to the wheel. The ship rolled and pitched and
they were still being drawn toward the great shaft of smoke,
fire and lightning.
"Have no fear!" called Imkhian above the thunder and
booming waves. "We are being tested! We must not be
afraid! Istar lies beyond the wall of fire; we must penetrate
the wall!" The priest knelt by the great serpentine bowl,
clinging to its smooth surface.
Norry staggered across the canted deck. "Captain!
What can we do?"
A bolt of lightning struck the mainmast. The foot-thick
oak mast splintered down its length, and the heavy crossyard
crashed to the deck, knocking Dunvane back from the
wheel. He hit the sterncastle and slid down, stunned. The
useless wheel spun freely.
The SUNCHASER heeled sharply to port. Dunvane
shook the mist from his brain and stood, grasping Norry's
arm for support.
The rudder had been carried away. The fallen
crossyard had torn the puny trysail like a cobweb.
SUNCHASER wallowed dead in the water. The racing
current caught its blunt stern and swung the ship in a half
circle. Scalding-hot spray, whipped up from the churning